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Darren was born in a cottage in the woods.
There. That's as good a place to start as any, and better than some. Darren was born in the usual way, to a mother and father. He grew, over the years, from a baby to a small boy, and as he did so he learned what he needed to help his mother and father at their work. And work they did, all three. Starting before dawn, they worked to wrest a living from the land; chopping and splitting wood, fishing, hunting game and mushrooms, preserving winter supplies, until the sun set and the darkness forced them inside, where Mother would weave or bake and Father would sharpen or carve. But always there would be time for something else. Wedged between the cooking and the cleaning, or squeezed in after the chicken-feeding and before the pot-scrubbing, there were moments of living. While his mother and father would use these moments to sit and rest, or to do stay-still grown-up things, Darren had that energy peculiar to children, and he spent these moments in his secret places in the woods. There, in the woods, he learned other things. He learned the colors of the moths that fly even in winter storms; he learned which mushrooms grow beneath which trees; and he learned which one tree out of all the trees in the forest could talk. The tree had no name. When you are a talking tree, it's hard to be confused with anyone or anything else, so it hardly needed one. So, to Darren, as to everyone else who knew about it (which wasn't many), it was simply “the talking tree”. The tree was really the only person (if you can call it that) Darren knew, besides his parents, and so it was to the talking tree that he went whenever he had a question that his parents couldn't answer (which was often). The tree answered as well as it could (which was very, if the question was about the forest). It taught him what the winds meant as they whispered through the rushes, and the names of the moths that fly even
in winter, and the reasons why certain mushrooms grow only under certain trees. And in each of these things – the meanings, and the namings, and the reasons – the boy was learning the green magic. Now, this was not the mighty sorcery you may have heard of elsewhere. Darren was, after all, only a boy, and he had only a little time each day to himself (and most of that was spent skipping stones or catching minnows, or other child things). So he learned the proper way of asking the branches to bend from his path, and to listen to the running sap to find the sweetest maples, and to call the toadstools up out of the earth. So it was until one day, in Darren's eighth year, when he returned from the forest to find his mother worried and his father angry. At first, he thought it was because he'd forgotten to slop the pig that morning (which he had), and he was readying an excuse – having no brothers or sisters, he was always having to invent something to blame. But his mother, still looking worried, asked, "Where have you been? A stranger came to this house looking for you!" Now, this confused Darren, because in all the time he'd been alive, there had never been more than three people who had come to their cottage in the forest, and he didn't remember any of them being a stranger (although Ernest the pig-seller was a little strange, now that he thought of it). Then his father knelt in front of him to stare at Darren with wide, angry eyes, and asked, "Where have you been going when you're not here? What have you been doing in the woods that brings strangers with eyes like the moon asking after you?" Then his mother interrupted, "No, no, his eyes were blue; blue as the sky..." "You think I don't know the moon, woman? I know what the moon looks like, especially when there are two of them staring me in the face." The father turned back to Darren, and asked again, "Now what have you been up to in the woods?" Well, Darren had tried telling his father about the talking tree before, and the first time his father had only laughed. The second time, he had sternly told Darren that that had been enough silliness. The third time, he had looked almost frightened, and made the sign of warding off misfortune, and had told Darren to stay out of the forest and things that weren't as they should be, and had given Darren a whipping to drive the lesson in. That had been the last time Darren had spoken of the tree, or what it taught him. So now Darren said, "I've only been catching minnows, and sometimes gathering mushrooms." His father grunted, and said sternly, "Listen here: from now on, you stay out of the forest! If you want to catch something, you can catch the mice in the haystack; if you want to gather something, gather eggs from the chicken coop! And when you have to go out to fish or to gather wood, you stay on the path and the bridge!" And, with that, he sent Darren out to bring in wood for the oven. As Darren was leaving, he overheard his mother mutter, "They were blue..." Now, Darren was an obedient child (as children go), and for several days he did as his father had told him. One day, however, as he was gathering berries by the roadside, he began to wonder how the berries knew to come out all at the same time, and his first thought was to ask the talking tree (he knew from experience that this was the sort of question that would annoy his father and confuse his mother). The trouble, of course, was that the tree was well off the path, into the deep part of the forest where Darren needed to use the green magic just to walk a dozen steps without tripping.
