Treekeeper of the Green Isle

by

Zoe Coulter

Zoe-map (32K)

Eara, a twelve year old girl with long auburn hair and chocolate brown eyes, walked through a forest of Alnair trees, magical trees that grow to enormous heights and exist only on the Green Isle. Suddenly she changed shape into a small red-brown wolf and let out a short yip that meant, to those who could understand it, "Hurry up Tirfen. The morning food will all be gone if we don't hurry!" "Yaahoo! I'm way ahead of you." Answered the young gyrfalcon far too loudly for that time of day. He dive-bombed Eara's head and then set off for a clearing up ahead where several of Eara's family and tribe sat eating the roasted moose that they brought down as a pack several days ago.

Eara lives with her pack-family on the Green Isle, a large and mysterious island filled with many beautiful and secret places that she and Tirfen love to find and explore in. They call themselves the Taekin and can talk to birds of prey as well as being able to turn into wolves. The Taekin live in the wild places of the Green Isle and they seldom venture near the small corner of the island that is inhabited by farming folk who have come across the Syrinian Sea which surrounds the Green Isle. Every fall and early summer Eara's family crosses the Telar Mountains by going through the High Pass, traveling between Summerhaven in the Northern Valleys and their winter and spring camps in the Southern Forests, starting with the sheltering pine woods by Sunrise Bay.

That beautiful sunny morning it was early spring and they were at their Greenbud camp, the camp that is closest to the corner where the ordinary folk live. After eating, Eara and Tirfen walked over to a small lean-to that belonged to Saket, Eara's grandmother and the Taekin's healer. "Is she any better?" Eara asked, peering through the doorway into the shaded room, but Saket just looked up and shook her head. "Nay, the plant that should have healed her makes no difference at all. Mark my words well Eara, something is wrong with the island, what with your mother falling sick, and her the strongest in the pack too! And your young cousin Tay not being able to understand the birds like he should. The magic is leaking away, and I don't know how to stop it." She sighed and turned back to her herbs.

Eara backed out of the doorway and ran as quickly as she could to her favourite Alnair tree and climbed up it to a branch that crossed with several others and made a little nest. She lay in it staring up at the pale blue sky and wished with all her heart that her mother would be all right. When she was five, her father Farian was captured by pirates when he was in his human form and he had never been seen since. Eara had always wished for the day that she would see her father again, now it seemed that she would lose her mother too.

She stayed up there, thinking, for the rest of the day, watching as the sun fell down below the sea and a thousand stars popped out into the dark and cloudless sky. Twilight had always been Eara's favourite time, with the sun gone but the sky still light, when the birds have just settled down but are still whispering "goodnight"s to each other, the world is silent but awake. At some point during this time she noticed Tirfen beside her, but neither of them talked. As a breeze rustled the leaves around her, sounding like the rise and fall of waves on the sea, Eara fell asleep.

The next morning she awoke and decided to go for a walk in the nearby oak forest to find some acorns to make into flour for breakfast. She said so aloud to Tirfen and they set out, seeing no one except her youngest cousin, Tay, who waved from the entrance of his parents lean-to. They continued on, her as a wolf, and Tirfen sometimes riding on her shoulders and sometimes flying ahead. They had just come to a particularly plentiful tree when Eara stopped short with a cry of pain. She was caught in a trap! Pain was shooting up from her back paw as she tried to clear her mind to find out how to get out. Shaking, she took a deep breath, reminded herself that it was always unwise to change shape when you were hurt, and looked at the trap.

It wasn't as bad as she had expected. Her paw was clenched between two jagged metal jaws that stabbed with pain when she moved, but there wasn't much blood. She examined the trap further, connecting the jaws was a rough hinge of some strong cloth, with two thick wire springs keeping the jaws tightly closed. Figuring that the hinge would be weakest, Eara lay down on the ground, twisted uncomfortably and tried to bite through the strong cloth, but it was securely attached to the metal and that made it hard to get her jaws around it. After trying several times to bite through, Eara gave up and studied the trap again. It was then that she saw what had triggered the jaws to close in the first place; she had stepped onto a flat lever hidden under the leaves that had activated the springs. Maybe it would loosen the jaws if she could push it down somehow! Hoping that her idea would work, she called to Tirfen, "If you land on that lever thing and flap your wings up to push it down, it might open enough for me to get out." It worked!

