Oh, God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2
The Boy stood in the forest. That was all he did.
The Boy was tall, swarthy and handsome, with long dark hair and brown eyes. He stood naked with his legs slightly apart, his arms by his sides, facing forward with a strange half-smile.
That smile never left his face.
He appeared to be sixteen years old, or perhaps eighteen; yet he had appeared the same age for many years.
He never spoke. He never moved.
The Boy stood in the forest. That was all he did. That was all he could do.
So unnaturally still and silent did he stand that at first glance he was often mistaken for a painted statue. Yet on closer inspection it was obvious that he lived and breathed. His heart was beating, and if anyone should seek to prove this by feeling his chest, they might also notice his eyes following them as they approached. His eyes also blinked from time to time, but they never closed, day or night. Some people had tried to persuade him to communicate by blinking, but he either would not or, more likely, could not. Clearly the Boy was under some kind of spell or curse, but one whose nature remained elusive.
Nobody knew where he came from. Some believed he was a sorcerer’s apprentice who had been punished by his master. Others thought he might have been a wild boy, raised by animals in the deep forest, whose feral nature had so unnerved somebody that they had placed a spell on him to prevent him from ever becoming a threat.
The locals, taking pity on him, had once tried to move him to the village, where he could be sheltered from the winter storms, but no matter how they tried they could not lift him. His feet seemed to be rooted to the spot.
Next, since they could not take him away from the rain, wind and snow, the villagers tried to do the next best thing by erecting wood and canvas shelters around him. Yet no matter how solidly they were constructed the shelters, one by one, fell to pieces within hours. The villagers’ attempts to dress him in thick fur clothing were equally unsuccessful, and for similar reasons. Eventually the villagers realised that these failures were all caused by the spell that bound him. Whoever had set the spell had wanted him exposed to the elements.
Finally they did the only thing they could, which was to place covered braziers near him during the worst of the cold weather. To their surprise the braziers had stayed lit, and provided the helpless Boy with some degree of warmth and comfort.
Numerous scholars, physicians and self-proclaimed sorcerers had inspected the Boy, poked him, prodded him, measured him, burned all manner of foul substances beneath his nose, chanted, danced, flailed him with twigs (which never left a weal) and painted him with bizarre symbols - all to no avail.
Some of the villagers had been wary about inviting sorcerers. After all, it was possible that one of them might be the very one who had bound the Boy in the first place, come to gloat, or even to replace the existing curse with a worse one.
The physicians did not seem much more reliable. One of them suggested attaching bloodsucking parasites to the Boy’s arms (“Takes one to know one,” quipped a villager), in order to suck any poisons out of his veins. But the parasites simply dropped off, having failed to draw blood. This was so unexpected that the physician tested the parasites on his own arm, where they sat quite contentedly and grew fat.
Next the physician tried to bloodlet the Boy, a common enough medical procedure at the time, but was astonished to find that the scalpel would not penetrate his skin. No matter where he tried to make an incision, the Boy’s skin seemed as hard as steel, impervious to the blade; yet to the touch it was simply warm, yielding flesh.
In fact the villagers could have told the physician that blades would be ineffective. One of the villagers, against the wishes of the majority, had made several attempts to - in his words - “put the Boy out of his misery”, but had soon discovered that he could not be cut. Nor could he be strangled, since his throat became hard as iron; he could not be beaten to death because his flesh hardened upon impact, preventing injury; there was no way to introduce poison into his body - certainly not orally, since his mouth could not be opened; nor nasally, aurally or anally (which if nothing else demonstrates the extraordinary lengths that this individual went to). The Boy’s various orifices simply refused to allow solid or liquid matter to enter; and when the man attempted suffocation he was thrown clear of the Boy by an unseen force, breaking his arm. Many of the villagers claimed that it served him right. Whoever had set the spell had been thoroughly determined that the boy should not escape it even through death.
Frustrated in his attempts at bloodletting, the physician attacked the Boy’s hair with his scalpel, and to his surprise actually succeeded in slicing off a lock. In the absence of anything else to work with he took the hair back to the city for analysis, but was not altogether surprised when it turned out to have no unusual characteristics.
Next it was the Church’s turn to send a representative. The priest, a deeply conservative soul, demanded that the Boy’s shameful nakedness be covered, now and forever. The villagers swiftly moved to comply, wrapping him in one of the priest’s finest silk robes, but as they did so they exchanged knowing glances, remembering their attempts at giving him winter clothing. They hadn’t left the Boy naked in the first place through mere negligence.
