Return to Tachbrook
“It is said in Tachbrook folk tales, that those who wear a crown fashioned from the wood of the Aija tree, can pass freely between the worlds of the living and the dead.”
Stillness, quiet and focus. Soil sat upon the brook bank. His nimble legs folded neatly beneath him and both eyes were gently closed. Deep breaths filled his lungs, as he fought to bring a stillness to a mind that swirled violently with thoughts. As if it were a vicious typhoon.
Every time Soil’s mind wandered, he brought concentration back to the breath. Hoping that through meditation, he could refine the information within his conscience and find an understanding to the events that had occurred the preceding day.
However, despite his efforts, he did little to quell the storm that raged within him. Flashes of the ghostly apparition came to the forefront of his mind before melting away and twisting into visions of Monarda. Behind her stretched a towering pair of black silhouetted hands. Unnaturally long fingers crept around the frail girl, she stood seemingly unaware with a smile adorning her face. Then she was snatched at. The monsterious hands gripped her hair tightly and pulled her down into a deep well of nothingness.
Her shrill screams struck his conscience as if they were solid punches. Each delivered a heavy, hard hitting blow. With every strike, a single inked letter flew out of Soils self perceived body. One by one, they spelt out the harrowing message left to him the night before.
“Come back!!” Monarda’s voice echoed through the depths of his mind.
“S.H.E.S N.O.T S.A.F.E”
Soil’s eyes shot open. The boy clutched at his chest as he began gasping frantically for air. A single bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.
He looked down at his lap. There, rested gently between his hands, was the mysterious note. The sudden tightness across his chest began to fade, as a calming rhythm of breath returned to him. Bird song soothed his mind and river waters calmed his soul. He looked up and across at the lonely crimson tree. The bright morning sunlight caused it’s delicate leaves to shimmer like precious rubies.
“One must not get lost in vision’s of the past, present or future.” Soil’s whispered to himself, as he drew a long deep breath, “One must stay focused on present moment as it exists now. As it is the only true reality.”
The crisp crunch of footsteps, treading harshly on frosted leaves, could be heard coming from beyond the clearings tree line. Soil buried the note within the depths of his cloak. Warily watching as a figure made it’s way out into view. Cast in the glow of morning sun.
“Soil?” A soft voice called out.
“Monarda!” Soil got up onto his feet. Eagerly making his way across the brook water. “I had a feeling you’d come back.”
She replied back, “And I had a feeling you’d be waiting for me.” As she stepped further into the clearing her shining silhouette faded.
The two met one another by the crimson tree and Soil extended his hand as a gesture to sit beneath the small tree’s arching branches. Monarda bowed her knees slightly. “Thank you.” She planted herself down, pulling her hood from head. Revealing her golden, silk like hair.
“So why is it you thought I would return?” Monarda asked, being the first of the two to strike up a conversation.
Soil sat down beside her, before saying “Monarda, I believe I’m supposed to help you.”
“Help me?” Monarda replied in bewilderment, “I don’t need any help, I’m fine.” Ending her sentence with a sweet smile.
The note flashed back violently in Soils mind, followed by the vision of Monarda. Her screams and shrieks pierced his soul just as a wasp sting pierces flesh. The pain that remained, showed no signs of fading soon.
“Then why are you here?” Soil asked, “What are you trying to run from?”
“I’m not running away from anything…? I’m just- It’s just…. good to get some fresh air every once in a while.” Monarda’s tongue tripped up her words as they tried to escape her mouth.
“I think you’re searching for answers.” Soil said to her calmly, turning his head to look at her, “Answers to questions that you don’t even know to ask yet.”
Monarda stared into Soil’s bright, bottle green eyes. Her face began twitching and her jaw trembled as a conflict stirred within her.
Soil continued, not waiting on a reply, “Which flowers is it you want to see and why haven’t you gone to see them yet?”
Try as she might, Monarda found herself unable to keep her composure. Her face melted as a bitter sorrow swept in. She turned away from Soil. Gentle tears rolled down her cheeks. The sparkling drops of sadness splashed against the earth.
A silence set in as Monarda wept. Soil was about to break the silence with an apology, thinking that perhaps he had pushed the poor girl too far. But just as he opened his mouth, Monarda spoke out softly. Wiping the tears from her face.
“When I was a young girl growing up, I would talk with the various travellers who passed through Tachbrook at my mother’s inn.” Monarda sniffed, “They would tell me stories of adventures they’d had in far off lands, tales of monsters, beasts, different cultures and races that made up this world. I knew that I would never see any of the things these travellers spoke of. I knew the world was too big for someone so small and insignificant, like me.”
