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The girl made her way along the trail through the thick woods, unaware of the strange figure waiting ahead of her. With goat's legs, massive, curled horns and kinky brown hair on his head and in his beard, the satyr was the image of the worst combined features of man and beast. He smiled in eager anticipation as the child approached. The moment was right... he leapt out onto the trail ahead of the girl, snarling, hands raised menacingly. The girl screamed... then burst out laughing.
Nimos held his pose for a moment longer, then joined Julie in a laugh. He trotted over to her and gave her a warm hug. He held that hug for perhaps a moment too long, then broke away with a sigh. He desired this girl, and not just because her lush young body had begun to blossom into womanhood. He loved her for her personality, her smile, her boldness. But by Decree no harm could be done to any of her blood, and Nimos knew that the High King and Julie's parents would consider his introducing this child to the joys of shared physical pleasure harmful, no matter that lately she seemed to be responding to his veiled advances.
Most satyrs would have either taken her and the consequences be damned, or - more likely - have avoided her. Nimos was older and wiser than most of his kind. He knew patience, and valued trust. He also knew how to sublimate his lust into pranks. If, someday, when she was an adult, Julie willingly joined with him, it would be more than worth the wait. And if she didn't he would still have had fun in the waiting.
"Nimos, that was wicked!" said Julie, still laughing.
"Child, at my age you enjoy whatever thrills you can get," the satyr joked, waggling his eyebrows in a manner he had learned from watching the great Groucho.
Julie took his hand, and they walked together. Nimos was thrilled at this intimacy, but quickly realized that the child meant nothing by it. She was preoccupied, even distant. The satyr finally stopped and moved to face his human friend.
"What troubles you, child?"
"Oh, it's nothing," she sighed. "It's just... well, I had another run-in with my Dad this morning. I told him and Mother that I was coming out here to visit for a while, and he rolled his eyes, and gave Mother that 'when is she going to grow up?' look."
"And your Mother's response?"
"She just smiled at him and winked at me." Julie sighed and shook her head, turning from her mythical friend to examine a flower. "I know we're not supposed to tell anyone not in the family, but does that have to include my Dad?"
"I think your Mother enjoys keeping this little secret from him," laughed Nimos. "That mischievousness is part what endears your family to us."
"Yeah, but he thinks what I tell him is all made up, and he won't come here and none of you will come there. I don't want my Father thinking I'm some ditz, or still a child."
Nimos thought for a long, silent moment, while Julie returned to searching the flowers for fairies. The wind shifted, and he caught a whiff of ocean salt. The family estate on which Julie lived was far from any ocean, but the woods they contained were only an entrance to this realm, and not its container. Other entrances led to other parts of the human realm. There were few such portals, now, and they were precious. It was only through pacts with families such as Julie's that these connections between Arcadia and the mundane world remained open.
Nimos shook himself; though his kind did not age, they did tend to grow melancholy and morose with increasing years. That was why so few satyrs reached an age of more than a few centuries. The weight of time was simply too much for them to bear. Nimos sometimes fell prey to such moods, and had found that the best therapy was to do something. Take a lover, explore the mundane world as a human, pull a prank, or some combination. And that led to a thought. A thought which made him smile.
"Julie, do you trust me?"
She hesitated. "I don't want to offend you, but..."
Nimos laughed and clapped her on the arm, almost staggering her.
"Child, if you had said 'yes' I would have called you a fool to your face," he exclaimed. "You and I both know that my kind are impulsive and prone to follow those impulses without due consideration of the consequences. So, let me ask this: Do you trust me to not cause you deliberate harm?"
"Yes," said Julie. "I mean, not what you would consider harm."
"Better and better," said Nimos, rubbing his hands together. "I do so love working within the rules. The frustration this causes the rule-makers is so much fun to watch."
"Just what do you have in mind?" asked Julie, suddenly wary.
"A way to waken your Father to the possibility of things beyond his narrow world view," said Nimos. "Since he is of your family - even if only by marriage - that would be allowed, and even encouraged by some. Tell me, do you have an affinity with any particular animal?"
"Well, I like horses," said Julie, frowning.
"Excellent! Hmmm.... not just a horse, we want something he'll recognize as you, but undeniably different. And I'll add a blurring effect, so that those who aren't meant to know about us will see what they think they should see. Yes..."
"A centaur!" blurted Julie, startling the satyr.
"Of course," he murmured, eyes wide with delight. Then he roared, "Of course!"