In the presence of the village congregation the priest led prayers for the boy, lit candles and placed them about him, sprinkled him with holy water and baptised him in the name of the Lord and His Most Holy Church. Finally the priest led the congregation in calling for the Boy to be healed of whatever curse held him. In the midst of their cries of “Heal! Heal! Heal!”, the robe split and fell away, leaving the Boy stark naked once more.
The priest examined the robe. He had only had it for half a year and would have sworn that it was flawless, yet it had fallen neatly into four separate pieces, as if it had been cut with razor-sharp scissors.
The villagers informed him that the same thing had happened every time they had tried to clothe the Boy. Even so, the priest demanded proof, and since he was not willing to risk another expensive piece of Church property the villagers wrapped an old bedsheet around the Boy’s body like a toga. Sure enough, within minutes the sheet fell to pieces revealing the Boy’s splendid nudity once more. Next a pair of old wooden clothes-horses hung with blankets were set about the Boy’s body as a screen. Soon afterward the wooden frames spontaneously fell to pieces, dumping the blankets upon the ground.
“Perhaps we should build a brick wall around him,” said a villager, which earned him an icy glare from the priest. In any case, if they had build such a wall it would have surprised nobody (except perhaps the priest himself) if the mortar had crumbled to dust. The anonymous spellcaster had obviously wanted the Boy not only to be naked, but to be seen naked.
The furious priest chanted and prayed, ringed the Boy with candles until the villagers wondered if he was trying to sweat the curse out of him, then doused him repeatedly with holy water as if trying to drown whatever evil spirits held him fast. When these measures failed to have any effect, the priest scoured the Holy Book from cover to cover for spells of exorcism. By the time he finished it was well after midnight, and the small clearing in which the Boy stood was probably the holiest patch of ground outside the Great Cathedral, yet the Boy remained a living statue, incapable of reacting to any of the day’s bizarre events.
The following day the priest took his leave, remarking that if the Boy could not be cured by the power of God then perhaps he was being punished for some past sin.
“Are you mad, man?” cried one brave woman, risking excommunication. (She was a mother, and so felt a maternal concern for the boy’s pain.) “What possible sin could a mere adolescent have committed that would justify such a cruel fate? God should turn you into a statue to teach you a lesson in humility!”
The priest turned purple and glowered at her, and the villagers quickly formed a protective circle around her. But after a long, tense moment the priest merely turned and stalked furiously away to where his coach awaited.
“So now what do we do?” someone asked as the coach rattled away. “We can’t move the Boy, we can’t set him free and we can’t give him a merciful end. What can we do about him?”
“Maybe God sent him to punish us,” said another. “Maybe he was sent here to make us all feel guilty for our sins. I mean, you know the old saying, there’s always someone worse off than you. Well, he is that someone, and he’s been living in our neighbourhood for ages, if you can call it living, and there’s nothing we can do to improve his lot. If you ask me he’s just one of God’s sick little jokes.”
This remark was met with general derision.
“Just listen to yourself, Jandrik,” said one young woman. “Have you any idea how selfish that was? Show some compassion for once in your life. This is not about us, it’s about him.”
The villagers muttered in agreement. “Go on, Threnna,” said one. “You tell him.” Emboldened, Threnna went on.
“When I think of that poor Boy standing there in that forest, day and night, alone and more helpless than any of us can imagine, it makes me want to weep. Behind that smile of his he may be crying or screaming inside his head all the time. He’s been taken from his own friends and family, who he might never see again, and thrust among strangers who -” to her surprise, Threnna discovered that she was weeping. Wiping her eyes she continued: “- who just see him as a burden, an embarrassment. People, listen to me! If we can’t do anything else for him, we can at least be nice to him. Hug him, talk to him, sing and dance for him, tell him stories and jokes. Make him feel like a person, not some...some living-dead thing, which is how Jandrik seems to see him. If we can’t treat the poor Boy with love and compassion then I say we’re not fit to call ourselves children of God.”
The villagers cheered and applauded Threnna, who blushed red. Jandrik still looked sceptical, but wisely kept silent.
Threnna’s suggestions were soon taken up. Villagers en route to the fields and markets would go out of their way to visit the Boy and discuss every subject with him from the weather to the latest livestock prices. Children ofen sang and danced in his presence, although many of them were too young to understand why he did not join in. Grown women gave him maternal hugs, told him what a handsome boy he was and how proud they would be to have sons as fine as he. Books and poems were read to him, and one villager even found some engravings of famous paintings to show to him. At festival times the villagers would garland him with flowers and treat him to songs, dances and stories. The flower garlands, like clothing, did not last long upon his body, but it was the thought that counted.