She turned back round to face Soil, a new light came about her face, “But then there were the travellers who had returned from Eyre woodlands. They’d bring back stories also, tales of the magnificent life that bloomed within the forest. Wondrous tree’s and animals, and accounts of a boy and his humble allotment deep within the woods.”
A grin grew across Soils face as he continued to listen.
“One of the various travellers told me about a tree that he had stumbled across whilst venturing in the woodland. He said that this great tree was unlike that of any he had ever seen. It’s body had split into 11 separate trunks, each of them twisted and wound about the area of the forest in which the tree resided, as if they were mighty branches. Beneath the tree, he told me, grew the most splendid red flowers. At night when the moon climbed into the sky above they glowed a dazzling red and illuminated the forest around them in a bright light. The traveller even showed me one that he had collected, his tale captured my young heart. Since then I had always dreamed of going for myself. But it was just a dream, nothing more.”
“A man who dreams of seizing the stars never will if he refuses to look up to the nights sky.” Soil replied, “Why haven’t you gone out and tried to fulfil this dream? All these wonders surround your village and lay only a short distance beyond your door.”
“I couldn’t,” Monarda replied, she brought both her legs up to her chest. Wrapping her arms around them tightly, “I don’t know. I’ve got duties to do at home now that I’ve grown up, I’ve got a life to be dealing with. The woods are dangerous… and Phlox would be really angry with me. He’d even be angry if he found out that I came here.”
Monarda leaned her head forward resting it heavily upon her knees. She glumly looked down at her feet and let out a low hum.
“We’re all born as free people. Free to make our own choices about our own lives.” Soil said, in a calm cool tone. Monarda’s expression remained unmoved, her eyes cast low.
“Look, If you want…” Soil continued, in an attempt to cheer her up, “I can take you to this ‘Tree of eleven trunks’.”
Monarda shot up instantly and a look of pure elation came about her face. Accompanied by a wide joyous smile. “You can?!” She replied gleefully, clapping her hands together in utter delight. “Oh that would be wonderful!”
“If you really want to see it, then meet me by the eastern edge of the Eyre forest that surrounds Tachbrook, be there tonight, just before the twilight hours.”
“I will, I will! I’ll be there!”
Monarda’s intoxicating rush of excitement was short lived. As she caught a glimpse of the sun stretching out above them. It had continued with it’s slow, inevitable, trek across the sky. Striving to provide the folks of the world beneath it with their accustomed hours of daylight.
“Oh my! I’ve been gone too long, Phlox will be waking up soon!”
Monarda dashed up onto her feet, being careful not to strike her head against the low tree branches.
“I must be heading back,” She said, brushing a thin layer dirt from her thick coat. “I’ll see you tonight.” Monarda turned to leave hastily, but darted back round when Soil suddenly called out to her.
“I’ll escort you back, like I did yesterday.” He said, rising to his feet from beneath the small tree. “There’s some business I wish to attend to in Tachbrook today, so I may as well join you.”
Monarda smiled at the woodling, “Okay, yeah sure, that would be nice, thank you.”
The pair set off together, in similar fashion to the morning of the previous day. Monarda led the way this time however, ducking and weaving her way through the bare, low hanging branches.
Thoughts of the shadowy silhouette from the previous night came to Soil’s mind as he effortlessly followed Monarda’s footsteps through the forest. Numerous questions sprang up in his mind, questions whose answers, he was sure, laid hidden away somewhere in one of Tachbrook’s quaint homesteads.
“So what business do you have in Tachbrook today Soil?” Monarda asked, turning her head slightly as she did so. Her sudden question pulled Soil’s mind from its festering abstractions.
Soil looked across at her, wide eyed as all thoughts instantly flushed from his mind. Desperately he scrambled to grasp at some reasoning to explain his sudden interest to return to the small village. He knew he couldn’t tell her about the ominous note that now lurked within the depths of his cloak. Her knowledge of it could potentially cast her into more danger, if of cause there was any. A change Soil was not willing to take.
Just before the silence had been dragged to an uncomfortable length, Soil’s mind presented him with an idea!
“I wish to visit your brother.”
“My brother?!” Monarda exclaimed.
“Yes, I want to… get some wood smithing advice from him. As to better aid my own creations.”
“Well my brothers an idiot, but if it’s one thing he’s good it’s carving wood. I’m sure he’d be able to help you out. I wouldn’t quiz him on anything else though, he’s mediocre at everything else.”
The two continued their journey back to Tachbrook with hast, the sun reached up ever higher into the white skies that blanketed above them. Pouring it’s cool golden rays over the huddle of tightly knit homesteads.
After walking through the tall grassy meadow that separated Tachbrook from the forest, the pair parted ways at the village’s northern gate.
