Althaea’s journal entry for 25th of Sunburst continues
As I was waiting for my comrades to wake up, Jarvis brought me a note from Borel. Evidently he had felt an urge for hunting to appease his restless spirit. So it appeared that I had to have my earnest discussion with him some other day. I did not know whether to be relieved or vexed. However, I knew this would do Borel good, so I let my feelings subside.
As Carric and Dulkan emerged from their chambers and joined me in the family room after having breakfast, I showed them the letter Borel had left behind. We all accepted that this was something he had to do, and we just had to make our plans accordingly. Next on the list of agenda was to contemplate on the druid issue and what possible ways we could have to try to negotiate them to our side. Dulkan was concerned that we should not oppress or extort them. I reassured him that no alliance is strong-holding if it is achieved through treachery or coercion. Be that as it may, there were likely some real benefits in the alliance for the druids, and we only needed to find out what those benefits might be. The best way to do that is to know your potential confederate. Thus, off to the library we went, Carric and I.
I do not know how Dulkan spent his day, but Carric and I made with our time at the large and well-equipped library of Moon on the Rise. Our large library did indeed – after some searching – contain as many as two books on such an elusive and obscure subject as the druids: they truly keep to themselves. From the book that I found I learned that the druids were involved in the Emerald Forest from its beginnings. An elven city had been built in the forest, and the druids had been named those who were to maintain a balance between the city and the forest, people and nature. Evidently they had failed in their duty, since the forest had gone wild with only ruins were left from the city. Another bit of information I was able to acquire was that while the druids were very independent, they heeded to an arch druid, and one at some point in their history was a druid called Mise.
After Carric had spent the whole day reading a book he had found, he had a stroke of luck; in this book were detailed accounts on some of the customs and rituals the druids adhered to. Firstly, apparently as visitors come, they are to perform a friendship ritual of sort by presenting a gift to represent themselves and a gift to represent their land. Second, while the druids were quarrelsome and discordant bunch, they all respected the ritual of spirit communion. It seemed to be a ritual where the fortuitous pledger might receive a signal from numen.
Whilst Carric and I were immersed in our studies, my father arrived. With father, Dulkan came back to the house from doing whatever he was doing. We passed intelligence, and I related him the idea of invoking the druids to our cause. He was surprised but pleased that I had thought of something that had not even occurred to him. My father, however, was the harbinger of alarming news: the Baron in his lunacy had sent messages to surrounding dragons appealing to them to take over our land; supposedly he believed they would allow him to remain the acting ruler of the district. What idiocy, what folly! The dragons are unpredictable at best, and perhaps the next dragon would not even be eager to let the people be, as Khariss had done, apart from the yearly tribute and an occasional kill. Maybe the next dragon would not want adulation but annihilate all inhabitants of the region.
Sense of urgency was upon us, and we made haste with our preparations for tomorrow’s expedition. We had to come up with appropriate gifts to present to the druids. I asked for the fish-pie recipe Carric had procured from the cook we met after saving the boatful of fisherman in our journey to Arry (so long ago it seemed now!). I borrowed the kitchen, and although I do not have the habit of making baked goods, I was able to rustle up a decent smelling and looking pie. This was to represent me as a guest. It required more contemplation to come up with something representing the land. Finally it came to me: I should bring them Anthea seeds! It would make a very appropriate gift. Carric’s gift to represent himself was some copied recipes of the potions and brews he had found in our adventure in Assarna; Dulkan decided to part from his halberd.
26th of Sunburst
In the morning, prepared well for the consignment, we set for the Circle of Spring and the hamlet of the druids. I knew the way as I had visited the place couple of times as a child growing up in Moon on the Rise.
The journey took a few hours but before very long we could see a clearing in the forest up ahead. We stepped out from the edge of the woods and in to the sunlight illuminating a forum and dwellings surrounding it. Some of the houses were burrowed in small mounds and hills, like little gopher’s nest. Some were built using twigs and branches, around growing tree, utilizing it as a support structure. Others had grass roofs, looking too like mole hills. The forum was busy and some druids were seen coming in and out of their huts, some hurrying somewhere looking self-important, and others locked in heated, almost vitriolic discussions. Apparently however bickering bunch they were, apparently liked arguing and disagreement so much as to opt to live close to each other instead of hermit-like life in abodings scattered farther apart.
