The men return to Oak Mother’s grove to find her severely injured. While Alton and the forest people work to heal her, Revanth searches for signs of the women and their abductor. They are able to save Oak Mother, planting her severed limbs in the soil around her.
A collective sigh filled the grove. The level of activity subsided. Alton slid to the ground, his back to Oak Mother. His eyes closed. Revanth settled on the ground, resting his head at Oak Mother’s roots. She felt stronger, content, her pain ebbing away. The severed limbs shivered, their branches arching toward their Mother.
“What did you find, my friend?” Alton’s voice was barely above a whisper. He touched Revanth and froze. “It’s worse than I thought,” he said quietly. “But I fear I haven’t the strength to deal with it at present.”
Revanth assured Alton that he would keep watch and wake him if there was need. He might be useless for some tasks, but he was good at watching and guarding. As he kept an eye on their surroundings, protecting his friend, Revanth mulled over what he had discovered. A plan, of sorts, began to form.
During the night, tree sprites and dryads kept him company. Like Alton, they were able to communicate with Revanth. He went over his plans with them and they helped him with details, calling on their friends and family far away. By the time that Alton woke, Revanth knew what they must do, and where they must go. Only with his human body back, could they attempt to free their lady loves. It meant confronting Eleion without Velda. As much as it terrified him, he knew it had to be done. He would need Alton’s help. Even now, his strength ebbed, though not as quickly as it had at home. He felt invigorated by Oak Mother’s grove.
Convincing the wood sprite to abandon his search for Velda, would not be easy. If he made a strong case, Revanth knew the other man would listen to him. Wishing he had a voice, he appealed to the dryads and sprites, asking for them to help convince Alton.
“We will help you,” Oak Mother whispered. “My children and I shall make my son see reason.”
Revanth touched her bark with his nose, doing his best to kiss her. She was a true friend and a strong ally. He thanked her with his mind, as he waited for Alton to wake.
At dawn, Alton stretched and groaned. Waking slowly, his nose caught the warm, welcoming scent of his favorite tea and hot scones, as well as strawberries and fresh cream. Smiling, his eyes fluttered open. Dryads and wood sprits had used his bag to prepare a meal fit for kings.
Revanth had sweet grass and mixed grains to eat. The dryads dribbled liquid on the ground at Oak Mother’s base. She and her saplings fed off it, their leaves turning to the rising sun.
Alton ate his fill, carefully replacing the leftovers in the bag. After a quick dip in the river, which was disconcerting with the naiads about, he and Revanth sat down to talk about their plans.
“We must pursue the women at once,” Alton began.
Revanth snorted, shaking his head. He projected his objections as clearly as he could, but his distress, and sense of urgency, clouded his thoughts. Alton received a jumble of images, nothing more. Frustrated, they argued for several minutes, until an elder wood nymph entered the grove. She sat near Alton, taking his hands as she gazed into his eyes.
“Child,” she whispered. “Listen to your brother. He has a plan he’s trying to share.”
“But the women!”
“Are alive and well. More than that, I don’t know. But even now, the plants, animals and elements search for them. We will find them. Meanwhile, you must confront Eleion. She has been located in a swamp nearly two days travel from here.”
“We can’t go there first!” Alton sprang to his feet.
Her hand grasped his wrist in an unyielding grip. “Your brother is a warrior. Though you’re a hunter, you don’t have his skills. Listen to his plan. You can’t rescue them, with him in his current form. This meeting with Eleion is something you must do together—without the women. They have their own battle to fight.”
Grudgingly, Alton settled on the ground. Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind. Revanth touched Alton’s forehead with his nose. His thoughts melded with the wood sprite’s, filling Alton’s mind with pictures of what they must do.
Nodding his understanding, Alton’s eyes opened. “All right, brother. If this is what we must do—this is what we shall do.”
The wood nymphs, sprites and naiads who wished to accompany the friends, gathered around them as they walked from Oak Mother’s grove. A few miles from the river, they bid farewell. The elderly wood nymph took Alton’s hands, holding them between hers.
“I have a gift to give you, young man. You have many skills that you don’t even know you possess. You will need them all to conquer Eleion. The gift I give you is sight.”
“Respectfully, Mother, I can see.”
She tapped his forehead impatiently. “Inner sight,” she replied, tapping his head twice more. “Listen to your friend, and pay attention to that voice inside when it tells you something. And when the time comes—” she handed him a small leather pouch. “Use this. You’ll know what to do.”
Puzzled and frustrated by her words, Alton thanked her. He might not understand, but he’d never been so impetuous as to ignore good advice. She wouldn’t let him open the bag. It smelled slightly of damp earth and leaves, and rattled like stones on wood.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes