When the girl wandered into the clearing, a woman stood there, a tall, beautiful woman with golden hair, and she was singing. The song was in a language the girl had never heard, and it was beautiful, so beautiful that tears rose to her eyes, and it seemed as if the trees danced with her, and the grass around her feet swayed to her tune in a breeze that did not blow.
The girl's eyes closed of her own accord, and she took a step forward. A twig snapped.
The woman turned, and it seemed to the girl that she had been frozen in place with a glance from blue eyes the colour of clear, pale waters leaping in a spring. She could not move. She dared not breath. The woman stared.
And then she laughed, and the spell was broken. “No creature of the Dark are you, fair young one, no creature of the Dark are you. You would do well to warn of your arrival, then, to those who fear the Dark.” Whether she spoke in the girl's tongue or some magic enabled the girl to hear her, the girl never knew.
In spite of herself, the girl felt anger flair. “I'm a hunter. Stealth's something I need.”
“But I am not your prey,” the lady rejoined. “I'm not your prey, my beautiful child of the twilight, daughter of Men, mortal girl. I won't harm you.”
“Won't you?” The woman was dangerous; that much was clear to the girl. But dangerous to herself? She did not know.
“I will not, child,” the woman said.
The girl took a step towards her. “Tell me who you are, then.”
“River-Daughter I am in this place. Daughter of the river, mother of the river. Everything at once.”
The enigmatic answer was clue enough; the girl nodded decisively. “You are one of the Great Ones, then.”
“If you speak of the Powers—I am, yet am not.” The woman smiled, again, but it seemed to the girl that there was a deep, ageless sadness in her eyes.
“And why not?”
“Because I have sinned,” said the woman, “in their eyes.”
“By loving my sister too well; once she was one of us, and when she fell to the Dark, I couldn't condemn her, my heart-sister, my dearest sibling. And so I was condemned.”
The girl tilted her head curiously (and wondered, distantly, why she did not flee at this revelation, but she knew the answer: her people had dabbled in the Dark, with the Evil One, and now fled the horror. This woman had no touch of evil.). “To what? This is a beautiful place; if your punishment's to stay here, that's not punishment at all.”
The woman shook her head. “Hasty child. I never said this was my punishment.”
“Then what is it?”
The woman smiled. “That I cannot tell you. But this isn't a dreary prison; this where my heart is. I love the woods, and I love this land.”
“Doesn't mean you're not lonely,” the girl pointed out.
A shadow flashed across the woman's face, gone as quick as it came. “So I am, sometimes. So I am.”
“Can I stay with you?” The girl blinked; she did not know herself what she meant to say until the words were spoken. But once they were, the girl suddenly understood that they were the perfect truth. She would stay here, with this woman, for all eternity if she could.
“No.” The woman shook her head. “It is kind of you to offer, but you cannot.”
“You have a great destiny ahead of you. I cannot keep you from it,” the woman whispered. “But we'll see each other again, twice. That I can promise.”
The girl nodded. Then, again, an unbidden question. “Can I kiss you?”
And the girl flew to the woman, and they kissed, a kiss tasting of honey and sunlight and flowers. And when it was ended, the woman pressed her lips to the girl's brow. “Goodbye, hunter. Until our next meeting.”
And the girl nodded. “Until our next meeting.” And then she walker away, and when she turned back, the woman was not there.