As soon as we stepped out in to the forum, a druid hurriedly approached us. He greeted us, and we introduced ourselves and presented the gifts. This druid, called Zoon, was more interested in what we had to offer than our purpose of coming there, or who we were. He quickly accepted us as his guests; apparently the protocol was that the first one to accept the visitors under his patronage, or hosting their visit, that person would get the boons. We asked to meet the arch druid, and found that the current arch druid was called Cantheon. We were pointed towards a hut, but as Zoon as saw some other druids approaching he quickly retreated back to the hut he had emerged to greet us. Swiftly he went through the boons and abandoned everything but the fish-pie, which he hid underneath his robes as he bolted back to his hut. The druids approaching us next were somewhat vexed that, apparently again, Zoon had jumped to the opportunity to greet new visitors taking their gifts. I had been concerned how well we and our offerings would be received, but evidently there would have been no concern at all: apparently hosting guest was a task every druid seemed eager to undertake as it meant endowment. The next druid was also more interested in what of the presents Zoon had discarded, and selected Carric’s potion recipes from the pile.
Provided then only with Dulkan’s halberd and my Anthea seeds we approached the arch druid’s residence. There were two druids making their case before their arch druid, with heart-felt offence in their expressions. Our approach went unnoticed, so engaged they were in their debate. After a while, however, the arch druid noticed us, and asked what it was that we were after. We presented ourselves, indicating that we were the guests of Zoon as he was the first one to greet us and take us under his hospitality. We then offered the little we had left for the arch druid. He took them paying little notice on the artefacts. But, we had heeded to customs, and now we could present our case.
With all my eloquence, every perspective of profit I presented for the arch druid that an alliance with us would bring, he remained unmoved. Dulkan attempted to negotiate with him as well, but to no avail; the druids just were not interested in joining us, no ideals pleaded with them. They considered themselves independent already, and possible dragon oppression did not concern any of them. Finally Carric found the answer: the only things all druids believed in, the only thing joined them, were rites and rituals they performed, especially that of the spirit communion. Thus, Carric proposed that we could go to their Tree of Ash to perform this ritual to seek a sign of approval from numen. Some snorts were heard in the audience; voices of astonishment and even reprehension that a non-druid should know of such a thing, and daring to suggest performing the ritual. However, the arch druid gave us permission, as he considered the ritual was free to be performed by anyone who knew how – and thus others had to conform.
Next, we needed to find the place where the ritual was to be performed – the Tree of Ash – and find five herbs required for the ritual. Three paths led into the forest from the forum – eastern, southern and western path – but we had no way of knowing which one led to the Tree of Ash. As we selected one and ventured into the woods we could hear snickering from some of the on-looking druids. The path forked several times, and what there was seemed to me almost like a maze. We decided to keep heading south; however the paths forked, we would choose a path leading to south, allowing retracing our way back to the druid hamlet.
We came to a small glade, where we found the ruins of the fallen civilization: a broken obelisk. The glade was bordered from the south by a brook and on the other side of the brook was a rock-face and the path continued there. This was the path we should take, should we wish to remain taking the southern turn of the road. Dulkan suggested that he should cross the brook to get a quick look what would be up ahead along that path. He needed to cross the brook, and nicely he did it too. His clothes and boots got wet, of course, from crossing the water. Not much of interest was to be found there, so he crossed the river back.
As the walk to the druid hamlet and negotiations had taken quite long, dusk was already settling. We were not sure whether to press on or to camp for the night. However, we were tempted to see if there would be a better campsite on the path continuing on our side of the brook. We decided not to cross the brook as neither I nor Carric were too keen on getting wet, but keep walking the path a while. As we continued forwards, a mist begun to form, and soon the road up ahead was covered in thick mist. Suddenly we heard someone sobbing. As we all strained our ears to hear better whether it was someone truly in trouble, or whether it was just a rouse to lead as into a trap, I saw a form gliding in unnatural way in the mist, apparently looking for something. Alarmed by this I whispered Carric and Dulkan that we should retreat and go back to the glade where we had found the broken obelisk. Quietly we retreated back, and fortunately both the mist and the creature in the mist did not follow us back.
We opted to camp there that night; Dulkan had to dry his wet clothes as not to catch pneumonia. I did not have a bedroll, so I suggested that, to keep warm, I should lay by his side underneath the same bedroll. Luckily Dulkan did not let false modesty to restrain him from this prudent and healthy choice, and he accepted.
27th of Sunburst
Dulkan’s clothes and boots had dried up during the night, and neither I nor Dulkan had caught a cold for we had kept warm sleeping in the heat generated by our bodies. After we had breakfast Dulkan suggested he should climb the cliff to get an overview of the area, as we had no idea where the Tree of Ash could be. Carric casted a spell which would allow Dulkan to walk the vertical surface of the cliff as if it was horizontal. First he had to cross the brook again, of course.
