Botonist Rescued; Tree Worshiping Cultists Cut Down

Quill McMartin

UP: Great Lakes

    A celebration was held in Trinsic’s Keg and Anchor pub last night to celebrate the safe return of Britannian botonist Evie Vandergellen. The successful rescue brought to a close the arduous week-long search and recovery mission that had many citizens throughout the realm on the edge of their proverbial seats.

Miss Vandergellen, caretaker of the Hedge Maze, was abducted during an exploration of the Hidden Valley last weekend. A fanatical cult known as "Plentyn o’ Coeden" had selected her to be a blood sacrifice to the ancient tree they worshipped and called "The Mother."

In an interview conducted the morning after the daring recovery, Miss Vandergellen said, "Words cannot express the absolute gratitude I feel for those who fought so long and hard to bring me back. Isobel [a ranger and life-long friend of the Vandergellen family] told me that the efforts never stopped and she was constantly approached by people asking if I had been found or what they could do to help." She hid her face for a moment, visibly overcome with emotion, then regained her composure. "I have never seen anything like this. From the moment I arrived in the area, people have been consistently generous and kind. To know that they have gone to such great lengths for me... I am humbled."

Miss Vandergellen spoke of several people who had become fast friends to her since she accepted the position at the Hedge Maze. Among the names she listed were the citizens of River’s End, Phoenix Rising and Riverveil; the Royal Knights of Britannia; The UnRuled, The Britannian Kilted Police, The Holy Cross Defenders, Sisters of Enchantment and the Silent Wolf Pride. "A very dear friend, Black Heart, came each day to tend my little garden," Evie said, smiling.

Evie remembers the events of the previous night with some difficulty. "It happened so fast and I was terrified out of my skull," she explained.

The preceding day, cult members had taken her to the site where they planned to hold the sacrificial rites. "They tied me to a nearby tree and held some sort of purification ceremony," Evie recounted. "I could see even by the dim light of their lanterns and small campfires that this was an incredibly old tree, and a very unhealthy one. The bards had devised a song, which they called a ‘veil’, and by playing it the The Mother became invisible. They were able to bring her back into view by playing another song."

At the end of the ceremony, Evie said, she was dragged over to the base of the tree and told to kneel. "My heart stopped. I thought they were going to kill me right there and then," she said. "They told me to kiss the exposed roots and beg for The Mother’s forgiveness so that I would not die with my sins upon my head. I did as I was told. When I realized that they were not going to kill me, I raised my face to the sky to thank the gods for sparing me this night. That’s when I heard The Mother’s voice."

Miss Vandergellen smiled faintly. "I know. I know. I sound like the cheese has slipped off my biscuit, but it is the truth, I swear it. At first, I thought I heard the wind moving through the leaves and that my mind was playing tricks on me. Then, gazing at the top of this magnificent old tree, I realized she had no leaves. This was Felucca. The leaves are gone now. This is why the trees are dead or dying. They cannot move through the seasons and are plunged into a perpetual winter. Few plants can survive that sort of abuse."

She stopped thoughtfully for a moment, then continued, "It was the tree speaking to me. It told me, ‘Fear not, child. Your friends come.’ It was the first spark of hope I’d had since I’d been snatched from the valley. I threw my arms around the tree and wept. The cult members, thinking I had seen reason and was begging forgiveness, pulled me back. As they carried me away from her, I heard her say, ‘See me home, child,’ and I promised her I would. She knew she was dying, but she also knew I would not be. For restoring my hope, I felt indebted to her and knew I had to try to help her as she’d helped me."

"See me home," a curious phrase found in the oldest of stories and manuscripts. During ancient times, when a comrade or family member died far from home soil and it was not practical to carry the remains the distance back for a proper burial, the primary organs would be gathered together and taken in a container of some sort to be buried. Though the land where the tree was rooted had undoubtedly been the only ground the tree had ever known, Evie reasoned, it longed to be among other living trees again. She knew she would have to harvest its seed somehow.

She had been forced to drink a bitter liquid earlier in the day which she believed was a poppy extract of some sort and it dulled her wits. "I tried to keep my mind sharp any way that I could," she told. "I kept telling myself over and over, ‘No matter what, get the seed.’ It helped me to be brave."

