The Midnight Run
To Leven Icelander, Eldertain Rangerlord,
from Arevin oth Malkai, 1st Order Scout
The Godland bless you. I hope things are well there at Eldertain. Three days of constant travel to the Manor seemed far too long for me. News comes slow to this part of the land, and now more than ever my heart longs for the sweet tranquility of our woods.
Well and good. I wrote to tell you of my status here at Banebridge, as per your instructions. I am currently at Whytford Manor and night has fallen outside. In the other rooms sleep the rest of the search party Lord Whytford has hired. They are seven in all: two noble young soldiers from the Keldarin who are not adverse to mercenary work, the local priest Dupain, and four other men—Whytford's kinsmen apparently. We are rested, well fed, and ready for our journey tomorrow night.
I write this in the privacy of my candlelit quarters, hoping this will reach you at least by Truesday afternoon. Forgive me if I sound curt at times—I am in a hurry. This story I write brooks no patience and must be finished as soon as possible.
I write, of course, of the mission you assigned me to. As I am sure you too have few details about the "Whytford Affair", this is to report my recent discoveries.
All that is publicly known so far of the "Whytford Affair" is the kidnapping (I will no longer dwell on the ballroom fiasco as you know about that already). This is not surprising, considering the lengths to which Lord Whytford had gone to conceal the truth about his missing daughter Victoria. He had most of his servants, save for the most trustworthy, shipped to the far coasts of the land after the incident at his house. And almost no one knows that Ellington, his daughter's suitor, now resides in Banebridge asylum, which is probably tantamount to a sentence of death. I know: we interviewed Ellington just a few hours ago.
One wonders how matters have ever gotten this far. Save for Lord Whytford, no one knew until today.
I do not find him a terrible fellow at all, mind. If the townsfolk are to believed, he is fair-minded in politics and donates to charity and other noteworthy causes—a rarity in our time. Still, it appears that he had been keeping some things quiet. It was only this morning that he took us to his study and gave what may be our best clue at finding Victoria.
He locked the door, took out a small chest from his table drawer and opened it with a key from his breast pocket. From within he removed a small book with a crimson cover and black lace for a bookmark. "This," he told us, "is my daughter's journal. She had written in it every week and kept it hidden in a secret compartment beneath her dresser. I will ask you now to turn to the page with the bookmark and read her journal entry there. Perhaps you will find the answers you seek. I must beseech you though—not a word must escape this room."
I can empathize a little with his last sentence. Lord Whytford and his kind would pay a high price to uphold their honor. Still, he is the father of a missing lass, barely sixteen, the only daughter and the youngest of the clan. One can see the weariness in the lines on his ashen face, in the slump of his shoulders and the glazed look of his eyes.
We gave the book to the soldier, Sir Garrick. He read the journal entry to us as best he could despite the girl's frenzied handwriting, which became only more illegible as it progressed.
I have inserted with this letter a copy of the journal which, for purposes of speed, I have done in shorthand. You may be wondering how it came about that I have made a copy. You see, after the reading, Dupain asked Lord Whytford for the journal that he may study it some more. After a time, Whytford relented—Dupain was a holy man, after all. But later the priest stole into my room and handed me the book. "Make a copy of the entry," he said, "and send it to your Rangerlord. I think he may have need of it when the time comes." Looking at his face, I realized this may be a wise course of action.
The entry is rather long and tends to ramble, and you may even think of it as the product of an over-active imagination. Perhaps it is at that, but it is imperative that you read it. Now at least some things can be brought to light.
Since I read this diary, I must confess that I have been thinking much about us--that is, the rangers. I suppose it is also the sight of the great Belden Forest, looming on the horizon like a black fog, that has me turning thoughts. None walk there, none have made maps. One could wander for days without glimpsing its borders. There are supposedly old roads through it, yet we had found no one who remembers them.
Forgive me, I ramble. After you have read the entry, please continue with the second half of my letter. There I will relate the events at the night of the ball, as I have heard it from Ellington.
I am going to my love. He waits for me there in the heart of the Great Woods, clad in a cloak as deep as the night.
I, too, am waiting for the hour of my departure. Oh, if he only knew how impatiently I have waited through these long weeks, these restless hours, for the time to make my run.
I met him many moons past, as the late sun swept low to kiss the blushing horizon. I was riding alone near the edge of the forest when I spied him astride his dark mount, watching me from a nearby copse of trees. A lily-of-the-valley decked the wide-brimmed hat he wore, which shaded his face from view. Thinking him a bandit or highwayman, I was afraid, but only for a moment. Until the brim his hat rose and his gentle grey eyes met my own. From then on, I loved him. I shall love him more than I will love any mother's son.
