Legend of the Mad Druid
Some 82 years ago in the year 370 E.R. on a cool early summer evening, a son was born to Oldos Korand in the little village of Searwillow near Lockshir, Ertain. The day was at the same time one of happiness and joy, but also of deepest sorrow. The child's birth was hard and Oldos was lucky to receive a healthy son. But it was too much for his fragile elven wife, Liathaliana, who died due to heavy loss of blood while giving birth to her firstborn child.
Despite the hardships of being a single parent and a man at that, Oldos managed to bring up the boy, Thalar and take care of their farm. The boy had inherited the physical features of his mother, jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes. His form was lean and he had long limbs and slender fingers.
In ten years time Thalar had grown strong enough to help his father in the daily chores of farming and raising cattle. Hardened by the poor life of a farmer and the death of his wife, Oldos was unable to give the child the love he needed. Thalar had no one to show him affection and it was obvious to the boy that the man who had conceived him considered him responsible for Liathaliana's death.
There was not much to do other than work for a boy with no friends, so during his scarce free time he wandered the lands surrounding the village. During those trips Thalar soon learned that animals acted differently from humans. They protected their offspring and strived to find enough food to feed them, regardless of any dangers they might have to face doing so. Even against a much more powerful enemy the parents and especially the mother defended the children even at the cost of her own life. The boy found he felt something new and pleasant towards the animals that he had never felt for any human. A strange affection brought him to the animals again and again until his new friends learned to trust him completely. All the time he drifted further away from the other villagers and was considered a bit odd by them but, as long as he did his work, his father was satisfied.
It came as a shock to him one day, only a week after his 13th birthday, when his father and some men from the village went to the forest he had always played in. They carried big saws and huge axes and started felling acres of trees. The men gave no heed to the animals that dwelt in and a round the forest, or the ancient trees that had stood in the grove for centuries. Thalar rushed to his father with tears in his eyes. He begged for him and the others to stop and cried for a reason for the horrible act. It was the first and last time Oldos hit him. He slapped the boy hard and ordered him to stop crying; there was a fortune in the wood he said. Rich people in the nearby city needed wood to warm their mansions and castles and they were willing to pay enormous amounts of gold for it. Despite Thalar's continuous complaining and pleading, the logging went on for the whole autumn that year. When the snow finally fell, there were almost no trees left around the village within a mile's radius.
Next summer Oldos planned to venture even further from their home to cut down more trees. He had plans for his only son to continue the family trade when he was too old, and decided it was time for the boy to grow up and learn the necessary skills.
Thalar, however, had different plans. He was not going to help his father rape nature in any way. The friends he had made among the animals and the places in the forest he had held dear were all gone now. There was nothing that held him back anymore. One night he stole away from home, took his fathers saws and axes with him, and once far enough away, burned the tools. He then swore to protect nature from abuse and left the area with a determined look on his face.
In the local tavern the boy had once listened to the tales of a drunken merchant from far away. He had told the lad of a mighty forest near a city called Lynx. According to the words of the old man, the trees in the wood were straight as a knight's lance and tall as the mountains. It was to this mighty forest that Thalar was heading.
It took the young man two weeks to get to Lynx Forest. His provisions ran out after two days and he was forced to beg for living. The rotten vegetables and moldy pieces of bread kept him alive, but only barely, and when he finally reached the woods, he was totally exhausted and starving.
His first glimpse of the magnificent broadleaved trees took his breath away. The old trader had been right in his drunken gibberish. Thalar entered the forest without a second thought, and soon became aware of an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility as he began to walk amongst its mighty trees.
After wandering in the forest for a day and refreshing himself with berries and roots, the young farmer's son came upon two men planting saplings in a burned over clearing. Both men were dressed in earth colored clothes and carried no weapons other than oaken staves. Though Thalar had moved quietly, the older of the men stood up and looked straight at him with a warm smile on his face. He beckoned for the lad to come closer and offered him a wineskin filled with sweet water. "It took you some time to find us, did it not? Welcome to Lynx Forest, stranger. My name is Erdos and this is my son Aethon. We are the guardians of this mighty forest by Kith-jora's will." The men invited Thalar to join them for dinner at their home, and naturally he agreed.
