Author Topic: Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles  (Read 7151 times)

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Offline Johan

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Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles
« Reply #15 on: September 12, 2013, 09:20:39 PM »
"I know Maragarn well." Eswarth answered as he craned his neck. "He is most typically found at the Fertility Circle, especially so early in the night." He said. There was not enough of Kossuth's light remaining in the sky for one to see clearly across the Grove to where Eswarth believed the Fertility Circle to be. However, the fires had been lit and they cast sufficient illumination for the sharp-eyed Slayer to discern many of the participants.

"I do not see Maragarn there, though he may be...blocked from my view. Fear not though: he will be here. He has not missed a Festival in all the years that I've known him."
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Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2013, 09:57:35 PM »
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he was busy in the circle. He always was to sort to partake in the fertility ‘dance’” Ashe stated guessing that Eswarth knew well the reputation that Satyrs had. A smirk crept across his face at thinking of the meaning and pleasure of such an event.

There was another natural pleasure that inspired the various folk across all parts: food! The cook fires were surrounded in a cloud of delightful aromas and made Ashe’s belly grumble with hunger. There were a variety of forest animals being roasted and all manner of forest gatherings from the multitude of plants available. Mahiyas bounty was truly magnificent! Gathered apart from the general feast were the signature profferings of food from each of the societies that came to the feast. It was a sign of binding community between them to share their culinary dishes and few were ever shy about trying new things.

Of course, no fey celebration would be complete without ales and wines. Apart from the cook fires was a ring of various barrels, skins, and jugs of beverages harboring Feywine to Pine Brandy to Acorn Bitters to Tinglewater and more. Ashe had no doubt that all of the vessels would be drained by morning. He silently wished he had brought some Dizzysap made from the Goldleaf Trees as it would no doubt be coveted by all that drank it.

“So my friend, where do you suggest we begin our feasting?” Ashe inquired. He suddenly realized that Eswarth may have dealings with others here and may be anxious to seek them out. “My apologies Good Eswarth. I presume too much. If you need to find others here it will not insult me if you choose to depart my company.”
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Offline Johan

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Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles
« Reply #17 on: September 13, 2013, 09:36:33 AM »
"I do in fact have certain people that I'm eager to see." Eswarth rumbled. "But it is typically for them to find me." His human-like torso pivoted towards Ashe and one eyebrow climbed his forehead. "I stand out a bit more in a crowd than they do."

"In the meantime, we eat, and meet!" he continued with a more assertive voice, which carried considerably through the noise of the Gnarcheon about the cook fires. "My fellow soldiers, we have a stranger in our midst! What might this brother, long a resident of Threshold, not have eaten of late, if ever?"

Eswarth certainly had a way of drawing attention. A multitude of voices rose at once in greeting, first of Eswarth and then of his companion.

"Eswarth!" Some voices called.
"Welcome, brothers!" Came from others.
"How is the Slaying of the dead, worthy Ghrunvedling?" Was heard among the calls, as was, "Who is this stranger in our midst? How came he to the Festival?"

All voices were raised nearly in unison; it was uncommon that the Brethren's Cant was heard in so many accents in so small a place and time.

One tiny voice was heard, not above the others, but in an opportune moment between the others: "He is no stranger!" The little voice called out with a lilt of joy and a note of laughter. "He is my guest here, for I invited him!"

From under the belly of a great mastiff came Shankaria, ducking only slightly to get under the huge beast. She stood her full height and smiled up at Eswarth and Ashe. "I'm so glad to see you, Eswarth, and thank you so much for guiding my new friend here!"

Eswarth bowed low...VERY low...to touch foreheads with Shankaria in greeting. Shankaria, for her part, grabbed hold of Eswarth's thick neck so as to ride up to the centaur's height when Eswarth rose again.

He took gentle hold of her affectionately, as a parent holds a toddler. "It is good to see you, little sister." He said. "Though I was already on my leisurely way here when your rabbit sent me in the wrong direction...I've only just arrived, and only by great effort." He playfully admonished Shankaria. "Nerlander is behind me by a day or so. He took down an elk last night, after two days and nights of constant running. I'm sure that he's full now, but he'll be delayed."

He then lifted his voice again, saying, "And in answer to your question, Bal-Jhor, only this week Nerlander and I destroyed a necromancer and his small army of dead up in the Ghoul Swamp! The Slaying continues unabated, to be sure!"

