AN: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin or the Ballad of Tam Lin.
For the umpteenth time that day, Kaoru cursed her own stupidity. She shouldn't have let herself be goaded into anger by the idiots at her father's dojo, but it was not for no reason that her temper was famed throughout the village. The Dojo Louts, as she had taken to calling her father's more stupid students, had managed to tease her into anger and rashness. Again. And this time, she had been the dumbest one. Though she should have known better, they let her talk herself into shouldering her bokken, tying a green ribbon into her hair, and walking into the Fairy Queen's forest. According to the Dojo Louts, it was supposed to be a test of her courage (as if being the only girl in a sword dojo wasn't a test of just that…). And she had to pick a rose from the glade to prove she'd been there. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
But really, it was her own fault. She shouldn't have let them talk her into it, and here she was, in the middle of the Queen's forest, wearing a hair-ribbon of the fairies' own color, trying to snatch one of their forbidden flowers. She sighed, and untangled her sleeve from the long canes of thorns that seemed to reach out to grab her. Squaring her shoulders once more, she set straight off through the forest, thwacking the low-hanging branches and clinging underbrush out of her way with the bokken her father had carved her out of blessed rowan-wood. She wouldn't let some prissy Elf-whore keep her out of this forest! She was Kamiya Kaoru, chieftain's daughter, and heir to all the lands around her dojo. She snorted, filled with righteous indignation, and started hacking harder. This was her land, and she had every right to be on it.
The anger kept away the fear as long as she could keep the rhythm of her swings up, but when she stumbled into a clearing, the fear came flooding back as she was reminded exactly where she was. The line between the clearing and the forest was sharp and exact, and the verdant carpet of grass came exactly up to the edge of the trees. There was no intrusion of forest undergrowth in the elf-circle, and no grass dared leave its protection and grow elsewhere. Golden bells were hung from the trees, announcing her presence (unless the frantic beating of her heart drowned them out). Most dangerously—for nothing is ever made by the Elf-Queen without a purpose—the garden was thick with rosebushes. They were as red as the setting sun, their petals bloody against the green leaves and long, wicked thorns. The leaves, indeed, could hardly be seen, there we so many roses spilling out from each bush.
Kaoru stepped forward. There were so many roses that surely the Queen wouldn't miss just one…and if she had a rose, one of the Queen's roses, maybe the Louts would stop trying to kiss her and touch her: the same favors they either took or stole from the other village girls.
She took another step. The golden bells were still ringing, even though there was no wind in the fairy circle. But it was a soft noise, gentle, almost…she found she rather liked it, though first it had unnerved her. She looked up at the sky. Night was falling, and the forest beginning to grow quiet around her, except for the golden bells. She felt sleepy, and it smelled so nice here, with all of these beautiful roses…Roses. There was something about roses she should remember…Oh! Yes, she needed one, didn't she…Well, might as well get it now, before she fell asleep. That way she could stroke the downy petals as she lay on the soft turf…
Her hand closed around the stem, pricked and scratched by the cold, black thorns. It didn't matter, though. She had her rose, and it was so beautiful, so beautiful…She was ready to go to sleep now, mother…and she felt her eyelids drooping shut…so pleasant to drift into sleep and leave her worries behind her…
"Lady…Lady, don't do that…" the harsh, low voice startled her out of her reverie, and she found herself wide awake, clutching a single rose to her chest, blood streaming down her hand and arm. She whirled her bokken shifting clumsily as she held it in only one hand. The speaker was…startling. He stood at the far side of the grove, clutching at a low-hanging branch as if it were his salvation, half straining toward her and half shying away from her as if repulsed. His hair was nearly the color of the roses, a heady scarlet that made her want to dig her fingers into it and play with it—but that was just an elvish glamourie, surely. His eyes were…captivating and inhuman. They were a hot, hungry amber that drank in her body, and she felt herself shivering under his gaze. She tore herself away from his stare out of embarrassment, only to find herself entranced by the rest of his body. He wore a loose white shirt that did little to conceal the fine play of muscles underneath tanned skin, and his doeskin breeches hugged his strong legs. A fine golden chain was looped about his neck, and golden bells, miniatures of the ones that hung between the trees of the grove, dangled on it. The elf-queen's mark, a livid cross, blazed out from his cheek. She was so enthralled by his unearthly beauty that she was startled to find that he had crossed the clearing and grabbed her wrist. He wasn't over-gentle, either. For some reason she felt slightly miffed about that.