Over the course of the meal, Thalar found himself telling the story of his life to the two men and Erdos' wife Ania. After failing to convince the boy to return home, Erdos offered him a place to stay for the night. He told them he and his son were druids by profession and that, with the Kings permission, they took care of the Lynx Forest. Instead of sleeping that night, Thalar left the little cabin that served as the family's home and walked through the woods until dawn. By morning he had his mind made up. He was not going back and wanted to stay to learn the ways of the druids. He would not stretch the hospitality of the small family any further, but asked if he could stay in some distant corner of the forest by himself. Erdos saw Thalar had his mind set and smiled. "I cannot let you stay by yourself, until you've learned enough about surviving in the woods. You will stay with us and we will teach you everything you need to know."
Three years later Thalar still found himself living with Erdos and his family. During this time they had become his family too. He had learned the basic skills of tending the trees and the animals very fast. He had natural ability and had shown great enthusiasm to learn more. By that time Aethon had left his parents to take care of the northern parts of the Lynx Forest and Erdos decided to take Thalar as his apprentice. He tutored the young half-elf in the teachings of Kith-jora, the Lord of Nature, taught him the correct prayers to the god and the identities of all the plants and animals in the forest.
Thalar learned quickly and soon there was nothing new Erdos could teach him. Still he welcomed the novice druid to stay and live with them as long as he liked. He would even get a part of the forest to care on his own, but Erdos wanted him to follow the plans he had devised for the forest as a whole. Thalar wanted more however. He wanted a place that was his and his alone. He thanked his mentor and his family for all the good they had done and with his pet raven on his shoulder set out to explore the world.
For years to come the lonesome druid traveled the lands of Ertain and its neighboring nations. He searched for a place to call his own, but found that the few forests that suited his plans were already inhabited by other people. Tribes of orcs and other goblinoids had made some woods their homes, peasants inhabited others, some were terrorized by powerful monsters and a few were even cared for by druids. The fellow followers of the Lord of the Nature felt differently about Thalar's presence. Some felt threatened by the young man, while others welcomed him in their homes. Nowhere could the traveling druid really feel at peace, at home.
During his travels, Thalar found places that were being ravaged by men and monster alike. He felt his god's calling and heard nature's cry for help. Whenever he was able, sometimes even at the risk of his own life, the solitary druid did his best to return peace to such areas. Sometimes he was successful, other times not.
Some 20 years later the young man that was once called Thalar had adopted a nickname given to him by another druid. He now went by the name Raven. The name was fitting; his beaky nose and his ebony hair gave him a bird-like look. He also had a raven with him everywhere he went. The long trips had made his body strong and enduring, but the solitude had also formed his mind. He no longer wished to have any contact with other people, and now feared meeting strangers. The once handsome young man had turned into a wild-eyed, ragged man with filthy hair and dirty old clothes. He had numerous scars across his whole body, including his face. Even Erdos would have had a hard time recognizing him.
Raven did all he could to avoid so-called civilization, cities, towns, and even villages. But from time to time he was forced to visit the centers of human population. He needed information that was only available there; maps, books, writings, stories. He was looking for anything he could find about woods and forests in the country. He also had some urges that could only be satisfied by other people. But as time went by he visited the cities less frequently until finally he entered them no longer.
Finally during one of the last stops among civilization in Felarin Raven finally found what he had been looking for. It was obvious that the great mage Tharandul Gravstave had taken an interest in the lone druid's actions some time before he arrived in the City of Magic. After wandering around the city for a few hours, local guards came to Raven with an invitation to meet the ruler of Felarin. The two men talked first for hours, then days. Their basic visions of the world and its people were totally different, but the two men found one thing they both wanted; something of their own, something to work on, to mould along the lines of their own thinking.
