Daughter of the Earth
Chapter One: A New Path
In the middle of a wood stood a tree. Its limbs were twisted and stood out like steps leading up to the heavens. Its very stature seemed full of wisdom, yet not imposing. Its plentiful green leaves sheltered its lonely branches from the heat of the midday sun. Its tip pointed to the blue sky, higher than all of the surrounding foliage. But this was just any tree. This was my tree. My special tree.
This tree had a story, a story of epic proportions, well maybe not. But it did contain the beginning, the beginning of my story. My father had met my mother beneath this willow. My father was a knight; his white stallion had led him underneath a great tree's branches for shelter from a storm. When the morning sun woke my father's sleeping eyes he saw a beautiful young woman. Her hair was as red as the leaves turn in the fall, her skin as tan as newly turned earth. A garland of fresh wildflowers encircled her head. She stood, in all her naked glory, over him.
She smiled at him, curiousness over taking fear. Her sweet smile and unmatched beauty took my father's eye and thus he fell in love. Every chance he got he met her underneath the whispering leaves of this tree. She would not leave her home, even for the man she loved, and so I was conceived here, in this forest. My mother was a nymph, a spirit of nature. She was so very different from my father. There is not much I remember about my father. Only glimpses of memory, his kind smile, his strong, weathered hands, and his sparkling gray eyes. He was sent to battle one year after I was born. He never returned.
Nymphs are very accepting people and so when I was born there was very little conflict in what could be called their community. It was decided as a group what my name would be and with everyone's blessing I stand here today as Niamh. I have no last name, why would I have need on one? I am Niamh of the forest people. To nymphs life and death are very small matters a beginning and an end are both celebrated, but to the forest people there is no true end. But my mother understood, she understood that when my father did not come back he was gone, forever.
Freedom is the largest difference between nymphs and humans. Nymphs cannot understand why anyone would willingly block themselves out of view from nature. In the forest the clear night sky was my blanket, the velvety, tickling grass my pillow, and the soft chirping of the crickets, my lullaby.
Unlike most of my kindred I did not bear my nakedness to the world. I wore a simple cloth wrapped around my body like a dress. Its lightest green color came from the material of which it was woven. Those who wear clothes of the nymphs wear the finest ones in the entire world. The threads are made from threads of the leaves, woven so tightly together that they cannot be broken. But my long red hair I kept loose, a symbol of my unmatched passion and freedom.
The first seventeen summers of my life passed most uneventfully. At first I was content, happy to stay where I was. After all I had everything I needed here. There was no famine, no war, no violence. This was a haven to all of the surrounding terror. But soon something began to gnaw at me from the inside. I began to wonder what the outside world looked like. What humans where like. What their dwellings looked like. Did they really have a man who ruled over them all without question? As I grew thoughts of this ilk became frequent visitors to my mind.
I started to have trouble sleeping; my dreams were plagued with thoughts of the wonders that could lie before me. The stories passed down could not sate my hunger for knowledge. By my seventeenth summer I had decided, I would leave.
"Shae, have you ever thought about leaving?" I asked my friend once.
"Leaving?" She scoffed, "why would I do such a thing?" She held her hands out wide to the surrounding meadow. "It's so beautiful here." She laughed, a sweet and intoxicating laugh.
"I see." I answered.
"You're not thinking of leaving are you?" Her lovely face became marred with the very thought of something so outrageous.
"I was considering it. I just feel so trapped here." I confessed.
"Oh no! You can't leave us Niamh!" Shea wailed.
"I'm restless," I complained, my feet shifting form side to side.
"Oh," Shae waved her hand aimlessly, "Is that all? Go take a swim in the river."
I with held a sigh. I had done that for what seemed like thousands of times already and the season of sun had just begun. But I smiled in attempt to seem like everything was fine. "You're right," I said with false cheerfulness, "I'll head to the river's edge now."
Despite Shea's firm conviction that the water would soothe my troubled mind, I lay in the water anxious of my own thoughts. I stood, water shedding off my body. I couldn't stay here any longer; I ached to go someplace new. I could not live my life out here.
I discarded my second thoughts and began walking purposefully towards the center of the wood. Looking down I saw something sparkle amongst the green grass. Reaching down I picked up a stone. I had never seen its kind before. It was a dark sapphire color and round all over. Inside were tiny specks of light shining like a thousand stars. Marveling at its beauty I tucked it away into a secret pocket of my dress.
When my feet stop of their own accord I looked up into the thick branches the tall willow in the center my home. I took a deep breath and stepped up closer to the trunk.
"Niamh? Is that you?" Her voice came from around the tree.
"Y-yes!" I called back, nervous as to what I was about to do. As far as I knew no one had ever left the forest of Éire, ever.
