Until now, I hadn’t had a chance to take in the forest scenery. The first chance I had to relax was when I was held at arrow point. The irony wasn’t lost on me. But before I’d been stopped, I hadn’t noticed the way that the trees looked like pillars holding up an emerald sky, or how the moss stretched like a sea.
My captor glanced back at me. “Keep up,” he growled. His vocabulary seemed to consist of little else.
We continued in silence for over an hour. I had begun to notice things about my captor that seemed off. His clothes, for instance, weren’t made out of linen or any other cloth, but were fashioned from the organic material that the forest itself was made of. My captor’s clothes were woven together from leaves, vines, pieces of moss, and bits of bark. And the fact that he was here at all was astounding.
What is he doing outside a Wall? I kept thinking. I couldn’t find an answer. There were myriad dangers in the forest, yet here someone was with almost no protection.
As we went, the tree trunks thickened. First, I could wrap my arms around them. Later, it would take two people to wrap their arms around it. Now I estimated the trees to be seven arm lengths around.
“We’re approaching the village,” my captor hissed.
“What village?” I asked.
“The elven village,” he continued in a murmur. I had to bite my tongue to stop from saying anything. My captor was an elf? I’d heard rumors that elves lived in the forest, but they were vague at best. “Now, stop talking!”
“Why are you whispering?” I said. “There’s no one around…. Wait, is there?”
“We have guards around our village,” the elf replied. “Just like you. Ours just stay hidden.”
We continued through the forest, and I kept expecting armored elves to burst out of the trees at any moment. I wasn’t disappointed. Only a few minutes later, a figure dropped to the mossy ground from the tree branches above us, landing with catlike grace.
“What have you got there, Laryn?” the new elf asked.
My stomach lurched when I realized that she was addressing the elf who had captured me. He was the one the Harbinger had told me to find? Why hadn’t he told me? And how would finding a dry, sarcastic elf help my situation? The Harbinger hadn’t been clear as to why I was supposed to find Laryn. I tried to keep my confusion from reaching my face.
My captor’s face twitched at the mention of his name and his eyes flicked towards me. “You know what he is, Shalana,” Laryn replied.
“But what are you planning on doing with it?” the woman replied. “You’re not….You’re not actually bringing it to the village, are you?” Laryn nodded stiffly.
“I’m not an ‘it!’” I protested, but the elves ignored me.
“Why would you bring it to the village?” Shalana asked, baffled.
“His….The boy’s village was destroyed.” Laryn feigned anguish. There was no way he could know what really happened, but he struck close far too close to home. “He was the only survivor.”
“But….” Shalana lowered her voice. “He’s a human.” She said the word ‘human’ the way she might say ‘plague’ or ‘saber-toothed stink worm.’
“Really?” Laryn said. Sarcasm dripped from each syllable. “I hadn’t noticed.” He looked back at me. “Let’s go.”
Laryn trudged on. I looked back at the other elf; she had a raised eyebrow and parted lips, fixing us with a questioning look as she returned to her post in the tree. I raced to catch up with Laryn.
“Why didn’t you tell me your name?” I asked.
“You didn’t tell me yours.”
“What difference would it have made?” Laryn continued.
I sighed. I didn’t have an answer to that. “Who’s Taanyth, anyway?” I asked.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
When I first arrived at the village, I didn’t know what it was. When Laryn first said “Here we are,” I thought he was mocking me. The moss had been walked on, showing paths branching through the trees, but that was the only difference I found from the rest of the forest. And then I looked up.
The village wasn’t really on the ground, most of it was suspended over one hundred feet above it. Each tree had a hut-like structure wrapped around it, so that it looked like the huts had been speared on their trunks. Several had stairs spiraling up them, and bridges made of rope or branches forming natural bridges connected the houses to each other in a chaotic spiders’ web.
I could see scores of people moving around the village above my head; it made me nostalgic of Market Day in Stratha. I could even see what appeared to be shops and stores amid the houses.
None of the elves noticed Laryn or me, or be at all conscious of the height. They went about their lives at about one hundred feet off the ground.
I grinned, ogling at the houses towering over my head. “Quit grinning like an idiot,” Laryn muttered. “Let’s go see Taanyth.” Laryn lead me onwards, but couldn’t manage to wipe the wonder-struck look off my face.
We approached a tree at what I judged to be the center of my village, a tree that dwarfed the rest. The trunk was over one hundred feet in diameter, and the lowest branches began above the forest canopy. Another striking feature was the trunk itself. From a distance, it looked like the trunk was covered in carvings, but it wasn’t. I looked closer and realized that the bark had grown in rivulets, so it appeared that the entire trunk was covered in runes and swirling images.
“What is this?” I murmured, in awe of the massive tree.
“Trust me,” Laryn growled. “Taanyth will yammer on and on about the Tree of Souls. You don’t want me to talk about it.”
Laryn’s foul mood was starting to offset me, but it wasn’t enough to completely dampen my excitement about everything that was happening.
The elf lead me around the gargantuan tree trunk. There was a rift spreading through the bark, about the height of a door. It hadn’t been cut, it looked like it had grown into an entrance the same way the bark had grown into carvings.
Laryn nudged me toward the rift. “Go on,” he said.
“You want me to go inside the tree?”
I glanced at Laryn’s bow, not drawn, but ready. He hadn’t threatened me recently, but all the same…. I stepped through the door and into the tree.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The interior of the tree was hollow, but it appeared to have grown that way. Mushrooms and other fungi dotted the walls, bathing the inside of the tree in a pale blue light.
At the center of the tree was a pool of water, about the size of an average room. A white haired figure was peering into the depths. He wore a leafy garb similar to Laryn’s, but his was more of a robe. His silvery hair and beard stretched down to his waist.
Laryn noisily cleared his throat, and the figure looked up. “Laryn,” the old man said. “Why have you brought this human here? Take him back to his village.”
“Taanyth. He claims he needs out help,” Laryn replied. “Both of ours.”
“And I found him running from Stratha.”
“Oh. I see,” the old elf, Taanyth, said. “Come with me, Corso. We have much to discuss.”
I was bubbling with excitement. It had only taken a few hours for me to locate both Laryn and Taanyth, and I’d even found an entire city of elves. Still, something felt wrong.
“How do you know my name?” I said.
“He knows because we’ve been expecting you to arrive here,” Laryn replied.
“Expecting me?” I repeated. “Why?”
This time, it was Taanyth who answered. “Because you’re going to save us all.”