The Forest of Bells
Art by Magali Reyes
Beyond the village, a forest cloaked the edge of a valley. There, bells glinted on the trees in place of leaves. Light, silver and gold, fogged the skies over the woods while the sound of ringing rippled across the land. The villagers looked from afar and whispered tales of folk lost in the gleaming deeps. Thieves who wished to rob the bells had disappeared between the trees. Lovers who fled to the forest never stepped from its reach. No paths led to the woods and no travelers journeyed near.
While Rowan waited and watched her parents, days seeped through the woods. The bells hung heavy with snow as winter muffled their music. Frost softened the forest’s glimmer. The sky froze above as ice patterned silver and gold. Soon, spring winds and showers thawed the bells and the sound of ringing spilled over the villages and plains.
Rowan gazed at her mother cradling the new baby under the sunlight. She shuffled close, touched her sister’s face, and murmured ‘Orla’. The days and nights slowed as Orla stayed hushed while her family cooed. No cries or babblings filled the rooms. Rowan sat by Orla’s cradle and rocked it gently to the distant bells. Her parents muttered their worries in corners and behind closed doors.
Orla stayed silent as days sank into weeks and wafted into months. Through bright noons and blue dusks, Rowan knelt by the cradle and tried to chatter away the hush smothering her sister. Her parents busied against the still moments and the stretched hours, working until candlelight crowded the night. Across the room, her father draped cloth as her mother cut patterns and stitched lengths. When ladies visited to browse the gowns, they peered at Orla and praised her while her mother flustered silk and buttons. Each dawn, Rowan woke to her sister’s silence mingling with the forest bells.
As spring drifted into summer, heat shone from the silver woods. Rowan plucked pale blooms from hedgerows and pushed them into Orla’s cradle. She sneaked ribbons from her parents’ boxes of velvet and cloth, and shaped the letters of Orla’s name in bright colours on the stone floor. When storms lit the night, she clutched Orla close as lightning rang upon the bells. While her parents worked, she whispered rhymes to Orla and coaxed silent smiles. As Orla slept, Rowan curled up at the windows and gazed across the meadows to the woods misting the valley with silver light.
Summer dimmed into autumn, while Orla began to crawl and toddle. Together, Rowan and Orla played hushed games in the soft gloom. They huddled at the windows and gazed at the forest as chill rains glittered upon the bells. Rowan learned to listen to Orla’s eyes and hands and spoke for her when their parents scorned her silence. When winter shrank the days, Rowan cuddled Orla under the firelight, telling her tales of the woods she’d heard from their father. She said that once a Duke was in love with a peasant girl and when she wed another he stormed the church. He cut the bells down as they rang and buried them in the valley. The forest of bells grew about him and he was lost among the trees.
As the years wound through the woods, Rowan and Orla roamed together in games and silence. They plucked daisies under spring dawns, while bird calls tangled with the distant bells. Rowan snatched velvet scraps from their parents’ boxes of cloth, and sewed gleaming shapes onto Orla’s dull blankets. When summer widened the skies, they chased cloud shadows through meadows and streams. In the autumn dusks, Orla gave Rowan copper leaves. During the winter nights, they curled up at the windows and stared at moonlight and frost weaving over the silver forest.
On Orla’s fourth birthday, Rowan woke as dawn glimmered upon the woods. While her sister still slumbered, she searched meadow corners for yellow flowers and pulled pebbles from streams. Orla stirred, jumped from her bed and rushed downstairs. Her parents crammed the living room with gifts and song. As Orla beamed and reached for a rag doll, she opened her mouth as if to speak. But only the sound of ringing bells tumbled out.
