The Old Ones
Druids love natural spaces. It’s even fair to say that druids feed on them. They feed on the snow that falls on ancient pines. They feed on the weevils gnawing on roots. They feed on the hunger in a wolf’s belly.
Because these things are Natural, they are Good, for at least one definition of “Good”.
Then what is Bad, in the eyes of a druid? Why, all the things that destroy the natural order. Rationality, math (druids hate math), language, money, metallurgy, fur trappers, philosophy. The philosophy of a druid is “no philosophy”. And true, druids use language to talk among themselves, but it is always tinged with a bit of self-loathing for this reason, a reminder of their distance from Nature and from what is Good.
Nature is red in tooth in claw. Nature is hungry and rapacious. Nature is self-absorbed. Does a panther care about anything beyond it’s own well-being? And because these things are Nature, they are also Druids.
Though the widely held suspicion that druids were involved in the creation of the bagsaints is true, there are many misconceptions and half-truths spread about druids themselves.
Druids love fire. There is no better way to raze a town than to burn it. Fire is the great equalizer. Druids love a dry summer storm. Thatched roofs ignite so readily under lightning strikes, like they’ve been waiting for the flame. Druids call to the winds, and the winds call back, blowing the inferno before them, across the town. Forest predators pad through the streets on quick paws. Farther back in the smoke, you can see the naked, blood-painted druids moving from house to house, methodically exterminating dogs.
Druids hate domesticated dogs. Aside from being able to track them back into their secret caves in the forest, dogs represent a traitorous element among the animals. Domesticated dogs are wolves that have been twisted so thoroughly in the hands of their masters that they hold nothing but love for their oppressors. Dogs are an abomination on par with the undead.
Druids don’t care about a tree. Druids care about the forest. And not even the forest-as-a-collection-of-trees, they care about the eternal forest, the forest that will exist long after all of these trees are dead, and also somehow exists behind them. The template from which this forest grew.
The pulse of Nature is one of death and rebirth, twined together as tightly as two anacondas fucking. An animal is born, and is promptly eaten. Another animal is born, eats and grows, procreates, then grows old and is eaten. Chaos and apathy. This is Right and this is Good.
Druids will sometimes set forest fires themselves. It’s their greatest resource when a king sends an army into the forest after them, as kings invariably do. Druids guide the wildfire, and sometimes even extinguish it after it has done its job.
A druid’s magic is broad, crude, slow, indistinct, subtle, and immensely powerful. Compare this to a wizard’s magic, which is fast, localized, instantaneous, precise, and often flashy. A wizard’s magic is a bullet fired from a gun, while a druid’s magic is a gentle, sustained breeze.
Druids can barely live in harmony with each other. These people are possessed by spirits of Nature, figuratively but also possibly literally. When one commune meets another, it is like two wolf packs catching sight of each other across the timber line. Sometimes there is murder. Sometimes there are “marriages”. Sometimes they exchange small bits of news and go on their way.
Even within a stable circle of druids there is tension. Like wolf packs, druids have their alphas and their betas. They have their breeding pairs and their marginalized members. Druidic power is invested in them in proportion to their standing, so advancing through the ranks of the druids involves killing your superiors (and usually eating them—druids are frugal).
This is what the average person knows about druids: They are wild people who live in forests who will murder you on sight. Also, they’re magic.
And for most people, that’s the beginning and the end of it. Forests are wild, untamed places. On Earth, humans venture into them to go hunting or collect mushrooms. On the Vornish frontiers no sane person would go into a forest—any forest—because of the druids (and various beasties). Nobles go hunting in carefully tended game preserves, but these are small and semi-analogous to golf courses.
Sometimes the druids do not have the power to assert complete dominion over their forests, and so are forced to let travelers through. Even hunters might be tolerated (with occasional murders to keep them feeling unwelcome, but not so many that it brings armies down on their heads.
Druids hate elves only slightly less than the rest of civilization.
When elves and druids do fight, it’s horrifying. Weeping treants marching solemnly into a bonfire, epileptic wolves gnawing off their own legs, nature itself torn asunder.
