A Song of Silver Wood
Tales were often spoken about Silver Wood, but no one dared venture there for they were a haunted, evil place. The day that Fardell carried Leesa’s dying body into Silver Wood, the villagers tried to stop him. The spirits were not to be trusted, they told him, and would not save her. The illness that ravaged her body was beyond Marleck’s abilities, but Fardell’s grief blinded him to the truth.
“You go with no blessing from me,” Marleck warned Fardell as he stood at the edge of the woods. She glared at him with her blank eyes as though the old blind woman could see him. “When Banus calls his children back, we must let them go.”
Fardell looked down at the pale face of his love within his arms, tears filling his eyes. “Aye, but if he wants this child then he must fight me for her!”
Reaching out a bony hand, she clutched Fardell’s arm before he could enter the woods. “Nothing can be done for her. The sickness has spread too far. What do you hope to gain from the spirits of Silver Wood?”
Fardell shrugged her arm away. “I will force them to cure her! And if I die in the attempt, then at least I will be with Leesa.” With a final glance around at the terrified villagers who lined the edge of the woods, he entered. As the days passed, people knew the woods had claimed another. No one spoke of Fardell, except as a warning to those who would dare enter the woods. Then nearly a year later, Leesa returned from Silver Wood. She came alone.
The summer evening was drawing to dusk, yet the heat of the day was still heavy in the air. Hayle was returning from the hills, a freshly killed deer around his neck. His arrow was still embedded directly through the deer’s heart and he was particularly happy at his skill with a bow. Now a man of eighteen, he was expected to bring meat back to the village and he knew his father, had he still lived, would have been proud of the kill.
“You are the only man of our family,” his father had said upon his deathbed ten years ago. “You have to take care of your mother and sisters.” He called for Hayle’s mother to bring his bow and she had obliged with tears streaming down her face. Hayle had never seen his mother cry before and he looked away, unsure how he should react. His father took the bow from her and held it out for Hayle. “My bow will serve you well. Practice with it and you will be the greatest hunter in the village.” He coughed and spluttered, blood dribbling from his mouth.
Hayle took the bow and stared at it in his hands. Down the smooth curving length, Marleck had carved ancient symbols of power. They tingled at his touch and he was sure they glowed faintly for a moment. “I will not fail you, father.”
His father died a moment later. They sent him to fetch Marleck so she could bless him on his final journey. He remembered banging on her door nervously, always scared of the old witch. She had mumbled her curses for being woken from a sleep, but gathered her herbs and followed Hayle back to his hut. Back then she could still see and she stopped Hayle before entering the hut. With a toothless smile of compassion, she said, “His spirit will always watch over you, young Hayle.” She looked at the bow he clutched tightly to his chest. “I remember marking that bow for him when he was just a young boy. It is a fine bow.”
Upset turned to sudden anger. He snapped at Marleck, “It did not stop him dying!”
Marleck smiled and shook her head. “There are some things magic cannot prevent and your father’s time was at hand. He now goes to the great hunting grounds in the sky.”
Hayle looked away, wondering why he was not crying as his mother had. Because you have to be strong, he told himself. That night he went out into the moonlight, strung the bow as he had seen his father do and let an arrow loose into the air. The arrow flew with a whoosh and the string vibrated the entire bow. That was when he had decided he would become a great huntsman like his father.
The years had flown by and as he neared the village with the heavy deer upon his back, he allowed the nostalgia flood through him. When Marleck had told him his father watched over him, he knew she spoke the truth. Aiming the arrow at the deer, he could feel his father draw close, steadying his hand. His voice whispered in his ear as a gentle breeze and the arrow had hit the deer, killing it cleanly. As he gathered the dead deer in his arms, he could feel his father’s pride. Beneath a red sky, he hurried home. Ahead of him he saw Silver Wood, black against the sky as the sun sank behind the tall trees. The breeze picked up and he caught the smell of something bad drifting from the woods. Looking at the dark line of trees, he wondered if Fardell still wandered around them, tormented by spirits as punishment for entering their sacred places. People said you could hear the cries of the lost within the forest on a still night.
As he was about to turn away, he caught sight of a figure moving at edge of the woods, swaying with the trees. Dropping the deer, he drew his bow and placed an arrow within, ready to fire. With his heart pounding wildly, he realised that from this distance he would not be able to hit the target. Perhaps it was Marleck? He edged closer to the woods, hesitant yet concerned that someone else was going to enter. Now he was closer, he could see it was a woman with her back to him. She was dressed in a flowing white gown like the one Leesa had worn the night she had died. He remembered thinking how pretty she had looked in that dress, even in death. The figure swayed, and then turned to face him.
