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Excerpt from Darkling by Fiona Cooke Hogan

Excerpt from Darkling, a dark faerie tale taken from The Lights Went Out and Other Stories by Fiona Cooke Hogan

She slipped through the woods with the agility of one well used to nocturnal ramblings, knowing how to pick her way along the meandering path regardless of the moon’s milky glow that shone through the thickets of hazel and birch. She hummed low to herself a verse that was popular amongst the young girls in her village.

“Rose petals, rose petals, red and white, he that I marry, come to me this night.” It was custom for maidens on Midsummers’ Night to make potions to bind their admirers in love and matrimony, and Emma Loxley needed only one more addition to a concoction she had ready: leaves that could only be harvested after nightfall.

She moved on further into the wood, her thoughts on the son of one of her father’s friends, a handsome boy who was much admired among her circle of friends for his pleasing manners and brilliant blue eyes. Emma smiled to herself, pulling her cloak tight against the chill air. She was dressed for concealment; she wore a grey cloak over a brown wool dress, clothing she had changed into after her parents had retired for the night before she climbed from her ground floor bedroom window and slipped from the grounds.

As she wandered, the path narrowed and disappeared in parts. She stopped at a gap in the trees, a clearing of sorts. The area seemed strangely unfamiliar to her in the moonlight. Emma had wandered further this night than ever before. She had missed the church bells chime the hour. The sounds of the outside world failed to pierce the dense canopy. Branches crossed above her head creating a network of tunnels where even the moon light found it hard to penetrate.

As she turned to make her way back to the more familiar path she noticed the dark pointed leaves that she required, pulled a small knife from the pocket of her dress and proceeded to cut several stalks low from the base, careful to leave enough of the plant behind. So absorbed was she in her task that she didn’t notice the stranger until she was nearly upon him.

He walked upon the hummock between the ring of gnarled and ancient rowan trees, where the ground rose up to a point past the twisted branches to resemble a bald pate above a broken crown. An old place, the heart of the forest it was said, a place she had never trod as the light grew dimmer and the trees formed a ring that scratched and pulled at the wanderer who had strayed from the path. It was an area of the forest that local lore guarded against with tales of strange noises and lights. Emma pulled herself up smartly and half hidden behind the stout trunk of an oak, she observed the wanderer.

He appeared to be of above average height with shoulder length golden hair that shone in the moonlight as he moved about the hill. He looked to be well dressed, like a noble man in his frock coat, waistcoat and breeches; each of a different woodland hue, the greens and browns of bark and leaf.

He wore knee length hunting boots, the leather bright as a new chestnut. A most beautiful creature, he strode with what purpose she could not tell. His long limbs moving with fluid grace. He seemed a part of the moss-covered hill he walked upon as if he had appeared from the earth itself.

Unable to take her eyes off the stranger, Emma moved from tree to tree until he seemed close enough to touch until finally as if in a dream, she stepped out from behind the cover of the trees to face him – a bird released from a trap with no choice but to fly towards danger.

The walker between the trees turned on his heel sensing her, then moved towards the slight figure of the girl in the grey cloak whose wide eyes shone at his approach. The stitching on his waistcoat glinted in the moon’s light as he neared. Her eyes were drawn to a face of contradictions; ancient yet youthful.

His skin was white as the light that the moon poured down.

White as bone bleached in the sun.

Pale as the ice in the village pond in midwinter.

Pale and cold as death.

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