Mariha Feral: Character Stories - Walking
WALKING WITH THE WATCHER
Alitha cautiously entered the Valley of Arachnids in company with her panther companion Sheara. She stopped abruptly as, not far ahead, she spied a huge minotaur, body covered with markings and rings and other objects hanging from his horns and leaning on a long staff, possibly made from a small tree. He stood towering over a small figure in green armour whom she recognized as Mariha Feral. The figure turned to Alitha and spoke her name, raising a hand both in greeting and warning, her dark eyes flickering between Alitha and the the minotaur looming above her. Alitha gestured to Sheara, indicating that she should hold, and Mariha smiled and spoke, her rough, Chultan-accented voice saying in the common tongue, "I am speaking with this esteemed member of the Horde. Will you join us in conversation?" The minotaur shifted position slightly, holding its staff at the ready, eyes focussing on Alitha, who lowered her bow and returned the knocked arrow to her quiver. "This is another of our druidic circle," Mariha said to the minotaur. "Perhaps you know who it is, perhaps you do not." Alitha spoke her name to the Horde beast, who huffed and said to Mariha, "I believe they call her the mother of their Grove." Alitha nodded.
The minotaur looked down at the patch of dirt beside him, the grass most likely worn away by the boots of passing adventurers and heroes marching through the valley. He frowned for a moment, then reached his hand into a pouch on his belt and withdrew a small handful of dust, which he sprinkled on the bare earth. He closed his eyes a moment and a few tiny pine trees began to sprout from the once barren spot. Mariha spoke again, gesturing at the small green branches. "The esteemed shaman was telling me how they replant the battlefields." Alitha raised an eyebrow in response. "In your tongue, it would be called 'The Great Regrowth'," the minotaur rumbled.
"As you have come here expressly to speak with me," said Mariha to the minotaur, though her words were obviously intended for Alitha's ears as well, "I hope that there will be no accidents or misinterpretations on anybody's part. I will defend Alitha to the death, as I will endeavour to prevent her from attacking you." She smiled. "But I hope that this will be a friendly conversation." Alitha nodded in agreement, then looked over her shoulder as she heard Nicodaemus' approaching voice. Mariha looked up at the druid and his dire wolf companion, and greeted him and the blue-skinned Hin beside him. "Nicodaemus. Perhaps you could stay back? Or dismiss your summons as a mark of... trust?" "I wouldn't, guv," spoke the halfling. Nicodaemus eyed the minotaur carefully, and said "I will stay a ways back. We've drow in the forest, as well." He turned and spoke quickly to another arrival, Ohlde Mann and his bear. "Ohlde! Stay back!" Alitha nodded to the new arrivals. "There was trouble just in front of the Grove. We will stay prepared in case she comes back. Ohlde, go back to the grove and keep guard there. Randy, do the same." Mariha stepped in front of the minotaur, who said, "A Dr-ow, no doubt." "I believe we're getting a bit crowded here..." Mariha commented. "That we are," said the Hin. "You got it, Mumzy. I'll return shortly." "As you wish , my lady," said Ohlde, withdrawing. "That's how mistakes happen," said Mariha, relaxing somewhat. Alitha spoke to the minotaur. "A necromancer - they are the only thing worse." The minotaur regarded her. "We will continue to walk and talk. A stroll as we dicuss things." "Walk to where?" Alitha asked. Mariha spoke up. "I believe the esteemed one wished to enter the forest... was that correct?" "Anywhere," replied the creature. "We have been in your forest a great many times. We are more stealthy than we appear." "Hmm," mused Mariha. "Perhaps over by the ruins in the western part of this forest?" "That should do," replied the shaman.
The small party entered the woods, passing by a wary group of rangers at the entrance to the Grove, standing around a body on the ground. They followed the path a few more minutes before coming to a collection of ruins. "This was the site of my first meeting with one of your kind, and with the Horde," said Mariha. "He told us such," the creature replied. "The one you met here with. Sadly, he was slain... four of your human months ago." "Ah. I am saddened to hear that." Mariha lowered her head and her voice. "The last time we spoke it was at great length. His words changed my life, in fact." "He went ahead of a Horde Defense party acting as a diplomat - He asked the adventurers to stop assaulting the beasts in the mountains of the Brogenstine Wilderness." The minotaur spoke disapprovingly. "He didnt bring a weapon - he only asked them to peacefully turn around and leave. The adventurers killed him eagerly, and continued to assault further Horde Parties." "I did not even know his name," Mariha sighed. "Regrettably, I also have been present when hot heads and ready weapons prevail." "The Horde representatives have not been known as peace talkers... it's a new concept to many," Alitha pointed out. The minotaur growled and huffed. "Actually, it is common knowledge that the Horde always sends a diplomat to adventurers first. They always give the invaders two options. Peacefully leave the land, or... continue to persist and butcher the native creatures." "They have no reason to believe you, that you will let them walk away alive," responded Alitha. "And I have not always been given warnings, so I will have to disagree with you."