We met there in secret in the months that passed, but he could only come intermittently and stay but a short time, no more than a handful of radiant moments. I would beg him to linger, but he would say it was not possible, and would not be moved in that. But he told me a way we could be together longer. Since then I waited each month for my chance. Tomorrow I shall wait no more, for the moon will hang full over the meadows and forests of this land, and I may go to my dark prince.
I write this, an account of my first journey, to always remember the sweetness of my moments with him, and also that I may not forget the things I must do for tomorrow night. I must tell myself these things over and over, to be sure I make no mistakes, and with knowledge and familiarity there will be less to fear with each journey. I must write now and read again and again in my spare time, and also include here the rituals of the Paths and perhaps some of the chants. But I must not describe the signs. Nor will I tell of the Gaje or their footprints, nor will I mention what happens when the will-o-wisps appear and what to do when they come, for these are the secrets that cannot be written down. I know that to keep this book is dangerous as well, and the time will come when I must either burn it or bury it in the hollow, where no one dares walk by night or day.
How much longer? It is still morn, quarter past seven, many hours before the journey. No matter. My hour will come.
Now, last month, at the time of the full moon—
I excused myself early from the table and retired to my room, complaining of a headache. Father and my brothers did not suspect a thing. I lay in bed and tried to sleep until the hour. I awoke a few minutes before midnight.
I listened to the sounds of the house, listened for any who may be about, for though the hour be ungodly I wished to take no chances. Satisfied, I rose from my bed. I slipped out of my gown and threw on my riding attire. No horse would serve me, but I had to wear something fit for travel.
I took the key, disguised as a fine crystal quartz pendant around my neck, then went to the corner of my room. I opened my closet and bent a little. There is a door at the back only I know of, a tiny entrance no more than four feet tall, so cleverly disguised that it looks like part of the paneling. Now, it wouldn't do to write how there came to be a door there, would it? I might as well reveal why at night the servants, though they see no one about in the garden, sometimes hear the patter of tiny feet on the cobblestone walk.
I ran my hand along the right wall and inserted my quartz key in the keyhole there. Then the door swung open for me, revealing a little stairway. Down I went, closing both the closet and the little door after me. At the bottom of the dark stairs is another door, and again I drew my hand over the left wall to another keyhole, which I unlocked with my quartz key. The way opened and I let myself out into the garden.
As I stepped out, I listened once more for sounds. But everyone slept at this hour, even the hounds and the horses in the stable. I was safe as I made my way through the high hedges to the metal fence. From the third large post I counted eight small posts, which I touched lightly near the bottom. The bar sank silently into the earth and I walked through to the grasslands of our estate.
In these open plains there is no cover, no bushes or trees to hide my passing. But my love had taught me many wonderful, useful things. You can always know if someone is on the plains by talking to grass. It simply takes the right tone, for them to listen to you.
I bent and whispered to the grass, "Someonesomething, someonesomething?"
And the grass whispered back,"Nothingandnoone, nothingandnoone."
Hastily then, my riding boots brushing through the dry grass, I crossed the fields towards the edge of the estate. As I walked I took furtive glances behind me and at the village far to my right. There were still some lit windows there, and I wondered what the villagers were doing this night. I had imagined that the men sat by the fire with their pipes and told stories to their wives, who listened attentively as they knitted woolen garments. Maybe their children lay bundled in the attic and stayed awake till the wee hours, looking out the window into the plains and imagining all sorts of things lurking there. Perhaps they could see this tiny figure, hair bundled under a riding cap, trudging through the moonlit grass.
I imagined their eyes on me as I reached a low wall of crumbling brick that marked the edge of the estate. When I made it there I hoisted myself up and sat on it, one leg in my father's estate and the other in the wilds. I sat there and rested for a while, and looked back.
Our mansion lay far away, looking like the old, unused doll house that my mother had owned. I sat there remembering that wonderful thing, how complete a replica of the mansion it was—her husband's gift for their wedding. She had kept it in her room when I was still little, and had tiny dolls that resembled all the members of our family. But as the years passed, she had paid it less and less attention, and more often sat by the window and gazed out sadly, waiting for her husband to return from God-only-knows-where he was. Later she had left the doll house in the attic, under a great white sheet that was always dusty. Mother had never looked at it again...
