Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shepherds of the Ancient Forests II

Those who Shelter the Sacred Groves

Fantasy equal: Ent

The forests of the Tsitsikamma are transformed after a week long rainfall. All its flora and fauna seem to rejoice in its rejuvenated embrace. Winged creatures chirp to their heart’s content. The ancient trees sway ever so slightly as they stretch their roots. And furry critters brush their fur after a long due shower. You breathe in deep as you allow the forest air to fill your lungs. You are in your element, clear of mind and pleased to share in the wonders of the forest with the one you secretly love.

His name is André, your best friend since you can remember. You were neighbours and grew up side by side. In primary school you had your very own club; a two member club for the most part, where you only invited a selected few occasionally to join in on your fun. The secret base was at the empty plot behind your house. The base was naturally constructed by two thickets and a large oak tree. In the centre of the triangle formed by the tree and the thickets there was a clearing. To access this clearing the two of you had to crawl through a small tunnel formed by the roots of the tree. Later years you could hardly squeeze yourselves in as you grew larger.

You made the space as homely and waterproof as possible by making use of unwanted building material and genius kiddie engineering. Here you devised all your plans and experiments. It was also home to your treasures, like your slingshots, marbles, some sweets (only those with proper wrappers) and the naughty magazine André found in his dad’s closet.

Almost every weekend you had a sleepover; one weekend at his house and the next at yours. It was rather handy being neighbours. If you forgot a particular TV game cassette, you could just pop in next door and be back in a flash, given you knew exactly where it was in the area of chaos that was your room.

The day the plot was cleared was a sad day. The plot was sold and construction of a new house commenced soon after. By this time you were starting your high school careers. You took the exact same subjects and so managed to be in the same classes. You even partook in the same sports. You were a formidable duo on the attacking front of your field hockey team. Over weekends you played with your neighbourhood friends; hide-and-seek, tok-tokkie, blokke, and of course pc and TV games. You were always allies during a network game and avoided each others’ territory if you were forced to be on opposing sides.

You observe him with much admiration and respect as he walks ahead of you. He has all the characteristics you would one day like in your partner; kindness, intelligent but modest about it, creativity, a love for nature and animals to name a few personality traits. We should not even get you started on his physical attributes. You swoon every time you see him shirtless (yet you have never seen him naked), only from quick glimpses as you are afraid of him noticing your glances are too keen. You are convinced it would ruin your cherished friendship if he ever was to discover your secret crush.

The two of you climb down a steep hill as you venture deeper into the forest. Droplets of water leap from the forest canopy and plunge all around you in a chorus of soft notes. The moist soil makes it tricky to reach the area below. Suddenly André slips and instinctively grabs on to the nearest object; your arm. You are caught off balance and both of you tumble down the hill. You are hurled against a tree trunk which stops you from tumbling further down. Totally dazed and in awkward pain you take a moment to regain your wits before checking on André. He answers in a rather faint voice...

“I think everything is still in tact. I should really invest in a hiking staff. I’m going to cause the death of both of us someday due to my clumsiness. Sorry for taking you down with me,” says André.

“No harm done,” you reply.

You pull on a nearby branch to help you get to your feet. As you do so you could have sworn the tree moved. All of a sudden two bulky tree trunks come swooping down towards you and André. The two of you are engulfed by a giant wooden claw each. André yelps from shock where you are dumbfounded. Within a hard, thorny grasp your eyes meet that of the tree’s. Moments pass as the two of you observe the other. His giant green eyes are fixed on you; feeling as if his glance is piercing your very being in search of your soul.

“Bu-ra-rum!” the ent exclaims in a slow, booming voice. “Why have you awoken me from my deep slumber? It is not yet time to welcome the sweet embrace of spring.”

“The tree is talking... what on earth is happening?!” André yelps.

“Calm down, André,” you reply. For some reason you are rather relaxed. You can sense from the ent that he is not a malevolent tree spirit. He is simply an ancient spirit who has been disturbed from his rest.

“We apologize, great spirit. We did not mean to disturb you from your state of slumber. We have fallen down the slope there yonder and fortunately for us, you have saved us from spiralling further down,” you address the ent.

