Knight of ZantarniZantarni NPC
Sat Oct 17, 2009 9:24 am
Chapter 18, The Haunted Forest
It was All Hallow’s Eve and the children were about, all excited about ‘trick or treating’. Meldrick, as was his custom, handed out little bags of rock candy from his perch on the short wall near Edingtol’s Gates. Several children and their parents had gathered, resting a bit from the rigors of going about to the houses and shoppes and collecting treats.
A few of the children were smiling in amazement as Meldrick juggled three of the small bags of rock candy, then lightly tossed each of the children one of the small bags. “Sir Meldrick...” one lad approached him, “could you please tell us a scary story?” There were nods and agreements throughout those gathered as Meldrick smiled and cleared his throat.
The caravan had stopped outside the Village of West Port, located on the sea coast near the western edge of the Retchwood forest. It was the time of the Festival of the Dead and the first time that the Gypsy Elves had visited West Port to be part of the festivities.
Meldrick smiled as he gathered his gear for a little exploring and as he came out of their wagon Mother Marla greeted him and kissed his forehead, wishing him to be careful and he hugged her assuring her he would.
Turning to head down the road towards the forest edge, a chill ran up his spine and he stopped for a moment and looked back to Mother Marla; who smiled and waved. He waved back and continued walking down the road; though he couldn’t shake the feeling something was going to happen.
As Meldrick was starting to turn off the road to enter a path in the forest, an old man ran into him, knocking them both to the ground. As the old man stood, he continued looking back at the forest with eyes wide with fear.
He briefly looked down at Meldrick as if he wasn’t quite sure what it was he was seeing; then looking back at the forest, he shook his head and starting running down the road; screaming, “Stay out of the forest!!! It’s haunted!!! The trees….the trees….”
Meldrick stood up and tried to get the man’s attention, but it was obvious that the fear that gripped him, would not allow him to stop. Meldrick sighed as he brushed himself off, then looked from the fleeing man to the forest, wondering what it was that had scared him so and what did he mean by “The trees…”
Taking a deep breath and never being one to run from danger, Meldrick turned and headed cautiously into the forest.
As he traveled, he would stop occasionally, checking the trees and the plants around them, looking for anything out of the ordinary; though everything he saw within the first mile or two was exactly what he expected to see… spruce, birch, pine… all trees that should be in this climate. He had also found a few wild berries and took a few samples to eat along the way.
It was still early evening when Meldrick came upon a small stream. Finding a bit of a clearing near the water’s edge, he decided to make camp for the night. He was able to catch a fish in the stream and set about making a fire to cook it.
As he sat eating the fish, he listened for any unusual noises, still wondering about the scared man’s words… “The trees…” He decided not to take any chances with the wildlife and looked for a tree to get himself up off the ground. Finding a suitable tree, he climbed it and found a good roost that was high enough that he would have warning of anything climbing the tree and where he could get comfortable.
As darkness fell, the sounds of the forest changed. The hooting of an owl could be heard, as well as the howling of a wolf. Meldrick listened to see if he could hear anything out of the ordinary, but nothing seemed wrong. The rustling of the leaves in the soft breeze calmed his fears as he fell asleep.
He awoke refreshed in the morning and smiled as he remembered his dream of the tree wrapping its limbs around him to protect him from the cold. Meldrick chuckled as he picked up his gear and decided to follow the stream deeper into the forest. The day was warm and the sky was clear and the trees of the surrounding forest still reflected the trees that Meldrick had expected to see. . .nothing was out of the ordinary and he had started to think that perhaps the old man had somehow lost his mind. He knew the fear the old man had shown was real, but so far, nothing he had seen here in the forest, had shown itself to be the threat that the old man had implied was here.
Meldrick stopped around noon and collected some more berries, relaxing as he ate them. He kept looking along the stream and noticed that an area further along looked darker, as if there had been a fire or something.
He looked about as he had the feeling he was being watched, but could not find the source of the discomfort. Walking along the stream, it became apparent that there had been a forest fire as the earth was darkened and there were what appeared to be hundreds of trees that had been burned in the fire. Setting down his pack, he began to walk about the burned out area; he again felt as if he was being watched.
