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Kiirar looked over his charges in the practice area, watched them as they moved through the Eighty Nine Steps in unison. Twelve young sylvari moving as one, in perfect harmony with themselves and each other; songs melding into a symphony of movement and grace. When he saw the signs of strain in the limbs of those he considered the strongest (these proud young ones too disciplined to let such show in their faces), Kiirar called for a halt, and told the would-be Bladesingers to take the listening position. Immediately, twelve swords were sheathed, and the eight young males and four maids gathered around Kiirar's platform, sinking to kneeling positions gracefully.
As Kiirar took his seat on the raised platform, he noted with satisfaction that the trainees held their heads up high, even if some were fighting to bring their breathing under control. His best pupil sat calmly, breathing evenly, but even her cheekbones, forehead and ear tips were flushed from her exertions. So far already, the control over the heart will come soon, he thought to himself, then she will go to better teachers than I.
"Hear with your ears, listen with your mind. What you learn today you must carry a lifetime, and bring to the ears and minds of others, " Kiirar intoned the ritual start of the lesson as he looked each student in the eyes, looking for, and finding, the full attention that a Bladesinger teacher deserved. "This was told to me by my teachers, and I teach it to you now. All of you will find in today's meal pouch a dried flower. Take it out now, and roll it between your fingers, lightly."
As the students opened their backpacks and retrieved the flowers, some closed their eyes in pleasure at the enervating fragrance given off by the crushed petals. The plant was a nondescript little white flower, five scant petals surrounding a center that must have been sunny yellow before drying to the dusty cream it was now. The scent, however, seemed to flow through the body into one's own spirit, refreshing and livening, bringing the memory of green life and dappled sunshine with it.
"That is Aranthea's Heart, a plant treasured by healers for it's medicinal properties. It is important that you recognize it and gather it when you encounter it; it is a rare plant, and resists transplanting into cultivation gardens. The Bladesingers know how this plant came to be; one of our own witnessed its creation by Lysora, back when such things were possible.
It was long, long ago, before the wars with the khoraldrum, in the time of Eirendal, the legendary Bladesinger. A small sylvari village south of Megilindar Nost was being plagued by orcs, and a party of Bladesingers made ready to travel to their aid, Eirendal among them.
Serving at the temple of Lysora in Megilindar Nost was Aranthea, a young cleric called to Lysora's service only a few years earlier. Not much is known of her, so insignificant she seemed. Those who had known her later said that she was tiny, even by our standards, timid and shy. With brown hair and large brown eyes, and her quiet shyness, Aranthea was affectionately called "rabbit" by the scant folk close to her.
What is known is that she was devoted to Eirendal, though it is probable that before this journey, he had not known her well. Eirendal had suitors a-plenty among his peers, being one of the bravest and most graceful Bladesingers of that age; what notice would he have taken of a quiet little healer? Nonetheless, when Aranthea heard that Eirendal would be traveling, she was the first to pack her healer's kit and holy symbol, taking a stout quarterstaff with her. No one could gainsay the little cleric, so determined was she, so it was that she and three other clerics accompanied the twenty Bladesingers out of Megilindar Nost.
The journey was swift, and it seemed that fortune smiled on the rescue party, so swiftly they traveled through the Great Forest. At nightfall, the party had nearly reached the cleared fields outside the village when a fog settled around them, damp spider webs of air that shrouded the eyes and muffled the ears, confusing and hiding each traveler from the others. The rescue party would have been able to reach the village despite the fog, so close were they, but the orcs struck under the fog's cover. Many small battles broke out as the Bladesingers sought and found foes, and gradually, all were separated in the dense fog.
