A lesson from the natural world written in the dim past, or is it still in our future? Only time will tell…
Nagwort snarled, baring his yellow razor-sharp, pointed teeth. Brindle had just stolen his one and only treasure, Ilim’s crystal. Nagwort had won it, or rather stolen it, from the dead body of Ilim during the last great battle between the goblins and the dwarfs of the valley. Ilim had been the fiercest of all the goblin army that day. Nagwort had stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the thick of battle.
Brindle sat in the corner of the cave carefully turning over the crystal in his bony hands, almost purring with delight, mesmerized by its exquisite beauty. Nagwort, seething with anger and hate, crept up behind him and knocked Brindle to the floor with one blow of his war club.
“Give it back!”
“Give it me now!”
Nagwort smashed Brindle over the head once more with his club, instantly raising a bump the size of a goose egg between Brindle’s leathery goblin ears. Brindle dropped the stolen crystal and slunk off into the shadows of the cave holding his aching head in his hands, barely able to see as thousands of stars drifted to and fro in front of his red eyes.
Nagwort quickly retrieved his precious treasure and put it in the pocket of his jerkin.
Ever since the dwarfs had first arrived in the valley beyond the goblin’s warren of caves over one hundred long summers ago, and because of the overcrowded situation all the clans now found themselves in within the valley, trouble between the two most powerful clans of ancients was inevitable.
Man, the blight on the world, as yet had not forcibly colonized this tiny part of the old planet. But both the goblins and dwarfs had gradually and reluctantly been forced to retreat ahead of the relentless march of well-armed warring human armies, bent on conquest. They were closely followed by the burgeoning numbers of other humans that quickly set up home behind the ever moving battlefront, seizing all of the lands for thousands of leagues in all directions.
Very soon the last clans of the ancients, careful not to be detected by the hated unnatural humans, those of the goblins, dwarfs, elves, and trolls, would have nowhere left to live; and if the mindless destruction by the invading humans of the ancient forests was allowed to continue, the link between those self-same forests and the ancients would be broken forever.
Whenever a new seedling pokes its head above ground, somewhere close by, an ancient related to it, and existing because of it, is also born.
To cut down the life-giving forests and scrubland is to the ancients, the equivalent in their world to removing the very air that humanity relies upon to exist; all ancients are inextricably linked together with the forests.
Cut down a tree or bush, and, depending on what kind it is, an ancient simply ceases to be.
Destroy an entire species, and the ancient clan related to it vanishes forever, breaking the life spells and enchantments that hold together all that is natural, all that is ordained in the great scheme of things by the ancient world.
By clear felling the forests to sow the cultivated unnatural seeds of grain, fruit and vegetables, and by allowing the human’s domesticated animals to greedily crop the grasses, bushes and herbs unchecked, humanity was slowly but surely killing the only world that Nagwort and all others in the ancient clans had ever known; although the notion had never entered Nagwort’s malevolent greedy brain.
The idea of forming an alliance between goblin, dwarf, elf and troll to protect themselves from the hoards of greedy humans was unnatural to their way of thinking. Equally, as disgusted by the idea of collaboration as the clans of ancients were, they knew something had to be done before it was too late. A permanent truce between them was now an inevitable necessity.
The life-giving ancient forests, shrubs and herbs were daily crying out for their help. The agonizing pain could be heard from the great oaks, elms, alder, beech, larch, sycamore, willows and many more, too numerous to mention, as they were relentlessly cut down by the unfeeling humans. They had been heard and felt by all living creatures within the rapidly shrinking boundaries of the ancient world.
Hundreds of ancients had now simply ceased to be as each tree was felled. If something was not done and very soon to protect their ordered ancient world, all ancients would vanish forever.
Many ancients, like those of the dragon, fairy, nymph and plains ogre clans, had vanished already within the last three thousand summers, as their life-giving tree species had been cut down.
Every clan, every creature was then, and still is to this day, a necessary part of the ancient world, unlike the vile human invaders.
