In the belly of madness…
The sun was high in the sky as Janarl emerged from the tree line with his bow over his head. Ezuras signaled him it was clear. Janarl lowered his bow as he stepped forward towards the perimeter. The normal noise level of the village suddenly stopped as the others stepped out of the tree line. Everyone crowded around Ezuras as more and more T’kel followed Janarl out of the trees.
A woman started crying and then bedlam ensued. It was a family reunion in the belly of this land of madness. T’kel were hugging and crying and cheering. Wounds and fatigue in both groups fell away amid the laughing and crying. Janarl’s mother Akanart stepped up to him and hugged him. “Well done, son. I count fifteen this time. In one month you have doubled Novas Enclavas. Yes, that is what we have called it. The new enclave in our ancient tongue. Thank you for this flourishing garden even in the face of winter. Ah, you even bring food: meat and roots from the forest. It is like you expected a party and came bearing gifts. Ah, what is this, more survivors?”
“No, mother. Wounded. Wounded in body and spirit. I lost two fighters, Masim and Zaranj, to do it but I could not leave these T’kel behind in that herd. At least their bodies return even if their spirits ascend.”
“Yes, from the kiufilul brilli (madness group), the dream herd, as the humans call it. Let me look at them. Terrible, T’kel ajanak (dishonour for being among outsiders without masks). It is not enough for these filth to steal from our bodies, destroy our minds but they endanger our souls and obliterate our dignity too. We will see to the care of these now.”
“Praise to Zuras! Zolas of the Wolf! A healer, a T’kel worth his weight in shem’mata. You will be busy, my old friend. Welcome to our new home,” said Akanart.
Ezuras climbed on to the barricade and yelled, “Friends, welcome! A good day for us indeed. I must impose a chill wind on this sunny day. We are close enough to night to need to get to work now. Secure the wounded in the main tent. I know the clan elders will find beds for our returning brothers and sisters. Issue weapons to all that stand. We will eat a palavis (celebration meal) one hour before sunset in celebration so get to work.”
Akanart spoke to Janarl, “Janarl, you bring a gift on wings. Can I hope for sight of the trail to your father?”
“I am sorry Mother. Not a whiff or a bent twig on that path. However, I have a present as an apology,” Janarl said as he handed her a package.
She unwrapped it and looked at the red substance inside surrounded by a small bundle of grayish leaves. Janarl could see the smile and wide-eyed surprise underneath her mask.
“This is what you spoke of. The Distance and Silverleaf. I know this leaf only from my studies. Very rare. Not seen in the Enclave, the old Enclave, that is, since before Zuras. I think this will help poor Mullj. He suffers just as when you left.”
“Elatti, did Markiss leave already?”
“Yes, Hutil. He left at dawn. Hutil. That is what the young T’kel call you now: hunter. Markiss was keen to go before there was no glory left to harvest. No, I know that is not your goal but our people have hope now and confidence. Markiss and his group show that our tide is rising. What is this? Still a child in spite of felling giants. You hide a wound! What? To stop me worrying or to avoid a scolding. Come, this needs to be cleaned and dressed. While Rana does that, you and I will talk of this week. We must also talk about your animal companion, Adiya, that you keep so close to your heart. How fares he?”
“His health improves but so slowly. We will talk more inside, I think, ” said Janarl as he breathed in and turned. “Ezuras, yes, Ezuras!. I will go with my mother now. However, we found signs of zombies yesterday and an ogre two leagues to the south this morning. I think it was tracking us. Unavoidable for a group like this with wounded, I think.”
“Thank you, Hutil. I am less worried since this time you brought warriors with weapons as well as farmers. I will see you at the palavis,” said Ezuras.
The ogre did attack after nightfall only to flee on fire as soon as it came out of the trees. No easy meal this night for it. Janarl collapsed onto his sleeping mat even before its howls faded into the night.
A Man of Wisdom
Puesim collected his thoughts as he walked through the grove. This should be easy, his inner voice told him. However, there was a difference between the description of an act and the commission of it. To ask Ferinu to give up a living root of her tree sounded easy. Living to the end of the conservation, much less getting the root was infinitely more difficult. He might be able to convince her of his need and magically create a replacement without any noticeable difference, but what value to her? Why do it? He had an answer to that too.
It was past sunset and he had time. He needed the root at midnight.
He reached the top of Adazi Hill and spoke, “O Beautiful and Gracious Ferinu. I humbly request to speak to you on bent knee. I am Puesim Amilya, son of Amittali of the Grey Watchers. I crave your attention.”
In a flash he was knocked over and a beautiful woman stood above him bathed in green light. He got back on to his knee and looked at the ground. She stepped towards him until he could see her feet on the dew-covered grass.
