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.
The High Prince Ulan watched patiently while the Druids and the humans finished their meal. The enormity of The Great Hall where they all sat eating muffled any noise leaving a calming silence. When Ulan was satisfied that the meal was over, he clapped his hands and the sylvan from the kitchen appeared to take the dishes away.
"Are we all satisfied?" the high prince asked.
There came a chorus of noises from the humans, especially Anton, all seemed surprised by how satisfied they were after the sylvan fare.
"Mother Sienna, are you well and satisfied?" Ulan then asked of the elder druid.
"Our High Prince Ulan refers to Sienna Alknown as Mother due to her role," whispered Paechra to the humans, her tone hushed. "He does not call her his mother; she did not birth him."
Thomas blushed at the mention of birthing. Anton grumbled under his breath. Michael just nodded to show that he had heard and understood.
"Paechra!" cried Sarah Lightheart, Paechra's mother. "If you must speak of such things your tone must be minimal."
"As you so say, mother," replied Paechra.
"Daughter, Sarah I understand that you speak as a mother," added Sienna. "Please see your daughter's words as guidance for our guests."
"Your words are wisdom as always, Mother Sienna," stated Sarah with a bow. "Sister Druid Paechra it was indeed of pure purpose which guided your speech, I retract my advisement and request that you carry on."
Paechra sat in silence. She nodded thanks to the Mother Druid and then thanks to her mother.
"That which I had to say I have said," Paechra replied. "With graciousness I now request that our high prince continue."
"As you so wish," laughed High Prince Ulan. "If it is to the satisfaction of you all I ask that you please follow me."
High Prince Ulan then rose from his chair and the sylvan guards that escorted him both stood beside their high prince, ready.
Paechra took the hand of Mother Sienna and Queen Catherine, the trio were the next to leave as Ulan and his guards made their way out of the great dining hall.
"See here!" announced High Prince Ulan as he paused in his walk along the fortress passageways.
As a group they had stopped at the entrance to a great stone room full of magnificent statues. Some of the works of art had been carved from still living trees while others were built from stone similar to that which made up the fortress walls, roof, and flooring. Many were statues of figurines; fighting sequences between sylvan and vorsurk, a scene of love between two forest dwellers, or a regal figure hunting a dazzling creature of the woodlands. Other works of art were placed in and around the statues, a painting of a younger Sienna which looked so lifelike, a bust adorned with a necklace of precious jewels, spears and blades carved from wood that honed mean looking edges and dangerously sharpened points.
"This is beautiful," murmured Catherine as she stopped briefly to stare.
"If you should like such things," grumbled Anton.
Paechra noticed the look that the Head Truth Keeper gave to the weaponry, he was interested and impressed. Thomas had eyes for the jewelry. Michael Stormsong admired it all.
"Come, we have much more to see," announced the high prince.
"He is showing off, isn't he," Sienna mumbled to Paechra and Catherine.
"Well, I for one am certainly impressed," announced Queen Catherine of Thuraen.
"Next he will be showing us the orchards," Paechra grumbled.
"And please take your time to admire," stated Ulan next.
Again, the group paused and as Paechra predicted the high prince had paused at the entrance to an internal garden.
"Please we must stop," begged Michael.
Before he had been given his role at the human kingdom capital as jailer, before Anton had been promoted to the role of Head Truth Keeper, Head Truth Keeper Michael Stormsong had kept the most beautiful garden in the whole of Andrapaal, perhaps the whole kingdom of Thuraen.
"As you wish," said High Prince Ulan with a smile.
"How?" Michael wondered as he reverently made his way under the ivy arch.
"Why?" grumbled Anton, the Head Truth Keeper deciding not to enter, instead remaining in the passage with his back to the wall.
"Is that a peach tree?" asked Thomas. "Those fruits are enormous."
The butcher followed after Michael and then pushed past the figure in front. Striding purposefully Thomas was before the tree he sought within mere moments. In less time than that he had plucked three ripe fruits the size of wine skins.
"Apples too?" Thomas cried in disbelief.
The butcher's hands were already covered in honey like nectar as he left the peaches, two whole and one partly eaten and ventured deeper into the orchard.
"How can you eat after the meal we have just had?" asked Sienna in disbelief.
"Oh, Mother Druid," laughed Paechra. "Once you have lived with these creatures, even for only a short time, you discover what it is that they are indeed capable of."
"Do you speak ill of us, do you degrade my kind," grumbled Anton, standing behind the two sylvan.
"Oh, Anton," sighed Paechra as she turned to face the human. "It seems that you must discover a fight in each and every moment."
"Indeed, human," agreed Sienna though she chose not to turn and face Anton. "Each and every moment you have spent here with us you have sought to find and expand the argument, the disappointment, where is your understanding of beauty?"
"Beauty is seen in a ready soldier," replied Anton without pause. "Beauty is found in the opened belly of an enemy, a fallen vorserk who will never rise again "
Paechra inwardly shivered at that statement.
"Come Mother Sienna, come Queen Catherine," Paechra announced. "We have some exploring to do."
