tomorrow!" Greybark's mind sang, as he hauled the day's water supply up to his parent's house by a slender vine that reached through a hole in the corner, down to the stream many peds below. He gazed out the window towards the great Tree and Tree Circle.... for the last time, he mentally added. Soon, he would be there! Finally he would be at the center of things; finally, he would have a say as to what he would do with his life. He had finally reached the age of choosing, the age of 15, the age at which a young Brownie chooses and is chosen. The representatives of the council of five hundred clans would listen to only one voice - his! His parents had no say in this. "Tomorrow!", he thought. A new life would open up for him, tomorrow. He poured the water from the worn acorn-bucket into the top of the reservoir gourd. He peered in - it was already more than half-full. Only a few more bucketfuls.
Greybark was a Brownie, a greybark Brownie. Brownies came in many kinds, covering all the colors of treebark, from white birch to bamboo to redwood to ebony. All were of the same People, and intermarried freely, with the possible exception of redbarks, who tended to keep their own counsel, keeping themselves withdrawn from other brownies. Greybark was a greybark, with skin, hair, and the irises of his eyes all a dark grey, and was named Greybark - his parents being a birchbark and a greenbark, pale white and dark green in coloring, they were surprised to have a greybark son.
The leaves at the doorway rustled as a large brownie swung in from the outside. His skin was the color of birchbark, as was his thinning hair and the irises of his eyes --if you were not familiar with Brownies, you would think that he was blind – his eyes were all white except for a black pinpoint pupil. It was Greybark’s father, Moss. Greybark did not immediately notice - his thoughts were far away today. Moss studied his second child, his eldest son, for a moment. His eldest, Sunrise, was already in training for her own clan. Moss saw once again the beginnings of broad shoulders that would soon match his own, the lithe, confident movements that Greybark used as he pulled in the vine, the strength of body and arm. His son was a child no longer, but a child-man. Moss cleared his throat just as the full acorn reached the top of the hole.
Greybark heard the sound and turned quickly. "Hi, dad!"
The milky white eyes met the deep grey eyes for a moment. Then Moss grinned and said, "I passed your mother on the way here...she might need some help in getting the game home. She’s at her normal hunting ground - you know where to find her."
Greybark dropped the acorn, spilling water without realizing it and rushing out the door, almost knocking Moss over as he went by. Moss chuckled...the young were so excitable. He reached for the vine to finish up.
Moss of the Grower clan bent over to tend his mushroom crop. An arrow swished just behind him and crunched into something, causing him to flinch visibly. A sparkling tinkle of hidden laughter met his ears as he straightened and turned. An ever-hungry shrew had crept up behind him and had been just about to feast on his leg. Now it lay impaled through its eye on a mushroom and was quite dead.
"Thank your ‘shroom for me" a dark vision of beauty told him lightly as she collected her prey and retrieved her arrow. "It caught the shrew quite nicely!" So saying, she lifted it to her shoulders, swept past a clump of ferns, and vanished.
"What’s your name?" Moss cried out belatedly at the swaying ferns.
"Clearcall!" came back the answer in hunter’s whistle-talk.
Moss’ life would never again be the same.
The Brownie woman held her breath as she carefully drew the bowstring back, perfectly camouflaged against the pine needles behind her. The robin seemed unaware of her. It hopped and pecked at the ground, gradually moving closer. Now it was only two peds away.. She could have shot it much sooner, but she was a perfectionist, and, as was her custom, was using a plain arrow--an almost microscopic splinter of wood the point of which would normally be coated with poison or at least sleeping herbs, but -- hers had no herbs, no poison, and relied completely on the pinpoint accuracy of the archer. Through the eye and through the brain -- any other shot and she would most likely lose her prey. She felt a shadow move alongside her and smiled without shifting her glance away from the robin. Her hand smoothly released the arrow, which flew true, dropping her prey to the ground without a sound.
