Paechra's Tale
Part Four
By: Timothy Law

The year is 514, Vladimir the Young is Sage-King of the human kingdom of Thuraen. The Druid Paechra thought often of that time when she made her own choice and left her homeland. It was strange to think that this fateful day had occurred already some two or so years in the past. Betrothed to limp flower Low Prince Derek, favorite of Mother Druid Sienna, discovering her powers and how to best use them for the benefit of sylvan-kind and their forest home, Paechra made her choice to leave her betrothed, her sisters of the wood, family and friends behind. It seemed like the right personal choice deciding to seek out her father, the linguist Therdous and since leaving the safety of her forested homeland much had happened to the sylva.

Of those happenings Paechra considered the most fortuitous being that of her meeting with the Truth Seeker Johannas Stormsong, a human that she considered friend, one whom she even wondered whether there could be other feelings, but she knew there currently was little time to consider such though as Paechra witnessed the loss firstly of her father, then Johannas and finally the invasion of Thuraen by the shared enemy the vorsurk. Under the cover of chaos as the city Andrapaal transformed the sylva was luckily able to guide what few citizens she could safely away from the fallen city. The use of magical means was risky in the land of humanity, a place where magic of any kind was forbidden. Traveling with Paechra, fighting over the role of leadership were Anton and Michael, Johannas' master and his father. Between the two neither could clearly take charge, nor would one or the other step aside to allow a leader to be chosen. Instead the pair fought like toddlers, arguing over when the other had made a mistake and the gravity of such an error. Thomas the Butcher, one of the Council of Eleven, though Paechra could never understand why, was always buffer between the pair of older men trying to side with one and then the other as the arguments between Anton and Michael seemed to provide a winner until it were finally evident that neither was right.

Paechra wished for those early days again when she had just left home and started her personal quest. Had she had known that Lady Fate would guide her faithful servant to this point in time Paechra believed she would have thought twice about even beginning that journey.

For such an innocent desire had led to Paechra's discovery of the monster Morthos. Thinking of Johannas caused Paechra to smile but memories of that trickster Morthos quickly caused that smile to vanish. The path that Johannas had undertaken was gifted to him by Morthos in a similar way that Paechra had chosen the path of the humans, such thinking led to a deeper sadness and an understanding for Paechra of her responsibility. Too many mixed memories, too much distraction, in truth though Paechra needed to focus upon the now, the world toward which she was going and the path she had chosen for all. Paechra's own path was again that of guide and support, the spirits had advised that the sylva's place was with Queen Catherine of the Kingdom of Thuraen and the infant growing in her womb. Paechra missed Johannas and the friendship that was growing between them. She hoped that the path of Druid and Truth Keeper would cross once more. Until then though there was the ship.

"What is this place you lead us towards, witch?" demanded Anton, the time of prophecy had seemingly affected the Head of the Truth Keepers as badly as the city of Andrapaal itself.

"Must you insult our guide?" Michael sighed, his elderly eyes showing more disappointment than anger.

"To guide you must let me lead, I have merely set your course and then followed the sound of your bickering," replied Paechra, her anger evident.

"I thought the sylva kind and benevolent," chimed in Thomas.

Queen Catherine remained silent.

Paechra looked on the fleeing monarch and not for the first time did she see a waning figure.

"Queen Catherine of Thuraen you must have food, you must have wine," urged Truth Keeper Anton. He too had noticed the poor state of the queen.

"Food, water and rest is what is needed," stated Paechra with a frown. "No wine."

"The queen's color is poorly and wine will do wonders for such a condition," barked back Anton.

"Are you a sage, Anton?" called Michael, louder than the bark. "Do you wear yellow or red robes beneath your armor?"

"No," growled the Head of the Truth Keepers, his eyes like daggers.

"We must reach the docks before the ship sails," muttered Paechra.

She took Queen Catherine about the shoulders and guided her in a kindly way to continue the journey.

"What is this talk of docklands?" whined Thomas the Butcher.

He looked to Michael first and then Anton, waiting for a supportive comment from either. Paechra could see in his aura that the butcher was in truth hoping both the older men would back up his fear.

"Leave well alone," muttered Michael wearily.

"Boy, the witch has set our path," added Anton. "It is our own fault we have walked it."

"Walking this far I fear what awaits us is not near as terrifying as what we have left behind," the queen whispered, something only Paechra overheard.

For the humans it seemed a strange journey, walking steadily along a path through a dense forest of firs. A distinct lack of other people, animals and towns had left the men disorientated. Living in a kingdom where each city, town or village was only a day's travel away even by foot, it was difficult to comprehend wandering this forest and then having to set camp. The nature of the light caused Anton trouble as well, the lack of sun's rise and set. The strange world between worlds that Paechra walked with confidence was foreign to the humans.

"How far, witch?" demanded Anton.

"We camp here and rest," ordered Paechra. "I'll not push Queen Catherine and the child another mile today."

