The Tale of the Dead Trees (short story)
Title: The Tale of the Dead Trees
This story has been handed down through the sylvan side of my family for many generations. We believe it to be the truth of why the Sentoph area is the way it is.
-- Lisseinne, quarterling bard
[This is considered official history as approved by GM Voraviel of the Temple of Love]
Once, long ago, the woods rang with the laughter of many sylvan voices. A whole village lived in these trees. The trees were vibrant then, green with life. The breeze smelled of the freshest heather, the spring violets sweet on the air. Into this village was born an exceptional child. Merthyr by name, his countenace was fair to behold: eyes clear as the stream running in the clearing, face as proud as the mighty oak in the center of the village. He walked straight and true as he questioned the four winds, asked the grass its secrets, and listened to the brook tell of water magic. Every afternoon, he’d wander up to the Sentoph, sit on its highest point, and absorb what he had learned of the elements that day. From the time he could walk, he did this.
His parents worried, the village fretted. No child of theirs had ever wandered so far or played so little with others. All Merthyr would do is smile as he shook his head and say, “Mother, I am waiting for her. I will know her when she comes..... my companion, my soulmate, my beloved. In the meantime I must prepare for her, must I not? For it will be my duty and my joy to protect my love from all harm.” Looking into themselves and consulting with Imaera, the elders debated. They agreed to let Merthyr have his freedom, wander the hillsides, and learn. For a soul mated pair of sylvans, while rare, is one of the most awesome sights in all the lands. Nothing can stand against the wills of two made into one by the bonds of true love.
As Merthyr wandered, learning the secrets of the natural world, he would occasionally come across the initiates of the Temple of Love, gathering herbs for the amulets they gave to those in need of them. The Temple of Love was a well respected institution, known far and wide for its ability to find the right mates for those who came to them. The priestesses inside, human all, devoted themselves to the voice of Oleani, asking her for her guidance and knowledge of love. Initiates came into the temple as young girls, pure of heart and eager to learn the rites of love. Men and women traveled from far places up the steep track before becoming bethrothed, wanting the surety of knowing they were making the choices right for them. Others came to ask who, and where, the right person was. Always, the priestesses consulted Oleani and gave the answer which would result in the most happiness.
One initiate, Lyendra, saw Merthyr up on the Sentoph each afternoon, lost in his own world. While always polite to her, it was obvious that he was not truly attentive to her, his mind far away, thinking of his soul bound mate yet to arrive from the ethereal plane and back into mortal form. He and she had been bound through eternity, loving each other and finding each other in other bodies, other lives. This did not stop Lyendra from falling in love with Merthyr. She went back every evening and prayed to Oleani to make him hers. Always, the answer from the goddess was the same. A stillness in the air, then a small voice saying, “he is destined for another.” Lyendra still loved Merthyr, and her love consumed her, twisting into a form of envy, rooting itself into her soul. She kept her secret from the others, the priestesses and the other initiates, as she went through the forms of the ritual, once so meaningful to her and now a hollow shell.
Eventually, as Merthyr entered his teen years, another special child was born into the grove of oaks. She was fair and sweet and adored by all. Her parents named her Nenagh. Even before she could talk, from the moment she laid eyes on Merthyr, they both knew that their souls had been united through time. Merthyr watched over Nenagh, was with her even more than her own parents. He still wandered through the forest and the glen, drawing knowledge from nature, but there was a new purpose and vitality in his step. He knew that his love had arrived.
Lyendra noticed that Merthyr didn’t stay as long on the Sentoph, and seemed charged with new power. She grew even more jealous as he became even more distant from her, his replies becoming almost curt, although still polite. Although she had given up on Oleani long ago, she still had to know what the change in Merthyr was. In one last, desperate ritual, she begged Oleani to give Merthyr over to her, to make him love her as she had loved him, secretly, for these several years. Oleani andswered in that small still voice of truth, “his soul has been given to another; he has found his true mate. United through the ages, they grow ever closer throughout time”. Bitterly did Lyendra weep, her tears sprouting the seeds of envy that had been carefully planted in her breast by the whisperings of the dark Arkati. Lyendra bided her time, performing the rituals that grew more meaningless to her every day. Her matchmaking skill was never the best, but she was adept at organizing and record keeping, earning her respect within the temple.
Nenagh began to follow Merthyr everywhere as she learned to walk and to talk. The two of them, he in his late teens and her still young and small, learned even more together, the manifestations of Imaera teaching them the wisdom of nature. To Merthyr went the elemental knowledge, the control of raw power, from the sizzle of a lightning bolt to the force of a flood. Nenagh learned the secrets of growth and renewal, how to blend ever better into the surroundings, how to make plants grow as she wanted, which herbs healed, which did damage. Together they grew stronger, Merthyr coming into full manhood and Nenagh on the brink of blossoming into a woman grown. The village of oaks had never been more prosperous nor more united and caring. The trees grew taller and more majestic. The wildflowers bloomed even in places they never had before. The villagers rejoiced in the good fortune of having a soul bonded pair in their midst.
