The child stood at the rail of the great tree house, looking out into the woods that surrounded her home, her face filled with that familiar expression every parent knows, that she was working out a new question.
"Mother, how is it that we are the keepers of The Garden, I thought Bevel kept the garden." Asked the Child, she was no more than 10. Her raven hair and bone white skinned mirrored her mothers, and all her peoples for she was a Murian, A daughter of the Silver age. Tall long lived and strong, the Murians had much in common with the trees they tended, they had lived here in Anar through 'One Turning of the Great Wheel' nearly 25,000 years to you and I, but the child had seldom been beyond the Palisade of her Casade, and most of what she knew of the wood came from long hours standing beside the Archers in their tree house watch towers.
"We will ride out into Momma-Isis's garden tomorrow Pandora, I will show you."
The next day the gates of the Palisade opened and Ara road out on a great white mare.
Ara led a party of 20 Murians and 20 Chattii, out of the gates of the Casade. A great hall the columns of which were living trees of great age and height, between these were hung panels of Lacquered Paper, Aqueópel; which formed the walls of the Casade; around the main house of the Casade was a great fence "the Palisade" this was formed of two long rows of carefully planted trees. The watch towers, the Cabanavore, great tree houses carefully woven into the growing limbs of the largest trees, at irregular intervals around the Palisade; for you see to the Murians Tree's were both Sisters and Sacred, and they worked in harmony with them in all things.
A short way up the road they found a sapling had taken root in the path of the riders. The 4th of The Nine closed her eyes and seemed to be following a bee, she stopped at a spot between two trees, a few paces from either. Ara covered the roots of the sapling with her hands and sang, sensing them, then the men helped her remove the young tree from the path, and replant it where Rachel, 4th of The Nine sat. She then sang over it and poured her magick into its roots that it might grow tall and proud in its new home.
Bevel, Pandora's Chattii mentor, whispered to her, "Do not think of Sacred Anar as a forest, it is not really, it is instead an Orchard, the greatest Orchard in The Nine Worlds. Started by Horus himself who planted the First Tree, and tended and guarded by your mothers people ever since." He was Chattii, a man of the same race as you or I, but he loved the child as his own daughter, and was deeply honored by his office.
The company moved on and refreshed themselves with water from a clear running brook. On the far bank a Doe appeared and drank too, then she approached Pandora. Ara slipped an apple into Pandora's hand so that the doe ate for her as a favorite pony might, then allowed the girl to pet her cheeks.
"She seems so tame!" said Pandora, Awed
"Oh she is quite wild," Ara replied, "But she knows it is not the season of the hunt. Many generations ago the Lord of her people and the Queen of ours met and formed a covenant that we should only hunt for meat from her people just before the winter season. In return if we have apples or crops to spare we leave them grazing to help those that remain through the winter."
Now Ara smelled something ahead she kissed the doe and blessed her, then rode forward with a firm purpose. She stopped near a tall elm. Its roots had been gnawed upon and great gapping whole black as pitch lay under them. The 4th of the Nine came up beside her. "Its too late to save this one, I think Mi-Lady."
"Do what you must."
"Now the Forth of the Nine, caressed the bark of the tree and whispered to its spirit. She said aloud to Ara. "She does not wish to be released, she wishes to be replanted." The 4th of The Nine's hand then covered the green shoot of a very young branch softly singing.
Bevel whispered to Pandora, "She is learning the soul song of this tree."
A hideous wailing came up from the black hole while she sang, but the Murian ignored it. The 4th of the Nine then cut the shoot with her Anthame and carried it some distance planting it in the ground. She sat near the shoot and did still her self for a long moment, then she returned to her singing, her song had no words, but instead used the voice of as a Pure instrument, the Bianna; As Pandora knew, for even at her tender age she was being trained in the Art herself, indeed she could feel the song well up in her own self. Pandora lent her voice to the song of the young tree, and 'Blood of the Lady' her voice carried great power even at this young age. The other Murians sensed this power and shared knowing smiles and nods as she sang.
As the 4th of the Nine sang the shoot unfolded 7 seasons growth before Pandora's eyes. Her roots took firm hold in the earth, and she sprouted a new crown of leaves. While the Lady Rachel and Pandora tended to the wounded tree the Chattii dismounted and fanned out searching near the roots of each tree and shrub. When the song of healing was done their captain spoke to Ara. "We have found another bolt hole lady."
"Only One?" Ara replied firmly. It did not sit well with the captain either but that was what they found. "The Archers will keep to their mounts."
"Yes Lady" her captain replied, and Nine Murian woman with hawk like eyes, and fierce expression, acknowledged the hand sign that relayed to them the ladies will.