Meldrick noticed that a few of the trees appeared to have been struck by axes and he saw two double-bladed axes laying in what appeared to be a burned out clearing in the middle of the devastation. He examined a few of the trees and thought it odd that any woodsman would strike a tree and not fell and harvest it. As he moved to the axes, he heard the words of the mad man again, “The trees…the trees…”
He hadn’t noticed that the sun had gone down, as this section of the forest was darker than the rest. That feeling of being watched washed over him again as he looked about.
“You have to go… you have to go now.” Meldrick looked about and saw a beetle-winged tree faerie flying towards him. “You shouldn’t be here. . .it’s not safe.”
Meldrick looked at the tree faerie, “Not safe...why? What’s wrong here?” The faerie shook his head, “No time to explain. . .no time. . .you must go, NOW!!”
With that, Meldrick turned and started to run towards where he had laid his backpack; but something was odd, as the burned trees seemed to be closer together than he remembered. He was just about to ask the tree faerie, when he heard him say, “It’s too late. . .they are awake. . .and they know you’re here!”
“Who’s awake and who knows I am. . .” Meldrick’s jaw dropped as he realized the madman’s words rang true. . .it was the trees. . .the trees were awake and aware of his being there and they were closing him in, cutting off any hope of escape.
As Meldrick tried to dive between two trees, he felt something trip him and then wrap around his ankle. He felt himself being lifted up, as he looked about, he realized that he was surrounded by the shapes of the burned out trees.
“Why are you here?” the large tree before him asked, “Are you here to destroy more of us?”
Before Meldrick had a chance to speak, the tree faerie flew between him and the interrogating tree. “Garn, let him go. He is a young elf and you know he couldn’t possibly be here to harm the forest.”
The tree swung a thin tendril of a limb out and swatted the tree faerie, sending him flying to land in a pile of ash. “Barnaby, do not speak for him, as it was your fault that this happened. . .” the tree shook its burnt limbs, “You were supposed to protect us. . .” the tree spread its limbs, “Does it look like you protected us?”
Barnaby sat there in the pile of ash; Meldrick could tell that the tree faerie was shook up. “Garn, I am sorry. . .I did what I could. . .the fire. . .it spread too quickly. . .”
The tree dismissed the words of the faerie, harrumphing as he turned back to look at Meldrick, as the tree that held him shook him. “Elf, are you here to burn us out, to kill us, too??”
Meldrick shook his head, “No. . .I am a Gypsy Elf, a healer-in-training, my people are related to the Woodland Elves. . .I could no more do harm to you, than I could harm a faerie.” He knew he should be afraid, these ‘living’ trees could easily harm him; but he was more concerned about what he could do to help them. He had heard rumors of a ‘haunted forest’, of trees that moved about on their own and that could communicate with faeries and elves. . .but he never thought he would actually meet such creatures.
“May I ask what happened here?” Meldrick asked. Garn shook his limbs again, “Ask him. . .ask Barnaby!” The tree then turned his back to Meldrick, as if dismissing him for the time being. Meldrick saw the axe marks on the back of Garn’s trunk, sap appeared to be slowly oozing from the wound.
“It wasn’t my fault.” The sound of Barnaby’s voice brought Meldrick’s attention back to his situation. “The Trees have lived in this forest for generations. . .secretly, as if word of their existence leaked out. . .” he choked back a tear as he looked about the burned out area surrounding them.
“Somehow, word leaked out. . .” He looked down, “I failed them. . . my job is to use my forget dust. . .it makes humans and elves and orcs forget what they may have seen here. But I never saw the intruders. . .I never saw them until after they attacked. . .they set a circle of fire around the Trees.” The faerie’s eyes glazed over, as it was obvious that the memory was extremely painful for him.
“There had been four of them. . .all dressed in ghillie suits. . .I never saw them till it was too late.” Barnaby paused a moment, brushing a little ash from his clothing. “The fire spread quickly, killing all the saplings. . .and as you can see, burning and disfiguring those that survived.”
Meldrick shook his head in disbelief at the damage that the attackers had caused, “What were they after. . .and why destroy the Trees?”
