From Under the Sea IV: The Seerwood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Imaginarium


A continuation of From Under the Sea, a collaboration written with JackCrawford. Orin and Selka head for the Seerwood to attempt the capture of an alleged traitor.



From Under the Sea: https://www.booksie.com/543928-from-under-the-sea From Under the Sea II: Il'dria: https://www.booksie.com/544797-from-under-the-sea-ii-ildria From Under the Sea Part 3:
https://www.booksie.com/545543-from-under-the-sea-part-3


 

 

 

Orin’s eyes snapped open, and the remnants of some dream fled from before his eyes. A dim light shone in through the balcony window and Orin noticed that the other-worldly orb had begun to brighten. At first he thought that this was what had woken him, but as he turned his head a small object bumped into his face. He jumped up, his arms up to defend himself. When his eyes had adjusted to the light, he realized that there were several jellyfish-like creatures floating about him, small, translucent, and glowing slightly. He smiled at the little creatures bobbing peacefully through the air before he turned back toward the balcony. 

Despite the early hour, Orin could see people scurrying about down below, heading out to tend their fields or feed their livestock. If it weren’t for the very obvious differences, Orin could have fooled himself into thinking this was just another village in Ireland. As he watched, the orb slowly became brighter and brighter. 

“Orin.”

He spun around to find a guard standing in the doorway. He pointed toward the hall, which Orin took to mean “after you.” He nodded and made to leave the room, but the guard put a hand on his chest. He smirked as he gestured at Orin’s clothes. Orin looked down and realized he was still wearing the bed clothes that he had been given. He grinned and held up a finger, stepping back into the room. The guard rolled his eyes as he closed the door again. 

Twenty minutes later Orin was stepping into the same room he had dined in yesterday. Selka was sitting near the far end of the table, and when she saw him she waved enthusiastically for him to join her. Orin obliged, leaving his guard standing by the door. 

Clearly this was not as formal an occasion as the last meal he had enjoyed in this room. For one, there were not as many official-looking people sitting stiff-backed along the table, and people seemed to come and go as they desired, eating at their own paces. For another, Selka did not appear at all somber, but more like her cheery self, perhaps more so with the prospect of their upcoming mission. 

“Where’s your da?” Orin asked Selka when he noticed the king’s absence. 

She giggled. “Oh, he rarely gets up before mid-morning. He is not what you’d call a morning person.” She smiled radiantly. 

The so-called wise man, Adair, however, was present, looking as formal as he had the day before. He paid no regard to anyone around him, but ate his breakfast in silence and solemnity. 

The meal was again delicious, and Orin ate all that he could. There were a variety of small fish, delicious fruit that he had never before seen nor tasted, and a sweet bread of which Orin had to refrain himself from eating fourths. When he finished eating he realized that both Selka and Adair were looking at him, Selka with a small smile and Adair with a stern look. He quickly sat up straight and folded his hands upon the table. 

Adair cleared his throat before speaking. “Now that you have finished breaking your fast, I suggest you prepare to undertake your search for the traitor or spy, whichever it may be.” 

Orin nodded. “Yes, of course, sir, your wise...ness,” he said. He shifted awkwardly as Adair’s fierce eyes probed him. 

“Indeed,” he said dryly. “I suggest you begin by investigating the area in and around the Seerwood. There have been reports of suspicious activity taking place in that section of Il’dria.”

“Where—?”

“Selka knows where to go,” Adair said. “And please, do not interrupt me nor any wise man.” Orin shut his mouth before Adair continued. “You are to report any suspicious activity you may find, and if you discover the culprit behind this attack, show no mercy. You are to silence him and apprehend him—if indeed it is a male—and not allow him to escape. If capture proves impossible, you are given Royal Leave to terminate him. I am sure, given your previous profession, this will not be a problem for you.”

Orin coughed. Despite his being a pirate on the surface world, he had never been involved in any of the cutthroat aspects of piracy, nor, indeed, was he a fan of such behavior. He had been more of a pirate-in-training than a bonafide pirate. He did his best now to look as if murder was in his repertoire. 

“You should, by no means, make light of this threat to our people. There are no means too harsh when it comes to the safety of Il’dria.”

 

“He’s pretty intense, wouldn’t you say?” Orin said.

He and Selka had just left the castle and were heading to the stables where her kelpie was held. The cool yet heavy air embraced the two as they walked across a cobblestone courtyard behind the castle. 