* * *
Julie galloped across the fields behind her home, enjoying a feeling of freedom such as she had rarely experienced. Nimos hadn't just physically transformed her, he had made her as at-ease with her new body as she was with her old one. More so, in fact, since the effects of puberty had made her human body unfamiliar to her of late.
She rounded the bend on the access road, gravel flying from under her hooves, and lined herself up with the head-high, perfectly trimmed shrub behind her house. This was taller than anything Julie had jumped yet, but she knew she could make it... and indeed she did, with height to spare. And as she cleared the hedge she remembered why she had gone to the woods this day.
The young centauress landed in the middle of her Mother's garden party, nearly falling as she stumbled in shock. Her new reflexes took over and Julie bolted, fleeing across the lawn and around the house, nearly knocking over a caterer as she went.
The sight that most stood out in her mind, however, and what made the whole mishap worth the embarrassment, was the look on her Father's face as she ran past him...
* * *
Martin Bander heard the horse approaching but paid it no mind. Julie or a child of a guest must be riding one of the mounts from the stable. Then a blur of motion made him jerk around as something came flying over the hedge. And he saw Julie's face, grinning with delight... a delight which changed to pure shock as she saw the elegantly dressed men and women assembled for the charity auction Martin's wife was hosting.
And then Julie had run past him, on four hooves, flashing him an embarrassed grin.
The party noises, halted by Julie's entrance, were replaced by a buzz of conversation, some of it amused, some outraged.
"To think that they let her ride a pony through here," one matron hissed to her companion.
"She's as wild as her mother was at that age," was a kinder remark, from an elderly man. "I just hope she cools that pony properly before putting it back in the stable."
Martin was stunned on top of being stunned. No-one else had seen what he had seen. Had he imagined it? Somehow combined Julie and the pony? No, he'd had a clear view, and while that was definitely Julie it was just as definitely a centaur. How? He glanced over at his wife... and saw her giving him that same grin she had given him that morning, after breakfast...
* * *
Julie headed for the first hiding place she could think of, the old cattle barn. Separate from the horse barn and corral, on a different part of the property in fact, it was her second favorite place. It was also close to the woods, which might have been one reason it wasn't used much any more. Several people saw her on the way, mostly farm hands, but none of them seemed to notice anything unusual about her. That meant Nimos' blurring effect was working. Julie ducked into the battered structure and slid to a halt, panting. After making sure no-one was in here and that she wasn't being followed, Julie decided she better cool down. She walked slowly around the inside of the dusty old barn, catching her breath. There was plenty of room; it was now used mostly for storage, and not a lot of that. Julie felt her breathing and pulse return to normal, and realized that she was thirsty.
There was a hand pump in the barn, but the priming bucket was dry. Julie worked the handle, but without water to prime it the pump wouldn't draw. She sighed and decided to head back to the woods. There were streams and springs there, and maybe it was time to have Nimos change her back, anyway. She turned toward the rear doors, and started as she saw someone there.
"Youngster, what have you done to yourself?" asked the man, with a bemused chuckle. "Looks like you been mixin' with the fair folk agin'."
"Joseph," said Julie, with a relieved gasp. "Yeah, I just crashed my Mother's party. I forgot about it; I meant to show my dad what had happened, and... well, y'know."
Joseph Fairbanks walked around Julie, examining her with the eye of an experienced horseman. He was old and bald and black and wrinkled and acted as the estate's primary trainer. He was one of the few people outside Julie's blood relatives who knew about the woods and what lived there. He was even older than he looked, having dealt with the fae himself for some time.
"Not bad," he judged. "You look right purty this way. This Corelander's work?"
"You be careful 'round him," said Joseph, suddenly serious. "I know he don't mean no harm, but sometimes he don't understand what he's doin'."
"I asked him to help me convince my Dad that I'm not making the stuff I tell him about the woods up," said Julie, unconsciously pawing the dirt floor with a front hoof in discomfort. She gave the old man a nervous grin. "I think it worked."
"Maybe it's better if'n he don't know," said Joseph, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "There's been times I wish't I didn't."
"I better get back and find Nimos," said Julie, suddenly uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.
"Better make it quick," said Joseph. "I came over here 'cause some of the other kids want to get out the badminton set. I think a couple of 'em 're followin' me."
"Yow! Okay, I'm gone!" and Julie headed out the door, towards the woods.
All original characters and concepts in this document are © 2002 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Please contact the author at: email@example.com for permission to repost.