Barnaby sighed and sat down, looking up at Meldrick, “Do you see the damage to Garn’s backside? They were after the sap and the hearts of each of the trees.” Barnaby lowered his voice, “The sap can give one eternal youth. . .” He looked about then moved a little closer to Meldrick, “But if taken by force, it ages the one who has taken it.”
Meldrick remembered the old man who had run into him, “How old were the attackers? And what happened to them?”
The Tree Faerie looked to Garn, who was still ignoring him, “They were human and probably all in their 20’s. . .” He paused a moment, “They all had greedily taken the sap after cutting into a few trees, including Garn. . . they all aged rapidly and Garn and the others captured three of them and the fourth one got away.”
Meldrick was getting a little dizzy from hanging upside down, but he realized that the ‘old’ man who had run into him must have been the one who had gotten away, “What happened to the three that were captured?” A shiver ran down his spine, as he had an inkling of what happened.
Barnaby looked down, “They were returned to Mother Earth, so that the Trees can heal and that saplings will have a chance to return in the Spring.”
Meldrick understood as he knew many creatures that required sacrifices for healing and rebirth, though the living trees were not something he had expected. He looked around and could feel the hatred in the air, though he knew he needed to ask; he steeled himself as he did, “And what’s going to happen to me?”
Barnaby looked to Garn again, “The Council of Trees will judge you. . .and their judgment will be final. . .” The faerie looked up into Meldrick’s eyes, “If they find you guilty of crimes against the Trees. . .” He looked back down at the ground, “You will be returned to Mother Earth. . .”
Meldrick gulped at the thought, just as Garn turned back around to face him. The old tree moved closer and reached out to touch Meldrick’s face. Meldrick could feel the hatred in the touch of the gnarled limb; he could see the hatred in the eyes of this old tree before him and he didn’t like his chances of survival.
Garn moved his face closer, “Elfling, you may want to pray to whatever gods you believe in. . .” His breath smelled of smoke and of something else, that Meldrick couldn’t define. As Garn turned around and moved off, Meldrick noticed that the sap was still oozing at a steady rate. The other Trees moved out away from him, to form a closed circle around the Tree that held Meldrick in its tight grip.
Barnaby moved back to hover in front of Meldrick, “They will sleep the night and judgment will begin in the morning. . .” The Tree Faerie looked to the Tree beside Garn, in its limb it held Meldrick’s backpack. “The contents of your backpack will be one factor in their decision. . .”
Meldrick thought about what he had packed prior to coming out to the forest, but stopped, remembering the wound on Garn, “Barnaby, I do not know much of the life cycle of the Trees, but Garn’s wound continues to ooze. . .that cannot be good.”
Barnaby nodded, “The sap should have solidified by now, protecting the wounded area. . .that it hasn’t means that the wound is deep and if nothing is done soon, Garn will not survive. . .” The Tree Faerie looked towards Garn, “He has been here since the beginning, it would be a shame to lose him.” Barnaby shook his head and looked to the ground again.
“Barnaby, I am a healer-in-training, but I don’t know enough about the Tree people. . .but I know someone who may be able to help.” He looked to Garn and then back to Barnaby, “and she can be trusted not to interfere with the council’s judgment.”
Barnaby looked up at Meldrick, “Who is this woman and where can she be found?”
“She is my Mother Marla. . .and she is camped outside the village of West Port.” Meldrick swallowed hard, “She will come, if asked and she will not interfere with whatever the Council decides. . .even if it decides to return me to Mother Earth. . .She loves me. . .but she will not interfere.” Meldrick felt the tears starting to form at the sides of his eyes, “Go to her, tell her of Garn’s problem so that she may bring the proper items she will need. . .but do not tell her of my situation till you are away from our camp.” Barnaby nodded and flew off towards Garn. Meldrick closed his eyes knowing that he had spoken the truth about his Mother Marla, grateful in the knowledge that if things did not go his way, he would be able to say his good-byes to his Mother.
After arguing with Garn and the other Tree Elders, Barnaby finally was allowed to seek out Mother Marla. He had followed Meldrick’s instructions on finding the caravan’s campgrounds and was easily able to find Mother Marla’s wagon, from Meldrick’s description of it. It was night and most of the camp was asleep, so Barnaby was easily able to slip into the wagon. He awakened Mother Marla and explained the problem, telling her of the fire and the sacrificing of the three captured woodsmen, and mostly he spoke of Garn’s wound and the inability of his sap to stem the flow and close the wound.
