The first full memory of mine, one that stays with me awake and in dream, is the depth and strength of the Grandfather Tree. I am countless days’ travel from Him now, but even still, under this open moon and sparkling wild night sky as I recall here small bits of my tale, the greatness and peace of his silent limbs are still all embracing, His spirit all encompassing, and his knowledge beyond time. The Grandfather Tree is the beginning of my memory. I have nothing before, and everything after. And knowing this, how am I to believe anything other than it was Him who blessed me with life in the High Forest?
But my father was my true guardian, and for that there is also ample reason here to evoke his name in reverence. Before the Blaze, he was the only Sylvan in all of the High Forest to hold the staff of a Master Druid in over six hundred years. He trained of course, trained hard, and well. He spoke softly, but expected in return resounding roars of respect for Mielikki, our Nature Mother. “For it is Her fertile fields,” he would say, “the fruits and berries of her bounty that gives the breath in our lungs.” But it wasn’t enough that I grew to learn this knowledge. It was my father’s life task, as he saw it, to make me want to serve as Her protector.
I was the eldest of three, the only girl. But older by five years made me my father’s favorite. When my brothers were born, I sensed a need to care for them, nurture them. I found myself hearing their cries and being pulled somehow to stand near them, even though it was Jurien who nursed them. Yet every time I got close, my father motioned me away to his side.
“They are hers to care for,” he said. “She has asked for them, and our Forest Queen has granted her wish. She will do her own thanking. You, Faeryn, are mine to care for.” And he would say little to anything after this. He never mentioned my mother, and I never found a desire to know – figuring my emergence into the world under the Grandfather Tree much like it was for the others: one was chosen to serve the Sylvan clan for a year or two, and then her duties would be handed to another. Like Jurien, the female elves were young and willing, and provided as the community saw fit. There were no further questions to ask.
He was stern in his Druidic ritual, and as I grew, I would hear some of the others snicker, saying he was a druid in Elvin markings. I would ask him about it every once in a while, but my father told me that it was those who knew little that spoke the most. That the Sylvan were almost born with nearly the same powers and sensitivities of the Forest Queen as the Druids, but they simply approached their worship of her differently. And it would take only study and diligence to marry the two trainings. “Keep your head down, daughter. Focus on your training and your worship, and your life is what you’ll have it to be.”
He didn’t give me time to think about his words. There was only time during the day’s light to work.
My first bow was made of wytch elm under the first phantom moon of the year. It was well past the hour of slumber when my father woke me in the quiet dark. We packed warmly and wordlessly left our home high in the arms of the Grandfather Tree. I smelled the air stepping out onto our entrance branch. It carried a warm sweet scent and fireflies blessed the hour of my rite into druidic apprenticeship.
We descended the tree and hopped out beyond fields and streams that made up the borders. I remember finding the tree I would use for my first bow. It sat all alone on its own quiet knoll amid a still river of rolling hills. It stood on its own – unassisted yet fully balanced. It’s branches were full and many. It neither welcomed visitors nor shunned them away. Its roots sunk deep in the nutritious soil of its own found happiness. And I chose to make it a piece of me.
The perfect curvature of the bow took time, days, to complete. We dried and treated the intestine field rabbits for the bow, and the gorgeous handle leather, dark green and brown (the very same which rests on my back as I pen this) was a gift from my father. His mastered fingers wove knots in a multilayered magical fashion. As he spun, he slapped my hands open and rubbed the leathery strands across my palms in certain motions granting me only confusion. When he was done, he grabbed my hand and slapped it upon the grip. It was soft, warm, and somehow felt as though I had known it my whole life. Long grassy strands of leather and long grass hung ceremoniously. “You are the only one in this breathing life to hold this weapon, Faeryn. The knots within will damage, pain, and even cut the grips of others. Mother Mielikki gives this to you only, and you are to master this, making it your weapon, your tool, your best friend, as in this world there is no other who knows you like yourself.” He chuckled then. “But after that, I promise you, this will come second in line.”
When we walked back to the Grandfather Tree, it was dawn. The morning fingers of the rising sun had taken over for the moon. I expected somehow to be greeted in celebration. Maybe not by all of them, but by some. My two younger brothers at least, maybe Jurien. None of them were there. “Put it away for now,” my father said. “Tonight we hunt.” I understood then. No one was supposed to celebrate this. No one knew. No one was supposed to know. This was for me to be thankful for, for me to honor in my own way. And I did. In my return to the branch and my bed atop the Grandfather Tree, I lay down in my sleeping spot and I wrapped myself in my blanket, my new bow upon my chest.
Months passed and I trained. I hunted, I ran, climbed, and I worshipped daily the pantheon of Druidic deities. My father not only took me out to hunt, he timed me, he challenged me with strength, and speed, and intelligence. He was hard on me, and I was not to talk back. He challenged my wit, and my willingness, beyond the doubtings and confusion of others, to fight only for what pleases me, for my own ambitions and goals. This was not to show those around me that I was arrogant. No. Arrogance was a sin against all of the Nature Queen’s beauty and bounty. Yet, life was only in its most valuable and loved when we fight for the object of our own ambitions, and in that way we will become masters.
My father showed me that he loved me. He laughed with me and in his own way played jokes. But still, in many ways he was elusive. There was something about him that I didn’t understand, and I didn’t try.
