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Vol. 1    Escape

Chapter Four

The Forbidding Forest


By Kenneth Mulholland

Revised 2/20/03

About this legend

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Copyright 2002 Kenneth Mulholland


The woods folk were astir before first light, and Corin awake and alert

before them.

When Finikin blinked the sleep away from his eyes, he found Corin

standing by the door, silhouetted against the sombre grey of the

vanishing storm-clouds.

The wind had dropped, and rain passed, leaving the stockaded yards

puddled and muddy. Smoke rose from the chimneys of cabins, and a cock

crowed, flapping his wings where he roosted at the entrance of the loft

over the barn in which Tocky the donkey was housed. All about that

man-made clearing, the forest loomed; the trees, still heavy with rain,

bending inward, as if to engulf the open space from whence they were


'We'll take a bite of breakfast afore we set out,' said the Kettler,

splashing water from a tin basin, given him by Anser, across his face

and wiping it dry. Already eggs were sputtering and bread toasting above

the coals on the hearth. Branikin, dressed in a great cloak of leather,

was pulling on boots and laughing with his children as they scuffled

amongst their bedding; reluctant to leave the warmth.

'I shall be glad to be away from here,' said Corin. And then, hastening

on, he added, 'only because I fear for the safety of all.' He shook

his head in amends. 'Mistake me not. I am grateful, and so shall be,

without the chance of repayment. It is simply that I bring a danger upon

any that I encounter, even so far from . . .' he paused, fearing to


'That be understood a' ready,' said Fin gently. 'I . . .we believe in ye,

young master. But have a care to where you would flee; Forbidding Forest

may keep you from those who search, yet worse than they await beneath

those eaves. Bide with The Jug and Kettle Man; I and my folk will take

you under the trees, and there ye should hide until time is right t'

come out again. Bran will give you work o' some kind, have no fear, and

here will be safe enough, when those who search have given up.'

For answer, Corin merely turned to the Kettler, smiling, though his eyes

held a dark depth wherein lay a certainty of what he must do. His gaze

fixed upon Finikin, so that the tinker felt suddenly stripped naked, and he

found himself again awed by something he did not understand.

'Well Master, if it be decided by you, then there's no more to say on

it,' he muttered, looking away to where Anser had set food and drink out

for them.



Breakfast over, the woodsmen, Finikin and Corin, assembled on the high

veranda. Umble and Rejus were amongst them, as were Ohen, Garb and

Niggan; the latter three appearing a little tired from their relief

vigils through the night, though no less merry, it seemed, to be off to


'Anser has packed ye a few morsels o' food and the like,' said Branikin,

offering Corin a bulging sack. 'Enough for five or six days, if you go


Corin nodded his thanks and slung the bundle over his shoulder, along

with that containing his weapons.

'There be all ye need t' get ye through; no matter if ye stay safe

within the outer limits, or head toward the mounts,' added Anser, from

where she stood in the doorway, her children clasped around her waist.

'And mind this much, young master; take care when ye drink o' the water.

Some running streams be clear and fit, but pools and soakage are nay

safe. Mayhap we will see ye again, when danger is passed. Come back and

welcome; tho' strange t' us ye seem, my dear husband here would give you

fair days' share for fair days' work.'


And Corin was aware, as he followed Bran and the other woodsmen, that

Anser and many of the womenfolk looked out at their going; and too, the

children watched as they played and jumped amidst the puddles on that

early morning, warming themselves with hopping games. Dogs barked,

winding amongst the legs of the foremost, eager to roam beyond the

bounds of the stockade: Pad, Rags, Chaser and Briddy, Bran's own,

leading the bunch.


Once outside, the animals forged a short way ahead, though kept in check

by the short whistles of the men, who began to sing as they walked. It

was a simple, rustic song, more of a chant, Corin thought, but their

voices were cheery and somehow dispersed his fears of what lay before

him, and indeed, that behind.

'Ho hey ho, a rollicking o.

A rollicking, jollying, frolicking o.

With seedling and axe to the woods we go,

to bring them down, and watch them grow.

Ho hey ho, a frolicking o.

