January 25, 2004
Tiella took a quick glance over her right shoulder to make sure that she wasn't being followed. When she could see nothing moving, she settled down in an alcove between the roots of a large tree and surveyed her surroundings. She knew the copse like the back of her hand. In the several years she had lived here, she had explored it every single day; and more importantly, survived it every single day. She knew about the little hiding places where the trees would never think to look, she knew about the places the trees would never want to go, and she knew how to lose her pursuers. She sat in one of her favorite shelters. There was snow on the ground, which didn't make life any easier for Tiella. The trees weren't particularly intelligent, but every year they picked up on the fact that footprints in the snow meant that a meal might be nearby. Tiella knew how to cover her footprints, but they were never completely invisible.
Tiella threw her long blond hair out of her eyes and peered out among the trees. All she could see were the trunks of black trees, but she could smell the rotting scent of one of the mobile trees nearby. She could also hear the joyful cries of the Chandali children who were probably playing in the snow, as they did every year. This was the only time there was any sign of happiness coming from the Chandali. Few people would be able to survive in this forest for long, and Tiella admired the Chandali for being able to do it. She didn't admire their style, however. Barricading themselves into a small area using their wagons worked, but she knew that it wouldn't last forever. The evil trees all knew that the Chandali lived behind that wall of wagons, and they occasionally tried to push their way in. They never succeeded, but Tiella had a feeling that the wall wouldn't hold up forever. Tiella much preferred her own method of survival. The trees couldn't kill her, because they couldn't find her. The only disadvantage of her method was that, when she was always on the move, there wasn't much time for sleep.
She rested for several minutes in her hidey-hole, but she knew that if she stayed here too long it would be discovered by a hungry tree, and she'd lose yet another one of her safe-havens. She rubbed her green eyes with her black-gloved hands and started on her way to another area of the copse. She did have her own little hut at the south end of the copse, but she preferred to spend as little time there as possible. The trees seemed to avoid it because of its proximity to the giant spiders, and the spiders seemed to avoid it because of the trees - but Tiella knew very well that a strained peace wouldn't last long. Tiella moved smoothly and silently between the trees, using her feet to try to disguise her tracks as she went along. She caught a glimpse of motion in the corner of her eye, and in a single, fluid motion, she pressed her tall and slim body against the solid black trunk of a nearby normal tree.
Several paces in front of her stood a young tree covered in coarse black and green bark. It moved its four arm-like branches in rhythm as it cleared a hole in the underbrush for it to root itself for a prolonged period of rest. It was facing away from her, but she knew they had a keen sense of smell. The tree suddenly stood still, as if listening, and Tiella grimaced as she realized that there was a light breeze blowing through the forest, and that the baby tree was downwind of her. Just because it was young didn't make it any less fearsome than the adults - it was still several times Tiella's height. From her experience in the Spiderwode, Tiella knew that it was always an advantage to make the first move and planned her attack accordingly. Even though these trees could move, they were still trees, and they weren't particularly agile. Tiella knew how to take advantage of that. Twin daggers dropped from Tiella's sleeves and landed in the palms of her hands, and her eyes narrowed.
Tiella leapt at the tree, which was about three times her height, and plunged her shining blades into its bark. It whipped its powerful limbs backward, trying to strike at her, but she pulled her daggers out and ducked under the branches. She fled, and the tree charged after her, its branches swinging wildly. She held her daggers out in front of her and slashed at the branches as they came close to her. Each of her daggers was about the length of her forearm - if they were any shorter, they wouldn't be able to penetrate the thick bark of a tree; if they were any longer, she wouldn't be able to conceal them in her sleeves. She continued working her way backward with the tree following her. She saw an opening in its defenses and rushed straight forward between the two branches that swung towards her. She leapt up onto the trunk of the tree and started climbing. It swung its branches wildly, but Tiella climbed quickly, and the tree always ended up hitting itself. Tiella finally reached the top of the tree's torso and grabbed onto one of the arms. She swung around to the back of the tree where it couldn't reach her with its flailing limbs. The tree let out a cry of anguish as she stabbed it in the back of its stumpy head. She stood up on the tree's shoulders, and leaning over its head she planted her daggers into each of the tree's glowing red eyes. The tree spasmed for a moment, and Tiella barely removed her daggers in time before she fell off. The tree stood over her and moved to attack.
It swept its branch in the direction where it believed she was standing, and Tiella dodged back ducking into the hollow of a nearby ordinary tree. Her enemy trampled blindly past her, searching. Tiella picked up a small rock and flung it with all her might at the tree's face. The round stone struck the tree's mouth with a loud noise, and the tree recoiled in pain. It clawed at its face with the twigs at the end of its branches, trying to remove the stone from its throat. Tiella hid in the hollow of a nearby tree and watched as the tree oozed green sap. It continued mauling itself for several minutes until it fell. Tiella knew that it was finally dead. Tiella also knew that she wasn't any safer than she was when she was fighting it. She could hear the footsteps of many larger trees approaching the area to find out who had killed the baby tree. Once again she fled, not stopping until she reached her home.
Tiella's hut was small; there was barely enough room in it for a cot, a cupboard and a small wood stove. She rarely made use of any of these because she would probably be attacked if she stayed here too long. The hut shook in the wind, and snow fell through cracks in the roof. She had built it herself in a rush several years ago, and she had a strong personal attachment to it, despite its many imperfections. Tiella shook the snow off her black Vanlarran robe and laid it on top of the unused stove. She always wore that robe because it reminded her of how her life in Vanlarra had been and why she would never go back to a city again.
She had absolutely no magical power, but her parents had pressured her to move to Vanlarra and join the tower as an apprentice. She had been teased by everyone for her lack of magical ability, and she was often punished by the teachers for not being able to complete even the simple tasks that were assigned to her. Tiella fled from Vanlarra to do what she was good at. Ever since she was a young child, Tiella had played with toy daggers. She had never once been caught for stealing sweets from her parents, and she had done that all the time. When she encountered the dark forest known as the Spiderwode, she realized that it would be the perfect place for her to live. Every day would be a challenge, a struggle to remain alive. There was nothing that Tiella loved more than a challenge, and Spiderwode presented her the challenge of her life. Her twin daggers were not originally hers either. They had belonged to an adventurer who had traveled into Spiderwode before her. She found them in a pile of bones and other inedibles that lay outside the lair of one of the many monsters of the wood. The daggers were perfectly identical, and they were perfect in every way for Tiella. The emeralds on the hilts matched her green eyes, and the golden hilts matched her hair. They were the perfect size and the perfect weight. They were the best thing that ever happened to Tiella. In that same pile of bones, there was also a pile of gleaming rubies and shining emeralds and other precious jewels. Tiella had threaded some of them together, but she never wore them as jewelry, because they would hinder her performance in the forest. Tiella's nostalgic thoughts were interrupted by a rhythmic crashing sound to the north of her little dilapidated shack.
Peering out the open window, she saw that a group of trees had followed her, and they wanted to avenge that tree she had killed. Even amongst the challenges of surviving the Spiderwode, things had become a bit too routine for her. She opened up her cupboard and dumped all the gleaming jewels into the pouch that she wore around her waist. She wanted to do something different for once. She would challenge herself again, and if that meant she would die, than she would die. But she wouldn't die yet.
She threw her cloak about her, and let her daggers fall into her hands. She walked out into the copse with confidence and saw three giant trees standing in front of her. If it weren't for the green patches on the bark and the glowing eyes, they would've been almost impossible to tell from a normal tree. Each one was about eight yards tall. They each had four branches, two on each side, and each branch branched off into smaller twigs and sticks near the end of it. Above the top two branches they had a stump, with two glowing green eyes and a round, perpetually open mouth. The bottom of the trunk forked into two stumpy legs that were covered in roots. At the sight of the behemoths, she broke into a run, but this time she was running towards danger - not away from it. She ran between two of the trees, who swung for her but missed, and kept going. She ran straight north, dodging between trees and their flailing branches. Her pursuers charged along behind her. She ran straight towards the wall of wagons that was the Chandali camp. She stopped right outside the small gap in the wall and waited. As she expected, the three trees were following her in single file. She braced herself for the attack.
The lead tree charged straight towards her, and she ducked into the entrance to the Chandali camp. The tree tried to follow her, but got its head stuck in the narrow gap between the two overturned wagons. Things were working out perfectly for Tiella. Climbing up the wagon, Tiella got close to the trees head and stabbed out its eyes. All four of its hands were trapped outside, leaving its head unprotected. Tiella slid back to the ground. The tree was shaking and screaming, but it couldn't get out of the gap. After several minutes, the tree stopped moving and died. Tiella looked at the other end of the narrow pass and saw that a crowd of Chandali had appeared, and they were watching her with awe. Without warning, the dead tree suddenly slid back out of the gap. The other two trees had hauled it out of the way and dumped it on the ground behind them. A second tree peered into the crack to look for the killer, but it got its head stuck. Tiella repeated the process, killing the second tree. The third tree hauled the corpse out of the way, just as before. The last tree looked at Tiella, but didn't stick its head into the gap like the others. It glared at her, and a hissing sound erupted from its open mouth.
Tiella gulped as she realized that the other tree wasn't about to make the same mistake. It reached its branches into the crack and started groping blindly for Tiella, who was backing up slowly. Using her daggers, she was able to keep the tree from harming her, but she couldn't find a way to kill it. She continued to back up until she was out of range of the flailing branches. This was the closest Tiella had ever been to the Chandali camp; everything she had learned about it had come from the few hunters that traveled out into the forest alone. Tiella finally began to respect the Chandali's defenses.
"Greetings, Tiella the Sneak!" shouted one of the Chandali hunters whom she had seen before - probably one of the only ones that had ever returned from the copse alive.
"Greetings, Warrior of the Chandali!" replied Tiella, because she had no recollection of his name. "Could I expect any aid, or shall I just sit and wait until this tree starves to death?" Tiella didn't expect them to come aid her, because the Chandali wouldn't tolerate any casualties without reason.
"We could help, but we'll expect some payment in return" shouted another one of the warriors.
"Of course, but the payment will come after this tree has been killed" replied Tiella with a smirk on her face. She knew exactly how she'd pay them.
The Chandali warriors looked at each other, then nodded in agreement. They walked into the gap in single file, in no hurry to attack.
"Keep it busy!" commanded Tiella. The single branch flailed madly knocking over two of the Chandali, who stood up immediately, their faces covered in blood.
A burly warrior charged at the branch, slashing with his double-edged Chandali longsword. Tiella dodged around the branches and charged towards the exit. She couldn't escape, because it was blocked by the tree, but that wasn't what she had in mind. She stabbed repeatedly at the branch with her two daggers. The limb was about one yard thick in diameter, and it wouldn't be easy to severe it, but she put all her strength into hacking and stabbing at it, with the hope that it could be disconnected from the main trunk. Several of the Chandali caught on and joined in. The deeper they cut into the limb, the less it flailed, and after what felt like hours of grueling work, the branch fell still. The tree was not dead - Tiella could hear it screaming, and green blood-like sap was pouring out of the wound in the branch. The Chandali warriors that weren't helping chop off the arm started pulling on the end of the massive limb. Tiella had never chopped off the limb of a giant tree before. It had never been necessary. She would never have guessed it would be this difficult. After what felt like hours of hacking at the limb, it finally came loose with an enormous SNAP. The tree made as if to stick another branch in the gap, but couldn't find the strength to lift any of its appendages. Tiella swiftly threw one of her daggers, striking the tree in the eye. It fell backwards, and she leapt over its stump-like legs and put her remaining dagger in the other eye. As the tree convulsed, Tiella grabbed both her daggers and pulled them out with a twist. Two Chandali warriors immediately pulled her back into the gap, as if to prevent Tiella from escaping.
"And now for our payment?" demanded the taller one, tossing his long grey hair out of his eyes.
Tiella just nodded at them and looked back at the rest of the warriors. "Pull the branch into the camp!" she said. The warriors looked skeptical, but they complied. Once the branch was fully in the encampment, Tiella had the warriors stand it upright, which was not an easy task, but they succeeded eventually.
"And now for your payment," Tiella shouted to the crowds of Chandali that had gathered. The Chandali tried to push their way closer; the suspense was eating them alive. Reaching into her leather waist-pouch, she grabbed a handful of jewels and threw them up into the air. They were mostly threaded together, and they caught on the branches of the tree. She repeated this until her pouch was empty. The Chandali started at her as if she was insane. She smiled at what she had just done. They many-faceted jewels glimmered in the sun as they hung on the tree.
Tiella raised her arms to the sky. "This is my payment to the Chandali," she said, pausing for a moment and looking around at the confused Chandali. "The Spiderwode's very first Christmas tree!"
The Chandali were dumbfounded for a moment, but when they realized what this meant, they started cheering. Tiella and the Chandali became friends, and for once there was happiness and festivity in the Spiderwode.
***MERRY CHRISTMAS MEDIEVIA***
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