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Jasmine picked her way delicately over the small twigs and pebbles that littered the forest track, her small hooves neatly avoiding rocks and branches scattered here and there that might have brought another, less cautious horse, to grief. Harry had already observed that though she was not Marked obviously by Selene, Jasmine was nevertheless a wise and knowledgeable mare. One that seemed to have excellent night vision, for she never faltered in stride, carrying Harry easily down the trail through the forest.

The trail was little more than a deer track, narrow and occasionally scattered with brush and small shrubs that grew in the shadow of the mighty black oaks and ash, yew and beech. Harry knew that Sherwood was old, it had stood for centuries before he was born, and would stand for centuries beyond, and as he went deeper into the trees, he began to feel the weight of their immense age, the weight of time, pressing down upon him. He did not know why he felt it so strongly, save for perhaps the fact that Severus had introduced him to the forest when he had first arrived. Perhaps the trees remembered him. Perhaps they were trying to warn him to be cautious, not that he would not have been so in any case. But he did not feel any menace from the forest, merely the weight of great age and great magic.

He knew that sometime in the beginning of his journey he had slipped from the purely mortal forest into the magical side of it, because he could feel the magic pulsing through the trees steadily, like a great pulsing heart beating. Severus had told him that uncounted centuries past, great magic had been worked here, Sherwood had been one of holy places of the druids, and the wise women of Britain, and also the worshippers of the Moon Lady. The very land was saturated with their workings, most good, but there had been death and sacrifice performed in Sherwood as well, making it a place of both dark and light.

Harry hoped that his introduction to the forest would be enough to protect him against the dark creatures that roamed here. Thinking about hungry wyverns and man-eating bugbears and whatever else dwelled here made him shiver, and he pulled up the hood of his Invisibility Cloak and vanished from view. Being invisible would give him little advantage over a predator who tracked by scent, but it might serve to confuse anything else.

He heard the rustle of small things hunting, or fleeing the screech owl that called above, gliding in the night sky searching for food. Cicadas and crickets filled the air with their humming and the wind ruffled the tops of the trees as Jasmine cantered by. Harry kept the mare straight on the path, following the moonlight. He wanted to give the little mare as much light as he could without using magic, that way he might avoid her stumbling in the dark and breaking a leg.

He patted her as they ran, praising her for bearing him at night, at a time when any sane horse would be sleeping. "Good girl, Jasmine. You deserve an extra ration of oats for doing this."

The Arabian flicked her ears back and quickened her pace slightly. Apparently she wanted to reach the end of their journey as quickly as she could also. Harry allowed the tracking spell to draw him onward, wishing he knew how many days it would take to traverse the forest. He had brought provisions for several days, but it would be nice to know an approximate distance, so he could begin to prepare looking for edible roots and berries. For once he was glad that Severus had pushed him to learn how to identify useful and edible plants, now he could identify plants and foliage that was safe to consume and use them appropriately.

But he would worry about that when and if it became necessary. He hoped that he wouldn't have to spend more than a couple of nights in Sherwood, and he had supplies enough for that. He clucked to Jasmine and the mare trotted a bit faster, springing over a small log in the path without any urging on Harry's part. She navigated the obstacle so gracefully Harry barely had time to realize there was one before Jasmine had hopped over it.

He allowed the gallant mare to run for another half-an-hour, estimating they had been traveling for at least two or three hours, before he finally pulled the horse to a halt and looked about him.

This part of the forest looked as though it had many groves of trees, and he could hear the swift running of a strong stream in the distance. He carefully dismounted and took Jasmine's bridle and started to lead her into one of the trailside groves.

She balked at first, for the trees looming above her cast scary shadows, and horses generally prefer open areas where they can see all about them and have room to run if need be. But with a few treats and gentle coaxing words, Harry got the white mare to follow him into the center of the grove, where he promptly lit up his wand and started clearing away some brush, which he piled up at the outer edge of the campsite.

This was his first time ever camping out, but he had read plenty of adventure stories about doing so, and knew the basics, such as always light a fire with dry wood and make sure it is on a bare patch of earth, ringed with stones. He knew how to light a fire with magic and without, as he sometimes had had to perform that chore for the Dursleys when they wanted a fire in the living room on cold winter nights. He had also watched the professor start a fire in the fireplace at the farmhouse.