We'll chop and reap, and plant and sow.

And never fear of any foe,

will halt us as we rollicking go.

Ho hey ho, a rollicking o.

The answer's always yes, not no.

New trees dug in, up will grow.

that we might hew, as on we go.

Ho hey ho, a frolicking o.

Though there be times of want and woe,

we work our way along and so,

ho hey ho, a rollicking go.

Growing up for fire's glow,

our work is always fast, not slow.

Ho hey ho, a rollicking o;

a frolicking, jollying, rollicking o.'



They followed the same wheel-rutted road that Fin had taken to reach the

woodsfolk on the previous night, until they came to a turning-point;

almost hidden amongst the old yews, that led off between them, north and

west. Many of the trees, Corin noticed, were young and flourishing along

that path where they wandered, and he also noted that the dogs held

closer to their masters than earlier.


The deeper they went, even amongst such new growth, the less easy became

the hounds; so that by the time they reached a clearing, open to the

sky, where sprouted scores of saplings rising upon a knoll, they were at

heel. Then, as if unleashed, the dogs sprang away, sporting and leaping

between the knee-high trees and the stumps of those, cut down before. At

that, even the woodsmen brightened again, savouring the fruits of their

own handiwork spread before them, with the backdrop of foothills all

thickly wooded in old, gnarled oaks.


'Well Fin, what do you think? We've done some since last ye saw the West

Holt,' said his brother, pointing his axe toward the wide space graced

by new growth.

'Indeed you have,' laughed the Kettler. 'At this rate you'll mow down

all Forbidding Forest in a lifetime or three.'

'However long, we don't mind,' said Umbel. 'This is our bit o' the

forest now. We planted it.' And there was pride in his words.

'You know friend,' rejoined Fin, slapping Umbel's back, 'one day, when I

be finished tinkering, I am for coming home. Mayhap I'll build a cabin up there here; who knows?'

'It'll needs be well tamed afore that,' muttered one of the men, whom

Corin did not know.

Branikin drew Fin and Corin aside, as the others, led by Umbel and old

Rejus, climbed the gentle slope where patches of yellow wild flowers

sprang up, there to begin spading and planting.

'We have a fair enough morn before us,' he said, staring toward the

northern, mist hung borders of the great forest. 'Like as not, we would

have stayed at home all the same, but for yer sake, Master Corin.

Winter's on us, work done this season. After today, we come no more to

the Holt till spring. Take my advice, and keep close t' the edge of the

forest. Roam too far, and ye'll lose yourself,' and turning to both Fin

and Corin, he ended; 'my brother knows enough of these wilds to take you

a short way. Tread wary, and farewell.'


Once after, Corin turned to look back to where the woodsmen laboured

upon the brow of the slope, there singing; 'Ho hey ho, to watch them

grow,' floating on the faint breeze. Then he set his gaze toward the

dark ranks of the trees, as he and The Jug and Kettle Man strode

forward, in company with two of Bran's dogs.

'Ah! dear Bran does na' trust me to find the way there and back again,'

chuckled the tinker. 'Sends a pair of his own to guide and guard.

Right-ho lads, off we go,' and so saying, he stooped to pluck a stick

from the deep grass and send it spinning. With a yelp, both were away

in pursuit, whilst Fin began a made-up version of the woodsmen's song.

'Ho hey ho, Forbiddingly o,

to find the path and lose yer foe.

I'll get ye there as soon as I can,

for dingling dell, I'm the Jug and Kettle Man!'

They were now quite close to the first of the straggling, twisted trees,

where began the real depths of the old forest. Indeed, as the pair

caught up with the dogs beneath the eaves of gnarled oaks, Rags and

Chaser suddenly halted, sniffing the air uncertainly. For a moment,

Corin thought that the animals were simply afraid to enter further; yet

when they turned their shaggy heads to catch the wind, staring in the

direction of the woodsmen, he and Fin followed their gaze. To Corin's

dismay, he saw a group of riders spurring up the curve of the hillock

toward those working at its summit.

