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Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles

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“Why must we go?” asked the acolyte, Yarlia. The question sounded harsh to Varshya’s ears. It wasn’t the actual inquiry that soured her but rather, the pronunciation of the words. They were in the ancient tongue, the language of the druids, what was known among the elves as the Avaranae, the maker speech. The acolyte’s implementation of the words was clumsy and unrefined to her ears. It always took time to master the art of the speech and that could only be done with practice. Varshya wished that Yarlia was a quicker learner.

The Vallenbrush steward continued to carefully pack her essential belongings for what was her lengthy annual journey. “We go because it is our responsibility. We go to meet with those we count among our family of Tra’Baellyan.” answered the venerable druid and water arcanist purposely in her native elven tongue. She wanted to avoid hearing any further mispronunciations of the sacred language.

“This will be my first journey beyond Karyn’Zyth. I think it will be exciting!” Yarlia exclaimed searching for something to talk about with her honored Tra’Baellyan. She sensed that her mentor was not overjoyed to be leaving. “That remains to be seen. It is always a blessed event, the meeting of this druid coven, but I suspect that your excitement extends beyond your inquiries to our devotions.” Varshya replied confidently while she packed the necessary trappings- which were few.

“I want to see the world outside of our forest. I want to see the large dewy meadows and human towns.” With her back to her student, Varshya’s eyes closed upon hearing about Yarlia’s interest in the human settlements. She breathed deep and stopped moving for a moment. Yarlia furrowed her brow and wondered if she crossed into forbidden territory with her instructor.

“This trip is not about satisfying some whimsical curiosity, Yarlia.” Varshya quipped turning around to look her student in the eyes. “Keep your mind on the task at hand and your curiosity on how better to serve our Life Mother-Father. You’ll find little good in other settled places.” Varshya said with a bit of venom in her voice. She regretted being so callous with the youngling in her charge. Neither did she like harboring anger as it so often led to irrational actions.

She smiled at her humbled student and nodded her head acknowledging that her inquisitive nature was testimony to her young innocence and wonder of the world. “There are many great things to see beyond our borders Yarlia- that much is true. See them you should. As the deer at a water pool, be cautious. That is what I mean by my words. Go now and fetch the others to be ready. The Grove of Needles waits for us.”

Varshya felt the delicate leather pouch that hung around her neck and rest against her chest. There were five distinct Vallenbrush berries contained within the pouch. They were five berries that were the first of their kind to travel beyond the borders of Kaaryn’Zyth in centuries. It was indeed an important meeting this year. Varshya looked up at the Blood Tear while she waited for her enclave to assemble.

He loosed his arrow and quickly ducked behind the thicket of newly leafed bushes. He was as silent as the passing of the moons. He needed to keep the oafs off balance and guessing where he was. He could have easily dispatched them with a few of Mahiya’s blessings but he enjoyed the hunt- lived for the hunt. He would keep at least one alive to bring back the tale of the “forest ghost”.

With the speed of a rabbit he dashed towards the next tree but not before letting fly a volley of arrows all of which hit their mark. The howls the brutes made were answered by the call of his falcon, Spiritwind- which seemed more as a laugh- that circled above. He knew they would either frenzy and try to find him or they would flee. Their patience for this cat-and-mouse game would only go so far. Little did they know that they were actually the mice.

Maragarn stepped from behind his tree waiting for the confused pair of ogres and squad of orcs to notice him. He smirked his sly satyr smirk and measured the sharpness of one of his horns by playfully tapping the end of it. His mischievous nature would not let him stand idle for very long. He pulled his two sickles from his sides and fitted them over his shoulders. Then he pulled out his flute and whispered to himself, “How I wish I had my little harp. This flute is so…cliché.” From the flute came a melodious tune that sounded like wind and water blending together. The notes were of perfect pitch and the falcon above would call out in praise.

The group of confused ogres and orcs all stopped and looked at the devious satyr gleefully playing his sonorous flute. Maragarn lowered his instrument and grabbed his sickles. “Gentlmen, let us dance!” yelled Maragarn and off he rushed to meet them all.

Maragarn teased them, all of them, through the fight. He would feint, duck, parry, and appear as though he was far weaker. It was all a ruse. For in those moments of overconfidence were an enemies undoing. Now he would strike. His focus immediately switched from playful to deadly. Strike, move, strike move was his tactic. The orcs could barely follow him much less the ogres. Soon it was that the two ogres were lying dead as bloody heaps and only five orcs remained standing and now fleeing. Maragarn quickly pulled up his bow and set two arrows. Away they went both hitting their targets tumbling the orcs into the grass. The satyr was on the move after the other three.

As he pursued them he noticed that they quickly changed course and that they did so not expecting to. What did they see? What are they avoiding? He thought. Torn between his own curiosity and seeing another two orcs to their fate, Maragarn chose to satisfy his own curiosity. Spiritwind landed on his shoulder and let out a curious and questioning coo. “So there will be an extra two to tell the tale this day” he answered. “Worry not. They will eventually meet their fate as most do. My questions lay ahead.”

Cautiously and silently Maragarn crept forward. Ahead he could see hazy light gleaming through the trees. ‘There was no clearing here to my recollection’ he thought. He could feel a sadness emanating from the trees around him and a queer energy getting stronger as he approached the clearing. Something was wrong.

