Forest of Mists – by Gayle McCain

by Didymus Prime Corporation

onight’s story begins with a legend.  But the history books say that it is a true legend.  And the Bardic Guild’s records prove it.  In any case, our story began eons ago,” he said, alert eyes gauging his audience. “The Forest that begins outside this inn is large, hundreds of miles long, more than two hundred miles wide with a ridge of mountains running the length of it, right down the middle, cutting the forest in two.  Our Kingdom, Anastar runs eastward from the slope of those mountains for nearly two thousand miles, and Keldar does the same on the western slopes.  Though the Forest is only a small portion of the country, it is causing big problems.” His voice had the deep, resonate tones that encourage a listener to fall into the story.  He was a pleasure to listen to, as well as to look at, sound rolling out of his chest, so that even the farthest corner of the room could hear him speak.  “In the beginning traders used to go around the mountains and around the Forest, but that way is long, and tedious.  Over time merchants from the two kingdoms built trade routes through the Forest and over the mountain passes.  Every few years, when times were prosperous, the Kingdoms would build or repair the trade roads through the wilderness.  But traveling was still dangerous.”

“The Forest was wild, overgrown and savage.  At the time the mists that we used to see weren’t there.  It was just a normal very wild forest.  Even though going through was faster than traveling around, no one traveled alone, or without guards.  Giants, thieves, highwaymen and, legend has it, even a few trolls, attacked anyone they found, terrorizing travelers, and even raiding villages that surrounded the Forest.  Theft and murder were fairly common in those days.  Life was uncertain and dangerous for travelers.”

“There was a group of four that decided to put a stop to the reign of terror.  Together they cast a spell that has woven magic and mists throughout the Forest for five hundred years.  Magic that protected honest travelers.  History tells us that this was an interesting group of individuals.  They each possessed different skills that they brought to the weaving of the enchantment.  Unique characteristics that made the magic strong.  Strong enough to last for five hundred years.  Magic that should have lasted five hundred more.”

“There was a gold smith who, it is said, fashioned a set of four rings.  A tailor that made certain that the various parts of the spell were stitched together.  How he did that I don’t know, but that’s the legend.  The mid-wife gave birth to the idea of the spell and helped bring the magic into this world.  And the singer gave voice to the enchantment.  She wrote down what little we know of the spell.  Thus they each brought different skills to the weaving of the energy, creating an enchantment that has caused the mist to rise, every night, spreading magic throughout the Forest for the last five centuries.”

“No one knows how the magic worked exactly, but somehow this magic affected only dishonest, cruel or evil people.  They either simply left the forest; if they fell under the spell of the mist they would follow it to their death.  I have wondered about this for years. I think it was much like when someone follows a will-o-the-wisp over a cliff edge or deep into a swamp.  Whenever someone of bad character fell under its spell, if they tried to stay within the Forest, they didn’t come out.  Ever.  We think they ended up dead, though the records don’t say.  It is certainly possible that the criminals had a change of heart after wandering around lost.”

“Anyway, the mists of magic have protected honest travelers within the Forest since that time.  Roads were built.  Trade flourished, merchants were eager to shorten their journey due to higher profits, so they encouraged the kings of both our kingdoms to improve the trade routes,” he grinned.  “Villagers were able to hunt without the concern of being waylaid.  Healers went safely into the Forest to gather their herbs.  Children could play and explore without fear.  The magic didn’t keep them from getting lost, stepping in bogs, or meeting wild animals, but all-in-all the Forest became a safe place.  And has been for the last five centuries,” he paused a moment to wet his dry throat.

All eyes were on the dark haired man, and though everyone had heard various versions of this tale before, they waited eagerly for him to continue.  The only children present were Amber and Garrett, the rest had been taken home and put to bed by their mothers, leaving their father’s behind.   The pub was nearly full, farmers mostly, drinking ale with their friends.  The Bard silently surveyed his audience.  Taking one more swallow, he set his drink down abruptly causing several members of his audience to flinch, Nia among them.

“The years have gone by and the mists have woven their magic through the Forest unfailingly for five hundred years.  However ten years ago, right after the Summer Solstice, all that changed.  The mist disappeared, and the safety it brought did too,” he became even more serious as he continued.  “Fog – that had come every night for five hundred years – gone overnight! Though I must admit it reappears occasionally, as if to mock us.  And when the mist is there, the old enchantment holds, but as the mist disappears something twists, something new.  Well, not ‘new’ now since we’ve been living with it for ten years.  Obviously there’s some sort of connection between the mists and the safety of the Forest.”

