The moon had not relaxed in twenty-four hours, and by midnight she was fast asleep. All afternoon of the previous day she had struggled against her bondage; the gag was no looser after her effort, no gap appeared in the oak's enclosure, and her need to rest became monumental. If nothing ever changes, she thought, why must I sleep? But she was too fuzzy to think out the finer points of a philosophical argument, and her eyes, heavy with worry and doubt, closed.
Deidre, too, was asleep. She had feared her fall into that soft familiar darkness—she should have been sleeping all day, like the others, and wondered if any would suspect her if she rested while they were awake—but her need overcame her trepidation. In her dreams, she was flying, always flying, back and forth from the Deadwood Forest to the meadowlands, ceaselessly, carelessly, buffeted by forces she could not control.
She awoke, exhausted. The forest was black as the ink of a squid. She blinked her eyes, trying to see if other ravens were about, but she saw nothing. She had joined them earlier, sat among them, invisible, listening to their idle vicious conversation, until she could no longer maintain a façade of wakefulness. And now she was alone. Where had they gone?
She understood more clearly one of the dangers she had taken upon herself. Doubtless, events had transpired while she's been gone, things she had no knowledge of, and no way of discovering. She knew an offhand remark inquiring about the night's occurrences would create suspicion and distrust. The owl's plans were important for her to know, and right now, even as she sat there, attempting to clear her mind of the dust of sleep, he could be holding a meeting. Most troubling to her was the absence of the ravens. Wherever they were, she should be with them.
She climbed above the forest's branches to attain a better vantage point. Further to the west, she saw a faint glow, rising and falling, like breath; it must be the moon, she thought, and the meager quality of the light filled her with pity. She would be sleeping, poor thing, and there seemed little reason to fly in her direction.
Thus Deidre, for the second time that day, flew east. She came to the edge of the forest and hovered in the air as if caught in an updraft. Before her, the mountains rose, formidable and bleak, and she could make out no movement below her on the short barren plain between where the mountains crashed to the earth and the first wall of forest began.
Floating like a leaf, eddying on the currents of the air, she let herself drift to earth. She landed on a rock and listened. No sound greeted her, none of the noises common to the forest at night. She was filled with apprehension. It seemed as though the great wood were inhabited only by herself and the moon.
She rose again and pointed south. The trees passed beneath her in a blur. She flew until she thought her wings would give out, until the very thought of returning from where she'd come was impossible. Then, imperceptibly to an eye less trained then hers, the terrain began to change. This was a part of the forest she had never visited before. The trees were still the same, stark outlines of the splendid oaks and hemlocks which grew in the meadowlands, but the utter flatness of the familiar sections of forest gave way to a slight undulation.
The trees rose and fell with the rolling of the earth. Like waves, Deidre thought, like the ocean. Her stomach felt queasy; she found herself rising and falling along with the terrain. Her head hurt and her breath came in short spasms. She was badly in need of rest.
As though she'd been hit, she arrested her flight, tucked her wings and dove on a diagonal toward the trees below her. Near the top of the forest, she spread her wings and softly landed. Immersed in that darkness, she cocked an ear and listened. It was the ocean, or something very like it, the faint roar of waves and the hollow sluice which follow their breaking. But the ocean lay far to the east. Was she hearing things now?
"Let's face it," she said aloud to nothing in particular. "I'm lost." There seemed no way around her assessment, but no panic either. She was simply on alien ground.
She began to laugh, filled with a sense of relief she hadn't felt in weeks. Perhaps she would stay here, eking out a paltry existence, far from the responsibilities she had placed on herself. Perhaps she had no choice.
She had thought of Derin and Matthew whom she had visited—when?—the previous afternoon? It seemed ages ago, foreign as someone else's life. Even now they should be readying for the journey she had given them so little to prepare for. She didn't entirely trust them. The satyr was flippant and stubborn, the boy new to her. Still, they were her only hope. The animals in the Forest had been lulled into a passivity which bordered on sleep, and those who lived in the meadowlands would not understand. She would have to depend on those two upright creatures.
Too tired to think any more, she slept the uneasy sleep of the lost, a self-imposed exile. The ocean sounds grew fainter, and hunched in her feathers, it seemed she grew smaller, until she was almost a child again, until she sat on the great seacliff and watched her mother and father soar over the ocean on wings of steel, hunting food for her.
* * *
By the time Derin opened his eyes, Matthew was already up. The satyr whistled as he cleaned out his wooden bowl and stooped under the overhang to place his few remaining belongings in his knapsack. The boy's back ached from sleeping on the forest floor. He'd twisted in the night and an unfamiliar coldness had seeped into his bones, chilling him through. His neck was stiff, and one of his arms was asleep.