Harry ordered Jasmine to stay and then ground tied her by dropping the reins on the ground in front of her. She had been schooled to remain where she was if that occurred and she did so, freezing in place like a marble statue. Then Harry set about making a fire and after that he rubbed down Jasmine and gave her some water from his canteen by cupping it in his hands.

The mare drank thirstily, and ate the rice cakes Harry had brought for her as a snack.

Soon Jasmine dozed, and the fire popped and crackled merrily.

Harry spread out his blankets and pillow and wondered why he wasn't collapsing from exhaustion. He should be dead tired, yet he was not. He kept nodding off, the warmth making him sleepy, but then he would jerk up, thinking he heard something moving close to them. Even shrouded in his cloak, he was wary. What if he went to sleep and someone or something stole Jasmine?

Twice more the warmth lulled him into dreamland, and twice more he heard twigs snapping and rustling in the brush beyond that made him startle and wake.

The moon had begun its descent when he heard a loud tread and then Jasmine whinnied sharply.

Harry froze.

Something big was approaching. It didn't move quite as heavily as a giant, or even Hagrid, but Harry could sense that it wasn't something small coming towards the campsite. For one instant he thought about dowsing the fire, but then realized it was too late, whatever it was had spotted it and in the next instant the protective screen of brush parted and a tall manlike figure stepped from the foliage.

Harry squinted, being under the cloak tended to make things a bit hazy and his glasses couldn't compensate. For an instant, Harry thought the . . .creature in front of him was made of foliage, it seemed as if vines and creepers were entwined in his hair—or maybe they were hair—and snaked down his arms to wrap about his wrists. He was colored all shades of green and looked to be wearing a soft green tunic and breeches. His huge feet were bare and the toes were curled like tree roots, if they weren't actually roots themselves. He had broad shoulders and was very muscular, putting Harry in mind of a solid oak or elm, unbowed before the elements.

But it was the face that captivated Harry.

The face was craggy and lined, with a beard like moss and a pointed nose and eyes that seemed too green and deep to be human. Those eyes caught the boy's and held him fast. They were ancient, centuries had lived and died within them, civilizations had come and gone, and they remembered everything they had ever witnessed. They were wise and lonely, formidable and gentle, fierce and curious, filled with sternness and compassion.

They pierced Harry like a sword and suddenly he recalled where he had seen those particular eyes before.

Upon the massive oak that Severus had called the heart of Sherwood. The face within the tree had been the same.

Before Harry could utter a word, the giant walking tree-man spoke, his voice a deep bass, filled with purpose and power. "Wizardling, show yourself. Do not fear, I am not here to harm you. Rather the opposite."

"How do I know that?" Harry called.

The long twig-like fingers brushed aside a fold of green tunic to reveal a familiar sigil upon his chest—the crescent. "I belong to Her also, wizardling. Back in the Elder Days, when you humans were little better than beasts, I dwelled upon this isle, master of wood and water and animal. I had no name then, for there was no need to take one, since all knew me. Then She came, the Bright One, and She asked if I would join with Her, and help her preserve the wild and the magic that lived within it. I agreed, and She charged me with the task of keeping this forest, guarding it from all who would do it harm. Thus I have done since time immemorial. You have nothing to fear, child. Only those who bring harm into my domain have reason to fear my wrath."

"Who are you?"

"Who am I?" the being threw back his head and laughed. "Can it be that men no longer teach their children about Jack o'the Greenwood—the Green Man? I am one with the land and the land is one with me." He gestured to his head and his body. "I am the guardian of the wild and all things that crawl, run, fly, and grow upon the earth. I am the last of my kind—a forest elemental. I bid you welcome to Sherwood. Come, show yourself. It's bad manners to ignore my request."

There was a bit of a growl in his tone at the end of that sentence, and Harry quickly lowered his hood. He did not sense anything evil about this Green Man, and he seemed to remember some such legend in a book on British mythology he'd had to read in primary school. "Hello. My name is Harry Potter."

