(Note: This post is not part of the main story, but takes place roughly six years before it begins. Enjoy and feel free to leave your feedback in the comments!)
Urizenya dashed past the last few remaining hovels in the outskirts of Shadeville and toward the Whispering Forest. She could hear the shouts of the boys behind her. “Come on, pretty elf girl! We just want to kiss you!”
“Maybe caress your skin a bit, too!” Their calls strengthened her resolve and she redoubled her efforts, pouring more strength into her already tired legs. She moved from tree to tree, hoping to make it harder for her pursuers to spot her. Soon, she found she could run no further and leaned against a spruce tree to catch her breath. She could still hear their calls — some of them getting more obscene about their intentions as time went by — but many of the voices seemed much fainter now, as if she had put enough distance between them.
“Stupid human boys,” she muttered to herself. “Why can’t they chase after my brother like this? He’s the one that so desperately wants their attention.” After a few more minutes, she crept further into the forest, going more slowly in order to hide her presence. She found a fallen log near the stream several hundred feet into the forest and sat on it. She pulled off her pack to see what snacks her human mother might have prepared for her. She pulled out a bit of cheese and rabbit meat and began to pick it apart, eating it quickly. She jumped in surprise when a hand grabbed her left shoulder. “Aha! I knew I could track her!” a void gloated. Uri turned to find fifteen year old Jacob Hirsch standing immediately behind her. His usual buddies, Edmund, Simon, and Hektor approached from several feet away.
Jacob said, “Now seriously, little elf girl. Why did you have to make us chase you like that? Don’t you want to play with with us?” Simon leered at her when Jacob said “play” and Hektor chuckled.
Urizenya bristled. She was only a year younger than Jacob and was actually a year Edmund’s senior. She found their constant taunts of “little girl” infuriating. “No, I don’t want to play with you. You’re a nasty bunch. And quit calling me ‘elf.’ I’m half human, you know.”
“Like my pa says, half a human is no human at all,” Hektor snickered.
“Really. You should be flattered we take any interest in you at all,” Jacob said as he caressed her right cheek.
Urizenya flinched, then brought her fist up to connect with the boy’s nose. Jacob screeched in pain and she turned to run, but Simon tackled her to the ground. “You’re going to pay for that, you little whore!” Jacob snarled as he picked up a nearby stick and approached where she lay. He raised it overhead and was about to bring it down on her when he suddenly heard a snarling sound. He paused for just a second and went to turn to his right when a large furry shape crashed directly into him. Urizenya blinked as the scene before her registered in her brain. A dire wolf had pounced on Jacob and was now clenching the boy’s wrist between its teeth. The boy screamed and all the other boys backed away. After a moment, the beast released Jacob’s wrist and got off him. The boy immediately scuttled several feet backward. The wolf snarled, and all four of Urizenya’s attackers fled, almost tripping over one another in their haste to escape.
Urizenya remained on the ground, watching this giant wolf, who now stared back at her. “If you can understand me, I’d like to thank you,” Urizenya said, shifting a bit uncomfortably. She wished her father or one of his fellow druids was here right now. She wondered if this beast in front of her was one of them in wild shape, but did not recognize them. “Besides, if you were one my father’s colleagues, I’d think you would have transformed back and introduced yourself by now.”
After another moment, the wolf approached Urizenya, it reached out and pawed at the girl’s left shoulder, leaving three shallow scratches. The wolf backed up a few feet and sat down. Urizenya tenderly touched the injury and said, “Ouch. That hurt.”
“Boys would hurt you more.”
“I suppose that’s true.” Urizenya blinked, realizing she had just understood the wolf’s guttural noises. “Wait, how can I understand you?”
“Want it. You stink of village. But smell…Lucan on you also.”
“He’s my father. You know him?”
“Know all druids here. Bless some too.” With that, the wolf stood up and padded a few feet away and let out a long howl.” She waited a minute, standing perfectly still. A wolf howled in the distance. “Good. Lucan come.” With that, the wolf returned and sat in front of Urizenya again.
“Do you have a name?”
“Druids call me…Aurora.”
“What does your own kind call you?”
“Queen. Or mean names. If we enemies.” Urizenya almost laughed. “Most don’t call mean names for long.”
“Because you become friends?”
“No. They quit talking.”
“Oh.” Urizenya shifted uncomfortably as the wolf’s full meaning came to her.
“Druid here,” Aurora said as she stood. Urizenya followed the wolf’s eyes. A tall elf in green and grey leathers approached the pair. As he approached, he glanced briefly at Urizenya before bowing his head to the wolf. “You called, Aurora, Queen of wolves?”
“Found girl. Boys attack her. Saved her.”
“I thank you for that.”
“Saved her. Marked her.” The elf’s head shot back up and he raced to his daughter’s side. His eyes focused on the red marks on her shoulder. What little blood that had been flowing from the scratches had stopped by now.
“She is only fourteen!” Lucan said.
“That your law. Not mine. Marked her.”
“I understand. But you must understand, my circle will want to wait quite some time before inducting her into our order.”
