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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 16

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Garflin Wolfrider


The map was useless.  All it had done was get him lost in a place that was his home.  A ranger lost in the woods was not something that happened.  They knew the wood.  It was the rangers that had mapped the entire forest from one end to the other.  Somehow, this place had missed the survey.


In some areas the bush was so thick, the brownie had to lie down and wiggle through the crevices.  There were no paths or crossings to be found.  This was a place that had been untouched by even druid feet for centuries.  With the wood shrinking every year to the human farmers, it was a miracle that the oasis could exist.


Garflin could not believe he was doing this.  The dryad had sent him to find the children of the forest.  In other words, a fairytale had sent him to find another fairytale.  The chances of finding two races that were thought to be extinct in one day had to be slim.  But after being scolded again for his manners by Neya, the ranger had found himself wondering the woods.  Something made him trust her.


The ranger found his thoughts drifting to Mistic’s fate.  The wolf had looked so weak when he left.  His guilt was heavy on his mind, yet somehow in his heart, he knew she would not die in his leave.  She had regained enough strength to lick his hand before he left.  It wasn’t much improvement but more than he had hoped.


Maybe that is what had made Garflin trust Neya.  Ever since the wolf and the brownie had bonded with the tree, her condition had started to improve.  Neya took no credit for the phenomenon but Garflin was sure she was involved.  If the cost of Mistic’s life was a clueless wonder in the wood searching for a vanished race, it was a small price to pay.


Neya had decided that it would just not be civil to rush the brownie off into the wood at night, so she had let him rest the night.  Just before sunrise, the dryad had given him the worthless map, some food and a new green cape.  She made the cape to replace the tattered, torn and blood stained one he had been wearing.  The cloak was as beautiful as the dresses that Neya had made of the same cloth.  The cloth had indeed turned out to be Treeweave.


Wondering how much of the old wives tales about the cloth were true, Garflin tested it.  The cloth had resisted the blade of his dagger.  He had sawed at it unable to pull even one thread loose.  To the touch the cloth was soft and comfortable but when struck, it hardened like steel.  After many trial runs, Garflin had gained the courage to slam his dagger down onto the material.  The point of the weapon broke off with a snap.  His person under the cloak was untouched by the steel.  The brownie would remember to show his gratitude to the dryad upon his return.


The sun had just started to grace the morning sky when Garflin had set off.  Neya had pointed him in the right direction and bid him to follow the map from there.  The map was a crude drawing of different trees the dryad knew.  Maybe another dryad would be able to follow the map but not a brownie.  She had looked so pleased with the map that she had made for him, Garflin could not bring himself to tell her how worthless it really was.  No one could have given him a better one.  How could one draw a map to something that wasn’t there?


The children of the forest, Garflin thought, Stories for babies.



The children had lived before the elves.  That is if they had lived at all.  Nothing was said about them in any history book that the brownie had ever seen.  The only mention of them at all was in the storybooks recovered from the Elvin ruins that had become the city of Solaced.  The new druid order had sought out the last known city of the elves.  They had hoped to find the elves still living among the thick forest of the Great Wood.  No elves dead or alive were found in the city.  They had vanished leaving behind what looked to be all their worldly possessions.


The humans had of course, come up with their own deductions of what had happened to the elves of the city.  Their ideas were based on nothing but speculation.  The tales were then passed through their cities, changed to fit the needs of the storyteller and soon became truth to the minds of men.  Humans believed that if a tale could not be proven false, then it was true.


The druids rebuilt the city.  Keeping as best they could in the same fashion that the elves had so many years before.  They learned much from the books that had been left in the city.  Every druid in the order mastered the tongue of the elves.  King G’Leaze had even requested a teacher from Solaced to be sent to teach his daughters the old ways.  The druids were happy to oblige him and any who wanted to learn.


The langue was only a small part of what the new druid order sought to unlock from the elves history.  The magic that the old druids had possessed was said to be as great as nature itself.  But the amount of information was too great for anyone person to sift through.  So the druids divided into two groups.  Each side was to learn the ways of magic assigned to them and then teach it to the other group.  It sounded like a good plan.


The life of a human, a brownie or even a half-elf was infinitely shorter than that of a full-blooded elf.  An elf could have learned both sides of the magic before he was out of adolescence.  In the new order, most druids died long before they had mastered even one side of the magic.  The good idea of the new druids had in time, caused a split in the druid order.  And so the order of the rangers was born.


