The Forest of Arden
"Then there was a forest. And what a forest!
I had never seen trees such as this - mighty and majestic, of a deep, rich green, slightly tinged with gold. They towered, they soared. They were enormous pines, oaks, maples and many others which I could not distinguish. Through them crept a breeze of fantastic and lovely fragrance..."
"The sunlight was sometimes filtered through leaves, angling like tight golden strings on some Hindu musical instrument. The breeze was moist and spoke of living things."
(Nine Princes in Amber)
"Oh, for the groves of Arden sweet,
The mighty forest of Arden still guards the land approach to Amber. But it also now acts as a blockade from Amber to the shadows beyond. It has become even more of an unforgiving landscape to unwanted incursions, and has been known to react maliciously to those seeking entrance.
But it was not always so forbidding and remains home to those still true to Arden and to Amber. Damage suffered along the fringes of the forest during the war has long since mostly healed and only faint signs of fires remain today.
First back from the battle of Patternfall, Julian fiercely protected the heart of his domain. Many say Julian made his choice that day: Arden over Amber. But Julian’s choice had been made long ago in his heart.
Currently it is believed that a growing Resistance to Chaos rule is building in Arden, hidden and protected until the time to strike is right. It is one of those things “everybody knows”.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF ARDEN
Several miles within Forest Arden is the town of Arden, a community founded by the first of the forest defenders and from whom the ranks are still filled, though it is no longer all they do. Among the most notable of their achievements is their wines, once among the finest to be had in Amber. With the Occupation, the supply into Amber has been completely cut off and any remaining stock fetches high prices.
Other villages and open farmlands dot the seemingly endless forest, among them are the notable settlements of Standing Stones-named for the circle of standing stones where they study the movement of the heavens, is the shire of mystics that live in Arden proper, set on a cliff overlooking the river Calais; and the village of Eisan, named for the first family that settled the area. The village is famous for its woodcrafts, producing exquisite works from the woods of Arden and of various Shadows.
Nottingham is a name long associated with deepest, oldest misty glades of Arden prime and several shadows of the great forest. It has attained the status of legend. Believed to be the oldest settled community in Arden-there before the Rangers came, they want very little or nothing to do with the world outside of the forest. The craftsmen there are said to be devoted entirely to supplying the Warden with the bows and leather armor worn by the Knights and Archers of the Gleaming Arrow. It is rumored they still practice the beliefs of a time and place lost to memory-the reverence of the Lord and the Lady, but no one knows for certain, as those that have gone seeking Nottingham never find it but often find themselves hopelessly lost instead and rumors are whispered that it is either Julian himself or the ancient forest that protects the area from outside influences.
Throughout Arden are stunning Fire Oaks, huge trees that are said to have been there forever, their branches thick and stretching high into, and sometimes over, the surrounding tree canopy. Their foliage is the same year round: each leaf colored like a captured flame. The effect when viewed as a whole-gently fluttering leaves atop the silver trunks-is wondrous to behold, especially in a light breeze, when they look like nothing so much as giant torches.
Partially because of the Fire Oaks and partially because of the age of the forest, the strange beasts that can be found there, and the connection the Knights and the Warden appear to have with it, Arden is believed to be haunted by fallen protectors whose connections were so great to the land that they continue their patrols even in death. It is true that many would be attackers and even poachers have entered Arden, never to return. Those that have come back tell tales of unearthly voices on the wind, riders that appear and disappear before their eyes and ghostly branches that seemed to reach out for them to draw them into a deadly embrace.
ORDERS WITHIN THE RANGERS
KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN BOUGH are the highest order of the protectors of Arden. Initiates into the Order begin their careers as Squires of the Leaf, those who make up the main body of the defenders of Arden, while they learn their way through Arden and begin studying for membership into the Order. They must be sponsored by no fewer than 3 knights who they live, work, and train with after it is decided that they are worthy candidates for knighthood. During this time their sponsors and the very forest test them to be sure they have the mind, soul and temperament necessary. Not all who apply are accepted for training and an even smaller number of those that train are ever knighted. While the Warden has a voice in candidate selection, he is not the deciding factor. In the spirit of total impartiality on his part and the part of the existing Knights, a council of Elders with members from the Golden Bough, the Guardians, and the Gleaming Arrows, discuss and debate the merits of all candidates before voting on their worthiness for elevation. Seats on the council are nominated by members from the other orders: Guardians vote for Knights positions, Knights for Arrows and Arrows for Guardian chairs.
Initiation is a ceremony of secrets that no one outside the Order or the Druids of the Guardians of the Grove who oversee the rites, are privy to, but there is talk of blood and spirit walks and confused rumors of joining with the trees themselves. Afterwards it is believed by many that the Knights can speak the language of the wind, talk to the trees and have the ability to use shadows as doorways.
The badge for the Order is a golden branch on a green field.
GUARDIANS OF THE GROVE are the Druidic order in Arden that oversees the initiation rites of the Knights of the Golden Bough. They are also the Seers and keepers of the ways of Nature and it is to them that the residents of the forest turn to for information on planting, harvesting, the knowledge of the seasons. They are skilled herbalist and astronomers and keep ever watchful eyes on the skies of Amber and Arden and all the forest Shadows.
They also oversee the annual Rites of Spring, an ancient festival older than Amber that lasts for nine days and involve rites of fertility, feasting, games, and much revelry. For seven days, the festival was once open to all comers. The first day and the last are restricted to those that live and serve in the ancient Forest. Since the war, no one not living in Arden has attended.
Symbol of the Guardians is a golden hind upon a field of stars.
MEMBERS OF THE Order of the Gleaming Arrow are the best of the best of the archers from among the ranks of the Order of the Golden Bough. While all the knights are skilled with the bow, the Gleaming Arrows have surpassed their brethren by learning to become one with their weapon to the extent that they no longer have to do more than visualize where their arrow will go and let it fly. They have raised it to an art form.
Members are forbidden to enter archery tourneys open to everyone else, but they put on an exhibition annually during the Rites of Spring that is one of the most popular displays and is heavily attended.
Symbol for the Archers is golden arrow on a field of flame red.