Hayle screamed out in fear as he looked upon Leesa. Backing away from her, he stumbled and fell upon his back. When he looked up, the woman walked towards him with an arm outstretched. Giving out another yell, he ran from her, faster than he had ever run before. Marleck’s hut was on the edge of the village and he saw the light of a candle at her window, relieved to find the old witch at home; she would know what to do. He banged upon her door, glancing behind at the woods, but the figure had gone.
“What’s that noise all about?” Marleck called out. The door creaked open and her white eyes peered out from the gloom.
“Please, Marleck, you have to come quick!” Hayle blurted out. “It’s the Silver Woods!”
Marleck scratched her chin with a long, yellowed fingernail. “What were you doing near those woods, Hayle, particularly at this late hour?”
Hayle licked his lips and glanced at the woods again, but nothing stirred. Had he imagined it? Suddenly he felt foolish, but the figure had been as real as the witch that stood with a bemused look before him. “It was Leesa; I swear it.”
Marleck was silent for a moment. She leaned heavy on the staff she had taken to using as her years caught up with her. “You had better come in,” she finally said. She vanished into her hut, leaving the door open. From within, she called, “Do not stand and let the night in, boy; you might find this night warm, but my old bones feel the cold.”
Hayle had never been within Marleck’s hut before and the thought terrified him, yet not as much as the figure that had come from Silver Wood.
Gripping his bow tightly, he entered the hut and realised his breath was held. As he stood in the hut, he let the breath out and looked around. It was sparsely furnished and a fire burned cheerily in a fireplace, warming the hut beyond a comforting level. The night was too hot for a fire, Hayle thought, pulling his tunic open at the neck. A gentle breeze blew in from the open door, pushing the stale air around.
“I said close the door, boy!” Marleck snapped. She pulled her tattered cloak around her shoulders. She bent over by the fire, poking the flames with metal rod until fresh heat fell across the room like a winter blanket. “I swear these evenings are getting colder.”
Hayle closed the door and suddenly felt calmer. But as Marleck turned to face him, he began to doubt the person he had seen was Leesa. Feeling foolish, he scratched his head and lowered his eyes. “It is silly,” he stammered. “I am very sorry to have bothered you, Marleck.” He turned to go.
“Stop there, Hayle!” She gripped his arm with her bony arm, squeezing tighter than Hayle could have given her credit for. “You should not doubt what see, Hayle, for you are a hunter with a keen eye. Where did you see Leesa?”
“She was walking over by the edge of Silver Wood, dressed in the white dress she had died in. Perhaps I had just seen a spirit?”
Marleck snorted and went to a low table where she had spread out stones with strangely carved symbols. Hayle recognised some of the symbols as being the same as the ones on his father’s bow. Her face screwed up in concentration, Marleck ran her hands over the stones. Her fingers traced the outlines of the symbols as her blind eyes stared blindly up. She spread them around, her fingers feeling their way. Muttering a few curses under her breath, she looked up at Hayle, her white eyes burning into him. “Tonight will be a time of testing for you, Hayle. Are you afraid?”
It was a lie, but Hayle shook his head. “No.”
Marleck laughed. “Your words say one thing, but your heart says something different.” Getting to her feet, she crossed the hut and stood before him, reaching out and touching his face. Dry fingers ran over his features and for a moment Hayle saw a look of deep sadness fall across Marleck’s weathered face. “You look so like your father.” She lowered her fingers and walked around him. The wooden boards creaked under her feet and her breath came out in short rasps.
“What are we going to do about Leesa?”
“We should go and see what she wants.”
Hayle’s heart began to beat wildly again as Marleck opened the door. When it had been shut, it was as though the night and all the evil had been shut out. Now the darkness loomed and he did not want to let go of the comfort of the little hut. But Marleck headed out into the night, muttering curses under her breath at how cold it was. Hurrying after her, Hayle caught her up. She took hold of his arm and allowed him to lead her. “Onto the woods,” she said. “Show me where you saw Leesa.”
They crossed the open grassland towards Silver Wood, now lit only by the glow of a full moon. They looked ghostlike in white and he thought of the death dress of Leesa, how eerie she had looked with her pale face and wide, staring eyes. Marleck leaned heavily upon him for such a small woman and he feared he would not be able to draw an arrow quick enough if he needed to. A few moments later, they stood at the edge of the Silver Wood, the trees towering above them. Just as Hayle began to believe he had been mistaken, the woman in the white dress stumbled towards them, reaching out.
