Friday, April 14, 2006

Who is Hawthorn Thistleberry?

Since there's not been any explanation for the title of this blog, I thought it was time.

Like a lot of inveterate geek roleplayers, I have often used the names of characters I made and liked a lot as my handles. Over the years, two in particular have, for various reasons, ended up my primary handles. Oddly, both are characters that barely got beyond character creation. Well, not that oddly, really. If you take out characters I played less than two full adventures from, say, the last 15 years of my roleplaying experience... you'd have virtually all of them. But anyway...

Hawthorn got created a long, long time ago, back when I still played D&D sometimes. I don't have a specific year in mind; has to be after 1988 but probably not long after. Naturally, my roleplaying chops were not nearly as refined as they are now. Even more so, the worlds we played in weren't nearly as complete and fleshed-out as they are now. They were very driven by cliche and stereotype. Since that's what I had to work with, I ran with it -- making a character based around the cliche of the D&D version of the dryad, turned inside out.

The concept itself was, for the time, very unusual, and led to some really interesting roleplay. Though it annoyed the GM: my character turned out to be a more interesting challenge than the adventure, and stole all the scenes. Everyone ignored the hackneyed quest we were being given and spent all their time trying to figure out Hawthorn. But what really struck me was the form his background took. Being visited by a muse, I wrote it in a form that was really beyond my writing skills of the time. Even by today's standards it holds up pretty well (though I have to give myself some latitude in considering the world background I had to work with). So, without further ado, here is Hawthorn Thistleberry.

DRYAD: One of the nature spirits native to the forests of Callaria. The dryad is typically described as an impossibly beautiful female human, typically with dark skin, green eyes, and red hair (the hair of some dryads changes with the seasons). On closer inspection, a dryad proves to have slightly elven features, prompting some scholars (particularly Joseff of Arglenn and other followers of his Divergent Races theory) to conclude that the elf (especially the Sylvan) and dryad are closely related. Dryads, like all nature spirits ("nymphs"), are closely associated with a natural feature, in this case an oak tree. (Rumors of dryads associated with trees of other types have never been confirmed by scholars.) Research suggests that the dryad and the tree are soulmates, or more appropriately, that a dryad and her tree are one being in two guises. Thus, what one feels, the other feels. She cannot bring herself more than a few hundred feet from its roots.
It was midsummer, that time of the year when the little ones of the woods were at their busiest and the sunshine fed the brightest colors of the blooming wildflowers. She liked this time best; better than early spring when not everyone was awake yet, and better than the autumn when the little ones were working so hard and seriously to gather the food that would see them through the Long Sleep of winter. Now there was time to just play.

Each time she had stopped a Man who had been passing by, it was this time of the year. She knew that some of her sisters would take a Man any time one came through their Circle, but she always let them pass if they came too early or late. Like the little ones, Men were too serious during the spring as they came out of the trials of their Long Sleep, and too serious in autumn as they prepared for the next one; it was only during the summer that they really were free to see beauty rather than utility and desire in the things they found in her woods. While she kept a Man within her home, she would love him body and soul, and she didn't like to join herself to anyone as serious as a Man trying to get food for his family for the coming winter.

She felt sure that this day was so bright and full of sun, the air so sweet and redolent with beauty, that a Man must come into her Circle this day. She hoped he would appear soon.

The primary danger a dryad presents to the unwary traveller is not really a danger as much as a delay. Any healthy male, especially one who is handsome and strong, who wanders into the range of a dryad may find himself called by an irresistable desire for her. These victims typically find themselves weeks or even months later wandering out of the area, with only vague memories of the intervening time and little concept of how much time has passed. It is clear that the dryad seduces the male human (only humans are affected) for the purposes of procreation, though it is not clear how the species of dryad can so intermingle with males of the human species without the traits of the human males chosen being infused into the get that results. Many folk tales tell of the wrath of a dryad who has been spurned or resisted by her chosen lover, and of men disappearing into dryad woods never to be seen again, but no reliable account of any such activity has been recorded. Those few dryads that have been willing to speak to followers of the Earth Goddess insist that none of their sisters have ever harmed a man, but their magical nature prevents scholars from verifying the veracity of such claims by absolute means.
A tremor of feeling told her a Man had come into her Circle. The little ones ran into the crannies of her land, timid as always. But the blossoms shone as brightly as ever for the Man. Something was wrong, though. She realized at once that there were three Men, but she often found groups of Men travelling together through her Circle. What was different?

