Continued from Part I…
I was very soon distracted from the flower incident; the path widened on up ahead, and the trees started to thin. What I had first thought was a deep wood was turning out to be only a very dense strip of trees. I looked back towards the bridge, and although it was only 100 yards or so away, it was no longer visible. The path was a very nicely-kept walkway, free of any of the normal litter that covered forest floors: dead leaves, pine needles, bark. In fact, the entire floor of the woods was clean. Nothing but rocks and little flowers and shrubs and dirt for as far as I could see. Rabbits peered curiously from around the bases of trees and a hawk watched me carefully as I walked past him. Suddenly, he swooped from the tree and rushed towards the rabbits. To my surprise, he landed next to the rabbits and began harshly whistling or screeching softly in the way that hawks do. The rabbits seemed to be listening, but they spotted me and hurried away in a flurry of feathers and fur.
“That was odd,” I muttered to myself as I turned to start back on the trail. As I walked towards Eastern opening of the woods, I noticed that the trees ended and a beautiful green field stretched out before me. Like the wood around me, the field was free from the mar of death and decay. The grass stretched on to meet the horizon; although, I thought I could make out the blurred outline of trees in the distance. The trees rimmed the field on either side as far as I could see. Soon, the sound of singing reached my ears. The songs that were sung varied widely in tone and volume–from sad, dirge-like songs to happy, quick melodies filled with mirth and joy. It seemed to me as though the singers were struggling to master a sadness that had been thrust upon them.
The voices gradually grew louder, and I saw the strangest sight coming through the fields. A group of children was coming towards me, sometimes trudging along as if they had lost their dearest friend, and at others times frolicking and dancing through the grass with great joy. As the distance between us was reduced, I saw that the lead child wore very fine clothes, almost as if he were a king. The rest of the company was also arrayed as if they were a tiny party in company of their lord. I caught fragments of their songs as they sang. The words were strange and the rhythm was not familiar to me.
…for that no longer is, yet was, as we are now,
for when it is, none may be,
but that we are, it is our share,
and all who enter our land fair;
freely all may pass and tarry yet for a while,
yet to stay it is not wise,
and too long a visit against such is told,
a peril and many will come to the old;
the cursed we are that once were free,
yet saved from the full, we bear now the part,
stay with us here, and dine with us now,
but stay, thou cannot, this you must vow…
It was then that I realized that they had a great platter of food in their midst. “Sit down, stranger. Rest awhile and build regain your strength, for in truth, I see you have traveled long.”
Indeed, I had wandered for a while. In fact, I realized that the night must be drawing near, yet when I looked towards the sky, the sun seemed not to have moved at all! I asked the leader about this peculiarity, and he replied that I would know what I needed, eventually. We ate our food, and what food it was! The meal was served in such a way that I was reminded of the picnics out in the fields behind my own home, when I was yet a child. Still, the food itself was royal fare. The game and fire-roasted vegetables and various tubers were fantastic. With the meal came a wine that was exceedingly sweet, and soon after downing a glass, (for the little people even had wine glasses) I fell fast asleep.