The Book of Fawla

Book 1

Chapter 5

The whispers distracted Kate. She strained to hear them speak, but of course, they were in Elvish and not wearing any flowers like the one she had picked for Kreelan. Instead, she pushed them out of her conscious thought and returned to her practice. 

The leaf in front of her twisted and curled until it formed the shape of a swan. This one almost looked right. One wing was longer than the other and folded at an awkward angle. She sighed and plucked it from the tree. She tossed it with her other failed attempts, a graveyard of grotesque sculptures. 

Kate scolded herself. The swan had been a distraction. A reward for attempting, and failing, to accomplish much of any use for half an hour. That had been two hours ago. 

She focused on the branch that was now denuded of its foliage. She willed it to do... something. That was part of her problem. She wasn't sure exactly what she was trying to do. She could wave the branches to and fro and hit anyone that got too close. But how long would it take for the goblins to figure that trick out and just avoid the trees? 

If only the trees were closer together like in the wood. Then the goblins wouldn't be able to avoid them. Could she make the trees grow closer together? She closed her eyes and concentrated. She opened them again. The tree hadn't moved. Of course it hadn't. That was a ridiculous thought. 

It had regrown new leaves, though. There was something off, it took her a minute, but then she realized it. Most of the leaves had grown on the left side of the branch. The side closer to the hedge separating the courtyard from Regkor's neighbor. 

She made the bloom in Kreelan's hair grow, even after she had plucked it. She could make plants grow. But what good would that do against an invading army? 

She made another swan. For once, the swan actually looked graceful. With an additional thought, she made it flap its wings. It fluttered an inch above her hand and then floated back down. She slid the swan's stem foot into her hair clip. If she couldn't do something useful, at least she could look nice while being useless. Maybe she could attack the goblins with miniature swans. 

The whispering got her attention again. There was something different about it this time. The words she heard this time were in English. She could understand everything now. The plant translators must work both ways, she mused. 

A couple walked the path behind her. "That freak is going to get us all killed," the man argued.  

"Keep it down, she could hear you," the wife responded. "She stood up to the goblins. When have you ever done that?"  

"I’ve never done it, because it would get us all killed." They passed her range of hearing. 

Kate grimaced. That guy was right. Kreelan was right. She hadn't helped. She just made the goblins angry. She didn't even defeat those three. Trippy attacked and knocked the sword loose. 

"Town meeting tonight. Town meeting tonight," Kreelan called as he walked the streets. His voice got louder as he approached. He didn't stop. He gave her a small smile as he passed and continued his chant. "Town meeting tonight. To discuss yesterday's events. Town meeting tonight." He turned the corner and walked out of sight. Kate could still hear his voice in the breeze. "Town meeting tonight." 

Kate experimented with a sword. She crafted a tiny green dagger. She touched the blade. A drop of blood appeared on her fingertip. "Great," she thought. "I can give them a paper cut." 

Kate concentrated on the branch in front of her.  It bent and folded and took shape. The grip formed, along with a modest hilt. The branch flattened slightly. 

"Kate, the meeting starts soon." She jumped at the sound of his voice. Her concentration broke and the tree ejected her creation like a person spitting out a bug. 

"You startled me. I thought the meeting wasn’t until tonight." She bent down to pick up her sword. The sun was low in the sky. "I guess I've been out here longer than I thought." 

"You've been busy," Regkor said. 

Kate looked around at the giant pile of leaf swans and the smaller pile of leaf knives.  She kept silent as she showed him the wooden weapon. The blade was still round. "I guess. I'm sure my walking stick will scare them away." She pursed her lips. 

"You'll be fine. You just need to believe in yourself. Now come. The meeting is about to start and you're the guest of honor." 

The hall was a basic wooden structure with benches arranged in rows. A table stood in the front. Somebody had tried to lighten up the drab interior with a potted fern in the corner, but seemed to have then neglected it. A few drooping fronds remained. 

Kreelan led Kate to a chair near the front and stood in front of the table. "We all know why we are here today. The goblins are getting bolder. They are now collecting taxes weekly instead of with each moon. We cannot let this stand." 

"What right do you have to demand this? Want can we do?" someone shouted from the crowd. 

"I cannot demand anything. I can only ask you. Ask you to follow the long-lost princess of our people, Kate." He swept an arm to point at her. 

"I, uh." Katye stumbled over her words as she stood. Why had he put her on the spot like this? 

"The princess has been gone for thousands of years. Why should we believe this is her?" The detractor asked. 

Kreelan turned to Kate. "Care to give them a demonstration?" 

Kate shrugged. Being put on display like a prize pig wasn't how she wanted to spend her evening. If they didn't believe her, well, too bad for them. She didn't owe them anything. Except that she did. She had escalated the war. Somehow, she was going to need to defeat the goblins. These weren't fighters. These were hunters and farmers, peaceful folk who had let the occupation happen rather than fight it. They needed her help, if only because she had made it so they needed her help. 

She considered her options. She had her swan in her hair, Kreelan's flower, and Regkor's boutonniere. A couple others in the crowd were likewise adorned. And there was that poor little fern. All that thing wanted in life was for somebody to give it some love. She knew what she had to do. 

Without saying a word, she pointed at the fern. The entire room turned to look at the pitiful plant. She closed her eyes and imagined a lush, full plant in its place. For effect, she mimed an expanding ball. Nobody looked in her direction and she felt silly. She dropped her hands back to her sides.  

Despite her theatrics, the plant did as it was told. The fronds uncurled and expanded. She wanted to wow the crowd, so she pushed harder. Maybe too hard. The plaster pot shattered as the fern expanded beyond its confines. An explosion of green expanded in the corner. Those closest backed away. Kate told the plant to stop. The movement stopped as abruptly as it had started. Gone was the pitiful, neglected fern. In its place, a fern worthy of the dinosaurs filled almost a quarter of the floor at reached the ceiling before curving back. 

The crowd stood in stunned silence for a moment and began dropping to their knees, facing her. First in ones and twos and then more joined in until the entire room was bowed down except for Kate and a single man. She studied him. It was the one from the park earlier that day. She looked him in the eye, but he simply stared back. 

"So how does this defeat the goblins?" He asked. 

"It doesn't," Kate admitted. The crowd looked up from its obeisance. "But I do have an idea to help. But we are going to need to plant a lot of trees. 

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