The old man bent down to move the branch. The forest around him was dark, and the sounds of animals could be heard in the distance. The only noise nearby was that of the people following him. Gaerth, was his name, an old farm hand from Basilea. He and his charges had left Basilea for various reasons and had decided to make this journey together. Some, it was to escape a life of service. Others, it was a feeling they didn’t belong.
But all had heard the song.
There were eight people on this journey. To some place none of them knew existed for sure. A place that was named in the song they each heard. The Twilight Grove.
“Come,” said Gaerth, “the song is louder this way. I think we are nearing…whatever this is.”
One of the travellers, a young man in armor, sighed. “You ever wonder if this song is leading us to our doom? The church, well, I don’t think it would take kindly to this…” He scratched his chin, the faint shadow of stubble showing just how young he really was. “Sir Aeyrm always was warning me about temptation… but…”
The woman next to him adjusted the babe in her arms and sighed. “Thats what them priests want you to think. Or rather, don’t want you to really THINK! All I know is that when the mistress kept beating me and my son Lyle,” she gestured to the young boy following her “the song grew louder, and sadder.”
Gaerth nodded. “Aye lad. I think the song is leading us to somewhere…safe. Perhaps somewhere to belong.”
They spoke as they walked of small things. Their lives before leaving. Their hopes and dreams. Another hour passed as the darkness grew and everyone in their little band started to yawn.
“We have been travelling for a week now Gaerth.” Spoke a burly man in an apron. “I think we need to rest for the night.” Gaerth nodded. The Song was loud now. Almost painful in his head. It was joyous now, he knew that, when before it was full of longing.
As the group began to make camp, a noise in the bushes cause them all to freeze. It did not sound natural.
As they waited, the trees near them began to shake. The woman, Rosemarie, held her baby tight and pulled Lyle close to her. The man in armor, called Krinlye, drew a sword and held it in shaking hands.
Out from the trees came…a man in old Basilean armor, marking him as a paladin. The group stared. Had their masters noticed them missing and sent out a search party? Would they be dragged back in chains?
Then they all noticed the color of the mans tunic. It was not the bright blue of Basilea. No. It was purple, almost as dark as night. The knight stood silent, and next to him the bushes shook again. And a few moments later a large beast emeraged. It looked like a bear…but with the head of an owl. The group took a collective step back and this caused the knight to laugh. It broke the tension instantly.
“Oh don’t mind Gunther here! He is as gentle as can be as long as you don’t do anything foolish”. The knight spoke clearly, with kindness in his voice. “What brings you travellers out here so late?”
No one spoke. Gunther and the Knight waited. Finally, it was Lyle who simply said “The song! We hear a song! Don’t we Ma!” Rosemarie couldn’t respond. She was too busy staring at the creature known as Gunther.
The knight however, simply nodded. “Right then. I know what you seek. I heard it once, too. You seek the Grove.” Everyone in the group nodded mutely. The knight removed his helmet, reveling a head of blonde hair surrounding boyish features. He smiled. “My name is Sir Greymor. I am in service to the Grove. Please, follow me. Its not far.
They began to walk again. After several minutes, Gaerth spoke. “How…how did you find us ser?” He asked quietly. Greymor looked back and smiled “Me and Gunther here are on night patrol is all. You had reached the edges of where we keep watch, really. Wanted to see if you spelled trouble or not.” Gunther made a soft hooting noise, and Greymor laughed. “You are right, I dont think they are trouble!”
“Can you really talk to that creature?” asked Lyle. Greymor clucked his tounge and stopped. “Let me make one thing clear. Gunther is not a creature. He is a thinking being. Like you or me. You will learn such things, but keep this in mind. And yes, you will learn to talk to him and his kind too.” Gunther hooted again, a different sound, and Greymor nodded.
“Not far now! We can get you some beds and food, and rest once we arrive.”
The foliage had been growing thicker by the minute as they walked, but the group noticed that Gunther had taken the lead, and the branches and leaves simply seemed to open up in front of the group, and close back behind them. Finally, a few moments later, light could be seen.
And they walked into a huge open grove, with the sound of people. A small town, in the center of the dark forest.
In the middle of the grove stood a massive oak tree. Greymor turned, and bowed. “Welcome to the Twlight Grove. Its time to meet the Druid! Follow me.”
He lead them down towards the center of the Grove, passing small buildings and tents. It looked like any other town to the travellers, save that many of the buildings seemed to have been grown rather then built. They were clearly heading towards the tree, and Gaerth recognized it was an oak tree, but larger and more massive then any he had ever seen. Gunther and Greymor stayed quiet as they walked, and the group soon found themselves at the base of the tree.
To everyone’s surprise, Greymor walked up to the trunk, and knocked.
Lyle laughed. “Why are you knocking on the tree mister?” he asked.
Greymor smiled, and waited. And then, a form seemed to pull itself from the trunk and walk forward. The group gasped, as the form shimmered, and resolved itself into a woman with bright red hair. She smiled, and it was a motherly smile. “Well Greymor, Gunther, who have you brought today?”
“Lady Cassandra,” Greymor began, “They heard the Song.”
Cassandra’s eyes brightened. “Oh! They have come to join us! Welcome, friends, to the Twlight Grove.” She bowed, and the group stared. Minutes passed as Cassandra stood back up.
Finally Gaerth spoke up. “M’lady,” he began, “What is this song? It…has stopped since we walked in here. And what are you? How did you come out of the tree?”
“Well those are good questions to ask, I suppose!” Cassandra said. “The song, well, thats the Oak.” She waved a hand towards the massive tree. “It is the heart of the Grove, the source of its power, and an ancient protector of the forests. If you can hear its song, that means you belong here, with us. And I am a Druid, in the service of the Green Lady. It lets me wield the power and magic of nature.” Greymor nodded and added “You will find that many of us are from Basilea. The Oak’s song seems to pull more strongly from our ilk. Most of our Knights and other defenders are from there, so you will feel at home. But we are all in the service of the Green Lady, and the Grove.”
Nodding, Cassandra continued “Now, all we ask is that while you are here you contribute. Whether its farming, or smithing, or taking care of the sick and infirm, we only ask that you can do what you can. And to help protect the Grove, and the Forests, on behalf of the Green Lady. Beyond that, we share what we have.”
Krinlye raised his hand. “I was in training to be a knight back in Basilea. Do you all need people like me?” He looked at Greymor, and waited. “Aye lad! We defend the Lady’s forests, and we always need help. Anyone who wishes to provide military aid, and help with guarding the grove, you can come with me. The rest, well, Cassandra will help you get settled in.”
At that, the group began to disperse. A few went with Greymor, and they would become members of the Wardens of the Twilight Grove, defenders of the Green Lady’s lands and members of the Order of the Green Lady. The rest joined the people of the Grove, growing its population and hearing the Oaks song.
But those are tales for another time.
Just a little introduction to what I am considering my faction in Kings of War. The Order of the Green Lady. I had the idea of refugees from Basilea as a starting point for a force, as I like their models. This then grew, as I went to bed last night, into this concept. A subset of the Order who were focused in and around a Grove, protecting it and the region around it alongside the groves Druid. Thus was born The Wardens of the Twilight Grove.