Revanth and Alton find out that Astrid and Velda have been kidnapped. Distraught, they aren’t sure what to do. The people of the river and forest promise to help in whatever way they can. A small dryad climbs on Revanth’s back, laughing and clapping.
“She wants to go with you,” a tree sprite said. “But you can’t, little one,” she intoned softly. “Too long from your tree, and you will die, precious one.”
The child pouted.
“We can’t leave our grove unprotected,” a wood sprite said. “But we can travel with you to the end of our territory. From there, new friends will meet you.”
“We don’t know where to go,” Alton said sadly.
“We’ll help you,” the naiad said. “Wherever water runs, my sisters and I can travel. Even now, the search is on for Eleion. We’ll find her.”
“Meanwhile,” the oak dryad said. “Let me tell you what Oak Mother said.”
Velda woke slowly, holding her head. The walls around her whirled and dipped, making her cry out. Grasping her head to stop the spinning, she found herself in chains. Her wrists were bound, though her ankles were free.
“You’re awake,” Astrid spoke softly, not far away. “Be still a moment. It passes.”
“Are we?” Astrid shrugged. “Could be worse. At least it’s clean.”
Velda chanced a look around. The room appeared to be dense stone, like marble. The walls and floor were smooth and free of cracks. There were no windows, though there was light from somewhere.
Astrid sat on a stone ledge, big enough to lie on. Velda saw she was on one too. A rough woven blanket covered her lower limbs.
“Not a dungeon, but still a cell,” she mused. “No roots, dirt or water. They know something of our kind, then.”
“I think we’re above ground,” Astrid said. “I thought I heard the wind before, whirling about like it did around our tower—at home.”
Velda nodded. That made sense. Her kind, and Alton’s, were weakest in the air. Roots couldn’t penetrate this stone and there was no moisture present. For a prison, it was ideal.
“Not even a mote of dust,” Astrid frowned. “What is this place?”
“I don’t know, but I think it was built especially for us.”
“Do you remember anything?” Astrid pulled her knees to her chin, folding her arms around them.
“Darkness—whirling—and the smell—”
“Yes, it smelled like dead things.” Astrid shuddered.
“I think it was a puka, an evil spirit which can be sent to do its master’s bidding,” Velda explained.”
“Why would anyone want us?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps they’ll introduce themselves.”
As if on cue, a rattling at the door heralded a visitor. Velda stood, shoulders and head defiant, too angry to be afraid.
Astrid did her best to emulate Velda. Though not as confident as her friend appeared to be, there was no fear in the wide eyes. Her copper hair hung around her in a wild tangle. She touched Velda’s hand briefly before the door opened.
Alton and Revanth were well provisioned by their new friends. They insisted on filling his bag nearly to bursting. Once on their way, they traveled to Oak Mother’s grove, the wood sprites in tow.
Devastation met their eyes. The trees were slashed and uprooted. Oak Mother’s lower limbs lay in the tangle at her base. She was alive, but barely. Those of her wood sprites and dryads who were still able bodied, did their best to keep her alive.
The new arrivals sprang to action, Alton at their head. Revanth stood well out of the way. His horse’s body didn’t lend itself to rescue missions. As the flurry of activity surrounding Oak’s Mother increased, he looked about for clues of the events. As a man, he was a warrior and hunter. As a horse, he could sniff out even more than he could see. Something evil had passed here, not long ago. The very land reeked of it. Activity at the other side of the grove increased. Revanth barely noticed. He bent low, moving brush and debris aside with his nose and breath. He smelled Astrid and caught Velda’s scent. Both women had been close together when trouble came. There were signs of a struggle. The women had tried to fight, but whatever had taken them, was a superior force.
The odor was so strong in one spot, he knew the beast had stopped there. From that point, he no longer sensed the women. The scent of the beast disappeared a few steps away—and the lingering smell of ozone replaced it. What he found was beyond his ken. Revanth would have to wait for Alton to interpret his findings. At the moment, the wood sprite was engaged in a life and death struggle, with Oak Mother’s survival in the balance. Revanth was too ignorant of this, as well. He could only hope she would survive.
“Revanth!” Alton bellowed.
The horse-man responded without question. A sense of urgency filled him. He trotted across the grove.
“Here,” Alton commanded. “Just a touch,” he said, indicating the damaged trunk.
Revanth pressed his nose against the bark. To his alarm, it felt warm and pliant, like living flesh. He recoiled slightly, but didn’t pull away. He did his best to share comfort and strength with Oak Mother, imbuing his thoughts with love, projecting them to her. She shuddered and sighed, relaxing. The wood sprites worked quickly, healing and binding her wounds. Her severed limbs were planted in a ring around her. The dryads of her grove chanted over them. They took root, the leaves unfurling with renewed vigor.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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