“Callindra, are you awake?” Tryst sounded as though he had been up for days.
She opened bleary eyes, “I guess so.” Sitting up she surveyed her surroundings. The walls, floor and ceiling were all wood. Not wood paneling, but solid, polished wood.
“Praises be.” He said, “Now we need to secure an audience with the Druids.”
“Tryst, you look like shit.” Callindra said bluntly, “I don’t think any high ranking officials would want to meet you right now. Why don’t you lay down in my bed for a minute, I’ll see if we can schedule an audience or whatever they do here.”
She stood up, noting that she was only wearing her underbreeches. Her chest wrap was missing, either burned by the insects or cut off for her treatment. Ignoring the creeping feeling of embarrassment she guided Tryst to the bed and covered him with the blanket. After a short search of the chamber she located a loose tunic and pulled it on. What she did not locate was a door.
“Hey!” She shouted, “Let me out of here!”
A door opened in the wall, a seamless joining that she never would have seen. A pair of Elven guards stood outside, hands on their sword hilts. They stared at her for a few moments, her shocked by their sudden appearance, they by her being on her feet.
“Where is my sword?” She asked, “I demand that my Brightfang be returned to me, what is the meaning of us being imprisoned like this?”
“You are not imprisoned Lady Callindra.” One of them said, “These chambers are designed for you to recover as quickly as possible. Your other friends are still asleep, we believed you would also be sleeping for at least another few hours…”
“Yeah, well Tryst has his ways of speeding our recovery along.” She said, eyes flashing with defiance. Her voice trembled with apprehension though, spoiling the effect. Callindra imagined she could feel her magic building inside of her, threatening to tear her apart without her blade and fear began reaching icy fingers down her spine. “What have you done with my sword?”
“All of your personal effects are in a salon set aside for your use.” The guard said, “If you would follow me please Miss Sol’Estin I would be happy to show you the way.”
Feeling like there must be some kind of trap but unable to see it, Callindra cautiously stepped out of the room. One of the soldiers led her down a short hallway into a room that had light breezes blowing through it. One entire wall was open to the outside which showed a vista of pristine treetops. The ground was not visible.
“Where…” She took a deep breath, noticing her armor, clothes and most importantly her sword in a tidy pile on a table. Letting the breath out as her hand closed over Brightfang’s hilt she amended what she had been going to say. “Where are we?”
“We are in the Grandfather. In Jorda’s domain.” He said, “You are guests of honor.”
“Inside the tree?” She said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “I knew it was big but… this is amazing.”
“He is vast.” The Elf agreed, “Outsiders are always overawed by him.”
“I don’t think I would ever stop being awed by this sight.” Callindra said, looking out the window again. “I mean… look at it.”
A ghost of a smile played around the corners of the soldier’s mouth. When he spoke again, his voice was far more friendly. “You will find breakfast for you here. If you need anything else, please come to the door and call out. I will be here. Later the Goddess wishes you to join her in the main feasting hall.”
“W-what?” Callindra stammered. “I’m a warrior, not some simpering maiden who goes to fancy feasts! Besides, I don’t have clothes to wear to attend a Goddess!”
Now the Elven warrior did smile, “She does not stand on ceremony Miss Sol’Estin. There is nothing more appropriate for you to wear than your armor, seeing as how it is your status as a warrior that is being honored.”
“Wait, where are my friends?” She asked, swallowing hard. “Did the others survive?”
“Your friends weren’t quite as resilient as you seem to have been.” He said, “They rest, recovering with the help of the young priest’s ministrations. We expect them to be ready to attend the feast tonight. Please, break your fast and refresh yourself.”
Callindra watched him turn to leave, unsure of what to make of his statements. She hadn’t really believed in Gods and Goddesses until yesterday when she had felt more than heard Jorda address the monstrous golem. Now she was expected to believe that a being that wielded such power wanted to see her and didn’t expect her to be some kind of lady.
“I want to see them.” She said, managing to focus on what was truly important. “I won’t be able to relax until I see my friends.”
“By all means.” He replied easily, “However you must not awaken them. They must rest if they are to fully recover.”
He led her back down the hallway and she was able to peer through small windows in the unbroken wood wall that opened at his touch. There she saw Cronos in one room, and Vilhylm in another. Tryst she had already seen. Satisfied, she went back to the open balcony.
The smell of freshly baked bread drew her attention to the table where an assortment of food was laid out. Hunger drove her apprehension away, it would be much easier to deal with these things once she had a full stomach. She sat and ate, the bread had nuts in it and there were fresh vegetables and fruit as well as a light and refreshing mead.
“Good to know you were concerned about us.” Cronos said dryly from the doorway.
“It’s not like I was going to wake you from your beauty sleep.” She said, “You looked just fine to me when I looked in on you not ten minutes ago.”
“Is that fresh bread?” Cronos asked, “If it is I may just forgive you.”
