By: Timothy Law
Prince Derek was missing. Brother of High Prince Ulan he had vanished from the palace after the injury to his face had been tended by Sarah, one of the many druids who tended the forest, healed the sick and injured and cared for the sylvan community. Once alert to the fact that his half-brother was missing the High Prince called for the assistance of the eldest druid, Mother Sienna.
"My prince " Sienna began, but with his hand held up for silence, the prince of the sylvan ones of Greenwood Vale stopped the older druid short. His deep discussion with Sarah and then the disappearance of his brother had left the Royal Rose exhausted.
"I understand your love for your sister druid. Her own mother lectured me on my poor choice and the unfortunate path that I have unknowingly forged for her daughter," Ulan complained, "I was hoping that you Sienna would at least see some wisdom in my choice, or better yet enlighten me upon the path that I should set for Paechra."
Sienna chuckled to herself, her ancient eyes twinkling like those of an infant's.
"My prince," she began again. "It has indeed come to my attention that the suggested joining of your half-brother to the young druid Paechra has caused some minds to contemplate your wisdom."
"Suggested? Do you patronize me Sienna? You knew my father well and I had hoped that you would use your words to aid me also. I never expected from you such a slap to my face, verbal that it be. I believe Paechra is strong enough It is for Derek's sake " Ulan gasped.
Sienna laughed again.
"Ulan, my prince, you are the ruler of our sylvan people, but think truly of the race that you rule. Do you believe that even your father in the last of his years considered that his decisions were thought final and correct by each and every one of the free spirited, nature caring creatures of the sylvan life that he called subjects? We are the people who question, who live freely and think freely. I do not patronize you with my words, instead I embrace the sylvan ideal, just as Sarah does, just as Paechra does, just as you should also."
"Of course, when it is put so elegantly, I feel as though the role of High Prince is more an honor and less a burden," Ulan said with a smile.
"Come my friend, that I may call you such It is time to share in the midday meal. Perhaps as we feast upon the gifts that the Mother Spirit has supplied we can attempt to bring Paechra and Derek together," Sienna suggested, offering High Prince Ulan her hand. Taking the druid's hand in his own, the prince led Sienna at a slow but steady pace. His thoughts were suddenly happier, so much more confident that his choice had been the right one.
At the communal gathering Paechra finally found her mother. With the two princes tended to, there was no need for Sarah to remain at the palace. Before Sarah could even give greeting, she saw the trouble in her daughter's eyes.
"Mother I wish to run. I cannot help but feel detest towards what Ulan has chosen for me. Not only do I detest his brother, but it is as Sienna suggests. I cannot feel love for any other than The Rose. It is Ulan who has my heart, he and the earth. If I cannot have one love I shall dedicate myself wholly to the other," Paechra pleaded.
"I have spoken with Ulan and told him of my thoughts. My thoughts are your thoughts, daughter. But they are not the thoughts of our High Prince. I can see nothing we can do but follow his will. Derek does need you. Your level head and your determination I feel that your father and I should be proud of you and saddened by your destiny. The spirits have been kind, but they certainly could have been kinder," Sarah replied with a verbal sigh.
Both women continued to eat in silence. All around them the others of the community chatted and laughed through the midday meal. Sarah and Paechra though, were deep in thought. They only broke their somber silence at Sienna's arrival. Even then though, the additional arrival of Ulan did nothing to improve Paechra's mood.
"Have you seen Derek?" Ulan asked, innocently.
"What do I care of Derek, when in truth I love you?" Paechra thought to herself. She offered Ulan a dark look, to disguise her true feelings. Ulan turned away his eyes, not willing to witness what he thought was Paechra's look of anger. Instead he held the gaze of Sienna and Sarah, pleading with them for any information that they may have heard.
The eldest druid, Mother Sienna, met the prince's gaze with such sadness in her eyes.
"I was certain that he would be here," she answered.
"I've not seen your brother since tending to his wounds," Sarah explained. "I would like to see him though. In my mind his treatment is only half complete."
