The Wealding Word

The Wealding Word by A C Gogolski

Book: The Wealding Word by A C Gogolski Read Free Book Online
Authors: A C Gogolski
shadowy antlers.
    Now in the form of the gray beast, the creature nosed at a shape on the ground. Nell saw it was the satchel she had left by the well. The beast rooted into the bag, pulling forth a stringy bit of cloth with its teeth: Lexi’s apron. Flames suddenly rose up, veiling the creature from view. Nell’s vision turned toward an oak towering against the angry red sky. Sparks caught in its leaves, and soon fire leapt among the branches. The tree looked at Nell – fifty eyes pouring with sap. He was trying to tell her something, but she couldn’t hear him over the inferno. Then from out of the smoke lunged a black, twisted figure. “ Greenspeaker! ” it hissed. With a grip that crushed Nell’s wrist, it dragged her toward the burning oak. “Speak, speak for her!”
    Nell tried to scream out but the fumes filled her throat. A mounting pillar of fire had replaced the oak, wound now with a manacled chain. Just as the fiend was about to shackle her to the column, Nell awoke to Peter shaking her by the shoulders.
    “Nell, are you all right? You were shouting in your sleep.” The hermit knelt beside the pallet, a small book by his knee.
    Nell was out of breath, sweating where she lay. For a moment she couldn’t imagine where she was, and looked fearfully about the hovel. Then she recognized Peter’s face and remembered. “I saw a great fire. Tomkin was running and the old tree was burning. It seemed real,” Nell said, rubbing eyes which still stung from the imagined smoke. She felt more tired now than she had when she fell asleep.
    Peter considered her words, thinking hard and wondering at the fear in Nell’s face. Suddenly he rose and darted out of the hovel.
    Nell’s knees were those of a newborn foal’s. She wobbled to the door and found the hermit squinting toward the horizon, his hand at his forehead. All she could see was the expanse of reedy marsh around them, bordered in the distance by a line of red-budding trees.A brace of ducks darted overhead, wings squeaking. Dragonflies zoomed and insects chattered all around.
    “There,” he pointed. How the nearsighted old man could see anything beyond arm’s reach, Nell didn’t know. Yet he seemed confident that something was out there. “I thought I would be taking you home today, but there’s no time for that now. You’ll have to stay with me a little while longer.” Not waiting for a response, Peter hurried inside for his coat and bag.
    Nell could see nothing where he indicated, except a bit of haze against the crystal sky. Then she noticed something too: a small smudge climbing over the far trees. Somehow she knew at that moment her dream was real: the forest was burning.

    Nell had to run behind Peter as he trudged through the swamp. Beside Tomkin, few knew the marsh as well as the old hermit. He stopped only once to pluck several bloated, blue-striped mushrooms from a tree. It was an odd thing to do given their haste, but Nell didn’t question it. She was lost in thought, remembering the day of the hail storm when she met the oak. She knew that to get to that part of the forest from where they stood would take hours. Then an idea came to her, escaping her lips almost as it entered her head: “When I visited Lady Zel, she turned me into a bird and I flew back home. Can you change us into birds so we can fly to the forest?”
    “No,” he grouched, and it didn’t take long before Peter was grumbling again about “that thoughtless woman.”
    Nell kept quiet for a long time after that, sensing the old man’s irritability. Instead, she tried to listen on the inside as Peter had instructed. If any power from the Wealding Word still remained in her, she intended not to lose it. It didn’t take long for her to hear the urgency in the bird chatter. When they neared the borders, Nell saw several small herds of deer sprinting out of the forest for the safety of the water. She steadied Rawley with her hand, making sure he stayed

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