So Darren quickly forgot about his father's instructions (though he was careful to remember that he mustn't tell anyone he'd done so) and headed off the path, toward the tree. He had gone only a little way off the path when he saw someone in a little clearing ahead. The man's back was to Darren, so Darren couldn't see his face, but what he saw told him much. The man had long, red hair that blew wildly about him even though there was no breeze where Darren sat hiding, nor in the trees around them, and the clothes he wore seemed to blend with the forest, and with the wind that blew around him. All of this left no question in Darren's mind that this was a sorcerer. Being a rather clever boy, he quickly realized that this could be none other than the stranger who had visited his cottage. As Darren watched, the stranger began to turn toward him, his face for a moment lost in the mane of flying red hair. Then Darren was afraid, for he suddenly did not want to see the man's face; he did not want to see those eyes, that were the sky to his mother and the moon to his father, and which had frightened them both. Then Darren ran. He forgot in his fright the charms against the brambles, and so was torn by their thorns. He forgot the words of friendship with the trees, and their roots tripped him as he went, and their rough bark skinned his hands and knees. But he ran still, never looking back until he found himself at the place of the talking tree. Darren couldn't understand how he had come there, as he had honestly meant to return to his cottage, which lay the other way. He was wondering this when the talking tree spoke. It had a peculiar voice, the tree. Not in any funny or unpleasant way, but strange all the same. You've likely never heard the voices of moss or stones, but it was something like a mix of those, only with a sort of breezy whisper. Now that voice said to Darren, "You have questions again." The tree was always blunt that way. Darren, still a bit confused, asked the first question that came to his mind, and that was not the one about the berries. "Who is the stranger in the forest?" he asked. The tree never answered immediately; rather, it seemed to let the question sink into the ground, and bring it up through its roots before it answered. After a thoughtful silence, it said, "Stray winds have brought news of a man in black who invites them to play with him. This is the stranger you mean." "That's him," Darren said quickly. He wasn’t sure whether the tree was asking or telling. "Who is he?" "Some of the Faerie seem to know," said the tree after a time. “But they never say anything certain." This surprised Darren, as the talking tree had seldom made mention of the Faerie, and he asked, "What do the Faerie say?" In the silence, it seemed that the forest waited with Darren for the tree's answer. At last, it answered, "The Faerie seldom speak with words; they spoke with their dance. Their dancing was of a frenzy I have not witnessed since I was young; it was a dance of joy and energy and renewal, fierce even for the everyouthful Fae.” Darren was only more confused, and more frightened. "What does it have to do with the man in the woods?"
Again, he waited, as he had become used to, until the tree answered, "He was woven deeply into the dance." Darren could only puzzle over this for a long time. The tree was in no hurry, and didn't mind.