As quickly as she could, Eara got up and started walking, only to fall down again. "Ow! How am I going to get back to the camp if I can't even walk? My paw hurts when I step on it." she said, and then she stiffened because she heard the sound of footsteps, and she was sure that they did not come from anyone she knew. Tirfen flew up to look at whoever was coming and Eara limped as quietly as she could to the shade of some low overhanging Alnair branches so she wouldn't be seen and stood there on three legs, waiting. The footsteps came closer and then Eara heard the rough voice of a farmer say, "Hmph! Don't think much o' that newfangled trap ye brought over, it caught somethin', then let it escape." There was a pause, and then the same voice spoke again, "And not fair long ago neither. We migh' track it, there's some blood and it'd be going fair slow." Eara pressed herself against the reassuring trunk of the Alnair tree and hoped they would just go away. Then another voice spoke, a sophisticated, learned voice that scared Eara because it definitley was not from the Green Isle, yet no one had ever come to the Green Isle from across the Syrinian Sea in six hundred years. "Amazing!" said the new voice, "No mammal has ever removed itself from this trap without leaving an appendage behind before! It is one of the most complicated traps made this century, I must find this mammal and take it with me and my associates to be studied at New London in the New World. Well, what are you waiting for, start tracking this animal!" The farmer walked about the trap and then headed straight towards Eara, looking at the ground while doing this. Eara was paralyzed by fear until she heard a sudden commotion. It was Tirfen, who had attacked the farmers head. Knowing that this was her only chance, Eara bolted, trying to ignore the pain in her paw, but she had not counted on the stranger having a net!

The next thing Eara knew was being aware of her head pounding and cold hands pushing her into a small box. She struggled, and then something sharp was pushed into her neck and she went limp. She woke up again when the crate she was in was picked up roughly. A cloth was taken off the crate and blinking, Eara saw that she was being taken towards a ship. Terrified and cramped, as she was carried up a galley plank and taken away from the only place she had ever known, Eara just had time to read the name of the ship, "Blue Dolphin".

The first few days all Eara did was lie there shivering and trying to convince herself that she would wake up on the Green Isle and find it all a dream. But that was impossible and she knew it, so as soon as her paw finished healing, she told herself that anything was better than being cramped in a box (she might even find a way to get back home), changed shape back to a person, and escaped through one side of the crate that was really the door they had pushed her in through. The journey was long and Eara was overjoyed when she first sneaked up on deck and saw Tirfen swoop down onto her shoulder, for he had followed the Blue Dolphin all that way across the sea. Unfortunately, by the time she managed to escape from the crate, the Blue Dolphin had long been out of sight of land. She spent the rest of that long journey exploring the beautiful sailing cargo ship that she was stuck on, and occasionally hiding from some very anxious crew members who knew that she had escaped, although they didn't know that she was a human at the moment. Then, at the end of one cloudy, windy day, Tirfen, came circling down to her from above the crow's nest and cried, "Land, Eara! There's land out there, I saw it!" She almost shouted for joy, but at that very moment, the winds picked up and the clouds that had been threatening to rain all evening let loose with all their fury.

The Blue Dolphin was surrounded by the fiercest storm she had ever faced! Whipped by the rain and driving wind, Eara grabbed the nearby railing and held on, shouting out to Tirfen, "Where are you? Where are you?" She was startled by his claws suddenly grabbing onto her shoulder and his familiar voice in her ear, "I'm alright, are you? We'd better get below decks quickly." Eara followed the railing as quickly as she could, the wind beating her so hard she was surprised she was still alive, until they finally made it to the hatch leading down to the immigrants' quarters and the store room where they always slept. They didn't sleep a wink all that night though, they were too worried about what might happen if the Blue Dolphin were driven too far towards the land that Tirfen had seen.

The next morning the wind was still blowing a gale, although less than it had been the night before, and the rain now came in occasional splatters. As Eara and Tirfen made their way up onto the deck, they were just in time to see the clouds part and let the sun through for a few minutes, and although it was brief, it was long enough for every single one of the crew to see how close in to land they had been blown, how fast they were heading for the rocky shore, and how late it was to avert the imminent shipwreck.

