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Under the Old Oak

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The forest was vast in the Kingdom. The Princess had her champion, even if he was not truly hers, and the realm was restored to peace and warmth. The winter, however, still arrived, though it was not as brutal as it once was. The snow was light, and the air was bitter, but no gales battered the lands. It was almost a peaceful winter. You’d spent the winter mornings breathing the cold air, wandering the woodlands in search of foxes and squirrels as you scribbled ditties into the journal. Music was perhaps the only joy you had anymore, and even Princess Lili was amused by the folk tales. The winter, however, was gone, and so spring had overtaken the trees, bursting forth bluebells heavy with flowers and delicate snowdrops which swayed in the breeze. The trees were bursting with new buds of growth, light, new green leaves bursting from curled up shells, but there was not yet enough of them to block the sun and create a canopy. You let out a breath of warm air into the cool morning and watched it drift away into the trees before you avoided a fairy circle of toadstools and tutted. 


“You are mischievous and rude.” You uttered to the giggling sprites which had laid the trap on the route they knew you took every morning, “And to think I bring you cakes!” You teased as you threw your lunch muffin in the air.

The sprites gasped and darted for the muffin, their sparkly magic light glowing as they each took a sniff and a nibble at the candied fruit decorating the top, “It was a joke!” They giggled as they dragged away the muffin into their mossy homes, “Thank you!” They jeered together as crumbs fell into your hair. You brushed the mess out of your hair before continuing down the mossy path, bouncing around the poisonous toadstools and circles of stones before you reached the stream. It was shallow with the lack of rainfall yet, and you hopped along the deep-set stones, wetting your boots as you went across to reach the soggy bank on the other side. The mud slapped against your boots and you laughed as you headed towards the old oak tree. It sat away from the bank; its roots protected from the constant onslaught of water which would cause it to rot in the silty dirt. With a sigh, you tugged your scarf tighter and sat back against the mossy bed at the base, breathing in the fresh air as the stream trickled on in the background.


After a few more moments of peace, you reached for your satchel and pulled free your journal from the leather bag with your pencil. Your hand harp came out next and you undid the cloth around it to play a little tune, filling the air with a simple set of scaling notes to check the tuning of the instrument. With a twist of one string, it was into the correct range and you opened your notes to look at the new song you have been working on. It was an old ditty, something that your grandmother had sung you as a child before she passed, and you were determined to rewrite the lyrics for the new legend. The old one was a sad tale, of the darkness being born and spreading sadness throughout the land, but you figured the new tale should be something joyful, with an ending that reflected the new era of light that had been bestowed on the world.

“What have I written?” You asked yourself as you opened the page the song was scrawled on, barely able to read your own writing half of the time. With a squint, you started to pluck at the strings, softly, letting the notes gently hang in the air as you opened your mouth to hum the words quietly.

“Under the old oak tree, boughs cast shadows of dark and silt.” You swayed softly, “In the shadow sits eyes of glittering green, watching a maiden of white and snow.” The harp sung with you as you gently continued into the old verse and rolled the words around in your mouth, thinking about how to change them.


“Darkness, temptress, wanted one true love. The Maiden’s honour was not his to tempt, and hero slayed him with the sword.” A couple of sprites listened quietly in the branches over your head before glittering and dashing down into the water to pluck at the new water clovers growing in the silt. With a hum and a flourish, you continued, “The fairest maid denied his request, leaving him in shadows and dust, only for her handsome champion, to part ways when the sun rose up.”

A rabbit snuffled at your boot as you continued, “Daylight blinds her heart, when demons sit afar.” With a soft whistle you continued on, tapping your foot to the beat as you blended into a soft, harp solo and finished with a gentle smile. The rabbit sat quietly, chewing on bluebells before it twitched, its eyes wide with fright as its ears flicked. It twitched again before bolting for the trees and its warren. You jumped with fright as a fox tore past you, hot on the creature’s tail, its teeth snatching at the cotton tail of the rabbit. With a gasp you looked away as the fox caught it by the back legs and tried to ignore the scuffle as it continued into the grass and plants away from you. There was a rush of fur and you looked on sadly as the fox carted its kill past you, dripping with blood. There were squeals in the brush and you tried to take solace in the fact that the mother was feeding her new pups.


