Prepare the forests
Three words. Eight hours of candles, prayer, and navigating mind-mazes of prophecy, for three words. Jacek exhaled deeply, and pushed himself to his feet. He was sore from having sat cross-legged for so long. With a wave of his hand he extinguished the remaining candles, cursing under his breath the vagueness of prophecy in this age of the world, while reflecting that they were, after all, lucky to get even that. The future was not set in stone, and some things even the Gods could not – or would not – tell.
He left the small ritual chamber, finding Katja and some of their trusted advisers waiting in the chamber outside, expectant and worried looks on their faces. Hamberly promptly handed his King a towel and glass of chilled water, then nearly stumbled as with a whoosh Kifu magically appeared where the valet had been standing seconds before. Jacek took a long draught and wiped his face. He was drained, exhausted, physically and mentally.
“Prepare the forests.”
“Yer Majesty?” Ulgar enquired.
Kifu turned to look at the dwarf. “I infer that is the result of the prognostication,” he said, “for…”
“You tellin’ me, Cher,” Ray interjected, “he been in that little closet all day and that’s all we getting from the Gods?”
Katja kissed her husband on the cheek and put an arm around him. He visibly sagged into her embrace, nodding weakly. “That is the way of these things,” she said, “and even this much is a blessing.”
“I sought to ask when and where the next Bloom within the realm would occur. This does at least narrow down locations; I would suspect, from the phrasing, that this means it will happen soon. The use of the word prepare leads me to hope that there is least time to avoid a disaster of the magnitude afflicting Candlemere.”
Lem and Ulgar exchanged glances. “Three town sand three forts in forests,” Lem began, “plus isolated loggers and the like. I don’t know that we can evacuate.”
Ulgar tugged on his beard. “We ken move troops to ‘em in a day or two, help wi whatever does gae doon.”
“Very good.” Jacek straightened a little. Having a plan, even the beginnings of one, made him feel better. “One other thought occurs to me; the swans and whirlpool at Candlemere were pictured in Ruddiger’s Picnic. Perhaps the book holds other clues – were any of the other illustrations in forests?”
Kifu had the book in hand, flicking through to one particular scene featuring humanoid creatures made of assorted plant matter. “This may be a depiction of vegepygmies.”
Variel and Leiliania wrinkled their noses in disgust, the latter exclaiming “Ew! Not my kind of plant. They can stick you with mold, which eats you up from the inside, and then one of them grows out of you.”
Jacek nodded, gravely. “Then I agree that we should move some troops to the forest, to guard against any incursion by vegepygmies or other unwelcome visitors. Try and destroy them before they can infect anyone. Ulgar, Lem, I leave that to you. And we should assess how to cure any who are afflicted by this mold, in case the Bloom again mirrors the illustration.”
He looked around. “As to the rest of us, we must be ready to travel wherever it happens at short notice. All the while continuing to attend to the blind of Candlemere. And whatever else assails us. Thank you, all. I will be in my chambers a while.”
The King and Queen turned towards the wing of the Palace containing their private apartments, Hamberly already scurrying off to fetch refreshments and a clean set of clothes for Jacek, the others variously teleporting or walking to see to their own affairs or talk in the Wench. It had been a long day, but was going to get even longer.