I have always enjoyed just wandering around on my own. Many have thought me a fool when I tell a tale of being caught alone, and unarmed by some beast on one of my outings. But there is a serenity I have always found alone in nature. Since coming to these lands I have felt the drive many times to set off and explore, but duties and obligations at home have served to still my wanderlust. That is until last week. I had just made a delivery to the town of Forlaw. Some special cookies and breads baked by a Lilikate along with an invitation to the Reeve to attend the horse show coming up soon at Windy Aces Ranch. The trip there had been uneventful, though I had been warned that a group of marauding orcs had been terrorizing the locals. I am not sure if it was my fearful visage, or perhaps the smell of the cookies, but whatever the reason, they left me alone. The area up through WIldermoor is amazing. A rugged terrain dotted here and there with the farms of the sturdy folk of the Rohan. I found myself for the first time in many years filled with the urge to see more, to set aside duty for a time and simply renew my friendship with nature. Of course, I fought off those urges at first, and made my call on the folks of Forlaw. They were a friendly people, and I found myself having to fend off many invitations to stay for supper. So many were eager for tales of what went on in the lands across their borders. I could not however refuse the invite extended by the Reeve, so I dined in the great mead house of Forlaw before turning my sights towards home. It was coming up on dusk when I finally said my last goodbyes, and headed out through the main gate of the town. Though I only ventured to Forlaw a couple of times, I knew well the way back towards Snowbourn, and at first I guided my horse on the road south towards the pass to Cliving. However, I suddenly pulled my horse to a stop and turned our faces north toward Dunfast. Many times in my life I heard, or thought I heard, soft voices calling to me as I rode the lands. This night the voices returned, and were clearer than in the past. With little thought given to those awaiting my return and report, I spurred my steed forward, listening always to the call in my head. When I arrived at Dunfast, the town was deserted. The many small homes and farms of the area were boarded up, live stock roamed free through the area searching through the snow covered ground for a bit of grass or brush to eat. I looked on this scene and felt little new, So many of the small towns and crofts lay empty these days as bands of the enemy roamed unchecked burning and looting. No torch had touched this town, no signs or battle or looting. Only a quiet loneliness and a deep sense of sorrow hung in the air. I thought this was the call I was hearing, the last gasps of a town abandoned crying out to those who had once called it home. As I looked around through the center of town, I again felt a call drawing me further north. Mounting my horse, I turned down the road and ventured onward. As I traveled, the farms and crofts gave way to trees lining each side of the road. Riding further, the sparse coverage became a woodsy, and in time I found myself deep within a full blown forest. I had not been here before, but my maps named this the Balewoods. Deep lush pines nestled close to one another, their roots sunk deep in a pristine blanket of snow. It was almost cathedral like in appearance and reverent in the hush which hung on the air. I was enthralled. Dismounting my horse, I tied him to a nearby tree, and with some hesitation, stepped from the road into a deep drift of snow. I had fully expected to feel the cold wetness about the soles of my shoes, but there was no chill. To my surprise warmth radiated from the ground which moved slowly up my body enveloping me. I did not panic, it all seemed normal to me, like something I had known in years long past. Leaving my horse standing near the road, I moved further into the forest towards a mountain outcrop. The ground, though white with snow was filled with flowers of many shades. The fragrance of these filled my senses, and brought to mind evenings before a raging fire, a cup of tea in my hand. Dropping my cloak onto the ground, I walked in a wood which though ancient in appearance, held the promise of renewal, a spring time waiting to burst forth on a weary world. And I heard a voice calling to me, drawing me nearer and nearer to the rock’s face. As I moved yet closer, I saw what looked like a deep cave, mouth opened wide facing the east. I felt no malice in this place, only soft whispers in the back of my mind urging me nearer. From the mouth of the cave, great warmth issued forth. It was as though an inferno burned just below the surface only to spill through the opening embracing all things growing nearby. I stared long into the opening of that cave, and to me it seemed as though the fire which must be blazing below was now making its way towards the cave opening, approaching where I stood with speed and purpose. As the light and the warmth grew before me I stood transfixed. Had this been an inferno I would have happily been consumed in the flames. It was at this time that I saw something moving within the flame, coming slowly towards me, and calling my name. As I watched the approach I could swear that what I saw was a tree of ancient years. Her topmost leaves covered in snow, bent slightly from many long winters. And yet the branches were not bare, but alive in colors of red and orange. It was not a tall tree, but one of just above human height, and with eyes that looked through me. As she moved closer my mind gave way to thoughts of springtime, with new life nestled within the boughs of the tree. Birds gathered to her and tended the young cradled safely within her branches. Spring turned to summer, and warm nights, lovers sitting near shaded from the suns glare and prying eyes beneath her outstretched arms. Hot days gave way to autumn and leaves bustling around her feet. Tender seeds gathered and passed into hands willing to nurture and until the coming spring brought them forth in beauty and grace. Now, winters touch lay upon the face of one that had walked many lifetimes of men, and walked close at my side for a time. I remembered standing with her before a roaring fire, and reaching out my hand to it, was amazed that I was not burned, but welcomed and shown in my mind a vision of life most wondrous. It was as I thought of this that a sudden sorrow touched my heart. A chill brought forth by winter’s killing frost; a feeling of the loss of something beautiful from my life gripped me. But this feeling of sorrow did not last long, for as I continued to look to the flame the figure stepped forth, and was transformed. At first she took the form of a young sapling-her leaves green, her body lithe, bending softly in a spring breeze. Her tender leaves gave way to buds of spring flowers which cascaded down from her top most branches, and gathered softly around her body. As I watched all this, I smiled and awaited something which I could not fully understand with eagerness. As she moved closer to me, her face became clearer; her smile warmed me, and gave me thoughts of cookies of all things. I felt as though I were a young boy awaiting the coming of a favorite relative. And then, stepping up to stand before me, she reached out her tender hand and took mine, and it was then that I remembered, it was then that I knew her. Now words were needed at first, the warmth of the balefire surrounded us both, and years forgotten burst forth as though it was only yesterday . Then at last she spoke to me, and her words brought forth an eruption of laughter, and a lightness of spirit I had not felt for years. “Aedon, you are late for tea.” We turned and walked together through the winter woods, the firebrand and the foolish man. Memories of walks through the forests or nights of song and magic at the freehold flooded my mind. As she moved, and where her feet touched, the grass burst forth, and flowers sprung forth to greet her coming. And the cares of the battles, the emptiness of a world engulfed in chaos receded, replaced by happiness and a sense of hope unlooked for. And though I will always be fond of walking in winter woods, it is with great hope that she and I walk together on snow covered paths, and look towards a new springtime.