Crunch! The Blue Dolphin, the pride and joy of every crew who sailed her, once carrying rich cargo around the tip of Africa, now with immigrants for the New World, was holed in the bows and taking on water by the gallon. Eara nearly slipped on the damp boards as the Blue Dolphin tilted to port and Tirfen, who had been on her shoulder, now flew up and glided above her. Grabbing hold of the forward mast to keep her balance, Eara yelled to Tirfen, knowing that no one would notice her among the hustle of getting all the immigrants off safely, "Now what do we do? None of the crew are going to come this far forward and I can't exactly go anywhere without falling in the water." "You have to get to shore somehow. I think your only chance is to change shape and swim." Tirfen yelled back frantically. Eara nodded, took a deep breath, and let go of the mast.

She slid down the deck and, at the last moment, changed back to a wolf. Gasping as she hit the icy water, a huge wave rolled over her and pushed her under. Paddling frantically, Eara managed to get to the surface only to be pushed under again. This time as she came up, Eara managed to break the surface on the crest of a wave, and after that it was easier to stay above the water as the waves pushed her towards a pebbly beach. When she finally dragged herself up onto dry land, all she could do was flop over and lie there panting for breath. When she finally managed to get up and look around her it was growing dark and she could just see the eight boats that the survivors of the shipwreck had escaped in. Looking further, she could see the glimmer of several fires and the long shadows made by the immigrants and crew, the crew of the Blue Dolphin that was now being steadily pounded by the waves against the rocks.

Eara looked around for Tirfen, but he wasn't there, she guessed that he was probably off looking for food. There were woods bordering the beach on the land side and Eara, after changing back to human, slipped into the shadows to try and find a tree where she could sleep in relative safety. There were a few trees that she recognised, like oaks and hickory, but the rest were strange. She suddenly missed the Alnair trees, and the faint glow their fruit had at night, as if they had little moons inside them. A few minutes later she found an oak that wasn't too hard to climb, curled up in a crook between two branches, and after a while she went to sleep.

She woke up to clear skies and Tirfen landing beside her with some bread and cheese he had taken from the stores that the crew had brought over when they fled the wrecked Blue Dolphin. It wasn't quite dawn yet but there was enough light for Eara, now in her human form, to look out on the beach and see that the people from the Blue Dolphin were still lying asleep. Then Eara saw the longboats, and a way home. She told Tirfen, but he was skeptical, "How can we be sure we're going the right way, and what if another storm comes along?" "I know, but it's our only way to get home." Tirfen was as homesick as she was, so they quietly made their way around the sleeping bundles to the longboats drawn up on the beach. After pushing what seemed to be the most seaworthy boat into the waves, they got in and Eara, seeing that there were sail and mast, put them up, and they were off.

It was a beautiful day with a cool wind and soon the beach, the woods, and even the tall masts of the wrecked Blue Dolphin were out of sight behind them. They sailed almost directly towards the rising sun, until it was high above them and they had to hope for the best until it grew low enough for them to tell which way was east. Eara and Tirfen took turns keeping the longboat headed in the right direction while the other slept and ate some of the food they had packed with them. The weather was on their side, and for five days they sailed on.

Then, on the morning of their fifth day at sea, a ship flying the skull and crossbones, headed east the same as them, ran them down and took Eara aboard. They didn't get Tirfen because he flew up before they realised he even existed. The pirates decided that they wanted a maid to help the cook, so that was what Eara had to do. It was unpleasant work, the ship's cook, a skinny man with his left arm missing, ordered her around and made her do all the worst things, like taking gruel down to the rowers, slaves who were chained to the benches and forced to propel the pirate ship on and on. The very first time Eara had to do this, she had the surprise of her life. Her father, Farian, was there! She had been picked up by the very same pirates who had taken her father! Snatching conversations while Eara handed out the food, they devised a plan to get off the pirate ship and back to the Green Isle. Eara had overheard a couple of the pirates and found out that the pirate ship was headed for London, which was roughly in the same direction as the Green Isle, so they decided to wait until land was sighted and escape then, so they wouldn't have to sail for quite so many days. During all this, Tirfen had decided to help the other slaves free themselves by stealing food and weapons from the pirates and giving them to the imprisoned rowers.

