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flames from the east - ch. 1

by Cosette Alize about a month ago in Fantasy
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THE TREES WERE THEIR GUARDIANS

flames from the east - ch. 1
Photo by Michael Benz on Unsplash

"The forest has awakened and it calls those with wits to wage"

Small hands pressed onto the bark of an elm’s trunk. They felt the rough grooves in the bark and they loved every part of the tall grey tree. The little girl smiled as the wind wisped up around her straight brown mop of hair and scattered leaves on the forest floor. The wind had a voice that the little girl knew better than the voice of her own parents. It was the language of the trees and that was deeper than spoken tongue. They were the words spoken in the changing seasons that brought emotion to the soul without evoking words in the mind. It was the sweetness of the first autumn apple, it was the coldness of barren winter branches, it was the careless dappled light of an ancient oak. It was everything that spoke life and goodness to the bones of mankind. The little girl laughed, and so did the wind.

Elowen Crowne had blinked, and in that blink a thousand memories of a quiet and forgotten forest had rushed through her heart. Her head was leaning against an old, perhaps even ancient, elm tree. This tree was her namesake, the tree that her father had spent all his fifty years loving and learning from. He had insisted on being married under it too, but the in-laws had not found that suitable.

The young woman, who had grown up a good deal since she had danced among the trees, watched as two boys brawled playfully on the leafy floor of the forest. The day was crisp, and the sun, in a gay mood for once, had poked itself through the clouds and was shining proudly through the leaves of lofty treetops. The town of Lowen was the last city within the borders of Tindrel and was settled at the base of the snowy Gwaven mountains. Elowen pulled her cloak a little tighter as the breeze pricked her skin with the memory of changing season. Today was the last day of Somar, the first frost would come tonight, as it did each year, and soon the world would transform into the fiery season of Kynnyav.

Elowen observed her younger brother, Gabriel, pin Aleksei Leafniggle in a headlock and yell a shout of victory that slightly resembled a rooster, thanks to his voice cracking. His fourteen year old body was beginning to show muscle tone, but his face still carried the same smile of adolescence he had worn since he was born. Aleksei Leafniggle groaned and rolled over in the leaves as Gabriel released him.

“One of these days I’ll beat you Gabe.” Aleksei said, sitting up on his hands. He had a dark mess of curls on the top of his head, contrasting against his smooth and pale skin. He had gained his height early for being only a few months younger than Gabriel, but his body hadn’t quite caught up yet and his appearance was spindly. Gabriel brushed his hands together to clean the dirt off, beaming with youthful pride.

“Not likely, Leafniggle.”

Aleksei squinted his eyes like a lion deciding his prey and pounced at Gabriel. They both thudded to the ground and burst out in laughter. Elowen felt the elm she rested on pulse with life as the youthful laughs flew through the wind and up to the swaying limbs of trees that covered the sky. Her eyes drifted with the wind and found the laughing Dryad, merely a face in the leaves, watching the children play. Their gazes met and the tree spirit, the old Father Elm, grew a suddenly sombre expression. Elowen stood up slowly, watching the expression on his face with curiosity. She forgot her brother and his friend. She closed her eyes and listened for the tongue of nature. They were words and tones common and never unheard in the heart of man, but everyone, at least nearly everyone, had grown numb to the utterance of truth, goodness and beauty that flooded the earth.

Elowen’s father, Jago Crowne, was a fierce and wild man. He could pick an argument on any topic and likewise cause erupting laughter no matter the company. He was bold and jolly and was in turn, equally admired and despised. He had travelled much in his youth and because of this, had forbidden the use of Drelian geography books in their household, knowing firsthand that they were all wrong. He also had taken the liberty of slipping between the pages of the history books all the errors made and events skipped over by the historians. During After-Eve tea, Jago told his five children the stories that his ancestors had passed along for generations. Before he began, however, he always recited the rhyme of his great-great-great-great grandfather Carlyel Crowne, who had lived during the riotus Second Age of Drelia.

