Paechra's Tale
Part Sixteen
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.

True to his word, sylvan High Prince Ulan remained in the shadows, not taking up the leadership role of the gathered forces that flocked to Paechra's call for war. True to her own word Paechra made sure that the prince remained busy mixing with the people, listening to them and encouraging them. Sienna Alknown and Ulan watched on as Paechra grew in confidence in her leadership role, the young Lightheart finding it far more challenging when compared with leading the small group of humans. Paechra's mother Sarah Lightheart was always a step behind her daughter, ready to talk down the doubters. Paechra was disappointed to discover that the most vocal of these was still her close friend Heidi.

"I need your support," Paechra stated with earnest one evening when she found herself alone with Heidi.

"I can sense your need, my friend," Heidi agreed. "But I cannot blindly throw my support behind an idea that risks so many and so much."

"I cannot understand Heidi why it is you sounded so supportive before but now you share doubt of our cause, and my plan," said Paechra. "You have not seen the humans in their own environment, I get that they are strangers to you and why you might ask should we risk our precious, safe, culture and life for strangers…"

"You are wrong to think that way, my friend," argued back Heidi. "You paint me as a shallow creature; you paint our people as pretentious."

"Not our people, no," stated Paechra. "You have witnessed just as I have the numbers who gather under our banner knowing fully well where we travel and why."

"Yes, I am one of the first to heed such a call, or have you forgotten such a fact," said Heidi to her friend.

"But you state truly now that you believe it impossible to support such a calling," said Sarah, joining the pair of friends.

"Mother, are you spying upon me for Sienna?" Paechra suggested, frowning.

"Daughter Paechra, young dove," replied the elder Lightheart. "I only tell the Mother Druid of your successes."

"Fear not, Paechra," echoed Heidi. "There are more than enough other sisters who report to Sienna your failings."

There was a silence, brief, that existed between the three druids, filled by the crackle of a hungry campfire.

"What then can I do to convince you to believe and follow again?" asked Paechra of her friend.

"Change the plan," Heidi responded without needing a moment to think.

"Is this all you ask of me?" laughed Paechra, humor absent from her eyes, the laugh a hollow sound of disappointment. "If that is so we may as well turn around and go home."

"No, my friend, I am not asking you to abandon your plan," stated Heidi, placing her hand upon Paechra's shoulder just as she had done thousands of times before then.

"Hear out what it is that Heidi has to say, please Paechra," urged Sarah to which her daughter sighed in reply.

"Speak then, Heidi, tell us of your thoughts," requested Paechra, her tone telling her friend that she was still not eager to listen.

"Well," began Heidi, taking a deep breath. "You have shown great bravery by firstly traveling alone to the human kingdom and then by bringing humans back home with you to Greenwood Vale."

"Yes, yes, Paechra's bravery is unquestionable," said Sarah Lightheart. "It is not her bravery that is under scrutiny."

"Please allow my friend to speak, mother," injected Paechra.

"Your cause was greatly assisted by Sienna Alknown, her speech at the Sacred Grove was indeed inspirational and having the mother druid travelling with us indeed helps to quash much talk of doubt," continued Heidi, ignoring the mother and daughter.

"The discovery of High Prince Ulan amongst our numbers has also assisted in strengthening my claims that I am leading us to something worthwhile," argued Paechra.

Heidi nodded.

"Yes, that is true," the friend agreed. "But having Ulan here also reminds us of his initial doubt, his refusal to back you immediately."

"In actual fact the prince was heard apologizing to my daughter for such doubt," argued Sarah. "He has realized that my daughter's voice is the voice of the people."

"Why then are the people asking a human to teach them to fight?" Heidi asked.

Again, there was a moment of quiet.

"So, this is the source of your doubt?" asked Paechra. "Anton, the Truth Keeper?"

"Friend, I was able to find a way that we could protect you from vorsurk sorcery," stated Heidi. "When you doubted yourself I was one of the first to tell you that it could be done."

"Anton is your fear, your thoughts of failure revolve around him?" asked Paechra again, seemingly ignoring Heidi for that moment.

"Yes, a human soldier and his militant fighting style, is that so difficult to understand?"

"Who else do we have that knows of combat?" asked Paechra. "As much as I struggle with his mannerisms and his bluntness he is the only one who has recently fought our shared enemy."

"Wrong Paechra," stated Heidi. "We have all recently fought the vorsurk."

"We cannot count the experience from the other night…" began Sarah Lightheart.

"And why not?" asked Heidi, cutting the elder Lightheart off. "Sylvan have not fought with the wolves for centuries, not since the human people were given the gift of the written word."

"A gift given by us," stated Sarah.

"For a grave price," argued Heidi.

"Think you the price grave for us or for them?" asked Paechra's mother.

"I believe Mother Druid Sienna when she said that the price paid by the humans, a price that they are still paying has been far more than we should have asked."

"Which is why I have asked the sylvan people to join our cause," suggested Paechra. "We go to save the humans from eons of slavery, but equally we go to right such wrongs as that which we caused in the past."

"Then we must fight as sylvan and not as humans," argued Heidi.