This loud announcement was met with an all-around cheer. The killing of undead was always worthy of celebration; the killing of those who created undead even more so.

"Ah!" Called a deep, gravelly voice back to Eswarth. "Then ye've earned this pitcher!" A goliath rose up from his seated position near the barrels. He was chest-and-head taller than any other Gnarcheon present, excepting Eswarth, who was a head again taller than Bal-Jhor. The goliath held high a sizable pitcher to Eswarth, and Eswarth smiled: not broad, but genuine. The throng had quieted for a moment and Eswarth grabbed a deer leg from one of the tables there.

"Ah, yes, Bal-Jhor." He said gratefully. "You know what thirsty work is the Slaying of the Dead, eh?" He lowered Shankaria to the ground and moved towards Bal-Jhor amidst a new wave of laughter. The Gnarcheon moved aside for Eswarth and the two great Gnarcheon met in a thunderous embrace.

Shankaria had a tear of joy on her cheek as she watched the two Gnarcheon reunite. "It's good to see the boys together again." She said to Ashe.
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Offline Wildfire

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Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles
« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2013, 08:23:19 PM »
Ashe knew well the joy of seeing kin reunite. He had others in his life that were, to him, as brothers and sisters and yet others that were actually his children. It was a joy and comfort that only family (blood related or not) could know. Though it was obvious that Eswarth and Bal-Jhor were not blood related nor even of the same race they respected each other as true brothers.

Ashe looked down to see Shankaria’s blissful smile stretched across her little face. She was exactly where she wanted to be, he thought. Despite the turbulence surrounding his life, Ashe was where he needed to be. The moment was a living metaphor and a Vallenwood whisper of wisdom in it’s ancient prose. It spoke that even in a raging ocean of chaos there are islands of joy and serenity to be found. There is no map to find them and very often when you seek them they are then most elusive. Oh, the moments do creep upon you! If you let them they shall cradle you when you need them the most.

As soon as Ashe sensed a new presence he heard a melodic and flowing voice in an accent he’d not heard in decades. “And what of the sisters my sister?”

Ashe turned to see a creature similar to Eswarth but much shorter. Rather than a body comparable (for centaurs loathed being called half horse or man horse) to a horse it was not unlike a deer. She was a hybsil. Ashe knew well of the struggle her kind endured. The Wasteland of Archea consumed the dense forest that they had long ago claimed as their homeland. He always admired their tenacity at trying to reclaim their legacy.

In his bold examination of the new arrival it struck Ashe as being out of place that this female hybsil would have antlers. Then again, he thought, they weren’t half deer they were hybsils! As such they didn’t grow like deer nor were they bound by the gender distinction of antlers. Gender distinction came in other, rather obvious, ways.

Cailyder giggled at Ashe’s intrigued expression and she continued, “Will it be good to see your sisters again my love?” she asked as she analyzed the aged (and still remarkably handsome) human before her.
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Offline Johan

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« Reply #19 on: September 24, 2013, 01:09:29 PM »
Eswarth and Bal-Jhor began to play one of their traditional strength-testing games to the roaring laughter of the collected Gnarcheon. In this game, they each tried to wrest the first drink from the pitcher of ale, but not spill any on the ground.

This one started with Eswarth offering the deer leg to Bal-Jhor, using the gift as a ruse to immediately gain the upper hand. Bal-Jhor only smiled at the gift and refused to release the pitcher. Eswarth grinned a slight, knowing grin and dropped the leg to the side.

The huge hands of each combatant gripped the ewer tightly and tried to bring it to their own lips - it was not allowed to bring one's lips to the drink initially - while trying to ensure that the other did not succeed in the same.

Eswarth's legs spread wide as he twisted his great trunk to try to place his elbow between Bal-Jhor's face and the drink, which threatened to spill continuously. Bal-Jhor, for his part worked his great sinews with surprising effectiveness against Eswarth's greater size and stability; the goliath planted his shoulder into Eswarth's chest and twisting, worked his head in between the ale and Eswarth's mouth. Now the game became one where Eswarth worked the pitcher away, preventing it's spilling while Bal-Jhor strained to pull it closer for a drink. Eswarth lifted the pitcher, but Bal-Jhor held tight and was summarily lifted off his feet, which he purposely entangled in Eswarth's legs to regain some leverage against his Chosen Brother.

Those watching began to place quick wagers on the outcome of this honored contest, which most all of them had witnessed numerous times before.