“It’s her!” Hayle hissed. He tried to pull Marleck away, but she remained still, resisting him. “She’s coming towards us!”
Marleck raised her head to Hayle’s ear and whispered, “Do not believe what she says. This is not Leesa.”
Leesa stopped a few feet from them. In the moon glow by the foot of the trees with her white dress spilling around her, she looked beautiful. Her eyes were wide, the deepest blue Hayle had ever seen. When she had died, Hayle had thought it cruel the Gods should call back one who was so young, just a few years older him. Her arm reached out and her finger pointed to him, her mouth breaking into a warm smile. When she spoke, Hayle’s heart missed a beat.
“Can you help me?” she asked. Her eyes looked over Hayle and she lowered her hand. “Please, I need your help. I do not know where I am.”
Hayle went to go to her, but Marleck pulled him back, digging her fingers into his arm like claws. “What is it you want?” she called out to Leesa, her voice edged with anger.
Leesa’s smile faded as her blue eyes flicked over to Marleck. “I am looking for my husband, Fardell. He was walking with me in the woods, but...” her words trailed off and her face became a frown of confusion. She reached out towards them again, but she remained by the edge of the woods. “Please can you help me to find him?”
Again, Hayle went to move towards her, but Marleck jerked him back. Annoyed, he turned to her and hissed, “Do you not see she needs our help?”
Marleck shook her head slowly. “Look closer, boy. My eyes are old and useless, yet I can see the rot and evil of this woman.”
Hayle looked back towards the beautiful woman stood before him. Her pretty little face looked sad, her eyes lowering to the ground. How could the old woman think her evil? But then he could see a dark ring around Leesa’s feet. Looking closely, he saw the patch of grass she stood had turned brown and dead. As he continued to stare, the dead patch grew larger, spreading out towards them and he stepped back with Marleck. Leesa took a step towards them and he could smell dead meat on the breeze.
Marleck began chanting, almost song like. The air around them became momentarily sweeter, but then the rot came back as the grass before them turned brown and died. “You must use your bow on her,” she said. “Shoot straight to the heart.”
Leesa took faster paces towards them. The closer she came, the more he wanted to go to her and embrace her, to take her away from the woods and to safety. He would look after her now, better than Fardell had. How could beauty be evil? But he noticed how the grass had died around her and within her eyes he saw coldness behind them as though evil wore a mask of goodness. He drew an arrow, raised his bow and took aim at Leesa. She stopped, her face screwing up with fear as tears flowed.
“Please, I thought you would help me?” she sobbed. “I am so cold and alone. You have to look after me.”
Hayle lowered his bow for a moment, but Marleck pinched the back of his arm. The pain shot through him and cleared his mind. He raised the bow again, pulled the arrow back and aimed at Leesa’s heart. She stumbled back, her face filled with terror as she stared at the arrow. “I am sorry!” she wept.
Hayle tried to let the arrow go, but this was no deer. The sound of his heart beating filled his ears and his face flushed. A bead of sweat ran down his face. Trying to picture Leesa as something evil, he concentrated. But her eyes closed and her hands lowered to her side. She began pacing backwards towards the woods and he became aware of Marleck shouting at him to shoot her. Instead, he lowered the bow and watched Leesa disappear back into the woods.
“You have failed the test,” Marleck said.
Looking down at the old woman, he could see disappointment etched upon her face. “I’ll not kill a defenceless woman.”
Marleck snorted with contempt. “That was no defenceless woman. Can you not see the death she has spread?”
Hayle’s mouth dropped open as he saw the entire area where they had stood had turned from lush green grass to black. It stretched back towards the woods where Leesa had vanished. “What was she?”
Marleck turned away from him and began walking back to her hut, leaning upon her staff as she went. Over her shoulder, she said, “A dangerous thing has come back this night. It will be down to you to kill it, Hayle. The stones have told me it is your path to follow.”
Hayle hurried after her. “She is gone now, back to the woods where she will harm no one.”
Marleck reached her hut. Opening her door, she turned to face Hayle, pointing a long finger at him. “Had I not been there, you would have been lured into the woods. You had the chance to kill her, yet you failed. Do not fail a second time.” She entered her hut and slammed the door behind her. Hayle turned away and looked towards Silver Wood, silent and still as it always had been.
The wind blew the trees and he heard them rustle. As he hurried home, he heard faint singing drifting to him. The voice was haunting, though he did not understand the strange lyrics. It was enough to make Hayle pause and look towards Silver Wood where the singing came from. The desire to go to the woods filled him, but he shook his head and made his way home.
