An official spread open a map and traced a route with his finger. After ensuring they were going in the correct direction, he told his army to keep proceeding. This army was the pioneer force of a country in the south and was returning after winning a pyrrhic battle which reduced their number to a dozen of men.
“Behind this forest is our home. Hang in there!” The official’s words were replied with a hearty cheer. Seeing that the forest was only a step away, the soldiers were all hopeful and their morale was boosted as they thought back to their family, lovers and friends. All they wanted was to return home as soon as possible.
The sky darkened and mist emerged, so after entering the forest, the soldiers lit their torches to clearly see the road and their companions. Judging from the map, the official expected them to exit the narrow forest in a few minutes. However, even though they already sped up their journey, they were still inside the forest, and the moon had silently climbed onto the sky. After a day of traveling, the soldiers showed signs of tirement as hunger and thirst struck them. It triggered the official to think if they should take a rest before continuing their journey, but he could not let his guard down in this strange place.
While he was contemplating, light flashed before their eyes, and with the light from their torches, the soldiers could see fruits lying on the floor. Too hungry from all the traveling, the soldiers crouched and started stuffing their mouths, paying no regard of the official’s dissuasion. From where the sudden flash had come, a pleasant voice of an adolescent rang: “This is my treat. Have it your way.” Upon hearing this, the official unsheathed his sword and yelled, “Who’s that?”
A figure then approached with the light as the official closely observed the comer — he was wearing a long cloak which was dragging on the ground, and his face was wrapped in black bandages with most of it covered by the cloak. Behind him was a reindeer covered by a black cloth. Almost completely soundless, they slowly walked together to the official.
“I am only a traveler who is planning to spend the night here. This reindeer is my mount.” The traveler continued as he stayed a few feet away from the official: “My appearance is not pleasing, so I am trying to avoid people from seeing me. That is why I only placed the fruits on the ground; please pardon me.”
The official scanned across the traveler’s body and clothing; he could not help but feel an inexpressible sense of eccentricity. However, running into a traveler was what the official wanted, because he could seize the opportunity and get answers for his questions: “Excuse me, but are you from the south?” The traveler replied, “Yes. Are you headed there?” Hopes could be seen in the official’s eyes as he continued asking, “It is our home. How long do we need to travel there from this place?” The traveler answered only after a short pause, “Grass is thick up front. You will need half a day at least, but a woodcutter showed me a shortcut, so I arrived at this forest in just a few minutes. How about I walk you to the shortcut?”
Seeing the traveler’s friendliness, the official was tempted by his suggestion of the shortcut as he thought: ‘Even if he’s a fraud, we outnumber him. There is no way we can lose. Why not give it a try?’ Therefore, he agreed to take the traveler’s suggestion and asked his men to follow him.
On the way, the traveler shared his traveling experience with fervor, so the official thought he was a simple man and hence let his guard down. It was not until they arrived at a place where the moon could not shine did the traveler stop talking and walk slower.
Realizing something amiss, the official called out to the traveler but received no response and instead, he could hear animals’ gasping sounds. The official then hurriedly grabbed the traveler’s arm, but was surprised to have held onto nothing — there was nothing beneath the cloak. He pulled the cloak away from the traveler and could only see a wing inside. With a bonk, the traveler’s head fell onto the floor along with the cloak.
“What is hap...” Before the official could finish his sentence, the reindeer bit onto his neck and tore , leaving the official with no chance to breathe another — the soldiers behind him panicked. They hastily turned around and ran, but they had been guided to somewhere secluded and with many withered trees blocking their way, as if they were trapped in a cage and had no other option but to fight the reindeer. Some of the soldiers retaliated, but the reindeer’s antlers resembled spears, and wings shields. With its enormous strength, the soldiers had no chance of winning. When the last of them was falling onto the ground, he vaguely saw the end of the forest where lights of houses lit the night sky...
After ensuring all of its preys were dead, the reindeer savored them one by one. In a short while, what was left of the dozen of men were a dozen of skulls. The reindeer kicked all the skulls into a tree hole and wrapped one with its wing.
The reindeer slowly walked back to where it could see moonshine. Although it did not move its lips, a voice could be heard: “What a lucky night!” Just then, a happily dancing figure appeared from under the reindeer’s legs, as if the voice came not from the reindeer, but from its shadow.