"Thomas, pitch the tents," instructed Anton.

"I will find firewood and begin a meal," offered Michael.

Paechra yearned to demonstrate her power, the magic of nature. Within moments she knew it was possible to have a sturdy, safe camp with blazing fire and fruits suffice for a hungry army to feast upon. Such was the way of the humans though that a display of such power would be feared. So instead she stood and waited, quietly singing to the queen and the unborn child. A soft glow of blue light enveloped Paechra but the men were too busy to notice and the queen was sunken so deeply into her own thoughts that the outside world was a mystery.

"Thyn kint fyss g hoolalee," crooned Paechra, almost whispering in the queen's ear.

Queen Catherine sighed and remained squat and hunched over.

"Fyss g haalalae fyn o lathereryn," the sylva continued.

With some level of satisfaction Paechra noted a soft rose color return to what she could see of the queen's complexion. Soon after which there came from the monarch the sounds of slumber, much needed rest for mother and child both.

Paechra then chose to take a rare moment for herself. Slipping into a state of reverie she was immediately flooded with the thoughts and feelings she had spent so many days keeping at bay. Images of Morthos and Vladimir combined with Johannas while the spirits Aiera and Thur servants of light and air flew in and out and around trying to guide but creating more chaos. As the city grew up around Paechra she knew she was still dreaming.

"You are not true, you cannot harm me here," stated the druid, strength in her voice which surprised her.

The face that stepped out from behind one of the great grey stone walls was that which resembled the creature part man and part wolf, a vorsurk. Cloaked in the robes of a runecaster the creature brought forth from within its garments an ancient book.

"Your certainty amuses me forested one," the doglike magician growled. There was humour in its eyes but a vacancy in its tone.

"This is my dream and again I state that I see you for what you are," said Paechra calmly, just as her mother and The Mother Druid Sienna had taught her. "You are but a vision of my dreaming and I bid you move on."

"You must be wary, forested one," again growled the vorsurk. "Truth on the road of dreaming can be twisted and retold; one's dream can become another's path."

"Then let me awaken that your pathway would end here," boldly suggested the druid.

This only caused a hollow laugh to emanate from the wolf's jaws.

"Child, do not threaten what you do not properly comprehend."

"You call me child and yet my knowledge of your kind leads me to estimate our years are similar, if not the same."

The vorsurk's laughter ended.

"I call you child to merely highlight that your knowledge is obviously infantile," growled the magician.

"With my awakening we shall discover whose word speaks truly," called back Paechra, but for the first time in that short time she felt her confidence waiver.

The vorsurk flipped open his ancient book and gracefully stepped back behind the great stone wall. Paechra heard an eerie chanting fading as the magician began to move away.

"Wake up! Paechra wake up!" the druid urged of herself.

The sylva did not see but sensed the vorsurk as it appeared behind her.

"Shall I take your soul with my knife, girl?" growled the dog in Paechra's almond shaped ear.

A bright blue light suddenly surrounded the sylva, her inner aura brought forth. The vorsurk hissed as the hand that wielded the soul-stealer was caught in the light. With satisfaction Paechra noted the knife was dropped and a mark of harm appeared upon the clawed hand that had once held it. The sylva stood firmly upon the fallen blade and beneath her boot it shattered.

"You may have proven yourself true, magician," announced Paechra. "But you will not harm me here."

"Perhaps I shall take one of your charges then," suggested the magician.

"Be on your way my enemy," stated Paechra coolly. "Reflect upon the fact that it has been too long between battles, you forget our powers."

"I am Gwyn-Thul-Tur and I shall tell me brothers of you," promised the vorsurk. "I know you Paechra Lightheart and promise we all shall know your name."

As the vorsurk stepped away and closed the book it held so reverently Paechra felt her dream state fade. Seeing the creature step behind the wall once more the druid began to relax. The city walls vanished, returning to the forest floor and revealing once again the woods that Paechra realized had never gone. As her weary eyes flickered open her enemy left her with a parting gift.

"I shall not take one charge from you, girl," a whisper on the wind promised with a growl. "You'll need them all to pay passage for your journey ahead.

"Gwyn-Thul-Tur I shall remember you and vow we shall meet again," announced the druid, unsure yet whether she wished such a vow to come true.

"What do you grumble about in our queen's ear, witch?" growled Anton and Paechra was immediately reminded of her dream battle.

"Queen Catherine must awaken," demanded Paechra, urgency obvious in her tone. "I thought us safe here but I was wrong."

Anton made to retort, upset he had been ignored but this time Michael and Thomas sided together and cut the Head of the Truth Seekers off in his tracks before the grizzled warrior could say more.

"I shall dismantle the tents then," sighed Thomas.

"Catherine, my queen, you must wake," urged Michael, taking the monarch by her shoulders and gently shaking her.

