Memory after that came to me in a strange way. The first two things I remembered upon waking were a hearth fire at the base of my bed, warming the room with a slow and welcoming burn, and a realization that I was in a bed – something culturally human and to which I was quite unaccustomed. Yet, those two things were not as surprising as the third thing. A man’s form was before me.
He stood in the quiet flitting shadow of the fire’s glow and at the time I was somewhere in between being able to make out his face and seeing only a greyed lack of detail.
“You really should be more prudent when facing orcs alone,” he said. His words were Elvish and he spoke them quite well. They were the first words out of his mouth and they made cringe. All instincts in me made me want to jump out of the bed. But, the reaction I made was a wince, accompanied by a quick yip of pain.
“You don’t have to believe me, of course,” he said. “You’re welcome to make the same mistake. Though I doubt you’d wake up in as hospitable a situation as this.”
“Where am I?” I said, dismissing the comment. Though I recognized some of his features as Elvish, he was not my teacher, and there was no other I would have as such.
“You’re safe for now,” he said.
“What is this place?”
“My house,” he said. “It’s humble enough. I hope you find it suitable.”
“It’s fine, but I’ll be on my way,” I said, and made again to move, thinking that the wince that had caught me just moments before was something minimal, something I really could work through. But, the wince that tore through me this time was a solid reminder that I was not to move.
“That will require time to heal,” the man said as he pulled a small stool to the foot of my bed and crossed his forearms to rest them upon the end of the bed. He saw from the expression on my face that Iwas still in somem degree of painan dnot happy about it. “I’m Okies,” he said.
“Faëryn,” I returned. “You speak Elvish, but you don’t look a full Elf.”
Okies smiled. “Perhaps another time we can go into our backgrounds. For now let’s begin with ‘you’re still alive’.”
“Why did you save me?”
“Because you’re needed,” he said.
“There are several rather skillful wanderers I have come to know of late who are willing to aid me in a particular group assignment, but we’re lacking your particular skills.”
“And what are those?”
“Knowledge of the land, the plants, animals – natural magic and understanding.”
I sat there for a bit, pausing to look at him. “What would I get out of it?”
“There must be something you seek, something you wish to attain.”
I considered his words and as in other parts of our conversation, took his words to heart when he told me not to use such a hostile tongue. I told him in as much detail as I saw fit about my beginnings, my home, and the murder of my family. I told him of my plans to avenge my father, to grow to be a full druid, and to rid the surface of this world of orcs.
Okeis listened and understood. He assured me there would be plenty of opportunities to pursue and achieve my goals only if I am willing. He said there would be risk, great risk, both to myself and the others in the group, but that if I was willing to pursue this, I would have the opportunity.
There have been many times I have been told that just because I value my own life and life blessings brought to me from the Nature Queen, it does not mean that I am to threaten others not to invade. “There is great value in kindness.” My father’s words sometimes come to my recall much later than they are appreciated. I made some thoughtless, juvenile remarks about how I would think about it and I appreciated the hospitality. All the while my back ached. I would wince in pain, still not wishing to believe what I knew – that the orcan blade almost cut directly through my back and that the man in front of me had offered great hospility and kindness to provide shelter and warmth for me. I wondered if it was in some Elvish part of him or if he truly needed help.
“Thank you. I’ll consider your –“
“There is a short test you’ll have to pass first, of course,” he said, cutting my gratitude off.
“Just to make sure you are the one my party needs. I have been known to be wrong. It’s not that often these days, but it has happened. This is simply a little requirement I have to have,” he said, and he proceeded to give me a riddle.
Seek the Shadow on the Dale
To find the bear gems,
Beware the Harbringer,
Into the cave make your way,
To the wizard in the sky,
To the castle upon high
The riddles of man and those of the Elf differ vastly, and this, to my ears meant nothing.
“You have four days. Solve the riddle in that time, and you can join.” The strange Elvin man in front of me then changed his form in a puff of smoke, and a graceful black bat flew from there out of an open window, and I was again alone.
It was several hours before I could walk, but with some strain and patience, I made it out of the bed. My clothes had been laid out before me and dried by the cooling (but still warm) hearth fire. I was out the door and, by the end of the day, walking with some semblance of normalcy.
I headed south as the riddle suggested, keeping my eyes open for any strange castle in the sky. At night, during periods of trance, I would hear the beauties of Mother Forest pass me by. One night a pack of rats, another day a large beautiful bird. It was so big, its head peaked out from above the trees. It looked hungry and others fled from its path and I therefore only followed and observed.
One night a bear approached. It was a lovely beast and I sensed its gentle nature, though as I was unsure of the personality of those particular woods, I remained on the defensive, alert, and quiet in the long branch of an old oak. Southward I continued, sneaking out of the tree and making sure not to disturb the gentle beast which had approached and fallen asleep at the base of my tree.
A few more hours and still I followed only the words of Okies, knowing not the nature of the woods I was walking. The grass, the leaves, the beautiful still wooden beasts, the wild forest air – all of these things are my family blood. It is where the Sylvan find their most integral of energies.
At a certain point in the day, I saw a clearing ahead through the brush – a small field of grass in front of an even smaller mound of rock, into which I saw a small black hole. From out of the top of the mound of jagged rock drifted a narrow column of smoke, mostly light with dark puffs every few seconds. I saw the little man’s faded green hat emerge first from the cave, his squat but sturdy frame following it with what seemed to be a strain that had long before found custom in the little man’s life.
“You’ll find many times in life where you’ll want to be the reactor as opposed to the actor.” My father’s words flashed into my mind then, and I heeded them almost as soon as they appeared. I made quiet steps across the wild leaf-ridden forest ground to a point at the back of the small natural cottage so as to observe the little man. He did not appear dwarfish. Not that I’ve seen many dwarves growing up in the High Forest, but I’ve heard enough stories. But, I couldn’t say for sure.
