“But what do I do if I find her?” I asked.
“Bite your tongue and look the other way.” My grandfather’s response was gruff. I stared into his white pearl eyes as the flames of the campfire caused shadows to dance against his face. He’d found the Queen of the Forest when he was not much older than I was. His face was craggy and his beard green and mossy. Even staring blindly at the fire I could tell that he was entrenched in the memory of his encounter with the Queen.
I lay back on my slab and struggled to find sleep. Doubts ran rampant in my mind. What if I couldn’t look away from her? What if I called out to her as my grandfather had? Would I end up as he did- a crumbling shadow of his youthful pinnacle. Not for the first time this week, I cursed my luck to have been selected to venture into the Queen’s woods to retrieve a piece of the Sacred Stone. Tonight, my grandfather and I kept our camp a good distance away from the trees that broke the flatness of the plain. No sense in angering the Queen with fire before I trespassed into her forest, as Grandfather put it.
I didn’t know how long I slept. I knew exactly when I awoke. The sky displayed all the colors of the rainbow dunes far to the west. Grandfather was already awake, poking at the embers of our firepit. He noticed I was awake and began to unpack breakfast.
“Get up and help me get cooking,” he said as he laid out the victuals next to the glowing charcoal.
“I’m not particularly hungry. I figure I might as well get started with the pilgrimage.” I said.
“Nonsense, you need your strength, stay a bit longer.” I could hear the pleading worry seep through his voice.
“Nah, Grandda, I’m already trespassing into the Queen’s forest. How do you think she would feel if I started retching up my breakfast on account of my nerves?” I quipped. Grandfather chuckled and a grin broke up his stony face. I picked up my rucksack and strapped it to my back. After a potential final embrace with Grandfather, I made the long walk from our camp into the trees.
Stepping over the invisible line dividing the plains from the forest was like entering another world. The early morning sun fought to break through the canopy of leaves overhead. Stray beams of light cascaded down to illuminate drops of dew that had formed on the smaller saplings. The ever constant wind that had accompanied Grandfather and I’s journey dropped to a gentle breeze almost immediately. By the time I had entered a hundred paces the air took on an eerie stillness. The dimness of the light and the unfamiliarity of the air only served to increase my sense of unease.
Just as Grandfather had told me, I sensed the presence of the holy stones toward the center of the forest. I crept through the trees. I paused after each snap of a twig underneath my heavy feet. I half expected the Queen of the Forest to jump out at any moment. I remained disappointed of that expectation. As I progressed, the smooth bark of the younger trees gave way to more gnarled and rough bark. The path I followed grew rough. Several times I was forced to double back as the underbrush proved impossible to navigate. The light the filtered through the leaves above me grew constantly until finally I stumbled on something other than a root.
Nursing my wounded pride, I looked to see that I had stumble upon a block of moss colored stone. I stood up and pressed onward. My reward broke in front of me. A temple built of rocks of that shimmered with iridescence. I had found the holy stones of my people. I made my way into the ruins. Just being present there overcame me with awe. I gathered my wits after several moments and sought out the orb of stone that had been described to me. Finding it at the center of the temple, I stashed it in my sack and prepared to escape from the Queen’s forest. Retracing my previous path, I made good time. I started to believe that I would get out of the woods without having to worry about the Queen. I was wrong.
Just as the trees around me started to shift to the smoother bark of the edges of the forest, I saw her figure. She stood there near the edge of the forest. Her skin the light green of fresh wood. Green leaves that appeared to be ivy covered her limbs and torso and stretched up into a mane covering her head. Her eyes shone like the most beautiful jade. Entranced, my legs locked in place. Grandfather’s advice echoed in my head, but the words rang hollow compared to the beauty I was confronted with. She beckoned me closer, and I stepped toward her, unable to resist.Bite your tongue and look the other way. The sound seemed to emanate throughout the trees.
Grandfather burst into the woods, yelling once more.
“Bite your tongue and look away, boy!”
The Queen’s eyes turned red. She wheeled about to face the intruder. Slackjawed, I remained locked in place. My Grandfather ran up and engaged with her, tendrils of vine wrapping around his hewn features. He continued to yell out his advice and the two of them struggled against the other. I bit my tongue so hard that my blood began to seep out and scorch the plants it dripped on. I tore my gaze away and built up momentum crashing through the trees as they grew sparser.
I waited in vigil well outside the reach of the forest for three days in vigil for Grandfather. He never emerged. It was with a heavy heart that I began the pilgrimage home.
Apropos of: This Prompt