Darren returned home, remembering this time the songs of warding against the thorns and stumbleroots, and being sure on the way to check his direction with a mantis, which always points toward home. When he returned home, he realized that his clothes were torn with hours' worth of mending, and he'd lost the berry-basket somewhere in the woods. He entered the cottage ready for a whipping, and indeed when his mother saw him she cried out and when his father saw him he shouted and began to loosen his hard leather belt. But when his father came up to Darren, a strange look came over him, and he knelt to look into Darren's eyes, and then stood and walked away without a word. Darren thought this was strange, but any chance to escape a whipping was welcome, and he didn't question it. Over the next few days, though, he began to notice a strange blankness in his mother's eyes as she kneaded the bread, and the way his father ate without seeming to notice what was on his plate. Soon, he decided that they must both be bewitched, and he decided further that it could be none other than the sorcerer he had seen in the woods who had laid the spell. It was a few days more before Darren dared pack a sack and head off to find a way to lift the curse (which was, after all, the way they did it in stories). But he thought to himself, "After all, with them this way, they probably won't even notice I'm gone," and so he headed off into the forest, a small sack of food and some water fastened to his belt. With home behind him, this time for who knew how long, the forest seemed deeper and the path less reassuring, especially since he'd no idea where to go. As was usual when he'd nowhere better to go, he went to the talking tree. True, the tree hadn't known much of the sorcerer before, but it was the best Darren had. When he got to the tree, he noticed the ground tamped down and the grass torn and flattened, as by someone running furiously around the spot. The tree seemed all right, though, and when asked what had happened, the tree answered, "The Faerie danced here just this day; their dance was furious and frenzied, and tore the grass and scuffed my bark, but these will grow again the more quickly for it. But you have seen this here before." Darren couldn't recall ever having seen this before, but he had other things to speak to the tree about. "Do you know anything more about the sorcerer who was in the woods the last time I saw you?" he asked. The forest took a breath before the tree answered, "A north breeze whispered through my branches this morning that he had been seen that way. But to the North the Faerie still hold power, and they are dangerous to men." And to boys, thought Darren to himself. But he was brave, and anyway had nowhere else to go but his cottage and his bewitched mother and father, and after gathering a small basket of forest-foods – mainly berries, some nuts, some mushrooms he knew were good to eat and a fat squirrel he caught with a good-sized rock – he thanked the tree and was on his way north. He thought for a while of taking the road, but he knew it would take him a fair distance out of his way before it again turned north. Beside, he knew enough of the forest to take him through it as easily as he could walk the road; for he was small enough to pass easily between thickets that would have held grown folk at bay.
He had never been more than a few hours’ walk from the cottage before, and expected at every moment to find himself in the place that the talking tree had called "the north." For three days, he made his way through the woods, and when he couldn't make his way, the woods made way for him. For three days, he wondered more with each step at how big the world must be. All the time, he noticed, the sun seemed to dapple the forest floor less brightly through the boughs overhead, the trees grew closer together and the moss grew thicker on them, like the woolly worm's fur before a cold winter. By the third day, he noticed that he saw by light all filtered green by the leaves, so that he almost forgot the golden light of the sun. All he saw was green light or black shadow, but he found his way northward all the same, following all the signs of moss and mantis, of foxglove and swallow's flight. On the third day of his travel through the forest, he saw a gleam of bright, green light a short way ahead, beneath the cover of a shrub. How there could be a gleam in the green gloom of the forest he didn't know, but he climbed quickly over a fallen, fungus-covered tree to look. Without the least whisper of leaf or twig, a great wolf, black as pitch, padded out from behind the shrub, it eyes glowing the brilliant green of emeralds in the sun as they looked upon Darren atop the fallen trunk. To say that Darren was afraid is to say nothing, for the wolf was the size of a very large dog, and Darren himself was a not-very-large boy; and even though a dog the size of this wolf would have been frightening, it was, on top of it, not a dog at all but a wolf, which anyone will tell you is ten times as frightening to meet in the woods, where it knows what it's about and you do not. Darren was, in fact, afraid nearly to death. He knew that if he turned to run he would only slip on the crushed fungus of the log and fall to the ground. But if he stayed where he was, the wolf looked easily able to cross over to him in a single leap. He opened himself to the green magic, and felt the forest around him, its rhythms and themes weaving and clashing, then weaving again, in a way he couldn't name. He called out, not quite knowing how, to the fallen tree on which he stood, to hide him, to help him somehow. He felt the wood of the tree soften beneath him, shift beneath his feet, draw him into the soft pulp within. Then, before