'Tryst' by Susan Carey
An appointment to meet at a certain time and place, especially one made secretly by lovers. She had to look up the word’s meaning in the tribe’s human dictionary. The anonymous note intrigued her, the words written in charcoal, smudging into each other, already half disappearing.
She gazed at her reflection in the water. The People of the Wood were said to be beautiful but she doubted her comeliness now. The foundling was truly exquisite to behold, her eyes so blue, they were almost cerulean. Until then Cimmeria had been the tribe’s beauty. Usurped, in a fit of pique, she had taken the garment that was hidden in the foundling’s basket. Standing alone by the water she slipped on the stolen dress and twirled, lighting up the gloom with sparks of kingfisher blue. Then she sat down, crossed her legs and waited.
As the sun lowered in the sky the light became grainy, crepuscular. Behind her something rustled. She turned to investigate but it was only the elderly unicorn. He shied when she looked around. Then he nickered, recognising Cimmeria. He lowered his head to the pool and started to drink. The rhythm of his swallowing soothed her as he drank great gulps of water.
Cimmeria read the note again. Tryst by Unicorn’s Pool, today at dusk. The longer she waited the more she suspected it was a hoax. Any minute now one of the Fakefleshes would run up behind her and push her in the water. She was tempted to jump on the unicorn’s back and gallop away but suspected he would no longer be strong enough to carry her. He was fading. Sometimes, all you could see of him was his shadow as he flickered between the second and third realms.
From a nearby camp floated music. Her feet twitched and her legs became restless. She waited till the sun was just a red sliver above the hills beyond the trees. She got up and shook the pins and needles from her limbs. Turning around, she saw him. The woodsman. He reached his charcoal-stained hand towards her. Placing her hand in his she felt his blood pulse through him. At the camp, the music suddenly stopped and the musicians tilted their heads, straining to hear something. Then came a whistling, the rush of wind through leaves followed by a murder of crows cawing as they pierced the stygian sky. The man and Cimmeria walked hand in hand towards the campfire. A cheer went up as they welcomed her. The clan of humans started playing again and suddenly Cimmeria’s legs knew what to do. She lifted her turquoise skirt and like a wild thing, began to dance.