Silence stretched out as you scribbled in the notebook, singing soft lines as the air grew warmer and warmer around you, stretching past midday. A few sprites came along to sit on your harp as you continued to sing about the end of the Darkness.

“Darkness sleeps in hearts of man, cruelty and hate combined he thrives.” You whispered, “Yet light blinds and he sleeps he sleeps.”

“A beautiful ditty.” A voice rumbled from behind you, “In details, however, it is wrong.” A beautiful timbre caressed your ears, deep and filled with wisdom of a thousand ages.

You clutched your handheld harp close and looked around the clearing, “Who are you? Where are you hiding?”

“Nowhere. I do not hide. You are sat in the shadows.” The voice purred, “Here I am.”

You flinched as you peered at the long shadows of midday, “The shadows? No creature is shadow.”

“I am no creature.” It purred, “I am the shadows. I am the darkness you are sat in.” It promised, “Can you not see me?”


You looked at the floor and then peered hard at the shadows of the roots before two burning green eyes appeared in the darkness followed by a great smile, pointed fangs snapping before the smile melted away again.

“I am weak here, but I listened to your song. I heard you speak of me, sweetest thing.” The green eyes burned as they watched you.

“Why are you listening?” You asked, fear clutching at your heart, “I’m singing a song of what happened.”

“And your song is beautiful. You speak of the Darkness. I am he.” The Darkness purred as though his mouth was pressed to your ear.

“The Darkness is dead and gone. He was destroyed.” You whispered to the green eyes, “Everyone knows he is dead.”

“Dead?” The creature laughed, “Darkness cannot die, for the folly of man is where I reside. Every human is cruel and foul, and so I will never see an end.” He promised with another hiss, the teeth snapping in the shadows and disappearing once again as he moved along the shadowed roots, peering out from another hole.


“Are you here to goad me…Am I to face the pits of your foul home?” Resolve held your words together as you peered into his burning eyes.

A great, deep chuckle resounded in your ears, and you felt the exhale against the hairs on the back of your neck. He laughed again at your shivering.

“Do you think me a liar? I have told you. I heard your song and came here to listen closer.” A black talon peaked from the shadow before curling back into the darkness.

“Isn’t lying your speciality, oh Lord of Sin.” You spat as you took a step back towards the sunlight.

“Lying? It is a sin, but I do not lie. Witches have pacts with me, I do not lie to them about power. I did not lie to the oh so fair maiden in your tale. She was to be mine. If she did that, she would have been a Queen.” He hissed from the shadows, “Do not twist my words, mortal. I too was lied to in that story.”

“Did you not deserve it? You corrupt the innocent and wanted permanent darkness and death. Those are hardly good things.” You took another step towards the light and the Darkness hissed at you with scorn.

“Think of another tale to sing. Your telling of mine is foul.” The eyes receded back into the shadowed roots before glowing, then disappearing, as the creature closed his eyes. There was silence. You rushed into the sunlight and peered around the clearing as you tried to catch a glimpse of the green eyes burning in the shadows. You rushed back for your harp and bag before making sure to run into the trees and back towards the town.


It got warmer as the week progressed, the leaves on the trees were beginning to unfurl properly and soak up the warming rays of the new sun. After a week you dared to enter the woods again, taking the same path you always did, jumping toadstools until you reached the base of the sprites’ tree.

“I brought you a biscuit.” You offered up into the branches, “They’re lavender and honey, you said you all liked that last time.”

The sprites chittered before taking the biscuit from your fingers and letting crumbs fall into your hair. You brushed at the crumbs and smiled.

“Have you felt anything weird lately?” You asked, “Anything untoward?”

The sprites paused in their eating to look at you confusedly, their little pointed faces confused, “We sense all manner of things. Black and white, light and dark. All are normal in our woods.” One sang before another grinned and tugged at your ear, “White as the unicorn, black as pitch. All is the same to the Fae.” She giggled and the rest sang a soft little rhyme about the fox and the hare.

“You’re all so useless sometimes.” You sighed.

The sprites paused in their dances, “We told you the answer. No lies we speak.” They sang again as they took the food and disappeared back into the moss and birdhouses.

You huffed at the branches, “Useless Fae and their riddles.” You kicked a pebble into the small stream as you slowly moved across the steppingstones.


The water had made new pond weed and sludge grow over the steps and you yelped as your boot slipped and landed in the stream, filling with icy cold water.

