Good children stay safe in their beds when the sun has set over the Blackwood. To rise at night and travel through the dark wood is to forsake all reason and to court folly. By the light of day, the Blackwood is a wild land without mercy for the foolish, but at night the magic in every leaf and stem, or brook and cave shines forth. Even the bravest hunters only take to the darkened Wood at great need, and they invoke all that their ancestors may provide to do so.
Once, when I was a girl, there was a boy just my age named Georg. He was a vain and foolish boy, and all the children were wary of him because he was fond of going out into the Wood. He would journey out in the morning and sometimes not come back until well after midday meal. One boy saw Georg balancing on logs and climbing over rocks, and heard him laughing and carrying on like he thought he was an elf. Some people heard him say that he wanted to talk to the elves.
Well one morning, the children were all playing on the village green when they we spotted Georg peering out from behind the village elder’s hall. His face was pure white, and he beckoned us to join him. One boy ran over to see what he wanted, and when he returned he said “Georg has a story to tell us. He says it’s important.” So we all ran after Georg until we had found a shaded spot behind a woodcutter’s hut.
It was there that Georg told us his tale. The night before, after his parents had gone to sleep, he snuck out of their hut and went into the Wood. He couldn’t find the elves in the day, so he would try the wood at night. Oh, he knew the stories, but he thought that he knew the Wood well enough to walk it after dark.
He told us that the wood twisted and turned all around him. Clouds covered the moon, and at every turn there was a raking branch or tripping root to waylay him. At one point, he had to crawl through a thicket he had fallen into, and just when he though he would make it no further, he stumbled out into a torchlit clearing. The sky was black overhead, and a great hall loomed large before him. Strange music could be heard coming from within the hall, and his courage led him to the door.
A tall man with rich clothing and a strange face welcomed him inside. “You have entered Waldenhall, child. Come, and behold wonders!” There, Georg saw many thing that none of us believed. He saw great deer holding feasts at table, and squirrels fighting duels in the rafters. There were women with light in their hair, and tiny folk with greedy faces. They told him they were elves, and that he was welcome in their hall to make merriment and eat well. He sat at their table and shared their food and drink. He listened to their many fine minstrels, and laughed at the stories they would tell.
In time, he came to notice a dark figure in the corner. He was squatting on a shelf, and looking at him was like stepping into a dream. The figure’s skin was an iron-heavy shadow, and his eyes were red like two wells of blood. The very walls seemed to slip and twist around him, and it was impossible to break his gaze. Georg didn’t move from the table all night, yet he felt as though he had been pursued through backwards corridors for hours. He escaped and made his way back to the village, but he only found his way after the sun rose. He had been awake all night, yet he could not rest, for fear of being pursued by the shadow creature.
We all laughed at him and named him a fool, and went about our play. He remained there for some time, then sulked off to the cottage of his parents. They whipped him for going into the Wood, and sent him to bed with no supper. We all had fits in our sleep that night, and when we woke we found that Georg had died. His father found him stock still and blue as a deep pool. His chest was covered in bruises, like he had been crushed, and all the children recalled the image of the crouching figure in the woodland hall, and how Georg swore that it seemed like an unnaturally weighty fellow.
Good children do not seek the wood after dark, and wise adults know why. Too often do they hold service for loved ones who tempt the tangled depths, and don’t even leave a body to bury. Be a good child, for your father’s sake and for mine.