Leaving Anton to brood the three then made their way arm in arm through the doorway and under the ivy arch. Paechra noticed Catherine's eyes light up as she took in each fruit tree, each blade of grass, every flower and other plant.
"This is a true marvel of nature," sighed the human queen. "It would be impossible for my people to reproduce nature so accurately in an indoor setting."
"Indeed Catherine," replied Paechra. "It is a balance of understanding what is possible and ignoring the improbable."
"Something that you humans seem to struggle to combine," suggested Mother Druid Sienna.
"You are right," sighed the queen again. "Instead of regretting that which shall not be I will instead enjoy what miraculously is."
"Perhaps there is hope for you then," said Sienna, a faint smile appearing upon her ancient features.
"Not for me," suggested Catherine. "Though I thank you for suggesting such."
"Not for you?" asked Paechra, surprised.
"No, my generation is stuck in its ways and thinking," explained Queen Catherine. "My hope is for the next generation."
The human queen brought her hands around her unborn child as she spoke those words.
Michael and Thomas meanwhile made their way throughout the marvel that was the indoor orchard. They sampled what foods they thought they recognized, often discovering that an item's flavor and even its nature was different than that of Thuraen.
"Hear this, Michael," called Thomas as he crunched upon a pea pod.
The crack was like a sword blade being sharpened by a whetstone.
"How is the flavor?" Michael asked.
The elder felt like a boy again and thinking of such it made his heart rise and fall equally.
"The taste is like that of a fresh stream trout, strange for something so green and crunchy," laughed Thomas. "I must say the rainbow of sweet and sweeter from that giant peach is still my favorite."
"Indeed," stated Michael.
The elder Stormsong's thoughts were far away wondering what fate had befallen his son Johannas.
"I wish you were here and seeing this, boy," Michael muttered under his breath.
"But I am!" announced Thomas with a playful laugh.
For the butcher, this world within a world was so utterly different to the strange ship where he had almost lost his soul. This place was freedom, this place was joy.
"I wish we could stay here forever," Thomas announced as he bit into a rosy, red apple.
"Be very careful what you wish for," warned Michael.
"Nonsense," said Thomas. "These people have welcomed us; they are our friends."
"Paechra, yes," agreed Michael. "I trust her, the other druids too of what I have seen of them."
"There you go," laughed Thomas. "I was right."
"This high prince though," pondered Michael. "I am still not sure what to think of him."
"You worry too much," suggested Thomas with a grin.
"Because you worry too little," suggested Michael in return.
"I worry about getting my belly full and keeping my head attached to my shoulders and you know in the whole time we have left home it is here that I suddenly feel the safest."
"I know what you mean," said Michael. "Still there is something "
Paechra smiled as she overheard Thomas speaking. Her smile wavered slightly as she heard Michael's replies. The young druid considered how long she had been away from her home and her people, truly not long when the life span of the sylvan race was considered. She agreed though that there was indeed something about High Prince Ulan that did not sit right with her.
Sarah Lightheart interrupted her daughter's ponderings.
"Come, it is time for us to move on," urged the elder Lightheart. "High Prince Ulan still has much he wishes for you to see."
"Me?" asked Paechra, curious and a little confused.
"So, it seems," answered Sienna.
Druid Sarah had already moved on, calling to the humans that it was time to leave.
"I still have so much more to explore!" Thomas complained, loudly.
"Come, Thomas," urged Michael. "Perhaps they will next show us the kitchens."
There was a complete change of mood as the group ducked under the ivy arch and entered the passageway again.
'What has happened?' Paechra thought.
Immediately Paechra noticed that the two guards who flanked High Prince Ulan both had their hands hovering close to the hilt of their weapons. Anton was giving Ulan a seething glare and the high prince was deliberately ignoring the human.
"Come!" ordered High Prince Ulan as Thomas ducked under the arch.
"I hope to visit you again soon," Paechra heard Thomas whisper longingly.
"What is happening, daughter Paechra?" asked Mother Druid Sienna and Paechra realized that she still gripped the elder druid's hand.
Letting go of both Sienna's hand and Catherine's hand, Paechra tried to interpret the situation.
"I believe our high prince has done or said something that has greatly annoyed Head Truth Keeper Anton," she began.
"From the little time that I have spent with the man, that would not be difficult," muttered Queen Catherine.
"I agree," added Sienna sagely. "It is impossible to tell what has happened while we have been in the orchard but both Anton and Ulan show signs of distrust and frustration in their auras."
"I see it too," said Sarah as she snuck up behind the trio.
Paechra shifted her sight and cast her inner eye over both men. She gasped in surprise as the dark purple shadows enveloped both the human and the sylvan. It looked to Paechra as if blood were about to be spilled.
"No," she whispered. "We cannot allow this."
"What worries you so, ladies?" asked Michael.
He was a few strides ahead of his queen, close enough to Anton and yet the elder Stormsong seemed oblivious.
"It is Anton," began Paechra at a murmur.
"When is it ever not Anton?" asked Michael with a laugh.
"You speak of me, witch!" growled the Head Truth Keeper, turning midstride.
Anton's fists were clenched tightly, and his eyes narrowed.
