Chapter 1, Part 2
Flight through the Forest
As we flew over the treetops, with the great starry dome overhead, I seemed to be flying upside down over an ocean filled with innumerable lights. The blue child led me deep into the forest, and at one point slowed down to allow me to catch up with him. Then he locked elbows and flew with me, and suddenly all was changed. The trees glowed with light of many colors, like lamps of blue, green, red and violet, each type of tree a different hue. Some trees throbbed with light, while others gave off a steady sheen. In places I saw what looked like columns of light erupting from the trees up into the sky and eventually disappearing in distance. Elsewhere, shafts of light descended suddenly from the sky and fused with particular trees. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks and poplars. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child.
Some noise in the forest woke me up at this moment. It was early morning, just around dawn. I went back to sleep and had no dreams I recalled.
At breakfast the Hægtessa seemed pleased and rested. She said she’d had the best sleep in years, for it’s tiring at times to fly with the blue child or other dryads in the forest. At least when you get up to my age,” she smiled. “But while you’re young it’s great fun, and you gradually become acquainted with the deeper forest.”
“Dawn can go home tomorrow,” she continued as an afterthought. “Try again tonight with the Blue Child. See if you can get inside the Great Oak. Tell me what happened tomorrow at breakfast. If you find you like doing this, and don’t mind learning herb-lore from me, you can be hedge wizard when I am gone. But think it over; you have plenty of time to consider it.
“But the times you go home,” she added, in turning, “don’t speak of your experiences here. Just say you are learning herb-lore from me. That will provide enough reason for them to ostracize you. No point in giving them more.”
* * * * *
On the following night once again I was flying with the Blue Child through the night forest. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child. Blue light was all around us.
We rested inside a recess in the oak’s trunk. Not far from us was the figure of an old man sleeping. He seemed carved from wood, or else turning into wood. On his face was an expression of contentment and rest.
“Who is that?” I asked the Blue Child. “My Dad,” he answered. “He is falling asleep into the tree. Dad, Dad,” he called softly. The old man’s eyelids fluttered, scattering small splinters. He looked with love at the Blue Child. “Dad, this is Bird-brow. He is taking his first flight.”
The old man’s voice came resonantly from his lips, which hardly moved. “Welcome, Bird-brow,” he said. “The gods bless you.”
“And you, Sir,” I replied. “But what is happening to you?”
“Oh, I am dying. It is time to return to the Tree, our Mother. My son will serve Her in my stead.”
“In the garth, where I live,” I said, “to die is an occasion for sorrow.”
“Not among us,” the old man said, smiling. “For we do not die entirely so long as the Tree lives. And She has lived here in the Forest a very long time.”
“You can still go upstairs if you’d rather, Dad,” said the Blue Child.
“No, Son. My place is here with our Mother, the Oak. But you should go upstairs to tell the Bright Ones I will stay here and subside into wood.”
The Blue Child turned to me. “Rest here awhile. I will return soon.”
The blue light grew around us and seemed to lift the Blue Child. He rose on a column of light and rushed out of the crown of the Tree, up into the sky. He was suddenly gone. I looked at the old man inquiringly.
“You must pardon me,” he said, closing his eyes once again. “I am becoming very sleepy.”
I moved outside the trunk up into the lower branches of the Oak. Around me the elms were glowing green, the larches a paler shade of the same color. Here and there in the haunted forest columns of light shot up into the sky and disappeared; once in a while a column descended from the sky and passed into a tree from above, and the tree took on its color and glowed softly.
After some time had passed, a shaft of blue light descended from the sky and the Blue Child was back. “Now we must scout out the Hægtessa’s herbs,” he said. “the old beds have dried up.”
“But where were you?” I asked him, as we resumed out flight.
“In our star. Every tree in the forest has a star. Ours is there.” And he pointed almost directly up, to the top of the sky. “You must return with the Haegtessa in the morning and help her pick herbs.” Once again we entered the oak.
“But where are the herbs?” I asked. “The trees will find them,” he said, and then called out softly “Dad…Dad.”
The old face appeared once more in the wood. “Yes, Son, what is it? I was drifting off.”
“The Haegtessa needs more herbs, Dad. The old beds have dried up. We must find the closest bed of wild herbs for her.”
“Right away,” said the face, and disappeared into the wood.
“Where has he gone?” I asked the Blue Child. “Down into the roots,“he said. “The roots of the great oak extend far on every side and touch the roots of trees growing around us. They in turn touch the roots of their neighbors, and so on. The search for the wild herbs is even now traveling far afield, along the roots through the Deep Forest.”
Presently the old face of the Oak Father appeared once more in the wood. Little splinters flew from his eyelids and lips as he smiled and said “Tell the Hægtessa the way to the herbs has been charted. If she comes here to the Great Oak she can follow the trail with her staff” “Thank you, Oak Father,” I said, and promptly awoke in the crystal room.