At last, the shout of "Land Ho!" came from the crows nest one evening, and Eara knew that it was time to escape. She waited impatiently until all the pirates were snoring in the hammocks and then stole out from the kitchen with a small knife and went down to where the slaves were trying to sleep on their oars. She quickly used her knife to pick the lock on Farian's chain and they sneaked on deck. It was a beautiful night, with a myriad of stars and barely a whisper of wind. There was only one sentry on watch and he was sleeping, but Eara held her breath as they tiptoed by him anyways. When the pirates had picked Eara up, they had also taken aboard the longboat she had been sailing in, and it was hanging on winches on the side of the pirates' ship. Tirfen kept a lookout as Eara and her father got into the longboat and lowered it into the water. Everything went well, and soon they were rowing quietly away from the ship that had held Eara's father prisoner for seven years.

They rowed all night, and in the morning, the pirates' ship was out of sight beyond the blue horizon. There was a bit of a wind, so they put up the sail, and as they sailed, Eara told her father everything that had happened: her mother getting sick, the strangers coming to the Green Isle, and her adventures in trying to get back. Farian, in turn, told her that he was the Treekeeper of the Green Isle, appointed by the elders to tend and heal the Alnair trees, for they supply all of the Green Isle's magic and keep it safe from the rest of the world. "As soon as we get back, I must heal the trees, for if they are healthy, everything else will sort itself out, but I need to know what they suffer from. Were there bugs in the fruit? Were the leaves brown?" Farian asked. "No, but the bark was reddish, and some of it was peeling, is that bad?" asked Eara. Farian sighed, "Oh dear. Yes it's bad. It means that the Alnair trees have Barkrot, a fungus that is very hard to get rid of. We'll need to find some Grayroot, which is rare, and burn it. Fortunately, Grayroot is so strong, we will only have to do one fire, and the smoke will spread throughout the trees." Tirfen,who had been listening, asked, "Where will we find this Grayroot? If it's so rare, it sounds like finding it will be the hardest part." Farian sighed again, "I don't know, I believe there was some growing at the base of the Telar Mountains, but it may not be there anymore, and it was quite far away from where our the camp is bound to be right now." There was nothing else to say on the subject, so they had lunch from the provisions they had taken, and talk turned to other things as they sailed on towards the Green Isle.

They sailed until it grew dark and sometime in the night, Eara must have fallen asleep, because when she next opened her eyes, they were floating next to a small island, and Farian was not in the boat. She looked again, and saw a giant, turtle-like head rise out of the water. Before she had time to scream, it said in a deep, soothing voice, "Do not worry, I was talking with your father, and he has gone on my back to find a rare plant, Grayroot, I believe it is, that grows on my other side. He will be back soon. My name is Maelioriam." "I'm Eara, and this is Tirfen. What are you, and how do all the plants live?" asked Eara, trying not to sound rude. After getting over her first shock, she was curious as to how they stayed on what she now realised was a huge shell. Maelioriam chuckled, and then said, "I am a giant sea turtle, we are almost as rare as the flora you will find on my back, and as to how it stays there, soil accumulates over the years and seeds blown by the wind land and grow. They don't drown because I never have reason to go under the water." At that moment, Farian returned, holding a bundle of some small dark gray plants. They thanked Maelioriam, and set off once more, this time happy and confident that they would be able to heal the trees and save the Green Isle.

In two more days, Eara, Tirfen, and Farian arrived at the Green Isle and even before they traveled north to where the Taekin's camp always was at that time of year, they landed and burned the precious Grayroot. Then they sailed along the coastline and returned joyfully home to both tears and laughter. There were, of course, still things to be done; Eara's mother, although already on the mend, still needed time to rest, and the Alnair trees needed daily care to make up for being so long uncared for. Tay, Eara's little cousin, had the strangest case of all, he was not able to talk to birds of prey, a gift that all the Taekin were born with. This was solved when Farian asked the trees for help, one day he took Tay to an old, old Alnair that had a trunk which curled around to form a smallish cave. Tay slept in this cave, which glowed all night, and the next day he was cured.

Eara's family was once again whole and full of happiness, and she decided that she wanted to be the next Treekeeper of the Green Isle, and find out about all the mysterious things she had seen.

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