When I was a young boy, the world outside my house was a magical realm. My yard was full of clover and toadstools, which I spent considerable time looking through on sunny afternoons, searching for evidence of fairies, pixies or elves. I made sure never to step on the bright green moss beds that hugged the base of the trees. The soft moss was fairy carpeting, and I wanted the fey to have a comfortable, inviting place to relax, should they ever decide to visit my yard.
Many summers came and went, and my view of the world began to change. Distracted by homework, and video games, and mundane tasks and chores, the yard slowly transformed from something mysterious and magical to just your plain, ordinary, everyday backyard.
I had begun to grow discouraged after never finding any sign of the fey. But an advantage came with being older; I was now allowed to enter the woods alone. A small forest bordered the yard behind my house, and it was there, I thought, that I would stand a better chance of meeting a creature of the fey, for the woods were their true home, where they likely lived in abundance.
Every hidden pathway was an adventure leading to secret places, every knothole in a tree a possible lair for sprites, every clearing a possible meeting ground for elves. I walked the paths until I knew them all by heart, and watched and waited and listened, and I never found any sign of the fey.
Several more summers passed, and the woods, though undeniably beautiful, no longer seemed a haven for mystery and myth. The forest was home to typical woodland animals such as raccoons, squirrels, birds, and the occasional fox or owl, but little else.
I gave up my quest to find and meet the creatures of the fey. I had other things to be concerned about now anyway. College, a girlfriend, a job, followed by a house, a wife, a career. The magic of the world and my memories of the woods faded away to a far distant place, overtaken by real world technology. Steel and glass and concrete and plastic began to replace trees and grass.
All about me, the world changed at the hands of my fellow man, intent on removing all that was once bright and magical from the earth. Once, acres of farmland, and endless miles of woodland dominated my hometown. Now, most of that was gone, replaced by obscenely large cookie-cutter homes and unnecessary shopping malls boasting rows of cookie-cutter shops.
Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall; the changing scenery repeated itself in a constant cycle, and I grew older still, watching with detachment. I grew bored, restless, and saddened by the state of the world and what it had become. I realized that a world without magic, whether real or imagined, is not a fun world at all. And if you can no longer find any magic in the world, then you must find it within yourself.
And so it was that one day, when I was very old, I decided I would take a walk in the woods once again. Away from the cities, technology still had far to go before it could completely erase every patch of nature from the world. I had moved far away from my old home and my old hometown, but here in this new town where I resided, there was a large area of woodland just within walking distance, and I felt a renewed sense of childlike energy as I approached it.
It seemed funny that I had never really paid attention to the woods that I had likely driven by so many times. Had it really been so long ago that I wandered a simple dirt pathway looking for fairies and elves? Had my childhood been abandoned and forgotten so easily?
As I walked through the woods, I appreciated the beauty of the trees, the serenity of nature, and the warmth of the powerful sunlight that split the trees. Fey or no fey, I found magic in the woods once again. I had to stop and pause a moment, to simply bask in the moment of peace that had overcome me. It was the peace of being a child, of having no worries or concerns. Such trivial things had been left behind at the border of the woods, and I stood here now with a happy heart, the heart of a child finding wonder and magic for the first time.
The moment had captured me so completely that it took a few minutes to notice the butterfly circling lazily before me. It was a colorful splendor of purples and yellows, and appeared to be dancing in the air just for me. I smiled and observed the small insect that seemed to mirror my happiness.
I held out my hand, and the butterfly lighted upon it, and I marveled at the insect, which was casually staring back at me, slowly waving its antennae. Then it caught a breeze and flew before me again, remaining close. I strode forward to continue my walk and the butterfly moved forward with me, ahead of me.
If it hadn’t been such a crazy notion, I would have thought that I was supposed to follow the beautiful insect. Since I had nothing else to do with my time but enjoy all that the woods had to offer, if they offered me a butterfly to lead my way, then I would follow.
We walked for some time, the butterfly and I, down a path that narrowed considerably, and into an area where the trees grew thick and the sunlight struggled to penetrate the canopy of leaves overhead. Still, I was certain that I could find my way back at ease, and I was enjoying the camaraderie of the butterfly in this enchanting environment.
The butterfly picked up speed, darting through a small tunnel of birch trees, and I followed.
Emerging from beneath the archway, the forest suddenly changed. It wasn’t something immediately noticeable in appearance, but rather a subtle feeling that enveloped me gracefully.
Though I had already been walking for some time, the weariness was gone from my bones, chased away by a sudden onset of vigorous anticipation.
My skin tingled.
I began to notice small differences in my surroundings. The forest was radiant; bright beams of sunlight trickled through the leaves to kiss the ground below, and cast a lustrous glow about the forest. The very air seemed to shimmer excitedly and the leaves and the grass sparkled with fresh morning dew. The twittering of woodland birds was musical, and the wind rustling the leaves of the trees and tickling my hair was a soothing, comforting whisper.
The butterfly still fluttered by, and I glanced at the insect suspiciously. I suddenly wondered if perhaps there was real magic to be found in the woods after all.
The rational part of my mind wanted to dispel the silly idea, but the child in me was wholly stronger here. Fueled by memories and desires of childlike longing, I easily dispatched rationality to a faraway corner where it was unable to cause any trouble or sway me from continuing.
I could taste the very essence of the forest on my tongue, a morning mist of earthy flavor. The aroma of the woods was fresh and primal; I could sense the richness of the deep earth beneath my feet, and the scent of pine was seductively inviting, mingling with subtler notes of clover and sweet honeysuckle, orange blossoms and wild berries.
