Chapter 2: Words and Actions
Farther into the forest Khoravan and Talia traveled with Orwin in tow. Along the way the party met others heading in the same direction, traveling towards the Nemeton, or ‘Sacred Grove.’ Here was where the druids met in council to determine matters, great and small, concerning the woodlands and all who dwell within. At times it was a private matter, dealt with by the “sacerdotal”, the organization of the various classes of druids that perform the everyday tasks of counselling and governing the routines within the druidic world. When such matters deal with the forest rangers and those people who live in the forest and woodlands, then the grove becomes crowded with those seeking answers.
As the trio worked their way through a press of bodies leading into the Nemeton, it was dawning on them that something, indeed, was of great urgency to attract such a mass of people. Those they passed were muttering excitedly about having heard of invasion, the Helzig rampaging across the Empire, even a breathless exclamation that the capital had fallen.
It became apparent that the threesome couldn’t push on any farther and began casting about for some other means of reaching the council. The younger man tapped Khoravan on the shoulder, then pointed to a rope ladder hanging from a tree close by. The old druid nodded, pleased with his former pupil’s alertness. Soon the two humans and Leorin ranger had clambered up to a wooden platform fitted to the stout trunk of the tree; a platform that was dangerously overcrowded.
On the ground below, a great crescent shape that surrounded The Great Oak was filled to overflowing with people of all sorts: Druids, rangers, farmers, and artificers, either human or Leorin. A variety of what makes a people a nation. And standing against the massive bole of a most ancient oak tree, stood the High Druid and his advisers. This elder of renown towered over all upon the root of the tree that served as his platform for addressing those gathered before him.
Tall and slender, his long hair and beard as white as his silver-trimmed gown, Duranth was unbowed by age. As his oaken staff was black from time this gentleman’s eyes still flashed a brilliant blue. And those eyes gazed out upon a crowd that number three times the normal gathering for the Nemeton. He merely raised his right hand and the murmuring died away.
“My friends!” His voice was deep and resonant. “This special gathering was called as a great catastrophe has fallen upon the Primean Empire.” He paused to let those words sink in, and watched expressions of confusion stamped on the faces of those below him flow into fear and awe. He continued. “The great capital has fallen to a vast horde of the Helzig!”
A deep current of words flowed through the gathering until Duranth raised his hand again, and once more a quietude settled over those before him.
“Our information is poor and filled with speculations and half-truths! All that we do know is that the Helzig have swarmed up the Frontier, overtaking the fortifications along their way, and have made an assault on the Omnipolis!”
Once more there was the general buzzing among the people, then someone up close shouted out, “Did not our diviners see this coming?”
A woman to Duranth’s right hand stepped forward. Not as tall as the High Druid, but the Master Diviner Sara spoke as loudly as he. “My people and I did not see this coming as there was some means of masking the Helzig’s approach. A means as powerful as the Matron on High’s capabilities, rendering our sights blind!”
“You’re saying they may have a goddess as powerful as the Matron?” This question was called out by a woman who stood beneath the platform upon which Khoravan, Talia and Orwin stood.
Sara shook her white head. “All I’m saying is that the Helzig have somehow acquired the means to cover their passing up from Helmont.”
“Then, what are we to do?” was called out and quickly taken up by nearly every person in the assemblage. The High Druid and his people tried to calm the crowd down but were having no luck.
“What we first do is not lose our heads!” Those words thundered from on high until the packed Nemeton became deathly silent. All heads turned in the direction of that shout as every eye tried to discern the figure standing at the edge of the platform overhead. Even Duranth, Sara and the other members of the sacerdotal were duly silent at the moment.
“If the Helzig have stormed the Frontier, then their numbers must be so great that our Primean Knights were overwhelmed. Whatever means they have used, fair or foul, must be learned and used to our advantage, or we’ll have no hope of defeating them and driving these hellish women back to those far lands that spawned them.”
His gaze swept those gathered below; even the people that first occupied the platform had drawn back from his presence.
“The Matron on High and her knights have protected this empire from their cities and held a firm hand over the lands. As for us of the woodlands and forests, the druids and forest rangers looked after you people with that same firm hand, and the Matron had never questioned our resolve in keeping Her peace.” Khoravan’s flinty gray eyes seemed to fall upon each upturned face as the people continued to watch and listen. Then his voice soften somewhat, as a teacher would explain a point to a confused student.
“Now is not the time to give in to fear and run about as a chicken to the fox. We must take stock of our enemy’s intentions and their disposition. For those of us within the druidic order that travel extensively, as well as the forest rangers, we must reconnoiter the Helzig’s strength and concentration. They will have their Warmages and other conjurers within their ranks so we must be careful to avoid a direct confrontation.”
