Episode 1. THE ENCHANTING FOREST
The subtle laughter of a thrilled young woman threatened the morning peace of the enchanting forest of Nezmae.
Squirrels scurried to their holes, hares scampered away to safety. The orchestra of birdsong suddenly stopped and was replaced by flapping sounds of feathered wings. Butterflies joined in the plight as they pirouetted high in the air, their wings a-whirr like little ripples of silk.
The glory of the forest came to life in the birthstone-bright light of a new dawn. Almond-brown trees stood serenely awash with a tender glow, their barks looking like riffled toast with gems of amber clasping their crusty exterior. The first blush of the morn gave the leafy bowers a green going to gold complexion, engulfing the forest into a breathtaking fairytale charm.
Anna Jones. Beautiful, young, vibrant ran as fast as she could, zigzagging through the magnificent forest, carefully avoiding the thick lush foliage which formed a fairytale-green above her head, and also dodging the huge roots of trees that spread-eagled the ground twisting like the great backs of sea dinosaurs.
She glanced behind, sending her long raven hair flying in the air, to reveal a pair of beautiful amber eyes and a set of dazzling white teeth. It wasn’t just the way she held her gown to quicken her pace but the way the silky material clung to her young body baring a flesh of creamy shoulders to the eyes of her beholder. A silver necklace danced on her neck, its pendant swinging like the pendulum of a sailor’s watch amalgamating with a finger of supernal silver light.
Excitement coursed through her at seeing her best friend close behind, stretching a hand to tag her in their little game. Somewhere somehow, Anna Jones lost focus and tripped over a century-grown stone. The laughter ceased in her mouth as her fragile body came crashing on the mossy mattress floor of the forest.
Miel Bouston, her childhood friend, her chaser, on seeing Anna fall tried to dodge the said stone but rather she slipped and just like her second, came crashing on the forest floor, next to Anna. The two girls rolled over on their backs, laughing so hard that tears filled their eyes and even cascaded down their flushed cheeks. The laughter began to taper until it was just chuckles and then, there was silence, total silence.
For a moment, the girls remained on their backs, admiring all over the beauty of the enchanting forest, something they’ve always done ever since they were six. And then Anna remembered what today held in store for her and jerked to her feet, only then did she realize her hair and legs were now soiled with mud.
“Oh Miel,” she started almost in tears futilely trying to smudge away the stains on her dress and body. She noticed some bruises on her knees and bent over to inspect them. And then she stopped and moved her gaze to her bestie, at the same time straightening back to her full height. “–I can’t believe we just had ourselves soiled after that long walk to the stream!” Pain clouded her voice.
Miel sprang to her feet and examined herself. She was lucky she had stains only on her dress and the tip of her blonde hair but sustained no bruises. She heaved a sigh of relief. “Shall we walk back to the stream and take another bath?” she suggested.
“I’m afraid I shall miss the trip to Ascencia if we do take another trip to that stream,” Anna replied, confused. She began to pace the forest pondering on how to help with the situation.
Miel's gaze, filled to its brim with guilt followed Anna. She understood better how important today’s bath at the stream was to her friend, they could have managed bucket-bathing at their various homes but both had opted to use the stream for thorough washing of hair and body. She brought back her attention to the conversation, “What do you suggest we do? Bucket-bath at our homes?” she asked.
Anna stopped pacing at the question her shoulders dropping in surrender after all time was ticking fast against her. “We shall bucket-bath at home, that’s the only choice left,” she said with a shrug and a slight twitching of her mouth. Not wasting any more time, she grabbed on Miel's hand and they dashed off for the village, yet they hadn’t taken more than nine steps when Miel noticed something odd. She tried not to panic.
“Where is your necklace, Anna?”
At the question, Anna's heart skipped a beat, or perhaps two. She halted in her tracks and quickly letting go of Miel's hand, she reached her neck for the object. But it wasn’t in its usual place anymore. Her eyes widened, her mouth dropping open in total shock. The fastest of shudders swept through her spine, swirled inside her head like a big tornado. Without sending her friend a warning, Anna turned and darted back towards the stream. Miel sprinted after her. Anna ran back to where they’d fallen and began to search. Miel caught up with her and joined in the search. They left no stones unturned.
