“Jacques! Slow down!” Abruptly, the crashing in the underbrush came to a stop and silence filled every crevice of the forest for a moment. The wind blew gently through the Louisiana landscape, sweetly kissing tanned skin with a fleeting coolness that was soon replaced by sticky humidity. Belladonna had spent many years in this place, in this one forest. She familiarized herself with every tree, flower, and piece of greenery that grew in the moist Earth. In a way, it had become her home away from home. No one knew this forest as well as she, except maybe Jacques.
Named for the human patriarch that had died with her promise to watch his son Dietrich ringing in his ears, Jacques was filled with the same curiosity and wonder. Her charge to watch over the Silas family had nothing to do with her promise to the human version. She could have continued her forced years of caring for the family with as little involvement as possible and been done. After that, she had forced herself to take a step back and start by learning all the names of Jacques’ seven children. Beyond that, she took in their future spouses and their children in under her wing.
That’s where she was headed now. Stepping through the dense foliage as silently as mist and making her way to the family houses. The fox Jacques leading the way with such certainty and grace that only an animal of Faerie could manage. He didn’t bother with glamour, the illusions that the Fae use to disguise themselves and the noise he made was to scare off twittering birds and smaller prey, giving him something to chase. When he wished, he could move so silently that he was but a silver ghost gliding over the ground.
When she had caught up to her companion, he playfully nipped at her before bounding away again. He enjoyed visiting her humans, to watch their odd ways and hear their odd way of speech. She herself no longer despised them. The rest of humanity was not included in her strange fondness. It had been centuries since she was charged with caring for the Sylvester line, now Silas in the gilded age of America, and she had grown to care more once she began to really learn about them. Each human in this ridiculously large family had their own little quirk that set them apart from the others.
The Silas family was a constant in her immortal life. When Oleander, her fraternal twin brother, defied the Queens and left to join the Unseelie Courts; they remained for her to visit. When her brother turned into a stranger with his new life, a stranger that started the bloody war consuming the Faerie realm, the humans remained familiar to her.
Her green eyes darkened with her thoughts, making the gold flecks more pronounced as she walked. It was the spark of magic along her skin that began to fill the air and heat it to unnatural levels that she realized just how far her control slipped. To lose it now would mean decimating this area of forest. As it was, her footprints had left black scorch marks on the ground behind her.
Pausing, she realized that beyond her brooding thoughts, the forest had grown silent again. There was no delighted crashing from her fox. No chattering of the squirrels or birds high in the canopy, nothing. It was an eerie silence, one that laid thick and heavy and was full of forebode.
Immediately, her lithe form tensed and prepared for an attack of either magical or weaponed means. With the faerie courts all at war, it was a free for all. She would not put it past any of the Faerie to bring the battle to the mortal plane. It hadn’t happened yet but there were many who used the plane as a secret way to travel. Twisting slowly, she searched for the signs of magic. Mentally she patted herself on the back for deciding to wear form fitting clothing for this outing instead of something loose and harder to move quickly in.
Nothing. There was absolutely nothing. She did not see, hear, or feel any trace of her race in the surrounding forest. Then what? There had to be something to bring such a silence to this usually bustling wood. Forcing herself to relax, she brushed back her wavy hair and waited for any sort of sign.
What she got was not what she had been expecting. Laughter suddenly echoed through the trees as if conjured by spell. So young, uncontrolled, and full of such carefree joy that she was taken aback by its infectious nature. A smile crept unbidden to her lips before dropping in another shocking revelation. She knew that laughter. With that knowledge, she turned on her heel and broke out into a ground eating sprint. Without knowing the exact location, she could not use her magic to transport herself there.
As she followed the sound, she realized that she did not get any closer to the Silas family house but further from it. That sparked a seed of worry as to how the little one had gotten so far out. If something had happened in her absence…she wouldn’t know what she’d do. The scene that she came upon was to be burned within her memory forever.
Jacques, her elusive and playful partner in crime, was curled around the little boy. His shimmering silver coat stood as a stark contrast to the dirt in which he laid and the dark colors of the child’s clothing. He was flicking his sleek tail to and fro, brushing away the tears that lingered on his cherub face before landing in his lap.
If she remembered correctly, the boy was Dietrich’s youngest Eli. He was no more than a babe still, just barely passing his third summer. Usually, Eli was never out of the sight of his mother or one of his older siblings. How he got this far from the house was another mystery. In no way could he have totted himself through the forest and sat down to cry a good two and a half miles away from the safety of his house. Even a handful of a child like him wouldn’t have made it this far.
What threw her for a loop was the lack of fear in the babe. He was one to cry silently at loud noises and not getting his toy to sleep with, not giggle in delight as a fox comforted him. Yet, the dark eyes of the toddler were clear and sparkled with such wonder and childish awe. The hint of his intelligence was going to bode trouble for his mother later in life but made for a cute baby. His siblings and parents had yet to teach him of the dangers of the world to have him act as such in a strange place.
When that gaze landed on her, she mused that maybe she would have to be the one to keep a closer eye on him. His curiosity was going to get him into further trouble. Still, what could she do with him now? Leaving him here was out of the question; his parents were sure to be in a panic. Not to mention how his older brothers, Zachariah and Marcellus, were going to get the scolding of a lifetime for losing the baby. There was no other choice than to return him to his mother herself.
Belladonna took a step closer but froze again as Eli used his fox guardian to stand. With each waddling step in her direction, one elegant eyebrow rose higher and higher. His innocence was the only thing she could think would be the cause of such fearlessness. Most humans would instinctively sense the danger around a Faerie woman and avoid the unknown but not this child. He made his way as fast as his pudgy little legs would allow before stumbling straight into her legs.
“What am I going to do with you little one?” She muttered, shaking her head and bending down to scoop him up before he fell onto his bottom. Her voice seemed to delight him further as his expression brightened and he gurgled out a few butchered words. If he tried smiling any wider, his face would crack. “You remind me of your grandfather. He also didn’t fear what he should have.”
At one time, she could have slain the child and walked away without another thought to the innocent blood saturating the ground. Now, she allowed him to fist his fingers into her waist length golden hair and shifted him to a comfortable place on her hip as she had seen his mother do. With a sigh and a strange feeling of attachment to her humans, she started the walk back towards the house while Eli Silas gurgled in butchered baby talk. “That is an oak tree little one. Not a flower.” The way he listened while she spoke gave credit to his intelligence despite his young age. It was not something she had seen in a human babe yet.
If all went well, she’d be able to drop the child off in the flower garden on the west side of the house. There he’d be found and she could slip away unseen. Looking down again, she noted that this was the second human to have seen her up close. Eli may not remember the encounter in his coming years, but she’d remember his earnest and delighted gaze long after he was gone.
“Teach your offspring some sense, little Silas. I will not make a habit of saving you or them from the woods each time something catches fancy.”
Prompt: Your character hears the laughter of a child in the deep of the woods. Write out the first thing that comes to mind and do not edit it.
I think I got carried away….