Once upon a time there was a little girl. She walked alone, for she was lost in a dark, vast forest full of demons and wild beasts.
Wandering the forest was all she had done for as long as she could remember, since before this story started, or even the one before. Her arms and her face were covered in scars where tree limbs and teeth had torn them. Her hair was wild and dirty, for there was never time to wash. Yet most scarred and most filthy was her heart, for it had been cast little-girl tender into the forge of fear and forced too soon into killing.
By day, she moved like a cat, alert and silent upon the underleaves. She strengthened her arms and her mind, for they were her sustenance and her salvation. By night, she refused to sleep, for rest was not a luxury afforded to a person of her station.
And how she hated the night! She hated the sound of her own breathing upon the silence, mortal and hovering in the cavity of her chest. Each time the sun fell to black, she would command her lungs not to need the air. They would not comply. Like a great steam engine, they wound in and out, burning the coal of her day, leather bellows turning iron gears.
She hated the pulse of alertness in her veins, throbbing to hear danger advancing in the unseen. This blood that bound her to life and to death, and she wanted neither, and she wanted both.
She hated the sound of the owl song, for the old, moon-eyed bard wove stories of girls, soft and white footed, sleeping in beds with cool sheets. He had seen them in his journeys across the land, doted upon, delicate, and safe. The vision burned her, and she threatened to yank off his holy hooting head if he would not refrain.
Every equinox, the demons would rise from the earth. She had come to know their sound and their form. They would scream, and they would dance in a molten cacophony, scores upon thousands, baring teeth and red-eyed thirst, frenzied in their search for air, and blood, and dreams.
In the death of her first battle, she had cried out like a child. In her second, she had thrown fists. In her third, she had stood, carved from marble, letting the venom tear whatever it would. For she knew that she would die, and she knew dying could not kill her, no matter how she hoped it would.
Every other night, she fought the woodmaker. The woodmaker was so great that his arms fell from the sky like peakless navy mountains, four hands rolling through the underearth. He was so wide, the aspens gasped and bowed their heads at his approach, for his voice roared like the tumble of splitting heavens.
Every growing thing knew his step, as the woodmaker had whispered upon each seed as it was coming to life. The owl knew his step, for the woodmaker had formed his feathers out the upper clouds, and his voice out of the canyon song. And the brook laughed at his step, for the woodmaker had given the waters perfect, thoughtless joy like that of a chosen daughter.
It was the woodmaker who had placed the little girl in the forest. And it was he who came to her every night in silence to bear the force of her anger.
How she fought, beating her small, hard hands against his chest! (For he would kneel to meet her fury.)
“I am forgotten! I am forsaken! I am unloved!” she would rage until sweat and tears ran down like blood into the earth. Then she would set her jaw to the West where the wild boars roam. There she would hunt, and she would kill, and she would eat.
On first dawn past Spring equinox, the little girl wandered lost in the forest. Her skin was torn, and her heart was raw, for the night slaying had ravaged her so deeply, the owl had flown. Even his great moon eyes couldn’t bear to watch.
As her feet stumbled across the forest floor, she saw movement in a pile of leaves, a soft brown stirring. She stepped close and realized it was a nightingale, young and trembling, fallen too soon from the nest.
Digging in the earth with her thumb, she found a white beetle grub. She attempted to place it in the nightingale's mouth, but he flinched from her fingers. Yet, the girl had watched the way of the birds, and so she placed the end of the grub between her small lips and moved her head close to his. His eyes met hers, he trusted her, and he ate.
This is how they came to wander together, day upon day, the little girl and the nightingale. When the wild beasts snarled, she would place the bird safe on a high branch, and she would fight with the vigor of one who is loved. When the demons would gather, she would face them with a forged gaze, sustained by the peace of one who is known.
In the night, when the woodmaker would come to walk through the trees, she would turn from him and his eternal silence. She would walk instead to the tall grasses of a clearing where she would lie, resting her nightingale on the soft rise of her chest. There, he would wrap his songs about her, soft as a nursing mother.
What tenderness they shared, the little girl and the nightingale! For their love was born out of hopelessness, and it grew in a sanctuary woven from alignment.
This is how they lived until the morning she awoke, and her nightingale was gone. Gone was the little handful of fire and hearth that had warmed the whole world.
She searched like a lover, desperate, tearing wild beasts and trees. She cried out, “Nightingale! Nightingale, my Every, Only Love!” until her voice became a rasping growl. She ripped out her hair, and she beat her chest, and she cried hot tears, and she turned fully black inside where all her light had grown.
When evening fell at last, the woodmaker came walking in the forest.
“Where is my nightingale?” she hissed.
“I demand him!” she ignited.
The little girl dove all her emptiness into the woodmaker’s chest, fists and salt flying. She beat every hot ounce of pain into the resistance. For hours and hours, she fought. Every wound, every loss, breath, every torn dream, she turned upon him. And he knelt while she spent herself against his strength.
The great owl watched from the branches of an old pine tree, and there he sang a song he had learned while sitting in the eaves of a nursery.
Slumber, my love,
While I gather the stars,
I will hang them about you,
I will hover to guard.
So the great owl sang while the little girl raged until the light of morning split the sky. It was then that she fell to the ground, for she was spent.
When the woodmaker saw this, he moved his hands, running through the earth. They came below her, and they lifted her. They lifted her up, up, into the cool of the upper heavens, until he rested her upon the shore of the high ocean sand.
His hands scooped up the waters, and he bathed her. His touch was healing and sweet. Then he clothed her in joy like the robe of a chosen daughter.
The little girl shut her eyes in wonder, and she heard in the crash of the tide whispering her name, so tenderly pronounced, pulsing like music in the close. And she realized that the voice of the ocean and the voice of the woodmaker were one in the same. So she turned to him unguarded, and she held him with the love that supplants fury.
The woodmaker placed his hands first upon the hair of the little girl's head, next upon her face, and finally upon her shoulders. Then he beckoned the nightingale to come and sit upon her chest. Together they reclined, backs against the great rocks of the high coast, the two and the three, staring into the waves in the hush of a wild, sweet song. In this cradle of beauty, listening to her name rising in a soft, eternal pulse through the watchful night, the little girl lay her head against the woodmaker's strength, and fell at last to sleep.