In the eyes of those around me I felt their acceptance, as an elf, a Sylvan, but with the passing of years, it mattered little to me. I had fun with my brothers and made friends within the clan. I felt the Grandfather Tree’s love at all times, whether I was near Him or not, and the Forest Queen graced me in many shining ways at all times then and now, regardless of what happened.
I’ve been trying to avoid talking about it. Something wants me to simply continue to ignore it. What is not spoken has no substance. That’s what I want to believe. But the truth is it did happen, and for all the times I’ve wanted to go back and do things differently, I can’t, It’s made me this person, the one who writes about it, but that’s more of a tool to deal with it, maybe. A tool I can use to talk to the past.
Years had gone by and I was, self-admittedly, a striking likeness of my father – swift with a bow, fearless and feared with a Sylvan blade, and almost scaring myself with the speed of advancement I was gaining with the short sword. It wasn’t a tool I thought I would use often, but the Elder Elves would allow me to practice under the guidance of my father, of course. I was something of an erratic younger version of him, though I still lacked his quiet wisdom of things. I became more self-confident, and in more ways than I could see, more reckless.
I had awoken with the full moon one autumnal evening and left the Tree with two pine arrows in my quiver. I was becoming arrogant, believing I could use fewer and fewer arrows to gain a day’s kill. In many ways I was right, but I didn’t think about other repercussions. The only other weapon I had was a long Sylvan blade which was set in its place in my hunting boot.
I had two pelts in my sack when I turned back toward home. There were smoke in the sky, billowing in black against the white pallor of the full moon. The Grandfather Tree was alight with sadness and surprise.
At a distance, Orcan growls of rage and pillage tickled icy wisps upon my ears.
I tightened my sack and flew across the fields of the night, reaching first to my quiver for what I knew was not there. I cursed in defiance of myself and sped up, willing myself to get to my weapons in my room.
When I got there, the entire base of the Grandfather Tree was engulfed. The Orcs with their filthy black brutish snouts closed in on those I had known in my life with thick rusted blades, grunting as they hacked limbs and life from the helpless ones of the clan. Other Orcs set dirty makeshift ladders at the base of the Tree away from the flames and made to climb. My heart wept and swore in slow hammered beats. Turning back to the surrounding wood, I found a long jumping stick and brought it back to the Tree, stabbing it in the ground and leaping into the air.
Two I kicked in the face, throwing them off balance and from the Tree’s hands. I brought out my hunting knife and turned to shove it deep into the eye of another, sending it howling from the branch and falling into the upward reaching orange of the pain flames.
Quickly I climbed several more branches, higher and higher, kicking the legs of any invader as I ascended. Reaching my branch I ducked into my hole and a thin mist of smoke gathered, through which I saw my father setting his quiver and setting his two knives in his boots. My brothers and Jurien were packed to leave, not knowing where they would go.
“Protect what you care about, Faeryn. Hunt as I taught you. Take what is yours. Life is for loving.” He was about to walk out onto the branch when they came in swinging. They crowded through the opening from outside and threw weapons as their stench and drool-soaked roars fell upon the inner Tree.
With two easy tosses, I remember my brothers’ bodies falling in two distinct thumps. Blackened rotting blades stuck in their perfect Sylvan skulls. My father jumped at them with poise, and I followed. My body was in a rush and I fought not only with skill, but anger. I stabbed, swung, cracked and kicked. It wasn’t pretty and I wasted too much energy. But his fighting… his was wielding was magical. He spun and stepped and loosed arrows and reloaded without even missing a breath. They dropped, still. His pine arrow shafts jutting proudly out of their wasted Orc brains. In minutes we fought them out of the hole and kicked them from the branch. But when we looked down, they were crawling in hordes, awaiting our descent.
“Through the roots,” my father said. And I turned to duck back into the Tree. That was when I felt him leave.
The branch loosened of his weight. When I turned back, he was hanging with one hand gripping on to one of the small branches of our outer branch. I dove back to hold onto him, clasping his hand in my own. Yet, from below, they had him. Three Orcs growled with two whips tangled around his leg pulling him downward in yanks.
He gave a soft smile. “The roots,” he said calmly. And he let go.
I shouldn’t have watched, but I did. The image of my father’s form releasing himself to the ground still remains in me. As soon as he hit, they swarmed over him. That’s when I pulled away.
My body tore at me. It wanted time to mourn, to think of ways to save him, to rip apart every Orcan body my eyes fell upon. But his words came to me again, awakening me to my own current task. ‘The roots,’ they said.
The rest of the story isn’t very important. I of course was able to follow my father’s words and find escape through the roots. I surfaced days later, no idea how far away I was from home. Home, whatever that meant to me, was gone. I was sure of it. And fairly certain I wouldn’t return, ever.
I travelled as I knew how to. Made my own arrows, found my own food, felt the Forest Queen’s blessing on me every day that passed. I found towns of different folk, humans, dwarves, halflings, even some wretched urchin evils in the crowd. But I spoke only when I needed to, needed to get something, direction, bedding, understand particular aspects of a certain society.
I followed more of the ways my father taught me than ever. The druidic rituals, the silent worships during my trances, the spirits of the forest still held with me, still consoled me, during the moments of my own closed silence.
I have been wandering since, endeavoring to rid all of Faerûn of Orc filth. I’ll do whatever it takes. In this process I will continue to thank Mielikki for her gracious daily bounty and will honor my father. I’ll live this life as I see fit, and I’ll create my own enjoyment. I have the arrows, the blades, and the druid in my blood to guarantee that.