10 weeks, 5 authors, 1 story. In To Be Continued… I asked 5 authors (self-published and traditionally published alike) to write a story together based on my prompts, without knowing about each other. They each had 2 weeks to write their part before I forwarded it to the next person to continue. Each part is somewhere between 500 – 1500 words long. So, are you ready to enter The Enchanted Forest?
If you didn’t read yet, I recommend starting your journey with Gordon and the enchanted forest by reading Part 1 by Timy Takács and Part 2 by Alex S. Bradshaw, unless you want to be spoiled below. I warned you.
Part 1: A mute young man, Gordon, is about to complete his rite of passage by entering the Enchanted Forest in search of the mighty Feary Queen. He wants to prove himself to the village and to himself. But the forest is full of mythical creatures and danger. Will Gordon be strong enough to make his dream come true? His first encounter is with a bear and a tiny witch.
Part 2: The small witch takes Gordon to her home as a guest, then gives him advice and direction how to get into the Faery Queen’s court. Following her lead, Gordon goes to the Golden Oak where he encounters the woodpecker.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Christian Cameron was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.
After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice, currently age four. And a half.
Gordon had not grown to adulthood as a mute, in a village full of people, without learning the arts of patience. Gordon found himself a good hiding place and lay down behind the screen of a tall alder by the side of the stream that flowed through the roots of the ancient golden oak and watched the woodpecker and the old tree.
The woodpecker was industrious, constantly pecking away at the acorns, catching them and carrying them off. As the day wore into evening, Gordon retreated a little downstream, found an island with a younger oak, and climbed into it. He didn’t sleep well, but he managed some sleep, despite the wolf who ran beneath his tree at one point and the very noisy deer whose hooves sounded like warhorses to his frightened mind.
In the morning he washed in the stream. The water was incredibly cold, and it made him feel very clean indeed, and very awake. He laughed to himself.
Why can I laugh and not speak? he wondered.
He also wondered when he would get to eat. He was very hungry. But as a mute who’d grown up in a village, he was used to going hungry, so he tightened his belt and set off.
He moved carefully, headed for his hiding place of the day before. The deep woods made him feel like a prey animal, and the dagger, instead of being a weapon, was a hindrance that caught on things as he crawled under branches and made his way from tree to tree, cover to cover. He emulated the squirrels and other small rodents; quick moves then stillness.
And then he lay all day in his chosen hiding place. He was behind a hollowed, fallen log, with a spray of raspberry canes growing out of it. Where he was lying, he could see well; in pinch, he could crawl into the log.
The woodpecker was already at work, using its razor sharp beak to take the acorns from the tree and catching them. Each time, it would fly away to the south, the opposite direction to that which Gordon knew he needed to go to find the Faerie Queen.
The day passed slowly. Gordon was learning not just about the acorns and the golden oak, but about the Enchanted Forest. Lying still, a wary observer, he saw all sorts of wonders. A white stag strolled through the clearing at the base of the oak. He had antlers of gold with sixteen tines, and he looked up at the oak and then down at the ground. He circled a bit, and waited.
Gordon got hungrier and hungrier.
At last, the woodpecker pried one acorn from the tree and snapped it up in his beak.
The stag pawed the ground with an angry hoof, threw back its head and bugled like an avenging army. And then, dejected, it walked away.
Later, three hummingbirds in shining silver and magical blue buzzed into the clearing under the oak. They lingered a long time before moving away, and Gordon thought that they, too, might have been waiting for an acorn.
Insects came; a few ordinary gnats and biting flies that tormented him like insects everywhere, but also magnificent big butterflies as large as small birds, and dragonflies louder than the hummingbirds had been, their wings a cascade of colours like flying rainbows.
Towards dusk, another magical creature came, just as Gordon was considering going to find food; he was so hungry he could think of little else. But the new animal was the most fearsome of all; a giant boar, bigger than anything Gordon had ever heard of. It was as big as the lowest branches of the mighty Golden Oak, and when it moved, the earth shook. It pawed the ground impatiently until the woodpecker loosened an acorn, and when it didn’t fall to the ground, the boar roared with anger. The woodpecker flapped its mighty wings away, headed south with another acorn.