But the prey still twitched. The arrow was a fraction off, and had not quite completely killed the bird. There was a blur of motion by her side as Greybark scrambled down the trunk, swiftly drawing a knife from his boot as he did so, and delivered the mercy stroke. He turned at the soft laughter behind him as his mother, Clearcall jumped lightly down to the ground. She embraced her son, then held him at arm's length. This was quite possibly the last hunt he would ever join her on. She blinked away the tears, saying smilingly, "Come on! Let's get this tender morsel home and cooked!" They tied the bird securely between them, carrying it to the tree in which their house was located, then, letting it swing at the length of the ropes, climbed the rough bark back up to their home. Later, as Greybark lay on his bed, now a bit softer (another gift from the robin), and having eaten of his favorite food until he could eat no more, he gazed out the window at the next tree and listened to his brothers Broadleaf and Freshtwig, evenly breathing next to him, thinking, this time, not of the great events of tomorrow, but of how much he would miss his family.
The next day had dawned too soon, and yet somehow not soon enough. The air was crisp and clear... a perfect autumn day. The five of them had taken several ziplines from treetop to ground to shorten the journey, but it was still almost two hours before they saw the Tree Circle stretched out in front of them. Greybark blinked in the bright sunlight and gazed up...the Tree seemed to stretch up to and through the very sky! The stories said that it had been made partially by magic, and looking now at its size and girth, Greybark could well believe it. There was no other tree like it in the entire valley.
The trunk stretched up for thirty peds before there were any branches, but long before that one could see whole towns clinging precariously from niches in the bark. The branches in some places were hardly visible because of the profusion of dwellings and bridges and nets and ropevines. It would take hundreds of Brownies holding hands to reach all the way around it. On the ground all around was a sprawling town. And all filled with Brownies! Greybark had never seen such crowds! It was said that every major clan had a permanent representative here, but of course today, the choosing day, large delegations from every clan were present, in the branches, among the roots, in hollowed-out sections of trunk, in tents that he now saw were pitched all around the circle as well - not to mention the actual residents of the tree, who were working hard to give the day a special carnival atmosphere, and succeeding. Singing, storytelling, and every other form of entertainment were taking place wherever he looked.
Greybark's parents and brothers said farewell for the last time, Moss laying a hand on his shoulder and pointing him in the direction of the Pavilion of Choosing. They gazed after him until he disappeared into the swirling crowd, than went off to the food courts to await the announcements of clan acceptance.
Greybark found himself in line behind an imposing Brownie that looked almost golden. The Brownie glanced at him but did not smile. Mutually intimidated, neither of them said a word, and stood in silence for the rest of the wait. Soon enough, Greybark was next in line and there was an open space at the long root that was being used as a table. He hesitantly stepped up and faced the tight-lipped brownbark woman that sat behind the table, writing on a birchpaper notebook.
"Greybark, son of Moss and Clearcall."
The brown woman flipped through pages of notes, then let her writing-quill pause for a moment, "Father, Moss, clan Ferretmaster; mother, Clearcall, also clan Ferretmaster...you have a sister, Sunrise, four years older than you, clan Maj?"
Greybark nodded, and the woman scratched a note in her notebook. Then she put it down and looked directly at him. "So. What clan will you choose? Will you try for Maj like your sister?"
Greybark mumbled, "I was kinda thinking of choosing clan Ferretmaster."
"The same as your parents?" The examiner, for that is what she was, looked up at him sharply in surprise. "You do realize that acceptance into a clan, especially a clan like the Ferretmasters, is based solely on personal merit, not on familial connections?"
"Yes, ma'am", Greybark said, a little bit cowed, staring at his hands, which seemed to be wringing of their own accord. She looked at him for a few seconds longer, as if testing his resolve. Greybark continued to intently study his hands.
"Very well", she finally said curtly, "take this card and go to the fourth tent on the right as you leave the pavilion from the south. Next!"