he knew, he was the tree, ancient and still, with memories that stretched to times men couldn't remember. He opened his eyes, and looked out from within the tree, and saw the wolf sniff the air with a look of puzzlement and turn away. Darren stood on the log for a long, long while, until he was sure there was no wolf about to leap on him the moment he was down. Shakily, forgetting in his fright the way of stroking the wood into handholds, he clambered down, twisting his ankle rather badly. Darren was trying to decide which way was best to avoid meeting the wolf again when that question was answered for him by the wolf, which he noticed of a sudden, staring at him from a little ways off in the woods; about as far as he could see into the gloom, staring at him with eyes like green embers. But the wolf took no step nearer and, after another heartbeat or five (one of the wolf's, five of Darren's), it turned and, in one bound, was lost in the shadows of the forest. There was neither creak nor rustle to tell that it had ever been. Now, as you've already read, Darren wasn't a stupid boy, and it occurred to him that this might well mean that the wolf wanted him to follow. However, because he wasn't a stupid boy, he also realized that one does not follow strange wolves about in the forest, and so he quickly headed off to the west, planning to circle around later. But, as Darren pressed westward, the trees seemed to close together more and more tightly until it was all he could do to squeeze a hand between them. Likewise, the brambles grew sharper and more stubborn, even with all the charms and promises and verses he knew. He turned east, but found the same,
trees and brambles grown thick as walls where he had passed only moments before. Soon it was obvious that the only open ways were north and south. Darren was sorely afraid of that wolf, but the way behind held nothing for him. Surely he couldn't bear to live all his days among such blind-enchanted folk as his mother and father, with only the talking tree to talk to. (Well, there were the glowbugs, and the song sparrows, but they didn't really count to Darren, for they spoke only of glowing and singing.) So onward he went, and the northern trees opened to him, no more or less than they had before. It was only then that Darren noticed the hurt in his ankle, and began to limp. Since he'd been walking for a long time, and had been very frightened on top of it, he sat for a rest. He had sat awhile, and was nibbling the berries he'd hunted up that morning, when in the darkened forest ahead of him appeared twin spots of bright green light. Darren dropped his meal in fright, certain the wolf was at last about to rush upon him, and him too frightened even to scream (for whatever good that might have done). From out of the shadow stepped, not the wolf, but a woman – of sorts. At first he thought the green light through the leaves overhead was playing tricks, but then Darren saw that she was a dark green from head to foot, swathed in impossibly long, thick black hair, her eyes bright as great, green embers. She was taller than Darren, but smaller than he remembered his mother, and the most beautiful thing Darren had ever seen. She stood by a tree, her green, matchlight eyes turned to Darren, and he saw that her hair moved slowly about her, not as if blown in wind, but as if flowing in water. Furthermore, he saw that this hair was all she wore, though it covered most of her at any time with its motions. The woman watched Darren for a while. He got the idea that she was studying him, as he had often studied an odd stone he'd found in the brook. At last, when he was fairly certain that she wasn't deciding whether to eat him (or at least had decided not to), he ventured to say "My name is Darren." This wasn't particularly clever, but it was the best he could do at the moment. At the sound of his voice, the strange woman leaped high and away, and hesitated at the edge of the trees. She seemed almost afraid, but her brilliant eyes showed no fear, only the same curious stare, as if he were an interesting stone that had turned out to be not a stone at all but something alive. Then the woman spoke, and her words seemed to come to Darren not from her but from the grass beneath him, the shrubs around him. It was a voice like the voice of the talking tree, though instead of the breathy whisper of the breeze it seemed to hold the laughter of a running brook, and it was more urgent, spoken to the rhythm of a jay's wing rather than to the sway of the oak. It said, *What are you?* "I'm a boy," Darren answered, not knowing what else he could be. *You are like him,* she said through the plants and the Earth. *Like the one who hears the songs of the wind and the fire. But you are small.* Darren didn't know what this meant, except the small part, which he couldn't argue. He thought it might be good to say something else, however, so he repeated, "My name is Darren." *Darren* came the voice around him, only now it seemed the voice of every grass and shrub, every tree and stone, the wind whispering about his ears and the rivers that ran just beneath the ground, one voice and thousands. *Darren darren it is a darren he has come boy darren to follow the windspeakerfirefriend-earthsinger-waterwalker darrendarren* Darren looked about to find where the voice came from, and saw nothing. He heard them all around, but found only the voice, nothing behind it. He closed his eyes then, and called to the grass, to the trees, to the mold in the leaves, to tell him who called. He opened himself to the wood and was answered; *we do*. And he felt them then as notes and chords in the rhythm of the forest: the spirits of the grass, and of the pond, and of the tree and the vines on the tree.
