Not long after the coronation of Louis the Rash, the young King came to the conclusion that Athel Loren was a vital point of defence against Bretonnia's enemies. Seeking to form an alliance, he sent Gaston, one of his most esteemed Questing Knights on a perilous journey into the domain of the Wood Elves.
Only a Questing knight such as Gaston would be reckless and brave enough to attempt this task alone. Only a lone knight would have a chance of passing through the borderlands as a messenger. If a party of Knights were sent, the Elves would definitely attack them, believing them to be a baron's retinue intent on invasion. Gaston rode boldly into the mystical forest, and despite every threat, every strange and disturbing ploy that the goddess Ariel used against him, he would remain intent on completing his task.
Guiding his great white charger onwards through the trees, the horse stepping carefully over exposed roots and mossy hummocks, the Questing Knight advanced further into the woods. His quest was of the utmost importance and it was imperative that he succeed: none had done so before him and his honour was at stake.
It had been just after dawn five days ago when Gaston de Galliard had reached the edge of the forest. Having passed beyond the age-worn boundary stones and crossed the tract of open heathland that made up the borderlands of Athel Loren the knight had already completed a long and arduous trek and yet the most perilous part of his journey was yet to come...
During those five days, the wooded landscape had varied dramatically. One day his horse was climbing over high, boulder-strewn crags, the next he was riding along the banks of a mist-shrouded lake. Despite the beauty of the forest, Gaston did not let it overwhelm him. Instead, he concentrated on watching for any signs that he was about to be challenged by the guardians of the forest. So far no Wood Elves had attempted to impede his progress, but the deeper he intruded into their realm, the more likely he felt that he would be called to account.
Passing an elm, split down its middle in times past by lightning, Gaston rode on, listening out for any sound that might belie the presence of camouflaged archers. An hour later he passed the same tree again. Another ten, steady steps forwards and suddenly Gaston found himself in an entirely different part of the woods. It was as if the forest were distorting itself around the trespasser and time no longer had any meaning. Perhaps this disturbing effect had happened as soon as Gaston left the wild heaths, and he had been riding for ten days rather than five. Or possibly, perceived from the real world outside, he had only entered the forest a few hours ago. Whatever the truth, the Questing knight would not let this strangeness prevent him from delivering his message.
Dusk fell in the twilight realm and Gaston considered making camp for the night. And then he saw the flickering lights in the distance. Sure that he must be at last nearing his goal Gaston urged his steed on, putting aside all thoughts of rest. However, as he approached the lights he saw them dance away towards more densely-thicketed regions. The ground was becoming softer beneath the charger's hooves, which sank a few inches more with every step. Gaston had heard rumours of the will-o'-the-wisps that could lure travellers away from the safe paths to perish in bottomless marshes or lead them to their doom in the lairs of mighty forest beasts. Turning his horse around, the knight rode back to firmer ground.
The trees gave way to a grassy glade and something large flew overhead, slow silent wing beats sending buffeting gusts against the knight. Glancing upwards Gaston glimpsed for a moment a silhouette against the shining white face of the moon, like a moth against a candle flame - then it was gone.
A high-pitched, musical laugh echoed between the trees. Scanning the glade, the knight could see nothing. Then, like a chuckling brook, the laughter came to Gaston's ears again and this time he caught sight of a slender creature skipping through the waist-high grass. Clad only in a shimmering gown, the maiden was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Her waist-length hair shone like silver in the moonlight and as she turned to face him, a seductive smile playing on her lips, he saw her violet eyes sparkle. As he watched, other Elf-women emerge from the forest into the glade. Gaston was bewitched by their unearthly beauty: their fine features, their ivory skin and their slender, alluring bodies. He started to forget where he was and where he was going.
In a sudden moment of lucid clarity, Gaston realised what was happening. Forcing himself to remember the purpose of his mission the knight set his mind once more towards reaching the court of the Wood Elves. Resisting the charms of the forest maidens by sheer strength of will, King Louis' messenger passed on, no longer distracted by the otherworldly temptresses, not even when they brushed softly past him and he felt their fragrant kisses blowing on his cheek. Gaston guided his horse through the glade back into the all-enveloping woods and the maidens vanished like dreams with the coming dawn.
Gaston slowly became aware of a far off crashing, like the snapping of thick branches and the sound of trees being uprooted. He reacted instantly by reaching for his sword, his hand hovering over it, fingertips touching the hilt, but stopped himself. He could not act in a hostile manner, he was supposed to bring a message of peace to the forest. Gripping the reins even tighter and keeping his head facing only forwards, the knight did his best to pay no heed to the sound of monstrous things bearing down on him. Suddenly, Gaston found himself assailed from all directions by shrieking sylvan spirits. Whip-like lashing limbs cracked the air in front and behind, whirling tangles of thorn swept close to his horse's flanks and gnarled, wooden fingers, each as long as a man's arm, grabbed for him, watched by eyes staring out from knots in the bark of mighty oaks.
Gaston dug his spurred heels into the charger's sides. With a whinny the horse broke into a gallop, jumping fallen logs and crashing through the bracken ground cover in its flight. His heart beating at the same steady rate, the knight remained calm, determined not to be discouraged from his quest by the supernatural guardians of the haunted forest. The knight's horse however, did not share its master's resolve. A great tree leg was suddenly planted directly in the path of the charger as a lumbering, oak stomped towards the intruders. Gaston's mount shied and reared before bolting away from the Treeman. Hanging half out of the saddle, the knight clung to the charger's mane for dear life.
A screen of leafy boughs parted and the Mage Queen of Loren glided silently into the arbour of the Council Glade. She was followed by a dishevelled-looking character who staggered into the clearing, blinking in the trailing stardust shower that fell from her scintillating iridescent body. The man was obviously a human knight, although his armour was tarnished with swamp slime and his once fine cloak was muddied and torn. his helmet was missing and his hair a tousled mess. The knight also came on foot, humbled by the loss of his steed.
It was here that Gaston was finally able to bring his message to the King of the Wood. Sitting on his ornate throne alongside his wife, Orion explained why their kind can seem so cruel to humans, that they only wished to live in harmony with nature and would continue to slay those humans who threatened or encroached on it. He talked of how Gaston had been watched ever since he entered the realm. When he rode over the heathland, riders mounted on great birds of prey circled high in the sky above him. In the woods, scouts concealed themselves in the bushes to watch him, and the forest had spied on him from the trees.
After this, Gaston made his speech. He explained that he came bearing salutations from Louis, King of all Bretonnia. Offering an alliance against their common foes. Orion and Ariel left to contemplate this offer of friendship, leaving Gaston with a feast in his honour, and to entertain their people with tales from the land of men.
As the exhausted knight allowed himself to be led away, he couldn't help but wonder what had happened to all the other knights who had ventured into Athel Loren on the same quest as himself, never to be seen again. He was sure the Wood Elves knew, but realised it would be impolite to ask. By some combination of fate and circumstance, he, Gaston, had succeeded where so many others had failed, and his name would be immortalised in the history of his people for evermore.