“A-Anna, how sure are you it's here you lost it?” Miel didn't waste time in expressing her doubts. She was on her knees just like Anna; her hands were stained with mud.
Still panting from the short run, Anna searched and searched for her precious jewelry yet it seemed nowhere to be found. “I don't-I don't know Miel but I have a feeling I lost it here.”
“Go, Anna! I shall find the necklace and have it brought back to you, or you shall end up missing the trip to Ascencia,” Miel said smearing mud across her forehead in an attempt to wipe off a sweat veering for her eyes.
Anna paused searching and gave Miel's suggestion a thought. “What will I tell my father, that I was playing around and have now lost my necklace, the only thing left of my late mother? Visiting Ascencia, a city rumored to flow with milk and honey is a dream of every child in Nezmae and her neighboring villages, and having such great opportunity slip out of one’s grasp is hurting. But it wouldn’t have me depressed as losing my necklace. Since it is the only thing left of my late mother, it holds a special place in my heart, not even Ascencia could equal to–” she paused as something caught her attention under the roots of a giant almond tree. She went closer, down on all fours, and reached for it. She gasped!
“Look Miel! I’ve found it, I've found it!” she cried leaping back to her feet. “I was certain it came off when I tripped,” she added, hardly able to contain the happiness that welled in and out of her.
Miel looked up to the heavens and heaved a deep sigh. And then she brought back her gaze to Anna. They exchanged a grin. Anna kissed the necklace, and then she gave it to Miel whilst she turned around and raised her hair to bare her neck.
Miel did the needful, “I’m done!” she announced seconds later after having fastened the object back to its usual place.
“Thank you,” Anna said and kissed the object again, this time on its pendant. There was something about this necklace, about the carved image embedded on its pendant that had Anna believing this necklace was mystical, magical, held behind untold secrets. But sadly she was the only one feeling that way, her father Mr. Jones wasn’t, neither was her best friend Miel. A slow smile crept into her face and lit her eyes, a smile that said the necklace was safe, still safe with her. And then Anna remembered something, “Ascencia!!” she gasped.
Miel’s hands went akimbo. “You said it was not important, you dummy!” she teased, eyeing her.
“Is that so?” Anna played along. She raised her brows, a ray of sardonic smile spilling through her small, perfectly molded lips. “Then I guess I lied,” she added and before Miel could say jack, she grabbed on the girl’s hand the second time that morning. “Come on, let’s go!” she impelled with a gentle pull and Miel submitted, laughing.
After learning a hard lesson from running, the girls this time walked to the village, doubling their pace now and then.
From atop the hill, the village of Nezmae came to view below. The settlement radiated with calmness, unity, and hospitality; a perfect place to harmonize with nature.
The girls paused for breath, a broad smile elongating their lips. The feeling was mutual; this was home, the center of their beautiful little world. It suddenly felt as if they've been gone forever. For a moment Anna let her eyes flutter shut, her hands spreading out in the air like a bird that had just escaped from her master's cage. She played on, filling her tender lungs with fresh morning air. When she reopened her eyes and her gaze locked down with Miel's, she gave her bestie a slight nod. And then in unison, they began to plunge down the hill, each by her own herself. Laughing, they ran down the hill with pleasure quickly forgetting the incident that had taken place a while ago from them running around in the enchanting forest. But it seemed Anna hadn't completely forgotten, because she had a hand settled over the pendant of her necklace, preventing it from swinging even a bit.
They continued, but as soon as they had entered Nezmae, the girls slowed down, reducing their steps to just a stroll. They were still panting from the run as they greeted the elders, their seniors, smiled at their mates, waved back at little children. It was for moments like this that Anna was glad to be part of such a beautiful large family. Here in Nezmae every household owned a small piece of garden and an animal farm near their house, though some peoples were larger than others. Houses were made of woods, some of the mud bricks, others half-timbered. Most roofs were thatched, but for some well-off people like Anna and her friend, it was tiled. Fences were low, made from bamboos. Every morning like this, hens with their chicks were the firsts to feed, moving freely about the village looking for more scrambles, even though most times their owners have already treated them to a hearty whole-grain meal. Ducks were not left out of the scene, but theirs was a movement on straight file, most times from oldest to youngest, it never ceases to amuse Anna.