Outside the manor, Lianna stopped and addressed her companions.  "We're going to go now and expect to camp at this tower overnight.  If you don't like that, you can leave now.  From what Sir Wickhold says this isn't going to be a lot of trouble.  If you're in, then meet me back here in an hour -- I need to pick up my sword and pack and you'll probably want to get some food for yourselves.  I'm not feeding you."

"One hour," said Venne, nodding his head quickly.  "So be it."

Mirko smiled and nodded, thinking through his options.  The druid enclave was an hour away by itself so he could not return there and get back before Lianna left without him.  He had a few pence on him, in case Alenna had not wanted his herbs, which would serve to buy some hardtack from Erith's store, and a couple of eggs.  The real issue was a weapon.

Lianna frowned when Mirko said nothing, but then set off, striding away from them towards the town.  Venne slipped away a couple of moments later, heading back towards Master Zesh's house.  Mirko walked along behind him, letting him establish a decent lead, and then finally turning away to return to Erith's.

The hardtack was in plentiful supply, and Mirko picked up a couple of hard-boiled eggs that Erith swore were fresh that morning and a soft waterskin that smelled as though it hadn't been cured properly.  It was cheap though, and knew that he could finish the cure back at the enclave.  He left, and walked back to the manor, knowing he'd be there before the others returned.

He looked out from the manor, and noticed a copse of trees nearby that were young, probably only ten or so years old.  One of them, he realised with interest, was Ferrolignon.

He rapped on the door of the manor house, his palms sweaty and feeling as though his stomach were in his mouth.  If he managed, however inadvertently, to offend James Wickhold then he would have offended the Baron and the druids would not be pleased.  There was a longer pause this time, but James came to the door, looking a little surprised as he opened it.

"Sir druid, you've come back alone?"

"Ah, no, S..Sir Wickhold, I wished to ask -- I mean beg -- permission to take a staff from yonder t..tree."  He pointed, wishing he weren't stammering.

"Yes, you may.  I know you druids would not leave the tree unable to stand by itself.  Is that all?"  A smile broke across James's face.

"T..Thankyou, S..Sir Wickhold."

The door closed in his face, and Mirko felt the sweat break out on his forehead.  How he hated having to confront authority!

There was still no sign of Lianna or Venne, and by the sun there was still a little while before he'd expect them back anyway.  He walked over to the copse where the Ferrolignon stood, rubbing his hands on his jerkin to dry them off. When he reached the tree he stood for a moment, collecting himself, and then let his concentration rise and focus, feeling for the shape of the Ferrolignon in the landscape.  It had a hard, regular outline and seemed to stand alone.  Sap trickled through it, its roots quested downwards and outwards seeking water and nutrients and green leaves thrust upwards, drinking in the sunlight.  Mirko tasted sweetness in his mouth, the sugars made from sunlight by photosynthesis and felt an iron rigidity, the very core of the Ferrolignon.

Linked with it, he stretched out a hand and a branch on the tree creaked, leaning downwards and straightening out.  Leaves and twigs pulled inwards, and the wood of the branch smoothed along its length.  The sap was drawn back into the trunk, the sugars taken along with it ready for transport to a new growth site, and as Mirko's hand touched the branch it slipped free from the tree like a ripe apple plucked by an orchardist's confident hand.

He emerged from his trance as slowly as he'd entered it, feeling the familiar resistance to separation from the landscape and the world around him, and looked around.  Lianna appeared around the corner of the manor house as he stretched, feeling as stiff as the Ferrolignon itself.  She raised a hand in greeting, and Mirko went to join her.

"That's an expensive looking staff, druid," she said abruptly.  "I'd not expected you to have money."

"And I don't," said Mirko.  "Not everything costs money."

Venne appeared at that moment and started slightly, obviously not expecting to be the last to arrive.  Before he could even greet them though, Lianna was turning towards the fields and walking away.

The End

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