Illy had grown to love this forest long ago. Perhaps it was just as well.
Today, the clearing beneath the tall elm trees provided dappled shade.
The early summer sun fought its way on the glade below. The effect was like something from one of his childhood storybooks. Midges danced in the tracks of light as they speared their way to the ground, dusty and indistinct: the promise of another warm day ahead.
Another endless day in this secret place where few ventured.
Grandfather had first shown Illy this clearing when he had been little more than five.The man had placed a finger to his wrinkled old lips and smiled down at the child.
"Go quietly, my boy. This is a place of magic and you must not disturb the elves that live here. One day, if you are very quiet, you may see them and they will dance for you". He bent down to the child's level in conspiracy, beckoning him closer. "But, mark my words, you have to be silent. Only then will the elves dance."
And, when the time came, Illy had been silent. But the elves had not come to dance, or anything else for that matter.
"It was a lie! Grandfather.. Help me!"
The plea went unanswered, as always.
The leaves of last autumn still lay beneath the trees, remaining where they had fallen to be buried by the winter snow. But now, from the russet carpet, came fresh green shoots, striving upward in the search for light and warmth. They would have to work a little harder this year, but then, Nature loves a challenge.
A twig cracked softly. He looked on as a young fawn stepped tentatively into the clearing searching for food. For a moment it halted, sniffing the air, tasting the signals borne on the breeze: its head raised and alert. So close to his hiding place was the creature, that he could almost have reached out and touched it. Then, with a sudden start, it was gone.
It seemed such a long time since the first flakes of winter's snow had fallen. Within the day the glade had been covered by a thick, protective blanket of white. And, with it, all hope was gone until the next spring when perhaps, people would come again.
The girl was laughing loudly as she ran into the clearing, her chestnut-coloured hair in flight behind her. Her cheeks were glowing rosy-pink with the chase. Looking around quickly for a hiding place, she fled behind the tall elm. Flattening her back against its trunk, she breathed hard, trying not to giggle.
"Krystina... where are you?"
The young man ran into the clearing. "I'm coming to get you, Krystina. Its no good running!" He began to search, laughing all the while.
So, running was no good. How Illy wished he had run, instead of choosing silence.
Oh... if only he had run.
With a whoop of delight, the young man found the girl, sweeping her off her feet, to carry her high in the air. He spun her around, safe in his arms. They fell to the soft earth beneath the tree, her arms encircling his neck. Her green eyes gazed into his as he kissed her tenderly.
Illy watched, silently... secretly from his hiding place.
How like Leila she was. The same green eyes, the same gaze: the way they lit her face when she looked at her lover... the same eyes that had looked at him.
He wondered what the young couple would have done if they had known he was watching, so close by. But, there was no fear of discovery. He would not call. He had stopped calling of late... these past few years.
Perhaps if he had only run... He wondered if Leila had run and not, like him, stood in silent, insolent vigil. If she had run, then at least they would have shot her quickly: cleanly. He could not bear to think what might have happened to her if she had not run.
He had heard the stories. It was too terrible to contemplate! The taking of his Leila.
As he had been taken with the others, when the Serbs came.
All the men and boys together, marched from the village to the forest. Nico had been afraid, clinging to his older brother's arm for protection. Illy had been afraid too, sensing the fate of all of them all. And, when the shots came, he held Nico close so he would not see.
In his hand he clutched the watch that Grandfather has given himwhen he turned eighteen: the watch that still had the inscription - To Illy Malovich: a fine grandson. Still holding his trembling brother, they fell together into the freshly dug earth.
One day, he knew they would come, the men with dogs... to search for the lost, the forgotten.. the nameless; one day, when men had learned to stop hating.
When they found him, they would also find clutched in his hand, the watch bearing his name and the the younger boy's head resting on his shoulder.
Then, the world would finally know and the elves would dance once more.
Copyright © 2020 Sue Pacey, Author - All Rights Reserved.