By T.K. Wilson
Word Count: 15261
Rating: PG for depictions of PTSD panic attacks and violence
Summary: When Lady Goewyn of House Meridian meets the long missing treeman of roses, Lord Rhodon of the Western March, her eyes are opened to a new world of danger, magic, and healing.
Chapter 6: Nature Magic
The next morning, Goewyn set out for Rhodon’s garden before anyone else was awake. In the early morning light, she trucked along through the forest, still chilly from the night’s dewfall. Knowing a Witch was about had made Goewyn more cautious than usual. She didn’t carry her sword in her hand but was aware of it’s presence.
Very rarely did she have this kind of freedom. As the caretaker for the Wards of the Crown, a group of human children taken to Avalon for their own safety, she had to tend to many duties, from arranging for clothes and school supplies from the human world, to kissing bumped heads and chasing away nightmares with her harp. Goewyn didn’t do it alone of course, nobody expected an elf of her age to bear full responsibility for caring for a gaggle of children, she served as a babysitter or nanny figure in reality. When she was at home in Meridian, it was Goewyn’s time to embrace being young, and one of the privileges of being young was heading out into the woods to meet a new friend.
Goewyn wasn’t sure how to get in. Was there a switch, or would the thorns obey her? Or did she just have to shout and hope that Rhodon could hear?
“I know I’m not your master, but will you obey me? I have the gift of plant magic.” said Goewyn to the thorn bushes.
“No, that would be rude. Like pushing someone’s door open without permission.” Goewyn took a deep breath and shouted out for Rhodon.
“Lord Rhodon! It’s Goewyn! Can you open the gates?”
The bushes parted elegantly to reveal the garden and it’s master. He was holding the door with one arm and with the other nipping off berries from some raspberry bushes near the door.
“Good morning, Lord Rhodon.”
Rhodon continued picking berries, ignoring the thorns and moving shyly past Goewyn. Goewyn quietly joined him, smiling as she heard the dryad mutter
“Blast these chafers!”
When they had picked the bush clean, Rhodon picked up the basket and walked away toward the stream. Goewyn followed at his heels, wondering how she was going to get this man to talk to her, or even look her in the eye.
“You do not have to use my title every time you speak to me.” said the treeman without turning.
“Very well, Rhodon, what can I do to assist you?”
“Nothing, I suppose. I asked you to keep me company, not to be my assistant.”
Goewyn whipped out her left hand toward a group of daisies. The wild power of plant magic flowed out of her fingertips and sparkled around the daisies. Silently, she commanded the plants to grow, causing them to shoot upward, the flowers doubling, tripling in size.
Rhodon jumped back in surprise shouting,
Rhodon turned to Goewyn and saw her fingers glittering green and gold, the colors of plant magic. Goewyn playfully blew on the tips of her fingers, scattering the sparks.
“I did not know you inherited Aelwen’s gift.”
“I’m the only one in my generation to have it.”
“Forsooth, you outrank me then.” said Rhodon examining the daisies.
“You’ve had far longer to perfect your skills, I’m still young among my people.”
Rhodon looked kindly at her, Goewyn noticing for the first time the haunted look in his eyes.
“Do not underestimate your gift. Someday it may be used to save these woods, as Aelwen’s was.”
“Tell me about the forest, what’s it like out here?”
“The forest is my home, I know nothing to compare it to.”
“But it’s so important to my people! I’ve always loved the forest, when I was little, my brother would take me out into the Eastern March for picnics in the apple grove.”
Rhodon’s face brightened.
“Then you must know my kinsman Ablach!”
“Yes, Lord Ablach and Lady Maia are frequent visitors, and friends of mine, they always share their crops with us.”
Rhodon and Goewyn continued their walk, speaking of mutual friends, like Ablach, and Friend Raven, the oldest of the ravens in the woods. Coming to a pause, Rhodon asked
“Goewyn, I do not recall you mentioning your brother before. Why is that?”
Goewyn looked down and away.
“Oh. I am sorry.”
“It’s alright. It happened when I was five, it’s been years.”
“What is his name?”
“Gwalchmai and Goewyn. Very clever.”
“Dad always thought so. I suppose that’s something we have in common.”
“Great loss is not precisely what I would think of as something to form a friendship over.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Where do your parents live?”
“They’re Meridian’s representatives in the capitol.”
The unlikely pair sat down on the grass and Goewyn began playing her harp. She played a few instrumental tunes before singing softly a ballad of the Elves of Shangri-La.
Blossoms tell the story they know,
It’s truth no one can deny.
Blooming like the flowers,
A tale of pure, true love,
Liang Shanbo and Tzu Yingtai!”
As Goewyn sang the ancient ballad, she noticed that Rhodon was quietly humming the harmonies. Perhaps there was hope for him to come from his shell.
When Goewyn finished the song, Rhodon smiled lightly.
“Lady Yingtai was one of my friends.”
“What was she like, really?”
