as if there were joyous sounds emerging from somewhere behind those trees
on the other side, no, not just sounds, there was... indeed... there it
was again: music! If my ears could be trusted I heard fiddles playing
softly, and every now and then pregnant vibrations of a harp - or of
something that sounded like one Ė were carried by the evening breeze.
There was singing, humming at least, could be a woman, maybe a child,
definitely a gay tune, no more like a lullaby. I couldn't quite make it
out exactly, yet there was something. The inn! I thought. It
must be that inn mentioned in the letter!
And as I stepped forward, yes, for a fleeting moment I thought to even
spot figures out there! Tiny ones, people Ė children, hobbits, Brownies? -
prancing in circles, laughing, dancing, singing, dancing, laughing,
prancing in circles. Yet when I removed the shade my hand had offered me
to better see the spectacle against the light of thh dying sun, it all...
I made a step forward and everything was swallowed by the darkness that
crept out of the underbrush in the fading day, stiffling the brightness
and merriment I thought to have picked up between the blinks of an eye.
Had it just been my imagination? However, it was as if those trees threw
new shadows that very moment I advanced and while the trunks, branches and
leaves right in front of me stood still the shadows kept on swaying. Until
they ceased their ghostly stir as well and everything became silent. The
wind then really picked up, so that I could feel its touch, howling, now
rocking trees and shadows at the same time as it used to, reminding me to
pursue what I've come here for. I felt confused and blinked into the
I moved on, crossed the clearing. There was no time to lose. Rambling,
mumbling, stumbling, tumbling, all the way drawn towards the short-lived
shadows I had believed to see dancing, prancing, commencing something I
wouldn't know to describe anyway. But the shadows dissolved even more and
more into blurry masses, then into one single gigantic black maw as I came
nearer. And with the shadows turning into utter darkness my hopes to join
their merriment or even find a clue on how to progress dwindled.
But there, lo and behold - there it was! As soon as I reached the other
side of the clearing I saw that there was actually a small path winding
itself through the tense forest! A path that I was confident matched
exactly the one shown on the map I had just looked at. Without thinking
twice I took it, joyous to have come across what I was looking for,
forgetting about the fascinating figures. All of a sudden I was prancing,
laughing, dancing, humming to myself.
And eventually I got swallowed by the darkness that crept out of the
underbrush in the fading day, leaving a clearing behind where new shadows
appeared once more to sway in the wind for a while. Until they stood still
again and everything and everyone turned silent.
I cannot say how long I followed that path, I truly cannot. That path
through the dense forest in which I had set all my hopes of making it to
the pond in time. I stared at the tree next to me, gazed at it
questioningly, yet it looked just like the one several heartbeats back
when I had started out entering this part of the forest. As I looked down
now and with every step I took, I saw that the path I had started on
dissipated in front of me in the gloom. Dusk had begun to take over,
sneakily veiling my surroundings, dyeing it in shades that made a tree
indistinguishable from an onlooking watcher.
I stopped, swirled around, mystified. There was a tree, another tree,
another, and yet another one. And then that other one which stood just to
the next. And next to it stood I. I cannot say how long I followed that
path, I truly cannot.
"Too long," the tree next to me replied.
"Way too long..." A deep voice came from a gnarled exemplar behind
me and it bowed down for a greeting, its treetop interlocking noisily with
one if its counterparts above me. The tree extended its creaking boughs
Doubting my senses I left the path that was none. And ran. I ran as fast
as I could, no matter where I might end up, trying to escape that haunting
voice. But there were more. Those voices that felt like discussing this
late traveller's unfortunate destiny, who had got astray with no idea
where salvation might lie. Incessantly they murmured, muttered, babbled,
and what had started as a whispered remark here and there soon became
louder and eventually the whole forest was rustling with chatter as if a
powerful storm was furiously stirring up every single tree that blocked
"That oneís lost, you know", I picked up from one of my wooden
companions as I sought my way out of the forest, again and again
encountering trees after trees. "Yes, yes, that's for sure, no doubt
about that," another one answered, nodding creakily. "What you
don't say," said the other. "Not the first one at that, I tell
And I ran and ran, but the murmurs wouldn't cease.
"How could that have happened? Didnít that one even have a map?"
asked still another one as I darted away, away from them, all of them, to
get rid of them, just to get out, out and away. "And so confidently
these steps were walking amongst us, so sure and guided! What
determination! And that one hasnít even found the inn!" the one next
to me croaked woodenly in a mockery of laughter as I finally hit the
ground, exhausted. "Not even the inn, just imagine!"
"Oh dear, not even that!" one of the trees produced with an
especially eerie hollow groan. "And yet, here you are again," the
tree continued, still standing next to me, looking familiar somehow.
"What do you run from? There's nobody here except yourself! And haven't I
told you already that you've followed your path too long?"
I turned around, hearing branches creak close by. The gnarled tree that I
had heard speaking first was there as well as if I hadn't moved at all,
and its booming voice decided to finally offer me a profound wisdom the
forest called its own: "Calm down, friend. Donít act like any other
mortal lost out here with the habits they enjoy so much: walking, running,
well, just call it Ďgoing from one place to the otherí." The gnarled
treeís voice expressed contempt. "But no matter how you call it - it is
all the same: searching. Yet you cannot become one of us if you always
keep moving, you know."
An odour of wet brittle timber reached my senses, accompanied by a loud
wooden groan, and then there was this sensation of roots snaking around my
legs and body. I felt a firm, inescapable grip upon my ankle.
"Arenít we getting weary, my good friend?" I heard a voice so close
as if it came from deep inside of me, as convincing as a lullaby.
"Arenít you tired of the constant bustling, longing for a quiet, leafy
rustling? Arenít your bones now stiff and numb, so glad to join us wooden
chums? Rest is best, we say, put down a root, itíll do you good!"
I looked down to my feet, where the branches had grabbed me, had painfully
wrapped around my legs. But I didnít feel the wet clayey touch anymore on
my skin now, all I could see was bark falling off my thighs as if it had
always grown there. And it was then that I finally closed my eyes.
deepest night when I awoke. I understood that I was sitting somewhere,
embraced by mighty gnarled hands, holding me in a tight grip. As I sat
there I noticed that I was unable to move in the entangled web of wooden
claws, but neither did I wish to for some reason. Lowering my gaze I
discovered that I was wearing a dark gown, which went straight down to my
ankle. It appeared to be grey, but then again, it might have been earth
coloured as well, as the twilight made it difficult to discern any shades.
Yet the intricate embroidery around the hems glittered brightly, so I
assumed that it must have been golden. Undoubtedly I was barefoot.
The cold wind was leafing wildly through my long silver hair and I had to
brush back a strand to see what was there in front of me. I felt that this
was what I was supposed to do, that something beckoned me from the
distance. There it was Ė indeed Ė there it was again: That faint repeating
movement far off that seemed to breathe through the calmness of the
underbrush. Like a call from the other side, but there was no-one
shouting. My grip on the gnarled staff I held in my hand became tighter.
There was something, someone. Lying helplessly on the ground, a
hand reaching out at me from afar. The figure was engulfed by a dozen
dispersed trees, cuddled around branches and roots, shaking in the nightís
piercing, chilly breeze. Yet a wide clearing stretched between us, wafts
of mist floating slowly and spookily over the tall grasses, enwrapping a
boulder here and there, a stump, a late traveller.
Yes, now I saw it clearly - there was a traveller over there on the other
side. Barely able to move, but with the urge to do so, I stretched my arm
in the direction of the stranger. Tried to shout, but my voice failed me.
I looked around, freezing. The trees and trees that stood behind the
invisible line where the forest began were staring at me, yet they
remained as they were. Unmoving, silent, watching. I tried once more to
get up, but couldn't, the cold earth seemed to have a firm painful grip on
me. Only my eyes managed to traverse the clearing and observe the
stranger, who must have got aware of my misery, yet didn't give any
indication to get up from the gnarled seat and approach me. Neither could
I tell whether it was man or woman. The stranger wore a long gown and was
sitting in front of a small hill, on a structure that appeared to resemble
a wooden throne, made out of gnarled roots. And there was long silver hair
dancing in the wind, and a gaze that stared at me already for quite a
Finally I managed to crank my neck further and noticed that it was a
massive tree in front of which the figure was sitting. And truly it was
magnificent. The tree was huge and shining white and it became brighter
and more glorious the higher it rose. The lean trunk held hundreds and
hundreds of sturdy, far reaching branches, and on each one of them
thousands of tiny, thin twigs were stretching all over the night's sky.
