Branches tangled among themselves over the path, covering any hint of the sky above. Path was a generous name for that narrow run. Crowded on both sides by bushes and low branches, the atmosphere was oppressive. Night had not yet fallen elsewhere. Birds still called to the setting sun. But here the darkness was absolute.
Or should have been. There, waving back and forth, a light danced. Cheerfully dispelling the dark around it. On the lookout for fallen branches or mounds of dirt and rocks placed to trip a traveler. There was no fear here, no hesitation in the light’s dance. The footsteps were steady, clear, among the growing night sounds. I could hear humming.
Humming! Had they no fear?! Did they not know they walked – nay – trespassed – on land not meant for their kind? This land did not welcome those who called themselves civilized. Who left their marks upon hills and cut down forests. Who built cities against the wilderness. This was not that land, not that kind of forest. Here was a refuge, a land filled with secrets. It was not to be tread upon by fools who knew not its power.
I watched them walk down the path. Squinted. Perhaps they had taken precautions for this journey. Wore the signs of a supplicant come to beg for a wish. Had come to take a gamble with the fates as a last resort.
If they were a witch, carefree in the knowledge that they could handle the dark, I would see the wards. There would be evidence that they had knowledge. That they could protect themselves from the dangers that lurked here. That they knew how to barter.
Nothing of the sort was visible. How had they gotten so far? If they were one of those touched by the fey and under their protection, that would make sense. But those blessings shone through the skin. They were there to warn all to be on their best behavior. That this was someone one of the lords and ladies had taken a fancy to. We knew to leave them alone, those who ruled would not permit interference in their amusement.
But I saw nothing to warn or caution. Nothing to show they belonged here or knew where they were. They were fair game. That meant they would be tracked. Hunted. Looking further down the path I saw a shadow slinking out of the woods. Eyes glowing despite the darkness. Its footsteps silent as it stalked this prey.
The intruder stumbled into the clearing, breaking out of the woods without warning. They paused. Finally some hesitation. I smiled. Moonlight did not yet shine here. The clearing was dark and empty, surrounded by trees. The path gone. Perhaps they were not as foolish as I had assumed.
I watched them scan the clearing. The flashlight was useless to dispell this gloom here, but also its light was not needed. I knew the moment they saw it. Perched on a rock in the center, stillness blending with those solemn boulders, sat the Fool. It was impossible not to see me. I had designed this clearing for that purpose alone.
Behind them, my pet waited. Growled a warning. The intruder stepped forward now fully within my circle. If they ran, it would be over. My pet would take care of it. If they stayed – well this was more interesting than any other plans I had.
When I was certain I had their full attention, I stood. Would they run or stay? Either way, it was too late.
This is my entry into the April Simlit Short Story challenge. Vote here: April Submission & Vote. You get to vote for six stories (3 Veteran storytellers and 3 Novice storytellers.