When Rowan drifted home clutching primroses, her father halted her at the path. He walked her along village alleyways, as he told her that Orla had become ill and many weeks would pass before she could see her again. Rowan’s tears stained the flowers. She crumpled into the shadows and saw her father striding away. When he reached their home, the walls were trembling with the sound of one clear bell. Orla spoke in rings and peels as her mother told her to shush. Her father gazed at the far woods and feared the villagers hearing his daughter. He pulled his wife to the doorway and spoke of outcasts as Orla’s voice rang around his words. Weeks dragged by with Orla shut in her room as her parents taught her to be silent once more. Rowan scribbled pictures on paper scraps and pushed them under her door. Orla clasped handfuls of cloth and wool to muffle her voice as she whispered. She pressed her lips to her window and felt the glass shiver under her murmurs. When winds shook the nights, she wished to add her voice to the forest bells.
Rowan wandered the summer alone in heat and shadows. She gathered bright feathers from tree hollows and pushed them under Orla’s door. She sat outside the hushed room and whispered tales of the woods until her mother sent her afar. As distant ringing floated through the dusks, she lingered among long grass, watching candlelight fall from Orla’s window. Orla’s days and nights narrowed between the walls. While noons dwindled into twilights, she followed sun patches about her room. She settled the feathers into flower shapes on the wooden floor. At night, she watched the silver forest through her window as starlight sank on her tears.
As autumn cooled the village, Orla still sat in her hushed room. Rowan picked acorns from low branches and placed them outside Orla’s door. She wandered the village pathways beneath chill skies and murmured the sights through the keyhole to her sister. But Orla huddled far from Rowan’s whispers and sagged in dark corners. Under her mother’s frowns, she learned to fear her own voice and sank into silence. Her father paced the cottage as the distant bells rang with hail.
When winter stilled the meadows, Orla’s mother took her from her room. Under the firelight, she pushed twine into Orla’s fingers and taught her to thread and stitch. Rowan wandered on errands with her father through the village bright with snow and berries. As they stepped beneath frozen skies, he told her Orla was fragile and that she would have to play alone. Rowan lingered in the snow, dancing patterns into the plains as Orla wound ribbons by her mother’s side. At night, Rowan huddled at her window, far from Orla and gazed out as ice lit the forest bells.
All winter, Rowan swept through snow lit hours while Orla sat among walls and gowns. They glimpsed each other only in doorways and windows. While her mother sewed, Orla scurried lace and buttons into her pockets. When night loomed over the village, she gazed at the snippets heavy with candlelight. Rowan peered out at the moon, but Orla looked away as the forest bells glinted between the curtain cracks.
One soft dawn, as spring billowed over the valley, Rowan crept to Orla’s door and whispered of the meadows’ bloom. Orla inched across her room, peeped out at her sister and pushed one of her stolen scraps through the gap. As Rowan took the lace, she murmured that warm winds could not harm. She held Orla’s hand lightly as they tip toed from the house. Orla sneaked glances at Rowan and clasped her own silence, wary of her voice, as they walked along the village pathways past shops and cottages. The fields shimmered with birdsong and sunlight. Rowan led Orla between blue sky and long grass to the places they’d once wandered together. They sat beside streams as Rowan spoke of the half games she’d played alone. As the morning stretched, they counted butterflies in sun patches and filled Orla’s pockets with blossoms. But as noon neared, winds shivered in the distant woods. Orla shrank as the air began to tremble with the sound of ringing bells. She shook as Rowan tried to steady her, and as Rowan pulled her into a hug, she jolted to her feet and fled across the meadows, back toward the village. Rowan raced behind, calling her to stop. As they neared their home, Rowan saw their father storming along the pathways. She felt the walls and sky whirling as he scolded her. Through her tears she saw Orla’s shuddering shape disappear through the doorway.
All night, Rowan squeezed by her window, as the house stiffened under Orla’s silent tears. Rowan stared hard at the plains and starlight. She wished that winds and bells would break the night’s hush. At dawn, her father took her from her room. As they walked along cobblestones and shadows, he told her she was going to her aunt’s home and that Orla needed time alone. She clutched the lace scrap Orla had given her and watched her father through the carriage window. She rode alone to a nearby town, where her aunt led her into drab rooms. As noon dragged into dusk, she sat in chill corners, searching old books for bright pictures. At night, she listened for Orla’s silence beneath the bells and streets.
