It was nearing twilight on a warm midsummer’s eve and the road leading into the Great Forest, in spectacular disrepair from its many years of disuse, seemed as empty as ever. A fawn was standing in the shade of a tall elm tree grazing on an unkempt patch of grass when a sudden and loud squeak caused it to raise its head and look around in alarm. Within seconds the animal had returned to the protection of the trees. It needn’t have bothered though, for the source of the disturbance was not to be known. When Goran chose to shield his movements from unfriendly eyes, he always succeeded.
The precaution of turning his carriage invisible was a most unnecessary one; none of his people had been around their kind for years. He wouldn’t be here himself if it were not for these extreme circumstances.
“Darling, is it really necessary to go in there? Couldn’t they meet us out here?” his wife asked, eyeing the trees apprehensively.
“No, Lydia dear, they could not. What if we were followed?”
“Nonsense. We’ve been traveling for hours already. Surely we would have detected – “
“I am not the only one who can cloak our movements, Lydia.”
“I know that.” Lydia looked down at the tiny bundle in her arms, a sad expression on her face. “Are you quite certain we cannot work out a way to keep them?”
“We have already discussed this. How would it look if it were found out our children were like them? We would be endangering their lives as well as our own.”
“I think we have enough power between us to hide . . . their differences,” Lydia argued, not taking her eyes off the baby boy in her arms. “I cannot stand the thought that our precious children will be raised by them.”
Goran looked down at the baby girl he held in his arms. He agreed with his wife; it was the most unfortunate of circumstances that landed them with two children who possessed The Power. If the Senator ever found out . . .
“Goran, darling, are you absolutely sure we can’t find a way of hiding their abnormalities?” his lady asked again.
Goran understood the desperation behind the question. Try as he might, he could find only one acceptable solution. The best hope of survival for these two unfortunate children lay in this accursed forest, with their kind. They had been successful in hiding among the trees for many a year, perhaps that success would be extended to his children as well.
“The Senate would not dare to question us, would they?”
“You know the tests are a matter of public record, Lydia. The Senate has a dedicated staff that examines birth records. It will be a miracle if they do not already know.”
“But . . . “ Lydia’s eyes moved from the baby boy in her arms to the baby girl in her husband’s, “could we not flee with them then?”
“Do you want to spend your life running? The Senate has power over all these lands.”
“But you are the Senator’s right-hand –“
“Which makes it worse. If the Senate insists on the torture and murder of simple tree-dwellers, how do you think he would react if one of his own disgraced him by having children like that?”
Lydia knew the Senator well enough that she would not doubt these words. Nevertheless, Goran wanted to ensure she was quite clear on what would happen to them if they tried to escape. Recalling a memory he would rather forget, Goran placed his hand over Lydia’s. Immediately, warmth flowed down his arm and into her as images began to move through his mind.
It was the dead of night; the full moon provided the only source of light. Figures in blue-white cloaks were silhouetted standing close together in a circle. An air of eager anticipation mixed with the fear emanating from a tiny knot of people huddled together in the centre. All was quiet but for a small whimper from one of the prisoners.
“Tears will not save you,” the Senator spoke in his most callous voice. He broke from the circle and stepped forward. “You have been caught trying to bewitch defenseless laborers in our city. What explanation have you to offer?”
The knot shifted slightly and three figures became distinguishable: a man, and a woman with a child clutched tightly in her arms. That child could have been no older than twelve moons.
“What you call bewitchment, we call enlightenment,” the man said with a steady voice, staring directly at the Senator. The moonlight shone on his face, illuminating his determined expression.
“Enlightenment, you say? Using your witchcraft to turn our children against us, to take over our world? For that is what your kind desires.” Much as it had done with the prisoner, the moon threw the Senator’s face into sharp relief. He looked crazed as he pulled a wand from the inside pocket of his white robes and pointed it at the man.
“Go ahead, kill me. Your actions will not stop the rebellion.”
These words, and the steady voice in which the man spoke had clearly unnerved the Senator. His wand fell a little as his eyes narrowed in suspicion and disbelief. Goran and the other white-robed men stared at their leader, unsure how to react to this unexpected show of weakness.
The Senator rapidly recovered himself and a wide smile played across his face, increasing the look of madness he wore. He pointed his wand at the child. Seeing this, the woman began to whimper louder and attempted to shield her baby, but to no avail. Quite suddenly the baby began to spasm. Two cries rent the night air, the mother’s and the baby’s . . .
Goran removed his hand from Lydia’s arm. She was looking pale and rather ill, her eyes were wide with horror.
