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 sylvan and human gathering remained at the site where the statue of Pit-Ta-Raha had appeared. No further training of combat drills took place upon this section of land previously known as The Clearing, everything but worship was deemed forbidden.
"This is ridiculous," Paechra and Heidi overheard Anton mutter to Thomas.
The young butcher from Andrapaal nodded but did not dare to utter a word of agreeance. Thomas, like Anton, was a long way from home and he knew it. Unlike Anton, Thomas tried not to rock the boat; memories of the last boat he had been on, The Picturesque Picaresque, and the horrors he had experienced were still fresh in his thoughts.
"We are so close to Thuraen, to home, to facing the enemy, our common enemy," grumbled Anton, Head of the Truth Keepers, and in his mind, key militant strategist. "And yet we remain stationary, stalled, we are unable to budge because of some stone."
"We would not expect you to understand," said Paechra as she left from her morning of worship. "You cannot possibly understand that our people's connection to the land and the spirit of the land runs deep, and long, and true."
"Humph," muttered Anton, though he could not deny that since leaving Andrapaal and Thuraen he had seen in the presence of Paechra and other sylvan things he did not think were possible.
The most recent example of this of course was the existence of the statue in The Clearing. It was undeniable. Anton knew that he could touch it, though he dared not do so while the sylvan were close by. He could see it, and he knew that only days before the same area of forest was clear, flat, no stone statue had been anywhere close by and there was no way that a statue of that size could have been brought in and then dug into the ground so deep, not without everyone knowing about it. Paechra could see in the human's eyes that he did not want to believe in the existence of gods and spirits, but it was very difficult for Anton to continue to deny that his truth, the truth he was so vigilant in protecting was perhaps not the whole truth.
Thomas on the other hand had seen things, things that Paechra regretted she had shown him. Seeing such things had made Thomas far more open-minded though.
"We must be patient, Anton," Thomas continued to say while the elder human had paced like a caged wolf. "We will move on, we will continue to train, to learn to fight."
"When though, Thomas, when will this happen?" Anton always rumbled in frustrated reply.
It was seven days, a timing that was important to Pit-Ta-Raha, after which Sienna had called for a meeting in the sacred place. Standing beside the statue which towered over her, the elderly sylvan had placed a loving hand over the place where Pit-Ta-Raha's heart would have been.
"Oh, great one," the Mother Druid had cried out. "We leave this place in peace; we pray that we may return this way one and all to again thank You for Your protection, Your love…"
"And Your forgiveness and mercy," Paechra mumbled under her breath.
"And Your gracious understanding," Sienna finished.
"Come, one and all," announced Paechra. "We continue our journey, onwards to Thuraen to grant the humans true freedom."
"Finally," grumbled Anton.
It was not as swift an exodus as Anton had hoped for. Each and every sylvan needed to pause beside the statue of Pit-Ta-Raha to bid their own farewell to the goddess, some choosing to have a conversation, and not a short one at that. High Prince Ulan was the last to stop beside the statue, spending five minutes with his head resting against the holy stone, seeming to Anton like he was saying nothing.
"What could you have possibly needed to do, your highness?" Anton had asked when the army finally got moving.
"Listening, Anton," Ulan had replied. "It is funny what you can learn from listening."
"Just listening?" Anton had spluttered in disbelief.
"One day you should try it," High Prince Ulan had then suggested. "All of the great leaders do."
Over the following days the gathering sylvan known unofficially as Paechra's Army continued to grow. Paechra used her memories of Thuraen, especially that of Andrapaal to show her sister druids how to build a city environment. The other druids at first struggled to visualize the solid stone houses, buildings, streets, and open squares. Human cities and towns were so unlike the forest dwellings of Paechra and her kin. All, with the exception of Paechra Lightheart only had the stone fortress as reference.
"No, too large," Paechra continued to say as her sisters tried to create the vision of houses, shops, halls, a fortress, and everything else that made Andrapaal and Thuraen unique.
"Smaller, rounder, squarer…" Paechra said again and again and again until the visions became closer to what she recalled.
After that it was Thomas and Anton who helped to add in the extra details that Paechra, being not human, still managed to forget. Paechra was discovering the limitations of her powers, often it was the younger Lightheart that the other druids requested help from when their own spell power did not seem enough. The sister druids would have previously asked Sienna for aid, Paechra truly enjoyed her new role, although it did at times test her health and sanity both.
"You must rest, for your sake and the sake of us all," stressed Heidi, Paechra's closest friend.
"Yes, my daughter," Sarah Lightheart agreed. "Paechra, you have become the focus of this force, through the attention of the vorsurk, your words and deeds, and the mantle of leadership that has been thrust upon your shoulders."
"Worry not, Mother Sarah and friend Heidi both," reassured Paechra. "I am at no risk with the two of you and Sienna Alknown all keeping a hawkish watch over my every move and Anton and Ulan both examining and dissecting everything that I say. I cannot speak or walk a single step without having a barrage of questions fired upon me like a flight of arrows."