Eirendal fought bravely, and as magnificently as the legends say of him, and he and Aranthea were ringed about with dead orcs. No one can explain how Aranthea had managed to stay close to Eirendal through the fog and his battles, least of all Eirendal, yet she did, avoiding the orcs and Eirendal's blade with a surprising agility. She had little skill with the quarterstaff, however, and Eirendal was forced to come to her aid, as the orcs tired of dying on his sword and turned to attack the little cleric. Stories have been told of Eirendal's prowess with blade and song, and indeed, his equal has not yet been found among we who came later. The orcs finally broke and fled from his wrath, melting back into the fog from whence they came. A parting gift was sent back, however, a shower of arrows that Eirendal valiantly cut from the air, such was his skill in battle trance, to see an arrow's path and intercept it.
Alas, one dark arrow made it's way through his sword's defense, piercing Eirendal's sword arm. He pulled the arrow out, and felt a strange weakness flow from the wound, deadening his arm and spreading throughout his body. Poison! Aranthea caught Eirendal as he crumbled to the ground, his body curled protectively around his sword. Aranthea had lived her life among the Bladesingers, else she would not have known to sheathe Eirendal's sword before turning her attention to his wound. Eirendal kept enough of his wits to not fight her, letting her take the sword from his slackening hands.
Aranthea had never seen a poison take hold so swiftly before, and her face was white with fear for Eirendal as she cleaned the wound and bound it. The sylvari maid clasped her pendant of the thornless rose and prayed to Lysora, asking for the gift of healing for Eirendal. He must survive to reach the village, they needed a warrior as brave and skilled as he!
Lysora's benediction flowed from within Aranthea, through her hands to Eirendal, and the wound began to close under Aranthea's ministrations. It seemed that Eirendal would be saved with Lysora's blessing, but as the wound in the arm started to heal, a fever rose within the Bladesinger, causing him to thrash and moan. Aranthea prayed again to Lysora, again Lysora granted her grace, and healing flowed out through Aranthea's hands as she stroked the sweat and fog soaked hair from Eirandal's face. Eirendal's limbs relaxed, and he no longer burned so fiercely to the touch, though his eyes still shone with the remains of the fever.
Aranthea held Eirendal close as the burning turned to shivering. Her heart twisted inside her, full of concern and love for Eirendal , but Aranthea kept her face serene as her warmth slowly brought the Bladesinger's shaking to an end. With Eirendal resting more comfortably, Aranthea searched the clearing for dry wood, keeping his attention by speaking of inconsequential things. She worried that in his fevered state, his spirit would wander too far from his body, but knew that they would need fire, to keep him warm and to keep wolves at bay.
For even a cleric as sheltered as Aranthea knew that where orcs fought, dire wolves gathered, to feast on the dead and slay the injured. She raced to gather enough wood for a small fire and was able to get the wood blazing at Eirendal's side. The Bladesinger was no better than before, but he smiled at Aranthea wanly as she again stroked his face, looking worriedly at her charge.
"It is I who should be watching over you, little Aranthea," whispered Eirendal, struggling up into a sitting position, only to fall back, too weak to move. Aranthea started to reply when a wolf howl brought her to her feet. A ring of golden eyes burned in the shadows beyond the fire, and Aranthea knew the wolves had arrived for them.
Thus began the longest night of Aranthea's life. The brave cleric would pace around the fire, staff in hand, giving any too-bold wolf a stinging rebuke with the staff. A brief pause to check Eirendal, stoke the tiny fire, then back to her pacing. Eirendal's fever kept returning, and Aranthea could spare little time to rest between prayers for healing Eirandal and keeping the wolves at bay.
She began to stumble as she paced around the fire, and the wolves grew more bold. The cleric kept the wolves from the wounded bladesinger, but at a cost. The wolves were dodging her staff, as she tired and slowed, and began to nip at her, trying to hamstring this fierce little protector. No wolf was able to get past her, but Aranthea began to bleed from the many shallow slashes and bites inflicted by the pack.
The wolves tired of their game, but knew that they would not have long to wait. They settled down to watch and wait, their eyes glowing with hate-filled glee. It was then that the wolf pack leader, a great gray brindled wolf spoke to her, his words coming directly to her mind.
