Auchendale Nights, Part 2
Every year, for one day only, Auchendale hosts the Festival of the Mother of Trees, a celebration in the name of Vitosa. The whole city is alive with vendors, events, and tourists who come and see the woodbending monks that Auchendale is famous for, in addition to the wine, of course. Well, especially the wine. No one could ask for a better day either. The weather was cool, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Festivities start early, and Renko, with Sunny on his shoulders, stride into the festival grounds.
“Over there, Ren, look over there!” Sunny shouted, pointing at a crowd of people. “I bet something interesting is going on that way!”
The plaza was full of people of all types going every-which-way. Woodbending displays on the left, vendors on the right, down one of the alleyways a fortuneteller set up a tent. She drew quite a line. Fortunetelling was something Renko could never figure out.
As tall as Renko was, he could see plainly what caught Sunny’s attention: A wagon set up on the curb of a storefront with a sign which said: “Dr. Crakow’s Magickal Curiousities”. The proprietor, a well dressed man, was slinging all sorts of knickknacks, to the awe of the crowd.
Renko muscled his way up to the wagon. Sunny was delighted. Unfortunately, the show seemed to end just as they got up center stage. The wagon closed up, and people started to disperse to other things to see in the city.
“Aw man,” Sunny said, “That looked like so much fun, too.”
“There’ll be plenty more to see, Sunny, I promise.” Renko responded.
The crowd dissipated completely except for a single woman, wearing what looked like a scowl on her face. She had was petite but tall, her bright red hair tied back in a long pony tail. She appeared to be wearing an ornate set of leather armor, which somehow terminated in a skirt. At her hip hung a sheathed longsword. And, curiously, a big leatherbound book alongside it.
Sunny looked at her and without a care in the world, shouted: “Hey lady, how was the show?”
The lady turned to look and the two of them. He face changed to brief surprise when she noticed how tall Renko was compared to her. “Ah,” she started, “I was not that impressed, honestly.”
“Well that’s disappointing.” Sunny said, crossing her arms. Renko nodded in agreement. “Hey, what’s your name, lady?” As Sunny said this, Renko smacked his forehead. He should be used to this. She was just a kid after all.
“It’s Sheena,” the woman said with a smile. “What’s yours?” She looked directly at Sunny. Even though she was on Renko’s shoulders, it looked like Sheena was trying her best to pretend he was not there.
“It’s Sunny! And this is Renko!” She said, patting Renko’s head.
“Renko, you say?” Sheena said, looking directly at him. He nodded. “Renko the Wolfmaster?” He nodded again. He didn’t really like that title. Even though the city in general grew to like him because of that night, it brought him more attention than he wanted. The mayor even had the beast’s hide made into armor for him, which he wore more out of respect than anything.
“That’s right, Sheena. Ren’s the best!” Sunny pumped her arms in excitement.
Sheena bowed. “I’m terribly sorry, Renko, your reputation precedes you! Why, if I could do what you did, I could finish my pilgrimage and go right home!”
She continued fawning over him. Renko could practically see the stars in her eyes. Was she some sort of fan? “What’s a pilgrimage?” He asked, trying to get a word in.
“Oh, it’s a sort of test. I’m, uh, not allowed to go home until I finish it.”
“That’s terrible,” Sunny said, “What do you need to do?”
“I don’t really know. That’s part of the problem. I either have to prove my honor some way, or bring something of value home.”
“Like what?” Sunny said, cocking her head to the side.
“Something of historical value, or magical. They’re really hard to find.”
Sunny tapped her chin, thinking. “I know! Come to my house. My dad has a lot of old things. Maybe you could use some of it!”
Sheena was clearly skeptical, but how could she refuse such a cute child? “Okay, show me what you got,” She said, “But we have to hurry, the sun will set soon and I don’t want to miss the fireworks!”
“Yay!” Sunny said, clapping her hands. “Lead on, Ren!”
“Lead the way, Wolfmaster” Sheena said, motioning him forward. Renko rolled his eyes.
Renko lead the way back to the mayor’s villa, with Sunny on his shoulders and Sheena behind him. They had to pass through the thick of the festival, and a parade was on its way through, so it took a little time to get home. When they finally got inside, Renko let Sunny down in the sitting room, who promptly rushed upstairs.
“Wait right there, Sheena,” She said as she passed, “And Ren, put some tea on!”
Not a bad idea, he thought. They did have a guest. Sheena delicately unbuckled her sword from he hip and laid it next to her as she sat on the sitting room couch. He put a pot of water on the stove just as Sunny came bounding down the stairs, her arms full of this and that.