Mother Marla collected the items she felt she would need and placed them in her bag, then asked Barnaby to enter her bag, so that he would not be spotted. As she left the wagon, Brother Aaron approached her. She told him of a medical emergency and that she would be back in a day or two, He smiled as she touched his cheek and he bent down so that she could kiss his forehead. She then bade him good night and headed down the road towards the forest edge that Meldrick had followed only hours before.
Meldrick found it hard to sleep as he was still hung by his feet. Sleeping fitfully, his dreams were nightmares of being drawn and quartered by the Trees for his crimes… whatever they may be… or of the Trees closing in on him and crushing him by their sheer numbers… or of being buried alive with only his head above ground and then having one of the Trees fall on him… He awoke with a start at the last one and tried to keep his eyes open, as the nightmares were all too real.
His eyes fell upon his backpack as he could also make out the first glimmer of sunrise.
As they started into the forest, following the same stream that Meldrick had, so short a time ago, Barnaby delivered the rest of the news, that her son would be judged by the Council of Trees and that he could face being sacrificed. Barnaby also told of Meldrick’s confidence in Mother Marla not to interfere with the judgment.
To that she stopped and nodded, “My son knows me well. . .and I love him truly.” She took a deep breath and could smell fire and knew that they must be near, as she could feel the warmth of the sunrise on her face, as well as the tear that flowed down her cheek.
As the sun moved upwards in its path across the sky, the Trees moved about, stretching their limbs to gather in the warmth of it. Garn moved across the clearing to stand in front of Meldrick and motioned for the Tree holding him to lower him; allowing Meldrick to actually sit on the ashen ground. The tendrils of the Guard Tree still wrapped around him, holding him tightly.
As Garn turned to go back and join the other Trees, Meldrick noticed that some of the deeper wood in the wound appeared to be drying out and even though he did not know much about the make up of trees, he knew that that could not be a very good sign. He was about to say something, when he saw the figure of someone moving along the stream and he smiled, “Mother Marla!”
The Trees stopped their movement and turned towards the stream, as the beetle-winged faerie buzzed over to Meldrick. “You were right, Meldrick.” Was all he said, before buzzing over to Garn.
As Mother Marla heard her name she paused and looked towards her son, feeling an ache in her heart as she waved to him and mouthed “I love you.” She then turned to follow Barnaby’s lead to stand in front of Garn.
“Mother Marla,” Garn said and lightly bowed, “I have been told that you may possess the knowledge, the power to help heal my wounds and that of the others who are also experiencing this life-threatening, weeping infection.”
He looked towards Meldrick and then back to Mother Marla, “I am also given to understand that he is your son and that you have been told that no matter the outcome of this healing, that it will not have any bearing on your son’s guilt or innocence in our Council.”
Mother Marla stepped closer and looked Garn in the eyes, “I am a Healer, it is my station in life. . .the gods have seen fit to give me the ability to help others, I could not in good conscience walk away from those who need my powers.” She looked to Meldrick, “He is my son and I love him. I have every confidence that your Council will give him a fair hearing and I am prepared to stand by my son, no matter the outcome of that decision.”
She gazed deeply into Garn’s eyes, “Now, please, gather those who are suffering the deep wounds, so that I may start the healing process.”
Garn nodded and motioned for her to follow him. He led her to the edge of the burned forest. The three other Trees that had been attacked by the greed-ridden woodsmen stood before her. She examined each wound and softly clucked her tongue, then opened her bag.
“Garn, are there any of the people who did not survive the burning? Anyone, other than the saplings?”
“There was one. . .Elder Tran and as is our custom, he was lain on the ashes of the lost saplings.” Garn was obviously puzzled, “What do you need of our lost Elder?”
Mother Marla removed the small hatchet from her bag, then looked at all of the wounded, “I will need about a two foot square of his bark. . .if your laws will allow it?”