"At least they be not poisoned tips," suggested Heidi.
"Perhaps not poisoned," agreed Paechra. "But some do seem to have been soaked in pitch and set aflame."
"The questions from Anton seem more like they are catapulted boulders," laughed Heidi.
Sarah and Paechra Lightheart failed to see the humor.
"Like great rocks that crumble to mere pebbles as soon as they strike a reasonable response," Heidi added as an attempted explanation.
"Ah, yes," Sarah agreed. "Comments and queries that be simple in their unravelling, yet complex in their delivery."
"Exactly," smiled Heidi.
"I could do with far less interruptions from both Head Truth Keeper Anton and High Prince Ulan, less interruptions and more assistance."
"Assistance, how?" asked the sylvan high prince. "I overheard my name and thought I was needed," he added. "Is that correct?"
"You are needed to leave me in peace," grumbled Paechra. "It is nearing the moment that we travelled faster, the peak of our journey's parabola and distractions and waylaying will not assist us at this time."
"How shall we travel, Paechra," asked Heidi.
"This is something that I will need to discuss in depth with the mother druid," replied Paechra. "I have some ideas but none of them are as of yet perfect."
"Before that Anton is also in need of you," said Ulan. "He asked me to seek you out, something about combat training and new scenarios."
"When will this day ever end?" cried Paechra.
"How is this day different to any other?" asked Heidi with an audible sigh.
"This is what we continually warn you about, daughter," said Sarah.
In reply Paechra merely groaned.
As the days went on and Paechra shared with them all her time spent looking for her father, the emotional connection helped her to paint a clearer picture which in turn led to a more accurate training environment for the sylvan fighters. Anton was amazed with how much Paechra, and her sisters were able to make Andrapaal come to life, and Sienna was pleased with how Paechra carefully created the environment as an image only, purely created from magic.
"Your daughter's power is growing swiftly," Paechra overheard Sienna telling her mother, Sarah. "Her control over such power is quite impressive."
"Thank you, Mother Druid Sienna," Paechra said, graciously accepting the compliment.
"Daughter, your power exceeds even mine at the same age," continued Sienna. "Of that I am certain."
"What does that mean?" Sarah Lightheart asked, proud of her daughter but worried also.
"I believe that I am being asked to stay wary," suggested Paechra, answering her mother's question before Sienna had the opportunity. "A druid's power is a gift, not a plaything."
"Your daughter understands," said Sienna, smiling, her wise eyes proud.
"Such power is a weapon that we must harness," suggested Anton, a silent Thomas beside him.
"Are you eves dropping?" accused Sarah.
"How else am I supposed to know what is going on?" asked Anton, neither confirming nor denying the accusation.
"You need not know of everything that happens," suggested Sienna. "None of us can truly know of everything that happens."
"Even with your magic and your goddesses and spirits and such?" said Anton. "Don't they whisper in your ear at night and tell you predictions of the future?"
Sienna, Paechra, and Sarah all stood for a moment in shocked silence, eyes wide. Then Sienna began to laugh, a dry chuckle that almost caught in her throat. The elder druid began to cough and splutter, Sarah and Paechra coming to her aid until she could slowly breathe again.
"Is that what you believe?" asked Sienna Alknown. "I have heard you call us witches but did not think for a moment you actually believed in such nonsense."
"Sadly, we are taught to fear what we do not understand," said Thomas, finally breaking his silence.
"Yes such is sad, and also true," agreed Paechra. "And what we have shown you, what I especially have shown you, would not help to dispel such a belief."
"We are not the same, there are many differences between human and sylvan," suggested Sarah, Paechra's mother. "But in this instance we have the same wish, the same desire."
Thomas nodded, slowly, in agreement. "We are trying to work together on a common goal."
"We must stop trying and just do," said Anton. "I must set aside my distrust, but I will only be able to do so if you share with me your thoughts, no matter how odd I may think them."
"Well then Anton, you will be pleased to know I have taken now to announce that we should be changing the training scenarios to explore the under-city of Andrapaal," announced Paechra. "This is something I have been considering for a few days, but an idea that I have not even shared with my friend Heidi."
Aton stood gob smacked, so surprised was he to hear of such a suggestion.
"The undercity, of Andrapaal?" he asked. "Why would we need to train there?"
"Because that is where I found my father and that is the last thing that I remember seeing before we escaped the city and your homeland," explained Paechra.
"Yes," agreed Thomas, groaning at the memory. "There is something that I recall about the city beneath awakening and rising up."
"Impossible," said Anton, dismissively. "There would be no city beneath, the sages would have spoken about it… It would have featured in some law somewhere, somebody's history, I would have known…"
"You cannot know everyone's story, Anton," stated Sienna sagely. "Not even a million, million tomes could capture every piece of information."
"I am the protector of truth, and my truth is my belief," replied Anton. "I still choose to believe what I have been taught to believe."