“Look at all this.” She said, out of breath. She poured it all onto the floor of the sitting room. Out spilled some old books, what looked like a wooden figurine of a tree, some scrolls, and a small rolled up tapestry. “These are from our library,” She said, pointing at the books, “I think these are the oldest ones. And this was bent by Ironbark himself, my dad says!” She pointed at the tree figure. “These are called ‘missives’ whatever that means,” She pointed at the scrolls. “But dad takes care of them so they must be important. And this:” She rolled out the tapestry, “is the history of Orbus Ironbark, written on actual woven wood, by the man himself. Or so dad says.”
Indeed, from what Renko could see the tapestry was made of some sort of wood-woven threads, probably by woodbending. His time spent in the town had him learn all about the woodbending monks and their art. he’s seen a lot of it around town and especially today at the festival. But he’s never seen it done so skillfully. It was old too. The words on it were faded and hard to read.
“These are really neat, Sunny!” Sheena said. “Tell me, who is Orbus Ironbark?”
“They called him ‘The Father of Woodbending’,” Sunny said excitedly, “The priests say he was able to talk to Vitosa personally and could link his will with nature itself: woodbending. He was the first. They say things made by him are legendary. That was a long time ago though.”
Sheena listened intently. Renko could see she was humoring the child until she unrolled the tapestry. It was subtle, but it looked like her eyes flashed blue for a split second. She gasped, staring directly at the tapestry. She said sternly: ’Sunny, may I see that wood-weave closer?"
“Of course!” Sunny picked it off the floor and handed it to Sheena. Renko didn’t say anything, but the sudden change in the woman put him on edge. Sunny didn’t seem to notice.
“What’s wrong, Sheena?” Renko asked.
Sheena jumped, startled. “Oh, s-sorry.” She was clearly flustered. “The weave, it has a magical aura. I can only read bits of the text, but it is a history of Ironbark it seems. Strangely, these symbols of the tree and moon are untarnished. Look!”
Renko peered at the tapestry. Upon inspection, she was right. The text was near useless, but these symbols of the moon and a tree look brand new. Could this thing really be magical? “So could you use this?” Renko asked.
“Maybe, but I need to know what it is supposed to do first. It’s an enchantment for sure, but I’ll take some time to figure out what, exactly.”
Sunny jumped up. “This is so cool!”
“Where was this kept, Sunny?” Sheena asked.
“Some old chest in the attic. I don’t think that thing’s seen light in years.”
“It’ll take me forever to puzzle this out. I haven’t done this kind of thing since training camp…” Sheena looked forlorn.
Sunny sidled up to her on the couch and gave her a hug. “It’s ok, we can help!”
Sheena smiled. “Thanks Sunny. And Renko too.”
“Look here.” Sunny pointed at the tree symbol. This isn’t any tree. It’s the Mother Tree. It’s what this whole festival is meant to represent. Reverence for that."
Sheena sat up in alert. “What time is it? Is it dark?”
Renko stood up and opened the window. The sun had just appeared to set, and a full moon sat high in the sky. He could see fireworks coming from the town square. “Looks like the sun set.” He said.
“Out of the way!” Sheena shouted as she jumped up and attempted to push past Renko. She was not the successful.
“Get out of Sheena’s way, Ren!” Sunny said. Renko stepped out of the way. As soon as the window was free she leaned out of it was the map in her hand. The tree of them heard a small creaking noise.
As the light of the moon hit the tapestry, it began to warp-no, woodbend. Its words faded and the color lightened. In a few short seconds, it hardened into a wooden plaque, whose surface seemed to carve itself into words and shapes.
“It’s- it’s a map!” Sheena exclaimed.
“Wow!” Sunny shouted. Renko stared in wonder.
“It must respond to to the light on the night of the festival! It makes so much sense now!” Sheena was exhilarated.
“Read the words! The words!” Sunny urged.
Sheena brought it inside. “Okay, it says: ’Test thy will and be rewarded. Descend into my tomb and claim my final gift. Do not tarry, this night is your only chance. Orbus Ironbark.” The three of them gasped in wonder. “There’s a picture of what looks like a building. Either of you recognize this?”
Renko gave it a look. “Not me.” He shrugged.
“That looks like the temple of Vitosa, right in the heart of town! I know it for sure!” Sunny said triumphantly.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Sheena said, stowing the plaque in her pack and buckling her sword. Let’s go!" Out the door she went.
Sunny was already climbing onto Renko’s back. “We’re right behind you!”