The villagers enjoyed interacting with the Boy, and were pleased to think that they were doing him some good. Only Jandrik remained sceptical.
“What’s the point of reading to him?” he muttered. “We don’t even know if he understands our language. And for all we know he may be completely insane and incapable of understanding anything. It may all be just a meaningless blur to him.”
“We can’t just assume that,” said Threnna. “It’s just as likely that his mind is as alert as ours -” and probably a lot more alert than yours, Jandrik, she was thinking; “- I’ve looked into his eyes, and they look intelligent. And even if he doesn’t understand our words, he can still understand our kindness. Remember kindness, Jandrik? The alternative would be to just forget about him, leave him alone in the forest with nothing to look at but trees and animals. I coudn’t live with myself if we abandoned him like that.”
“Ah, so it’s not just about him after all. It is about your conscience.”
“Well,at least I’ve got a conscience, Jandrik.”
“You mean I don’t? Look, Threnna, we still know nothing about the Boy. For all we know he might be being punished for some crime. Sixteen isn’t too young to commit murder, you know.”
“If he were a murderer, why didn’t they just hang him? It would have been kinder. No, Jandrik, I believe the only criminal here is the one who did this to him. I’d love to find him and give him a dose of his own medicine.”
“No chance of that,” said Jandrik. “Anyone who’s powerful enough to lay that kind of spell on someone would certainly be too powerful and cunning to ever get caught.”
“Just for once, you’re probably right,” sighed Threnna. “Unfortunately.”
As well as his daily visits, the Boy also received numerous clandestine visitors by night. The village girls, and many of the boys too, had seen his beautiful body and wanted to discover what it felt like as well.
Unfortunately they soon discovered that his entire body was immobilised. No matter how intimately they caressed and fondled his body, no matter what words of love and lust they whispered in his ears, they could not awaken him to arousal.
Some of them went home in disgust. Others persisted, either in the hope of eventual success or simply in order to take and give what pleasure they could with him. That too was an act of kindness, and perhaps the Boy appreciated it.
The village boys thought they wouldn’t need his arousal to take pleasure with him, but as the euthanasiast had discovered none of the Boy’s orifices could be penetrated. The boys eventually gave up in frustration, sometimes turning to each other instead.
The girls exchanged gossip about the boy, of course, and each of them hoped to be the one that would eventually awaken his manhood. After all, they would each tell themselves, he might not respond to her or her, but I’m so much prettier and sexier than they are. Surely he must eventually yield to me.
Occasionally two girls would turn up at the same time, and then they would fight for the privilege of embracing him. And then, aroused by the strength of their emotions and their physical proximity, they would forget about fighting and fiercely make love to each other, while the Boy watched impassively, perhaps enjoying the sight.
Threnna of course heard all of the gossip about the boy’s night visitors, but despite being unmarried and finding the Boy attractive she was never tempted to visit him herself. Despite having no children, she felt an almost maternal concern for him.
But then she had the dream.
One unseasonally warm autumn night Threnna dreamt that she stood in the forest looking up at the moon, and as she did so its coppery disc was slowly swallowed by blackness. Then in the darkness a shadowy figure approached her, and though she could not see his face she knew it was the Boy. She did not question the fact that he was mobile, but simply took his hand while he led her, unspeaking as ever, to a grassy bower and lay down beside her.
She thought: He could not make love to the others, but he has chosen me. I am to be the one.
And he laid her down upon the grass and enfolded her in his strong, youthful arms, and pressed his lips against hers...
And the dream ended. Threnna woke, aroused and embarrassed, wondering what the dream meant.
For the next few days the dream continued to haunt her. She passed the Boy once or twice and greeted him cheerfully as usual, but made no mention of the dream. It was probably just a product of her own repressed desires after all. To tell him would only embarrass both of them. So she kissed him chastely and went her way.
But then one evening while the sun was setting she saw that the early-rising moon had a small dark wedge cut out of its side. The other villagers noticed it as well, and some of them thought it a bad omen. Jandrik suggested that it was a sign of God’s dipleasure at the village for harbouring the Boy.
“Make up your mind, Jandrik,” said Threnna with unaccustomed ferocity. “I thought you said God had foisted the Boy upon us to make us feel guilty. So why would He want to punish us for trying to help him?”