“Torture, Lydia, he’s well practiced at it. I daresay he enjoys it.”
This experience silenced Lydia’s objections entirely and they traveled on quietly, the newborn babies sleeping soundly against their parents. After ten uneventful minutes their carriage came to an abrupt stop and the ball of light illuminating it’s interior was extinguished.
“What happened?” Lydia asked.
“We have been detected,” Goran said, withdrawing his wand. “Stay here until I say it is safe.” He handed the baby girl to his wife and slowly stepped from the carriage trying to retain a modicum of calmness.
The trees on either side of the road were blocking out the moonlight, but the forest looked empty. Goran did not let this lure him into a false sense of security. Carriages did not stop on their own. There had to be some of them around.
“I come in peace,” he called to the empty forest.
“A likely story.” The voice seemed to come from the trees themselves.” None of your kind has entered these woods for many years. What brings you into The Great Forest in the dead of night?”
“I come to beg your mercy, and your favor,” Goran called, clutching his wand even tighter.
“You ask for our mercy when you show us none? What makes you think we should spare your life, let alone honor your request?”
“I have two of your kind with me . . . my children. I bring them to you for sanctuary.” Goran could make out shadows moving beyond the limited range of his vision. “Please. I will offer you anything. You – you know who I am what influence I have –“
“Which you would use to betray us at the first opportunity.”
A tall man with dark hair and beard appeared mere feet from the carriage. He made no move other than to come closer, but a great sense of power emanated from him. Goran’s trepidation increased; he resisted the urge to raise his wand.
“Will you help?” he asked, not daring to take his eyes off of this tree-dweller.
“You assume too much, coming here uninvited. It would be well within our power to kill you.”
“You would murder two innocent children?” Goran asking, knowing that they did not attack without provocation. He had been counting on this when he made the decision to bring his children here. He waited impatiently while the man watched him, trying to ignore the unpleasant sensation that he was being searched.
“Bring the children to me.”
Goran hastened to obey. He reached in and took his daughter from Lydia, and held her still. The man made no effort to take the child. He stared at little Dragana intently for several minutes before he looked up suddenly.
“Where is the other child?” he asked hastily. Within seconds Hagen was in his father’s arms. The man watched him sleeping contentedly for several seconds before turning his back. “Who knows that these children have been born?”
“Many people knew my wife was pregnant. When the test showed they were –“
“You subjected your wife and unborn children to such brutality?” The sense of power emanating from the man increased again; he was angry.
“It is mandatory in the Senate,” Goran said quickly, detesting the justified note in his voice.
The man appeared not to be listening. He had taken Hagen from Goran and turned his back. Another wave of power or energy pulsed from the man. Goran was just able to demand an explanation these actions, when several more shapes emerged from within the trees and walked onto the road. He nodded to each in turn and then turned back to Goran.
“We will take these children. You and your wife need not worry for their safety. They will be raised with great care, and well protected. They must be handed over rapidly. You and your wife are missed from your birthing house. Returning promptly will be crucial to the believability of your tale. It is already suspicious for you to go off on your own after two suck children were born.”
Many questions flooded through Goran’s mind as he persuaded his wife to relinquish Dragana into the care of the tree-dwellers. It was always going to be hard letting their children go, and was not helped along by the rapidity with which they had to depart. It was the man who finally sped them on their way with what was meant to be a comforting word for Lydia.
“Never fear, you and your children shall be reunited. Your children will be cared for as if they were our own. If the powers we have area accurate in this matter, leaving your children with us will help them achieve their true greatness.”
Lydia appeared comforted by these words, however slightly, and stepped back into the carriage. Before he joined her, Goran turned back to the man, who was holding Dragana in his arms.
“What great achievements do you speak of?”
The man looked down at the baby girl and then at Goran. For the second time he felt as if he was being searched. It was after the longest silence since their meeting that an answer was given.
“These two children may be the key to ending our troubles with the Senate.”
How could two helpless infants have any power to influence a decades old war? Perhaps the decision to leave the children with these people had been the wrong one after all.
“Do not doubt, Goran. It was not mere desperation that led you to us. Greater powers than either you or I possess are at work here. Now you must go before your absence raises suspicion.”
There was no full moon this evening. Once the carriage emerged from the trees the entire forest was swallowed by the darkness. Goran and Lydia sat in silence, speaking only sparingly and always to voice their doubt about the decision they just made. Were their children really going to bring an end to the war? Had they, as the parents, done the right thing by leaving their children with a group they knew very little about?
Only time would tell.