“We are not like animals. We have a higher consciousness that can think, and place us, beyond nature’s laws. It’s up to us as people to act on this and ensure we make the right conscious choices to help all of that which we find around us.” – Soil speaking to his old brother.
The walk back to Monarda’s village was a short one. Soil knew the forest well, and was able to navigate with ease. Despite the lack of a coherent pathway.
The bitter edge of the morning was melting away as the sun stretched into the sky, pouring it’s warmth onto the land below. Morning frost, that had decorated tree bark and saplings, faded away into droplets of morning dew.
Soil’s eyes widened as they came to the edge of Eyre forest. The tree’s came to a stop, and the tough forest floor faded into soft emerald grassland. He had known the whereabouts of the settlement for sometime, but rarely visited. For when he was younger, he had almost convinced himself that the forest didn’t have an end, and simply extended indefinitely, encompassing all far reaches of the globe.
But finding the village broke that idea. The forest brought him comfort and a sense of security, and finding an end to that, finding there was more beyond the trees, brought with it a feeling of doubt and worry.
Soil paused and turned his attention to a tall naked tree that stood to his left. Jumping up, he hauled himself through the array of wooden arms that stretched out the towering trunk. The woodling positioned himself high in the tree top.
He looked out at Tachbrook, that sat humbly a short distance away. The green meadow encompassed the collection of quaint houses that made up the village, and surrounding that further still was the edge of the Eyre woodland. Framing Tachbrook in a circle, as if it were an elegant painting.
It was a quiet place. The common folk that resided there, much like Soil, kept themselves to themselves and liked to remain in a degree of separation from the rest of the wider world.
“Are you coming?”
Soil looked down to see Monarda waiting patiently at the base of the tree. “Yes! I’ll be down in a second.” He took one last glance of the view before making his descent. Within seconds the woodling landed firmly on the ground, after making his way through the branches with little effort.
“That’s some impressive climbing skills you’ve got there,” Monarda smiled.
“When you’ve lived in the forest as long as I have, it’s just something you pick up.”
“I don’t know how much use it’ll be here.” Monarda replied, before walking into the soft grass of the meadow.
Soil watched her as she glided through the shallow sea of green. Mesermised as her hair glimmered in the late morning sunlight. He followed a short distance behind her, gliding his fingertips across the meadow top as he went.
It’s wasn’t long until they had come to the edge of Tachbrook, the stretch of grass came to an abrupt end, as it met with a wooden fence. Which ran around the entire edge of the humble village. To their right, a perimeter had been erected in part of the meadow that housed a collection of fluffy white sheep. The flock bounded over to a long steel trough, which a middle age man poured a large bag of oats. He looked up to wipe the sweat from his brow, and cheerily waved at the pair as they walked past, entering through the northern village gate.
Each of the village buildings were made up by wattle and daub, with strong timber providing the frame work. Many of the homes were cramped tightly beside one another. However still providing enough space for yard, the boundaries of which were depicted by a skeletal wooden fence, to accompany each house.
Soil watched with curious eyes as men and women exited their homesteads, clothed in thick woolly tunics, tending to mundane tasks that routine called for them to do. Each home bustled with all the vibrant signs of everyday life. A slight sense of unrest gripped him, for he had never witnessed so many people at one time before. However his nerves were eased as Monarda turned and smiled at him.
He continued to follow Monarda down a rough dirt pathway that weaved through the multitude of buildings. Whilst on there way, a particular home caught his attention. It stood alone and was unlike that of the other cheery households that surrounded him.
The wooden framework was a cloudy grey, and the buildings daub coating had begun to peel away, revealing a strewn mess of rotten branches that had been laid beneath. The yard was a mess, overgrown weeds and nettles stretched up from the ground and seeped through the garden fence. The buildings most striking feature however was the large amount of mysterious wooden symbols, hung on the buildings exterior by pieces of black ribbon, like medals on a soldiers uniform.
The amount of hangings draped upon the home was so numerous that it’s deteriorating framework was almost completely covered. The only part of the building that wasn’t covered, was a single door that stood at the front of the house, which had been painted black and scrawled over in strange archaic writing.
A thousand questions instantly appeared in Soil’s curious mind. He turned to Monarda, but before a word had left his lips another voice called out to them. “Monarda!”
Soil held his tongue and watched as a dark skinned man jogged calmly down the pathway towards them. He enveloped Monarda in his arms and planted a kiss upon her forehead. “I’m so glad to see you’re okay!” The man exclaimed, “Don’t run off like that, you had me worried halve to death!”
“I’m sorry.” Monarda replied, looking down at the pathway beneath her feet.