Returning swiftly to the Tree that was her center, she gazed upon the Men and saw that one of them was a Son Of The Mother, a follower of the Earth Goddess, wise in the ways of the woods. Perhaps he would speak to her. She had never answered the calls of such Men, for in her own way she was as timid as the little ones, but perhaps today she would be brave and answer if he called. Or, she mused, perhaps she would call him; he was perhaps not the most handsome Man that had come through her Circle, but neither was he the least.

She gazed upon the other two, to see if either of them was a more suitable candidate, but she was stunned by what she saw. One of the Men had a soul that radiated malice, and more than that, it radiated that incomprehensible feeling that she called the Human Force. Like all her sisters, she was totally unable to understand it; she only knew that she must let her Man go free after a time, or it would grow to devour his soul. This Man's Human Force was strong, but it had become a part of his malice, and the malice had become a part of it. She wanted no part of this Man.

The third was more to her liking; a simple, strong Man. He bore, and wore, more steel than was to her liking, but that was an easily solved problem. But in an instant she perceived the relation between the three men. The armored soldier took orders from the man of malice; he also held one of his weapons on the Son, though it seemed clear that the Son followed the orders of the man of malice for some other reason, which she could not perceive, and the soldier was just a precaution.

Before she could decide what, if anything, to do about these unusual Men, she heard a call she could not resist. The Son was bringing his wisdom to bear, and this was not a call she could ignore; it carried force and pulled at her very roots. Without any of her own will, she stepped forth from the Tree in front of the men. Then she lay herself down on the moss between the roots of her Tree, wrapping her arms around its broad bark, helpless all the while. Though she could do nothing that she was not told to do, she could see and feel everything; the amazement of the soldier, the regret of the Son, and drowning everything else out, the lust, the triumph, and the malice of the one who ruled them. As he tied her hands together around the tree with a piece of the skin of one of the little ones, the intensity of his hideous sense of victory and subjugation, of pleasure at his own power, made her soul want to gag, but her body was rigidly helpless to obey. As he removed his clothes, she could see that the act of love which led to creation was for him an act of destruction, which he intended to carry out on her; and for him the act would mean nothing if it were offered, only if it were stolen. As he lay on top of her, she wondered if she would ever waylay a Man again.

After the dryad has released her consort from his enchantment, the following spring, her tree produces a special acorn. It is easily identifiable; all normal acorns are produced in the autumn, so it is the only one at the time. The dryad then takes the acorn from her tree when it has reached full size, and travels to the very edge of the land she can travel through; she throws the acorn as hard as she can away from her tree, to ensure that the new tree and dryad that are formed will not overlap with her own range. The acorn forms a tree; when it is still a skinny sapling, the newly born dryad coalesces out of it, though she rarely ventures forth before her tree has reached several dozens of years of age. (Shahrm of Montill has recorded a case where he was able to lure a dryad out of a tree that was less than two feet tall; he reports that the dryad appeared full-grown but seemed very sleepy and returned to her tree almost immediately, and was unwilling to answer further calls. This is the only recorded case of a dryad of less than ten years of age being seen by a human.) The mother dryad will communicate with other dryads, but not with the daughter; there is an unspoken reluctance for mother and daughter to communicate or refer to one another in any way, and all other dryads will respect this automatically, knowing in advance which dryad is the mother of which other dryad and avoiding discussions relating to such relations. Therefore, dryad "society" (if it can be called that) always refers to all its members as "sisters" only.
The Long Sleep was over, but there was no joy in the spring. There was no joy in anything anymore. She was consumed with feelings she had never felt, could not describe, could not even conceive of. Many were much the same as those that she had seen in the soul of the Man who did this to her. Though she had never performed any violent or destructive act in her entire existence, she somehow felt sure that if that Man came into her Circle without his captive Son Of The Mother to protect him, she would find a way to bring his painful and bloody death. Strangest of all, she was overwhelmed with the need to go outside her Circle, to find him and -- and what?