He opened his eyes, then, and saw them, and wondered that he had ever missed them: this one that capered and danced among the fluttering leaves, that one that sang with the voice of the reeds in the wind. They sat beneath toadstools, and crept beneath stones, and dashed among the branches at the corner of his eye. They were the children of the Wild Magic. The Faerie. He stood, slowly, among them, and they didn't flee: instead, they danced, wilder and wilder, kicking up moss and stones, danced in whirling circles about him and the green-eyed woman until they should have flown apart with the speed of their dance. *Dance* they called to him in the voice he had learned to hear, *dancedancedance with us, in the brook in the earth in the wind*. Darren had heard tales of the Faerie, from Ernest the Pig Seller, and all had said never to join the faerie in their dance – you would be bewitched to dance with them forever, until you died, or became one of the Faerie yourself. But now Darren heard the greensong, from each blade of grass and every ancient oak, each brook and each stone; the slow moan of seasons grinding into place and roots groaning with their passage through the earth. He felt it well up through him out of the ground, and move him, and he became a part of it, a note in the concert of the Wild Magic. And he danced. Darren had only ever danced as children dance, wild and undisciplined, for joy of movement. Now he did that, and more; he danced across the grass, and among the grass, and across the brook that babbled and changed under his feet, dancing with him. He was led into the branches of the trees and never fell, nor feared falling. The faerie became a blur around him, and he danced with one, then another. He danced with the green-skinned, wild-maned woman, then found himself dancing with the great black wolf with its eyes of green fire, then among a gossamer cloud of wind-things, laughing with the voice of a summer storm. Soon, he forgot there was anything but the song, and the dance, and the faerie. *Come darren* they called to him as they capered through the wild. *Come away dance forever away darren be with us he told us you would come darrendarren come* He would have followed without a thought, but that he remembered something strange. *Who?* he asked, not with his voice now, but in the voice of the greensong. *Who told you?* *Windspeaker-firefriend-earthsinger-waterwalker who calls the tempest from the sky who walks with moon and sun in his eyes* From within the haze of the dance, Darren caught a memory. *With hair of fire, who walks with the wind...* *Yes*, came the voice of the green-eyed woman over the others, as she leapt before him from out of the shadows, *you have seen have seen he told us of you that you would dance with us would stay with us* Darren remembered a man with hair bright as fire, that blew in the wind when there was no wind. He thought back, and his dance faltered. He looked up and found himself staring into the great, green eyes of the wolf. *He is the sorcerer* he said. The greensong rippled suddenly, the countless voices shimmering, and Darren realized that the Faerie were laughing. They soared into the air, did somersaults and pirouettes. The laughter of the wolf was loud within him as the wolf leapt, a black shadow, over his head and behind him.
