A Journey Through the Woods

Posted: June 7, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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It had never occurred to Shan that she would ever travel through the eastern forest. She had visited the logging camps numerous times over her life, part of her duties were to inspect the camps, but she had never been more than a few meters in. She could always see out to the camp and the stumps of the harvested trees. She had never dreamed that one day she would find herself midway through the massive expanse of wilderness.

They were retracing the route they had taken when they had originally followed the ghouls to the Norasburg edge of the forest. The route would end at the ruined tower rather than Shatterook, a fact that had caused a bit of friction within the group. Shan had insisted on heading directly to the origin of the monsters while Craig had fought for them to head to Shatterook and his home. In the end, Esther had sided with her and insisted they had to find the cause of the abominations before it threatened their home. Esther’s decision was accepted and the group was on their way.

The result made Shan feel more comfortable with the situation. She had believed that Craig was the leader of the newcomers, a situation that had bothered her. Things made more sense now that Esther was calling the shots. Craig seemed to serve the same function for Esther that Abeth did for her. They were more casual in their communication, but in the end the men were subservient to the woman as the Goddess intended.

Along with Shan came Abeth and two of the soldiers that had been involved with the ghoul battle. Part of her had wanted to leave Abeth to command the garrison at the river crossing, but Light Koarl would have disapproved of that decision so she took him with her. She took the two soldiers with her since they had already been exposed to the strange creatures and would be less likely to panic should they run into more. The rest of the soldiers were to stay at the river crossing camp except for the one that was sent as an eyewitness with her written report to the Light.

She kept her escort to just four. She was loath to leave the river unguarded and it didn’t make a lot of sense to move a small army through the forest. She didn’t want to leave Norasburg short of defenders for an unknown time frame. Matching the other group’s numbers had made the most sense.

Travel under the roof of the forest was different than the journey from Norasburg had been. There was no good road to follow, no trail to guide them. There was an almost imperceptible path that the ghouls and the Shatterook party had made, but it was hardly broken in and would be absorbed by the vegetation within days. There was an earthy, slightly musky smell to the air. All around them could be heard the sound of insects and the smaller animals that called the woods home. There was a dim green light that pervaded the world under the blanket of leaves. There was a coolness to the air they moved through.

Samuel alternated between her soldiers, including Abeth, as he scouted abroad. The rest of the travellers followed the trail of the ghouls back through the trees. Every day the scouts would bring back a fresh kill and a sack full of fruits and berries to supplement their dried rations. They ate the dried food during the day so they wouldn’t need to make a stop. The evening meal would consist of fresh food.

Shan, herself, didn’t partake of meat. She chose instead to follow in the footsteps of the Goddess and only ate fruits and vegetables. Most of the faithful followed this restriction, the men-folk tended not to. Not too surprising to Shan, males were further from the perfection of the Goddess and their actions tended to prove that. She was the only member of the group who showed any dietary restraint.

The routine of the trek consisted of breaking camp just after waking, a leisurely march through the trees during the day, followed by the setting up of camp and cooking of the evening meal. Craig would point out evidence of the ghouls’ passing; broken branches, disturbed soil, dried blood from some unfortunate meal. At other times they would receive instruction from Esther on what vegetation was edible, what was poisonous, and what had medicinal or mystical properties.

The soldiers and the warriors discussed battle and tactics, combat and weapons. They swapped tales of personal glory, the group from Shatterook shared stories that would have sounded more at home on the tongues of bards than soldiers. Fantastic tales of the dead come back to life, insect of gigantic proportions and numerous other tales that Shan would have called “tall” a few weeks ago.

Shan quietly listened to all that was said. Each tale brought her greater understanding of her new companions.

The druid, a label Esther gave herself, was very knowledgeable about the forest’s flora and fauna. Throughout the journey Esther would slow and speak softly to various plants, insects, and animals. She would listen intently to any response, sometimes laughing to herself, before moving on. Esther had an amazing affinity for animals, Shan was confused by the druid’s willingness to eat animal flesh.

“All throughout the realm of nature,” Esther had explained to Shan as they walked together, “we have entities that survive solely on the flesh of other animals. It is part of nature’s cycle, everything provides life for everything else. Animals eat plants and other animals. Plants use the dead flesh of animals and other plants to thrive. Both animals and plants will feed on humans, why would it be wrong for us to feed on them?”

“The Goddess tells us it’s immoral to eat another living creature,” Shan answered.

“Plants are alive,” the druid had replied.

“They don’t have the same life force as animals do.”

“They provide as vital a function to life as animals do,” Esther commented. “Plenty of life live solely on a plant-based diet. It’s a natural choice in nature, but it isn’t a choice for everyone. In nature we see creatures at both extremes, meat-eaters and plant-eaters, as well as many that partake in both diets.”

There were some similarities between Shan and Esther’s different belief systems.

Both women ministered to the needs of their people. Shan lived to share the vision of the Goddess, to carry out Her will and administer Her laws. Primary interpretation of Her word was done by Her Guiding Lights but the Illuminated were also expected to have a thorough understanding of Her wishes.

The druids also worshipped a mother-figure, one they referred to as Nature. The druids worked with the population to help maintain a balance between mankind and nature’s needs. They lacked the strict structure of the faithful, there were no designated leaders of the religion and no laws that impacted the daily life of society. The druid’s focus was on the natural world rather than the people. They were still considered the spiritual leaders within their communities.

It would be on the third night of their journey that Shan would learn more about Esther’s companions, specifically her martial commander Craig. As the group sat around the warmth of the fire the conversation drifted to why he had made the original journey through the forest.

Reluctantly, the warrior had begun to tell his tale.

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