She's A Dryad
Luke woke to see the sorcerer sitting on the other bed with a necklace in his hands and a familiar bag of coin was on the table, next to the watch Thuektze gave him. Luke instantly sat up, gasping. He jumped out of bed and snatched the watch and then took the necklace. Brim laughed quietly, watching him.
Slowly, Luke looked up to him from the things in his hands. “...You... you brought my stuff back...”
“Yes I did. Is that necklace your sister’s?” Brim curiously said.
“Is that what you need enchanted?”
Brim’s question made the boy’s heart drop. How did he know?
Luke eyed him as he walked over to the table again. “What makes you think I’m going to have it enchanted?”
“Why else would you be carrying something like that?”
“Something to remember her by...”
“Oh... I see.” Brim said and sat quietly for a moment, then he rose to his feet, “Well... I noticed that odd ticking trinket. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It looks like Daniel tried to pry it open but never could.”
“I know it’s interesting... It’s a family heirloom.” Luke said. Brim gave him an artful look for that. “Suppose that’s something to remember your parents by, hm?”
Luke held his things closer to his chest. Brim smirked and then took in a deep breath. “Very well... I won’t bother you on the subject anymore Mr. Pane. I’m interested in getting into any quarrels with you. All we need to do now is get you to Tanimil.”
“Yes... What did you do?-To Daniel?” Luke asked.
Brim patted him on the back, “He will never wake up again. He’s already caused this place far too much trouble than he’s worth. I know where your horse is.” He went to open the door.
Giving him a surprised look, Luke stuffed his bag of coin in his pack along with the fruit from the bowl and stepped out. “You know where Alarich is? Tell me!” he spoke in a fast whisper.
“He was hiding somewhere close to the tavern. Someone brought him here. I assume they stole him. That is one clever horse you have. I’m just curious as to why he came here to Stone Hill.” Luke stared wide-eyed at him, almost furious but becoming more and more relieved. Soon, he began to wonder the same question.
Luke pondered that maybe Alarich did have a plan. Was it crazy to think that? Was there something... magical... about the horse? Was he more than meets the eye? Could he tell time? Could he read minds? The way he behaved often gave him that impression.
As they were going down to the first floor, Mr. Rivers was already behind the counter. Brim nodded a hello at the old man while Luke remained lost in his thoughts.
The two went outside to the stable and immediately found Alarich tied up, and glad to see Luke too. “Alarich...!” Luke whispered with a relieved smile and hurried over to untie him.
“Oi, excuse me, that’s my horse!” They heard a man walking up. Luke turned around to see a tall lanky man in overalls coming their way. He looked at Brim, then back to the man. Brim tilted his head, folding his arms. The man raised his hand, “Unhand my boy! Let’s not let things get ugly friends.” Luke was bewildered by his strange ways. Brim raised his palm at him. The man suddenly stopped, his expression fading to a blank, soulless look... and he stayed like that.
Slowly, Luke looked up at Brim. The sorcerer smiled at him and then motioned him to put the saddle on Alarich. “Come on. It’s rude to stare.” But that’s just what the teen did, as he went ahead and saddled his horse up. Alarich nodded happily, neighing and looking at Luke in a sort of gratified way. Luke petted him and the words ‘Did you know I was coming here? Did you know Daniel was going to still be here by the time I showed up? ...Did you know I was going to live?’ played in his head. He didn’t realize he was in lost in awe of his hoofed companion until he heard Brim cough to get his attention.
“Ahem. Right.” He finished getting everything ready and mounted Alarich.
Once everyone was all set, they left the tavern and got back on the road, passing the village that had a tall spiked fence all the way around it. There were guards spaced out a certain amount of distance from each other up there. Each one wore black and looked quite intimidating as they watched Brim and Luke ride by. Luke was glad they weren’t traveling through the village. The place sounded deader than a graveyard.
“So...” Luke briefly glanced at Brim, “you smothered Daniel?”
“I knelt over him and whispered a spell in his ear, then I listened for his last breath. All your stuff was on a table, sprawled out all messily.”
“Filthy piece of trash... It was that simple?”
“Yes it was. Believe it or not Mr. Pane, once you spend enough time dealing with magic, it becomes a second nature.”
“Like everything else...” Luke mumbled.
The road led them back out into wide open terrain. So much grass, hardly any trees, and many wild creatures roamed freely. Way out ahead of them, were massive majestic mountains, tall enough to nearly scrape the sky. Snow covered a great bit of them. The beauty reminded Luke of how his mom and dad would make stories together for him and his sister at bedtime. They bounced ideas off each other so quickly—It was amazing. Now it’s time for the children to tell the stories, perhaps. What a tale he would have when he returned home. He was sure this would be the strangest, yet most exciting of all he’s told—Well, of course it would be.
In the middle of taking in the sight, he noticed Brim was turning right. He followed, a little more curious about where they were going and checked the map. “This isn’t the way I’m supposed to go... Where are you taking me?”
“There is a better way; a shorter and safer way.”
“Is that so? Do you travel this way?”
“Do you doubt me Mr. Pane?” Brim slowly looked over at him. Luke blinked and then turned his gaze down to the map again.
Brim said, “Tanimil is my home. You’re human—I respect that.” Luke listened to him but didn’t say anything. So far, Brim had been quite helpful and reliable. He briefly nodded. “Well... ok.”