When Ulan's look of worry deepened, Sarah broke into a soft smile.
"All that I mean by that is he has offered no thanks."
"I believe, Sarah, that when Derek and Paechra are together, Derek will change. I must believe that," Ulan replied, his eyes still filled with worry.
"Jealousy is a feeling that naturally occurs in siblings," Sienna began. "I fear that in Derek though, it has become less a feeling and more an illness."
Paechra remained silent until she heard Sienna's words.
"I'll not be wed to damaged stock! It is a poor match indeed if the role of either partner is to fix their betrothed!" Paechra stated, much louder than she had intended. Silence followed, as almost everyone present stopped mid-mouthful, focus drawn away from their meal. As her feelings of helplessness overwhelmed her, Paechra rushed away from the table and into the forest. Silent tears glistened in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks as she ran.
"Paechra!" Sarah and Ulan called together.
"Leave her," Sienna murmured. "It be far more important now our need to find Derek."
"Be it not just as important to make certain Paechra is safe?" suggested the sylvan High Prince.
"Paechra is strong," replied Sienna, firmly. "Our daughter of the forest just needs some time to be alone."
Sienna, Sarah and Ulan dismissed themselves abruptly from the communal meal. As they too vanished into the woods, the other sylvan returned to the shared task of feasting.
"Heidi I must leave. My mother understands and so too does Sienna, everyone seems to understand. It is only I though who can do a thing about it." Paechra panted.
She had already gathered up some of her possessions, everything she thought necessary to travel far and fast.
"But where will you go?" Heidi pleaded as she handed the torch and tinder that Paechra motioned toward. Paechra's friend had snuck away from the meal soon after Ulan, Sarah and Sienna had left. Even in that short time Paechra had gathered together much of what she needed for a long journey.
"My father " Paechra replied with utter excitement igniting her eyes. "I plan to find him and explain my ill-fate lot."
"How will you aim to venture beyond our borders then? What scheme have you thought through? Hasn't your father left our lands in his search for more examples of foreign speech?" Heidi asked in earnest.
"Here " Paechra offered in response, passing a piece of folded parchment to her dear friend. Heidi scanned the paper for a moment and then passed it back with a quizzical look plastering her face.
"Oh, I forgot. Your struggle to comprehend languages other than our own is worse than mine." Paechra laughed.
"I can make out a few of the words " Heidi agreed.
"It is a letter. I wrote an explanation of who I am; daughter, sylvan, betrothed. With this letter and what I know of the strength and the great power of The Mother Spirit I hope to be able to travel safe."
"You believe yourself to be safe?!" a voice growled from the doorway of the wooden hut, the hut that Paechra shared with Sarah as her home, the same wooden hut where Heidi and Paechra now sat, otherwise alone.
"Get Sarah," Paechra mouthed silently to her friend.
"How do you expect me to do that?" Heidi mouthed back. The only exit from the hut was blocked.
"Show yourself, Derek," Paechra stated plainly, trying to dismiss the fear that gripped her.
"How can you possibly think you are safe?!" Derek growled again. The early afternoon sun reflected off his drawn dagger as he stepped into view. "You are certainly not safe from me."
"Leave now Derek, before anyone gets hurt," Paechra warned, her fear turning into anger.
Derek's stance, the look in his eyes, everything about him said bully.
"You warn me about getting hurt, my betrothed," Derek sniggered. "And yet, I am the one holding the knife."
"Why are you doing this?" Heidi pleaded, almost in a whisper.
"Why?" Derek growled, turning on her harshly. His eyes narrowed into slits like his dagger blade. "I have lived in Ulan's shadow for always. Never was I father's favorite, and now my elder brother treats me as a burden " Derek hissed.
"If you stopped acting like a child, you would find more people would treat you with the respect you seek," Paechra interrupted. Heidi flashed her friend a look of fear, but Paechra was inspired.
"People respect arms, a quick blade," replied Derek, keeping his eyes trained on Heidi.