Dwarfs were descended from Oak, goblins from Larch, elves from Elm, troll from Alder, bear from Beech, deer from Sycamore, squirrel from Chestnut, snake from Willow, bird from Cherry, wolf from Pine, stoat from Briar, weasel from Bracken, wildcat from Birch, snail from Toadstool, slug from Dock, and worm from Wild Potato—all belonged.
Humans however, did not, and yet somehow they had managed to completely take over the entire world beyond the valley and the forest surrounding it, since Troth’s Eye was stolen, ending forever nature’s hold over all living things.
Where they had come from, no one knew. The humans were like a great poisonous plague. The very idea that another species could exist without its own life-giving clan tree, or plant, was a puzzle and totally against the natural order of things.
Among all of the ancient clans much discussion and conjecture over just how the humans had come to be so powerful and numerous, had of recent times, occupied the thoughts of all clans of ancients.
Humanity, seemingly unaffected by the ancients’ use of magic, incantation, and curse in an effort to slow their relentless march, was destroying everything that stood in their way in their blind destruction of the ancient world, regarding all living things of no use to them, much like weeds or pests.
Gorin, the respected elder and arbitrator of the clan of dwarfs stood up to speak in the protected forest glade, hidden from view by the outside world. Even a malevolent young creature like Nagwort showed grudging respect by keeping silent as the elderly dwarf began to clear his throat.
“Friends, fellow ancient clans of goblin, elves, trolls, animals, trees and all living things,” he began. “We find ourselves at a dire crossroad. Our world is shrinking at an alarming rate. Our mutual enemy—mankind, is, as I speak, battering down the outer reaches of the great forest to the north, south, east and west of where we are, here in our shared valley. Soon they will arrive. What are we to do? We cannot fight them, even using our natural magic. The young among us are for war. But we few ancients cannot survive if our life-giving trees are chopped down, subjecting us and our young to needless slaughter, thereby ending our kind in a single generation. However, we can no longer afford to retreat any further either. Somehow we have to make a stand to enable our world to survive—but how?”
Gorin’s great age and wisdom was known and respected by all assembled there that day. Of all the ancients, he had made it his life’s work to study the hated humans since they first appeared on the eastern horizon many hundreds of leagues away beyond the ancient forest, over five hundred summers earlier.
Dingly, another elder within the clan of dwarfs, stood to speak. “There is a legend that has been handed down through the generations of all ancients, noble Gorin, speaking of the first age when our world was new, before the loathsome humans appeared. It is the legend of Troth the mighty ogre whose magical eye was cast upon the world in those days. It is said that while Troth’s Eye stood guard, our world and all that grew and lived within it was protected and lived in harmony. But, sadly it was stolen from the mountain top where Troth lived over five thousand summers past, about the time when the hated humans first appeared. It was taken by a thieving goblin youngling named Shruk who loved all things that sparkled and shone, when Troth’s back was turned, breaking forever the spell of harmony and ending the protection that Troth’s Eye gave to all.”
A great hue and cry ensued in the glade as age old inter-clan bitterness and anger grew. Since Troth’s Eye had been lost, chaos, greed and battle had become the norm among all living things. All assembled there knew of the legend and of the goblin clan’s weakness for precious objects, particularly if the object contained great magic.
“Friends, friends, please calm yourselves, I implore you!” Gorin shouted, as he lifted his hands to the anger of all assembled. “What Dingly says is true; all here know it to be fact. Who among the goblin clan can deny that it was one of their number—Slingfoot, son of Shruk, whose evil desire for pretty things was legendary throughout the world when it was young, who stole a second great magic from the mountain ogre’s lair? When he died barely four thousand summers ago, we all know that Troth’s eye had already vanished, and could not be found. Neither it nor the magic he stole was ever seen again. No one, be he dwarf, goblin, elf or troll, or tree, bush, shrub, or bird, beast or fish knows where Troth’s Eye now resides. In fact there is no one alive among us who even knows what it looks like. Sadly friends, the one benevolent object that cared for and nurtured us—Troth’s Eye, imbued with the life preserving magic needed to protect our ancient world from the human disease, and being capable of restoring harmony, is now sadly lost, seemingly for all eternity…”
The trees surrounding the glade thrashed their branches in frustration, stirring up age old anger among their related clans. A great noise filled the air as all the clans assembled in the glade that day angrily argued, pointing accusing fingers at the goblin clan after Gorin had slumped down, suddenly feeling his great age and not knowing what or how their problem could be solved. For a long time they argued this way and that among themselves, all cursing Slingfoot and Shruk; even their goblin brethren joined in to condemn them for their foolish acts. It was now clear to all that a search for Troth’s Eye and the other great lost magic had to be organized.
