The boy was hunched by a fire when the moon disappeared. He had gathered wood in the late afternoon, dragging it from the forest surrounding the meadow. He's kindled the fire as the sun's last rays faded around him and ate his supper by its warmth. He was waiting for Matthew, but the darkness thickened and the satyr never arrived. It seemed he was often waiting for Matthew, whose arrivals and departures had no pattern, who could never be counted on.
The moon appeared in the east over the fringe of trees, rose higher in the sky. Derin grew tired and fidgety and bored; when he finally allowed himself to sleep, he slept fitfully. A twig cracked and he awoke, expecting Matthew, but it was only a squirrel come to share the fire's lingering heat. He looked up again and saw what seemed to be a solid black sheet move from the west. It swept across the sky, bringing with it a subtle thunder. He stared, transfixed, as it slipped over the moon's horned face and the light around him disappeared. The stars to the east still shone, more brightly now, but the moon and the western sky were dark.
Around him, the trees circling the meadow writhed in a heavy wind. He was suddenly very cold. The wind bore down on him and its chill damp entered his shirt, crawling over his chest and back. In a panic he threw himself on the ground and rolled. The wind passed over him, harsh as sawgrass, and when he slowly stood again his fore was out, stone dead.
* * *
The moon thought she would never breathe again. Down, down she went through an air so liquid she knew she'd been dragged under water. Then the falling stopped. The wings surrounding her beat themselves to a halt. She felt a slight pressure on her side and it terrified her. Whatever was under her was moist and chilly, the touch of decay.
Out of the darkness, through the gauze which trapped her, she heard a voice. It had nails in it, the sharp glitter of quartz, the brushing force of unquestioned power.
"Unwrap her," the voice said.
She felt the net unwind, and as the layers grew thinner, dark forms materialized. She could breathe again, and her light returned to her, only a little, but enough to see by.
"And gag her when you're through," the voice said.
She lay in the clearing of a huge forest, amid dirt and rotten leaves. All around her stood trees, leafless and gaunt, their angular branches reaching into the dark air. On every limb for as far as she could see perched the ravens who had captured her. They hunched deep in their lustrous feathers, their beady eyes bright with malice. In the clearing in front of her sat a huge black rock the shape of an egg.
To her horror, the rock began to turn. It wavered from side to side on the enormous gnarled claws at its base until it faced her. She gasped and caught her breath so sharply she glowed for a moment and then went out again.
In the brief light she cast over the clearing, she saw a great horned owl. Its slow breathing ruffled its feathers. Its beak was hooked, like a sickle. its eyes, yellow as jaundice, were the size of gold ducats. And on its neck and chest, where the bib should have been, was a wet swatch of red the color of blood. The owl fastened the moon in his somnolent gaze and held her there.
She was about to cry out when two of the ravens standing guard clamped a gag over her mouth. It was made of linen so tightly woven that only the most sustained effort pulled air through it. As she breathed slowly, she seemed to herself ridiculous, trapped, blinking on and off like a firefly, a small curved flicker in the night. From the owl's maw came what must have been a laugh, but it was ugly as a mauled animal. The ravens hunched deeper in their feathers until their red eyes disappeared.
"Let me look at her for a while," the owl said, "and then we'll fasten her in the tree."
The owl stared at his captive, his great eyelids drooping. Behind her, the moon heard a rustle high in the treetops, and turning, saw a small group of ravens readying a series of ropes and tackle. They were nearly hidden among the twisted branches of an ancient oak, one of the tallest in the forest. Its upper reaches did not move in the wind.
The ravens were preparing a cage, tying back the branches at one side with great effort. In the center of the oak was a hollowness around which the branches naturally tightened.
"I have you," the owl said. "You are not mine, but I have you. The nights will be very dark without you."
He laughed again As before, the ravens sank in their feathers, all but one who sat on a branch near the moon. This raven was preening herself, pecking under a wing for fleas, and as the moon watched, amazed at what seemed a display of sheer arrogance, she couldn't help imagine that the raven looked straight back at her and winked.
More parts: l8ter.