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CHAPTER TWO

Otem and the Sower

There was a fluttering sound as Father opened the door, the sound of wings scooping air and taking to quick flight. The porch was empty. Father walked out through the doorway and down the porch steps, looked around and then turned to look up and over the house. He watched the sky for a moment and then returned up the stairs. He paused and hunched over to look at the exterior of the door. At first I couldn’t tell why, but then he reached up and pulled down a piece of paper that had been nailed. Such was the cause of the thumping and the sound of the rustling.

Father looked over the page carefully as he stood in the doorway.

“What is it?” Mother asked as she held me close.

“It’s from the Rodmilf province,” he said, “delivered by a Dryad. I witnessed it dash away with its satchel toward the sky.”

“What did the mute treeling bring to us? I do so despise those crafty creatures.” Mother held a deep disdain for the Dryads, though at that time she never specified her reasoning. I believed that its origins were from days when I was still very young. I do recall a time when both Father and Mother would weep bitterly after the Dryads would visit. Even more so do I remember what seemed to be anger in my mother’s voice. Not anger toward Father, but revulsion toward the treelings. And with this dreadful memory came the sound of a baby crying. I’m not sure why, but eventually the cries were silenced.

But Mother was a gentle woman, loving and kind to all she would meet. For her to express such animosity toward another living creature was to witness an uncomfortable rarity. I couldn’t help but suppose that she had good cause.

“It is a warning from their elders.”

“What moves them to such a notice?”

“It claims that the beast is alive and thrives in Center-Wood.”

“How is this possible?”

“No details are given. It says only that we are to gather our council and elect those to join the hunt.”

“Will you call together the Caretakers, then?” Mother asked hesitantly. “Shall they join the assembly?”

“Most certainly I shall,” Father said quickly, “They are most likely to have the One to be selected for the hunt. They are skilled in dealing with such devilry.”

“And will you join the hunt?” she continued.

“It is not for me to decide,” Father sighed, “I shall go if I am called to do so, and I will fortify the camps.”

It sounded as though Father had spoken of something with which he was rather familiar. In fact, it sounded as though he was referring to a plan of action that had already been plotted. I knew nothing of the beast of which they spoke and neither did Madeline, and yet my Father articulated a place rather familiar to young boys and girls. The sound of this place echoed the fairytale nightmares we’ve heard since youth. Of course we’d both heard tales of the fierce and mighty dragon, Otem. It is said that he lived long ago, when the Vasior trees were just seedlings. It is also said that Otem’s purpose was for the death of the Vasior trees and the devastation of Ganchimi. The dreadful Otem would lumber through the provinces, swinging his huge tail and destroying everything in his path. He sought to destroy the Vasior trees in their infancy while laying waste to the countryside with his dreadful breath of fire. But he was not victorious. In fact, not a single Vasior tree perished by Otem’s brutal purging. The noble and courageous Sower (of whom no one knows his real name) fought valiantly against Otem, fatally wounding him and casting him into the Pit of Scarmd, deep within Center-Wood. No one knows the location of Scarmd. It has long since been forgotten by the mapmakers.

Ah, but we know Center-Wood and we know it well. All battles throughout the history of Ganchimi have been waged in Center-Wood. It is a dark and sinister midpoint in Ganchimi. No one dares to traverse its pathways unless shielded by sword and cavalry. Evil lurks within its heart and it bears witness by the many men it has swallowed. It is no ordinary forest. It is alive with shadows and feeds upon the fears of men. But this was not always so.

Before the terrible story of Otem came to be, Center-Wood was a fine and beautiful hub for all of Ganchimi. Lying directly in the interior of our great land, Center-Wood was the gathering place for all of our people. In its lush and vibrant foliage, the Councils and Caretakers would assemble in harmony to fellowship with one another in joyful song. It would seem that Ganchimi had its beginnings in this very Wood. Some even believe that the roots of the Vasior trees find their beginnings there. I know this to be true.

But now, to speak the word “Center-Wood” is to speak of dreadful and frightening things. It is a dark and olden place, full of mischief and ancient terrors. What once was the jewel of Ganchimi is now purposely forgotten.

My father sat down in his chair which sat in the corner near the cabinet in which we stored our winter coverings. He reached his arms to me as to beckon me from Mother. I walked to him slowly, wondering what it was he would say. Madeline leapt from her bed and took my place next to Mother as I climbed onto the lap of Father. Looking toward Madeline, he motioned to her to come closer and gathered her into his arms. Mother took a place on the chair across the room.

“Dear children,” he said, “We have a great task ahead of us; one that will be recalled on the lips of those who will follow us.” I recall seeing a sad look upon the face of Mother as she leaned forward to light a candle.

“Is it Otem, Father?” I asked without hesitation.

“What a keen young man we have here, Mother,” Father said with surprise. “I haven’t even begun to detail and yet he already knows what lies ahead.”

“I heard you say ‘Center-Wood’,” I replied, “and I know the stories of the dragon, Otem, and the Sower, the mighty warrior. Are they true?”

“Indeed, Master Joshua, indeed. But let me tell you more.” Father gathered his thoughts for a moment and then began to tell us a great history, much of which I have already shared with you. But he continued with particulars that we were yet to discover.

“A great distance from our fair province, there is a place of great distress. It is place that causes fear for those who inhabit the surrounding lands. It is Center-Wood. You have heard of it in your bedtime stories and you know of its great demise. And I would suppose that you never really considered it factual. This, I must confess, is a troubling mistake made by your parents. We desired not for you to be concerned with such unpleasantness, however, it would seem that the time has come for you to be aware, for it is to this place that I may venture, and your prayers will be required.”

Madeline became restless in her seating and moved closer to Father as he continued.

“Center-Wood is real. Otem is true. The pit of Scarmd exists. Some would say that its location has been lost. I would say forgotten, but not lost. There is a great valley that encircles Center-Wood; a deep valley with jagged peaks and misty bogs, which at one time was a beautiful sea that surrounded the stunning and most beautiful landscape of Center-Wood. It is on its shores that the battle between the Sower and Otem was waged.”

“Tell us of the battle, Father,” Madeline said softly as she nestled into his arms.

“I shall, dearest Madeline,” he spoke kindly as he touched her chin, “but it is a frightening tale that is not suitable before bedtime.”

“It most certainly is not,” Mother added while nodding in agreement, “They’ll never fall asleep with such thoughts in their skulls. Father shall finish the tale in the morning, if he is permitted to finish at all.”

“Oh please, Father,” I begged as he began ushering us from his lap, “We’ll be quite alright to hear of the Sower and Otem.”

“Oh yes, Father, for I am not the least bit frightened,” Madeline said attempting to sound unshaken, “I shall be alright. I promise.”

“I’m sure you are a brave young miss,” he jested, “but we must listen to Mother. It’s off to bed with you.” And with that we were into our bed coverings and the candles were once again extinguished. The shadows still danced on the floor through the windows from the porch lantern. Father tended to the fireplace and went out the front door. I could see him from my bed as he crossed the path to the woodshed just into the edge of the woods. He was inside a long while, so I concluded that he wasn’t gathering wood. I tried as hard as I could to watch for him to return to the house. I waited for a lengthy time before falling asleep, but he never left the woodshed.