I can't tell you what woke me; perhaps a stair creaked, though I doubt it. I slipped out of bed and stepped to the window, drawing the curtain back a little to peep through. Sure enough, a tiny figure in a long white nightie was padding across Rustlings Road towards the park. I couldn't see for certain, but I was fairly sure she would be barefoot, too.
"Worrizit?" mumbled my wife from the bed.
"Calida's going walkabout again," I said.
She grunted in acknowledgement.
You may think we're odd parents to not be in a panic seeing their three-year-old daughter heading off into a city park in the small hours of the morning ... and you'd be right. We had good reason not to be surprised at our daughter's behaviour and good reason not to be desperately worried; you'll understand better if you read how we came to be where and how we are in 'The Trees Are Alive'.
But to say I wasn't desperately worried is not to say I was going to leave her on her own and I was climbing into my outdoor clothes even as I was speaking to my wife. I didn't bother with socks, just trotted downstairs and pulled on trainers. The front door was ajar. Calida either didn't bother to close it or thought doing so would disturb us. You see, although she was physically three years old and from Debbie's loins, the product of our love, she was in some way rather more than human. Oh, read my account; this is a new story! I'm not going to explain all over again how Calida the Hamadryad, with whom I was in love, was reborn as Calida the baby, from the womb of Debbie my wife, with whom I was also in love. Anyway, she was walking at nine months, her crawling period consisting of getting to the nearest furniture item she could use to pull herself to her feet. We never heard any baby noises ... when she began to talk, she did so in coherent sentences, not that she talked a lot. When she got to Nursery School in September, she was going to be a surprise to the staff there. In the meantime, we couldn't keep her away from trees.
She was both adult and child and loved to curl up in my lap like any child.
Living opposite the park, with many mature trees was both a blessing and a curse, as frequently Calida would take off, escaping our vigilance, to commune with the trees. She was happy also to come with us when we visited the place we'd made love. She loved and was loved by the residents of the wood, dryads, hamadryads and naiads alike and spent hours talking to them, especially Quercus and Betula. When she wanted to play in the stream we had no compunction about leaving her in Phoebe's care. Which latter might have been strange, but somehow we trusted the little sprite, usually mischievous and irresponsible, to take care of her.
I followed her, though by now she was out of sight, to the park entrance, along the path towards the café, but took an acute turn to cross the bridge over the brook. The white night-gown lay in the middle of the path, I smiled and shook my head as I picked it up, wondering how many three-year-old girls wore a nightie rather than pyjamas. It was a compromise; Calida much preferred nudity to clothes and flatly refused to wear trousers in any form, so pyjamas had no chance.
I should not have been able to see her under the trees in the dark, but as once before there was a glow about her and some of the trees, which were changing, transforming into apparently human figures and moving. I heard music, but could see no players, and the movement became dance, the small naked figure a part of it all.
Tired then, but somehow not sleepy, I sat and leaned against a tree where I had a mostly clear view of the rise where the party was going on. It was very comfortable and I relaxed until a voice spoke in my ear.
"We won't let her come to any harm, you know. She is a cousin, after all." The tree was no longer a tree, but a pretty, young-looking woman. I immediately took my weight off her, but she wrapped an arm round me and pulled me back. "You won't strain me. Relax."
"What's your name?" I enquired.
"Call me Quercia," she said, and I laughed. If you don't see the joke, pronounce the name with a hard 'c' – got it?
"Are you?" I turned to look at her better, pulling away, not without difficulty as she was quite strong. I saw a sturdy woman, looking young, yes, but I knew better than to take that at face value.
"What, Quirky?" She giggled, "It's ... well, don't you think you'd have to be to live like this?" She waved a hand, indicating herself and the surrounding area. "I think you met my Great-Uncle," she said, "so we know about Calida ... and you."
"Is that your proper name?"
"Yes and no. It's part of my proper name, but it's really a family name, you see. I won't tell you my personal name, if you don't mind. There's power in one's personal name, you see. But if you prefer, you could call me Kia."
"Okay, Kia; that's fine. But don't you want to join in the fun?"
"I'd rather have fun with you. I've heard things that make me very curious about you."
"Yes, Betula was very complimentary. I think she exaggerated, but I'm certainly willing to try you out."
It was very tempting. "Don't be offended, Kia, but I'd need to talk to my wife before taking up your offer. You understand she might be upset and I'd hate that."