They were like the intricate veins of a leaf, yet the tree was reaching
out into the infinity of what lay beyond, glowing brighter than any stars
ever could the further up they grew. I had to avert my eyes after a while
as it all appeared so brilliant and I lost tree and stranger for a moment
when I looked away. Yet I sensed somehow that the sight helped to make my
But then when I attempted again to move my ice-cold bones, get up and
approach the stranger, I had a weird sensation. I could have sworn that
there was a shadow peeling off of me, even though there were barely
shadows thrown in the middle of the nightís moonlight. But what I saw was
like a silhouette of myself, and yet not, a figure that became one with
the fog that wafted over the clearing. Calmly, silently the spectre moved
forward while I stayed back, turned into a silent watcher. Whatever it was
floated without a sound, not touching the earth, or so it appeared, the
light of the moon's crescent illuminating the eerie scene of a swimmer
wading away from me through a sea of mist. Holding my breath I looked on,
following its course, but then it stopped in the middle of the clearing.
And waited. The sound of an owl could be heard in the distance.
I looked at the other side where I had seen the stranger, stranded on the
shore of the misty ocean between us. However, there was no-one there now
anymore on the other side: Yet a presence all of a sudden could be felt in
the midst of the clearing, a human shape, fog swirling around it.
I got up from my throne, calling to the stranger in the haze to join me.
An owl howled close by, loud and clear.
The piercing windy sough finally made me stop. I couldn't say where it
originated from, but when I heard it I realized that I was standing in the
mist covered clearing, like a dinghy drifting in the wide open sea. There
were strange wooden creaking and groaning noises for a moment far off,
then everything turned quiet again. I looked around. Not a single other
soul was out there. The stranger had gone and I was all alone. Only the
crescent of the moon kept me company.
Wearily I pulled my coat tighter and dragged myself to the other side of
the clearing. I was exhausted and beaten and prayed for a spot to relieve
me from my suffering. Finally arriving at the other side I found a
naturally formed niche. It was made out of an urban's enormously sturdy
roots, just as if they were meant to invite anyone who passed by to take a
rest. And so I did.
An abandoned walking stick lay next to the roots, someone must have
forgotten it while resting. I bent down to grab it, just to have something
to hold on to. At least it reminded me of other travellers, who might
share my fate at this very moment. Then I sat down while I heard an owl's
wings flapping somewhere close by. I thought that I spotted something
above me, but it quickly disappeared into the darkness.
"I'll never find it..." were the last words I heard mumbling to myself. As
I dozed off I wondered who had spoken them.
had broken with the tender calls of the forest's birds, doing their share
to awaken my aching bones. The InjŤrŠ was shining on my face, bathing it
with warmth and a sense of bliss, and a calm breeze swept over my sleepy
features. I sat up and turned my head towards the sun, enjoying her
caresses for a few further moments before I finally opened my eyes to look
The room was small, but cozy. At the end of the bed stood a chair with my
clothes on it, next to it a wooden trunk. To my left, next to the door,
was a commode with the usual utensils you expect from such a piece of
furniture Ė an assortment of combs, a wash-bowl, a few untouched towels
next to it, a mirror of course on top, and, interestingly, an hourglass. I
looked at the latter for a while, still half asleep, as it seemed to be
such an unusual item to be found on a commode. I admired its three-legged
stand and especially the beautiful carvings of the three wooden columns
surrounding the fragile glass structure, showing dancing figures,
intertwined in what appeared to be branches, leaves and flowers. Only
after a while of staring at the hourglass I noticed again what had
intrigued me instantly when my eye had fallen on it: It was running.
Slowly, yet incessently, hardly recognizable, tiny grains of sand trickled
from the upper bulb through the narrow tube in the middle, constantly
adding to the heap at the bottom. Right now there was only very little
sand left at the top bulb.
I got up, dipped my hands in the wash-bowl and rubbed my face with the
water before I got dressed. For a while I just stood there at the open
window, enjoying the view of the forest below. I took in the soft breeze
that smelled of grasses full of dew, of wood, flowers, herbs and berries
and with its idyllic aroma the air brought long forgotten memories.
Still inhaling the beauty I caught someone in the corner of my eye. A
person was walking along the well-trodden path that went by the cottage. I
stayed at the window a while longer and watched, recognizing that the
person was actually a lady. She was holding an umbrella in one hand,
obviously intent on protecting her fair skin from the intense fires of the
InjŤrŠ, and an apple in the other. As she became aware of me observing
her, she paused and turned halfway around in my direction.
Actually I was a little embarassed when it happened, caught off-guard
while watching a perfect stranger, but the lady just smiled and waved at
me enthusiastically with the hand in which she held the fruit. Surprised
by the friendly reaction I smiled back and lifted my hand to greet her as
well. However, she didnít say anything, rather turned away the next
instance and continued her walk until she was out of sight, swallowed by
Eventually I disappeared as well, grabbing my map that lay on the
nightstand and headed downstairs.
"Good morning," the innkeeper greeted. "I hope you had a good night's
"To be honest, I'm not sure," I answered. "I tend to have vivid dreams
from time to time, and I guess tonight was no exception."
"Well, this is not unusual for late travellers around these woods, or so
I've heard. The night is wicked. It is alive with every kind of lore and
legend." The innkeeper moved his head around in a peculiar way, eyeing me
for a bit from all sides. While appearing somewhat odd in his own way, he
was basically a friendly looking fellow with a broad moustache, receding
hairline and a twinkle in his eye. "Not at all unusual for late
travellers," he repeated. "And you didn't arrive that early either, I
"Did I? I cannot remember anymore what exactly happened yesterday. But at
least I have managed to get here."
"Well, well, what you don't say," the innkeeper replied, rubbing his chin.
"Just make sure to watch your memories. Signs and portents, omens and
visions are abundant around these woods, and all unveils itself if you
just open your eyes. At least thatís the hearsay. Signs and portents. Not
that I believe in any of them. All that talk might just as well be
"You make me curious... What exactly is it about these woods?" I inquired
"So you say you wander around here and havenít got a clue?" The innkeeper
laughed. Before he continued he brought some breakfast at the table where
I've sat down.
He laid out the bread, cheese, some apples, juice and milk, then the old
man pulled up a chair for himself and began to explain: "Some say parts of
the woods are enchanted and tell the most wondrous things they supposedly
witnessed. Seeing strange occurences and stuff, talking to people that
possibly canít be there, experiencing adventures they don't even believe
themselves when they tell others. And they claim to have meandered at
paths that clearly donít exist around here. Or not anymore. I of all
people should know!"
His voice turned ominous. "Others would call the woods outright haunted.
Ah, there's many a tale, half of them surely haven't got a grain of truth
in them, I bet you. Of whispers, of watchers I've heard that wait near the
moor and that wisps try to lure you there, make you stumble into their
trap. The woods are alive some say, giant spiders lurk in the deeper
recesses, there are ghosts and gobbleswaps - beings that pretend to be
what they arenít. If they devour you they become what you've been, see
with your eyes, live with your body, feast on your soul, only to put up
the same charade for the next victim they chance upon..."
The innkeeper rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Well, youíll never come out
the same way youíve entered the woods, so much I do believe. But there are
no such things as ghosts and gobbleswaps, I tell you. It must be all only
in the people's minds. Once someone gets enwrapped with talk about such
tales, it doesnít take long until they claim to have seen things of their
own, yet it all just clearly springs from their imagination!"
He shook his head. "Anyway: Say, what are you up to yourself here if you
donít know anything about this place?"
"I've come to visit an old friend," I assured the innkeeper and took a
good mouthful of the bread and a sip of milk. "Maybe you can help me," I
added, pulled out my map and put it on the table. "I'm supposed to find
this pond and a lodge close to it, but I guess that didn't quite work out
as planned yesterday. Maybe you can give me directions."
"Ah, I see." The innkeeper glanced at the map. "Well, you've nearly made
it anyway already. What youíre looking for is actually straight ahead that
way, more or less." He got up, went to the window and pointed at the
well-trodden path where I had seen the lady walk earlier.
