Some of the people of Ash Forest could see the sky that day. The dark clouds had descended onto the tips of the birch trees and were now thinning away. These people had been waiting for years to see the sun. Wandering aimlessly amongst the thick grey trees, they had forgotten the feeling of warmth. Stretched arms, withered by the morning winds, reached for glimpses of light.
Rarely did the ever wake mist lift its merciless veil from the Ash Forest people, for a tragic tale bound it to their ground. It was said that until a proud man shed a tear for another, the mist would not lift. Until then, the woodland dwellers were to roam half blind, never truly seeing each other. The tale was bound to a man, Lord Ashley Achton. Hundreds of years ago, he lived on the edge of the forest, in a grand manor house. He would often prowl among the trees, to shoot deer and meet women.
One of the ladies he fancied at the time was a poor blind woman from Little Creek village. Her name was Dietrich Arietes and hadn’t a penny to her name. Despite her unfortunate circumstances, Dietrich was the jewel of her village. Her fair cheeks were like roses in the morning light and her long black hair swirled like wild horses in the desert. Her step was dainty and her gaze, although devoid of earthly light, would have made any young man blush with awe.
Ablaze with infatuation, Ashley was determined to pursue Dietrich. His intentions were always pure, or so he thought, until new intentions came along. He had a way with words, so managed to seduce poor Dietrich into the forest. His promises poured into her ears, as their footsteps carried them deeper. Long after sunset, Lord Achton returned to his manor alone.
Months passed and Ashley carried on in his usual manner. One cold november night, a loud knock echoed through his chambers. Dietrich had arrived in a state of great distress and demanded to speak with him. The maid whom had opened the door took pity on the girl and let her inside to wait by the fire. Achton agreed to see her briefly, remembering the beauty he once cherished. He was shocked, however, to see the frail frame and haunting eyes of his past idol.
‘I’m six months pregnant,’ Dietrich cried caressing her belly. ‘I have nothing. I ask for nothing, except this. Please promise me you will take our child and raise it as your own.’
‘Foolish woman!’ Achton burst. ‘How am I to know this child is truly mine?’
Silence fell as Dietrich weeped. She slowly knelt on the stone floor.
‘Please, I have nothing,’ she repeated, her cry intensifying. ‘You know it is yours.’
Lord Achton watched her with steely eyes and pondered. His heart softened for a moment, remembering her past beauty. His brow struggled between anger and compassion. Finally he said, ‘I can not father the child of a woman whose class is so beneath me. You will make do as your family always has.’
‘They are ashamed of me,’ she whispered, ‘and so am I.’
For a moment her dark hair covered her face, as she raised back up. She then parted it, revealing her flaming eyes, staring straight at Ashley. He knew she could not see him, but still shook from their intensity.
‘Then listen to this. Never shall you or your villagers see daylight. I may be blind, but not as blind as you are now. So you shall taste the bitter darkness until your blood will shed a tear for someone other than yourself.’
Dietrich left alone and made her way with a crooked stick into Ash Forest. She was never seen again. Soon after that night, a thick mist fell from Little Creek Village, all the way to the mountains beyond the forest. The villagers were forced to move into the woods, for the mist was slightly more forgiving there. They could not tell arm from leg where their homes used to be.
The swirls of fine rain would grow moss on their thatched roofs and put out the fires in their hearths. And sometimes, when the nights were silent and the winds grew weary, a quiet weep could be heard in the distance. It was not desperate, but a gentle reminder of whom had brought the watery burden upon them all and what was to be done to lift it.
Will Achton was a scrawny little lad, no more than sixteen. His father, Michael Achton was a fire maker. With all the humidity in the woods, necessity crafted fire making into a profession. As most fathers in the Ash Forest settlement, Michael had high hopes for his son, but always ended up disappointed. Generations had passed, but people were still hoping for a redeemer from their sorrows. Their sole thought was that one day a strong man would come and lift their burden, for it had grown heavier over the years.
“Only a strong hand can wring a tear out of a proud heart,” they would say.
‘Today you come with me, lad,’ Michael said one morning to his son. ‘I’ll show you where to find dry wood.’
Will smiled and followed his father deep into the forest. Michael’s axe crunched through the hollow birches and crooked maples. Will carried as much as his feeble arms could hold. His father then smirked and picked up ten times more with one arm. As they walked slowly back to the settlement, they reached Amber lake, in the heart of the woods.
‘Don’t walk too close to the water,’ Michael said, ‘there are strange creatures lurking about.’
The mist lifted slightly and Will saw a deer grazing on the other side of the lake. Its silhouette shimmered in the dim morning light, as dew gently rested on its dark fur. Its head suddenly sprang up and looked at him with haunting grey eyes.
‘It’s blind,’ Will whispered in awe.
Michael slowly bent and discarded his load of firewood on a patch of fairly dry ground. His son placed the few branches he had carried on the wood mount his father had built. The man took out his dagger and nodded towards Will. The boy shivered at the sight of his reflection in the silver blade.
‘Lunch,’ Michael finally uttered. He stepped with confidence, resembling a wild cat on the prowl.
The wind blew gently towards them, sheltering their footsteps from the alert ears of the creature. Will followed his father with trembling feet. His brow furled and unfurled as beads of sweat crawled on his skin.
‘Father, we should let it go,’ he begged. ‘It cannot see!’
‘Then there is nothing for it to fear,’ his father grunted. ‘Quiet, for it is blind, not deaf.’
Michael hastened his steps towards the deer. The mist thickened and swallowed the two in its depth. They heard the earth shaking and then mud splattered their lips as the deer sprang from their reach.
‘It knows,’ Will cried, ‘let it be!’
‘Shut up,’ Michael demanded, wiping the mud from his mouth. He then added, in a softer tone, ‘son, you are too weak. We must have food for tonight.’
‘It’s scared dad and helpless. We can eat something else tonight!’
‘I’m sick of mushrooms,’ his father growled.
He then hurried into the fog, listening intently. The damp earth squelched under his feet and it smelt of shadows. He strained his ears to hear the whisper of footsteps and the gentle rustle of leaves. Michael licked his lips and prepared his blade. A soft shadow moved among the streaks of grey trees. The man stopped for a moment, watching the shape shift and turn with dainty movements. He waited until the figure sharpened through the droplets of fog. Michael charged with a wild yell towards the beast and thrust the knife at its head.
‘Father!’ the beast uttered. The mist swirled, revealing the closing eyes of Will. The blade stopped just in time, an inch from the boy’s face. Michael dropped his knife in the mud and his knees followed. He grabbed his son and thrust him to his chest. A moment of eternal silence. Will could hear his father’s heart trembling. A deep sob emerged from the roots of Michael’s soul. He cried bitterly, holding his son, on the shore of Amber lake.
The cloud of dew rolled over the still water, slowly lifting its veil. Will opened his eyes once more, still in his father’s embrace. The mist over the lake had cleared as the figure of a dark haired maiden stepped gracefully into the forest.