“It seems as if the spell of safety was really a spell of remembering that we’re connected and to be respected because of it.  And that has been replaced with a spell that has us forget everything.  And if caught in it long enough, one forgets to breathe.” Brows furrowed, he continued.

“It seems that the enchantment woven so many years ago has a hole in it,” the seriousness of the matter clouding his face.  “We don’t know what caused it, but it isn’t going away.  It doesn’t seem to be getting any larger, spreading across the countryside, but it is still there.  And we must have an answer.” Pausing to take another drink, he looked around the room and pushed his hair from his eyes.  “Even Keldar across the mountains is affected, for the Keldarian side of the Forest used to have the protective magic too.  Everywhere that the mists brought safety, now their absence brings danger.”

“Soldiers stand ready for a quick foray into the Forest if the mists appear, just the fringes mind you, to try to find some of the missing people.  It is a grim duty, because most of those they find have been dead for years, looking as though they had simply sat down and died.  But the soldiers aren’t willing to risk their lives to look very deeply into the forest, so the majority of the lost ones are still missing.  Leaving behind their grieving families here in Anastar, as well as over in Keldar.  Farmers of both kingdoms have stopped plowing fields at the Forest’s edge out of fear, because no one knows exactly where the line between safety and danger is.”

“None of this is news to you.  We all know that in the beginning you all know farmers that were too stubborn to see the danger and refused not abandon the fields closest to the trees.  Plowing too near the Forest, many of these farmers got caught in the twisted spell, and just wandered off.  If their wanderings led into the trees, most were never seen again.  If they were one of the lucky ones, they wandered away from the woods, and after a good night’s sleep came back to themselves.  Wizardry is involved, though we’ve been unable to find out what spells were used.  We’ve searched the records for the original spells used, and wherever they are recorded, it is not in the Bardic Guild’s Library.  So after five hundred years of safety, the Forest has again become a dangerous place.  Actually there is more danger than before the first spell was cast so very long ago, because this has an element of evil in it.”

“Rewards have been offered for answers.  Large Rewards,” he took a breath and looked around again.  “Knights, soldiers, and even a couple of the King’s wizards have gone into the Forest to try to find a solution – never to return.  Interestingly enough, animals appear to be unaffected by this enchantment.  They come and go from the Forest, just as they have for eons, perhaps because they do not rely on memory for most of their daily living.  Hunters must now find their prey in the meadows and surrounding pastures.” He took a drink of his ale and continued.

“We know the mists are related somehow to this unseen danger, or perhaps more accurately, the absence of mist.  Other than that we don’t know much.  Well, there is one other thing that we know… the village with the greatest danger seems to be…  this one,” he swept the room with a puzzled look in his deep blue eyes.

“Villages all along the fringe of the Forest occasionally have nights where the mists appear.  Except this one.  The mists are not seen here at all.  The records show that the first people missing came from this village and, I’m sorry to say, you have lost the most loved ones.  Because of that, and the fact that this village was the first one to have noticed that the mists disappeared, I have come here to start my investigation.”

“Our King has commanded that we try to understand what is happening so that we have a chance at finding a solution.  Why now?  Why not?  We have tried hit or miss questioning of family members, villagers, survivors.  That’s how we know the little I have told you.  We have stacks of paper filled with testimony by all these people.  And I have read every single one.  Tedious work. Much of it done by candlelight in the dead of winter.”

“The Bardic and Wizarding Guilds have joined together again, setting aside some of their petty rivalries to find answers.  The king’s wizards are seeking answers strictly in the magic realm, while most of the Bards are seeking more earthly answers.  However, I suspect that the answer will lie somewhere in between the magic and the mundane.  Unlike the others, I have not been given instructions.  Well, except to find out how it got broken and fix it if I am able.  My journey begins here, because this is/was the beginning.”

“So, if you have any news of the Forest, please tell me your story.  By listening to every tale I hope to be able to fill in the missing pieces and solve this puzzle.” With that he settled back into his chair and took another drink, steeling himself against hours of listening to every person present tell him a tale of woe.  He only hoped that by sifting though the details of each story he would find the key that would unlock the mystery before him.

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Excerpt from “Forest of Mists.”
© 2012 – Gayle McCain – Didymus Prime Corporation – All rights reserved.