He spun about to follow it, only to find the green-skinned woman kneeling before him, her greenember eyes staring into his own. She didn't smile, but her eyes held all the laughter that ever was, and seemed to fill the world. *Come* she whispered again in her ancient, wild voice. *Be with us he promised you would be for us come stay with us forever* But the thought of the sorcerer made Darren forget the dance, and he felt the Wild Magic slip from him, the greensong dim to his ears. The laughter of the Faerie ceased, and when he looked about, they were gone. Darren's heart broke; he spun around to try to catch a glimpse of one of the Faerie, and saw only the woman, with her green skin and green eyes and wild, black hair. She stood where he had first seen her, and he where he had been when she'd stepped from the forest shadows, as if he had never danced, had never felt the Wild Magic within him like the great, beating heart of a storm. She looked at him as she had then, and her eyes no longer laughed. "Where did they go?" he cried out, this time in his own voice, that of the greensong lost to him. He noticed that he was near to tears without knowing why. *We are here* the woman whispered, once more bringing her voice from the trees and the grass. *You have gone, you will look for him and find him he promised you for us* This time, her voice sounded terribly quiet in the sudden silence of the forest. Darren wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "Where is he?" he tried to shout, though it came out as a whimper. The Faerie-woman was before him in a bound, a flicker of shadow over the forest floor. She knelt swiftly and lifted him with arms that had looked far to weak, held him in the caress of her flowing hair. *You will find him then return he promised you to us and you will return, we will bring you to the other side and you will find him for us* In a heartbeat, Darren was perched on the back of the black wolf, and streaking through the forest faster than he had dreamed he could, faster than flames licking oil; no branch dared to touch them, no root to make the wolf stumble, no bramble to snag even a hem of Darren's shirt. They traveled through woods too dark to see, save glimpses by the light of the wolf's burning eyes; and by this Darren thought he glimpsed strange things: spiders of silver and gold in webs of glass that made music in the breeze of their passage, and rainbow roses with black wood stems. The wolf ran on, Darren clinging to its mane as tightly as he could. At last the sun began once more to dapple the forest floor, and the wolf slowed. Darren slid off the beast's back, and looked up to see the green-skinned woman once more looking down at him, keeping him within the shifting compass of her hair. *Go* came her voice again, from the forest, *find him he will not wait we wait for you find him and be for us* Then she was lost in the swirl of her hair as she turned away – when it had passed, he saw only the wolf bound away toward the shadows. It halted, looked back upon him only once more with its green lamplight eyes, then bounded forward and became lost in the dark of the forest.
The north side of the Faerie wood was strange to Darren; there were mushrooms and shrubs that he didn't recognize, and some of those he would have weren't there at all. His charms and verses seemed to work well enough, however, and he pressed on. Strangely enough, he was not at all tired from his dance with the Faerie; rather, his ankle no longer hurt, and he felt unusually vigorous, even if he felt a terrible loss.
He walked for the rest of the day, when, near sunset, he began to feel ill. He sat upon a stone in the forest, and rested. He was resting so, when a flutter in the air startled him; looking quickly up, he saw, perched in the branches above him, a great bird, silvery-grey with eyes of brilliant ruby, and a crest of gold and amethyst atop a long, slender neck. He recognized it, from the descriptions of the talking tree, as a shadow-heron. He almost forgot his sickness at this, for he remembered that, while the shadow-heron is not the only bird which can speak, it is generally considered the only one likely to say anything interesting. "Hello," he said to the heron. "I heard it first," the heron responded. This wasn't the answer Darren had been expecting. "I'm sorry," he said. "What did you hear?" "The grub," the heron answered. "Heard it, gnawing. Where is it?" The bird fluttered to the ground before Darren, where it stood well above him when it stretched its long neck. It craned its neck in odd ways as it looked about, seeming to listen and look at every tree around. "It's here, but they don't live in such trees as these." Then it craned its head toward Darren, looking at him sideways out of one great, ruby eye. "There," said the bird, suddenly pecking Darren's arm. Darren drew back his arm and rubbed it, but the sharp beak had not broken the skin. "You're not a tree," the bird said. "I know that," Darren said, still rubbing the sore spot on his arm. "Then why do you have a grub growing in you?" asked the bird. "Only trees can have such things in them and keep living." Darren remembered then when he had melted into the fallen trunk, to hide from the wolf, and knew that it was the only place he could have gotten the grub. He reasoned that it must be the cause of his illness. He shivered, partly from sickness, partly from the thought of the grub. "What will happen?" Darren asked. "Oh," said the heron, preening itself, "it will gnaw its way to your heart, and you'll die, I suppose. Now it's here," it added, pecking Darren's leg. This was not news Darren had wanted. "How can I get it out?" asked Darren, rubbing his sore leg. The bird cocked its head at Darren and thought for a moment. "I could get it out," it said. "But what will you give me for that?" "You can have the grub," Darren said. "It's what you came for." "That's the price I ask of the trees, and they won't die if I leave it. You aren't a tree. You have to pay more." For it's the nature of birds, however beautiful their song or lovely their plumage, to be schemers. "From you, I’d want your eyes." Darren shuddered. He couldn't very well be lost in the woods without his eyes. He might as well let the grub finish him off then and there as try to find his way blind, and said as much. "I'm not a cruel bird," said the heron, looking up from its preening. "I will loan you two of my eggs to use in their place. But they are soon to hatch, so I must have your promise to return them when they do."
