In lonely valley of fertile green
Hidden in mist of silver sheen
Where magic nestles in quiet glen
Lies the gentle village of Bren.
In springtime birds cry and spiders sleep
Young seedlings are planted in soil to keep
Water runs from the mountain fresh and cold
To the village where stories are told.
Then comes summer, hot and golden
When fruits swell and their flavors embolden.
Urgency gone, the cowherd rests
In the village soft as forest birds’ nests.
Harvest now blooms in richly hued field
And sickle is taken to reap the rich yield
Axes swing, men call, the forest quivers
Near the village of scentful timbers.
Silently from the mountain blows chill
That covers the land in icy spill.
The budding heads turn down to slumber
Around the village so quiet, demure.
Lovely valley from which I depart
Know always that you shall remain in my heart,
For nowhere such magic gathers in glen
Than the sweet and gentle village of Bren.
* * *
Twenty-Fifth Season of the Harvest Moon, seventh day of March
My Dear Friend,
Where I will be when you read this, I do not know. I have written this for two purposes: I must keep track of the passing of days and I wish to remember those days. The first portion I have written here concerns my roots—it is a tale of such fantastic nature that I can hardly expect you to believe it. It is difficult enough to embrace it myself.
Yet, if you are to understand me as I am now, you must first know what I understand of myself from the earliest days of my life. Forgive me, for it is not all written in a linear manner, but what I have summarized thus far should suffice.
If you should understand and choose to believe the following, friend, I am indebted to you. I shall leave this for you to believe what you may. It is my hope that, wherever I may have passed after leaving this volume, at least one person in this world should know that I existed.
My birth is something of a legend in the small forest village of Bren. Some say a fire demon spouted me out of the ground while others claim I was born of the sky. Perhaps they are merely superstitions, the imaginings of a religious people who know no world outside of their own, but there is yet to be enough known on the matter to either dispel or realize such claims.
What I do know of my birth was told to me by my parents and various other members of my village. While their accounts are varied, and a few details are impossible for even me to believe, there are points of this peculiar story upon which there is no disagreement.
The first was that something did in fact fall from the sky. On the night I had supposedly been born, there had been a strange fluctuation of color in the sky, as if a giant paintbrush had touched the great black and left a trail of glowing pinks, greens, and blues. This light floated above the entire forest, reaching up into the sky like a giant wall of glowing water.
The strange occurrence frightened the villagers, and many ran out of their homes to see what was causing such bright light. When they looked up at the source, some claimed it was the goddesses themselves streaking across the sky, while others thought it was a sign of the otherworldly that the end of the world had come.
And then the star appeared, they said. A great white, shining orb came streaking down from the wall of color like a comet. This bathed the entire village in vivid white light, and as it came closer, a great heat seethed through the air. A high pitched whistling, screeching animals, a final flash of light, and the orb struck the earth with a sound like thunder. There was the rumbling of earth, a great cloud of dust, the smell of lightning, and then it came.
A mile away, in the rustling trees of the forest, a great pillar of smoke appeared from where the light had hit. From this there came a deep orange flame, licking the green with its seething tongue. This great flame spread through the forest like a flood, eating up timber and sending animals running every which way. The villagers could only watch in horror as the fire came closer, leaping through the trees like a great beast.
Shouts went up, children were gathered, supplies were thrown quickly together, and people immediately fled from the village. With the winds forcing the smoke and flames towards their home, they had no choice but to run before the fire reached them. Their only hope for survival was Pristine Lake, a small body of water on the gentle slope of the mountains. Wiemlick Forest lay at the foot of these mountains and went over them, but Bren was a good distance from Pristine Lake, even though it was in the same forest. My father claimed he had never hiked such a distance so fast as he did then. He had left with his wife and what few earthly possessions they could carry in their arms. There was no time to bring along livestock, so they were simply let free and alone to deal with the calamity which was about to come upon them.
