Rancis, priest of Dalharad, He-of-the-Ever-Growing-Roots, smiled as he briefly re-opened his eyes, and gazed upon the pathetic throng of commoners encircling the Seed of Hope. The villagers of Bayle's Root were now sheep in his flock, Rancis mused, and almost allowed himself a smile. It took less than a year, the druid thought, but ever since he and his 'Harvesters', his disciples, had found this backward thorp, Dalharad had indeed blessed them, the preacher concluded. But a single abandoned shrine to some new-age god named Trigu, stood in the village of barely a hundred souls. Rancis had never heard of Trigu before coming here, but he held no more reverance for this faceless god, than he did his own god...Dalharad. The only important thing now, was that Rancis and his druids had impressive control over the majority of the populace, the villagers having bought the 'hope' Dalharad provided hook, line, and sinker, in absence of the guidance of the missing priests of Trigu, the former patron deity of this lonely community. It did not take much preaching and only a few 'tricks', to convince the locals, that worship of Dalharad, the Rootlord, was in their best interest.
Rancis smiled, closed his eyes again, cleared his throat...and prayed aloud, leading his dull-eyed congregation in praise of Dalharad.
"There, There, good priest. Haker's Field", Ol' Svenit, half-whispered, and pointed a single gnarled finger toward a wide, circular field of burnt grass and weeds. Tristan's gaze followed the old man's finger, and soon the young priest was looking across the main, muddy thoroughfare of Bayle's Root, upon a flat meadow just outside the village, where the folk of the thorp obviously held all their festivals, gatherings and prayers.
"There", Ol Svenit said once more, "There is the new god, good ser, the folk have abandoned Trigu, but do ye blame them? The high priest makes roots grow where none once were, and promises a harvest unlike any Bayle's Root has ever seen! And the holy men of Trigu, they left, left us alone, Rancis has brought hope to Bayle's Root once more. But not Ol' Svenit, good ser! I am not swayed by gods of the earth! I stayed true. I am your man." The oldtimer bowed his head for a moment, than brought Tristan closer to Haker's Field.
As the duo neared, sloshing through a mix of late winter snows and early spring mud, Tristan could make out a large group of people, thirty, perhaps forty people, young and old, gathered in a circle around a lithe, naked man, with the longest, blackest hair Tristan had ever seen on another human being, and a snow-white, drooping mustache. The man held aloft a great book, and when his eyes were not closed in silent reverance, he read from its yellowed pages. Near this naked man stood a handful of others, naked as well, and particularly hirsute. These men stood mostly with their arms crossed, eyes open, inspecting the worshippers, like watchdogs for their master.
Most of the common folk were kneeling in prayer, their eyes durifully closed, occasionally reciting muted prayer, highlighted by the mention of Dalharad...He-of-the-Ever-Growing-Roots.
"The Seed of Hope has been planted, and the harvest will be strong! Dalharad's roots will grow and envelop, warm and protect, nurture and nourish! From in the very heart of the earth, the Roots of Dalharad grow! Pray to him now! Give thanks to Dalharad!" Rancis now nearly screamed. "Your old god has abandoned you, but Dalharad will wind his roots through your soul! He will not forsake you!"
"Bring the horse", Rancis mysteriously concluded his sermon, and two of the naked men ran off, only to quickly return holding the reigns of a particularly haggard, fully domesticated mare. They walked the poor beast right up to their leader, and it was then Rancis picked up a scythe, which had lain on the ground, and raised it over his head.
"Blood for the Root Lord, Blood for the Earth! Blood for blood, life for life, a beast's red blood, shall water the Earth! And the Roots of Salvation will rise! For then the Seed of Hope will grow!"
Rancis concluded his now feverish diatribe, and his scythe ever higher, poised to strike down on the neck and throat of the decrepit horse standing before him.
Tristan stared agape at the scene. Ol' Svenit shook his head slowly. The pair stood well away from the circular throng, fifty yards still from Harker's Field, yet bile began to rise in Tristan's throat. Why had Trigu abandined this lost village. Why did the priests leave? And who were these blasphemous and revolting holy men?
Meanwhile, Adan of Trigu slowly rode his destrier into Bayle's Root. Nay, not a town, a village at best, and a poor one at that, the holy warrior thought as he rode. The streets, if these mud lanes could even be called streets, were nearly empty, and as Adan continued on, he realized the reason. Seemingly half or more of the locals were knelt in prayer in a large, but otherwise barren field, being led in some twisted prayer by naked druids. The paladin hesitated, and furrowed his brow, as he watched a bony horse being led to the center of the field, where an obvious alpha type was raising a scythe over his shoulder, and chanting repulsive odes (repulsive to Adan's ears anyway) to some Earth Deity.