Alitha held up a hand, momentarily alarmed as more people approached. "Torritol - hold," she said to her son. "I will," came the reply. Mariha spoke as well. "Keep back please Torr... thank you." "That is what they are instructed to do," continued the minotaur. "Sadly some of the Horde Captains disregard their orders. They believe humanity shouldn't be given a chance for peace. Views on both sides - that lead to disaster." Mariha spoke up. "I must agree with Alitha, though that is neither here nor there at the moment. It has always been my desire to see peace between the Horde and the more recent arrivals to Amia. I hope that cooler heads on both sides can continue to talk. Nevertheless, I am doubtful that peace talkers will prevail before the inevitable showdown occurs," she added, sighing. "If and when the showdown comes... if peace does not prevail, whichever side wins will still have to make peace with the other in the aftermath." "But what is it that you wish of us?" Alitha inquired. The minotaur raised his large hand and pointed to Mariha. "To speak and share knowledge with the humanoid druid here. She has spoken with our people on a few ocasions before. She has always been peaceful, respectful, and listens to the words. Some supposedly have acused her of betraying your Grove. But we say she is the only one of your kind to make a persistent attempt to make peace and learn from those who have lived on this land long before the arrival of elves and men." Alitha bit her lip and contemplated saying something but decided not to. Mariha inclined her head respectfully to the shaman. "I believe that I even suggested to the departed one with whom I spoke last, that I would like to live with your people for a time and learn more of your ways. Though I understand that would pose other difficulties."
Alitha raised her hand to Siveyn and Randy as they approached to stay still; they stopped a couple of metres behind Torritol. "Actually," rumbled the minotaur. "That is another topic I have come before you to speak on. After the death of the one you befriended... he had a dying wish to try and allow you to see what we have been doing in Horde lands over the years. The elders have made a attempt to seek you out, though you have been quite elusive over the past months. We are granting you allowance to live with our people for a duration of time, to watch and learn from what our people do." Alitha's brows went up and her jaw dropped. Mariha's eyes shone. "I regret that I have been... preoccupied with personal matter, Watcher. I do not wish to be put in a position where I see Horde secrets, or where I might be required to divulge Grove secrets, not that I know any. But I would be most honoured, Esteemed One." She bowed deeply to the minotaur, who chuckled. "You are given our promise that you wont be harmed. We know many of the people of the Horde have over the years held bitter grudges toward humanity." A chuckle slipped from Randy's blue lips. "The reverse is of course also true," said Mariha, smiling thinly. "Though clearly - as we have taken an interest already - you are not like the others."
"Oh great," said Randy. "Mumzy is getting kidnapped for the sixth time!" "No, she isn't," said Siveyn. "He's talking to Mari." "Oh, I see," came the response. Alitha coughed. "Would have been seven, actually, but he isn't talking to me." The minotaur shook his head a bit, the shamanic charms hanging from his horns make small sounds in the breeze. Siveyn stepped back a few paces and made some hand gestures, as did Randy. Two shadowy figures appeared at the back of the group. Mariha kept a wary eye on the increasing size of the audience, moving slightly to put herself more in between the two groups. Turning back to the minotaur, she said "Wise Elder, you do me a great honour." "When we finish speaking," replied the Watcher, "you can depart with us to our current location. We are camped at the latest battlefield. It is the main duty of my race in the Empire, to begin the healing process on the mother soil." Alitha put her bow away and stepped forward. "I will not let her go with you unless you give me the location as well." The shaman looked down at her. "Please do not be too offended by that, but she is family." The creature shook his huge head again. "I cannot give that location. As of recently, adventurers have been making forward assaults... and ears of them are all about. In other words, this will have to be a sign of trust. Not perhaps between the Empire itself, but between you and my race." Mariha smiled at Alitha and spoke. "While I would not insist on that, I understand and appreciate Alitha's concern. However, I would appreciate knowing about how long an absence to expect, that my wife may be told." "The area we are working on wont take more than... a week and a half of your human calender. Tw-elve... days I believe its pronounced."
