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In the Western Wood of Luthilien
Tales from the Age of Ice and Shadow
In the far West of the Earth near the sea, West of the kings’ isle of Alderland, connected to the Midlands only by a thin land-bridge, lies a great peninsula.
The scribes of Alderland call it Luthilien, or the land of song. So called in memory of the fair race that is said to have once called it home, who’s whispers can even still in our time be heard in the rivers and forests, through the mists of the moors and on the wind-swept hilltops. This is the uttermost West, a land of lush green fields, foggy mountains, fertile soil, and endless woodlands.
In the time of the kings of Alderland, this peninsula was sparsely inhabited by men, and the fair folk, if they still dwelt there, kept to the western-most regions near the shores of the sea. The men that lived in this land were few, and dwelt for the most part in the eastern plains and green hill country, near the shores that looked back towards the golden isle.
These men of Luthilien were for the most part of lesser races, men that had long lived in the West before the line of the sea kings came and built their towers and citadels. They were darker skinned than the men of the isle, but light eyed and robust. Some said they had dwarven blood in their veins that had darkened their skin and shortened their stature, but these men denied such claims, so if they be true, that history has been forgotten.
In later days they were employed by the kings of Alderland as miners, for the tunnels of the mountains were full of copper and tin and iron. There were three port cities along the coast, where the king’s ships would collect the precious metals, and they payed the men of Luthilien well.
These far Western lands were also home to many outcasts and outlaws from the realm of the kings, as there was little rule of law west of the eastern shores, and the king’s men would not pursue far into the wild.
As the centuries went on, these simple folk built small villages and towns, though nothing to rival the city of the kings.
But some, detesting the grueling life in the mines, or despising the rule of the kings, moved further to the west and started their own colonies, beyond the borders of civilization, closer to the mysterious haunts of the fair folk among the emerald hills.
It is from one of these small villages that a strange tale has been passed down.
Roan had been in the village for a year, making his living as a logger and hunter. It was a humble existence, but preferable to what he faced in Alderland. He had been branded a kin-traitor when he had aided a foreign merchant who had cheated men of the island. A lesser crime to some, but to the Kings of Alderland, loyalty to kin and folk is above all.
But as his treachery had been deemed lesser, he had not paid with his life (unlike the less fortunate merchant) but had rather been exiled from the golden isles, doomed to live among the lesser men of Luthilien. Bitter and ashamed at this lot, Roan chose not to serve his former kin in their mines. Rather, he traveled further passed the boundaries of the kings rule, looking for somewhere none would know of his disgrace, or at least, would not ask about it.
He had found such a place many miles to the southwest after weeks of traveling the lonely roads, a little village by the name of Cóer of only a few hundred men. These families lived in thatch huts on a small hill, surrounded by a wall of wooden beams filled in with straw. Roan was tall, bearded, and strong, and was quickly accepted by the community.
Not far to the South was the the wide Baraduin channel, and a stones throw from their village was the beginning of the vast Western forests, the ones said to be enchanted by ghosts of the fair folk, and stranger things.
It was in this ancient forest that Roan made his living, working as a woodsman. From the men and women of the village he had heard every odd tale there was to tell of this wood Everyday he ventured into the mysterious forest, and everyday he wondered whether the stroke of his axe would anger some vengeful sprite or ancient tree lord.
But he and the other men ventured ever deeper into the forest.
It was a hot day in early May, the kind where though spring has come the bite of winter clings on in nightly chills and morning frosts. Roan was working on the woodsman’s path, a road the villagers had been building for year, moving ever further into the heart of the forest.
Today he was alone, with only a mule from the village for assistance. He would chop down tress, load the useful wood onto the mule, which was trained to then return to the village. He would continue to work, while someone from the village would unload the mule and send it back up the path. And so he worked, day after day.
He had just sent the mule back to Cóer for the third time that day, when he heard an odd rustling in the trees.
It sounded more like a man than an animal, Roan gripped his axe tighter and crouched low to the ground. As the rustling grew louder, his imagination conjured up the images of forest demons and dire wolves relayed to him by the villagers.
But what stepped out of the dark wood was no beast, but a man. A man wrapped in a cloak, but he barely waist-high to Roan.
“Excuse me, Druadán”, began the little man, “but you’ve come quite far enough.”
Wary and unnerved, Roan held his axe in both hands and scowled.
“What are you, man or sprite?”, he questioned.
“Neither," began the small stranger, “I am of the Holbytá, my name is Taran. These are our lands. Or rather, our new lands. Our true lands are gone.”
Roan raised an eyebrow at this strange name, one he had not heard in any of the numerous stories about strange beasts and spirits of the wood from the people of Cóer.
And the appearance of this stranger was off-putting, unsettling. He said he was not a man, but he talked as one, though with a strange accent, and he looked much like one as well, just smaller in stature. Though he was the height of a child, his face was clearly that of an adult. His skin was somewhat dark in color, with wavy brown hair and green eyes.
“I have never heard of Holbytá or of any creature like you in these forests,” began Roan, “nor seen anything that looks like you. You look much like the men of my village, though smaller, and though you say you are not one of us.”
“Yes, we Holbytá are an old race. Perhaps we share an ancestor with men, some have said so, and we certainly closer to you than to beasts or sprites. We come from the old realm of Aldor, the land of the kings.”
This legend was familiar to Roan, tales of a time when Alderland was not an island, but part of a larger realm, when the rule of the kings was vast and all the lands of the North and West were under their protection. But he had not heard of this strange race.
“I told you my name,” said Taran, “you have not returned the courtesy, and again, you are on my land.”
“My name is Roan. I come from the isle of Alderland, the seat of the kings. Though in all the stories of our folk, I have never heard tell of you.”
“Yes,” Taran said slowly, “we were always little-mentioned. But we were kings-men, yes, we were. We had towns, and laws, and great clans, and the kings would ride through our villages on their grey horses and speak with our elders! We were servants and friends of the Druadán! But it is all gone now, all gone, under the waves, and the people of Alderland forgot us… we are a dwindled race now.”
“If there is still memory of you in the folklore of the isle, I have not heard it. In all our lore of the great realm of the Midlands I have heard only stories of great men. How came you to these forests? Are there many of you?”
“The deluge swallowed our land, just as it swallowed the cities of the kings. A great many of us fled West, and came to Luthilien. Perhaps others fled and survived in other lands, but of them I would not know. Us Holbytá, the little-folk of Luthilien, we are sundered from our kin. After the deluge men no longer recognized us, the men of Luthilien called us forest demons and sprites. And so we have been driven ever further into the Western wood. As for our numbers… that is a hard question to answer. For some generations we built towns in these lands, much as we had in the old days. But as we have come further West, well, our kind has changed, and we a less civilized life than our forefathers did. Our existence hangs by a slender thread,” and with this Taran’s voice grew more serious, “and that is why you MUST end your road here. My people cannot move again, they will not survive it”.
“I am a woodsman, and this is my work. Why should we stop? We are not a warlike people in our little village. We would not harm your own village, should we come to it, if that is what worries you.”
“No,” Taran shook his head, “you do not understand. I trust you mean no harm, but you do not understand. Will you come see for yourself? My home is not far.”
Roan was wary of this invitation, but Taran seemed honest and harmless enough. And his curiosity was too strong to refuse. He agreed, shouldered his axe, and followed the strange man, this Holbytá, off the path and further into the wood.
To be continued…