Hannah on her way
The trail you walk is a well worn footpath, though little known. The woodsmen use it when they must travel south, preferring the loam of the woods to the hard packed dirt of the Long Road. Today, you follow it on the word of an old woman, this journey as the price for her armor.
This stream is the boundary of the lands you have known. Today you will be crossing it for the first time. It is a good place to fill your water and a good time to rest a moment. As you kneel to drink the fresh water, an otter pops its head over a rock in the center of the flowing stream. It slides up and over the rock, rolls into the water, and reappears right beside you.
You almost fall over in surprise when it begins to speak, “I saw her, I saw her, I met her playing in the pond today! I was playing, she was… she was speaking. She spoke to me!” The otter is so excited by this that it flips backward into the water and slithers onto another rock. “A message, a message, I must bring you to. Oh yes, a message. Is it for you? Are you Ha ha hannah?” The otter speaks your name like laughter. “She said you’d shine with light and steel. You do You do.” The otter slides off the rock again diving deep and emerging right in front of you. “A message I must bring you to, she said, our lady,” the otter’s voice becomes deep and stern, “Follow now, I bring you to.”
The otter does not wait for a response but turns and, with a splash, begins a rapid tumble upstream diving and rolling through the water.
As you leave the trail and follow the otter up the stream, the forest deepens and thickens about you. It is a struggle at times to fit yourself and your armor between the trunks of the trees but always there is the stream and you find your way. The otter stops at a deep, still pool. “Here to the message I bring you.” It rolls on his back, chattering, and waves a paw quickly. “Travel well, Hannah Straightoak.” It flips, dives, and is gone.
The pool forms the western edge of an open glade. A boulder at its center, dappled in sunlight, rises to four legs and becomes a horse. No, not a horse, a unicorn. For a moment, you are blinded with awe. The magnificent creatures inclines its head once towards you and once toward the edge of the glade where a second figure waits near the trees. Then, with a whinny, the unicorn turns in place and is gone, slipping into the depths of the forest swifter and more completely than the otter into the pond.
The figure at the edge of the trees speaks, “He was here for introductions only; the Lady was afraid we wouldn’t behave without it. Or maybe that’s just me.” The figure steps into the light. She’s tall and slender with nut brown skin and long silver hair woven with leaves. She wears a green dress, cinched at the waist with a belt of ivy. There is anger in her eyes. “Perhaps the Lady was worried about how I would react to all that steel.” She is barefoot and, as far as you can see, unarmed. She stands, still several yards away, and regards you critically. “She has her reasons for this, I’m sure, lessons for the both of us to be revealed in the fullness of time, as the blossoms return to the trees in spring and other such nonsense. Tell me, woodcutter’s child, what blossoms return to the trees your father visited?” Before you can respond, she lifts her hand, “No, speak not to me, daughter of the axe and the forge. I am bade deliver a message and that I will do, and that only. She did not require me also to converse with you. She asks much, our lady, but she has not asked that.”
The woman pauses a moment, squares her shoulders, and begins to speak as if reading from a scroll. Her accent vanishes, and instead you hear only the clear lilting of the forest folk: “Here in the dappled glade, here by the still pool, here I speak the words given to me by Ehlonna of the Forest. Hear me, Hannah of Shady Grove, your Lady is pleased with your service. But the Lady will ask more. The forest has need of defenders and you will be called upon to stand for those who cannot. Be faithful, be brave, and be strong, Hannah Straightoak, but most of all, be wise. If you would defend the laws of Ehlonna, you must learn them.
This, then, is your quest: Continue your journey to Kolos Jamorda and seek there the seven Wolds, find the heart of each of the seven forests, restore to harmony that which has become unbalanced, and learn the lessons of the laws that have been broken. Seven wolds, seven hearts, seven laws. Seek, find, and return.”
The woman stops speaking and takes a step backward. When she speaks again, the forest lilt is gone and her old accent has returned, “Seek the seven wolds, huh? She does not ask small favors. They’re not hers, you know, most of them belong to Obad-Hai. Then again, so did I once.” She says no more but turns and strides back into the trees. You are alone in the forest once again.