Blood Trees and Grief
As Shenandoah stared down at the scroll she'd just read she felt her heart nearly stop. In an instant the terrible day two years past came back and she reeled with the pain of it. The day her last close friend in the world had been killed.
Absently thanking Windlass once again Shen took Cedar's reins and began leading him to the stables. The past two years began to live again before her eyes and as she stabled the gelding she remembered all she'd learned through the roundabout journey she'd taken home.
After Gondakle had been taken care of Shen had left the Expendables. She'd had no reason to remain for Alauniira's last quest had been completed. Her wandering path had taken her northward, beyond Silverymoon through the Coldwood and along the Spine of the world. Her sense of time and distance was numb as she wandered through the wilderness. Grief and loss blinded her to any danger she might be in and when attacked she fought mechanically and to the death, methodically burning the body of her enemy after the battle.
Her nightly prayers to the Dark Maiden continued but her heart was too heavy to dance. Only the voice of her harp rose to worship, for her song was lost with her friend. 'Dark Maiden, Lady Silverhair, help me,' her harp pleaded. 'I cannot bear this grief, show me the way home again.'
Shen hadn't known the land she was in when she'd found the Blood Tree. But she had deliberately camped near it.
Blood Trees grew upon the sites of Elven battles. The blood was the seed upon the earth and the magical energies of spellbattle the rains to nourish it. In Blood Trees lived some small part of the elves who'd died.
The Blood Tree Shenandoah had come upon was very old to judge by its size and the dark burgundy of its tear shaped leaves. A Blood Tree begins life with bright blood red leaves and darkens with age. The leaves of the Tree were so dark a burgundy they were nearly black. "So this is the sight of one of our ancient battles." She murmured in the Elven tongue. "Long ago," she placed a strong fine boned hand upon the trunk. "I wish I could say such battles are gone. But I am living proof that war will always be with us. The fight against evil will never end." Her words brought tears to her eyes as she once again remembered the cherished friend she'd lost.
"Why do you weep?" Came a rustling of voices. The wind blew through the leaves of the blood tree.
Shenandoah looked up in shock. She'd forgotten the old myth about blood trees. On occasion the elves within chose to speak with an elf. Her eyes wide with awe she replied. "My best friend was killed, trying to protect her friends. I was sworn to protect her and she died." Tears crept down her face.
"If you were sworn to protect, you were sworn to obey." The tree observed, its branches swaying.
"True, she ordered me to go. But it was for me to die." Shenandoah argued. "I have nothing to live for, I am dying! Alauniira had so much she wanted to do."
"Why do you say you have nothing to live for?" The tree scoffed. "You are an elf. You are alive. What more reason do you need to rejoice?"
Shenandoah shook her head. "It's not that simple." She protested weakly.
"Touch us again." The tree commanded. "We would show you something."
Trembling the distraught bladesinger complied.
When her hand touched the bark a torrent of images flooded her mind. The faces of the elves inhabiting the tree. They had died fighting the Drow thousands of years ago.
One face remained with her, becoming an elf. The features were hazily familiar. "I am the sister of your mother's ancestor Leeounwyn." The elf said Shen's true name with a smile. "I too was a bladesinger, the scimitar long being in our family. I died in battle but my twin lived. She had to be torn from my side when I was dying. But if I had not told her to go, you would not be alive today." The woman held out her arm and compared her bladesinger's guild tattoo to Shen's. "We are alike you and I. Loyal to the death. But our loyalty is also our flaw, when we won't release our pain." The ancient spirit smiled again. "There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. There is a reason and a time for everything Leeounwyn, but only the gods know them all."
The woman faded away and the combined spirit of the blood tree began to show her all it had seen while it had grown. The blood tree had seen so much and was content with it's life, but seeing the world through the trees eyes made Shenandoah restless and longing for action.
"You would not choose our life but you welcome death?" It echoed in her mind. "You long for your lover and friend forgetting that their wish for you was life." The tree continued in spite of her resistance. "You are restless with our way of life. You cannot stand still and observe as we do. You wish to change things. Yet you have locked yourself into your pain and grief."
The elf drew a shocked breath. "I do not-!" She began hotly.
"You were not accepted for who you are by anyone in your family." The voices went inexorably on. "And you fell in love with a human. Your best friend in another time would have been your enemy and everyone persists in treating her as such despite her actions and nature. You are different but you wish to become what you cannot."
Shenandoah said silently leaning against the tree and remembering what her life had been like after Cia'ran's death and how 'Niira had to nearly kill her to make her see how precious life was. The human Cia'ran, father of her children, and the man she'd wanted as a lifemate had been killed while she fought another, and for years she had blamed herself. She and Alauniira had fought terribly and Shen had been appalled at herself afterwards. Luckily the Dark Lady had forgiven her and helped her to understand that she could not have prevented his death nor would guilt bring him back.
"Your friend was an elf despite her race." The tree said in a more gentle tone. "She rejoiced in life and lived it to the fullest. You should try doing the same." It paused and rustled slightly. "Not because it was her wish, but because deep within you your Elven spirit knows that it is the only way to truly live."
Shenandoah smiled slightly. "Alauniira would tell me I should visit a festhall as well and find a handsome escort. Will you do the same?"
The blood tree gave a good rustley shake that sounded almost like a chuckle. "That is up to you."
Shenandoah thought long and hard about what the Blood tree had told her. She was, she realized, as stubborn in her grief as she was in her loves. Last time, when she'd lost Cia'ran, Alauniira had knocked some sense into her. This time it was a tree. Next time it would probably be someone else who pointed out how unreasonable she was being. No matter what, or how she felt, life went on, and she could no longer avoid or resist being swept along with it.
Shen rested by the blood tree for a month. She danced in prayer and practiced bladesong. And she played her harp for the blood tree a good portion of each day.
By the end of the month she had made her peace with the Seldarine, forgiving them for the shortcomings of the elves she'd had to fight and that of her parents. And she'd felt a strange peace at the thought of the two closest to her happily in the afterlife. For surely Alauniira had danced her way into Arvanaith.
When the month was over she packed up her small camp and headed south towards Sanctuary. It was time to rejoin the living and once again take up her work as a Knight of Twilight. And it was definitely time to go home.
Shen looked around the hut she'd called home for so long. This would always be a special place to her as would Sanctuary but the rising hope in her heart called her to Herath. In three days when Cedar had rested, the first Knight of Twilight would once again ride to do her lady's bidding.