“In that case, glad I could be of assistance, Shepherd,” the ent says. The ent releases the two of you from his twiggy grasp and place you firmly on the moist soil. “You have bumped your heads against the roots of Blessedbark. That is my name. What be your names, young masters?”

“I am called [Insert your name here] and this is my good friend, André,” you respond to his question. Blessedbark’s gaze falls onto André. André cowers at first, but as the ent peers into his soul, he also gains a calmer state of mind. “Why have you called me Shepherd?” you ask.

“You do not know? You have the spirit of a Shepherd of the Forest. Both of you have. They were an order of mystic beings who have safeguarded us forest dwelling beings from humans and the evil they ensue. Ages ago the humans started to capture us, torture and experiment on us, in order to find the source of our mystical powers. Few humans then were bestowed magical powers and only very few today still have a remnant of that magical power. The Shepherds of the Forests specifically warded we who dwell in woods and forests; ents, dryads, nymphs, fairies, satyrs, there are quite a few of us who dwell across the Veil here amongst you still,” Blessedbark explains.

Soon Blessedbark gently lifts you and Andre and places you on his shoulders. Off he goes even deeper into the forest towards his home, named Blessed Grove. The beauty and enchantment of the forest grows greater the deeper you venture forth. Much to your delight you steal glimpses of shy creatures peering at you from behind the cover of trees, ferns and mushrooms. As soon as the faeries and nymphs realise you have spotted them, they immediately retreat and hide themselves once more. André giggles at their surprised expressions. You realize that they must not be used to humans being able to see them.

After a slow ride you finally reach Blessed Grove. It is magnificent... You are greeted by welcoming warmth and your sense of sight is bedazzled by an arrangement of soft, pink lights. As you look down you observe a stream and the tiny flickering lights of white and pink dancing on its peaceful surface. As you look up you marvel at the majesty of the ancient trees. A whole family adjoined by hand would not be able to hug one of these trees, so wide are their stems. The most incredible part of the grove is the single tree located at its center. The warmth and light of the grove is sourced by this single tree, which is much smaller in comparison to her surrounding kin, yet her beauty and majesty is unmatched. She reminds you of an azalea bonsai, the perfect bonsai. Everything about her is in complete balance. No matter from which angle you glance at her, you’ll always marvel at her pink radiance and splendour. You are drawn to her. She whispers your name.

“’Blessed Grove’ is not only my home, but that of the Heart of the Forest and the rest of us. The Sacred Tree you are looking at provides us magical folk the means of staying on this side of the Veil. It is here where our ancestors discovered a new earth and it is here where my brethren and I were born and wish to dwell,” says Blessedbark.

“I am one of many of its guardians. Long has it been since Shepherds have laid eyes on it. It, of course, knows you are here and is pleased that not one but two members of the long lost order have returned. Come, she beseeches your council....”

“Bara-rum! I almost forgot! Folk of the forest despise anything unnatural or artificial, especially the Heart of the Forest. You are to present yourselves in a respectable fashion by removing your clothes. Here you have no need for such mocking cover,” says Blessedbark.

Blessedbark strikes a nerve.

“Completely naked?” you ask Blessedbark.

“It is our custom. We are all in our natural state. She would not have it any other way,” says Blessedbark whilst gesturing at his own body. Only now do you notice that an Ent resembles the male body more than you thought it would. Blessedbark has a great wooden blade dangling between his two stumps for legs!

André shrugs, turns around and hesitantly starts undressing. You follow suit... Soon enough the two of you stand sky-clad next to Blessedbark, both covering the most vital bits with your hands. You wriggle your toes nervously, not even sensing the grass is feather soft. You peer at André and notice he is just as uncomfortable as you are. Blessedbark pushes the both of you along towards the Heart of the Forest. As you approach her divine embrace you sense the warmth she emits even more so. It lifts your heart and purges your mind of all its worries and troubles. You let go of your shyness and with new found grace and self-assurance you respectfully bow to her. She addresses you and André both in a haunting, melodic voice. The pink light she emits faintly intensifies with each vowel she utters.

“Hallowed am I and my kin to have two Shepherds of the Forest amongst our midst once more. And thank you Blessedbark for finding our long lost guardians and leading them here,” says the Heart of the Forest as Blessedbark nods in recognition.

