Ahrhillicia (also known as “Cillia Pine”, “Sun Nut Pine” or even “Landlord’s
Friend” in some less cultured circles) is a tall coniferous tree which is famous
for its rich, fatty pine nuts. Most of the
Almatrar Forest is populated with
these trees and the dense, shaded cover they provide makes an unusual and
difficult habitat for the plants below.
Appearance. A wide trunk seems to rise completely vertically from the forest floor, towering up to a height of around 30 peds. Its branches stick out at regular intervals, curving ever so slightly upwards towards the sunlight. Once the tree matures they are thickly covered in tiny pine needles of a silvery blue-green colour; a striking contrast with the dark trunks. The bush-like clumps of needles are punctuated with huge brown pine cones. These can reach enormous sizes – up to three palmspans in length for the oldest trees, although about the size of two apples on top of each other is more normal. Hairy chestnut fibres cover them as well as the bark, so they are rather rough to the touch.
Each tiny needle appears to be struggling determinedly for its very own ray of sunlight. resulting in an extremely dense canopy through which no light can penetrate. In fact whilst the immature tree is still growing its lower branches die and drop off from lack of sunlight, leaving large hairy pimples on the trunk. These are still very much visible even after the Cillia Pine has finished growing upwards and is simply thickening and widening. Where many of these trees grow together they can actually trap heat, completely changing the climate below it. The branches themselves also reach upwards towards the light above, so the canopy is shaped like a deep-sided dish; with the needles spreading out as far as its neighbours will allow. A forest of mature Ahrhillicia Trees can often give the impression of a stately building with its tall, straight, pillar-like trunks and high canopy ceiling.
The bark is rough and rather hairy with long, chestnut fibres matting across its surface. Despite their almost fur-like appearance, the hairs are extremely tough and require a sharp knife to cut. Attempting to run one’s fingers through the tangle will only result in the digits being halted after a few nailsbreaths, unable to push their way through any further.
Another strange phenomenon is only noticeable from a distance, or if one actually manages to climb to the top of these trees. Unlike the roofs of most pine forests which are rather uneven and almost as spiky as the trees themselves, the uppermost needles of the Ahrhillicia trees form a flat, seemingly unbroken veneer. The green, sea-like surface can stretch on and on for miles, patterned by the shades of new and old needles. From a distance it looks as if one could happily stroll across it with no problems at all, but in reality it is only the tiny, weak ends of the branches which are visible. The tree seems to have no wish to grow any higher than its fellows, reaching maturity as it joins their height. Several subtle changes occur after this – easily the most obvious being that the Cillia stops dropping branches. Instead the limbs thicken and strengthen, acting as platforms for the many needle-covered shoots it now sends up towards the light. The canopy becomes gradually denser and denser, meshing with that of the other trees around it.
The most spectacular time to see the tree is not brought on by any particular season (indeed, it looks much the same throughout the year), but is completely artificial. The druids who live in the Almatrar Forest do not possess the heightened eyesight of their elven neighbours, so they must find other sources of light. They have developed a way of causing a living tree or plant to give out light for them, and the widely-available Ahrhillicia is an obvious choice. Once lit up the whole tree glows with a deep, warm light. The outer fibres of the bark show up dark and closely curled against the now bright chestnut trunk, which has darker ridges and circles wherever the bark is thicker. The vertical structure of the bark sections with the stringy fibres snaking over them give the trunk a rather fiery look itself, beautiful enough to make it worth using these trees rather than any other. The needles, if one could get close enough to see them, glow much brighter than the thick trunk, turning a much yellower shade of green in the process. The light from these can often be seen for strals around and means that the druids who live in this wood are far easier to find than others.
Territory. The Ahrhillicia Tree will grow anywhere where there are deep enough soils to sustain its large height and extensive root system. It seems to grow better near the sea as a result of the salt in the soil; farmers who wish to grow it for the pine nuts have discovered that a light watering with very weak brine helps the plants to grow quicker. About one sip to a barrel of water is the widely-accepted quantity. However, the highest density of Ahrhillicia Trees known is the Almatrar Forest just northeast of the Rimmerins Ring in central Santharia.
Usages. The pine nuts are delicious when eaten straight from the fire, or as a flavouring in stews, casseroles, soups, marinades, stuffings, pies... the list is endless. The flesh, once separated from the inner seed, can be made into a very filling dough. To begin, the cook immerses the nuts in water and brings it to the boil. After simmering for ten minutes the nut’s skin should be soft enough to peel off, and the flesh should slip away from the central seed easily too. The cook then mashes this up with a little milk or water, adds whatever spices and flavourings he desires and bakes the resulting dough until it colours and crisps. The dish, which can be eaten hot or cold, is well known for keeping a hunter or traveller full for the entire day, although surprisingly not for its flavour. Simply roasting the pine nuts releases a much stronger, smoky, nutty taste.
