days had come at last. Ashling was at work in the
fields, planting beans in the dark earth. He heard
the voices of girls in the distance, bringing water
back from the river. As they drew near, he glanced
in their direction, casually, not wanting to stare.
Alderleaf was there, her soft white skirts shifting
in the breeze. His eyes were drawn to her partly
bare legs, smooth and shapely. He longed to touch
her, and he thought she was beautiful.
would reject any attention from him, he knew. They
had grown up together in the village, and he knew
she saw him the same way all the others did: an
unattractive, unmanly youth, too serious and moody.
So he kept his thoughts to himself, and was
secretive even when his other male friends talked
about girls and their sexual fantasies.
As the weeks
passed, Ashling's frustrations and despair grew
intense. Would he ever find a girl to be
with? Who in this village would ever take him
seriously? Would he be left alone, after everyone
else had paired off? No adult would have
understood his urgency, but Ashling was seventeen
years old, and it seemed to him that he had already
been left behind. He watched boys and girls younger
than him flirting, touching, kissing . . . and he
had heard stories from his friends of their
conquests. He wasn't sure whether to believe these
stories or not, but his mind dwelled on them just
the same, constantly.
Ashling could not have imagined it, Alderleaf did
not consider herself beautiful, or even pretty. She
thought she looked boyish, with her lanky frame and
thick eyebrows. She envied the other girls,
round-breasted and curvaceous. Her girlfriends
complained frequently about the boys who pestered
them and made crude sexual suggestions. Alderleaf
participated laughingly in these conversations
about the shallowness and immaturity of boys, but
privately, she felt strange and uneasy that she did
not receive this kind of attention from boys
revels were approaching. The more forward,
flirtatious boys and girls were full of
anticipation. There would be dancing around the
fires at night, and couples would steal away
secretly (or not so secretly) to make love in the
woods under the light of the full moon. For those
less sure of themselves, however, the approaching
festival was met with anxiety and dread.
meadow at the edge of the village was being made
ready. The boys were setting up wooden posts in a
large circle around the place where the maypole
would be set. The girls followed behind them,
decorating the posts with garlands of feathers and
leaves. Alderleaf joined Ashling as he finished
straightening and securing a post. "Can I start on
this one?" she asked.
I just finished," he said, but he was slow to
move away from the post. Alderleaf caught the
intense look in the boy's eyes, and she knew that
he wanted to touch her. What would
happen? Would he say something? Would he
just reach out and grab her? Ashling stood silent,
apparently incapable of either speaking or leaving.
Alderleaf broke the tension of the awkward moment
by kneeling down and attaching a garland to the
base of the post. As she did so, her hip and side
brushed against Ashling's leg. The touch, although
brief and accidental, was electrifying. Ashling
became instantly aroused, and then felt suddenly
flushed with embarrassment and walked away,
mumbling something inaudible.
Ashling lay in bed, reliving his encounter with
Alderleaf, and fantasizing about her and what might
have happened if he'd only said or done the right
thing. When the fantasizing was over, and he came
back to earth again, he felt terribly alone and
worthless. He fell asleep sobbing.
stayed up late that night, talking with her older
sister. She shared what had happened, and her
sister was full of smirks and friendly teases.
After the giggles died down, her sister
asked "So, do you like him?"
was quiet for a moment. "I never thought so
before. He was always just there, you know. In the
background. But now I think he's kind of
special. He likes me, but he's shy. He wasn't rude
or anything, but it's like he has everything
bottled up inside him, ready to pour out. That's
kind of exciting."
"So what are
you going to do about it?"
need to give him some help. Say something to him,
or ask him to dance the fires with you tonight. If
he knows you've noticed him, he'll be more
thought about this for awhile. Did she really want
to do this? Was she ready for that kind of
attention from a boy? This boy? But every time she
tried to work it out, she remembered the passionate
look in his eyes, and the intense feelings when
they brused against each other, and she felt drawn
to him, unable to think about anything but his
touch - real touch, intentional touch, a true
caress. As the hours passed, the self-questioning
just fell apart and got swept away by her longing
to be touched again.
afternoon, as the villagers assembled in the meadow
for the revels, a stranger appeared among them. She
was a tall woman of extraordinary beauty, dressed
in flowing veils of green, yellow, and red. She
moved among them, almost like a ship moves through
the sea, gliding. All eyes were on her, and she
seemed luminous in the slanting gold rays of the
westering sun. She smiled at each person she saw,
and held their gaze with her eyes. Such was the
power of her presence that conversation seemed
impossible, or perhaps unnecessary. No one even
asked her who she was or where she came
were lit, the drumming started, and she began to
dance, casting off her colored veils as she danced
around the meadow. Villagers joined in, dancing
behind her and singing. The mysterious woman was
now completely nude, and more beautiful than she
had been even in her flowing veils. Some of the
villagers were also casting off clothing now; the
spring air was still balmy, and the bonfire grew
hotter and brighter. Everyone was dancing
except a young man, sitting on the grass, some way
away from the fires and the dancers. The stranger
noticed him, and walked toward him. As she grew
closer, Ashling gazed at her in wonder. His heart
filled with overwhelming joy, and he knew that he
was in the presence of magic. The woman took his
hand, and led him into the deepening evening dusk,
away from the fires. They walked into the woods.
Ashling stopped, because the moon was rising now,
its silver light flowing over the distant hills and
between the tree trunks.
beautiful, isn't it?" The voice was soft, musical,
richly feminine. Ashling turned to answer, but the
stranger was no longer there. Instead, he looked
into the eyes of Alderleaf, her fair skin and white
gown glowing softly in the moonlight. She was more
beautiful than the stranger had been, and his gaze
spoke that truth more eloquently than any words of
love he might have found to say.
said, not even caring to ask how she came to be
here. "It is a night like no other
kiss me?" she asked, and Ashling took her in his
arms, and kissed her - tenderly at first, then
passionately, caressing her arms and
wandered the woods together all that night,
sometimes making love in grassy hollows, sometimes
cuddling together in sleepiness under the
protection of the ancient trees. With his arms
around her, the angst-ridden boy of yesterday
became a memory. Everything had changed.