Cailyder's soothing voice brought Shankaria's attention away from the struggling titans and she turned happily to the hybsil. "Cailyder!" She cried and rushed in for a hug of her own. "I'm sure you can imagine how glad I am to see you!" She greeted her sister. The little Torqaniq's feet danced while the two embraced. "It's so lovely to see your beauty once again!"

Ashe was perhaps the only other Soldier present to hear the whispered question that Shankaria put to Cailyder: "Did you get my rabbit?" She asked with quiet intensity.
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Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #20 on: September 27, 2013, 08:51:56 PM »
Cailyder murmured back to the venerable druid, “I did. I was quite pleased to see your little messenger.” She stood upright from the cozy hug (for while Cailyder was no match for Eswarth’s height, Shankaria was shorter still) and smiled. Speaking at a near whisper she continued, “It pleased me well to pick the berries. It offered my fronds hope that our woods, our home, is not beyond a verdant salvation.” Ashe could sense and feel a tired desperation laced with unwavering faith in the hybsil. The years of conflict and relentless loss to the ever growing Wasteland would have been more than many could endure. Yet it seemed, to Ashe, that Cailyder would maintain her composure and grace if only to offer her kin the strength of her own belief.

Ashe’s awareness came around from his cursory psionic analysis of Cailyder upon hearing shouts and cheering from the circle of eager witnesses to the test that Eswarth and Bal-Jhor continued to press each other with. Again the gentle voice bewitched him.

“And who is our human friend that honors us with his…illumination?” Cailyder asked with a charming almost flirting manner. Her pleasant demeanor was counter to the pair of notched sickles, well worn patched leather armor, and ivy covered longbow. It was the bow that caught Ashe’s attention. The ivy wasn’t just covering the bow but was actually growing from the bow! He wondered what that was about and secretly wished to see it in action. He suspected that not only was it a gift from Mahiya but that it aided her greatly in her conquest to keep the Wasteland at bay. Ashe wisely calculated that Cailyder was not one to get into a rough and tumble with.
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Offline Johan

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« Reply #21 on: September 30, 2013, 09:26:59 AM »
A great cheer announced that the first game of strength was over: Eswarth had succeed in lifting the pitcher - and Bal-Jhor - high overhead and tipping it for a drink. But Bal-Jhor, with surprising agility for one so large, grabbed Eswarth's forearms and lifted himself in between Eswarth and the ale, deftly intercepting the ale before it got to Eswarth's mouth. It didn't all get into Bal-Jhor's mouth, but some did, and that was enough.

Eswarth emptied the contents of the pitcher on his Chosen Brother, then dropped the pitcher so that it bounced off of Bal-Jhor's head. Bal-Jhor only laughed...he had won this year. The goliath loosed Eswarth's forearms and dropped to the ground, triumphant.

"Another pitcher for my worthy adversary!" Bal-Jhor called. One was already being presented to the centaur, along with the deer leg he had discarded at the start of the contest. Now was time for feasting, and the two Soldiers fell to it while the other gnarcheon who had gambled upon the outcome of the match argued in friendly fashion: some said the bet was off, because Bal-Jhor didn't win by strength, but by guile. Other said Bal-Jhor got the drink first, and that was what the contest was about. Ultimately, there was nothing riding on any of the bets, though, so it was nothing so much as a spirited conversation between the various Soldiers. A conversation to which the two main foci paid no attention whatever...they only ate and drank now.

"Ach!" Exclaimed Shankaria chuckling at the end of the game that Eswarth and Bal-Jhor played. "It's never a win by strength with those two. It's usually guile that decides the winner, and Bal-Jhor has the advantage of vitality this year...poor Eswarth is too spent from his journey here." She turned a wink towards Cailyder. "My rabbit sent him the wrong way a little too late." She said to her sister. "Nerlander even had to take a break and may not be here until the After Meeting."

"We all do what we must for Mahiya." Cailyder observed.

"Ah-norya" Shankaria agreed. The little gnome then turned a somewhat more serious face upon Ashe. Adopting her northwoods language suddenly, she said, "Don' stand there like a statue, Brother." She playfully admonished Ashe. "M' dairnick asked who ye be!" She reached up with her ancient staff and gave Ashe a light rap on the forearm for emphasis.

