“Awaken the Forest”
The child wiggled out of Marcus’ grip and bolted for the trees while the armored knight cursed in frustration.
For a moment Marcus stared at his gauntleted fist. At the stray green hairs like fizzy moss between his fingers. His fingers shook as he clenched.
Then he too ran.
After the boy.
Deeper into the capital’s Woodland the knight chased the boy.
The boy seemed to know his way through the trees. While Marcus stubbed his toe at every jutting rock, got whipped by branches that tore at his mailed jerkin and leather breaches, and nearly slipped in the mud more than once, the boy tore through the overgrown brush with ease. His tiny bare feet true, finding hard-packed ground. Toes finding purchase. Ducking under branches before they came into view. Scurrying through rotting logs to pop out the other end. Shimmying between closely coupling rocks. All these obstacles forced Marcus to take his time in order to climb over. The boy didn’t seem to tire either. Marcus drew in ragged breathes. His armor heavy. The air damp and thick as he sucked in breath to his labored lungs.
Marcus curved around a boulder stuck next to a short overhang of dirt and grass. The boy dove through a crack at the muddy bottom, wiggling like some rodent into a hole.
Around the other side Marcus saw the boy emerge, climbing out. Green skin nearly brown with mud. Loose tunic sodden. Leggings sticking to his thin legs.
Just as the boy popped himself out of the ground beneath the stuck rock, Marcus grabbed for him.
Fingers slipped across the boy’s shoulder. Marcus swiped again. His grip failed to hold the boy’s upper arm. Marcus stumbled with a frustrated grunt.
He drew his sword and swiped at the boy.
Curse him! I’ll bring back his little head. Better than noth–
The boy rolled under the notched steel and came back up running.
“Fuck!” Marcus screamed.
Sword still drawn, Marcus continued his pursuit, content to bring back the greenie child… even if he only managed to deliver a scrap.
The bundle of trees–up until now the Woodland’s pines had huddled close–widened into a shallow basin. A number of trees lay overturned, damp, rotting, covered with a generation of moss, mushrooms, and ferns.
The boy leapt into the basin and wove his way through the stumps, toward the pile of felled trees. He climbed as Marcus carefully descended the slop leading down, using his sword like a walking stick to steady his descent.
Scanning the clearing Marcus grinned and gripped his sword’s hilt tightly before punching the air.
“Gotcha now, little mudstain,” he grumbled triumphantly.
He watched as the boy disappeared on the other side of the fallen trees stacked as if unclaimed bodies dead men torn apart by a bloody battle.
“I knows where you gone.”
On the other side of the clearing, behind the stacked trees, was a sheer wall of mud and rock that led precariously out of the basin. Even standing atop the pile, the distance and the sheerness of the climb was unmanageable for anyone. The boy would need to come back toward Marcus and make his way up around the basin to escape deeper into the forest. But not before Marcus slipped his steel in the boy’s gut.
Waving his sword casually, as if a baton, Marcus bartered. “C’mon out, green boy. Don’t make me drag ya and I promise to not cut ya head off. Instead, I’ll take a finger for my trouble. What say we go find ya friends, hmm?”
The grave of treed shuttered as if the boy was climbing back up.
Smart boy. Surrendering ain’t so bad an idea.
Marcus would use one of the stumps, put the boy’s hand down and sever the fingers like chopping bits of carrot.
But the boy didn’t appear at the top of the dead tree pile.
Marcus was about to stride forward, to take the boy’s head, to release his annoyance, when the ground rumbled. A belly shaking with hunger. A man discontent about waking before dawn, belly queasy with the previous night’s soiled meal.
“What’s this tumble then?!”
Across the basin the pile of rotted trees stood up, stretched, and yawned into a shape of a monster. It’s limbs, long and spindly but strong as a trunk, creaked with a dozen felling. A twisted chunk of wood atop the slopped shoulders, one of which jutted with thick pointed stakes, shifted itself into a semblances of a face. Deep eye sockets lit up with the green light of the early morning in the forest.
Marcus gazed up at the monster. As tall as the tallest pine in the Woodland. He knew this abomination from the greenie’s lore. It was a guardian. An angry spirit their shaman had long tamed. Just superstition, though. They called the monsters golem.
The create of terrible bedtime stories roared. Leaves sprouting from its arms quavered with the passing of a mighty gust.
As the giant made of wood settled, creaking into stillness, the boy Marcus had chased into the basin appeared, climbing from the golem’s back to its shoulder lacking stakes.
The boy grinned down at his pursuer and stuck out his tongue–the shape of a leaf–before extending a hand and pointing down at Marcus. As if tethered by strings, a puppet, the golem raised its arm with the boy. A crocked branch of a finger pointed at Marcus as they boy did.
Marcus took a step back. He wrapped both hands around his sword’s hilt and rang the leather wrapping.
Together the boy and golem raised their arms.
Wood creaked. As if a wind dared to bend an elder oak and the oak resisted with unspoken power saved up from generations of stillness.
The golem’s wood arm descended with the boy’s.
Above him, a shadow spread over Marcus like the wings of a carrion looking for scraps, meat from the bones.
The shadow unfurled until the golden daylight was snuffed.
Marcus screamed. Drew back his sword over one shoulder. Swung.
Spinters of bark flew, scattering. Not far away birds took flight from the trees, cawing.