She made a moue. "Yeah ... Betula said you'd probably say something like that. But I'd like to stay here with you. Do you mind?"
"The company of a lovely young woman? Why would I mind?"
She chuckled; it sounded very like a stream pouring over a rocky stream bed in the hills. "Yes, she said you were a great one for compliments and very charming."
I watched Calida dancing, one of those dances where the girl is passed from one partner to the next at arm's length, making patterns like ... do you remember Spirograph? That weird arty toy made up of pierced plastic cogs and you used a pencil or pen to make twirling patterns? No? Shows my age I suppose. The figures were twirling faster and faster until, suddenly, everything stopped and they all scattered. I stood.
"Come back any time and talk to me. Bring Calida – she will understand. Bring Debbie, too."
On impulse I kissed her lightly on the lips before turning away to walk to Calida who was walking down the slope.
She saw me. "Daddy! Why are you here?"
"Because, Sweetiepie, I know you're not just any three-year-old, but you are my daughter and you are in a three-year-old body, so I can't let you wander around. If Social Services or the NSPCC heard about it, they might take you away, and I'd hate that."
She snorted – a grown-up, adult, contemptuous snort. "They could try."
"They could and ... maybe you have ways to stop them, but it would make trouble and draw attention to you." I handed her the nightie and without protest for once, she put it on and lifted her arms up in an unmistakable, non-verbal, childish appeal to be picked up and carried. It was a moment very characteristic of her; one moment the confident adult, the next a small child. She was light in my arms and she clung to my neck as I carried her back home. She was asleep before we left the park.
She was in Nursery School the next day. I had to go to work; Debbie would be in the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon while Calida entertained the staff at the local nursery school. I mean that; Calida rarely needed to be entertained, but adults found her fascinating. Anyway, Debbie and I had no chance to talk privately until little Miss Calida faded out shortly after tea. Then I had my chance.
"We need to talk," I said, softening it with a smile.
Debbie had a serious self-esteem problem. It had been eased when I demonstrated conclusively that she was desirable and the lesson was reinforced when I asked her to marry me, but despite her relationship with Calida – the pre-rebirth Calida, that is – she still had difficulty accepting the reality of her beauty. Of course, some of that beauty was 'inner', perhaps she didn't have traffic-stopping looks, but I saw the whole person and no-one in this world could compare to her in my eyes.
I told her about the previous night – all about the previous night.
"We need to take Calida to see Quercus again and have him, and perhaps some of the others, too, have a word with her. There are all sorts of problems that could arise if she is seen as 'strange' or too precocious."
Debbie nodded, very seriously. "We could do that this weekend, couldn't we? Perhaps we could stay the night, too. Calida would like that, I think." Her expression held something more; anxiety, perhaps. "Steve, did you want to make love to ... what did you say her name was?"
"She said I could call her Kia – short for Quercia."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Does that make her an Oak Hamadryad?"
"It does," I said, "at least, I think so. She's sort of sturdy and solid, like an oak tree. Pretty, though. And yes, I would have liked to tup her."
Debbie frowned. "Why didn't you?"
"I haven't been with any other woman ... or sprite ... or whatever ... since the night we made Calida. I haven't needed to, because you fulfil me and I don't need anyone else."
"But you said..."
"A very attractive ... person ... invited me to take pleasure with her. I think Calida – adult Calida, that is – explained something to you about relationships in the wood, but you know, none of them could or would take me from you, it would cost too much. Look what happened to Calida. I won't accept any offers unless you give permission. Willing, unequivocal permission."
She moved to sit on my lap and wrapped her arms round my neck before kissing me. "I didn't mind Calida, you know. I'm not sure about the others, though."
"And that's fine. But when we're in the wood, I will be approached by people, I'll be embraced and kissed. So will you, for that matter. No means no, though, to them. Sometimes they might be a little ... reluctant ... to accept it, though. Like Phoebe; I told you about her."
To my relief, Debbie giggled at the thought of the little water-sprite. "I gather she's mellowed ... a little."
"So I believe."
Deb's scruffy, elderly Fiesta was long gone, replaced by a much younger diesel Meriva. Calida was excited; she always loved our visits to the Gorge and the ancient woodlands. As usual, we made our way to the Beech tree that once was Calida. Our daughter had always – understandably in my opinion – had an affinity for the stately tree and she always went straight to it and plastered herself to it. Her arms, of course, couldn't begin to encircle it. I found my eyes prickled a little as I watched.
