He stood silhouetted against a canvas of night, chin tilted towards the sky and the slender hook of white moon from which it hung. There was a myth among his people that truly momentous events took place only at full moon, but the Green Man had seen too much and lived too long to give credence to the mutterings of the ignorant. Change could come as suddenly and unpredictably as the wind, and he had not risen so far by bending with every fresh gust.
Rock beneath his bare feet. A balmy summer breeze rifling through his hair. It was the Solstice, and he had matters to attend to. With an agility belying his true age, he turned away from the sickle moon and leapt from the overhanging rock, arms spread wide like a bat taking wing. He fell perhaps twenty feet to land in light undergrowth, supple legs flexing, absorbing the force of the impact. Even so, it hurt. He had isolated himself for too long, and it was beginning to wear through to his bones.
A large wolf appeared at his side; a loner from the far reaches of the northern hinterland. During his centuries of roaming, the Green Man had picked up many such companions, discarding them as carelessly as cornhusks once they had served their purpose. But this fellow he rather liked; Uskar, he had named him; Laird of Night in an ancient and all-but-forgotten tongue. The wolf was more than a hound; he was his right hand, his enforcer. He possessed intelligence beyond his kin, and he knew the Green Man’s will and obeyed it without scruple.
The Green Man strode through brush that thickened rapidly to forest, Uskar at his heels. He stood a full seven feet tall, towering over most men, and covered the distance with unnatural speed. His features were hidden by a great mask, a mane of verdant foliage framing a fierce, grimacing face of russet. The eyeholes gave onto blackness as still and empty as millponds on a summer night, and the open mouth seemed frozen in a wordless bellow.
Just when it seemed that the woods could grow no thicker, he heard voices, saw firelight ahead of him. They had come, as he had known they would. As they always did. Uskar fell back into the shadows, and the Green Man proceeded towards the clearing alone. When he emerged from the trees, he was greeted by a complete hush. All eyes turned to him, and he gazed back at them silently, blank eyeholes boring into every face.
They were a ragged lot, the Crainn, but a swift headcount revealed that they had all come – chestnut, dogwood, yew; every one of them. That was important. On some years, a Crann or two had taken it upon themselves to revolt, and he needed cohesion now more than ever. One summer, albeit a summer so far back as to be beyond the memory of living man, three of them had joined themselves together in coalition against him. Against him. None of the three had lived to see the winter, and none since had dared to openly challenge his primacy. He doubted whether they even questioned it in whispers any more, but it paid to steer with a firm hand.
The Crainn had formed a circle, just inside the ring of standing stones which marked the edge of the clearing. All eyes were on him as he mounted the central stone, which served as both altar and dais. He turned slowly, a full circle, taking in every upturned countenance. Finally, when he was certain he had their rapt and undivided attention, he spoke. To the listeners gathered in the clearing, his voice seemed to shift the very earth beneath their feet; it rippled outwards, through the tangled brush and foliage and into the deep of the forest.
“Tonight, my children,” he intoned, speaking words as old and gnarled as the trees, “tonight, we hunt.”