[Story] Character of the Week – Raleth

[[ Raleth is one of my oldest characters! I rolled him in Wrath so I could see the Horde storylines and ended up really liking Frost. He’s currently a  Frost magic instructor at Fairsong Academy, but he had fought as a Battlemage for many years in the past. Here’s a story about his first trip to Kalimdor. ]]

Raleth regretted taking the assignment the moment he stepped through the portal; the heat clung oppressively to the mages, shimmering and still beneath the relentless afternoon sun. And it smelled. Animal odors, dung and sweat, the sickly scent of something rotten, and the musty smell of orc over the top of all of it. He wanted nothing more than to turn around and return through the portal, go back to his quiet study with its peaceful, clean books. But he hadn’t had a choice, really. The orcs — their new allies, so they’d been told — had requested the use of a regiment of mages in their conflict. Eager to solidify their partnership, Silvermoon had agreed, and Raleth had been among those chosen. Standing in the plush luxury of the Spire, they’d made it sound like a grand adventure, an opportunity for glory and to advance their people’s political influence.

Now, of course, the reality of the situation set in. Raleth stood huddled among his fellow mages as the orcs barked orders in their coarse tongue. They understood very little of it, but the intent was clear enough — they would follow the orcs into the woods, and turn their spells onto whatever they should come across. They were tools, nothing more. Surely it had been so before, but Raleth had always believed in the cause before. They fought to defend their homeland and their very lives, to defend against the Scourge that scratched at their gates. Now they were going in blind, it was a territorial dispute, as far as he was aware. The orcs wanted to push further into the forest, and met resistance from its residents. These, he’d been told, were elves as well. He’d heard stories, surely becoming more fanciful with each telling, of these wild savage elves who lived among the trees. How much of it was true, he couldn’t really say — this was his first time setting foot on the soil of Kalimdor. Even so, he felt a nagging doubt. Killing Scourge was one thing, they may have looked like elves, but they were merely a hollow husk, mindless and driven by instinct. Killing people, especially elves, was another matter entirely.

The orcs led them to the edge of the forest, where the trees grew thick and so tall that Raleth could not even see the tops of them. Brush and vines tangled below, making any passage difficult, but the orcs hacked out a path with their axes. Raleth could smell the bright green scent of the sap as it oozed from the wounded branches, and he grew more uneasy. They set up a hasty camp as the sun disappeared from the sky, plunging the already dark forest into ominous blackness. One of the orcs, his green skin riddled with criss-crossing scars, frowned and looked somewhere out into the shadows.

“Be on guard,” he grunted. He was adorned in teeth and tusks, a crudely tanned animal hide draped over his shoulders. “They move at night.” He extended a crooked finger, poking Raleth in the chest. “Arrows.”

Raleth followed the orc’s gaze into the shadows. Were they playing a joke, trying to rattle the elves for a laugh? The concern in his eyes looked genuine. What kind of creature could frighten an orc?

From somewhere in the surrounding forest, an animal called out. Raleth couldn’t be certain what it was.

“Other thing,” said the orc, hefting his heavy iron axe. “If you see animal, kill it.”

Raleth and the other mages exchanged a curious look. What did he mean by that? But the scarred orc had already retreated into his tent, leaving the mages alone in the firelight. Raleth’s hand went instinctively to his side, touching the hilt of his blade. Its familiar chill reassured him, and he could hear the ice crystals crackling faintly as they stirred at his touch. They would be safe. Whatever was out there would be stunned and slowed by the onslaught of ice magic, just as the Scourge had been.

Even so, Raleth found it difficult to sleep on the hard and rocky ground, the thin blankets offering little warmth or protection from the night. It seemed that he could hear the rustle of every leaf, and each time it startled him into wakefulness again. Was something there? His eyes could pick out some vague shapes among the darkness, but that was all. Had that been there before? Surely it was just a branch, but didn’t it look like it could be arms? The others slept quietly around the fire, some snoring faintly. Raleth pushed back his sleeping roll and rose to his feet, making his way to the far side of the firepit, which had now burned down to embers. The ground felt harsh and rocky beneath his bare feet.

