(c) Nin Harris. All Rights Reserved.
In Memory of Janet Yanosko Elkins, one of the first and earliest readers of this frenetic, hypertextual web and all souls, friends and loved ones lost along the way, somewhere in the Great Dreaming.
Ackbroll squatted beneath the shadow of a teak tree, watching The Wild Maiden of The Trees as she circled the gradon that dreamt within states. All around them, Nemorosum Somnium moved and rustled. It was a feral force that troubled even the Maiden in all her wildness. It troubled Ackbroll even more so, for he was significantly less untamed. His patron, the antlered one, had warned him of this many moons ago. Now, as the Wild Maiden grew frenetic and urgent, he finally understood. The wind affected even him, the murmuring of the trees bending and shifting his own memories, despite the protection of the antlered one. Ackbroll had been named protector here, even if he could have left, his own sense of responsibility would not let him do so.
The susurration that was the conversation between twigs, the veins of corresponding leaves and the wind created an intricate weave that contained the consciousness of a thousand trees and more. It drowned out the thoughts of humans and animals alike. The susurration had the penunggu in the trees cackling and hooting, half-wild with starvation and a glee born of both deprivation and power. The madness of the forest had kept away the tourists who provided them with fresh blood, and fresher meat, but had given these malicious protectors of the trees something else. A new strength, a new dreaming. This could not bode well, Ackbroll thought. He sucked at his upper lip and made an irritated sound. There was no help for it, he had to act soon. Timing was everything. No time for elaborate plans here. He took his slingshot, and loaded it with a mangosteen fruit. It was firm, but soft. Firm enough to be used as a projectile. Soft enough not to hurt too much if used. He looked up at the elegant teak tree and patted its trunk in a familiar, affectionate gesture.
“This may hurt a little,” he said to both the tree and the forest.
He eyed the gradon, whom he knew to be the queen of dragons, as well as the source of the disturbance within the heart of the forest. He aimed his slingshot. He fired.
It would have been a loud shout of outrage, had it not hit something other than a very diminutive target. Ackbroll dropped his slingshot, squinted and then sighed.
“Broke my wing! My wing! Stupid spear-boy!”
Ackbroll dropped to his knees and peered at the Flitterer.
“Weren’t you banished from Nemus Animae?”
Ackbroll sighed and reached inside his tunic for a small phial. Gingerly, he unscrewed it and dabbed a small bit of moisture on his finger. He moved it towards the Flitterer. She shrank away from him, her pretty face contorting with both distrust and a fastidious expression.
“Smelly finger. Away from me. Away from up-windy-ness!”
She moved backward, even if her pretty little wing of latticed green and silver drooped in a broken, woebegone angle.
“Hold still you silly faerie-thing. I’m trying to fix your wing.”
“Oh. Hah! Fix it good! Or I will bite yon smelly finger.”
“Not too smelly for biting?”
The Flitterer made a severely put-out sound.
“Fix it! Fix the broken wing now!”
Gently, he dabbed the lotion on the faerie’s wing and watched as it healed itself. Soon it was at a jaunty angle from its companion wing and the pair began moving in rapid motion, lifting the faerie from the ground.
“How came you by that potion?”
The Flitterer’s eyes and antennae whirled with curious attention. Ackbroll shook his head.
“Oh no. You are under someone else’s employ now, are you not? Who are you reporting back to, you little terror?”
The Flitterer beat her wings and would have fluttered out of reach had Ackbroll not, with a swift gesture caught her wings between his forefinger and thumb.
“Outrageous! Remove earth-soiled fingers from my BEAUTIFUL wings!”
“Your pretty little wings obscure a malicious little head. Now, my little green friend, whose bidding do you do, this fine evening?”
“Hairy wolf-maiden! Under her protection!”
The Flitterer pointed in an officious gesture at the amulet she wore. Ackbroll whistled, a soft sound that was drowned by the whistling of the wind that crept up on them, getting stronger, and wilder. She whimpered and even moved closer to Ackbroll. He shrugged at her.
“You’ve ruined my chance to stop this craziness,” he told the Flitterer.
“Did not! How can you stop craziness, anyway?” she asked. Ackbroll looked beyond her to the mangosteen still on the ground. The impact against her wing had not damaged the fruit by much, a mere crack or two from his estimation. Cracks that would create deep maroon rivulets that obscure the soft, sweet white flesh of the fruit. Ackbroll picked it up, and slowly weighed it.
“I need you to stand aside, you silly green thing. We need to wake the gradon up.”
“Will this make craziness stop or worse?”
“I don’t know. Wish I did, but I don’t.”
“Fruit might not work!”
“No, it might not. But she is in a state in-between, the best state to awaken her from. And if she awakens, perhaps the trees will, as well. If this does not succeed, we will try another way. And another!”
Ackbroll aimed his slingshot again.
Maroon rivulets hit the rough bark of a tree, then the sweet and sour white flesh stained with mangosteen blood hit the gentle thighs of a Nepali woman. Slowly, the confused contours resolved into violet scales. Slowly, the gradon solidified into the curves and spikes of an elegant, Himalayan dragon.
“Oh noooo.” whimpered the Flitterer.
A multitude of roars filled the air as the now silent forest shuddered under the triumph of an army of dragons that swooped downwards towards the trees. Ackbroll even had time to reflect that perhaps this had not been his most well-thought plan. Never before on Yrejveree had there ever been such a thing as a war between trees and dragons.
“Slingshot not so useful against dragons now, hmm?” asked a malicious little voice. Ackbroll glared at her before a great green dragon swooped just overhead, and roared loud enough that she squeaked with fright and dove into one of his tunic pockets.