All of the villagers were able to make it to the lake in time, and its elevated view of the forest allowed them to watch their homes burn as the fire came upon it. The destructive force was climbing up the mountain with alarming speed, and soon the villagers had to walk into the water of the lake to avoid the flames spreading through the trees. Everywhere was smoke and flame, and people were struggling too hard for breath to be able to scream. If the people were not to be burned, it only would have been a matter of time before the smoke and heat killed them.
But something miraculous happened before such a fate met the people of Bren. The lights of the sky suddenly faded into nothingness, leaving the world in darkness in smoke. As the colors were removed from the sky, the flame suddenly died down, the smoke dissipating from the air like a nightmare does upon waking. The villagers found themselves in the midst of a silent and ruined forest.
The second part of this story is written in the faces of my people, whose smiles never quite reach their eyes. The black, charred trees that still remain in Weimlick Forest show only the surface of the scar that was left in their hearts. Even after their homes were decimated, the worst was yet to come.
After the fire had passed, the villagers returned to their homes, which were now only smoking piles of straw and ash. The animals had long fled, and many of the men immediately set off to find them. People dug through the remains of their homes in hopes of salvaging something unmarred by the fire, but this was to no avail. Women and children wept as they plowed through the ashes to find nothing but burnt pieces of wood and cloth. The men that scoured the forest brought back less than a fourth of what livestock had once been in the village, the charred skeletons scattered throughout the land expressing without words the fate of the animals that had not returned.
But there was still more damage that the fire had done. Many people were made sick by the smoke, and the few who could heal were able to do little but provide these victims with water and offer the comfort of another human being. They could do nothing but watch as people gasped for air, some becoming too weak to even breathe.
Many dear friends and family members passed away that night.
After the initial horror, more was yet to come. As the villagers buried their newly dead, another crisis presented itself. For miles and miles, there was nothing but scarred and burnt forest, leaving nothing but the livestock for food.
The villagers panicked. With the remaining animals, food would only last for two or so weeks at best. Food would have to be found elsewhere if they were to survive before they could plant again. To make matters worse, there was no seed to be found. Every living thing had been consumed by the fire, which meant their only hope now was for the annual traders to come. The traders, they knew, would come for the wood harvested from Bren, but this time, they would have nothing to offer them. They would be entirely at the mercy of the traders, should they survive long enough for their arrival. It would be a good few months before Autumn, the season in which the travelers came.
With no good wood for miles, the people of Bren built pitiful shacks out of whatever wood would hold. All of the livestock was killed within a matter of days, and soon there was no meat to go around. Men went out unsuccessfully to hunt and women went with their children to find any manner of edible plant.
That was when my mother found me. Two days after the fire, she went foraging with two other friends in the desperate hope of finding so much as a leaf. She said she must have walked miles from the village by how much her feet hurt, but she kept searching. To find nothing would mean death.
My mother made it to a particularly hot area, where some of the trees were still smoking. The whole forest was a mass of fallen and burnt trees, but for some reason or another, the heat had not yet abandoned this small area. Here, the black ground was so hard that it seemed like the flame had turned the soft soil into stone. My mother could see that in the middle of this strange plane of black, there was a small pit, as if a stone had once sat there.
And then my mother heard me cry. She said it had sounded like tingling bells, instead of the wail I should have been uttering. The softness and sadness of the infant voice touched her so strongly that she even started to cry. The women with her were both touched as well, and because of this, the bizarre presence of an infant in the midst of a smoldering forest did not frighten them at all.
My mother told me that she had never seen anything so beautiful as I was. She said I was wrapped in the strangest cloth she had ever seen, which was utterly silky and flowed with as many colors as the sky had on the night the star fell. Despite the destruction around me, I was untouched, my soft peachy skin unblemished. My green eyes were bright and filled with sadness, the tiny blond hairs on my head barely visible.