“Who, Adair? Yes, I suppose he has always been like that, very serious all the time. But his advice is almost always spot on. They don’t call him a wise man for no reason.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

They walked in silence for a few moments. Then another thought struck Orin. “Why did we get chosen to take on this mission?” he said. “I mean, a princess and an ex-pirate, not exactly a duo that screams ’investigators’.”

Selka laughed. “Don’t sell yourself short, Orin, I know you are capable of more than you think.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “To be honest, though, I’ve been begging daddy to give me a chance like this for a while. I am going to be a leader someday, I should have some experience in leading and solving problems. Every time I asked for an opportunity, however, Adair always refused. He has finally given me a chance. 

“As for why you were chosen, I’m not sure, although I have some thoughts.”

Orin nodded for her to go on. 

“Well, I think it has a lot to do with you being a pirate, your experience in captures and such. They probably thought you would be a good bodyguard as well, if anyone tried to hurt me.”

Orin nodded absently. Selka’s explanation did not make much sense to him. Him being a pirate did not seem a good reason to send him on a mission with the princess. In fact, to Orin’s mind, that was a terrible idea. Having spent six months with them, he knew better than most the mannerisms of pirates, not to mention their treatment of women. “Trustworthy” was not a word that Orin would associate with pirates. Sending one on a mission with a beautiful princess seemed an extremely unwise decision. It was a good thing Orin had not adopted most of the pirating ways. 

Orin said nothing of his thoughts to Selka, but followed her silently into the stable. Up close, the kelpies looked much bigger and much more dangerous. One gave a pleasant, high whinny, showing a row of razor sharp teeth. The eyes were a solid light green with no pupils. They were not creatures that he would like to meet on a dark night. 

“They’re a lot nicer than you’d think,” Selka said, clearly noticing the worried look on his face. “Come over here and meet Fable.” She was standing next to one of the smaller kelpies, looking at him encouragingly. 

Orin slowly approached the beast, careful not to startle any of the others as he went. 

“Come on, give her a pat,” she said.

There was very little that he would rather do less right now, but Selka was looking at him expectantly. So, very slowly, Orin raised his arm and reached out toward the kelpie. Before he had come within half a meter of the creature, it snorted loudly and snapped at his fingers. Orin yanked his hand back. 

“Hey,” Selka said, holding Fable back. She then leaned in close to the beast’s ear and mumbled several words to it in her own language. When she pulled away, Fable appeared to be more calm. 

“Sorry, she’s not used to humans. It’s more their instinct to eat humans. But don’t worry, she won’t hurt you now, you can touch her.”

Orin stared at Selka for several moments. Was she crazy? This thing had nearly taken his hand. 

“Oh come on, don’t you trust me?”

He did. It was the man-eating kelpie that he didn’t trust. But, with even more hesitance than before, he reached again toward Fable. It did not lash out again as his hand came closer, and even leaned toward him. 

It’s hide was surprisingly soft, reminding him of duck features, though it was clearly hair. He scratched it’s neck, and in response it tossed its head, causing Orin to pull his hand back again. 

Selka laughed again. “Come on, we should get going.” She grabbed the reigns and led Fable out of the stable. The stable-hand had already saddled and bridled her, so once they were out of the stables, Selka climbed gracefully onto her back. 

“Alright, hop on,” Selka said. 

Orin shrugged, resigned to the worst, and climbed up behind the princess, much less gracefully. There was not much room on the saddle, so he had to be uncomfortably close to Selka. 

“Hold on,” she cried before the kelpie took off. 

The speed at which Fable ran was beyond anything he had ever experienced. The countryside flashed by in a blur, cottages and barns were indistinguishable from each other, but despite the speed, it was a surprisingly smooth ride. It felt as if he were sailing on a swift ship through calm waters.

Before Orin could think twice, Fable was slowing down. They were approaching the wooded area Orin had seen from his balcony. Strange trees loomed above them as the kelpie came to a halt at the woods’ edge and Selka slid off of the saddle. Orin followed her lead, almost falling on his face. Like most seasoned sailors, he was not altogether comfortable on the backs of horses, or, indeed, horse-like creatures. 

The trees were unlike any that Orin had ever seen before (although by now he was very used to seeing strange, new things). The trunks and branches of the trees appeared to be made of an assortment of multicolored coral, asymmetrical and sharp in places. The leaves looked to be some kind of kelp or seaweed hanging down from the branches, reminding Orin strongly of weeping willows. Oddly, the hanging leaves were swaying slowly as they would in the sea. 