I swung my foot over the wall and leaped down, not wanting to think anymore. I still had a powerful long way ahead of me.
On I went, my eyes fixed on my destination at the end of the plain. The Great Forest loomed nearer, looking like a dark bank of impenetrable mist, but I felt no foreboding. The grasses in this plain were taller than the previous one. They brushed against my legs as I walked, and the memory of my love's gentle hands flooded into me. I wanted to hurry.
Soon the village faded into outlying houses, and then all civilization faded from view. I neared the forest edge and stopped there. No moonlight broke through the thick canopy of leaves, and I could make out only the faint outlines of tree trunks amongst the veil of shadows. I could imagine entering there and wandering for days on end, lost completely, the forest swallowing my tracks so no one would find me. . . but I pushed these thoughts out of my mind. I turned left and walked some distance along the forest edge. Soon the trees crept closer together, like dark soldiers jealously guarding a secret hoard. I began to see a thick curtain of ivy, climbing up the trunks and hanging low from the branches. Soon I was walking along an opaque, impregnable wall of leaves and twigs.
No one knew of the brook that used enter here from the plains. It had dried up ago and was forgotten, yet something had remained there—a carved, permanent path leading into the forest. The groove is narrow and hard to see and the break among the trees where it entered is disguised by the thick curtain of vines curling down from the branches. One could only see the path on special nights. Nights like this one.
I saw it then, just as my love had described. It was at once both strange and beautiful, seeing those little stones glow under the moon, like distant stars. They formed a meandering line leading into the undergrowth to my right. These stones, white with flecks of grey, had been left here by the brook many many years ago. They could only be seen beneath the light of the full moon, and if you knew what you were looking for.
I stopped where the stones lay and looked down at them in wonder. Then I followed them, one by one, to where they met the ivy wall. I faced that part of the wall, took a deep breath, and pushed through. There was little resistance beneath my hands.
I found myself in a natural path wide enough to fit a carriage. The rays of the moon at last shone through the leaves and dappled the ground, revealing toadstool here and there. Amongst the trees I heard the merry call of crickets and the occasional restless flutter of a night bird's wings. It was peaceful, almost welcoming, and my steps were light as my heart as I followed this winding path through the forest. I felt like a character in some fairy tale, a lonely orphan soon to come upon a house made of sweets, or of gold, or of glass.
The path itself was not overlong but it tended to meander, turning here and there as if it meant to discourage travelers. Oftentimes I could determine my way only through the toadstool that served as markers for the road. I did my best, and within a few minutes the road opened up to a small clearing.
It was a strange meadow. A stone stood upright before me, dark gray against the dark wood. It was taller than a man, its girth wide like broad shoulders. Its brother stood but a few feet away, and as I stepped into the clearing there was another, and another. It was a ring of stones.
It seemed impossible that were all found in that same rectangular shape, so they must have been carved by hand. Yet they seemed so unspeakably natural, as if in this world they could have taken only that form and none other. Did they stand for something? Did they hide secrets safely beneath their weight? I slowly approached the closest one and examined it. This one seemed somehow like a woman to me, a sister in the family. I touched it, then snatched my hand back. The feeling was not unpleasant, yet there was something not right about its rough, cool flesh. When I stared hard at the stone surface, I thought saw engraved words, but they beyond my ken. Beneath the moonlight they tended to swim and shift, eluding my gaze. I moved to the next stone, but I stepped back quickly. I did not like that one. It seemed like the patterns on it formed a man with a mangled face, leering at me from where it stood.
I began to feel afraid, for the others too, as I looked at them further, seemed awake and watching. One looked like a dancer frozen in midstep, another looked like a woman with long hair covering her face. Yet another looked like a wizened old man with a hideous grin, while the other looked a man only from the waist up while his legs were those of a goat. I felt their eyes creep after me as I walked, and I felt my hair prickle at the nape of my neck and cold fingers on my back.
I realized then that this was one of the special places that my lover told me of. It was an ancient place where people once gathered secretly, long before the Lord came to these shores. They passed through the hidden door and it was dark all around and they had to light some torches and braziers, and burn herbs that smelled both strong and sweet and made everyone feel light and giddy. And they would share bread and wine they had made with their own hands, then they danced secret dances and chanted secret songs, and held ceremonies and gave offerings in love and worship. And, sometimes, they were even visited.
