Novella

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 4

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.

“D.O.N.T L.E.A.V.E”

“Come back!!” Monarda’s voice echoed through the depths of his mind.

“S.H.E.S N.O.T S.A.F.E”

“Help me!!”

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.”

“How so?”

“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.

“Soil. Catch!”

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.

 

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 3

 

Breaking Bread

“Winter is a bitter season, the variety of food and flavours are bland. But a warm roll of rye bread baked by loving hand’s can warm the coldest hearts.”

“I’m sorry about my brothers out burst. He can be so insensitive sometimes.” Monarda apologised to Soil, who was walking quickly alongside her. Doing his best   to keep up with her long stride.

“You don’t have to apologise, I know what having a sibling can be like.” Soil replied, “It’s clear that Brook cares about you. His anger and frustration shows this, he’s just unsure of how to communicate that care to you.”

“Oh it isn’t that, trust me. My brother is just rotten because he isn’t the head man in the family.” Monarda finished her sentence as she approached the doorway to her own house, that she lived in with her partner, Phlox.

Soil stared up at the marvellous homestead. It’s dark timber framework had been elegantly crafted and the multitude of pieces interconnected in a seamless, satisfying, fashion. Unlike many of the other homes in the village, this marvel made use of black brick to construct its walls. Rather than using the common, and cheaper, method of using wattle and daub. The building had it’s own yard, that sprouted a variety of green winter plants. White bulbs of garlic could be seen reaching out from beneath the dirt, as rows of leafy spinach.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the house was a stable that connected to it. Housed within was a great brown mare, whose head hung over the stable door. It’s large friendly eyes looked upon Soil as he gazed upon the large homestead.

He wasted no time in following Monarda into the house, of which the front door stood at a height that accommodated her towering stature. As the pair entered he hallway they were greeted by a sea of delightful smells. The aroma of sweet boiled herbs wafted throughout every nook and crannies of the house. Soil mouth began to water uncontrollably. Steam rolled in from the kitchen and crept across the ceiling above, bringing with it a warm refreshing temperature that drew the bitter winter chill from Soil’s limbs.

Monarda removed her thick blue coat and hung it on a collection of hooks that protruded from the wall to her right. She fanned her face weakly with her hand and exhaled deeply. Her hand stilled and her eyes widened when she noticed Soil was still standing with his large thatched cloak on. She kept forgetting that this young man before her was not used to the little rituals that village folk carried out on a daily basis.

“Feel free to hang your cloak up Soil. You must be boiling in that.”

“I am a bit warm to be honest.” Soil replied sheepishly, his face quickly reddening. After fiddling with a small toggle he drew the cloak from round his shoulders and hung up on one of the wooden hooks bedside him. Revealing his undergarments, which consisted of shorts and a sleeveless top, that looked much like a weaved potato sack and was a green grey in colour.

Monarda looked at his thatched cloak and cursorily rubbed a part of it between her thumb and index finger. It’s outside layer was harsh to the touch , almost gritty, as if one was rubbing their hand against sandpaper. However, to Monarda’s surprise, the inner lining was the opposite, pleasantly soft and elegantly smooth .

“Where did you get silk from in Eyre wood?” She asked in amazement.

“It’s not lined with silk, it’s moss.” Soil replied cheerily.

“Moss!? That’s incredible! How have you managed to use moss like that?!”

“The cloak is more like a living plant, rather than an item of clothing… It’s a mix of craft work and magic,” Soil told her, “But I couldn’t explain how the magic aspect works, I crafted it together and the forest just… sort of… did the rest? I can’t explain it.”

Their conversation was abruptly interrupted as Phlox came to stand in a doorway at the other end of the corridor.

“Monarda! Soil! I hope you’re both hungry!” The dark man said with a smile, “Your mother and brother are not joining us Monarda?”

“Unfortunately not my love, You know what Brook’s like.”

“That’s no problem. He’s a growing man looking for his place in the world! I was just the same when I was his age.” Phlox chirped, before bringing his hands together into an enthusiastic clap, “Let’s eat shall we!”

The trio made their way into the dining area, which held as much splendour as one would have imagined. Four large arrangement of candles sat in each of its corners, they provided a bright light that flooded the expansive room. The walls were adorned with a collection of different antiques and trophies.