Freeing a Huge mace from its tethers, Ara dismounted and the Captain led her mount to the Archers. The Chattii formed a circle of spear points around the hole. Ara, the 4th of the Nine, and two other Murian women stood at the points of their compass. Two young Chattii came to Ara, she took a small gem from her bag, holding it up she began to sing. The gem glittered and glimmered then erupted with a light from with-in until it was impossible to look straight at the stone. She placed the gem in Sea Shell held by one of the lads, so he could follow the light without being blinded.
"The light will shine while the Lady Sings." Bevel whispered to Pandora.
The Young Chattii took the light to the mouth of the 2nd hole and entered it silently. Immediately a tremendous commotion erupted underground. Screaming, and Screeching and a Hideous Wailing. This rose to a desperate clamor then they burst from the hole, screaming as if scalded by the light 20 creatures, black as ink, with grotesque heads nearly half the size of their stooped misshapen bodies. In the night they might have gone unseen Ink against the Shadows, but in the light of day they were doomed.
"Goblins!" Said Pandora
The Goblins stopped for a moment in Panic, A circle of spear points ahead, the Hideous Daystar behind. As the light began to emerge from the hole behind them they found the shreds of their courage and charged Ara. In that moment, Ara and the other Murian women danced into the circle. Their Maces arcing in beautiful fluid movements that ended with the horrid crunch of breaking bone. Ara's song became a piercing wail and battle cry. She drove two of foul creatures into the ground, and swept the heads from the shoulders of two others.
As terrible as the Goblins were Pandora was even more frightened of Ara, she had no knowledge of hatred, no word to describe the terrible mask that covered mothers face, but now she understood how the word for Battle said, "Dance of Innana."
"Did I not tell you?" Said Bevel.
"What" Gasped Pandora.
"When Fire runs deep in a Murian, they are Fearsome Warriors indeed!" Bevel exclaimed reminding Pandora of a conversation they had short days before, a conversation related in another tale.
Three Goblins burst from a second smaller hole, but the Archers cut them down before they dashed a dozen paces. The party gathered the corpses and carried them to the brook where the company had refreshed themselves at earlier and threw them in the water.
"They must be cleansed by water before they can be returned to the earth, or the poison with-in them will give birth to more of their hideous kind." Bevel told Pandora.
"Yes Lady," He said then turning to an Archer, "Ride to the House give the word to prepare for the hunt tomorrow."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Behind them followed a like number of Chattii knights, and lastly 120 Chattii spear on foot. Just outside the Gate three Lovely Women with very light green skin waited for Ara. As she approached 2 knelt close by the Lady's mount, and the third raised up to her a crown of freshly woven leaves. Ara accepted it gratefully.
The Dryad spoke "We thank you for the rebirth of our sister lady."
"It is the privilege of my people." Answered Ara "If I may know how is it that she was so attacked and no word came to us."
We sensed she had fallen ill, but something blinded us to those creatures Lady.
So I believed, are any other of your family ill.
No Lady, not of our family.
If word reaches your ears, send it to me by beast or bird.
Ara Rode into the wood. The scent hounds began to Yap, and the Wolf Hounds bay. The scent hounds, small tireless animals, much like the beagles of the english hunt, raced out in front of the hunters, sniffing and yapping. By noon the hunting party had slaughtered two other sties. When the company reached the site of the first sty, workers were busy, collecting the wood from the fallen tree, filling in the barrows with fresh earth, tending other trees, healing the wood. The scent hounds however had found a fresh scent and led the company Westwards towards the border of Anar and the Wilder woods of the Chattii lands. Another hour and they had slaughtered a third sty, but this time a Goblin was captured and brought to Ara.
His head was held still as she gazed into his eyes. At last she said, "I have seen the creature of Shadow" and slit the Goblins throat.
As they rode on Bevel spoke to Pandora, who 'Blood of the Lady' was dressed as a Princess might be in a small finely crafted shirt of mail, with a dagger and short bow. "Your mother knows the Shadow needs a servant to work its sorcery in the world. She has seen her enemy in the Goblins eyes, now there will be no stopping her." The company road past the last rows of orderly trees of Anar, beyond the Western Palisade and into the Chaos of the Wild Chattii lands.
The sun was dipping in the sky and Lady Avellano Captain of the Casade's Archers, and Lord Tyr captain of the Chattii foot wanted to stop for the night and make a safe camp; but Ara over ruled them.
"No my friends, she is too near I smell the stench of Chaos she will not escape me under the cover of Darkness."
The words had scare left the Ladies lips when a great howl of pain pierced the air. The wolf hounds had set upon a Gnoll, a half wolf, half man thing of Chaos. Three of the Nine and a wedge of riders turned towards the Melee, and line of a dozen more Gnolls and twice as many Hobgoblins charged from the tree line to meet them. Arrows whistled past the Murian from their archers slaying several of the shadow creatures.