Alitha shook her head and whispered to Mariha. "I don't like this. I ask you to trust me as well." Mariha nodded. "Alitha," she said. "Would you please find Elishia and tell her that I shall be gone for twelve days to two weeks? And it may be best if the Horde were not mentioned, or she might be tempted to attempt a rescue where none is required. Perhaps say that I am gone on Grove business?" "I could tell Elishia," Siveyn spoke up. "Her and I get along so well." "I doubt that, Cap," chuckled Randy. "Me too, kiddo," replied the ranger. Torritol shivered at the mention of Elishia's name, obviously having had a bad experience with her. "I cannot pass up this opportunity," Mariha said. "And yes, Siveyn, please use your charms on her." Her dark eyes twinkled a bit. Siveyn nodded. "Right...." Alitha raised a brow at Mariha, who smiled and turned back to the Watcher. "Esteemed One - once again, I am honoured at the trust and respect your people show me in the honour they do me." She bowed again to him, and Alitha lowered her head respectfully. The ancient minotaur nodded slowly to Alitha. "Mariha, if you are not back in two weeks send word that you will be taking longer. If you do not, I will be coming for you," she said. Mariha nodded and smiled in return. Torritol bowed his head grudgingly, thinking it the right thing to do. "It is good to see that you have removed grudges from each other. We thought yourself and the grove were on no speaking terms," said the massive creature to Mariha. "We have always found it so horrifying and strange how your races always manage to fight with eachother - barely working alongside." Alitha said quietly, "One can be mad at family, but one never stops loving them." "I have not been on speaking terms with them, for various reasons," said Mariha. "But the Grove has always been my family" - she nodded respectfully to Alitha - "and if I can help to prevent bloodshed between our two groups I will die to do so if necessary." "That wont be necessary" huffed the minotaur. "Knowledge and wisdom is far more useful." "Well, let us hope it won't" smiled Mariha. "I will let you give your farewells for now. It shall not be that long of a trip - only 12 of your days," said the shaman, standing back and waiting for Mariha to give her goodbyes. Mariha turned. "Thank you, Alitha, for your kind words. I had... forgotten this side of you." The latter bowed her head. "May Ehlonna go with you and bring you back safely." "Thank you again." Mariha hugged Alitha. "I have been waiting for something like this all the time I've been on Amia... a chance to truly learn and perhaps to make a difference." "I don't fully trust them dear, but learn what you can," replied the Grove Mother. "We all hope for a peaceful solution, truly." "Trust has to start somewhere, Alitha. Perhaps it will start with me. And please... don't tell Elishia I've gone with a representative of the Horde or she will likely be... uncontrollable." Alitha nodded. "It is grove business dear, that is all she needs to know."
The minotaur spoke again. "Oh... Inearly forgot - I should inform your grove mother here...." Alitha turned to the beast. "We have seen other humanoids in the regions not close to here, but in natural areas of forest. By the hobgoblin's report they call themselves... 'Co-mpany Profit Soldiers'. They operate by poaching and logging." Alitha nodded. "Hm. Then that is our concern. Sounds like a band of mercenaries?" suggested Mariha. "Sounds like something I'd expect from Gareb," said Randy. "I have met them once, yes," said Alitha. "They are clear cutting areas with no concern for deforestation," continued the Watcher. "And they are smart... doing it out of your patrol areas. Areas they claim are neutral and not 'Grove land'. Such as around the Swamps, the Skull Crags, all kinds of areas. That is something we thought to tell you." "Thank you. They shall be removed," said Alitha firmly, bowing her head. "And the Grove doesn't own any land - we protect the island as a whole."
"Are you ready to depart?" the minotaur asked Mariha, who nodded. "I will see you all in two weeks, then, I hope with stories of great things and new knowledge," she said, grinning with excitement. Alitha slipped a ring into Mariha's hand. "Mielikki will watch over you." Mariha smiled. "Thank you, Alitha. I will see you all soon." Mariha walked off after the minotaur, turning and waving again before disappearing into the forest. "So much for that," said Randy. Alitha watched Mariha until she was out of sight amongst the trees, then shook her head and turned to the others.