Druids hate cities. They hate the concept of cities.
Sometimes, when a trapper is filling his canteen by a creek and a druid drops out of the trees—eyes wide and teeth bared—and proceeds to murder the trapper with a sharpened rock, the trapper dies thinking that the druid hates him. But that’s not true. The druid looks right through him and sees the city.
When the druid bites out the trapper’s jugular vein, the druid can taste the dirty rainwater dripping off the gargoyles. When the druid pulls out the trapper’s heart and eats it, he can feel concrete foundations crumbling between his molars. He didn’t kill a man, he killed a piece of the city.
Because the druid knows that the Forest is not just a collection of trees. It is a spiritual place that everything will return to, if given enough time. And like the Forest, the City is also a spiritual place, greater than the sum of its cobbles. But the City doesn’t come from the World. The City comes from the mind of Men, and that is why the druid takes extra pleasure in smashing the trapper’s brains out with his rock.
If the druid had any sense of symbolism, he would eschew the process of eating the trapper’s brains. But symbols are profane, another tool of the City, and so the brains are carefully scooped up with dirty fingers and swiftly eaten.
The Growth and The Rot
They called themselves Roa Junyo, which in the old tongue means “Confederacy of Beasts”. They planted seven seeds together. Oak, ash, ivy, thistle, mandrake, dandelion, and a seed from the Great Elven Tree, Eladras. It is a mystery as to how they acquired it.
The tree that grew from this union was called Aglabendis, the Second World Tree. It grew a foot a day for a hundred years, and Roa Junyo used it to wage war on the world. It sent roots throughout the entire world. Castles crumbled under its patient predation. City walls were ground to dust over the course of a year. Millions were driven from their farms into the wilderness, where most of them starved.
For a hundred years, Aglabendis was implacable. Dragons and druids torched the great cities, while Aglabendis’ heavy roots mutilated their bones. The Great Library of Asria was put to the torch. The Immortal Palace of the Peacock Emperor was shoved into the sea. Dragons landed in the great cattle markets of Kelzon and glutted themselves on the cows found there, then laid themselves down to sleep amid the mud and the blood and the gore, while the few remaining cows kicked at the paddock gates for a way out.
Crown jewels were captured and melted down. The gold was mixed with pig iron, and the resultant slag dumped over the deep parts of the ocean. Paintings were smeared with feces and thrown into the wells, which were then collapsed. (In fact, this is where the famous Portrait of a Pale Girl was recovered.) All farm animals were killed and eaten, and what could not be eaten (most of it) was left to rot. Pearls were fed to swine.
Roa Junyo was a terrible foe. They did not want anything that the cities could offer, just destruction. No normal spies could infiltrate their ranks. Men would rather have fought orcs than the naked ranks of the druids.
In the height of Aglabendis’ power, the tree used its roots to conduct raids. After spending months growing beneath a fort or a town, they would suddenly erupt from the ground, crushing wagons beneath their bulk. They were also usable as tunnels, and so the dire roots also vomited out bears, wolf packs, and wasps. (Cities quickly came to respect the power and utility of few million wasps during a raid.)
Armies and heroes assailed the Second Great Tree. They sometimes made it as far as the lower branches, where the druids and dragons waited for them. Aglabendis’ roots were annointed in their blood.
In the end, it was internal strife that brought down Aglabendis. After a disagreement drove the dragons away, a team of assassins managed to poison the Second Great Tree. It’s dessicated limbs have mostly fallen to the ground, and its trunk is host to teeming swarms of insects and fungi. The tree has been rotting for the last three hundred years, and only now is the decomposition nearing completion. Aglabendis was said to be divine, and strange things surround its wood.
The druids have not forgotten their defeat. Many of them wish to resurrect Aglabendis, or claim that the Second Tree is still alive, at its heart. But the dragons are almost extinct now. Roa Junyo is beyond revival. Some still travel into Great Rot seeking rebirth or plunder, but few survive.