Then the boar charged the tree. Three times, with incredible force, the boar slammed into the tree. Animals fled, and Gordon covered his ears.
And a dozen acorns fell.
The woodpecker was far away, headed for some secret nest. Until that moment, Gordon’s plan had been to fight his hunger, wait until he’d located the nest, and rob it of an acorn, but the boar cut across his plans with a new opportunity and he took it. As soon as the acorns fell, he spotted them. The boar moved to one and ate it in great chomping bites and the grinding of his mighty teeth filled the huge clearing under the spreading branches of the golden oak. Then he went to another, and another.
Choosing the acorn farthest from the huge boar, Gordon moved to it, staying low and using his wits and all the cover available. When he reached one, he found it difficult to lift, because he couldn’t get his arms around it, but easy enough to roll, and he rolled it north, away from the boar and the woodpecker’s nest. When he’d rolled it a few hundred paces, he stopped, and snuck back.
The woodpecker was flapping above the boar, who was placidly crunching a second acorn. The giant woodpecker appeared threatening, making rapid darts at the boar, but none of his threatened blows landed, and the boar, for his part, didn’t even raise his head.
Moving cautiously, Gordon located another acorn and rolled it very carefully through the woods. He rolled it in bursts, waiting until the woodpecker flew at the boar, and then rolling it rapidly until he could no longer hear the bird’s angry cries.
At some point, the woodpecker threw caution to the winds and attacked. Seizing his moment, Gordon rolled his second accord until it rested next to the first, and then darted back.
The battle between the two creatures was a stalemate of mismatched powers. The bird couldn’t really hurt the boar; the boar couldn’t actually reach the bird. But after a few minutes of observation, Gordon was convinced that he could whistle and perform a village dance and they wouldn‘t notice him, so enrapt in their pointless combat were the two.
He searched the ground until he found the site of one of the boar’s feasts, and he collected chips and shards of broken acorn. Another thing he’d learned being a mute in a village was to eat whatever he could and not be picky. The boar’s slobber wasn’t so bad, and the acorn nut itself, when he tasted it, was the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.
Gordon had been hungry a long time. And boars are sloppy eaters. Gordon moved carefully, collecting pounds of broken acorn, filling his belt purse, the pocket in his smock, and his side bag.
And then he headed back to his stolen acorns. He buried them in leaves, and then followed the stag’s track through the woods until he found the animal’s rubbing tree. Any village boy knew that every great stag has a tree to which it goes to rub the velvet from its antlers, and the season was right. Gordon pushed one acorn to the tree and left it for the stag. Then he moved a little away, to a nice site with a little whispering stream burbling by the base of a low bluff, where he made a little camp, lighting himself a fire with his flint and steel and enjoying a robust dinner of acorn and water. He felt like a young god, and he fell deeply asleep.
In the morning, the acorn he’d left for the stag was broken to a hundred pieces, and a great deal of it was eaten. Gordon smiled to himself, collected a few more bits, and then returned to the other acorn, which he began rolling north, towards the Silver Lake.
The going wasn’t so bad as he’d feared when he listened to the reports of others in his village. There were long ridges, crowned in ancient trees, and as long as he stayed on the ridges, the walking was easy. Pushing the acorn up the ridges was often quite frustrating, but then, on the other hand, rolling it down the far side was very, very easy.
Between the ridges were deep valleys filled with swamps. They weren’t dark, ugly swamps; just sluggish summer streams moving across reedy meadows. The mud was incredibly deep, though, and he almost lost his shoes in the first one he tried to cross. After that, he crossed on beaver dams. The beavers were huge, but utterly uninterested in him. Rolling the acorn across the beaver dams just added to the sense of adventure.