While the men conversed, the Arch-mage considered the lonely, potent druid obsessed with protecting the nature. He was more than certain that eventually, on one of his trips around the land, Raven would either encounter something too strong to defeat and face his doom or, in his fixation, hurt innocent people. Tharandul wanted neither. He knew the druid could be a powerful ally in times of need, but still too dangerous to have roaming Ertain, punishing people for cutting down a few trees.
When he heard what Raven was looking for, the wizard knew just the place. Not far from Felarin, only some ten miles to the southeast, in the middle of Lake Haven, was the Raven Isle. Its name was all too fitting, it was close enough for him to keep an eye on and it was devoid of people. That was not to say the island was empty, quite the contrary. On it lived perhaps the largest colony of ravens one could fine anywhere in one place. Tharandul also knew well that the ghosts of the isle's long-dead inhabitants haunted the ruins on its southern shore. Some 210 years back the thriving town of Tarolen faced an invisible killer. A disease first spread by the black pet-birds of the local lord slowly infected all of the population on the island. Lord Koranthos ordered the Raven Isle into quarantine until the epidemic was over. Unfortunately such a day never came for, as surely as an executioner's axe ends a death-sentenced criminal's life, the terrible fever caused by the disease killed every resident of the island. All of this the mage told the druid and half expected him to turn it down. But Raven took no time to consider the suggestion. He accepted Tharandul's offer and, without another word, the druid used the power given to him by Kith-jora, transformed into an enormous, shining black raven and followed by his much smaller pet, flew away.
From the first moment he laid eyes on the ominous-looking isle, Raven knew he had finally found home. Thethe island was small, perhaps only four to five miles long and a mile wide, shaped like an arrowhead. From three sides the shoreline was virtually impassable. More than a hundred feet of vertical cliffs with almost no handholds surrounded the island from all but the southern shore. Apart from a few clearings and a couple of overgrown fields in the southwestern part, the surface of the island was either covered by a dense mixed forest or bare rocks. Suddenly, as the druid in bird-form circled the island, a flock of black birds flew at him from the trees below. It was not hard for his bigger and stronger wings to put distance between himself and his attackers, but the strangely behaving ravens easily overtook his bird companion. In a mere three heartbeats the smaller raven was torn into a cloud of feathers, blood and bone.
Raven dropped into a dive andtransformed again in midair, this time into a large serpent, and fell into the river below. Using the powerful muscles of his snake-form, he swam against the current until river gave up some of its strength. The large constrictor snaked to the shore and became a man again.
The half-elf druid found himself in the shallows that acted as the ruined towns harbour. More than a century old rotten pales still stuck out from the water and decayed boards of long ago broken down fishing boats littered the sand on the shore. The houses were mostly made of wood, but still standing. They weren't in a good condition, but habitable nevertheless. Tarolen hadn't been a big town, perhaps some four hundred people had once dwelled there. High above the town on a cliff, stood an abandoned castle and behind it he could see a temple of some kind.
The lone man spent the next three days roaming around the island, his island. Behind the temple, which was, to his surprise, devoted to D'hurgen, was a huge graveyard. Almost every member of the community had probably been buried there. There were so many graves set so close to each other that nothing except a few weeds grew at the cemetery. Beyond the town he found only a few ruined structures. In the northeast end of Raven Isle were some rocky hills. On the highest hilltop of the whole island stood the remains of a once mighty tower. Now only the two lowest floors were accessible and the rest was just a pile of debris. Some 200 yards away in the hillside gaped an entrance to some kind of a mine. On the outside were some ramshackle hovels, useless old tools, mining cars and piles of waste rock.
