Hern raised his bow, breathing evenly. He watched the large buck moving through the woods, waited patiently. The buck stepped into a clearing and he let the arrow fly. It tore into the deer’s side, hitting it in the heart. His aim was always perfect. He hopped down out of the tree as the deer collapsed and made his way quickly through the underbrush. The deer had died instantly. He pulled the arrow out of it and wiped the blood off on the grass before slipping it into his quiver. He lifted the dead animal and slung it over his shoulder, feeling a bit of blood slide down his back. He apologized for having to kill it then thanked it for its sacrifice. He felt an odd sensation move through him and looked around, trying to find the source of that feeling. He left the woods, carrying the deer to the river.
He field dressed the deer once he was by the gently flowing water, draining the blood into a bottle for Fallon since she used animal blood in some of her recipes. He lifted both the deer and the bottle and took off for Fallon’s still feeling like something was wrong. When he made it to Fallon’s the sensation vanished. He knocked on her door and she opened it with a smile. “I’ve got dinner.” He said excitedly and she let him in. She cleared off the table and he lay the deer down.
“Look at that, what a nice kill.” She said proudly. “You have blood all over you sweety, let me get a rag.”
“Thank you ma’am.” She grabbed a rag and dipped it in the bucket of water setting by the fireplace. She wiped his back off and handed it too him so he could get his hands. “Skin it and then wash the hair off for me then I’ll cut it up.”
He got to work removing the hide and head. It took no time at all after all the practice he had. He asked Fallon where she wanted the hide and she told him outside. He stepped out, closing the door behind him. He felt like he was being watched and looked up to see a woman standing at the bottom of the hill. She had long white hair that fell to her waist and covered her bare breasts. There were a pair of pale antlers atop her head. She had a pair of white deer legs. Black markings covered her abdomen and arms. After twenty-three years of living he had never seen anything like her. He closed his eyes then opened them and she was gone. He hung the hide to dry and sat the head down to skin later. He went quickly back inside, feeling confused.
“Are you okay sweety?” Fallon asked.
“I just saw something odd. A woman with deer legs.” He answered. Her eyes widened and she looked to the skinned deer then back again.
“Did you thank nature for the deer?”
“Yes, I promise I did.”
“Then I wonder what she wants.”
“Who is she?”
“They call her the First Mother. She’s supposed to be the mother of us all. She’s a woodland spirit and you have offended her in some way it appears or she wants something from you.”
He looked out the window, but she still wasn’t there. “Are we allowed to eat the deer?”
“Yes, it’s already dead. I’ll rinse and cut it up. Tonight when you go back to the river after dinner, keep an eye out for her.” Fallon went and grabbed a small bag. She opened it and pulled out a leather cuff with a bright white stone in the center. She grabbed his arm and clipped it around his wrist. “Keep this on and she can’t hurt you.”
“I will Fallon, I promise.”
Fallon made a nice thick stew and he ate until he thought he might explode. She put some of the leftovers in a glass container and he kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.” He said as he took the container and stood.
“Thank you for bringing the deer. I’ll dry some of the meat we didn’t cook and have some jerky ready for you when you visit next.
He left, walking quickly through the night, keeping watch for the deer woman. He walked along the river until he found his spot and sat the container of food in shallow water to keep it from going bad. He lay down and stared up at the stars. He loved clear nights where the sky looked like it was full of bright white fireflies. He inhaled the fresh air and closed his eyes. A few moments later he heard rustling and sat bolt upright, his eyes resting on the woman standing before him. She was beautiful with pale blue eyes and a narrow face. He noticed she had human legs now and that she wasn’t wearing anything. He didn’t know what to do or say.
“You are the one who killed Hirvi.” She said as she moved closer. He swallowed and nodded. She dropped down on her hands and knees and crawled until her nose was almost touching his. “It takes a mighty hunter to kill one of my bucks. A strong, silent man.” She inhaled and he almost told her to back off. “I need a strong man like you.”
“Uh what?” Was all he could say. She grabbed his face and pressed her lips against his. He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back. “Whoa uh no, no thank you.”
“Do you know who I am?” She looked on the verge of anger.
“Fallon called you the First Mother.” He answered.
“I get to choose who I want as my mate.” She pulled him back to her, her tongue moving in his mouth. She was incredibly strong for such a petite thing. He pulled back, crab walking away from her a couple of feet and then standing.
“I don’t want a mate, sorry, but no thank you.” She stood and moved closer to him, staring up into his eyes.