“And what of the rest of us?” It came from a woman on the platform beside him.
The old druid gave her a sidelong glance, as well as the briefest of smiles, before returning to those below.
“As for the rest of you,” he began, “there must be preparations made to travel, and quickly, to the sanctuaries of the deep forests and mountains.” Khoravan stopped and looked down at the High Druid, before placing his right hand over his heart and bowing his head in respect.
“Forgive me, Master, for usurping your position in these matters. I was only trying to calm those gathered here.”
Duranth merely smiled as he held up his free hand to the figure high before him. “You seem to be doing magnificently, Master Beekeeper! Pray, please continue!”
The other fellow returned the smile before addressing the crowd once more. “As I have said, we must prepare to leave when the word is given, but not before. Until such time as we have learned of the Helzig’s motives, and how and where they are heading, we remain at our crofts, villages and riverside dwellings, carrying on with our lives and duties as normally as possible, until such time as the situation warrants our making haste to safety from their bloody reach.”
So saying Khoravan glanced down at the upturned faces. People began to speak with their neighbors as the gathering seemed to be over and everyone slowly filed out of the clearing towards their respective homes. Only when the Nemeton was empty did the trio descend to the earthen floor and approached the oak tree upon which the High Druid and the sacerdotal were still present. Duranth and his company stepped down from their posts and met the others. Master Beekeeper and High Druid repeated the hand-over-heart gesture with a bowed head before gripping each other’s right forearm.
“You’ve helped in lancing this boil of contention within this meeting, Khoravan. For that we are grateful.”
Khoravan merely nodded but his face was grave. “Is it true that the Helzig have stormed the Frontier and taken the Omnipolis?” There was no need for a verbal answer as he judged the expressions before him. He looked to Sara. “And your people could not see this?”
The tanned face of the woman known as the Master Diviner fell further than it had been at the start of this meeting.
“Not a damn thing,” she muttered bitterly.
Khoravan gave a deep sigh. “Then we are in great trouble, for this is indeed evidence that someone of great power is masking their movements.” Shaking his shoulders, the old druid looked up at the others of the sacerdotal. This assemblage of druidic elders was looking like a band of lost children, and Khoravan felt deep within his guts that they didn’t know what the next move should be. But he knew that action was called for, and that he would have to make it, as he did to quell the fear running rampant through the Nemeton earlier.
“If I can make a suggestion, Great Elder, that we need to gather all the forest rangers and those druids that travel, as I had mentioned earlier, here and dispatch them to the areas with which they are familiar with. They would need to see the Helzig on the move, determine their strength, and what they are carrying as far as baggage and supplies are needed for this invasion.”
“And what of the people in the countryside that these hellish women have passed through in their onslaught?” The question was raised by a short plump woman of middle age. It took Khoravan a moment to remember her as being the Master Musician.
Nodding gravely the older druid replied, “Should time allow, and the Helzig are not about, then guide those left to safe passage with whatever they could carry. And taking whatever livestock that can be moved, should there be any left. As for the dead, give them a swift burial far from where they’ve be slain. I know it will show the Helzig that others are about, but they’ll be too busy destroying and pillage to contend with it.
“As for those Primean Knights still free, direct them to points of rendezvous where they can be carried for, before being sent to places where the forest rangers can take them in. And that is about as simple of action as I can foresee for now.”
Khoravan and his friends waited while those of the druidic council stepped aside for a quick session. The old druid turned to look about the crescent grounds of hard packed earth, comparing it now to what have minutes before was a sea of humans and Leorins pressed in to learn the truth of their kingdom. He felt a hand on his forearm and turned to look into a feline face with warm yellow-green eyes and a smile that offered comfort.
“Don’t worry, you old keeper of bees,” Talia said softly as she stepped closer to keep the conversation private,” things will go as the Tuatha a Duann foresee it.” Then she laid her head on his shoulder. Orwin turned away, feeling a bit uncomfortable about this display.
There came the loud clearing of a throat that attracted their attention. The Leorin’s head came up as she took a step away from Khoravan, the inside of her ears showing a bit of crimson. Duranth spared the ranger a glance, a ghost of a smile haunting his bearded lips for a moment as he directed his attention once more on his Master Beekeeper.
“Khoravan, the sacerdotal has come to the agreement that you will organize this ‘rescue’ of our people from this invasion, and learn what knowledge that can be gathered for us to discern the intentions of the Helzig in Prima.”
The words were softly spoken by this man at least twenty years older, and was once Khoravan’s own master while in training. But those words bore the weight of responsibility and trust that would not have been given so easily unless those within the council unanimously agreed that this personage was their sole choice to care them out.
With a sigh, Khoravan laid his right hand over his heart and bowed with a, “Your wishes will be seen through!”
To be continued . . .