Over the next few days a number of men had gone missing without a trace. Some people spoke of a monster that had come out of Silver Wood and noticed the strange dead patches of grass around the area. Each night a haunting song drifted from the woods, echoing through the valley.
Hayle remained silent about what he had seen, fearing being called a coward for not killing Leesa when he had a chance. On the fifth day their village chief called for a meeting. The death from Silver Wood had spread to the crops and with winter coming, it would be tough. As Hayle headed to the gathering within the centre of the village, he saw he saw Marleck. She appeared to stare at him and he stopped to look back at her. Though no words passed between them, he knew she was judging him. What was he to do? Whenever he shut his eyes, he saw Leesa before him in the white dress, reaching out. Part of him wanted to go to her. When the singing drifted to him, it was like a spell had been cast.
Last night he had found himself wandering in the night, barefooted and dressed for bed. Hurrying back home, he glanced over at the woods and saw a figure in white at the edge, looking at him. Hayle hurried away from Marleck towards the crowd where their chief stood beneath the willow tree.
“This creature has brought a curse to our land!” he called out to the crowd. “Each night it claims another man and our crops wither and die. Winter will be upon us soon and if someone does not vow to kill this creature, then our doom is at hand.”
There was murmuring among the people. They looked at each other nervously, glancing over at Silver Wood that sat ancient and silent as it always had. The sun was falling towards the horizon as the afternoon grew late and the shadows began to fall. The breeze picked up and Hayle caught the smell of something bad drifting from Silver Wood. In his hand, he clutched his father’s bow tightly. Suddenly the voices became distant and the day darkened around him. The faces of the desperate and the scared filled his vision. The bow in his hand grew warm and he looked down upon it, thinking of his father.
“I will face this creature,” he said, weakly. The crowd ignored him and gathered close around the chief. Hayle repeated himself louder and the crowd turned to look at him. Nervously glancing around, he added, “I am the best shot in the village, after all.”
The chief pushed through the crowd to him. “Aye, you are, my boy, but do you have the nerve to face this demon?”
Hayle shrugged. “We shall see tonight.” He turned and looked at Marleck, her face expressionless. “I shall enter Silver Wood and hunt this creature down with my bow.” The crowd clapped and cheered him, but he could not help feeling guilty his failure killing her when he had the chance. But she had put a spell upon him, wrapping around his soul with long fingers of evil that had him frozen. He would not fail this time. As he headed from the crowd, he swore on his father’s bow he would not fail.
“The spirit would have grown stronger,” Marleck said, coming to his side. She walked with him towards Silver Wood, and the crowd held back, fearing to tread too close to the evil place. The grass under his feet was now black and dead, spreading out from the woods like a disease. “You will need to be strong of heart if you are to do this.”
Hayle turned to her. “I was not strong before.”
Marleck nodded slowly. “Aye, but at least you know that thing is not Leesa. It has taken her form to lure people into the woods. Do not listen to it, and do not get drawn into her song.”
They stopped at the edge of the woods, the trees casting long shadows over them. Looking into the dark depths, Hayle could not help but remember that all who entered the woods had never returned. Why would he be different? Armed only with his father’s bow, doubts filled him. If the spirits within did not destroy him, then those giant spiders that spun their webs across the trees and gave the woods their name would. The spiders had been driven back many years ago, long before Hayle had been born, but they still lurked somewhere within. He looked behind him and saw the crowd of villages some distance away, silently watching.
Marleck stepped back and leaned on her staff, watching with those white eyes. “May the Gods protect you,” she whispered, turning and heading back to the crowd.
Alone now, with the light of the afternoon quickly fading towards dusk, he slung his bow over his shoulder and headed into the line of trees, into the darkness of Silver Wood. As he stood just within, he suddenly noticed a lack of birdsong. Looking around the gloom, he found the silence unsettling. It was as though the entire wood had held its breath. Not an animal moved and the trees were tall and thin, closely stood together in a joint effort to block out the light. Looking up, he saw no blue sky, just a roof of darkness.
Cautiously, he moved deeper into the woods, not sure where he should go. A twig snapped under his foot and the sound echoed around the woods. Yet stillness remained. The deeper he went, the darker it became as though he swam beneath the water of a great lake. The coldness wrapped around him and he shivered. The woods stretched out ahead of him and he knew they went on for many miles into the countryside. As he walked, he thought of how they protected their village from bandits in the north as they snaked around the valley like an impassable river.
