El Laberinto del Fauno/Pan's Labyrinth to Guillermo del Toro. And this is for Lucinda the Maid.
A/N - Fauns are too beautiful and cruel to be subservient without good reason. Also: did you see the look he gave her? HO'boy.
In dreams of an ancient, ageless city whose spires and stairways nestle deep in the valley between dawn and the horizon, the faun is still incorrigibly immortal, and the night is not so cold.
(Keep together. This is not a dream, not a dream.)
He lingers over his tiny, fey companions, murmuring and folding up their filigree wings in his hands. A sound of icy bells as they shiver.
(Mortality is so cold. You could die out here.)
There is a king somewhere on a golden throne, waiting at the end to say happily ever after, once upon a time and send them into the belly of destiny for the first time all over again. Deconstruct the great monuments. Undo the histories. Turn back the sky. Every step and breath and enchanted kiss will build the world anew, so delicate and iridescent by moonlit incantations.
(It's true; we saw it, we were there.)
But all of that was so very long ago.
The faun remembers:
Dark hunts in the twilight, when magic ran wild over the smooth flanks of the world; quick, bright eyes winking like stars from hidden places, and the fluid silhouettes of his own kind striking out at all the light and beauty that had ever been; fearless, breathless, shining skies; strange birds; the power of true eclipse; and the curiosity of young girls who wandered too far from home, too close to feral lands.
Times immemorial. Past, now; gone. He is older. He has seen the courtly halls and made his home within them, perhaps reluctantly in the beginning, but the old ways are not the only ways. The slow, steady march of time taught him that. While his violent kin were driven to the ghostly fringes of their former domain, he found himself welcome among the glittering folk, the ones who forged legends, the kingmakers themselves, and how brightly they shine.
(How bright, how bold, how he wishes they only knew what he would do if the magic ran again, all fleet feet and burning breath as it chases down the wounded, soft as tongues until the catch.)
In some ways, he resents them. Mischief is his blood; treachery is his flesh. Fauns are children of the mountain and the river and they have no true masters.
(Mother, Father; look at what they've done.)
They've gone and lost a darling child, a pretty little princess.
When he agrees to scale the world's spine and search for her on the surface, it is his own decision, and he makes it because there is nothing better to do.
She picks her way through the tall grass and stands before him. Sunlight makes her dark eyes glitter.
She says; (hello.)
This is their first meeting once upon a very long time ago, or else a dream woven from golden threads and fireflies.
He says nothing, so she looks right into his face and adds apologetically; (I'm a princess.)
He smiles, because what else can he do?
(Of course you are.)
And, of course, she is.
The memory of darkness takes the sky, and black scavenger birds fill its hollows with the harsh music of their wings. All the countless pieces of their bladed bodies come together; and then they fall, calling thunder; fall apart.
(I feel the passage of monsters in these shadows.)
Ascending from the deep, this is the first thing he sees, the smoky spiral of carnivores riding on what little light remains, and from beyond high stone walls he hears the trees groaning as they are released from their burdens.
(But we are not afraid.)
Up the last delicate curl of stairs. He emerges into a soft-sided corridor, cool as ash in winter, and though its dusty, quiet track corners sharply out of sight in the shadows before him, he can feel it stretching on forever, coiled like a bloodless serpent around some terrible center, the thunderous bones echoing back in history: once upon a time, once upon a time.
She died out here.
(And they all - )
The faun holds out his hand, and the eldest of his fairies drops into his palm like the most beautiful raindrop. It dances with the pearlescent glory of its wings whispering music, dances right to the tips of his slender fingers. It leaps, reflecting the sunset that burns beyond the labyrinth walls; and then the sun vanishes, and - with a gentle, watery chime - the lovely thing is gone into the ephemeral night.
He thinks of beasts. Swift, clever figures bearing the protector's bone, guardians of gateways, valiants and tyrants looming over the steep slope, jaws clenched, wings mantled, fury embodied, the horn, tooth, and tail. He thinks of dear lady sphinx with her riddles, and of bellowing minotaur in a maze of his own, lost inside somewhere or perhaps only hiding from the clamouring sky.
