Charon stopped and turned back to look at Mary.
“What’s the matter?” he called.
“I’m afraid,” she replied.
Charon hesitated unhappily. He didn't want to leave the child alone and yet he would get into a lot of trouble with the Council if he were to go any further. The wind stirred lazily amongst the leaves and his face brightened.
“Euthalia!” he cried, a smile growing on his face. Mary turned to look at him. He was looking deeper into the forest, his back towards the path.
“Euthalia!” Charon cried again. “I have need of you, friend!”
The whispering amongst the trees grew as he called for Euthalia over and over again. Mary backed away from the darkening path until she bumped into Charon. Charon held a protective arm around her shoulders.
“Don’t worry, child. Euthalia will help you.”
“Who is he?”
“She’s my friend,” Charon said as a lithe young woman stepped out from among the trees.
“Associating with humans now? How delightfully naughty of you, Charon. What would Sophea say?”
Charon blushed. “I found her alone in the forest. She was lost and needs help to get home. Can you help her, Euthalia?”
The dryad seemed to almost float over the grass as she circled Mary, inspecting her with her sharp eyes. “Help a tree-killing human?”
“She’s just a child…”
“We - my family does not harm trees, friend dryad,” Mary spoke up, her dark eyes round with wonder. It seemed as if she had stepped into an unknown world this one night.
“You can say anything you like, child, but can you prove it to me?”
“My father is Druid,” she said, pressing down the butterflies in her stomach. “We honour and revere the great oaks of this nation.” The words her father had spoken often echoed in her head. She hoped she was saying them right.
"A druid? In these British Isles? Do they yet survive?" Euthalia said with some astonishment. "I long thought their breed had died out, banished by the Romans, persecuted by the Christians, all that they stood for stripped away." There was a sadness in her voice, in the way she stood, like a drooping tree.
"He is seer and sorcerer, if you like," Mary said, a little miffed by her reception.
"What is his name?"
Euthalia spun like the wind, the leaves chattering behind her, the boughs bowing in conspiracy. Stopping nose to nose with Mary, she asked breathlessly, "Darrick Oak-knower?”
“Does he know you are here?” Euthalia asked.
“No - he is out searching for Jane, my sister.”
“Ah.” Euthalia closed her eyes, standing as still as a tree, only her hair waving in the soft breeze.
Mary thought she seemed to grow a little translucent, her pale hands taking on a slight tinge of green. She blinked, and rubbed her eyes. The dryad was staring at her curiously, as solid as Mary herself.
“She is safe,” Euthalia said. “Come, let us bring you home before your father has another fright in the night.” She took Mary’s hand. “Goodbye Charon. May the stars be with you.”
“Thank you, Euthalia. May your leaves be ever green.” Charon cantered away as the two girls walked down the path.
This time, the trees seemed to open the way as they passed, allowing the moonlight to shine on them. The feeling of oppression faded away.
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A dryad (/ˈdraɪ.æd/; Greek: Δρυάδες, sing.: Δρυάς) is a tree nymph, or female tree spirit, in Greek mythology. In Greek drys signifies "oak." Thus, dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees, though the term has come to be used for all tree nymphs in general. "Such deities are very much overshadowed by the divine figures defined through poetry and cult," Walter Burkert remarked of Greek nature deities. They were normally considered to be very shy creatures, except around the goddess Artemis, who was known to be a friend to most nymphs.