“You have been so lonely living out here in the wilds. Wouldn’t you like someone to warm you at night?”
“No ma’am, I do not. I’m sorry I killed your deer, but I don’t want you.”
She glared at him then lunged at him with a scream. She hit a force field, unable to touch him. “What is this magic?” She snapped.
“It belongs to someone who cares. Please leave me alone.”
“I will not be denied prince.”
“Yes you will, nothing you do will make me want you. I do not love you.”
“Mating has nothing to do with love.” She turned and raced back into the woods. He stayed up, watching the trees for her return. He didn’t want to fall asleep and wake up to her trying to get his pants off.
Hern splashed cold water on his face as the sun began to rise. He was used to exerting himself and could easily stay awake for a week of he had to. He pulled the glass container out of the water and ate some of the stew. It was cold, but it didn’t bother him. He noticed a flicker of white move through the woods and stood. He could tell it was her. He waved to let her know he wasn’t blind and she stepped out of the trees. Her hair was pulled into a loose braid, leaving her completely exposed to his view. He rolled his eyes as she crossed over to him.
“Nudity isn’t going to work. Want some soup?” He said, holding out the bowl. “Oh wait, it’s deer never mind.” He sat back down and put the container back in the water.
“Why don’t you want me? Don’t you think I’m beautiful?” She asked.
“You’re absolutely gorgeous, but that doesn’t make me want you.”
He crouched down and lifted some water to his lips. He felt her hands on his shoulders then they slid down to his chest. She nibbled his ear and he shrugged her off. He stood, grabbing the satchel that Fallon had made for him and walked away. She followed and he sighed in exasperation. She knew the forest, he was sure, so he just did his best to ignore her. He was going to pick apples for Fallon. She made the best pie. He found his way to the apple grove. His father had had it planted. He made sure to take the back way so no one from the castle would spot him. He started plucking them off the branches and sticking them in his satchel. She followed him around, brushing against him anytime she got the chance.
“Stop it.” He snapped, glaring down at her. He didn’t care if she was the First Mother, she was being inappropriate. He stomped off and slammed into someone. He glared at the person in guard uniform. He knew that face. “Loki?”
“Hern? My god it’s been ages. How are you?” Loki asked and slapped his back.
“I’m fine, doing great actually.” He answered, glancing around. She was gone.
“Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone you were here. Hey, I wanted to apologize for how we left things. I should have been more understanding.”
“Don’t worry about it. All is forgiven. Anyway, I need to get to Fallon’s so I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, don’t be a stranger.”
He walked away, moving quickly. When he was almost out of the forest she was suddenly next to him. He grumbled, but kept walking. “Don’t talk to me.” He said as he started toward Fallon’s. He hoped he would have some freedom from her at Fallon’s. he started up the hill and she stopped at the bottom. He didn’t turn back around. He knocked on the front door and Fallon opened it. He pushed himself in and slammed the door.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
“No, she’s out there, stalking me.” He answered.
She looked out the window and frowned at the nude woman standing at the bottom of the hill. “Did you find out what she wants?”
“A mate. She kissed me last night. I told her no.”
“She’s obsessed with you. I’m glad you turned her down.”
“Because you don’t love her.”
He looked out the window. She was still out there. He tossed his bag on the floor and sat down with a huff. He just wanted her to leave him alone. He wasn’t going to give her babies just so she’d back off. “What do I do?” He asked as he buried his face in his hands.
“Stay here for awhile and we’ll figure this out.” She hugged him, making him feel a little better.
Fallon heated up the stew from the night before and made him a bowl. She chopped apples while he ate, humming softly. Every now and then he would get up and look out the window. She was sitting at the bottom of the hill playing with her hair. He sat back down and finished eating. He made pie crust for Fallon and she put butter and sugar in a bowl with the apples, mixed it all up and put it in the pie pan. He laid the top crust on and she cut four holes on the top. She popped it into her oven and they sat together.
“I saw Loki today.” He said, bouncing his leg.
“How did that go?” She asked and touched his knee so he stilled it.
“Good, he apologized for the last thing he said to me. I guess we’re friends again.”
“Is she still out there?”
Fallon stood, glancing out the window and nodding. “She can’t come in here because of my safeguards. She knows she’s not welcome.”
“We have to get rid of her. She’s insane.” He replied, running his fingers through his hair.
“Wanting a mate is not crazy, but insisting on having one that obviously doesn’t want you is.” They sat chatting for an hour and then Fallon got up to pull the pie out of the oven. She cut him a big piece and he ate it happily. Her food always helped him relax. He often asked if she used magic on it, but she would only smile. Night time rolled around and Fallon made him a bed on the floor. “If you need anything dear just come get me.” He nodded and she headed into the back of the house where her room was.
