The following is an excerpt from the upcoming Novella “The Druids Son: A Historical Fable Of The Spirit Realm” Available 5/5/15 Only on Amazon.com
THE DRUIDS SON
A HISTORICAL FABLE OF THE SPIRIT REALM
By Shayne Workaman
The Druids Son: A Historical Fable Of The Spirit Realm Copyright © 2015 By Shayne Workman All Rights Reserved.
This story and its characters are a work of historical fiction. Any similarities to actual people, living or dead is coincidental.
This is for Natasha and all the ones who push and inspire me to go far beyond what even I believed I was capable of. – Love BIG CAT
The boy stood looking into the darkness beyond the mouth of the cave. He was scared because he knew his mentor meant to leave him there. This was his test like many others he had passed before this one. Always was the Druid apprentice to be tested, to gauge their control over emotion, closed mindedness, the natural elements and the nature spirits that inhabited the lands they watched over as the guardians of the secret knowledge of the Spirit. The boy whose Druid name was Cathasach was scared, but determined to pass this test and so he focused for several minutes, not on the fear he felt but rather how to use it to fuel his determination. Emotions were energy that the spirit could draw upon to complete tasks that many of the unknowing would say was impossible. On this night the boy would enter, not just a cave, but the underworld itself within the belly of The Great Dragon. Opening his eyes the boy took his first steps inside the cave to all the ancient knowledge that awaited him to seek it.
Cathasach opened his eyes fresh from that memory of when he was a boy and a mere apprentice. Tonight he felt the same fear that had gripped him then and he had run the process in his mind of how to transfer it to steel his mind and heart for the task ahead. This challenge was one of the most dangerous for a Druid and it was made even more so by the dark presence that had laid claim to the lands he approached. The villagers had noticed the dark spirt and they had felt the sting of it’s power as most of their crops for the season had withered and died leaving them short of being able to pull through the winter months while their men and boys hunted.to fill out their food stores. The village council had sent a messenger to Cathasachs order begging for the help of the Druids to ease their loss. Cathasach himself had volunteered to aid the village in their plight, a decision that had led him to this moment.
He stopped at the point on the outskirts of the village where their land had begun, Here he would strike the deal and lay down the challenge. The Hunters Moon shone brightly in the night sky as he built the fire that would be his timer. The terms of the challenge were always the same. The Druid in facing a new area where the nature spirits were unfamiliar to him would lay this challenge out to the spirits, the fire was built to last between the hours of midnight and three of the morning, that was how long the Druid had to navigate the circuit of land in this case a circle of 10 miles surrounding the village. He was to leave his staff, his sword, in fact the use of any and all magical tools were forbidden as was the aid of any spirits he had befriended, he was to face the threats and trickery of the controlling spirits using only his wits and the power and knowledge within himself. Should the Druid succeed and complete the circuit in that span of three hours he would not only gain the favor of the spirits in that area but would also be rewarded in herbs and spices, but in this challenge it was crops that was requested enough to help the village survive the winter. Should the Druid fail and not only would the spirits forever deny him access to their lands, he would also most likely lose his life in the process, especiallly since this time the Nature Spirits of the villagers lands were now being held under the power of a Shape shifting demon.
“This will be your most dangerous challenge yet, Cathasach and by the rules I can not aid you in it.” A great voice boomed inside Cathasachs head. He turned knowing that his spirit guide and guardian was present. There before him stood the massive winged dragon form of Nuallan his spirit guide. It’s eyes were the blue of lightning and it’s pupils were pinpoints. To the average person Nuallan would have been a terrifying sight to behold, but because most average people lacked the training to have the sight that would allow them to see the great beast it was a problem that Cathasach had never had to encounter before. “I know it well old friend and I pray to the gods that it is a fact I will not come to regret this night.” He laid down his staff and from a throw sack that he always carried over his shoulder, he produced a well crafted box of Oak with gold clasps. Opening the box, he drew his athame from his knotted belt and placed it inside, he did the same with his Ash wand, laying it carefully inside next to his blade, the rune stones and the sack of herbs already inside, he closed the box and returned it to his bag that he placed on the ground next to his Oak staff. Unknotting his belt, he removed his outer robe leaving only his drawstring pants to cover what was left of his half-naked body for even the Druids robe was blessed. He produced a flint and began to spark it in order to set the fire, once he had it blazing, he took a deep breath once more to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand. With the light of the full Hunters Moon shining over head, it was time for the challenge to begin.