“They have fresh apples and cheese and an amazing mead too.” She said, “Come and get some before I eat it all.”
Before long, Vilhylm had arrived as well and they fell to talking about what they remembered of the battle.
“I saw you flying through the air and then I’m sure it was my imagination but it looked like you rode your sword down that thing’s back.” Cronos said.
“Did you let it throw you first?” Vilhylm asked with a grin, “I can’t see any other way you’d have been able to get that high in the air… but surely you wouldn’t have done something so reckless.”
“I’m pretty sure I saw you practically breaking yourself in half to lift a huge wave of mud to squish a few bugs Vil.” Said Cronos, “How did that work out for you?”
“I was the first one to recover in spite of Tryst visiting me last.” Callindra said, chuckling. “I think maybe you two boys could learn a lesson or two from me.”
“Actually, it’s because we thought you had died.” Vilhylm said, all traces of levity vanishing from his face. “You didn’t see what happened as a result of your attack.”
“It was as though beneath its skin there was nothing but those insect things.” Said Cronos, “They covered you, even though a small cyclone of wind seemed to form briefly around you, holding them off. That was impressive by the way.”
“I don’t remember much past hacking the damn thing off at the knees.” Callindra admitted, taking a swig of mead to hide her embarrassment and pleasure at her friends concern.
“It was a foolish, reckless, stupid move Callindra.” Tryst said as he walked through the door. “But it likely saved us all. If you hadn’t stopped that thing… it was about to infect the Grandfather Tree with its disease and maybe kill Jorda as well.”
“Don’t be silly Tryst.” Said Callindra, “Gods can’t be killed.”
At that point, the door opened and a swarm of Elven attendants descended on them. Some took their armor and attempted to take their weapons as well, but Callindra wasn’t relinquishing Brightfang for anyone. The rest of them took the boys off into one bathing chamber and her into another.
“Miss, you really should leave your sword outside, it’ll rust.” One of the attendants said, frowning at Brightfang.
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” Callindra said, “I oil him daily. He won’t rust while I draw breath and I won’t let him out of reach if I can help it.”
The elves looked at her skeptically, but made no further comment. When she walked into the bathing chamber she began to see what they had worried about. Instead of submerging themselves in a full bath, it seemed they drank copious amounts of water and then sat in a room with magically heated stones in the center. Once the room was sufficiently hot, one of them began pouring water over the stones, releasing clouds of steam.
Sweat sprang from every pore and soon Callindra found herself getting lightheaded and feeling a bit dizzy. Following the lead of the other women around her, she took a small cedar bough in her hand and dipped it in a bucket of cold water before slapping herself on the back with it. The chill of the water and the sting of the branch kept her alert and actually felt quite good, relaxing muscles and releasing tension she had been hanging on to since the battle.
Once a good sweat had covered her, she took a curved piece of bone, the rib of a deer she thought, and used it to scrape her skin. A surprising amount of dirt showed on the white surface of the bone. When one of the Elves noticed her shock, she smiled knowingly.
“The sweat forces out what is in the pores of your skin, making you cleaner than any amount of scrubbing could.” She said, “Then the plunge afterword will truly cleanse you.”
“I didn’t expect anything like this.” Callindra admitted, drinking from a gourd filled with pure rain water. “It seems like I will be exhausted from all this sweating though.”
“Come, allow me to oil your hair.” The other woman replied, “With proper care your tresses could shine like mahogany. Most of us are fair of skin and hair, yours is quite exotic.”
Callindra laughed in spite of herself, “Exotic is just another word for freak in the human world, and my hair is the least of the qualities I value.”
Finally clean and dried; the bath having ended in a shocking plunge into a pool of ice cold water, Callindra donned her freshly laundered clothes and polished armor. After taking time to unwrap Brightfang’s hilt, polish all of his metal parts, oil the leather wrapping of his hilt and re-wrap it tightly, she felt like her ablutions were complete. If she had to meet a Goddess, she was as ready as she was likely to be.
Her friends all had similar uncertain expressions on their faces as they emerged from the male side of the bathing chamber. Even so, with their familiar gear on their shoulders squared and their backs straightened. Whatever they were about to experience, they would do it at their best.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you all continue to fight beside me.” Callindra said, looking at her companions. “My brothers in arms… you are better brothers than any sister has a right to.”
Tryst laughed a deep bass laugh that came from deep in his chest, “Oh Callindra, you undervalue yourself at every turn. You aren’t some accessory to us, you’re the heroine! It was your action that defeated the monster and led us to victory. Speaking for myself, I am honored to fight alongside you.”
“The honor is indeed ours.” Vilhylm said, the midnight of his cloak a direct contrast to the pristine white and sliver of Tryst’s attire.
“You … you fight good.” Cronos mumbled, “Don’t leave or things might get boring.”
“The Goddess Jorda awaits you.” A voice ahead intoned formally, “She wishes to express her gratitude for the actions you took to defend her realm. Please, approach that you may be announced.”