Vandergellen knew the hour was approaching by the sudden increased activity in the tree-top village where she was being held captive. She could see the cult members swinging by vines from tree to tree, rushing around the branches and straw-roofed huts like milling worker ants. It was their leader, Exetor, who came to collect her from the cane cage. "He grabbed my arm and pulled me out, but he didn’t speak to me." In a few moments, she found herself lashed to the ancient tree and could hear herself begging for her life. "I don’t remember what I said," Miss Vandergellen stated. "I could hear my voice, but it didn’t seem like it was coming from me. It was almost ethereal." Exetor began to read and Evie spotted something move in the shadows. "It was Ryu!" she grinned. "Ryu and a woman I had not seen before, but learned later was named Spolia." Ryu, a commissioner of Trinsic, cut the ropes that bound Evie to the ancient tree and opened a portal to safety for her.

"I knew I was risking his life by not going when he told me, but I also saw that The Mother was dying before our very eyes. In hindsight, maybe I was wrong to do what I did. I don’t wish anyone to think that I value a tree more than a human life, for that simply isn’t so. But I knew that Ryu could make it through his portal, too. I had to try to get the seed from The Mother. There was no one else to do this. If Exetor got the seed, the madness would only continue."

Evie ignored the portal and scrambled on her knees toward the tree. Finding a jagged stone, she dug in the soft part of the trunk where it was brittle and old and reached inside. Her hand found the stone-like seed buried within. She palmed it quickly, just as Ryu fell and Exetor turned his wrath upon her, blaming her for the death of The Mother.

Miss Vandergellen ran, barefoot and naked, through the canyon filled with giant serpents, spiders, reapers, corpsers and the nefarious Warder Willows set out by the congregation of cult members to guard the area. She huddled inside a hollowed place in the face of the mountain until Spolia found her there. The woman handed her a rune and a Recall scroll, saying, "We’ve got to get you out of here." Evie was dazed and her wild eyes could scarcely take in all the horror that surrounded her.

"I had never seen such a battle," she said quietly, in reverence and awe. "It was more ferocious than that day at the Hidden Valley. Guilt and remorse washed over me and I remember thinking that I could never atone for being the cause of all of this lunacy."

She found herself in Serpent’s Hold next, then was escorted home by Gareth and Lag, who tended her wounds and encouraged her to sleep. Back at the battle scene, confusion and panic swept through the crowd and they cleared away the enemy and found no sign of Evie. Eventually, the lines of communication were restored and the rescue forces were able to return to the mainland in Trammel and congratulate themselves on a job well done. Evie was overwhelmed by the flood of gifts and well wishes.

"They treated me as though I were some sort of hero," she mused, "but they were the heroes, most definitely. Every one of them."

Miss Vandergellen’s first order of business upon returning home was to plant the seed she had recovered from the ancient tree. When she awoke this morning, she rushed out to see if it showed signs of sprouting. "Jumping geraniums, did it sprout!" she reports gleefully. "Iso had come by to see about me and I showed her. She helped me dig it up and we moved it over by Skara Brae, on the road to the fairgrounds." Evie stated that she plans to build a sort of monument around the tree, a show of gratitude to all who have showered her with their friendship and courage.

"I read in the morning paper that I had planted a Death Willow seed." Her mouth hardened into a straight line. "That is so far from the truth and I wish to set the facts a’right. The seed came from the ancient tree known as The Mother. There was nothing evil about her. She was a kind, wise tree. It was not her fault that certain people came to misuse her and distort her purpose. If a man reads a holy book and misinterprets its purpose and kills others, is it the fault of the man or the book?" She shook her head. "The Death Willow was created from the seed of this ancient tree many years ago, true. And the seeds from the Death Willow were corrupted and used to create the Warder Willows, also true. However, The Mother did not create those things, they did not come directly from her. It was man’s inhumanity to man, his selfish and evil nature, that twisted her goodness for his own evil purposes. I intend to see to it that such a thing does not happen again."

From the Town Cryer - The Journal of Ultima Online, Thursday, March 1st 2001