'They be the same out of Ways End,' whispered Finikin, motioning Corin

after him. 'Hist, Rags, Chaser; come on boys! Bran will keep them busy

awhile afore they hit our road. By then we'll be well inside. Horses

don't like these parts overmuch.'


And so the dogs, Fin and Corin, hastened off between the shadowy trunks,

the sounds of their passing strangely muffled amongst the rotting leaf



After a time, beyond Corin's judgement, they came across a narrow path;

worn by the tread of unknown feet.

'Animals use this mostly, though my folk come in too,' muttered Fin,

casting about to get his bearings. 'Aye, here. There are crossings this

end. Mark you them and don't be fobbed. Sometimes these ways get mixed

up if ye don't mind.'


True to his word, there were other overgrown paths branching off this

way and that, and the occasional burble of water hidden amongst the

ferns and bracken. Roots curled and crawled across the floor of the

forest, and knotty branches stooped to crowd the dimness before them. It

was drier within than Corin had expected, yet upon looking up toward the

faint light filtering through the leafy mantle above, he realised that

even winter's heavy rains would hardly penetrate such close growing


'Perhaps that's a part of the reason why few ever come here,' whispered

Fin, guessing Corin's thoughts. 'Be it blowing a gale or pouring fit to

wash ye away, here inside is mostly still and dry; as if things never

change. As if Forbidding Forest makes its own rules, apart from all

outside. Gives me the creeps, it do.' He shook his head in a puzzled

fashion and trudged on until the dogs halted; tails tucked under rumps,

eyes showing the whites and teeth bared in silent snarls.


'Here is far enough,' said Fin, kneeling between the two. 'Even this

bold pair will go no further, not unless we carry 'em. Listen. Do ye

hear anything?'

Corin listened for a long breath, before saying, 'No, nothing.'

'Not a peep, is there. Just the trees hovering. Away above us day pokes

betwixt them, but nary a bird, a chirp sounds. It's unnatural. Animals

that do dwell here must go about on tippy-toes,' Fin said, standing, a

hand on each dog's neck. 'Well, I reckon this is where we part company,

Master Corin.'

The Kettler's face, though deep in shadow, held a troubled look. 'I had

some hopes that ye might change yer mind after seeing a mite o' this

place; but ye haven't.'

'No, friend. I must seek a path through to the mountains,' Corin

answered, smiling at the Jug and Kettle Man. 'Yet I shall not forget

your kindness, or that of those at Ways End, and your own kin and kith.

I tell you truly, but for they and you, I should have met a grim fate.'

The Kettler smiled in turn. 'I believe you. Only someone extremely desperate

would dare these ways...that, or a madman....'

He faltered a moment, whilst the other stood before him, unmoved. 'If we are questioned about you,'

he continued in some haste, 'all that we can tell is no more than we know: next to nothing.'

'And I doubt you will be punished for giving shelter to a stranger in

this wild end of the realm,' said Corin. 'That is why I cannot say more.

Leave me as a mystery, a madman, if you like; but forget not this much,

right was done by you and yours. No matter what is said after me.'

The light between them seemed to grow dimmer, even as these last words

were spoken; a trick of the forest perhaps, or maybe because of

deepening cloud above the thick, green mantle. Yet still Fin lingered,

whilst the dogs whined and the trees stirred, groaning amongst their

highest branches, where unfelt winds moved them.

'Here,' said the Jug and Kettle Man at last, reaching amongst the folds

of his garb, 'I have a parting gift; not much, but wear it if you will.'

He produced a felt cap, peaked and plumed with a bright feather, and

held it forward.

In silence, the stranger took it, setting it upon his head; and for a

moment, a gleam appeared in his eyes so that spoken thanks were not


'Well, at this rate,' Finikin went on, 'winter's gloom will have the

dogs and I homing in twilight, if we don't pick our paths right and get

lost ourselves. Follow the way ahead to a wide clearing. On the far side

o' that ye should find three tracks. Left one comes out again at

forest's edge, close to Ways End road. The other forks go further into

Forbidding, though how far, afore becoming overgrown, I don't know.' He

took a pace backward and the dogs curled about his knees, eager to be

gone; then, without another word, the Kettler turned and made off into

the gloom, down the faint-lit road that led to the West Holt, and thence

beyond to the warmth of cheery fires.


