“I forbid it!” shouted the Wardruid, and the entire house shook at the sound of his staff. His eyes blazed like the embers after a forest fire, the vines wrapped around the wooden columns and tightened their grip, and the animals of the grove howled in unison.

His elven family looked away, embarrassed and frightened. Glowleaf especially so, since he had been the one to cause this outburst. “F-Father, I…”

“Enough!” the Wardruid cut him off.

His wife touched his arm gently. Apparently her gentle touch was enough to calm the beast that threatened to escape her husband’s considerable power of will.

“Enough,” he repeated, calmer now, but with no less conviction. He looked at each one of his family members around the table, meeting their gaze and winning the staring contest before moving on to the next. Sunleaf, Darkleaf. The last one, the most unfortunate, was the eldest son, Glowleaf. “You will remain at your home and finish your studies.”

“But father,” Glowleaf complained as if he was a child forty years younger, “I’ve been studying for sixty years now!”

“The mere fact that you think that’s enough speaks volumes of your naivete. Son, one day you will pick up my mantle. You will be the one to defend the grove. Until then, you must train, you must study, and most importantly, you must stay here where you belong.”

Glowleaf opened his mouth to speak, then shut it. He looked at his brother for support. “Darkleaf, please. Tell father how you too think the grove is boring. How we talked about visiting the human city. How we want to go out, explore the world, see its wonders. It’s just one year. What harm can one measly year do when we have a thousand of them to spend in the grove?”

He expected his brother to agree, to support his argument, to stand up against their father and convince him to let them go. Together, like they had dreamt about.

Darkleaf chuckled. “I have never said such a thing. I’m happy to finish my studies and take up our family’s duties in the grove, brother.”

“But you said-“

“Surely, it was the wine talking, brother.” Darkleaf looked back at father and bowed his head. “Fantasies. It was never a real plan. Not for me, at least.”

Their mother went to grab Glowleaf’s arm. She looked up at him, though an imposing woman, she wasn’t as tall as the three men of her family. “What about your betrothed, Glowleaf? What will she think if you abandon her?”

Glowleaf felt uncomfortable at the thought of leaving Lemonia, sure. They knew each other since they were kids, betrothed to each other since before they were even born. By the gods, they didn’t even know what that actually meant until a few years ago. They were both a hundred years old, teenagers by elven standards, barely young adults.

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Things moved maddeningly slow in the elven grove, and that was exactly what drove Glowleaf insane. It was that trade caravan from the human city, Patra. The elves weren’t completely isolated, they were just cautious of the quick races, which meant pretty much everybody. When he saw the humans from afar, being loud, obnoxious but interesting, with no regard for the forest but with the courage to risk getting an arrow between the eyes at the prospect of a good trade, he was fascinated. He kept running the outskirts of the forest, and though he kept his distance, he watched the humans and the other races from afar.

Things moved so fast in their world. There was so much going on.

But in the grove…

Sigh.

Glowleaf took in a deep breath and then let it go. “Father, I promise. It’ll only be for a year. Nothing ever happens in the grove. It’s so maddeningly boring. These are the same trees, the same houses, the same people that I’ve known all my life. I want to explore. I want to see the world.”

The Wardruid’s eyes looked tired, but his attention was on his son. “The world of the humans.”

“Yes!” Glowleaf threw his arms up in the air and started walking around the dinner table. It was alive, grown out of the root of the house’s tree. All houses had a tree, and their house had one that had provided for the grove for a thousand years.

The Wardruid was not the chief, but he had protected the grove against a thousand enemies.

He had the scars to prove it. His father was imposing, tough, and full of scars. The fact that he possessed magical healing that could restore almost any wound back to health was indicative of what those things were that had managed to leave those scars.

Dark magic.

Not evil. Just dark.

He dared to look up at his father’s face. He didn’t look angry anymore, just disappointed. “I just want to see the world.”

Everybody turned to the Wardruid for his final say.

“I forbid it,” he said with a low, rumbling voice and then turned his back and walked out of the dining hall, his staff turning into a boa and slithering after him.

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