The Heir of the Dragon
Trevan took a deep breath, staring up at the light of Eldrasil. It was as warm and beautiful as always, and it made him happy to feel her love. But he missed the sunlight. Pulling on his trousers and robe, he tightened the cloth belt and stepped out of his hut.
The sound of sandals touched down behind him. He didn’t turn around, knowing Keela was the only one it would be.
“Where are you going today?”
Trevan sighed in exasperation. “Just for a walk in the village. Is that allowed?”
“It is permitted,” Keela said, her emotions as measured as always. She walked up beside him. Dressed in casual robes instead of her hunting outfit, she looked like a different woman, short brown hair left loose to frame a stern face that could actually be seen for once. Those cold green eyes were the same as always, though.
Trevan walked through the village with Keela beside him. An observer might see it as two childhood friends taking a stroll, but in Trevan’s eyes it was more akin to a guard watching her prisoner.
Trevan’s face brightened as a group of children approached, staring up at the two of them with wide green eyes. There were eight of them, all the children of the village. The population of Eldrasil Village may have been scarce, but each life was precious. These children who had been born here, and their mothers, many of whom had lost their spouses, and those who had been too old to fight in the war at all, all having fled to safety beneath Eldrasil’s cradle. The people of the village itself were the leftovers from the war, but Trevan knew they were the heart of Estval. Trevan himself was one of the few able-bodied men, which made him quite a prominent figure, especially thanks to his role as their protector.
“Are you going up to the surface today?” One of the boys, a seven year old named Ki stared excitedly up at him. Like the others, he had never stepped outside.
“Not today, little one,” Trevan laughed kindly, shaking his head.
“But mom’s running low on meat, when are you guys going hunting next?” Sweet Leila asked.
“Things are a little dangerous out there right now,” Trevan tactfully replied. “Once things are little safer, we’ll go out again.”
“K-Keela? I made it for you…” Another boy, Raly, broke from the crowd and waddled over to Keela, holding up something in his pudgy little hands. It was a small flower made of leaves folded with traditional Estvalian leaf sculpting, even if it was a rough example of it. Keela accepted it graciously nonetheless, her usual stoic expression changing to a beaming smile of joy.
“Why, it’s gorgeous, thank you,” Keela placed it in a pouch hanging on her belt. “Now, you kids run along, if you’re out this early you should be playing, now shouldn’t you?”
“Yes, miss! Bye!” The kids ran off towards the fields near the gate, waving goodbye.
“Aww, how sweet,” Trevan gave her a playful smirk, “your little boyfriend got you a present!” Keela swatted him on the chest.
“They’ll continue asking,” Trevan’s voice changed to a more serious topic, checking to make sure they were out of earshot. “We can’t stay here forever. We’re running out of meat.”
“The farm can make enough food to sustain us,” Keela asserted. “Hunting isn’t a priority right now. Not as long as you are still… volatile.”
“Keela, it’s been weeks! When am I going to be allowed back out there?” Trevan demanded in frustration. “I want to feel the sun on my face, practice my Awakening Magic! I need to consult the Sisters of the Seasons! I’m this village’s guardian and I can’t even walk around without a guard dog!”
“I didn’t realize my company was such a burden on you,” Keela sniffed, walking away. “You can’t leave the village. This isn’t just about you almost getting caught. Patrols are getting more frequent. It’s that time of year. You don’t have the same techniques for concealing yourself that I’ve mastered with the Order of Nightshade. It’s too dangerous for anyone else.”
Trevan suppressed the growl welling up in his chest and stormed after her. As the end of the year drew near and winter came, Saekorian tourists would come to visit Estval in droves, to enjoy the warmer climate. When that happened, the “Eldrasil Ruins” received more than a few shares of guests as well.
“There will be more guards to protect the tourists,” Keela continued in her patronizing tone, like he was child. “So we’ll keep our heads down, as we always do.”
“Every year we stay here and tend our farms through winter,” Trevan groaned. “How long are we going to have to put up with this!? The kids are growing older, and they’re asking more questions every year! How long before they realize the truth? Before they start asking to go to the surface for themselves?!”
“That,” Keela said, her voice turning to ice as she turned to Trevan, glaring at him, “will not happen. Children do not leave the village. That is the law.”
Trevan glanced back at the kids playing off in the distance. They were so curious, just as he’d been as child. How long before they started asking to learn how to hunt? Before one of them snuck out to take a peek outside, and got caught?
“I still think we should tell them,” Trevan gave a mutter of resignation, walking past Keela towards the farms. “Like Jorn says, let them know what the world beyond Eldrasil is really like! Know what their people are really going through out in the districts. Keeping them isolated here won’t help them, Keela! I know Elder Wormwood is just trying to keep them safe, but how long do you think we’ll last?!”
Keela looked away and Trevan knew that she knew he was right.
“Just… just a little longer…” Trevan could barely hear her trembling voice. “I just want them… to keep smiling like that for a little longer…”
The times when Keela showed emotion stung. Trevan understood why she felt so strongly even if it was the wish of a fool. Growing up during the Third Estvalian War of Independence had taken their own childhoods.
