The Crow Lord had left his ruined tower and now walked through the forest with a single crow flying through the trees as his single companion. The bird often landed and perched on the branch of a tree several feet away until Darrah had reached it, then the bird would fly ahead again and repeat the process. Sometimes it cawed, perhaps having though it some game or decided to be a guide to its master on this particular trip. Not that he needed it, for Darrah had made this trip several times before in the two centuries past and would do so again for many more millennia. And, like all the times before, he dreaded this trek during the summer season.
Darrah had been summoned to the heart of the forest, as he knew the other gods of the forest had been. All made their way now and it was not long in his journey when Darrah entered a massive clearing. The air was purifying and he took in a deep breath and smiled ever so slightly as he closed his eyes briefly. This was a place that only the Forest Gods could enter, free of the unnatural shadows and free of mortality. Sacred since more ancient times. When Darrah opened his eyes he saw the many other gods gathering. Few nodded their respect to him, but most outright ignored him. Darrah ignored them in turn, though that inner light in his unmatching eyes flashed with his discontent. He would do nothing more than that, however, as there were rules among them and he would heed them. Especially since he was of the rare among them who had once been mortal. Darrah dearly wished for Corvus to be here, but he kept that desire within himself.
He was soon distracted from his unease when the sound of a rushing wind filled the clearing. The Crow Lord was not the only one focused as the wind carried large leaves of oak, dancing along the invisible current to the throne that stood off-center in the clearing. It was made from the stump of a great oak that had been felled by a great strike of lightning millennia ago and crafted into a throne befitting both King's of the Great Forest and its gods. It was inlaid with raw runes and the remaining wood had been carved into wondrous designs. Power emanated from it, pulsing alongside their hearts. A call that none of them could resist, though Darrah knew the old Forest Gods could as Corvus remained absent.
The oak leaves on the wind then swirled around the throne, and it was obscured for a moment before they fell naturally to the earth and revealed a man broad of shoulder with sun-kissed skin clad in robes of light-green and subdued yellow, yet embroidered with black. His mantle was furs of the hunt, and from his rich brown hair protruded nearly golden antlers of a proud stag, which were crowned with thin branches of oak and their leaves. All present bowed for this was Samhradh, the Oak King, and with a hit on the ground with the butt of his decorated staff, the final gathering of the Summer Court commenced.
“What news of the North?” The Oak King’s tone was deep and it rumbled with the power of the forest itself.
“Winter approaches in absolution.” spoke one of the wind gods, and to this, the Oak King nodded.
“What news of the South?”
“The sun still shines bright, but is wary of the cold season to come.” a young tree goddess replied, and again the Oak King nodded.
“What news of the East?”
“We are prepared for the change of season, and the harvest has been bountiful.” an earth god replied to the Oak King, and another nod was given.
“What news of the West?”
“Death comes on the winds of ice.”
There was a moment of silence as all the Forest Gods looked to Darrah, who had spoken such dire words. He looked up, and his mismatched gaze of pale-blue and dark-amber was met by the Samhradh’s one of golden-brown. The gods glanced between the two of them, wondering who would speak first. To their surprise, it was not either of them who broke the uncomfortable silence.
“And what does the little crow know of death?”
The tone was easy, sly, and Darrah turned his gaze to find Wyl, the Fox God. It narrowed as the Fox God continued to talk, robes of red-embroidered white swaying with the god's light gestures.
“Are you so eager for the dead to come so you can pick at their corpses like your birds, Crow Lord?”
Darrah ground his teeth together as he stared at Wyl, not willing to give the god any ground. The Fox God made to speak again but was mercifully silenced by the Oak King.
“Enough from you Wyl, let Corvus’ Son speak for himself.”
Darrah was grateful but refused to show even that to the Summer Court. He turned and bowed before the Oak King, then elaborated upon his statement in an even and grim tone.
“Already my Father’s ravens have been seen in the dreams of mortals in the villages of the West. It shall come as winter does, creeping across the land and there shall be much lost to life.”
Samhradh stroked the beard of his chin as he calmly asked, “Will the West recover from such tragedy?”
“It shall,” An older water god spoke up before Darrah could reply. The Crow Lord glared at the other god of the forest, which was returned before the water god looked to Samhradh and continued, “The land will cleanse itself and be made new again.”
The Oak King had frowned only slightly when the water god interrupted Darrah, but did not reply to the water god and instead asked the Crow Lord, “So this is why Corvus remains absent?”
Darrah gave a single nod. “The dead shall be many, and so he has much to prepare and forewarn for.”
“Like you were forewarned by the pretty mortal Darrah?” baited the Fox God, and the Crow Lord snapped at him with, “Cause trouble elsewhere, prey of the hunt! I am sure the hounds are eager!”
Wyl bristled and growled low in his throat as Darrah’s eyes alighted again with his gift from Corvus. Nothing was to come of it, however, when the Oak King hit the ground with the end of his staff again and a rush of peace entered the gods of the forest. Even the Fox God and the Crow Lord had to accept it, and so backed down from the animosity between them. Samhradh inspected the two of them before he then asked of Darrah, “It seems that Wyl speaks some truth in his words, does he not?”
Wyl smirked as Darrah replied in a wary tone, “He does.”
All eyes were on the Crow Lord again, and he then craved the solitude of his tower… and immediately the thought of Asha entered his mind with her bright smile. It brought comfort to him at that moment, but it was quickly chased away by the Oak King’s words.
“What are your dealings with the mortal, Crow Lord?”
A moment of silence filled only with hesitancy.
“She found me and my tower, a young woman filled with curiosity and light. A daughter of a nearby village and she has since made herself my friend.” It was the minimal truth, but that was all Darrah was willing to say. It was that simple, or so he believed, but it appeared that Wyl, unsurprisingly, thought much differently about the matter.
"Are you sure about that, little crow? You must be blind to not see the pretty mortal's emotions swirling in her heart. And we all know what a mortal's heart's desires are capable of-"
"Enough, Wyl!" Samhradh's voice resonated throughout the clearing, "This is the last warning you will be given, heed it."
The Fox God's expression soured, but he remained silent. Samhradh did not speak for some moments, the silence in that time different in its meaning to each Forest God. To Darrah, that time lasted an eternity until the Oak King made his will known.
“The risks are known to you, so there is no need to remind you of them,” Darrah gave a single nod in agreement, but the Oak King continued, “I am not the one who made you Crow Lord, that responsibility belongs to the Raven God alone, but as he would do so will I.”
The Oak King made sure he had Darrah’s full attention, and once he knew it had been his since the beginning his next words were measured.
“Take care that there are few consequences in your friendship with this mortal girl, Darrah. Only a God can make one in his likeness and you possess no such power.”
Darrah nodded, and after he bowed to Samhradh the final gathering of the Summer Court was ended. He turned back to the path he had taken from his tower, glad to finally take his leave of this Court and glad that the time he returned it would be to visit Gaemhradh when he returned to the Great Forest. But as he walked, his crow companion several feet ahead on a branch, he stopped suddenly. The crow cawed at him as it waited for him, but the Crow Lord did not move. A hand went to his chest and it felt that his heart was beating fast.
He was then filled with uncertainty in that, very likely, the Fox God was right - that Asha did care for him in such a way, or was beginning to. It was only made worse with his own realization that perhaps he wanted the same connection with her.
And it scared him.