[Continuing the theme of my Epic Fantasy, ‘The Daighacaer’ (“Day-gar-care”); Extract from Book I, Escape from Mount Vilipend]
[Pronunciations: Weda’Sel (as it is spelled); Tirǽche (Tir esh); Urus (Ooh roos); Sidhe Nnat’Llõugh (Sid nat low – a Sidhe is a castle, Nnat’Llõugh is the Realm)
Background: Weda’Sel first met Urus during the initial evacuation of Mount Vilipend and they very soon became close friends. Urus’s leadership skills augmented Weda’Sel’s and the two became the de facto leaders of the group of many thousands whom they were to lead to safety. Until the rescue of the baby Blade Dragons and the sudden change in the weather from icy wilderness to a warm and balmy spring, all attention had been focused on surviving. In the ensuing time, the journey became far easier, affording people time to relax for the first time. It is during one of the rest periods that the following extract occurs.
“Urus, where did you live, before Vilipend?” asked Weda’Sel.
They were in the middle of a midday meal and, at Weda’Sel’s question, Urus looked up in surprise.
“I’m an Elandran Druid, Weda’Sel. I thought you knew?”
“No” replied Weda’Sel. “I’ve never before thought to ask anyone about what their life was like before Vilipend because I spent so many lifetimes there that it’s the only ‘home’ I know.”
“My home is… was, The Elandra Woods. It was the home of my parents and their parents before that, going back so many aeons that, like you, Weda’Sel, until Vilipend, Elandra was the only home I knew. It’s so very sad that, besides myself, there are now none left to continue our life and work. I wonder how our trees are coping.”
“The famed Elandra Woods? That was your home?” asked Weda’Sel.
“Elandra, yes, although I wasn’t aware of any fame.”
Urus stood as he saw Tirǽche walking up to join them. Weda’Sel also stood although he still couldn’t understand why it was necessary. Urus had told him that it was the courteous thing to do. Weda’Sel wasn’t sure about that but he stood to avoid the look of distaste he inevitably got from Urus when he remained seated. Weda’Sel knew only that he preferred to avoid that look. If he had to bob up and down all day to avoid it, he would do so. In any event, he mused, the more he got used to it, the more it started to become natural to him.
“I was just telling Weda’Sel about my home” said Urus to Tirǽche.
“Oh, then I’m glad that I arrived when I did, My Love. We’ve never spoken of it and I’d like to hear about it too.”
“It was so very beautiful. You would have loved it. So very unlike the stark terrain we travelled through previously and even very different from these plains. Our woods embody all the beauty of Faeré. I do hope they recovered after the grolls’ rampage through them. Trees are resilient beings and I know that they would have organised themselves as best as they could.”
“Did you live within woods, Urus?” asked Tirǽche.
“Oh, I’m sorry, My Love, You weren’t here when I started telling Weda’Sel. I lived in the Elandra Woods.”
“Elandra Woods? The famed Elandra Woods?” asked Tirǽche in awe.
Urus laughed as Weda’Sel raised his eyes to the sky and then looked away to hide a smile. He couldn’t have said why but he was pleased that Tirǽche had reacted to the mention of The Elandra Woods just as he had.
“Yes. I’m an Elandran Druid. It’s strange. Weda’Sel also spoke of the Woods’ fame. What is there about Elandra Woods that makes them so well-known?”
“Nothing at all except for the fact that there are no woods more beautiful in the whole of Faeré; that the woods were very selective about whom they welcomed; that they immediately knew if one was of The Darke or of The Lighte; and that visitors were treated according to that knowledge. I think that’s enough to bring fame to an area, don’t you?”
Urus nodded. “Quite enough, My Love, although I’m fairly certain that our trees would think there was nothing out of the ordinary in their behaviour. All trees everywhere live by a long-established cipher which commands and directs the actions they take. What may have been different for our trees in Elandra is the care they received from us. My people tended and assisted the trees in every way we could.”