When I realized all this, my heart felt more at ease. This place was made by people after all, and my love said I would come to no harm here. I walked among the silent stones and soon they did not scare me anymore. And as this was something of a holy place, I took of my boots and stockings and walked barefoot. The grass beneath me tickled my feet, making me feel all the more relaxed. I inhaled deeply, let out a sigh, then imagined the people of long ago gathering in this place. What fun they must have! I thought of them singing and dancing and swaying to the beating drums, and soon I was swaying as well, and dancing, and singing with the music I was hearing in my head.
I moved amidst the stones, weaving and skipping among them. I snatched my cap from my head and threw it away, and opened my mouth and sang any song that came into my head, and soon I found that I was singing them differently, in a language I never heard before. Amazed and happy I continued to sing and dance, swaying my hair to and fro. Then I walked to the only stone that was its side, that looked like both an altar and a long-haired woman lying down. I wondered about the offerings those ancient people made here, and on a whim I lay down on the stone and closed my eyes. I felt all hot inside, deep in the pit of my stomach, and I thought I could smell the sweet incense they used, and hear the drums they played. As I felt the cool stone at my back, I imagined too the cool, beautiful skin of my beloved, and his finely sculpted face and hands, too lovely to be locked into words.
I opened my eyes and looked to my left. There were two narrow pillars of rock there which I had not noticed before. Behind them there were only bushes, but when I shut my eyes and opened them again, I saw an opening there that led to another path, and I remembered that my love had told me of it, and I felt mortified that I had tarried among the stones. Quickly I got to my feet and hurried through the pillars into the path without even bothering to put on my boots and cap.
The road looked very old. It was narrower than the last one, but at least it did not turn and twist. It was carpeted by very fine grass that looked much like moss yet was not slippery. On either side of me were trees embraced by shadows, their leaves drooping somberly as if in sleep. Dryads still walk among those trees, my love had said, but you would be hard pressed to see them.
On I went, through the path that was constantly getting narrower. The trees pressed closer to me, seeming like dark curtains, and arches of leaves and branches formed over my head like courtiers shading a queen. The path then began to slope gradually upwards and became slightly harder to walk. So caught up was I in the journey that I did not notice that my surroundings had gone curiously quiet.
The call of an owl stopped me short. I glanced up to where it was perched on a branch high overhead, glaring down at me with baleful yellow eyes. When I looked forward again, I saw the brambles.
This was the last place, the gateway between my land and my beloved's domain. I had but to cross it and I would be with him again. But it somehow seemed not too easy a task. It was the sight of the brambles, I think, which were taller than any I have seen, more so than my love had described. They loomed before me, dark as storm clouds.
My love said this was necessary. First I walked about till I found the entrance: a massive oak as black as tar, with roots that stretched forth like monstrous snakes, and where in its trunk lay a hole tall enough for the head but barely wide enough for the shoulders. I found it quickly enough.
I looked deep into the hole that gaped before me. I knew my beloved waited for me beyond but I could not bring myself to enter just yet. Not in there, away from even the light of the moon. I felt overwhelming foreboding. My feet refused to obey me, and the flesh on my scalp was crawling.
After a while I could wait no longer, and steeling myself, I entered the gate.
How can I put into words what I felt in there, surrounded by near total darkness? There was only the sound of snapping twigs and dead leaves beneath my feet, and I could see nothing beyond the shadows of the brush. Yet I could hear something there beyond the silence, felt something hidden there. A slight breeze passed thought my hair, but was it wind, or breath? I felt sick with fear, my stomach turning inside-out, legs struggling to hold me up. Come now, I scolded myself—if something meant to harm me, would it really be here, in the darkest part of the forest?
I wanted to turn back but was afraid to look behind me, and in the end, I went down on my hands and knees and kept moving. I crawled on and on, not caring that my palms burned and my knees cried out from scratches on the rough earth. My gaze was held fixed onto the ground-I only wanted to get out, wanted to be safe. Then I heard it, that elusive, melodious voice, distant yet getting closer. I pressed on, ignoring the pain, wanting to see light to pierce this damp and miserable dark, wanting to see only light before me, and soon that light was no longer in my head but before my eyes, yes, that soft illumination that beckoned warmly, inviting. Yes, it was there, and my fear fled like crows before a peasant's sling as I got on my feet and ran, ran into freedom.
