The fires had been lit for nearly half the night before the first Roman boots had set foot on the shores of Britain, and soon, word of their arrival had spread like a wildfire through the gathered villagers along the coast. Not a soul had dared to invade the island in nearly a hundred years, and it had once been believed that the land of the tribes was untouchable to the outside world.
That was the truth that had spanned generations, but now, it seemed, the sanctuary that was once the forested coast of Britain had been broken.
Not far from the beach lay the village of Eiden, surrounded by lush forests and bordered on one side by squelching bogs. A place of tranquility and peace, Eiden was the perfect village for the holy men of the Druid order to reside. It had everything they could need; fish from the sea, deer from the forest, and water from the river that cut through the other side of the village. Its location was also important to the priests, for it was positioned near one of their most sacred sites, making it the perfect place for them to settle.
It was the perfect place for an order of peaceful Druids to settle.
Until the Romans came, and everything changed.
Modred was not at all pleased at the sight of the sails that lined the horizon, and he was even less pleased with the way his fellow Druids perceived the intentions of the new visitors. From his place perched on top of the hill a few miles inland, he could make out the odd assortment of men, who clambered down form the few already moored vessels and clambered their way onto the beach. The sunlight glinted off of the odd encasement that seemed to envelop each man, casting long shadows that seemed to engulf the beach. It was an odd sight to behold, and certainly, one that peaked both his interest and his fear.
It was clear that the sight had a similar impact on the other Druids of his order, who stared out to the sea with mixed expressions. Some looked afraid, as he was. A few looked angry, which he felt, too. Others looked confused, as he was as well.
But, Modred realized, he also felt curious. Something about these men was awe-inspiring. Perhaps it was the way they marched in such synchronized and even rows, or maybe it was the way they seemed to glow in the sun with their metallic armor. There was a chance, he knew, that these men could possibly be of use to his people. Perhaps some good could come from this abnormal event.
One of the Druids standing beside Modred motioned toward the edge of the forest, and the others dipped their heads respectfully as he walked away, back down the hill. They followed him deep into the trees, which began to block out the light as they went deeper into the forest until they reached the stone table.
“My brothers,” The Druid that had led his brotherhood into the trees spoke as he put his hands on the stone altar. “We face something new that we have never faced before. This men, these...foreign invaders, they have landed on our beach. We must act before they act against us.”
A few of the Druids nodded in agreement, but most were silent. Modred himself was among the silent. He knew better than to speak while Moar was giving a speech.
Moar continued, jabbing a finger in the direction of the beach. “These invaders know not what they are about to walk into. We must stop them on the beach before it is too late.”
“Moar,” Modred said as he lifted his eyes to meet those of Moar. “We do not know what they want. Perhaps we could speak to them and see.”
Moar did not bother to look at Modred as he answered him. “Are their intentions not obvious? You saw them, same as the rest of us. They had weapons, Modred. Swords. Spears. Horses, even. Surely, you saw the armor they were wearing. No peace-making man comes to speak with his neighbors whilst wearing full armor.”
“Do chieftains not come with their escorts when they visit their fellows? Do warriors not carry their sword every place they go, even into the home of their lovers?” Modred held his gaze to Moar. “All I say is that maybe these men are here for a reason. If we can speak to them, see what they want, then perhaps we can avoid a crisis.”
Moar’s face tightened into a snarl, but he quickly concealed it with a smile. “Modred, it is clear what their intentions are. Take your head out of the clouds, brother, before your incessant dreaming of hope takes over your being.”
Modred stifled a growl and glared at Moar, but said nothing to challenge him. He would stick to his silence- for now.
“Now then, brothers, let us decide how to stop these invaders.”
The gathered Druids muttered amongst themselves, none of them willing to put forward an answer to the proposed question. What could they answer? The only reasonable option would be to fight the invaders; but, the Druids were not known for fighting. They were a peaceful order- most of them were even healers. Fighting was the most outlandish thing that could be thought of. But, it would seem, it was the only option open to them.
Moar crossed his sleeved arms over his chest, the folds of his wood-brown robe sweeping at the fallen leaves. “Well? Any ideas? Or are you cowards too afraid to state the obvious.”
“You are suggesting we fight the invaders.” One of the Druids replied from under his hood.
“In so many words.” Moar’s gaze bore into the man as he scrutinized them. “Does the idea of blood frighten you, Turi?”
Turi did not dare defend his point any further.
But, Modred did. “Moar, we are Druids of the peaceful kind; we are not warriors like our fallen brothers in the north. We are peacekeepers, healers- what would we achieve by spilling blood?”