"Fredrickson? Fredrickson, my love, is it you?" asked Queen Catherine, hopeful, dreamily.

"No my queen, it is only I," replied Michael, sharing in his queen's sadness.

"No, you are not a king," agreed Catherine. She rose and wiped the sleep from her eyes while Michael stood ashamed.

Paechra looked around, warily while the men packed up the camp.

"What did you see, lass?" Michael asked, shaking off his strange conversation with Queen Catherine.

The druid paused for a moment, considering what to say. Seeing Michael standing before her and seeing something of his son Johannas in the father's features Paechra decided to reveal the truth.

"Dark magic, our shared enemy, they hunt us even in our dreams," the sylva explained.

"Even in sleep, this far from home," replied Michael, disbelief obvious across his features. "Is anywhere safe?"

Paechra loved the man as she loved his son. Other humans would not have believed her as Michael had. The sylva was so grateful for the immediacy, with trust she continued to speak freely.

"There is one place these creatures dare not venture," began Paechra. "It is where I lead you but I did not realize until now just how important our next stop will be."

"The dockland we shall go then."

Paechra nodded grimly. She had hidden from Michael as she had hidden from the others the true nature of that place, the docklands. The druid understood that revealing such a truth would turn all, including Michael against her and what she thought was necessary. The sylvan people of the past had helped these humans and it was many of those same forest dwellers who would need to help again. Leading so many humans through the forest of dreams Paechra had decided it was to be impossible to return the same way she had come. These humans, fragile as they were, would need to find an inner bravery. Paechra understood their weariness from what they had witnessed and the fact that they were not used to traveling so far. This would indeed test them as it would test her. The Picturesque Picaresque was the ship that the druid sought. Passage on such a vessel would be costly. Paechra hoped that all would survive.

As Paechra's magic subtly guided the humans deeper along the path of the forest of dreams she caused the firs to grow thinner in number, smaller, sparser. It was not the druid's doing as the fog rolled in.

"What is this…?" began Thomas, echoing Anton's usual cry.

A silent look from Michael caused the younger man to swallow the word witchery before it began.

"Where do you lead us?" growled Anton, not willing to give up a chance for a fight so easily.

"We follow Paechra to safety," assured Michael.

For the first time the sylva felt the pangs of guilt.

"We travel to the Docklands to seek passage to my people," Paechra stated quickly. "They have helped humankind before and I believe they will assist us again."

"So you think yourself human now do you, girl?" Anton barked.

Paechra shivered as she was reminded of her meeting for the vorsurk magician. The tone was the same, the words spoken by the Head Truth Keeper almost identical. With a deep breath the druid attempted to slow her heart before she responded.

"Anton, I represent the people of the forest realm," Paechra began, slow and calm. "I do not consider my race altered from the brief time I have spent in Thuraen."

"Right, well, good then," replied Anton.

"I hear the ocean," suddenly announced Queen Catherine.

A light wind had carried sound and scent of the waters to the party, the queen the first to notice.

There is still hope, thought Paechra then.

The sylva had been worried for the kingdom's monarch, the queen's condition possibly too fragile for what trials lay ahead.

"Double time then!" ordered Anton, urging Thomas to quicken the pace.

It was only a mile left to travel Paechra knew. With some relief she allowed the leader of Thuraen's knights to do what he had been doing for most of his adult life. The druid passed the care and guidance of Queen Catherine on to Michael. Hanging back a few strides behind the rest the sylva returned to the state of reverie.

"We have naught that we can part with," Paechra reminded herself of. "So it must be that I negotiate work in exchange for passage."

"Daughter, you may offer translation as a skill," suggested Paechra's father.

Paechra stopped and turned to hug the man as she discovered his presence.

"But what of the others, what might they do?" the druid asked, ending the embrace as quickly as it began.

"The men can be put to work," Therdous stated simply.

"What of Queen Catherine and the child, father?"

"Daughter you must have faith that even the Ghoul will respect the blood of royalty."

As her father faded away Paechra nodded, decision made.

"The humankind enjoys playing dice," she muttered. "Let us dice then with their souls."

Stepping out from her moment of rejuvenation Paechra felt the land beneath her feet change from soft, lush grass to the hard cobbled stone of the Docklands.

"Wait," she made to say but discovered that the humans had already stopped in their tracks.

Through the fog three great ocean vessels could be seen. They creaked from age as they struggled with their moorings, eager to be free and sailing. The first ship was covered with lizardmen. They slithered across the decks and up and down mastings. The second was crewed by humanoid creatures crossed with a menagerie of animalia.

Across the deck of the third ship shuffled the groaning undead. Upon the rear of that ship was painted in a dark scrawl like blood the name Picturesque Picaresque. Toward this ship Paechra strode.

"Remain here, silently," demanded the sylva. "I go to negotiate our passage."

Dumbfounded, for once all of the humans did as asked.

To Be Continued…

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