Chapter 23: The Mother Tree
I woke with the first brightness of morning. After a long lazy stretch, I sat up. I'd spent the night nestled in the moss under a tree. Somehow, in spite of not having a bedroll and blanket, or a campfire to keep me warm, I remained comfortable and cozy all night. I was sure that Aahna had something to do with it. I took several swallows from my waterskin before finally hauling myself from my nest.
"Good morning," Aahna spoke brightly. I turned to find her seated on one of the rocks near the pool. "Did you rest well?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Are you ready to get started," she asked as she stood, "or do you require more time to rest?"
I paused for a moment. I fell asleep thinking about what had to be done, and now was the time to do it. "You've been very kind ... shown me Unity's Blessing. I can't thank you enough. But it's daylight now, and I think I should leave."
Aahna frowned and it pained me to see the confused look on her face. "You would go without acquiring your item of power."
"I don't want a staff if it means that I have to hurt you Aahna." I picked up the satchel of tools and my waterskin and slung them over my head. "No item of power is worth that price," I added as I started for the path that would take me back to the beach and the waiting boat.
Before I could reach the path, she grabbed me by the elbow, stopping me in my tracks. "Will you trust me?" she asked.
The tone in her voice caught me off guard, and I turned to face her. I wasn't sure which affected me more, her tone, her words, or the look on her face, but I gave in.
"Alright," I sighed, "I will trust you, but only under one condition." I un-slung the bag of tools and set them back on the ground. "They stay here. I won't be doing any cutting."
A broad smile filled Aahna's face. "Come," she took me by the hand and practically drug me along.
By mid-morning, we stopped to rest. I took a long swallow from my water skin. Half of its contents remained and I hoped that it would be enough to last me. As for fasting, my stomach resigned itself to being empty and ceased complaining about it late last night.
"Where are we going, exactly?" I asked.
"To the place where all mages go when they come here."
I shook my head as a chuckle escaped my lips. "Uriel, what have you gotten me into?"
"Uriel?" Puzzlement played across her features as she spoke the Dragon's name. "I thought you were apprenticed to Balthazar?"
"Uriel is my Dragon," I replied, " and I'm his Companion. Comming here was his idea."
"I thought I sensed something unusual about your magic."
Of course, I thought, that must be it. "You mean the glow you spoke of yesterday?"
Aahna shook her head. "The glow has nothing to do with your magic ... I told you that. The glow is something far more important ... it represents Unity's seal, upon your life. Unity has marked you for a greater purpose."
"You sound like Uriel," I dismissed. The thought that Unity might have some great purpose for me made me uncomfortable ... not because I was unwilling to serve, but rather because I felt wholly unworthy to.
"I wish you had brought your Dragon with you," she sighed as we began walking again. "It has been a very long time since I've had the pleasure of conversing with one of Unity's children. When Everlast was young, they came here often, but not anymore."
Unity's children, I thought, I'd heard of Dragon's being called by many names and titles, but not that one. "I thought that humans were the children of Unity."
Aahna laughed. "Humankind was created in Unity's image, but they are not the children of Unity's blood." Then she paused and a frown filled her face. "Don't you know the story?"
I shook my head.
"Shall I tell you?"
I nodded, "Yes, please." I was eager to learn anything I could about Dragons.
"You know that Unity created the universe and all that is within it and then filled the void of nothingness with His creation."
That was puzzling. "I thought Unity created the universe from the void of nothingness."
"That is a strong misconception that humans seem to have."
"Then, who created the void of nothingness?"
"Unity, of course," Aahna dismissed. "Think of it this way; if an artist wishes to paint a painting, he must first prepare a canvas upon which to build his masterpiece. The void of nothingness was the canvas upon which Unity created the masterpiece of the universe and everything within it."
Suddenly I felt as if my skull had expanded to three times its usual size as questions upon questions chased around inside my head. I wanted to ask all of them. Before I could do so, Aahna continued with her story.
"Unity had just finished forming Everlast on the great potter's wheel of creation and was about to hang its still wet form in the void when something pricked Unity's finger. The blood of Unity was spilled on the wet clay of Everlast, and from that mingling, Dragon's were born."
"I've never heard that before." I insisted.
"It is not a well-known aspect of the creation narrative ... at least, not these days anyway." She paused and added, "We are here."
I was so engrossed in Aahna's story, the images that it cast upon my imagination, and the questions that swirled in my mind that I'd lost track of our journey. We stood now, at the edge of a grove populated by sapling trees. They varied in size and development, with some of them being little more than seedlings while the stoutest among them were taller than me and as big around as my forearm. The tree that stood at the heart of the grove had a trunk that was bigger around than Balthazar's tower and its branches stretched high enough into the azure sky to snare fluffy white clouds between them.