Take heed ma sons

O’the Drelian kings

Who kill fur lies

And consume fur rings

Take dewrder ma sons

Stand strong ere’ the end

Fur better to die

Than to lying kings bend.

After finishing this rhyme with the flow and melody of a song, Jago, each evening, would proceed to tell them the history of Tindrel, from the mouths of their ancestors who had experienced it themselves. It was during these hours that Elowen had come to know of and love the Dryads. These men and women were every bit tree and every bit spirit. In days long past and for so long hidden, they were the guardians of the earth. Keepers of ancient and eternal wisdom, the tree spirits had lived amongst men for thousands of years, appointed to guide them and correct their crooked ways. As long as the Dryads held the obedience of mankind, no evil could touch their lands. But as one country after another was corrupted by darkness, wars broke out and borders were pushed farther and farther apart. The trees were forgotten amongst the chaos of war and fear in some lands, in others, they were sent away into dark and quiet forests, but in Tindrel, their memory was erased, slowly and purposefully by a hidden enemy. But the Crowne’s never forgot.

Elowen quieted her mind, touching the rough bark of the elm next to her.

“Kin of my bark,” The Elm spoke. “You listen and love but you do not obey. How long will you wait? Darkness has been rising, but now it dawns, the days of the dragon are soon complete. The forest has awakened, we call those with wits to wage.”

The voice drifted off and the face was gone before Elowen could reply. The wind had gone too and so also the laughter with it. She felt as if something had been stolen from her. Gabriel and Aleksei felt the air change and looked to Elowen. She stood, still and pale as a statue, with her head towards the sky and her olive cloak draping behind her shoulders. For many moments she seemed not to think, or breathe, or live, and then she took a breath and shivered and jerked her head to look at the ground.

“What was that?” Aleksei asked, scrambling to his feet. Gabriel was quick to follow. He looked up to where Elowen had been gazing then seeing nothing, studied his sister’s serious expression. Their eyes met and Gabriel observed a distance in her eyes. He was familiar with this look, more often than not, Elowen’s mind rested on far away things.

“I have to get home.” She finally said, wanting to speak with her father as soon as she could. She started walking back to the path, not checking to see if the boys had followed.

Aleskei and Gabriel caught up with her, sharing a glance of mutual confusion. They seemed to be sharing the opinion that girls were too unpredictable. But neither complained and the three walked silently away from the forest following the path that led to the centreville of Lowen.

Lowen was bustling with preparations for the Kynnav feast which would happen at nightfall. Everywhere, lanterns were being hung and the air carried the smell of spiced cider being warmed in the meeting square. The strong men of the carpentry guild brought into the meeting hall long and weathered wooden tables. The women covered them in linens, orange and red branches from any changing tree they could find, and tall bouquets of the stunning chrysanthemums which grew wild in the forests.

A bright red apple flew through the air and nailed Gabriel in the back of the neck. He yelped and rubbed his neck while turning around swiftly, searching for the offender who would be punished swiftly. His eyes met with a smiling young man clad on the shoulder with the bright red patch of a graduate of Oedbourro Academy. Gabriel laughed and ran to embrace his eldest brother, Mariel.

“We’ll brawl over the apple later, huh?” Mariel declared brightly after releasing Gabe and tousling his hair. Gabriel beamed and gave a preliminary punch into his brother's chest. He pulled his hand away, looking a little shocked, but didn’t have a chance to comment on his brother’s strength before Elowen came bounding over. She wrapped her arms around Mariel’s neck and kissed his cheek tenderly.

“O Mariel!” She exclaimed, “Marm said it would be at least two more days before you arrived!” She released her brother and he took her hands, gazing affectionately into Elowen’s deep, leafy green eyes.

“Halloren took me swiftly along the Chif.” Mariel smiled, “She deserves much rest and sugar.” He added with a wink.