Alone, not for the first or last time, Corin remained motionless;

listening, adjusting his senses to the faint sigh of the breeze

somewhere amongst the topmost sweeps of the trees far above. On the

ground, nothing moved, before or behind, and yet he had the sensation of

some vague, pulsing being; the trees themselves? Did their sap rise and

flow, throbbing through root-veins and drooping arms, so that they

seemed to gloat around him, crowding in menace? Shaking these thoughts

and images from his mind, he began walking with resolute stride along

the winding, leaf-damp aisle. Through piled rubbish of seasons' drift he

strode, following that bleak track, until at last he ventured into an

open space, where threatening black of storm clouds hovered.


Upon the other side, Corin discovered the triple tracks, and chose the

right-hand fork. Later, toward the end of afternoon, he found himself

struggling through twisting vines and clinging, sticky greenery. With

the aid of his sword he cut a stout staff to aid his travels, using it

to push back the screen before him whilst he chopped away with the



Once, not long before nightfall, he came to a parting of the trees and

saw ahead an expanse of still water, surrounded by reeds. In the

shallows, a pair of fallow deer were taking their eventide sip; and he

watched, delighted, until they caught sight of him and timidly vanished

into the thickets.

Corin too, quenched his thirst, feeling safe to do so after observing

those creatures of the wilds, and decided to halt there until morning.

In the gloom, he searched for a suitable spot to rest, and discovered an

ideal place at the foot of an enormous tree. Its great trunk reared

upward, huge, knotted branches thrusting out, covered in long, dark

foliage that merged into the night above. At the base of this giant,

amongst the twisted roots that coiled about the soil in all directions,

he found a cleft large enough for him to scramble within; and there he

spent the night, wide awake, listening for any sound of danger. He ate

only a morsel of the food provided by the woodsfolk, feeling in little

need of such, nor sleep. Fire he could have made had he so desired,

for flint and steel were there, wrapped in a strip of leather, and dry

tinder of leaves to hand. But he chose not, satisfied to wait hidden

to any, man or beast, that might chance upon that place.


Later, some time after dark, Corin thought he heard a distant sound;

though what it was he could not tell: howl of wolf, or human voice? The

sound was not repeated, and he settled again, hoping that Fin and his

dogs were safe, and wondering whether the king's men had actually dared

to enter in pursuit and remain in the forest at night.



Morning, if that was what it could be called beneath the layers of the

forest eaves, grew out of seeping mists and swirling forms that resolved

into grey shapes. Colour, the colours of mottled greens and dun browns,

were yet subdued whilst the first, faint light insinuated the canopy of


Corin roused himself and stretched, still holding the sword

he had kept at the ready. About the pool before him all remained quiet

and still, but for the hint of rippling water, where it slid from its

source upstream, and disappeared at the further end beneath feathered


Gathering his few belongings, he turned to take in the slowly revealed

tree towering over him, and to his dismay he knew at once that it was

dying. Gaping cracks and wounds excreted its life sap, and huge galls

hung from trunk and bough, so that the faded beauty of the ancient giant

seemed the more poignant.

Even as disease ravaged its heart, it was yet so tall and stately, so dignified,

that Corin could not help biding a short time longer.

Somewhere, deep within his own being, a chord of

kinship seemed plucked.

'How old are you, and what have you seen? What do you know?' he asked,

his eyes filling to the brim with the sight of that unknown, failing

being before him.

A soft breeze ruffled the branches as he turned away, and it was like a

sigh that spoke of long ago; of birth and youth and growth, and happy

days under clear sky, when the earth was filled with vigour and no taint

lay upon the land whence, from the seed, the old tree had thrust its

first twigging.



Through all that next day, Corin followed the path, whilst it wound

deeper into the forest. Often he halted, seeking amongst the ever

increasing piles of decay and rubbish, built up over untold years, to

find the remains of that vanishing track where it wandered northward. At

length, the path completely lost, he pushed on into the tangle of shrubs

and brambles that covered the forest floor. He hacked a road with the

sword until his arm began to ache from the effort, forcing him to

abandon the stick, thus freeing both hands.

