Author: Chris Cook
Time passed quickly for Tara; while the moon hid or shone, she attended to her chores, which were none too difficult, and passed time reading. Content with what she knew of history and philosophy, she focused her studies, consuming volume after volume on forests, supplementing Willow's teachings with all she could find on plants and forest animals, weather and seasons, the earth and the sky. Every half-moon she surprised and delighted Willow with her passion for her forest.
All the children were growing up. Their talk was often of husbands and wives and hopes for a family: the girls discussed the boys in quiet murmurs, the boys hesitantly confided in each other their attraction to one girl or another, unspoken agreements were formed where tentative couples would walk together, or hold hands, or find reasons to spend time in each other's company. Tara was afforded a space on the periphery of this newfound social structure, but never ventured farther into it. When the other girls spoke of watching boys working in the fields, shirts off and gleaming with sweat, or even, with great hesitation and caution, admitted to thoughts of other girls, Tara's thoughts turned always to Willow.
Alone, in secluded places, when she let her clothes fall, and found the joyous places of her body, and how to touch them, then she thought of Willow too.
"What's it like," she asked one day, as she lay with her head in Willow's lap, enjoying having her face gently stroked with a hand overgrown with soft leaves, "when you go into the forest? When you're not out here?"
"It's..." Willow searched for words. "It's being alive, totally alive... I wish I could describe it to you, I really do." She stared into Tara's eyes, and seemed to be seeing through them. "Imagine a heartbeat so powerful... so deep it fills you, so it's as if it's not just your heart, but your whole body..." She smiled bashfully and gave a little shake of her head, letting her hair - today the burnished bronze of autumn leaves - fall across her face.
"Have you ever seen something," she said quietly, "so beautiful, so perfect... that you fell in love with it from the first moment you laid eyes on it, and you were never the same person as before?"
'You,' Tara wanted to say. Hesitating, she nodded once.
"Imagine becoming part of it," Willow said, smiling as if at a lover. "And not just that, but it becoming a part of you - the thing you love touching you and covering you and entering you and, and being your life."
"It sounds amazing," Tara said, tentatively. Willow nodded, thinking.
"Um..." Tara hesitated, then looked away, and whispered her thoughts: "It sounds... intimate. Um, s-sexual..." She blushed heavily, then stilled as she heard Willow's hushed reply.
"It is," the dryad breathed. "It's..." She paused, and Tara returned her gaze to her face, studying her intently. Seeing the pause become a silence, she lifted her hand, and ran her fingertips along Willow's jaw, gently. Willow's lips parted; slowly she turned, to fix her gaze on Tara, her eyes the colour of spring leaves asking a question, which Tara's gentle, unflinching stare answered.
Tara returned to the village at the end of the half-moon thoughtful and silent, and remained so for the next week. The other children, and the adults, did not trouble her - she was known as a quiet girl, given to solitude and contemplation of whatever fascinated her, and if she seemed now more withdrawn from day-to-day life than usual, that was a choice allowed her. Every day she would go to the edge of the forest - but for the first time she took no books to read. Safely distant from the village, and the eyes of her fellows, she would shed her clothes, lie among the border trees in the thick grasses, and relive the incalculable joy and wonder she had felt that day.
She had never been touched in passion by human hands; now she felt no need to ever be. Willow's touch had been soft and patient, gentle, yet strong and fiery, communicating at once her boundless tender care and the inflamed passions that had stirred within her. Having wondered whether Willow shared her own thoughts for so long, her fantasies of touching and tasting, Tara found her desires returned in bountiful measure. Willow had loved her - had kissed every inch of her body, had joyfully caressed her in every place she had only dreamed of being touched, had tasted her nectar, had with tender care taken her maidenhood and explored her depths - all this, Willow had done with such incredible awe, such consuming want written in her features and in her every motion, that Tara could not dwell on the memories without letting her own fingers retrace Willow's path, across and inside her body.
"That's what it's like," Willow had whispered, referring to Tara's earlier question, as they lay together on the bank of their lake, the dryad's body growing vines wreathed in soft leaves that covered them both like the warmest blanket. Tara had thought, briefly, of all the whispered conversations she had been privy to among her fellow almost-adults in the village - the hesitations and doubts and fears of regrets of taking each step away from innocence. She lay there, with Willow covering her and filling her, and had only one regret: that she could not go with Willow when the moon waxed or waned.
But though Tara remained in the mundane world outside, while Willow dwelt in the heart of the forest's life, the blonde felt her presence in some indefinable way, as she lay in the soft grass beneath the shade of Willow's forest, and with fingers slick with her nectar and soft moans on her lips she shared herself with Willow every day.
For a week she thought of nothing but Willow. But then her old life intruded on her newfound one, and what had been an eternity of waiting was transformed by the fear that she would never see Willow ever again.