The Green Man smiled, a grin that split his mossy beard, revealing teeth that were white and similar to a grazing animals. "That's better. I like to see whom I am speaking to. May I sit down?"

"Uh, yes."

The Green Man lowered his bulk to the ground, several feet away from the fire. He did not seem perturbed over the fire, saying merely, "I trust you will put that out when you leave here?"

"Oh, yes. Umm . . .I will." Harry stammered. "I was cold and I don't care for the dark."

The Green Man chuckled. "Someday soon the dark shall be an ally, not an enemy."

"Huh? I don't understand, sir."

"You will." The Green Man said serenely. "I see a dangerous path before you, wizardling, and I am not speaking of that through my realm. But She has set you upon it and with Her help you shall come away from it forever changed and yet the same. Be steadfast and true of heart, have faith and love, and you shall prevail. What is loved, remembers."

"I'm searching for my friends," Harry explained. "They were taken by dark wizards. My tracking spell led me in here. Sorry if I'm trespassing."

The Green Man gave another deep chuckle and his eyes crinkled in amusement. "I have accepted you as one who belongs, wizardling. You are free to pass through Sherwood, so long as you keep the ancient ways."

"The ancient ways? What's that?"

"To hunt only for food, never pleasure, and never a mother with young if there is another to take instead. To respect the wilderness, and those who dwell in it, if you cut a sapling down, you must replace it with another or something of equal value. Only small fires are allowed, and then only if they are properly tended. To help animals in need and to never bind or force a dryad or other woodland creatures to do your bidding. Follow these simple rules and you shall prosper. Don't and you will answer to me."

There was a stirring in the air, like thunder, and Harry flinched. There was no doubt in his mind that the Green Man would make a deadly enemy.

"I understand, my lord," Harry said swiftly, giving the Green Man a tentative smile.

"Jack. Titles are not for the likes of me, young wizard. Back when this world was new, I remember how the Bright Lady grieved for her lost consort, Osiris, and how She remade him and had a child, Horus, with him, who ruled the Morning as She ruled the Night. But when her child was grown, she left Egypt, the Black Land, and traveled to Rome and Greece, where She fell in love with a mortal man called Endymion. Don't look so shocked, even goddesses have their weaknesses and the Lady has ever had a soft spot for mortals."

"But if she loved a human, wouldn't he die and leave her?"

"Yes, but She was young and thought not of the coming of age and death back then. Endymion was wondrous fair, it is said, he was an astronomer and shepherd, and also a wielder of magic. She came to him in the guise of a lonely shepherd girl, and so they were lovers and legend says She bore him fifty daughters, but I think that's a tad exaggerated. No woman, even a goddess, would wish to be pregnant for that long! I think they had five children, and from those five daughters came several lineages of magic users. From the Roman branch, Ambrosius, came the great Merlin, and the Welsh Mathonwy, the French have their great sorceress Melissande, and the Greeks the House of Colchis, descended through Medea, and the Germans have Ulrika, the Daughter of Ash.

"Legend says that Selene so loved Endymion that she begged a favor from Zeus and he granted her lover the gift of endless ageless sleep, and so he has never truly died, but sleeps forever in a sacred tomb high upon the slopes of Mount Latmus in Caria, far to the east. 'Tis said sometimes She returns and lingers in that place, gazing upon Her lover in dreamy solitude.

"Eventually, She came here, to Britain, and took on the Aspect of the Mother Goddess, though on Midsummer Eve She takes the Aspect of the Young Goddess again, and every so often She comes and Chooses a mortal for a night, and he becomes Endymion reborn, and they make the Great Marriage of land and sky, mortal and immortal, magic made flesh. Out of such a union, legend says Merlin was born, though that is debatable.

"But such has not happened in over a thousand years, for She is careful to never give Herself or Her heart to a mortal who will not appreciate the honor, and 'tis said as well that the one She chooses as Endymion will be forever blessed, as will any children to come from their union."

"The Path of Mysteries did mention something about the "rapture of the goddess" and the Midsummer Rites, but I didn't quite understand what it meant until now. I would have asked my guardian, but he's been hit with a curse and lost his memory and he's also stuck in the body of a horse. That's where I'm headed, to rescue him," Harry explained. "Selene came to me in a dream and told me to follow my heart."