Here Elowen noticed the horse, tan and creamy, which Mariel held the reins to. Her coat shimmered in the Drelian sunlight. Elowen reached her hand out and stroked Halloren’s soft nose. The horse whinnied and nudged Elowen’s hand affectionately. She glanced back at Mariel who was shaking Aleksei’s hand. Elowen observed her brother’s expression and noticed somewhat of a change. Yes, his face had matured and his blond beard was full and clean, but there was something else, beyond merely the normal growth of a young man. Mariel looked back to Elowen and their eyes met. He smiled broadly, falsely Elowen thought, for a moment, but it fell quickly. Elowen’s throat tightened and she felt a surge of depression, like she had felt when the Elm had spoken to her. Mariel pulled at Halloren’s reins and cleared his throat.

“Well I’ve got to be getting to The Mossy Oak. Let’s share a dance together tonight, Elowen, hm? It’s been a long time.” He said before starting off in the direction of the town tavern. Gabriel waved goodbye too and took off running to Viola Crowne Cottage, but Aleksei remained behind and approached Elowen. He warned her with his eyes and pulled her into a quiet alley behind the bakery.

“Elowen,” He began sternly. “What happened in the forest? I know you heard from a tree.”

Elowen looked away and pursed her lips. She hated the way Aleksei always knew what had occurred. In truth, she had wanted to talk to her father about this before anyone else, but she wasn’t going to lie to Aleksei and she couldn’t think of a way to dodge his question.

“Lex,” She started, but stopped short of continuing. She gave into her fear and decided to avoid the point. “Does Mariel look different to you?” She finally said.

Aleksei sighed, clearly frustrated with her question, which was so obviously avoiding his.

“Dear Elle, how long are you going to differ this conversation? We’ve both known for a long while that the trees called us, so why don’t we start acting like we’re fighting the same battle?”

Elowen plucked the mum that was tucked behind her ear and began picking the stiff orange petals off, one by one. Ignoring reality doesn’t change a pluck of what’s real. The words of her mother had resonated in her heart, but she could never seem to wrap her mind around obeying them. Forgetting the message she had been given nearly a year ago wouldn’t change the fact that the unknown darkness was approaching, and quickly. Somehow, she both wanted nothing to change and everything to be as it once was for her ancestors. Elowen knew the wish was foolish, but so are emotions at times.

The baker, Barry Butterfield, emerged from his alley door carrying a large bowl of sticky sourdough discard under his fat, yet somehow toned arms. He noticed the children and smiled, dabbing the sweat from his rosy face in a quick, nearly nervous manner.

“Kres Kynnyav Miss Crowne, young Aleksei.” Barry opened the waste can and violently shook his bowl over it. The tan liquid dripped out lazily. Barry Butterfield watched the discard, mesmerised, as if it was the first time he had ever seen the substance. Then suddenly he jerked the bowl back up and raised an eyebrow at Elowen and Aleksei, still holding the door with one foot. He tilted his head towards his shop.

“An alley is no place for privacy.” He observed. “Come into my office and you’ll have some warm Oat’n’spice cookies in your bellies before ya know it.” He paused, noting their timid expressions. His belly shook as he laughed and pushed the door open wider. “Don’t you worry kiddies, I won’t be listening in on your confabulation.”

Without really realising that their feet were moving, Aleksei and Elowen followed Baker Butterfield into his shop. Heavy and yeasty smells hit them suddenly as Barry led them down the small hallway crowded on both sides with shelves of dilapidated cookbooks and cooking utensils that looked dusty enough to have been from the First Age of Drelia. Hanging down from the ceiling and crowding the already small hallway’s headspace was every type of dried herb wound in neat bundles.

Elowen pulled her cloak off as the baker showed them into his office and hung it on the apron-filled hook beside the door. Aleksei, feeling the pulsating heat of the ovens, pulled off his brown chaperon. His black curls were agitated by this motion and hung in the air with their own perception of gravity.

