A new world…

Empty, yet so full…

It was springtime, yet on the ground was a late frost. The light of the half-moon glinted off the new buds on the trees. Oricon traveled swiftly through the underbrush of Laurel Forest looking for the Galenroot that her mentor had sent her for, her elven ears picking up the footfalls of animals she had disturbed. This was a test-- she knew it-- and she was taking too long. Moving fast, breathing hard, she could feel herself becoming frantic. Then she stopped sharply: this would not do; if she lost her focus she'd never reach her goal. Druid Mother Rachelle had raised her from birth and had taught her everything she knew. Oricon looked at the moon for a moment to concentrate before closing her eyes and trying to 'feel' where the herb was. 'Hm… About thirty paces… That way!' Soon she was heading home again, kicking herself all the way for not trying the "seeking" first.

Home was an ancient tiny cob and thatch cottage surrounded by twelve one foot tall standing stones, four pointing to the four directions. The thatch of the roof was so old it was sustaining a young healthy sapling. The cottage was only used in emergencies--or when one of the druids of the area had an apprentice to train--and it had been Oricon's home for the last century.

Mother Rachelle was sitting on a bed of furs near the fire when Oricon entered, puffing with effort. She was old, even by Elven standards. Her hair had faded to white, she sported many blurred tattoos, and her lined face had an almost permanent disapproving look. It had that look right now. 'Oh no!' Oricon thought as she handed her the Galenroot in silence, and sat across from her mentor. She had not wanted to take Oricon, she was getting too old for such things. There was no more room in Laurel Forest for druids, but her mother had been desperate.

Mother Rachelle sighed, "And why did you not perform the 'seeking' in the first place?" She set one hand on her knee and her elbow on the other and watched her apprentice. Oricon gulped. She always knew what had transpired before you got back, but she always asked in case you lied.

"I… I thought I knew where it was." Oricon said.


"I… I lost my way." Oricon stammered. She knew that no real druid ever got lost. Oricon didn't get lost per se, but she knew it was close enough. "I am very disappointed in you Oricon. You know what this means." "Yes ma'am." She knew she meant it too: another two weeks of chores. Even if there weren't any to do, she'd find them: even if it meant going to the village…and that always put her in a bad mood.

"It is late. You have had a long day. Time for bed, for tomorrow will be longer," Mother Rachelle said before lying down. Oricon nodded in agreement before going over to her own mattress of furs and blankets at the other end of the sparsely furnished cottage and lying down. She looked at the dried herbs and jerky hanging from the rafters before closing her eyes.

The next day started the same as every day: well before dawn, with Mother Rachelle's stare fixed on her like she'd never gone to sleep. Nobody could stare like Mother Rachelle. Trying to stare her down would be like trying to stare down a tiger. Over a meager breakfast, Mother Rachelle said they'd be going to the village to find work for her. When they set out, the sky was still sprinkled with stars. It was a long way to the village. The people there were just far enough away from the cottage to be watched, but not close enough for them to be a bother. Half of the way there the sun was just starting to warm the sky, casting shadows and filling the world with pink. Out of the corner of her eye, Oricon glimpsed a shadow move. She turned but saw nothing, at first alarmed, but then relaxed. If her mentor had made no sign, then there was nothing to fear. Oricon guessed she'd been seeing things.

The village was getting on with the business of morning when they arrived, and was a bustling little place of about ten score elves. The architecture of the place was such that few druids could argue with it, though there would always be some. When possible, buildings were built around trees. Everything had an open feel. Oricon had only been here once before, and was rather shy of the place. These elves were all different from her. They all seemed to have wavy strawberry-golden hair and rosy, eternally smiling faces. To this, Oricon was a stark contrast. She was dark and furtive; her hair black, skin pale, her eyes dark blue-green.

Then Oricon noticed she was alone. She hadn't expected this; she wasn't used to it. Being alone in the woods is one thing, but this town was entirely another. She ambled around; watching the elves go about their daily business, and the children playing in the street. Oricon wondered if she had ever been like that. No, she sighed, that was unlikely, her mother had abandoned her. She never got a happy childhood, not sad, just not happy. Oricon had always wondered why, only to be told 'she had her reasons'.

Mother Rachelle returned out of the blue with news that she'd be working in the stable as an extra hand. Then she added, and the words were like bolts to Oricon's ears.

"Oh and you will be sleeping in the loft there."

Oricon was shocked!

"What? Sleep here? In town?" she said with a quavering tenor.

"Now Oricon, you, more than any I've trained, will have to deal with people. It is time you learned." Mother Rachelle's voice was soft but firm, and her eyes said she would burke no argument. Oricon would sleep in the village, and that was it.