Jack nodded. "That's always sound advice, wizardling. And now I shall add to it. Be careful when you ride in the greenwood, for not all things that roam here are friendly to outsiders, even those under my protection. Some creatures follow no law but their own nature, and will kill and eat you if they can catch you. Keep to the path, or close to it, and you should be safe. I shall have my dryads and tree sprites and butterfly fae keep an eye on you, and if you run into trouble, don't hesitate to call for help. Where be you bound?"

"Uh . . .I think it's called Riddle Manor."

The Green Man looked faintly sickened and said darkly, "I have heard of that place, it is past my borders, even so I can feel it as a blight upon the land. A place of darkness it is. Much blood has been spilled there. Selene watch over you, wizardling. I would caution you not to go near that place, but seeing as your friends are in there, my warning would not be heeded."

"Believe me, Jack, I would rather not go anywhere near it either. But . . .my guardian and my girlfriend and another friend are being held prisoner there. I have to get them out before the Death Eaters kill them . . .or worse."

"A worthy quest, wizardling. I pray you succeed in it." The Green Man gave him a brief nod of approval. "The way is often confusing through Sherwood, I shall send you a guide tomorrow to help."

Harry was both pleased and astonished. "Thanks. What kind of guide will it be?"

"You'll see tomorrow. Don't fret about it, you will know the guide when you see it," Jack said enigmatically. "For now, you ought to sleep. Pleasant dreams, Harry. I shall keep watch through the rest of the night."

"You will? Err . . .thanks, Jack."

The Green Man chuckled. "No need to thank me. As the Lady has Marked you, it is my duty to protect her Chosen when they wander in my domain." Then he reached out and touched Harry's blue blanket and pillow.

Instantly, the blanket smelled sweet, like lavender and was mended from the pulls and slight tears to perfect condition again, soft and thick. The pillow became new and plump again as well. Another flick, and several long willow branches and cattail fibers wove themselves into a kind of hammock which wrapped securely about two beech trees.

"There. You shall have a good night's rest, wizardling. Try it."

Harry climbed into the hammock, finding it first rate, it felt like he was lying on a cloud, and he fell asleep as soon as he snuggled into the lavender-scented blanket and rested his head upon the soft pillow.

The Green Man smiled, then backed into the trees and became utterly motionless, his innate magic making him appear as just another tree in the forest, and if you did not know what to look for, you never would have found him. Harry did not know it, but he was the first wizard the Green Man had spoken to in over a century.

Jack watched the small wizard sleep, a rare fondness shimmering in his ageless eyes, an emotion he had not felt since the days of Richard the Lionheart, when he had kept watch over his beloved son, Robin, and sheltered him from those who would have done him harm. He rarely spoke of it, but once he too had been Selene's lover, and the man known as Robin Hood had been their son, part mortal, part elemental, and bound to Sherwood Forest. Raised as a mortal son of the Baron of Locksley, Robin never knew his true heritage until later, when he fled into Sherwood with a price upon his head, and became both outlaw and champion. He married the Lady Marian and had two daughters and a son. As a half-immortal, he could have chosen to dwell in Sherwood forever, drawing life and strength from the forest's magic, as a second guardian. But instead he followed his beloved Marian into death, leaving the Green Man as sole guardian once more.

My Robin was the champion for that time, as you are the champion for this one. You do not know this, and I shall not reveal it at this time, but you and I are kin, through your mother's side, and in you runs the blood of the forest and the blood of the moon. Child of wood and moonlight, be at peace.

Hope you all enjoyed the beginning of Harry's travels through Sherwood. Check out my new banner made by lilausty--it's awesome, it's animated!

The Green Man is based partially on British mythology, though I have added and changed several things to suit my own narrative. Much of Selene's history is based upon Greek and Roman mythology and also Egyptian, plus a smattering of Celtic lore as well. I have borrowed freely from all these cultures to make my Moon Goddess, so if something does not completly match up with the standard mythology, please understand that this was not an oversight, but I have picked and chosen what legends to follow and the rest of her is my own invention.

How did you like Jack, the Green Man, and his astonishing revelation at the end of the chapter?

And what kind of guide do you think he will send Harry?

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