To sleep, perchance to dream

Mirko sat back on his haunches, squatting before a small fire.  He was a little way beyond the forest's edge, within earshot of a narrow stream that coursed around the trees and disappeared some five hundred yards away.  He suspected that it would prove to be a tributary of the Kinedrink if he had time to follow it, but for now it was a nameless stream and source of cold, fresh water.  It was also the source of the large flat stones he'd lined a shallow pit with, scraping it out with a large piece of thick flat bark he'd found at the forest's edge.  In the pit he'd then built his fire, with old dry wood and handfuls of the thick, wiry grass that was quickly turning to straw and covered the meadows beyond the forest.

The flames jumped and darted, playing with the faint breeze that now and then roused itself to tousle his hair, and he appreciated the heat they gave off.  The wood popped and crackled as it burned, and the grass was fragrant, almost sweet, and gave off a soft grey smoke that lifted into the sky like a beacon tower.

Mirko was edgy; he was outside territory that he knew and though the meadows looked to be abandoned -- no cattle grazed here would have let the grass grow long enough to burn for a fire -- it was clear that someone had cleared this land once, and probably farmed it.  The smoke from the fire, though shot through with fiery sparkles and embers, just made his location clear to anyone with eyes.

Night was coming in slowly, the sky already a deep azure and the first stars becoming visible, twinkling here and there, seen only from the corners of his eyes.  The moon was invisible, in its new phase, and wouldn't rise for another three nights.  Mirko still had to decide where he was going to sleep for the night.  He wanted to stretch out, bank the fire and lie beside it and stay warm, but if there was anyone out there, or even more wolves roaming around, that would not be safe.  The alternative was to climb a tree and spend the night in the branches, cold, woken by every breeze and inquisitive squirrel, and then spend the first hour of the next day stumbling along with cold, knotted muscles.  He stretched his hand out and picked up his new quarterstaff, cut from a crab-apple tree, and decided that anyone who wished him ill would surely have come to investigate the fire by now.  He'd sleep there.

The smoke seemed to waver slightly, and he lifted his head to see it better.  Almost as if in response to his gaze it suddenly streamed to the left as though a strong wind had started to blow, but the air around Mirko was as still as a mill pond.  He started, and began to pull himself to his feet, planting his staff in the ground to give him leverage, but now the smoke had straightened again and then twisted into an ascending helix.  Stunned, aware now that something supernatural was happening, he staying crouching and watching.  The helix span faster until it seemed like a solid cylinder of smoke rose from his fire, and then an eye opened in the middle of the column.

The eye was enormous, at least two feet across, and had a cerulean iris.  The pupil was dilated and tiny white lights seemed to traverse it, though like the stars he could only see them out of the corner of his own eyes.  A huge eyelid closed across the eye, slow and calm, as though it were winking.

What is your name?  The words came as a thought, but the voice of the thought was one Mirko hadn't heard before.  The voice reminded him of the rustle of wolves in the undergrowth and the soft breaking of twigs beneath a deer's careful tread.

"Mirko," he said, reflexively.  He pulled himself fully upright, his calves aching from his crouching.

And do you know what you seek?  The voice sounded amused, if something formed from natural sounds could be amused.

"Morwen's Grove," said Mirko, looking around.  Apart from the eye in the column of smoke there was no other living creature in sight.

And do you know who Morwen is?  The voice laughed, like the cascade of water down a high mountainside, and the eye in the smoke winked again.

"Er," said Mirko, but suddenly the column of smoke and its floating eye were gone, and he blinked, yawning.  The fire in front of him was smouldering, and the smoke from it was almost all gone.  He'd been asleep, that was clear, and the fire was nearly out.

The End

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