"Welcome to the Grove of The Mother Tree," she whispered.
"Are you the Mother Tree, Aahna?"
She laughed. "We are all one, Kerri; The Mother Tree, the Island, the rocks, the water, the moss, we are many parts, but all part of one body." Then she smiled reassuringly at me, "Come." She took my hand and lead me forward.
As we walked, I noticed stumps interspersed among the young trees. They were like scars left on a person's flesh that told the story of past horrors. The gnarled stumps attested to the grizzly truth of what happened when a mage came to this place seeking a staff. My stomach turned as I thought of the bleeding and pain wrought in this place.
"I won't," I insisted vehemently, "I ... I can't ..."
"I know Kerri," Aahna soothed. "You have trusted me this far ... trust me a bit further."
Fear and apprehension pounded in my ears, but I managed a nod. We walked through the grove, right up to the base of the Mother Tree. Being so close to it made me feel small and insignificant ... like an ant at the foot of a mountain.
"You are anything but insignificant, Kerri," Aahna muttered softly, "Unity has a call upon you." Then she turned to me and spoke with more authority, "Hold out your hand, close your eyes, and open yourself to Unity."
"Let Unity and the Mother Tree do the rest," she replied with a knowing smile.
I did as I was instructed, holding out my hand like an expectant child while opening myself to meditated on Unity. Love and Light surged through me, filling me with unfathomable joy. I never wanted moments like these to end, I would remain in them forever if I could. 'You will, one day,' something whispered at the edge of my soul, 'but not today. Open your eyes and behold.'
I ended my meditation and opened my eyes. A pod the size of a large potato rested in my outstretched hand. I closed my hand around it and felt it grow warm under my fingers. Then to my amazement, it began to pulse in time to the beating of my heart.
"It quickens," Aahna whispered.
"What is it," I asked. I was so taken by the pod that I pushed aside the words spoken to me at the end of my meditation.
"It is a seed, a gift, from the Mother Tree," she answered. "Now I must help you. Close both of your hands around the seed."
I did as Aahna instructed clasping the seed between my hands. In turn, she took my clasped hands in hers. "The seed only knows how to grow into a tree. We must help it to know how to grow into a staff."
"We'll kill it." I could feel the life thrumming inside the seed and the idea of killing it was appalling to me.
"The seed will come to no harm," she insisted calmly, "this is the Mother Tree's gift. It will grow into the staff you require, but unlike other mage's staffs that are dead ... the corpses of the Mother Tree's offspring ... your staff will live as you live. You will be a part of it and it will be a part of you."
Feeling reassured by Aahna's words, I did as she instructed.
"Allow yourself to flow into the seed," she told me after I closed my eyes. "It's a bit like meditation," She added helpfully. "As you do this, try to think about your staff as you might imagine it."
I did as she told me, clearing my mind of all distracting thoughts and opening myself to Unity and Light. I sent the Light and my musings of what a staff for me might be like down my arms, into my hands ... and into the seed. At the same time, I could feel the copper and green fire of Aahna join with the Light and form a ball of energy that swirled around the seed. Oddly, what I could only describe as joy seemed to emanate from within the seed. Was it actually happy to become a staff instead of a tree?
"Open your eyes," Aahna instructed sometime later.
I closed my meditation, pulling the Light back into myself before I opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed was the lateness of the hour, it was nearly dusk. The second thing I noticed was how utterly exhausted I was. It required all my focus just to remain standing upright.
"I believe mages call the sensation your experiencing 'being spent'," Aahna offered in explanation. I'd seen Balthazar in such states of exhaustion before and it often took him days to recover. "Look down," her words pulled my tired mind back into the moment, "see what has been accomplished."
I looked down at the object resting in my hands. The seed was no longer a potato-shaped lump. Under our combined guidance, it took on the shape of a short brown rod as big around as my thumb and about as long as my forearm. I could feel the energy of life thrumming like a heartbeat inside of it. A smile made its way to my face.
"Its still alive."
"Of, course," Aahna sounded taken aback by my observation. "It will continue to grow with time until it reaches its mature size."
"How long will that take?"
"How long does it take for a mage to come into his mature power?" she asked in response to me.
"Balthazar says a true mage never really reaches the maturity or his power ... we're supposed to grow continually over the course of our lives." That thought startled me, "If the seed keeps growing as I grow, won't it eventually get as big as the Mother Tree?"
Aahna laughed. "For your sake, I hope not Kerri. A staff that large would prove nearly impossible for you to wield."