It’s a solemn crowd that mourns so much loss. As Prior Friar concludes the memorial service you scan the crowd gathered at the sacred grove. The aftermath of one mad man and so much loss!
Villagers who lost husbands and fathers, mothers who lost children, forest denizens whose lives are forever changed. You marvel at seeing the kindly treants who’ve come at the Prior’s request, stoic and indomitable as they mourn one of the few remaining of their kind in this land, burnt beyond recognition. They’ve helped Artos tend to the trees of the grove, their tender care in such contrast to their huge strength. Do they know this is the man who spilled the oil that burnt their kindred? Do they know he who lit the pyre stands among them? For now they stand in solemn silence, waving gently as with the smallest of breezes, if they know, they choose not to show it. You see the satyrs, usually playful, as they pipe only songs of melancholy for their lost and the loss of their forest priest, their friend and their protector. And you see Buttercup, a solitary figure, alone though she is in the midst of a crowd. She does not weep openly as she is too prideful, but her hurt is almost palpable as she faces the reality of a life utterly alone and now destitute, penniless. Though everything is a haze and she can’t remember what happened while ensorcelled, she knows her village is destroyed, everything of value gone and her family found all dead, some even horribly mutilated. And to what purpose? For an evil wizard to try to dominate and control those weaker than them, that is what their ilk does, but to mutilate dead bodies? She just can’t fathom why. Her sanity hangs in the balance as she struggles with finding a reason to live. Will the final tipping point be seeing the young cleric strutting around in the armor that was her village’s chief treasure?
In the few days since Nectin was deposed, the inhabitants of the abbey and its demesne have slowly filtered in to the site of such death and destruction. Some have helped clear ‘the wall’ and used many of the stones to build a nearby cairn in memory of those who had fallen but also a reminder to be ever vigilant so that such a thing cannot ever happen again. Prayers have been lavished upon it and already it emanates holiness. There are those who suggest people, people with lost causes or broken minds, may come to this place in search of healing, such is the refreshing effect on the mind that it already has. Artos has tended to the grove, meditating and praying, finding the sources of power, the ley lines, the holiest of oaks and the tiniest of acorns and berry for planting and rebirth. In essence, he has found a home here. Artos has come to realize that this is what he has sought since he left his mentor to face the wide world, that this is his place and that he needs it as much as it needs him. The prior does not deign to have the authority to ‘appoint’ him, but the official welcome is made as the forest itself appoints him. As their new father, he has met with the folk of the forest, getting to know them and they, him. He assures them that though he may need to tend to affairs outside of this wood, it is to here that he will always return, that this grove is now a part of him in a way that he never thought possible. As you take your leave of him, you know you will adventure with him again.
‘Adventures’ are funny things you muse as you load your pack animals for the tenday journey south to Cheltenham, each preparing in your own silence. Really, a too small word for something so big. You came north with a map and a dream and you return with so much more. And not just the loot, no, it’s way more than that. You start to realize the burden of responsibility you took on when agreed to join this band. Not just to each other but to your profession, your learning, your mentors and the world in general. Artos has stayed behind, his mission now clear. In his stead rides Garn, venturing beyond the abbey’s demesne for perhaps the first time in his life and full of the exuberance of youth. Was that really how you looked those few short months ago? What’s it been 20? 24 months since you first wandered into Cheltenham? You’re going to need some real time to process all that has happened, what you’ve seen, what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished. You rescued beautiful Tess from 40 years of imprisonment and you’ve seen the slaughter of innocents. Some would say surely you are as responsible for one as for the other. There’s questions that need answered, but only you can answer them.
Well, the future holds responsibility, that’s for sure. Odo needs be told of this latest news of his brother. There’s spells to research, combat techniques to practice, self-searching meditation that must be done. But right now you just want to get to someplace familiar, someplace inviting, someplace that feels like ‘home’.
Too bad you can’t get away from the smell of rotting centaur balls on the way.