[Story] The Grovesworn

He could tell right away that something was happening in town. There were more voices than usual, ones that he didn’t recognize. He heard the scrape of stone and smelled freshly-cut wood. It seemed that something was being built, but what? He made his way to the inn, where there were little stands set up for the merchants to sell their wares. Most of them had been here for years, and would know if something was going on.

The man who answered him was one of them, he could tell by the way his tongue got stuck in his mouth, and the peculiar gurgling in his throat. Farandil hoped that the creature wouldn’t notice his look of disgust. “A healer is coming to town,” the undead explained. “Pretty one, too.” Farandil had little use for pretty. He believed that you could tell much more about a person from their voice, and more importantly, the words that they used. They gave him an accurate picture of someone, much more accurate than his eyes would have. A person could have a beautiful face hiding an ugly heart, but their words rarely lied. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if he ought to go and see her. Maybe she would know something that the others hadn’t, a way to bring his sight back. Then again, he rarely missed it these days, and he feared that he would dull his other senses, to return to the way he had been before. He paused to visit the notice board at the inn; of course he couldn’t read the flyers posted there, but he could tell if any new ones had been added. There weren’t any today, so he had no need to ask someone what they said. He’d heard of some presses in the city that were able to emboss the page with the impressions of the letters, so that people like him might be able to read them. Of course, they had no such presses here, only regular quills and ink.

Farandil walked his usual way home, along the wide road that ran north and south, parallel to the scar. Though it was still yet cold at night, the days had begun to warm, and the new growth was sprouting all over the forest. Somewhere deeper in the wood, he heard the bright chirping of a bird, a sound he believed he might never hear again in this forest. There were other signs of life, too. His walking-stick told him that there were wagon tracks in the road, probably from the builders bringing the stone and wood into town. There were hawkstrider tracks as well, and the ground was soft enough that they must be recent. Farandil always brought his walking-stick when he went out, partly for balance but mostly to help him find his way should anything unusual happen. Once there was a tree that had fallen across the road, for example, and it had saved him from walking into puddles on many occasions. It was made not from a branch, but a very young tree. He had discovered its charred remains in the grove after the fire had passed through, but as it had been green, it was not fully consumed. Farandil believed it had survived because of its youth and resilience, as well as determination. He took it into the town and had it fitted with a metal handle on the top, and a little metal cap at the tip. It was the only thing he had ever taken from the grove, and he hoped he would be forgiven for it.

His ears perked, hearing the sound of someone ahead on the road. He heard the faint jingling of mail armor, and he thought it was only one person — until they spoke.

“Hello,” said one voice. She was a woman, probably close to his own age.

“Do you need any help?” asked the other. That one was a man, but he sounded less certain. What were they doing here on the road?

The woman answered that question. “We’re with the rangers.” He heard the pause in her voice. Sometimes people noticed his difference quickly, but others took more time. If she was a ranger, she was probably more observant than most. “Have you — is there any trouble here?” Have you seen. She had corrected herself. That meant she’d noticed.

Farandil pointed his walking-stick to the east. “There have been undead out that way, I’m sure of it. I don’t know when though.”

The man took a sharp intake of breath, and said something quietly to the woman. Farandil pretended not to, but he heard what he said: We have to tell the captain.

“Where do you live?” the woman asked. “We could send a patrol that way.”

“No,” said Farandil, shaking his head. “No thank you.” Strangers stomping around the grove was the last thing he wanted — even rangers, who were less likely to mess everything up. It was his grove, and no one else’s. He wanted it to stay that way. “But you should find those undead. Before they cause any trouble.”

“We will,” the woman said. “Good day.”

Farandil felt encouraged. If anyone could find those monsters, rangers could.

 

 

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