TW: Mild talk of suicidal thoughts.
Goewyn was dreaming about the dryads again. The beautiful dryads, who had always loved her, the child of spring and sunshine, born on May Day. Here was Lord Ablach, of the Apple Trees, and his wife Maia of the Hawthorn Trees, Adair the Oak King, winsome and wise, Ilex the Holly King, merry and cheerful. But there was one she had only seen in her dreams, Lord Rhodon. He was never absent from her life, however. It was said the rose bower across from her window had been planted by him and his wife, Lady Akasma. Tapestries of them stood in the main hall, as big as life. She knew all the songs of them, of Rhodon the Victorious, who had vanquished the Wizard Lord in single combat, of Akasma the Healer who came from Shangri-La on the wings of a gale. And the sad story of her death and Rhodon’s grief.
Whenever Goewyn dreamed about him, Rhodon appeared before her with sad, deep eyes, his leafy garments dull, like fall was clinging to the King of the Flowers. His sadness radiated off him, making her want to cry. He was always sitting under the White Rose that bore his bride’s name, bent nearly double, sighing like his heart would break. Goewyn would kneel at his feet, and take his hands in her own.
“Cry no more, My Lord. You can live here…”
Then she would wake up.
Goewyn came down the stairs to find her cousins, Maegan and Fingal, whispering together.
“Another guest arrived early this morning. If we get one more adventurer, I am going to throw myself off the parapet!” hissed Maegan.
“It could be worse, it could be the party from last week.” returned Fingal.
“Ugh, yes! That rogue was just a bit too fresh.”
“What are we saying?” Goewyn whispered unexpectedly.
The brother and sister jumped and cried out in surprise. “Goewyn, don’t do that!”
“Sorry,” said Goewyn, but she wasn’t a bit sorry. “What were you saying?”
“That this summer’s adventuring season is getting a bit messy.” explained Maegan.
Fingal gave a derisive snort, bowing his head so his hair hid his face. Maegan gestured over her shoulder. “He agrees with me.”
The twins were pretty in sync with each other. Goewyn often wished she had a living sibling to share a bond with. Her older brother, Gwalchmai, had been killed when she was quite small.
“I suppose we should go down to breakfast.” said Goewyn, not terribly keen on playing hostess yet again.
Maegan checked her reflection in a handy shield, straightened the circlet around her head, and started for the stairs. Fingal put his own circlet on, and followed, with Goewyn bringing up the rear. The trio descended the stairs in single file, their demeanors changing as they came down, Maegan carried her head higher and her shoulders back, they would see her as she truly was, the heiress of one of the oldest and most prestigious houses in the Otherworld. Fingal pushed his long hair behind his ears and over his shoulders. Goewyn merely brushed her curls back from her face.
Uniseann, the father of the twins, looked over at them. “Ah, there they are, the Twilight, the Moon and the Dawn!”
Everyone in the Meridian family had a celestial-themed title attached to their name. They were quite fortunate this time, the adventurer was an older, in fact quite frail-looking human fellow. He looked more like a scholar than a warrior, with snow white hair and mustache.
“Children, meet Doctor Samuel Hazelton, he is an anthropologist here on a mission to study our dryad friends.”
Dr. Hazelton rose and bowed. His grey eyes sparkled as he took in the three young elves. “Forgive my sudden arrival, I should have sent a message ahead.” Despite his seemingly advanced age, he had very clear diction.
“Sir, we are most happy to welcome a distinguished guest,” said Maegan, extending her hand for the Doctor to kiss. “Your arrival is very well timed. You see, my cousin Goewyn is great friends with the dryads.”
The Doctor’s bushy eyebrows raised. “Well then, my journey is half over! Lady Goewyn, would you be so kind as to discuss them with me over our breakfast?”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Goewyn was slightly suspicious of Dr. Hazelton. He seemed to sense this and pulled out letters from the Queen of Otherworld and other various dignitaries approving his mission. These were tested by means of magic and found to be genuine. Goewyn sat across from the Doctor to answer his questions.
“I understand that your House has always been on friendly terms with the six Great Dryads, is that correct?”
“Only four now, but yes.”
“Yes, one is dead and the other is missing,” she pointed at the wall at her back. “King Rhodon and Queen Akasma.”
“Yes, I was told about them. Do you think Rhodon is dead?”
Goewyn looked down. “I don’t know what to believe about him. I would hope he still lives, but at the same time, his mourning was so deep he could have wandered into the woods and died of a broken heart.”
Dr. Hazelton nodded. “Do you think you could get me an introduction to the remaining Dryads?”
“Of course! We could go visit Ilex, he lives off to the West, and he’s not busy. It’s not his season.”
Right after breakfast, Goewyn and the Doctor rode to the Western Quadrant of House Meridian lands. Dr. Hazelton had brought his bulging satchel of notes and tools and rode easily beside Goewyn, sketching as he went.
“How far is it to Lord Ilex’s territory?” he asked, not lifting his eyes from his sketchbook.
“Only about three miles, Ilex is one of the extraverted Dryads, he loves visitors. Most of the others don’t, it’s best if you announce yourself at least a quarter of an hour beforehand.”
Dr. Hazelton took down Goewyn’s advice in shorthand. “Most interesting, thank you my lady.”
They entered the dark woods of massive holly trees hung about with ivy. Music filled the air, leading them down to the Holly King’s throne. He sat, shorter than the average height for a dryad, but still lanky, with his legs over the arm of the throne. Beside the throne, sat an apple-cheeked and smiling dryad woman, the Holly King’s queen-consort, Hydera, the dryad of ivy.
“Ah, Goewyn!” he cried, his voice carrying what could be called a Scottish accent. “Come! Have some cider!”
