By the time light first reached Deadwood Forest, the clearing was empty except for two ravens left to stand guard. The moon, though exhausted, was unable to sleep. The gag bit into her mouth and the effort of breathing filled her chest with pain. In the darkest hours of the night, after the animals had left, she had strained against the gag, pulling as much air as possible through it to keep her fire from going out She needed light to see by; she was looking for an evenue of escape. But try as she might, she couldn't find the slightest weak spot in the oaken fortress.
She wondered where the owl had gone, would have considered asking one of the ravens if she had been able to talk. The forest lay below her and stretched in all directions as far as she could see. There was no sign of life, no bird song, no rustle in the underbrush, nothing but the two ravens who sat opposite her like stone totems. But most astonishing to her was the total absence of the color green. In the dark, she hadn't been able to distinguish much except the clearing itself. Now, in the milky light of what seemed a very unpromising dawn, she could see beyond the clearing, but there was nothing to see. The few leaves on the bushes were brown and dry, and tree after tree lifted bare lifeless branches. There was no water anywhere.
Season after season, year after year, the moon had watched the world below her change from spring to summer with its vibrant greens, to the fireworks of autumn and winter's bare sticks. But here in the Deadwood Forest, the moon had the strange sensation that time has stopped. This was not a winter forest, holding deep in its sap the promise of another spring. If the trees here grew at all, they simply grew taller and more threatening, their branches spidering across a landscape like sudden jolt to clear ice.
This thread of thought alarmed her. If there was no time, if it were fractured, she might never grow older, trapped in her cage. Things would always stay the way they were, and she would never be free.
As she hung there, she waited impatiently for her sister, the sun, to appear. The sun could burn into this forest, remove the shadows. If need be, the sun could destroy this whole place with a well-aimed ray. What was this but a graveyard of trees and bushes?
The moon closed her eyes and began to wish. In her mind, she saw a huge conflagration, the flame reaching over the treetops, consuming them, their embers falling away, leaving an imprint on the air. She saw black billows of smoke obliterate the sky. She saw the spirits of birds and small animals ascend to heaven. And then, she saw herself, red-hot, glowing furiously, before she, too, crumbled into ashes and joined the general destruction on the forest floor. Well, she thought, if that is what it will take to be free, so be it.
But as she waited for what seemed hours and hours, the sun did not appear. All was suffused with the same deadly pallor. Great round tears rolled down her face and soaked her gag so that the wretched linen began to cut even more deeply into the corners of her mouth. There seemed no end to this and no beginning. What light there was was simply light, nothing more, a poor separation of the great blanks known as day and night.
Opposite her the two ravens sat, unblinking, staring at her with cold and lifeless eyes. There was no wind.
* * *
Derin glanced at Matthew, who stared upwards at the bird as though he saw a ghost. It sat on the branch, its throat and breast covered with short black feathers, its beard giving it the appearance of great age and strength.
"Corvus corax!" sad Matthew with awe. "I haven't seen one of you for years."
"Corvus corax?" Derin said.
"My formal name," the bird said. "I'm a raven."
"But you don't live in the meadowlands, do you?"
"Does a peanut have whiskers?" the raven said, "No, not for many years. And what are you, if I may be so bold?"
"He's a boy," the satyr said quickly.
"Boy. A boy," the raven said, intrigued. "A new species to add to my life-list. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. I was wondering what happened to the fleece on your shanks and where you'd misplaced your hooves. Never seen anything like you." Derin blushed. "I'm familiar with satyrs, of course, this one in particular," the raven continued. "No shock of recognition in that horned head of yours? Your name is—don't tell me—Martin, Mason. . . ."
"Matthew," the satyr said.
"Matthew. How absentminded of me." The raven pecked under a wing, a self-conscious gesture that made him angry.
"I'm supposed to know you?" he asked.
"I'm hurt you don't remember. I used to ride your shoulder when I was a fledgling. You were decidedly rambunctious, years ago."
"You're. . . ."
"Deirdre," the raven said. "Daughter of Orak and Oda."
"Of course," the satyr said. "That uppity little. . . ."
"Pardon me," Deirdre said. "I think the word is 'precocious.' "
"Wait a minute," Derin said. "What's going on?"
