What follows is a ballad once performed by a bard in Ava'lon that tells the tale of the dryad, that ancient creature of myth, and of what became of the last of her kind.
In forests green and verdant,
In aeons long ago,
In forests dark and perilous,
The dryad dwelt.
Her hair shone gold and glimmering,
Her eyes shone green and bright,
Her song, though beauty-shrouded,
The dryad was alone,
Her people long forgotten,
The last of an ancient dynasty,
Wept gentle tears.
The man was running, running, running,
Through whipping branches, wooden claws,
From pain and screaming, dying, dying,
The man fled, into the night.
He bled from wounds that carved his skin,
His body failing, his mind ablaze,
Red rivulets wreathing his arms and neck,
Like hot, crimson jewellery.
Though his feet were running, his thoughts were still,
Frozen in a mosaic of manic memory,
His men, his friends, awakened then slain,
Blades flashing moonlight silver, then red, red.
She heard him stumbling, crunching past,
Felt the undergrowth beneath his boots,
Sensed his fear, his pain, his loss.
She hid from him.
Once, men came often through these ancient woods,
Swinging axe and hauling stone,
She learned to avoid them, though she ever she longed
To speak to them.
Yet she turned them away with her sylvan arts,
Distorting direction, looping path into path,
Till they returned where they had begun, and soon
They feared her woods.
He heard them behind him, heard their cries,
Hooting, whooping, cackling with delight.
Hunting him, like a dog, or less than a dog,
A toy, though to him this was far from a game.
They came from the South; he knew little more.
The Enemy, who started the war,
Or so they were told – lies perhaps?
It mattered not. Their swords cared not.
There was one he had seen, who he could not forget.
Black armour, black helm, black sword,
The Dread Knight; Azkith the Scourge,
The Emperor’s Hand here in the North.
He did not run.
Yet the night carried him on, drifting like a wraith,
He was gaining upon the man, like a rising tide.
He would catch him.
This was inevitable.
His men ran ahead,
Singing of the dead
Or the soon-to-be; all die in the end,
They relished the thrill of their devilish hunt,
Let them have their fun.
The end was inevitable.
She sensed Azkith too, and she knew what he was,
Understood him, felt the depth of his hate.
Then she knew – the man was not to be feared.
He could be a friend.
The man stopped in his tracks, collapsed to his knees.
Azkith stood before him – how? Did it matter?
The sword glinted black in the shadows.
But the shadows shied away when they heard her song.
His prey knelt.
He swung his blade.
A blow to cleave the head from the man.
But her voice froze him - stayed his hand.
It filled him.
The forest, the universe, time, lack of time.
Her song was all this.
She watched him burn away,
His form fading away.
Ancient evil made flesh,
Returning to thought.
She could not abide him here,
In this place, her realm,
She sang that which she remembered
And Azkith burnt.
Her song faded, the Southerners neared,
She and the man met eyes.
She saw his world, and he saw hers,
There was no room for lies.
His heart was good – this she saw,
His soul was full and bright.
Fear he knew, but bravery too,
His fire cast out the night.
She took his hand, and stole away,
Into the woods they ran.
The beasts of men followed on,
But they never caught the man.
She turned the woods against them,
Those Southern demons so cruel,
Lost, alone, wandering,
Only dust and decay would they rule.
In a forest green and verdant,
In aeons long ago,
She and he stood together,
By a lake.
The world span on and on,
A hundred years went by.
Their love stood strong, they grew together,
By that lake.
Time was not their foe.
It had no hold on them.
I think, perhaps, they’re still there.
In the forest.
Hand in hand.
By that lake.