| Innisfree Poetry
| Enskyment Journal
Scams | Stars & Squadrons |
Song of Steel
One - Chapter 29
By W.R. Logan
Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan
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HE PULLED HIS CLOAK TIGHTER around himself. The
nip of the night air sliced through his damp clothing
and to his bones. A shiver ran the length of his body,
sending chills down his spine. He shook off the cold
and picked up his pace, wondering if he was going
the right way.
Garflin was able to find all the landmarks he followed
on the way in without the map. After the last
one, however, he guessed on which way to get back
to familiar surroundings. Pip didn’t alter the map to
show him the rest of the way out. The brownie assumed
if he kept heading south, he would eventually
find something he recognized. At least he hoped
It would all be clearer when the sun rose. A
brownie’s night-vision was not as good as an ork’s
or a half-elf’s, yet he could see enough to keep moving.
Occasionally he stumbled on a hidden obstacle,
slowing his travels, but his determination never
flagged. Garflin knew the Tide would be close to
Solaced by now, if they hadn’t already taken it. He
felt guilty for letting the dryad send him on such a
And for what? he thought. One arrow.
Garflin examined the item under the light of the
moon. The shaft was a gold color and made of a
substance he couldn’t identify. It seemed to have no
weight. The feathers at the end of the arrow appeared
to be even more golden than the shaft. As
best he could tell, they were naturally that shade. No
bird he could recall had feathers such as these. Even
as remarkable as the weapon looked, it was still just
an arrow. Not even a thousand of them could save
the druids from the Steel Tide.
He pushed on, racing the sun. Garflin wanted to
reach the tangle of brush by first light. The foliage
would hamper his progress significantly, and he
wanted to get through it as quick as possible.
If only brownies had the ability to walk up trees like
nymphs, Garflin wished, remembering Pip’s upsidedown
When the eastern sky began to turn a light red
from the rising sun, Garflin still hadn’t reached his
goal. The forest stretched out before him, unobstructed
by undergrowth. He wondered if he somehow
got turned around in the darkness.
I couldn’t have, he concluded. I kept the North Star
to my back the whole time.
The brownie looked back the way he had come
to confirm his beliefs. In the horizon were the peaks
of the Tarlack Mountains. The range appeared to be
only a few hours from where he stood, and directly
in the path he just traveled. The mountains weren’t
the biggest in the seven kingdoms, but big enough
to notice if he climbed them. Closer inspection of his
current surroundings confirmed the fact he was
back in the Great Wood, not far from Neya’s tree.
Dismissing the phenomenon as just good fortune,
he continued on his way happy to be back
home. The wind stirred, bringing the stench of the
stinkwater to his nose. Pip had drenched him in the
smelly stuff. Nymphs often used their ability to taint
water for their tricks. The odor would cling to him
What possible good could making foul-smelling water
be? Garflin thought as he covered his nose. The stink
made his stomach rumble in protest. He knew the
spell for making stinkwater was the reverse of the
one nymphs used to clean water. That one benefited
all who lived in the forest, but it seemed the race
made use of the reverse spell at every opportunity.
Garflin’s body screamed for rest. He could no
longer tell the difference between sleeping and
walking. Memories of Solaced came creeping on him
like a vivid dream. The end of the dream brought
scenes of burning buildings, dying druids and fallen
rangers. The nightmare was enough to wake him
from his walking-sleep. The cold morning air blew
against his face. This time he welcomed its chill.
The sound of running water in the distance
caught his attention. Cold water would refresh him
for the rest of his journey. The brownie made for the
sound. As soon as he reached the edge of the small
stream, Garflin fell to his knees and dunked his head
into the frigid water. Now fully awake, he noticed
the faint smell of smoldering wood that hung in the
He pulled his bow and drew his only arrow.
Slowly the ranger slithered toward the trickle of
black smoke. The flutter of wings and the caw of ravens
defending their claims broke the silence of the
morning. In a small clearing, Garflin found the cause
of the commotion. Bodies littered the ground around
a small hill, while the trees on top of it were charred
Most of the remains were so ravaged by birds
and other creatures of prey it was hard to distinguish
friend from foe. The brownie could tell from
the scattered pieces of steel armor, the druids and
rangers gave better than they got. It looked like they
set this trap far north of their camp, most likely to
draw the Steel Tide farther from Solaced. The tracks
left behind by the Tide signified the ploy as a failure.
The army left this place heading directly for the
With a new sense of urgency, Garflin headed
back to the stream. This has to be the same stream that
runs by Neya’s tree, Garflin concluded. He was still a
good hour from the oak even at a full run, but the
tracks of the Tide were still fresh. There was still a
chance for him to beat them to the camp. The possibility
would even be greater if Mistic were well
enough to travel.
