Making Myth

Ode to Folium Ambulante

A life tragically cut short

Folium’s life flashed before her eyes.

She and her brother Bellum had been the first born to their tribe after creation, so their early life had been one of doting and ease. When other children had come after them, life did change, but not badly – the two siblings were like an elder brother and sister to those who came after, providing leadership and camaraderie to those who came after. Days consisted of harvesting folium scribum (the leaf the elves used to practice their gift and after which Folium was named); nights of camp-fire stories, poems and rhymes.

When humans first arrived in human lands, Bellum was insatiably curious, spending days at a time with them, learning their language, their customs, and about the larger world. Folium was hesitant, but was eventually won over by the story of human exploration through the salty desert and into new lands, so that later, when the offer to learn survival skills from one of the humans came, she could not refuse.

Eventually many of the humans moved on – their pace of life was always so frantic – while the siblings grew and grew. Folium and Bellum heard the news of ogres and goblins harvesting the trees of their jungle home, and it seemed like the right time to do what they had always dreamed: follow in the footsteps of the heroes of their childhood. They would leave the safety of the jungle and travel out into the world to learn what they would need to help defend their people. Folium had already picked up a few things from the stories they were told – how to find water in the desert, how to follow paths and discover food, and prevent yourself from becoming food for another – but Bellum dreamed of learning the gift of music in the far north of the distant mesa steppes. It seemed the perfect adventure, and could only strengthen them in their goal of protecting their homeland.

Two years flashed by, a haze of scrubby bushes and dirt, wide open spaces where the sky spread out forever, and not a single real tree for miles. There was the hauntingly beautiful hum of the rock people, who taught Bellum not only metre and melody, but the power of the chaotic nature of creation. At least that’s what Bellum always told Folium: she just heard the rocks singing. Turn one day it was time to leave, and the two siblings followed the pilgrim’s path south, back towards the flood plains, and green and rice and rain.

They stayed off the roads – all elves knew to do that – and found themselves back in the jungle. That was where they met Custodeum and Acuunt. That was where they saw the horrors of destruction. That was where they joined the fight for their land in earnest. Custodeum was the leader – apparently he was the younger son of a fire caste leader – but it was always Acuunt who did the thinking.

That meant they always took big risks. Acuunt’s tribe had been one that was wiped out two or three years earlier – a short time for a long-lived race – and so she regularly pursued drastic plans over rational ones. In another life, Acuunt might have been called someone with big dreams; in this one, they were instead big nightmares. And while this attitude made their little band an inspiring story for poetry and song amongst the younger elves, it also meant the four of them were quickly captured by some mercenaries in their second skirmish on the front lines.

A blur followed: everything from when they were handed over to the myconid slave trader was a haze of foggy memories of discomfort and despair, hunger and thirst and emptiness, rain and sweat and darkness. That could so easily be the end.

But her next clear memory was not the end, and it was not darkness. There was light, and fire, a brilliant gleam off shining armour – salvation. Also the smell of fried mushrooms and a giant eagle, and an unlikely group of saviours who would lead the four elves deeper into wilderness, and up onto a mountain of stones where chickens turned people to stone. There was the bland taste of gruel, the feeling of sand in her hair and her clothes, and a kind of familial camaraderie seldom felt between different races but so easily fostered by shared food and water and fire and tiredness and time.

She remembered the lovely young human who gave them eating knives and copper coins, and leaving early in the morning to head home. Only they weren’t going home – the moment they were out of sight of the first village they had seen in a month or more, Acuunt had a plan. So they wound up sneaking into the goblin capital city, Terrkan, with plans to assassinate the Khan himself and strike a fierce blow against the oppressors. What they found instead was that same group of people who had shown them such love being marched off to suffer the same sordid fate from which they had saved others: fungal slavery.

She felt her stomach turn – or was that the sword? – at the thought of letting these good people be carted off to an unknown fate. Custodeum agreed (we owed them our lives), and so did Acuunt (they could join our fight for freedom). Bellum was just happy to be helping. So they collected what weapons they could carry from the contraband room and went to save their friends.

It was the finest battle they had ever fought. It was as though wisdom guided their blows and righteousness their feet. Custodeum killed two ogres single-handedly! And every blow Folium struck with that curiously thin dagger seemed to weaken their foes terribly. And it felt good to see them suffer. That human, Hunter, called out for a weapon and she didn’t hesitate to throw her the dagger. Hunter reminded her a lot of Acuunt sometimes, and never so much in that moment.