“It’s fine Monarda,” The man hugged her tightly once again, “Just think about your actions a little next time, and the effects they may have on those you love.” The man planted a final tender kiss upon her pale forehead, before he noticed Soil standing idly behind her.
“Who’s this?” The man asked cheerily.
Monarda turned round and introduced the pair to one another, “Phlox, this is Soil, he helped me find my way back through the woods, and Soil, this is my partner, Phlox.”
Phlox was quite the contrast to the frail and gentle complexion of Monarda. His skin was dark cocoa in tone and his body boasted lean muscles. He had his hair closely shaved. Except for a row of black dreadlocks, adorned with purple beads, that ran down the centre of his head. Flowing freely onto his shoulders.
“Thank you so much for escorting her back safely.” Phlox extended an open hand out towards Soil, who was unaware of the cultural context of a handshake and instead bowed slightly, keeping his back perfectly straight as he did so.
Phlox smiled, and withdrew his hand before saying, “May I offer you some food as a sign of gratitude?”
Monarda’s face beamed with delight, “That’s a great idea!” She turned round quickly to Soil.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to hassle you.” Soil replied quietly.
“Please I insist,” Phlox insisted with a welcoming smile. “Monarda, could you offer the invitation to your mother and brother also?”
“Yes of course, Although I don’t know why you keep inviting my brother. He’s never going to come.”Monarda grumped.
“There’s no harm in asking is there?”
“I suppose not.”
“Okay, Lunch will be ready within an hour! Don’t be late!” Phlox announced mirthfully, “See you there Soil.” He planted a final kiss upon Monarda’s brow before turning to leave.
“Come on you,” Monarda said to Soil, “Let’s go see my mother and brother!”
Soil smiled at her, following the frail woman quietly once more.
The pair cut through the centre of the village, passing by an expansive hall building. Three large sliding panels made up one side of the barn like structure, all of which had been slid open. Soil had a quick peek into the inside to see a collection of men and women, working tirelessly. Each of the workers used a multitude of tools and equipment to shape wood that had been harvested from the Eyre forest. With extreme care and skill the different pieces were being fixed together to construct an assortment of furniture and other fine goods.
“This is the hall of the Timber Smiths.” Monarda said, after noticing Soil’s keen intrigue, “It’s more or less a giant workshop. They collect timber from the forest. Then fashion it into different items that we export to Larton, which is a large trading city that is situated several miles east of here. Apparently Tachbrook is renown for it’s excellent wood craft, however when you’ve grown up with it I suppose you just take it for granted.”
“It’s fascinating,” Soil replied as he continued to gaze into the large hall, “I’ve done some wood crafting of my own, but nothing like this.”
“My brother is a trainee timber smith, you can ask him about it when you meet him.”
Monarda turned to continue on their way, and Soil quickly followed.
“Are there any other towns? Like Tachbrook and Larton?” The woodling asked innocently.
Monarda laughed lightly to herself, “Of course, there are more than two towns in the world. I myself only know of a few however, and my only experiences of them are through traveller tales.”
“What are the other places? And what are they like?”
Monarda gently rubbed her chin as she tried to recall stories she had heard, “Well, there’s the Otto highland towns, that lay to the west of the us: Fort Kun, Bamoral and Orkoats. I’ve heard their folk are quite gruff, and that Orkoats makes good whiskey!
There’s also Ottarr, that lies at the base of the Silkurn hills in the south. Oh! And Ullar which is some sort of fishing town I think?”
Soil listened attentively, but quickly found himself lost in wonder.“The world is so much larger than I first thought…” He said quietly.
“It’s even larger than that!” Monarda continued, “Land stretches far beyond the world that I know! For example, there are great deserts deep in the east, that make up the Akaian sea! But I’m afraid I have little knowledge of the world that far away.”
Soil was left speechless, within the space of a morning his known world had expanded drastically. It were as if someone had taken a tightly folded map, wiped off the dust, and finely spread out it’s deep set creases across a clear table.
Monarda smiled as she looked down at the woodling who was clearly awe struck.
“We’re here Soil,” Monarda announced calmly, snapping him out of day dream, “Welcome to my old home.”
Soil focused once again, and saw that the two of them were approaching an old charming inn. A small square sign hung above their heads, rocking gently in the faint breeze. It read ‘Ivy’s Inn’ and had a sprawling vine of ivy lavishly painted upon it. An assortment of clay flowerpots were arranged out front, each one filled to the brim with soft dirt.
Monarda walked through the Inn’s entrance, ducking as she did so. She held it open for Soil who filed in quickly behind her.
The inn’s reception was a refreshing sight, all of the flooring and beam work were crafted out of lightly tanned wood. Bringing a soft glow to the room. An assortment of tables and chairs made up a large dining area on their left, and to their right stood the reception desk.