"That's it? That simple?" I asked in disbelief, following the line that
marked the path on my map with a finger. Indeed, it led directly to my
destination. Sure, there were some twists and turns, but it seemed
impossible to miss the pond now. "Ah, maybe that lady with the umbrella
was also heading for the pond?" I suggested. "You know, the one that just
passed by here a little while ago... - Is she one of your guests by
"Lady? Umbrella? Guest?" The innkeeper looked confused.
"Well, yes, there was a lady out there when I got up and looked outside.
She was walking along that very same path you just mentioned. I assume she
might have spent the night in the inn as well."
The innkeeper shrugged. "Can't help you there, friend, but no lady was
here tonight, of that Iím sure. - Ah..." He smirked. "Now I
understand! Is that the one you might be looking for?"
"It cannot be her," I replied. "She's not a friend of mine, at least I
didnít recognize her from the distance. But donít worry about it, I was
just curious." I finished my breakfast and pushed the bread basket back to
"Say, do you have many visitors here in the midst of the woods at all?
Itís a fairly remote place after all."
"Every night, my friend," the innkeeper answered. "Every night at least
one. Though you've been the only guest last night. Yesterday we had a
gentleman around, though, the day before a poet of sorts, but that's about
it for this week. And about your lady: Ďt would be pretty unusual for a
lady with or without umbrella to take a stroll around these parts," the
innkeeper argued. "As you said yourself: We're pretty far away from town,
so unless youíre supposed to be here you arenít."
Having finished my business here I got up. "Well, be it as it may - thanks
for the food and help at any rate. I need to be off then. And maybe Iíll
even chance upon that lady and get to the bottom of her mystery."
"You do that," the innkeeper said and smiled as I stood up.
A while later I was out in the open, walking that well-trodden path that
would finally bring me to my goal. I looked back at the inn, a
straw-thatched cottage that stood in the midst of a small clearing,
engulfed by trees on all sides. The multitude of paths that led to it from
various directions surprised me: there were small, winding paths amidst
dense trees, straight ones, yet leading through the underbrush, some were
broader than others, some hardly detectable if you weren't looking for
them. I was on my way on one of them, finally leaving the inn behind.
Enjoying the walk and the scenery I was hoping for the pond to appear
behind every tiny mound I climbed with fervour, after each bend I
followed, yet after an hour or two of walking I still had no luck with
arriving anywhere. Already I had begun to silently curse to myself,
wondering why I hadn't asked the innkeeper how far it would actually take
me to get to the pond. As just knowing that I would eventually arrive
didnít seem to be that much of a prospect while walking.
Here and there I came along trails that crossed mine, yet my well-trodden
path just went straight on, so I didn't pay any attention to other options
that offered themselves. So I continued, wherever the monotony of my pace
dictated me to go.
Until I reached a crossing where someone was standing, whistling - and
"And Trum-Baroll again with you, my friend," the dwarf said. A broad grin
spread over his face, despite the red beard he was sporting. "Better twice
than not at all."
"Blessings from the Twelve to you as well," I answered the greeting. "Good
to meet someone else in the middle of this forest maze, where I already
feared to be the only one passing through."
"I'm not walking, but standing," the dwarf objected. "Though I catch your
"But may I ask why you said 'again'?" I wanted to know.
"Again?" The dwarf raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, when you greeted me. You said Ďagainí and ĎBetter twice than not at
"Ah, that, of course! Well, because this time it's for real, I
admit that," the dwarf said. "Finally!"
"What do you mean?" I looked puzzled.
"Now, now, we've met before, haven't we?" the little fellow claimed. "You
told me so yourself, back then! Though I had no idea what you were talking
"Have we? Have I? When? Are you fooling me?" The questions just sprang
from my lips, one after the other, seeking for answers. My expression
brightened for a moment as a thought crossed my mind. "Ah, I understand
nowÖ You might not per chance be the one who wrote that note and wanted to
talk to me for some reason? Are you the one living in the lodge near the
pond?" I pondered aloud. "Maybe I just cannot remember who you are right
now, and that explains it. So, would you please be so kind as to refreshen
I pulled out the piece of paper from my backpack and showed it to the
dwarf. But he just shook his head.
"May the Stonefathersí iron gaze strike me if I know what youíre talking
about! No offense, but you're thinking too much, my friend. No, I haven't
written any note that I'm aware of, nor do I live in a lodge by the pond.
Strange concept, dwarves living at lodges by some pond!" The dwarf
remarked full of disdain.
Then he began telling his weird tale while he was stroking his beard lost
in thought. "See, first you went along and jumped at me just a while ago,
here on this very spot. Told me that you knew me, yet you couldn't
explain. I gave you some fruit as you seemed a bit confused, and
admittedly, I still don't see much of an improvement since then. - Yet,
let's look at it: Back then you said that you knew me, yet I didn't. Now I
say that I know you, yet you don't. So let's just call it even, then,
And to make that perfectly clear: Regardless how many times you might run
into me, at some point we should both remember that we've met before. At
least I do now, and if you do as well next time, we might already be two.
- Want some fruit?"
I protested. "I... I haven't met you before!"
"Don't get me started on all that again," the dwarf snapped. "We've been
through that already. - Fruit?"
"Now take this fruit, as I know that you've enjoyed it the last time you
came around. So if you enjoyed it back then, why wouldn't you now? -
Unless you're full already, that is."
Still confused I didnít know for a moment what to say. So I just thanked
the dwarf and took the apple. But then I just had to outright
confront him with a strange thought that started plagueing me. "Just one
thing: You know, I've been talking to the innkeeper back there, who told
me that some people claim strange things are happening in this forest."
"Like what?" the dwarf said, obviously a bit annoyed that I was still
around and kept on pestering him.
"Well, just like this. That they've met people who aren't really there,
sort of. And the way you're talking, I don't know if you're for real or if
I'm just imagining you. Iím walking and walking for hours, itís as if Iím
going in circles. After all I still havenít found what Iím looking for and
all, you know. Maybe thereís really something magical to these woods."
"Interesting point you make," the dwarf answered. "I should seriously
consider it. Also interesting: telling me! After having stood on this spot
for so long, seeing you pass by again and again and telling me that you
possibly can't be there, because you weren't there the first time we met,
I wonder if there isn't some truth in what you say. And the one Iíve been
waiting for still not arriving and all, you know. - One question, though,
friend, er... stranger... or whatever..."
"See that apple in your hand, my dear apparition?"
"ErÖ UhmÖ Yes? What about it?"
"It's not speaking to you, is it? - Then take it with you and perhaps
question it later, one never knows when it might start talking," the dwarf
concluded snippily. "And if it doesn't start talking..." He leaned forward
and whispered his last words: "Eat it!" And with that he shoved me
"Er... And about the pond?" I asked looking back, as I still needed to
know. Weird dwarf or not. "Is it..."
"Yeah, yeah, it's right ahead, just go on," the dwarf answered. "It's
there, it's there, it's always been there. And as you tend to come across
people and things, sometimes twice, I'm sure you will manage to get there
as well, at least once." He made a motion with his hand to be off and so I
finally went on, ate my apple and left this most unusual encounter behind.
I wondered what it all meant. However, more importantly, the further I
travelled after this most unsatisfying encounter the more profound my
desperation arose. Again. At least I had got some fruit out of it.
Suddenly the trees cleared. One by one my steady companions dropped away
left and right from me with every step I took, letting bright blue sky and
the warm caressing fire of the InjŤrŠ through. Full of expectation I could
almost smell the water ahead and felt delighted that after such a long
exhausting walk I would finally be there where I was supposed to be. I
stepped out of the forest and...
Yes, there she was, standing in the middle of a meadow.
I saw that she had turned her umbrella by now into a walking stick and was
strolling through the tall grasses and flowers, bending down here and
there to smell the aroma of the various plants. So we had the same
goal I concluded and looked forward to the company. I planned already to
ask her where she had come from and what she was doing all alone in the
depths of the forest. Well, and what am I? I thought, amusing
So I entered the meadow. Yet, the closer I approached her, it dawned on me
that it couldnít actually be the lady at all who was strolling there, or
rather standing, right now. No, it was a young man with his back turned to
me, and what I thought to be an umbrella was in fact just an ordinary
walking stick. Nevertheless I continued - maybe it was he who had written
the note to get me here, even though there was no sign of a pond yet. But
as he seemed not to hear me nearing and continued walking, I called out to
My voice drowned.
It was swept away in the strong gale that suddenly stormed through the
meadow with a roar, bending bushes and branches, swirling leaves as if let
loose from somewhere behind me. Instinctively I ducked and turned around
to locate the source. The man I had been following did exactly the same.