The opening mile was over seemingly harmless grassy hills, he fought the urge to take it at an all out run knowing full well that the hardest part was going to be through the forest land that made up another third of the circuit followed by a pass along a cliff that he would have to access another cave route through before coming out to another length of forest before making it back to the grassy hills that he had started from. In the end he decided on a quick yet controlled pace and even then his foot found a rock hidden within the grass along one hill that sent him to the ground face first. He heard mischievous laughter coming from the forest as he made it back to his feet and continued onward ignoring the slight stab of frustration and hurt pride from being laughed at. By no means was this to be his last fall of the night, though he did have to admit on some level that having blood drawn so early on and on the easiest part of the journey was no way to want to start such a grueling test. He picked up his pace until he reached the edge of the tree line. looking into the dark forest he saw the eyes looking at him from the trees as he entered. This was where the faeries and wood nymphs lived as well as gnomes and the tree goblins, not to mention the souls of travelers still trapped inside the forest where they met their own end. He felt the sudden change of energy surrounding him and he hit the ground rolling just as the thick brier stretched across his path to catch him. Jumping even as he came up to avoid another that shot at the ground towards him. Cathasach again picked up the pace in hopes of pushing through the forest path quickly, twice more briers shot out at him along the path and twice he dodged their sharp thorns, but a root caught him as he dodged the second spinning him around just as a wall of the briers formed across his path. There was not avoiding that danger he could only turn and let himself be caught by the thorned branches across his back. Pulling himself away from the sharp thorns breaking several as he did leaving them stuck in his back, he called upon his inner strength and jumped up to latch onto a tree. Spinning to the opposite side of the tree that he had grabbed he propelled himself outwards to bounce off of another three before latching on to a fourth that was still in the path of the brier wall. A hiss came from above him. He looked up and saw it, a female frame that looked as though she were made of the tree itself, green skin, covered in scales that looked like leaves, fierce animal eyes and sharp fangs the claws on the hand that the creature was striking out at him with were long and looked as though they were the bark of the tree. Instantly Cathasach shifted his energy to the inner layer of his aura, a trick he learned long ago that allowed one to make physical contact with a spirit creature and as he did so he reached up to snatch the hand of the tree nymph. Using the arm of the woodland creature to swing, he pushed off from the tree and swung just beyond the wall of thorny brier below him before dropping. The momentum of the swing coupled with the surprise of the attack threw the tree nymph off-balance and she lost her own hold on the tree falling to the brier below where she disappeared.
He ran another mile and a half without incident until he came to a point where he stopped, there was something familiar about it. He looked all around him and noticed that at his back on the path behind him was what looked like the same brier wall he had just left behind. He saw tiny lights throughout the trees and heard the same mischievous laughter that he heard before entering the forest. Faeries. He thought, but had they shifted the space to really run him back to where he had just come from, or was this one of their illusions that they like to use to trick the travelers of the forest? Both were tactics the tricky little spirits liked to use in their idea of playing with people. Normally harmless all bets were off during the challenge of the Hunters Moon and especially when a demon had come and laid claim to the very lands they occupied. The howls of a wolf pack came from his right in the distance, but was it really a wolf pack, or a trick to throw him off? Cathasach kneeled to the ground and closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths, His spirit eye opened allowing him to see even more of what lay within the layer of spirit and energy that passed through the waking world. He reached out and touched the ground to feel and to confirm what his spirit eye was showing him. A little known fact about Faeries, while their powers are formidable they can only use the energy that passes through the natural world they can not however alter the flow of that energy and so those who know how to read the flow of that energy can use it as a compass like following the flow of a river, or using the stars above to know which direction they are traveling. As he had suspected this was an illusion and the howls of the wolves were coming from the direction he needed to go, now he only hoped that those howls were indeed just a trick in and of themselves or this journey was about to become even more treacherous than it already was.