"I used to live here, you see," the raven said. "I was kidnapped from this place a long time ago. One night I was awakened from sleep by a noise like rushing water. I was huddled with my parents on the limb of a beech, and they slept on while the noise grew louder. I hadn't any idea what it was. I looked and saw a wall of darkness moving through the trees, and it seemed a waterfall but it was only wind. It picked up dirt and branches as it came until it was a landslide. My parents awoke, cawing, and we tried to fly, but it caught us and in that maelstrom were other animals, rabbits, and foxes, and all manner of birds. We rose in a black funnel. Over and over I tumbled until I lost my senses. When I came to, I was what seemed hundreds of miles west of here, in a place called the Deadwood Forest."
"It was before he was born," Matthew said.
"How old is the boy?"
"I'm fourteen," Derrin butted in.
"Is that right?" the raven said. "Could it have been that long ago?"
"What's past is past," the satyr said. "I'd forgotten."
"There are some things one doesn't forget," Deirdre said heatedly. "There are times which live on in the memory with the vividness of dream so that life becomes a simultaneity of past and present. Both my parents died that night. I saw them drop through the whirlwind's center, plummet to the ground. I remember every detail as if it were yesterday. I vowed then to avenge their deaths; I have dedicated my life to that."
The satyr stared into the woodlands, as though looking for a particular tree, as though he could fasten his life there and keep it earthbound. "It was a terrible night," he said. "Squirrels were taken, and ferrets. Foxes were thrown in the air like so many leaves. The wind stole every living raven from the meadowlands. The only ones left were dead or dying. I thought I'd seen the very last of them. In the morning the ground was covered with bodies. The water in the brook ran blood red."
"But why go on in grisly detail?" the raven asked brightly. "There;s something of more immediate importance." She paused, and her red eyes glittered. "The moon has been stolen from the sky."
Matthew stared at the bird in stunned disbelief. "You're crazy. . . ."
"The Deadwood Forest is ruled by a great horned owl," she said, "Fourteen years ago he sent the wind which brought us west. Last night he abducted the moon. Before I flew here, I went to the great sea cliffs where I was born, the cliffs still farther to the east. The ocean is still as a dead rat's teeth, and the beach is littered with fish. The tides have ceased, and the vast hood of the sky is blank as snow."
"You're lying," Matthew said. "These things can't happen. The tides never stop."
"A week ago I would have said the moon could not be purloined from the sky," the raven said. She was annoyed, her tone haughty. "But last night we were sent with a net. It was easier than you'd imagine."
"You helped steal the moon?" Derin asked. "You were there?"
"Of course I was there," she snapped. "What was I supposed to do? Sometimes one has no choice. I've lived in the Deadwood Forest nearlt all my life."
"You might have done something," Derin said. "You could have stopped the owl."
"Tell me that again after you've seen him," Deirdre said. A shiver shook her from the point of her sharp beak to the elegant wedge of her tailfeathers. " "He's cold and analytic, diabolical, preternatural. He means to rule the night. For years he's held the Outer Lands in his thrall. Now he's stretching his talons still further. But enough of this. I didn't come all these miles for the purpose of narrative exposition."
"You have come very far," Matthew said. "At least a week's journey." He reached up and covered his eyes with his hands, as if he were waking from sleep. In his mind, he stood in last night's forest as the pool of darkness gathered around his hooves.
"By air, only six hours," the ravel said dryly. "It is a hefty flight. Yes. I will take credit for that. Now pay attention." The satyr bristled at her order. "Years ago," Deirdre said, "when I was little—mind you, I'm not prone to such emotional declarations—I admired you above all other creatures, excepting my parents. Because of those memories I've come here today. You've got to help. You're the only one I can think of. You've got to help me rescue the moon. You do understand how serious this is?"
"Of course," Matthew said, angry. He could feel the blood rising in his face. "You hot—mouthed condescending little. . . ." But Deirdre cut him off.
"Good," she said. "I knew you would. Now I've got to get back. I'm afraid they'll notice I'm missing. The moon hangs incarcerated in a tree in the middle of the Deadwood Forest. I'll be expecting you." Without another word, she ascended into the air and vaulted like a meteor toward the west.
"How do you like that?" Matthew asked. "The nerve of that bird. Not so much as a by-your-leave. And last night I thought we were in for a heavy rain."
* * *