I was quiet in my approach. I didn’t want to put myself in danger, but I had four days. The truth was I in the mood for a bit of adventure, a bit of purpose. I introduced myself hesitantly. By that time the bear I had seen earlier had returned and the man gave his name as Harbringer.
Beware the Harbringer.
I ran the words of Okies over in my head. Something was wrong, but what was I going to do? Where was I to go? I excused myself, saying I would return in a moment. That I had to do something and I would be back. Harbringer was calm and let me go easily, returning to the tasks he was intending on taking up upon exiting his cave in the first place.
In the trees I waited. I waited for answers. The daylight was fading. I wasn’t completely out of time, but I was running low. The man outside the cave stacked and organized small piles of finely cut firewood, seemingly not to notice or care whether I returned or not. I convinced myself that it would be no problem to stay there the rest of the night, but the inner self was not convinced. I did not know what abnormalities I would find in this forest when the sun set, no matter which of my gods was looking upon me. There was also the strong scent of a hearty lamb stew wafting to me from the darkened cave dwelling of the Harbringer.
My head snapped to the front of the grassy field, from where I approached. I saw a large man walking toward me slowly, his tall travel boots scraping and stomping across the dirt path toward the mound of rocks and the hollow within. His skin was a silvery dull natural tone. He shimmered, somehow. Yet it wasn’t a color I feared, but one that allowed me to take comfort in.
“Okies,” voiced the small man, turning from his outside chores. “what kept you?”
“Yes, yes, I know,” said the tall man, “I’m later than expected. Well, the world outside the comfort of one’s home is, as you know, a tad bit unpredictable.”
Okies? It couldn’t be. Okies was a different man altogether. Okies spoke Elvish. Okies gave advice, saved people, and changed shape. Okies hid himself. I shook my head and stared harder. If it was true that this man was Okies, I would be safe with him.
I dropped from the hidden branch in the silent way a tree drops after getting blown its home in a storm. I stepped onto the path in clear view of both the tall silver man and the dwarfish man. I expected the bear to at least growl, and with that in mind, placed one hand softly on the hilt of one of my recently cleaned shortswords.
They both looked at me and continued looking as I approached.
“Okies?” I asked.
My head tilted when he responded that way. “But you, you ‘re different.”
He looked down at himself in his own sort of curious perplexing manner. “Oh this. Yeah, this happens every now and again.” It was a demeanor filled with calmness and comfort which he offered, though it was evident that he was capable of becoming something much more unpleasant should he be pushed. In this knowing, I dropped my palm off my sword.
“Come inside,” the dwarfish man said. I felt then the soft plushy skin of the bear at my side, nuzzling my hand away from my body, making it entirely his own. The head of the beast was double that of mine and it smelled as though it had never known the beauties of a river bath. But it was a kind creature and I was blessed for its gesture of welcome.
“C’mon Gems, come on inside.”
“Gems?” I asked, thinking back to the words of the riddle Okies left me in the first place. “This is Gems?”
Okies smiled at me as we entered the small hut of the short man.
The heat of Harbringer’s cave dwelling was a gift. Although I am not used to many confined spaces, the warmth of the fire felt good against my skin, but the space was small and Okies’s body seemed hindered by its restrictions. Yet he didn’t seem to mind; he merely sat there on his own sitting stool at one end of the table in the open space that was Harbringer’s living room and for the longest time sat quiet, sipping gently his tea.
Opposite the entrance there was a solid wooden door beautifully carved – the oaken craftsmanship was impressive enough to further doubt the heritage of Harbringer. It carried the dark lines and smooth gloss of a master’s hand, and the intricacies with which the creator had employed her patience on both the door itself and the large wooden handle was admirable.
“You’ll be going through that,” Okies said.
I tilted my head seeking further explanation.
“You’ve completed your task and you’ll need to join the others.”
“Yes,” echoed Harbringer. “And you’ll be needing this.” He patted various areas of his body before removing his hat with a grin. I saw at first only the glimmer of the object’s shiny surface and the rest came when he handed it to me. “Here,” he said. “Keep this with you.”
In my hand he placed a cloak clasp of gold – a long dragon eating its own tail.
“What is it?” I asked looking at the lovely golden
“It will help you recognize others in the group,” said Harbringer.
“And it will serve another purpose at a later time. For now you’ll need to cross through the door beyond.”
I wished I had something to clasp it to, something with which I could employ the use of the object. Instead I reached up and clasped it to the high collar of my green tunic instead. Looking down I found an empty bowl and a clean wooden spoon. I set the bowl on an oaken table in front of me, bowing my head to both Harbringer and Okies. I gathered my bow and satchel and turned from my seat. I stopped at the door.
“What’s beyond the door?” I asked, turning around.
Harbringer was quiet.
“You’ll find what’s waiting for you,” Okies said. His silver skin flickered back at me with the help of two large candles, which sat on a small walled shelf next to him. His eyes upon me were calm, yet I remember clearly that I placed a guarded hand upon the hilt of one of the swords at my waist. Back to the door, I turned the knob and walked through.
Mist, white and cool, inspected me and behind me could no longer feel the door or the presence of the Harbringer’s cave. When I turned, in fact, curious, it was as though it was never there.
Turning back, I found the castle swaying beyond several leagues of white cloudy vapor. There was nothing else. No trees, no water, no animals, no other creatures. No mountains, rock, brush, or soil. This was a place far outside my comfort. There was only a white misty clouded mass, upon which I could not feel my feet, but stood all the same. I needed answers.
I made for the castle.