By: Timothy Law
The year is 514, Vladimir the Young is Sage-King of the human kingdom of Thuraen.
The year is 5,297, Ulan is High Prince, Derek is Low Prince and Sienna Alknown is Mother Druid of the sylvan Princedom of Greenwood Vale.
Paechra, druidess, returned home at last looked into the eyes of her fellow sylvan. The soldiers, protectors of the forest of Greenwood Vale stared back.
"You call me princess," stated Paechra, not for the first time. "Why?"
Finally, one of the sylvan plucked up the courage to speak to the druid.
"Sister Paechra do you not recall the announcement made by High Prince Derek and Mother Druid Sienna?" the soldier asked.
The humans, Thomas the Butcher, Anton the Head of the Truth Keepers, Michael the father of Johannas Stormsong and Queen Catherine all listened in with various levels of interest. Thomas and Anton who had the least amount of interest spent most of their time examining the weapons and armor of the forest creatures. The two humans exchanged smirks for the equipment seemed primitive when compared with the steel blades and the ring mail undershirts that they wore at their hip and across their chest under their cotton shirts.
"Yes, the betrothal," replied Paechra to her kin. "So much has happened to me since leaving Greenwood Vale that I had clear forgotten the reason for my going in the first place."
"Princess Paechra," continued another of the sylvan males. "We had made the assumption that your fiancé had finally found you and brought you home."
"Low Prince Derek?" queried Paechra. "He is not here?"
"No princess, the Low Princess also left Greenwood Vale," explained one of the sylvan soldiers.
"Let me guess, Derek followed after me the same day that I left, correct," stated Paechra.
"Correct, Sister Paechra," replied the one that seemed most likely to be the decision maker for the six sylvan soldiers that were there. "We initially thought both you and your betrothed would have returned in a day or two."
"We were surprised that you were absent for many months and more surprised now that you have returned but we can see no sign of the low prince."
"So, Derek is still missing?" asked Paechra.
"You are to be a princess?" suddenly asked Queen Catherine.
Finally, the sylvan soldiers acknowledged that the humans were there. The soldiers seemed surprised that Paechra's companions could speak, even though each of the humans had exclaimed shock and surprise just as Paechra did when their guide had at first been addressed.
"Please show respect to our ones of royal blood," begged one of the soldiers, his hand hovered close to his weapon's hilt but at a sign from his superior he visibly relaxed.
Paechra and her human companions all noticed this. Anton quickly drew his own blade halfway from its hilt before Michael stepped across the forest floor to meet him face to face.
"Do not be a fool, Anton," whispered Michael into the Head Truth Keeper's ear.
"Who is the fool that you come across and lay a hand upon me?" asked Anton gruffly.
Slightly behind with what was going on, Thomas a moment later drew his own hand to his sword hilt but Paechra stopped him with a simple glance.
"Come, release these guests into the capable care of a princess of Greenwood Vale and I will lead them to my home," commanded the druid.
"As you wish, Princess Paechra," announced the leader of the sylvan soldiers and with a single note from his lips he ordered the other five forest born to depart.
In the blink of an eye all six vanished silently into the undergrowth as if they had never been there.
"Amazing," murmured Thomas the Butcher.
"I have seen Truth Keepers on the boarder do it far better," said Anton with his arms crossed and an unimpressed look.
"Nonsense," scoffed Michael.
Before he had been given the role of carer of prisoners, Michael Stormsong had been a well-respected Truth Keeper.
"Are we going to stand around and argue until we are caught off-guard again?" asked Paechra. "Or will you all just happily follow me?"
"We have been following you blindly for some time now, witch," growled Anton. "So far we have followed that now you give us no choice."
Michael again made to step in and address Anton but before he could Paechra merely nodded.
"Good," she said. "It is decided then."
With that the druid led confidently through the thick forest. Queen Catherine was the next to follow after, then Michael. Thomas stayed back, waiting to see what Anton would do.
"Come boy, we must not lag behind or the witch could just disappear, and we'd be lost forever," stated the Head of the Truth Keepers.
"Right you are," agreed Thomas, stating this to Anton's back.
Like a snake the five flowed through the trees and into the darkness.
It took five hours of trudging along to reach something that resembled a stone structure.
"Are we there yet?" moaned Thomas.
"We have been here for at least half an hour," Paechra laughed in reply. "Look up above you."
Amongst the treetops as the humans paused to peer upwards they all discovered strange huts and other buildings made from lumber with vine bridges joining them together creating some sort of thoroughfare. Figures stared down at the humans curiously.
"Daughter, Paechra!" called one figure, similarly dressed as Paechra was.