My ears were wide open to the welcoming song of the birds hidden within the surrounding trees. The woods were lush with color; a bold array of greens, majestically strong browns, the effervescent glow of sunlight glancing off patches of delicate, golden-white flowers.
The whispering wind hinted at secrets and assured me that the magic I was feeling was real.
The forest was alive, and for some reason, the butterfly had led me here, to the heart of it, to witness these sensations for myself.
I was gazing at the woods around me in silent admiration, when a quiet voice startled me.
“I wasn’t sure you would come,” the voice said.
I whirled, frightened to find myself suddenly not alone. Had I not been so old, I might have run.
When I saw that the owner of the voice that addressed me was an old man, much older than myself, I realized there was no need to take flight. He was likely just another old soul out for a walk in the woods, and our paths had crossed. My heartbeat settled back to its normal rhythm.
I had not immediately considered his words to me.
I then noticed his appearance and strange manner of dress.
He wore a shirt of a roughly woven green cloth, and brown pants of a similar material, reminding me of something you might find in a thrift store back in the year 1500. The legs of his pants were folded over a pair of pointed brown boots of worn suede or leather, hardly what I would call a comfortable walking shoe. A tall, wooden walking stick, smoothed and topped with a gnarled clump of a head, was clutched in his hands.
His hair was cropped short, mostly white with the slightest tinge of red, and his beard was straight and long, framing a softly wrinkled face. His eyes, however, were not soft. Though seemingly kind, they were also hard and strong and lively. They watched me intently.
He leaned his staff against a tree and reached into a faded brown satchel that was slung over one shoulder, and produced a wooden flask.
“Something to drink? You’ve walked far to get here, you must be thirsty.”
I was thirsty, but I was not yet ready to accept an odd flask from an even odder man.
“No thank you, “ I replied.
He raised his eyebrows slightly. “Suit yourself. But you’re passing up a fine blackberry tea.”
He put the flask away, and when I witnessed the butterfly set itself down on the shoulder of the old man, it was my turn to raise my eyebrows.
The stranger glanced at the insect on his shoulder, and then returned his gaze to me. “Yes,” he said. “The butterfly is mine. Rather, he’s my friend. You two have already been acquainted, but you haven’t been properly introduced. His name is Cluny. I am Monohan.”
It seemed absurd to introduce myself to a butterfly, but I found myself starting to anyway, out of politeness. “I am–“
“We know who you are, of course. Why do you think I sent Cluny to find you and lead you here?”
This was all getting a little too bizarre for me. I was about ready to turn around and head home.
The old man uncannily sensed my thoughts.
“Don’t go, please. Not after all the trouble I’ve gone through to find you. The ‘wood needs you.”
“The ‘wood?” I asked.
“Tanglewood, to be more precise. This is where you stand now, just beyond the Gateway, the entrance to Tanglewood.” He pointed to the copse of birch trees I had just walked beneath.
“You would not have found it on your own, I assure you. Only the fey can show you the way. That is why Cluny led you here.”
The butterfly left the shoulder of the old man and flew about my head enthusiastically, and then returned to its shoulder perch.
I was more interested in what the stranger, Monohan, had just said, I asked him to repeat it. “What did you just say?”
“I said only the fey can show you the way. No one can get into Tanglewood otherwise.”
All my childhood endeavors of searching for the fey came rushing back into my head, but I forced myself to remember that I wasn’t a child anymore. Old notions of magic and innocence had been joined by doubt and suspicion, and I wasn’t quite ready to believe I was in the presence of a fey. Not yet.
Once again, the old man seemed to sense my apprehension. “You have questions?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather follow me to my dwelling, where we can discuss all this over a mug of fine blackberry tea?”
“No, I’d rather ask them right here.”
Monohan nodded. “Alright. Ask your questions. But leave your heart open to receive the answers.”
Fair enough, I thought. “Okay. Are you telling me that you are one of the fey?”
The man chuckled. “Me, no. I do live among them, however, for quite some time. I have been away from the world of man, the ‘kynney deiney’, for quite a long time indeed.”
“Then the butterfly–“
“Cluny,” Monohan corrected.
“He is a creature of the fey, possessed of intelligence and some minor magics. You’ll find that many of the creatures of Tanglewood, the birds, the foxes, sometimes even the fish, are no ordinary animals. But we are getting off topic. We have much to discuss, so please try to keep your questions related to the topic at hand.”
“I’m not even sure exactly what the topic is.”
“That’s easy. The topic is contained within this simple question. Are you ready to accept that the fey and their magic are real, and always have been?”
I paused, unsure of myself. It was here I knew I had to make a decision. I could dismiss the ramblings of this man as harmless lunacy, or I could accept what he had told me, and follow him to his home, wherever that may be.
A gentle wind caressed the trees once more. Watching with curious perception, listening keenly, I heard the whispers of the woods and the song of the sky resonating within my mind. A primeval feeling of enlightenment overcame me.
I realized then that I had truly never stopped believing, and these extraordinary woods, full of untamed life and strange enchantment, had cast a spell over me.
Monohan took hold of his walking staff and gestured me over, turning toward a path I had not seen before.
With a renewed sense of adventure and my curiosity piqued beyond habitual limits, I eagerly followed.
For more information regarding the fantasy series, The Tales of Tanglewood, please visit the website to learn more about Colin and the other characters in the 'wood, and to download a sample of the first few chapters of each book for free.