Suddenly, Galen and Rose heard a commotion in the Wood. They stopped and peered in, straining to see through the fog. Then, with one graceful bound, a magnificent white stag leapt over the path in front of them and disappeared into the forest on the other side. Close behind appeared Edmund, bow in hand, haggard and out of breath. He lurched onto the path.
“Edmund, wait!” cried Galen, but it was too late. His brother had leapt off the path again, before Galen could make a move to stop him. Edmund followed the stag’s trail and was soon swallowed by the fog.
“I must go after him!” Galen declared. But Rose held him back, saying, “No, my prince! Remember the warning. If you leave the path, you too will become enchanted, and all will be lost.”
Galen looked sadly after his brother and knew that she was right. With slow, reluctant steps, he continued down the path.
In a few hours the mist that had covered the forest began to clear, and Galen and Rose stopped to rest. Galen forced himself to eat although he had no appetite. As the two sat on the ground, they felt a faint vibration; then heard a drumming sound, which quickly grew louder and louder. Rose and Galen were nearly knocked from the path when a riderless, wild-eyed horse galloped by. “Owen’s charger!” cried Galen. “But what has become of my brother?”
A clash of metal upon metal sounded in the Wood. Suddenly Owen and the black knight emerged from the trees, locked in endless combat. Owen looked worse than Edmund had, for he bled from many wounds. Galen drew his sword, ready to run to his brother’s side. Then he hesitated and turned to Rose. “This is indeed an evil wood,” declared Galen. “I cannot risk setting foot off this path, even to help my own brothers.” Slowly Galen put away his sword and turned from his brother, saying grimly, “Let us go on.”
Galen was lost in sorrow at the fate of his two brothers, and he wondered what doom the Enchanted Wood held for him. He felt this feet grow heavier with each step. After a while, he spoke. “I cannot understand this enchanted place. My brothers were tempted by what they love most, hunting and fighting. But where, then, is my temptation?”
“Don’t you see?” said Rose. “What you love most is your brothers, so you wanted to leave the road to help them. Instead, you chose to stay on the path and remain true to your purpose to help all the people of the kingdom.”
As she spoke, Galen noticed that all around them the forest had begun to change. Trees that were stunted and leafless a moment before began to branch and bud. Blossoms appeared on lifeless thorn bushes. Pale green points sprang up out of the moldy earth, turning into wildflowers that spread over the ground like a carpet being unrolled for a king. Watching the forest change, Galen felt lighter and less burdened. Then, as they walked around a bend, the path came to an end in a sunny, open glade.
There, in the center of the clearing, stood a wonderful tree, the like of which they had never seen. They understood that here was the Heart of the World, as old as the earth itself. Three enormous trunks intertwined and grew as one, in perfect harmony of form. The great tree’s crown of leaves shone red-gold in the light, and a spring poured from between its roots, forming a small pool that sparkled in the sun.
Without hesitation, Galen cupped his hands and filled them. He drank deeply of the water from the Heart of the World, and then he said, “It is my solemn wish that, from this time on, there will always be enough rain for a bountiful harvest throughout the land.” Immediately dark rain clouds began to form overhead, blowing southward toward the parched fields of the kingdom. Galen had fulfilled the quest.
(To be continued…)