His leather-soled shoes treaded softly on the forest floor. The spring air flowed like liquid water to his limbs every time he breathed in, and the wind gently probed through the dead leaves, carrying off the stale smell of winter. Tender green leaves greeted the world with shy, wet-wrinkled eyes, just as their predecessors had greeted the same forest a millennia ago. The trees were ancient, tall and dignified, whisper-singing their never-ending joy at spring’s appearance, speaking curiously of him as he passed.
He was a hunter, melding into the forest like the night that creeps into its branches. He carried a long slender bow, its handle worn smooth by hours of practice and use. His eyes were like sunshine on summer leaves, his shorn hair dark like rain-wet bark. Soft leather shoes searched soundlessly for the quickest path. Only his breathing would give him away, but that too blended into the whispering of the leaves.
His people were the rulers of this forest. They knew its paths and trees, but none knew better than him. He had often come to walk here, to listen to the leaves whisper, to slow his mind down, keeping time with the ancient trees.
The forest itself was a legend. Its antiquity betrayed few secrets, but some remembered a tale within a tale, which spoke of the old masters of the trees. To most, they were all but forgotten, a story to be told on days when the rain pittered on the roof and made men go indoors. But sometimes, when he leaned into one of the forest giants, his heart slowing and beating to the pulse of the earth, listening to the wind, he heard something in the leaves that wasn’t quite the breeze. Then his summer-colored eyes would snap open, but the leaves would only continue their normal whisper-giggles at his antics.
Today he was in search of the golden-brown doe whose track had led him thus far. Her movements were slow and steady, and he was sure he was catching us. He studied the ground carefully, gently putting his fingers to the hoof-marked soil. Hmm. There were other, lighter tracks beside them, smooth soles of man-made shoes. So another wanted his prize. It was a race then. He broke into a silent jog.
At length his pace slowed. The tracks were a few minutes fresh. His stealth doubled. The deer would be fast and cunning.
Ah, a clearing. Grazing space. The sun dappled the grass and the white-blue and yellow flowers growing there. The doe would not pass such grass up. He slid behind a tree to wait, his hands scraping against the thick, rough bark to snatch an arrow; he fluidly knocked the missile into place. The wind continued its swirling dance among the treetops.
Then the dappled sunlight glinted golden from behind a tree. In a fractional second the string of the bow was pulled taunt, and the arrow let fly. The missile had found its mark. And the “deer” turned.
Crystal-blue eyes widened, her chaffed pink lips parted in shock. Sunstreaked blonde locks fell over leaf shaped ears as the slender body redoubled from the force of the blow. Spiderlike white fingers touched the tipped arrow that protruded from her graceful breast, and the sun glinted red off the priceless blood.
Her wintery eyes met his summer ones, their ancient depths betraying secrets that the trees never did tell. The wind ceased in the treetops, and in the vacuum of silence his trained ears strained to catch her slow, rasping intake of breath. He held his own breath, as she closed her eyes, and lifted her face skyward. The sun caressed her already glowing features as she opened her eyes to behold the sky whose color so closely mirrored her own orbs, just to see the trembling tree-tops one last time. Then she exhaled as she slowly sank to the ground, her lithe form now lifeless.
The rest of the forest was still wrapped in a shocked, ringing silence, as the last of its old masters collapsed into its very arms.
He stood there for a moment, not daring to breathe. Then, dropping his bow, he turned and ran.