Yet, during this ten years come and gone, Lyendra had not been still. Every time she saw Merthyr take Nenagh to the Sentoph, saw the palpable bond between them, her love twisted even more into hate of the young sylvan girl. From the windows of the library of the Temple of Love she watched them, passionately, desperately wanting to destroy the link between the sylvans, wanting to claim the love of Merthyr for herself. If she could not possess Merthyr, no one would. As soon as these thoughts took shape in her mind, she went into the darkest parts of the library and dusted off the tomes of Ivas, goddess of seduction and love thwarted, who had allied herself with the gods of the dark in their downfall. The tomes were there from the beginning of the temple, untouched, the result of a Reverend Mother’s one time plan to try to reconcile Oleani and Ivas, reunite the two aspects of love into one shining glory. The plan never was undertaken, the risks too great. Lyendra, however, devoured these tomes, learning the dark mysteries, becoming more and more devoted to the dark powers. She kept her new knowledge secret, still mouthing the words to the rituals of Oleani, yet within her head reciting the ritual of Ivas. Oleani started to turn away from the Temple of Love, her heart heavy with the knowledge that all was not right. In her talks to the priestesses, she tried warning them, but Lyendra still wore the aspect of devotion and submission, so the warnings went unheeded. Fewer and fewer couples made the long trek up the mountain, and those who did were disappointed in the advice given to them. Though the other priestesses tried, they were no longer guided by the goddess in the ways of love. Jealousy, rivalry, and strife became the norm within the Temple of Love. The priestesses, formerly chaste, took lovers and sold themselves to the men who came by in search of love. No more young maidens came to the temple to learn the ways of Oleani.
Within the village of the oaks, little heed was paid to the temple overlooking them on the far mountain. They were happy, and never did have any contact with the pilgrims, devotees, and priestesses that had walked past on the route to the temple. Merthyr and Nenagh’s bond protected the village, yet somewhere deep inside, Merthyr knew that evil was brewing on the bluff. He consulted with the animals, asked the wind that blew past of portents. Every scrap of information made him more concerned. The wind told of how the mountain was becoming barren, the blaeston flowers no longer blooming on the sides of the trail. The animals told of the new evils, new animals seen on the mountain which preyed on the blights within. Shades of wolves, ready to disease the unsuspecting, giants made of bone on the Sentoph, their aspects frightening even the most stout hearted of men. Merthyr kept such news to himself; Nenagh knew that something was wrong, but she was still but a child. It was his duty, and his alone, to protect the village and his mate. She had not yet grown into the full partner she was destined to become.
Lyendra knew, guided by Ivas, that she had to strike before Nenagh was transformed into a woman. When Nenagh came into her full powers, the physical manifestation of her soul bond with Merthyr would be complete. Nothing could sunder them, nothing come between, and nothing stand against them. Using all of her strength, Lyendra called upon the powers of the dark Arkati to destroy the sylvan village and all within. A slow working cancer was released into the air, attacking the carefully nurtured oaks, rotting them from the inside. The sylvans within the village, led by Merthyr and the elders, tried to stop the disease. Nothing worked. Nenagh grew weaker as the oaks she drew her power from declined. Her once healthy complexion drew pale and wan. Merthyr was torn, the attacks from without and from within straining him to his fullest. The giants and dreaded clouding orcs with beards started attacking the village. Finally, he told the others to flee, to save themselves, to leave this place, once beautiful, now accursed. Nenagh stayed with him, her power sapped, but her will still strong. She would not leave Merthyr under any circumstances. All of Merthyr’s energy went into saving the trees and saving Nenagh. Night and day he called upon the elemental knowledge learned from Imaera, yet to no avail.
As Lyendra observed her magic working, she released the minions released from Luukos to her control. Werebears, fearsome of visage, yet insubstantial as air. Darkwoodes attacking Merthyr and Nenagh, disappearing into the mist after each attack. Bravely did Merthyr defend Nenagh, Nenagh giving over her last remaining strength to Merthyr. Eventually, however, they had come to the last dregs of their power. The oaks were hollow shells, their leaves littering the ground, brown, crackling, dead. Nothing was left to show that there had ever been a village in this place. Around them, the orcs came in and started erecting altars of thanksgiving to their dark gods, rejoicing in their victory. Yet, all was not lost..... Nenagh and Merthyr, battered, bleeding, still survived. In the moment of final hopelessness, the dying great oak gave the last of itself into Nenagh. As the force of the oak grew through her, she was transformed, growing before Merthyr into her womanhood. Energy snapped around them, a renewed shield surrounded them, they looked almost as minor gods. Nenagh looked at Merthyr, saw the love shining within him, pulled energy from the wind, and transported Merthyr with her to a place of safety.
Howls of rage and bitterness echoed from the Temple of Love. Lyendra had lost. For, although she had destroyed the whole village, repopulating it with the worshippers of the dark gods, she had not won her heart’s desire. Merthyr and Nenagh were irrevokably bound. Never would Merthyr be hers. While in the throes of her despair, Ivas came to her. “I have come to collect my price, Lyendra,” she said with a slight sneer on her face. As the mountain shook, Ivas took the souls of all the priestesses of the Temple of Love, the once chaste but fallen women, and turned them into parodies of their former selves. “I shall call you all nedum vereri, for verily your true aspect is upon you now........seductresses of men, never to succeed. Draw men into your webs here, within this Temple of Love, into my trap, to join you in the eternal torment of damnation.”
And so, Nenagh and Merthyr devoted themselves to wiping out the minions of darkness where ever they encountered them. None could stand against them. Merthyr’s control of the elemental aspects of nature flowed with Nenagh’s control of Imaera’s more spiritual side. Their village destroyed through the workings of a human, they never learned the tongue of humans to communicate with. They loved together for many, many years, to the end of their days, and have returned on the cycle of life over and over, truly mated through time.
Men still wander to the Temple of Love, as the nedum vereri attempt to seduce them, draw them into the world of darkness through the world of the senses. Only the bravest and most pure of heart may escape unscathed. The trees of the village never grew back. The altars of the orcs stand in mute testimony to the hollow victory of Lyendra and the powers of the dark Arkati.