"For a people who have not needed to fight for so long I ask you, Heidi my friend," said Paechra "What does it mean to fight like a sylvan?"

"And so, we go around and around again," groaned Sarah.

"How often do we find ourselves upon an open field?" asked Heidi, ignoring the elder Lightheart's comment.

"Never, or hardly ever," Paechra agreed.

"How often do we need to fight with blades of steel?" questioned Heidi.

"That is a human weapon," Paechra agreed.

"So that then is what is not to fight like sylvan-kind," stated Heidi.

Sarah watched her daughter, Paechra's face changing from thoughtfulness to frustration.

"Anton is used to drilling the young boys of human aristocrat families, teach them how to fight upon the open fields of the empty desert," murmured the younger Lightheart.

"We need to learn to fight with the trees, amongst the trees, for the people," stated Paechra.

"Wrong again, my daughter," stated Sarah.

"Wrong?" asked Paechra and Heidi, together.

"You both forget where it is that we are headed," suggested Sarah.

"You have been there, Paechra, please tell us what the human city is like," begged Heidi.

"Stone… Like little mountains, some piled upon each other… Unlike forest there is no life, only the lives of those who call such stone home…" Paechra began.

"Strange it would be to live in such a way as that," stated Paechra's mother, Sarah. "I could think of nothing worse."

"Please excuse me," begged Paechra then. "I must find Anton and speak with him a moment."

"I shall accompany you," suggested Heidi.

"While I shall seek out Mother Druid Sienna Alknown," said Sarah with a smile. "Perhaps she is not so all-knowing after all."

"And hopefully High Prince Ulan is with her so you can inform them both," said Heidi.

"We can only hope," said Paechra before the three parted ways.

Anton was just where Paechra and Heidi thought that they would find him. Where the great gathering of sylvan had camped there was only one place that had flat ground and very few trees. If they had been unsure of the Head Truth Keeper's whereabouts as they drew nearer to the place known as The Clearing he could easily be heard.

"No! No! Again! Faster!"

"Come, sister, we must hurry," urged Heidi.

"Agreed, my friend," said Paechra in reply. "That we may at the very least relieve our kindred of the endless shouting.

"Anton! Anton! May we please speak with you?!" called Paechra.

The human was waving a sword around above his head as two groups of sylvan ran towards each other and then past each other. Swords occasionally clashed but not often.

"Thomas, please do what you can," the head truth keeper begged as he handed his sword over to the young butcher.

As Anton strode towards the pair of sylvan druids they noticed he was shaking his head and muttering.

"I didn't think I would ever say it, but I miss the presence of Michael Stormsong," the human said.

"Perhaps we have something even better to offer you," suggested Heidi.

"What could possibly be better than someone else with military experience, and knowledge of tactical warfare?" grumbled Anton.

"This," announced Paechra cryptically.

Turning towards the treeless space Paechra spoke to the earth in a sing-song voice that began low but then grew higher in pitch and steadier. The earth rumbled and shook before it began to rise. Paechra sculpted the land, forcing it to mimic her memory of how the streets of Andrapaal had changed. Tears pricked her almond-shaped eyes as she tried not to think of her father and instead created hollowed out buildings and cobbled streets.

"This is…" rumbled Anton as the sylvan he was trying to turn in to soldiers dropped their practice blades and turned to watch.

"Amazing?" Heidi suggested.

"Yes, actually, it is utterly amazing," stated Anton. "This will have to be the first and probably only time when I will ever admit that magic is useful."

"You are welcome, I guess," stated Heidi as Paechra continued to create the new practice field.

"Can you make the wolf-men appear as well?" asked Thomas. "Not real ones of course…"

"I will see what I can do," replied Paechra through gritted teeth.

World shaping was more difficult than she had initially thought it would be.

"Here, let me help," offered Heidi.

The images of oak trees began to spring up amongst the dirt buildings followed by half-sized vorsurk, some in robes and some brandishing crude dirt weapons.

"How are you still doing this?" panted Heidi, shaking after only a few moments of helping Paechra.

"What is the meaning of this!" the voice of Sienna could be clearly heard by all present.

Paechra released her connection to the earth as did Heidi, a blue haze of magic that shimmered around the pair faded to nothing. The earth that had been sculpted up to that point shifted, settled, and then remained standing.

"Well met, Mother Druid," called Paechra and Heidi as one.

Sienna Alknown was enveloped by a clearly seen purple halo. Paechra and Heidi both knew that was not a good sign. Anton did not, however. "Greetings, old one," stated the head truth keeper. "Is it not marvelous?"

"Yes, it is not marvelous," replied Sienna crossly. "Is this your idea, Anton?"

"Well, no, it was something two of your druid girls were creating," the human replied. "It is to help me train your people; I am discovering that it is so difficult when we cannot visualize the battlefield."

Sienna ignored the babbling Anton, instead turning her narrowed eyes upon Paechra and Heidi.

"Did you not hear the screaming?" murmured the ancient sylvan.

"I promise you, Sienna, there have been no injuries upon my training field," continued Anton.

"Yes, oh great one, zero injuries, zero deaths…" added Thomas the Butcher. "Unless you included that unfortunate incident a day or so ago…"

"Hush lad, hush," murmured Anton as he waved Thomas behind him.