Betula appeared and came to us with a hug and a kiss on the cheek each, then went over to Calida and spoke quietly in her ear.
"Really?!" Calida's squeal carried clearly.
Betula was nodding. Calida turned back to her tree, pressed against it ... and disappeared. Debs gasped and I felt a leaden lump in my stomach, but Calida, equally abruptly, reappeared, laid her hands upon the smooth bark, then turned and bounced over to us.
"Did you see? My tree took me back!" Her face fell a little, "It's not the same, though." She brightened again, "But it was still lovely. I could feel her life, even though I wasn't ... her ... in the same way anymore."
Betula was smiling as Calida turned to her and spoke, "Does that mean I'm a Dryad, now?"
"Yes and no. Part Dryad. But you don't need to live with her anymore, and she doesn't need you. But you still love each other, don't you? Even though it's not quite the same?"
Calida was nodding energetically. Betula then turned to us. "Calida needs to spend some time with us tonight, perhaps tomorrow. Her tree will shelter you if you wish to stay, or we will care for her if you wish to leave her."
Debs and I looked at each other, then my wife spoke, "Not that we don't trust you, Betula, but I think I'd be uncomfortable leaving her here. I would like to remain." Then looking at me, "Will you stay, too, Steve?"
"Of course, Love. Why would I go home when I could stay here with you?"
We spread a picnic blanket at the foot of the Beech and got out sandwiches and a flask.
"Oh, you didn't need to bring food." We looked up at the owner of the light tenor voice; a slim young man with bright red hair. "I'm Rowan," he said with a smile, holding up a basket. "Others will be here soon."
And they were. The others included Phoebe, who immediately curled up in my lap, rather like a domestic cat. I cringed internally, looking at Debbie, but she smiled as I caught her eye, then turned back to a conversation with young Rowan. After a few moments, she said something quietly to Rowan, then turned back to me. "Does it work both ways, Steve? Are we both to be free to play?"
"My love, if you want to, if you are entirely happy, then yes, of course."
"Okay, Steve. But ... we'll find each other again, won't we?"
"Back here to sleep?"
Rowan led Debbie away, leaving me with my kittenish water-sprite in my lap. I was content to hold her and she seemed content to be held. I was aware of movement round about, with faint strains of music, pipe, strings and drum. Phoebe stirred in my lap.
"Steve..." she spoke very softly, "I..."
"Would you like me to make love to you?" I asked, equally softly.
"Oh, yes," she breathed. "Come with me." She stood and held out her hand to me, then led me down to the river, to a level spot covered in leaf-mould, where she spread herself out in invitation. Oral sex has never been a trial for me; at least, not once I got over my social conditioning, and the naiad was a joy to pleasure with my lips. Her skin, so smooth, like silk; her nipples hard and small like pencil erasers. But her pussy – oh, her pussy. Comparisons are invidious and dangerous, but hers was simply one of the sweetest, tastiest, prettiest and most fragrant of any I have encountered. Okay, that's not so many, but I just can't believe there can be many to match. She was also one of the most responsive lovers I have ever known, too, and our joining was a beautiful thing.
Afterwards, she lay, snuggling in my arms. "May I bathe you, Steve? It's time to return you to your wife, I'm afraid."
"I'd like that, Phoebe."
It is a wonder to me, mere human, that the nymphs can make a cold stream into a pleasant, refreshing bath, can refresh clothes and somehow dry me without a towel. I didn't feel the need to dress and walked back towards the Beech. We were almost there when we met Debbie, holding Rowan's hand as I was holding Phoebe's. We came together and smoothly changed partners. Phoebe left with Rowan; it was interesting to see how her behaviour changed. With me, she'd been quiet, cuddly. As she left with Rowan, she was all lively adolescent, skipping, giggling. She was having fun; I wondered why the difference?
Debbie tucked under my arm and we made our way back to our bed. I suppose I need to explain something, though it would be better if you read 'The Trees' first. The magical world we were perforce a part of has very different rules. Intimacies are normally recreational and risk-free; procreation a quite separate thing. The relationship between myself, Debs and the adult Calida separated her from her tree persona; it was a costly and difficult decision for her to become a baby. Reproduction is normally by seed rather than the way humans do it, so I had no fears that Debs would get pregnant from a fling with Rowan or any of the male tree-spirits. It came as something of a surprise, then, when she said, "This is the night, Steve. I want a baby and tonight, you can give me one."