On the northern wall situated above a doorway, that led to the kitchen, was a pair of two curved swords. Mounted so that the naked blades crossed one another. The swords were inscribed with strange symbols that ran from their points down to their hilts. The western wall housed a large open fireplace, in which a beautiful yellow crimson flame danced about upon a heap of charring wood. On the mantle of the fireplace sat a collection of 4 plates, very bland looking, made of clay. Each of the 4 plates had a unique character painted upon them.

Finally, in the centre of the ceiling, hung a truly grand yet unusual ornament. It was a crab claw, however it was nearly the size of a human, spanning a length of 6 ft. The bazaar appendage had been suspended by ropes that were in turn fixed into the dining hall ceiling. It hung freely, mirroring the long rectangle dining table that sat below it. Soil winced slightly as his eyes met the grotesque centre piece.

Phlox pulled out a chair for Monarda, and then for Soil, on the opposing side of the table. “Make yourselves comfortable! I shall return shortly with your food.” Phlox sung out as he exit the room, disappearing into the soft, steamy fog of the kitchen.

Soil couldn’t stop himself from slowly shifting his gaze upward, doing his best to conceal the fact he was doing so from Monarda. A grimace forced it’s way across his face as he stared at the gigantic pincer. When he shifted his gaze subtly to Monarda he jumped! For she was looking directly at him. Quickly the distasteful expression left his face and Soil did his best to replace it with one of neutrality.

Monarda laughed slightly, “Is the giant claw bothering you Soil?”

Soil leaned across the table slightly as he replied “It’s a bit… Unsettling. Is now a bad time to mention that I don’t eat meat…?”

Monarda couldn’t contain the laughter that popped out of her body, Soil looked at her in confusion.

“Don’t worry Soil. It’s not the season for meat, Vegetables are the only food that we can get hold of right now, so you’ll be fine.”

Soil forced a small appreciative smile onto his face. He couldn’t stop his eyes from nervously glancing up at the claw at final time.

Phlox re-entered the room carrying three bowls of creamy soup, and a basket of black rye bread, upon a large tray. He placed the dish down delicately on the table and shared out the food. Providing each dinner guest with a dainty sliver spoon.

He looked upon the table with a distinct look of pride when he had finished, before pulling out his own chair at the head of the table and planting himself firmly upon it.

“We were just talking about the claw Phlox,” Monarda said, breaking the silence that Phlox’s entrance had brought with it.

“Oh yes the claw! The most prized item in my collection.” Phlox said cheerfully, staring up at the suspended limb. “Was an awful pain to transport when I moved to Tachbrook however.”

“I didn’t know crabs grew to that size…” said Soil as he brought a spoonful of soup to his lips.  He found the collection of herbs provided a sweet flavour that was most agreeable, yet the boiling heat scalded his tongue. Soil did his best to conceal his discomfort, he glanced across at Monarda. Who was giggling at him quietly, and purposefully blew on her spoon before placing it in her mouth.

“It’s not a crab Soil! That is the claw of a mighty Argapod!” Phlox bellowed, before taking a tiny mouthful of steamy soup. “They’re a race of intelligent crustaceans that live just off shore of the Muskove mainland. Incredible beings.”

“Did you kill this one?” Soil asked.

Phlox laughed in response to Soils question. “No, no, I can’t even begin to pretend that I did. I don’t have the strength or the means to take one of these beings down. I came across the claw at an auction many years ago. A very rare find, taking into account that Argapods are notoriously hard to kill. Some even consider them to be gods.”

Soil looked down at his spoon thoughtfully, before blowing on it and sipped at the sweet pea soup.

“Anyway Soil, Tell me what it’s like living in the Eyre woodland!” Phlox continued.

“Have you never been in for yourself?”

“Never had the chance if I’m honest. Much of my work consists of travelling between Tachbrook and Larton city. So I don’t get much free time to go exploring. What’s it like?”

“It’s a very beautiful place, full of amazing flowers, trees and wild life. You could never get bored with the colours they display. Truly wonderful.” Soil smiled, as he thought of his woodland home. “Monarda, which of the flowers is it that you wanted to see. The ones that your brother mentioned. I can take you there at some point if you want? No one knows the forest like I do!”

The mood of the room instantly plummeted and Monarda’s face went a ghostly white. Soil sat staring at her, with a large grin plastered on his face. However he shifted his gaze between Phlox and Monarda as the silence began to draw out. Soil’s smile slowly receded, he wondered what it was that he had said…

Phlox delicately placed his silver spoon flat onto the table. The faint sound of the cutlery being rested on the wood rang out clearly in the complete silence of the room. He said in a low voice, his stare fixed directly on the table, “Monarda. We’ve spoken about this.”

