The people who built this home in 1850 are still here. I have seen the photographs of the dining room, from many generations ago- the wreath of evergreen above the mantle, the dark-wood table and chairs, the tiny flames in the candelabra. Many nights bitter wind and snow beat against the house, but the family inside was warm and at peace together.
They are still at peace together; they see the underworld as their own house; they are not at all aware of what year I perceive it to be. In peace, they eat the food of the dead, while I eat my own bread and cooked meat in the same room they once dined in. This will continue for both of us- my family in the seen, and theirs in the unseen, until the light from the east comes and shows us both the truth.
I am a traveling man; I have seen the signs in the lodge, and the Horseman in the woods. We living men put too much stock in the vanity of perception: what number will I call the "year"? It has no number. Where shall I say I am? In the wooded valley? In the land of the living? All lands are really one land- what has changed in the dead is nothing but how they perceive. Maybe it is I who have changed, and they have it right. I ignore as much as they ignore, and I cannot say that I am so much happier in the comings and goings of my life than they. And yet, I contain a fire warming me that most of the dead dearly seek.
Who are we? Restless spirits that become fascinated with trees or snowy lanes? With houses and children? With mysteries or passion? I think that description is adequate in ways. What force drove us to our present passions and fixations? Whatever power did, I think that no force less than the original will serve to drive us onward to new destinies. In every jewel-like vision of the world, dark or light, full of snow or thirsty scrubland, crowned with houses and buildings or towering mountains, I feel that something has been embedded- a secret sketch of Fate- showing us all, whatever our situation, the secret pattern under destiny's plow.
There are things in the woods around the house- some look like people, some like short, squat beasts that are part man and part animal, others that seem like drifting, living light. The ray of Weird reality seems to have broken into a million splintered projections when it passed through the prism of matter- and so we humans live in perpetual companionship with countless untold wonders and terrors of life.
Those refractions that fall within our "middle range" of being look like unto ourselves, and we join with them eagerly- but the bowers and distant places shelter a different order of being. We have always sensed them; we have named them, feared them, worshipped them, and finally disbelieved them- but they remain. They persist for the same reasons we persist. The have destinies like ours, though we may never understand.
The things in the forest have a Master; He rides along, between day and night, haunting mortal memory and imagination. There are books of folklore that speak of Him; books of faery-tales in which He appears in a dozen forms; there are books of magic that talk about Him, too- but more often than not, these three kinds of books are one and the same. Their themes are all of a Weird-power that summons Him.
It is not into some triangle marked on the ground, nor into thuribles of billowing incense that He appears; He appears in the inner recesses of the mind to those who are inspired by the secret key. The key is in the stories; the key is in the land; it is in the strange appearances and dances of the things out there, hiding behind the boughs and branches. It is the key that children are born with, and which graying adults laughingly tell them to discard. Life and death are discarded with it; Life and death are found when it is rediscovered.
Once he arrives, that old Horseman, he never disappears. He may leave, but He stays at the same time. He rides between "here" and "there". So do we, if we are the true traveling men or women- if we can travel with the secret company that slips between raindrops and snowflakes like ghosts on the wind. The Horseman is embedded in the arcane map of the land above and below. He and all his kind- His courtiers, His servants, and His Lady. They are the people of the wind, of the invisible. They are the company of the storm.
Sometimes I'd stand outside at night, in windstorms. The trees would bend in the fierce gale, raining down invisible leaves and branches, and then, the gust would die out and it would be quiet suddenly. Just as quickly, another wind from the distance would roar up, like it was answering the call of the first, or perhaps chasing it across the dark landscape: two wind-spirits rushing past the sleeping houses and disturbed forests, heedless of anything else.
The old powers- older than mankind- were still living their ageless lives out, while we ignored them: Old Wind, Good Mother Green Gown, King Oak, Lady Birch, Cunning Master Raven, and all their kin: there they were, hidden in plain sight, in a patchwork of potent mythology that we just called "the woods" or "the country lane".
I think witches must have been following those winds, flying along as they do, on their riding-poles, chased by familiars across the moonlit sky. These old hags, young women, and stranger men were still mindful of the power that was all around, and there, in the storm, they were waxing powerful in the deepest of lessons. Some of us lose heart. The world sleeps in forgetfulness. But some never forget.
Some lose the ability to see, but I can see. When I was given the mark of a traveling man, and I went to the forked road beyond the mountains east, I was given the golden drop of elixir that changed my eyes of water into eyes of fire. Now, I see what the water reflects, and within, what the luminous light of spirit radiates. There are eyes within eyes, and those inner eyes see the truth of things.
Finding a sorcerer was no easy thing. Finding a witch was seemingly impossible, in these days- thus, I was forced to seek the sorcerer in myself. That was not easy, either. When I did, I discovered that the road of the traveling man was no simple matter, full of hooks and crooks, turning forever into myself, and joining together places across space and time: places that look like high-gabled houses and steepled churches, as well as unseen castles of stone not piled by human hands.
In that ghostly weave-work there were tangles of sacred thorns and firs, rowans and oaks, and there were deep wells of water, ponds and gurgling streams. They all lined up, in their own ways; they pointed somewhere else. The peace of nature’s domain and the wildness of mystery were joined together in their arrangement. There was a sacred geometry here, not shaped by human hands, but dimensioned by human minds. The greater pattern contains us; we cannot write it nor mark it out.
The greatest majesty of Fate could be missed if you looked just to the left or right too much. If you saw with the eyes of luminosity, the world was nine times larger than it appeared, and nine times deeper, nine times more layered. Animals ceased to be what they appeared to be, and yet remained the same. Glorious beings of light and foul pits of darkness wandered the land, struggling in a beautiful fight that generated mortal life and the turning of seasons.
And between it all, hidden like a diamond in the bosom of ebon coal, was the Horseman, riding along, teaching His hidden ways. The witches and sorcerers I couldn't find before appeared behind Him, and all over the hidden landscape- those cunning old fiends had learned to change their residence to a place that suited them better! They had found the key of life and death.
They changed their shape, their place, their minds, their form, their land. They did it with their words- creative words, creative in a way that only the tongues of Daimons should be able to manage. Their creativity was more than a warm place in the soul; it was a mind-shaking redefinition of all that man hoped or feared was real. It was rain falling, light pouring, deathless fire burning, and hypnotizing dances that couldn't make sense inside of three-dimensional space. It was the life of the universe, the heart-beat of the mighty Weird, the death of Gods and the birth of stars.
It all came together; it all came to cease, to rest, to hide in a single oak-leaf, drifting to the snowy ground outside the house. There was a light in the window. The night that had settled on the land was immense, filled only with the sound of wind and owls. Still, immense, and full of hidden glories.
I can read the secret in oak-leaves, or in any leaf. I am a traveling man; I wander a world larger than the map can reveal. I know the Horseman’s word. I know the strange names by which fogs and mists are woven and unwoven. I have kissed the hands of the maids-in-waiting that surround the Lady. I know the names of the monstrous serpents that slithered across the virgin world, leaving mountains and valleys in the wake of their giant bodies. I know how to use the sorcery of words to change men's minds and shape their dreams.