Garn and the others twitched a bit at the sight of the sharp blade in her hand, “Supervised by our Shaman and if it can be done with minimal damage to his trunk. . .Mother Marla, can the oozing be stopped? I feel my inner layers starting to dry and if no way can be found for that to be reversed, I will not be able to take sustenance.”
She nodded, “Yes, if we can gather the bark and get the poultice prepared. . .please take me to Elder Tran and have the Shaman meet us.”
Garn motioned for Barnaby to get the Shaman as he and the others led Mother Marla to the funeral bier of Elder Tran. They spread out in a circle around the body as Mother Marla knelt and laid the small hatchet on the ground behind her, then bent to gently examine the bark of the Elder, looking for an area that would be easy to strip.
“Are you Mother Marla?” a soft voice was heard from behind her; she turned to see the Shaman had arrived.
“Why yes, I am. Has Barnaby explained what I need to do, Shaman, and why?” She wanted to be sure he understood and approved before she proceeded.
The Shaman smiled, “Yes, as I understand it, you will need to remove a section of bark from the Elder’s trunk in order to help our injured.” She nodded as he went on, pointing to the hatchet by her, “And that would be the instrument that you will use to remove the bark?”
“Yes, Shaman, and I have found an area that seems like it will be the easiest to remove,” She pointed to an area on the Elder’s trunk that appeared to have an axe cut that exposed an edge of the bark.
The Shaman moved close to examine the spot and nodded a bit, “Yes, the bark will most likely come apart there. . .would you please hold the instrument in your palms.”
Mother Marla gently picked the hatchet up and held it lain across her palms, as the Shaman move closer to her. His limb moved to within a hair’s breath of the edge of the hatchet as he said a prayer.
“May this instrument cut sharp and true,
. . .not in anger, but in love and caring.
To remove the flesh of our dear Elder
. . .to help the injured, an act of sharing.”
As he finished the words, a thin flow of sap played across the edge of the blade and the Shaman looked into Mother Marla’s eyes, “You may proceed.” Was all he said. She bowed and then turned to the body of the Elder and gently worked the blade against the wound, and slowly worked the section of the bark lose from his body. She turned back to the Shaman and thanked him, showing him the section she had removed.
The Shaman moved his limb above the section of bark, blessing it. “Now, Garn, I will need to build a small fire, so that I may prepare the poultice.” She pointed to an area just outside of the burn zone. “I will do it there, so as not to disturb the People.” She then turned to Barnaby, “Can you check with Meldrick and see if he has any dried lavender in his kit. . .if so, please bring it to me.” She paused a moment, and handed the beetle-winged faerie a thimble, “I also need a little of his blood.”
Barnaby nodded and flew back towards where Meldrick was being held captive, as the wounded trees followed Mother Marla to where she had pointed. They halted about 120 feet from the burn zone. Mother Marla opened her bag and removed a silk scarf, that she laid on the ground, then gently laid the bark upon it.
She then got up and went about collecting twigs and wood that lay about the ground for her, to be used in making her fire. She removed tinder from a small box she had in her bag and started the fire… carefully clearing an area around it, so that it would not spread.
Mother Marla then took a mortar and pestle from the bag and gently broke off bits of the bark and placed it in the mortar, grinding the bark into a fine powder. She looked up and smiled as she saw Barnaby carrying a sachet and the thimble. The beetle-winged faerie flew directly to her and hovered before her, as she reached out and relieved him of his burden. She placed the lavender and the blood into the mortar, where she blended it together with the powder of the bark, then she removed a small vial from her bag and poured the contents into the mortar and carried it to the fire.
She placed the mortar on the fire and gently cleaned off the pestle, making sure to place any remnants of the mix back into the bowl. Then, taking a smoothed wooden stick, she began to slowly stir the mix.
Meldrick had been surprised when Barnaby came back to ask him about the lavender, as he knew Mother Marla knew he had it; she always made sure he packed a sachet every time, as the fragrance of it helped to keep his pack from smelling too bad and so that he could be reminded of home, each time he breathed in its sweet scent. He smiled as he realized it was her way of telling him that she believed that they would be going home together.