“Oh, by the Gods!” You cursed as you hopped along the rest of the stones. When you reached the bank, you hopped a little further, into the dryer dirt before standing on a great pile of moss and upturning your boot. Water splatted onto the dirt and you huffed again as you hopped to the oak and tucked your boot against the trunk along with your other, hoping the warmer air would dry the inside of it.

As usual, you opened your bag and plucked your hand harp from inside the fold, unwrapping the cloth from it carefully before listening to its gentle noise. The soft plucking of the strings rose up into the canopy and you smiled at the noise you had always loved. Your grandmother was the finest harpist you had ever met, and you wished you had her level of skill as you plucked at the notes for the song she had first sung to you as a babe.


“Darkness see the Light, on the break of day. Season turn cold to warm, with her never ending sway. Once the dawn doth break, the dreams are chased away. Darkness see the Light, on the break of day…” You hummed softly, plucking in a gentle cadence as the sunlight worked through the new green leaves, dappling across your face. Soaking in the glow, you let the song die on your lips as the birds sang high above, hidden in the mass of leaves from predators and prying eyes.

“Such a wonderous song.” A dark voice rang out from behind you. Once more, you startled and peered into the roots beneath the giant tree, “Sweet thing, have you come to sing for me again?” The Darkness purred from the depths, his green, burning eyes morphing into the burning orange flames of fire, “Or do you sing of me again to tarnish my name?” He teased as he raised a single claw before curling it back into the shadows, begging for you to come closer.

Fear curled along your spine, “I don’t sing for anyone. I sing for myself.” You promised as you turned on the moss to see the eyes burning into your skin, looking as though into your soul, “I would not sing of you if it were not the song’s lyrics. I have to play this for the town festival.” The confession ran like water and you covered your mouth with a gasp.

“Lies cannot be spoken to me.” The Darkness chortled, “Your songs are tales. Beautifully woven to enchant even the deafest of ears.” He complimented, “I would like to hear another, if you would be so kind?”


“Why should I play for you?” You asked, spitefully, “You almost ruined the world.”

The Darkness laughed again, “Ruined? I merely changed the order. There is balance in the light and dark, and one day that balance will be mine to destroy. The shadows will have their time once again. It is the order of things.” He observed mildly as you held your hand harp closely, trying to avoid his intense gaze.

“Would you destroy everything to have it?” You asked, curiosity burning away at the anxiety in your gut.

The Darkness hummed, “Perhaps. But perhaps it would be best to turn the humans to my own side.” He grinned, as though a new nefarious plan was forming in his mind, white teeth glittering in the roots of the tree before he spoke again, “Play for me little harpist. One more song, I beg of you. The sound is like nothing I have below.”

“And what is it you have below, Darkness.” You asked as you opened your book.

His smile faded, “Screams and bellows. The sound of the foulest torture. There is some music in my power, but it is not that of…” His mouth moved before he spat the word, “Innocence…or purity. There is little joy in it.”


“You do not lie…do you?” You whispered as the eyes burned.

“Why would I lie about such things?” He spat, “Sing for me, please. Play a song.” There was tiredness in his voice as his mouth disappeared into the blackness of the shadows and dirt.

“I can sing for you.” You nodded gently and sat before the shadowed roots, ignoring the burning orange gaze as you remembered the next line of the song.

“Behold the singing song bird, watch the bubbling stream. Before the dawn breaks, naught can be seen. Dreams of sorrows past, chased by the burning light. No more will they bother you, despite the aching blight. Darkness see the Light, on the break of day.”

The Darkness’ eyes lowered with the song, his gaze low and tired as his claws slid back into the roots, disappearing into the dark chasm of his own shadows.

Your voice came to an end, and you opened your eyes not to see the Lord of Darkness nor his gaze. There was silence as the leaves rustled over your head, flapping against one another as you sat, staring into the roots, wondering where the creature had disappeared to during your tale.


A groggy noise of discontent sounded, “Why did you stop singing, song bird?” He asked, a single eye peering out from the shadows.

With a smile you chuckled, “I thought you had fallen asleep.”

The Darkness smiled, fangs exposed as he laughed, “I was close. Your music is gentle, like a Mother’s song to a babe.” He complimented, “You surely sing for the court?” He asked.