Yet the next instance everything was calm again. The wind had died as fast
as it had hit us. Not a single blade of grass was moving as I found myself
squatting between all those many different kinds of flowers that grew
around me, knee-high, nearly covering me now altogether. And then there
was that sound of wood hitting stone, a muffled single thud close by. I
spun around, then stood up.
The man was gone. He seemed to have vanished into thin air, just like the
I went to the spot where I had seen him last and discovered a rock placed
in the midst of the grass, hardly visible as it was practically overgrown.
The upper side was flat, slightly tilted and a cane with a silver pommel
leaned next to it. There were also runes engraved on the surface of the
stone which looked elvish to me, but I couldnít be entirely sure.
I knelt down near what I thought must be a tombstone and touched the rock,
letting my fingers move slowly over the indented letters. The stone felt
warm in the sunlight. A soft breeze arose and the sea of grasses took on
to sway around me as if drunken, touched again by the wind. All those
colourful flowers and grasses that made up the meadow, the yellows, blues
and reds, the oranges and purples were driven by the same motion, taken by
an invisible hand that rocked them there and back again, there and back,
on that circling, dizzying, beautiful journey. Like waves far out in the
endless ocean so did everything dance in the morning sun and I watched,
lost in thoughts, my hand on the warm stone in front of me. There and back
again, there and back.
"Who might you have been?" I asked, looking at the rock. But I was
unable to decipher the runes, and the wind wouldn't answer either.
I was torn from my reverie when a barely audible singsong mingled with the
soft soughing of the wind. At first it seemed indistinguishable as I
didn't fully recognize its presence, but then it turned into something of
its own, something alive, distinct from the sounds around me, the wind,
the swaying of the grass. Yes, as a gust picked up again, I clearly heard
something or someone howling with it, and almost terrified I eventually
looked up when I became aware of a loud voice mimicing the swell of the
wind and then reverberating as it slowly died away again.
With the last breath of the wind the voice also lost its strength. I
grabbed the cane lying next to the stone, more as a weapon than anything
else, unsure what to expect. I looked up.
The elf stood just a stone's throw away from me. He was so close that I
gasped when I spotted him. Wearing a a simple grey cowl and a rope tied
around his waist, he stood there with his arms opened wide as if to greet
the wind. His long white hair that framed his delicate features danced in
the breeze to which he was singing. He had his eyes closed, and only when
the wind ceased completely he opened them to look at me.
"Have no fear, friend," he said with a soothing calmness.
What... Who... Why... I thought. I don't know if what I was
muttering under my breath was the same thing, though. I was staring at the
elf, stumped how he had got there without me noticing.
"I read in your eyes that you want to know what I'm here for, how I
happened to be here and who I am," the elf said.
Still squatting next to the stone I nodded, unable to move.
"I'm here to pray. To be with the Goddess, to prepare. To listen to and
understand the wind, to accompany him, so that I'll be with him once he's
not with me anymore." As the wind had gone, he let his arms sink down,
hiding them under his wide cowl. "And I've come to meet you," the elf
"You know me?" I asked flatly. "How come that I don't recognize you then?
And were you the one who sent me that message to come to the pond?"
"Of course I know you. The wind knows everyone," the elf replied. "But I
see no pond here - or am I wrong? I also wouldn't know where that place
you speak of could be found. And I fear that I also haven't written any
message." His hair began to flow again in the breeze as the wind picked up
once more and the grasses continued to sway around me like the waves out
in the open sea.
"Then why are you here to meet me?" I interjected. "You said you've come
because of me. How could this be?"
"Yet why is it that you want to know this answer so badly? Couldn't I ask
exactly the same? And would you know an answer to that?" the elf
returned the question. "It was meant that we meet, and thus I'm here, and
so are you."
"I... I... " I didn't know what to make of him, tried to order my
thoughts. "What are these God forsaken woods anyway?" I finally burst out.
"And how can you pray at this place? It must be doomed! I don't get
anywhere, and you tell me there is no such place I'm looking for. I doubt
that someone is actually out there for me. There's no-one here!"
The elf reacted calmly. "But you and I are here, aren't we? Then
there's somebody here."
"Well, of course I'm here!" I threw at him angrily. "That's the whole
point, that I shouldn't be here in the first place."
"Then who wrote this message you mentioned?" the elf asked.
"I... I don't know! And you... you appeared out of nothing, just like the
one Iíve been following all of a sudden was justÖ gone. How... how... is
that even possible? - Are you a ghost?" I looked at the tombstone with the
elvish runes on it. "Are you... the one lying down here? Am I dead as
well, so that I can speak to you now? What is happening?"
The elf laughed. "What answer might a mortal find on what life and death
really mean if one's just that, a mortal? I trust the wind knows more,
though, and he's willing to share. But you look very alive to me, if you
must know, wandering that far out in the woods, pursuing noble goals of
which you don't know where they'll lead you. You might be late, but not
late enough. - Ah, you've dreamed well, I guess, otherwise you wouldn't be
talking to me right now."
"What...? Is it all a dream then?" I fired back. "Did you just say
that I've been dreaming all along? Am I dreaming that I'm standing here in
front of you, talking about... dreams?"
"You dream as much as I do," the elf said.
"It must be as I'm not able to understand... Strange things are
happening in these woods, and dreams aren't any better!"
The elf smirked. "Strange things happen everywhere if strange things find
the mind who want to see them. Imagine a tired traveller who doesn't make
it home. Wouldn't he dream that he actually rests in a warm cozy place,
while he's in fact out there in the cold? Wouldn't that one imagine the
most wondrous things? And couldn't this someone dream about something that
everyone takes for granted like getting up the next morning? Maybe the
dream would be about continuing the journey and reach the goal?"
I pondered his words, a certain uneasiness taking hold of me.
"What the one calls a dream another one calls real, so what advice could I
give if I don't know which side you're on?" the elf said. "And would
someone from the other side understand someone reaching out from the
yonder shore? Ask any elf and she might say that it's all a dream,
so I guess you've found someone biased in that way of thinking. The
Goddess always dreams, but there are some who believe that her Dream must
be real and you might happen to be one of those."
I looked around anxiously. "If it were a dream: Could I just open my eyes
and the dream would be over?"
"If this is what you really want I guess you could," the elf nodded. "At
least it's worth a try. Unless you'd be dreaming within a dream. Or in
case it's all not exactly as it seems. - However, should you wake up you
might not learn whose stone it is near which you're squatting or who I am.
But you could try, of course. Just open your eyes and simply forget, just
like everything you dreamed last night."
I hesitated. "You might give me those answers first," I then decided.
"Those that you just suggested. Tell me about that stone: let me know if
it is a tombstone, and who is buried here if it is. And I'd like to know
who you are."
"Nothing easier than that," the elf replied. "To answer your first
question, just read the runes you find on the rock and you should get what
"But I cannot decipher StyrŠsh..." I objected.
"Maybe these aren't runes after all," the elf said. "I would know. Have a
look again. Maybe itís a tombstone neither. It could as well be just a
landmark, a stone to mark a path."
"There is no path here in the middle of a meadow," I objected, but then
re-checked the letters on the stone. Two words had been engraved which
undoubtedly were ancient StyrŠsh runes. Now that the elf denied it, I was
even more sure. And the more I looked at them, the clearer it became that
I couldn't understand them. I wondered however why there weren't any
numbers or at least runes that might represent numbers, though, no birth,
no death dates. There were just two words. Maybe it indeed wasn't a tomb
stone. Whatever it was, I couldn't find the answer the elf had promised.
I looked up and was about to say something. But the elf just smiled and
motioned not to give up. "Look again," he repeated. "Sometimes you have to
keep looking to see."
The runes remained unchanged, secretive. Yet there was one in the very
center that had the shape of an X with lines at the top and the bottom.
For some reason they reminded me of something. I pondered for a while
until I finally remembered where I had seen that shape. Just recently. And
I remembered that I had got up to touch it.
I had admired its three-legged stand and especially the beautiful carvings
of the three wooden columns surrounding the fragile glass structure,
showing dancing figures, intertwined in what appeared to be branches,
leaves and flowers. Only after a while of staring at the hourglass I
noticed again what had intrigued me instantly when my eye had fallen on
it: It was running. Slowly, yet incessently, hardly recognizable, tiny
grains of sand trickled from the upper bulb through the narrow tube in the
middle, constantly adding to the heap at the bottom. Right now there was
nearly no sand left anymore at the top bulb.