He heard a low rumbling sound, nearly imperceptible, but in the still of the night, his ears flicked toward it. Crouched just out of the fire’s dying light was an enormous cat, its cat the color of midnight. Though it was difficult to see well in the darkness, Raleth was sure it was much larger than any of the lynxes he’d seen in Eversong. Its eyes blazed bright gold, catching the firelight and reflecting it back. He could swear that as the cat looked at him, those eyes widened. Startled, the cat turned sharply and disappeared further into the cover of the underbrush. Raleth only saw the end of its tail as it was swallowed by the darkness. If you see animal, kill it. The orc’s orders echoed in his mind, but it was too late now. Besides, conjuring a blizzard spell would surely have attracted the attention of any scouts that might be in the area. Unless the cat had been the scout. It had a knowing look, and it had been startled — but wouldn’t any wild animal be startled to come across a camp of orcs? Probably just some foolish orc superstition, Raleth assured himself. He lingered a few moments longer, but the cat didn’t return. Raleth went back to his bedroll, but sleep didn’t come to him easily. Something about this place didn’t feel right.

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[Story/Screenshots] Character of the Week – Raleth Surana

[[ This is the Raleth that exists in the Dragon Age games. He is my canon Warden, an elf Mage. I lost a lot of my old screenshots when my old hard drive failed, but here’s one I snagged from another post! ]]

The new kid certainly didn’t look like a mage. He was impossibly thin and pointy, his eyes sunken and dark, dirt smudged on his face and shirt. Nevertheless, Raleth sat across from him at the table with his food tray.

“What do you want?” the kid snarled, but Raleth could see the tracks that tears had left in the dirt on his cheeks.

“I just thought you might want a friend,” shrugged Raleth. “It’s kind of weird at first, but I can show you around. My name’s Raleth.”

The kid’s dark eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Just–” Raleth paused. “I know what it’s like. Feeling different from everyone. Being scared.”

He wiped his nose on his sleeve roughly. “I’m not scared. And what do you know? You look like you’re some noble’s pet.”

Raleth glanced down at his apprentice robes, the same ones that every student wore, that the new kid would receive probably right after the meal. “They give these to us,” he explained.

“Oh,” said the boy, lowering his gaze. “I’m sorry. I’m Farrin.”

Raleth didn’t blame him for his mistrust, it was bred into you in the alienage. Farrin was old enough to have seen what life is like, and to be suspicious of strangers — even elven strangers. He himself had been much younger when he’d been taken, and hadn’t yet seen the things Farrin had — or his mother. She’d cried when they came to take him, but they were tears of joy. “You’re going to have a good life now, Raleth,” she’d told him. “You’ll have food and a warm bed and never go hungry.” He’d been a little afraid to leave her behind, but how could he possibly disappoint her? He’d tried sending letters to tell her how he was doing, but his mother couldn’t read and he’d never received a reply. But she hadn’t been wrong — the Circle was safe, and he was well cared for. A cage it might be, but at least it was a pleasant one.

“Have you been here a long time?” Farrin asked, after he’d wolfed down his tray of food. He was eyeing Raleth’s roll, so he gave it to him.

“I was seven or so, I think. So yes.”

Farrin blinked. “That young?”

Raleth nodded. “It’s rare for someone to be brought so old, actually. Usually they’ve gone on the run already.”

Farrin frowned and tore the roll apart, chewing one half of it. “Maybe I should have.”

“No — you don’t want that. It’s safe here. The instructors will show you how to do everything properly and safely. And it’s kind of nice having others to talk to. I kind of felt like — I don’t know,” Raleth sighed. “An animal on display.”

“How do you stand all the humans, though?” Farrin’s dark eyes darted toward the other table, where several of them sat together.

“It’s not a big deal here,” Raleth said. “I mean, not really. Not like it is out there. As long as you can keep up with classes, they don’t really care if you’re an elf.”

Farrin watched them doubtfully. “Really?”

“Really. And,” Raleth added. “Some of them aren’t that bad.”

“Don’t you ever miss it though?” Farrin asked.

“The alienage?”

Farrin scowled and shook his head. “The rest of the world.”

How could he miss something he had never known? But yes, it was true that he sat near the windows in the library sometimes, looking out over the lake and imagining what lay beyond. He’d seen paintings in books of faraway lands and exotic animals and fancy costumes, but that’s all they were to him — just fantasy. They were forbidden to leave, trapped here within the Tower unless the Chantry decreed otherwise, so there was no point in fighting it. Raleth had been at the Circle long enough to see what happened to those who tried.