“The only woods I know are the ones near Sidhe Nnat’Llõugh but they were monstrous and overgrown so we never went close enough to them to truly see them or get to know them” chuckled Tirǽche.
“Oh, I’m so very sorry. Elandra is very different from that. Something terrible must have happened to your trees to make them behave that way. It is definitely not the normal way of trees, but I suppose I’m basing my assumption on the only woods I’ve really ever known. In Elandra, each tree lives in its own appointed place, with smaller plants and flowers sheltering under its branches. All the plant and animal life-forces in the woods respect one another’s home.” Urus gazed into nowhere as his mind took him back and he remembered.
“My people lived deep in the heart of Elandra in a slightly less populated area. The trees knew we needed our own space and they respected our needs by stopping their young from setting their roots down too near to our homes. We, in turn, took care to respect their needs as well. I suppose that the affinity which we built up over the many lifetimes we’ve been living together could have been a little unnerving to outsiders, which is probably one of the reasons why you both say Elandra is famous.”
Urus had unconsciously withdrawn from both Tirǽche and Weda’Sel and the faraway look in his eyes as he described his home left both of them feeling a little like outsiders.
“Why do you think Elandra is so different from other woods, Urus?” asked Weda’Sel quietly so as not to disturb Urus’s reverie.
“I can only compare Elandra with some of the woods we’ve passed by since we left Vilipend. In Elandra, we never had any fallen trees causing obstacles. In fact, Elandran trees were never even scraggly or unsightly in any way. Let me qualify that, we never found them to be in the least bit unsightly, much like parents often see nothing wrong in their offspring.” Urus smiled as his attention was caught by a mother trying in vain to get her three children to stop running off in all directions.
“There were no broken branches or twigs littering their home, and no unnecessary top-heavy overgrowth to block out the daylight. That sounds a bit bizarre I know, but it’s quite simple really. When a tree began to comprehend that its Falling Time was imminent, the elders of our people would gather together with the rest of the tree’s family and stay with the Falling Tree until it finally succumbed and fell to its rest on the soil which was prepared for it. This sometimes took many days or even weeks in some cases, because trees’ lifetimes are different from ours. The last Falling which I attended was for a tree which was thousands of years old and that wasn’t even the oldest of the trees in Elandra. There are many more of far greater age than that.”
“Is that what you call it when a tree dies? A Falling?” asked Tirǽche.
“Yes. Much as we refer to the passing away of our own souls as our Transition. Trees have A Falling. Their essence joins that of their ancestor trees and their mortal bodies decay to form the food for other trees. I’ve always been intrigued by the very efficiency of the cycle of a tree’s life.”
“What happens when a tree Falls, Urus?” asked Tirǽche.
“I can only tell you about our trees in Elandra. As I said, we would join the family for The Wait of the tree who was Falling. During The Wait, that time it took to complete The Falling, we would eat nothing and drank only what was offered to us by the Falling tree’s family. In this way we stayed in direct communion with the one about to Fall. It was a small sacrifice really when saying goodbye to a close friend. The Falling tree’s family would mourn The Falling Tree by gently moving their leaves and branches in perfect harmony. Oh, if only you could have heard their song. The poignant beauty of it will remain etched in my memory always.”
“How wonderful” exclaimed Tirǽche and Weda’Sel in unison. The trio smiled at one another.
“You must miss your home so much more now that you’ve seen other woods, Urus” said Weda’Sel.
“I’ve found it difficult, Weda’Sel. My last memory of Elandra keeps overshadowing my more pleasant memories but I’m working on that. I love Elandra and if I am ever in a position go back…”
“My Love, what was your last memory of Elandra before you were captured? Were you in the Wood at the time” asked Tirǽche softly. “I wasn’t at home when I was captured so when I want to think pleasant thoughts, I remember Sidhe Nnat’Llõugh and I feel the warmth of my happy memories flowing through me.”