How comfortable she had become with Ashe in so little time...
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Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #22 on: October 09, 2013, 07:33:28 PM »
Cailyder playfully blushed at Ashe’s enchantment of her. So busy was she defending her home that there was little time for any social life or even family life. She took it as a compliment that despite her subtle scars and wear that her natural beauty was still captivating. Her many lessons in the ways of Mahiya taught her that there is beauty in everything even if it’s outward look did not show it. Still, the doe in her- that primal instinct that was just Cailyder and nothing more- loved the attention that she could garnish on her looks. It allowed her to be away from her daily battles and think of herself.

Ashe was completely taken in by the hybsils exquisiteness. It was a silly thing part of him thought. Cailyder was no more or less enchanting than Whisper. Maybe it was the scene about them or the natural energy the grove had. Maybe it was the various wines and spirits that were in his head. He didn’t know and didn’t much care either! That is, until a wee voice, or what he perceived as a wee voice, echoed beyond and he felt a tapping on his arm.

“Oh! I…ah…Me? Yes, my name is Ashe Clearwater.” he stammered. He took a great bow then offered his hand in greeting. “And your name is Cailyder. I am honored to finally meet you. My father knew your kin well many years ago and I’m saddened that I’ve not met you until this day.”

Cailyder took his hand and rather than shaking it in a typical human fashion for a greeting kissed the palm of his hand. “That is how my clan greets. For us it honors the work the other does in the clan. Your father was in many ways a father to all of us. We owe him a great debt. The thought that we owed him anything would be an insult to him.”

He felt the tradition of shaking hands quite inferior at that moment. The shaking of hands, as Ashe came to know it, was rooted in showing the other that you had no weapons or tricks literally up your sleeve. A display of  trust born of distrust. Honoring the work of another seemed a far more friendly acknowledgment…at least among those familiar with each other. He wasn’t sure how a greeting such as that would pass in the larger cities especially when knowing what one has up their sleeve is a good thing in a place filled with deceit.

Cailyder turned to Shankaria, who she suspected enjoyed the whole exchange that occurred, and asked, “Have any of the other Grenvardaien* arrived aside from yourself and Eswarth, Shankaria?”
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Offline Johan

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« Reply #23 on: October 09, 2013, 09:04:48 PM »
"Mirriam is singing at Akadi's fire." Shankaria answered. "But I haven't seen either Varshya or Maragarn yet." The little Torqanic answered. Cailyder could see that Shankaria was concerned a bit in connection with her answer; the beautiful hybsil gently prodded the little dale gnome with a raise of an elegant eyebrow.

Shankaria shifted slightly at the unspoken question, and shook her head slightly. "I don't know." She said, somewhat dejectedly. "But Kaltya said that something is wrong...in Margaran's forest." She looked up sadly at her sister. "And Margaran is never late." She finished.

A big sigh shook Shankaria's slight frame. "Ach, well." She said. "He'll be a' th' After Meetin' ta be sure. We'll jus' haf ta wait 'till then ta see wha's goin' on down theah."
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Offline Dray

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« Reply #24 on: October 18, 2013, 01:00:37 PM »
/thoroughly enjoyed to this point. Thank you!

Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #25 on: October 18, 2013, 01:39:33 PM »
Glad you like it! I also recommend Darkening Shawdows as it's a tale of intrigue, decepetion, and routing out villany in the underworld of Kurr...Laren style.
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Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #26 on: October 18, 2013, 02:40:01 PM »
Dread washed over Ashe. Maragarn’s forest was near Threshold. It was also a surprise to him that Maragarn was guardian of a Vallenbrush. In all the conversations he’d had with the jovial satyr never once did he mention it. Of course if he had his ability to guard it would be in question.

This revelation concerned Ashe a great deal. He had seen the ash rings with Maccabeus and Kym not too long ago. If the minions of Zyxu had discovered the Vallenbrush it could well devastate it, possibly beyond redemption if it was still alive.

Ashe wondered to himself if he should send Istian to see the satyr tribe and offer any protection. The great bear was guarding the dryad Whisper and the Goldleaf Grove from any further harm. If he did send his companion it would leave the dryad vulnerable. He couldn’t risk it. The Vallenbrush was sacred but so too were the Goldleaf Trees. The Goldleaf trees were also sick with a pestilence that only a Vallenwood could cure- a mission that Maccabeus and others had embraced. He wondered how Maccabeus, Wolf, Bastion, Hafaveral, and Dale fared on their quest. He hoped their journey was peaceful and saw no harm. Then he realized that their quest would take them past where Maragarn’s tribe is…or was.

