Crunch. Crunch. The snapping of twigs, the breaking of leaves, the shifting of stones...all combined to assure Roop that, wherever he was going, he could not do so silently. In all reality, it didn't really matter whether he glided through the forest like one of the big cats or tromped about in the manner of the wild boars. It was his pride that irked him. He knew how to walk silently, had trained for many hours to achieve stealth and elegance in his gait. But nevertheless, despite all his efforts, the forest betrayed him. It apparently wanted to get on his nerves.
Anyone who spent any time in the Green was used to thinking of the forest as a living, highly intelligent and virtually omnipotent presence. The difference for Roop was he knew It personally and therefore knew It's sense of humor. The moment he was able to actually ignore the little joke being played on him, it would stop, waiting for a reaction like some small, sullen child. Roop started whistling. He could swear the rustling of the leaves sounded like laughter. It was going to be a long walk.
Two hours, three hedgehogs, a hedge maze and several fir trees later, Roop finally found his way through to the waterfall. He stood on the rock, high above the crystal pool, dreading the next step. Ever since the third year, when he had expressed a fear of heights, the entrance to the cavern had remained the same. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and walked off the boulder.
Wind rushed by his head, shouting at him, filling his ears with nonsense. He tilted his head back and yelled...his eyes still closed, ignoring the dread in the bottom of his stomach and doing his best to embrace the rushing air that pressed against his feet and back. And then, with a familiar sigh, he slowed, landing softly on a bed of moss and leaves.
"Wheeeeeeeeeee! That was fun! Can we do it again?" a figure of leaves, bark, moss and sunlight pranced towards him, looking very much like a very dirty little girl. The image curtsied, "Why hello little prince! And what can I do for you today?"
"It is not you who can do for me, but I who do for you, and well you know it. Set me your task, oh Lady Green, and I shall go forth with my best vim & vigour." He smiled, bowed to the leafy girl. It was best to keep the Green Lady amused.
"Always straight to business with you, isn't it? Well, at least you are courteous. Your father was even more boring! You boys are my only distraction in these long seasons, you could at least try to be amusing."
"I suppose I had not thought of it quite that way." And actually, he hadn't. "Perhaps I could come again some other time of the year, just to visit?"
"Well, aren't you the sweetheart! Not one of you kinglings has ever offered to come visit. I'll think on it, it would take some arranging, you know?"
"Thank you, kind Lady. And now, my quest?"
"And now, the quest!" The sunlight, until that moment shadowed and green, burst out brightly, spangling the room with little spots of yellow light. "You shall be tested both night and day,
seek the potter who works in black clay.
Turn the wheel that shapes us all.
But be wary of a fall.
He who tries to turn his own.
May leave behind an empty throne."
And, just like that, he was on a road, on the edge of the forest, looking out into darkness. A branch...blown by the wind?...pushed at his shoulders. The moon was almost directly overhead. It would be midnight soon.