Despite my mother's weak condition, she picked me up. She said that I had reached out my small arms for her, and she could not resist. The women crowded around me and sighed and wondered at the strange being my mother held in her arms. It did not strike any of them in that moment that I might be a demon.
The other people of the village were a little more cautious. Upon my mother's return, there were some that even desired to kill me. It was quickly decided that I had been the light that fell, for how else could such a strange creature appear in their forest, entirely unmarred and alone? The creature that had destroyed their forest and left them with nothing was a small and helpless infant.
Luckily for me, my mother and the other women were quick to protect me. They claimed that even if I was some sort of demon, it would surely vex my parents if they killed me. Perhaps they would even return and kill everyone. My mother thought I was a gift from the Goddesses, a treasure that might help to restore their beautiful forest.
So I remained untouched. My mother took it upon herself to take care of me, her husband quickly lending his support as well. Both of them saw a beautiful and mystical creature that had come to bless them, but oh, how wrong they were!
The months that followed were unforgiving. Occasionally, a villager was fortunate enough to catch a small, wandering animal, but their main diet became charred wood. If there were insects to be found, they were eaten like goodies. If there was even so much as a tiny green shoot protruding from the ground, it was consumed within seconds. When these could not be found, people turned to the ground and ate up the dirt. Water was the only resource that flowed easily into their hands.
People began to thin and waste away as famine consumed them, and many fell like withering flowers and did not get back up again. Everywhere was the desperate cry for food, and when the children ran out of energy to do even this, an eerie silence hung about the starving village. Soon, people spent more time sleeping feverishly, and the only time they spent awake was searching for food. Most stayed by the river that ran down from Lake Pristine, where there was occasional algae and insects to feast upon. The fish, however, had seemed to disappear like the animals had. Many had searched Lake Pristine for them, but they had long gone to live within the depths of the water where none could reach them.
Day after day passed by, and I suffered along with my parents. My mother did not have the vitality to feed me, and my cries became incessant. I rotted away like everyone else, but I did not die like all of the other infants. There was a vitality within me that refused to leave, and this gave my mother hope.
Hope came when Autumn did. The sound of hooves came one morning, echoing over the ground like thunder. The villagers rushed out of their filthy shacks, their joy no greater than if a hundred cows had suddenly entered the place, falling to the ground and offering their meat to all that would have it.
At first, the traders were hesitant to come near the starving people. Some had even eaten their clothes in a desperate attempt to fill their stomachs. Still, they came, and never a more happy greeting could they have expected. People knelt at their feet and praised them as if they were gods, their filthy faces smiling up away from their wasting bodies.
To say the traders were stingy is a gross understatement. Their guards hung about the caravan like wolves, throwing dirty glances at the clingy hands of the starving villagers. Some were even kicked away when they came too close. The head of the caravan eventually looked about him and declared that nothing would be traded if there was nothing to offer.
The villagers were shocked. It had never occurred to them that their only hope may be dashed. For months, they had waited for these saviors to come. They had been the source of strength for the mothers who watched their children die in their arms. This had been the murmur, the prayer of every creature within the village, and now they saw it was in vain. They had been waiting for nothing.
It was Bensai, a stout farmer that saved everyone that day. Even in his famished state, he could still think, still protect the family that lay in his hut, too weak to come out to greet their futile hope.
"You listen, you stinking, filthy snake, and you listen well. We have waited for you for three starving, painful months, and you have come. These trees have been burnt to the ground, but they will grow back. Give us time, and you will have a full harvest. Give us time, or we will take it from you."
I have seen many people imitate this speech, for it was soon to become the most famous words ever uttered by any man in all of Bren. It was because of this speech, the desperate anger of the people that caused the traders to impart of their goods. Food was given, seeds and clothing, all manner of goods came before the people! Even animals and medicine found its way into their hands, and the caravan was still overflowing with goods!
Of course, this came with a price. The villagers promised three years of full loads of special wood for the caravan, and in return, they were given their lives. Because of the temperate climate, they would be able to begin planting immediately, and they now had food enough to last until their crops grew.