As soon as they had entered the room a hearty female voice called out joyfully “Monarda!”
A small, stocky woman made her way out from behind the reception desk and hugged Monarda tightly. Who had to bend down awkwardly as she succumb to her mothers embrace.
Watching from the back of the room, was a young man. He was slumped in a chair and whittled away at a small piece of wood held within his hand.
“Soil, this is my Mother, Ivy. Mother, this is Soil” Monarda introduced the pair, stepping to one side as she did so.
Monarda and her mother were in contrast to one another, so much so that one might find it hard to believe that they were related at all. Ivy was small, plumb lady with big red cheeks and a even bigger heart. Despite there visual differences however, she share Monarda’s style of hair. However Ivy’s beautiful locks, once golden and flowing like her daughters, had started to age into humble shades of grey and silver.
Ivy’s mouth dropped open in disbelief as she stared, wide eyed, at the woodland boy.
“Is it really you!? Are you the boy from the forest?” Ivy asked in wonder, as she began to touch his earthy cloak.
“Yes, I suppose that’s me.” Soil replied, a nervous twinge brought a wobble his voice.
“I’ve heard all about you!”
“Sure! Travelers come by my Inn all the time, passing to and from the Eyre woodlands. I’ve heard it all! The small woodling boy, and your allotment deep within the forest. I’ll be honest however, I had my doubts in whether there was truth in those stories. Wasn’t sure if they were just pulling my leg, but here you are! In the flesh!”
Soil’s smiled sheepishly, “here I am!” His reply trailed off into an awkward chuckle.
“Mother, Phlox has invited you and Brook to come round for lunch today.” Just as Monarda had come to the end of her sentence, a loud slam came from the back of the room. As the lurking young man slammed his wood work onto the table.
“I’m not going. You couldn’t pay me a weeks wages to step into that man’s house.” He lashed out wildly.
Ivy rolled her eyes, “When are you going to get over yourself Brook. Phlox has offered you this gesture in good will.”
Brook leaned back against the wooden wall of the Inn, both of his pale, scrawny arms were folded tightly across his chest. “Phlox is a heartless manipulator and you’re all blind to it!”
“Brook, I wish you would stop this. It’s pathetic.” Monarda said bitterly.
“Pathetic? Being kept on a leash like some sort of pet, now that’s pathetic!” Brook whipped back hastily, “He won’t even let you see that tree in the forest you like, the one with the flowers! Bloody crazy.”
“Get a hold of yourself young man!” His mother yelled angrily.
The young flustered man jumped up onto his feet, and threw on a coat that had been placed on the back of his chair. He barged past his mother and sister as he flung the door open. “I’m going to Raephers.” Brook huffed under his breath as he made his way out into the street.
Ivy ran out of the Inn after him in, as her anger swelled. “Yeah that’s right, you go to that crazy crackpot again, see if I care!”
Brook didn’t show any hint of acknowledge to his mother’s deafening words and disappeared from sight as he turned a tight corner.
When Ivy span back round to join Monarda and Soil. Her face had flustered into a furious red, her cheeks ripe like fresh tomatoes. “Your brother is just- Urgh!” Ivy huffed in discontent as she made her way back behind the reception. She pulled out a beige wood chair and planted herself down upon it, releasing a long deep sigh. The flood of red quickly drained from her face.
Soil looked to Monarda, unsure of what he should in the present situation, feeling out of place, amidst the awkward family squabble.
“Apologise to Phlox on behalf of myself and your brother would you Monarda?” Ivy asked, “I had best wait here for when Brook returns and have a talk with him.”
“I will mother, but I don’t know what good talking will do, you could talk more sense into a wild sheep.” Monarda scoffed.
“Monarda, He’s your brother and we both know why he acts like this.”
Monarda’s bitter scowl subsided from her face.
“I’m ever so sorry you had to witness that Soil.” Ivy continued as she noticed the woodling standing awkwardly in the corner. “My children can be right pains sometimes.”
Monarda rolled her eyes. Soil chuckled, and large toothy grin spread across his face.
“Anyway you’d best be off! Don’t want you food going cold because of me!” Ivy pushed herself up onto her feet, a hand firmly planted on the reception desk as she did so. She hugged her towering daughter once more, before planting a loving kiss on her pale cheek.
“I’ll see you later mother. Come on Soil, Phlox will be waiting for us.” Monarda ducked once again as she tenderly made her way through the small Inn door.
Soil bowed towards Ivy, “It was nice meeting you.”
“You too Soil.” Ivy replied with a large smile.
Soil span round and made a swift exit, making sure he remained close to Monarda.