Karnoss stood in the middle of the forest with his bare feet firmly planted in the damp, rich soil. Tall beech and elm and oak loomed high above, the fluttering jewel-green leaves letting only glittering slivers of summer sunlight dance down on to the lower holly and hazel. At ground level, there was tangled ivy, bramble, grasses, chickweed, starflowers and sunbells rambling between patches of autumnal leaves and empty seed cases.
Karnoss stood in the middle of the forest in deep and ancient silence. He was miles from the nearest town, hundreds of trees between him and the grassland to the south, the mountains to the west and the farmland to the north and east. Except, as he stood statue-still and listened, breath held, he heard layers upon layers of sound. High above, the warm breeze rustled the countless solar-emerald leaves. A stronger gust caused a branch to creek softly. A flock of pipits chirped nearby, feeding on insects hidden in bark crevices. A wood vole scurried through dry fallen leaves and pattered down into its burrow.
Karnoss took a deep breath and let the crystal dynamic verve of the forest fill his lungs, filter into his blood, seep intoxicating into his mind. This was his forest and he was a primal, integral part of it. The forest was old. Generations upon generations of life and death and rebirth had seeped energy into the earth. Over the years, that energy had taken form. First, he had mimicked the animals that thrived there; stag, wolf, boar, owl and bear. Then he took the form of a man; lean and strong and wild, independent and free. He was the spirit of the forest. He could change between forms, bound by the forest and yet unrestrained. He was the stag running under starlit bare branches. He was the wolf howling at the moon, hunt's triumph on his tongue. He was the boar, surrounded by squealing striped piglets. He was the bird flying high, swooping low, twisting between vine-clad trunks; joyous cry harsh in hushed humid air. He was the bear, sleeping through winter's cold and rummaging through summer's bounty. He was a man, dancing with women at solstice celebrations, drinking with men at equinox festivals, respected and honoured. He was the hunter and the hunted, the forager and the finder.
Karnoss had watched countless years roll past as the forest changed and yet remained the same. Tress grew from tiny seeds to struggling saplings to lofty goliaths, changing coats of leaves a hundred times or more, before falling to decay. Animals, from tiny bugs to flitting birds to darting fish and scurrying mammals, were born every day. They lived – vibrant, vivid – reproduced and died. The rain fell and the rivers flowed. There were cycles within cycles, changing every year, every day, every heartbeat and yet staying exactly the same.
Karnoss stretched his arms high, felt the complex fluent force of life thrum through him, and smiled.