“This isn’t a punishment,” said one of the older villagers. “It’s just the world’s shadow passing across the moon. It happens every once in a while. If it’s any kind of symbol, maybe it’s a symbol of the whole world’s darkness tainting the heavens. Anyway, it’s harmless. Once the night is out the shadow will have passed and the moon will be whole again. Just wait and see.”
In spite of these reassurances most of the villagers stayed home with their doors bolted. Nobody ventured out into the warm night air.
About an hour before midnight, when the shadow had almost swallowed the entire lunar disc, she slipped quietly out of her door and made for the forest clearing. By the time she arrived the moon was almost completely dark. Swallowing, she slipped out of her dress and slid her arms around the Boy’s muscular back.
“I’ve never believed in signs until now,” she whispered in his ear, “and maybe I still don’t. But the dream was so real. I have to at least try.” And with that she began to caress his chest and back and buttocks, finally working her way down to his manhood. And as the moon finally became a disc of blackness surrounded by stars, she felt a stirring. Slowly but surely, she was succeeding where so many others had failed.
Once he was fully erect she carefully manouevred her body into position and began to rock, gently and rhythmically, against him. In this way she was able to maintain her arousal, and his, for what seemed like half the night. Slowly the shadow slid away from the moon’s disc, and as the light gradually increased so did her pleasure. She hoped - no, somehow she was certain - that his pleasure was also increasing.
Finally the shadow slipped away, and as the moonlight blazed forth in all its glory so did Threnna’s pleasure. No lover had ever been able to give her such ecstasy. After this, she thought, I should be content to spend eternity as a statue, if only I could keep the memory of this one moment.
A moment later she felt the Boy’s manhood pulsing within her and his seed burst forth into her body. How long, she wondered, had he been deprived of this kind of pleasure? Far too long, no doubt. She hoped that he would retain the memory of this night in all its glory.
And what now? she thought. Will we change places, he coming to life while I remain a statue? Or perhaps we will both be statues, embracing each other for eternity.
But neither of those things happened. After a while the Boy’s manhood shrank and slid out of her while the rest of him remained as unmoving as ever, and she stretched languidly and so discovered that she could still move.
It was almost dawn. Quickly Threnna dressed, wiped away the residual semen from the Boy’s now flaccid member, and kissed him tenderly.
“It was only this one night,” she said. “I understand that somehow. But it meant a lot to me. I hope it was as wonderful for you as it was for me. Thank you.” And she kissed him again and went home to bathe.
When her next period failed to arrive, Threnna had no doubt as to what it meant. She was going to have the Boy’s child.
She had guessed that it might happen, and she rejoiced that she was bringing new life into the world with the help of the seemingly lifeless Boy.
But then there was the question of where the child was to be raised. The villagers were good people of course, even Jandrik in his own cynical way, but they were still rather conservative when it came to matters like single parenthood. Then too, the child’s skin colour would immediately mark him as the Boy’s son, and then the village girls might become jealous of Threnna for having managed to conceive with him where they had all failed.
And how would the child feel about having a living statue for a father?
A little later, before her pregnancy became obvious, Threnna visited the Boy and told him the news, having made quite sure there was no one to overhear.
“I’ve thought it over,” she told him, “and I’ve decided it would be better for the child if I were to raise it in the city. I’ll need to find work there to pay for its upbringing, but I’ve some friends and relatives there who can help. I’m really sorry to leave you, but I promise I’ll bring the child back to show you some day.”
She gave a wry smile. “You know, it’s a pity I don’t know your name, so I could name the child after you. But I promise he will never want for what’s best.”
With that, she kissed the Boy, wiped her eyes and walked away, never looking back. A few days later she went off to the city, ostensibly on business, and did not return to the village.
Threnna’s friends in the city helped her to find lodgings and pooled together to help her financially. She could not perform any strenuous work while her pregnancy advanced, but she had some talent for needlework, and they helped her to find buyers for her finely-crafted embroidery.
She was relieved when the baby started kicking. She had been half-afraid that it might inherit its father’s curse and be born paralysed.
The baby was born one fine morning in early summer, a healthy dark-skinned boy with a fine set of lungs. Having satisfied herself that the child was in good condition, the midwife asked Threnna what name she intended to give him.
In truth Threnna had scarcely given any thought to the child’s name. Some of her friends had suggested names, none of which struck her as beng very suitable, and naming the child after one of them had the potential to cause confusion in later years. But now a name entered her mind, a name she was sure she had never heard before and yet one which seemed to her to be perfectly suited to the Boy’s son.
