All credit for this part of "The Lady of the Ring" must really go to esti, whose "Magical Forests" series is so very fascinating, beautiful and inspiring. The illustration for this chapter is esti's post "Circling". Without esti's artwork, this chapter would not exist.
The lovely lady and the lovely creatures went bumpity bump bump on the hard wooden benches as the carriage made its way along the rough dirt road. Halfway to the city, the carriage driver stopped his horses beside a small tavern and proclaimed it a rest stop. The group of travel-weary women slowly made their way out of the carriage, squinting at the bright sunlight and surveying this new place. This new place was the place between where they had come from and where they were going, and it was strangely beautiful. The sun was warm, the air was crisp, the grass was green, and in the distance were forests and mountains and clouds. Instead of entering the tavern they walked in a long straight line, as if in a trance, towards the greenest part of the small meadow. The women stopped there, formed a perfect circle, and rested.
The lovely lady sat down on the grass, crossed her long and elegant legs, rested her graceful ringless hands on her knees, and watched them. Directly opposite her stood a woman in a long black dress whose right arm was raised towards the centre of the circle as if to say “I hereby request my ring”. To the left of this ringless woman stood the youngest of the women, almost a girl really, with long blonde hair and eyes closed and refusing to look, and hands clasped behind her back in solitary independence. Immediately beside the lovely lady stood a couple of women attached to each other in an intimate embrace of secrets and truths. One of these women was listening with wide-eyed surprise while the other pressed her lips to her ear as if to say “Listen, quick, this is my story, quick, before we get to the city.” The lovely lady noticed all of this, but what she noticed most of all was that the story-telling woman’s hand was tightly tucked into a deep, padded pocket. The lovely lady smiled to herself a little sadly and thought “Ah, yes, indeed.”
Turning her head to the other side, the lovely lady saw a woman who was wearing a light, flowing dress of the finest cotton. She was the tallest of the group by far, with her back held straight, her hair grown long, and a water-pot perfectly balanced above her long, angular face. She was looking into the far distance and seemed preoccupied. “Perhaps she is looking for her well,” thought the lovely lady. She then tried to catch this well-seeking woman’s eye, so that she could show her another lady, a lady who was so much more fascinating than mere water. This fascinating creature was in constant motion, and the breeze seemed to touch no other woman, only her. The breeze touched only her shawl, only her hair, only her walk. She was walking, and then running, with a silly simplicity and a grinning frivolity, and she made the lovely lady smile and laugh.
There were sounds in this circle as well as sights, and the most haunting sound by far was neither the breeze nor the bees nor the birds, no, it was the hesitant strumming of a woman’s guitar, a woman whose back was turned towards the lovely lady. For you see, dear reader, the musician of the group is actually staring right at YOU, right now, yes she is, and she is singing your song while looking at you and waiting to see your reaction.
It is a very lucky thing that the musician has chosen to look at you and not to her right, for the woman to her right is completely oblivious to the quivering notes of the song. This woman is exhausted. Yes, this woman has laid her body down on the long soft grass and circled the back of her head with her arms like a makeshift pillow. Standing beside this sleeping woman is a worrying woman who is holding her hands together anxiously and bending forward in prayer to an invisible goddess. The lovely lady can almost hear this worrying woman as she chants her silent prayers of hope and strength, and this makes the lovely lady realise that she is no longer alone and that her little world is perhaps not quite so little after all.
[And, dear reader, if you do happen to recognise any of these rare and wonderful women, rest assured, it is no accident.]