Shanna slipped into the darkness, away from the celebration.
Large groups of boisterous people weren’t really her ‘thing’, besides it had been a while since she had been able to just be by herself. The others wouldn’t miss her, not with Jonas entertaining the crowds by singing that ballad or a blindfolded Dinnan throwing five… no, six knives into a thrown apple or Berradin pontificating drunkenly while Victoria murmurs a conversation with Nesh about the journey back and Flea sits nearby and hangs on every word between the two as Saran watches them all, smiling and scaring the brave who dared approach her distant beauty.
Shanna smiled too as she glided silently over the rocky terrain. She liked her friends, old and new. It felt good to belong. To have purpose and intent that was here, now and real rather than the vagaries of prophecy.
“Hello again, Shanna Wayfinder.”
Shanna spun, bow up and arrow flying, another already nocked and ready. The arrow fell harmlessly at the Treespeaker’s feet and he smiled.
“How did you…?” Shanna asked, surprised. It was a foreign feeling and she didn’t like it much. But she lowered her bow and shut her mouth all the same. The old elf (if that’s what he was) would answer the questions he wanted to answer, whether she asked them or not.
“You do not get to my age without learning a few tricks,” he said, bending down to pick up the arrow. Shanna swore she could hear him creaking like an old tree in the winter wind as he bent. As his brown and gnarled hand grasped the arrow small shoots of green appeared and he shoved it upright into the rocky ground at their feet. She could already see and hear it taking root and raised an eyebrow. The Treespeaker’s eyes twinkled and he smiled as he straightened, brushing his hand on his simple green robe.
“Sometimes it is the little things that matter. A tiny action can have a large effect. The smallest and least expected of us can do the biggest things.”
Flea? “I like the goblin,” Shanna muttered, feeling embarrassed. Elves weren’t meant to like goblins.
“So do I, so please look after him,” the Treespeaker grinned. “But enough ‘small’ talk… it is time to continue your training.”
Shanna barely noticed the crossing. But then she felt the song in her heart, in her being, in her soul. She heard the life all around and saw the Eladrin city glittering in the distance. She was in the Feywild again.
The Treespeaker gestured towards the city. “Your brothers and sisters are expecting you Wayfinder. You will learn what you need to learn from them. At least the beginnings of it.”
Shanna looked at him as he waited, unmoving. Finally she asked: “And my friends? Won’t they notice I’m not there?”
“You were not ‘there’ with them when we met tonight,” the Treespeaker chuckled. “I promise you will be back by the morning. I also promise someone else will watch over them and keep them safe tonight until you return. Now go.”
Shanna sighed. She knew he wasn’t going to take her back and she had no idea how to do it herself. She’d have to find the answer to that and other questions in the city. She adjusted her backpack, checked her bow and squinted at the path ahead. In her limited experience distances and time were weird in the Feywild…
Shanna sighed again. She always did what he asked anyway. She just wished his ‘asking’ gave her the option of refusing sometimes. But he was the Treespeaker and she was… she didn’t quite know what she was anymore.
“I could take you back if you would like…”
He sounded disappointed. And she felt twelve years old again.
“Ok, ok. I’m going. I’m just getting my bearings,” Shanna said, exasperated. She glanced at him quizzically: “Back by the morning?”
The Treespeaker nodded. Shanna thought he looked sad for some reason, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She wasn’t that good at people.
“Right then,” she muttered and stepped towards destiny.
Shanna stepped wearily out of elsewhere as the first rays of sunlight lapped at the village below and paused. The Treespeaker waited silently. It had been a peaceful night.
“Five years!” Shanna spat, her voice cracking.
“And yet you have returned by the morning. As I promised you Wayfinder,” the Treespeaker murmured sadly. “But still… I am sorry.”
Shanna tried to look at his face, to see if he was really sorry, but it was blurry and watery and her eyes were stinging and she was suddenly tired, so tired. She slumped to the ground, letting the tears flow. After a time they stopped and she looked up to see that the Treespeaker had been weeping silently as well.
“Why are you crying? I was the one you sent away. You knew I was coming back now – you promised,” Shanna berated. Then in a small voice: “I nearly died. Many times. But you promised I would be back.”
The Treespeaker flinched and looked… ashamed? She’d been gone five long years and had been to planes and places and seen things she could barely believe. Wonderful and terrible things. But she never thought she’d see the Treespeaker look so… mortal.
“Wayfinder….. Shanna,” he pleaded, rubbing his hands together. “I knew that the crossing would be here in the morning. I knew that if you returned it would be by the morning. IF you returned.”
He looked directly at her then, through her, and she felt the weight of that small and simple word. IF. Sometimes it was the little things that mattered.
“You lied!” Shanna was shocked. Outraged. Angry.
“Yes. There are things even I cannot promise. Your safety and success was one such thing.”
“But you lied!”
“I had every confidence that you would return. I believe in you Shanna.”
“You! Lied! To! Me!” Shanna spat through gritted teeth. She wanted to kill something. To destroy something. Blood. Someone. Her hand instinctively moved towards her quiver.
“Enough,” the Treespeaker whispered angrily, waving his hand.
Shanna froze. She felt her fury gutter out, leaving a dark aching hole. She couldn’t move. She didn’t want to.
“Even after five years you have not really learned about people Shanna, so learn this: everyone and everything at some time lies. Last night you needed knowledge and skill you did not have for the dangerous journeys ahead, this morning you have that knowledge and skill. You have returned, despite my false promise BUT as I believed you would because you are what and who you are. I am truly sorry I lied to you and I feel shame that I did. That I had to. But now you have returned safely and I am relieved and thankful. As you should also be. Now it is time to stop this nonsense, to return to your friends and to keep them safe. Farewell.”
The Treespeaker dropped his hand slowly and a gentle breeze sprang up around them. His robe and then his being broke apart, floating like autumn leaves in the wind.
“Old man? We’re done,” Shanna muttered to the air.
No… you know we are not, the breeze whispered in her ear amongst the cries of gulls.
Shanna sat for a while, thinking. He was probably right. He usually was. And she couldn’t stay angry. She breathed in deeply, smelling the world. It was good to be home.
She stood up smoothly, hoisted her backpack, checked her bow and looked at the village below. Somewhere down there were her friends. She hoped she hadn’t changed too much. One night could seem like forever.
“Right then,” she muttered with a wry grin and began a new journey.