Again, people were praising and smiling, jumping and dancing with the joy of a life saved. People ate that day like they had not eaten in three months, and there was not a dry eye to be found. When the grudging caravan left the village that day, they left a trail of hope behind them.
For the first time after those three months, the great fire that had ravaged the forest became a blessing. As families dug into the earth to plant, there was rich and plentiful soil that eagerly supported the crops. The fire had cleared up more room than had once been available, and the villagers turned the charred land into a paradise. Within mere days, there was green sticking up from the ground, and it was not immediately gobbled up. There was food to be had as the tendrils of leaves reached up toward the sun.
Another blessing was the speed at which the whole forest grew. As the village gained its life back, the forest flourished around it, entire trees growing up in an unheard of time of five months. It was as if the whole earth had been invigorated, as if magic itself was sown into the very ground. Rich fruits and vegetables were forming everywhere, and never before had they tasted so sweet.
Within three years, the forest was back to its old form, a miracle that none could have conceived. It was believed by many that the fire from the heavens had been magical, that its energy had been so strong that it remained in the ground long after the flames had died. This was easy to believe and quickly accepted as the forest grew into a lovely and fertile piece of land. The trees grew with amazing vigor, their greens never deeper and their fruits never richer. The crops turned bright hues of orange, yellow, red, and green, their roots greedily sucking nourishment from the ground. Even the animals became fatter and multiplied in greater numbers than before.
However, despite all of these blessings, there was great anxiety regarding the magic trees that had been ravaged in the fire. They were of a rare breed that grew only in Wiemlick Forest, and even then they could only be found in a particular grove deep in the forest. If they did not replenish, the people of Bren would have nothing to repay their debt to the traders.
Each year, as these traders passed through Bren, they inquired after these trees, only to be upset and impatient when they heard the saplings had not grown yet. After the third year of Bren's re-growth, they demanded the magic wood to be hewn and saved for their return, lest their wrath be turned against the villagers.
I was afraid the narrator was going to turn out like a Mary Sue, but thus far you've avoided that quite nicely. She has managed to retain a kind of objectivity that doesn't make her sound self-absorbed despite the nature of her character.
As for the story itself, I reckon I came at the right time as the fun part is just starting! I like how you opened with the poem and your description makes the village come to life. There wasn't any lull in my attention at any point - it's comfortably paced and atmospheric throughout. I look forward to seeing what happens next.
Magic wood was as worthless to the people of Bren as it was valuable to the traders. The wood taken from these trees was too soft for the building of houses and furniture, and fire made from it was not as warm as normal wood and tended to be more unpredictable. Sometimes such flames could even freeze a person rather than burn them. Because of these qualities, the villagers rarely used such wood at all. If anything, it could be said that magic wood was more of a currency in Bren. The traders would pay only for this wood, which they sold to faraway kingdoms and cities.
These faraway cites put such wood to much better use than we did. As implied by the name, magic wood is often used to make wands, charms, staffs, and various other tools of magecraft. This is because magic wood has a unique absorption ability that can effectively take in and release the mana, or life energy, that magicians and wizards use to create magic. It is also said that this stored mana in magic trees keeps them from rotting and causes them to grow much faster than normal plants. Because of this, magic wood is easy to harvest and store, and the many things it is formed into lasts for incredibly long amounts of time. In fact, the oldest known artifact carved from such wood is about 1,000 years old; an Elven pendant shaped into a heart. Some say it is the wood itself that kept such a thing from rotting into oblivion, but others claim it was enchanted, though there is no evidence of the latter.
Magic wood is also very beautiful. Its bark is unusually smooth, and getting a sliver from a piece of it is almost unheard of. This soft wood also has a wonderfully silky luster, and often glows or warms in the presence of magic. The color of the bark is much more pale than most broad leaf trees, coming closer to white than an actual shade of brown. Magic trees bloom all year round, which also separates it from normal trees. These blossoms are a pale pink with five round petals and red centers, smelling like a mixture of honey, plum, and cherry. Extracts of their pollen has been used both inside and outside of Bren for particularly sweet smelling perfumes.