He poured them each a goblet of cider from a pitcher that sat nearby. “Your health, my lady.” he raised the goblet. Each drank, and then sat down.
“Now what brings you here, Goewyn?”
“Actually, I have an introduction to make. Lord Ilex, this Dr. Samuel Hazelton. He is here to study the dryads for posterity and assist other elf-friends in understanding your culture.”
“Ah! Well, what would you like to know?”
“Almost everything, my Lord.”
“Then we have much to discuss.” Ilex looked at Goewyn. “All this is going to be old hat to you, so if you would like to go for a ramble, I’m sure the Doctor won’t mind.”
“Not at all,” replied the Doctor.
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Yes, this is all going to be tedious work, you go on.”
Goewyn thought Dr. Hazelton protested too much, he was clearly bursting to get started.
The elf set out on her ramble heading further west from Ilex’s home. She hadn’t gone far before she saw a clearing with some tall, thorny trees like sentinels surrounding a circular spot in the center of the clearing. Goewyn came closer, observing that the huge bramble trees were arranged and knotted artfully. In the center appeared to be a gate. She slowly approached the gate, seeing beyond it a well-ordered garden. She touched the vines that made up the gate, they slithered apart, clearing the way for her to enter.
Goewyn carefully entered the garden, picking up her skirts as she did. Every leaf, every petal, not a thing was out of place. Everything was carefully arranged and harmonious, the plants and flowers seeming to sing for the joy of being. As she wandered over the paths, drawn to the center of the garden, she could smell the heady aroma of roses. Through a hedge she came on them, a profusion of roses, all surrounding a natural bower made of branches, sheltering a throne. Twining thickly around the throne were climbing red roses. It was then Goewyn realized where she was; Rhodon lived and this was his home. She backed away a step then turned away.
“Wait!” called a voice, melefluent and clear.
Goewyn stopped and looked around. Coming toward her was Rhodon himself, looking as he always had in her dreams, sad and tired. She curtseyed to him, already asking for his pardon.
“I did not mean- I suppose that I did, but-”
“My trees would have kept you out if you were not meant to be here.” He responded gently. “Who are you, child?”
“Goewyn of the Dawn of House Meridian,” she curtseyed again.
Rhodon’s deep green eyes studied her. “Goewyn of Meridian, how did you come here?”
“By accident, truly, I came from Lord Ilex’s area of the forest, just walking for pleasure.”
Rhodon nodded, but seemed distracted. “Tell me,” his voice was oddly quiet. “Are the Roses still there?”
“Oh, yes my Lord! They’re well tended by our garden gnomes-”
Rhodon gave an involuntary shiver. “Garden gnomes?”
“Yes, we only hire the best, they’re quite capable…”
“I have no doubt.” He inhaled deeply. “My apologies, it is merely a shock.”
Rhodon crossed over to his throne and sat down. He reached out one hand and manipulated the roses to create another seat for Goewyn. She sat down, carefully so as not to snag her clothes.
“Many years have passed,” he said, almost to himself. “Yet nature does not change. She travels the same roads with little variation. My work flourishes year after year, but there is something hollow. Nothing has been right since…” He touched a gold chain around his neck. “She was everything to me.”
“My Lord, is this why you are out here, all alone?”
“Not alone. I have my flowers, Friend Raven and my kinsman Ablach visit me. I am not alone all the time.”
“But Lord, perhaps you would feel lighter in your spirit if you were around others more often.”
“Akasma was the one who people loved, not I. Who could not love her?”
“That’s not true, my Lord.”
Rhodon looked down at the eager young elf. “It is good to know the elves have not changed.”
“We don’t, My Lord. You know this.”
Rhodon sat silently for a time, listening to the wind in the brambles around his garden and the bees in the rose blossoms. It was awfully quiet… like a mausoleum. Goewyn was certain that though the King of the Flowers lived, he had hoped to die here.
“My Lord, you must leave this place.” she said impulsively, gripping his arm.
“This place is a decorated tomb, you must leave this place or you will die.”
Rhodon looked down. “I have wanted that since my Akasma was murdered. There is no life without her.”
The leaves that made up his clothing turned browner, starting at the neck. Goewyn was honestly frightened for him. He couldn’t die, not with so much history and so much to teach!
“Lord Rhodon, look at this place! Look at yourself!” she shook him by the shoulders, when she pulled her hands away, leaves came with them. She scattered them at his feet. “Spring cannot live with Autumn, you must leave this place and see the world your love left you. Our legends say she gave her life for you, is that so?”
“Y-yes,” stammered Rhodon.
“Then, you waste what she thought was so valuable staying here.”
Rhodon sat back, astonished. “I had not thought of that.”
“I had a suspicion not.”
Rhodon got up from his chair and began walking toward the gate. Goewyn followed him, concerned as more leaves flew off him.
“Only natural shedding, my dear,” he turned and smiled at her. “One has to get rid of the old in order to grow anew.”
They reached the gates, Rhodon raised his arms wide, commanding the gates to open. He offered Goewyn his hand.
“Lead me on, Goewyn.”
She took his barky hand.
Back in Ilex’s home, Dr. Hazelton was finishing his work. “I thank you for your time, Lord Ilex, Lady Hydera.”
“Come back anytime, I love visitors so much.” gushed Ilex.
At the western edge of the perimeter, the ivy vines parted to reveal Rhodon and Goewyn. Ilex jumped to his feet, crying,
“Rhodon, old man!” He hugged the Treeman of Roses. Rhodon awkwardly hugged him back.
“It is good to see you too, Ilex.”
Ilex stood back away. “You look ragged, are you alright?”
“Not yet. But I will be.”