Paechra made to reply but felt an ancient hand upon her shoulder.
"Belief is a strong form of motivation," murmured Mother Druid Sienna. "Allow the humans to have their belief. Right or wrong it helps them and us to share a cause."
Paechra nodded, understanding her elder's wisdom.
Paechra spent a bit more time in Sienna's tent speaking in depth with the Mother Druid. They discussed Paechra's idea of travelling faster, Sienna agreeing that the time was right.
"There is little more that we can do to prepare the sylvan who have flocked to our cause," said Sienna. "There are fewer settlements between here and the border of the two worlds."
"We cannot travel by dragon, or dream," said Paechra, not denying what it was that Sienna stated.
"Far too many of us for even a hoard of flying lizards," agreed Sienna. "And I do not know how well I would cope with a dragon flight, though I would suggest both Thomas and Anton would not cope at all."
Paechra smiled at that and then added a log to the small fire that burned in the fire pit that had been added to Sienna's sleeping tent. As the journey had drawn closer to the place where human and sylvan realms joined it was becoming evident that the season was changing.
"Your human companions have experienced a voyage by sea, yes?" suggested Sienna.
"They have, though I would strongly suggested they would prefer to avoid such again," said Paechra thoughtfully. "Thomas still wakes from nightmares and Anton…"
"Yes," agreed Sienna. "Though he tries to sound strong, Anton has an aura that is somewhat scarred."
"Is there any other way?" Paechra asked, hopefully that the Alknown would know.
The mother druid shook her head.
"I fear I would not survive a forced march like that which Anton continually threatens."
"I do not believe any, but Anton would arrive at Andrapaal's gates if such a grueling march was our chosen option," suggested Paechra. "Perhaps the captain of the Picturesque Picaresque would grant us all passage if it were you who summoned it."
"We can only hope, daughter," sighed Sienna. "Those poor souls respected our kind a millennia ago, but it has been too many years that I have chosen to ignore them and focus only upon Greenwood Vale."
"Try, Mother Druid Sienna," begged Paechra. "I shall break the news to the humans."
"No, no, No, NO, NO!!!" stammered Thomas. "You will not be getting me back on that ship."
The butcher gave Paechra and Anton wild eyes, pleading, and obviously frightened.
"Try spending the voyage below deck, lad," muttered Anton. "I'll not be wanting to do that again. Not in this lifetime or the next."
"I hope that the presence of Mother Druid Sienna and my sister druids will help convince the captain of the ship that we will not need rowers, nor will any of us need to interact with the captain or the crew," explained Paechra. Her own experiences, still recent memories did not sit comfortably with the young druid. She would have preferred a different means of travel but alas the ship and her crew seemed the only option.
"In that case, sign my name and welcome me aboard," suggested Anton, this statement causing both Thomas and Paechra to stare at the head truth keeper in surprise.
"Really?" asked a shocked Thomas.
"Truly?" asked a somewhat relieved Paechra.
"Sarcastically," replied Anton.
"We are not going by THAT ship," stated Thomas, firmly.
"Then I guess we will just need to strap you to the tail of a dragon then," sighed Paechra. "I shall inform Sienna we will need to summon one."
"A dra… dra… dragon?" stammered Thomas, his eyes growing even larger.
"Don't fall for it lad," warned Anton, too quiet for the fearful Thomas to hear.
"I have travelled by giant lizard many a time," lied Paechra. "The view is amazing."
"I would far rather walk," stated Thomas.
"To walk, to march, even to run would have us arrive far too late," suggested Paechra. "I sense something in the change of season, something that tells me we are ready to fight, and we must fight now."
Paechra saw that the call to battle stirred in Aton's aura, there was a silver strand that suddenly ran up the spine of his courage.
"Come, Thomas, I guess it is once again time for us to show these forest dwellers what it is to be human," growled the head truth keeper.
Paechra considered the pair of auras and understood even in that pair of examples there was plenty revealed about the human people. She kept her thoughts to herself though and listened for Thomas' response.
"If I must then I must," the butcher sighed.
"Good lad," said Anton as he gave Thomas a thump on the back.
It took two days of travel by foot for Paechra's Army to catch a whiff of the smell of the sea. Thomas was already green about the face when the dock finally came into sight. Paechra noticed that Anton had also paled. She was proud of the pair of humans when neither uttered a word of complaint.
"Are you going aboard, witch?" was all that Anton said.
"I am not the one who has summoned the ship this time," said Paechra. "We must wait and see what Mother Druid Sienna Alknown can negotiate on our behalf."
All three looked on as the ancient druid hobbled her way slowly up the gangplank with the assistance of Sarah Lightheart. Paechra was not certain but thought she saw the familiar Captain Overtian smile that sharp fanged smile as he pointed one claw towards Paechra, Thomas, and Anton. Sienna slowly shook her head at which the ghoul turned away. Sarah waved them all aboard. Thus did the journey endure.