Ignoring the ache in his body from already suffering much exertion in the challenge and ignoring the pain of his wounds that were staining his white drawstring pants red with his blood, he continued to run through the forest, all the while keeping his senses open and ready for an attack of any sort. He had made it a good ways when he heard the growls coming from the trees around him. He did not want to stop, but knew that if he kept up his pace he would be chased down. Already he felt the wolves begin to surround him and he did not want to get pinned in. This answered his fear, the wolves had been no trick. He put on a sudden burst of speed and three wolves shot from the trees behind him fast on his trail. With a boosted jump he again took to the high ground of the trees just narrowly missing being bit by one of the wolves as it leapt after him. He bounced again from tree to tree just above the snapping jaws of the pursuing wolves. Reaching out he touched the core of one of the trees and pulled, making it tip across the path behind him and causing the wolves to slam into it’s falling form head on. He heard the yelps of pain as he hit the ground in a roll and came up running. As he had suspected all his move did was slow down the predators from their pursuit, but it was not long before they were catching up to him yet again. Cathasach, in the heat of the moment, made a near fatal mistake as he opted to look behind him rather than trusting to the feel of how close the pursuing wolves were. That mistake saw him turn his attention away from the tree line he broke right on the edge of the cliff face. He had overshot even the narrow foot path that would lead him across the cliff and nearly failed to catch himself on the edge as he went over what would have been a hundred foot fall to the rocks below. One of the wolves overshot in it’s pursuit and went careening over the edge of the cliff above his head, the others broke off their attack and slunk back into the forest.
Pulling himself up over the edge of the cliff onto the foot path he took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. the feeling was short-lived however as he looked to the position of the moon overhead. Time was against him and he was only halfway through the ten-mile circuit, He was going to have to push harder if he wanted to win this challenge and help the villagers. Getting to his feet he pushed on along the narrow path as fast as he dared to, one slip, one misstep and it could mean the end of him. The thought of how to proceed had barely entered his mind when something hard bounced painfully off his shoulder from above. The path had led him twenty feet down the cliff face as he made his way across and looking up now he saw his new threat. The goblins matched the stone of the cliff face itself and he only noticed them at first glance because they were moving sideways on the flat surface following his forward movement. He could not count their numbers, but knew that the first rock to hit him was only the first in what would be a storm of them if he continued along the path. He realized that he was only going to have one chance to make it to the tunnel pass and what he was going to have to do stood the chance of making this stretch of the journey just as dangerous as the rock goblins threatening to pound him off the cliff with a storm of stone. He felt the breeze cooling the sweat that was stinging his wounds and reached out to it with his mind. Suddenly the gusts began to pick up along the cliff face, he tried to keep it’s concentration above him but had to admit that his staff would have made controlling the direction far easier than he could alone and in the condition he was already in, but it was his only chance. He ran along the path and as he had suspected the goblins began trying to bring the cliff overhead down upon him. The wind gusted and followed him along his path catching many of the rocks being dropped and bouncing them off the cliff face above him causing them to fall harmlessly beyond him over the edge of the path. Halfway across the rocks started coming more frequently now and some were making it through the wind gust to find their mark, but it was a sudden lowering of the wind gust that caught him and bounced him off the cliff face where he again just barely caught himself. The strain of having to pull himself to safety and keep the gust going to keep the rocks from raining down on him as he hung helpless over the side of the cliff proved too much and a couple of the goblins had even gotten brave enough to start climbing down to where he was to meet him head on. He managed to pull himself again onto the path even though he got clipped twice more by the rocks being sent at him and one of those grazed his scalp dazing him for a brief moment that almost saw him go over the edge again. The goblins that had come to meet him were almost on him when he regained enough of his senses to cause another gust of wind that bounced them off the cliff in the same manner as he had done himself only with more effective results. The goblins screeched as they went over the cliff to the rocks below. Most nature spirits actually have physical forms composed of the Earth itself, some do not, luckily the goblins were of a variety that did and so the wind gust were not only effecting their attacks it was also slowing them down for the danger they themselves faced from it. The rocks still came down with increased ferocity as the opening to the tunnel pass came into view and Cathasach got hit by three as he dove headlong into the darkness of the tunnel.