“Maybe a little. But I think it’s worth it to learn to be a mage, don’t you?”

Farrin didn’t have an answer to that.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Ratchet

[[ Hit 20k today, tomorrow is another write-in so I hope to get another big chunk done then! ]]

Raleth let his human illusion fade as soon as Vaelarian stepped through the portal. He’d made it far enough from the front door that he’d have time ask a few questions — he had many.

“What was that?” he demanded. “Those were sentinels, weren’t they?”

Vaelarian trudged ahead through the wet grass, pulling his cloak around his shoulders. Two days ago, Raleth had made the portal to the goblin town for Vaelarian to check his mail. Raleth had stayed back some distance, as much out of wariness as a wish to avoid having to smell Ratchet. Even from afar, the rotting fish and engine grease stench was overwhelming, not to mention whatever they were trying to pass off as food. The postal box was inside the general store, central along the little strip of shops, and Vaelarian assured him it would only take a few minutes. He entered, and a moment later was followed by two kaldorei women. Raleth guessed they had to be sentinels because of the bows slung over their backs.

Maybe, Raleth thought, they will shoot him outright and all of this will be over. But then he felt guilty for having had such a thought; no matter how much the old man irritated and frustrated him, Naraleth loved him, as did Lali. And Raleth had to admit that it was nice to be able to get away with Lali once in a while, though they couldn’t dine in town, there was still Shattrath and remote places they could take a picnic. He had no idea how he’d explain himself if he’d managed to get Vaelarian killed on a simple trip to the postbox.

“Vaelarian!” Raleth called after him, exasperated. He was ignoring him, which wasn’t unusual. Raleth considered a spell to keep him in place, but decided against it.

“Yes,” Vaelarian grunted.

“What did they want?” Raleth demanded. Though he knew Vaelarian had no particular love of the sentinels, it made him nervous to have him talking to them. They likely still wanted to know where Lali was, especially as he’d been writing asking about her.

“None of your business, blood elf.”

Raleth twitched an ear. “I’d say it’s my business as long as you’re living in my house.”

Vaelarian shot him a dark look, but shrugged. “Just asked where I’d been.”

“And?” Raleth suspected that any answer he got might be a lie anyway, but he was well armed enough with magic to protect himself from Vaelarian — and any other kaldorei who might come after them. They’d have to move again, and he didn’t want that. They were finally beginning to feel settled here, even Lali seemed to enjoy her work teaching the younger students.

“Kalimdor.”

Raleth watched Vaelarian warily. “They just let you go? I thought you were wanted.”

“I am.”

“I don’t understand.”

Vaelarian shrugged, turning back toward the house again. “I had a talk with their captain. You need to make me a portal every week or so.”

Was he spying for them? Raleth couldn’t be certain, it seemed unlikely but he didn’t trust the old kaldorei at all. On the other hand, he could tell them what the sentinels were doing — provided Raleth could get it out of him. He didn’t like the idea of spending so much time in Ratchet, either. Unlike Hethurin, he hadn’t studied time portals and a night in Ratchet meant a whole night away from Lali and Naraleth. He worried whenever they were left alone. He wondered, too, if the kaldorei were laying a trap for him. Did Vaelarian still believe that Lali was held against her will? How could he, after living with them for so long? He watched the old kaldorei go inside, without wiping the mud off his feet. He’d have to keep a close eye on him.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Raleth’s Journal

Lali’s grandfather is the most impossible person to live with.  He’s been staying here, in our house, eating our food and complaining about it. The vegetables are weird, why don’t we have any deer meat, the wine isn’t strong enough. Then he’s either glaring at me or calling me “blood elf”, or outright insulting me. The things he says sometimes are so inappropriate I can’t even think of a reply. If it wouldn’t upset Lali, I’d throw him out. Or turn him into a pig or something. Maybe both, I could turn him into a pig and let him loose near all the hungry lynxes. I just can’t believe she’s related to him, she’s so kind and he’s awful. The moment I hear him saying things like that in front of Naraleth I’ll put my foot down. I certainly don’t want him saying such horrible things. He’s probably already taught him curse words in Darnassian.

