Today we are excited to introduce you to Changeling of Fenlen Forest by Katherine Magyarody.
Changeling of Fenlen Forest
Elizabeth thinks she knows the gloomy Fenlen Forest. But when her treasured unicorn fawn, Sida, goes missing, Elizabeth tracks her into a strange land where the people think Elizabeth is a changeling, a malignant being who too closely resembles a missing girl.
If Elizabeth can find her fawn and uncover the fate of her lost double, can she stop the fear from turning into hate? To solve the deepening mystery, Elizabeth befriends a handsome, skeptical young shepherd whose stories hint at a dark secret lurking at the forest’s edge, and follows a herd of wild unicorns with the ability to unlock the past.
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Changeling of Fenlen Forest Lost and Found Excerpt:
I was seventeen when the forest took me.
My hope that Sida, my unicorn fawn, was tame, I think, was at the root of my disaster. Over the summer, autumn and winter, I watched her develop from a frail fawn to a robust yearling on the verge of growing her first horn. I did not expect her to be, well, domestic, but I did hope that she might stay.
A secret, dark part of me hoped that the goat’s milk that I raised Sida on would cause her to develop more slowly. But as her muscles grew strong under her loose baby skin, she grew impatient with me. Sida was beginning to bud her first horn and she wanted to roam the forest.
At last, in earliest spring, when the first pale shoots emerged from the retreating snow that clung to the bases of the trees and my mother had just set off on her first trip of the year, it happened.
We were on my usual trail in search of horns and my pack was heavy with supplies enough for a day and a night. I paused, stooped to look at something that might be alicorn, when Sida gave a little rear and galloped off. I dropped what had turned out to be a spiralled snail shell and ran after her. But Sida had discovered her strength and was taking joy in the ease with which she leapt over fallen tree trunks and kicked up the half-frozen moss.
Unicorns step carefully and are hard to track, but Sida was young and silly. She admired herself too much not to leave her cloven hoofprints in fresh mud and rub her horn bud against the new bark of trees. She was excited with the idea of freedom and had left the paths we used to follow. The snow was deeper here than at home. I was getting cold and my food was running out. But I was more worried for Sida and paid more attention to her trail than to where I was headed.
It was late afternoon when I saw her, and we were farther from home than I had ever been. We had been in a valley the evening before and I had moved uphill all day. The climb had levelled into a plateau, where I could see the sky through the trees.
And suddenly, there I saw her, my fawn, framed by two tall alders. The setting sun made her down glow the colour of a ripe peach. The ground tilted down sharply behind her.
“Sida!” I called. “Come here, darling.”
Sida looked at me and cocked her head to one side. I reached towards her, hand closed loosely as if I had a treat.
“Sida, be a good girl. We’ve been gone long enough already.”
Sida nickered, pawed the stony earth. I took a step. She held her ground. I took another step, faster now, and a twig snapped underfoot. Sida gave a little neigh, turned and leapt.
I ran. I ran and saw the drop, but Sida was not below. It was steep, I reasoned against my panic, but not impossible to survive such a fall. Perhaps I could not see her in the snow. I called the fawn’s name. Below me the trees grew at sharp angles. I clung to them as I stepped from outcrop to outcrop of tangled, bare roots. As I fought my way down, I missed that shift in sound I always felt in my ears when I entered the forest at home. The momentary, silent pressure, like ducking your head in a stream and feeling the water against your ears. I was too worried about Sida to notice.
When I reached the bottom, I looked through the bushes. I felt the blood beat against my eardrums as I searched for a white, crumpled body, snapped legs desecrated by mud. But as the light faded from red to purple to an ever-deepening blue, I could not find her. The trees became interspersed with large granite boulders that cast innumerable shadows. As the stars started to emerge from the dark, a cold, cutting wind rose. I realized that not only was Sida lost, but I had no way of finding my way home. If my mother had been beside me, I would have broken into loud, wailing, messy tears. But alone, I only managed one dry, racking sob. Sida had left me and I was alone. I was alone and my unicorns had not come to comfort me. The night would be harsh and cold. My fingertips were already numb and I tucked my hands under my arms as I stumbled forward, no longer looking around me. I knew I had to find a place to camp, but that meant giving up.
Shocked at the sound of a human voice, I turned.
“Bettina, ti vog?”
There was more that I could not understand, but those three words repeated again. In the dimming light, I saw a young man sitting on a large, sloping boulder, looking as scared as I did. His shoulders were tensed, and his fingers gripped into the lichen.
His light grey coat and breeches were so close in colour to the dirty spring snow that he almost looked a part of the landscape. He seemed long-limbed, and the fading light emphasized the angularity of his face. He had light hair, a flyaway halo of dandelion fluff. A pale beard whose wispiness across his high cheeks suggested that he was close to my age. “Bettina, galan ti vog?” His voice was tight with fear and sadness and…something else. He scrutinized my face and then passed briefly over my arms hugging my body, the leaf debris clinging to my knees, my muddy boots. When his eyes returned to my face, I caught his gaze and realized with a shock that he desired me. Not casually, not greedily; his need for me was part of him. I felt my cheeks grow warm. I had never seen longing so openly written on anyone’s face. It made me feel shy, rather than frightened.
Staring into my eyes, he shifted and knelt forward, extending his hand. “Ni resi, Bettina, Ya vogmi.”
“I…I don’t understand you,” I said slowly.
At the sound of my words, the hand retreated, as if stung.
But he kept staring.
“I am sorry,” I added, stepping forward. My throat was dry, and my voice was ragged. “I can’t understand you.”
He broke away from my gaze and looked up into the night sky. The silence stretched out. His sharp chin still lifted, but his eyes slid carefully across my hair, my mouth, my nose and finally, my eyes. He exhaled slowly.
“My apologies.” He pronounced Gersan slowly and in a strange way, as if the sounds formed only at the front of his mouth. “I…” his language failed him. “You look as a girl I know.”
He corrected himself clumsily. “Know-ed.” He winced, sensing that he had not expressed his meaning correctly.
“Where is she?”
He tilted his head down to look at me and spoke without answering my question. “It is strange. I do not like to, but it is…I must.” He sat back out of his kneel, slid off the boulder.
He picked up a tall staff with a curved top from the base of the boulder and gestured to a narrow path I had not seen, leading through the scattered rocks. “Come.”
I paused. Stay away from strangers, I remembered Ma saying, long ago. And here I was in the forest with a person foreign to my understanding.
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About the Author: Katherine Magyarody grew up in Toronto, Ontario. During graduate school, she researched the history of adolescence, taught children’s literature, and wrote fiction on the sly. Her debut short story, “Goldhawk,” is anthologized in PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2017. She currently lives in Connecticut, where she blogs about interesting and weird unicorns at offbeatunicorn.com/about-offbeat-unicorn.
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