Only the vague hint of sunlight, piercing here and there, told of his

direction. About him, the deformed oaks seemed to crowd, enclosing him

in a gloating, secret stillness. Thorns clutched at him, tearing his

garb, and rank weed wrapped about his legs, clinging so as to trip him.

With firm resolve Corin cut away the prickly tendrils, aware that

patience was needed to overcome such obstacles lest he blunder into

further danger through haste.

And he covered his passing as best he could on the chance that others might follow,

though he saw that horses could not prevail amongst the thickets of dense undergrowth.


Nightfall was almost upon him. He cast about amongst the screen of deepening

shadows for a resting place, there being no reason to wander aimlessly in

the forest after dark, and chose to climb into the branches of a large



Later, hearing what was surely the howl of a wolf, he clambered higher,

hefting his belongings and feeling the way.

No moon lit that long night, but to Corin, wedged in a fork so that even

in sleep he could not fall, there came the soft rustlings and snuffling

of creatures beneath his perch. Toward the first glimmerings of dawn he

awoke out of a shallow doze, limb-sore from his constant, cramped

position. Silence. The yellowed leaves about him hung, limp in that

disquieting stillness.

For a time Corin waited, flexing his arms and legs to regain feeling

and drive out the coldness that had invaded them. All the while nothing

moved within sight, or sounded within hearing. It was as if the forest

lay emptied of any living creature, but for himself. Clasping his

belongings, he slowly descended, skinning an elbow in the doing.

At the foot of the oak he drew the blade and stood there, unmoving as a

stone. His breath misted the air, hovering in the cold.

He took a step.

A grey blur hurled itself toward him; snarling, raking, snapping with

fearsome teeth. They met, the wolf beating him down with the weight of

its body, even as the sword bit through its rough hide.

A squeal, that ended in a dying yelp, resounded through the trees.

Corin struggled free of the animal, reaching for his weapon, his grasp

broken by the savage onslaught. Shaking, he drew the hilt from the

wound, and turned in time to face the mate of the dead wolf, where it

lurked, red eyes ablaze with absolute rage. There was no time for fear

or bravery, no time to guess as to how many of the beasts beset him.

Corin had but a swift glimpse of this gaunt-ribbed foe, stained fangs

dripping, before it flew at his throat, growling out a rage and a

challenge and a revenge all at once.

Locked together, the pair crashed amongst the undergrowth, the wolf 's

foul breath filling Corin's nostrils with a stench of stale blood and

rotting flesh. The sword slipped from his fingers, useless at such close

quarters, and he gripped the creature's throat to ward off the snapping

mouth with both hands. Thrashing wildly, the beast clawing at his body,

Corin could do no more than hang on with all his strength until, with a

desperation dredged from the fear of pending death he threw the wolf off

and twisted to his knees. And even as he so did it was upon him again,

teeth sinking through garments and into his shoulder.

Hard home Corin drove the knife drawn from his belt, the wolf choking

on its own bite, kicking out the blazing flame of life in a rattle and

snarl, determined to inflict pain as it received the like.


Suddenly, it was over. The wolf's head hung gaping into Corin's face,

the tongue twitching, the eyes open and white. Shaking with fear and

shock, he managed to heave his foe aside and struggle to his feet,

mindful of further attack.

Yet none came.

The Forbidding Forest was again still and silent.

Blood trickled down his arm as Corin retrieved the sword and the bundle

containing food, bow and quiver. For one, swift moment he gazed down at

the dead beasts at his feet, and a feeling of sadness, mingled with

relief, swept over him; pity he felt, even for such as those two

gaunt corpses lying amongst the mouldering leaves of time's decay.

'Wolves too struggle for survival,' he muttered, tearing a strip of

cloth from his undershirt to stay the bleeding, and hoping the wound

would not fester.


With trembling legs he made off, again pushing into the resisting

depths, only the dull light from the west-rising sun to guide his feet




Later that same morning, he stumbled upon an outcrop of stones, and to

his surprise, saw that these were hewn and placed in such a way that

they formed some kind of long forgotten, long untrodden causeway,

hidden, for the most, beneath layers of creeping roots and rotting, moss

covered matter.