“We would be defending our people.” Moar turned his head to face Modred, his eyes like daggers as they glared at him. “Besides, we have been preparing for this time. Have you all forgotten what the Great Father prophesied? Have you forgotten the sacred duty that was said to soon come?”
Modred rolled his eyes and addressed Moar specifically. “That prophecy has nothing to do with our current situation, Moar.”
“Does it?” Moar seemed to chuckle. “How can you be so sure? The prophecy said that one day, evil would befall our home. Are you not going to step up to defend it?”
The question was addressed at Modred but was meant for them all, and the other Druids hesitantly looked down at the grass.
Modred took a moment to think about the answer, then sighed. “Moar, brother, enough of this foolishness. The prophecy is over three-hundred years old. Why would the gods choose now to make it come true?”
“Why not choose now?” Moar retorted in a grating tone. He let his gaze travel over the other Druids. “Surely, you men are enlightened enough to see my point. We can fight them and expel them from our lands by force.”
“But, it can not be the prophecy!” Modred argued. “The prophecy said that our lands would be invaded by beings of darkness, of shadows, and of evil. While these men are intimidating, they are far from shadows.”
“The prophecy speaks of metaphorical shadows, Modred.” Moar could not help but give Modred a smirk. “We need to act now, Modred, before we lose our chance. You are not going to stop us.”
“Act how?” Asked one of the other Druids. “They will be upon us by tomorrow, perhaps even by tonight. We are only twenty men and know very little about fighting. What are we supposed to do about this threat?”
“That is simple, Herne: we will use the villagers to aid us.”
Modred’s eyes widened, and a few of the other Druids muttered their discontent at the idea.
“Moar, the villagers do not know how to fight,” Herne responded. “They know as much about fighting as we do. We should evacuate the village instead.”
“Ah, but there is no time to evacuate the village,” Moar retorted. “We have no other choice but to stand and fight.”
“No, we can not do that.” Modred protested desperately. “Moar, these people do not know how to fend off an army. If we can not speak to these invaders and seek peace, then we must flee the village. It is the only way to defend our people.”
“Our people must learn to defend themselves,” Moar growled out through clenched teeth. “If the prophecy is to be believed, then our people need to be ready to fight. If they fight against the invaders with us, then they will win a victory over them before they can smite us. If they lose, then they will grow stronger and learn from their defeat. There is no better time to build up their strength and resolve than now.”
“Do the lives of our people mean nothing to you?” Modred asked accusingly. “Have you no will to protect them? Even if they did win against these invaders- which, odds are, they will not- many will be slain. A fight is not what we need. We must flee!”
“To flee is to be as good as dead.” Moar’s voice held a degrading tone, and his forced grin revealed more of a sneer than a smile. “You should know that better than anyone.”
Modred visibly winced at the reminder, but he kept his head held high. It was time for him to stop fighting. As much as he wanted to save the people of Eiden, it was clear that he was alone in his endeavor. Moar was the one with the real power. No one was going to listen to the voice of reason.
With a heavy sigh, Modred stepped back from the stone altar. “Very well, Moar. If you are going to lead our brothers and out people into the fires of war, then so be it. You will bring destruction and death everywhere you go. You will rejoice in bloodshed, and death will become your best friend. You will become no better than our brothers in the north.” He looked around at the other Druids, none of which met his gaze. “I pray to the gods that you will be protected. But mark my words, brothers, I will have no part in it. This path you chose will lead only to destruction and suffering.”
“You need not have a part in any of it,” Moar said dismissively. “If you will not join us, then you will not be one of us. Be gone, now.”
It was an uncustomary send-off, but Modred did not care. He did not wish to spend another minute in the presence of a war conference. He breathed a weary sigh and began to climb up the slope and deeper into the forest, leaving his once brothers behind. As much as he tried to make himself think that what he was doing was right, that leaving the order was the only way to preserve what the Druids truly stood for, he could not shake the feeling of guilt at the idea of leaving. He could not help but think that, maybe, he was abandoning his people. What if he was the one who could change the tide of the battle? Or the one who could be the difference between victory or defeat?
No, he had made the right decision, he decided. He had not abandoned his people; he had done quite the opposite. If the other Druids were going to drop their Hollybush branches of peace to take up the sword of war, then he would need to remain behind to make sure that peace was not forgotten. If this conflict went the way he expected it to, then there would also be a need for someone to tell the stories of the ancient Druid traditions, the stories of gentle heroes and of the wise men who had bettered the lives of those after them. If this was not done, the true origins and sacred rites of the Druid order would be lost forever.
A great darkness was coming to the village of Eiden, Modred knew; and the once peaceful order of the Druids would be no more.
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