"People fear such things! If you seek respect you must prove that you deserve it. Your actions have always been self-centered. Derek, how can you expect me to respect that, how can you expect such feelings from any of us?"
Heidi recalled hearing such a speech from Sienna; the same words of wisdom seemed to flow easily from Paechra's lips. Both of the druids watched Derek fight an inner battle.
"How, how can I change, and why should it be me who has too?" the younger prince argued aloud.
"Derek, it is you who must take the first steps because it is you who must choose to change. The moment you accept responsibility for your own actions " Paechra explained gently. For a moment all the anger left Paechra, the frustration at having her planned life of forest keeper whisked away, her disappointment at Ulan's inability to see her feelings, the panic at seeing her long life stretch out before her as nursemaid to the troubled Derek, all this vanished. The feeling that she was left with was a hope that Derek indeed could be saved, that in fact he could save himself.
"You are just like all the others, both of you," Derek accused. Without warning his eyes locked with Heidi's once more and he lunged, leading with his dagger.
"Maybe that is simply because everyone around you has tried to help," Paechra thought to herself. She kept the thought within her though; Derek was already beyond the point of listening any more.
"Derek! You are the one holding the blade, and yet again I warn you about getting hurt," Paechra said instead.
Heidi jumped further back into the simple hut, avoiding another clumsy blow from Derek. The prince, frustrated and getting angrier by the second turned his eyes away from Heidi and focused upon Paechra as he made his next lunge. Heidi took that moment to slip passed and rush for the doorway.
"What witchery is this?" Derek hissed as his eyes locked onto Paechra noticing for the first time that a strange faint light had enveloped her.
"The Mother Spirit gives her blessing, you are indeed favored in Her eyes," Heidi sighed in awe at the sight.
"Run Heidi, find the High Prince, Mother Sienna and the others," Paechra urged, her dear friend needing no more encouragement to do just that. With one final forlorn glance at leaving her friend Heidi fled, calling out for Ulan as loudly as she could.
"For the third time I urge you, Prince Derek, to lay down your weapon and look beyond your own selfish center," Paechra pleaded.
With a savage, animal like cry, Derek thrust his dagger. Somehow Paechra struck first, confidence in her own ability and the justness of her cause enabling her to land a true blow.
"So it has come to this," Paechra thought to herself gravely. All around her the battle raged on, but she was beyond it all, above it all. It was Derek's personal struggle, but he refused to have it with himself. Instead he tried to target everyone around him with his anger. Paechra saw what she had to do. In the next moment Derek found himself encased in the strange light, trapped by the strange magic. Paechra refused to continue to fight a battle that would not end, a battle that was not hers and that she refused to inherit. Paechra gathered up her things and left without a word. Derek screamed after her, but to the prince, Paechra had no more words to give. The light was her parting gift, but Derek had to work beyond his fear of it. Paechra hoped beyond hope that he would.
Ulan and Sienna watched the tiny figure of Paechra disappear, the young sylvan following the path of the afternoon sun. They stood hidden from her sight, and for a few moments they watched in silence.
"Tell me Sienna. What must we do?" Ulan begged of the elder druid. The day had been one of the worst that Ulan could remember. He felt a deep feeling of responsibility and despair.
"Ulan my liege, we must let her go," Sienna stated, simply, always seeming to know the right thing to say.
"She is so young How can we just let her leave?"
"Paechra's life is her freedom. She has earned it; we can do nothing but let her go. She will return to us wiser and stronger. I only hope that when Paechra walks among us again that we are ready. For now we must focus upon your brother. He is a troubled soul."
When the High Prince and the Elder Druid checked on Derek they found that he too had disappeared.
Hours later, Paechra continued to journey alone, but happy. The Mother Spirit had blessed her with everything Paechra needed to reach her father safely. Paechra had friends that she could rely upon, and they in turn upon her. The young sylvan had courage, intelligence, the gift of wisdom and above all, a precious self-belief and confidence. This was Paechra's magic. This was the source of her freedom.