It may seem difficult to believe that I could get lost so quickly – but trust me, I could. I couldn’t figure out how quickly the stockade had seemed to melt into the darkness, or how soon I had seemed to lose Hum. And Ibis.
Slowly, I rotated in a circle, rounding a tree with the thickness of Chief Fal’s largest hut. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know where my friends were.
Wait – for how long had they been my friends? Just a few days ago, had they not been my enemies? Perhaps seeing me humiliated had changed them. No, it must have been when I saved Hum.
“HUM!” I screamed, sense returning to me, or was it leaving me, for would my pursuers dare venture just a few steps beyond the stockade for murder and glory?
“HUM! IBIS! Come BACK!” Was this forest truly a swallower of souls? For inasmuch I cried, I felt more hopeless still –
A rustle. In the blackness, I readied my bloodstained dagger, after wiping the blade clean on my dress. It snagged, and the ripping of the fabric echoed loudly against the silence of the woods. Had not birdsong emanated from the trees by day? How could then the woods of Eldritch be so silent during the pitch of night?
And lonely. I tried to recall a saying of my mother’s, “Sweet birds sing, but a swallow never cries.”
More rustling. I yelped and scurried towards a great black thing. The warm trunk stopped me, as I stiffened silently, hiding from my pursuer, I seemed to feel it pulsing at the pace of a rabbit, similar to my heartbeat, as though alive. I leaned further into it –
Into it? The tree was hollow! And there I hid, clamping my eyes and my fists shut against the forces which could lurk inside the woods…
Dawn was just crimping the land with a faint tinge of grey when I at last dared open them. The tree where I had hidden was hollow, wide enough for a girl to sit cross legged, with a gash through which one could enter. A hill of dusty-white moss rose up in front of the opening, obscuring it from all but elvin eyes. I smiled blissfully, then jolted awake.
I must find Hum. And Ibis, I reminded myself, no doubt she’s lost among this mystical woodland trap, too. I slid silently out of my hole like a deer fearful of the hunter, expecting a waiting cult of elders to jump out from the trees at any waking moment.
No ambushers. Slowly, leaning against the huge tree, I looked myself over.
Welts from the whip still creased my body, but they were not deep and had healed quickly. I was bruised from the hand to hand contact with the clannies, but that was just sore.
Alas- my dress was torn! Now I could not fix it – oh well, I can run faster with a shorter dress. It was more like pants, I had always wanted pants – I stood up, suddenly anxious. I must find my allies! For I knew not whether they were my friends yet.
Setting off over the hill of moss, I hurried in search of Hum and Ibis. Calling had not worked in the silent forest last night, so I reckoned I should just look. I passed a swampland wrapped in loose grasses. Stopping for a moment, I surprised a sleepy pheasant, and hurling my dagger at it, was surprised to hit my mark! I retrieved the animal, wrapping it in reeds for later. I slung the pheasant over my shoulder as I tied the cut part of my dress out of my way. After I picked up my sack, I headed off into the woods, towards my rebel friends.
It seemed like hours. Although honestly, by the sun’s position in the sky, I knew it hadn’t. As I wandered throughout the mysterious wood, my mind began to wander. I began to look in awe at the leafy trees, hear the fall leaves fall onto the unsuspecting ground, while feeling the cool air blow them around making a gentle whoosh. The morning sun poked through the treetops, making uneven beams on the ground, and to me it seemed as though the sun was favoring only certain trees. I walked through the torrents of leaves through the forest until my stomach began to throb from hunger.
I came upon a sunlit clearing and sat down on my knees. I squinted my eyes because the sun was so bright. As soon as I had picked up the pheasant from my bag, I collected some sticks and got to work.
As well as I could, I rubbed the sticks together and eventually started a fire. The effort it took was painful, for my back was still aching in pain. However, I soon started the fire and began to cook the bird.
I had slept well that night. The tree trunk had seemed warm, even though I knew that was impossible. For some reason however, I had grown colder about an hour before I had awakened. I had no idea how that was possible, but I didn’t dwell on it.
The pheasant was delicious and I ate it with vigor. I drank some of the water from my canteen and stood once again. Suddenly, I heard the nearby bushes shake. I heard a voice.
“Hum!” I called back. “I’m here!” I ran toward the movement.
The bushes shook, and I called my shaking nerves. Hum would have answered by now – was it a clannie sent to spy on me -? Well, it was now or never –
I leaped into the bushes, dagger at my side.
A blood curdling scream rolled off my lips, answered at once by a squashed animal yelp.
I set myself back in the undergrowth, glancing back up at the sunlight filtering through the dim leaves above.
Of course the sun was above me, don’t be stupid Swallow! I told myself, shaking. All the same, I felt lower than I had formerly been. Like I was in a hole…
Or a cave –
“Oh, great lichen foot!” I whisper-shouted, rolling to my feet, “I pray I have not stumbled from the dangerous heights to the depth of a coyote’s den – quite literally!”
The moan caught my attention again. “Al…ow.”
Cautiously, I crept through the dimly lit pass. It appeared to be a thin segment of rock severed between two overarching cliffs. Up above, a great tree trunk, thick as a band of angry Clannies, clung to the edge of the cliff. With a start, I realized that that must have been the tree I had spent the night. No other trees had I seen during all my day’s wanderings – had I walked so far, only to have gone full circle again?
I inched my way across the slippery rock, clinging to the ridge with my spare hand, using the dagger to grip the cliff like the flickery hairs on the toes of a sloth.As I slipped along the wet rock, raising to Lichen-Foot that I would not become trapped between the icy-slick faces of limestone and granite, I noticed a dark shaft peering from the wall. The moan came again, fainter this time.
Already shocked at my luck so far, outrunning the clannies, leaping safely into a narrow, unknown pit, surviving thus far my slippery journey –
I decided to try my luck once more, and leapt into the passage.