Walnut bowed his head in shame as snickers rose from above him, and grains of thrown sand stung his unprotected back. His infirmity would always keep him from being accepted by other Brownies, he feared. Between his fingers was a light webbing of skin as if he had received a duck-curse while still unborn. His feet were the same.
Perhaps the big people would accept him, he thought. Perhaps not. So far away, these big people, too far to be of any good.
Without paying attention to his road, he ended up alongside the creek, deep and wide, that ran through Brownie territory. Danger lived in the creek, as many fish and turtles and other water-creatures were always glad of a Brownie for lunch. Walnut was well aware of this, but that did not help him when his tractionless toes hit a slick spot in the riverbank. He slipped and slid down the steep bank into the water.
Once in the water, Walnut discovered how good of a swimmer he could be - his hands and feet propelled him through the water more swiftly than any animal. A trout, a snapping turtle, a beaver -- each chased him in their turn, but were unable to catch him.
Years passed. Walnut lived without fear in the creek, as all within it now bowed to his wishes. Then, as a waterking, did a hunting party discover him. He was now confident and ready to rejoin his people. They took him to the council of clan Ferretmaster.
The tent was a bit bigger than the others, and as Greybark entered, he noticed that the back of the tent was open to the outside. Directly in front of him was an elderly light brown man, sitting at a low table of sorts, with an arena in back of the table, part inside the tent and part outside. A row of wooden cages lined both sides of the area, with various restless and somewhat panicked animals inside.
The man took Greybark’s card, glanced at it, and stretched, saying, "So, Greybark.... you want to be a Ferretmaster?"
Without waiting for a reply he continued, "It may be more difficult than you think." His hand slammed down on a catch, letting the gate of the cage nearest the outside fall open. "The only way for you to be accepted into the clan is to make sure that that", indicating the bird in back of him "does not fly away, and is not harmed in any way." So saying, he swiveled in his chair in order to watch.
Greybark slid over the table, making no sudden moves, and then his heart sank. It was a robin, and would surely smell yesterday's meal coming out of his pores. Sure enough, the bird stiffened, hopped forward quickly, and pecked him hard on the skull. Greybark was blinded by his own blood, but managed to sit up and reach back for the old man's worn bolo, two rocks tied together by a rope, sitting on the table next to the paperwork. Just as the bird took flight, and just before he lost consciousness, he flung the bolo at the bird's feet. A second earlier and it might have worked. The last thing he saw before darkness claimed him was a robin flying off into the trees, with a bolo wrapped loosely around both legs.
"I want him! Anyone that will get up after a head injury and make any kind of attempt has the courage, the heart. I will vouch for him! He is Ferretmaster material. The skill we can beat into him later", the elderly trainer was adamantly insisting to somebody unseen. "We cannot let this boy be snapped up by a mere hunting or gathering clan!" The argument continued, dimly, through a thick fog, that gradually became blackness once again.
Trainees were beginning to collapse on the obstacle-course as the Mad Brownie King, as they secretly called their trainer, sat in relative comfort ferret-back, bellowing that they were slow, they were lazy and overfed, and that they would continue to run until they had beaten last month's best time. Finally, when there was only a handful of exhausted trainees left running, he let them leave the course and go to the mess hall. As in all such training situations, the food was bland but nourishing and energy-packed. Greybark stumbled down the bark of the mess tree to the hall to get some grub, fingering the scar on his scalp as he did so. It had been seven years since the incident with the robin, but it seemed like centuries. He still had eight years left to go. There was much to learn, and training was thorough, covering every skill that might be useful to the specialty of the clan - bringing fierce creatures, like ferrets, under control. He ate mechanically, letting his eyes and thoughts rove as he shoveled breakfast into his mouth. Far above, a late owl was returning to its nest, a ferret in its claws, taken from this very camp. Fortunately, the owl's claws had missed the ferret's rider, allowing him to avoid being part of the owl's breakfast - this time.
