With a quickening pulse, she strode toward it now, the urgency of her errand rushing back over her, and she laid her hands on the ancient bark with only vanishing trepidation.
“You,” she said, closing her eyes. "You have taken my sight from me; all these long years a veil has been over my eyes.
She opened her eyes and looked up into the thick branches, waving gently above her. “But whatever listens at the edges—whoever lurks beyond our reckoning—hear me just this once. Grant my people victory. Give us back our land. Drive these ‘conquerors’ before us into the sea. And if not… if we are to be driven back, pushed down and wiped from the earth….”
She closed her eyes again, and leaned forward to rest her forehead against the trunk of the tree. “If not, at least let my daughters live out their days. Let me close their eyes myself, even if we are far from their home and reduced in wealth and valor to little better than slaves. Don’t make me see their bodies broken and their blood spilled out onto the ground. No more empty sacrifices, I beg you—you who have been so long unseen.”
With her eyes still closed, she waited, feeling the blood thundering through her temples and pounding in her throat, but no sign came, neither sound nor vision nor inner sense of certainty. At last, tearing her fingers from the surface of the tree, she opened her eyes and turned to leave the grove.
And she was not alone. All about her, standing at the edges of the grove, half-hidden in the darkness beneath the trees, stood vague, shadowy forms, gray figures in gray robes, all but shadows for how they tantalized her perception. Silent and still, they made no sign and gave no greeting, but only watched; she was sure they watched. As she turned, slowly revolving while she stared into the forest beyond the sacred tree, she could see them lurking in every direction, waiting for her to reach out, or draw near to them, to give herself up or give herself over to them, to the power they claimed and wielded. If she would only surrender herself, she knew, she would receive her desire—would find the answer to her prayer—but the words would not come, and her knees would not bend. They beckoned to her, somehow, without word or expression, but she could not respond, and with every moment that passed a slow terror crawled upward from within her chest, reaching its tendrils up into her very mind—the fear that she had left the physical world behind and been trapped in the World Beyond, away from those she loved and defended. Soon, very soon, if she did not come back to herself, to the solid ground that seemed to have evaporated under her feet, she would lose any hope of victory, and, indeed, her very self, within the shadow-world that had reached out to envelop her in its formless embrace.
A faint, faraway sound began to seep into her consciousness, barely to be discerned at first, but growing louder and closer and more insistent as she heeded it more and more. It rose and swelled and filled her mind until it seemed to be issuing from deep within her, and suddenly she realized that it was her own voice, screaming in defiance and rage, screaming to tear the very fabric of her lungs from her body.