The Lady and the Tree
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Shea tells a story of the Lady Jesokah and the Tree of Life
“Tell me a story, Shea. A good one.” Ali smiled at him, chin resting in her hand as she leaned on the table. Her pale blue eyes shone brightly under long dark lashes and her hair pooled over her shoulders, shimmering like liquid honey in the Inn’s firelight. It was a quiet evening, aside from a few stragglers most of the patrons had already turned in for the night
Shea laughed gently, the last chord of his song fading into the night as he rested his lute on his lap. Orange light from the fireplace danced across its polished white surface. “My dear, all my stories are good ones. Take your pick: Knights and dragons, rouges and damsels, Gods and men…I know all.” He gave her a wink.
“Tell her about the Tree.” The coldness of the voice set the hair on the back of Shea’s neck on end. Nathan dropped silently into the seat beside her, his face concealed almost entirely by a dark hood and scarf. Cobalt eyes scanned the room before boring into the bard, “Tell her about Jesokah…and the betrayal.”
Shea’s smile faded. He licked his lips, running a slender hand through his brilliant platinum-gold hair. “The Lady and the Tree, eh? Are you sure this is the place…” His eyes, green as grass, roamed about the Inn. “Well sure, I guess. I did promise the lady Ali a story… Still, this could be viewed as hypocrisy.” He turned back to the couple sitting across the table from him. “You’re not trying to make a scene are you? Not that it’s ever stopped me before,” he added with a shrug.
Ali turned to her partner with a raised brow. She was radiant as the sun, bright in demeanor and more than fair in looks. Certainly it made Shea’s pulse quicken whenever her attention was directed at him. Him! He didn’t understand how the other fellow could stand it.
“Nathan?” she asked, her voice chiming like silver bells. Her companion ignored her, cold orbs boring into Shea.
Shea strummed his lute, a grin once again splitting his face from ear to ear. “No problem. Stories are after all, my specialty.” He pulled a few more strings, letting the melody build the mood as he scattered his thoughts, trying to find a beginning.
“As you know, many years ago, the Creators came together and shaped the world. They sculpted mountains, dug valleys and filled the lakes and oceans. But only one Creator—the one we have come to honour as the Maker—breathed life into Draydor. He crafted the plants and trees; He created the first people.
“Centuries passed and the people evolved into two main races, Human and Fae. The Maker loved all His children and was touched by the peace and prosperity in which they lived. He bestowed upon them a great tree and his own daughter Jesokah as a keeper to tend to it. She was a woman of divine beauty with sapphire eyes and a mane of midnight. This was no ordinary tree she kept.”
Shea paused a moment, his eyes shining with emotion. “The Tree of Life. The God Tree. The source of all magic on Draydor! Its bark polished Ivory with boughs of silver leaves. And its size…five hundred feet it stood, reaching to the Maker himself! But it was the flowers, blue and delicate, blooming every morning which made it the Tree what it was…what it is. Instead of pollen they spread mana, carried on the winds to every corner of Draydor; Mana, which gave birth to the magic within our blood. The Lady Jesokah tended to the Tree’s every need and nurtured it with her noble spirit and celestial touch. A clan of faeworked at her side, for they were the most sensitive to nature, able to hear the spirits of the forest and were graced with longevity; they became Guardians of the Tree. All loved Jesokah, but only one stole her heart. Tall and strong with eyes of emeralds and hair of starlight: Roke.”
“Are you okay?” The worry in Ali’s voice distracted Shea. He pulled himself out of his story and studied his company. Nathan’s eyes were closed, and what little skin that was visible under his clothing had turned a sickly pale. The woman gripped a large hand between her small ones. “Are you ill? What’s wrong?”
Nathan shook his head. “I’m fine.” His voice sounded strained, and when his eyes opened they looked less vivid somehow, almost haunted. “I was just…I’m fine.” His voice hardened and he managed a grimace. “Continue.” He pulled his hand away from Ali.