“Phlox please, I didn’t-”

“When are you going to give it up Monarda! When are you going to grow up and get a hold of yourself!”

“Can we do this later?” Monarda hissed through gritted teeth and shifting eyes. “Let’s not argue in front of our guest.”

“No we shall! Otherwise our guest is going to think that I’m just unreasonable and don’t want you to go, out of spite.” Phlox snapped back hastily, remaining firmly upright in his chair. “Which we know isn’t the case, is it.”

Monarda looked down sheepishly at her lap. “No.” She whispered sadly.

“So please, stop chasing silly dreams and focus on what’s important for once!” Phlox’s stare was fixated his partner.

Soil, didn’t know where to look at or even what to do with himself. He stared at his bowl of green soup. Hoping, wishing for some excuse or reason that would justify him to leave the table. However none sprung to his inconveniently vacant mind. So Soil continued to sit, silently. He sipped at the broth and prayed that Monarda and Phlox would hurry up and do the same. In order for him to make an early escape from the tense, awkward atmosphere he now found himself in.

The rest of the lunch time meal was carried out in a bitter silence. The couples heated exchange had sucked the previously enjoyable atmosphere from the dining room. Instead it was replaced with a heavy, uncomfortable one. That squashed mere seconds to feel like minutes and minutes into hours.

Soil’s heart leapt with joy as Monarda finally took her last mouthful, after what felt like a lifetime of waiting. She tenderly placed the small silver spoon beside her bowl. Soil was eager for someone at the table to say something, anything! Until he realised it was up to him, the neutral party, to shatter the quiet that hung around them.

“That was really nice. Thank you for inviting me.”

“A pleasure Soil.” Phlox replied, as he got up onto his feet. Slowly he started to clear the bowls from the table.

Monarda and Soil gazed at one another, “I suppose you’d want to be getting off back to the woods now?” Monarda asked, ”Would you like me to escort you to the door Soil?”

Soil’s mind screamed with delight “Yes! Yes! Please! Yes! Get me out of here!” He got up slowly and calmly replied, “That’d be most kind, thank you.”

When Phlox had carefully stacked the bowls he turned to the Woodling. “It was great having you over Soil.” Phlox said, he made a move to shake Soil’s hand but retracted it. Instead he bowed slightly. Soil smiled, and did the same.

“I had a great time.” He replied.

Phlox smiled, then turned on his heels and disappeared into the depths of the kitchen.

Soil looked up at Monarda. “This way,” She said to him calmly.

The two made their way from the dining room to the front door. Soil lifted his thatched cloak from a protruding wall peg and swung it over both shoulders. Fastening it’s toggle tightly.

“Are you going to stay in Tachbrook for a while?” Monarda asked the young man, “I’m sure there would be a room for you at my mother’s inn?”

“That’s a gracious offer, but the woodland. sorry, Eyre woodland is my home.” Soil replied with a sunny smile, “I will come back soon however. I quite like this place.”

Monarda smiled, “Okay Soil, See you soon.” She leaned down slightly and embraced Soil in her arms. He returned the gesture.

“Goodbye.” Soil replied, before disappearing through the doorway.

The late luncheon meal had dragged on, and slowly the days sunlight began to fade. Leaving the sky a pastel red.

Soil weaved his way along the village pathways. He passed by homesteads whose families were coming to the end of their daily routines as the sun began its early winter descent. Men and women who tended to their idle homes began to file away behind small wooden doors.

Soil stepped to the side of a pathway, to make space for a group of weary tree smiths. Who had just entered the village through the narrow northern gate. All were eager to return home and soothe aching limbs in gentle slumber.

Two mighty horses escorted them. Behind them they pulled a large cart in which a  collection of sawn off wood was heaped.

Soil made his way through the gate once they had passed, and found himself running his fingers across the cool tall grass that encompassed him. A smile leapt to his face as he saw the edge of the forest. Standing like a mighty wall that embraced the village.

Soil continued to follow the path that he had taken that morning with Monarda. A feat most people would have had difficulty in doing, as the forest can often be disorienting. With it’s plethora of plant and tree life.

However the woodling could see past the forest’s illusions and was able to traverse the landscape with accuracy and ease.