The faun knows all about them. As he paces the black paths, they become his companions - those legends, these paths - and he feels the pressure of settling leaves and scurrying mice as a tangible weight on his shoulders.
Bones sleep under the solemn earth, under the dying leaves. Old, old bones. He can hear them sighing.
(Sacred now this ground no mortal foot shall tread no mortal breath shall haunt no mortal eye hand tooth flesh none)
His black paths are empty and silent. He guards them from no one, waiting, because that is the way her fairy tale seems to work.
Once upon a time, a child with soft, white hands crossed shaded valleys and fields of knotted black thistles to walk fearlessly among the fauns. She touched their lips and kissed their eyelids in greeting, and those who did not fall in love with her instantly fled from the fairybird lightness of her fingers as if in outrage, though truthfully they had never been more afraid in all their lives, and their lives had begun before day birthed the night.
It was not Moanna, but the faun thinks she must be just like that long-ago girl. Wise in her stumbling, youthful way; pale as mist; courageous; patient; naive.
(But we are not afraid.)
She grows dear to him in her absence; little lost princess, she.
On the surface, everything is beautiful because nothing survives for long. The world is a bed of rotting feathers and petals and scraps of skin and threads of hair and those old, old bones, and the faun knows melancholy for the first time, watching it breathe gently and devour. Even the labyrinth walls are coming down slowly, imperceptibly, fragment by fragment pried loose in the wind.
The wind howls like grim, grey wolves, stalking empty catacombs and the atmosphere, unchallenged by greater hunters.
Sometimes the moon goes out and there are no stars.
It does get this dark sometimes. It does.
But every spring he shakes the hoarfrost from his beard and leans close to the slick stones where thin, luminous flowers tremble, unfolding from tiny crevices, impossibly alive. For a few days, he will hold them in his hands, the flowers on their stems, and they will bloom in his palms after months of deathly slumber.
After months. After a thousand years and all the world's hunters coming out of the deep woods, then creeping silently back in.
The flowers return to him in this terrible, glorious place. Generations of sparrows cast their swift shadows across his brow in salute; he gazes up at them patiently, reading their messages on the hot flank of the sky, and smiles a little when they write a name for him because it is quiet and simple, nothing like the old names still echoing in the belly of the earth, but they have so little time to say what they mean, and now they are arcing outward, carrying news of him as far as they can go.
He is always humbled when they die, and he says to himself, once upon a time as if it could bring them all back.
One day, she will whisper from the winding paths like a ghost to stand before him. Moonlight will make her dark hair shine.
He will say; (you've climbed so high. From here, we can nearly touch the clouds. Why did you choose this place?)
She will not understand; it was so many lifetimes ago. She will not remember, but she will look at him without fear and reply; (hello.)
And he will say; (you are a princess.)
The memory of her is precious. He does not clearly remember how to covet, but he covets this, keeps it hidden in a place that no power or endless song will be able to reach.
(Winter is coming.)
In the last few years, the sparrows have been bringing tales of a brave young girl to the sky above the labyrinth, and he is certain now that it's her, it's her, flower returning from the barren wastes, long-ago sparrow reborn, and all the deaths have meaning because she is immortal: again, always, after all.
(Winter. Are we only dreaming?)
The faun recognizes her scent, hyssop and white orchid bending bravely in the wind; she is closer than he thinks, he is dreaming and so is she. As he puts his head against the coarse wall and its bed of cold moss, he is no longer in the damp hollow at the very centre of a forgotten maze. This is spring and summer echoing between mountains, with the high grass whispering around his waist, nearly reaching to her slender shoulders, and it swirls like the sea with a current that threatens to carry her away.
He dreams that she reaches for a hand to clasp, and he offers his.
He dreams that she smiles.
And in the dream, her smile lasts forever, and they stand looking out at an ancient, ageless city whose spires and stairways nestle deep in the valley between dawn and the horizon, where the night is not so cold.
"All of it must be true," she says; to the city, to the faun. "We saw it. We were there."
Immortal flowers kiss her elbows, then nod slowly off to sleep.