Once, as I walked in the Everwood I came to a clearing, grown in moss, a well to one side under a spreading ash and in the well: the head of a man. Duckweed twined through his hair and beard, algae painted his pale face green.
I thought him dead until he opened his eyes—greener than algae, greener than moss, so green all other greens look dim.
“Come and wash my face,” he said and I have read enough tales to do it. I set him on the soft moss, washed his face with my handkerchief and as I did his cold skin grew warm, his pale cheeks grew rosy, and color returned to his lips.
“By the foot of the tree, behind the curb stone there is a comb. Comb out my beard and hair.” I found the comb and sat beside him, gently untangling his matted beard, pulling away the twisted weeds. His beard was dark gold, not the grey I’d thought, and his hair, when I’d done the same was the color of true gold and long in ripples over the moss.
“One favor more,” he said, “a drink. My horn sits by the well.”
And there, where I had seen nothing before sat a curling white horn chased with gold and set with emeralds. I filled the horn from the well, the water chilling my fingers with its cold of deep stone and hidden secrets.
I held the horn to his lips, careful of his dignity. It is hard to drink at another’s hand.
He smiled. “Now, you drink, put your lips where mine have been, and take my blessing.” It was like a kiss, to touch the place he had touched. The water was ice in my mouth, a taste of winter—but it burned my throat like mead, its heart searing, my mind filled with a clamor as if every word known were shouted at once, every image invented overlaid into lightning and I fell back beside him on the moss.
“Leave the horn, but take the water and the comb,” he said, “And set me back in my well. I will know you, when you come again.”
I did as he asked, and left, the comb as heavy in my hand as a task unfinished on the heart.