His third valley was the broadest; the beaver dam was ancient, and hundreds of paces long, and Gordon was tired. He slipped, and the acorn fell with a splash into the water…
A young beaver appeared, first as a shining hump in the water moving at incredible speed, and then it emerged in a flash of shining spray.
It gave the acorn a push, like a cat playing with a ball. It pushed, and batted, and in moments, it had moved the acorn all the way across the water and up onto the far bank. Gordon had to run to keep up.
On the far side, the beaver waited. Gordon approached cautiously, and laid some pieces of broken acorn on the ground.
The young beaver, who was taller than Gordon, picked up a piece, sniffed it suspiciously, and then bit into it.
Gordon smiled and said ‘Unnggh.’
That was pretty much the only sound he could make. Words formed perfectly well in his mind, but all that ever emerged was ‘unnggh.’
The beaver nodded, almost as if the creature was bowing. ‘Delicious,’ the beaver said. ‘May I have more?’
Gordon gave the beaver half.
‘Where are you going with this treasure?’ the beaver asked.
Gordon pointed north. He tried to form the word ‘faerie’ but all he managed was ‘unnggh.’
The beaver nodded. ‘I was thinking of taking the acorn for myself. I knew what it was as soon as I saw it.’ He nodded again. ‘But you are so courteous. And I suddenly feel at one with all the world, even the children of men. I am Burbur. If you are ever in my valley, please call my name and we’ll have a chat.’
‘Ungghh,’ Gordon said, intending to be pleasant.
The beaver nodded again. ‘Ahh,’ he said. He went, gnawed a tree, and came back with a scrap of birch bark. ‘Throw this in the water, then. We’ll have tea.’
The beaver spread his arms, bowed, in beaver fashion, and vanished into the water like a flash.
Gordon watched the water for a while, and then he was pushing the acorn up the next ridge, walking quickly. He was making good time and he felt as if he was as strong as a giant and agile as a fox, and he thought of a song the boys in his village sang about a knight and a wyvern.
He stopped suddenly. He was taken unaware by the sound of his own voice, singing and now…
He took a deep breath. He had often dreamt, as a child, that he had a voice. He was almost afraid to try to sing again.
I made that up he thought.
He tried to speak.
‘Uungh,’ he said.
Dejected, he walked on. But it was a beautiful day, and something about the Stag and the Beaver made him happy, not afraid, and he began to hum the hymn to the Goddess.
He stopped again, so suddenly that he might have hit a wall.
‘Unngh,’ he muttered. And then, without letting himself think, he opened his mouth and tried…
‘Most glorious goddess…’ he sang. It was not a very pleasant sound, and there was something of a frog’s croak to it.
‘Damn,’ he tried to say, but what he said was, ‘Unggh.’
He shook his head, ate another bite of the acorn and started climbing the next ridge, marking his direction by the way the sun slanted through the trees. He wracked his brain for any song he’d ever heard, and he began to sing, a little scared of his own voice but determined.
An animal grunted, close at hand, and Gordon looked around and saw a man on a giant stag.
The man had a hunting horn in his hand, and closer up, it was clear that he was not a man at all. A pair of fine antlers sprang from his brow, and he had a mane of hair that blended into the fur that seemed to cover the rest of his body.
Gordon couldn’t help but notice that the bandolier, the magnificent leather strap that held the hunting horn, appeared to have been made by the a master of leatherwork, and the horn itself was made form the enormous horn of some mammoth animal.
‘You rise like the sun in morning,’ Gordon sang. It was another line from one of the hymns to the goddess, and it was the best line to come to him.
The being on the stag smiled, and showed fangs.
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Christian/Miles, you can find him on social media:
Grab a copy of the first book of either the Masters and Mages series, Cold Iron (the whole trilogy is out now); the Chivalry series, The Ill-Made Knight (the 5th book coming later this year) or the Commander series, The New Achilles (book 2 is already out)!
The Enchanted Forest continues in Part 4 by Phil Parker!
For more To Be Continued stories, check out my page!