(Read Part 1 first.)
Count Alaric did not question his wife further about Midsummer’s Eve.
He saw only two possibilities: either she would remember nothing and his questions would distress her, or she would know but continue to tell him nothing, and he could not bear to hear her lie.
He went finally to the wise woman Magda, who had helped his mother before him, and sought her advice. Magda told him to bring her a lock of his wife’s hair.
When he had brought the lock, Magda stood,
holding the hair, like a faint imprisoned moonbeam, in her strong brown hands.
Then she dropped it on the coals of her fire, and it burned with a green flame. With great pity in her face, Magda informed the count he had married one of the fairy folk.
It was her people and their music that continually filled that corner of her mind that never was present with him. It was being away from her people that made her unable to know who she was or whence she had come.
“But then she may someday dance with them and never return,” said Count Alaric. “How may I keep her from always thinking of this other place?”
“There is one way,” replied Magda, “by which a mortal can win one of the fairy people for himself, and that is by offering her a love so perfect that it leaves no room in her mind for memories of any other life.”
“But my love is already perfect,” Count Alaric insisted. “I would fight or live or die for her. There is nothing more I can do.”
“There must be,” Magda pointed out gently, “or she would already be yours.”
So Count Alaric spent the following months being, if possible, even more tender and solicitous to his wife, never letting a day go by without expressing his affection.
And while she always accepted his attentions and tokens with delight, he grew sorrowful as he observed the distant part of her never diminished.
He was careful to conceal his sorrow, however, and settled in his mind as Midsummer again drew near that he would follow his wife to the dancing place and capture her home again.
He would not allow the fairy folk to steal her away.
On the night of the great dance he rode his horse as close to the field as he dared before dismounting and creeping closer with sword in hand.
There was his precious Catherine, dancing in blue among the people all in green. He watched until he could no longer bear it, waiting until she was close, then he lept out and grabbed hold of her arm.
The fairies all scattered, screaming, and Count Alaric tried to speak to his wife.
“Come away, Catherine,” he begged. “Don’t let them take you away from me. Can’t you remember me? I am your husband!”
But the lady only tried to pull away, reaching for her companions and falling to her knees, sobbing as if her heart would break. Count Alaric turned his face away, resisting the pity that would have made him weaken.
The others called for her to join them, but the tight hold on her wrist prevented both their desire and hers. Suddenly she jumped to her feet and cried,
“Give me now your strength, my people.”
Blowing almost like leaves in the wind their many voices prompted,
“Be fierce our sister be fierce. Be fierce and come back to us.”
She was changed into the form of a vixen who bit to the bone, but still Count Alaric held her.
Again the voices cried out, saying,
“Be wild our sister be wild. Be wild and come back to us.”
And she changed into a slippery salmon and would have slipped away, but again he held her.
Try after try the fairy folk changed her: a tree, a trickle of water, a breath of air, a tongue of flame.
And still Count Alaric managed to hold her, telling himself,
“If I can hold her until the dawn, she will be partly mine for at least another year.”
In the end she returned to her own shape.
“You are too strong for me,” she whispered, “and I cannot leave you.”
The fairy folk ran to a distance, wailing, their sound and forms becoming indistinct in the early mist. It was nearly dawn and Count Alaric realized he had won.
He looked at the exhausted woman at his side, and couldn’t help asking, “When you stay with me this next year, with you miss your people and be sad?”
“I will always know I have lost something, but I will not remember what.”
“And if you are with you people, will you remember and miss me? Our time together?”
“If I am with my people I will remember nothing but them, and be only happy.”
“I would not wish you to have even a moment of sorrow. Dearest, go back to your people and be happy without any memories.”
He let go of her wrist and she rose, running to the fairy folk who waited with outstretched arms.
A rooster crowed, announcing the dawn and Count Alaric turned his back to the dancing meadow and ran for his horse.
He rode blindly for an hour, letting his horse gallop where it would. When he finally became aware again of where he was, he realised he was on the road for home, and could see the morning sun shining on his castle.
And on the road between the castle and him there was a solitary figure in a blue gown.
He raced his horse to her side and saw her turn at the sound of their coming.
For all her joy and relief she was near tears.
“I woke up in the meadow all alone, and was so afraid. Did you ride out to look for me? Were you afraid too?”
Count Alaric smiled. “I rode out to look for you,” he said. “And I was afraid.”
He lifted her on to his horse before him, and when he looked into her green-golden eyes, he saw that she was no longer thinking of anything else, but only of him and of herself and of their life together, and that at last she was wholly his.
And in that moment Count Alaric knew that love is only perfect when it will give up even the thing which it loves, for that thing’s sake.
[From Barbara Leonie Picard’s The Faun and the Woodcutter’s Daughter.]