Earlier Raven had decided to make the temple his base for daily trips around the island. As he returned to the town, he heard a great number of wing beats from above. The same group of ravens that attacked him earlier or at least one resembling it very much, came at him from all around. Before the druid had a chance to think, he instinctively transformed himself again, this time into a great grizzly bear. The change came a bit late however. For some reason, unknown to him, the birds that usually only eat carrion, now attacked the living. A couple of beaks got through his flailing hands and bit off pieces of his flesh, and even after the change the ravens still tried to peck the druid. The bear swung its great paws at the birds and tore them into pieces with its sharp fangs. Despite the fact that he was being eaten alive, the druid did not want to hurt the birds more than necessary and ran away as fast as he could. Only the dense vegetation kept him safe until he reached the ruins of the town. Once there he charged inside the temple, changed back to himself,and with great effort managed to push the building's heavy doors shut behind him. From a crack in the ancient wood, the druid watched the strange birds. Instead of trying to find a way inside the temple, they flew without hesitation inside the half-crumbled tower of the castle nearby.
Raven spent the following days observing the birds. It soon became obvious to him that they used the tower as their nest. It was hard for the half-elf to count the exact number of the ravens, but there must have been hundreds of them. They seemed to hunt in large groups only living prey instead of carcasses. Never during his decades of travelling and hours spend in discussion with other druids had he heard of such behavior among the black birds.
Three days after the attack, the druid was going to risk another scouting trip outside the temple, the ravens for some reason appeared to avoid him. Through the previous night he had felt a strange burning around his body where the beaks of the birds had struck. His legs felt weak beneath him and he understood that some sort of disease had taken over him. That was when they came.
The transparent forms seemed to rise from cracks in the broken tiles on the ground. Seeing them Raven ran back inside the temple and shut the door again. The ghosts followed him straight through the doors. They glided from the heavy crossbeams near the roof. Others simply appeared in front of the feverish druid. Most were ghosts of men, although some were of women and even spectres of children came haunting him. The see-through people bore horrible expressions, and they appeared to have died while suffering extreme pain. Their faces were terribly distorted and their eyes glistened with lunacy. Clearly audible loud screams of madness followed waves of insane and incontrollable laughter. For hours Raven tried to run away and hide from them inside the large, ancient temple, but to no avail. He prayed for protection from Kith-jora, but the Lord of Nature has no control over D'hurgen's domain and still the ghost kept coming at him. Finally the fever rose too high for even the druid's toughened body to take and, dripping sweat, he fell into a relieving unconsciousness.
For many days and nights the druid fought the disease transmitted by the ravens. The high fever held him in its claws and he wandered around the island in a state of delirium. Strangely the birds did not attack him. They came close, but as if able to sense the illness, they didn't strike again. The spectres were still there, but in his insane state, Raven merely welcomed their company.
Strong as the disease was, the hardened druid was even stronger. In his ravings he imagined seeing the handsome elven-form of his god many times, and that Kith-jora himself had told him he would survive. Finally when the fever broke a month later, Raven was convinced he was saved by a divine intervention of the Lord of Nature himself. His mind had been damaged by the long-lasting fever, and it had left a mad gleam in his eyes. The druid was now sure that he was the chosen one of his god, chosen to live forever and to save the nature from destruction. During the few sane moments he had every now and then, the lone half-elf understood what had happened and he believed he now carried the disease as well.
Since the birds left him alone after the fever, Raven prayed for a few spells and befriended the leaders of the flock. He started to work on the ravens, and little by little, generation by generation, he shaped the behaviour of the birds to his liking. After some twenty years of research, the druid had created an effective force of around 200 ravens that worshipped him and obeyed his commands. Raven considered the courage to attack larger creatures a good characteristic in the birds, and trained them to be even more effective. He also wanted and needed spies and messengers that could travel around the world quickly delivering messages from and to him. The druid did not want the disease to spread any further, so he made sure that the messenger birds did not carry it. He bred a smaller, but faster subspecies of ravens to carry these messages.