"Lady, why are you here?" his voice was sorrowful and weary. "You're from the village. You know that this is the Elf-queen's land. Why are you here?" A dull anger was burning in his amber eyes, but not, she thought, at her.
"I can go where I like!" she replied hotly. "My father owns these lands, it's the Elf-bitch who shouldn't be here!" Living in close proximity to the Dojo Louts had given her a Mouth, as her father called it, affectionately. The strange man, however, was not in the least amused. In fact he looked…frightened?
"Don't call her that!" He shuddered, then squared his shoulders, seeming to make up his mind about something. "I need to get you out of here before she realizes…" He seized her wrist tightly, presumably to lead her out of the forest, but a pained expression crossed his face and he began to tremble violently. Though his clenched teeth he seemed to be repeating something over and over again like a prayer. Kaoru looked up at him, confused and frightened. The look of innocent vulnerability seemed to crack something inside of him, and with a groan like a wounded man, he crushed his mouth to hers, kissing her thoroughly and roughly. She struggled, some, but the man's captivating eyes had seared her body, and, though she had no experience in such things, he seemed to be an excellent kisser, lighting fires all over her body. She could feel the elvish glamouries wrapping themselves around her, telling her to give herself to this man, to submit to his every whim, to be his chosen pet—and she didn't care. Her whole world was wrapped up in the kiss and the man giving it to her. She responded eagerly and urgently to his lips with the clumsiness of a virgin. He broke away from her, staring at her wild-eyed and frantic.
"No…No, not you, Lady…I won't do this to you…Not to someone pure…" He backed away from her, stricken, nauseated and ashamed. "Leave the forest; never return. It's not safe here, not for you, not for anyone," He was halfway across the clearing at this point, pleading desperately with her. "Go, please…Leave me, but ask…ask your father of the lost swordsman of these woods," The words seemed to cost him a great deal; they were wrenched out of his throat painfully, and as soon as they were released, he vanished back into the forest, the same way that he had arrived. The wisp of breeze set the golden bells to ringing; they didn't sound soothing or harmonious any more. Night was falling in the glade, and the fairy bells seemed to shine with their own malevolent light. With fingers made clumsy by fear, she ripped the green ribbon from her hair, leaving it to lie on the grass of the glade, and ran through the forest as if the very demons of hell were chasing her.
Through that whole, awful flight, gripping her bokken like a lifeline and pelting through the trees like a frightened animal, Kaoru was sure she heard someone, or some thing, following her. Sometimes it was the faintest hint of a silent watcher, but sometimes she fancied she heard the ring of a bridle and the belling of hounds behind her. She was nearly out of her mind with fear when she broke out of the forest into the balmy summer night. Bright stars shone down, and a crescent moon spread a silver mantle across the greensward that separated the town from the cursed forest. It was an extremely pretty sight, but at that moment, Kaoru was only thinking of the red flickering of a fire, snug rooms and fast doors bolted fast with Cold Iron. Shuddering, her clothing torn to rags and coated with the dirt of the forest, she slunk back into her father's house and buried herself in her bed, begging for sleep to come.
AN: Okay, this story might need a little explanation, and it will probably be better if you know the general gist of the original story. The Ballad of Tam Lin is an old Scottish ballad, and many, many stories of it's original meanings exist. There are also many versions. I don't want to bore you all with the minute details, but I can recommend several websites for those of you who are actually interested.
Http(colon) /(slash) www(dot)tam-lin(dot)org/ is the best website I've found so far for information about the original ballad, and the band Outgrabe has an excellent rock version that you can listen to free online at http(colon)/(slash)outgrabe(dot)com(slash)mp320L20and20D/Tam20Lin(dot)mp3 . This is the version I listened to through the entire writing of this first chapter, and I think it really captures the feel of the song very well. Thanks for reading so far, and there should be another chapter up soon!