by Mark Bilokur
The huntsman goes into the woods. The huntsman follows animal tracks, footsteps of beasts that lead him deep into the woods. The deeper into the woods he goes, the wider the trunks of the trees around him. The deeper into the woods he goes, the taller the trees, the more branches and leaves, the darker it gets around him. The darkness grows, and soon the huntsman can no longer tell if it is afternoon, evening or if it is just the darkness around him.
He keeps moving, deeper into the woods. In the growing darkness, the huntsman loses sight of the tracks, but still he keeps moving. There are wolves in the woods. He feels, he knows this. He circles around, looking around, searching for the light of the open sky but finds none, sees only leaves, branches and darkness above him. He tries heading back, but the huntsman is no longer sure of which way is forward, which way is back. He circles around; he keeps moving. The huntsman feels, knows he is lost. In the darkness of the woods, he can no longer tell if it is twilight, if night has already fallen or if it is just the darkness around him.
The huntsman keeps moving, deep in the forest. He gathers branches from fallen trees. He finds a clearing. In the center of the clearing, he makes a circle of stones, piles the branches inside the circle and lights a fire. He sits in the glow of the fire, in the circle of light. There he feels safe from the shadows, the darkness, and he sits there, stays there, still.
As the huntsman sits in the circle of light, he starts telling stories to ease his fears, stories and fairy tales about the woods and the wild. He tells a story of a wolf who puts on the skin of a sheep. The wolf wears the skin as a disguise, to get closer to a flock of sheep, to make his hunting easier. The hunter tells how the wolf is taken for a sheep and taken away by the sheep herder, away from the flock. As the hunter tells his story, he sees a pair of eyes appear outside the circle of light. The hunter continues his story, tells how the wolf, mistaken for a sheep, is taken into the house and cooked in a cauldron for the family dinner.
Outside the circle of light cast by the fire, the hunter sees another pair of eyes appear, and then another. Then another, and another, and another. Soon the huntsman is surrounded by a circle of eyes. The huntsman sees light in the eyes all around him, eyes reflecting the light of the fire or burning bright from within.
The huntsman sits there, and the huntsman stays there, the huntsman goes on telling stories. He tells the story of a girl in the woods who meets a wolf. The wolf asks where she’s going and she naively tells him, she’s off to visit her grandmother’s house. When the girl starts picking flowers at the wolf’s suggestion, the wolf runs off to get to the house first. The huntsman tells how the wolf sneaks into grandmother’s house, kills the grandmother, and then cooks her for supper. He tells how the wolf puts on grandmother’s clothes, crawls into grandmother’s bed, and lays in wait for the granddaughter to appear. When the girl comes into the house, the wolf offers her the supper still cooking on the fire. When the granddaughter is ready for bed, the wolf asks her to remove her clothes and throw them onto the fire. The girl notices how grandmother doesn’t look like grandmother, with such big eyes, much bigger than grandmother’s, with such big ears, with such big teeth. He tells of a huntsman who comes and saves the girl, cutting open the wolf and filling it with stones, so when the wolf stumbles out of the house, it falls into a well and drowns.
The huntsman turns to look into each pair of eyes, one by one, as he keeps telling stories. The huntsman tells the story of three pigs and the houses they build, and of a wolf that tries to eat the pigs. He tells of how the wolf knocks down the house of straw, and knocks down the house of wood. He tells of how the wolf tries knocking down the house of brick, and tries, and tries, and the house stays standing, still. The huntsman tells how the wolf sneaks into the house of brick, down a chimney, only to fall into a big pot of water and be boiled for the pig’s dinner.
He tells the story of two giant wolves, Skoll and Hati, who will swallow the sun and the moon when it comes time for the end of the world. He tells of their father, the giant wolf Fenrir, caught and bound by the gods of the North at a lake called ‘pitch black.’ He tells of how Fenrir is bound there until the world ends, until the sun and the moon are swallowed and the stars disappear from the sky. When the world ends, the huntsman says, the ground will shake violently, the trees will be uprooted, the mountains will fall and all the bindings around Fenrir will break. When the world ends, he says, only then will the giant wolf be free. When the world ends, he says, then and only then will Fenrir go forth, the upper jaw of the giant wolf touching the sky and his lower jaw touching the earth, and flames coming out of the wolf’s eyes and nostrils.
The fire burns in the center of the circle; the earth is quiet, the trees seem to bend down to listen. The huntsman sits there, still. He doesn’t notice the darkness beyond the circle of light, beyond the leaves and branches; he sees only the bright circle of eyes around him.
One bright pair of eyes moves closer, steps out of the darkness. Surrounding the eyes, the hunter sees the biggest, blackest wolf that he has ever seen. The wolf moves towards the center of the circle, to the fire and to where the huntsman sits. The huntsman stays there, still. The big black wolf walks close to the huntsman, close enough to feel the huntsman’s breath. The wolf sits.
“Thank you for your stories,” says the wolf. “We have not heard such tales as these before. As you have honored us with your stories, we would honor you in return. If you wish, please allow us to share with you.”