Here is the account of Jurgen the Trepidatious, a scribe of Vornheim who lived with the druids of the Hornscar forest for nine months as part of a hostage exchange, until his writings were discovered an he was skinned alive as a result. The Vornish Inquisition recovered some of his scrolls amidst the ashes of the forest after the Great Purge.
“. . . and whose chieftain was a certain Dorval, who body was being consumed by a rotting curse contracted from an unconsecrated tomb. Dorval came to the druids seeking to be reborn, and thereby be cured of his affliction.
For this miracle, Dorval offered territorial concessions and [. . .] certain mercenary services. Both Dorval and the archdruid spit their blood on each other’s hands atop the Unbroken Stone, and it was agreed.
Dorval was annointed for three days with lavea oil. Then his body was smeared with boar fat and he consumed one thousand black flies. Then a hole was dug beneath the roots of an oak tree, and a small room hollowed out. Dorval was placed into the hole.
Then I saw a enormous white wolf being led to the hole. Its eyes were keen, as it was when the druids’ hand are upon its mind. The wolf entered the hole beneath the oak, and it heard the screams of the aged Dorval, who cried Bloody Murder and described the treachery of druids. But his cries were quickly silenced.
The next morning, the wolf emerged from the hole, its muzzle bloody and its belly distended. The wolf lay down beside the campfire, and the druids retrieved the bones of Dorval from the hole. Not a scrap of flesh was left. The white wolf had eaten him whole.
The sleeping wolf was placed on a bier and the druids administered spring water to its mouth. Over the next three days, all of its fur fell out. The most horrifying noises came from its bones, which I could observe moving beneath its skin like slugs. The wolf’s face changed, becoming that of a young man. On the third day, the wolf sat up and inspected it’s body with visible delight.
The wolf said that its name was Dorval, but that he was confused as to what happened in the hole beneath the oak tree. The druids refused to answer his questions [. . .] and sent him away."
No other evidence of Druidic reincarnation of this manner has been found, and all survivors of this Druidic enclave were put to the torch along with their forest.
The Fall of Drakwald
Duke Leopold von Bildhofen, lord of the Drakwald, was waging war against the druidic folk of the forests.
Word reached him that the archdruid of the Riddlewood, a man named Hangul, wished to discuss the terms of surrender. His advisers cautioned him that the druids have no respect for truces and promises, seeing them as tools of a decadent mind, but the Duke agreed to meet the archdruid anyway.
Archdruid Hangul was admitted to Schloss Bildhofen at dawn. Since the archdruid was naked, except for mud and parasites, it was understood that he would be bathed and dressed before he would be admitted to the duke’s presence. But during this process, the archdruid used his powers of transformation to slip away and then elude pursuit.
The archdruid was found a short time later, and was promptly blasted into a bloody mist by men from The Order of Kites, but not before the archdruid had raped the duchess.
Three months later, Duke Leopold had completed his project of pacifying the Drakwald and caravans passed through the eastern half in safety. The Drakwald druids were killed or driven into hiding.
Six months after that, the duchess bore a son named Uriahl. The truth of his conception was kept secret, even from the boy. By all accounts, the duke and duchess raised Uriahl as their own son, and he was treated with kindness and affection. The duchy was entering a period of peace and prosperity, and the duke was able to spend time with his sons.
When Uriahl was nine years old, he murdered his mother, two half-brothers, and drowned Duke Leopold in the garden fountain. Using a conflagration as a distraction, the boy slipped out of the castle. The last witnesses describe how the prince discarded his clothing and fled into the Drakwald while running on all fours.
The young prince ran to a secret grove, where he found the surviving druids where he knew they would be. The druids were overjoyed to see him, and licked the blood from his uncalloused feet to show their submission.
The boy apologized for his nine-year absence, and demanded that his thorny crown be replaced on his brow. The druids happily obliged. Their archdruid had finally returned to them.
The tragedy of the Drakwald was but a minor disturbance in comparison to the fate that befell Cauterus. The sight of a bagsaint in a civilized province is often enough to incite brutal pogroms against druidic circles, or those suspected to be associated with them.