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Micheal Marrion loved his grandfather. He would sit watching his grandfather\u2019s hair and beard resting on his shoulders and breast with the same awe as one would watch the water of a waterfall move. When he was small he was allowed to make nests in his grandfather\u2019s hair, and for many years he believed he had been hatched from an egg in such a nest.
His grandfather would sing him songs of the mountains and the sea, but especially dear to both Micheal and the old man were the songs of the deep places of the earth, of avalanches invisible in the dark, of cold streams caroling alone through unsought caverns and whispering pits.
One evening the sun seemed to set blue and silver, and the man was silent, and quickly impatient with his dear boy. The next morning the man was gone from his bed before the boy came to wake him, and he was not to be found in any of the places where they were wont to play and talk.
Micheal went to the tea maker, with whom he was a fine, young friend. She was aged and bald, and wore many rough robes, and called the boy \u201cMaihel.\u201d Her head circled as she stirred her tea when she heard Micheal\u2019s story, and she drank many mouthfuls of tea before answering slowly.
She told him that one would come and show him what he was to do, and he would know this person by a smell, as of burning marigolds. Micheal lived with the tea maker for a day and a half. He was cutting wood for her fire when a piece fell in the pool by her house. When he reached for it, it floated away from him. He wisely did not pursue it further, but brandished his axe.
The water splashed, and when the broken surface cleared he saw a dark mass on the bottom that moved and changed form.
Then it stood up. What had seemed as small as a hedgehog in the water stood straight up like a fountain spout, without any liveliness or cheer, as tall as an old man and as narrow as a dog. As it passed up through the surface of the water it revealed, instead of black skin, a scattering of stale, party colors on a background of stone yellow. Its form was that of a very thin man with very short arms, robed and cowled in plucked chickens, or a small tower of large shrimps in continuous dispute over the ownership of their various members.
Micheal did not attack it immediately, not knowing its intentions, but he would keep his distance. This would be difficult, as the creature drew towards him as easily as the mast of a small ship, and, on leaving the water, careered after Micheal\u2019s fleeing feet like an angry and drunken inchworm.
Micheal was not much of a runner, though he loved to run. Yet he thought he would quickly escape this pursuer, which looped and stumbled impressively but aimlessly. It made a gurgling sound so deep in its body that it did not seem to belong to it.
In every clear space Micheal appeared to gain on it, but at any obstacle or slope, where Micheal was impeded, the chaser moved more quickly, so that it was close to Micheal many times. He stopped in a field and swung his axe threateningly. The creature twisted it from his hand with many claw like fins.
Micheal ran into a copse, but had only passed a few strides in, when he heard a sound like wet clothes and bread being torn. He turned on the instant, and saw his pursuer scattered over the leaf litter like rotted vegetables fallen from heaven.
He went nearer, and first realized how foully the creature smelled. But the moment he turned away from the remains he realized a very different smell nearby: that of burnt marigolds.
He could see no one, but the smell was strong enough for him to follow. It led him to the tree that stood nearest, which was understandable. He went round the tree and found no one, and decided to climb it. The moment he thought this the smell grew stronger, as if agreeing with him. He was a better climber than he was a runner, but he had difficulty with this tree. When among its branches he seemed unable to move in any direction. He climbed up further, but still could not move to the side, or tell if anyone else was in the tree.
He wondered if the tree realized how tall it really was. When he had looked up to the top from outside the tree, it was no taller than a young house, but now he continued to find branches above him when he must have been much higher than that.
The branches beside him suddenly yielded, and he slipped sideways. He found himself sliding down a green slope of leafy branches, amazed that he had not caught on a snag or splinter many times already.
Then he turned and saw that the tree was fashioned like a trumpet, and he was sliding down into the neck of it: a black hole leading down inside the trunk of the tree.
He saw, and the next moment was inside the trunk, and all light was gone. The contours within suggested a throat, but did not yield as he dropped and shook past them. In the branches above and inside the trunk he seemed to be sliding down farther than he had climbed up.
He came out into the light again between several roots which stretched, half exposed, down the side of a large bank. He came to rest at the foot of the bank in a pile of dirt, with bruised chin and knuckles.
The smell of burnt marigolds was gone, replaced by a new smell, yet a smell he seemed to remember: tangy, bitter-sweet, and flesh like. On the ground before him lay a boy his age, yet with the downy outlines of a beard he was far too young to have. His skin had a silvery sheen, and it seemed that he was contributing to some part of the smell, like a boy\u2019s choir in an orchestra.
Micheal crawled forward and bent over the boy\u2019s face. The boy smiled without opening his eyes, and tousled Micheal\u2019s hair, as though he did not need his eyes open to see.