The oldest oak there that day soon took charge of the situation and shook itself into action before lifting its roots free from the ground to move to the centre of the glade.
“There is one among us one who holds the key,” the oak (whose name was never spoken for fear of incurring the wrath of all the great trees of the forest), gently whispered to the gathering, as it pointed a branch accusingly. “You, young Nagwort! You carry a crystal that was once owned by Ilim, descendant of Slingfoot and Shruk. It is the missing great magic, and you must hand it over. It was made by Troth and is the key to finding his Eye. It will point the way, if placed in the hands of one it trusts implicitly. But it will only work if all clans allow it to decide in whose hands it must be entrusted.”
All assembled there nodded in agreement as their eyes turned to where Nagwort stood quaking and trembling with fear, wondering how the oak knew about his treasure, but still defiantly clutching it in his bony hand, thrust deep in his jerkin pocket.
“Shant, it’s mine, you, you scabby worm ridden cankered spindle twig you!” Nagwort screamed angrily at the mighty oak, as all gathered in the glade reeled in shock at the blasphemous outburst aimed at the noble oak by the disgusting youngling goblin thief.
Before he could flee, Nagwort fell to the ground in great pain as he was struck down from behind by the war club of Bladethirst, chief among the goblin clan.
Bladethirst bared his cruel teeth, accentuating his disgust of the youngling and his thieving forefathers, as he deliberately and roughly reached into Nagwort’s jerkin to retrieve the crystal before handing it carefully to Dingly. “Your time is now over young Nagwort,” he hissed to the pathetic creature groveling and crying at his feet in great pain.
Bladethirst bowed low as he enquired of the great tree what to do next. “Noble and venerable Oak, what this craven youngling has done, and what he has just said to you, is beyond forgiveness in my eyes. Pray tell us what we must do?”
Silence fell in the glade as all eyes turned to the mighty oak for an answer.
At the oak’s bidding, each clan member, each creature, tree and bush there in the glade that day, drew near and picked up, or touched the crystal in turn, hoping that it would be satisfied with one among the many. By nightfall, all but one had tried and failed to please the crystal.
A spine chilling terrible cry from above made all look up to the moonlit skies of early evening as a great bird suddenly appeared above their heads. They all watched in trepidation as it descended on gigantic silent wings, landing beside the crystal.
All breathing ancients knew, feared and respected Tallow, the giant eagle. Tallow and her kind were tasked by the great trees with keeping order among the clans since the world was new.
She cast her sharp focus over all assembled. Many there hoped and prayed that she had not yet found out their many misdemeanors. All knew that Tallow’s justice was harsh and swift.
But this time it seemed she had arrived for a different purpose. The great oak lowered a branch for her to climb onto and they quickly fell into whispered conversation.
When the first light of dawn crept over the eastern horizon, the oak beckoned to Gorin and lifted the elderly dwarf gently to join in the conversation. While the trio continued to speak, many of the assembled clans in the glade, as well as those below the oak’s shady branches, fell asleep exhausted by the day’s events. Nagwort whined and groaned from where he lay, pinned by Bladethirst’s foot. At long last by mid-afternoon the oak gently lowered Gorin and Tallow to the ground.
“Friends, Tallow has brought great news from the mountains to the north. She has found the very last mountain ogre left alive. His name is Gemlik. He is only alive because his protective tree, the last witch-hazel, still grows high on the mountain that is his home in the frozen reaches of the north, well beyond the reach of the human’s axe and saw. Gemlik is the great, great, great grandnephew of Troth. Tallow is about to fly to him with our concerns, and if you all will allow her, she will take the crystal and its bearer to him. Surely if anyone can find Troth’s Eye it is Gemlik.”
