The Forest of the Hanged Women
As they ventured in deeper, the forest grew darker and less welcoming. What had seemed like an embrace when they entered now felt as if the forest itself was trying its very best to strangle the three girls. Rylla twitched and tightened her grip on Lysenea’s waist. A reaction that the younger girl found at least some sort of comfort in. Her sister was still her sister and she was still alive. Lys tried a smile but it twitched agonisingly and died quickly on her lips. “Where are we?” she asked the leading girl instead.
“The Forest of the Hanged Women,” came the dull reply.
“Are we going to die?” Rylla asked not seeming scared in the slightest, in fact she seemed almost welcoming of the thought. Her voice had a tiny flame of something Lysenea could only classify as hope in it, and she wanted it gone…fast. Nothing and no one was going to take her sister away from her ever. After all, she had promised her parents to take care of her. It was not taking care to let her die, any idiot could tell herself that.
“No you are not going to die….you are going to a new home,” Sanya said firmly as if talking to an annoying child.
“A new home in a forest full of dead girls?” Lysenea inquired sceptically.
“Do you see any dead girls in these trees at the moment child?”
“No….but you said it was a forest of dead girls…I don’t want to be surrounded by ghosts,” Lysenea admitted.
“This was where the ancient king Jelres had all the lovers and serving women who had in one way or another displeased him strung up, some say that their screams and prayers to gods long gone can still be heard at nightfall,” Sanya explained as if that would somehow help the situation.
It did not however. Instead it quickly made Lysenea sure that she could here the groaning of a noose dangling from the thin branches of the trees mixed with the whispering sorrowful voices of hundreds of women and girls even though it was not even close to nightfall.
Every stick breaking under the hooves of the horses suddenly became the sound of approaching enemies and Lys felt her hands start shaking.
“Do not be afraid, They have taken the forest as their home a long time ago. There will be no more hangings of innocents. Male or female,” Sanya said as she let them deeper into the green darkness that kept out all traces of the sun, which must have been rising now.
With a tilt of her head and a confused breath of air Lysenea meant to ask who “They” could be. That was when she caught it. Out of the corner of her eye. A flash of something midnight blue in one of the treetops.
“What was that?” she asked bitting her lip and letting her nails dig into her palms. Do not be afraid Lys. Be strong. Your fear brings you and Rylla no where she tried to convince herself to not be scared.
“Not what….rather who,” was Sanya’s only reply.
“She lied, we are going to die after all,” there were traces of laughter in her sister’s voice.
“No you are not, they are simply watching, they have waited,” Sanya snapped at Rylla like a barking dog.
“Oye do not speak to my sister in that tone. She is unwell,” Lys snapped back, taking the other girl by surprise for a moment. Her shoulders tensed and she tightened her grip on the reins. “Your sister’s wellbeing is none of my concern, I am simply taking you where you need to go,” she said between breaths struggling to stay calm.
“Good then I will tell the others to make her well again,” Lys yelled her grey-blue eyes bright with the fury that could only be found in children who had been hurt by the cruelty of life in one way or another.
Laughter…someone was finding her anger humorous apparently. Or was it something she tricked herself into believing. Nothing in this ghost-forest made any sense at all.
Suddenly Sanya’ horse was put to a stop, as a tiny person in a blue cloak decided to run infront of it and then disappearing into…the ground beneath one of the trees?
“I told you, they have taken back the forest,” Sanya said as if it was the most obvious thing known to humanity.
Lysenea did not even get to think of a reply before the blue-cloaked people were everywhere. How in the name of the life god did they do that?
They sat in the branches of the trees or stood all around them in a circle. Either way strangers surrounded the little group.
There it was again…the laughing. Clearly this time it was not something she had imagined, if it ever had been.
“I brought the children that were foretold to come here by The Veiled One,” Sanya said a slight crack of nerves in her otherwise unfeeling voice, as she bowed her head to the blue-cloaked.
“Thank you Sanya,” came the bell-like reply as one of the people jumped elegantly from one of the trees and landed in front of her.
As she let the hood of her cloak fall Lysenea watched in stunned silence. That girl was….absolutely beautiful. Long golden ringlets framed a childlike dollish face. Her skin was….not pale but…it wasn’t exactly as if she spend a lot of time outside either. It was as if the sun it self had not dared touching her. Her eyes were pools of light and flashing jade. On her cheeks, she had freckles like Lys but…..hers were not the ugly little brown spots that Lysenea spend hours cursing. Her’s were tiny droplets of silver. The sun had not dared damage her and the moon had cried tears of silver on her cheeks when it saw how truly beautiful she was.
That was the only explanation Lysenea could find and she was happy with it. This woman, who ever she was seemed kind and trustworthy.
“Come now children you will have to meet Her to get a place in your new home,” she looked Lysenea and Rylla and flashed them a smile so like that of a mother that it made her heart hurt.
Quickly so as to not disappoint this otherworldly and kind woman Lysenea got off the horse and helped her sister do so as well.
The woman held out a delicate hand for Lys to take. It was warm and soft, and up close she smelled sweetly of flowers. With Rylla in tow she followed the woman who’s name she did not know to one of the trees.
Here the woman knocked seemingly without rhythm and a door slit open in the trees trunk.
Without a word she led the two girls into a warm underground tunnel.