It wasn’t long until soil found himself back at clearing. The gentle brook still sang its quiet song as it’s waters trickled by. He looked up to the sky above, watching as the crimson twilight sky faded into a blanket of stars.

He took a deep breath of cool air, before looking upon the red tree that he had found Monarda weeping under that very morning. Thoughts of her flashed harshly in his mind, thoughts of her pale skin and long flowing hair.

He ran the bright crimson leaves through his fingers as he approached the small tree. The cold winter wind suddenly hissed. Soil’s cloak and the tree leaves danced in accordance with the breeze.

In this moment, Soil noticed something, strange and peculiar. Fluttering gently was a small piece of parchment, which was nailed to the tree bark. sunset-forest

He leaned in curiously and pulled the note from it’s fixing. Carefully unfolding it within his hands, making sure that the ever growing gust of wind did not steal it from him.

The note had five bold words scrawled across it in big black writing. “DON’T LEAVE. SHE’S NOT SAFE.”

Soil’s stomach dropped and the wind hissed once more. He quickly scanned his surroundings. In hopes of finding some clue as to who had delivered the note.

A black figure stood, hidden away under the faint dark veil of the tree line. Which suddenly darted off.

Without thinking Soil set off after the mysterious silhouette, dashing over shrubbery and fallen trees. As if he were water, uninterrupted, free flowing and fluid.

However the dark shadow seeped away into the darkness, like water into a sponge, and Soil came to a sudden stop on top of a large tree stump. Soil stared deeply into the darkness, but no trace of the being was to be found.

The words on the note were etched into his mind and a thousand thoughts tumbled through his head.

 

“DON’T LEAVE. SHE’S NOT SAFE.”

“DON’T. LEAVE. SHE’S. NOT. SAFE.”

 

 

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 2

Tachbrook

“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.

“You’re welcome.”

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!”

“You have?!”

“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.

 

The Wood for the Trees – Chapter 1

The Crimson Tree

“Still the mind. Inhale peace. Let go of worries. Exhale stress. Notice the breath. Connect to all.  Embrace the calm.”

The world can appear to be endless. Without boundaries, or borders. One can stand upon the dunes of the earth and watch rolling hills ascend to ever reaching horizons and beyond. Stretching far beyond comprehension and often our own imaginations. Especially those of us who seek shelter in the familiar.

A cloaked and hooded figure walked idly through his forest homeland. He knew little of the world beyond his realm of trees and earth. He walked tirelessly, without purpose, reason or intent. Trekking across the hard earth of the woodland floor in search of nothing, just as he had done many times before. But just because you are not searching for any in particular, it does not mean the world is not searching for you. As often we find ourselves in explicable situations and circumstances, as reason and purpose seed their way into our lives.

The cloaked figure continued his aimless, barefooted walk. Silky morning sunlight seeped through the cracks of bare tree branches that spanned above him. The figure’s calm breath condensed in the cold winter air and vapour bellowed out from the darkness under his thatched hood.

The figure pulled the hood down, allowing the cool air to envelop his face. The young man closed both his bottle green eyes as he drew a long deep breath, listening to the soothing sound of a shallow brook that ran nearby. Fresh air seep into his lungs, before it was exhaled once more, condensing into a thick fog of vapour.

The birds who had braved the winter months sang their proud songs from the trees above, the cloaked man stood in silence, listening. He had heard their songs before, and was familiar with the symphony of the woodland in which he resided. However a new sound caught his attention, a cry that was out of harmony with the forest song that sang around him. The sound of sorrow, the sound of someone weeping.

He turned on his feet, following the notes of sadness that glided through the air. He quickly found himself beside a shallow brook that cut through a small clearing within the forest. Across from him, standing on the other side of the brooks gentle embankment, was a small tree. Which stood no taller than that of an average man. It was unlike it’s tall and mighty brethren, who stood proud and bare throughout the forest, the sapling had retained it’s leaves through all of winters spite, which were bright red in colour. Sitting beneath the tree’s arching branches, was a young woman who’s head was buried in a pair of soft pale hands.

The cloaked man stood in silence, observing the stranger from afar. He had encountered people before, however it was however an uncommon occurrence. The young man was accustom to a singular existence of isolation. Yet the good nature of his soul urged him to call out to the girl. “Are you alright?”