The leaves of a magic tree are a very dark green in contrast to its pale branches; wide and heart shaped with shiny faces and velutinous undersides. They have a distinct taste of cumin when eaten plain, and when used outside of Bren, people have been known to use the ground leaves in teas to boost magic abilities. The village shaman was known to use these leaves for such purposes, but the affects are said to be mild.
Magic trees also grow very sweet, peach-like fruits, but they have no known magical qualities. In my experimentation with them, however, I have found that they soften skin well in creams and help the sick recover a little faster. In Bren, it is very common for people to eat the fruit of magic trees in illness, though whether it truly heals or not is supported only by speculation. At any rate, they are wonderfully sweet and rich, tasting like a combination of plums and peaches, which makes them a favorite treat of the villagers.
With so many beneficial qualities, it is fairly easy to see why magic trees are a highly sought after resource. As I have stated before, however, these trees are almost impossible to find outside of Bren. Not even the best of professors truly know why such plants cannot grow outside of Wiemlick Forest, but the most widely accepted explanation for this is that our particular area has special magic qualities. The lumberjacks who gather the wood, however, have never claimed to see anything extraordinary or magical in the grove. Aside from the magic trees being a good deal larger than the other trees of the forest, there is nothing particularly special about the land they grow on— save for a few exceptions.
The crater created by the falling star on the night of my "birth" is in the very center of that grove. Many believe it is merely coincidence, but others have said that it was the land that attracted the abnormal light, and that this strange attraction is what the trees feed off of. The ground there is still as hard as marble, but the trees' roots manage to dig deep into the soil. There is also a noticeable temperature difference between the grove and the rest of the forest, always being a few degrees warmer than the rest of the woods.
Despite these strange qualities, however, no one concerns themselves with them. As long as the trees keep growing and the gardens remain fertile, there is food to be had and good trade to be made, which is enough for any villager of Bren. There is also a sort of reverence for the magic trees, and after the great fire, it has only increased. The trees have provided them with the resources they need, and since it is likely that they were indeed what drew the fire to the forest, it is no wonder that the trees have become a symbol of life and death for Bren.
* * *
Aha! I'm glad you've enjoyed it thus far. I'm afraid it is going to become more emotional as it becomes more personal in certain areas (one or two 'chapters' in particular), so I suppose I am curious as to how you take them when they come. I've had a few varied responses I've managed to gather, so we'll see how that works out. I have introduced other characters to help buffer any sense of one-sided suffering, but as this piece is written in a fixed perspective, you may be able to guess (and be very correct) that there is more going on than what this character herself is aware of.
One would think with all of these strange claims and valuable trees of Wiemlick Forest that people would come flocking to Bren. This is not the case. The trails that connect Bren to the rest of the world are poor and overgrown, spanning many miles before reaching even the smallest of human settlements. Only the annual traders brave the long path, which they complain unceasingly about when they come. Without them, there simply would not be any contact between Bren and the world outside of Wiemlick Forest.
There are numerous reasons for this. The first is that Wiemlick Forest is more or less a valley between mountains that challenge even the sky. While the mountain range itself does not hold quite as violent a reputation, it is indeed wild and treacherous. To pass over it, one has to reach dizzying heights, and will often be forced to brave steep slopes and dangerous cliff faces. This makes wagon trains almost impossible, and even an avid traveler will find themselves breathless in the thin mountain air.