“Oh, she was sweet and shy as a magnolia. I could not understand how a girl so delicate was a warrior and had the courage to go to an all boys school. But for all that, she had a spine of steel, no less than Lady Mulan and Lady Aoyagi.”
“Where the Battle Sisters really like sisters?”
“Most certainly! They were never, ever far apart from each other. And always singing! Three part harmonies, sometimes four, if…”
Rhodon paused, swallowing hard and breathing deeply.
“If Akasma was with them.”
Goewyn nodded. Even if it hurt, talking about Akasma was good for him.
“What were they like, all of them?”
“Mulan was a boisterous one. She had a laugh you could hear for miles, and had a big heart to go with it. All the men loved her. Aoyagi as lovely as the willows that lent her their name. She was so kind to everyone, even the animals. Like you she commanded the power of plants, though only the trees, and because of that, she knew when danger was coming before anyone else. Her courage granted her great loyalty, but that was true of all three sisters.”
“What about Akasma?”
Rhodon stopped, shutting his eyes and folding his hands. Goewyn backpedaled fast.
“You don’t have to talk about her if you don’t want to.”
Rhodon ran his fingers over the golden chain around his neck, his eyes still closed.
“Akasma… Akasma was wonderful. She was a true treasure of Avalon. She came to me in the teeth of a gale, her dress in tatters, shivering in the cold. It was mid autumn when she arrived, but when I looked at her, I saw springtime in physical form.”
Rhodon chuckled ruefully, eyes open and looking at Goewyn.
“I was very hasty in those days, to fall in love so quickly and so hard. But I could not help it, everything about Akasma called to be loved. We certainly had our share of quarrels, she was as stubborn as I, but for it all, I loved her. She loved everyone, and was so gentle. If she did not like someone, she would not say it to their face, oh no, she went about it in a more subtle way. Her wit was as sharp as thorns! The only person it could be said that she hated, and even that is strong, was the Fear Dubh himself. But he hated everyone who shone the Light, and Akasma was full of it. ”
“Even if you knew… that she would die… would you still love her as much as you did?”
Rhodon looked away from Goewyn, towards the willow trees. Subconsciously, his hands went for the chain again. Goewyn scooted closer and set a hand on his arm. Rhodon turned around to face her.
“Yes. I would love her just as much and more. I would prize every day I had with her more than dwarfish gold and dragon’s jewels. More dear than sunlight and fresh air, more precious than water and soil.”
Tears began running down Goewyn’s cheeks. She had never heard something so heartbreakingly lovely. Nor so romantic, even among her romantic people. Rhodon brushed her tears away with the corner of his tunic.
“Please, please, do not cry over me!” he exclaimed in distress.
Rhodon pushed Goewyn’s face up gently, fitting his fingers under her chin.
“I have learned in my many years under the sun that this is part of life. Yes, I will always miss Akasma and I will always love her, but do not mourn for me. I have done that already, and I do not wish to see you grieve for me. Akasma would not want to see you weep for her either.”
Goewyn sniffled and wiped her eyes on a handkerchief she pulled from her harp case.
“She died to save you and Lord Orpheus and Lady Solana, therefore I too, owe her my life.”
Rhodon removed his hand from under Goewyn’s chin and rose to his feet.
“She would have loved you.” he said softly helping Goewyn to her feet.
Sunset shadows crawled across the garden as Goewyn let herself out. Looking back one last time, she saw the tall, lonely, figure of the treeman walking across the turf. Talking about Akasma seemed to help him a great deal. Healing was slowly filtering through his mind and heart, like water through a sieve.
“Light and joy are returning to the March, and no one will banish it again.” she promised beginning her walk home.
On the outer side of the garden, hidden from sight, a human listened to Goewyn’s promise. She was a young woman, and beautiful, but she carried so much hate and anger it burned inside like a fire. She looked at the garden wall, able to smell the flowers over it. It wasn’t as though she hated the flowers, she liked flowers. But such feelings were for the weak. Weak little girls liked flowers. Weak little girls got hurt. And no one was going to hurt her again. She was going to prove she was strong. And being strong meant that she would make others feel her pain.
Rhodon sat in his cottage that night, thinking by the glow of the lightbringer crystal that sat on his table. Centuries of silence had gone over his home and his shattered heart, and then… Goewyn. Of course, Raven and Ablach had visited him and brought him news, that was what kept him sane, but never since his mourning had an elf come to his garden. It was almost as if Solana was alive again. Almost. Only his people, like the trees they protected, had the chance; and that slim, to come back from death. Rhodon knew that Goewyn was not Solana, but all the same she offered him what his heart craved: understanding and compassion.
“Friendship, love, and loyalty have not died.” he sighed.
Placing the cover over the glowing stone, Rhodon fell asleep, softly humming the harmonies of the ballad of Shanbo and Yingtai.
*Inspired by the translation of the choral version of The Butterfly Lovers by Gang Chen. This is the only verse I’ve adapted so far.