A blush graced your cheeks, “No, I sing for myself.” You reaffirmed, “One day I will maybe share my songs with the world…but not for now.”

The Darkness watched you for a moment, “I could make it happen.” He tempted softly, “There would be no one that didn’t know your name.”

“I won’t fall for your temptation.” You huffed, “I would rather sing and make the children happy than be forced to entertain the King and his finicky court.”

“Then perhaps a world without a King is what you truly desire?” He asked with another purr.

“Don’t twist my words against me. I want nothing from you.” You told him as you laid your harp back in your bag.


The Darkness opened his other eye, “Nothing? After such a graceful performance…” He tutted to himself before he twisted a finger into the dirt and you watched your boots wiggle, as though there were invisible feet within them, “Consider this a small token.”

You watched as your boots marched their way over, under the influence of some sort of magic, before jumping and landing in your lap, cosy, lined with rich fur and utterly bone dry. They shined bright with wax polish and smelled as though they were new.

“I…” You stuttered, “I can’t accept these. They’re made for royalty.” You brushed the fur inside.

“Take them. It is payment for your music and for your craft. Wear them well, little bird.” He purred before you watched his eyes grow tired again, the orange turning green and disappearing into the roots randomly before he hummed and disappeared entirely, “I will see you again.”

“Yes…See you next time.” You whispered as the roots twisted and knotted back into place, the Oak hiding where the creature had once been beneath it, “Maybe I’ll have something new for you.” You pulled on the heavy boots and smiled at the warmth and the fit before rushing back over the stream.


You jumped from the rocks and smiled as you looked back into the trees. The sprites bolted from their homes.

“Darkness clings and darkness takes hold.” They whispered in your ears, hidden along your coat collar, “Temptation is the beginning of sin.” They rushed before ripping through your hair, “Careful little one. Darkness tempts in other ways.”

“What do you mean?” You asked but they disappeared up into their homes, leaving glittering dust behind them. You looked up and listened to the silence of the birds before rushing to make your way home before the darkness decided to set in. The sprites cowered in their moss homes as the night rolled in that night, and the wolves howled beneath their trees.


“Does the bird’s song ever wake you?” The Darkness asked from his shadowed hole, his eyes watching your fingers move over the harp, “You only come to sing as the Sun raises to its highest point.” He observed, “Does someone else occupy your time?” He asked with a hiss.

“No.” You plucked a string particularly forcefully, “I’m busy in the mornings.” You confessed, “I have to cook and clean for myself now.” You felt tears well in your eyes.

“What troubles you?” The Darkness asked, the tips of his claws peaking from the roots.

“My Mother passed.” You confessed, “She was all I had left.” You whispered and the Darkness reached out before recoiling from the sunlight with a howl, forgetting himself as his eyes flared with anger.

“Does her passing not anger you. Such sorrow is ill-fitting. I have heard your song in the night.” There was a flicker of something in the shadows, “Can I not offer you some solace, bird?”

“I want nothing of your tricks, Darkness.” You spat, “I want to remember her in her chair, not as a walking corpse.”

The Darkness recoiled at your spite, “I offer no such thing…Only my company. If you would have it?”

You did not keep your shock to yourself, “Truly? You won’t trick me and drag me away into your hellhole?”

He laughed, “No, sweet thing. Where would the fun in that be?” The creature teased before tugging at your bag, “Sing your sorrows. Soon, your heart will not feel the pain anymore.”

You took hold of your bag and took out your hand harp, tightening one string with a watery smile before you sung late into the afternoon, beginning the process of healing your own heart.


“Will you stay a little longer?” The Darkness asked as the sun reached to dip below the horizon. You’d been visiting for so long that you couldn’t remember the time before you did. Your days creating were much more fun with someone to critique your lyrics.

“It will be night-time soon.” You muttered over the rain which pattered against the Oak’s leaves. You were protected underneath it’s canopy, huddled in your fur, your boots tucked against you as you looked out at the rain. The stream bubbled with fresh new water, rushing harshly against the rocks.

“Night is just the day without light. What troubles you so that you cannot walk in it? There is nothing to harm you in these woods.” He offered, eyes flickering with green jealousy.

“There are wolves and mean sprites at night. Even forgetting that, I can’t find my way back without being able to see where I’m putting my feet.” You joked as the Darkness’ fingers tested the space outside of the roots, his claws curling into his own palm.

