There is a lake in the middle of the sprawling enchanted forest. The only visitors it gets are woodland creatures, a handful of fairies, perhaps an old wizard or two. Every once in a while, on the days where the air is dimmed and the world wilts, a desperate adventurer arrives looking for direction, or hope, or answers.
They always stop at the lake somewhere along their journey.
It is for us to listen, to help, to offer council. We ask them for news, or stories, or perhaps something new we haven’t seen, and in return we send them on with what they need. Some do not listen, most do not understand our council right away. It is only when another comes that we find out if we were listened to, in the end.
They call our lake the Oracle’s Tears.
The Seeker’s Pool.
The Whispering Waters.
They write our lake into their legends, they speak of it in their poetry. They call it whatever it meant to them. They name it as the place they sought when the world grew dim and their path crumbled beneath them.
I call it home.
I was born in the inky depths of its waters and grew up cradled by its waves. I played with the fairies that danced on the surface, I listened to stories about heroes and villains and the people caught in between, and I wished upon the stars at night that they would wake me if a traveler came to us after dark.
I wanted to be the one to speak with the next adventurer. There were so many questions I wanted to ask them, and there was so much kept inside me that longed to be shared. We all knew the stories; there were so few, and there was so much time for them to be told. It left us with no one to listen but the fairies, and fairies do not have the interest to listen to anything longer than a sentence.
I had all these words with nowhere to put them.
I was old when the stars finally awoke me, piercing farther through the water than they usually like to so that I would stir from sleep. An adventurer had come, and I could greet them. The waters were still and silent, dark and drowsy, and it caressed me like a tired mother in the dead of night. Not another creature stirred within the water, and I remember feeling more awake than if I were a child playing with fairies as I swam to the surface.
He was a child, kneeling at the water’s edge with the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders. His eyes reflected starlight as he watched me rise from the surface. I did not expect my adventurer to be so young.
What brings you here small one?
His hands were trembling in his lap. I think the forest bent forward to hold him. I do not know how to do this alone, he whispered, and I have lost my way.
All my life I’d considered what questions to ask, but never had I thought it would be this. Why you?
He looked away for a moment of thought, and when he turned back I saw a weariness that comes from hard decisions. There was no one else, and so it must be me.
The trees shivered, and a wind picked up as if to wrap around him like the arms of a loved one. Even the water rose from its slumber and lapped at the shore near him. He’d said there was no one else. How had it come to this?
Tell me, I said softly, tell me where you’re going, and what waits for you there.
Moonlight glinted off the water’s surface, lighting the boy’s face as he told me his story. The wind played with the strands of his hair, the trees lifted roots around him to sit on, and the nocturnal woodland creatures crept out of the shadows to lay next to the place he sat.
We know what it is to feel alone. We sense it in this boy, and none of us can ignore him. None of us can part from him while he feels this way. It is the way of the forest and the lake, to never abandon the lost and lonely.
He finished his story and waited for me to speak, watching intently with a shard of moonlight in his gaze. I was a guide, a creature of the lake.
A creature of the Oracle’s Tears.
The Seeker’s Pool.
The Whispering Waters.
He knew the legends, the poems that speak of this place. He was here for direction, for hope, for answers.
It was for me to listen, to help him, to give council. To send him on his way with what he needed.
He needed so much.
I was at a loss for words. All the shared wisdom and knowledge and stories did not prepare me for a boy that took on the world because no one else would. There was only one thought in my head, and it grew and grew until I could not contain it.
I dipped a hand into the waters that had watched over me all my life. I looked at the trees, the woodland creatures, the moon and the stars, and I asked for one last wish to be granted me.
A creature of night rose and sent its shadows stretching to me. The trees shook and sent their leaves twirling through the air. A fog lifted from the surface of the lake, sparkling in the moonlight like diamonds, like magic. The wind rose and picked up the shadows, the leaves, the fog and the moonbeams, mixing them and sending them spinning around me.
I looked up and saw a sky of shooting stars, streaking into the night with trails of gold dust in their wake. I think the dust got caught in the storm around me.
The wind fell, everything in it dissolving, and I was standing on the shore in clothes made of shadows. I was standing, standing on feet and legs and shoes made out of a granted wish. I was unsteady, uncertain of the ground and empty air. The world seemed more precarious from land. Precarious and fragile and full of possibility.
I helped the boy to his feet. You will not do this alone, we will share this burden.
His shoulders loosened, as if a kingdom had lifted from them, and he lifted his head high. Something in me ached at the sight, at the boy who should not have needed to come here. I took his hand and vowed he would not be a tragedy.
To the poets and writers of legends, listen.
When you tell of our journey, remember how it began. Tell them how a kingdom was falling, and no one would step forward to help. Tell them it should not have been this way. Tell them to learn from this:
I would not let him go alone.