The huntsman sits and stares. Such things only happen in fairy tales, he thinks, fairy tales and dreams. Surely this wolf, so big and so black, seems to be a beast born of nightmares, and yet this big black wolf speaks with more respect and courtesy than most men, something not so clearly seen or reflected in the stories he’s been telling, the stories and fairy tales. Such things only happen in fairy tales, he thinks, and yet the tales he’s told are not so true as this. The huntsman sits there, still.
After a few moments, the wolf bows his head politely. “As you will,” says the big black wolf, and starts to move, to leave.
“Yes! Yes, if you please,” says the huntsman. “I will! I wish it.”
One by one and one after another, the wolves come out of the darkness and come closer to the fire. Some sit, some stand, some lay down, and one by one the huntsman sees and recognizes each pair of eyes he has looked into, wolf after wolf after wolf. He is surrounded by the wolves as he was before, only now more closely, much more closely, all of the wolves in the circle of light. The huntsman is close enough to hear their breath.
Some of the wolves close by the fire start panting, and the big black wolf begins to tell of a leaf in the wilderness. He tells of a leaf upon a branch, a branch with many leaves, a branch upon a trunk with many branches, each of these branches with leaves. He tells of a thick-trunked tree with branches that reach through the sky and roots that go deep into the earth, a tree as big as the world, one among the many trees in the wood and the wild. He tells of the many trees, their leaves and branches, tells of their roots, of how they grow and how they dance and sway while rooted to the earth; he tells of how they sing. The huntsman recognizes the oaks, the cedars, the pines in the story of the big black wolf, only the names are different, and the descriptions are much more full and vivid than any he remembers hearing, as if the wolf had learned from the trees, is speaking for the trees themselves.
As the huntsman listens to the big black wolf, he hears the panting of some of the wolves by the fire, hears a rhythm in their breath that the words of the big black wolf seem to follow. The huntsman follows the words and the rhythm and the breath of the big black wolf, and another wolf joins in the breath, in the rhythm, telling of some of the plants in the woods, their leaves and flowers, their stalks and roots, and how the many plants sing.
Another wolf joins in, and tells of the birds who live in the trees, and the words of this wolf weave in with the song of the trees from the big black wolf and the song of the plants from the other wolf, and the huntsman realizes the wolves are not just telling stories, they are singing, and every song is true. Another wolf joins in, singing of the rocks and stones and earth all around, and another wolf sings of the rivers and streams, and another joins in, singing a song of the stars, and another, and another, until all the wolves are singing. As the huntsman listens to their song, he hears and learns so much more than he ever dreamed about the woods and the wild. The world as he once knew it seems upside down and backwards. Such things only happen in fairy tales, he thinks, and yet the tales he thought he knew are not so true as this.
The huntsman closes his eyes to listen, and he follows the songs of the woods, hungry to know more, to learn more. He begins to notice other rhythms in the singing, other patterns in the words, the melodies, the harmonies, all weaving and flowing together. He listens, and as the songs turn into dreams, he follows them, tracks them. He listens, and he can no longer tell if he is awake or asleep. The words, the world seems to glow with a light that shines, that flows through everything like the song. He opens his eyes, he closes them, he no longer knows the difference.
More and more wolves join in the song, and as the huntsman follows, he recognizes more of the flowers, the plants. The huntsman recognizes more of the trees, the branches, recognizes the song as the place they are in, deep in the woods, in a circle around a fire. The song circles around and the huntsman follows, around and back to the fire. He doesn’t know if the song has been moving or if it was just him, and yet he sits there, still. The huntsman sits by the fire, and the big black wolf sings of a leaf upon a branch, of branches on a tree, of a tree deep in the wild.
As the huntsman listens to the songs of the wolves, he hears one of them sing of the wolves themselves, and it dawns on him that there is no song they sing that tells of the huntsman, no song that tells of him or describes him. The trees, he hears the trees themselves now, the trees are singing. The trees, the plants, the birds, they are all singing along, and there is no song of the huntsman; he does not hear himself in their song, yet he hears, he feels, he knows he is a part of the song. The huntsman opens his mouth and then…
The huntsman hears a howling, something howling in the woods. The huntsman opens his eyes, and the howl stops. The fire has turned to ashes, and light is streaming through the leaves and branches. He realizes the howl was coming from his own open mouth. The darkness has moved on, the rest of the wolves are gone, but he hears them, he feels them, the wolves. He hears the song, the songs, remembers the dreams, so different from what he has heard before, from what he thought he knew, from what he used to know.
He yawns, stretches, rolls to his feet. He sees the remains of his old clothes in the ashes of the fire. The fur he now wears for a skin is more than enough. He smells the air and listens. He is no longer a huntsman, simply a hunter.
He follows the dreams, the tracks, follows the songs that lead deeper into the woods. The hunter feels the warmth of the light inside him, a light that shines in his eyes. The hunter goes into the woods to join the circle. The hunter joins the song.
Mark Bilokur is a graduate of the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy, has a Masters degree from the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and is currently the Leo lead minister for the Temple of Witchcraft. He is also a student of author and Celtic reconstructionist Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha. He infuses his spirituality and humor into his art and art and humor into his spirituality. He can be reached at [email protected].