After the solstice storm and three days before my sixth birthday, a stranger came to our windswept village.
I remember wondering—Why would she come to us?
Perilously, we lay hidden between the old dark woods and the haunted oceans of Hart on the impassable banks of the River Wandering, through ways and lairs that made grown men grimace and tremble, and yet, here she was, a woman alone, and unarmed.
She appeared that milk-misted morning, treading lightly with steady, purposeful steps. Beside her, a dog, its high head at her waistline and with a chest as broad as a marsh pony’s, stepped just as lightly, gallantly matching her—stride for stride. They looked neither right nor left, walking with eyes set boldly ahead. But I knew; I knew they watched us, each of us, with hawk-like eyes.
The village children and I gazed, mesmerised by their approach, yet we weren’t spurred to action until they had almost passed. Then, in that last moment, suddenly freed of shyness and more fearful of regret, we rushed as one and grasped the stranger’s hands.
Pleading, we begged her to tell us who she was.
She laughed engagingly from behind her hood and then, delighting us, she paused at the rambling grove in the nook of our village square. Her companion, the uncanny dark dog, considered us with shining, amber eyes. I hoped, for foolish moments, for the remarkable; I hoped the dog might be human too.
Concealed by hedges of hawthorn and horsetail, and masked by their brambles from our elders and wild zephyrs, we begged for a story, and then, impossibly, the traveller offered us a tale.
Her words enthralled us with adventure in far-away lands, beguiled us with mysteries of unicorns and gripped us with truths from other worlds.
And so, for me it began that day. I discovered many things. But most of all I learned this: all things begin with
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