I wondered for a while how long it would take the sand to shift from top
to bottom, and also asked myself how it got started in the first place.
Finally I resolutely grabbed it, weighed it in my hands. For a moment I
was watching my trusted image in the mirror above the commode, observing
myself how I held the unusual item, contemplating. Eventually I spotted my
vis-ŗ-vis turning the hourglass on its head and putting it down again. A
glint sparkled in the figure's eye.
But there was no time to tarry, I had to be off. I had to get dressed,
take my map from the nightstand and head downstairs.
forest was calm. Almost eeriely calm. I found myself walking on a
well-trodden path that led through dense rows of trees, a sight I had got
used to by now. In fact the scenery looked overly familiar somehow, the
mounds I came across, the bends I left behind me, the trees nearby. It was
as if I had already been there not too long ago.
Every now and again I came along trails that crossed mine, yet the
well-trodden path just went straight on, so I didn't pay any attention to
other options that offered themselves. So I continued. Until I reached a
crossing where someone was standing, whistling - and waiting.
"And Trum-Baroll with you, my friend," the dwarf said.
"Blessings from the Twelve," I answered the greeting, recognizing the
weird dwarf and his long red beard immediately. "So I run into you again!
While I can't say that I'm happy to have ended up at the very same spot,
for some reason it just happened."
The dwarf eyed me suspiciously. "A-ha, so it did? Spoke Come-Along... What
you don't say! See, I don't mind having company while I'm waiting, but
preferably with those that haven't lost their marbles."
"Don't you recognize me?" I said vexedly.
"Sure, sure," the dwarf said. "If we're old friends, just tell me my name
and I'll immediately remember. It's sort of a password thing, you know."
"I... I... " I stuttered. "Actually I didn't ask you about that back then.
We, well... It's just that I've come along here and we talked for a while
"Yes?" the dwarf stroke his beard attentively. "I'm listening..."
"About..." I hestitated, recalling the dwarf's words back then that he had
seen me before. And remembered that I hadn't recognized him. Now the
tables had been turned and while I wanted to explain, I couldn't. The
stubborn dwarf wouldn't believe me.
"I..." I struggled.
"I have some waiting business to do," the dwarf reminded me impatiently.
"I'm expecting someone and someone might be here any moment now, so get on
with it or leave me to my task as I'll leave you to yours."
"But, well..." Words failed me.
"See, fellow, let's forget about this. I didn't even see you coming. Nor
rambling. - Here's some fruit instead," the dwarf said and handed me an
apple. "You might need it, wherever you choose to be heading."
I took it absent-mindedly, still thinking what to do next. There was no
point in asking the dwarf about the way to the pond, he already had shown
it to me once, and I've ended up on the very spot again. Perhaps I should
ask the dwarf about his name, I considered. Maybe tell him mine, and we'd
both stand a good chance to recognize each other should we happen to meet
again. That sounded like a good plan for a change.
As I was still lost in thoughts, muttering, stuttering incomprehensibly, I
saw the dwarf looking up at me in a strange way. "On the other hand, I
have to admit... I mean, now that you brought it up... Maybe you are
indeed... Yes, it could be... Hey!" he bellowed, then poked my hip. "Hey,
you sleeping?" Finally he grabbed my coat and shook me.
"I... I..." It was the last thing I can remember about the dwarf. Then I
opened my eyes.
voice floated through the air.
I must have been dozing, but it was that voice that finally brought me
back. Rhythmically it repeated its single message from time to time, and
when it did so its sound was drifting, swirling, otherwordlyÖ ethereal. As
my doze wore away I tried to catch what it was saying. And eventually I
I startled, suddenly wide awake: The voice was calling my name.
I found myself in the midst of the forest, sitting at the foot of a
A half eaten apple lay next to me, along with the map and the letter I've
brought with me. As awoke I looked up for a moment, my eyes admiring the
tree's reach for the skies. At the ground a good portion of the urban's
large roots enwrapped the outer rim of the hill on which the tree itself
towered majestically. Yes, there I sat, maybe a stone's throw away from
the trunk in front of the mound, in a small naturally formed niche. It was
made of the urban's enormously sturdy roots, just as if they were meant to
invite anyone who passed by to take a rest. And so I had done.
But I had rested enough. Grabbed letter and map and got up to be on my
way. The voice was still echoing through the forest, unmistakably calling
There was a clearing in front of me, trees in the far distance. Somehow
things looked different, though I couldnít put my finger on what it was.
Maybe it was the light, as I couldn't figure out whether it was dusk or
dawn. There was neither sun nor moon hanging over the treetops, everything
was bathed in a weird shimmer of twilight. And there was that strong scent
of flowers, wood andÖ tranquility I've never experienced before in that
intensity. Yes, tranquility Ė there was absolutely no sound to be heard.
Not anymore. I stepped into the clearing.
There she was. My ears hadn't deceived me. A little girl squatted there
putting a bouquet together in the middle of the meadow. A soft wind played
with the colourful flowers and long grasses, swayed the yellows, blues and
reds, the oranges and purples, all those flowers around the girl, and they
all made her long silvergrey hair dance with them. She had adorned her
head with a wreath of twigs and petals, and it made her look like a little
princess wearing a tiara.
"What are you doing here?" I asked as I approached, wondering.
The girl looked up at me, a broad smile on her face. "I'm picking
flowers!" she declared, stating the obvious. She laughed at what she must
have considered a rather silly question. Dimples formed in her cheeks, her
eyes glinted brightly back at me in evident amusement.
"Might you tell me your name then, little one?"
"I don't have a name," the girl said resolutely and smiled while she
finished her boquet with an especially lovely kind of cerubell. "Not yet,"
she then added.
I didn't know what to say for a moment. "You don't have a name?" I
couldn't believe it.
"Have you got one?" she snapped back.
"Of course I've got one! How couldn't I? You just called me by it! In fact
you woke me up," I said and frowned a bit about the game she was clearly
"I haven't woken nobody up!" the girl objected steadfastly and frowned
back at me. "I've only been picking flowers! Told you!"
I looked around, but I didn't see anybody else who could have called me.
As I did I noticed that there were standing stones in the meadow here and
there that peeked out of the knee-high grass, barely noticeable at first
glance. There were runes on all of them. Letting my eyes wander from stone
to stone I discovered that they surrounded the both of us, forming a
I squatted to talk with the girl face to face. "Say, and you didn't hear
anybody else call me either? - Because I heard someone, Iím sure about
that. So you must have as well."
"No, just saw you waking up and wondered if it's you," the girl replied
"If it's me? What are you trying to say?"
"But it's you alright," the girl nodded, very confident now. "Here: Youíve
lost that!" She bent down to pick up something hidden in the high grass
and put it in my hands.
"Itís not mine!" I protested as I found myself holding the cane with the
silver pommel. "Someone hasÖ"
"And you've got a map!" she continued. "I knew it the moment you sat down,
studied it and ate your apple. But I thought you should rest first before
you journey on."
"Thanks for that, but you still haven't answered my question!" I insisted,
a bit annoyed. "Say, are you looking for someone to help you find a way
back to where you came from? Then youíre lucky that you found me, indeed.
But look, I have to tell you that I got lost in these woods myself and all
I care about is getting out again right now. Though if you need someone to
guide you, well, Iíll take you with me of course, but I need to find the
way myself first. And I fear my map hasn't been much help in that."
"Oh!" the girl blurted out unexpectedly and jumped up. "It's nice that you
want to be my friend. - But don't you worry, I'm not lost. But if you want
I'll get you where you are supposed to be. I'm here to guide you!" And
with that she immediately darted off through the meadow.
I didn't move for a while, still busy with dealing with the unexpected
turn of events. The girl turned around after a while and waved back at me
with her bouquet. "Come!" She called and continued running away from me.
"Who sent you?" I had stood up and was now shouting after her. But she was
already too far away.
For a long moment I was undecided. I didn't know her and what she was up
to, whether she spoke the truth or not, what to believe and what not in
these woods. But I saw my feet start to follow her, to run as she more and
more disappeared in the distance. And the more my eyes seemed to lose her,
the faster I ran.
