A/N – Part two of Annalise’ origin. There’s definitely going to be a part three! And once that’s done I expect I may write about my friends’ characters because I’m finding this a lot of fun. If you want to read part one, click here.
One of the oldest trees in the westen region of Axix’ forests was being strangled by clinging vines, along with many of the surrounding trees and plants. The creeping parasite that covered them was a thick and fast-growing stem which squeezed the life out of anything it grew on and had stretched to block the light from even the canopy leaves. The health of the overall area was declining as a result. Aware of the growing wound, the druids deliberated over many days before assigning the fifteen year old Annalise to travel there and heal the imbalance.
At first the training druid questioned why she, with so little experience and limited ability, should be chosen for the task. But the elders insisted that this was exactly the kind of experience she needed to gain in order to progress.
“The world is not always about power and force,” Rowan, one of the oldest teachers said, “Sometimes softer touches, done in the right way, can make an even larger impact. Use your inner wisdom and kindness to make up for a lack of powerful spells.”
“Yes Elder.” Annalise bowed her head with respect, “I will do my best to heal the forest and save the oldest westen tree.”
“I know you will do well, Annalise.” Rowan’s voice was like the rustling of dry leaves.
Annalise and Silver were of course to make the journey together. They had not parted once since the binding ceremony when she was twelve. It had taken some time to adjust to seeing the world at all, let alone to see it move whenever her companion turned her head. But over the years the two had worked out a fluid symbiosis of doing everything together and Annalise could interpret the signals sent from the cat’s eyes very well. Silver was proud and curious, content to follow the human druid through forests or cities alike. Seeing new things seemed to please the feline – she liked to watch silently and let Annalise interact with people. There was a quiet judgement always in her gaze but never a word on her tongue. Even if she was inclined to speak, it was only Annalise who could hear her anyway.
Back in the capital city, Annalise informed her father the King that she was taking a trip to the western forests. Naturally he insisted she took guards while his daughter disagreed willfully. Much negotiation ensued before they agreed on a minimum of two of their most trusted armed escorts which Annalise could command to give her distance when she needed solitude to tune into the spirit of the forest. It was also agreed that they would not tell the people that the princess was leaving the city until she had returned, for her own safety.
Being royalty, the servants packed her bag with many fine dresses encrusted with gems and her father gifted her an exquisite blue gown lined with gold thread for the occasion of her departure. Annalise was too kind to explain that these clothes would not be convenient for her work in the wilds so she asked the palace tailor to make her a cloak which would cover the sparkling detailing of her garment from prying eyes as she set out and swapped some of the other dresses for simpler items when nobody was looking. She also wore thick boots and declined to bring many more items; just a few changes of clothes, a hairbrush and basic provisions for nourishment were all she needed.
Setting out was incredibly exciting. Silver was also bristling with anticipation – her primal instincts wired with the promise of new lands, new prey, new scents, sights and challenges. Annalise and her guards rode horses bred for speed and hardiness but only asked them to canter a portion of the journey as well as stopping several times a day for stretching, resting and feeding. Silver was happy to walk or sprint along besides.
The entire journey was estimated to take just less than a week; however, the weather was fair and the small party made it in four and a half days. At the edge of the western forest, Annalise dismounted and sat on the earth with her hands stretched to touch a near tree. The guards didn’t question it although the action must have confused them. They knew the association the princess had with the druids and respected it. Even if they did ask, druidic lore and magic was arcane and secret so they didn’t expect their questions to be answered even if they did voice them.
Annalise stood after some minutes and lowered her hood. “I know the way now. You may follow a little behind me.”
The guards nodded and took her horse to lead through the trees as well as their own. They progressed through near-untrodden pathways forged only by scurrying animals. The going was slow on account of their mounts – the guards cut away thorns that might hurt the large creatures and Annalise was happy to wait to save any animal pain. Meanwhile, Silver was completely unseen amongst the undergrowth except when she emerged to show her blind human the obstacles in her path. For a creature with such a bright colour, she was more than capable of stealth. Annalise was able to sense her surroundings and had naturally steady feet from years of practice. With the aid of Silver’s eyes she was able to avoid any major problems such as roots or thorns that might trip or bite her skin.
Finally the fresh trees and ferns began to dwindle, replaced by grey-brown tendrils that slithered over everything in an insidious choke-hold. It was a dull plant with few leaves to be seen except near the canopy where it sprouted to selfishly steal the sun from everything else.
Annalise found the great western tree at last, completely invisible under the vines that clung to it. She decided the best thing to do would be to meditate. Silver hunted her evening meal; a small bird. The young woman said a quick prayer for the eaten animal and pondered on the state of the forest and how it should best be healed.
Several weeks passed and Annalise had torn many of her dresses, muddied her hands and tangled her wild hair with the branches on many occasions. Her horse’s mains were no longer trimmed to perfection, the guards had removed their armour and set up a friendly camp near (but not too near) to where she worked and Silver had familiarised herself with every nook and path for a league in all directions. It was interesting how quickly a new place could feel like home, especially if it was in nature.