In his distress, Ashe hands wanted to begin their jerky dance. He successfully stifled the shakes and ticks of his hand- a residual affect from his days as a seer, one that would never go away. He cursed the evaporation of his pleasant mood from his fascination of Cailyder.

“Shankaria? Maccabeus may be in danger.” He said with notable anxiety. “It’s too early to tell based on our information but not too long ago it was discovered that there was an ash ring not too far from Threshold [Wildfire’s Note: See Wolves on the Hunt Page 6 http://griznuq.com/index.php?topic=6853.50]. It could well be that the source of the trouble for Maragarn is the creators of that ring…and the defilement of the Ring of Mists before it was saved. They are currently in that area of Maragarn’s kin.”

Cailyder’s eyes closed and she whispered a prayer to Mahiya “Blessed Mother-Father, may your everlasting life and wisdom protect our brother and child. May your earth offer strength, your waters healing, your wind clarity, and your fire comfort.” Cailyder knew only too well that if Ashe’s fears were fact then Maragarn would need a sister such as her. No one else would understand his anguish in the same way.

Ashe nodded to Cailyder, “Shankaria, it’s rare that I want to be so wrong as I do now.”
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Offline Johan

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« Reply #27 on: October 18, 2013, 03:50:40 PM »
Shankaria deflated a bit as Ashe spoke; she added her own reverence to Cailyder’s prayer, and after the hybsil finished she scanned the Gnarcheon in the grove. As if sensing her discomfort, a long-eared rabbit hopped over to her and pushed her forehead into Shankaria’s knee.

The little Trqanic knelt and whispered in the rabbit’s ear and the rabbit then hopped away dutifully. Wistfully, she watched the rabbit go and said, they’ll find Maragarn…if he’s here.” She then looked up at Cailyder again. “When they find him, he’ll need you.” She knew that Cailyder already knew that, of course.

“Stands to reason that the only real threat to Maragarn or his brush would be the Ash Lords.” She said ruefully. Then, slipping back into her northwoods brogue she added, “Bu’ le’s na get ‘head o’ us. Th’ rascal’s bin in danger since he wuz whelped…on’y, he dinnae know it back then. Now he knows it…he’ll ha’ it Her way.” She reiterated her assertion that Ashe had heard the week before when they both visited her Vallenbrush. Her conviction was undeniable, though she was certainly no prophet.

“Cailyder, dear,” she said, adopting once again the ancient cant. “See to it that Eswarth is off to Grumbar’s fire, and send Bal-Jhor to find Varshya so that she’ll attend Istisha’s fire, and when she’s settled in he’ll call the meeting to order. You have Kossuth’s fire.” She wasn’t having a pleasant conversation now, she was now Shankaria, Druid of the Deep Secrets, and in the North Woods, she was Torqanic as well. It was time now for leadership at the Grove of Needles, and the Gnarcheon present – Chankathur or not – would follow.

Cailyder bounded off while Shankaria turned her attention to Ashe. “You and I, revered Brother, shall attend Mahiya’s fire and await Bal-Jhor’s drone.” She said, bidding Ashe to follow across the span of the Grove of Needles.

As they walked, she said to him, “Ah know ye’ll take no of’nse if I tell ye tha’ I hope yer wrong too.”
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Offline Wildfire

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« Reply #28 on: October 22, 2013, 08:56:15 PM »
Maragarn sat on a fallen tree outside of the Grove of Needles. He could hear the reverie but had absolutely no desire to participate-an unusual thing for his usual celebratory manner. He was content to stay beyond with his falcon companion Akaria- which in the Druid tongue meant Spiritwind.

The vibrant scent of the late Sythus forest that he would normally take deep joyous breaths of had no interest for him. He had also lost his appetite days before and had not eaten during his entire journey to the Grove. He was numb to life. It was an insurmountable feeling that overwhelmed him such that the full emptiness he felt consumed his every thought. Every part of him hurt and his soul ached. It felt as though the feeling would never diminish no matter how much time passed. He closed his eyes and took a necessary breath.