The girl was heading straight towards the other end of the meadow, running
nimbly through the knee-high grass, so that I had difficulties catching
up. An array of trees was looking on from either side, standing like
guards, watching the scene quietly. I also became aware of smoke rising
above some of the treetops nearby, and then I recognized a straw-thatched
cottage tucked behind a bunch of trees. I wanted to call the girl's name,
but realized that she hadn't told me.
"We have to..." I began, pointing towards the smoke. "You cannot..." But I
didn't finish my sentences, seeing her more and more escape my eyes.
"Wait!" I finally shouted as forcefully as I could, hoping to make her
aware of the cottage. Someone must have been looking for her! But every
"Wait!" I threw at her she answered with an even more incited "Come!" and
I had no other choice than to follow.
Every now and then I briefly looked back. After a while the smoke from the
cottage was barely recognizeable anymore. Then it was gone entirely.
The forest around me quickly changed, turned dark and murky. Mist emerged
between the trees and covered parts of the forest floor, wrapping itself
spookily around the stumps found here and there. The trees, which had kept
their distance from the clearing for a while, now seemed to close in on
us. I ran and ran and at some point I finally understood that I wasn't
running through a clearing anymore, but through a broader path-like
passage within the woods, engulfed by mist and trees full of vines and
creepers on their borks and branches. I couldn't see much anymore when
looking at the trees to my side, everything was dark and foreboding. The
ground had become moist and mossy, and the air was wet as well. Strange
sounds of croaking toads and chirping insects could be heard everywhere.
I had arrived in the forest's swamps.
Stopping for a moment I had to catch my breath. As I rested the girl also
paused in the distance, but I could still see her waving back at me.
I was now on a path that winded through a large area dominated by bleak
water, some of it greyish, some black as tar. I hadn't really noticed how
far I was already in the bog, only when I stood there to actually check my
surroundings and looked back it became apparent. Now I felt that the fog
on the ground concealed unknown dangers to my left and right. Dead trees
emerged like the hands of gigantic skeletons from the murky depths, rotted
plants floated on the surface, some of them appeared to wrap around
objects, maybe they were even corpses - or at least that's what I imagined
them to resemble.
I looked down to my feet and saw that the strip of land I had been walking
on was in fact rather small. There were roots from the few trees growing
over the path and it was slippery. Also, the dense fog made it hard to see
where exactly it turned into quicksand or into an obscure pool of ooze. It
became impossible to progress at the speed I had entered. I went on, but I
had to change my pace.
"Take care!" I shouted. "You cannot just run through these swamps, you
might trip and drown! Wait for me!"
The sound of the girl's chuckling reached my ears, though I could hardly
see her anymore. "How beautiful it is!" the words of her soft voice were
carried to me. But I couldn't see what she was referring to.
As I reached the spot where she must have been standing before I
discovered a gigantic spider's web stretching between two dead trees.
Several similar sights presented themselves close by. The threads
glittered brightly with arrays of water drops hanging from them, strong
Then, standing there, marvelling about the web and the girl's innocent
remark about its beauty, I sensed something moving. In the increasing
darkness I could have sworn that a shadowy figure emerged from the waters
near one of the islets. Another noise close by suggested that the same
thing happened on the other side of the path. Something moved behind the
scarce, half-drowned trees over there, moved with me. A few steps
further I became more and more convinced of it.
It was hopeless. I couldn't see the girl anymore. For I moment I even had
forgotten about her.
"Where are you?" I shouted, but got no reply.
I repeated my call. Again and again. Silence.
Every few steps I called out to her, but if there was an answer at all it
were the monotonous gurgling sounds with which the swamp used to converse
with me. The faster the day waned, the more disquieting the sounds became
- and the phantoms, existing or not, didn't talk to me either.
I had started to run again. My steps beat the ground, hard and
unforgiving, driven by desperation, ignited by my anger. I began
murmering, accusing, condemning myself of having lost her without even
getting to know her. I had lost her and my only hope. Yes, I mumbled,
stumbled, tumbled. But my footsteps and my calls echoed again and again
unheard through the vastness of the swamp. Night was falling rapidly now.
I could hardly see the next landmark, and the shadowy figures seemed to be
Suddenly - I guess it was at the very moment I had given up - I saw a soft
light that flickered far, far out there. It floated above the waters,
crossed the swamp.
Instead of turning around I remained rooted to the spot and observed the
phenomenon. The light was a soft blue at first, but it pulsated, slowly
getting more and more intense and then abruptly fainting, nearly
disappearing entirely. Yet after a while the whole process was repeated.
It moved, slowly, seemingly erratically skipping, then in a faster, more
determined fashion before it finally glided to a position somewhere in the
distance ahead of me. There it came to a sudden halt.
I waited for the apparition to move again, but it just remained there. Was
it waiting for a move from my side? It swayed up and down slightly,
pulsating, gaining and losing intensity. As if it were signaling me.
I moved closer to the light, making sure that my cane touched safe ground
before I made a step. But each step was difficult, as darkness had
engulfed me entirely by now and I was anxious that a sinister presence
might jump at me any moment and drag me into the unknown depths of the
swamp - as it might have done already with that poor girl. The coat of the
night was icy as well and I was freezing to my bones. The light however
promised warmth. Admittedly it was my last anchor, and I didn't care where
it came from. I had to find out what it was.
Eventually I arrived at the apparition. It turned out to be a glowing
sphere that had shifted to a shining bright white, and its pulse beat was
gone now entirely. As I stepped into the sphere's circle of light I
understood that everything else outside had already drowned in the gloom
like a past memory. There was no way back anymore.
The light seemed inviting, warm and patient in its wondrous existence,
unwavering, a companion. It was hovering a good deal above me, yet had
unveiled only a small area of my surroundings, as if this was all there
was. And to my amazement once I had got used to it I discovered that there
was a hut on the far side of this little world I found myself in right
now. While it appeared to be small and ramshackle, it was better than
nothing. Even an old oil lamp was hanging next to the door, and so I
stepped closer and took the lamp from the hook.
The next instance everything turned pitch-black. The little world I had
begun to call my own just a moment ago had ceased to exist. Stunned I
tried to feel my way in utter darkness towards the hut and already feared
that it was gone as well.
But it wasnít. The lamp suddenly lit up, and there I was again: As someone
standing in front of a ramshackle hut. The hut seemed to beckon a late
night visitor to enter. Carefully I touched the wooden handle and pushed
the door open...
Quickly I stepped in, turned around, bolted the door. No dark creatures
There was nobody inside. The space the abode offered was scarce, it barely
provided room for a single person. At least there was a table, a single
chair standing next to it, a shelf with a few jars, and a bed. That was
it. Apparently none of these things had been used for quite some time.
Cobwebs hung in every corner, and not surprisingly there was no-one to
keep me company except a broom that leaned at the end of the bed, a torn
pair of shoes was there, a footstool. For a while I searched the whole hut
to find anything helpful, edible or even mildly interesting to get me
through the night. The jars contained some unidentifiable substances, dust
had conquered the territory under the bed, not even the cobwebs looked
menacing enough to make me worry. But there was really nothing else.
Well, except for that book. It lay open on the table and I wondered why I
hadn't noticed it at all when I had entered.
I finally leaned my cane against the wall and sat down to examine the
tome. There was no title on it, or the letters had fallen off, and the
pages were old and worn. Nevertheless it was the only thing I had got, so
I leafed through it. Eventually I began to read a passage on the page
where the book had already been opened.
And as I read I stumbled upon some oddly familar lines, which went like
jars contained some unidentifiable substances, dust had conquered the
territory under the bed, not even the cobwebs looked menacing enough to
make me worry. But there was really nothing else.
For a while I searched the whole hut to find anything helpful, edible or
even mildly interesting to get me through the night. Cobwebs hung in every
corner, and not surprisingly there was no-one to keep me company except a
broom that leaned at the end of the bed, a torn pair of shoes was there, a
footstool. Apparently none of these things had been used for quite some
time. That was it. At least there was a table, a single chair standing
next to it, a shelf with a few of the mentioned jars, and a bed. The space
the abode offered was indeed scarce, it barely provided room for a single
I finally leaned my cane against the wall and sat down on the chair. I sat
for a while, staring at the wooden wall, where the flickering of my lamp
cast unsteady shadows.