“I was attending that particularly ancient tree’s Falling. Actually we were performing our last service to the fallen Ancient before starting on our way home, feeling both drained and elated at the same time, as we always did. Tree Fallings do that to you. We had just moved the final handful of soil from beneath The Fallen to allow it to rest within the earth, and our hands were aching and blistered from moving the earth. We never use anything but that with which we were brought into our own life when setting another life’s body back into its original home. All of a sudden, our family of trees rose as one and stood rigid. The trees furthest from us were sending an imperative and persistent distress cry. Something or someone of The Darke was entering our Wood uninvited.”
“There is something which you will need to be aware of for you to appreciate the horror of what happened next. One of the best and worst aspects of the intertwined lives of Elandran Druids and our Trees is that we shared one another’s lives in a peculiarly symbiotic manner. We intuitively knew and shared one another’s joys yet we also lived one another’s pain, both emotional and physical. Our first awareness of the raid was when I felt an intense pain slice through me as a groll struck at a tree which was in its way. Slice after slice of pain ripped through me, and then through all of us who were assembled at The Falling. We knew that our clan’s only hope of survival was to regroup with those left at home, and we half ran, half stumbled our way back to our clearing as quickly as we could.
“Our trees tried their best to hold back the grolls to protect us but the grolls knew what the trees were doing and intensified their wanton butchery, shrieking in what I first thought was their anger but since being in Vilipend, I know to be their screeches of victory and delight, each time one of our trees fell. On and on they attacked in increasing waves until the communal pain of our trees was so great that not even the strongest or bravest of them could summon the force to protect itself; let alone those of us who were ambulant and were able to move away. Our own empathetic pain was intense but not nearly as bad as that of our beloved trees.”
Urus’s eyes were blank and unseeing as his mind retraced the horror of that time. Tirǽche and Weda’Sel knew that Urus was struggling with his memory of that time and that he needed to be alone with his thoughts. They also knew that if they moved, Urus would notice and his mind would return to the present. They held their breath and waited for Urus to continue.
“As we reached our clearing, each Druid grabbed what few weapons were at hand and we ran as fast as we could. As our women and children struggled to keep up, each man, as with one thought, picked up his wife and children and even as encumbered as we were, ran faster than the grolls could approach; or so we thought! As we ran from the advancing grolls behind us, the trees in all directions started crying their warnings. Elandra was completely surrounded! Grolls had breached the perimeter of Elandra on all sides simultaneously. There was absolutely nowhere for us to flee.”
“Our impossible situation must have struck us all at the same time, because everyone, in unison, stopped and moved in and around to surround the children as well as my family and me. The men and women, as if in a single mind, set their children down next to my family, embraced each child lovingly, and then they formed a circlet guard around us, many, many people deep. What surprised me was that their overriding emotion was not one of fear as I would have expected but of a deep, pulsating fury.”
“I tried to push through to get out in front with the rest of the people but time and again they thrust me back. Eventually one of the guards said sharply “Urus, you are not to join us! We will not tolerate it. You are our Head, Urus. If you fall, we are all lost. To the death we are sworn to protect you and to the death we will protect you and all our families to the very last man.”
Weda’Sel looked at Urus in surprise - gentle, unassuming Urus. “You were their Head, Urus? That means that it’s you! You are the legendary King of Elandra. You are Urus Elandra! I have heard much of your bravery and honour in peacetime as well as in battle.”
Urus looked from Tirǽche to Weda’Sel as if he saw them for the first time. He then shook his head sadly. “No Head avoids danger to save himself. Neither does a true King. Whatever I achieved in my life up to that moment was washed away as soil in a rainstorm. I was their King and as man after man and tree upon tree laid down his life, I had no means to assist them to protect themselves.”
My choice of poem for the beauty which was Elandra is:
The late autumn days
Wheezed into whispers of wintery wisps
Transforming temperate breezes
Into sodden pain-numbing
Shivering sensitive sentences
In Circadian Sidereal time