“I should warn you,” Selka said, “this place is very sacred to my people. It is a dwelling place, built by the gods. Try not to mess anything up.”

Orin nodded. “A dwelling place for what?”

“Spirits mainly, although gods have been known to appear as well. Then, of course, there is He Who Sees.”

“He Who Sees?” Orin said. 

“He is the one who set our civilization in motion. Remember, I told you a bit about him yesterday.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t know he was called He Who Sees.”

“Many just call him The Seer. These woods are named for him.”

“And you said he dwells here?” Orin asked, trying to keep his face from looking too incredulous. Most of this sounded like local superstition. 

“I wouldn’t say dwells,” Selka said, “but he has appeared in the Seerwood during certain key moments in our history in order to help guide us. Although he has not appeared to us in a very long time. ”

Selka began walking toward the trees, Orin close behind as he said, “So he’s one of your gods?”

Selka laughed. “Oh no, our writings make it very clear that he didn’t want anyone believing he was a god. He is more like a messenger of the gods, a helper or a prophet.”

“Okay, but he would have to have some supernatural abilities in order to be able to show up unchanged at different points in history.” As they entered the woods, Orin instinctively lowered his voice. There was an unknown power about this place that made Orin feel uneasy. 

“Just because you are bestowed gifts from the gods,” Selka said in a similarly lowered voice, “doesn’t mean you become a god.”

Orin nodded, but said no more. Instead he focused his attention on where he was walking. The coral trees were not the only plants in these woods. The ground was littered with various plants resembling those one might find on the sea floor: anemones, water ferns, sea grass, even an odd blue plant that resembled a mushroom. Small creatures also scurried among the trees, most resembling bottom feeders such as crabs, though he also saw a few animals that appeared to be variations on animals he had seen on the surface. The most interesting of these was a green fox with a tail fin and gills. 

Orin was so preoccupied with looking at everything around him that he almost forgot he was supposed to be searching for a traitor. When he realized this, he immediately began scanning the trees for some hint of human (or humanoid) presence. The trees did not block out all light, but rather filtered the light into different colors, so there was no issue with being able to see. His ears were alert for any sounds of movement, but most of what he heard was either an animal or his own lack of stealth. 

They searched the woods for what felt like several hours, weaving through the trees and underbrush. Selka was clearly used to navigating these woods; not once did Orin notice her hesitate. They spoke very little, their minds on their task. What they would do if and when they found the traitor Orin had no idea. He hoped Selka wasn’t relying on his pirating skills to catch this person. 

Orin was staring at a particularly suspicious clump of sea anemone (land anemone?) when he bumped into Selka in front of him. She had stopped, her hand up for silence, staring ahead of her. 

“Do you see something?” he whispered. 

“No,” she said. “Ahead is the sanctum.”

“The what?”

“It’s the most sacred place in the Seerwood, the most sacred place in all of Il’dria. This is the place where The Seer first appeared, bearing the Life Orb. This is where Il’dria began, where the first Il’drians came to be.”

“Okay, should we check it out?” Orin said, taking a half step forward. 

“Wait,” she said. “We can’t just walk in there. We have to say the cleansing prayer first, so that we are fit to enter.”

Orin shrugged. “Okay, what’s the prayer?”

“Say what I say.

Tol’con dori fel sem pon’tor. El es’tri monder ol’fer tu driä œp ni’mo rel su tem. Il fria leïr som’estu.

Orin followed along as best he could. Apparently Selka considered it to be good enough, because she smiled and waved him forward. 

They stepped into a wide clearing blanketed with grass and large, purple flowers. In the exact center of the clearing was a large stone slab, creating a sort of raised dais. As Orin and Selka walked closer to it, Orin noticed that upon the stone was carved a large eye, perfectly symmetrical, in the center of the circular slab. Protruding from the pupil of the eye was a long pillar of stone, nearly half his height. 

“What is this?” Orin asked. He was a little surprised to hear how hoarse his voice was. 

“This is Il’dria’s very first Time Keeper,” Selka said. 

He examined it further and noticed that along the edge were carved tick marks, and every fifth tick had a strange symbol beside it. The stone pillar was casting a shadow onto one of the tick marks. 