Garflin noticed the slow circling of four hawks
in the southern sky. If these were Neya’s birds, then
the Tide would be right under them. This would put
them three hours from the camp, if they knew where
they were going. The druids took great care to hide
their camp, and none were better at hiding in the
wood than a druid. Even the city of Solaced was almost
impossible to find. A camouflage spell concealed
the whole city from any unfriendly eyes.
The Tide has taken great losses, Garflin thought.
We may have a chance to win this.
The thought sparked a hope in the ranger he believed
to be long dead. He ran along the water and
sometimes through it when the foliage grew too
tight to the edge. The noise didn’t concern him. The
only threat to his safety was too far south to detect
The ranger stopped for a minute to catch his
breath. His muscles burned, making him realize his
dependence on Mistic. He ignored the pain and
pushed his body into a full run again. His right foot
caught a slippery rock, sending him crashing into
the stream. He pulled himself back to his feet while
checking his gear. What few items the brownie still
possessed were all in place.
An arrow, a dagger with a broken tip and a bow, he
thought as he took inventory. Sad weapons against
Until that point, Garflin never thought about
what he was planning to do. He was on the wrong
side of the enemy. Which meant the whole Steel
Tide force lay between him and his rangers. If it
were night, he would have a shot at sneaking by
them. But in the daylight, there would be little probability
of escaping the notice of so many eyes.
No need worrying about that till I have to, he decided.
The ranger resolved to leave Mistic with Neya.
He didn’t want to put her in any more danger. Garflin
knew she wouldn’t agree with his decision, but
she would have no choice. The only way she could
get out of the tree was with his help, and the
brownie didn’t intend to give it to her. She would be
safe with the dryad. Making the decision to run off
to his death was one thing, but he wouldn’t take her
Neya’s oak was easily spotted. The tree towered
high above all the surrounding foliage. A small
brown hawk glided to rest on top of its higher
branches. Garflin knew the bird would be bringing
word of the Steel Tide, and probably of his return, to
His clothing had almost dried fully by the time
he reached the tree. The arctic air of the night had
been chased away by the dancing rays of sun. Little
of the heat actually made it to the forest floor; however,
it was still enough to raise the humidity to an
almost unbearable level. Parts of Garflin’s clothes
long dry from his fall now stuck to him from his
Movement from around the tree caused Garflin
to take cover. A woman stood underneath the oak,
filling a gash in the tree with something from a
bowl. She had long white hair hanging far below her
waist. A black dress that looked to be made of Treeweave
accented her perfect figure. The dress wasn’t
made in the same style as the ones Neya wore. It
dipped low in the front, opening a slit all the way to
the woman’s bellybutton. On her right arm she wore
a long glove matching her dress. It covered the arm
to her elbow. The other was bare, save for a golden
armband just below her shoulder.
He watched as the mysterious woman went
about her chore. Something about this woman
seemed familiar, something in her eyes. She filled
the cut, inspected her work and then phased into the
tree. Neya’s tree.
Has she recruited more dryads to fight? Garflin
thought. What good will they be? They can’t leave their
trees. He stopped and contemplated what he had
seen. Wait, if the stories are true, two dryads can’t occupy
the same tree, so that can’t be another dryad.
With his curiosity peaked, the ranger crept up to
the tree and bonded with it. This time the oak gave
no resistance to his magic. When he reached the hollow
middle, Garflin slid into the shadows to look for
the strange woman. Neither Neya nor the whitehaired
woman could be seen.
The ranger drew his bow and the golden arrow.
He walked slowly into the main room. There was no
one to be found. Then he crept into the small kitchen
area where he first met Neya. It was vacant as well.
He put the arrow and bow away.
She had to have gone up the stairs, Garflin concluded.
The soft echo of feet confirmed his thought.
“You’re back,” Neya chimed from somewhere
above. “I will be right down.”
“A woman is coming up the stairs,” Garflin
“Oh, she finished so quickly?” Neya said, showing
no surprise at the statement. “Such a fine
“You know her?”
“Of course,” Neya stated. “Did you see what
those humans did to our tree?”
Neya reached the bottom of the stairs. She was
dressed in a light yellow gown with red buttons. In
her left hand, she held a parasol matching her attire.
“They cut a slash right here.” She placed a hand under
her arm and rubbed a spot.
Garflin let his own hand mimic the dryad’s. He
found a new scar in the middle of his ribcage matching
the cut on the tree. I guess I am part of this tree.
“Humans!” exclaimed Neya. “There isn’t a
ruder race in all the world.”
“How far have the Steel Tide gotten?” Garflin
questioned. “Have they taken the druid camp?
“Except maybe brownies,” Neya added. Her
eyes locked on the arrow in Garflin’s belt. “Oh, you
have the arrow.”
“Yes,” he answered. For all the good it will do us.
“Don’t mock the children,” Neya scolded.
“It’s one arrow,” Garflin informed. “If they had
given me a few thousand of these and five hundred
archers to use them, then we may have had a
chance.” He was growing tired of the dryad’s ability
to read his thoughts.