Darren had a sense of honor, even toward a bird. He nodded, feeling now the grub working its way up his left arm toward his heart. "I promise," he said. "Now hurry." Quick as a flash, the heron darted forward, faster than Darren could see. There was only a little stab of pain in his arm, and then the great bird stood with a large grub-worm twisting and struggling in its beak, now crimson with blood. So sharp was the bird's beak, however, that Darren felt no further pain once the operation was done, and only a trickle of blood marked the wound on his arm. The bird tossed back its head and swallowed the grub in one quick motion, then turned back to Darren. "Now," it said, "are you ready? Everything must be paid for, somehow." Darren knew this was true, and so he nodded. So quick was the bird, and so sharp its beak, and so skilled was it at plucking, that Darren felt nothing; he knew only that one minute he was seeing, the next he was blind. After a moment of panic and sadness, he felt something round and smooth press against his face where his eye had been, and then he could see again, as out of one eye; and he saw the heron with a round egg of silver-grey in its beak. "Hode ftill," it said, as it moved toward him. The heron placed the egg where his other eye had been, and said, "There. That should do well enough.” And Darren could, indeed, see through them almost as he had through his eyes, though strangely; all was in silver and shadow, as by moonlight, for that is how the shadow heron sees. Though he didn't really feel very thankful toward the bird who had taken his eyes, he thought it couldn't hurt to say "Thank you." "Just remember," said the heron, "that you've promised to return my eggs when they begin to hatch, whether you've found your way by then or not." Darren said he would remember, and took his leave of the heron. He was still tired, but no longer sick, and wanted to get further before he rested. As night fell, or should have fallen, he noticed that he saw just as well as in day; dark or light, all was the same in the silver and black of the shadow heron's world.
He did, at last, rest for the night. When he woke, he supposed it to be shortly before noon, though that no longer mattered. He set off again through the forest, and now began to wonder whether he might have missed the sorcerer altogether, when he heard movement ahead, too large for a fox or badger. He hesitated, remembered the words to silence the leaves beneath his feet, and crept forward, quiet as fog, to peer out from the growth of fern at the base of an old maple. It took only a glimpse of fire-red hair blown in winds that shouldn't have been and the smell of lightning and brimstone in the air to tell Darren that it was the man for whom he had searched these past days. But now that he had found him, Darren didn't know what to say. Again his heart beat hard in his chest as he was filled with fear at the thought of seeing into those strange eyes, the eyes that the Faerie said held the sun and the moon. He closed his eyes, and reached for the only magic he could; he called to the greensong, that he hadn't heard since he'd left the Faerie. Darren now heard the greensong as clearly as ever, and more. He listened to the themes, saw the patterns, and now saw how they wove into and out of the man, the sorcerer; how the fire that waits in the heart of wood stirred at his passing, whispered for release; the rivers that run beneath the earth bubbled up toward him; and the winds and earth sang with his every step. The man, or sorcerer, or whatever he might have been (Darren was no longer sure), laughed – laughed with the voice of winds set free in the tempest, the wave breaking at last on the shore, the wildfire that sweeps through the forest after a rainless summer, free at last of its prison of wood.