“Very well,” Shea plunged onward, caught up in the tale as was his tendency. “The Lady Jesokah fell in love with a mortal, for that’s what he was. His years were long, but they were counted, while she would live eternally. Yet he returned her love, if anything his mortality only intensified what they shared. Their love was pure and sweet with many a night spent on a bed of fragrant grass under a blanket of stars. They embraced every day together for they knew that all too soon their time would end.
“One evening Roke came to the Tree while Jesokah lay dozing, curled up against an enormous root. He strode past her without a glance, unsheathing his sword as he walked. With a single swift strike he attacked, cutting open a raw gouge in the smooth trunk of the Tree. Jesokah reeled, instantly awake, feeling the pain as keenly as if it were her own. Roke struck again, this time cleaving off a massive bough. No sap spilled from the stump; thick crimson blood oozed to the ground. His boots slid in the muck as he prepared another assult.
“Then Jesokah was on him, screaming in agony, fighting vainly to get his sword. Her hands slid along his blade as she grappled for purchase, destroying her hands. Red stained the both of them, but Roke just stood his ground, muscles coiled, seemingly unseeing. He only dropped his weapon when the Guardians appeared bows drawn, a circle of death around him; it fell from nerveless fingers.
“Jesokah yelled and cursed and cried, screaming for him—begging him—to tell her why, how could he, she needed to know!...But Roke just stood there with dead eyes and said nothing. Blood from both the Tree and his love pooled at his feet. His breathing was deep and steady, his eyes were unfocused, seeing something that only his eyes could find. The Lady snapped.
“Driven mad by rage and hurt and betrayal, Jesokah conjured a maelstrom of magic. Her body burning with energy, she struck Roke down, killing him instantly. Then she turned on her own. She killed with a look, destroying any of the fae she saw. Her power a field around her, Jesokah tore asunder the land, flinging chunks of earth through the air, into the land and across the sea. Finally she scooped up the Tree itself and disappeared unto the heavens.”
Shea took a sip of his drink, the cool liquid trickling wonderfully into his dry mouth. He set the glass down gently, placed his hands behind his head and leaned back with a sigh. In his mind he could see the Lady, dark in her beauty as she reined chaos. He visualised the energy crackling around her, debris and body’s alike sailing through the air.
Ali leapt to her feet, causing him to jump. She gave Shea a look of disgust, hands held out before her. “So that’s it then?” Her voice sounded off, too high and strained. “That’s the great story of Lady Jesokah? Her lover cuts a branch off a tree, and she goes mental. That has to be the worst story I’ve ever heard. Where’s the reason in that?”
“You’re forgetting it wasn’t just a tree,” Shea’s eyes flashed in the firelight as he balanced his chair again on its back legs, “It was the Tree, gift of the Maker, the source of magic in our world. When Roke attacked it, he was also striking the Lady, even the Maker himself.
“And she loved him,” his voice softened, “Reason is often lost in the tides of emotion.”
“I don’t care, that’s terrible.” Ali remained vigilant. “What would make Roke commit such an act in the first place? And where did Jesokah go with the Tree?”
“Exactly.” Both pairs of eyes turned to Nathan who continued to sit calmly, fingering an intricate silver ring on his right hand. His face was lost completely in the depths of his hood. “Jesokah wasn’t in her right mind when she exploded. Roke had betrayed her, and so she killed him. Passion is the ruler of reason.
“Then in her grief-stricken mind she punished those who failed in their duties—the Guardians were supposed to protect her and the Tree, and they failed. Obviously she wanted nothing more to do with the world and our corruption, so she took the Tree and herself away. As to where she went…No one knows. The people have been searching for centuries; my master all his life. As to why Roke would do such a thing,” he raised his head, those brutal eyes arresting them both, “That’s the real question isn’t it?”
Ali pursed her lips. “I sure would like to know his story.”
“Ali,” Shea frowned, scratching an ear, “The wounds that Roke inflicted on the Tree were grievous—Jesokah wasn’t completely without reason for her actions. One thousand years and they still haven’t healed. Roke is the reason why magic is failing in the world.
“It’s taken a long time but the fact remains. The Tree of Life is dying.”
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