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Chapter 2

Ashlyn awoke with the dawn as Barabeleg's large head nuzzled her to waken.

"Oh leave me be Bar," she said more depressed than irritated. Barabeleg made it obvious that she had more urgent matters than to waken a depressed druid, by placing her paw on Ashlyn's stomach and intimating that she was about to stand upon it.

"Okay, Okay, What's got you going this morning?"

Barabeleg started to walk to the edge of the forest. Before she could even see what the bear was leading her to, she heard the sounds of several horses and the stirrings of elfin voices. She paused at the edge of the tree's and observed a small canopy beneath which several slender figures moved, except for one seated in a chair. Above the canopy a banner of the House of Long Silences stirred in the morning mist. It was apparent that the party was prepared for a long wait and that they were looking to parley with the druids of the High Forest. Barabeleg took one last sniff and ambled quietly back into the woods.

Ashlyn knew without seeing his face, that the one seated in the chair was Darion Elsinor, Coreolyn's Uncle and Master at Arms of Sir Elorfindar's Estate.

"Well met Darion Elginor, long it has been since last we met."

Darion, though startled by the greeting, grew more concerned when he beheld Ashlyn's face. He could hardly believe this was the normally lighthearted half-elf he had met but once before. "Well met Lady Ashlyn, though I wish I came with better news."

Ashlyn could guess what the purpose of their journey was, and had already been told what she would be aloud to say by Lindornea. She said nothing and waited for him to continue.

"Coreolyn has not been heard from for several weeks now, his mother grows quite concerned. Though he often disappears to places unknown, only once before has he failed to return to her at an appointed time."

"Coreolyn's whereabouts are known to us." She fought to suppress the tears that wanted to well in the corner of her eyes. "I am instructed by Archdruid Lindornea to request Sir Floshin come to these woods as soon as possible. That he may be escorted to our grove, and all things can be made clear."

Darion was not blind to the upset Ashlyn was trying to suppress. "Coreolyn is all right is he not?"

"Coreolyn lives, but please ask no more of me. I've no desire to keep things from you, but this is a matter that should be handled directly, not by intermediates." Her eyes pleaded with Darion to leave it at that, but Darion pursued,

"Has he angered Lindornea again?" He feigned a chuckle trying to find some hope of avoiding the gravity of Lindornea's request.

"I must go now." Ashlyn turned and briskly re-entered the forest. The branches and vines parted to accept her.

* * * * *

Coreolyn's isolation was broken by the early morning entrance of Ashlyn's friend Dawn "Your father approaches for council with Lindornea this evening. Your presence is requested."

Coreolyn suppressed an urge to throw himself at the young initiate, and chase her out of the room. Instead he said nothing, restricted himself to turning to look out the window. He lost himself in the dance of the twenty foot leaves in the wind.

Dawn headed back to the door, "We expect him early this evening, shall I tell Lindornea you will attend?"

He continued to stare out the window. His father, A wizard whose prime recreation was procreation, was seldom seen outside his mysterious laboratories and study chambers. He realized his mother must have forced him to this action, as Coreolyn knew he appeared nowhere on his father's list of priorities or expectations. Coreolyn lowered his gaze to the floor in the realization that he had become his father's warnings personified.

"I must return with some response," Dawn spoke softly, still facing the door.

Coreolyn forced a slow reply in the common language, "I will come."

Dawn hoped he did not perceive her wince at the tone of his voice. "I would be pleased to provide you with cloak and gloves? If that would not be of offense to you."

"Thank you" Coreolyn wished he was one of the giant leaves in its golden fall splendor as it broke free of the branch. Coreolyn felt a kinship to the leaf as it mysteriously disintegrated long before reaching the ground.

* * * * *

The cloak and gloves were delivered with the midday meal from the balcony vine. On the long afternoon's with Ashlyn, he had viewed these deliveries as a great convenience. He had even occasioned to feel a personality within the vine, Or, at least the personality Ashlyn had said was there. He considered that personality when the vine placed the tray of food in a corner, and seemed to extend the gloves and hat out to him.

Just as Coreolyn reached out to take the clothing, the vine dropped it to the floor. Coreolyn thought that if this vine had a personality it should be slapped. He bent down to pick up the robe and the vine innocently slapped his rump. Coreolyn almost could hear Ashlyn laugh. He couldn't believe he'd fallen again for that old routine. Rage almost pushed him to tear the vine to shreds, but he realized the he loved that laugh. He felt as if Ashlyn's eye's fell upon him in confusion, and knew that he loved her. Coreolyn closed his eyes wishing that he could but open them to find her standing there.