“Trust in the spirit, Garflin. The spirit wants to
come back to us; we just have to accept it.”
The brownie wanted no part of this argument,
so he changed the subject. “Where is Mistic?”
“The wolf is no more,” Neya said coldly. “The
mage magic was so strong.”
A wave of grief took him. The ranger fell to his
knees, too weak to support himself. The water
rained from his eyes. Neya kept talking, but Garflin
was caught up in his sorrow and didn’t listen.
“Are you listening to me?” he heard Neya ask
when he was able to focus again.
“Where is she?” Garflin demanded. “Where is
“Body?” Neya questioned. “You weren’t listening.”
Garflin didn’t want to hear anything the dryad
had to say. It was because of her he left Mistic. The
brownie broke his promise because of Neya and her
foolish quest. He pushed by the dryad, determined
to search the whole tree if need be. As he rounded
the bottom of the stairs, he came face to face with the
mysterious woman from outside.
“Get out of my way,” he demanded.
The woman stood her ground. Garflin reached
out to push her aside and found her to be stronger
than she appeared. She placed both hands on his
chest, forcing him against the wall. He struggled to
reach the dagger in his belt as the woman lifted him
off the ground. When the motion stopped, the
weapon found its way into his palm, yet he made no
attempt to use it. Familiar yellow eyes stared at him.
She inched closer and licked his face.
“Mistic?” The woman set him back down, smiling
at the recognition.
“You weren’t listening,” Neya shouted. “See
what happens when you don’t pay attention?”
“How…why…” Garflin sputtered.
“I told you, the spell must have been some kind
of curse. Nasty sort of magic those mages have unearthed.”
“But why is she a human?”
“Don’t get snippy with me, I didn’t cast the
spell,” Neya reminded.
“I’m sorry,” Garflin apologized. “It’s just, she is
“Human?” Neya finished. Mistic’s expression
changed at the word. Her eyes lost their excitement
as she dropped her head to pout. “It’s okay dear, we
will get you all fixed up. I think the spell is already
“Show him your arm,” Neya told Mistic. Mistic
began to remove the glove.
“She understands us?”
“Yes, well as far as I can tell,” Neya answered.
“The only way I got her in clothes was to tell her
how pretty she would look for you. She seemed to
understand perfectly. Hasn’t spoken much though.”
Underneath the glove was a fur-covered hand
with long, savage looking claws. The hair ran thick
up to her elbow and then dissipated into normal
“The hand reverted back to wolf-like form last
night,” Neya informed him.
“That’s not wolf-like,” objected Garflin, “she’s
turned into a Lycanthrope.”
“Yes, I believe she will go through stages till she
reaches her original form again. It seems to happen
on full moons.”
“It could be years before she’s a wolf again.”
Mistic gazed at him with a confused look. Out of
habit, Garflin scratched her head. She nuzzled his
neck with her head and seemed to find comfort
there. Some time soon, Mistic would be a full Lycanthrope.
How will I protect her then? Garflin wondered.
“We must make haste,” Neya told them. “The
Steel Tide is very close to your friends.”
“Not we,” Garflin corrected. “You will keep
Mistic here with you. Besides, you can’t leave this
“It is not chivalrous for a man to speak so harsh
to a lady,” Neya protested. “Nor is it mannerly.”
“But it is true.”
“I…go…with…you,” Mistic interjected. Garflin
was too stunned for words.
“And so do I,” Neya added. “I will see the rebirth
of the spirit with my own eyes.”
“Dryads can’t leave their trees,” Garflin reminded.
“You told me that yourself.”
“I said we can’t stray far from our bond,” she informed
him. “You are as much my bond as this tree.
I can go anywhere you go.”
There were no more disputes to be raised. The
brownie allowed the two women to accompany him
outside. Neya opened her parasol to tame the sun.
Mistic slipped back on her glove and nuzzled
against him again. He patted her on the head and
took the lead.
“Ride,” Mistic suggested.
“You’re a human,” Garflin reminded her. “I can’t
ride you any more.” Tears began to drizzle down
“Don’t break the poor dear’s heart,” Neya
chided. “I think you will find her to be quite fast.”
“And how about you?”
“Don’t worry about me, I will keep up.”
Garflin let Mistic lift him onto her shoulders. To
his delight, the woman bounded away at great
speed. The boots on her feet made more noise than
her paws, but she was just as swift. The brownie
looked back for the dryad.
“Above you,” came her voice. Garflin looked up and
saw Neya hovering above them.
Dryads have wings, he realized. The dryad sailed
on the wind atop thin wings that looked to be made
of pure light. What a scary sight we must be. A brownie
with an arrow, a bow and a dagger with a broken tip riding
a human woman, and accompanied by a dryad dressed
like a noble. The Steel Tide will grovel at our feet.