Another reason is the animals. Most wild creatures are easily scared off by humans, and make for good game, but they are a threat to the unwary. Wiemlick Forest is home to many dangerous predators, including bears, wolves, and mountain lions. I enjoy watching these creatures from a distance, but only Bren's hunters dare to approach these animals. Just to keep them out of the village, food has to be stored carefully, and the farmers are always chasing deer and rabbits away from their crop. Travelers who do not understand the importance of this will often find themselves invaded by a curious squirrel, and in more dangerous cases, a bear. This general presence and threat of wild creatures most certainly keeps those inexperienced with travel away.
However, I have not mentioned the most dangerous of creatures that is the main source of fear for all in Bren. Weimlick Forest is widely known for its giant spiders. This breed of spider is unique even to giant spiders in general, who are more often found in cavernous regions. They have adapted to the forest region, living off of small and large herbivores alike. Some have even been known to kill bears.
These giant spiders of the forest also have stubbier and more hairy bodies than a typical giant spider, for they prefer to move over the bushy ground of the forest rather than climb trees or rocks. While they are still perfectly capable of moving vertically up cliff faces, they do not have the grace of a typical giant spider. However, they make up for this lack in grace with brute power, and a bite from one is more likely to kill a person by crushing them to death, rather than poisoning them.
When one is unlucky enough to be bitten, their venom serves only to paralyze, and the victim will likely be taken off to the spider's burrow to be eaten. These giant spiders prefer to make their own burrows, and a particularly large group may have burrows that are intricately connected underground. They are also able to make very sticky webbing, which they generally use to suspend their or immobilize their prey.
While I have always viewed a giant spider to be no more malicious than any typical wild animal, they are viewed as a great source of evil in Bren. To make sure they do not come close to the village, there is always a large fire kept going at night in case one is foolish enough to approach the settlement. Their aversion to light is well known, and they fear fire like no other creature I have seen. They come out only at night, but their multiple red eyes are easy to distinguish from the rest of the forest. If one strays too far from the village at night, it is not unheard of to be taken off by one of the large creatures. While most are no larger than a mountain lion, they can grow to be as tall as ten feet.
Still, perhaps the largest reason Bren has few visitors is because it is a village of little consequence. There is no great wealth in Bren, nor any vast storage of knowledge. While its roots can be traced back as far as the oldest trees, there are no great stories or legends told of it. Epic creatures do not live here, nor beings of any mythological significance. There is no large productivity or fine goods here, the best clothes made of homespun wool and the greatest tools being well used and soiled equipment purchased from the traders. The village is as old as the trees and just as simple.
Despite this simplicity, however, Bren to me is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have stood on the mountainside many times, watching the morning fog of the mountains dispel as the sun rose over the horizon. As the first rays of light hit the valley, rainbows sprung up from the mist, reflecting off of every drop of dew suspended by the branches of leaves and swaying grass. Through this mist one can see an ocean of green, the crowns of the trees rippling like ocean waves. Above this are the mountains, their brown and gray stone turning to pure white at they reach for the heavens. They stand like teeth against the deep blue sky, sapphire torrents of water rushing down their deep crevices. The air is cold and sharp, filled with the scents of trees and wildflowers that spring everywhere there is soil to spare.
Bren is also quite visible when viewed from atop the mountain. One can usually see a few tendrils of smoke rising from trees as well as the wide pastures that make the land look like a small patchwork quilt. There are also the round roofs of wooden huts and the grassy dugouts which house the people of Bren. Animals are kept within small fenced pastures, and if one looks close enough, they can see the cows and horses that graze within them. Through these pastures and farms, trees dot the area, though much sparsely than the rest of the forest. This grassy expanse is then enclosed by trees, surrounding Bren with both forest and mountains.
With all of this natural beauty, I am somewhat glad that there are few humans to interrupt it. If more settlers were to come and drive out the spiders, the magic wood would become sparse as well as the wild creatures. Perhaps Bren would even become a great city with many paved roads, and the villagers would forget the good earth that brought them life. I have heard of such things occurring in other places, but as long as the hand of industry stays far from Bren, the creatures of Wiemlick Forest have little to fear.
