I lie awake under the cover of the large mosquito net moving silently in the gentle breeze from the open window. In the distance an owl hoots his welcome to the moon, or maybe to scare an unsuspecting mouse out of hiding. I turn, feeling the clean cotton sheets brush sensuously against my skin, wondering where he is.

He always appears on nights like this. Tall, his long flowing hair glowing silver in the moonlight, a look of unearthliness about him as he silently enters my world and turns my life inside-out. Slowly, as if I have summoned him by my thoughts, I feel his gaze. Shifting to look at the open doorway, I see him leaning almost nonchalantly against the wooden frame.

“I’ve been waiting for you” I say, before I even realize the words are out of my mouth. He slowly smiles, like the sun rising through the trees and extends his hand to me.

“Come.” It is a statement, a fact, not a command, but I know I wouldn’t argue, even if I wanted to. Slipping out from between the sheets, I throw on a discarded shift and pull on my rather ungainly hiking boots. He makes no comment, just watches, as I hurriedly dress. Sensing that I am ready, he steps out of the doorway, knowing I will follow.

Our walk through the trees is leisurely and without conversation. Despite his size he walks so lightly that no twigs are broken, no leaf crushed. I, on the other hand, despite my best efforts, cannot seem to emulate his grace. Sticks snap, leaves crunch. I often wonder if he is amused by my efforts to copy his gentle stride, but there is no indication from him that this is the case. He walks beside me, helping me over the more difficult sections of the forest floor, silently pointing out a protruding tree root or fallen branch, and all the time I am so very aware of his closeness, his presence. Wild, untamed and yet almost gentile – he is an enigma that I know I will never truly understand.

Finally we reach the clearing. I nod to the Others who have gathered there, all familiar faces. Some respond in kind, others also flash a smile. We walk to the centre, under the canopy of the dark trees above and he raises his hand for silence.

Even the breeze obeys his command. The clearing is still, breathless, waiting. Finally the sound of the horn echoes through the forest, reverberating through the trees and felt to the very core of my being. It is time.

Without conscious thought we have all moved to stand next to our partners. Paired in a circle around the open space, each couple joins hands looking into each other’s eyes. In the centre of the circle, I turn to face him and feel the familiar momentary thrill before he reaches for my hand. He smiles.

“Antaguar,” he whispers, using the name he gave me, “my love”.

Closing my eyes, I feel him enter my mind, placing images of wonder and amazement, magic, beauty, desire, love, enchantment, joy. A part of me regrets that the only things I can give him in return are fear, anger, pettiness, un-enlightenment, drabness and materialism, although I know we both give each other the knowledge that our worlds need to survive, to balance, to understand.

I feel him lean into me as the onslaught of my knowledge hits him. I can feel his pain and begin to withdraw my thoughts back into myself, to protect him.

“No.” It is a quiet reassurance. I know that this is why he comes to me, to learn, to re-acquaint himself with the human world, but the pain it causes him each time distresses me. I open my eyes to plead with him, only to find him looking at me with a gentle reprove in his eyes.

“I come to you to learn” his voice is like the rustle of leaves on a Spring day, “but I also come because I love you. We are as one, two halves of a whole. As we have been many times before. And to comprehend the whole, we must know each half. Do you understand?”

Looking at him through the sudden tears stinging my eyes, drinking in his beauty, his pure magic, seeing the moonlight glint off the sheen of his antlers, I smile.

“I understand.”

© S McLean 1999 Originally published in “Waxing & Waning” (Canada) & “Celtic Fiction” (USA)

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