But there was something else on that wall I realized now. A single picture
hung on it and I wondered why I hadn't noticed it at all when I had
entered, as it seemed somewhat weird... It was a painting of a ship,
though it seemed to... well, I couldn't see it clearly, or there was
something depicted on the painting that couldn't possibly be there, it was
one of those things - so I took my lamp and got up to look at it more
Unmistakably it was the image of a huge ship. The dramatic scene showed
the bow jutting high up in the air as if the vessel was battling a major
storm, the sails at least were billowed by the wind - but it was the rest
of the picture that made me wonder. There were no signs whatsoever of any
storm aside from the billowed sails. Because actually the ship wasn't out
at high sea at all. Its hull was sitting on top of a gigantic gnarled
tree, in the midst of a landscape that could be described as a bog at
best. There was no movement suggested in this part of the picture, the
trees and shrubs stood still, contradicting to what was there on the
canvas in the upper half.
I drew closer to scan the painting in more detail and perhaps find a
person on board. Yes, there was indeed, there was...
...suddenly a loud rumble. And not only that - an earpiercing scratching
noise followed soon after.
The ground moved, the walls shook. I staggered. The picture I had been
looking at fell to the floor with a noisy thud. And there I soon found
myself as well, struggling to grasp the lamp and prevent it from smashing
and set everything on fire.
The rumbling and scratching, the shaking and moving went on for moments
that appeared endless. But eventually everything turned quiet again as
instantly as it had all begun.
I pulled myself up thanks to the help of the cane, and then, while I was
nursing my bruisesÖ spotted the trapdoor! It was clearly recognizeable now
as a perfectly distinct square in the wooden floor, and there was a ring
attached to it on the other end.
I moved over to it. Still I felt dizzy and had difficulties keeping my
balance, but this didn't prevent me from grabbing that ring and pull the
trapdoor open with all my strength.
It revealed a couple of wooden stairs leading further down into the
darkness. I took my lamp and descended carefully.
There was a long corridor down there. The floor made a hollow sound when I
walked a few steps as if there was empty space underneath. Apparently it
was all wooden, but so were the walls and even the ceiling was constructed
of sturdy planks. As I walked along I sensed that the ground was still
shaking a bit, so that I had to cling to a pole every few steps in order
to remain upright, but after a while I understood that the floor was
actually rocking - rocking rhythmically back and forth. Strange creaking
and groaning noises accompanied me on my walk, as if the wood was moving,
and there were other noises I perceived coming from above, like wind
fighting with heavy cloth.
There were also footsteps and someone shouting in heavy sailor's slang
"Man o'er board!" Further busy boots hitting the wooden floor joined in,
repeating the message over and over again. And yet, the further I walked
and the more often the shout was repeated it seemed to change and I wasn't
sure if the voices didn't actually say "Man on board!"
I reached the other end of the corridor. It ended at a door, bolted with a
wooden bar. Eagerly I lifted it, opened the door and entered a spacious
room. As I did I noticed that the gentle rocking of the floor had ceased
from one moment to the other.
I found myself in some sort of study, filled with marvellous antique
furniture - little creatures like drakelets, snakes and butterflies were
carved into the frames of a large wardrobe, intertwined with vines,
flowers and grasses. There was a cloth stand with a robe and a hat on it,
wooden trunks here and there, and most of all bookcases with tomes and
scrolls all over the place - even a bunch of maps could be found hanging
on the walls. A fireplace made out of brick dominated one side of the
I extinguished my lamp as I discovered there was a window on the other
side to which I was instantly drawn. Believe it or not, but daylight shone
through it on the beautifully carpeted floor and as I moved towards it I
saw that a bright and sunny day was waiting outside. Though it wasnít a
window after all I realized then, rather a doorway leading into the open.
Stepping out I walked onto a wooden pier that led into a quiet pond ahead.
The waters were engulfed on all sides by trees, covered with haze far off.
Faint outlines of mountains could be seen in the distance stretching over
the treetops. The InjŤrŠ was already way above the horizon and made the
water on the pond glitter as if touched by divine dust that had just
fallen out of the skies. For a moment I stood there on the pier, staring
into the water, watching the sun dance around my own reflection. The
pond, it came to me. I have finally arrived...
"The Twelve with you!" a soft voice spoke from behind me. "It's rare to
have company out here, I must say, but I'm glad that you came."
I spun around and saw a man sitting at a desk in the corner of the room I
had come from, watching me through the doorway as I stood on the pier. He
had a quill in his right hand and a bottle of ink placed next to him,
hidden a bit among all the parchments that covered the desk. He bowed to
me, but remained seated.
"And the Twelve with you," I returned the greeting, outwardly calm, yet
nervous to identify his voice. I stepped back into the room towards the
"Did you come by boat?" the stranger asked. "The morning is cool, but at
least the waters are calm, arenít they?"
"Yes, I meanÖ No, I didnít arrive byÖ IÖ" I couldnít finish. I wasnít sure
"Well, however you came, have a seat, my friend!" the young man said and I
obliged. "A beautiful day, isn't it? - One might wish to stare forever
into these waters, maybe by doing so it might actually come to life in
form of someone you wish it to be? At least so the lore goes..." He seemed
to be talking more to himself than to me.
I looked at the young man while he briefly returned to his paper. He
silently read a line again, letting his hand hover a moment above the
parchment as if contemplating what to write next, giving me the time to
watch him intently.
I must admit that I didn't recognize him. Which was strange, given the
fact that I - through wondrous ways and means - had finally arrived at
that lodge next to the pond. Which after all was what the letter was all
about. Yet here I was, looking at the face of someone I had never seen
before. The man appeared to be young, his hair was long and flowing.
Somehow he made a bit of a sad and melancholic impression, yet also he
also was contemplative, calm, collected. Finally he finished writing the
sentence he had begun, then his attention returned to me.
"Sorry, just had to get that one down," the stranger said, then let his
quill rest on the parchment. He looked at me intently. "But am I right
that Iím not the one you expected to meet?" he asked.
"You might just be right about that," I answered, nodding.
"Did you intend to meet someone else out here? Or did you just get lost?
Or is there any particular reason why you've made such a long trip through
these parts to reach my humble abode?"
"Well," I said, "I hoped that I'd get an answer from you."
"So? And why is that?" the man asked back, looking a bit bewildered.
"There is this letter I received, which told me to find someone at a lodge
out here. I've even got a map!" I pulled out the map to prove it. "But
even though I actually found this place now, I think you might as well say
that I'm just as lost, as I wouldn't know how to get back anymore."
"Let me see." The young man took the map. "You are right, it is a
map to this place, at least I think so. It's not particularly easy to
read, but nevertheless, it led you here, so you managed somehow to follow
the directions." He then took the letter, read it attentively, though he
finally could only shake his head. "But this I've never written, I fear.
Which is odd as the one who must have sent you that note must know this
place and obviously intended to bring you here for a reason."
I considered his words for a while.
"Yet, alas, there's nobody here..." the man regretted.
"Well, at least you and I are here, aren't we? Then there's at least
somebody here, right?" I smiled, if only to myself. "And that's at least a
startÖ" I sighed. "Say, what are you doing here anyway, out in the
woods, far away from everything?"
"Guess it's obvious, isn't it?" the young man said and pointed at his
desk. "I'm a writer, a poet if you want. I feel inspired by this wonderful
place, which is the reason why I sought it out."
"You must be the one the innkeeper mentioned," I remembered.
"Yes, indeed, I guess I am," the poet said. "So I see you've come around
quite a bit in these woods yourself!" He smiled. "Actually, if you want to
know, I'm right now working on a tale that takes place just within these
woods - a fascinating scenery for sure to go for a little walk, to let
one's eyes see, the mind roam, the senses feel, just a place to experience
the known or the unknown and observe how they both converse with each
There are stories about these woods, ah, you might have heard the one or
the other. Of the magic that is at work here - the dark, the light, the
colourful one, you name it. It all provides a splendid backdrop for the
tale I'm writing. I guess I'll call it 'The Journey'."
The poet took his quill in his hand, and - absorbed in thought - dipped it
into the ink bottle, then retraced a few letters on his parchment. "See,
it is a story about someone who supposedly gets lost in the midst of a
magical place like this - but how can one get lost if one always ends up
somewhere, I have to ask... Who might say where one should end up if one
doesn't know exactly where one's heading? And our traveller might not be
that lucky. But each step just leads the one who goes exactly where he's
supposed to be."