He wasn’t as surprised about the need for a bit of his blood, as ever since he was made blood brother to Red Claw of the Great Red Dragon Clan, his blood contained some of the healing properties of the Dragon’s Blood. Meldrick had allowed Barnaby to prick his thumb and then filled the thimble with his blood. Barnaby had been a bit surprised when the blood stopped flowing as it reached the top of the thimble, but he did not ask about it.
As the faerie went back to Mother Marla, Meldrick closed his eyes, allowing himself the luxury of catching a little sleep.
As the poultice simmered, Mother Marla continued to stir it. She was worried about her son, but she knew that his fate was in the hands of the gods. As the concoction was brought to a boil, she carefully removed it from the fire and signaled for the wounded trees to come to her. They all moved closer, except for Garn who cast a wary eye on what she was doing.
As each of the people moved to her, Mother Marla, took some of the still-bubbling poultice and carefully spread it and filled each wound, while warning each that it would be hot, but not dangerous for them. Almost immediately, the weeping of their wounds halted. They each thanked her and went back to join the others, leaving Garn, Barnaby and Mother Marla alone.
Garn motioned for Barnaby to leave them, but Mother Marla shook her head, “Garn, I would like him to stay. I want him to see what I do, so that he may be able to help in case there are any complications.”
He looked from her to Barnaby and nodded agreement, then moved to Mother Marla’s side, exposing his wound to her. As she started applying the mixture, she explained to Barnaby that there would be some of the poultice left and that if Garn’s wound were to start to weep again, that he should warm it up and apply it to the wound as she was doing now. Barnaby agreed and watched each application.
As the wound was filled, the weeping of Garn’s wound finally stopped. “You must be careful not to bump your wound against anything, as the medicine needs to stay in place for several days. . .it will eventually be absorbed into your wound, covering and protecting it.”
Mother Marla turned to Barnaby, “When the bowl cools, you will need to put it in a safe place, in case it is needed again.” She slightly smiled, “It will remain potent for at least a week.” Barnaby nodded.
Garn bowed slightly, “I thank you Mother Marla, for my People and for myself.” He turned to rejoin the People, then stopped. “We will make our judgment tomorrow. . .you are welcome to stay, if you so desire.”
Mother Marla bowed, “Thank you, I so desire.” With that Garn left and Mother Marla picked up her things and put out the fire. Barnaby watched her and was impressed by her calm demeanor.
“I think Meldrick would be happy if you joined him,” he said, “I will finish cleaning up here.”
She smiled, “Thank you, Barnaby.” She stood up and moved to join her son.
Meldrick smiled as he saw Mother Marla coming towards him, “I would hug you, if I wasn’t so tied up at the moment.” She smiled and hugged him and kissed his forehead.
“It’s all right, I understand.” She smiled again as she sat beside him, holding him, still not sure what the outcome would be.
Morning came and the tree People gathered around Meldrick. The guard had released him from his grip, though the tendrils that had held him stayed close. . .an implied threat that he could still easily be restrained. Meldrick stood, rubbing his wrists as Mother Marla stood beside him. Barnaby joined them as Garn moved forward.
“The People have been attacked and this part of the forest has been declared off limits to all but the People. . .anyone else who enters uninvited will submit to the laws of the People and will be judged by their actions, by their intent. . .” He paused and pointed at Meldrick, “Meldrick of the Gypsy Elves, do you willingly submit yourself for our judgment?”
Meldrick gently squeezed Mother Marla’s hand, “I do.” He knew that, willingly or not, the Tree People would judge him. He would leave whatever happened in the hands of Fate.
Garn nodded slightly, “Why did you come to this place? Were you acting in concert with those who attacked us?”
Meldrick stood up straight, “I would never take part in such a heinous crime, I came here out of curiosity. . .a part of me that has led me to many adventures and meeting of many People. I had heard rumors of your People’s existence and wanted to see for myself.” He paused a moment, “As I entered the forest, I ran into an elderly man who was mumbling a warning about the ‘Trees’. . .not sure what he meant, I backtracked along the man’s easily marked trail, which led me to this place.”
There was a slight murmuring among the Tree Folk, which Garn ignored. Mother Marla held Meldrick’s hand more tightly as she could sense the anger and hatred within Garn, and for the first time she feared that she would truly lose her son in this place.
