Who am I?
That’s a little uncertain.
I’ve always been an uncertainty in a world of certainties. For instance, it is entirely certain that everything in the world is green. In my village, chartreuse sheep graze the hills above teal-fogged fens. We harvest our barley in the minty winter months. Even my lucky star shines the color of a shamrock.
There are some exceptions to the rule.
For example, hair is so dark and skin so fair that it doesn't look like they have any color at all. ...But when you step out of the lemongrass sunlight and into shadow, there is a little bit of something strange; the faintest flush, a tint in the flesh that is not green. Humans are peculiar in that way.
It's a minor curiosity for everyone but me, because my hair isn't just a little "ungreen". It's something else entirely. It's sort of bright, and colored similarly to feverish cheeks, or the veins that pop up in your eyes when you have allergies. It has allowed me to spend many an All Hallows Eve scaring young children.
Naturally, this brings some things into question. I came here for answers, and to find my true self. Like, what if I'm a changeling, switched at birth and my true identity is that of a forest monster? Or what if there is another human clan out there in the never-ending trees? The idea of other people like me is more exciting than anything.
Who am I kidding? I have my Ma's toes and my Da's nose and they are both humans born and raised in Village, plain and simple.
My heritage may be confirmed Villager, but my future isn't. I got all the way to where I'm standing now, and that is something to be excited about!
The Elders say "Cross the Braid, and cross your death." This warning has always fascinated me.
Da says my fascination came from my mother. He used to tell me about her when he still had the energy for such things, and I would try to build his words into real memories.
For instance, I made a memory of being a wee bairn, only one year old. In it Ma carried me to the Braid -- that ancient wall surrounding the meager five square mile of Village where I live. It is taller than the tallest douglas fir, grown from gnarled midnight tree trunks and woven together in an interlocking series of patterned knots. When Ma told me forest creatures grew it with magical technologies, I’m sure my tiny hands would have reached out, grasping to meet them. But the only way to see the other side of the Braid was to gaze through the gaps in the bark…to the endless forest beyond. 'Cross the Braid, and cross your death.' But Ma and I were intrigued... Obsessed.
So we’d peek. The forest on the other side of the Braid was filled with dark night-thorn trees that masked the wars raging between Druids, Banshees, giant Púca, and fairy-folk called Aos Sí.
At least that's what Da used to say that Ma used to say.
I wanted to be in those wars and fight for freedom. When I won, the creatures would come together with me to build a Village so magnificent and full of progress that it would be a haven for man and monster forever!
That's what the memory I made tells me.
You see, I can't remember my mother no matter how hard I try, because on one of those outings, she went missing. The Elders say the forest monsters took her, but I know she found a way to cross the Braid.
Whether any of these creatures were real or not, no one could know, because whatever's out there in the trees is still hidden from us. In my heart I realize that sitting by and letting the world remain a mystery itched at Ma like a bug bite. She wanted to see beyond the Braid.
I've always had this compass she gave me. She found two of them at the forest's edge, lodged in a chink in the Braid. They're old, and made of metal clockwork far advanced of any trinkets Village has ever pieced together. They’re bright turquoise from centuries of tarnish. The fact that there were two for Ma and me can only speak to destiny. Da says she carved my name into one and kept it, then carved her name, "Lore", into the other and gave it to me. Mine has the end of a phrase written on the front; "...is never lost" and I think hers has the beginning, but Da doesn't remember what it said, so I can't either.
I knew that once I grew crafty enough and skilled in the art of navigation I would follow the compass north, away from Village. Towards Ma. I would cross the Braid into the forest depths and she would lead me to our new home.
So now, as I stand before that gnarly, woven ring of timber with my compass in-hand and bag over my shoulder, there is only one thing stopping me from finally doing what I came here to do.
I'm stuck knee-deep in a bog.