Morning calisthenics, breakfast, and a quick wash out of the way, the day began in earnest. Active classes in weapons usage, riding, tumbling, basic herbology and magic, tracking, listening, sound imitation, animal characteristics and personalities, survival, and many other subjects, took place one after another, from breakfast until late at night, with breaks only for quick nourishment. Oftentimes in the middle of the night, too, they were roused from a sound sleep to learn nocturnal tracking, listening in the dark, habits of nocturnal animals, and whatever else the trainers thought might be beneficial to them.
Greybark’s sister Sunrise stepped behind the waterfall into the anteroom of the first hall of clan maj. Though she had waited for this day for years, still she trembled. Her acceptance, for this clan, did not guarantee that she would survive her training. Redbark brownies were but one in ten thousand, yet dozens would die yet this year as they struggled to control that which lived and grew. Unlike other magic, there would be no cost to them…the price would be paid by others. Lifemagic affected only life, and drew its strength from nearby life, generally plantlife.
The circle of trainees concentrated on the bud before them, trying to coerce it to bloom brightly. Finally the leaves began to move apart, beginning to reveal the petals. Suddenly, with a cry, two of the trainees clawed at their heads in agony, dying within seconds. The bodies were removed and the exercise continued.
Years passed. In one more year Greybark's training would be completed, contingent on his successfully training a ferret or weasel. They would begin working directly with the young the following spring. In a few days they would be permitted to go home for a few weeks - important for regaining focus for the task ahead. Then they would move camp to the rocky edges of the Dark Hills, and mark a few dens for the recruits to work with.
Greybark let his pack fall softly to the ground, and crept quietly forward. His sister's dark red hair was clearly visible as she sat some distance away with her back to him, gazing intently into the distance. Greybark stopped and smiled to himself, gathering his concentration. He focused, and the tip of a vine next to Sunrise suddenly came alive and wrapped itself around her leg. Sunrise let her mind twitch slightly, and a hole opened in the bark of the tree below the vine, slurping it up like a strand of spaghetti, then snapped shut again. They both laughed, and Sunrise began to turn towards Greybark, when her smile froze. She looked beyond him and her clothes and hair began to flutter and then flap as if in a gale as she siphoned off the life-energy being radiated all around her. Greybark didn't see the giant white owl about to strike him from behind, silent as a thought. Sunrise's eyes seemed to glitter a brighter red then usual, and Greybark turned around just in time to see a look of uncomprehending fear in the giant predator's eyes, just before its innards spontaneously burst into flame, causing the owl to explode and spatter across the tree trunk. The moss on the tree trunk writhed for a moment, then absorbed the mess. Greybark sat down, stunned, as he realized how close he had come to dying a terrible death. Sunrise's eyes, hair, and clothes returned to normal, and she came and sat by him.
Over the next few days they spent a lot of time together, (both their parents had died a few years previously... Moss had died when the animal he was training turned on him unexpectedly, and Clearcall had been bitten by a rabid mouse - but they had both lived full lives. While they were missed, their children did not hold any regrets concerning them) reminiscing, talking about what their respective clans were like, predicting their brothers' likelihood of success. Greybark felt deeply indebted to his sister, a fact that greatly embarrassed her, but did serve to draw them closer together.
Finally the day came for Greybark to return to the training camp. They said their farewells and he began the long journey back. Suddenly he saw a tiny tuft of white feather, snagged on a twig high above. He climbed up the bush and took the feather between his fingers, rubbing it for its texture, examining it visually and finally smelling it. When he did so, a flash of recognition hit him.... this was left by the owl that had almost killed him.
Willowblossom froze where she had fallen. Just a moment ago, she had been swinging high above. A misstep, and now she was lying on top of a viper in its nest. Knowing that snakes don’t react to things that don’t move, she held perfectly still. The viper’s jaws would easily fit around her body, and she was unarmed. Having no other choice, she remained as she was, and thought. She wanted to live, so she thought about what she could do to ensure her walking out of the nest alive.
Four hours later, Willowblossom walked out of the nest, leading the viper by a grass stem tied in back of its head. She never explained to anyone how this improbable event took place, but ever after she was able to tame snakes, and was immune to their poison.
