Chapter Thirteen: Into the Woods
A crescent moon hung over the palace when Efkin awoke. He tried to fall asleep, but his thoughts were troubled. He lay in his bed, shifting from side to side, trying to clear his mind of the questions that prodded him, questions he could not answer. He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to take him, hoping to quiet his thoughts.
He was rolling on the bed, wishing he could sleep and dream of happier times, when a wind howled suddenly and a few leaves blew in through a window. Another breeze came then, stronger than the first. Efkin rose to close the shutters and, for a moment, he thought he heard a voice in the wind. He fell on his bed and tried to empty his mind.
The shutters blew open suddenly and Efkin heard a clear voice above the rush of wind:
“To Rynne, Efkin. To Rynne you must go.”
A dim light shone in the center of the room, growing brighter, and his eyes were wide with wonder as a being of unimaginable beauty was manifested in that light, a bright dryad with brown hair that flowed to her waist.
“Seek the high cliff when the moon is full.”
There was a quiet stillness as she stood in the glow of moonlight. Efkin waited for her to speak again, but heard only the rustle of leaves in the wind. He reached a hand to the ghostly form and it was gone.
He stood there a moment, wondering if he had seen anything at all.
The light of dawn crept dimly into the woods as Efkin walked through the forest. Since his return from the sea, he spent most of his days wandering alone with his thoughts, aware that something strange was happening to him. It seemed all the world was calling him. He heard it in the wind that howled past him, in the birds as they sang, even in the crack of leaves he crunched underfoot, for all the earth seemed to know him somehow. The trees seemed to greet him as he walked through the forest. At times, he felt the presence of many beings around him, watching him. He thought he imagined bright voices laughing and wondered if his cloak lifted with the sighing breeze or was tugged by invisible hands that played some mischief on him.
He did not know what was happening, but guessed his encounter with the sea spirit had changed him somehow so that he experienced the world in a way he could not describe to others or understand himself.
The tale of his apparent and much envied kinship with the Lord of the Seas, who was called Whelum in the elvish tongue, spread quickly through the palace. For a time, Efkin gathered a curious throng around him. They stared in wonder at the mighty lord who summoned an elemental, speaking ancient incantations to turn the very seas against their enemies, or so they had heard. All were surprised when he told them he had not called the Sea Lord, but was rescued by the benevolent power who came of a sudden to his aid. Nonetheless, his wondrous communion with the sea was the subject of much talk in these days. The legend of his power grew so that many believed he could move the tides and summon all kinds of supernatural aid.
He walked through the forest beneath a roof of leaves and branches that swayed and rustled with the breeze. He stopped suddenly and looked at the pendant he wore. He unfastened the leaf and held it in his hand. The gold leaf glinted with morning rays and he stared at it for a moment. Then he let it fall to the ground. He listened to the wind and watched the trees. He felt something was in the air, but he could not describe it. Then he noticed a light in the woods. It flickered on the trees and he looked around to find its source. He was startled to discover that he was the source of light. It was only a slight glow, a white radiance that was barely perceptible under the sun, but it flashed in the shade of trees and he looked at his glimmering form with confusion and wonder.
The wind swept through the forest and leaves whipped off branches and swirled around him. Then he heard something in the sighing breeze that made him gasp.
There was a rush of wind and strands of light were bending around him, weaving in the air like threads. The glowing fibers interlaced and spread a shimmering net that stretched in every direction. He watched the latticework unfold around him and saw that it swelled in one spot, as if some force pressed against the glowing weft so that it bulged. The bright strands stretched like seams about to break, and then the shimmering patch burst in a flash of light to open a glowing passage in front of him.
He stood in pure wonderment, staring in disbelief at the otherworldly threshold that hung in the air, cutting a path that burrowed through the very fabric of existence. The bright portal swirled and glowed with an emerald light he had seen in dreams, and he knew the strange things he saw in his sleep were not his own imaginings, but the clouded memories of things too daunting to remember.
He stared at the gateway and saw a shimmering tunnel that curled its way up into the sky. He stood there a moment, staring at the hovering vortex, before taking a step forward. He halted, afraid to move. He wanted to proceed down the passage, but feared leaving the world he knew. He gazed into the glowing tunnel and, for a moment, wondered where its winding course would lead. Then he cast his fear aside and stepped through the bright threshold.