“In your backpack, we found flint and tinder and other combustibles . . . a container of oil, candles. . .How do you explain them. . .those who did this to us also carried these things?” Garn’s limb was shaking slightly as he pointed to Meldrick.
Meldrick took a deep breath, he tightened his own grip on Mother Marla’s hand, as he too could feel the hatred and anguish behind Garn’s questions, “I always take those things with me when I explore, they allow me to start a fire for warmth and for cooking. . .the candles I use so that I may see when I write, before I go to sleep each night.” He paused a moment, “Anyone who explores or hunts or comes into the forest will carry such things, it is part of a survival drive that all creatures share. Most would only use such things the way I that I do. . .but there are those who would use them with bad intentions, seeking a profit and not seeking truth or knowledge. I am a seeker of truth and knowledge.”
Garn shook a bit, “and my duty is to protect the People. . .to see that no harm comes to them and I will do whatever I have to. . .to. . .to. . .” Garn held his limb pointing at Meldrick. Something was happening to him as he looked to that scorched and gnarled limb, he saw something that he had never thought that he would ever see again. . .light green leaf buds. He looked to Mother Marla, “How. . .how is this possible?”
Mother Marla stepped forward and placed her hands on Garn’s limb, examining the leaf buds and smiling. “It was the addition of my son’s blood to the poultice I made. . .you see, he is a very special person, blood brother to a Great Red Dragon, a friend to Faeries and other creatures that inhabit this world. He is as he appears, honest and trustworthy and he shares his gifts with all. . .though I was not sure what effect his blood would have on you or your People, I have seen what it has done to help others before.” As she held his limb, one of the leaf buds unfurled and she smiled.
Garn listened and watched as the tiny leaf unfurled; a sap tear rolled down his cheek. He found he could not speak, he turned and left the circle of trees. Mother Marla turned to Meldrick and then they both looked after Garn. Mother Marla started to move after him, but Meldrick stopped her, “No Mother Marla, it is I who need to go after him.” With that, he kissed her cheek and followed Garn’s path away from the circle. No one moved to stop him, as Barnaby flew to Mother Marla, and they both watched Meldrick disappear into the trail that Garn made.
Meldrick followed the trail and found Garn at the bank of the stream, he moved closer to him. “Go away, Meldrick. . .go away!”
Meldrick ignored his words, and moved closer, “Garn, the People need you, now more than ever.”
Garn turned to look at Meldrick, sap tears running down his trunk, “They don’t need me, they need a leader who won’t let grief and pain cloud his judgment. . .they need someone who is able to recognize the good that is in the ‘hearts’ of others as well as the evil that is in the ‘hearts’ of some. . .I can no longer do that.” Garn stared at Meldrick, “Why do you care. . .I was willing to have you tortured and killed just for entering our sacred home. . .I feared that you had come to finish what those others had done to us.”
Meldrick reached out and touched Garn’s limb as other leaf buds had opened. It was evident that life was returning to his limb. Meldrick smiled. “Garn, Mother Marla taught me long ago not to measure someone’s worth by their anger and pain. . .but instead, look into their ‘heart’ and see what lies there. . .I looked into your ‘heart’ and I saw the love that you have for the People, I saw that you would do whatever was necessary to protect them. I saw your false anger towards Barnaby when you blamed him for what happened and I saw him ignore that anger, as he continued to do his duty to you and the People.”
“That he could still love you after you blamed him, showed me that he still believes in you. . .as I am sure the People still believe in you, too.”
Meldrick smiled, as he remembered the look in Mother Marla’s eyes as he and Garn had returned to the circle.
“When we returned to West Port, the town was already buzzing with the story of the Haunted Forest. The people of West Port posted warning signs along the road where it met Retchwood forest and to this day, only the bravest or most foolhardy dare to venture into the woods.”
As the people thanked him for his story and headed back to their ‘trick or treating’, Meldrick smiled as one child remained. “ Celene, it is good to ‘see’ you.”
The little red-headed girl smiled as she took his hand, “Will you take me ‘trick or treating’ Mellie?”
He smiled as she took his hand, “I would love to, Celeste, I would love to.”
Sit back and I'll tell you tales of Faeries and dragons.