So strong was her inner turmoil that a full week passed before she saw the acorn. It had already reached full size when she saw it hanging on a branch of her Tree -- the branch she was under when it happened. She looked into it and saw a reflection of her face, and in it, she saw the Human Force, burning, threatening to consume her Tree, her Self. Was it in her, or in the acorn? She ripped the acorn from the branch with a savagery that surprised her, and distracted her from the fact that, even a single treering ago, she would not have used her physical form for such an act. Peering into it she saw the flame of Human Force was in it. Filled with disgust, and not sure if the disgust was with the acorn or herself, she hurled it to the ground and ground it into the earth. It was not crushed, only buried, but she stopped her destructive act when she realized the flame had not left; it was in her, too. She drew herself within her Tree, and her Tree within her Self, and watched helplessly while her soul shriveled up, and her Tree withered prematurely, and the little ones left her Circle, and the bright ones stopped blossoming with each new spring.

One year like any other year, drab and painful with the self- inflicted tortures of hatred and the compulsions of the Human Force, she felt a presence within her Circle, and roused her Self long enough to look. She was shocked out of the bark she had grown around her heart when she saw another Tree, just a small sapling, growing right next to her Tree! There was something within it... a sister? Not quite. She suddenly realized the obvious: this Tree was the get of the acorn she had ground into the dirt. This Tree was filled with the flame of Human Force, and this Tree was hateful to her. And it, being a dryad she should never speak to or of, was within her Circle! Years of self-inflicted mental wounds turned to rage, and she took the physical form she had not used in years to hurl herself like a rabid little one at the young, scrawny Tree.

But as she reached it she saw another Self step out from it; a sister, but a Man! He gazed at her with wonder, and distantness, and all the brightness and innocence of youth, and behind it all a glimmer of the Human Force, and for just a moment she felt love again. Love, which she had forgotten, which she had not felt for years. Love which had once been the beginning and the end of her heart. Love which had been taken from her, made a stranger to her, by a Man, a carrier of the Human Force. Gazing upon the Man-sister, she found her rage again and bore down on him with a hatred which would have killed a Man due to its intensity.

He knew very little; only that the Tree that stood next to his Self, hardly rooted at all, must stay with him at all times, and that the sister that stood before him should never speak to him or interact with him. He did not understand hate, but it resonated with something inside him he had never explored, and he knew that he, too, could hate, and destroy. The one thing he knew above all else was that there was wrong here. He grabbed his Tree with one hand, gave it a quick tug (pulling its roots easily free of their weak grip on the soil), and ran. When he had gone far enough, he looked behind and she was no longer chasing him. He knew she had gone back inside her Self and was now feeding on her own poisons, destroying herself with the hate, and this curious flame of a feeling which drove him to want to go places, to do things, to accomplish things. He had no word for this, but he knew it was not a natural thing for her and was destroying her. But it was natural for him. It was at the core of his being; it was why his tree's roots were so shallow, but could take root (as they now had) anywhere. He wondered: is this hatred also at the core?

