“What is it?”
I can say nothing.
I don’t know what it is. Why I’ve stopped dead in my tracks. Where that tugging sensation came from, or who. All I know is:
I felt it.
Beating along this string tether. Making my stomach quake. The hollows of my bones sing as the wind breezes through me, and I feel the drum beat in time with my heart.
No, I say nothing.
I’ve no idea what this is.
When we bed down for the night, I can still feel it.
Pounding like rain.
Hammering like thunder.
Drenching my blood. Pouring into my veins.
When they fall asleep, I can’t stop myself any longer.
I get back up.
And I walk.
Wandering back through the willows, the grass greeting my footfalls graciously. Under the glare of stars, I walk. Moss tickles my face as I miss the chance to move it aside, and I am startled by a web or two that dangles at face-level. And yet, still.
The trees here are old, I can tell. Weathered. They have seen things, and they have heard things, and they know what it is that calls to me.
“Bring me to him,” I ask.
And, without hesitation they do.
Only, it doesn’t happen like I think it will.
When I ask, there is silence. Strange, ethereal silence. The kind that roars and begs and crows. That leaves lesser men mad in its wake.
There is silence, and then—
The pounding begins again.
Only, this time, it’s louder.
Much, much louder.
It pours, and pounds, and I am drowned in the sound. Turning in the midst of the willows, drawn in the faces of the bark. Glittering against the fireflies and the moonlight and the light that dims from behind me.
I turn because I want to, not because I need to.
I don’t know him, but:
I know he’s there.
When I turn, his eyes are hollows of light. His antlers crest upward, a crown of bone, made from nature. From life. A natural order that speaks clearly.
Here, he is king.
This strange man with the antlers.
With the eyes like moons in eclipse.
With the somber face as he takes me in.
Here, he is the king.
His name is whispered by the willows, and it brings me to my knees. A name I am forbidden to repeat, but that my mind remembers all the same.
He stand before me, this odd king.
And I hear his name.
In response, I bow. Nod. Kneel more properly.
It is the last words that are ever heard from me before I am swept away.
Taken by the laughing willows. The stinging light of the fireflies.
By the king of the forest, himself.