When he did open his eyes he was dressed in the deep brown robe, and the vine was cradling him down to the forest's floor. He let himself relax into the vine's arm's. If the vine had a personality it was pushing him on to Ashlyn.

* * * * *

Ashlyn sat in deep meditation at a natural shrine deep between the north and northeast roots. The shrine was buried far into the base of the Northlands greatest and most revered oak-Norma. The fairy mist within the gothic arch of naturally sculpted etchings, runes, and designs of great beauty, danced comfortingly about Ashlyn as she prayed,

How can this be the way it must be? Drewsus, beneath your serene beauty you have a most cruel nature.

Nature must be cruel but it is just.

Not when nature interferes with those who live in opposition to it!

Calm little sister, if we did not interfere there would be no more nature to defend. Spend more time with the animals leave the grove and see the truth of my words. Do not question my actions and deafen my attempt to explain them. I offer you a unique opportunity so I may prove nature.

Thank you DrewsusI receive this respite from my duties as initiate of the High Oak as an inspired gift, and I pray that we both may find that we prove nature together.

Ashlyn shook her head. She never got over some of the tones in her voice when she prayed from the heart. She tried to dismiss the unease she felt over her implied threat-to a Great Spirit!

Ashlyn looked at the fairy mist that had now retreated to the shrines gothic arch. The multi-colored mist danced and hovered over polished wood carvings of symbols that grew from within the tree. Carvings that no one had ever touched-and lived. The color's drew her heart to a diamond shaped crevasse at the peak of the arch. Two rich oak veins stood out from the midpoints of the diamond. A third vein went strait up from the top.

We need him.

Ashlyn turned from her meditations and saw a deep and mysterious brown robe at the edge of the entrance to the shrine.

* * * * *

For but a few short precious moments, Ashlyn was able to forget what she knew lay hid amidst the deeply folded robe. Within those moments she felt the same feelings she always felt about Coreolyn. She knew everyone else saw him as the spoiled child that listened to no one-including himself. She knew that though he professed to be a ranger lord, he showed none of the skills the title implied above being able to track game. Yet she knew that if he could at least get him to listen to himself he would show everyone the proud nobility that he confined deep within himself.

Ashlyn thought he should have reason's to be proud as she approached the dark figure. She recalled her last promise to him and agony shot through her heart. She decided to walk past without even a glance at the robe.

* * * * *

Coreolyn watched her approach, he couldn't tell if she knew it was him. He was still in awe of watching the mist cradle around her, and how gently it receded back into Norma. He remembered his moment of understanding with the vine, and considered the magnitude of Ashlyn's experience.

When she obviously veered away from him, he knew it was to avoid him. He held his breath till Ashlyn was well away. Turning full of rage he attacked the shrine. Running straight to its center at full speed he hit an invisible barrier-knocking him to the floor.

Shaking his head and coming to his elbows he beheld the shrine as the symbols grew within the growing mist. They reached out of the dark crevasse shaping to a giant hand. The hand lay palm out directly before him. He walked slowly between the polished fingers, and climbed slowly into the palm.

The hand curled about him as a boy who lionches a grasshopper, not so hard as to kill it, but enclosed enough to protect it. Coreolyn felt the hand recede far into the tree.

In the darkness of the depths of Norma, Coreolyn lost his perceptions. The wooden hand became its own hard twisting reality of motion. Coreolyn tried to escape through a couple of fingers but was cut off quickly by a squeeze of the limbs. He was caught. The fingers pinned him across the chest with pressure near intolerable.

"Kill me! Do it! Damn You!"

Suddenly the pressure ceased and Coreolyn grew disoriented. The beautiful woman who had been within the mist at the evil ceremony appeared before him. He didn't understand how as everything seemed black.

  • "You!", he said dismayed.
  • "Yes Coreolyn, me. I need your help."
  • Coreolyn looked confused for a long moment before a smile of recognition came over him, "I understand. I'm alive and in this form for your twisted designs."

    Drewsusalmost interrupted his last word saying, "You are most insolent. Would you rather be in the nine hell's as most surely you would have?"

    Coreolyn felt the tip of a point pressed to his chest. His expression went blank.

    "I thought not. That is good."

    Drewsus's response sent waves of comfort through him as he realized he was sensing the same cradling he had seen Ashlyn experience just a short while before. He watched the colors recede into the symbol's that lined the wall. He started to feel entranced when he heard Dawn's voice behind him, "Coreolyn, I am so sorry to intrude, but your father is here."

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