“It’s a sundial,” he mumbled. “But how...?” 

He turned toward the opposite direction of which the shadow was being cast. On the very edge of the clearing, hovering just above the tree line, was another orb, this one much smaller than the main one and not quite as bright. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the orb moved around the clearing, which caused the shadow to make its way around the eye. Orin marveled at the object, wondering how it could float there without any visible means of support. 

“You like it?” Selka said, a wide, toothy grin stretched across her face. 

Orin could only nod. 

“This is just one of the many gifts The Seer bestowed upon us. There are three other Time Keepers throughout Il’dria, in the West, North and South. The Castle Grove is where the northern one is, right behind the castle. It’s one of my favorite places to go, to just watch the time pass and gaze up at the sea overhead. Of course, the northern Time Keeper is visited much more that this one, in the East, because this one is in the middle of the Seerwood, but—”

“Shh,” Orin said. He didn’t mean to be rude, he liked when Selka talked (even when she was rambling a bit), but he thought he had seen something move at the edge of the clearing. Luckily, Selka did not take offense to his silencing her, but caught on quick and followed his gaze. 

“I think there is someone trying to stay out of sight over there,” he whispered. His mind was working furiously. If whoever it was realized that he had been spotted, he would likely try to run, and catching someone in these woods would be next to impossible. 

“Well,” he said loudly, having come up with a hasty plan. “Thank you for showing me the Time Keeper. We should really start heading out now though, we don’t want to be traveling in the dark.” As he spoke, he realized that whoever was hiding would probably not understand him. But it was the only plan he had. 

Selka was quick to play along. “Yes, we should definitely start heading back now. Come on, follow me, I don’t want you getting lost.” 

With a wink, Selka walked out of the clearing, Orin following. Once they were safely under cover, Orin whispered, “Let’s circle around and come at him from behind.” She nodded and led the way. 

They stepped through the trees as stealthily as possible, a difficult feat as there was so much debris on the ground. But slowly they made their way around the clearing, staying about 10 meters from the clearing’s edge to avoid running into the traitor at the wrong moment. 

After perhaps ten minutes, Orin tapped Selka on the shoulder and pointed. Close by was what looked to be a makeshift shelter, just a small hut made from coral. It looked as if a strong wind would knock it over. 

“He must be close,” Selka said. And sure enough, through the trees next to the clearing, they were able to make out a hunched figure peering at the Time Keeper. 

“Okay, now we just—” 

But before Orin could finish his statement, Selka burst into a run toward the figure. Orin stood for a moment in shock, then took off after her. 

The figure must have heard the two of them running, because he turned around just as Selka leapt at him. Mid-jump, Selka changed into her leopard seal form, her nose and mouth lengthening, her arms shortening into flippers, her skin becoming furry. Her clothes must have been specially designed for such transformations; they slid off her as she changed, left behind her in the woods.

The force of her leap sent both of them tumbling into the clearing, and a moment later Orin broke free of the trees as well. 

The alleged traitor was a large guy, half a meter taller than Orin and twice as wide. He was shirtless, making his massive muscles all the more obvious. His dark skin and long black hair reminded Orin of drawings of Pacific Island warriors he had seen as a child. 

He struggled valiantly against Selka, attempting to get the upper hand. Had he been facing the human Selka, there would certainly be no contest, but as a leopard seal, she was nearly three meters long and surely weighed over 350 kilograms. With very little effort, Selka had him pinned, baring her razor sharp teeth at him. 

“Please,” he said, speaking Orin’s language, “don’t hurt me. I’ve done nothing wrong, you have to believe me.” His words were strained due to the weight of a seal on his chest, but he sounded sincere. Or perhaps just desperate. 

“Who are you?” Orin said. “And what are you doing in Il’dria?”

 

 


Submitted: April 12, 2018

© Copyright 2021 J. R. Merrick. All rights reserved.

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Comments

J. M. Crawford

I like it, gunna have to think about where I want to take it from here. I really like the Time Keepers.

Thu, April 12th, 2018 3:30am

Author
Reply

Yeah, the Time Keepers just kind of came to me while I was trying to think of what sacred object should be in the sanctum. I look forward to how you continue the story.

Thu, April 12th, 2018 9:13am

hullabaloo22

Another excellent part, J. R. You and Jack are doing a fantastic job on keeping this story going.

Thu, April 12th, 2018 8:26pm

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