Tallow sat on a rock preening her magnificent plumage in preparation for the long flight while the clan leaders talked over the news. Gorin, Bladethirst, Fingu—leader of the clan of Elves, and Slake—the eldest of the trolls, all finally agreed on a plan.
“Mighty Tallow,” Fingu said, “who among our number should accompany you to Gemlik’s lair? We have all tried and failed to please the crystal. If he is truly Troth’s great, great, great grandnephew as you say, his magic and anger will be fierce. We all here know that ogres are solitary beings, not disposed to visitors of any kind, not even their own, except at birth planting, when a new witch-hazel seed is sown. But if he is told the terrible truth of the human’s invasion by one of our elders, perhaps he will help us all end this menace that threatens the natural order of things in our world.”
Tallow sat for a long time before answering.
“Slake,” she began, fixing him with her fierce eyes, “of all here, your kind is the closest in kinship to Gemlik. But the journey is long and will take two nights and three days. You are heavy by your very nature, too heavy for me to bear. Bladethirst, your kind are bitter enemies of all ogres, be they mountain or plains ogre, he would kill you instantly. Fingu, your kind are deeply distrustful of ogres, he would drive you away to die in the frozen wastes below his home. Therefore there is only one among you—you wise Gorin.” she said, pointing a wing towards the dwarf elder, “who must make the journey with me, as all clans assembled here, with the exception of the goblins, at least until today, trust you implicitly as did Gemlik’s kind so long ago. I have already spoken to him on this very subject before flying here. He already knows of the hated human’s relentless conquest to take over our ancient world, and is willing to help end their destructive ways. Daily he sees the smoke from their fires as they kill your related life-giving trees to prepare the way for their kind to inhabit where before only our natural world lived in harmony; and there is only one among you that has not yet been tested by the crystal. Now gentle and wise Gorin, please pick it up.”
A loud cheer rose as Gorin triumphantly stood with the crystal glowing contentedly in his hand before he began to walk over to Tallow with tears of happiness and hope in his eyes.
The great eagle held up one wing to halt his progress. “Before we begin our journey, dear Gorin, I have one onerous duty to perform.”
She turned her magnificent head and focused her piercing eyes on Nagwort. With lightening speed she flew the short distance between the rock she had previously perched on to where the pitiful Nagwort lay before, seizing him in her powerful talons, knocking aside Bladethirst in the maneuver with her powerful wings, dragging the now screaming terrified young goblin aloft, flying high into the sky. With one precise blow from her massive razor sharp beak, Tallow beheaded the thief, and dropped his lifeless body to smash into the ground below where it would be reclaimed by one of the goblin clan’s life-giving larch trees, before flying back down to where the clans waited. Natural law was once more restored.
Gorin sat comfortably nestled between Tallow’s powerful shoulders, kept warm by her soft feathers as she soared ever higher before turning northward toward the mountain where Gemlik dwelt.
As the pair flew steadily towards Gemlik’s mountain home, far below from time to time Gorin caught site of the destruction of the ancient world by the humans. Tallow flew on, effortlessly soaring on updrafts as day gave way to darkness. Soon the sight of campfires, villages and towns from the countless human hoards glowed in the darkness below her mighty wings. Gorin, snug and warm in his comfortable feather bed, warmed by her body, ate an acorn for his supper before finally curling up to go to sleep. At his great age, one acorn per day was sufficient for his needs.
As dawn appeared, Gorin woke and rubbed his sleep filled eyes.
“Where are we lady Tallow?” he wondered, as they flew across great tracts of land that Gorin had never seen before.
Tallow looked down for a brief moment before replying, “Far below is the land of the snow wolf, bear, leopard and Musk Ox, dear Gorin. No other creature dwells there because their clan trees cannot grow in the frozen ground.”