Dryads have been demonstrated to possess many powers and capabilities related to the world of nature around them. Being a spirit of nature they can speak with the plants and animals, and usually enjoy a great closeness with them. They can step inside their tree, leaving their apparent physical manifestation behind; they can also step into any tree within their range and reappear from any other. As their life force is that of their tree, they can draw sustenance from soil and sunlight and rainfall, but they can be weakened by drought and blight and the damage of axes and saws. Their ability to befuddle and, to some extent, control the mind of men is strong, but not like the mental control exhibited by other, more malicious predators; the only sure defense against the charm of the dryad appears to be a thorough understanding of the ways of nature, such as are known by followers of Lenoris, or the simple but rarely useful expedient of being female. A dryad, as has been mentioned, cannot leave the surroundings of her tree, and during the winter she appears to hibernate. Beyond these constants, the powers of the dryad vary considerably in differing tales, but are usually very similar to those of skilled followers of Lenoris.
He learned fast, and he travelled much. Those sisters he tried to speak with shunned him, and in some cases a glimmer of the disease which had consumed his mother seemed to threaten to appear in them if he forced the point, so he took to leaving them be, relying on the discretion of the little ones to allow him to avoid their Circles without them knowing he had passed near. He was amazed that his sisters could spend their entire lives eating only the soil of one patch of land; the variety of flavors in soil was amazing, and he found new types all the time. His favorite was the moist, thick type called clay, but best of all was to try a new one.

He could speak to the little ones easily enough, but he found it hard to hold a conversation with the bright blooming ones, because their thoughts were so slow, he lacked the patience. So he only spoke to them when he could find no other way to gather the information he needed. As autumn came, his hair changed color, as did the leaves on his sisters' Trees and his Treestaff; but as his sisters' Trees lost their leaves and they went to sleep, he stayed, weakened and tired but still travelling. However, during the summer when his sisters were at the peak of activity, he was bright and energetic too, but even so he needed to sleep during a part of each night; his sisters did not seem to need to sleep.

He was careful to use his abilities to avoid disturbing his sisters and managed to avoid them even knowing of his existence as he travelled. But he knew that before he could go much farther, he had to find out what this feeling, this desire, was, that drove him to explore. It seemed like a need, but he knew not for what. In his talk with the little ones, it became clear to him that a similar feeling seemed to be found in the fragile and strange Men that his sisters sometimes called. He resolved to find one of these Men and examine him, and perhaps learn from him, to understand himself.

Other than the occasional waylaying of a man, the dryad poses no threat to humanity, and rarely if ever interacts with humans or other races in any other way. Since a dryad lives in one place her entire life, her woods may well become known for being "dryad woods", but a person can easily pass through without ever seeing her, so it is virtually impossible to figure out which is her tree without the use of magic. Because the dryad poses no threat and has no treasure to offer, she has remained essentially immune to the damages that the expansion of man have wreaked on many other species like her; the only place where she has been threatened has been in heavily logged areas near large cities.
He found at the fringes of the forest were areas where Men lived in crudely manufactured shelters, often made of the bodies of fallen trees (usually not Trees, though). They lived in large numbers and buzzed about interacting at a pace that made him dizzy, speaking to one another in a crude language that seemed to consist entirely of sounds. He knew he was not ready to enter that world, so he wandered its fringes for some time before he came upon the cottage in the woods. There was a Man who lived there, a single Man. His ways were strange; he forced some of the blooming ones to grow in straight lines so he could more easily pull off the berries and fruits, which he brought inside the cottage (made of fallen trees) and, apparently, ate. He occasionally set traps which would catch the little ones. It was hard at first to get used to his casual killing of the little ones, but it soon became obvious that without this and the eating of the blooming ones, he would die. He had no roots and could not take sustenance from the soil directly. The man sometimes spoke to himself, and by listening to these words while watching his soul, he could figure out what some of the words meant. Reading his soul was tiring, so once he'd mastered a few words, he used them to help him understand more, until he felt he knew enough to introduce himself to the old man, pretending to be a lost traveller.

Though he never really felt that he'd made the old man comfortable with him, he did learn much about humans, their limitations and their tendencies, and most importantly their language. When the old man died one night in his sleep, Hawthorn (as he had named himself once he learned what names were for) buried him, then spent many weeks returning the cottage back to the land until there was no trace of it. Then he set out to find a city, confident he was now ready to enter human society and learn how it worked, and what this flame in his heart, which he had now learned to call Ambition, was for.

No comments: