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One Shot | Wizard of the Wood

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Essie

Wizard of the Wood

The forest mountains were frigid, but then again they always were. Microscopic snowflakes drifted from the low hanging grey clouds that seemed to kiss the top of the trees which were draped in a blanket of snow. If a person closed their eyes, they could sometimes hear the snow falling against the ground.

Creatures of varying sizes and shapes scurried among the deep-set roots. There was little for them to forage for here, but the quiet solitude allowed a peaceful existence. Few predators lived at such heights and managed to survive for an extended period of time.

Bliss. Quiet bliss. Nothing but the still things that grew here dared make rustling sounds.

No fighting.

No war.

Nothing but the sleeping and undisturbed memories of the trees.

The mostly untouched mountain range is what Essie loved about it.

There was no one to question her past.

No one to demand anything from her.

She was at peace, allowed to practice her potions and magic at will. Perhaps this was why she left her home and came here. Then again, could she even call that forest she left practically a dimension away her home? Her mentor, Kaven Uitar, found her in the forest eleven years ago. While he taught her all she knew now about magic, potions, and spells, it never quite felt like home.

Perhaps that was why she left her mentor and the forest behind after earning her name.

Or, perhaps, it was their physical differences that led her away. She was, after all, a giant.

Whatever the reason, the two of them parted on good terms before Essie elected to forge her own path and to make a home for herself.

It was here in this place that Essie felt she was accomplishing these goals. These mountains, this sleeping forest, felt more like home than anything Essie had experience in her entire life.

In fact, if it weren’t for a few pesky ingredients she needed from time to time, Essie wouldn’t descend the mountain forests she came to love. She was alright with being alone.

Her solitary nature, however, did not keep her from being amicable. Essie could hold a conversation with just about anyone as long as she was in the mood for it.

Now, unfortunately, wasn’t one of those times.

Down in the forest valley below, Essie made her way through the trees, her stark white hair contrasting greatly with the green topped trees. The valley was warmer and the effortlessly beautiful snow that allowed Essie’s hair to blend perfectly with the sky above had turned into rain.

Hair spackled with drops of water, Essie stepped around the tree roots and scanned the ground for the green foliage she would need to brew her next batch of potions.

As she stepped forward, a small branch from the top of the tree swung back, sneaking past her outstretched hand, and whapped her in the cheek, sending a spattering of water droplets into her eye. She winced involuntarily and crouched to stay clear of the branches.

Curses, she thought as she wiped away the droplets with the back of her finger. At least the trees were larger in the mountains. Here in the valley, she felt so much larger and clumsy. Getting back home by the evergreen surrounded lake was becoming more of a priority by the minute.

Still, Essie possessed patience and was determined to find the necessary herbs and roots she needed. At the very least, she was stubborn enough to stay and get what she needed so she wouldn’t have to descend the mountain range again.

She had already gathered the majority of things on her list, but there was one thing in particular that she wanted to find.

Rubbing her fingers against the moist earth, she easily pushed aside the decaying leaves and nettles, keen eyes colored like shards of ice examining the revealed space. Nothing. Essie moved a few steps away, keeping low to not disturb the tops of the trees, and repeated the process until she found what she was looking for – sanguisorba stipulata.

It was a funny looking flower with a white tuft on top and a long stem. The rain and frost made the long stems fall over into the mud and under the leaves, but now that she laid against the ground and focused her ice shard-colored eyes on the flower, she could clearly see this was what she was looking for. The roots would be good for cuts and bleeding, perfect for her healing poultices.

She dug her hands into the earth and began to pull everything up, roots and all, to bring home to plant in her own garden when her ears picked up on an unusual sound. A cough? Words? Subtle and dull thumping?

Essie was used to hearing the sounds of the savage wild, but never before had an animal made these sounds before. Was someone out here? Could it be one of the villagers? Why? They usually didn’t venture this far east into the range unless they were lost or were on an extended hunt.

The giantess usually made it a point to avoid the village since the last time she was spotted, a number of them had gone out searching for her. What they wanted, she didn’t know. What she did know was that the sounds were close, and they sounded like someone was in distress.

With a single, prolonged exhale and a rolling of her eyes, Essie lifted the plants in her left hand up slightly while pressing the fingertips on her right hand to the ground. With a quick twitch and the incantation, “abscindre,” the roots snapped free and allowed her to lift them safely into her side pouch.

With her collection of fresh cut roots and miscellaneous mushrooms and herbs, she crept through the woods toward the sounds of distress, crouching low as to not be detected. It took no time to hone in on the source of the sounds, and the sight made Essie sick.

Four male individuals had another man pinned against one of the sturdy oak trees. While two of them had his arms restrained, the other two took turns balling up their fists and pummeling the individual’s exposed midsection. They were speaking, but Essie couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

What was she doing? This wasn’t any of her business, was it? This was most likely a village matter. Perhaps the individual deserved it. She could no specific physical feature that would warrant an attack. The pinned man had cream like skin and very thin lips like two of the other individuals, one who was holding him against the tree and the other who was wiping away the blood from his knuckles. The other two had complexions similar to her own, sun-kissed and darker exteriors which, to Essie’s benefit, allowed her to blend better with the shadows of the forest to see the transpiring events.

Still, Essie’s natural curiosity got the better of her. Her fingers slipped into her dried components pouch and fished out a sprig of gingko. She brought the mildly shriveled leaf and stem to her lips and ground it between her fingers as she muttered the incantation, “sentire.”

Instantly, all other sounds of the rain splashes against the leaves and the muffled sounds of the rustling trees faded. All sound quieted and muted except for where she directed her keen sight, which was more than telling of the circumstances surrounding the five mysterious and miniscule individuals before her.

“And yet you keep coming back. We don’t want you here. Nomads aren’t welcome. They never have and they never will be. All you do is cause trouble!” The larger individual lunged forward and delivered a harsh blow to the pinned individual’s midsection. He winced and gritted his teeth, coughing up a mouthful of blood.

“I swear. I didn’t do it,” he moaned. His lip was obviously swollen, and he sounded exhausted.

“Stop lying!” shouted another as he stomped down on the man’s foot. The man cried out in pain as he doubled over.

“I swear! Please! I’ll leave,” pleaded the man.

“Oh, like we haven’t heard that one before,” said the other man standing nearby. He was cleaning his knuckles with what looked like a bundle of moss.

“Why would I hurt her? Why would I hurt anyone?” demanded the man, sounding desperate.

“Because lowlifes like you – no home, no family, no possession – only take from those who bleed and sweat for what they’ve got,” spat another. “This is justice.”

Essie leaned out from the trees to get a better view of what was happening when she saw the two men holding the other against the tree suddenly gasp and take a visible step back. Evidently, they had spotted her ice shard-colored eyes among the shadows the canopy of trees provided because they started backing away rapidly, stumbling over their words and their feet.

The other two whipped around to see her practically glowing white-blue gaze staring back at them.

“Oh sh–!” one of them uttered before they started to run away. “Get out of here! It’s the giant!”

Rude…

The man who was beaten slumped against the tree gagging and forced his head up just in time to catch Essie’s gaze. Essie, partially annoyed, sighed and glanced around. No one was going to come and get him. Based on the interaction, he was going to be left there at the base of the tree in the quickly cooling weather.

With her keen hearing, she could tell the man was wheezing and most likely suffering from his injuries. His eyes, a dark brown, were locked onto her. His breathing came in heaving gasps which whistled slightly. His ribs were most likely fractured or broken.

It would cause him distress, but Essie remembered one of her mentor’s personal integrities – assist the weak and inspire life where there is cruelty.

Essie carefully crept forward, maneuvering past the trees and roots, until she was just over the man.

“P-p-please… d-don’t…”

But he didn’t finish his thought. He had barely raised his hands in self-defense before slipping into unconsciousness.

At least we avoided that discussion for now, thought Essie. She reached forward and pinched his tattered and torn shirt in between her thumb and middle finger to lift him upright. He was still breathing for the moment. He winced as, presumably, her fingers pinched his delicate flesh too hard. So much for do no harm.

Essie once again reached into her components pouch and removed some of her components to quicken her pace. No doubt, he needed help as soon as possible. At least she got everything she needed, and something – someone – she wasn’t expecting.

~~~^*^*^~~~

Essie arrived back at her log constructed home deep between the peaks of the Fanged Ridge and set herself to work. She managed to scoop up the unconscious man and kept him steady in her loosely clenched fist as she swiftly made her way home.

The moment she arrived, she drew a warm, herbal bath and mixed in the essentials. Yarrow. Freshly ground sanguisorba stipulate root. Aloe. There were others, but she kept them brewing in the water as she lowered his unconscious frame into the bath.

She repeated the incantation over and over, “lepidre,” to tidy him up before tilting his head back and pouring a mixture of chamomile tea down his throat. She felt temporarily guilty as she had no cup small enough to allow him to drink, but her method of pouring was effective enough despite the coughing and sputtering from the man.

She kept his body splayed in her hands, using her fingers to help keep certain parts of his body elevated and others level.

Hours passes as she carefully rotated the man’s body in her hands, minding that his neck and limbs weren’t pinched as she moved him from hand to hand, as she continued to treat his wounds by firelight. She applied salves and poultices to the remaining bruises before daring to pour her precious potion down his throat.

He coughed and gagged again as she tilted his head back to swallow the bitter concoction, but he seemed to be keeping it down alright. Essie then took a few strips of cloth and wrapped his torso and arm to keep the salves and poultices from rubbing off.

Blood free from his body and his wounds tended to, she took some furs she stitched together for a glove which she hasn’t quite completed yet and wrapped the man in it like a swaddling cocoon. Then, she set him close to the stones by the fire so he could raise his internal body temperature.

Finally, she had the evening to herself to plant and tend to her enchanted flowerbed she kept by the single window in her home. He would be asleep for some time, and Essie intended to make the most of the silence before the inevitable explanation that would follow his consciousness.

~~~^*^*^~~~

Hours? Days? Weeks? How long was he unconscious? More importantly, why was he coming to consciousness? Why wasn’t he dead?

The last thing Rylir remembered were two ice-like eyes framed by silvery white hair which could only belong to one person – the Sorcerer of Fanged Ridge. He knew there were sightings of such an individual. He heard it in stories and rumors as he traveled from place to place seeking work for hired hands.

Still, he didn’t expect this “sorcerer” to be one of the giants rumored to linger in the mountain ranges, let alone a woman.

This, however, was the least of his concerns.

He opened his eyes and looked around at the vertigo inducing ceiling far above him. He was surrounded by furs. He was laying on stone next to a fire that could have engulfed an entire home from his perspective. It took an embarrassingly long moment for him to realize he was in her home.

Heart palpitating, he glanced around the one room home and spotted a bed in the corner of the room, a table with every namable plant spilling over the edge. There were also bottles, beakers, and vials boiling in the corner of the room, which is where he saw her standing.

It sounded like she was muttering something traced her fingers in the air just over some kind of caste iron pot. The motion was hypnotic, and Rylir almost found himself lost to it, slipping back into the bliss of unconsciousness, when he shook himself out of his stupor.

Self-preservation gave his senses a kick as he felt suddenly wary of what the woman was creating. He didn’t have proof, but he didn’t want to find out what was being brewed in that pot.

He braced himself as he attempted to sit up, waiting for the creaking and cracking of his ribs, but it didn’t happen. Rylir pushed the furs off of him to see his shirt had been cut away from his body and was replaced by strips of cloth that possessed a pungent odor. While it wasn’t unpleasant, Rylir still shuddered involuntarily thinking about how it got there.

The Nomad started to slip out from under the firs when the fire cracked and popped loudly, gaining the attention of the giantess in the corner of the room. She ceased her muttering as those crystal silvery blue eyes noted the fire and then locked onto him.

Heart pounding and mouth dry, Rylir couldn’t command his body to do anything but push himself back slightly, leaning his weight against his hands and forearms as he leaned backward. It was a pitiful defensive move, but it was all he was capable of at this point.

“Should’ve stayed asleep,” muttered Essie as she finished her incantation and turned to the miniscule man shaking on her hearth. She turned casually and sat down, legs crossed, within arm’s reach of the man, which he seemed more than aware of. “If you just rolled over, you’d have slept through the whole night. Now you’re going to be wide awake while I’m settling in for the evening.”

It was only now that he was clearly able to see the woman. Sure enough, she had two ice-like eyes framed by silvery white hair. Her skin was like that of an ancient bronze sword, dark and deadly, but was completely without blemish. She was a striking young woman, shoulders back in a confident calm, hands resting on her knees as though she were meditating.

The way she spoke was direct, voice gentle but taciturn like a chilling winter breeze. Her statement, on the other hand, sounded mildly annoyed, like he had somehow inconvenienced her. Using his instincts, he didn’t feel that he was in immediate danger like what had happened earlier in the forest.

He did, however, feel apologetic for one reason or another. He swallowed dryly and dared to make eye-contact with the woman. “I… I’m sorry?” He winced as he said it, which Essie found personally amusing, her dark cherry-colored lips daring to turn upward in a smile revealing her perfectly white teeth.

“Apology accepted, though I don’t know what for. I could’ve just left you out there. I only inconvenienced myself,” she stated. Her lips pursed for a moment as she looked away. With a click of her tongue, she shook her head as though remembering something. “Kaven would say that was insensitive. Apologies. Your life is not an inconvenience. I just hadn’t intended on spending my evening nursing someone back to health.”

“W-who is Kaven? Are th-there more of… you?” asked the man as he caught her eye again.

“Relax,” sighed Essie. “He was my mentor; and no, there aren’t more of me. At least, I don’t think so. I haven’t seen anyone else like me here.”

The man’s chest heaved as he obviously tried to calm his breathing.

“So… you’re the… the Sorcerer of Fanged Ridge?” he asked. At this, Essie had to chuckle.

“I prefer Wizard of the Wood, but that does have a ring to it,” she sighed. “But I digress. I’m more interested in whether your wounds are better and what those four men from earlier wanted from you. They said something about you doing something to someone, but you disagreed. You said you were innocent.”

“You… heard that?” asked Rylir, shifting uncomfortably. Essie picked up on this and eyed him curiously.

“One, spells can enhance hearing, so why wouldn’t I have heard what you were all saying? Two, you’re nervous suddenly. Did you actually do something wrong?” asked Essie in rapid succession.

Rylir didn’t like where this was going. Was she going to administer her own form of justice if she didn’t believe him. She had to believe him. He was innocent!

He dared himself to straighten up off of his hands and elbows as he tried piecing together what to say to the giant wizard.

“You… might… I’m just a little worried if you don’t believe me what… might… happen to me… after…” Rylir knew that he must’ve sounded horrendously guilty, but he couldn’t think of anything better to say to explain why he was nervous.

Essie suddenly leaned forward, eyes locking Rylir’s eyes into place, as she steeled her features.

“You honestly think I’m worried about what you can do to me?” she asked, eyes flaring for a moment with magical energy. She sighed and leaned away, giving Rylir a moment to heave an immense sigh of relief; but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. “Tell me.”

He took another shaky breath before nodding, hoping she would believe him when the others didn’t.

“There… there was a crime in the village. A young woman was beaten and hurt badly. They said I… did things to her… and then they thought I stole from the home and took her family’s possessions. Coin. Food. Clothing. I’m a Nomad. I move from place to place. I work as a hired hand. Of course, they don’t want to suspect anyone in the village. Please, you have to believe me or… if you don’t… just… just make it quick.” Rylir tensed his arms and drew them close to his body as he looked away. He couldn’t look at what might be his demise.

Essie listened to the pitch of the man’s voice and used her keen eyes to examine his body posture. He was afraid. He was trembling to the point it was almost loosening the bandages around his chest. Though she had no spell in place to force him to tell the truth, there was some part in the very back of Essie’s mind that peaked in interest. It was the part of her that was undisturbed and that held the memories she could not remember.

It was some instinct that she knew she possessed and wasn’t sure how it developed or why it was as keen as it was. Regardless, Essie knew one thing.

It was simple enough – she believed him.

“So, they thought they would deliver their own justice?” asked Essie. He nodded but didn’t look up at her. Essie rolled her eyes and reached down to bump the man’s shoulder gently with her finger. “Stop cowering. I believe you.”

Rylir’s eyes instantly opened and he looked up into her eyes.

“What?”

“I said I believe you,” stated Essie. “Do you not hear well?”

“No, I just… assumed you would think I was guilty too,” stated Rylir.

“You don’t seem like the guilty type. Now, your wounds should be taken care of and if you have nothing else to say, then I can set up a teleportation circle and send you on your way. Do you have a place you want to go?” asked Essie. Rylir’s eyes widened, jaw slackened.

“Go?” he asked softly. He didn’t think this could be real. “I… don’t really have a place to go.”

Essie huffed a sigh and let her eyes rest on the fire.

“Well,” she muttered. “I guess you’re stuck here with me until you come up with someplace you want to go because I’m not making that trek down the mountain again for another few months. Now, I have to get my garden in order, and you probably need some food too. I can practically see your ribs from here.”

“I… think I like that very much,” replied Rylir.

Essie lowered her hand and grabbed the edge of the furs, eyes darting up to him for a moment.

“You okay with me picking you up like this?” she asked bluntly.

“Um… yes. Just, slowly?” he requested. It was only then that Rylir realized he hadn’t thanked his rescuer, nor did he know her name.

“Hey, I… thank you. Really, I… thank you,” said Rylir.

“Of course,” Essie replied without batting and eye.

“I’m Rylir, by the way,” he called up to her as she pinched the edge of the furs and pulled them into her hand, bringing Rylir with them, and easily lifted him into the air like he was a weightless leaf. Essie nodded and stood with a grace and swiftness only an enchantress could possess and stepped over to the table, which was spilling over with vines and beautiful, growing things.

When she merely acknowledged with a nod of her head, he elected to prompt her name in return. “I… assume you have a name as well?”

“Oh, right. Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve needed to use social graces. I’m Essleeahsayray,” replied Essie, the name rolling off of her tongue and sending a shiver down her spine as she spoke the name she earned a decade earlier.

“Esslee… leahray… ummm… You don’t… happen to go by anything a little shorter, do you? I’m afraid I won’t remember that and wouldn’t want to disrespect or upset you by mispronouncing your name,” said Rylir.

She gave him a hard look, bringing him up to eye-level and closer to her face to examine his eyes.

“Are you taking a jab at me?” she asked skeptically, eyes narrowed and hard as she looked through him. “Making fun of the name which I rightfully earned?”

“What? No. No, of course not. I just…” stammered Rylir.

He was interrupted by her light chuckle.

“I’m teasing. Essie will suffice,” she replied. Rylir gave a sigh of relief, but it was short lived as she quickly lowered her hand to the garden top and tilted him off. “Now, I have to finish my brew so pick what you require, and I’ll find some utensils for you so we can have a proper supper before bed.”

Settling into this new life would take time, but Rylir was now determined to learn more about this mysterious woman of the woods. 

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