The boy sat up cross legged, and said his name was \u201cMirien, a sylvan.\u201d
Mirien offered to feed him, and Micheal was glad to accept after his running, climbing, and falling. Mirien held a bow small enough to lose in a bowl of soup, every part thin as thread, and so constructed that it could be shot with one hand. It was not many moments before Mirien had brought down a creature of great beauty. It was like a large insect; each leg was long as a hand, and the back two were more than twice the length, like a katydid\u2019s legs; the shape of its head was like an old fox without ears; its body was cylindrical and long; its wings were longer than Micheal\u2019s forearm: translucent, full of blue, purple, and green iridescence.
Mirien took out a long, thin knife, and began preparing the catch.
\u201cThis is a faery. It needs a spellworked knife to cut them. Without it, even your axe would do nothing.\u201d
Micheal wondered how he knew about his axe.
Mirien made a spark into some tinder he had collected. Micheal was confused how he had made the spark: he seemed to have done it by tying various plants, and pulling the knot out swiftly. He boiled the faery meat with herbs he had gathered, in a pot he had skillfully constructed of leaves.
The smell of the cooking was intricate, floral, but with a distinct blood like smell which Micheal found rather disturbing. It added a wilder, less predictable or comforting aspect to the smells that surrounded them. Micheal was thankful he could not find the same taint in the taste of the food, which was tingling, warm, and surprisingly not medieval.
After the boys had eaten, Mirien said he would find Micheal\u2019s grandfather. He did not say it as if doing a kind deed, but as a man would tell a child, \u201cI\u2019ll do that for you.\u201d He told Micheal to move quietly in the forest, but Micheal had not a sylvan\u2019s feet, and the faery he had eaten was making him drowsy: he had not a sylvan\u2019s stomach either. Soon the undergrowth around them was full of threatening movement.
They saw a man finding his way through the forest ahead of them. A beast like a poisonously brilliant leaf-hopper, the size of a national anthem, darted upon the man from among the sounds that surrounded them.
There was a sound like a chirp plunged into water, and the beast fell dead. Micheal was startled that its blood would look so bright and human. He wondered with a sick feeling whether the blood had been taken from humans.
The man lifted his hand covered in blood: he had slapped his empty hand through the beast\u2019s face. Micheal thought of what Mirien had said about his axe, and was astonished. The man turned to them, and a voice came from both his hands: \u201cWe will kill more!\u201d
Mirien\u2019s lip was trembling; he loosed an arrow on the man. The blood misted from the man\u2019s hand, and the minute arrow stood still in the air. Then a whistle clambered down into the human range of hearing, and the dart floated slowly to light at Mirien\u2019s feet.
He stood poised like a deer, signalled Micheal silently to run, and sprang away. A lower sound seemed to levitate Micheal\u2019s very senses, but he was able to see the sylvan dart headlong into the side of a tree.
Micheal ran towards the man, fell to his knees, and begged him to let them go.
The man laid his hand on Micheal\u2019s face; a surge of movement and pain filled his head; his hair rose and danced.
Then the movement changed entirely: ringing through him from the fingers pressed to his face was laughter. Both hands laughed, but it was not exultant laughter. Micheal\u2019s hair rose again, and the laughter redoubled. One of the hands touched Micheal\u2019s nose, his hair swirled, and the hands clapped.
They left the hands of that man, and went on through the forest; though now the sylvan went more as a friend.
They came to a meadow. Mirien was uneasy. But as soon as they entered the trees on the far side, they saw Micheal\u2019s grandfather throned among the several trunks of a great tree, seemingly asleep.
Mirien pointed and began to say, \u201cHe is\u2026\u201d but Micheal again heard his silent signal to run, and when he turned the sylvan was gone.
Micheal ran to his grandfather, but was then surrounded by reaching forms.
Wild men, leaping like dogs on their hands and feet, with long, forest filled hair, and eyes like burning glass. Their cries sounded in his mind like memories of his mother\u2019s death.
Then there came the laughter of two, ringing voices, and a liquid tearing as though water was being killed by screaming birds.
The man wandered away leaving the meadow bathed in shivered flesh: the hands were well satisfied.
Micheal\u2019s grandfather woke immediately, and tried to dust some of the crumbs of grume from Micheal\u2019s shoulders.
\u201cThey were elves, as the sun had warned me. They took me only to draw you here: they need a virgin male human for their sacrifice, but a spirit greater than theirs brought it about to their ruin.\u201d
Micheal helped the old man down, and they passed into an opening among the roots of the great tree, down into the stony gardens, singing to each other\u2019s hearts.
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