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Tale of the Heartwood

When the standing stones called, you answered. Everyone in Heartwood knew that.

Edmund knew it, too, and when he was little, he waited to hear them. He was sure they’d call him young – the youngest of anyone in the village – because he was special. More special than the others. More special than Mother and Father knew. More special than any of his brothers and sisters.

They called him Moody Mundy, but they’d be sorry when the standing stones called and the villagers draped him in flowers.

But they didn’t call him when he was eight harvests old. Nor when he was ten or twelve or fourteen harvests.

He doesn’t hear them until he is eighteen harvests old and already a subject of gossip in the village. No interest in marriage as the village girls aren’t good enough for him. No trade or skill to speak of. Edmund couldn’t be bothered with the mundanities of life. He knew in his heart his time would come, and when the stones finally sing out – deep like the earth, sweeping like a windstorm – he feels a thrill of vindication.

Mother weeps. Father drinks. The villagers weave garlands for his neck and head and sing to his good name.

Edmund hears only the call of the stones, of his destiny.

He leaves in a parade, the stars sprayed across the midnight blue sky like festival lights. The villagers will celebrate all night – eating and drinking and dancing until the red sun chases them all to bed.

Not Edmund.

He strides forest, heady with the wet, green smell of meadow grass and flowers, feeling the soft, warm breeze brush across his skin. He drags his boots to rid them of the dust from the silly, staid village glowing behind him and takes big, heaving gulps of air until he’s so dizzy he giggles.

The standing stones call, vibrating in his bones.

Edmund runs into the trees, spins under their dark canopy with their twined and twisted fingers, and finds himself surrounding by mist. It clings low to the ground, dense and sinuous, flowing around his feet like a stream as it pushes him deeper into the forest.

The song of the stones is in his heart now, in his blood.

It draws him miles from home, miles from Moody Mundy, to a bare hilltop where they stand in a circle. Craggy sentinels with faces as old as the earth, staring at Edmund as he stumbles into their midst, panting and smiling despite the thin scratches that lace his arms from running through the trees.

The call of the standing stones rises until it almost hurts Edmund’s ears. Then it drops into sudden silence.

Which is when he sees the first light.

It drifts from the darkness, blue like the sky, flitting from here to there as it makes its way toward him. It hovers near his arm, and Edmund thinks he can see something in it – a little figure perhaps. It lands on him, light as an insect, tickling him, but he’s too entranced to move.

Until it pricks him. He yelps and raises a hand to swat it, but it floats away and hovers just out of reach.

Edmund looks around the circle of the standing stones, a little lost. He was here, where they had called him. Where was his destiny?

Two more floating lights appear from the forest – green and gold.

Then three more after that. And five more after that. Until there are dozens upon dozens upon dozens.

They glide toward him, closer and closer until they are a twinkling wall of sky blue, spring green, sun gold.

Quite pretty, Edmund thinks.

Three of them dive toward him, pluck at his skin and clothes. He tries to dodge away, but they rip him by cloth and by blood.

Edmund stares at his new wounds, at the glowing lights all around them, and panic squeezes his lungs.

He is too shocked to even scream as the lights swarm down and bury him under the watchful eyes of the stars.

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