He had hit one of his legs hard on a sharp outcropping of rock as he had dove through the opening, another wound to spill his blood to match the first on his other leg the stab wounds from the thorns some of which were still lodged in his skin and the scalp wound from the rock that had hit him. Regaining his composure he again opened his spirit eye that could see every detail of the cave even in perfect darkness and he made his way through. He had half expected another animal attack in the darkness of the cave but the greatest danger so far had been his own carelessness in how he had entered. He felt a breeze and knew that he was coming to the end of the tunnel pass that would bring him again into the forest but before he made it through, he felt the sudden change in the temperature in the cave. looking behind him he saw with both the eyes in his head and his third spirit eye a shape that was even darker than the darkness of the pitch black cave. This was the shape shifter demon that had taken over the lands surrounding the village. Cathasach knew it wasn’t here to attack only observe and to let it’s presence be known. The challenge was laid as much to it as the nature spirits in the area with the terms being that it could only manipulate the spirits in the area to attack for it, it was not allowed to directly attack during the challenge. The rules of spiritual engagements are always followed by both the good and the evil, one for a sense of honor, the other out of sheer ego that it could overcome the challenger without fulling utilizing it’s ability. No it would not lower itself to cheat even against a Druid, though Cathasach knew to expect an attack if he managed to succeed in the challenge and not be killed in the process. Turning back he again began to run out into the open forest where he was immediately assaulted by more briers. The brier attack on this side of the forest was so vicious that Cathasach used his anger and frustration to channel the element of Fire and suddenly the briers that were attacking burst into flames as he got to his feet and again started running.
He was getting exhausted and sloppy and he knew that he wasn’t going to last much longer in his condition. From above came the sound of a heavy snapping branch that he narrowly avoided, only to get jabbed in the side by a sharp branch from another tree that he ran into. “AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!!” Through all of the torment in this challenge, this had been the first time Cathasach had screamed in pain. Laughter came from throughout the forest followed by even more snapping sounds as though trees were being toppled behind him. He pulled himself off of the sharp stick and again began to run though he was unable at this point to go at his full speed for all of his injury and exhaustion. The trees continued snapping behind him, whatever was toppling them was getting ever closer to overtaking his position. Just then a new sound was added to the mix as the leaves from the ground behind him started stirring up to form new four legged nature monstrosities that joined in the pursuit. he knew, this time without looking that he was being chased down by seven of the nature beasts along with whatever was collapsing the trees behind him. Digging deep within his reserves he pushed even harder and saw the tree line just a little ways ahead. The sight gave him new strength as he pushed even harder to get back to the open land and ever closer to the end of this wretched challenge of the Hunters Moon.
He slipped as he made it through the tree line and again hit the ground. Behind him the trees had stopped toppling and for a moment all was silent in the night, until the seven nature beasts all sprang from the tree line to continue their pursuit of the Druid. Cathasach quickly regained his feet and started running at the full speed he had refrained from starting his journey at. Even in the chaos, his mind took in everything with crystal clarity, the mile long stretch of open grass land, the position of the moon in the sky, the dying light of the fire as it ebbed towards cutting off the challenge and his time to complete it. He saw Nuallan in the distance who automatically sensed when his charge had broken the tree line on the last leg of the challenge, of course the beasts that were gaining on him even as the muscles in his legs seized up. He pushed harder than he had ever pushed in his life, through the pain, through the leg muscles that had locked up. A half mile now and the fire was hardly a flicker to be seen. “AAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH, AAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHH,AAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!” Cathasach screamed, magical knowledge giving way to pure physical instinct to produce enough endorphin’s and adrenaline to drive him to his destination. He hit the ground once more, rolling several feet from the sheer momentum until coming to a stop right next to where he had laid his staff. He continued to scream for several moments as the fire died to embers. Nuallan turned his lightning blue eyes in a warning glare toward Cathasachs pursuers. It was however an unnecessary gesture as the beasts had stopped dead the moment the Druid had got back to his starting point before the fire died, winning the challenge and earning the respect and companionship of the very nature spirits who had tried to kill him during the challenge and wresting the control of the lands from the shape shifting demon in the process.