After a while, he saw they were heading for a long wall of trees—a forest of tall frail-looking trees surrounded by dead, dried up land. How depressing and spooky it looked! Luke had heard tales of places like that; they supposedly had troll wraiths living in them. Troll wraiths behave like banshees; they even look like them on most occasions. They’re bone-thin, they have piercing white eyes with no pupils, razor-sharp teeth, long hair and long black claws.
“I don’t like this. Are you sure this is safe?” he asked.
“I travel through there all the time. It may look menacing, but truly, it’s quite safe.” Still, Luke was extremely apprehensive.
“Is there no other way?”
“Luke, this is the safest way.”
Soon, they stopped at the entrance of the forest. There was a light breeze blowing through the trees and all the different insects and even birds were chirping loudly. Luke thought there wouldn’t be any life here, but apparently, he was so very wrong. He peered deeper inside, almost certain he was seeing green vegetation and living trees in there.
The sorcerer nodded. “Once we get through this forest, we will be there in no time.” He gently flicked the reins and continued into the woods. Luke blinked up at everything and slowly followed. ‘I hope nothing goes wrong... I’ve already been through so much.’ he thought to himself.
The farther in they went, the darker their surroundings became. The scenery was changing quite a lot. It was starting to seem as though they had gone into another world. Nothing was familiar to Luke. And if he wasn’t mistaken, he could’ve sworn he heard little clicking noises—something an insect would make, but this had a bit of voice in it. He kept his sword out just in case. Brim was always looking around, but never concerned. It was true; the inner parts of the forest were very much alive.
“Do you hear that?” Luke asked.
“Yes, they are tree pixies.”
“Tree pixies... What do they want?”
“Anything that is shiny.” Brim glanced back at the sword in Luke’s lap. Luke held it closer, looking up and around at the trees, “I’ll slice them in half if they go near it.”
“Put it away and they will leave.”
Luke glared at him, “I don’t like that idea.” He suddenly felt it yanked out of his hands and he darted his eyes up at a winged creature just as big as the blade taking it away. He gasped, “No!” Brim whipped his hand at the pixie, making it drop the sword.
Luke got off Alarich and rushed over to pick it up. The pixie flew down at him and knocked him over, pummeling him with its fists. Alarich ran off a little and Brim tilted his head at the sight, then he slowly looked up at all the other pixies standing on the branches watching the battle. When they saw him, they backed away and fled higher up. He returned to watching the fight and raised a finger, “Cease this nonsense.” The pixie froze in mid-punch and Luke winced with a pained moan. Brim said, “Return to the trees little one.” The pixie unfroze and shot up into the trees with a high-pitched squeak. Luke turned his head to the blank-faced sorcerer, then grumbled, “Ok... I’ll sheathe my sword.”
Brim smiled at that.
Ignoring him, Luke got up, wiped himself off and called Alarich back over. He walked to the horse, who secretly watched him with amusement, and mounted him again. They continued up the fading path within the forest.
“Say... I still wonder why someone told you to go to Tanimil.” Brim said, glimpsing at him out of the corner of his eye. Watching the branches overhead, Luke breathed out through his nose. “...Back home in my village, there is a woman named Gianna. She is different than everyone else... because she’s not exactly human. If anyone wants to know about the world, they ask her. She knows where everything is. She gave me this map, but it was set on a different route than you are leading. We all call her Mother Gianna.”
Brim hummed, “Why of course she knows where everything is... But, this way is quicker.”
“You’ve been quite interested in Mother Gianna. Do you know something about her?”
“I have crossed paths with her once or twice. I do travel a lot, too. She is a Dryad; and she is quite different from all others of her kind too. She is defiant.”
“You know what she is? There are others like her? All this time, my people and I have considered her a being sent from the gods, but she never accepts a title like that.”
“We are all something of the gods Mr. Pane, but she is a nature spirit. Dryads are attached to oak trees; when one sprouts, a dryad is born. If their trees are harmed in any way by a mortal, they will punish them. If the oak dies, so do they.” Luke searched the sorcerer’s eyes as he spoke and then lowered his head. “Wow... now I know...”
“Yes, now you know.”
They both focused ahead and Luke noticed yellow glowing patches of mushrooms spread out in different areas on the ground. What that pixie did to him earlier gave him a bit of a headache. He knew those things should stop it. He gently spurred Alarich and went over to them.
“There is a cave and creek within these woods. We’ll not be able to get through this forest by the end of today. We will stay there tonight.” Brim told him as he rode up. Seeing the boy splitting the mushrooms in halves and rubbing their goo on his face caused Brim to stare in a curious, almost surprised way. As Luke felt the bruises disappearing, he sighed in relief.
“Mr. Pane, I’m impressed.”
Luke tossed the mushrooms and wiped his hands on his pants, “Yeah... I know some things. Now I have a question; why would Gianna give me a different route? You say the way we are going now is quicker and safer. What’s your opinion on that?”
“Well, she’s a dryad. The next dryad is somewhere along the path you were supposed to go on. She’s keeping track of you. I suppose she has good faith in your ability to defend yourself quite well too.” That frustrated Luke a little, and he found himself unable to speak. He wasn’t sure if it was in his best interest or not. He only blinked at the sorcerer.
Brim looked up at the light coming through the tree canopy. “Come on.” He flicked the reins and carried on. Luke frowned slightly and then got back on Alarich while the horse was in the middle of grazing. “Yeah, we need to hurry.” He said. Alarich huffed, shaking his head.