Chapter 4:

The Rules

An Old Friend's Final Request

Despite Gertrude's vehement protests, Eena scarfed down her stew and rushed after Gotthard. Following him was easy since, there were only two trails of footprint and one of them was hers. She followed Gotthard's trail down the mountain, directly into the nearby forest. Even without Sunlight and in the shadow of the mountain and high rising evergreens, the snow allows for excellent vision.
The hoots of owls gently ring through the trees and the pleasant smell of pines follow her through their trunks. It's not long before she finds him scraping the bark off a sprawling pine. A short grey tree that sprawls out in all directions, dangling its purple needles barely in reach of Eena's outstretched hand. This tree seems more... Complete. From the rest of the world. I wonder if that's why all these spirits are gathered here?

I try calling out to the spirits but no sounds escape my mouth. I wave to garner their attention, but their milky eyes stay locked to the tree. They can see me, but they just don't care. Men and women of every race and class, as well as a lot of animals, exist around the sprawling pine. Stand would be too strong a word to describe them. Although exist seems too strong a word as well. They're more complete than the physical world and although I can't see it, they seem to... Flicker in and out of being as if they're naught but illusions.
Is this what Gotthard meant by 'void?' Or am I a special case? I wonder if I can look over his notes later.

Gotthard groaned as he stood up, his bark secured in a satchel. "I hope you're not expecting lessons. Let me dispel any grand illusions you have before they get out of hand. I'm no teacher. You'll learn naught but philosophy, metaphysics, and spiritualism from me, you hear?"
She attempted to ask a question only to be cut off. "You are not my student, nor are you a mage. You will not ask questions, you will answer them. Let me rephrase. You will not speak unless permitted. Even if I were to spend every waking moment training you in combat, it would take years to reach a point where you would not simply kill yourself. Understood?"

Eena cast her gaze to the snow before answering.
'There must be a reason mother and father sent me to this insufferable bastard. They've always had a reason. They won't let me down now.'
"Yes, I understand."

He smiled and motioned his hand for her to follow him. "Good girl. Now, come with me. I need your eyes. If you spot any trees like this one, point them out, would you?"

She was about to ask 'why' but thought it wise to remain silent. Good move Eena. As they walked, Gotthard spouted his surprisingly small list of house rules. 'Don't disturb my work'  and 'Do what I say when I say.'
If only it was this small when I knew him.

In the end, she learned nothing about magic. Gotthard went on and on about the magic properties of sprawling pines and their connection to spirits and the gods. And like always, after starting his tangent it never seemed to cease with only loose connections tying his words together.

When they returned to the cottage, just at the end of mid-day, he told Eena to ask the servants for a room and food. As Gotthard disappeared upstairs, Eena drifted towards the kitchen where Gertrude and Adam were preparing second lunch. Gertrude was first to break the silence. "Will you be staying sweetie? If not, we can travel with you to where ever you want to go."

Eena kept her gaze on the ground and mumbled, "It's not like I have anywhere else to go."
She barely looks Gertrude in the eye and asks, "Do you have an extra room for me?"

"Of course sweetie. Adam, love, look after the food would you?"
Of course, he obliged. Gertrude led Eena to a room near the back of the house, now free of decorations save for a single bed and desk. "Our room is right here. If you need or want anything just say the word, yeah?"
Eena simply nodded. Gertrude's face fell further into pity and she embraced my daughter.

Eena shoved her off. "I don't need a mother."

Gertrude, of course, responded with a horrified expression. "Oh, that's not what I was trying to do! I'm so sorry sweetie-"

"Just... Leave me alone. Please?"
She reluctantly and silently obliged, closing the door, but remaining with an ear to the wall. Eena drifted towards the bed and fell in. She curled up and sobbed as softly as she could.
"I just want to go home..."