Still laughing – deafening as thunder, soft as a breath – the sorcerer turned and walked on, followed by his winds and rivers and the singing of the stones and the whispers of the hidden fire, and Darren then wanted nothing so much as to look into those eyes. He would have followed, would have run after the figure and asked it for the answers to all the questions in the world, but then he felt something strange in his own eyes, or the eggs that were now his eyes, and he realized with dread that the eggs were hatching, and he would be again blind and lost only just before he reached that for which he had searched. And indeed, as the silvery orbs hitched and cracked to release the young birds within, he watched the silver light falter, and dim, and he ran blindly on through the forest, stumbling and catching himself as he tried to catch up to the laughter that retreated into the forest, before it was lost forever. He tripped, and fell forward, ready to be sent sprawling, blind and at last lost forever in the deepest woods. But he felt himself caught as he pitched forward, and against his face wiry hair that smelled of a thousand smells, and was stiff yet silken, brittle yet soft as sea-foam. Hands at his face removed the young herons, whose chirping told him they had at last hatched completely. Before he could shout that, no, they had to be returned, he felt something smooth and round, again, pressed to his face, near where each eye had been, and again they slid into place, and Darren saw... He saw before his face the face of the strange man, who could be no man; he saw the hair and a great beard, red and wild as flame; smelled on his breath the thousand scents of the earth, and flowers, and trees, and swamps, and fields. And he saw a smile wide as the horizon and old as mountains. He looked into the places where should have been the man's eyes -- sun or moon or sky, he no longer cared. But they seemed only holes in the mask of the man's face, and to fill up the whole of Darren's vision, and within Darren saw fire and earth, and wind and sea. These became the emerald green of the eyes of the black wolf and the Faerie woman. Then the green softened to the green of trees, and Darren felt himself falling into them, falling down, toward the blanket of green, which he saw was the tops of the trees of the forest, stretching forever in all directions. He fell through the trees, and saw below him a small boy kneeling before what was not a man. As he fell like a falcon into the boy's body, he knew the boy as himself. Darren blinked and looked, again in himself, and he realized at last. *You are the Wild Magic* he said in the voice of the greensong, which sang now too loud to hear or speak anything else. The eyes of sun and moon, were gone, for they weren't needed – they were in Darren, and now he saw with the eyes of magic. He saw now the magic in all things around him, saw the spirits of the wind that circled them both, and the ghosts of things that might be which hovered ever at the edge of being. The forest around them writhed with the spirits of grass and stone, of brook and fire, each tiny dewdrop laughing and tittering, each great, ancient tree sighing with its journey through the centuries. Darren was dizzied by the magic that lay all around him, that had always been there, hidden from him. He looked into the eye-spaces of the Wild Magic, burning with all that was and all that might yet be. *Why?* The other laughed again, now in a voice of which the greensong was only the smallest part; the voice of being, the voice that was also the magic of death, and the magic of fire, and the magic that rages in the hearts of everything that lives; the voice of all things wild and untamed and unknown, whose first cry marked the dawn of time. *You have had your eyes lost and opened* the voice wrote into Darren's soul. *You were born of one world, and have taken another, the world beyond sunset, between then and now*
Darren remembered then his reason for coming into the forest. *You bewitched my parents* he said. Again laughter, like a hurricane. *They are as they have always been. It’s you who were bewitched. You bewitched yourself. You enchanted yourself with hidden things. You learned to see the invisible through its absence. You befriended the Faerie, and have made them want you * Darren's head spun with the words that were as much not words, but an ocean wave, the caress of an icy wind. *You are mine,* said the Wild Magic. *Now learn what you are, let the Faerie teach you, and all the spirits of the world* Darren looked for a reason to say no, and found none. He found, instead, the secret of the magician, the wizard, the sorcerer; he saw that magic is not what you do. It is what you are. He no longer used the green magic – it was a part of him, and his heart would break without it. He spoke more readily now with the song than he did with his own voice; it was his own voice. Darren held him who he'd once thought a sorcerer, but who was sorcery itself, and all magic, and followed him to those places where dreams are born, and die, and are born again. He didn't know whether he would return to the cottage that had been his home; anything might happen, in time. He knew, though, that if he ever did, he would not have to leave the magic behind; it was always there, everywhere, if he’d eyes to see. The world closed behind him, and was never silent again.
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