“Wolves are not after prey such as you.” The Darkness rebuked, “If I were here, no evil is greater than I. We would be alone, to enjoy the silence.”

You noted the whimsical tone of his statement, “Alone?” You asked gently, “Alone to do what? I have no songs about the night.”

He did not miss the joke, “All I would ask is that you sit, and talk with me.”


The rain hissed as it poured against the trees and greenery. You were both quiet for a moment as you digested his request.

“Perhaps not tonight.” You replied, “I…”

“I do not need an explanation.” The Darkness’ tone was harsh, “I understand that your kindness does not go that far.”

“This is not a kindness. I do not pity you.” Taking a handful of leaves, you began to peel them from their stems.

“If not pity, then why do you still come?” He asked with a snarl, his pointed teeth clenched.

Peeling another leaf apart, you wondered why you still entertained his request, “I suppose that I have come to enjoy your retched company.”

“You flatter me, harpist.” The anger seemed to dissolve from him, “Then why not come, entertain me in flesh, tonight?”


“Not tonight.” You smiled as you stood up, gathering your harp and shaking the sticks from your coat, “I heard there will be a storm soon.”

The Darkness moaned softly in the shadows, “Yes. Such a wonderous event. The fear, the agony and the unrest to the land. A time for my shadows to spread further.” He purred inside the roots before his burning gaze rested on you, “Meet me then, in the thunderstorm, I beg of you, my sweet.” His claws peered from the shadow before receding.

The taste of blood covered your tongue from biting your cheek, “When?”

“The day after next.” He whispered as you dipped your hand into the roots. The cold touch of the shadows made you shudder before there was a press of something to the back of your hand, “Wear something to dance.” The Darkness hummed before his lids grew tired and he disappeared into the roots. You jumped and took your hand back as the oak tree groaned and moved back its old roots, hiding the opening once more.  


Thunder crashed for most of the next day before the real storm swirled over the land, black clouds twisting in on one another, rolling and spewing torrents of hammering rain. Wind blew down the mountainside for most of the morning. Carefully you chose and outfit in the afternoon, shuddering as the rain bounced off your windows, twirling in the fine silks and singing with the harp clutched in your hand about angering the mother of the skies. You watched the sun set as you ate, spooning your food into your mouth as fast as you could manage before you stole away into your room to grab at the large coat. The rain lightening as you stepped outside, your harp protected in your bag from the torrents. With a smile, you bounced into the woodlands from the cottage’s backdoor, mouth open wide as you sung once more.

“Rain and wind, thunder and howl, across ye plains. Birth of life, green and root, into the soil ‘gain. As the sun sleeps, douse the land, with water o’plenty. Watch and wait for Mother to sing, about when the larder was empty.” You sang as you rushed into the woods, listening in fear for the wolves as the rain slowed to a drizzle. Your hood flew from your head as you rushed beneath and over the homes of many animals, hunkered down away from the foul weather.


Suddenly, you were laughing, twirling into the stream as the rain soaked your hair and the water filled your pumps. A great thunderous crash made you face the sky, looking into the clouds as blue electricity singed across their surface. Another crash was accompanied with a flash of light and you grinned at the power of it before jumping from the stream and throwing your coat off, the silks attached to your shoulders flaring as you plucked your harp from your bag and played over the rain and thunder, spinning in the moss beneath the Old Oak.

“Sweet harpist.” The Darkness purred and you opened your eyes as black silk and cloth rippled in front of the tree, the roots closing with a groan of upset behind his giant figure. The clothing covering him draped over his giant, ebony horns, falling in waves that rippled with the wind. You peered into the hood and saw his orange eyes. His eyes watched you, panting, sodden with the rain falling from the sky. His clawed hand reached from within the cloth covering and you span from his reach with a gentle pluck of your harp.

“You tease me.” He offered before another thunderous crash sounded, along with his laughter. The cape hood and cape around him billowed again in the wind, the encrusted jewels clinking, and you looked to see as the silk around his arms in two cuffs ripple gently. His form was interchangeable, and you watched him float before two cloven hooves thudded to the ground from beneath the bottom seam of the cloth.


“Are you going to dance with me, my lord?” You asked as you span to play your harp away in your bag, thrown beneath the tree.