In his madness, Raven formed plans of turning the Raven Isle into one big fortress that would have only one easily guarded entrance point. The island was to become a centre of all nature-defending forces in the world. Before he could start worrying about its borders, he needed to take care of the undead powers working on it from the graveyard and the temple. The mad druid set out to dig up every single skeleton from every single grave in the cemetery. For a week he toiled, completely out of his mind.. He lost all sense of time, didn't eat and only drank the morning dew from leaves of the trees and other plants. In order to make the burial ground completely disappear, Raven had collected seeds of various broadleaved trees and planted one or two inside each skeleton. He then reburied the corpses and using the power of a prayer broke the headstones and crypts into fine gravel.
A year later the once handsome half-elf had cleared a small cornfield from weeds and grass. In addition to the fish in the river, the field was his only source of food. He had put all his experience and skill as well as his unconditional love into creating a fertile area that would provide him with food all year round. As a result Raven had without a doubt the most diverse and fruitful garden in the whole country of Ertain. He channelled his god's powers into the land creating a permanent summer climate in and around it. He also dug an irrigation channel all the way from the hills to provide the garden with sufficient water.
The defence for his home was next on Raven's list of things to do. The mighty cliffs on the northern and eastern edges of the isle were almost enough by themselves, but in his paranoid mind the mad hermit thought them inadequate. He began a long and difficult ritual to summon a powerful elemental lord from the plane of earth. It took him the best part of a day to complete it and all his power to bind the being to the rock wall permanently. 'Goghtar' as the elemental was called made sure that no one except Raven would be able to come within five feet of the cliff without being attacked by it.
The druid needed to rest for a week after the ritual before being able continue his mindless plan to fortify the Raven Isle. He waited for a cloudy and rainy day to come and prepared another ritual for a powerful prayer. This time he channelled Kith-jora's magic miles away around the island and gathered all the winds into one huge storm. The mad druid then guided the gale to the empty village standing on the low southern shores of the island. He stood on top of the single, still standing tower of Raven Hold, as he now called the castle. He had repaired the crumbling building years before by shaping the stone with numerous prayers. His messy, greyish hair streamed and the ragged clothes he was wearing flapped in the wind. With his gleaming eyes the half-elf stared at the destruction below. Over the powerful howling of the wind, rose an insane giggling as Raven enjoyed the devastation caused by the powerful gale. When the storm was finally over, there were no signs left of the village on the shores of the Lake Haven. Even the boats sunk centuries earlier were gone.
Again, after retiring for a couple of days, Raven carried on his work. He relied on the elemental powers once more and called forth an elemental to move the bare ground from the beach into the lake a few dozen yards away, allowing the water to rise to the bottom of the hill the castle was standing on. Then, a week or so later, he shaped the rock under the mud on the lake bottom to form a submerged reef with traps to stop any ships and boats from beaching. He only left a narrow channel between the rocks through which someone with the knowledge could be able to navigate a small boat ashore.
Today the mad hermit is already past his 80th birthday. He is still in excellent physical condition, but his mind hasn't showed any signs of returning to the pre-fever state. Instead of getting better, the madness has taken a stronger hold of Raven's brain. His sane moments are very rare and he's constantly giggling and laughing by himself for no reason at all. The druid has not been to a city or town for more than twenty years now and acquires new clothes by robbing corpses. His birds fly around the island and the lake reporting back of any nature abusers. If someone seriously destroying nature for any reason other than survival comes within ten miles of Raven Hold, the half-elf druid transforms into some fast-flying bird and seeks him out to make sure he will never do it again.
The lonely man is not evil, but he simply hold any feelings towards humans. To him other people are just animals behaving badly. Nature is everything in Raven's life. He sometimes even forgets the name of his god and prays to the land and trees instead. Kith-jora seems to allow all this, since the single druid is doing more good to nature than many others combined.
Thanks to Raven for this contribution!