She smiled brightly as she came around the side of the willow. "How are you my Niamh?"
I fidgeted, "Well, mother I wanted-I." I shook my head. "I feel imprisoned here. I've never seen outside of this forest. I was to go out and experience the world!"
She sighed. Even when she was unhappy she looked beautiful. My mother was easily one of the oldest nymphs in the Forest of Éire, yet she still looked as young as the day that she birthed me. A nymph's life force is bound to the tree of which they were born. As spirits of nature they are given youth and beauty for as long as their tree is alive. As well as these gifts, Nymphs have minor powers over healing and gardening and the like, things to do with nature.
Gradually she nodded her head. "I knew this day would come. Your father could not stay in one place for long either. Here, I made there for you." I accepted the gift she offered, a pair of soft breaches and a silky tunic.
"Where-?" I began.
"I made them." My mother sighed, "I knew you'd leave soon. These are made out of the finest threads. I will have some girls pack provisions for you. When will you leave?"
I looked around my home. "In a week." I said finally, "A week to say goodbye." My mother nodded before hugging me tightly. She turned and walked away. I saw her discretely wiping her eyes. I felt a pang of indecision, but blocked it with firm resolution.
That night I lay on the soft ground looking up at the night sky. I wondered that once I left would I ever be able to come back. Would I be killed? Could I save myself? Keena, my mentor, had taught me a lot about fighting, unarmed of course. Swords were shameful, folded metal created simply for the cause of killing. I had done well with unarmed combat, very well actually. Perhaps now was the time to try out my rusty skills. I practiced late into the night, not wanting to venture forth unprepared.
Before the sun rose I was awake. I sat on a hill watching it rise into the skies. My limbs were slightly sore from the night before, but I stretched and continued with my day, not wanting to waste time. After my morning bathing ritual I walked around the forest. Everyone already knew of my leaving. They were all my family so I spoke to each and every one of them.
Some tried to convince me to stay others handed me gifts for my trip, all gave me their blessings and their love. I was given a set of bow and arrows for hunting, a pair of knives to "defend myself only", and several trinkets from the younger children. A carved wolf caught in a moment of passionate howling was from Shae, "so you'll always remember me." Despite her willingness to brush off my thoughts on leaving she was a true and dear friend. One of the most valuable things I received was from a woman who was like my sister. Shiara was her name. She gave me a map of Tuam the country in which the Forest of Éire lay. I thanked her a multitude of times, but she waved it off like it was nothing.
It wasn't until two days before my determined departure that I had some time to myself. I walked amongst my favorite spots in the forest. The river Rayer, a meadow of wildflowers, my hill, and last of all, the willow tree. My precious willow tree. The funny thing is that it isn't even my tree. It belongs to my mother, as it is her couple, the one that gave her life. But I felt attached to it in a way I could not explain or even understand. I had spent many a day in those wide branches, seeking shelter from the rain, or a hiding place from the aftermath of some mischievous deed. It held many memories and I was grateful to it.
That night I fell asleep in the branches of my tree. It's limbs cradling me softly. When I awoke I realized that this would be my last day here. A part of me leapt in joy while the other drooped in sadness. I climbed down from the tree's protective branches and dropped lightly to the ground.
"Mother!" I called softly, knowing she would hear me.
She appeared before me, A sad smile apparent on her face. "It is your last day here my Niamh. I shall give you your remaining provisions. She handed me a stout bag. It was soft and well cushioned, obviously made for long travels. It was stuffed full of dried foods and necessary supplies. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out a small draw bag. She opened the top and showed me what lay inside. There was a mass of gold and silver coins reaching all the way to the top.
"How did you get those?" I asked her, my voice filled with wonder.
"Your father left them with me. In case I ever needed to leave the forest, and now I give them to you, daughter for I have no more need of them. Use them well, and lose them not. To humans money is worth blood and just as precious."
She led me to a small hill and we sat comfortably. "It would be wise not to tell many people that you are of nymph blood. Keep your guard about you; they are not as forgiving or as open as we are." She took the bad gently from me and opened a pocket on the inside. "Here are some special herbs to help you if you are sick or wounded do you remember their names and uses?"
"Yes mother," I said dutifully, "Gryroot to heal injuries, Barevere to brew into a tea that helps to overcome illness, Loksrune to enhance power, and aer root to calm nerves and create spiritual balance."
She smiled, "Very well. I have one more thing I'd like to give you." My mother handed me a carved instrument.
"A flute!" I gasped. I clutched it to my chest. The woodwork was beautiful, carved animals and plants came to life on the instrument.
"Something to pass the time on the long road a head." She hugged me. "I love you Niamh. Never forget that you can come back to your family. We will always accept you."