Days thinned into weeks, and still Rowan stayed with her aunt. She watched the town pathways from her window, wishing to see her father walking near. Soon, summer swelled the days outside the dull walls. Rowan gazed at sky patches past the rooftops and longed for meadow winds. She kept Orla’s lace scrap in her pocket, and traced its shape with her fingertips. When she stepped through alleyways at her aunt’s side, she gazed at distant spires and wondered if she could glimpse the forest from the tower tops. At night, she murmured tales of the woods to her dim room.
As autumn leaked over the plains, Rowan still dwelled in the town. She drifted through chores under her aunt’s stare and walked errands alone in the crowded alleyways. When storms cloaked the streets, she listened for bells among the rains. She dragged into winter days behind frosted windows. Soon, snow clamped the paths and halted her walks. As iced winds roamed the rooftops, she held the lace scrap under the firelight and tried to picture her wanderings with Orla.
Two more years crawled by as Rowan lived beneath the town skies. She stopped watching for her father through the windows. She learned where to seek secret corners between the bustling streets. There, she played alone, pretending the walls were winds. In her aunt’s home, she busied through silent chores. At night, she watched candlelit shadows on the floor.
One spring morning, Rowan’s aunt told her she was going home. Rowan took her things from the corners and gathered them into a small bag. Her aunt stood by the stone walls as the carriage moved away. Rowan watched through the window as streets flowed into fields. As the carriage journeyed onwards, sunlight and wind unravelled upon the plains and the sound of ringing shook the air. She pressed her face to the window, straining for a glimpse of the silver forest.
In the village, Orla sewed silk patterns onto a gown while her mother watched the light stitches. Her father paced the room as he warned of her sister’s return. In Rowan’s years away, her name had rarely been spoken within the cottage walls. Orla had walked the rooms, looking for her sister, until her mother stopped her hushed search. Now, her last day in the meadow with Rowan was all she could remember of their wanderings together. Through the years, she warmed by her mother’s side and sheltered under her father’s words. She lived silently among the cottons and velvets, never stepping from the cottage. She embroidered dresses beside windows closed to the forest bells and glanced seasons through door cracks. As she counted buttons and weaved ribbons, she felt heavy with her hushed voice. Her silence sank through the walls.
Rowan picked small flowers as she walked along the village pathways. She reached her home and lingered outside, looking for her family in the windows. Then, she knocked softly on the door. Her father ushered her through the hallway. She gazed between the gowns at Orla’s lowered eyes. While her mother asked of her years afar, Rowan sat across the room and watched Orla thread and sew. Light dulled into dusk, and she left the small flowers on the floor. As silence dimmed the rooms, she walked the cottage, looking for the books and toys which had once been her own. That night, she glanced from her window and saw the forest light the distant gloom, then she sank to bed.
As the days passed, Rowan sought Orla between the walls and silence, but Orla sheltered from her among the gowns. Under Rowan’s gaze, her stopped voice felt like a sore stone. She fumbled her needlework when Rowan told of her days below the town rooftops. Her mother saw the stitches falter and sent Rowan on village errands. The morning was chill with distant bells and pale leaves. Rowan stood in the pathways, watching the passers-by for faces she had once known. She tore blossoms from garden edges and dawdled at her tasks, wary of returning home. At twilight, she crept through the hallway and saw Orla sleeping by her mother’s side.
Weeks went by, and Rowan saw little of Orla. Each dawn, while Orla still slept, Rowan tidied the piles of cloth. She stared for a moment at Orla’s embroidery each time her fingers grazed the stitched shapes. When she heard footsteps above the distant bells, she crept from her home. In the village pathways, she glimpsed the silver woods only through gaps between the cottages and walls. When her errands were done, she walked the meadows as rain dimmed the views.
Each morning, Orla lay still beneath the dawn winds and bells. She listened to Rowan’s movements in the rooms below. Then, she stood at her window, peering through curtain gaps until she saw Rowan walk from their home. All day, she sewed glinting patterns as her hushed voice ached through her stitches. She stilled as her mother praised the bright shapes. When sunset coloured the faraway woods, she scurried to her room ahead of her sister’s return.