He heard a whispering rustle of the brush to his left. He hoped it was Mahiya come to claim him. Rather it was a rabbit that seemed to have a particular intent. It came right to him and gently crawled upon his wooly goat-like leg. It looked at him expectantly with it’s long ears perked up and it’s whiskers twitching. Maragarn of course could not ignore the rabbit and shooing it away was unthinkable. Still, his demeanor was not in such a way that he wanted to entertain the purpose of this rabbit’s visit. Akaria made no motion to predate on the vulnerable rabbit and that certainly was remarkable.

Unexpectedly the rabbit squeaked and thumped it’s foot on Maragarn leg. It’s ears flattened out and it squeaked even more. It jumped from Maragarn and ran in a circle then stopped in the middle and stood on it’s hind feet, looking at him with whiskers still twitching.

“Akaria, I do believe that Shankaria is requesting our presence. Though I wish to be alone…” the falcon cried out in protest, “…with you…” he continued with a slight smile “…we have our obligations. The others must know regardless of how they’ll feel.” Reluctantly Maragarn stood and followed the rabbit to the festival leaving his fallen tree behind.

____________________________________________________

Cailyder had little trouble finding Bal-Jhor and Eswarth. They were surrounded by a crowd of cheering onlookers at yet another test of strength. In this challenge they stood side by side facing opposite directions with their hands locked. Each was trying to force the others arm back past the half down position. Eswarth had clear advantage of height in this contest though Bal-Jhor was never one to submit so easily.

With a firm but inoffensive hand Cailyder parted the crowd and entered the contest circle with a musing look on her face that was shadowed with seriousness. Bal-Jhor glanced over to see who had come so close the arm wrestling behemoths and that’s when Eswarth made his finishing maneuver to pin Bal-Jhor.

“Aye Cailyder you cost me victory over noble Eswarth here! Ha-ha! Good match my brother.” He said slapping the centaur on the arm that beat him. Such a slap would have sent a human or even half-orc sprawling, but to Eswarth, from his chosen brother, it was only enough to make the centaur reposition a rear leg. “What brings you to the circle my sister? Do you wish to try to win over Eswarth in a match?” the goliath asked her.

“Me? I would never challenge Eswarth for fear of embarrassing my brother in what would surely be a humiliating defeat for him.” She teased playfully and winked at Eswarth who smiled slightly with the knowledge that in the manner of some combat skills she would indeed humiliate him. It was widely known that few could best Cailyder with a bow. In other tests, though, he would do no less to her.

"I thank you for your kindness, dear one." Eswarth said formally, inclining his shaggy head to his little cousin. She inclined her graceful head in kind.

“Shankaria bids you to Grumbar’s Fire so that we may begin the reverie and the joining of the five." She said to the centaur, then turned to the goliath. "Bal-Jhor, Shankaria asks that you find Varshya so that she can conduct Istisha’s fire. After we're ready, you are to begin the Drone.” Bal-Jhor placed both palms on his chest and bowed to Cailyder, accepting his charge happily.

Looking out to the crowd Cailyder then spoke in a forceful voice, “the rest of you, gather around for the Grove of Needles meeting of Gnarcheon!”

As soon as she finished calling them to order Cailyder immediately scampered off to find Maragarn. She looked to the groves edge and called for her two faithful partners, Grubar - her boar - and Koth - her wolverine. She dispatched them to search the perimeter to find her friend and brother.

Far to her right in the glow of one of the cook fires she saw a rabbit scurry out from the underbrush into the clearing. She immediately ran in that direction. Just after the rabbit emerged so did Maragarn who instantly spotted Cailyder. They stopped just before embracing and looked at each other. They looked to each others eyes both with tears welling up. All he could do was close his and lower his head.
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Offline Johan

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« Reply #29 on: October 28, 2013, 10:25:12 AM »
This year was Da’khaire’s third visit to the festival at the Grove of Needles. The first, when Inh introduced him to his new brethren, was indelibly printed on his mind and yet was also nearly void of specific memory for him. There were so many sights, sounds, animals, and people that the entire meeting was nothing more than a jumbled set of individual visions. In his second visit he had spent just about the entire night at the Veneration of the Life Cycle, “meeting” sister after sister. His young mind was riveted to that particular fire, and he had spent much of his journey here looking forward to paying his homage to the Cycle again.