I thought I’d ask for suggestions where I might search for the tauren. “Kalimdor”, yes, thank you that’s very helpful. Then he suggested I look inside every tent for them, because they live in tents. Yes, I know that too. I thought he might know where they would go after being forced out by the fighting with the orcs. He said they could be in Stonetalon, or Hyjal, or Feralas, or Winterspring, perhaps the swamp. Does he want me to spend months searching all of those places? Probably so. I know some of those places also have a lot of sentinels. At least that is one topic we largely agree on. But he says he knows many of them, so he might be able to get some information about where the tauren are at present. He said he couldn’t write from here, because then they would know his location — and Lali’s as well. According to him, she is still considered missing and I’ve done some sort of spell to keep her trapped here. So he suggested using another location, I know they sell post boxes in Ratchet for shipping purposes. I’ve been there before, so it would be a simple matter to travel via portal. If he actually follows through and writes them, I could send them from there. I am wary though, as I can’t read Darnassian very well and he could — in theory — write anything he wanted. Like that I’m holding him captive as well, or something else damaging that could put Lali in danger. I doubt he would do that, but he’s unpredictable so it’s impossible to say for sure what he might do.

It doesn’t help that I couldn’t recognize the tauren if I saw them, I don’t think. I have their names, but surely there are some names shared among them. They all look alike to me, aside from their spots or whatnot, but if they are wearing armor it’s impossible to even see that. Vaelarian said one was old, I know that much already. The younger one was brown, I think? Or maybe grey? I can’t even picture them at all. I wonder if they’d want to live out here. It would be very strange, but at least they should not be in danger. I’ve seen a tauren ambassador in the city, perhaps she could help them to adjust. Though I haven’t seen any besides her, not in the markets or the shops or any place. Silvermoon really isn’t designed for them.

Naraleth will be a dragon in Lali’s history play that they are putting on. I always enjoy those, she works so hard on them and the kids are cute in their costumes. That means he’ll already have something ready for the masked ball. I’m not sure what Lali and I will be just yet, maybe dragons as well. She could be a green and I could be  a blue, like Naraleth, or perhaps a bronze.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Raleth’s Journal

I’m looking forward to the new semester, there’s always a feeling of excitement when students return to class. I met with Hethurin (and eventually Aeramin) to help coordinate trips and major tests and things like that. It’s important to not schedule everything at once. Aeramin’s already wanting to give a test the first week back, to see what they’ve remembered. I worry that they’ll do poorly — because everyone forgets at least a little over the summer — and feel discouraged, but he says it won’t count toward their grade. I like to give them a few days to re-adjust to classes and the material. I’d like to have more advanced students act as mentors to newer ones, but I worry I just won’t have enough frost students for that. I’m well aware it’s the least popular school of magic, especially among sin’dorei. Many schools don’t even have a dedicated frost instructor, let alone an entire program. Hethurin is offering discounted tuition for new frost and arcane students, I hope that encourages some enrollment. I’d hate for Keyalenn to feel that he has nothing to do. I always try to get the students interested and excited about frost, but there’s only so much I can do — and people have their own personal preferences. I wouldn’t have switched to a fire study no matter how interesting my professor was.

Aeramin’s wedding is coming up soon, and he’s been busy preparing for that as well as his classes. For the moment, Maerista is taking on a lot of his duties, but he’s rightfully worried about overwhelming her. If he needs to, I think Hethurin will step in to help. She’s been assisting for quite a while now, but there are far more fire students than anything else and it’s a lot of work for just one person. He’ll be away for a week or two on his trip, which means I’ll have to wait before asking for any time away myself. It’s probably for the best, as I don’t even have an idea where Lali’s tauren friends might be — Kalimdor is a very big place, and dangerous. I’ve put a lot of work into practicing illusions and invisibility, which will be very useful there. But I think sentinels can still somehow sense it anyway. The last Lali heard from her friends, they were at the southern border of Ashenvale. It makes sense to begin looking for information there, unfortunately orcs are only slightly less dangerous than sentinels. Most have rarely even seen a sin’dorei, let alone been told that we’re supposedly allies. I wonder if I could do an orc illusion!