He got up and huddled by the fire Matthew had built, stretching his hands toward it to warm them. His sleep had disturbed him, its rhythms still ruling his thoughts. The old dream had returned, the one that haunted him as a child.
He was lost, wandering through an unfamiliar landscape, and everywhere he turned, the branches of trees seemed to close around him, to restrain him. The journey was endless, and although he was always moving, he never got anywhere. And then, just before he woke, a dark hooded figure loomed from behind a tree, a faceless apparition, reaching for him.
"Well look who's up," the satyr said. "I was going to kick you awake but thought better of it. How did you sleep?"
Derin didn't answer for a moment, stared at the flames. "I had that dream I used to have. I thought I'd outgrown it."
The satyr looked at him strangely. "Quite a night," he said. "Two humdingers. Always sleep so well?" He began lacing his knapsack closed with a strip of rawhide. "That's it," the satyr said as he finished. "We're almost ready. You must be hungry."
Derin admitted he was. "I've been to the meadow," Matthew said. "Look what I've found." he showed the boy four duck eggs, pulled a large flat rock from the perimeter of the fire and broke the eggs upon it. They sizzled and spat, their edges curling up like dried leaves.
The boy ate quickly, without speaking. Matthew looked at him, trying to gauge his mood. "Friends of yours want to talk to you before we leave," he said.
Derin glanced up from his breakfast. "What do you mean?" he asked, his mouth full of egg.
"I told you I went to the meadow. Ran into two of your friends. Go ahead; I'll straighten up here."
The boy stood, uncertain. "Go," Matthew said. "You're wasting time."
Derin handed Matthew his bowl and took off on the path to the meadow. It seemed like the day before. Overhead, the sky hung low and grey. The trees drooped, their leaves dusty. And the forest was deserted.
When he entered the meadow, he saw two animals by the stream, waiting for him. He approached, and the chattering he had heard stopped. There was the badger with whom he'd spoken yesterday and the blue jay he thought so beautiful.
"What's this about?" Derin asked. "What's on your minds?"
"We wanted to say good-bye," the badger said solemnly. "We heard you were going away."
"Matthew told you?"
The jay began to chatter. "He was here this morning. He stole some eggs from the duck. Said he was making breakfast. Eggs for breakfast? Worms for me, that's what I like, or grubs. Nice juicy grubs. Said you were going on a trip. The moon is in trouble. I'll say she's in trouble. Been loafing, didn't do her job last night. Nowhere to be seen. What I want to know is. . . ."
"The moon really is in trouble," Derin said. "Night before last, she was stolen from the sky."
"A fine story," the jay said.
"It's much more trouble, traveling. Who knows where you'll wind up?" the badger said.
"Did you hear me?" the boy asked. "I said the moon's been taken from the sky. Kidnapped. Besides, we'll only be gone a few days."
"That's not what Matthew told us. I heard him. He said it. Gone, gone, gone. Right after breakfast. Right after those duck eggs. But what will you eat next, that's what I want to know. Me, I'm staying here, right here in the meadow. Lots of grubs, nice, white juicy. . . ."
"Please, jay," Derin said, smiling. "I can't listen to all that now."
"I've never trusted him," the badger said. "What's he up to now?"
"Matthew isn't up to anything," Derin said, growing angry. "You said it yourself, badger. 'Something is terribly wrong.' You told me that yesterday."
"Fiddlesticks," the jay said. "Balderdash. Poppycock, brouhaha. Bullfinch."
"It's just the weather," the badger said. "We're in for a drought."
"You may be able to fool yourselves," the boy said. "But I can't. A raven flew east from the Deadwood Forest to tell us about the moon."
"The deadwood what?" the jay asked. "A raisin?"
"Nothing good will come of it," the badger said. "I did say something was wrong. I'd have to be blind and deaf not to notice how odd things are today, but what can any of us do about it?"
"Who was this bird?" the jay wanted to know. "Some cockamamy crazy with persecution complex. I've never heard of such a thing. Staling the moon. What a story. I thought I had a vivid imagination. You'd tell me what to do with my tongue if I ever. . . ."
"But I have to," Derin said. "Can't you see? I've never left the meadowlands."
"Seeing is believing," the jay said. "Now don't be long. When you get back, I'll throw you a party. I'll invite the world. And there'll be lots to eat. Watercress and mushrooms, filberts and pears. And grubs. Nice, juicy. . . ."
"Good bye," Derin said. "I've got to go."
* * *
More: later! I'll allow comments for some time. Would like to see if that one person still cares.