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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 11

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Garflin Wolfrider


The sun had reach mid-sky before Garflin had even noticed it was day.  He sat under the oak holding Mistic’s head in his lap.  Rangers were skilled in the healing arts but nothing he had done had improved the wolf’s health.  The brownie would not leave her.  He could not leave her.


The wolf still breathed shallow panting breaths.  Her fur came out by the handful.  For the first few hours, Mistic would whine at the pain and at one point the ranger had almost found the courage to end her suffering.  The killing arm fell weak at the last moment before the dagger found its mark.


She did not feel the pain now.  Her mind was in a far away place where it could not touch her.  Garflin was glad for that.  He held her head to his face to stifle his own tears, kissing her lightly.  After she had gone, he would leave but not before.  The little ranger knew he owed the brave wolf that much.  She would not face death alone.


What ever this mage had done to her was beyond the ranger’s skills.  He had seen nothing like the spell in his life.  There was no humanity in making anyone suffer through days of pain to find the release of death.  Mistic had been too kind in her killing the mage.  Her suffering had made him rethink his plan for Pike.


Somewhere, something inside Mistic grasped for life and held on.  Even though Garflin knew it was wrong, he was happy that Mistic fought so hard.  He had no delusions that death would claim his prize but was thankful to have a little more time with his dearest friend.  He would wait as long as it took.  The Steel Tide would be busy regrouping and would not consider attack for days.


When they did attack, Garflin wondered if he would be rejoined with Mistic.  He had no doubt that he would find her in the spirit world.  The picture of her standing before him, whole and strong again made him almost welcome life’s end.  Brownies had no fear of death.  It was as natural as the rain.  When he found her he would scratch her behind her ears the way he had in life.  Together they would be happy again.


He sat back against the tree and stroked the wolf’s head.  It was the same tree they had passed on the way to the camp.  Even in the day, the top of the oak was beyond normal sight.  Garflin pondered on the age of the tree.  Judging by the size of the oak, the life of an elf would be but a moment in its existence.  For a moment, he wished he could be the tree.


On the other hand, Garflin thought, what kind of life could it be rooted in one place with no place to go but up.


Garflin was shaken as the wolf’s breathing stopped.  It paused for long moments and then resumed the short pants.  Relief washed over him.  He did not want to imagine how he was going to take Mistic’s passing.  It would be better not to think of that until he had to deal with it.


The day was warm and bright.  It was the kind of day that Mistic loved.  She would spend her days chasing rabbits and other small prey.  The wolf loved the hunt.  Sometimes Garflin would come with her just to marvel at the instincts that nature had given her.  What things he could do with her speed and grace.


His heart felt like iron in his chest at the memories of the hunts with Mistic.  Humans had taken everything he loved away from him.  They had destroyed the wood that he had called home and killed his father in the process.  His mother had come to take the druid ways soon after.  Garflin was expected to take the vows as well but proved to be too wild for the order.  He had found his calling with the green cloaks of the rangers before he was old enough to take his vows.


The druids found their strength in bonding with plants.  They learned to coax them to grow with little water and produce more food.  Many of them tended the gardens of kings to feed the masses.  While this maybe a noble cause, Garflin felt more at home with the animals and like most rangers, found his bond to one animal stronger than any other.


A wolf’s song had always spoken to his soul.  He could feel what they felt when they sang to the moon.  The first time he had held Mistic in his hands he sensed the connection between them.   His mother was none too pleased about it.


“She has made her choice,” the ranger told his mother after the wolf had begun to howl when she was taken away from Garflin, “and he has made his.”


Mistic had never left his side from that day and he had never left hers.  Their cycle would be broken today along with the bond they shared.  Mistic would pass into a place that Garflin could not follow.


Grief was replaced by fear when Garflin heard the sounds of armor rattling.  One voice carried above all others.  The recollection of his captivity flowed into his mind and he knew that voice.  Gregor Claymen.


The War Rider had lived and was well enough to march his force into the Great Wood.  To be this far into the wood, the Steel Tide must have marched through the night nonstop.  Come this time the next day, they would reach the druid camp and by the day after, the druids were sure to fall.