Soil made his way down the winding pathways, narrowly dodging village folk as they slowly began to stir from their early morning slumber. Begrudgingly answering the call of their long daily routines. He eventually found himself arriving outside Ivy’s humble Inn. Soil walked up to the entrance but allowed himself to become distracted by an arrangement of flower pots.
They sat humbly outside, lined against the outer dark wood wall of the inn. Each was filled to the brim with dirt, and noticeably absent of flowers.
“Soil!” A loud gleeful voice cried out behind him.
The young man jumped in his skin, switching round quickly on his heels to see who it was that had called to him. But as he did he was greeted by a pair of large soft arms that muffled around him tightly. He began gasping for air as he was smothered intensely within an unknown bosom. When the clenched grip was finally alleviated Soil fell backwards heavily, red faced. Landing awkwardly on his palms whilst panting desperately for air to fill his squashed, empty lungs.
“So good to see you again! I didn’t think you’d be returning so soon!”
Soil looked up to see Monarda’s mother standing before him, her blonde hair carelessly bundled into a bun on her head. The short chubby woman beamed a delighted homely smile towards Soil, before leaning over to pick up a small watering can she had brought outside with her.
“Good to, see you again, also.” Soil stammered, doing his best to recover from the unsuspecting, and unintentional, winding she dealt him.
“Looking at my plant pots were you?” She said cheerily, walking over to them and gently showering each one with a sprinkle of clear sparkling water. “I know they’re not much yet but, like most things in life, if you devote enough love, care and-” Ivy leaned over one of the red clay pots and pulled a tiny green sprout from the dirt, “And make sure you keep the weeds out, then eventually they’ll blossom into beauty when spring arrives.” The short stocky woman turned round once more to Soil, who was now back on his feet. A healthy hue of colour had returned to his face.
“How was the meal yesterday?” Ivy asked, as she continued to tend to the collection of plant pots, “I was sad to miss it, Phlox’s cooking is always so delightful.”
“It was good!” Soil replied as he walked over, watching as she carefully tended the dirt held within the clay jars. “Although the atmosphere got a bit tense.”
“I mentioned about some flowers within the Eyre woodland that Monarda wanted to see…. Phlox isn’t very keen on the idea of Monarda venturing far from home is he?”
Ivy stood up straight, a loud crack eminent from her straightened spine. She let out a long exhale.
“We’ve all got to make sacrifices I suppose. Phlox has provided my daughter with a stable and comfortable life. She never goes hungry or cold and most importantly he keeps her safe. He’s concerned for her is all.”
Soil pondered the thought for a moment, he didn’t entirely agree but decided it was best to hold back his tongue. Not wanting to cause any upset or arguments between them.
“What brings you back here anyway? I didn’t think I’d see you again so quickly.” Ivy asked as she finished watering the plant pots. The woman turned to head back inside the Inn, cocking her head as an invitation for Soil to join her. The two filed in through the door and into the main reception room of the Inn.
Upon his entry, Soil saw an elderly man sat at one of the tables to his left. He had tanned leather like skin and a collection of strange, black tattoo’s that ran down the sides of his bald head. They appeared to continue down his back, but Soil was unsure. The elderly fellow was tucking into some early morning breakfast. A small collection of which had been laid out by Ivy, for her inn guests.
Soil’s stomach growled slightly as his own eyes caught a glimpse of the small breakfast buffet. Black rye bread, cheese and fruits made up the colourful collection that sung out to him.
“Soil?” Ivy asked, who was still waiting on a reply.
“Oh sorry! I’m here to see Brook, I thought he could give me some wood smithing advice.”
“Well you’ve picked a good day for it!” Ivy replied, “The little sod set out a short while ago, he’s heading for the western edge of the woodland, if you hurry you might catch him.”
“Thank you!” Soil bowed slightly, before turning to leave. He had placed a hand on the wooden door handle when Ivy called to him.
He turned round to see 2 rolls of rye bread fly through the air towards him. Soil managed to pluck a rye bread roll from out of the air, however the remaining one hit him softly on forehead. He scrambled quickly to swipe the remaining roll from the clean swept Inn floor.
Soil went to lean forward again out of thanks, but before he could Ivy said to him cheerfully “Don’t worry about bloody bowing again, go on! Get out of here you!”
Soil sheepishly made his way out of the Inn, tucking one of the rye bread rolls into his cloak before taking a large bite out of the one that still remained in his hand. Instantly a strength spread throughout his muscles as the rye bread reached his empty stomach.
He looked up into the milky, winter sky. Taking into account the position of the slow rolling sun in order to find his bearings. ‘West …’ he thought to himself, ‘west.’
Once Soil had demolished the bread roll he held in his hand, he set off to look for Brook. But more importantly, to look for answers.