One week after Tara's fears manifested themselves, she again ventured into the forest, but instead of anticipation and curiosity, grim purpose and fear of failure were written on her features now. It was a waning moon, and nearing sunset - Tara travelled light, with no books, no food, no blankets, nothing but the simple clothes she wore. Familiarity guided her to Willow's haven, and there she waited, her lips silently moving as she rehearsed what she would say.
"Tara?" The voice startled her - she looked up, and realised she had been so wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn't realised when sunset had become evening. She turned her head hesitantly, and saw Willow stretching as she emerged from her willow tree, naked and beautiful and perfect.
"Tara what's wrong?" the dryad asked, quickly crossing the distance between them and kneeling by the blonde's side, hugging her around the shoulders and taking her hand. Tara sat still and let herself be hugged without response, but she gripped Willow's hand as if she meant to never let go.
"Th-they want t-to..." she began, then broke off, looking down and shaking her head sharply, frustrated at her voice.
"Tara," Willow whispered, tears of crystal clear lake water trickling down her face. She kissed to the top of Tara's head and hugged the young woman to her soft bosom.
"Th... they want to take me away," Tara said in a choked voice. Willow continued comforting her, but couldn't keep a pained expression from her face.
"Who, sweetie?" she asked.
"A-a... a guest of the Baron, a knight... he saw me in the castle, and... the Baron's servants asked me if I'd meet him. He," she swallowed a sob, "he asked... he wants me to go with him. To marry h-," she broke down for a moment, and Willow pushed her own pain aside and gave herself completely to calming her stricken lover.
"I-I can't be without you," Tara whispered at last. "He'd take me to his estate, far away... I can't, I just can't. But I... there's no way to refuse, the Baron approves and..."
"Shhh," Willow soothed her. "It's alright... I promise, no-one's going to take you away. You can... hide here, I'll look after you, and I can make sure they won't find you here."
"Willow, I..." Tara began, and hesitated.
"What, sweetie?" Willow asked softly. Tara opened her mouth, caught in indecision that sent tears spilling down her cheeks.
"Tara," Willow said, breathing her name like a prayer, "anything."
"I want... I..." Tara's voice dropped to a whisper, barely audible. "I want to go with you."
"With me?" Willow echoed.
"I-into the forest," Tara continued. "Can you? Is there any way? Anything, at all... that I could be, like you... be with you, always?"
Willow stared at her, in a mixture of hesitation and slowly dawning awe.
"Sweetie," she said in a voice that trembled with emotion, "you... couldn't go back-"
"I know," Tara said at once. "Willow I... I couldn't go back, to my old life, even if I found a way to refuse. No-one would understand why, unless I told them everything, and then... That life's over for me. But even if it weren't," her voice firmed as she spoke, as if the words were coming straight from her heart, and bringing courage with them, "even if I could go back... this is where I want to be. Maybe I'd have taken longer to see it, but... sooner or later, I know I'd have come here and asked this. Willow, please..."
"Tara," Willow whispered, "I love you..."
"I know," Tara promised, turning to face her.
"It... won't be easy," the dryad said slowly. "I've never done it, but I know how... The only way would be for you to... change, become like me."
"Yes," Tara said, nodding once, never looking away from Willow's eyes.
"I can't tell you what it'll be like," the dryad warned. "There aren't words for it... only, if you trust me-"
"I do," Tara said.
"Hold onto that," Willow replied. "This forest is me... everything you feel while... while this is happening... everything will be me. Remember that. If it seems... frightening, remember that it's me, and I love you, Tara, I love you with every heartbeat of life in the world. Remember that."
"I will," Tara nodded.
"This'll be unlike... anything..." Willow began, trailing off as she failed to find the words.
"So was last time we were together," Tara reminded her softly. Willow blinked in surprise, then laughed softly, the laugh becoming a sigh.
"I wish I could tell you... something," the dryad shrugged. "To prepare you - I don't even know myself, I think... It won't be easy, I-"
Tara slipped the shoulders of her plain dress off, and let it fall to the ground. She stepped out of her sandals and into Willow's arms, naked and willing.
'Never fear what your heart tells you.'
"Take me," she whispered. Willow nodded, gazing at her in wonder, and together they leant back into the willow tree, which opened to accept them, and closed over their embrace as they sank together into a space deep inside.
Willow had spoken the absolute truth: Tara felt things that no human ever had, nor could ever imagine. That no human body ever could feel - she felt herself becoming something other than what she had always been, opening in ways she had no words for. She was the forest, the forest was Willow, Willow was her. Skin and muscle and bone were enveloped, gently unmade; like a flower opening to the sun, Tara felt her body parting, unravelling, dissolving to free something ineffable - a new her that had always been inside her, and now reached out with hands made of idea and desire, and touched Willow with her bare soul. The heartbeat of the forest was inside her, moving her like the tide.
