It's one thing to forbid the worship of a god, and another to command that it be forgotten. One day I found the oldest tree of all, a black oak bigger than twelve men could encircle with their arms, and I knew it for the one Na called Heart of The Wood. Dolls of twigs and shucks dangled from its branches: right side up to cure barreness, upside down to bring on a miscarriage. Mudwomen had dared to put them there, knowing that if the kingsmen had caught them in the woods out of turn, they might also hang from those branches.
But that was all bravado. Already - how had it come about so quickly - desire had begotten need. A few whispered words (perhaps he didn't mean them) and I was ready to follow. It was worse to think of staying behind, to grind one day upon another. Nothing to hold me here. None to regret my leaving, save Az.
I knew by the signs it would be a hard winter. The hollies bore a heavy crop of berries and birds stripped them bare. Crows quarreled in reaped fields and owls cried in the mountains, mournful as widows. Fur and moss grew thicker than usual. Cold rains came, driven sideways through the trees by north winds, and snows followed.
I took to the Kingswood the midsummer after the Dame died. I did not swear a vow, but I kept to myself just as strictly, living like a beast in the forest from one midsummer to the next, without fire or iron or the taste of meat. I lived as prey, and I learned from the dogs how to run, from the hare how to hide in the bracken, and from the deer how to go hungry.In sorrow and pride I exiled myself to Kingswood. I shunned fire for I feared the kingsmen would hunt me down, and so by the way of cold and hunger I came near to refusing life itself. I never thought to anger or please a god by it.
But I found signs of their trespass: a burned patch planted with a fistful of grain, a tree felled or stripped of fruit, a deer strung up in a snare. I never saw a poacher. They were too cunning, and for cause: the foresters would take a man's hands and eyes and leave him to the mercy of the wolves for such an offense. It was bad enough to steal the king's game, but snares were an abomnination. The gods abhor weapons that leave the hand, coward' weapons such as javelins, bows and arrows, slings. No man or beast should die by such means.
The master and mistress of the house and the rest of the Blood -even the Crux himself- brought our food, poured the wine, did our bidding. The centerpiece was a roasted stag. crowned with gilded antlers and stuffed with songbirds; they had hunted well. We were forbidden to kill the deer that fattened on our coleworts and stole our grain, and the venison tasted all the better for the salt of revenge.