“I went to the Order, and you stayed here, learning your magic.” Keela’s voice may have sounded tearful, but the eyes staring back at him were dry. “Are you so desperate to deny them their innocence? Like us?”
They had walked to the outskirts of the village. Trevan glanced over his shoulder at the villagers traveling about their day behind him, some coming their way to tend the fields.
“Let’s not do this here,” he grumbled.
Keela nodded her head. Their conversation didn’t resume until they Keela’s own plot, set aside for her home and garden. One of the few places in the village to find color of a shade other than green or brown, the field of flowers she tended to was a rainbow upon the ground.
As Keela went to her flowers, Trevan vented out his frustrations.
“Don’t you understand how crazy you sound?” He demanded. “You’re the one always saying that we need to be patient, to wait for our time to strike! That we can’t start a revolution now, with the meager resources we have! And you’re right, okay?! You’re right! A few teenagers and a bunch of old men and widows won’t do a damn thing against Saekoria! And even if by some miracle we were able to liberate our countrymen from the districts, we would still lose! I know you think I’m so impatient that I’m not looking at the big picture, but I get it! And that’s why I’m telling you that I have to train! The sooner I can master Awakening Magic, the sooner we can get started on seizing back our forests and driving out those damn cloudheads!” Trevan took a breath to calm down, having gotten more heated than he’d meant to.
Keela said nothing, only giving him a stony look that he couldn’t read.
“If you think this could take a long time, yeah, I’m not arguing with you,” Trevan continued more calmly. “But you can’t say that, while continuing to pretend like everything is going fine! Protecting the village is our duty, and part of that duty is going to involve letting the kids know what they’re going to see when they climb those walls someday, when they grow up. What they’re going to have to fight, who they’re going to have to hide from! We had to learn that all on our own, do you really want to make them go through that? How long do we wait? Five years? Ten? Ki’s only seven, right, so in eight years he’ll be OUR age and then-“
“I DON’T KNOW, OKAY?!” Keela shouted, the mask she’d perfected when training with the Order slipping away. Trevan was so stunned by the sudden outburst of emotion he nearly fell over, not sure what to make of it. It only lasted for a second before she recomposed herself, returning to the cold expression and tone she wore so well. “Pardon my outburst.”
“No, no, it… it’s fine,” Trevan muttered, his heartbeat returning to a normal speed. “I might have… said too much.”
“No… you’re right,” Keela admitted, lowering her head and turning away from him, sprinkling some water over a bed of flowers. “I don’t know what to do. I feel in my heart that I want to protect those children, but I know it’s impossible. If I could, I would let you go out every day, you could practice your magic until you awakened and then kill every Saekorian in our forest. But it isn’t up to what I want.”
She turned back to him, her eyes wet this time. But her voice was strong and sure.
“We need to do what’s best for Estval. And that means we have to wait until we hear from the Witch. With her help, we’ll be able to get funds, allies, everything we need to defeat the Saekorians. But she told us we need to be patient!”
The Witch. Trevan clenched his jaw. He hated relying on someone he’d never even met.
“And you haven’t heard anything from her since last time?” He asked.
Keela shook her head.
“And if she never comes back, then what do we do!?” Trevan demanded. “Just stay trapped in here without letting anyone past the gates? Give up on our country, grow old, and watch our children hide like we have to?”
“I want a better future for everyone,” Keela calmly replied. “Tell me what to do to make that happen and I’ll do that.”
Her eyes were pleading for him to tell her the answer. Trevan had none to give.
When Keela finished with her gardening, Trevan went to go meditate. There was only one place where it was suitable to practice Awakening Magic in the village, and that was in the Spring of Life. With a name like that, one would have thought it was a particularly holy place, somewhere that the mana from Eldrasil was specifically thick, but it wasn’t. It was just the basin where water from Eldrasil gathered from above, beginning a small river that traveled through the village. But it was sacred because of the whitewood tree sprouting right at the lip of the stream, there the two channels merged as one.
Trevan walked to the edge, admiring the dim green glow of the water, lit up by the orica. He concentrated, attuning his mana with Eldrasil. She responded to him, branches from deep within the ground rising up to greet him as he walked to the small piece of land peaking up from the center of the lake, barely large enough for a person to stand upon. At its center was the true Eldrasil. It was a branch, and yet it wasn’t. A sword, and yet it wasn’t. Carved of gorgeous whitewood and smooth as the Sacred Tree, the heart of the forest herself.
Trevan lifted the ancient blade, so smooth it couldn’t hurt a child. He knelt upon the grass and closed his eyes, lifting the sword with his wrists and focusing on the blade to channel his mana while he meditated. Soon, it was all there was. Just her. No Keela, no villagers, just the forest, Estval itself. He connected with the entire island, the massive world floating in the sky. A world just for Estvalians, but filled with such pollution, the Saekorians who desecrated his sacred home. He could feel I all, and it enraged him There were so many people, people who didn’t belong, walking around Eldrasil’s roots, climbing on them, touching things that weren’t meant to be touched, he couldn’t control it! Eldrasil felt the pain of every tree connected to her leylines and he felt them too. When one of the Saekorians snapped a branch, or carved their name into the bark, he felt the pain of all the trees at once and it was overwhelming! He couldn’t hold his rage back any longer!