There was a rustling of bushes ahead and Hayle raised his bow, pulling an arrow from his quiver. He aimed ahead, though he saw no movement. It felt like something stalked him from behind, so he spun round. The woods had closed in behind him, blocking the way out. A gust of wind blew through the trees and hit him in the face, though it felt like warm, fetid breath. He closed his eyes against it. When he opened them, he saw the trees ahead snapping apart as though a great monster pushed through. Slinging his bow over his shoulder, he turned and ran from it, heading blind into the woods with branches whipping at his face and drawing blood. His chest burned and his legs became weak, but the trees crashed behind him as something gave chase. Ahead he saw a fallen tree and leapt across it, falling down and pressing his body tight against it. With his head pressed against the woodland floor, he held his breath and closed his eyes. The ground trembled with a deep rumbling.
When he opened his eyes, the woods were still. A cruel laugh drifted through the trees, then faded away as the silence returned. Getting to his feet, Hayle looked around. All sense of direction had gone and he realised with mounting horror that he was lost. There was no path to follow out, no sunlight to head towards. There was just endless trees and silence. Clenching his fist, he smashed it into the trunk of a tree and cursed Marleck under his breath. She knew the woods were evil and dangerous, yet she had watched him enter without a word. He had no idea how to find Leesa and was about to give up when he heard a distant singing coming from his right. The song was that of Leesa’s and he found himself heading towards it, unable to resist. As he pushed on through the trees, he felt his bow tingle within his hands and he stopped. Looking down, he saw the symbols Marleck had carved on it glow. Within his head, he could hear his father.
“You are stronger than this foul thing,” he whispered. “Pay no attention to it.”
The symbols faded with his father’s voice. The singing continued, but he thought about his father. He remembered the time he had gone out on his first hunt with him and watched as his father had strung his bow, making sure it was tight enough by plucking it with his finger. The sound was a deep hum and he smiled at the memory. Now he took his bow and strummed the string. As it had done for his father, the bow gave out a low note, cutting through the forest. The sound seemed to break Leesa’s song and he continued on with new found confidence.
Then, as hope faded, he saw a light flickering ahead. Within the coldness of the woods, it was inviting and Hayle hurried towards it. As he neared, he saw a figure hunched over the small flames. Hiding behind a tree, he studied the figure and saw it was an old man with a long white beard. He mumbled under his breath and held his hands out to the small fire, shivering with cold. He looked up towards Hayle and coward back in fear, his eyes wide with terror.
Hayle stepped towards him, holding his hand out. “I mean you no harm, old man,” he said.
The man looked him up and down suspiciously. “You do not look like one of them,” he muttered. His clothes were rags and hung on his frail body. “Have they sent you to torment me?”
Hayle knelt down by the fire, unable to feel any heat from it. He looked at the old man and found him familiar. “I have no ill feeling toward you,” he said, softly. “How long have you been here?”
The old man edged back to the fire again and held his hands out, shivering. His face was filled with misery and his eyes spoke of hopelessness. “I have no idea how long I have been here. Many years I believe. I came to save my love, but she was taken from me. Have you seen her?”
“I know you,” Hayle said. “You are Fardell. But it has only been a year since you entered Silver Wood with Leesa.”
Fardell looked up at him with wide eyed wonder. His mouth hung open in shock and he shook his head. “No, you must be mistaken. I have been trapped in these woods for many years. I was a young man when I entered.” He wrapped his arms around his frail body and began to rock himself.
Hayle got to his feet, unable to find warmth from the fire. Was his fate to end up like Fardell? The man looked at least one hundred. Backing away from him, he thought it could be a trick by the spirits of the woods. But the old man remained at his fire, looking into the flames as though Hayle was not even there. He began to talk to himself about Leesa.
“Have you seen her?” Hayle asked.
Fardell stared into the flames. “They took her away from me a long time ago. I hear her singing from time to time. She has such a beautiful voice.” His eyes snapped back up to Hayle, desperation within them. “Please find her for me!”
Hayle backed away from the man. “I will come back for you,” he promised. Leaving him to his delusions, Hayle turned and hurried into the woods. Now he was on his own again and lost. Ahead of him he heard the singing again and hurried towards it. When it stopped, the silence returned to the woods and Hayle paused, his heart beating fast. He turned on the spot in a circle, watching the trees for a sign of movement. Then he saw her, striding through the trees and dressed in a brilliant white dress with her dark hair falling about her shoulders. Blues eyes fixed upon Hayle, she strode towards him, her lips twisting into a smile.
