“You understand me?”

“I understand all tongues.” The great being heaved a deep breath as it spoke. I saw no tremble other than breath upon its lips, and I knew not how it spoke.

“You have not eaten me.” It was an obvious statement, but it was all I could think of.

“I am not hungry, and you have been polite so far,” it said. “I hope that you do not begin to bore me, though. One need not eat to silence an annoyance.”

“No, no,” I said quickly. “I come with a request, o great one.”

“Spare me your flattery,” the beast said again. “I will hear your request, but mind that you do not ask too much. Many have come and done the proper obescience only to ask too much and then balk at the price.”

“I wish only to pass through your wood unharmed to the Crystal Grove beyond.”

“Hmph. Then why not do so? Passage is free to all those who do not annoy me.”

I chose my words carefully. “There have been…others…who have not returned.”

“I have eaten or slain many of your sort,” was the reply. “Some had the misfortune to meet me hungry. Others asked for impossible favors. Still others returned having disturbed the Grove, tracked by its defenders. None of those I can abide.”

“Allow me to pass through unmolested, and bear one hence who is pursued,” I said.

“Ah, now that is more of the sort of request I have become used to.” A pause. “Bring me a fitting repast, a thinking being to consume and so build my legend. If you do this for me, I will not only allow you passage, but I will block your pursuers, whoever they be.”

I gasped. “A…thinking being?”

“As I say, many balk at the price I demand. If you see fit not to provide it, that is your concern. But if you appear before me again, or walk more than an arrow’s shot deep in my woods, without what I ask…I will slay you and set your body out to rot, so that my purpose will be accomplished anyway.

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