Years fell past, and Rowan learned to keep from Orla's sight. In pale mornings, she dragged through chores without words, shrank from the bright gowns and wished Orla's stitches would dim. Her days faded outside the cottage walls. She trudged through her errands in the village among drizzle and crowds, and then sagged in meadows paths. She walked the valley’s edge, stared at the silver depths and felt the cold winds from the forest bells. In the evenings, she watched through the windows at Orla and her mother working under firelight. In the cool dark, she lay awake as night winds shook the woods.
Orla sewed from noon to candlelight, fingers hurrying golden patterns. She tried to warm under lamplight at her mother’s side, but her stopped voice hurt. She began to sneak into dim rooms to murmur into cups and books. When her parents walked into the village, she whispered in rings and peels to the walls. At night, she hid under blankets and wished to quiet the forest bells.
And so, Rowan lived alone within her family while Orla smothered in silence by the fireside. One day, Rowan woke past dawn. Grey skies cloaked the woods. She glanced out her window as rain dulled the morning. Then she crept through her chores. When she heard Orla’s footsteps on the stairs, she sank into a dim room. As she swept the corners and gloom, she felt Orla’s silence seeping through the cottage. She startled as the front door shut. Inching to the window, she saw her parents walking towards the village pathways. As she watched their shapes disappear into an alleyway, she heard a bell soften the silence. She listened as the ringing shivered through the chill air. Holding her breath, she crept into the hallway and peered towards the living room. She gasped: Orla stood beside the gowns, her voice pouring over the velvets and silks. Rowan stared for a moment, and then tip-toed back inside the room. She pressed against the wall, as Orla’s voice brightened and spilled over the shadows. Rowan felt the moments twisting as the peels swelled into patterns. Through the ringing, she heard Orla step upstairs. She held her breath and hurried from the cottage.
All afternoon, Rowan drifted the village among drizzle and paths, while she dwelled on her years pushed aside. After dusk, she crept home and looked in the window at Orla and her mother working under the candlelight. She felt Orla’s silence leaking into the night. She stepped inside and wandered along the hallway into the living room. She glanced at the stitches glinting under her mother’s fingers, and then softly reached into the piles of velvet and cloth. When her touch grazed cool silks, she pulled them into the firelight and held them out to her sister. Orla stared down at the glimmering fabric. Her mother snatched the silk from Rowan’s grip, and told her Orla needed peace to work. Rowan jolted upright. She felt the room sway as she glared down at her mother. She cried that she knew Orla’s secret. She watched her mother freeze. She heard her own voice forming cruel names and saw Orla flinch. She felt hot with tears as her voice darkened and filled the room. She watched Orla crumple beneath her harsh words. She saw her mother speaking but could not hear her voice. Her face looked deep red. Through blurred sight, Rowan saw Orla stand, pull free from her mother’s grip, and run into the hall. The room chilled as a door slammed. Her voice stopped. She rushed to the window and glimpsed Orla’s shape disappearing down the moonlit pathway. She heard her mother shouting behind her.
Turning, she stumbled from the room, raced down the hall and out the door. She saw Orla running towards the village edge and hurried after her. As she followed Orla past candlelit windows into black fields, she felt the night spin. She called for Orla to wait, but her voice faded into the winds. The forest bells rang across the sky. She saw Orla running down the slopes towards the silver woods. The stars whirled in the cool dark, as she sped onwards, shouting her sister’s name. She saw Orla near the forest and yelled harder, but her sister plunged between the trees. Rowan ran faster. As she reached the wood’s edge, she paused and stared upwards. The bells were cold with wind and starlight. She held her breath as she stepped into the forest. She moved through a darkness which glinted silver. Branches heavy with winds and ringing cloaked the night. She called out for her sister as she stumbled her way between the trees. Each bell sounded like Orla’s voice. She tried to follow softer sounds, faltering and turning as each was smothered. She drifted deeper.
On chill nights, the villagers say Orla's voice can still be heard among the bells, and that Rowan is still there in the forest, searching for her sister.