The girl took her head from the cover of her hands. Her heart cramped in fear as she looked across at the cloaked stranger, who stood still on the embankment opposite.

The youth was hidden beneath his thatched cloak, that had been woven from plant life and wood harvested from the floor of the forest. It flowed out from his neck, and came to an end softly at his knees, completely shrouding his shoulders, arms and torso.

“It’s okay, I’m not here to harm you.” The stranger continued, as he made his way down a steady incline into the crystal clear waters of the small brook. The icy water brought with it a bitter chill as he carefully made his way across the shallow stream. “My name is Soil.” The stranger said calmly, “I am of these woods. I only wish to help.”

The girl watched as the woodland man slowly walked towards her, a spring like smile adorned his face. He sat down on the frosty floor once he had reached the crimson tree, leaving a meter or so between them, and folded both his feet so them rested upon each thigh.

“Why is it that you’re crying?” Soil asked.

The young woman sniffed a couple times, wiping her numb, running nose with a purple handkerchief. Whilst at the same time trying to swallow a sad lump that swelled within her throat.

“My partner and I, We’ve just had a silly argument is all.” She replied hoarsely, wiping cool tears from her pale cheeks.

“I hope it was nothing serious.”

“It was over nothing important.”

Soil smiled at the young woman before saying, “The course of true love is not always a smooth and gentle one. But it’s rewards are worth the effort we invest in it.”

His words struck a chord in the girls young heart, and an involuntary, yet welcome smile bloomed upon her face. She turned to Soil, “My name’s Monarda and thank you for your concern. It’s a rare trait to find these days.”

“You’re welcome.” Soil replied, before turning his attention back to the endless canvas of trees that spread out around them.

“So you say that you live in the Eyre forest?” Monarda asked as a new found curiosity took a hold of her.

“The Eyre forest?”

Monarda raised an eyebrow, bemused. “Yes, The Eyre forest. This forest.” She cast one of her hand in front of her as she spoke, encompassing the tall bare trees that surrounded them..

“I didn’t realise this forest had a name!” Soil replied in excitement. “Eyre forest… I like it!”

The pair laughed for a moment before Soil continued. “But yes, I’ve lived out here on my own for many years.”

“Don’t you have any family?”

“I had a brother, but he’s gone now.”

Monarda’s cheery look melted away, “I’m sorry.”

To her surprise Soil turn to her with a glowing smile. “Don’t be,” He said, “He’s one with this realm now. I see him every morning when the sun shines and I hear him in every bird song.”

Monarda’s heart was warmed by Soil’s undying optimism, a trait that she found was uncommon among most people.

“So where are you from?” Soil continued, “My guess is that you’re from that settlement that lays south from here?”

“That’s correct!” Monarda replied, brushing her long, cream blonde hair behind her left ear, “It’s called Tachbrook by the way. Have you been there before?”

“No I haven’t, But I have met with several travelers who say they came from there.”

“It’s a quaint place,” Monarda said softly, as she looked up to the milky morning sky above. “Oh my, I’ve been here too long!” She suddenly exclaimed, climbing up onto her feet and brushing the dusty earth off her winter jacket.

She was a very tall and slender woman, standing at 6ft. Rich blonde hair gracefully flowed from her head down to her lower back. She was clothed in a thick winter jacket, deep blue in colour that covered from her shoulders to her knees and round its collar was thick white fur. Black woollen stockings kept her the biting cold from her legs and both feet were encased in tough hide boots.

“I’ll escort you back if you like?” said Soil, as he also stood up. Monarda towered above him, as the young man only stood at a modest 5ft 6.

“I’d appreciate that.” Monarda replied, as she awkwardly looked around, “For.. I’m not sure if I’ve got myself lost or not…”

Soil laughed and pointed with an outstretched, “This way, would be a good start.”

The two of them set off together, to retrace Monarda’s early morning footsteps. Leaving the solitary red tree to stand on it’s own one more, by the calm brook waters.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wood for Trees

64 A4 pages, 37,205 words, countless hours and a whole lot of love later…. I’ve finally finished the first draft of my latest story, The wood for the trees.

Not quite a novel but non the less a huge hurdle jumped. It’s the longest complete work of writing I’ve done so far and I can’t wait to start the second draft soon!

Calling all book worms out there, if anyone wants to be a beta reader and give me feed back on this first draft you’re more than welcome to message me, just keep in mind that this is far from the final product and only a first draft.