As we were peering to see Dulkan against the rising sun I suddenly saw a form in the sky. With a head of a deer and the body of a raptor it was species called Peryton, as Carric later identified. It was clearly about to attack Dulkan, so I cried out a warning. We could see the foul fiend over a hundred feet away, but neither the spells of Carric’s nor mine could reach that far. We had no alternative but to watch helplessly as the creature flew closer to Dulkan. But as soon as we got it in our reach, we hit it with everything we had! It was not long before the creature spiralled down, dead. But our triumph was short-lasting; two more of the same species came not far behind.
As we could not concentrate all our arcane might this time, this round of fight was considerably tougher than the first one. While our spells were successful, there were two creatures we had to divide our attacks to, and they reached us quickly. I had a successful spell, which fixed their sights on me. The one in point took a dive straight towards me. I could fend of its attempt to ram me with its antlers, but then, both of its claws got me! It took a firm grip of me with its left claw and its crushing grip prevented me from breathing; I could feel my ribs cracking under the relentless pressure. While holding me still with its left claw, it had a firm hold to lacerate me with its right, leaving behind four gushing wounds cut through my flesh on my right side. My consciousness blurred in visions of red, pain and pulsing lights before blissful unconsciousness overtook me.
My consciousness shifted like waves undulating against the shore, towards awareness and back in unconsciousness. I could hear – at least I think I could hear – both Carric and Dulkan calling for me, pleading for me to fight, to come back, not to give in. I do not know how long I was unconscious, but after some time floating somewhere beyond conscious mind I knew that I was coming back in this reality, and the pain from my wounds surged over me. Barely able to think, I reached for my flute to sing my spell for curing wounds. To date I still believe that the first spell I performed was my music resounding inside my mind rather than being something I was able to sound outside of me.
As soon as I could focus my mind and I could fix my eyes to something beyond the capsuling pain surrounding me, I could see the troubled looks on Dulkan’s and Carric’s faces. I was able to articulate that I was all right; and after performing a few more spells to cure my wounds I truly was. We did not have much time for rest, as we were pressed for time. Actually, I was almost myself again anyway, as I had cured the worst of my wounds with my magic. We decided to follow the path continuing on the other side of the brook, so Dulkan crossed it yet again. As it was his fifth time crossing, he knew the best place for crossing it. Carric at my left elbow and Dulkan in the other, I was able to cross it too, without any mishaps. At that moment I felt blessed to have two such concerned and caring companions to be by my side in this adventure.
Carric had been able to locate all five of the required herbs for the spell along our walk down the paths towards the Tree of Ash. Finally providence was on our side; at last this path was the right one and it led to the glade where we found the Tree of Ash. Carric set up the ritual and lighted a fire using the herbs he had gathered. I was sitting with my back against a tree and I felt a sense of tranquillity inside me. The herbs were smoking in the fire and their pleasurable and mellowing scent was in the air, while leafs were rustling from a slight breeze and occasional bird sang its song in the trees. After the exertions of the day, this serenity and calm of the glade aroused a feeling of happiness and gratitude, and I wanted to join the music the fabric of being was resounding, and I lifted my flute again to my lips. I played a tune which was that of my hearts; or maybe it was the music from the surrounding forest that formed into sound through me. The silvery notes from my flute, the breeze in the trees and the song of the birds seemed to make the smoke coming from Carric’s fire to dance; it made swirls and curls beautiful and enjoyable to watch. As I looked mesmerized at the smoke dancing to my music, I suddenly saw it form a familiar shape: an eight-pointed star behind an eye of a dragon. Behind the sign of Mishra was the shape of a large dragon. I knew we had been blessed: this was the sign we had been looking for. After the smoke cleared, caught in the branches of the Tree of Ash was a loose sprig blossoming with the most beautiful white flower formed from eight pointy pedals. I picked it up and drew its scent, and it was the most pleasurable fragrance.
We all knew that we had to leave this enchanted place, so we took our leave. The serenity of the glade and reassurance of mind did not leave me for long, and I could not begin to trouble myself too much with things to come. We retraced our steps to the forum outside the druid hamlet to show them the sign we had been given. Our party again stepping from the woods, now to campfire-lit forum, with me in the lead, holding the branch put the whole druid community in an uproar. It had been ten years since anyone had had a sign, so this indeed was a token that the spirits were favourable to our cause. We presented this to Cantheon, and now we were able to begin negotiations.
While there was some discord among the druids on the level of commitment, we were able to negotiate some help from the druids. Cantheon could not agree to an alliance equal to the position that Arry agreed to take; we were given a pledge that when we should call for aid, we would receive it. To cement this treaty, we were introduced a druid called Vex, who was to be our envoy. Thus, he joined our party as we walked back to Moon on the Rise.