The Darkness nodded from within the hood and offered his red, clawed hands once more, “Let us celebrate this night.” He rumbled; his voice distorted as the thunder rumbled again overhead.

In his palms, your hands were dwarfed by his own, and you held onto them tightly as the Darkness drew you in closer to him, his silks blending with your own before he led you around in a small circle, one arm outstretched and the other placed at your hip. The cadence of the rain grew louder and louder as you both twirled past the oak tree and through the woodlands, trampling flowers and brambles as you span around in each other’s embrace. Rain soaked you as you laughed and ducked beneath his arms, and the Darkness howled with laughter as the thunder crashed and boomed overhead. A lightning flash revealed his red face, sharp, angular, and long with a mouth of white teeth, his incisors long and sharp. He leaned over and you reached to catch his face, pausing your dance in a great meadow which was soiled and boggy with water. Gently, you took hold of his cheeks, running your wet thumbs over his boiling skin. His hooves sunk in the mud as he leaned closer to you, staring into your eyes as the rain dripped from his great horns.


“I suppose you think me a monster?” He asked as the thunder rolled above you both, drowning his bitter laughter from your ears.

“You’re the Darkness. You are not man nor monster.” You whispered close to his lips, “You are balance and sin.” It seemed like your tongue was loosened, “The sprites warned me…about temptation but you have given me nothing but comfort. There has been no agony, only laughter.” You reached to his pointed ears and closed your eyes as the rain rushed over you both.

The Darkness raised his great cloak and shielded you both from the downpour as his lips pressed against your own. It was gentle at first, hot and intimate, before his teeth nipped at your lower lip and his pointed tongue pressed into your mouth, hot against the coldness of your own mouth from standing in the rain. The Darkness wrapped you tighter beneath his cloth, the silk brushing your damp skin as one large hand cupped your face, his thumb tipping your head higher, and his other skated down your chest before cupping the small of your back.


The kiss was long and passionate, filled with the decadence of the night, some things that the light simply could not offer to you. He pulled himself away from your lips, leaving you gasping for air as you recovered, wrapped in his great cloak.

“I feel…many things, when I am with you, little one.” The Darkness confessed into the folds of his cloak, his eyes looking into your own, meeting them with a confidence you had never seen before in an courter, “I would make you my ruler.” He confessed as he pressed your hand to his hot chest, underneath the cloth.

You looked up at him as rain dripped from his horns and over your own face, dripping down the bridge of your nose in speedy tracks, “I don’t want to be a master.”

“Then play for me, for all time. Play music and inspire my name into those once more.” He begged softly, clutching your hands before he hissed, the thunder crashing overhead once more.

“Can we be together?” You asked in a whisper, fear making your fingers tremble.

“For eternity.” He promised, “Beyond and after the ends of time. Sing songs of Darkness and Love for me.”



There was another rumble, and you took his hands again, before the lightning struck a tree in the distance sending fire and wood exploding into the sky. His hood disappeared with a gale of wind before the cloth and silk wrapped around you once more and the Darkness hefted you into his arms, bleeding black with shadows and darkness as the storm and its plight fed him power. You leaned back in awe of the sky, rain burning your eyes as the clouds rolled above you. A great growl sounded from your lover’s chest before he laid you back against a great stone tablet, made for the harvest ceremonies of the fae. Your back met the stone gently before the silks slapped and stuck to the rock and you moved backwards as a furred leg rested against the edge. Red and black merged on his skin as he took hold of the silk and pulled you to the lip of the table, his eyes hungry for a taste of you.


“Can we do this here?” You asked, breath escaping you as his huge form covered you, the black material shielding you from the rain as he stole another deep kiss.

“Yes. Anywhere. Whenever. I adore you.” He heaved as he pulled away, his words heavy in the air as he leaned back to tear as your clothing, exposing perfection to his gaze, “You are temptation.” He uttered with another heavy groan as lightning struck the earth again, “Glorious Sin.” He moaned as his tongue laved at your neck, tasting the flesh, “Surely this is what innocence tastes of. Purity and…” The Darkness broke off into another guttural moan as he kissed down your chest, pressing his tongue to your nipples, enjoying them as they hardened into sharp peaks. His hot breath pebbled your cold skin and he moved over your stomach, squeezing, and enjoying himself as he reached the dip of your hips. His tongue dipped to wrap around you, and you writhed against the table as rain crashed against the hillside.