The old magic had never been recovered.  Only the ritual of the Great Circle was able to tap the full potential of the druid magic.  Even in the weakened state, the Great Circle enhanced the power of the druid and ranger magic to a level far beyond that of a mage.  How powerful the circle must have been in the hands of the old Elvin druids.


Garflin sat back against a tree in one of the few clear spots in this part of the wood.  He took out some of the lotus bread that Neya had packed for him and munched loudly on the treat.  She had packed him enough to last for weeks.  He hoped that wasn’t a sign.


Little of the summer breeze was able to make it through the tangle of brush here.  In the morning sun the temperature was rising fast making the little brownie dread the afternoon.  The night would also bring a discomfort that Garflin had not dealt with in years.  The wood grew cold at night even in summer and Mistic was not there to warm him.


“Is that lotus bread,” a voice asked.


Startled, Garflin turned toward the voice.  Sitting beside him was a woman not much bigger than him.  Her hair was cut short on the sides and the length of the top was spiked straight up.  The woman’s tiny green top barely covered her secrets. 


“Do you have a slice to spare,” she asked.


Garflin reached into his pouch and pulled out another slice of the bread.  The tiny woman took it in both hands.  She crunched the hard bread loudly giggling at the noise. Neya would have a fit if she had seen the woman’s table manners.  She gobbled up the bread quicker that Garflin could have dreamed for a girl her size.


“Well, are you going to charm me and take me back to your lair now,” asked Garflin only half kidding.  This was no girl.  The wood may have been new to the ranger but the nymphs were not.


“Oh aren’t you the cute one,” she teased, “Repeating those human tales like a trained bird.”


“Ah, so your kind just abducts humans.”


“Any human or otherwise that has run off with a nymph did it of their own free will,” she informed him.


“Funny,” Garflin commented, “I have heard of many running off with nymphs but never seen a nymph with a human by her side.”


“That is because they are so fragile in their human forms,” she explained, “Far too hard to take care of.”


“So, what do you do with them?”


“We find other forms for them,” she said.  “Forms like trees or wolves or bears.”


The thought of humans cutting down trees that was once men made Garflin laugh.  Just punishment for the likes of the humans that sought to destroy the wood.  Still, he had to be careful with this nymph.  They were all tricksters everyone.


“Names Pip,” she told him holding out her dirty hand.


Garflin took her hand cautiously.  It was a mystery to Garflin how a race so unkempt could be so lovely.  Imagining a human leaving his life and running off with this creature was not so farfetched.  Even without their charm spells the nymphs had an allure about them that was hard to resist.  The brownie was glad his race was immune to the charm spells of nymphs.  Living out the rest of his life as a bear was not a pleasant thought.


“I am Garflin Wolfrider,” he returned.


“Wolfrider,” she repeated, “You appear to be walking to me.”


“Long story,” Garflin assured her.


She smiled at him.  Her eyes locked into his.  He was immune to the charm spells given off by nymphs but that did not mean he could not feel their power.  Nymphs had no control over the spell.  Like them, the spell was wild and untamable.


“I am sure if you would give me another slice of your lotus bread,” she cooed, “I could stand your company long enough for you to tell the tale.”


“How about I give you two slices and we forget the tale,” he suggested.


“Agreed,” said Pip.


The nymph inhaled the two pieces of lotus bread like she hadn’t eaten in a week.  She licked a dirty finger and used it to get the last of the crumbs from her shirt.  Then she stared at him with her soft green eyes.  They sat wordless for minutes.  Garflin could feel the ripple of the nymph’s magic flowing over him in a continuous wave.


“Are you here because of the humans in the wood,” she asked innocently.


“In a way,” Garflin answered.  There was no way he was going to tell the nymph anything about his mission.  Even a friendly nymph was not to be trusted.


“You come to ask the spirit for help, right?”


“What spirit?”


“The children of course,” she said bluntly.


“You believe in the children of the forest?”


“Of course I do,” Pip snapped angrily.  “I see them all the time.”


In the tales he had heard of the children, they would only show themselves to one that had found a sanctity with nature.  Nymphs shunned civilization and each other.  When they weren’t playing tricks on the unsuspecting passerby, they were taking care of the forest.  After what Pip had told him, Garflin wondered how many of the trees and animals that they tended used to be men.


“Can you take me to them,” Garflin asked.  The words surprised the brownie.  Only a fool would ask a nymph to be his guide.


“You,” Pip laughed, “Only a true creature of nature may look upon the children and live.”


“It would be no great loss for you if I were to die,” reasoned Garflin.  “You would get all my lotus bread.”