The trees had no eyes, and yet they could see. Seeing with mana, he could picture it perfectly, better than if he had seen the scene with his own eyes. A Saekorian woman running her hand across the smooth white bark of one of Eldrasil’s roots, pointing it out to one of her friends. He called out, the plants responding and stretching towards her. He guided a vine down from one of the other trees, reaching for her throat…
“Trevalyn!” A loud voice called his name, breaking his concentration. The vine fell back into place and Trevan’s eyes slowly opened. No longer was he feeling what the trees felt, he was just himself again.
“Elder Wormwood,” Trevan said with more than a hint of irritation, rising to his feet and setting down the sword. With a wave of his hand he connected once more with Eldrasil, but limited himself this time. He raised the bridge again, crossing the water to speak with the old man on the other side.
“How is your meditation going, Trevalyn?” The elder stroked his graying beard, squinting up at Trevan with pale green eyes. Hunched over, clutching his walking stick, old and wrinkled as he was, he looked like he was part tree himself. “Have you Awakened yet?”
“No, sir, not this time either,” Trevan said, shaking his head. He tried not to let his anger show. While he didn’t agree with the elder’s decisions, the man had still raised him from boyhood, and should be shown proper respect. “I can’t explain why not. I’ve foolowed the instruction of the Sisters of the Seasons, but I haven’t been able to make any progress since the last time, when I was above the surface.”
“My, well, that’s out of the question,” Elder Wormwood mused, staring past Trevan and towards the spit of land in the center of the spring. “What about the sword? Has she ever accepted you?”
Trevan shook his head again. To be reminded of that disappointment stung his heart. “Eldrasil… she speaks to me, but her blade will not show herself to me.”
“…Most curious, most curious…” The elder mumbled a little more, words that Trevan couldn’t hear.
“I’m sorry sir, I couldn’t hear that. Did you say something?”
“I was merely wondering… perhaps it’s a sign, that’s all,” the elder sighed, shaking his head. “Perhaps these ambitions of yours… are not the right path forward for our people.”
Trevan glanced at Keela, neither were surprised.
“Keelara, I would like to speak with Trevalyn alone, if you would be so kind?” The elder asked, turning his wizened eye upon Keela. She nodded her head and departed the spring, returning to the village. Elder Wormwood sighed, walking to the edge of the spring and gazing at the water cascading down the side of the cliff, glowing bright with Eldrasil’s orica.
“Do you remember the village you were born in?” He asked. His voice was deep and mournful.
Trevan winced. He tried not to. Those days were so painful.
“You were just a boy back then, more of a boy, anyway. At five years old, such energy. When we brought you and the others here, we did it hoping that Eldrasil would keep you safe, allow you to grow up without the pain of the war that took away your families…” He turned to Trevan, his green eyes sad. “It pains my heart to see you children walk the path towards war yourselves.”
Trevan lowered his head respectfully.
“I know you oppose our goals, elder. It pains me to go against your wishes. But this is for our future, don’t you understand? As long as the Saekorians occupy our land, we will never be free. We can’t even leave these walls without being hunted down by those cloudheads!”
The elder sighed, raising a trembling hand to rub his forehead.
“Trevan… your friend Keela, are the flowers she grows less than the flowers that grow above us?”
Trevan didn’t understand what he meant. “What do you mean?”
“Whether grown in the wild or grown in captivity, a flower is still vibrant, full of life, beautiful,” Wormwood explained. “Living here, in this village, it isn’t the life you deserve, I understand that. But… it’s still a life, don’t you see? A life of restriction and captivity, and not the life you deserve, but still a life. Are you willing to throw that all aside, risk death for yourself and those children? For Keela? For Jayon and Jorn? For all of us? Because that’s what this desire for war will bring, I promise you.” His tone sounded so hopeful. But Trevan was no fool.
“You would have us live as prisoners?” Trevan was trying very hard not to get angry at the old man. There was a certain logic to his thinking, he couldn’t deny that. But he didn’t want that future, not for himself, not for any of his people. “These are our lands!”
“I know that better than you!” Wormwood snapped. “They were my lands! Back when you were just a seedling!” He calmed down. “I just… I have to think for the sake of this village. And what this village needs is a protector. Not someone who fights wars, but someone who protects us. That’s what Eldrasil wants, I’m certain of it.”
What the hell did he know about what Eldrasil wanted?! Trevan glared at the old man, talking like he knew any damn thing at all. He didn’t have the connection to Eldrasil that Trevan did!
Elder Wormwood stared at Trevan and sighed, shaking his head. He turned away from the lake and began the long walk back to the village.
“Trevan… I want you to be happy, just I wish the same for everyone in this village. Let go of your hatred for Saekoria, please. Try to find some way to make this life of ours work for you. Start a family with Keela, have children, find… find something else other than hate to guide you. If not, then I fear you’ll lose what little you have left to protect.” The words he left Trevan with were sad, yet strong.
Trevan watched the elder depart, shockingly broad-shouldered for one so old and decrepit.