Neri puttered about his hut, talking to himself as usual. The old druid was a well-known figure in the surrounding communities and many sought him out regularly for advice on crops to grow or rotate or midwifery. This despite his non-human appearance. No one really knew what race Neri was, as no had every seen anything like him in this area. Neri himself tended to downplay it, explaining that he had forgotten much of his early life including what race he was and that he had not seen another member of his species in decades. His gray skin and oddly folded and ridged muscles made it impossible for anyone to mistake him for human, but his wisdom and selfless advice worked to disarm the reservations of the farmers and others that lived out here at the edge of the empire when he first arrived. Now, he's been here longer than the majority of people still around to seek out his advice.
He's certainly been there for as long as Yerfed could remember, and his mother had often told him the story of how Neri was able to make a tincture that saved his life from a terrible fever when he was a baby. This was the reason that Yerfed sought out the learned druid to ask about the valley of the tree.
"Come in, Yerfed of Rag Hill, don't linger at the door." Neri called out before Yerfed had even knocked on the door.
The young man ducked his head as he came through the low door. "Good morning, sir," he said, his tone reserved and reverent. "I have something weird I wanted to talk to you about."
The druid turned from the large cauldron he was stirring over the fire. The boney ridge above his eye shifted, a somewhat subtle movement that Yerfed took as a indication of surprise. "And what is that?" Neri asked.
Yerfed started, "Well, I've been wandering the woods north of Rag Hill for..." His words faltered as Neri reached forward and pinched a small yellow fluff from his shoulders.
Neri met Yerfed's mud brown eyes with his own shimmering silver ones and said, "Go on." He reached up and picked off another tuft of pollen.
"Well," Yerfed continued, his eyes following Neri's hands as the druid continued to pluck at him, "I was out exploring yesterday and I found a new place. Well, an old place really. The biggest oak I've ever seen, honest."
"Really?" Neri asked, pausing his pollen plucking for just a moment.
"Yeah," Yerfed said nodding urgently, "and grown all around with giant grasses and flowers."
Neri dumped the picked pollen into a small pestle and began grinding it up. "And did you steal anything from there?" he asked bluntly, no emotions coloring his words.
Yerfed looked suprised and exclaimed, "I'm no thief!"
Neri made a placating motion with his hand and said, "Many find no crime in stealing from the dead, particularly those of another race and time. I was just asking." He poured the ground pollen into a small wooden bowl and pulled down a small bottle of some unlabeled violet fluid, mixing a few drops into the powder.
"Well, anyways. I found it and was trying to push through to the tree itself but I started hearing voices yelling things and eventually I couldn't move through the grass anymore. Like I hit a wall or something, but there wasn't nothing there."
The mixture in bowl began to bubble and smoke. Neri leaned his head in and inhaled the smoke, coughing slightly. He looked to the ceiling, his eyes closed but moving behind the lids. "Well," he began contemplatively, "There was something there. Most likely many things. You know the rumors of those woods being haunted."
Yerfed nodded quietly.
"Well, I would guess that it was the ghosts of the elves that used to live in that forest that were keeping you from the tree. I also think it likely that thanks to the pollen that you 'stole' from the field around the tree, you brought those same ghosts home with you," Neri continued, "This is problematic as these ghosts are old and angry at human interlopers. Being ghosts there is little to be done to reason with them, although I will do what I can. If not, you may have granted them access to Rag Hill which puts the entire town at risk. Return home. I will follow shortly. We will then work out a plan."
As Yerfed left the druid's hovel, Neri was already gathering up a bag full of materials that he may need. He had never had to settle a forest of ghosts before, and hoped that it wasn't something well beyond his capabilities.