There were three of them, that first time. We saw them coming down the deep wound that had been cut into us: a woman, a man and a young girl.
The woman sat next to the man at the front, her body heaving as the wagon lurched and pitched along the path. Sometimes she leaned against him, clutching his arm, but when the wheels caught and stuck, she would draw back to let the man step down and guide the horse. Then as the man took his seat, his form would come together with hers; only to part again, for the road was deeply rutted.
They were quiet, these three—especially the little girl.
But at first we did not know her name. She was sitting on the woman’s lap, her eyes staring out into the forest. We were intrigued by her face—pale and smooth—and her quiet, luminous eyes. Her hair was hidden beneath a grey cloak and we wondered at it. We thought that it must be dark: dark like the clouds shading the stars, because they, too, sometimes gaze so brightly at us, just as her eyes seemed to be searching.
Was it for us?
And so we threw a branch across the road to catch her hood and pull it back.
It was then that the man reached forward and with his hand he broke us, throwing the branch to the ground. We winced, chastened for our foolishness. To be sure, it was there again—the senselessness. The violence.
We did not trust them. And yet—the girl. She seemed to be listening intently, as if she could discern our voices in the growing darkness, her eyes gathering light even in the shadow of her hood.
They will not escape the storm. . . .
We laughed and thought that this might be our revenge for the violence. The violence of their hands, relentless as they touch us, again and again as they have touched us.
They will be surprised by the storm. . . .
But the man knew. He could tell from the heavy stillness and the whisper of the leaves as they sped along before him—for as such did he hear us. The man saw our treachery in the soft, winding pathway and in the quiet, heavy day that the morning had promised. This was to be his uneventful journey: his journey to the lonely light tower and the strange beast that they have imprisoned there.
We have seen the restless creature in the place where he is going. During the nighttime we have seen it, casting a silent, livid beam of light across us, pacing through the darkness to probe the bars of its enclosure. Always it turns, circling its cage with a fearful hope—always it finds the bars still intact.
Did the man know our fear of his hands?
It was the girl who spoke to us.
Marged. We felt her soul leaning toward us, toward the wind and water and trees, just as her body shrank back, a little afraid. She huddled deeper into her cloak and then, as the wind rose, she felt us push against her, pressing her back.
How then did she know to bend forward, just so, to catch us and turn our waywardness against us? She made us hold her, cushioning the sharp jolts and dips as the wagon rumbled on. Trust us, we whispered, amazed at her innocence, and then wondered at our own deviousness.
But again she caught us unawares. “Why, you are like me sometimes,” the girl thought at us, and far away we heard her mother’s hands smoothing her hair. “You are playful and rough all at the same time.”
Was the girl speaking to wind? She smiled, the curve of a line so faint that all of us strained to see it.
And then we remembered—holding her almost against our will—that in some stories there was a child, and that it was she who wept for Prometheus during his travails.
It is true that some of us were beguiled by Marged.
Only wind would not be charmed by her and blew harder, pushing her cloak back and seizing her around the waist. I am no child, wind warned, before releasing her and moving ahead along the path.
And then Marged sent out her fear after us, down the wound and after the wind, holding it out in tiny hands that trembled with a shy reserve. Out of her eyes and face, out of her cloak and hair, her fear followed us, becoming a tender, fragile thing, softly feeling our face as a blind creature might, touching our lips to read what our face might tell.
This astounded us, for her fingers were not unlike those of our inquisitive branch reaching for her hair, and we too—we, too, sometimes have the power to settle a score.
Do you still wonder who we are?
What should be our answer?
We can only say that it was in the coming of these three that the thought of Perdita came to us. It was there, in the discovery of Marged sitting between the two other forms. It was in the way she wound her arms around our neck, fearful, trusting—that we dared to hope.
To be sure it was a foolish and wonderful thought.
Did we do the right thing?
There are some of us, to this day, who disapprove of what we did. Yet there is not a blade of grass, a bird or a cloud in these parts who does not know of Perdita. It is the men and the women who live here, they do not know her.
Now it is our turn to wonder, for it is only to one of them that Perdita will return.