The poet leaned back. "Getting lost... well, that lies in the eye of the
beholder, I would say. And the woods for sure hold deep secrets, but
though they might not be the same for everyone, they challenge us to be
seen. Other eyes might look at the same things differently. Some eyes
might need to watch again and again to see just once. Well, but isn't it
'Open your eyes!' that you hear people say to those who already have their
eyes open, but cannot see? Yet others suggest not to look too closely, and
instead shut their eyes to see behind things...
But who might be the judge of who can discern right from wrong? Even the
most magical place cannot tell one how to look at it, and regardless how
often one walks into such a place, one might always see something
The young man sorted some of his parchments, putting one after the other
in various drawers while continuing to talk.
"What the traveller in my tale might see, well, I cannot say. That it will
get him closer to what heís destined for, that's for sure. And if the
dance has to start again, so be it, the magic of the woods always glows.
Rest assured however that while within the woods the possibilities are
endless, there's always a way out, that one way out, at least in my
tale. Then again - even if one finds out: What is inside and what is
outside when the world around us is magical every way you look at it?"
The poet, having just finished his speech, looked at me interestedly. "So
what have you seen? Maybe I can make it part of my tale?"
"It's... it's... difficult to say," I stammered, not knowing what to
mention. Or where to begin. One of those.
The young man nodded. "I see. Well, you haven't found yet what you've been
looking for, I give you that. And as you said before: You also don't know
how to get out again, so I think the magic of these woods might look
dampened to you. - But at any rate: There's at least that one way out I
know of, and it might just work for you as well - if you're interested."
"A way out? As I guess I'll hardly meet the one I'm supposed to meet here,
I could as well need some directions for finding my way back," I
The poet laughed. "Well, you never quite get what you might expect around
here, so be careful what you wish for. But I can try to give you some
advice: See, you got in somehow, so your best bet is to get out the same
way again, it's as simple as that. That's part of the tale I'm telling as
"That doesn't sound very convincing," I objected. "I don't even know where
"What a strange observation," the poet said. "You're here with me, of
course. Correct me if Iím wrong, but didnít you tell me that yourself?
Youíre here with me. Reading."
I froze for a moment.
"Remember when you arrived in the hut a while ago?" the poet explained.
"How you searched around and finally sat down? How you became aware of
that book lying on the table, right in front of your eyes? Remember how
you opened it and began reading, and, well, what can I say? You still
I jumped up, heart racing, breathing rapidly. I looked around and found
myself at a table, the dusty book still lying innocently on it. Yes, there
was no doubt: I recognized the ramshackle hut, it was unchanged, as real
as it could be. But so the encounter with the poet had appeared. Cold
sweat dripped from my brow. The flickering of the oil lamp still cast
unsteady shadows on the opposite wall as if to convey a hidden message I
was unable to grasp.
I grabbed the lamp, illuminated every corner of the hut with it as I had
done before. Feverishly I searched the wall, determined to uncover that
picture with the unsettling scene on it, the entrance to this fascinating
location I had visited a few moments ago. But there was no such picture.
Getting on my knees I looked for a trapdoor of any kind, moved rags,
furniture and and broom, grabbed the cane I had found to knock on every
single board in the hope of discovering a hollow spot - nothing. Exhausted
I got up again.
Once more on the verge of despair I sat down, thinking. My lamp was still
there like an old friend, quietly sitting on the table, casting unsteady
shadows on the wall opposite of me. And it was still waiting, that book.
In its calm way of just being there it reminded me that I had been foolish
in trying to find a way out of here by searching walls. A shiver ran down
my spine as I realized that all I was supposed to do was read on.
So I picked up the book once more and continued where I had left oft:
myself reading again. I was just a few words in when something else caught
my attention, as if by magic. In the corner of my eye I noticed the
trapdoor. It was still open.
Within moments I saw myself up again with the lamp in hand, descending
down the stairs, leaving the picture behind I had been searching for so
desperately a moment before, lying on the floor. Noisily I ran along the
wooden corridor, ignoring the rocking and creaking that accompanied me,
didn't listen anymore to the shouts from above. Resolutely I darted
towards that door that would lead me into the poet's chamber, nothing and
nobody would stop me to get the answers I needed. As I reached the door
with the wooden bar I paused for a moment, caught my breath. The bolt was
already removed, just as I had left it, and so I entered.
What I came across wasn't quite what I expected. The curtains were drawn
now and the room was very dark, except for a dim light source that stood
on the desk of the poet, an oil lamp just like the one I had come with
myself. The poet was still there, writing in the scarce light, dipping his
quill again and again in the bottle of ink next to him, finishing a
sentence or two before pausing.
Then he turned around, stood up and said: "Thank you for waiting."
I was about to say something, but then I noticed the silhouette of a
figure that had been standing next to the desk all along. The poet had
obviously addressed that person and hadn't noticed my presence at all.
In order not to be spotted I made a step further back, hid deeper in the
shadows, anxiously awaiting what they might have to discuss.
"The Twelve with you!" the poet said. "It's rare to have company out here,
I must say. But I'm glad that you've managed to come all the way here."
"Well, it seems I had at least one valid reason to undertake such a
hazardous journey", the second person replied. "I've found something
precious that is yours and can now return it to its rightful owner." The
stranger pulled something out from under the cloak. I tried to catch a
glimpse of what it was, but failed.
"Oh, there are further valid reasons, I'm sure - you might have yet to
become aware of them..." I saw the poet smile as he seemed to take the
item he had received in his hand. "But indeed, it's not easy to get as far
as this place, so imagine my joy that someone delivers something to me
that I thought I had lost forever."
"Don't mention it," the stranger answered. "It's been my pleasure. The
only thing I'm worrying about however is how I'll find back from this
The poet chuckled. "Yes, I guess with your wish you are not alone.. - But
I think I can give you something in return, which will prove to you that
the journey was not in vain for you either." With that he took something
from his desk and handed it to the stranger. "This is all you need, my
friend, it's the key that brought you to these woods - and it will get you
out of it. Take it. Use it. You're welcome."
I thought the time had come now to reveal myself to the poet and his
dialogue partner - and find out about this special item myself. I had to.
But the very moment I intended to step out of the shadows I heard the poet
address the stranger again: "But excuse me, my friend, we've had company
for a while..." With that he stepped forward and approached me directly.
I emerged from the shadows as well. Even the stranger turned around to
face me, following the poet. Overcome with curiosity my eyes immediately
fell on the item in the stranger's hand, which the poet had called 'a
key'. But it didn't look like a key at all. It was a quill.
myself back in the hut, sitting at the table. The flickering of the oil
lamp hadn't ceased to cast unsteady shadows on the wall. I was still
sweating, my heart beating. The trapdoor was gone, and so was the picture
on the wall. Everything else in the room was in slight disarray, stemming
from my futile attempts to find a way where there wasn't any.
Yet I sensed that something was different now. Looking around I suddenly
missed the cane, which had still been leaning at the wall next to me just
a few moments ago. I remembered clearly having put it there after I had
used its silver pommel to knock on the floor boards. But with the
desperate attempt to search for the trapdoor, the cane seemed to have gone
Ignoring the odd circumstance I eagerly returned to the book. In avid
anticipation I leafed a few pages further in order to see what this
magical tome might still have in store for me.
But all the following pages were... empty. Just empty. I turned page upon
page right until the end, and then went back again: Nothing. Not a single
word was written there. The book was more than halfway filled with blank
pages. Finally, in a mixture of despair and hope I returned to the page I
had just been reading a few moments ago and let my eyes wander to the line
where I had left of. And continued.
reading?" the poet asked and looked at me as I came out of the shadow.
"As you can see, yes I am indeed," I replied. I looked around, but the
stranger was gone. It was just me and the poet now. "Who was it that you
just met? What is this all about?" I demanded.
"I hoped that I'd get an answer from you," the poet said and smiled
beningly as he repeated the words I had said to him when I first had met
him. "Alas, you need to leave the woods first to get to an answer I fear,
and I won't be able to follow you there, so you see my dilemma. Canít say
I didnít try to help you. - However, feel free to pay a visit any time,
it's been a pleasure to have accompanied you on your journey!" Then he
turned around and sat down again on his desk, searching for a new quill
between his many parchments. Finally he was lucky and returned to writing
as if I wasn't there anymore.
I approached him and looked over his shoulder. What could possibly be that
important to write down now and ignore my questions? I read:
pulled the book closer and turned the page, eager to see how it would all
But there were only a few words left that concluded the tale. The ones I
am reading just now. And as I finish reading them I look up, and wonder...