Jarrah took another one of his many pauses to cough, having nearly completed his tale. “Your father left that night with what would become the Veringrove Clan. We walked until we found the mountain pass. It was so small, so hidden, and so far away. We thought we would never be found. But after the army came and took the village, I broke my vow to never speak to Fate again. She told me that Gillireth has found himself another mystic, and was able to locate the clan through her. I also learned of what he has been up to all these years.
“After your father left, Gillireth made it his life’s goal to eradicate all Dechi. He blamed everyone but himself for what had happened, just like he’d blamed his brother for his mischief as a child. The Dechi were already facing political tensions, so when they were attacked, they scattered, forming various tribes in the wilderness. The king’s new mystic has more recently informed him that his son is still alive, but could not be found. Gillireth wanted to get Dechar’s location from Zolan, which is why you were kidnapped. I now fear that our friend has been delivered into the hands of the king,” Jarrah emitted another round of wheezes.
“As for your father, after he founded the clan, he of course raised Dechar alongside his wife, Aasta. He proposed to your mother with that ring you’re wearing, the one he got from the king.”
Amid her awe, Oliana gazed down at her black ring with two lions. She had never imagined its significance.
“There’s one more thing before I’m finished, child. Regarding our treatment of Dechar. Do you remember the smell in my house?”
Oliana nodded her head, though it seemed ages since she’d experienced that familiar scent.
“That was an herb, Falcon’s Claw. When used in a simple potion, it becomes undetectable, and it is a key ingredient in what I gave Dechar in his meat all these years to suppress his magic. We prevented him from shifting to protect us all. We thought it was for the best that he not get curious about his origins; it never felt right, but it’s what we did. And now he’s off somewhere and hasn’t eaten anything for who-knows-how long. I can only imagine what he’ll go through if he stumbles upon his ability.”
Oliana felt pity and guilt sweep over her like a sudden breeze. “So all this time… I’ve been treating him as less than human. As my personal guard. And he deserved none of it.”
“You knew no better, child.” Jarrah’s hacking became very strong now, such that he struggled to gasp for air between coughs. “I think… I think I’d like to rest a bit,” he said.
He lay down atop a pile of leaves by the path Ghillie and Oliana had been treading.
“Jarrah… Jarrah, you’re going to be alright, aren’t you?”
“Quite alright, now that I’ve told all I needed to tell. Now that all my regrets are behind me,” he wheezed.
“But you’ll stay with me, won’t you? Jarrah, please! You can’t leave me now. I’ve lost so much--”
“I am sorry, Oliana. It is time for me to meet Fate. But I know that you will regain much of what you have lost. Your heart clings to the past rather than trying to resist it. That will serve you well on your journey.”
“My journey? What do you mean? What would you have me do?” Tears welled up in her eyes.
A final sigh and the light left Jarrah’s eyes. Oliana brushed her hand over the old man’s face to shut his lids, giving him a peaceful look. Her tears flowed freely now. She placed Jarrah’s cane on his chest and folded his frail hands over it. After she sat a moment in silence, she had a difficult question for Ghillie Dhu.
“Ghillie… where can we move him--to be safe--from the trees?”
Ghillie’s voice lacked its usual chipper quality. “Oh, Oliana... You needn’t worry about that. You see, I haven’t been entirely honest with you. I’m very much in control of the trees. I ask them to do something, and they do it.”
“Then why did you not tell them to take the general sooner?”
“That’s just it… I was being greedy. It’s not often I get to meet anybody in these woods, and I was just prolonging the time I got to spend with you… the time you were suffering. For my own satisfaction. I’m sorry, Oliana. I was telling myself it was alright, because I was still going to save you, but I guess it’s possible to do an unselfish thing selfishly, yes?”
Oliana's brows furrowed as she gazed upon him with frustration and concern.
“I’ll… I’ll make it up to you! Just watch. Don’t worry, just watch,” Ghillie reassured her. A rumble lifted from the ground yet again, and the roots, rising up, began to envelope Jarrah’s body.
“What are you doing?” Oliana screamed. “Stop!”
The roots lifted Jarrah up off the ground, then began to weave in and out of each other, forming a tight mesh over the form. Before Oliana knew it, Jarrah’s body was protected in a beautifully crafted coffin of pearly woven wood.
“Oh Ghillie, it’s beautiful!” she gave the faerie a tearful hug.