“Who dares? Puesim of the Grey, you dare disturb me? The Grey have never been so foolish in the past. Speak!”
“Lady Ferinu, I am in need and know you are generous to us that Watch. I bring a small apology for disturbing you.” He never raised his face but held out a green necklace.
“Ah, the Grey are not so foolish. A necklace of fine jade. Very lovely, Puesim son of Attimali. I accept you apology. You may rise and face me.”
“Thank you, fair Ferinu. I am thankful that you grace my apology to rest on your neck.”
“Puesim of the Grey,” she said as she waved a hand to conjure a mirror in the air, “tell me of your need.”
“I am a druid and stalker of this forest Since the Mazari have fallen, the giants have returned. We are struggling to protect our homes. We need weapons to fight them.”
“Yes, weapons… Men always seem to need weapons…” she said still admiring herself in the mirror. “Yes, ah, oh…weapons? Weapons! Am I a merchant? What foolishness is this?”
“No, Lady of Adazi. I have a serious boon to seek from you but I am the merchant and the smith. I will forge a weapon to face these invaders. I crave a perfect start for it that only you can provide.”
“Watcher, am I a miner then? Do you crave bronze and steel from me then? Or could you be so bold that you be so bold that you have hidden the desire to instead use them to cut a branch from my tree?”
“Lady, I would not cut your tree not just because it would be certain death but because I am a forest protector.”
“Ha, a protector! Feeble and shortsighted.”
“Yes my lady.”
“But you distract me, what is your boon?”
“Lady of Adazi, I ask that I take away a root of your ironwood tree and be permitted to…accck!”
She grabbed him by the throat and seem to grow larger and brighter than both moons. “A root! Just to ask is presumptuous enough. This tree has drank the blood of more than one man. Now it will drink yours.”
“No, accck. Wait my Lady! I will heal and grow back the root this very night. It will be like it never occurred.”
“Then why do I care? It is no benefit to me or mine.”
“Yes, fair Ferinu. That is why I bring a gift.”
She dropped him to the ground. “A payment. I am a merchant am I?” She drew a wicked dagger from her belt.
“No, my lady, a benefactor of a weapon that will nourish this forest with the blood of giants and ogres,” he said as he held out a ring.
She took it without speaking and put it on her index finger. “Well indeed, it is you who are the master merchant. I accept your terms.”
Puesim wrapped the root in a length of moist silk and placed that in a sack. The root was healed on the ironwood tree as if it had never been removed. It was midnight and he was on schedule. Now he had to find the mistletoe and hemlock…
It was near sunset and all the components lay on the granite slab before Puesim. He was sitting on the ground. It had not even been a day since he had climbed Adazi but he felt years older. Exhausted did not describe it. His assistant, Wali Jan, stood just behind him and very still. Puesim stood up and spoke in Mazar – gilya mira fali falum…assembled here are gifts of nature to protect nature. A young and living root of ironwood given freely by a dryad. Deadly hemlock and powerful mistletoe. They lay upon a sword, made by the hand of an elf craftsman. A handle of ebony, black as soil, beautiful and strong. They are wrapped in silk woven by a fair woman and dyed in saffron.” He waved his hands and power filled the air. In Mazar he continued, “lantina viam fride nox…A weapon to protect the forest, a weapon of the forest. A weapon forged of magic not of fire!”
Hours passed and Puesim continued to weave spell after spell into the yellow bundle. His face was bathed in red light as the sun went below the horizon. Hours continued to pass and it was midnight. Puesim put both hands on the bundle and spoke more words of power and the night disappeared in a burst of light. The bundle burned as bright as the sun. He cast a wry smile at Wali Jan as he began to cast another spell. There was no heat but the light was like the rising day. Puesim closed his eyes and spoke quietly in a final prayer to the Wild.
At sunrise, the light from the bundle began to dim. The slab itself was bent as if it was clay under a heavy weight. He waved his hand over the bundle. The bundle blew away as if it was a pile of dry leaves in the autumn. The ash and dross blew away to reveal the scimitar. The handle and guard shone in the morning sun all the brighter against the ebony grip. It was the blade that betrayed that this was not a normal sword any longer. The blade was not longer steel but had the look of ironwood bark. He ran his hand along the blade and the hilt and said, “Woodclaw” and grasped the handle. Wali Jan gasped as Puesim fell to the ground screaming. Roots and branches came out of the blade and buried themselves into his right arm. As he stopped screaming, it disappeared entirely. Puesim slowly stood back up with Wali Jan’s help. He breathed in and rubbed his arm. “It was like fire up m