This was the first year that he had made the journey alone; he hadn’t seen Inh since before Sythus had laid her blanket of snow upon the wildlands and so he had no choice but to try to feel his way to the Grove. As he was a young Gnarcheon, he had not yet learned the deeper mysteries of Mahiya and so could not call upon any animal forms to help him navigate the thick forest that for tens – perhaps scores – of leagues surrounded the Grove of Needles. But as he made the trek, accompanied by Gray Cloud, his lynx friend,  it had seemed that Mahiya herself had guided their step, and the trees opened for them a path to the Grove. Not an easy path, but a path nonetheless. Vine bridgeways had spanned the deeper chasms for them to cross; the shallower ones they were forced to climb first down and then up. Clean water had appeared when they needed it, but the journey was arduous, continuous up and down through dense forest until at last, almost too late, they arrived safely at the Grove of Needles, to the scene of two enormous hulks arm wrestling in the midst of a throng of Gnarcheon.

Da’khaire felt that his mind and eyes must been playing tricks on him. The smaller contender stood half again as tall as Da’khaire did: he was a massive mountain of a brother whose skin was blotchy patches of light and dark gray. Indeed, he looked very much like a larger-than-life statue.

The other contender, however, was so big as to cause Da’khaire to blink in disbelief. He was an enormous black-maned centaur that stood another head above his opponent. If the horse portions of this centaur were an actual horse, Da’khaire would have been unable to easily mount the beast as it would have stood at the shoulder taller than Da’khaire himself was.

If the human portion of the centaur were an actual human, he would be the largest human that Da’khaire might ever encounter. Even among Da’khaire’s wildlander tribes, there were none that would be so large or intimidating a specimen as either of these two.

As Da’khaire watched this contest that neither participant seemed likely to win, a small lovely woman entered the circle. Through the crowd it looked to Da’khaire that she must have been riding a small, thin horse, but he could not see clearly.

What he could see, however, was that the smaller of the two contestants recognized in this lady the beauty that Da’khaire himself could, even from this distance through the fire-lit night. In a moment of distraction the centaur forced his opponent’s hand back; he apparently won the contest.

The woman rode closer to the two giants and they held what appeared to Da’khaire to be a familiar conversation, the two towering wrestlers regarding the diminutive sister with great respect. The woman struck Da’khaire as the embodiment of all that was feminine: beautiful and elegant, perfect of form and confident. He guessed that she must have been a very small human, or perhaps a halfling mounted upon a pony of some sort. He wondered whether she would be paying any homage to the Cycle this year.

While he let his thoughts wander on that possibility, she rather abruptly turned from the two giants and addressed the crowd of on-lookers, saying, “The rest of you, gather around for the Grove of Needles meeting of Gnarcheon!” She then bounded off northward and only then did Da’khaire realize that this sister was in fact an hybsil – much like a centaur, but having hind quarters like those of a deer. He watched her in fascination as she hurried off, seemingly with a purpose.

Da’khaire’s mind seemed to stop, wrestling with these realizations much as the two giants had wrestled with each other.

“Get along, youngling.” A gravelly voice awoke him from his reverie. “You’ve been called to order.” The centaur was speaking to him in a deep, rumbling voice. Da’khaire looked up into the centaur’s dark, menacing eyes while the centaur in turn scowled at Da’khaire. Gray Cloud hunched low and began to slink away, more aware than Da’khaire of the correct response.

Apparently the two wrestlers had come to where Da’khaire was standing dumbly; they had come in order to reclaim their gear: a huge great-sword and a tree-like bow for the centaur, and a sizeable satchel for the other, along with an ancient staff seemingly made from a species of ironwood for the other.

When Da’kahaire did not move, but only started at the two, the centaur spoke more harshly. “Get moving and join the others.” He commanded, slinging his great-sword into place along his horse quarters. This was not a brother that Da’khaire would like to irritate; the young druid stammered a few inarticulate sounds as he bowed low and moved to disappear into the crowd of gnarcheon who were moving as a body. Da’khaire didn’t particularly care where they were going; the crowd no doubt knew where to be right then, and he was pretty hopeful of becoming just a face in the crowd at that moment.

Behind him, he heard a different deep voice saying, “You oughtn’t treat the children so roughly, brother.” This was only responded to by a snort from the centaur. The other voice rejoined, “I’ll head off to Istisha’s fire in search of Varshya. We’ll enjoy more of the food later, eh?” This time, the snort that returned sounded almost in an affirmative, but Da’khaire was hopefully out of the view of the two. He melted as much as he could in amidst the other brothers and sisters; he would have liked just then to speak to Inh, if only for some direction. But in times like this, the thing to do was to be a fish, and swim with the current.
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