Realizing that the owl's spoor would be difficult to follow, besides the fact that it was already quite old, Greybark took a selection of herbs from the pouches on his belt, mixed them together, and boiled them for an hour in a soup together with the feather. After he drank it, he lay down to rest and build up his strength for the virtually impossible task ahead.
As he rested, the herbal broth did its work, sharpening his senses to the point that nothing could escape his attention. His heart thudded loudly in his chest, his blood rushed through their vessels, his breath whistled in and out of his lungs, and the smallest rustles and scurryings were magnified many times in his ears. He slowly opened his eyes and the normal forest gloom gave way to preternatural clarity. He sniffed the air carefully, sifting the vapors, and, specially tuned to the weeks-old scent of the owl because of the broth, he soon located other branches and patches of ground that been brushed by a wing or used as a perch. Thus the hunted became the hunter, and the family of the hunter became the hunted.
Greybark rested for a moment by the tiny stream bubbling over rocks deep in the Dark Hills. This was the third day of the hunt. He had eaten sparingly, and the herbal influence on his senses had almost completely worn off, leaving him with a pounding headache. He sighed, and was about to get up to leave, when the corner of his eye caught a small white object. The weather was quite cold, but there was no snow yet. He craned his neck to look more closely, and saw it again -- a nesting snowy owl, the mate of the one his sister had killed. He sat down where he was, and waited. Twilight came, and the owl left the nest to hunt.
Greybark crept forward, careful to make no noise that would draw the hunting owl back to her nest too soon. He quickly maneuvered himself into a position in which he had a clear view of the inside of the nest. A mass of dark down and wobbly heads met his eye - the owl chicks were only a few weeks old! He counted briefly...eight heads. The plan that had been hiding from his conscious thought, the reason the he had followed the owl's spoor for so long, now burst into his awareness. He rubbed a scent-inhibiting herb from a pouch at his belt over his skin, and then slipped into the nest. He was taking a large risk. He realized that the soon to return owl would have a good idea of how many owlets were in the nest, and he also knew that young owl nestlings often killed and ate the weaker among them. He sighed, but knew that he had no choice as he took the remains of his most recent meal, some frog meat, and rubbed them thoroughly all over the weakest-looking owlet. He then cleansed his hands again with the herb.
Just as he finished, a dark shadow swiftly covered the nest as the owl returned. Smelling the "intruder", she killed the owlet that Greybark had "treated", then flew away again, leaving the always-hungry owlets to divide its remains between themselves.
Hidden in the long grasses, every night the Brownie sang to the wolf. The wolf at first tried to find the sound, but finally just gave up and enjoyed the singing. One night, he found the singer sleeping and would have eaten him, not knowing who it was, except that just as his jaws were closing, he heard him speak.
Story after story was told the wolf that day, and through the weeks that followed, a friendship was forged between Yelang the wolf and Leafshade the Brownie.
Time alternated between being smothered under a too-warm owl, fighting with the other owlets for shreds of meat brought back to the nest, and bending all of his skill to get one particular owl to imprint on him. So passed the next month and a half until the owlets grew up and learned to fly and fend for themselves. The mother owl accepted him as one of her young, and the time passed uneventfully, if a bit tediously, other than then the first time the mother owl tried to teach Greybark to fly by pushing him out of the nest - After that, he learned to keep a cord tied around his waist and tied to the tree branch at all times; he had almost been seriously hurt in that first fall.
Finally the day came when all the owls struck out to find a life of their own. Greybark watched them fly noiselessly into the distance, a little disappointed that his gamble had not paid off. Then the branch he was standing on dipped under the weight of... a young owl.
Picture description. Greybark's steed, the snow owl Ookpik. Image drawn by Quellion.
"I will call you Ookpik", Greybark told the owl, who listened attentively, "The sun is named ookpik in the Akdorian dialect - your feathers shine just like the sun. May your name bring both of us good fortune."