Spiritwind seemed to growl a warning to his partner. It wasn’t a growl of fear but of anger. Maragarn gently swept a branch aside with his sickle to reveal the cause of the orcs fear and the falcons ire. It was a circle of black and grey ash. Not from a fire but from something sinister- and it reeked of the foulness of anti-life.

In the first hours of the festival – while Kossuth yet kissed the sky – Shankaria roamed the grounds of the Grove of Needles in a delightful state of euphoria. Gearmund’s touch seemed still to warm her hand, and the remembrance of his gentle kiss could still be felt upon her cheek, though hands of time had passed since they parted earlier that day.

It had been good so see her tindaren – her husband – again. It was also good to know that he was yet so close to the Great Hunter and all were aware of the tumultuous times ahead. She would love for him to visit the Grove with her, but he was not allowed. Mahiya suffered only Gnarcheon in this place. Also, Gearmund had his work to do, and Shankaria had hers. Thus, while she had come to the Grove of Needles, the Master had sent Gearmund to Horn Dale by way of Shir Shyrak...some mystery to be explained there, though what exactly none knew as yet.

And now she was surrounded by her brothers and sisters. The first couple of hands of the festival were regularly the same: meeting and greeting, solidifying old friendships and making new acquaintances, introducing new acolytes or apprentices. She knew that while all Gnarcheon would of course have seen the Blood Tear and knew the magnitude of its portent, none knew all. Not even Shankaria knew all that it meant; that knowledge wasn’t even in the palm of Mahiya, Shankaria thought.

Still, even with the specter of troubled times ahead, there was joy at the Festival at the Grove of Needles. In fact, Shankaria noted, some of the more expressive Gnarcheon were already exploring each other’s bodies as part of their individual observances to the Great Cycle. Such was common on this night, but more usually towards mid-of-night. Some, however, just hated to wait. Shankaria smiled and moved on.

The five great bonfires were now completely set up and ready for their lighting. The fires would be lit as Kossuth bade farewell to the celebrants in little more than a hand.

Shankaria made her way towards the “kitchens”. Various Gnarcheon brought with them to the festival foods that might only be found in their native parts of the forest and beyond. These variably delectable morsels were brought to the Festival to share with others who might not have them on a regular basis. Their kitchen, where the sharing would be done, moved about from year to year, but Shanrkaria thought that she could smell an apple cider mulling with spices to the west end of the Grove, so west she went.

Varshya would no doubt have brought some of her elven jams and perhaps some Fey Honey from distant Karyn’Zyth and Gearmund, knowing where Shankaria was bound, had prepared for her to take to the festival a pack full of Big Horn from the far side of the grasslands of the Dale. This meat he had seasoned with his special spices that grow only in those mountains.
The Master had sent Gearmund there for His work, and Gearmund had taken the thoughtful opportunity to spice the meats for Shankaria.

She smiled again at her tindaren’s presence in her mind. Her stomach growled a bit in anticipation.

Ashe was both giddy and anxious. Never before had he been to this meeting. There were many secretive meetings of druids concerning all manner of things in the vast world of Mahiya. While Ashe was the son of Zachary Clearwater- he who carried the mantle of Zebulon- and an accomplished Hierophant in his own right, it did not afford him special privilege to be involved in all of that which was occurring in all of the circles. He often admitted that condition was best and likewise a relief. “Let the fire burn and the water soak” he thought. It was an old saying among druids. It was a reminder that one individual can’t, nor should, do everything; that each thing has a specific purpose. Perhaps that was why he was here at this meeting. He smiled at his epiphany and a tingling comfort came over him as though Mahiya itself had spoken to him.

Across the grove apart from the ripening festivities Ashe spied among the pine boughs an individual that could only be interpreted as a centaur. He could not see any details as the shade of the trees surrounding the grove were shielding the waning light of Kossuth. The silhouette was unmistakable. It had to be the Vallenbrush steward Eswarth from the Tumbling Plains. That was the limit of Ashe’s knowledge on him. It seemed a good time to diminish his ignorance and introduce himself.

As he drew closer he could see the great sword strapped to Eswarth’s back. He found it odd that he had not seen it when he first noticed him but that may have been a trick of the light. Ashe kept a respectful distance from Eswarth so as to not offer surprise upon introduction. He was a tall and imposing figure and it seemed to Ashe that he also had a majestic integrity about him.

“My greetings to you…Eswarth...?” Ashe stated and asked all at once. He instantly realized how bumbling and clumsy he sounded and could not help but cringe ever so slightly at his foolishness. Naturally his very act of cringing gave him the sense that Eswarth too took him for a fool and may have even been insulted. “Let me start over if you will.” And Ashe cleared his throat. “Eswarth I presume?”

Eswarth had only just arrived at the Grove of Needles when he was approached by a brother whom he had never met, though the stranger seemed to know Eswarth, at least by sight and name. As eager as he was to find Shankaria, he turned to regard this human; the truth of the matter was that Eswarth had less of a chance in finding the tiny Torqaniq among the throng of Gnarcheon than he had of finding a specific pine needle in the Grove. As always, it would be for Shankaria to find him.

He looked down at the human and replied as kindly as he could: "You have me at a disadvantage, Revered Brother." He said, his voice rumbling in a deep baritone. "I am Eswarth, called Slayer of the Dead. Who are you?" He held out a huge hand in the manner of the humans he knew.

Think Worf when you think Eswarth


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