Hethurin and I talked about the children as well. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Naraleth having a sibling. Of course it’s Lali’s decision too, and she hasn’t hinted at it recently so she may not have the same wish. But I worry that Naraleth will feel isolated, especially being different from everyone around him. He’s old enough that he could understand and help care for a sibling, if he wanted to. Aeramin said he didn’t mind being an only child, and Hethurin doesn’t get along with all of us. And of course I’d rather not have mine. But not all siblings are like that. Hethurin’s girls get along wonderfully, and they always have someone to play with and share secrets and go on adventures. I like to think it would be that way for Naraleth, but it’s impossible to say for sure. Aeramin also said I should tell Lali’s grandfather to leave. I wish it were that simple. Though I dislike him being there (and eating all of our food, and calling me “blood elf”), he’s her family and one of the only reminders of home. And he helps with Naraleth, he seems to really enjoy spending time with him and I want him to have that for both their sake. One night he told me that he’s wanted, for what he didn’t say. Aeramin says it’s probably for murder, and he’s probably right. I still keep our door warded at night, just in case.

[Story] Story a Week 41

[[ Prompt: A romance that ends in tragedy

I’ve been wanting to write my Dragon Age Warden, Raleth, for a while. As he picked the (spoilers!!) ending where he chooses to sacrifice himself, I figured he’d fit for this prompt. It doesn’t actually happen in this story but whatever. ]]

The archdemon opened its jaws and screamed, a sound so shrill and un-nerving that Raleth could feel it in the ground beneath his feet. Panic seized him and he could do nothing but stare as the monstrous thing snaked its head toward him, its eyes burning with sickly flame. It roared again, this time so near that the force of it pushed him back, like a gust of wind in a storm. It smelled rancid, the stench of fouled meat and damp caverns. He turned and ran, the dead leaves kicking up underneath his feet, dodging the thin, black trees, slimy with moss and lichens. Raleth didn’t dare look, but he could hear the flapping of the leathery wings close behind, feel the rush of air as they flapped and stirred the leaves from the ground. He didn’t know where he was going, but somewhere, anywhere away from it. Maybe there was a cave he could duck into, but couldn’t it smell him? It had found him here, after all, somehow. Far ahead, wreathed in fog, Raleth could see figures silhouetted there and it briefly gave him hope. He was saved, someone was here to drive the monster off him and send it back to its fetid pit beneath the earth. But they weren’t people, he realized, as the shapes drew closer. Their bright eyes cut through the fog, leaving sharp lines of light. They were spirits of the fade, warped and twisted, and they weren’t here to help him. Not at all. Raleth gasped, and nearly stumbled over the root of a tree. His robes were wet and muddy from the forest, he could see the hem unraveling. How long had he been out here? The pause was all the Archdemon needed. It reared back its serpentine neck, and struck.

Raleth awoke with a start, and for a few moments he believed he was actually dead, until he realized that he was breathing heavily. Dead people don’t breathe, he was sure of that.

“Dreaming again?”

The bard’s features were outlined by the embers of the dying fire. It was her watch. Of course it was. Raleth felt his ears darken with embarrassment.

“Yes,” he said, gathering up his pack and blankets. He had strewn them off his sleeping mat. The dreams were bad enough, having to explain them was worse. He was sure he sounded crazy.

“Was it a bad one?” asked Leliana, stirring the fire with a stick. She lay a small log on it, and it flickered weakly into life again. “When I had bad dreams, they used to tell me to think of something else after. Something nice.”

If it were that easy, Raleth thought, he surely would. But they were so vivid, so real, unlike any he’d had back at the Circle. Almost if they were something else, prophetic, perhaps. But he knew that sounded crazy too. Still, he appreciated that she was trying to help. And it would probably be some time before he could sleep again. He could still feel the archdemon’s roar echoing in his ears. He wrapped one of the blankets around his shoulders and moved over to the fire to warm his hands. It wasn’t yet winter, but the nights grew very cold, especially at this late hour. She smelled nice, like some kind of flower. Raleth couldn’t identify it, but he knew it wasn’t the one he’d found for her in the woods. That one had been light and delicate and simple, unassuming. The one now smelled more exotic and fancy, like somewhere in the city. He thought about asking what she’d done with it, but decided not to. It would be awkward, even more awkward than things were presently. He thought, sometimes, that maybe there was something in the way she smiled, but he was probably just imagining it. Back in the Circle there had never been any girls who liked him that way. But he saw how they acted around boys that they did like, and he thought it might be similar. Or maybe she was just friendly to everyone. It seemed so. He didn’t want to make assumptions where he shouldn’t. Besides, he was an elf. He knew how that made him look to others. Especially someone who’d travelled so far and seen so much. She liked to tell of her homeland, and how opulent it was. What interest could she have in an elf from the poorest part of a city that stank?