“You must have many unanswered questions. I shall restore your beings to its former state. Soon then your spirits shall remember the old ways. Then you shall be able to fulfil your destiny, Shepherds... Renewed is your knowledge of the ways of forest. Renewed is your bond with the magical kin. Renewed are your skills and powers... Renewed you return to us... You bring us a flicker of hope. With your aid, maybe man and magical folk, once more, will share this earth in peace and prosperity,” says the Heart of the Forest.

“Thank you, Mother,” both you and André respond synchronously.

“Blessedbark is to be your ward. He shall guide and enlighten and prepare you. We shall meet soon again, Shepherds,” says the Heart of the Forest.

Once again Blessedbark lifts you up and place the both of you on his shoulders. He follows one of the dark paths leading from the clearing.

“Who would have thought mythical beings actually exists?! And that we are descendents of an ancient order who served as their guardians?! This is all so surreal!” André exclaims. “I don’t feel any different, nor do I now have any of that knowledge she mentioned. I wonder what these skills and powers are she mentioned.”

“You’ll find out soon enough, young Shepherds,” Blessedbark responds.

“Oh, how mysterious... seems like we’re in for more surprises,” you say.

Being naked has completely slipped your mind as you and André ponder about what powers the Shepherds of the Ancient Forests actually had at their disposal. Blessedbark smiles at some of your thoughts, for he knows the super hero powers you guess are not that far off from what you and André soon will be able to perform.

Amongst your ramblings you hear the faint sound of dripping water in the distance. With every giant step Blessedbark takes, the sound becomes more audible up until you reach the source. Blessedbark has led you to a small spring. Drops of water trickle from a peculiar looking rock, almost the shape of a great bird bath. As the drops topple towards the earth, they are captured by the giant multi-coloured leaves of an unknown plant, which gently directs the water to the surrounding flora. It is as if the plant shares his bounty of water with his rivals.

Blessedbark lifts you from his shoulders and lowers you gently until your feet touch the moist earth. You wriggle your toes again, this time enjoying the softness and squishiness underneath each of your toes. You notice Blessedbark doing something similar with his root like feet; probably absorbing some of the water. Even André is pressing his toes into the squishiness. Oh, what handsome feet he has; large and manly and shaped perfectly. You even adore the small tufts of hair at the base of each of his toes. His feet support his strong, well-formed legs. Playing hockey has done wonders for his chiselled calve and bulging quad muscles... You gasp as you come to the realization you are staring at his blade and pommel gems happily dangling in their new found freedom. You glance at your blade and are rather pleased to see your blades must have been forged by the same blacksmith, for they look rather similar. Both of you are ringbearers and have swords that tend to be on the thinner, but longer side.

“Wow”, you think to yourself. You then look the other way before you get yourself battle ready. Little did you know that at that moment André was eying your weaponry right after.

Your Ent friend now has a wooden goblet in his hand. He lowers and keeps it below the outer rim of the rock’s basin and allows it to fill up half way with the clear spring water. He then drops a pinch of earth into the goblet, along with a piece of his bark, the tip of a giant fern leaf, a piece of one of the giant mushrooms, a brown feather and a small lock of dark hair. Where did he get all those items and so quickly? He mixes the concoction with his finger. As he removes his finger, the goblet starts to glow green from inside, only for a moment.

He hands you the goblet and says, “This, my friends, should restore the essence of your Shepherd spirits. Within this goblet are the seeds of all the powers you shall need in the days to come. Drink up and soon those seeds will sprout and grow and enmesh with your beings.”

You and André hesitantly do as Blessedbark commands. The concoction tastes sweet, which you did not anticipate. It tastes like the gum from a tree. You don’t feel any different after you’ve taken a few sips.

“Night shall veil the forest in darkness soon. I suspect the two of you are weary from the day’s excitement. Please find a bed of soft and fragrant grass and ferns behind you. I shall see you tomorrow morning again and greet you as Shepherds,” says Blessedbark.

The two of you were weary indeed. You only uttered a few words from the day’s events before both of you drifted off into a deep slumber...