"Mother!" Paechra called back joyously. "Shall you come down to meet my companions?"
"Of course, I shall," stated Paechra's mother.
Queen Catherine looked on with interest while Thomas, Anton and Michael all seemed distraught as the older sylvan woman scampered down the trunk of the tree skipping from branch to branch without fear or failure. Soon she was at ground level, embracing her daughter with a kiss on both cheeks.
Paechra in turn greeted her mother with an identical ritual. After this she turned to address the four humans.
"Queen Catherine of Thuraen, Anton, Michael and Thomas, please meet my mother, Sarah Lightheart."
Thomas squawked like a parrot as his cheeks were suddenly brushed by Sarah's lips. Michael smiled and silently returned the greeting gesture. Anton tried to avoid the light kisses causing Paechra to rumble with disapproval. Sarah's kisses for Anton became air pecks. The druid did not flinch when Anton offered no kisses in return. Queen Catherine looked on with distrust as Sarah Lightheart approached her. To the human queen's surprise, the older druid bowed towards her with closed eyes.
"I can feel your blood is regal," announced Sarah which in turn caused Catherine to blush scarlet at her cheeks almost as if she had been kissed all along.
There was a moment where Sarah suddenly gasped.
"And you are with child," she whispered, so quietly that only the queen overheard.
Queen Catherine nodded mutely.
"Come!" called Sarah then, up into the canopy above. "We must treat these companions of my daughter Paechra just like the guests they are."
There was a scurry of movement and a crowd of sylva made their way from the treetops, each one with as much agility as Sarah had shown. Each of the humans was offered a wooden goblet filled with a refreshing brew.
"What is this?" asked Michael in awe.
One of the sylva, the man who had given him the drink smiled broadly.
"It is a local drink, a mix of seasoned fruits and the crystal waters of our steam."
"It is utterly delicious," replied Michael.
"It is satisfactory," added Anton.
"It is way better than that!" cried Thomas.
Immediately the Butcher caught Anton's glare and the far younger man suddenly withdrew.
Queen Catherine graciously sipped her goblet and sighed as it began to relieve her aches and pains.
"Magical," murmured the queen dreamily.
Suddenly Queen Catherine gasped as she felt her baby kick.
"You must rest, oh royal one," announced Sarah.
"Come, mother, lead on to the Druid's Grove," suggested Paechra.
"Come sisters, we must away," then said Sarah, taking Queen Catherine by the hand.
"I will not allow you to take my queen," growled Anton.
"Yeah, Queen Catherine stays with us," added Thomas the Butcher, suddenly springing out of his embarrassment.
"You are being a fool once more Anton," announced Michael although this time he did not approach the Head Truth Keeper. "And you Thomas, you are acting like the child that you are."
"Michael, you this time are the fool," countered Anton. "You are swanning around like these creatures are your friends."
"We don't know them," added Thomas. "We have only just met them."
"Be quiet, all of you!" commanded the queen. "You are not my keeper, none of you are."
There was a moment of silence in the forest and then Queen Catherine released a sigh.
"Now I am going with these women to a place of peace where I plan to find some much needed rest and some time away from all of you," the queen explained in such a way that she was certain there would be no arguments.
Thomas made to speak but a single stern look from Anton and Michael both caused him to only make a little squeak.
"As you so wish, Queen Catherine," replied Anton.
Arms linked with Paechra and Sarah the queen then turned and left with a trail of seven more druids falling in behind them.
"What do we do now?" Thomas whispered as the druids left.
Catherine did not remain behind to see if there was a response.
The Druid's Grove was a pristine place of peace. A crystal clear waterfall gushed musically down a limestone cliff face. As Catherine arrived with Sarah and Paechra beside her she laughed in delight at the blanket of flowers that greeted her, a rainbow of colors with a perfume easily able to still the troubling thoughts of her mind.
"This is paradise," the queen suggested.
From a little away from the roar of the falls Catherine could see ten or more of the sylvan women bathing in the gentle current. Their clothing all sat in neat bundles resting upon the stream's edge. The women were all chatting and laughing, enjoying their swim.
"Sisters! Sisters! Be there room for more swimmers?" asked Paechra as she let go of Catherine's arm and began to undress.
"Sister Paechra," chorused the bathers. "It is so wonderful to have you returned to us."
"I have missed you all," cried back Paechra. "But it is you Heidi that I have missed the most."
"And I in turn have missed you dearly, my friend," called back one of the women, one who Catherine assumed was Heidi.
As Catherine looked around the grove she felt a true comradery. It was something that she missed when she married her husband, Prince Fredrickson who in turn became King of Thuraen. She wondered how long she might be able to stay amongst those women and that feeling.