"Yes, please hush," growled Mother Druid Sienna.

"You heard her lad, hush," agreed Anton.

"Both of you please, silence," demanded the ancient one.

"What screaming, Mother?" Paechra asked, slowly, cautiously.

The angry purple faded from Sienna's form.

"I thought we were under attack again," the old sylvan explained. "The land was screaming out to me, to all of your sisters."

"We swear, Mother," said Heidi with her head drooped. "We could not hear anything."

"Shall we return The Clearing to its original state?" asked Paechra, embarrassed.

"No, please, leave the land as it now is," begged Sienna. "We have tortured the land enough for one lifetime."

"We are sorry, Mother Druid Sienna," stated Heidi and Paechra. "We know what we need to do."

"Then do it," commanded Sienna. "I shall remain here so you can use my tent in private."

"But…" mumbled Anton.

"Hush, Anton," said Sienna, Heidi and Paechra.

The two friends approached Sienna's tent with scrubbed skin, dressed in clean clothing. Heidi carried a burning stick of incense and Paechra brandished a wooden blade.

Inside, the tent was modestly furnished; a sleeping mat for Sienna, a daybed for High Prince Ulan, and a place where the druid who was caring for Sienna could rest. There was a low table with plate and goblet and in one corner of the tent an altar, upon which sat a stone bust resembling the shape of a woman. As Paechra and Heidi adjusted to the darkness of the tent's inside they each pointed towards the altar and nodded in silence.

"We come to the altar of Pit-Ta-Raha," the two sylvan murmured reverently, just as Mother Druid Sienna Alknown had told them to do.

Heidi placed the burning stick in the right hand of the statue of the goddess that took up most of the altar. At the feet of the statue was an ivory bowl. The two friends looked at each other before again facing the statue.

"We have wronged You, Pit-Ta-Raha and we have wronged the earth," stated Heidi reverently.

"We ask of You, great goddess, Your endless forgiveness, though in truth it is a greater gift than we deserve," murmured Paechra as she stepped closer to the statue and alter.

"I guess, now we make the offering?" whispered Heidi.

"I've never had to do this before, have you?" Paechra whispered back.

"I have seen it done, only once," replied Heidi. "But never have I needed to make my own offering."

"Pit-Ta-Raha, please guide my hand," begged Paechra. "That my offering may please You and right my wrong."

There was a presence then that the two druids felt enter the tent. Paechra ran the point of the wooden dagger across the tip of her pinky and index fingers. Blood dropped with a plop into the bowl. When six droplets from each finger had fallen Paechra withdrew her hand and placed her fingers into her mouth, sucking to try and stop the bleeding.

"Your turn," she mumbled to Heidi as she stepped away from the altar, statue, and bowl.

Heidi took the weapon, surprised to see that the blade was clean. She showed Paechra who shrugged, her eyes wide in surprise.

"Goddess, we have wronged You and harmed the earth we care for and love so dearly," prayed Heidi. "Please accept my offering in payment of such crimes, that You may find in Your wisdom the ability to forgive me."

Again, the wooden blade was used to prick the index and pinky, this time on Heidi's hand. The droplets plopped into the bowl to mix with Paechra's offering.

"Now what?" asked Paechra.

"Now we extinguish the taper in the bowl, I think…" said Heidi uncertainty evident in her tone.

"Like this?" asked Paechra of her friend as she reverently took up the stick of incense and placed the burning end into the pool of blood.

With a hiss the stick immediately went out, Heidi and Paechra then watched on in awe. The blood became a cloud of crimson mist. As it left the bowl it hovered around the face of the statue before the image inhaled it.

The feeling of a holy presence left the tent just as suddenly as it had arrived.

"That was really weird, Paechra," whispered Heidi. "Don't you think it was weird?" Paechra indicated the statue and then pointed to her ears.

Considering the possibility that the deity could possibly still be listening, Heidi panicked.

"I mean no disrespect!" she stammered.

There was no reaction from the statue or the altar.

"I think we've been forgiven," suggested Paechra.

"I hope so," murmured Heidi. "I truly hope so."

When Paechra and Heidi returned to The Clearing they found Anton distraught as much of the earth had returned to the way it had originally been. All that remained was a full-sized grey rock carved in the image of Pit-Ta-Raha. Painted around the rock's neck and breasts was what resembled a crimson chain from which hung a beautiful ruby.

"Did you do this, Mother Druid Sienna?" asked Heidi and Paechra.

"No, young ones," the ancient sylvan replied. "This was an answer sent for the two of you; it was your offering, your sacrifice that has made this come to be."

"I believe we have been forgiven," said Paechra with a smile as she gave her friend Heidi a quick hug.

Heidi squeezed Paechra back in return.

"Yes," agreed Sienna. "The goddess smiles upon us again."

"Tell me exactly what is going on!" demanded Anton.

The sylvan he was trying to train in the art of combat all knelt reverently upon the earth of The Clearing, faced towards the stone statue with eyes closed.

"Hush, Anton," stated the three druids as one. "Please, just hush."

To Be Continued…

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