Hayle drew an arrow and raised his bow at the demon. But as he pulled the string back and prepared to fire, something stopped him. Leesa began to sing softly, the song haunting and beautiful. In that moment he wanted her. He lowered the arrow and watched Leesa close in towards him. The song filled his head with joy. The wood became sunlit and warm, the trees falling away and making way for a flower filled meadow. They both stood among the flowers beneath a noon sun.
“You look so tired,” Leesa said in a soft voice. “You should come to me and rest. Trust me; let me take care of you.”
Hayle nodded. Yes, he could sleep within her arms and be safe. A fog filled his mind and he forgot where he was. But it did not matter, because as long as he was with Leesa, he was safe. Slowly, he made his way towards Leesa who held her arms out wide to greet him. The only thing that was important was Leesa and being with her. As he took a step towards her, he suddenly saw his father beside him. He looked tall and proud, his body strong, free from the disease that had killed him. He looked at Hayle and smiled.
“Take your arrow and fire through her heart,” he said. “You have my bow and keen eye to help you.”
Hayle nodded. His father began to fade away, but he could still feel him close. Looking back to Leesa, he saw her face had become dark and twisted. Her eyes burned fierce yellow like that of a wolf and from her mouth a forked tongue lashed out. Aiming his bow, he pulled the string back and aimed at her heart. As she reached towards him with clawed hands, he let loose the arrow and closed his eyes.
When he opened them, he saw the arrow embedded within Leesa’s chest. She screeched out, the sound cutting through him and tearing apart the silence. In his head, he heard his father urging him to run. Turning, he ran as fast as he could, trusting that his father’s spirit would send him in the right direction. Ahead he saw the old man hunched over his fire and he bent down and looked within his eyes.
“Leesa is dead and unless you come with me now, you will be doomed to wander these woods forever.”
Fardell stared hard at him for a moment. “There is no escape from Silver Wood.”
Hayle reached his hand out to him. “Then let us try together, else we die here, cold and alone.”
Fardell took his hand and Hayle pulled him up. The trees around them groaned and branches began to reach out at them. Ducking low, they hurried away from them and kept running. When they burst out into bright sunshine, they fell to the floor, gasping for air. A shadow fell across them and Hayle looked up into the old face of Marleck. She nodded at him, then turned and headed down the meadow towards her hut.
Fardell lived for a number of years as a bitter old man. People said he had lost his mind within Silver Wood. He would go to the edge of the woods and call out to Leesa, but she never answered. People blamed him for the curse that had come to the village and on a winter’s night as he waited by the edge of the woods calling to Leesa, his throat was cut, blood spattering onto the white snow. They let him die alone and cold, but when his body was found, there was a smile upon his old face as though he had welcomed death.
That same winter, Hayle decided to visit Marleck. He had avoided her since that day he had emerged from Silver Wood, never wanting to remember that experience. But over the years, he had wondered about the bow his father had given him and how he had managed to kill Leesa. Knocking on her hut, she had called him in, snapping at him to close the door after him to keep the cold out. As her hut had been the last time he had visited, it was too warm. But as the snow fell heavily outside, he welcomed the warmth. Marleck sat beside the fire, a blanket over her shoulders.
“Why did you choose me to destroy Leesa?” he asked, standing in the centre of the hut, looking at her hunched form.
Without turning, Marleck chuckled. “Many years before you were born, your father was young and foolish. He believed he was capable of anything and had a desire to prove himself to his peers. I remember the day he entered Silver Wood. For ten days he was missing and all hope of him returning had gone. Silver Wood has always been the place mortals should never tread.”
“My father escaped, of course.”
Marleck sighed. “Well of course, else you would not be here now, letting cold into my hut. But he returned and never spoke of what he saw in those woods. They found him wandering the hills with a tree branch clutched tight within his hands.”
Hayle took his bow from his shoulder and looked at it. “He carved the bow from that branch?”
Marleck turned to him. “A weapon carved from a tree out of Silver Wood is a powerful weapon indeed. It is only a weapon from the woods themselves that could destroy anything from it.”
Hayle nodded with understanding. “Such a weapon should be returned to the woods.”
Marleck stared into the flames. “Aye, it must.” She fell silent and pulled her blanket tightly around her. Hayle left her to her fire and headed through the snow towards Silver Wood. Standing upon the spot Fardell had died, he looked within the depths. A voice called to him and he took a step towards the line of trees. Drawing an arrow, he stepped into the woods for the last time.