The druids had missed their window of opportunity to take out the human bridge.  That was the only thing that could have given them a fighting chance.  Garflin had failed them.

If he would have just put his dagger into the War Rider’s throat before he had left or even been more careful about his escape.  Garflin pushed the regrets from him mind.  There was no time for that now.  The Steel Tide was upon him and he had a hundred pound wolf to hide.


“Mistic,” he called, “you have to help me.  I can’t lift you by myself.”


The plea got no answer.  The wolf was beyond the fear of man.


Garflin struggled to carry her.  The wolf weighed three times what the little brownie did.  The hope of carrying her to safety quickly became a pipe dream.  Next, he tried to slide her but the shedding fur prevented him from getting a grip on the wolf.


As the ground began to tremble at the Tide’s approach, Garflin did the last thing that he could think of.  He did not know if it would work.  The brownie had never tried to phase into a tree with another.  The thought of the two of them getting trapped in the tree almost made the little ranger stay the move but it was the only thing he could do short of leaving Mistic.  He would rather die stuck in a tree than forsake his wolf.


He focused his energy and placed his back against the tree.  The wolf was heavy and it was all the ranger could do to slide her a few inches at a time.  With every pull he had to find a new grip.  The tree seemed to resist his bond, pushing him away.  He would not be denied.  Soon the tree’s will was lost and the huge oak absorbed the brownie with the wolf.


The inside of the tree was hollowed.  The brownie and wolf made it into the open area just before the magic wore thin.  The tree was big from the outside but looked ten times bigger from the inside.  The area was neatly decorated with beautifully made furniture accented with nature paintings on the wall.  A fine woven rug covered most of the floor and ran up the twisting staircase at the far end of the room.


There were no doors that Garflin could see. He was sure he saw none on the outside of the oak.  Still someone had taken up residence in the place and would need to get in and out somehow.  The stairs went up further than the brownies eyes could see.  If the exit were up there, the creature had to have wings.  Garflin thought of hundreds of creatures that had wings but none would fit into the picture of living in such a manicured home.


“I am so sorry to have kept you waiting,” a voice called to him from the far side of the room.


What Garflin had thought to be the end of the tree was nothing but a dividing wall.  The creature that was his host lurked just the other side.  He looked at the rug under his feet then to the delicate paintings on the walls and felt no need to pull his dagger.


“I have made tea and biscuits for us,” the voice called.  The sound of the voice was like music that even the greatest of bards could not copy.


Maybe it is a harpy, Garflin thought remembering tales of the songs they sang.  He tried to picture a harpy making tea and biscuits and that quickly ruled the possibility out.


“Come,” the voice beckoned, “Before it grows cold.”


Garflin debated the idea.  He could grab Mistic and phase out of the tree to face the Steel Tide.  Another look at the room told him he stood a better chance facing what ever was on the other side of the wall.


A smiling face met him.  The beauty of the face took him by surprise.  After running through his mind all the creatures that could have called this home, it was a good surprise.  Her long brown hair was bounded on the top of her head in a large bun.  This had been the style among the noble women of Karal as Garflin recalled.  Her eyes were a deep green matching the forest that surrounded them.  The blue dress she wore hung down to her ankles leaving none of her flesh to be seen.  The cloth of it appeared to be woven from tree bark though it had a soft look to it.


Stories of the elves had said that they could make a cloth from the bark of trees they called “Treeweave.”  It was said to be as strong as any steel and as light as cotton.  This art too had been lost with the race of elves.  Or maybe this was an elf.


“Garflin, your tea,” the woman said.


The recognition of his name shocked the little ranger.  He took his seat unable to force any words from his mouth.


“Now, now,” the woman scolded, “we mustn’t gawk.  It just isn’t polite.”


“How did you know my name,” he finally managed.


“I know all about you,” she answered, “after all, we are kindred.


“Kindred,” he repeated, “What are you.”


“It would be who dear,” she corrected, “we need to watch our manners.”


