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The sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, and he cursed his luck. If he had taken the other road, he could have been sinking a pint of ale in a warm tavern by now. But no, he had to take the direct route. He was a fool thinking he’d make it in one day on foot. Now he would be walking it in the dark.

He whistled to himself for company as he walked, trying to pick up his pace and assuage his nerves. The trees seemed to crowd in upon him, and the path he walked grew ever darker.

He stopped whistling and listened. Was his mind playing tricks on him?

No, there it was again. A haunting melody, carried on the breeze. He didn’t recognise the song, and found himself stepping off the path, drawn towards the source. He crept through the trees and the undergrowth until he found himself beside a stream, close to the edge of the clearing from which the music emanated. Instinctively, he hid behind a bush to peer out.

He saw a beautiful young maiden in the clearing, dancing beside the stream. He watched as she lifted her skirts, one dainty bare foot tracing a pattern across the grass. Her graceful movements seemed calculated to tantalise, even though she had no idea she was being watched.

He held his breath as he watched her dance, but as she moved across the clearing he found his view obscured by the foliage. He moved, hoping to get a clearer view of the captivating maiden, but his foot fell upon a dry twig that snapped with a heartbreakingly loud noise.

The maiden stopped dancing, turning with a gasp to stare at him. He stepped out of hiding, his hands spread in an apologetic gesture, but the girl turned and dived into the stream, disappearing from sight in an instant.

He ran after her, diving desperately into the stream after her. He saw, too late, how shallow the stream was, and in the brief moment before his head hit the rocks he thought  that he heard the nymph laughing.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: Three Word Wednesday, which I forgot to do yesterday because I forgot what day it was, this week provides the words Dainty, Haunting and Tantalise. With an S instead of a Z, because I’m British.)

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