We'd never used any sort of birth-control, but somehow Debs had never got pregnant after Calida was born, though I knew she wanted another baby. For that matter, though I loved Calida, I too wanted a 'normal' baby who would be a combination of our DNA.
"You know I'd love that too, Debs," I said, hoping I'd concealed my scepticism, hoping she was not disappointed.
"You don't believe it, Steve, do you? Never mind, you'll see," she giggled and, reaching Calida's Beech, went to hands and knees, waggling her bum at me enticingly.
Normally, while I enjoy doggie, I prefer to look in Debbie's lovely eyes, especially as I'm coming. But that time as I entered her slick tunnel and held her hips, she dipped on her arms so her cheek was on the ground and looked round. "Come in me," she said, "I'm told this is a better way to get pregnant."
Well, despite my earlier encounter with Phoebe, the combination of, well everything, meant I came quickly and a lot. Debs apparently came too, judging by her physical and vocal responses.
"Stay in me for a while," she ordered me, her pussy muscles working on me to maintain my erection – not that I was having any problem. "Can you reach my titties?"
Eventually she decided she was ready to topple to the side, though still keeping me in her, and we dropped off to sleep like that.
In the dawn half-light, my lover mounted my morning erection and rode me to another noisy series of climaxes. As a result, we slept again. The Beech is off the beaten track, but I didn't really want to be wandering naked once the walkers were around. When we woke again, we took our clothes and made our way to the river, looking around to see if we needed to avoid anyone; happily, we didn't.
Calida found us, sitting by the river. We were dressed; she, predictably, was not. She ran to me and almost strangled me, her little arms tight about my neck.
"Father Quercus and Aunt Betula told me lots last night!"
"That's good," I said, thinking, 'I hope'.
She released me to hug Debs, but the moment she touched her, she squealed in excitement. "I'm going to have a sister!"
Debs and I looked at each other in bemusement. "How do you know that?" I asked.
"Well ... I could feel her." She looked at Debs, "Can't you feel her?"
Debs shook her head, "Not yet, Sweetie. I knew it might happen – would happen – last night, but no, I don't feel her yet."
"Wow! I'm so happy!" We had one excited child; though she acted more like eight than three years old. But then she looked over Deb's shoulder. "Auntie Betula! Did you know?"
Betula stepped down to us. "Good morning, Debbie ... Steve – congratulations, I gather. I think we've persuaded Calida to behave more like a small child and we've shown her some things, haven't we, darling? And yes, Calida, I knew it was possible though not for sure until now."
We heard voices from the path above. "Better dress, Callie," Betula said.
Calida frowned, concentrating, then was clad in a flowing dress of soft, spring green. Debs gasped, but I'd seen the adult Calida do the trick before. "Very good, Callie. I'm impressed. But how about some shoes?"
Calida looked cross. "But that's silly! I like to feel the ground under my feet."
"Maybe, and if you're going to behave more like a child, bare feet are okay sometimes. Right now I'd like to see something on them."
The voices were closer.
Calida scowled a little, but light sandals appeared on her feet. The voices were very close and suddenly a middle-aged couple in walking gear appeared on the bank.
"Just here," the woman was saying, "there's a perfect spot..." but then she saw us. "Oh! I am sorry to disturb you. We'll leave..."
"No," Debs interrupted, "we were about to go to the café for breakfast. Weren't we, darling?"
"Oh, er, yes, love. Of course. I'm certainly ready."
We left the riverbank to the new couple and began to walk down hill to the café, but Betula said, "I won't join you now. Would you mind if I took Calida? If she wants to come, of course. We'll make sure she eats well."
Calida jumped in, "May I go, please?"
Debs and I looked at each other. "Why not?" We spoke together - the coincidence tickled our funny bones and we laughed.
"If it's no trouble and if Calida really wants to go with you ... how long would you like to keep her?"
Betula bent down and whispered with Calida, who giggled and nodded. Straightening up the silvery-haired nymph told us, "As long as you'll be willing to leave her. You'll be going home tomorrow afternoon, of course. We'd love her to stay until then, or any time up to that. We've got a lot to say to her. Oh ... and there's a party tonight – you're both invited."
So Debs and I visited the café, wandered about the woods, paddled in the river, visited the café, made love once or twice or ... I'll leave it to your no doubt fertile imagination ... and that Saturday night Debs experienced a woodland party for the first time, culminating in sleeping in my arms by the Beech.