At breakfast the Hægtessa was radiant. “You’ve done well, Bird-Brow,” she said. “The Blue Child and the Oak Father both like you. That is important.”
I told her what the Oak Father said. “I know,” she said, “I have done this before, many times. What he said was for your benefit. We must go together today, since you may be doing this next time.”
After breakfast she said farewell to my mother and little Dawn. “She has recovered. Keep her quiet and well-rested for a few days. Bird-Brow is going with me today on an expedition. He will return home tonight.”
The Hægtessa put on her voluminous white robe and took her carved oaken staff from her cabinet. “Take this sack with you, Bird-Brow,” she said. “We will bring back some herbs for replanting in my field.”
I had flown with the Blue Child to the Great Oak and knew vaguely how to get there in the body, but the Hægtessa knew the way very well, and in about half an hour we mounted the hill leading to the tree. It was a quiet, blue morning, punctuated with light birdsong.
The Hægtessa grounded her staff near the base of the oak. “Grasp my staff, Bird-Brow” she said. I grasped its head and felt a tingling coming up the staff from the ground. She knew I felt it, and took it back. “Now follow along. We have a journey to make.”
She walked to the next tree, a smaller, younger oak, and then beyond it to a birch, feeling the ground with her staff with every step. In this way we went down hill and up hill for about half an hour. Coming to a shallow stream, we forded it, the Hægtessa feeling the trail along the stream bottom with her staff, and picking up the trail again among the trees on the other side. The land sloped uphill from the other bank, until we reached a plateau at the edge of a cliff. Far below I could see the field of herbs. Passing to the left along the cliff, we came to a mild grassy slope downhill, and followed it down to the herb beds.
The field of herbs was the size of two yards placed side by side. Beyond them the forest continued on a shallow rise. “The herbs have come here from many places in the forest,” said the Hægtessa. “They are our partners. It is our job to protect them, to pick the weeds from among them and ring them about with guardian plants like marigolds. Some we will gather up and replant in my garden. These will be of use, like the feverfew I gave little Dawn, but once replanted, the herbs have less potency. Here, in this field, is where they retain their full magic.” She showed me how to tell weeds from herbs, and we replanted a few marigolds along the margins.
“You must come here with the Blue Child, Bird-Brow,” she said, “perhaps once a week, to see if all is well. You must also come here at times in the body to dress and protect the field, and gather a few herbs for replanting. That is, if you want to.”
She looked at me carefully. “I am old, Bird-Brow,” she said. “I cannot make the journey here often. If you wish to be hedge wizard after me, you must start now to help with the fields.”
“I will, gladly,” I said. “But what of my father and the boar hunt? I have never been asked to be on it before, because I was too young. He is counting on me to be with him.”
“Some problems have no easy solution, Bird-Brow,” she said.
When I visited the herb field and pitched my tent, all was quiet. In the night I saw one herb light up within, and in it I could see the Hægtessa preparing herbs. She looked very old and tired, and suddenly I knew I would disappoint my father and remain here with her. When next I slept in the crystal room, the Blue Child flew in and said I had chosen wisely. She would not live much longer. In the morning I told her of my decision to remain with her and learn her herb-lore. She smiled and took me into her garden, pointing out the herbs which had been replanted. “These can be used in healing, Bird-Brow. But they must be boosted with wild herbs from the field.” Back in her house, she showed me how to prepare the herbs, cutting them and mixing them with the wild herbs. They seemed to quicken into new life when mixed with their wild counterparts.
At night, I flew with the Blue Child to the wild herb field, but instead of returning to the Hægtessa’s house we flew together over the wheat fields to the Hall. There was a lamp lit inside the Hall, watched over by the Hall-Sun, a young, vigorous woman with straw-colored hair. I was surprised to see my father there with her. “He won’t come, Hall-Sun.” he said sadly. I had hoped to show him hunting. The Hægtessa has bewitched him to her service.”
“He can still come along to the boar-hunt,” the Hall-Sun said. “He can fly with the hunters and the Blue Child.” And she nodded to my companion.
That night the boar-hunters ran through a long tunnel in the Hedge, carrying torches. My father led them. The great wild boar had been reported in these parts, and each hunter was armed with bow, arrows and spear. I hovered over my father and the Blue Child and I flew on ahead to scout out the quarry and report its whereabouts to the hunters. Once or twice I saved my father from the boar by warning him of its murderous attack. I think he was aware of my protection and thanked me. He showed me how he stalked the boar and in this way I learned about hunting. The Hall-Sun watched me closely and I was taken by her fresh beauty. She seemed sprung from the earth, like harvest wheat. Her gaze seemed to reprove me for not being with my father on the hunt. But then I thought of the Hægtessa and her difficulties, and when I did, the Hall-Sun nodded approvingly.
End of part one