“Who are you,” he repeated after he saw she would not answer until he did.


“We are Neya.”


“We,” asked Garflin searching the room for more.


“Me, the tree and you,” came the answer.


“Me,” echoed Garflin.


“Oh, and I guess Mistic as well,” she added, “but doesn’t look like she will be with us much longer.”


“I do not understand what you are talking about,” Garflin stated.


“Calm yourself and drink your tea,” Neya told him, “It would be quite rude of you to leave it untouched.”


Garflin sipped on the tea.  It was strong with a light fruit taste.


“Are you an elf,” Garflin questioned.


“Oh, dear me, no,” Neya responded. “We are dryad.”


Garflin laughed.  She was toying with him.


“Dryad are fairytales like the Children of the Forest,” Garflin managed to say in between fits of laughter.


Neya’s picturesque face crinkled with anger.


“It is not proper to call someone a liar or a fairytale in her own home,” she snapped.


“And it is not nice to tease someone either,” Garflin shot back growing tired of the game.


“There are fewer and fewer brownies that walk the woods these days,” Neya began, “In time your own race will know the feeling of being a fairytale.”


Garflin remembered the tales of the Elvin heroes to the old gods.  No bard sang of these elves anymore.  Their deeds where passed along as children’s’ tales and would soon be forgotten all together.  The world did have a tendency to make truth turn to fantasy.


“And now that you know my words are true,” Neya said letting go of all her anger as if she had read the brownies thoughts, “we have to stop those humans from destroying our forest.”


“It all rides on the druids now,” Garflin said with defeat in his voice.


“Druids,” she snipped, “Druids and rangers, rangers and druids, you call yourselves.”


She stopped to refill Garflin’s teacup.


“They need to forget those names and realize they are the same,” Neya finished.


“What,” Garflin asked.


“You people are always coming up with more divisions of yourself and more names,” she explained, “The Great Circle, the Great Hall, the Great Wood, do you think the word great

in front of something actually makes it great?”


Garflin had no answer for her.


“If something is truly great, you could just call it the wood and its greatness will be felt,” she continued.


The idea was a simple one and made Garflin feel ashamed of his order. Somewhere along the line they had learned vanity.


Neya placed another biscuit on Garflin’s plate and smiled at him warmly as he said “Thank you”.  This dryad, if that was indeed what she was, liked good manners and apparently the height of fashion as well.


“Dryad can not leave their trees, right,” inquired Garflin.


“We may roam only a short distance from our bond tree,” she answered.


“How do you get the fashions for your hair and dresses,” he continued, “they look to be right out of some noble of Karal’s wardrobe.”


“Do you really thinks so,” Neya asked exited at the compliment. “The hawks in my branches fly to Karal and grant me sight to find the designs.”


She gave herself a spin to let Garflin see the full view of the dress.  It was exactly what he remembered the nobles wearing on his trip to Karal.  Less flesh had become the trend with the nobles ending the plunging necklines of old.  The dresses ran up to the neck and then had a collar to cover up to the chin.  Neya’s was even better made than any he had seen in the city.


“Oh, thank you,” she cooed as if she had heard his thoughts again, “I didn’t know if this one looked best in blue or yellow.”


With a wave of her hand, the material of the dress changed before his eyes to a light shade of yellow.


She is just as lovely in both colors, Garflin thought.


“Stop,” Neya said, “you are embarrassing me.”


“You can hear my thoughts?”


“They are my thoughts too,” she answered, “we are one.”


“I don’t hear yours,” he complained. “So how could we be one?”


“You bonded with the tree,” she explained, “The tree is me and I am the tree.”


Garflin grew quite trying to grasp the concept of how a tree, him, Neya and a dying wolf could all be the same.  The dryad did not give him the time to ponder the question.


“I will draw you a map and pack you some food for you trip,” she announced.


“What trip?”


“You will need to heal the link between the druid and the spirit,” she said with surprise, “Haven’t you been listening to me?”  She wagged a finger at him. “It is impolite not to pay attention.”





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