blocked by the towering pines above. It was colder in here, too, and as he crossed the threshold, he felt a chill. It wasn’t just from the dark, or the cold – it was from something else. Something he could not name. It was a sense of…being watched.
Thor looked up at the ancient branches, gnarled, thicker than he, swaying and creaking in the breeze. He had barely gone fifty paces into the wood when he began to hear odd animal noises. He turned and could hardly see the opening from which he’d entered; he felt already as if there were no way out. He hesitated.
Darkwood had always sat on the periphery of the town and on the periphery of Thor’s consciousness, something deep and mysterious. Any herder who ever lost a sheep to the wood had never dared venture after it. Even his father. The tales about this place were too dark, too persistent.
But there was something different about today that made Thor no longer care, that made him throw caution to the wind. A part of him wanted to push the boundaries, to get as far away from home as possible, and to allow life to take him where it may.
He ventured farther, then paused, unsure which way to go. He noticed markings, bent branches where his sheep must have gone, and turned in that direction. After some time, he turned again.
Before another hour had passed, he was hopelessly lost. He tried to remember the direction from which he came – but was no longer sure. An uneasy feeling settled in his stomach, but he figured the only way out was forward, so he continued on.
In the distance, Thor spotted a shaft of sunlight, and made for it. Finding himself before a small clearing, he stopped at its edge, rooted – he could not believe what he saw before him.
Standing there, his back to Thor, dressed in a long, blue satin robe, was a man. No, not a man – Thor could sense it from here. He was something else. A Druid, maybe. He stood tall and straight, head covered by a hood, perfectly still, as if he did not have a care in the world.
Thor didn’t know what to do. He had heard of Druids, but had never encountered one. From the markings on his robe, the elaborate gold trim, this was no mere Druid: those were royal markings. Of King’s Court. Thor could not understand it. What was a royal Druid doing here?
After what felt like an eternity, the Druid slowly turned and faced him, and as he did, Thor recognized the face. It took his breath away. It was one of the most famous faces in the kingdom: the King’s personal Druid. Argon, counselor to kings of the Western Kingdom for centuries. What he was doing here, far from the royal court, in the center of Darkwood, was a mystery.