“Chalvin,” she told the midwife. “His name is Chalvin.”
The midwife simply nodded and jotted down the name. “And, ah, what about the father’s name?”
Threnna gave a strange smile. “The father’s name is also Chalvin,” she said, and had no doubt that it was true. The Boy had placed the name in her mind because she had, in a way, asked him to.
“Chalvin of...‘no fixed abode’.”
This was a traditional phrase for absentee fathers who cold not be traced, but it was obviously ironic in the case of the Boy. But then, Threnna could hardly give his address as “paralysed in the forest”.
Threnna’s cousin Jealla had married a man named Kyvell and gone to live in the city some years before. Kyvell had been devastated when Jealla had died from a fever two years ago, and Threnna had sent her sincerest condolences.
When she moved to the city Kyvell had been one of the first to offer her assistance, and to her surprise she found herself falling in love with him. But before she could bring herself to act upon her feelings Kyvell came to her and offered to be a father to Chalvin. Knowing that he would make a fine husband and father Threnna accepted at once. They were married soon afterward. They liked to think that Jealla would have approved of their union.
And so Chalvin grew up in a stable, secure family. He was as bright and energetic and wild as any young boy, and he went to a good school. Some of the other children teased him because of his dark skin, and so for the first time he began to realise that Kyvell was not his real father.
Threnna had always known that Chalvin would ask about his real father someday.
“Your father was a good man, Chalvin,” she told him, “but we just couldn’t live together. One day I will take you to visit him, I promise, but not yet. Anyhow, Kyvell is your father now, and he’s always been a good one, so don’t let any of the other children tell you he isn’t.”
“But why can’t I at least write to my father?” Chalvin demanded.
“He can’t read or write,” said Threnna, which was at least half true. The Boy might be able to read a letter if it were held before his eyes, but there was no way to tell; and he certainly could not write.
After a while Chalvin stopped aking about his father, and Threnna hoped that was he end of the matter. Chalvin grew tall and strong and intelligent, and began to develop a healthy interest in sports and girls - the latter being obvious from the condition of his bedsheets.
Threnna realised that Chalvin was growing into the living image of his father. It made her feel proud, yet there was also something vaguely disturbing about it.
Meanwhile, although he told nobody, Chalvin was beginning to feel restless. He had strange dreams of a statue standing in a forest clearing, and of the moon being swallowed by blackness. He knew the dreams meant something important, but he had no idea what.
And then, on the morning of his sixteenth birthday, Threnna and Kyvell found him gone from his bedroom. Upon his bed was a hastily-written note, which read:
dearest dear mother and beloved father:
I don’t know why but I feel there is something
vitly vitally important which
that I must do and now is indub incontrov undoubtedly the time to
do it. I do not know where I must go or what I have to do when I arrive but I
am covinced convinced that I will know when I get there. Please do not
try to follow me. Don’t worry, I will be alright allright. I hope to see
you again soon.
Your Loving Son
Once their initial shock had worn off, Threnna said, “I know where he’s going. If we hurry we might be able to stop him.”
“But how can you tell where he’s going if he doesn’t know himself?” demanded Kyvell.
“I know because I’ve had dreams about this day. I thought they were just reflections of my anxieties, but now I realise Chalvin must have had them too. They’ll be drawing him back to the village.”
“You’re not making sense, Threnna. He doesn’t even know where the village is.”
“He doesn’t need to know. It’s like one of those fish that can find their way back to the river where they were born. They don’t know where their river is, but something draws them back anyway. That’s what’s happening to Chalvin.”
I don’t understand,” said Kyvell. “Even if that’s true, why would he be drawn to the village?”
“I’m not certain,” said Threnna, “but I have a feeling about it.”
There was a good deal of truth in Threnna’s analogy. Like a spawning fish, Chalvin had no idea where he was going, yet he found himself swimming strongly against the current in his determination to get there.
He had slipped out of his bedroom window well before dawn with no clear direction in mind and with little money and no provisions. After a while his footsteps carried him toward the Mail Office, where the coaches for outlying villages were being loaded. Inquiring at the office, he found that the price of passage on a mail coach was well beyond his means. When his face fell, the clerk had handed him a label and a quill.
“If you don’t mind sitting up top, you can mail yourself as a parcel,” the clerk told him.