Gorin carefully stood to peer over her great shoulders at the world far below as she flew on ever northward. By nightfall they were flying towards a great mountain chain.
“Is that where Gemlik dwells, do you suppose?” Gorin enquired, as they flew along the chain.
“No dear Gorin. Be patient. We have many more leagues to fly before we reach his mountain.”
As Gorin lay down once more to sleep, his tired eyes took in the stars above and the great green writhing curtains of light above the frozen north. For one more day and night, Tallow soared effortlessly in the clear northern skies. This far north, no creature lived.
By the early evening of the second night, the pair could now see the snow-topped peak of Gemlik’s mountain home in the far distance. With the coming of dawn on the third day, Tallow circled high above Gemlik’s lair, calling out to him, announcing their arrival.
Gorin peered nervously over Tallow’s wings at the desolate frozen scene below. A great and terrible creature stood outside its cave entrance, beside a lone witch-hazel, shielding its eye as it watched the eagle and her precious cargo slowly descend towards it.
Tallow landed gently on a sturdy branch of Gemlik’s life-giving witch-hazel tree.
“Greetings noble Gorin, greetings friend Tallow,” Gemlik’s great voice boomed out his welcome, the sound of which loosened rocks that tumbled down the mountainside.
Gorin carefully climbed down from Tallow’s back onto the branch she had perched upon, and with great trepidation, climbed onto the outstretched hand of the giant ogre.
Gemlik, careful not to crush his tiny guest in his hand, walked back to his cave and placed the elderly dwarf gently in a bed of moss beside a roaring fire to warm his aged body before their conversation began.
Gorin studied his giant host with great curiosity and in great detail. He judged Gemlik to be over twelve feet in height. His great head bore only one eye. From his mouth, large but short and very sharp tusks protruded from both his upper and lower jaws. His body was generously covered with snow white thick fur from head to foot. His hands were similar to Gorin’s own, except for their great size. His feet bore seven clawed toes.
Gorin, not knowing if and when Gemlik might change his mind and suddenly decide to eat him as a tasty morsel, reached into his pocket and quickly produced the crystal, holding it out for Gemlik to see.
“Here is the crystal O magnificent Gemlik. I was chosen from all of the clans to bring it home to you,” Gorin announced with a slight tremor in his voice.
The sound of Gemlik’s booming laughter almost deafened the ancient dwarf. As it continued to reverberate around the dark cave, bats that had been roosting happily in the darkest recesses of it took fright and flew out of the cave.
“Ho, ho, ho! Bless you friend Gorin. I have no wish, nor the desire to eat you. Your kind and mine have always lived happily side by side.”
Gorin raised an uncertain eyebrow as Gemlik continued.
“Yes my friend, I can hear the thoughts of other ancients. I only tell you this to calm your fears. Be not afraid friend Gorin, be not afraid.”
For the rest of the day, the two ancients, one small, one enormously large, sat, ate and drank their fill as they discussed the progress of the hated human disease far away from Gemlik’s cave. Then the conversation turned to locating Troth’s Eye and restoring it to its rightful place.
Gemlik’s one great eye moistened as he thought of his ancestor Troth and the happy times the world had known back then.
“Tomorrow we shall climb up the mountain to install the eye afresh, friend Gorin,” he said. “For now rest here while I prepare a place for Tallow to roost.”
With the coming of dawn, Tallow circled slowly overhead ever watchful as Gemlik with Gorin, seated on one of his massive shoulders, warmed by the giant ogre’s fur in the frozen rarefied air, climbed steadily onward towards his mountain’s mist-covered summit. The snow blanketed slopes were treacherous. More than once, despite his great strength and his clawed feet, Gemlik slipped and slid. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the mist covering the mountain eventually cleared, revealing the uppermost reaches of Gemlik’s home.
By mid morning at long last Gemlik and Gorin stood at the summit. At its centre stood a magical rock with a simple hole at its top surrounded by intricately carved ancient runes, mounted on a plinth. Gemlik picked up Gorin and placed him with great care on the plinth.