The office was really more of a home for herbs and medicinal plants. There were also the expected books of accounting on the rich cedar desk next to an odd sculpture in marble of an aquatic type creature. Elowen made a mental note to revisit Wiles of the West Waters when she returned home that day. There was also a large bay window (that was curtained in heavy fabric) that looked out over the town’s unusually bustling street. Barry Butterfield insisted they settle down on his worn, and dangerously comfortable red velvet couch and took their orders of tea. After many ‘thank yous’ and ‘never you minds’, the baker bounced out of his office and shut the door behind himself.

Elowen exhaled, feeling as if she had just dismounted from riding a wild horse, and tried to remember what exactly they had been talking about. Aleksei hadn’t forgotten for a moment.

“We were talking about the Dryads,” He said with a slight smirk of sarcasm. Elowen folded her hands on her lap and looked apathetic.

“Fine Aleksei.” She began, throwing up her hands. “The Elm spoke to me today. The elm spoke to me when I was a child. I’ve always been able to hear the trees. So what? Just because it doesn’t happen to everyone doesn’t make it special.”

Aleksei’s eyes grew softer and he looked suddenly much older than his age of fourteen. He had always had the gift of wisdom, but it became obvious at some times more than others.

“Elowen, you insult your Maker with your words. Your quiet mind is a gift, and though it may seem your downfall at times, you have been given it for a reason.” He placed a hand softly on her knee. “The Dryads would not call us to their aid without reason. Their wisdom far outweighs ours, and it is because we have forgotten that that Tindrel is where it is now. Now,” Aleksei brought his point back around. “What did our ancient Elm tell you?”

Elowen shook her head a little, fighting with her unrest. How could it be that the only thing she was at peace with, was what she knew was the most difficult route. She stood up, pacing with her hands on her hips. She closed her eyes, recalling the words of the Elm to mind.

Darkness has been rising, but now it dawns, the days of the dragon are soon complete. The forest has awakened, we call those with wits to wage.”

Aleksei smiled slightly, his body seeming to flutter with excitement.

“It is the same word as before.” Bouncing a little where he sat. The well-worn velvet seat absorbed his movements welcomely. “The trees call us to join with the Monks of Timberham, to fight this hidden enemy.” His soft voice grew impassioned. “But he will not be hidden for long; this dragon, this deceiver of man. We must heed, Elowen, we must fight!”

Elowen wished that she could share in his excitement, but she wanted to break down weeping or perhaps fall asleep and find that she lived in a Tindrel where man had never rebelled against their guardians. There was already so little Aleksei loved about his life, she thought, so what did he have to lose by obeying the trees? But Elowen felt she would be rejecting a beautiful life she had been gifted by leaving. But she couldn't help but think of the boy’s words. It was because of a spirit like her own that had allowed the enemy to slowly take a grasp on the minds of man.

Baker Butterfield waltzed in balancing a tray of teaware in one hand and a plate of steaming spiced cookies in the other. He was humming a Drelian war song under his breath that Elowen had heard her father teach Gabriel the day he got into his first fight. She remembered Marm had to rebuke both Gabe and her own husband that day. A smile settled on Elowen’s expression as she recalled the memory.

Barry set the trays down and poured the black tea into two hand-painted floral mugs. He clapped his hands together, satisfied, and flour flew through the air.

“If you need anything else,” He was walking towards the door. “Just come and find me. It’s a small place, it shouldn’t be a problem locating me.” He winked with mirth twinkling in his eyes and shut the door behind himself again.

Elowen fixed her tea with cream and honey and sat back down on the couch.

“I want to talk to my Da.” She said, looking into the contents of her mug. “I need to talk to Mariel too. I can’t leave yet.”

Aleksei sighed and pulled one of his lanky knees to his chest.

“I thought you might say that. Regardless, you should know that I’m leaving for the Timberlands tonight.”

Fantasy

About the author

Cosette Alize

I write stories, because I live a story. No fantasy world will ever compare to the one we live in. I want to describe our world in a way that reveals the Creator's magic, and write fantasy world's in a way that illuminates our reality.

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