Her memory seemed to be slowing down as it caught up. Suddenly, Bellum had copped a face full of spew from an ogre, the kender was shouting something about plague, the paladin was healing one of the ogres, and they were running. A brief stop to swap around possession of the equipment – Folium lost track of the dagger; running would have been so much easier with it – and then they were sprinting out the northern gate. Had it just been elves they would have easily outpaced their pursuers, but now they had short people on their side, and it was threatening to lose them the chase. Odate, the big ogre of Qodesh, called forth a large, shadowy dragon-type thing which guarded their path behind them and seemed to paralyse some of the guards, but it was eventually a bamboo forest that hid the group from sight. It wasn’t jungle, but it s close enough to bring Folium some peace, and all of them some quiet.

But the quiet didn’t last. Planning turned to arguing, arguing turned to bickering, bickering turned to silence and silence to distrust. It all started with Acuunt – of course it was Acuunt – noting how strong the dagger had been against the ogres and how powerful it might be in striking against the ogre and goblin state. Odate was as blunt as his hammer: the dagger was evil, and must be destroyed. And then Acuunt backed down just a little too quickly. She had always been faster with her fingers than her mouth. And then suspicion reigned, and its king was Odate. The dagger was gone, he claimed, and he wanted to know who had it. Custodeum spoke for us all, but with the tongue of Acuunt: “We do not have it.”

Back and forth they went, with the ogre highlighting the danger of the knife, cursed by Tu’eva herself – “We do not have it” – it had slaughtered whole villages – “We do not have it” – it was his duty as a cleric of holiness to destroy it – “We do not have it” – and every time the tension increased, but every time Custodeum remained as unyielding as an oak.?

The cleric prayed to his god, and then said that he had been told that Acuunt had the dagger and must return it. “We do not have it.” And so the ogre called on Qodesh’s power to “bind the thief” and everything suddenly exploded. Custodeum seemed overwhelmed with rage at the sight of his friend Acuunt being frozen and searched by the big, meaty hands of an ogre, and he plucked the sword from the paladin’s scabbard as though it were low-hanging fruit. Folium didn’t know what was going on; there was suddenly so much noise and anger and threatening and all she wanted was to go back to the quietness of the forest. So she ran; she ducked in between the bamboo and disappeared. But then she heard the sound of her brother being sick – and the resultant cry of outrage and disgust from the goblin – and she knew she had to return.

It all happened so fast. She saw Custodeum and Bellum clutching their eyes – Custodeum’s head was bleeding too – and she saw them crowding around Acuunt, many hands grabbing at her simple clothes. But then the dagger appeared, and at once Folium’s heart both sank and leapt as though tearing itself in two. It sank because it was true: Acuunt had stolen the evil dagger. But when Hunter dropped the thin-bladed knife on the ground like a hot coal her heart raced: she could grab it. She could feel it again in her grasp, feel its power, its comforting warmth that was a little like a fever, and so reminiscent of the jungle. She wanted to go home so much.

And before she knew it, she was breaking cover and running for the dagger. Before she knew it, she felt its sticky, clammy grip in her palm. And before she knew it, she felt a sudden shock through her belly, and her legs stopped working. And the ground rushed up to meet her.

Before she knew it, she was dead; and the dagger fell from her limp fingers.

Later, Acuunt fled. Later, the party who had given these elves freedom left. And later, Hunter came back to apologise for what had happened. When he arrived, Bellum was singing this song over his sister’s shallow grave:

Farewell, farewell dear sister
the trees will mourn for you
And the leaves
Farewell, farewell
In the moonlight fall to cover your grave.

We fought the good fight
Stood against the jungle’s blight
Those ogres and goblins that plunder
Our homelands to harvest wood
Disrespecting our statehood
So their own nation we sought to sunder.
We faced them so bravely
Right up to the last
The odds against us were humongous.
Just the four of us were caught, and bought,
And thrown in the cart of a fungus.

And the ones that we thought were our heroes
Saved us from our fate, only to become our foes…

Farewell, farewell dear sister
the trees will mourn for you
And the leaves
Farewell, farewell
In the moonlight fall to cover your grave.

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