I remember when I first started questioning the wisdom of Cathmor. I was young and early in my training. After my atrocious experience with Balfour’s axes, I turned my eyes towards other methods of self defense. The sling and the quarterstaff, lightweight travelers’ weapons, appealed most to me. The sling could take out game easier than an axe, and at only a fraction of the weight. And I don’t know why the villagers laughed at the thought of using a sling in battle: how many songs have the bards sung of a mighty warrior brought down by one well placed ball? The quarterstaff is useful both in traversing tough ground, and in keeping foes at bay. With my staff I can easily turn axes and swords while breaking fingers and ankles. And when the battle draws to a close, a solid rod of hawthorne brought down on a man’s skull has the same effect as a dulled and bent broadsword.
Around when I became enamored with the quaterstaff, Cathmor first took me to the sacred grove near the village. Our grove was no where near the most magnificent, Cathmor told me. Our grove held only 7 great trees: birch, alder, hawthorne, elder, hazel, oak, and yew. While they were more impressive than the general trees of the rest of the forest, they were nowhere near the ancient wonders that Cathmor said filled the great groves.
Cathmor didn’t seem to care for the grove beyond its utilitarian value, as a place to perform rituals and spells. I was entranced by the place. I knew the only thing I’d really miss upon leaving Dachaigh would be the grove and the time I spent simply soaking up the strange feeling of the place. Thinking perhaps that I could take a bit of the grove with me, I planted a seed from each of the 7 in a circle. I hoped in a few years the saplings would be ready to harvest to carve into staves. Perhaps with a staff grown in the grove I could take some of that magic with me.
Cathmor said that he once thought that there was a riddle hidden in the 7 types of tree growing in our grove, that there must be a reason only those 7 had grown and no others. So when he first became aware of the sprouting saplings I’d secretly planted he flew into a religious fervor the likes of which I’d never seen from him. His usual dreary and methodical nature gave way to great excitement. He even enlisted me to try to break the riddle of the grove, knowing the spiritual connection I felt to the place. He said that perhaps as I was one of the last 7 chosen guardians, I might have an insight into the 7 trees.
At this point I knew keeping up my unintentional ruse would only risk my hide when it was found out, not to mention the old man’s failing heart, so I came clean. I told Cathmor all about my quarterstaff training and my desire to take a bit of the grove with me. I apologized and told him I hoped I hadn’t harmed the spiritual health of the grove with my saplings.
His eyes darkened. Then a wry smile spread over his face. I hoped he wasn’t smiling in advance for the satisfaction of whipping me with switches cut from my saplings. Against my fear he simply said, “Why wait for your saplings? Why not just cut down any of the great seven to carve your staff. I’m sure the dead wood would do you as much good out in the wild as it does me here in the grove.”
“No, a full grown tree won’t do, the best staves are carved from a whole sapling just grown to the right size,” I replied.
“In that case, leave the great seven here with me when you take your saplings. We’ll succumb to blight and all rot together.”
At the time I thought Cathmor spoke just from sour disappointment, that he was easing back into his old dour self after his brief moment of excitement. Of course now I see his words meant more than that. Especially in the way he speaks with Senach Brus all can see that Cathmor’s faith, in the trees, in the spirits, in the old ways, is dead. The old man has inherited so much, such a wealth of spiritual knowledge beyond the rest of the village, and he doesn’t even care. I’ve learned much from him, as reluctant a teacher as he’s been, but I still don’t think I’ll miss him much more than the rest of the clan when we’ve set off.
The old ways may be dying among men, but it’s obvious to me that they are alive and well in the wild. The trees, the animals, the spirits: all they know are the old ways. A tree never sways to new ideas. The winter will never hide its treacherous cold behind the guise of “civility.” The old ways may be harsh, but they are honest. Senach Brus and Cathmore hide their treachery behind civil faces. Why, Cathmor, send the seven of us up the mountain when there are no more following? Why not show us mercy? It hardly matters now. I’d rather become a child of the harsh but honest mountain than remain subject to these weak-willed hypocritical fools.
Perhaps one day when Cathmor and Senach Brus have passed and when Dachaigh comes under whatever power sits in the southern throne, I’ll return to tend the grove of seven trees and find a place for the old ways in the new world.
Gift of the Spirits: (Green +2HT) Though born with a hearty constitution young Iain out of stubborness refused to eat and wasted that early health away. In its place has arisen a sharp mind and wisdom beyond his years.
Gift of the Elders: (Willow) A dark child, acquainted with melancholy, Iain apprenticed under the Druid Cathmor for a year learning the Ogham runes, the secrets of the trees, and the process of illuminating a manuscript.