Journeying Through the Forest

The Never Ending Quest - Episode 7388

Gilmuriel says: "Being a native of a - what was the word Astra used - 'analog' of this land, I have a rough idea of where we are. We are in the enchanted forest of Xythryx, where strange things have often occurred. The mere fact of it being created anew from a scorched wasteland by these 'Crystallics' doesn't seem to have changed its nature, since four of us have just escaped from a part of it where time seemed to run much faster than normal. However, whilst I know where we are, what I don't know is where Astra and her husband's new colony is located."

"We just picked a spot where the soil seemed fertile," Astra 4 replies. "There is a small stream to provide fresh water, but nothing that really acts as a landmark. No real hills, just flat plain in all directions for some miles, except for a small wooded area nearby to provide us with timber for building. Probe gave us something he called a GPS receiver to take with us, so I can tell you that our settlement is at 45°13' North, 4°46' East. Probe explained to me how the co-ordinate system works, but I won't go into that now as it's a bit complicated to explain. In any case, since we don't know the co-ordinates of where we are now, knowing the settlement's co-ordinates doesn't help us. From my estimates of traveling time and speed, I reckon I've come about forty miles, not necessarily in a straight line, of course. But as to direction, I have no idea. I couldn't see out of the wagon, and then when I was riding on the wolf it was too dark to tell anything other than that we were traveling through dense forest."

"I think the best thing we can do, then, is to head out of the forest, so that the chance of our being found will be increased and the chance of running into any more magic will be minimised. If the boundaries of the forest are the same as I was used to, then the nearest border will be some fifteen miles to the southeast. Traveling through the forest, that probably represents getting on for five hours' journey. Of course, there's no guarantee that the forest boundaries will be the same. It sounds as though this Allaria has a far smaller proportion of open country than was the case back home. At least we can see the sun through the trees and can set our course by it. And if we should run into the ones who captured you - and of all the strange stories we've heard this morning, that of their transformation from dwarves to orcs is about the strangest - from what you have said there were few enough of them that the five of us should be able to handle them."

Having finished breastfeeding her infants, Astra 4 is now having her own breakfast. She notices towards the end of the meal that E'eysha is giving her a rather surprised look. "What's the matter?" she asks. "I'm sorry," E'eysha replies. "I didn't mean to stare. It's just - well, I've seen male warriors weighing 230 pounds eat less than you do." Astra 4 chuckles. "Don't worry," she says. "I'm not offended. You have to remember that I'm effectively feeding a 240 pound body: 140 pounds of my own and 100 pounds made up of my seven children. It's well over twelve hours since I last ate, so I was ravenously hungry. I just hope I can get used to eating normal-sized meals again when I finish breastfeeding. Otherwise my weight will balloon. Still, I suppose if need be I could get Demifox Synizn to cast an appetite-reducing spell on me. That would be very much a last resort, though; I'd much rather rely on my own willpower. Of course once I stop breastfeeding and producing all this milk, my appetite ought to reduce to normal anyway, but habit can be a powerful thing."

Breakfast over, they get ready to move. By now, it is mid-morning. "Exactly how are we going to travel?" Astra 4 asks. "There's not enough room on the wolf's back for all of us, and anyway that might rather overload her. The carry-cots are too heavy for humans or elves to carry over long distances, but if we let the wolf carry them I'm afraid she might run off." "Well, I think you should ride her as you did before," Seeker replies. "We elves can walk alongside. We've got some ropes amongst our supplies, so we should be able to tie all three cots securely to the wolf's back." "All right," says Astra 4. "I must warn you, though, that I don't know how to steer or how to stop her. There must be a way, since her previous rider - the shaman I assume - must have been able to, but I haven't got the knack. So if she decides to bolt, you will just have to follow as best you may." Since her babies are now old enough to stay awake most of the day, they will prevent that happening, being too intrigued by the elves to want the wolf to abandon them. And in any case, Elf Death has taken quite a shine to E'eysha, somehow recognising her as being a "sister" to the mother of her darlings, and is unlikely to desert her. Astra 4 doesn't know any of that, of course.

So they set off, with Elf Death happy to walk alongside the elves. "You ought to consider giving the wolf a name," B'Elanna says to Astra 4. "How about Elf Friend?" suggests E'eysha. "The way she licked my face when she found us, that seems appropriate." So that is agreed. "Talking of names," says Seeker, "mine no longer seems appropriate. It doesn't sound elvish, and I no longer have a primary role of reconnaissance and exploration. If B'Elanna is happy with the change, I shall call myself Elrondir." "Yes, that sounds nice. I shall keep my old name - or at least the B'Elanna part of it - I think. That sounds like an elven name. But I shall discard the Torres part."

"Can I give you a bit of advice?" Astra 4 asks Gilmuriel a little later, as he walks beside Elf Friend. When he nods, she goes on: "It might be tactful not to make too much of a thing about your having killed twenty dragons, for all the heroism it must have involved. I'm sure that all the ones you killed deserved it, but over recent months a lot of people have had their eyes opened to the fact that dragons are not automatically evil, but that some are kind and noble. And one of your analogs not only married a dragon, but went so far as to become a dragon himself to do so." "I'll be discreet. I must say that the idea of good dragons takes a bit of getting used to. In my Terra, it never occurred to anyone that there was any way of dealing with a dragon other than killing it. I just hope that all the ones I killed truly deserved it. At least none of those I killed bore the name of Malachi."

Gilmuriel expects that they will reach the edge of the forest before the end of the day, but that does not happen. Whilst elves have great stamina, their stride is shorter than a human's so that they do not walk quite so fast. Also, even though they breakfasted late, they have to make a stop in mid-afternoon for Astra 4 to feed her babies again; though they are old enough to go through the night without being fed, they still need feeding every six hours or so during the day. It takes her the best part of an hour to feed all seven, so they decide that with only an estimated couple of hours of daylight left they may as well make camp for the night where they are. Elf Friend brings them some more rabbits for their evening meal, and the elves collect some berries.

When dusk falls, the elves take turns to keep watch. Astra 4 is excused this duty since she has had no sleep for over 36 hours, and has been yawning for the last hour. The night passes without incident.

In the morning, they have breakfast and proceed on their way. Gilmuriel expects them to reach the edge of the forest within a couple of hours, but the day wears on and they there is still no sign of an end to the trees. He becomes increasingly concerned. The benign explanation is that the forest simply extends much further on Terra Prime than on his own world, at least in the direction that he has chosen.

  1. The more worrying possibility is that they could be in the grip of some enchantment of the forest.

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2/12/2000 1:10:19 PM

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