And freedom was the light from torches and bonfires, lights that outshone any ballroom I'd ever seen. Freedom was the soft pairs of arms that caught me as I stumbled from the tunnel. Freedom was the sweet scent of wildflowers and alien perfume, the feel of silk clothes against my cheek. I looked up at the ones that held me gently and gazed into the kind eyes of young men and women, lithe bodies winter pale, hair white as lightning, and smiles as luminous as their moonlit eyes—so beautiful, so utterly beautiful that I felt like weeping like a child at them and at their world for the stories, oh, the stories they were all true, all true about the White Folk of the woods! And one of them, clad in princely silks, came forth and offered me wine in a golden goblet. I took it and drank eagerly, even as a young woman wearing the jewelry of an empress, came near and laid a necklace of berries on my neck and a crown of flowers on my head. Somewhere beyond there was clapping and the music came soaring forth from musicians beneath the trees, and the crowd that had gathered to meet me parted to reveal dancers around the bonfires, and there was laughter and chanting by voices that rivaled the angels in heaven
Woodsie Lord! Woodsie Lord!
Soundsie the flute for the King of the Fae!
Drinksie the wine that flows from his eyes
Feedsie the fruit he proffers on his palm
Beaters the scosets on a highsie tone
Sings we, chants we,
Dance we away the night to dawn!
Euan euan euan oi!
Euan euan oi oi oi!
And beyond, waiting beneath a great oak tree, my beloved was clad in a cloak as deep as the night. He removed his hat and he gazed at me, joy dancing in his eyes. And the young couple who attended me linked their arms with mine and brought me to him and he enfolded me in his own strong arms. "Victoria, my Victoria," he said, "the way has been hard for you. But you needn't be afraid. Soon, very soon, you will no longer have to travel to me. Soon, I will take you away and we will be together for eternity." I reached up and caressed his hair of spun silver and his pale delicate face, and those thin, soft lips which took mine, flooding into me, intoxicating me. I knew none of the faerie people around me came close to the beauty of their king, to his tenderness, to his almond-shaped eyes gave love for me, only for me.
And what followed was food and wine, greater than any feast held in our manor. What followed was singing far better than any human bard, and dancing that put those people from long ago to shame. They took my hands and pulled me from my place in the circle, and I flung off my coat and hand-in-hand we danced round and round the fire, as my lover watched me from the shadows of golden trees. I felt his gaze and secret smile lace my insides with heat, and I danced on and on with the White Folk till he came and danced with me, white mane weaving with my dark hair, and soon we were dancing farther away from the flame and the crowd, spinning closer together, clasping, needing, falling onto soft ebony leaves and drinking-drowning from kisses again, and above only the ochre moon, the stars in strange constellations.
As you can see, it is a very odd manuscript. There are other entries within her journal not unlike it, but they were either nonsensical, half-poems going on and on about the "Woodsie Lord", or completely illegible, having been written in a different language or perhaps some code she had devised. The last coherent sentence is found near the end, and it goes: "Now, completion; he lives within me." What significance this was to her, we can only guess.
It is likely that Whytford's youngest daughter had suffered from mental and emotional breakdown. Maidservants have described Victoria's odd behavior: she would seem listless and moody, preferring solitude to the company of others, often sitting by her window and gazing out at the distant woods. Yet she never deigned to go for a ride or even to leave her room. She was also increasingly prone to mysterious and erratic behavior. At one point they found her scrawling pictures of trees on her walls. And in another, during supper, she stopped and cocked her head to one side, then smiled and said, "Do you hear them? There they go, running in the garden again."
I suppose one may find the manuscript you have just read as a natural product of a young girl's fertile imagination—the members of my group certainly thought so. As her father had been overly proud and attentive of his sons, his daughter had been something of neglected child, particularly after her mother died of illness. Perhaps her entries in the journal had been a fantastic escape from what has proven to be a dreary, lackluster life, and it the end the fantasy had gotten the better of her.
There is some truth imbedded in the manuscript, though. I have found that her closet does have a secret door disguised to look like paneling. This did not surprise people of the household at all. There are a number of secret entrances and exits in Whytford Manor, for the house is quite old and had seen several generations. Doubtless some of its former residents made them for quick escapes should disaster befall the house. The same can be said for the trick bar in the garden fence. Still, no one else save for Victoria knew of the existence of these two.
Yesterday, Dupain, myself and two others went on a scouting trip at the forest edge to survey the terrain described in the manuscript. There certainly are grasslands around the Whytford estate, and we found the low brick wall right where it should be. The terrain we covered was nothing as huge and fanciful as what was described in the journal, but I suppose a youthful imagination could color things to make plains wider, trees taller and shadows darker. Still, it was a wild and desolate country we traveled through, with signs of civilization thinning away with every step.