His curiosity aroused, he determined to follow that ancient road, at

least whilst it led toward the distant mountains beyond the forest. And

so cut a path onward between the encroaching trunks of once mighty oaks,

now past their prime, or stricken by some dreadful blight that

disfigured and maimed them to a point where they appeared like ghostly

visions leering down at him. Their naked limbs twisting over the greyness that seeped from beneath,

coiling through mists of shadow.

It was then that Corin heard the sound of running water in a dell

filled with ferns that dropped away to the west. Leaving the long, lost

road, he ventured toward the rattle of the stream to find it cool and

clear, trickling over blue pebbles where an opening allowed the light

of sky above. Corin dipped his hands into the flow, sprinkling it over

his face, though not daring to take a draft, the words of the woodsfolk

keeping him wary.


After a short space of rest and a mouthful of dried fruit, he took to

the chill runlet, splashing from side to side along a considerable

distance, the better to lose himself from any man or wild creature that

might hunt those forlorn, distant ways.



Late afternoon, he clambered up a steep bank, brushing through briar to

force an entry into the overhanging gloom; and so, whilst night fell and

silence became ever oppressive, Corin again sought the safety of the

trees. Tucked aloft an ash bereft of foliage, but shrouded by other

evergreens untouched by disease, he remained motionless, hearing only

the sighing wind. No creature, bird or beast, had he encountered since

the attack by the wolves, and yet he felt convinced that the

darkness harboured things: creeping, slithering, groping; things

wandering, some aimless, blindly foraging prey, others scenting,

stalking, slipping through all the secret vastness of that great sea of

malignant trees.


In the quiet of the last moments before dawn, he was awoken from a

troubled dream by a sound that almost caused him to tumble out of his

lofty hold. It came as an invisible hand might come, to clutch at the

heart with fear of the unknown. No wolf or human throat could make

such sound, such hoarse bellow that curdled the blood in its abrupt

halt, as if gigantic jaws had snapped down, engulfing with utter



Afterward, climbing through the dismal riot of undergrowth, he wondered

if the sound had been only an echo of terror, a phantom within his own



The pale streaks of morning etched out dim, contorted forms before him

that resolved into a tumbled mass of trees, some fallen aslant, others

tilted at drunken angles on the brink of collapse. A fine mist filtered

through the wretched roof of twisted boughs and dense, despairing

leaves, so that the air seemed cloying, suffocating.

Corin could hear his breath, even, he fancied, the thumping of his

heart, as he plunged ever deeper, losing and finding the broken

stone-way over and again until it dwindled beneath bramble thickets

impenetrable to any blade or axe. For a time he stood, gulping the

moisture laden air and staring at the notched sword, useless for such

task, in his begrimed hand. Then he lifted his eyes, and between a gap

where day thinly filtered he caught his first glimpse of the

Tumberimber at so short distance.

The vision almost overpowered him. Close loomed the cliffs, thrown aloft in stark

contrast to the forest. Grey was the stone of them, grey and ever-there;

and peering upward, he saw that they became lost amongst the shrouding



With uplifted spirits, Corin began to skirt the barrier of thorns,

making off in a north-east line where the going offered least

resistance. By nightfall, he told himself, he could be at the foot of

those majestic bastions, and on the morrow he would seek some high pass

and begin to climb.


But the day grew toward an end, and he found himself little advanced.

Before him, the land sloped downward and an unpleasant odour seeped up

to meet him. The further he roved, the worse became that stench, and the

lower sank the going, so that it became no more than slimy mire through

which he waded, each step an effort in the sucking bog. The trees now

were festooned with vines and creepers, and oozed huge globules of

sticky, putrescent sap that fell across his head and shoulders, clinging

and binding into a web about him, so that he began to feel as a fly

might, caught in some vast spider's lair. The trunks and grotesque limbs

and roots became entangled until all merged together, and he had the

chilling feeling of being trapped forever within their grasp as he

squeezed between the boles, squelching underfoot the fleshy leaves of

unknown trees fallen from above.