He lay down and stared up at her ceiling, wishing he was out in the open instead of in hiding. He closed his eyes, breathing evenly until he finally fell asleep. The sound of music woke him, harp music. He sat up, thinking he was dreaming about his mother again. He closed his eyes tight and opened them again. He was definitely awake. He stood and went to the window, looking down at the bottom of the heal. She was still out there and she was playing the harp. He opened the door and sat down on the ground, listening. He had been to busy to play lately so it was nice to hear harp music again. It reminded him of his mother. She stopped and looked behind her, smiling up at him. She patted the grass next to her.
He couldn’t help himself. He stood and walked down the hill, taking a seat next to her. “Do you like harp music?” She asked.
“Yeah, I play a little. My mother played, she’s the one that taught me.” He answered.
“Play for me.” She held out the harp and he took it. She brushed her fingers over his wrist and he sighed. He plucked the strings, playing his mother’s favorite song. It was slow and soft, almost sad in a way. She had wrote it during one of his fahter’s neglectful periods. It was her way of crying without actually shedding a tear. He stopped, feeling an overwhelming sadness wash over him. “Are you okay?” She asked.
He cleared his throat. “Yes, I’m perfectly fine.” He answered.
“You have tears in your eyes.” She grabbed his face on her hands and brushed his cheeks with her thumbs.
“Don’t.” He said.
“Let me be here for you. Let me take away your sadness.” She said softly.
“You have to understand that I don’t want you to take it away. It is not yours to take away.” He gripped the harp hard, his knuckles turning white.
“I can try.” she scooted closer and tangled her fingers in his hair. “Let me try Hern.” She pushed him onto his back and straddled him. She kissed him and he shook his head. This wasn’t right, this wasn’t what he wanted. No matter how sad or lonely he was, he wasn’t going to sleep with her. He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back.
“No, I can’t.” She looked sad and angry. She climbed off of him, pulling her knees up to her chin.
“I don’t love you. I don’t look at you and feel like we belong together. You kissing me does nothing for me. There are no sparks, no butterflies, no desire. I don’t want you ever.” He moved so he was in front of her and looking into her eyes. “You are beautiful and you play the most wonderful music. It was a treat getting to hear you play. I haven’t heard harp music in a long time. I can’t just have sex with you because of that.”
“You are the only one who has ever denied me anything. Most men would throw themselves at my feet.” She sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “Why don’t you do the same?”
“Because he is not meant for you spirit.” Fallon’s voice said from the doorway and Hern looked up, feeling embarrassed even though he had done nothing wrong. “You are only a small part of his journey.” She walked down the hill and stood next to Hern. “You must let him go.”
“Are you the witch who gave him that bracelet?” She asked, pointing at the band around his wrist. He had forgotten about it.
“I am, but I am no witch. I am a healer, a protector. He is my godson and his happiness is my first priority. He would not be happy with you because he does not hold a special place in his heart for you. For him a relationship is about love, not about making children to keep his line going.”
The First Mother stood, wiping at her face. She gave a sigh. “I guess I was just hoping he would relent and see that I was perfect.” She said sadly. “I am sorry to have bothered you.” She walked away before he could say anything. He felt guilty, but wasn’t going to change his mind. He followed Fallon back inside, but couldn’t fall back asleep.
“She will move on now Hern, she just needed to understand from another woman’s point of view.” Fallon said and kissed his forehead. “You will be able to go home tomorrow.” She patted his cheek and went back to bed. He lay down and closed his eyes, dreaming of his mother.
He woke the next morning to Fallon cutting him a piece of pie. He got up and she handed it to him. He ate it with a smile on his face. He kissed her cheek and told her he would be back again. He walked along the river, his hands clasped behind his head. He stopped when he came to a ring of toadstools that he had never seen before. In the center was a tree stump and setting in front of it a large ebony harp that was almost as tall as he was. It was beautiful. On the stump was a folded up piece of paper. He opened it:
I am sorry for the way I acted. I now understand why you did not want me. Your heart does not belong to me even though I might wish it to. The woman who gets to love you will be the luckiest woman in the world. May happiness find you soon.
He folded the note and walked over to the water, letting the current carry the piece of paper away. He went back to the harp and sat down in front of it. He smiled and plucked the strings. “Thank you.” He said softly as he played his mother’s song.