The forest, or Belden Wood, is easy to enter in places and near impregnable in others. I did my best to look for some sign of a stream or river bed, but for the life of me I could see nothing. And every stone seemed no more special than the other. By the close of day we gave up and headed back to the manor.
You may be wondering, sir, what I personally make of this entire affair. Though it may seem strange of me to say it, I find myself believing the manuscript. I sense I am not alone in this, as Dupain seems to believe as well. He finds too much in common between the Victoria's experience among the stones and the old pagan ritual of the Sabbat. For myself, I was convinced in an entirely different manner. Firstly, it is much in common with the stories I have heard as a child. Now, sir, before you scoff at how my parents have raised me, consider also the folktales of your native land.
And secondly, ah, here is the heart of the matter.
The second reason is supplied by Victoria's suitor and betrothed, Ellington.
I do not know much about the young man, other than he is the son of one of Whytford's wealthy friends, the kind of noblefolk you and I are more familiar with. Ellington had been quite taken by Victoria and had begun visiting her regularly since the month before last, perhaps without even knowing that, due to her father's penchant for arranged marriages, courtship was already unnecessary. Victoria's feelings on the matter had been immaterial, it seems. Yet Whytford, in the hopes of warming his daughter up to the young man, had thrown a grand ball. And it had been during that ball that something spirited his daughter away, frightened the guests witless, and made his future son-in-law lose everything but his life.
It was Dupain who insisted we interview Ellington. So we visited the young noble in his cell at the asylum—the priest, myself, and the two Keldarin soldiers. He was a sorry sight for a former gentleman, hair unkempt, face unshaven, and eyes too bright to be sane. When I first addressed him, the first thing he said, in the spirit of a private jest, was, "Have you ever seen an eye as large as your fist?"
He is mad, that is certain, and it took us an hour and bottle of rum to extract the information we needed. We have it—Ellington's testimony.
The eve of the ball, shortly before midnight. Lord Whytford was in a back room engaged in a game of cards with his friends. Ellington and Victoria had shared a number of dances already, though apparently not enough for the young man's liking. Still, Victoria sought the comfort of the sofa at the other end of the ballroom. Ellington went to join her and attempted conversation. She seemed sullen, withdrawn, nodding now and then in the pretense of listening. Oblivious, the young man kept a stream of conversation and at one point, took her hand for a kiss.
All of a sudden the glass double doors at the other end of the ballroom burst open and a cold wind flooded in, snuffing out all candles and plunging the room in darkness. There was a communal gasp, a scream here and there, but no one really panicked. Already servants armed with matches were hastening to the nearest candelabra. Ellington himself fumbled for the matchbox in his pocket as he requested Victoria to stay seated. He reached to his side for the candelabra, but found the table empty. He turned fully to feel around for it, as he was certain he had seen it there. That was when a hand closed around his throat and swiftly hauled him clear off his seat. The candelabra he had been searching for burst into life with tongues of green flame, in the hand of a man clad in black from hat to boots.
And the stranger pulled Ellington close to his face, and said,
"Little man, you will not touch what I own."
It was during this part of his story that Ellington threw himself on the cell floor and began shrieking and clawing at his eyes. Immediately the two soldiers sprang up and held him down, but he kept on screaming. His words went something like this: "I heard them! Those voices, that horrible babbling—chanting from the pits of hell! The stench of earth and euan, oi! And his face! His owl eyes—his dagger grin—oh God help me, his horrible face!"
The guards came in and took him away, and I heard nothing more.
I write this in the comfort of my room, by candlelight, yet outside my window I can see the dark curtain of Belden Wood upon the horizon. Tomorrow night will see a full moon, and somewhere near the forest edge, I believe there are stones that will glow like stars. Tonight, though, I am coming to the conclusion that though I have spent half my life as a woodsman, I really know nothing about what walks the woods. Nothing of dryads and werewolves, nor of the White Folk or their glamour, nor of the Trickster God.
I will do my function, and lead the search party into the forest using the best of my abilities as a ranger.
Yet I do not know what will happen to us should I lead them astray from the path. Or if we walk the ring of stones with no understanding of their function. Or if we enter the brambles of the gate. I honestly don't know.
Please, look to my children and my sweet Adelaide. Tell her I miss her, and ask her to breathe a prayer me each night I am away, before she lays her head to sleep.
And, sir, there is one question that troubles me most of all.
What is the Woodsie Lord's true face?
In God's hands,