"'Why do you fight us, little rabbit? ' the leader asked, in an almost kindly manner, ' we will have you and the sick one soon enough. You are causing yourself needless pain and suffering. Come, little rabbit. We are skilled in the craft of death; offer us your throat and we will kill you both swiftly, and with little pain."
"NO! " roared Aranthea, finding new strength in her desperation, " Have me if you will, but you will not have HIM!" With that cry wrenched from her throat, she threw herself at the wolf pack leader, ignoring his slashing jaws to deliver a killing blow. The pack, dismayed at the loss of their leader, faded back into the dying night, the struggle for succession more important than a meal that refused to be eaten.
Aranthea sank down wearily, unable to stand any longer and hung her head, fighting for breath. She would rest, just this little while, then rise again to check on Eirendal, and get more firewood.
Lysora had graciously responded to each of the little cleric's prayers, but grew curious when the voice, so little heard before now, called to Her again and again, and with such strength and passion! Lysora was moved to go to this cleric of Hers, to see for Herself what would create such a need for Her blessing, but alas, time is different for the gods, and Lysora came to the clearing with the sun's rising."
There She came upon Eirendal, free of fever but now burdened with grief, laying out the body of Aranthea, straightening her limbs and combing the soft brown hair from her still face. He had awoken in the greyness of night's passing, only to find Aranthea's huddled form, quarterstaff still held upright, crouched beside him.
"Why do you weep, child of Kith-Jora?" asked Lysora, "This one gave her life in My service, there is no greater honour for one such as she. I gave of her what she asked, a pity she was not stronger. "
Eirendal looked up at the goddess, shock chasing the tears from his eyes, and he rose swiftly to his feet, his blade clearing its sheath in a challenge.
"Aranthea was stronger than you or I will ever know; it is you who failed her. I thank you for the healing given by you through Aranthea, but I will not have her dishonoured by your dismissal of her life!" the Bladesinger grated, pale but determined.
Lysora looked at the sword tip pointing at Her heart, distantly amused at the mortal's challenge, then She turned to survey the scene of Aranthea's desperate battle. She looked back again at the angry bladesinger, and looked through him, seeing the remains of the poison, now harmless, coursing in his veins. She had not sent enough grace through Aranthea to heal him of that, Aranthea had given of herself to change the poison's nature.
"You are right, Bladesinger, " said Lysora, finally, " Aranthea deserved more of my attention, and should have a memorial worthy of her sacrifice." The goddess moved closer to Aranthea's still form, and Eirendal moved back, sword forgotten in his hands.
Lysora looked gravely down at the little cleric's face, then smiled sweetly, holding her hands out, palms down over the body. Light gathered around the little cleric, and her body began to rise, as the goddess raised her hands upward and outward. When the cleric's body floated above the heads of Eirendal and Lysora, sunlight began to stream through Aranthea, and as her body seemed to disappear into the sunbeam, sparkling motes of light floated down to the ground, stirred lightly by the wind to settle about the clearing."
"Return here in the spring with some of My followers, they will know what must be done," the goddess told Eirendal, then turned and walked away through the forest, vanishing after a few steps.
Eirendal did as he was bade, and the clerics found the plant that you have in your hands. This is what the healers know of Aranthea's Heart: the leaves and flowers, steeped in hot water, give off vapours that refresh the weary and ease laboured breathing. The tea calms sour stomachs, reduces fever and gives even the deathly ill the strength to persevere.
It is the root, however, that is treasured above all, for when someone who has eaten of the root is given Lysora's healing, the healing is twice as effective. Like it's namesake, the plant is small and shy, found in the shadows surrounding forest clearings. When found, pull the plant up by the root, rather than cutting it, for a small piece of the taproot will remain, and the plant will grow back, stronger and more potent than before.
It is fitting, is it not, that adversity makes it stronger and that it is the hidden part of the plant that is the most powerful?"
Kiirar dismissed the students, watching them disperse to enjoy the small amount of leisure time allowed by their intense training. He walked slowly back to his rooms in the Keep, savouring again the sweet sadness this particular lesson always invoked in him.
Thanks to Vanadia for this contribution!