In the half-moonlight Willow lay by the lake, her legs submerged in the water, her body green and soft, half-formed from the grassy ground that took her shape. Life flowed through her - her life, and Tara's, mingling, changing. She slowly ran a hand over her swollen stomach, feeling from without and within the new form stirring there. Not long now. You'll be reborn, sweetness.
And an answering thought, without a voice or a language, but arriving from inside of her mind: I have been every day since I met you.
Willow chuckled quietly, and closed her eyes, giving her body over to the forest, and the precious task it was carrying out within her.
Rain streamed through the branches, cascading to the ground in curtains that churned the soil and pooled in storm-lashed puddles, mirroring the turmoil of the forest canopy in the furious gale. Thunder rolled again and again, bombarding the land with waves of crashing sound that reverberated without respite.
Willow's hands clawed into the soil, her fingers merging and re-forming from the earth over and over as she gasped for breath. The wind in the trees was gusting in time to her laboured breathing, and as she cried out the sky flashed in sympathy.
I love you Willow, the thought-voice came from inside her, a mantra as constant as a heartbeat, and more sustaining. I love you I love you I love you...
"I... remember," Willow gasped, bracing herself as she felt her body preparing itself. "When we... first... met... the storm... you gave me... a gift... the sapling... you saved..."
I remember. Even when the thought came to her, the mantra was still there.
"It's time... Now... new life... reborn... you... can grow... become..."
I'm ready. I love you.
Willow let the primal forces in the forest take her, gave herself over completely to them - old magic, older then words and thought. Old like magma and black rock, old like starlight in a night sky that had never seen the sun. There was danger there, forces terrible and pitiless, laws inscribed in the fierce geometry of diamonds. For Tara, to give Tara new life, Willow let the forest inside her do its beautiful, painful work. It was the price - no life without pain. Willow paid it, and Tara's mantra was the lifeline she held on to.
Tara had discovered so much since becoming one with Willow. Everything she had known about the forest, all the insight that had turned to love inside her, she experienced from the inside. The rhythms of the trees and the sky and the earth, the hidden lexicons of plants and animals, the civilisations of dewdrops and petals. She felt the oncoming storm, and knew, somehow knew, the trial ahead, before she could have hands to touch the forest, eyes to see its beauty, a voice to speak its languages. Her body moved, stirred on its own, preparing to be. She whispered her love for Willow.
The dryad, an ancient, beautiful, unearthly body that Willow had become, arched its back and spread its legs. Water pelted its smooth, swollen stomach, and the lightning in the sky flashed reflections on its soaked skin. Its sex yawned, stretched, and slowly the final act of Tara's rebirth began. The gale swirled, surrounding but not touching, and Tara's hands, soft and new and fresh, touched calm air, flexing and reaching for the world. The calm spread, stilling the forest and the sky. In the sudden silence, the Willow body's groans and cries were the only sound, as the world held its breath. Tara reached, more, further, the dryad gasped and pushed, and in a slow, shining motion the girl who had saved a sapling through her own tears, who had become a woman in love of the forest, whose body had blossomed under its guardian's touch, slid from the heart of her chrysalis womb and took her first breath in the still, gentle air of the storm's passing.
Willow stirred feebly, opening her mouth as cool, refreshing water touched her lips. She swallowed sip after sip, and finally opened her eyes. Tara was there - Tara, as beautiful as ever, but so much more. Willow, her head cradled in Tara's lap, explored her lover with all her senses - not just the mundane sight and sound and touch of a forest creature encountering a human, but the senses of life rhythms that only the forest had ever known. In a rush of joy she saw Tara, and felt Tara's new senses answer hers. The blonde scooped up another handful of water - the moisture clinging to her palm, answering her as she gently asked its permission to be carried and offered - and replenished Willow's exhausted body.
"A-are you alright?" she asked, and Willow sighed in delight at hearing her lovely, liquid voice echo through every language the forest knew.
"Yes," she murmured. "Are... are you?"
"Yes," Tara nodded. She put her hand gently on Willow's forehead, and let her fingers unwind into delicate vines and leaves and flowers. Willow moaned quietly at the touch of Tara's life, so like her own now, but still, always, uniquely hers.
"That was..." she began.
"...quite an experience," Tara finished with a smile. She gazed into Willow's eyes. "I'm like you now. Everything you told me about the forest... it's so much... I was inside you..."
"You always were," Willow said, returning Tara's wonderstruck smile.
"I have so much to learn," Tara whispered.
"You've always been quick to learn," Willow pointed out, inhaling deeply as her strength returned. She sat up, and leant into Tara's embrace. "I think you'll teach me just as much."
"I have a lot to explore," Tara breathed, leaning back, bringing Willow with her as she lay back on the grass. Willow chuckled as she felt Tara's touch become amorous.
"So do we both," she said, as the half-moon emerged from the parting clouds, to bathe the dryads in silver light. Once upon a time, in a faraway land...