“Are they from…?” she trailed off. Raleth knew what she meant. The demon’s blood that now ran through his veins, was part of him. Whatever it was that had marked him and set him upon this path, one that he couldn’t step off of no matter how much he wished to. He would have been happy to go back to the Circle, even with all its rules and templars, and forget about all of this. But then he wouldn’t have met her, would he?

He nodded. “They’re so real. I don’t know if they’re meant to show what will happen or –” Raleth paused, frowning. “Something else.”

“I have them sometimes,” Leliana said, her expression growing more serious. “Not like yours, I’m sure. But visions.”

Raleth nodded, he remembered. She’d said that she foresaw his arrival in a dream, that it was a sign from the Maker that she was to join them. Raleth believed in the Maker, dutifully said his prayers every day in the Circle chapel, but he didn’t consider himself especially religious. Still, how did he know it wasn’t true? Maybe it was. Stranger things had already happened to him. “Did you  have any recently?” he asked. About me, was what he wanted to know, but he didn’t say it.

Leliana paused, and he thought he saw a hint of a smile. What did that mean? “I’m not sure yet,” she said. “Sometimes their meaning isn’t clear at first.”

“Oh,” said Raleth. Of course he wanted to know what she meant, it was frustratingly vague and — he guessed — intentionally so. But he could hear others beginning to stir. It was close enough to dawn that it would be useless to try to go back to sleep now. Soon they would be cooking and packing up the camp and preparing to move. Streaks of pale light brushed the horizon. Whatever chance he might have had to say something was gone.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Raleth’s Journal

[[ Just a short one, this week and the next are tough for writing because kids are still home, but I’m trying to at least get something done! I will also be starting on summer art projects next week! ]]

It seems I’ve got myself a new student. True, she’ll be studying with Hethurin as well, but since I’m the one who is taking steps to see that she can attend, I think of her as mine. I’m not sure why I agreed to it, other than I sympathize with her, perhaps. She’ll always be an outsider, not really belonging anywhere. I’m worried about that for Naraleth. I don’t want him to feel like he has nowhere to go. I spoke with Hethurin, he was hesitant at first but eventually agreed to it. I’m aware that I’m her sponsor of sorts, if anything should go wrong it’s me who will be responsible. But I’m certain that it won’t. She studied in Dalaran, and then with the Highborne mage for several years. If she was going to cause trouble, she would have by now. That’s another thing. I’m not especially keen to visit Lali’s former teacher (and his stupid beard) but I’ll need to go and pick her up as she doesn’t know where the school is. I rather doubt it would be a good idea to send her through Silvermoon, either. Hopefully he won’t ask too much about Lali, I don’t expect that he will though – he’s likely still embarrassed about the whole situation too.

My main worry is that she’ll feel too different from the others. It is my hope that she’ll be allowed to stay in the girls’ building with the other students. Hethurin plans to talk to them about it. He said he’d build a whole separate house if he needs to, but I think that would only make her feel more isolated. After all, the rangers work with death knights, and haven’t had any trouble that I’ve heard about, and Sora isn’t a death knight. Just a mage who died during her training.

Being in Shattrath was interesting. It was nice to see it again, I’ve always liked its unique nature, but I always feel on guard there, as if my brother could be around any corner. At least I know he’s unlikely to be in the library, so I feel safe letting Lali stay there to study.

The summer term has started, but it seems most of the students will be staying. We teachers have our work cut out preparing the elective courses. As we’ll soon have a lot of new young students, Hethurin is considering hiring a second general studies instructor. That would let Lali teach the little ones, which she really likes, and perhaps an elective as well. Of course I can’t sign her up for anything without her permission. But maybe she’d like to teach about Kalimdor history or the cows, something like that. One of Hethurin’s plans is to build a greenhouse on the grounds, Ter brought back some manaberry plants and they intend to plant them there. I do hope they do well, it would be wonderful to have fresh manaberries all year round.