The next months were a busy time for Greybark and Ookpik, as they grew accustomed to each other, and learned to read each other's moods. Ookpik became as faithful as a house shrew, and Greybark weaned him to the halter, and taught him to be a responsive steed. The day finally came when Ookpik could read Greybarks faintest motions, making the halter unnecessary, so they discarded it and headed for home.
The council was not yet in session, but there was still quite a large crowd going about their business at the Tree Circle...today was Naming day, when the trainees would take their place in the clan. Many of the trainees had already arrived, each bringing with them the ferrets, weasels, badgers and wolverines, raccoons, skunks, foxes that they had successfully tamed... or not so successfully, in the case of three or four.
The morning mist was just beginning to clear. A dark shadow swept in, unforwarned and unannounced. The Brownies hit the ground, those more experienced drawing weapons. Many of the animals that they had so carefully trained for so long scattered, deep instincts winning out over a beginner's training. The shadow landed soundlessly on the ground not a fore from where the council was planning the day's tests.. A filthy brownie in tattered rags leapt from the owl's back and bowed before the council. "My name is Greybark, trainee for the ferretmaster clan. Members of the council, I beg you to pardon my long absence from training, but the opportunity that presented itself to me had to be taken. I have returned today to be named and to take my place in the clan!"
The tree circle was thrown into uproar.
"What is do be done with this Greybark?", asked Leafshade, head of the council. "He is young, and has great potential, as can be clearly seen by all. Yet his training was not completed."
"Why should that matter?" asked Willowblossom absently. "Are we not all members of the council for the same type of skill that he has just shown?"
For most of the morning they discussed the matter, ending at last when it was shown by Rraopila that, in spite of appearances, they were already all in agreement.
The quiet of the night was shattered as a bright door seemed opened in midair, leading from nowhere to nowhere, seemingly. Light shone through, but naught else was visible. A shadow stepped through the portal and gently drifted to earth. As the shadow landed on the brown mulch of the forest floor, it was revealed as an ancient Redwood Brownie with withered features, older than was natural, older than should be possible. Feeling the dank air of an undisturbed, unelvish forest, she straightened, and a bright red fire burned briefly in her eyes.
""I have arrived - it was a success!" Her voice changed, then, and became darker, stronger, richer and more powerful, seeming to rise up from the very ground and seep out of the boles of nearby trees. "Awake, I am she who has changed the dream. Though far am I from Brownie kindred, they will yet accompany me. Shunned by my collegues, yet here will I find a home. My plans proceed apace, and none shall now stop me! Fiercest of beasts, come to me now! Thrall to me shall you ever be. I am Rraopila, and I will not be denied!"
The ground quivered slightly, and the trees tossed, and Rraopila sat on the ground to wait. Four days later, a mighty giant leopard came down from the Dark Hills and stood haltingly before her, crying piteously as he fought with that that drew him against his will. Rraopila stirred for the first time in days, floating up between the beast’s eyes. She laid her hand on its head, and it flinched at her touch "Thrall I have named you, and thrall shall you ever be!" She pronounced carefully, holding the leopard’s eyes with her own.
The leopard crouched down to allow her to ride, seemingly now willing. She drifted to his neck and settled there, and the leopard turned toward the far away Tree Circle, and began to run in a ground-eating lope, with Rraopila settled firmly just back of his ears. Only someone well familiar with creature lore would have remarked the glazed eyes of the leopard, or noticed the thin stream of drool that now issued from the corner of its mouth.
The council of clan Ferretmaster, duly impressed with the apparent taming of what was the strongest known animal, promptly made her a member of the council. However they all feared and mistrusted her, and with good reason. The troubles of her youth were now far behind her, yet she harbored a deep hatred for men, and despised everyone else. She spoke little, and when she did it was to tell tales of the distant past and the undreamed of future, tales of strange worlds and realms, tales of Orcs that built cities and lived civilized lives, and even tales of Dwarves who lived in trees. There was no one whose blood did not run cold at her glance.