“Silly rites. No care. But you train her.”
“I will teach her what I can in the meantime.”
“Good. When time right, bring her.”
“I will, gracious Aurora. Thank you for your blessing.”
“Bless the girl. Not you. You no thank.” Urizenya wrinkled her nose, confused by the smile that crept across her father’s face.
At that the wolf turned to Urizenya. “Talk later. Bless.” With that, she turned and ran into the woods, quickly disappearing.
Urizenya sat there for a few moments. Finally she took her father’s hand and stood. “What just happened?”
“Think about what you just heard. Relay the conversation back to me as best you can.”
“Well, you got here. Then Aurora- That is her name, right?”
“Well she told you about the boys chasing me and attacking me. Then she said that she marked me, which you seemed to think i was too young for.”
“Go on,” he pressed.
“She said she didn’t care about that, I think. Then you said something about your circle wanting to wait-” her voice trailed off. She blinked a couple times as understanding began to roll over her. “So I am to become a druid now? Like you?”
Lucan nodded. “Aurora just blessed you, making herself your first animal guide, just as Sandor, the leader of the panthers, became my first animal guide. Though I will note that Sandor did not offer me his blessing until after I was inducted into my circle. Aurora’s choice to bless you before you even declared any intention to join our circle is…peculiar.”
“She made it sound like it was a done deal. Like I couldn’t say no to it. And neither could your circle reject me.”
Lucan sighed. “In a sense, it’s all true. Yes, you can still refuse to take up the druid path. But you cannot undo the claim that Aurora has made on your life. You will always have certain obligations to her, no matter what else you do.”
“I see. And the druid circle?”
“Technically, the circle still has the right to accept or turn down anyone seeking to be inducted regardless of whether they have an animal blessing. I suspect brother Keldan will make much noise to that effect. But in the end, no one in their right mind is going to ignore Aurora in this matter, let alone go against her wishes.”
“Because she might go to war against you?”
“Oh, I doubt even she would go that far. But she could certainly make it more difficult for us to perform our duties in this area. I don’t even want to think about the position those she’s blessed would find themselves in. But that’s not the only reason it won’t come to that.”
Urizenya stood quietly, waiting for her father to continue. He appeared to be choosing his words carefully. “To be blunt, refusing to train you would be cruel. It is a great honor to receive a blessing from Aurora, but she can also be one of the more demanding animal guides, too. To be honest, if she’s picked you, you’re probably going to need all the training you can get to handle whatever she might want of you.”
“So, will you train me? She seemed to expect that.”
“I’ll definitely teach you what I can before you officially join our circle. I suspect I’ll at least be involved with your training after that, though other members of the circle might also participate to teach you those things I’m not as skilled in or knowledgeable about. Then of course, there will be time you spend with Aurora and her clan.”
“When time right, bring her.” Urizenya said, remembering the wolf’s command. “That’s what she was talking about.
“Precisely. But now I must ask you. Are you sure that you want to walk this path?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“As I said, to a degree. But if you start down this path, you will have not only obligations to Aurora, but obligations to the circle and to the rest of the green world. You don’t have to take those particular obligations on if you don’t want to.”
“I see,” she said, then paused as she considered everything. “I’ve always been curious about your work, father. The natural world fascinates me. And if it gets me away from those pushy, self-centered boys in the village, I’m all for it.”
“I’m not sure those are good reasons to choose this path if they are your only reasons.” Lucan looked at her almost expectantly. She searched her feelings, then searched for the words to express her deepest desires.
“I’m not sure how to explain it, but since she scratched me, I’ve felt like I’ve been changing.” She looked at her father whose expression was interested, but otherwise neutral.
“Go on,” he prompted.
“I feel like everything around us is more real. And my sense of it is more intense. Especially my sense of smell. I can smell what I’m pretty sure are blackberries fifty feet west of here. And the breeze against my skin stirs something deep inside of me.” She looked to her father, who merely nodded in encouragement. “I feel like I want to run through forest and explore every inch of it. Look in every hollowed out tree trunk. Check out every hole in the ground. Feel the earth beneath my feet. I feel there’s something I will find there. I don’t know. Peace? Freedom? The thrill of living? All of that?”
Finally, Lucan broke his silence. “All of that. And more. That is part of the blessing. Both the circle and your animal guides — you will gain more as you travel this path — will teach you to explore and embrace that. You will become bonded with the wild places in ways that no non-druid will ever know.”
“I want that. With every fiber of my being.”
“That is reason enough to take up this path. Provided you are willing to accept the responsibilities that come with it.”
“Very well. In that case, I think we should travel to the village and talk to your mother and brother. And you should pack a few things. You will be traveling with me for the next couple weeks.”
“So you can start teaching me?”
“Yes. And to spare you from trying to sleep in Shadeville the first night after receiving the blessing. Even as close to the edge of the as village your mother’s house is, you might find it a bit too much for your newly heightened senses.” With that, he picked up her pack and helped her shoulder it. The two of them turned toward the village and began walking, soon matching one another’s casual pace.