Pip thought about the idea.  Her face labored in great thought under the tiny rays of sunlight that found their way to the forest floor.  Garflin could see that the green of her skin was a few shades lighter than the green of her spiked hair.  The sight made him think of Franco Greenbeard with his dark green beard.  The Steel Tide would be getting close to the camp if they had not lost their way.  He hoped the druids could hold them off till he could come help.


“I think I shall have the bread now,” Pip demanded, “If they feed you to the bears, I fear my reward will go with you.”


“It’s a deal,” the brownie agreed.


He dug the rest of the lotus bread out and gave it to the nymph.  Pip stuffed the whole of the first piece in her mouth and chewed with crumbs falling out.  Neya would be appalled.  Garflin just found it funny.


The ranger followed close behind the nymph into the knots of vines and brush.  At one point when the underbrush became impassable,  Pip walked up a nearby tree and then along a branch over the blockage upside down.  Once past the mess, she dropped lightly to the ground below.


“Guess, I don’t have to ask how you got the hair style,” Garflin told her while he twisted his way to her side of the bush.


“Style,” she asked confused by the term.


“It’s a noble lady thing,” Garflin tried to explain.


“Then I am sure I don’t have one,” she spat insulted to be compared to a civilized woman.


Attempting to explain the term further may have resulted in more anger, so, Garflin chose to let it go.  The two of them walked silently for hours.  The brushwood had dissipated enough for the two of them to walk freely on the ground but Pip still took the high road every now and again.


“Do you live in a …,” Pip asked having to pause to think of the name.


“Yes,” Garflin answered truly.  “It is in the city of Solaced, but I rarely stay there.”


“Is there many houses in a city,” she continued.


“Yes, some more than others,” Garflin told her.  “Solaced is one of the smallest.”


“Sometimes I wish nymphs would make a city,” she admitted, “I see so few of my own.”


Garflin understood the feeling.  Only three other brownies lived in Solaced.  The brownies still living in the forest, much like the nymphs, lived solitary lives avoiding all others.  When the brownies were all gone, there would be nothing left of their history or culture.  Neya’s words came to mind, “Someday your people will know what it is like to be fairytales too.”


“We would welcome you in Solaced,” Garflin told her.


Pip smiled and gave the brownie a little shove.


“Then I could get me one of those styles you were talking about,” she teased.


The nymph had eaten all of the lotus bread.  That much food would have fed Garflin for a week.  The brownie could hardly believe the girl was still able to eat some dried fruit when they stopped for a break.


“You eat like a hairfoot,” Garflin told her when she had accepted the fruit.


“I never get to eat these things,” she explained, “A girl grows tired of nuts and berries.”


Wildlife had grown abundant as they had gone further into the forest.  At every turn, there was some animal wanting the attention of the nymph.  Some had injuries but most just wanted a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the head.  It was the first time Garflin had truly seen the nymph for what they really were.  They were closer to nature than the druid or ranger had ever been.  The nymph gained no magic from her bond with nature, nor did they seek any.  They took care of the forest because they were a part of it.


When the wood became dark, Pip found them a nice spot under a tree to bed down.  The chill of the night was already settling in the forest.  The nymph feared fire so that option for warmth was out of the question.  Garflin hoped that the cloak that Neya had given him was as warm as it was tough.  The nymph and brownie curled up protected from the night air by the branches of the tree.  Garflin shared his cloak with Pip glad to have the extra body heat to ward off the cold.


The morning brought with it new troubles.  Garflin awoke just before the sun.  He shivered with the cold and reached to pull his cloak tighter around him.  The cloak was gone along with his pack and Pip.  The nymph had double-crossed him.  All he had left was his dagger with the broken tip, his bow with no arrows, and his useless map the nymph had apparently discarded.


Nymphs were tricksters.  How many times had he reminded himself of that fact?  Yet he had still followed her like a lamb to the slaughter.  And somehow he was still astonished not to find her when he woke up.  Apparently, Pip had not needed her charm spells on him.  His idiocy was enough.


Garflin sat against the tree that had been his bed, debating if he should turn back.  Out of habit, he glanced down at the map in his hands.  It was the same map that Neya had given him but it had been updated.  Pip had altered the map and made it clear.


The little voice inside him reminded him of the nymph ways.  That little voice had been ignored so many times in the last few weeks, the brownie hardly noticed it.  He studied the map closely to get his bearings before he sat out into the unknown.  The map had a path drawn from a dot, which Garflin had decide was his current position, to a small X just south of him.  With at least a little hope restored, the brownie set off to find whatever Pip had marked on the map.  He just hoped that she had understood that if he failed, the place she called home would be no more.





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