Monday, May 12, 2008

On the Brightside

Travelling at night has always been dangerous, even in the open fields and meadows.

Out here in these shadowy woods, on this path that had never been anything I would've dared to call a true road, even when it had seen better days, long ago, there was very little to focus our eyes on in the dim yellow glow of our lanterns.

We were forced to remain mounted, to keep our horses from running off in fear at strange and unwholesome sounds in the forest, for there would be no way to reclaim them if they did, in that starless and moonless darkness that surrounded us.

And we were forced to move slowly, relying on the superior senses of our animals to avoid any treacherous footing and to maneuver themselves around the occasional obstacle that blocked our path, but we were still forced to crouch low and fend for ourselves against the snapping branches of passing trees.

And for the most part, our steeds made us proud of their intelligence, seldom did they lose track of the path we were following, and rarely did we have to lean down from our saddles and make a search of the ground with our lanterns to regain it, they did much better than I would have expected, given the circumstances.

What was not to be expected was the light we saw, far off in the depths of the forest, moving beyond the silhouettes of tree trunks and leaves and branches and brambles, sending long shadows and rays of light spinning in a dizzying way like the spokes of a giant wheel.

It wasn't the sleepy yellow glow of a lamp or lantern, it was a strangely bright and silvery white light, and it moved along with us, and then disappeared, and then returned, and it sometimes cast its light against the canopy of leaves and branches above it, and made brief flashes of green and browns spring forth, but never came it close enough for us to see who was carrying it through the black tangles of vegetation between us.

There was little the men and I could do but watch it and note how it made no sound as it moved, the forest between us seemed impassibly thick, and dangerous for the horses, and so the possibility of making contact with the bearer of the light was not worth a moment's consideration.

And the light seemed harmless enough, and far away, even though it did seem to be keeping pace with us.

I thought to call out to the bearer of the light, but the more seasoned men seemed extremely displeased with that idea, even though we were all well armed.

And so we shrugged to each other and continued on our way.

And then a second light appeared, far off in the forest, on the opposite side of our path, much the same as the first, and we were now flanked by two of these strange and silvery white lights, but they continued to keep their distance.

This new companion to our travels sent a wave of horror through the men, and so we did stop our horses, then, and I volunteered to dismount and go and spy upon one of the bearers of the lights, but the men did not feel comfortable with my offer, explaining to me that the lights were possibly of some supernatural origin, and that it was best to keep moving, quietly, according to the tales, and not risk a worsening of our situation.

But I did not like it, for I believed that there must be some more rational explanation for these events, although none came immediately to mind.

Perhaps these were the locals from some nearby village, local hunters, heading home, that had to be what it was.

And so, satisfied with my own simple explanation of the situation, I was not nearly as unsettled as the rest of the men, or our horses, when many more of the same silvery white lights suddenly began to appear on either side of us, and ahead of us, for surely it was likely that we would encounter more and more of these hunters returning home with the spoils of their profession as we came closer to their village.

There sure were an awful lot of them, though.

Hundreds, maybe.

Countless thousands of them, really.

And so quiet, you really had to admire the skill required for all these locals to move so silently through the underbrush on the forest floor.

The path and the forest all around us was much easer to see now, but the foilage still kept the hunters themselves maddeningly from view.

And now I could plainly see that the silvery white lights were closing in on us, gathering ahead of us, and growing stronger all around us.

Now the men were shouting wildly, and I did my best to follow them, but the light was becoming too bright to see anything beyond the mane of my own horse clearly, and brighter all the time, on beyond daylight, until even my own eyelids could not keep it out, no matter how tightly I shut them against it.

And so the world melted away into a blinding white light, and it was all I could do to hang on to my horse for dear life and listen to the sounds of the hooves and the rushing wind and the terrified shouts of the men, hoping all the while that my steed knew where it was taking us, and nothing else.

And then there was a period of timeless terror, and I know not how long we rode on like that until the light eventually dimmed, and to our great relief, it was daylight in the forest all around us.

And miracles above all other miracles, our horses had not left the path, and we had lost none of the men, and we even still had our lanterns in our hands.

Looking behind us, and thinking back at our folly as we trotted along, it made us laugh.

How easily had we been frightened nearly into a fit of madness!

By silvery lights in the woods!

Silvery lights in the woods indeed!

But at least we hadn't turned back!

Fancy having to tell the tale of how we hadn't managed to make it past a blockade of strangely terrifying silvery lights in the woods?

After all the perils we've been through?

Well we're just damn lucky our horses knew what to do!

Three cheers for our horses!

And while the men were applauding and laughing merrily and patting their horses on the necks, I happened to notice something peculiar off to our left.

Far off in the woods, moving beyond the tree trunks and leaves and branches and brambles.

Just a strange little spot of darkness, moving along with us, sending long tendrils of solid shadow spinning toward us in a dizzying way like the spokes of a giant wheel.

Almost imperceptible to the eye, even in the broad daylight, but something unmistakably vicious and hateful and deadly about its movements overwhelmed my senses and made it impossible to ignore.

And suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps the silvery lights may have had a point.

And apparently our stupid horses weren't so smart after all!

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