His screams had subsided into extremely pained moans as he reached out, his hand finding the Oak staff and taking hold of it, he rolled over somehow finding the strength to get to his knees and plant the base of his staff into the ground in order to get the leverage needed to help him gain his feet once more. “The spirits have honored their agreement.”Nuallans voice boomed in his mind. He turned and saw the last of the tiny lights of the Faeries depart from the man high stack of good crops that was part of the requested reward for completing the challenge. He nodded. “These I gathered for you myself outside of the challenge area, I suspected, and rightfully so it appears, that you might need them.” Looking down in front of the dragons great form he saw a small pile of Plantain, and Celandine the ingredients were not complete but if he mixed it the herbs with the sea salt he carried he would be able to make a sufficient enough poultice for his wounds. “Thank you old friend, I don’t know what I would do without you.”Cathasach told his spirit guardian. “Probably die if the look of you now is any indication.”Nuallan told him, to which Cathasach could not suppress a grin, he no doubt did look a sight after the grueling test he had just been through. Clouds were moving in overhead and thunder rumbled gently. It was odd to see a storm in this time of the year and Cathasach had to wonder if his use of the wind element had caused this. Using such elements in the way he did, especially lacking the ability to fully control and direct it had been known to cause nature to counteract in bringing itself back into balance. Then he felt it again, the sudden drop in temperature and he knew that the shape shifting demon had come to strike now that the challenge had ended, when the Druid was at his weakest. “ You survived the challenge and taken control over these pathetic spirits Druid, but you hold no such power over us.” He looked over his shoulder at the shadow that now stood before him. Arrogant, like all of it’s kind, the demon had overestimated the value of its timing. Unnoticed by all except Nuallan who was making it happen the bag on the ground shifted as the Oak box within opened. Rain began to fall as the stand-off reached a heated end. The shadow stretched forward at the Druid just the athame made of gold and charged by the sun itself flew from the bag and stuck in the ground that the shadow was stretching across pinning it. The demon howled a scream of multiple voices at it was pierced by the magical tool charged by it’s natural weakness, light. In the same instant Cathasach began twirling his oak staff overhead drawing the lightning from the clouds, above all the while chanting in perfect unison with Nuallans booming voice a spell of banishment the power of the two were joined by the nature spirits Cathasach had just liberated from the demons control and as Cathasachs staff was drawing a perfect circle of purple lightning Nuallan opened his mouth and spat blue spirit flame to join it. Cathasach leaned forward still twirling the staff now at an angle where it’s powerful seal of banishment composed of purple lightning and blue flame were aimed directly at the demon and broke off the twirling with an outward swinging flourish the fired the ring of power at the demon engulfing it. Its screams worsened until the energy of the spell had completely passed over it sending it a piece at a time back to the shadowy corner of the Spirit Realm it had come from. The air became awash with the scent of fresh flowers and ozone, a sign of the demon being banished from these lands, never to return. The mini storm was over, but the rain continued to fall as Cathasach again feeling the effects of the challenge dropped to his knees using the staff to balance himself and keep from falling over. He was panting from the exertion both mental and physical. He stayed like this for several minutes trying to find the energy to again find his feet. After awhile he slowly looked up and noticed that Nuallan had a big fanged grin on his dragon face. “And what exactly do you find so amusing old friend?” Cathasach asked. A devious sparkle entered the lightning blue eyes of the dragon matching it’s grin. “ I was hoping it would try that.” He said. Cathasach grinned as well and began laughing at the fervor of his spirit guardian. His laughter was short-lived when he moved in a fashion that shot pain through him. Reaching behind him he pulled out one of the two-inch long brier thorns that was still stuck in his back and shook his head as he threw the blood covered instrument of his pain to the ground. It had indeed been a very long night and though the worst was over, his work was still far from finished.