"Now see here " began Michael as he strode forward and made to place a hand upon Anton's shoulder.
Aggressively Anton knocked the hand away while it was inches from its target.
"Hey!" cried Michael in surprise, annoyed.
Paechra saw Michael's calm aura of clear-sky blue turn suddenly orange. Anton's aura had turned from dark purple to a smoking charcoal color. Ulan, well his aura seemed to laugh, a dangerous red flaring with the blue and yellow hews of a crackling fire.
"Further evidence that little has changed of your race over the years," announced Ulan. "We show you advanced beauty and you wish to fight about it."
"My prince," called Sienna down the passage. "You give our guests little opportunity."
As always Paechra saw the Mother Druid bathed in the white aura of wisdom.
"How so?" asked High Prince Ulan.
"You have truly only met one human, for but a brief moment," suggested Sienna. "You cannot make judgement so swiftly, not if you truly are a sylvan prince."
"Mother Druid Sienna, you know me, and you know who I am," replied Ulan. "You were there at the time of my birth, and you know of my parents and my parents' parents."
"Indeed," agreed Sienna.
"I am High Prince Ulan of the Greenwood Vale."
"Then my prince, please act as High Prince Ulan of the Greenwood Vale," order the mother druid.
Paechra did not need her inner eye to see the demeanor of the high prince immediately change. A deep, dark blue aura overtook the fiery one. Turning away from those behind him the high prince sighed.
"Come," he muttered, leading on.
The two sylvan guards gave Anton one last look before they returned their hands to their sides and marched after the high prince.
"This is not over," growled Anton under his breath as he followed.
The rest of the group quickened their pace, not wanting to be left behind.
"Hold my hand and I will guide you," advised Paechra, touching Sienna's hand with her own.
Ulan had veered off the path of the corridor and taken a doorway that led to a stairwell. The spiral stair made its way upwards.
"Can you please aid Queen Catherine?" Paechra then asked of Thomas or Michael who were at the rear of the group.
"Thomas?" Michael suggested.
"It would be my honor," stated the butcher.
"Thank you," Queen Catherine stated plainly. "That will not be necessary though."
"It would bring me great pleasure to escort you up these stairs, Queen Catherine," announced Thomas as he took the queen's hand.
"How can I then refuse?" replied the queen with a gracious smile.
As the group stepped out at the top of the turret they all took in the view of Greenwood Vale.
"Magnificent," gasped Catherine.
"What an incredible view," murmured Michael.
"Home," whispered Paechra.
"You ask me to risk all of this," stated Ulan.
The high prince waved at the land then above to the sky and below to the fortress beneath them all.
"Who does?" asked Michael and Thomas together.
"We do," spat Anton. "Or at least she does," he added, indicating Paechra.
Paechra looked from Anton to Ulan and then to the other members of the group.
"Daughter," murmured Paechra's mother. "Do you wish to explain?"
"Please, Sarah, allow me," interjected Ulan. "I speak of the past as I speak of the present."
"Helpful," blurted Thomas, still holding hands with Queen Catherine.
"Hush, Thomas," the queen demanded.
Immediately the butcher let go and went silent.
"I have come to realize that you Paechra have not returned to us as a sign that you have finally agreed to become my brother's wife," Ulan continued, ignoring the two humans.
Paechra made to reply but Sienna placed a hand upon the younger sylvan's back and caused her to pause.
"High Prince Ulan, it is indeed Paechra's decision where it is she lets her heart lead her We have made a suggestion, merely that " called Sienna loudly and clearly.
"As you so say, Mother Druid Sienna," sighed High Prince Ulan. "I do wish that this were all simple to piece together."
"Nothing is simple except the comprehension that nothing about life is ever simple," suggested Sarah.
"Witch's babble, nothing more," complained Anton.
"Regardless of the simplicity or complexity of life there is something that I comprehend clearly now," announced Ulan. "Paechra you return home with a request."
"I do, High Prince Ulan," stated Paechra.
Making her way to stand before the high prince Paechra stared straight in the royal's eyes. Purposefully she then lowered her head respectfully.
"I do not wish you to kneel," said the high prince. "No druid however young should kneel before any being."
"Of that I am grateful, my prince," replied Paechra. "I do come before you asking that you pledge your support to the human cause."
There then came a gasp of surprise from Sarah and Sienna as well as the two sylvan guards.
"We can fight our own war," grumbled Anton.
The other humans all stood in silence.
"Oh, High Prince Ulan of Greenwood Vale," then said Michael as he stepped up to stand shoulder to shoulder with Paechra.
"You, human, should kneel," Ulan demanded.
Michael Stormsong immediately sank to his knees and bowed his head.
"The vorserk, our shared enemy have returned to the kingdom of Thuraen," explained Paechra.
"It is with thanks to this druid that I, my queen and others stand before you," continued Michael.
"I believe that our only hope of driving out these forces of evil once again from the human lands is to strike with the mighty force of the sylvan people," stated Paechra. "This time I wish to stand beside my kindred, I wish to play my part in this war."
High Prince Ulan surveyed all those before him. After a moment he spoke one word.