The great white horse cantered over to me, nickering. I stroked its mane absentmindedly when it transformed into a beautiful woman with long golden hair and bright blue eyes.
"Aunt Epona!" I exclaimed. She smiled briefly, then her expression grew grave.
"Your mother is asking for you Fechin. There is something she must tell you." I immediately sobered at the thought of Redynvre, my mother. Redynvre had once been Queen, but had passed on the title to a more deserving heir. Then she had settled to live as a peasant, with my father Evyn and my two aunts: Epona and Maeve.
I trudged through the woods, pondering what my mother could need to tell me. Secret keeping was frowned upon in the household, yet I always had a sense my mother was hiding something.
Deep in thought I stumbled upon the doorstep. My father heard me and opened the door. His once curly brown hair had grayed to almost white. His green eyes, usually full of youthful energy were dimmed slightly.
"She is in the bedroom." I nodded and strode through the kitchen, past Aunt Maeve, who was preparing supper. She nodded at me as I passed before returning to the stew. Carefully I creaked open the door to the bedroom.
My mother lay lying on a mattress of goose feathers, in the corner by the window.
"Fechin?" she asked, struggling to sit up.
"Yes it's me." I replied, offering my hand. She grabbed it and pulled herself up into a sitting position.
"Fechin there is something I must tell you." I nodded, not sure of how to reply. "How should I begin?" she continued. "Well, as you know, I was once married to the King and was once Queen." I nodded again and she cleared her throat. "Well, after I discovered that Lasarina was the true heir, I resigned and came to live with your father. However I did some things as Queen that I now regret doing." She coughed, and her whole body shook.
I steadied her frail shoulders with my hand and she looked at me.
"I expect you have heard the tale of the sleeping princess in the woods." I nodded, puzzled.
"But that story is just a fairy tale." I protested. I didn't understand what she was trying to tell me.
"No, its not a fairy tale. The Princess's name is Eirwen, and I was the evil witch." She coughed again slightly. I was stunned.
'How could, how..?" I asked. My mother couldn't have been the evil witch. She would never do such a thing. Redynvre seemed to sense my disbelief and nodded.
"Yes that was me. But there is something I must ask you to do." she continued. I nodded, ready to do whatever she asked.
"You must travel into the forest, using Epona as your mount. She will lead you to where Eirwen rests. Once there you must go inside and open the door on the left. Eirwen lies sleeping on the bed in that room. Then you must kiss her awake."
Kiss her awake? "But.." my mother held up a hand to stop my protest.
"Please." she looked at me, her eyes begging. I swallowed and nodded again. She closed her eyes, looking relieved. She unclasped my hand and slid into a slumber as I slowly edged my way out of the room, to leave her in peace.
My father looked at me expectantly as I emerged from the room. I waved him off, and asked where Epona was. She answered from the other room.
Quickly I told her what my mother had said. She looked thoughtful before agreeing.
"When?" she asked.
"Today." I replied. I felt I needed to respond to my mother's request as quickly as possible. Epona smiled and left the room for a moment. When she returned she was carrying a basket and a black cloak. These she handed to me saying, "I will meet you outside."
Quickly I slipped on a pair of boot and wrapped the cloak around my shoulder. Maeve placed a few rolls into the basket in case I got hungry and I waved good bye.
Outside Epona had transformed into a great white horse. With agility I mounted and she galloped off into the forest. I clung to her mane for what seemed to be an eternity before she began to slow in front of a small woodland cottage.
I slipped off and paused. The horse's snout nudged my back towards the door and I glared at her. Then I turned back to the door and slowly opened it.
Inside it was dark and the air was stale. I fumbled around until my eyes grew used to the dim lighting and I looked for a door. Dust thickly coated the table and shelves. I reached for the door handle and with great force was able to pull it open.
Inside a window let in a small ribbon of gold light, bathing a sleeping maiden. Slowly I came closer, my boots crunching on the hard yellow objects that coated the floor. I took a deep breath and looked into the face of the sleeping maiden. Closing my eyes I bent forward and lightly brushed my lips against hers. I stood up and nothing had changed. The maiden lay still with her eyes still closed.
Then her eyes fluttered slightly and opened completely, revealing beautiful blue eyes. She sat up bewildered and looked at me puzzled.
"Um, hi." I said, unsure of what to say. She appraised me slightly before smiling.
"Can you tell me what just happened?" her voice was slight and I smiled back. I led her to what I assumed was the kitchen. Carefully wiping off the table I opened my basket and shared some bread with her, while explaining what had happened. When I finished she nodded, chewing thoughtfully.
"That sounds familiar. I think you should take me back to your mother, so she knows I forgive her." Quickly we finished the last of the rolls and mounted onto the white mare which waited outside the cottage.
When we returned to the house, only one light was on and it was near dark. I opened the door shouting, "I'm home!." No one answered. I opened the door for Eirwen and Epona who had transformed back into a woman.
We made our way into my mother's bedroom. When we opened the door my father and Maeve looked up from where they were kneeling. My mother lay in bed, very still.
"Is she…?" I couldn't even finish my sentence. I rushed over to the bed, where I knelt next to my mothers face. "Mother?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from trembling. "Mother?" Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at me, almost unseeing.
"Fechin?" she asked, her voice quiet and weak.
"Yes mother its me! And I brought Eirwen." Eirwen stepped forward at the sound of her name.
"Redynvre." My mother turned her head slightly, trying to see Eirwen. "I forgive you Redynvre." My mother began to speak but Eirwen held up a hand. Stepping forward Eirwen placed a soft kiss on my mother's brow. "You are forgiven." she whispered.
My mother tightened her grip on my hand. "Thank you." she whispered. A last sigh escaped her lips and her eyes closed, never to open again. I stood slowly, afraid my legs may give out from under me. Eirwen took my hand reassuringly and I looked at her surprised. She smiled and then bowed her head. My family and I followed suit, in remembrance of a great woman.
Days turned into weeks turned into years. Gradually Eirwen and I fell in love. My father lived to see us wed before he too joined my mother in the after life. Epona and Maeve revealed their immortal qualities to us, and stayed with us, to raise our children like they had raised me.
So with simple joy and thankfulness, we lived happily ever after.