It came from the mountains.
Feather, scale, tooth and claw, flitting here and there, a shadow among the trees. Insubstantial, or maybe not there at all. Dancing, skipping, gliding, falling, rising. From the mountains she came.
Somewhere high above in the trees birds sang, but the deeper she delved into the dark wood, the calls echoed and faded until they were muted entirely by the blanketing canopy, a blackness that swallowed the sky. The blackpines reached out with their branches, with their roots, pressing in and threatening to snare the unworthy or the unwary. The deep boroughs and scars in their bases concealed monsters. She could smell wolf. They could smell dinner, only they found a dark wolf looking back at them, a runt with too big ears. The runt curled its lip and growled softly, and the wolves shrunk back, whimpering. There was no food to be found here.
The wolf padded through the trees, over tangled roots and dried pine needles. It barely seemed to hold form, sometimes tiny, other times large enough to be mistaken for a bear, other times not a wolf at all. Only shadow.
She could smell the herd up ahead, more dark shadows moving among the trees, as much a part of the dark wood as the wolves or the ravens in the trees. The children of the wood. She would walk among them as she always had; something different, something strange. Witch. Halfling. Outsider. They could call her many things, but soon they would be saying another. Queen.
She walked among them as she had the first time, with a sureness in her dainty steps, her tail clutching a bloodied and broken stag’s antler. There were no charms woven into her hair any longer, which only just brushed the ground. She didn’t need them. Magic sang in her blood, filling her ears, whispering glorious purpose. The time of hibernation was over. The Mother’s word would ring true among these trees once more.
She stopped atop a rise, overlooking a depression, a grotto in the earth where some of the herd members had gathered. The witch surveyed them for a moment, looking over them with an imperious eye. Searching for someone. Someone with a golden hide marked by stripes.
“I came here to challenge the Queen of Blackwood,” she called out over the watching herd while eyeballing the striped doe with the twisted horn, huddled up against her equally golden mate. She lifted her chin in “It seems I am to be disappointed. I see no Queen here, only craven filth. Little more than a Princess.”
She pulled herself up to her full height, which wasn’t much, but her vantage gave her more gravity. The eyes of the herd were upon her tiny form, watching on expectantly, as the natural arena began to clear. The striped doe glared back, seething and hide prickling and her ears pinned flat against her willowy neck.
“Why don’t you run off back to those gold-loving miscreants in the east where you belong?”
Claim your throne and crown of thorns.