And so Chalvin picked the name of a village at random - or so he thought - and addressed himself to its Mail Office. This was not the most comfortable means of travel, sitting atop a rattling coach in the pouring rain, sandwiched between its surly driver and guard and with the mailing label tied to his collar, but with every yard that passed Chalvin felt he was making progress.
At least, he thought, they hadn’t made him get into a sack. And the driver, however grudgingly, gave him a little food and drink to see him through the journey.
Finally the rain eased off, and a little while later the coach rattled into the square of a small village. Chalvin presented himself at the Mail Office, where his label was removed and stamped, and he was free to go.
As he walked out into the square, he soon became aware that people were staring at him in astonishment. Finally one elderly man detached himself from the crowd and approached Chalvin, looking him up and down carefully.
“Name’s Jandrik,” the villager informed him. “And you’re Threnna’s boy, plain enough. I trust she’s well.”
“Then this is the place,” muttered Chalvin. “Yes, my mother is very well. She’s living in the city with her husband. But since you know who I am, I’m sure you also know that my mother’s husband is not my father.”
The old man nodded. “Oh, that’s plain enough for everyone here to see. You’re a fine looking lad, just like him. Your real father, I mean. What’s your name, boy?”
“Chalvin. Where is my father? Is he still alive? I have to see him. I didn’t realise it before, but that’s what brought me here.”
“Chalvin,” muttered the old villager. “Chalvin. Yes, that name would have suited him too...sorry, lad. Wool-gathering, as we say. Yes, your father is still alive. If you want to see him...”
“Jandrik, are you sure this is what’s best?” said a middle-aged woman. “There’s no telling what might...”
“You heard the boy, Marna,” said Jandrik. “He said he was brought here without knowing why. It’s fate, Marna, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, any more than...well, you know.”
Marna sighed and nodded. “I suppose you’re right. Well, good luck...Chalvin, was it?...I hope that when you meet your father it will go well for both of you. Farewell.” And she turned away as if she never expected to see Chalvin again.
By now Chalvin’s frustration was almost unbearable. “Please,” he cried, almost begging, “you must tell me where my father is. I have to see him if it’s the last thing I do.”
This remark caused the villagers to exchange unreadable glances.
“All right, lad, don’t fret,” said Jandrik, placing a hand on his shoulder, partly to comfort him and partly for balance while he pointed with his stick. “Take the path over the stile yonder and follow the signs toward Coldwell Village. After about a quarter of an hour you’ll find a small clearing in the forest, and that’s where you’ll find your father.”
Chaldrin muttered his thanks. Heart racing, he set off down the lane.
“Chaldrin,” Jandrik called after him. “I confess that I never really got on with your father, but when you see him, please tell him from me...I hope he’s happy. I hope you both are.”
Chaldrin crossed the stile and set off down the forest path at a brisk walk. After sixteen years of separation from his father, he begrudged every further minute that they were kept apart. He was terrified that he might miss the clearing altogether and have to spend hours searching through the woods for him.
But soon enough the trees parted company with the road, revealing a small clear patch, at one side of which stood what looked like a painted statue.
Was this some kind of sick joke, Chaldrin wondered? Had the villagers sent him all this way to see a glorified bird-scarer?
But then as he approached the naked figure, he realised that it was breathing. And as he came closer he was astonished to see the figure’s face. It was like looking into a mirror.
“Father?” he breathed, scarcely daring to believe; scarcely daring to understand
Gingerly, Chaldrin reached out a hand to feel the motionless figure’s beating heart. The blood was racing in his own ears, so that he scarcely heard the faint rustle of cloth before feeling the breeze upon his naked skin....
The coach carrying Threnna and Kyvell rolled into the village square half an hour later. When the villagers told them that Chaldrin had already arrived they set off down the forest path at a dead run.
But by the time the breathless couple burst into the clearing they were too late.
There were two naked boys standing in the clearing. Chalvin had become frozen, like his father.
To Threnna’s astonishment, it was impossible to tell which was Chalvin and which was the Boy. They were identical, down to the last wave in their hair. But something had changed. In the last moment before Chalvin had frozen into immobility his father must have managed to move his hand a little, for the two of them stood side by side with their hands clasped fiercely together.
The Boys stand in the forest, hand in hand. That is all they do. That is all they can ever do.
But according to some versions of the tale, a woman stands behind them, a comforting hand firmly placed upon each one’s shoulder, forever.
Oh, yes, and the ending. I dare say Sigmund Freud would have a field day with the concept of a son being frozen naked alongside his father, but if it proves I'm nuts at least I'm relatively harmless. Now where did I put that ferret?