Ara spoke quietly to Pandora, "Do not turn your head little one, look left by the Mulberry bush, do you see a shadow."
"Yes Momma, Ohh its a ..."
"Yes Pandora, I want you to draw an arrow from your quiver slowly so as not to startle the fiend, then shoot him."
He would not hesitate to stuff you into his burning belly, do not hesitate Pandora." Pandora had always been very good with her small bow, but had never shot at a living thing before. Still she drew her bow quickly and let the arrow fly, the dart found its mark and the creature screamed. Ara's followed in a moment and finished him. Now dozens of lesser goblins surged out of hiding attempting to trap the company between A Hammer of Goblins, and the Anvil of the Gnolls.
The Third of the Nine and Chattii Captain led the wedge of riders into a company of the Gnolls, and visited a great slaughter upon them. Ara led the Foot against the Goblins. Bevel and a half dozen riders stayed close to Pandora protecting 'The Blood of the Lady', but supporting others with well placed darts.
Although the Goblins trap had worked well, they were as a beast that having closed its jaws around a porcupine, thought better of the prospect. Chattii spear and Murian mace drove the shadow creatures back on their heels cutting a bloody swath through the trap. The battle soon became a rout, the wolf hounds bringing down the last Goblins as they tried to flee the slaughter.
Ara strode past the ruin of the Gnolls into the copse. She found a gash in the earth resolutely pressed on. At last she found herself confronted by a vision of herself gone mad. A Murian women, her hair an Ashen Grey, unkempt of years, and the stench of her was nauseating she had not cleansed herself in some time.
"Death has found you sister."
"Death will find you in its turn, one day the Shadow will cover these lands, you serve a false hope sister, I know the prophecy."
"Not in my time, not for the seven generations that follow me." Ara Snapped.
"Our time will come Sister, better to serve the gathering dark, than the failing light." The Chaos Witch replied; Ara Stepped forward raising her mace eyes wide with fury. The creature of chaos shrank back cowering. "I will not ask for your mercy, it is well known you have none, better I set you a challenge."
"I have no need to treat with you." Ara spat contemptuously
"Your Followers might disagree, let the little one do the deed, let them see she has the courage to do what must be done." Now Ara realized Pandora and Bevel had followed her into the cave and the girl was pressed close to her servant.
Ara's eyes narrowed her voice was steel. "The time will come when she must dispatch one of our own who has given themselves over to Kur, but that time has not yet come." "Look Away Pandora." There followed a thumping sound, and a retching followed by the crunch of breaking bone. When Bevel looked back he saw the remains of creature slain in a puddle of its own vomit. He led Pandora quickly from the cave.
"I'm sorry Milady, she slipped away, and ran after you. She was so worried for you!"
"Its best she sees for herself the end of one who gives themselves over to the service of chaos." Ara replied sternly, then she addressed the Chattii captain, "Burn her, she will not be returned to earth, and the beasts that served her as well"
"Yes Lady." He replied and set his men to work.
"All the elm has to give us will be honored Pandora, down to the least twig. Even the roots will be pulled out and milled to make mulch to help new trees grow. Then the tree that was grown from the shoot of this one will be replanted here." Ara was explaining to her daughter.
"So it will be as it was before?" said Pandora
"Not quite little one, the tree that has been reborn will grow a new, with a new song in her heart to share with us."
The Goblins had left much work to be done to heal the sacred garden. The Murians set to it with stout heart and simple purpose. The light faded and the evenings shadows gathered in the garden. The air was filled with the smells of a small feast. Ara was celebrating their small victory over the shadow with an evenings picnic amid the work of filling in the barrows.
"What did the strange lady mean by the prophecy." Pandora asked the Third of the Nine.
"Centuries ago your mother foresaw a day would come when Anar would burn, and the Shadow would cover all these woods."
"Oh but that's silly, Momma is not yet even a hundred years old."*
"Has she never told you?"
"Told me what"
Ara was now close, "I have been born 7 times to this world Pandora, 7 times I have walked these woods and been called Ara, and for each of those lives, 7 times have I been born to humble families and carried other names. I have nursed at your breast, looked up into your eyes and called you momma in days gone by, now it is my turn, to care for you and be your teacher..."
"But this is also true" she said, and it seemed to Pandora as if a hidden veil had fallen away, and the Silver Light of the Full Moon shone from her mother. The Murian fell to one knee, only The Nine remained standing, they too began to shine like stars attending the Moon. Most of the Chattii just stood agape in the presence of the Daughters of Isis revealed in their full glory.
I am The Ara, The First and Last Mother of Our People the Steward of Sacred Anar.
Ama tu ANKI.