The needles have only a few practical uses; as an alternative to wood-chips for covering a floor, or as padding in some of the more horrible types of children’s toys. They are too tough to be edible to any but the most desperate of creatures, although the kuatu is known to use them as an insulating bedding for its nest. Once dried, they can be scattered over a wooden floor to soak up dirt and spillages, and although they are not quite as absorbent as wood chippings some people prefer their sweet pine smell. If they are changed regularly enough the scent can help to override the stench of less-than-accurate trips to the privy, earning the tree the rather innocent-sounding title of “Landlord’s Friend”.
Once harvested and dried for use, the wood of the tree is not particularly strong nor beautifully grained. It is often dotted with knotholes and other imperfections from youthful branch-dropping as well. However, the straightness of the trunk makes the Cillia well worth searching out for making poles. Its quick growth-rate also means it is ready for harvesting within five years. As well as filling up a gap in the dense canopy quite quickly, this makes it a cheap and renewable wood for those who do not put a premium on quality.
The people who live in the Almatrar Forest, where the largest number of these trees grow, have a few uses for them. Ahrhim elves build homes in the lower canopy and string ladders and ropes from one dense tree to another. Once the tree is mature its strong, slightly upwardly-curving branches make ideal supports for these structures. It is indeed quite remarkable that the previously self-thinning tree has branches which will support these structures, but it seems that as soon as it reaches a certain height, it no longer strives upwards and instead broadens, thickens, and (as the elves say) begins to look after its people. (See Myth/Lore section for the complete legend.)
Also, as mentioned in the Description section, the trees’ height and numbers make it ideal for the druids who live in Almatrar to light their camps and homes.
Reproduction. Nestled in the crevices of the mighty pine cones are large, fat-rich nuts. Around the same size as the top part of ones thumb, neither they nor their pine cone casing can be dispersed very far by the wind. In fact, the Ahrhillicia nut has a rather ingenious way of turning would-be consumers into effective seed-spreaders. The outer layer of the nut is only protected by a thin flaky coating, with the rich flesh just beneath. The animal collects the nuts in order to eat this easy-to reach layer, hopefully taking the seed away from the parent tree. When it has finished eating the outer section the animal discards the tough seed inside, which falls to the forest floor and begins to germinate. Of course any seeds which manage to germinate with their outer layer get the added benefit of the stored fat surrounding them, but are probably still under the mature parent tree and could be struggling for light and space.
Myth/Lore. A myth among most of the human population of Southern Sarvonia is that the Cillia Pine actually absorbs and stores the sun’s rays, leaving the forest below it utterly dark. The pine nuts themselves are the tiny vaults for this energy and warmth, which is why they add so much flavour and richness to whatever dish they are used in. Sometimes, when the pine has gorged too long on the light, it has to expel some, and at these times you can see the glow from many miles around. It is thought unlucky to have one of these trees near your house, as it will suck all the light away, but eating the nuts, on the other hand, promotes good fortune. This myth no doubt hails from around the Almatrar Forest, where the druids can make the trees light up. As this myth has spread, so have new receipts for the pine nuts.
However, for the Ahrhim elves who make their homes in the forest, the tree’s name is normally associated with stability, comfort and a happy home life. Not riches or extremes of literacy brilliance but simply enjoyment and satisfaction. A traditional wedding gift between the two betrothed is a small trinket or decorated box made from Ahrhillicia wood. It is thought to promote a long, steady marriage which always puts food on the table, plus helps the couple’s love for each other to never diminish. In folklore, an elfmaiden with the name “Cillicia” will always be happy wherever she settles, and raise many beautiful children.
There is even one particular elven myth which seems to agree with the human idea of the sun-filled nuts, although it is unclear whether this was part of the original tale or simply added into it by an elf who had heard the human version. It tells the tale of both the Ahrhillicia and the Mahood euwens, two pines which whilst they look similar, give their forests an utterly different feel. Or so the Ahrhim say at least.
The Tree Brothers. Once very near the
beginning of the Dream there were two brother trees, both very much alike
in form and nature. They playfully competed with one another to grow
higher and wider than the other, their needle-like leaves spreading
further and further with each year. People came from far and wide to sit
under their cool shade when the sun was
hot and heavy in the sky, and to admire their gorgeous smooth bark and
Again, it must be stressed that the last part of this legend could be far more modern, and may indeed be an attempt to provide a clear separation between them and the Eophyrhim. This version was chosen simply because this scholar found it the most interesting, and for the fact that it illustrates the ever-changing nature of the myths surrounding the Ahrhillicia.