Before dawn you find yourself lying in André’s arms. You must have crept into his arms. You feel uncomfortable, yet at home at the same time. You close your eyes for a few more winks when André suddenly moved from his spooning position. As he moves you feel something poking you at your one butt cheek. As the unknown object slides away you turn your head to face your friend.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hold you like that... I feel so embarrassed...” André says in a shaky voice.

The enigmatic, glowing mushrooms around you illuminates his sad face with various shades of green. As he looks away in shame you notice his facial features are somewhat different. His hair is thicker. His wavy locks gleam in the forest light. Somehow one of his locks of hair is braided, with the tip of the lock fastened with a feather. His eyebrows too are bushier and shaped like antlers... his chest is now garlanded in wondrous fur, now even more so than before. You touch his furry chest and confirm at some spots the fur is in fact bark. This same natural feature is situated at his forearms and underarms and probably down by his...

You witness the culprit of the poking you received earlier. André tries to cover his glorious battle-ready blade as much as he can, but with little success.

“So there’s something I need to tell you,” says André, looking at you with a heart rendering facial expression. “With you lying so close next to me I could not resist but to take you in my arms. I have always been attracted to you. The touch and the smell of the one I have yearned for for so long now has gotten me all...”

You smile at André before he can finish his sentence. You pull yourself up from where you have reclined and reveal your battle-ready blade to your friend.

“As you can see, the feeling is totally mutual, my dear tree hugging friend,” you tell André. You lean forward and sit right in front of him. Here you fold your legs around his torso. Now with an excited facial expression he follows suit. Your blades meet in battle, your lips lock with his and exploring hands slither across tempting skin. The taste of his mouth is masculine and salty, his smell alluring and his touch inviting.

After several moments of kissing and caressing, you take a break to feast your eyes on the new Shepherd bodies you have developed. Blessedbark and the Heart of the Forest have endowed your bodies with the essence of nature. Your skin has become as resilient as bark. Your beings have become stronger and more muscular. You can feel immense strength in your hands and your feet now are covered by a network of roots.

You are in tune with nature and your surroundings. You can sense the state of the trees around you, as well as the other flora, the earth and even nearby beings. You close your eyes and absorb the knowledge of the immediate area nature reveals to your spirit. You enjoy your new found ability up until André distracts you by bashing his blade against yours.

“Have you noticed not only do we have bigger, stronger muscles, but our blades as well. Well mine now certainly has become a whopper,” André says giggling.

Not only were your blades larger, but your full pommel gems rested on the ground like juicy, ripe fruit a tree was unwilling to carry any longer.

“Indeed,” you respond. You embrace André firmly whisper in his ear; “This is absolutely the most cherished day of my life thus far and I have a feeling there is to be many such days to come, as long as I have you by my side. Not only shall I be a Shepherd of the Forest, but a Shepherd of your heart as well.”

This then concludes my little tale of the Shepherds of the Forest II. It is definitely one of my favourite themes to work on as I consider myself a tree hugger. The fantasy connection, of course, is the majestic Ent, a.k.a Treant. This story has taken me so long to write that my laziness has forced me to snatch a description of the ent online. Here is a description of Treebeard, the oldest of the Middle-earth Ents as described by Tolkien; “A large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends. But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.”

The only movie appearance of Ents I have come across would be in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are several games however where you play as an Ent, have one as an ally, or even have to defend yourself against the onslaught of dark Ents. These games include Heroes of Newerth, Icewind Dale II, the World of Warcraft series, as well as the Heroes of Might and Magic series.

“Ents, also called Onodrim by the elves, are a very old race that appeared in Middle-earth when the elves did. They were apparently created by Eru Ilúvatar at the behest of Yavanna after she learned of Aulë's children, the Dwarves, knowing that they would want to fell trees. Ents were envisioned as Shepherds of the Trees, to protect the forests from orcs, Dwarves and other perils. The Elves have tales of teaching the trees and the Ents to talk: although the Ents were sentient beings at the time, they did not know how to speak until the Elves taught them. Treebeard spoke of the Elves "curing the Ents of their dumbness" that it was a great gift that could not be forgotten ("always wanted to talk to everything, the old Elves did").”

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