“Here we are friend,” he said with a smile on his face.
“But where is Troth’s Eye?” Gorin wondered.
“Why bless you friend, his eye is gone. But fear not we shall replace it soon enough,” Gemlik replied. “Now hand me my crystal if you please.”
Gorin handed it over.
“This crystal is the key to the problem our world finds itself in, friend,” Gemlik continued. “When Shruk stole Troth’s Eye from its place in the rock yonder, almost immediately it vanished, ceased to be, dissolved if you will, ending its magical control, and letting chaos replace harmony by allowing a great unnatural disease—humanity, to be born. This crystal is the tool my ancestor Troth fashioned to create the magical eye. As you may have noticed, we mountain ogres only have one eye, unlike our two eyed kin, the plains ogre. He used the crystal to transform his one eye into a thing of great magic, before inserting it into the rock. Almost immediately it protected and shielded our new world while creating harmony among all living creatures, trees, plants and shrubs. Now, like my ancestor Troth, I must sacrifice my own eye to create its replacement.”
“But, but, you will be blind friend Gemlik, is there no other way?” Gorin pleaded, anxious not to be the cause of Gemlik’s terrible sacrifice.
“Fear not, Gorin. My small sacrifice will restore the natural order of things across our world. Now hush while I concentrate on the task ahead.”
Gorin watched with a mixture of anxiety and alarm as Gemlik touched his eye with the crystal. Instantaneously the eye changed from a living thing into a magnificent jewel before Gorin’s old tearful eyes. Once transformed, Gemlik carefully plucked the jewel from his head and placed it atop the carved rock in the hole made for it, where almost immediately it became one with the rock and instantly the whole structure began to vibrate in unison with the world, putting nature in order once more.
“Now it is time to return to my cave,” Gemlik said. “Will you be my eyes for the climb if you please? It will take me a little time to rely on my other senses to compensate for the loss of my eye.”
Tearfully the old dwarf agreed, and climbing onto Gemlik’s outstretched hand, he found himself once again seated on the giant ogre’s shoulder.
On reaching the safety of the entrance to Gemlik’s cave, the ogre told Gorin that he would keep the crystal hidden from thieves, should it be needed again in the future, and gave a parting gift to Gorin with instructions on what he wished him to do with it once he reached home.
After their farewells, Tallow with Gorin, still saddened by what he had witnessed, safely installed back between her wings, began the return flight back to the valley. As the pair flew south a great change was happening far below. Where before the campfires of humanity had been seen far and wide, now only darkness prevailed across the ground below. Gorin dozed fitfully, unable to sleep as he worried about Gemlik and his sacrifice.
“Look, they’re back!” Slake cried out, as he pointed towards the northern sky. All the clans assembled there in the glade watched and waited as Tallow circled overhead, gradually losing height as she carefully descended to the waiting throng.
“Welcome back Tallow and Gorin; wondrous news,” Fingu exclaimed. “The humans are vanishing, dying in their thousands, practically overnight or so it seems. Nature is reclaiming that which they stole from us. Seedlings are springing up where before there were human crops and animals!”
Gorin said nothing. He nodded to Tallow, who acknowledged him in return. Then the old dwarf wandered off to the other end of the small valley. He searched all around until he found what he was looking for.
Above the valley on its southern outer slope, he knelt down. He reached for the knife in his belt and began to dig a small hole in the soil. Next, he carefully opened his handkerchief and shook its contents into the hole before covering it up once more.
Almost immediately, as if by magic, a small seedling thrust its way above the surface.
“I have begun my promise to you friend Gemlik. I shall come each day to tend this new witch-hazel tree, and I shall school its ogre youngling, when he is born, in the ways of our world. Most of all I shall proudly tell him of the great unselfish sacrifice his ancestor Gemlik made to save our world from the terrible human disease that very nearly wiped us all out, when he replaced Troth’s Eye with his own. It is my hope that one day soon he will make the journey to meet you my dear friend.”
Far to the north Gemlik sat in his cave beside his fire and smiled as he heard the thoughts of his friend many leagues to the south…