Light was limited to faint shafts that danced and moved in the dimness

ahead, and the only sound in the dank, deadened air was the soft

plip-plop of dripping liquid. Panting with exhaustion and fear, Corin

paused in an attempt to regain his bearings, and to his distress,

uncertainty tugged at the corners of his mind. Staring with wide, wild

eyes, he saw that all now looked the same. Nowhere was there an

indication of the direction he should take.

Then his gaze fell upon a form squatting motionless in the gloom. It was

that of a huge toad, the size of a full grown hare, and it seemed to be

watching him. Suddenly, it leaped into the darkness and vanished.


Alone again amongst the ghastly shapes that seemed to loom over him,

Corin went forward, constantly hampered by the network of roots and

vines and the sinking slush that sucked at his feet. Evil brooded there,

in the deeps of Forbidding Forest, and it was plain enough why those who

ventured inside seldom returned whole of mind, If they returned at all.

Several times he tried to gain a footing in the trees, but without

success, the trunks were too slippery, and even his blade could not cut

a hold in their leathery skin.



In the dead of night, he was startled from a sleep borne of fatigue and

hopelessness by the shrilling and fluttering of many creatures beating

through the branches. Bats they were, score upon score, rustling and

shrieking on the wind of their wings, to fade into the remote recesses

beyond, leaving him shaken, a cold sweat upon his brow. Mists curled

about him, weaving with ever changing forms, almost like phantoms on the

fetid air, and he wondered if the moon somewhere above Forbidding

Forest might shed the palest beams to allow him some faint sight. Once

more, a terrible moaning howl echoed across the wilderness. Far away it

seemed, though no less shocking, and Corin, helpless in the murk, could

only shrink into the gap amongst snaking roots where he had made his

bed, and wait for morning.



When that came he crawled out, slipping in the foul ooze, his garb and

body soaked and caked in freezing slime. Before he could rise to his

feet, his hands fell upon brittle objects that crumbled and splintered

with the pressure. Almost in a detached way, he realised that he had

broken the rib-cage of a skeleton, human, as best he could make out.

Vines and roots grasped at the bones and twisted through the

sightless sockets of the gaping skull, a breath from his own face. With

a sudden start of horror, he jerked free of the gruesome find to stare

into another face, this one filled with slit-eyed malice!

An arm's length away, the toad regarded him with a hunger that chilled

his very marrow. It was a brute of its kind, sitting above the picked

bones on the torn branches of a rotting tree. And in the swirling mists

which eddied beyond, Corin perceived other like forms, scores of them,

all waiting, gloating; and he knew that they waited for him.

Taking hold of his fears, he drew the sword and stood. There was a

watchful silence, the creatures following his every move, as he stepped

amongst their fat, glistening bodies; and then they launched themselves

at him!

Some struck with such force that they almost brought him tumbling amongst

them. Others smote his mouth, his eyes and nose with sickening impact,

their vile stench filling all Corin's senses so that he reeled onward,

fighting them off even as he plunged into pools of black, viscid liquid

that threatened to drag him under.


Blindly, he thrashed clear of the revolting bogs, shaking free the last

of the clutching, clawing creatures, and gasping for air, stumbled

onward to firmer ground. Had it not been for The Voices ringing within

his head, urging him on, Corin might never have found the strength

needed to climb out of that nightmare land of doomed trees and evil

beings, and up into higher ways where day's light filtered fitfully



Eventually, he was able to walk forward without slashing a path, though

weakened from long toil, his whole body racked with pain

and exhaustion. His boots were caked and covered in crusting mud and

trailing creepers. His body, from crown to shanks, was sticky with sap

and slime, and to his dismay, he realised that the bundle of foodstuffs

given him by the woodsfolk had been lost somewhere in the depths behind.


And yet, he was relieved when he glimpsed a thinning of the trees and

the sky beyond. With a low cry, he staggered on until he broke clear of

the last stragglers of the Forbidding Forest, and there stood, swaying

before the raised cliffs that were the tall, grey, sentinel walls of the