"From wood we sprang, with the wood we do grow, and we feed the wood when we die. This Naming Ceremony has now begun", the elderly ebony Brownie said, slowly and clearly. "Rare is it for a member of our clan, and a trainee, to tame such a large and fierce beast. There are only five of us still alive. I, Leafshade, command Yelang, the leader of a pack of a dozen wolves. He is now old, as I am. When I took him from his den, I had seen 40 frosts, and none before or since has tamed the Grey Wolf as I have. To my left is Willowblossom, master of snakes." He indicated a tall and extremely slender Bamboobark of a light green shade. "She tamed her thirty-first serpent just this last month. On her left is Walnut, brownbark master of the water creatures. Webbed are his fingers and toes, and he is just as comfortable in the water as out. To my right is Rraopila. Feared by all, yet she has well earned a place on this council."
"Now we have a fifth joining us: young Greybark, who would be called Ferretmaster. Even though he did not complete his training, he has brought with him Ookpik, the Snowy Owl. With this training of a bird of prey, it is the hope of this council that as he continues training on his own, he will complete the skills available to clan Ferretmaster, making everything that flies or swims or runs through the forest, subject to our clan. I hereby name him both full member of the clan Ferretmaster, and junior member of this council!" The old man gazed on the gathered crowd in approval as they cheered. "This council would also assign a quest to this junior member of the council, and when he has returned, if successful, he will be taken to Chieftain’s Peak and made a full member of this council. The Vale of the Brownies has recently had little contact with the outside world, but it was not always so. For we have fought in the Big People's wars in times gone by, and great friendships and alliances were then forged. This clan council, in conference with the council of 500 clans, has decided that now is the time for contact to be renewed, both with our own people in the far forests of Akdor and wherever else they may be found, and with the tribes of men, elves, dwarves and gnomes that rule the world Outside the Vale. Therefore, Greybark Ferretmaster, I charge you with this quest: To leave this place, for several frosts if necessary, and to explore the outside world, to judge and weigh the current situation outside, and to make contact and build friendships with those that you judge would be best for the Brownie People to be allied with. This is your quest if there is peace on the outside. If there is war there, as so often happens, you are to find out which side is the most evil, and provide assistance and friendship to their enemies. If both sides remain evil, then you are to return here, and the council of 500 clans will see what can be done."
There was a short pause, as Leafshade waited to make sure his words were heard and understood. "Greybark Ferretmaster, do you understand the responsibility of this quest, to be undertaken not just for your clan, but for your People, the Brownie People, and do you accept this quest?"
Greybark stood in silence for passing moments, then he bowed deeply and said, "Leafshade, Council, Clan Ferretmaster, and People of the Valley, I understand and do accept the quest that is this day presented to me."
"Then it is the decision of this Council that you shall begin as soon as you can get whatever supplies you feel you might need. This session of the Council of Clan Ferretmaster is at an end".
Greybark held to a daisy stem and set his feet to leap to the back of his steed. "Greybark! Wait!" He turned, and saw a small dark red form running toward him. She pushed something into his hands, and said, "This is a living thing, that has been attuned to me. It was made behind the falls in my clan maj, and holds a measure of the lifemagic. Break it, and I will know, and will know exactly where you are. If you should happen to need my help, little brother, on your quest, or the help of the members of the Clan of Lifemagic, all you need do is ask!" So saying, she embraced him, and let him go.
Greybark looked at what his sister had given him - it appeared to be a simple armband, of the exact shade as his own skin, but when he pushed it up to his upper arm it grew warm, and stuck to his flesh as it drew from him the small amount of life that it needed to sustain itself. He then waved and leapt to the back of his steed, saying "Farewell!" to the cheers of the hidden crowd on the ground and in the surrounding trees. He steered through the Gate of the Valley and out, leaving the Valley for the Outside.
[Such is the beginning of the story of Greybark the Brownie.]
Story written by Greybark