Telling Tales 94
A Murder in the Forest
It was light enough that Ivan could see the princesses and their escorts walking up the steps but dark enough that he couldn’t make out much more than silhouettes, and they kept their lanterns raised before them. “I suppose it was easier to follow them when it was dark,” Ivan said. The dawn light that crept beyond the top of the hill had the metallic orange cast of an early autumn morning, the sun rising over a forest of changing, colorful leaves. “If time passes differently, perhaps I’ll have to worry about winter before too long.” When Natalya and her escort – a prince, if Ivan was any judge of princes (and he was) reached the summit, she turned and looked back. Ivan froze in place, but if she saw him she gave no sign. The minute she herself was out of sight, he sprinted up the steps, leaving damp footprints in his wake.
The light, he discovered, was neither from the sun nor the moon. Pinpoints of light, as though a thousand stars had descended from the heavens, hung over the forest, bobbing as gently as you please. But the pinpoints were only the source of the light, which bounced and reflected off of the leaves and trunks of trees made from burnished copper, all of which reminded him of Queen Ahtna’s realm. Except that this place was real metal, reflecting light and making it seem bigger and broader, no matter that it was all coming from tiny pinpoints. The princesses and their princes had only just entered the forest, and once again Ivan ran to keep up.
He charged through the forest, but no matter how fast he went now, he could only barely keep the group in front of him in sight. Within the canopy of the trees, the light seemed closer to dusk, and the metal leaves brushing against one another gave off the sounds of soft bells. Ivan imagined that he would appreciate the forest a great deal if he had time to stop and wonder, but it was all he could do to his eyes on the people ahead.
Sooner than he expected, the forest stopped and Ivan nearly bolted into the field beyond. It was the change in light that saved him. As the thick trees cleared, it grew blindingly bright and he had to shield his eyes. A field of silver grass as tall as his waist and as sharp as swords spread out beyond the copper trees. The lights hung in the air as before, but the metal switches rising from the earth made it seem as though it were raining drops of light up and into the air above. He touched a blade of grass and saw the blood well up before he felt it. It was indeed as sharp as he expected. “How are the getting through it?” The grasses waved in the light breeze and it sounded like a thousand million blades sliding in and out of scabbards.
“They know the path,” sang a voice.
Ivan looked up to see a dark bird, gunmetal blue, sitting on a branch above him. It was the shape of a crow but as big as a hawk and with a decidedly pointed beak. “Ah,” was all he could think of to say at first, and then, “Do you know the path?”
“No,” sang the bird. Then another bird landed nearby. And another. And another. And they looked at him, yellow and red-rimmed black eyes against gunmetal blue, and he thought they looked hungry.