Most importantly of all, the forest was slowly healing under the care of the princess. She spent hours and hours carefully cutting the vines that ran up the great tree. Without nutrients from its roots, the vines withered and Annalise was able to pull them away without damaging the tree’s bark and give the stiff stalks to her guards to burn at night for warmth. She also weaved much of it into beautiful knots and intricate ropes which she arranged into stunning arches, wreaths, and cords that delicately marked the end of a life.
Not until the vines were almost fully removed did Annalise even begin to use magic to slowly feed the trees with life and love and encouragement to try again. Speeding up the growth process meant the local flora could photosynthesize and drink water in much less time to make energy for repair and renewal. Weeks might have seemed a long time to Annalise before when she thought about magic. But now she knew magic could be gentle touches and care just as much as it could be power, just as elder Rowan had said.
Annalise didn’t just serve the great western tree, of course. She also dedicated much time and energy into the healing and preservation of the surrounding area, curbing the vines and turning them into woven art. She even built nests up in the trees and huts on the ground out of the woven material, hoping that a bird or fox would be able to take shelter and also find peace after the tangled disease had passed from their forest.
She was a little sad when it was time to go. However, it would also be nice to change scenery again, take a hot bath and see her fellows and peers. Annalise and her guards once more mounted their shaggy steeds and rode for home.
At the palace there were indeed hot baths and banquets. The royal court offered to clean and trim Silver too, but of course the wild cat declined. She was perfectly happy with her naturally long fur and tongue for grooming.
With the druids, the reunion was much more quiet but no less happy. She hugged her close friends in the circle and hugged the familiar trees she had missed. Then when it was time she sat before the elders.
“We are very happy with your work in the western region, Annalise.” Rowan began, “We have heard from the animals that you spared no effort and worked hard with body and spirit both. We commend your use of the vines to create art and shelter for the native animals and we respect your patience and careful attitude.”
“Thank you, Elder.”
“We would also like to thank you, Silver. Although you are not a druid, we are blessed to shelter you in our lands and Annalise is lucky to share your wisdom and support.”
Silver ducked her head in acknowledgement. She was thankful for the shelter the druids had given her and therefore indulged their customs and formality.
“I’m unsure if you know this, dear.” Another elder named Rey turned back to Annalise, “But the task given to you was in part a test.” He paused to gauge her reaction. Annalise shook her head – she had not guessed such a thing. He continued, “You have passed the test Annalise. We would like to initiate you as a full druid with all of the rights and privileges of the position. You will have access to all our secret knowledge and the care of any druid clan you come across. Are you willing?”
Momentarily speechless, Annalise couldn’t believe her ears. With a little processing, however, she was eventually able to nod while grinning from ear to ear. “It would be my honour, Elders.”
Thus the ceremony was set for the next day. Annalise arrived in a plain green dress, freshly sewn at the palace especially for the occasion. It had no gems and no gold thread. It didn’t even have a petticoat. What it did have, however, was a beautiful feminine shape, a skirt that reached her knees and green stitching to resemble grass and ferns all along the hem. She wore her wavy red hair in a ponytail for convenience and somehow looked both regal and wild at the same time.
There was a stone circle at the top of a hill where the most important ceremonies of the Axixian druids were held. Here Annalise stood in bare feet with her brethren surrounding her and changing strange and magical words. Annalise could mostly understand them due to her studies of the druidic language but they were still ethereal to her ears – ancient and hinted with old power.
A green paste was gently pressed into the skin at the back of Annalise’s neck. She knew they would be drawing a Celtic knot – a symbol of the interconnectedness of life and growth, both physical and spiritual. This was how druids knew each other and her personal key to the full wealth of knowledge they possessed. The mark would fade and disappear with time. But with the touch of a druid; herself or another, it would reappear as a sign to recognise other servants of the earth.
Annalise said her own sacred words and reached for the sun, asking its blessing. In the following days, she asked for the blessing of the moon too, and the trees and the flowers and the creatures. It took several days in all, sitting in the middle of her stone circle and eating only what was brought to her in kindness.
Once it was done, the new druid was exhausted and shivering. But she was happy. She held Silver in her arms and thanked all those who had trained and supported her since she was but a tiny child with no hope or purpose.
The future looked bright as Annalise ate a hot meal with the others and listened to stories of far lands. Silver’s fur was prickling with curiosity again, her claws kneading the ground beneath her paws. Annalise felt the cat’s yearn to see new far places again and considered perhaps more travel could be a good thing for them. Visiting the westen forests had been a favourable adventure and valuable experience before. If Silver enjoyed traveling so much and it gave her the opportunity to do good in more places, then why not?
For now however, it was not time for travel. It was time for rest. Even Silver was feeling the tiredness in her bones from just watching Annalise undertake the ceremony for multiple days without sleep. With Silver at her side, Annalise travelled back to the palace to rest and share the good news.