"Sadly, nowhere near long enough," Queen Catherine considered, choosing not to share such thoughts aloud.
"Come, your royalness, please come and share with us this ritual," urged Sarah.
Catherine noticed that this druid as well was already partly undressed.
There was only one who was not swimming. Catherine saw that one lone figure lay comfortably with her back to a broad, ancient oak.
"Who might that be, resting there?" Catherine asked as she too began to struggle with her clothes.
"That is our Mother Druid Sienna," called Paechra before she slipped from the edge of the stream into the water.
"She is often at prayer," added Sarah.
"But that is not always the case," announced the figure.
Milky white eyes slowly opened, and Catherine realized that the figure was actually quite old.
"Come, daughters one and all," called the Mother Druid. "Who will gain my blessing and help me to rise?"
"I shall," called back Catherine and swiftly she made her way to the great tree.
"I felt your presence," announced Sienna as Catherine gentle took her hands. "The presence of two in fact of royal blood."
Catherine nodded and then remembered the milky eyes.
"Yes, I am with child."
"Then we must bathe you and rid you of the stink of the ghoul," suggested Sienna. "Why my daughter thought to travel that way is anyone's guess."
"Mother Sienna!" cried Paechra from the water.
At this outburst the other druids laughed.
"Child of adventure you always were, Paechra," Mother Druid Sienna then said with a laugh of her own. "To expect anything less would be to expect the unexpected."
Queen Catherine hurriedly finished undressing before she then reached out to help Sienna.
"I am fine as I am, human girl," said Sienna. "Too old am I to waste my time peeling back skin after skin only to put it back on again."
True to her word Sienna then took Catherine's hand in both of hers and with confidence she stepped forward, gently gliding into the steam.
As Sienna led Catherine further into the water the queen felt all of her worries just melt away.
"What is this place, this paradise?" said Catherine with a sigh.
"It is the heart of the forest and our sacred home," replied the Mother Druid.
"Now queen it is time for us to place you beneath the water," stated Heidi.
"Fear not Catherine, open your eyes and witness the wonder," then added Paechra.
The two younger druids were at Catherine's right and left. Gently they each placed a hand upon a shoulder and slowly pushed the human downwards. Catherine kept her eyes open as suggested. As her head dropped beneath the water's surface a whole new world was opened to her sight. Aquatic creatures, more colorful than the wild growing flowers flittered and floated like a smorgasbord of delight. Pretty rock formations, statues and altars littered every visible space. More druids swam in and out of tunnels, seemingly able to hold their breath forever.
"Arise, Queen Catherine and child unknown," cried the Mother Druid, her voice heard muffled through the water.
As bidden Queen Catherine rose again she felt reborn. Her baby kicked as if it were broken free and swimming itself. The glorious feeling of butterflies caused Catherine to giggle and gasp.
With arms raised high and milky eyes shut tight Mother Druid Sienna began to pray.
"Spirit of this sacred grove please bless our guest and her precious gift."
"Of this we pray," the other druids all echoed, almost one voice lending its support.
"Please relieve of them this burden that is held in the mind and the heart."
Again, the chorus of voices replied.
"Grant them peace and happiness while they gift us with joy in return."
"And please make certain that my loyal company find the same peace and happiness also," added the queen.
There was a gasp from the gathered druids as it seemed like Queen Catherine had interrupted the prayer.
"Yes, such peace and happiness your companions can find here," stated Sienna. "We must all help them to find it."
As the prayer came to an end Catherine felt a weight lifted from her.
"Thank you, Mother Druid," the queen said graciously.
Then Queen Catherine rose from the waters to her full height and bending forward she lightly brushed Sienna's cheeks with her lips.
"Thank you for your welcome, I feel I shall be happy here," Queen Catherine announced. "Thank you Paechra, thank you for showing me what I never knew I needed."
With a beaming smile upon her lips Paechra came up to embrace Catherine and then Sienna.
"You have done well my daughter of the Druid's Grove," announced Sienna. "That my eyes were not so blinded that I could look upon you once again."
"Mother Sienna, I thank thee for your kindest of praises," replied Paechra. "Let your heart tell your eyes what you see, and I pray that my image will live up to you imagination."
"You need not live up to my imagination," answered Sienna as she embraced Paechra in return. "You must only live up to your own hopes and dreams."
"I promise I shall," said Paechra with a smile.
As Queen Catherine watched on and listened closely to the joy around her she realized all it was that Paechra Lightheart had given up to seek out the human realm. Such a sacrifice, resulting in such a benefit for Catherine and hopefully a peace for the others that she travelled with. There was much to be grateful for.