Though I was indeed a strange child, my parents raised me like any other. My mother and I would work on our small farm while father went away to work at the lumberyard. It was up to us to keep the animals fed and healthy, as well as the garden weeded and watered. We also had to take care of our small house, keeping our thatched roof from leaking and sweeping out the dirt when it accumulated. Then of course, there was food to be made. We often ate dried fruits and vegetables from our saved supplies until summer and fall came, when there was fresh produce to be found all throughout Bren. We also ate a few of our livestock, though even this was done sparingly. Food was precious in my village, a gift from the goddesses that kept us alive. A glutton would die in winter, or so my mother said. Though I was young, I can still remember helping her with such chores, and how she would sing while she worked.
"My, what a helpful little worker you are!" My mother would say with a smile as I helped her wash clothes in the river. "Now, just make sure you don't let go of them. There, yes, that's the way! Won't Papa be so pleased when he sees how clean his shirt is?"
I had nodded vigorously, my mother's kindness always pushing me to do my best.
Everything we had had to be made in our village, for there were no cites for miles. Whatever foreign goods we had came from the traders. For three years, the villagers gained nothing from these people, faithfully keeping their promise of supplying wood. When my mother took me out to see these strangers, I always earned a curious look, and the traders would murmur amongst themselves with furtive glances in my direction. Some were even bold enough to approach my mother and me, and I would hide behind her long skirt as the men asked her questions. One time, a man even bent down and offered me a lovely rose, calling me a forest blossom.
The other villagers were much more cautious in their dealings with me. The other children were forbidden to play with me, and I received curious and even angry glances from them when my mother took me around the village. The adults were more calm around me, but they looked at me as one looks at a demon; with both fear and reverence. To them I was a symbol of their grief and joy, a creature that had granted life and death from my very birth. There was hatred and respect towards me, but never acceptance. Only my parents would speak to me, only they would walk beside me, and only they would call me by name.
I once asked my mother why this was. Almost immediately, her eyebrows furrowed with consternation, but she managed to force a smile.
"No, they don't hate you, Sweetheart."
"But they never play with me. They run away. Sometimes they call me things."
"Call you things? What do they call you?" My mother's cloudy blue eyes lit up with anger, and the sudden harshness of her voice frightened me.
"T-they...they don't. They..." I couldn't finish the lie to cover up my previous remark, for I was too frightened. My mother had always warned me not to lie, that it was a terrible, terrible, thing, but when she was angry, there was nothing more frightening in the world. Except when father got angry.
"Oh, Sweetheart, don't be scared." Mother knelt down and hugged me to her, the best way she knew how to apologize. "I'm not angry. What do they call you?"
Even as a child, I could tell her words were empty. Her hug and contrite voice could not hide the anger in her eyes. Still, I could not bring myself to lie to her. "They called me demon eyes. They said I ruined the forest." My eyes watered at that point. The very idea that I would destroy the beautiful forest made my heart ache. "Is it true, Mama?"
"No, no, of course not!" Mother hugged me again, this time too urgently to hold any truth. There was something she was trying to hide, an unspoken doubt that showed in the smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Don't you believe anything they say. I'm sure they're just...playing with you."
I gasped in delight. My young mind was immediately convinced. Of course they were just playing with me. They were just teasing me, like they did with each other. “Mama, Mama, they played with me!” I jumped up and down with glee, incredibly happy at the realization. All this time I had thought...well, it simply did not matter now.
“Yes, Sweetheart, don't take what they say to heart.” My mother's voice was resigned, strangely hollow, but I did not mind. The joy of the moment was overwhelming. I ran outside to find the other children again, but I paused just outside of the door.
Luxury was not something we worried much about. As long as we had wool for our clothes and a dry place to sleep, we were content. Of course, that did not mean that we had nothing to enjoy. Occasionally, father would make a good profit from the wood he sold to the traders, and he would buy me and my mother beautiful silk ribbons. Sometimes he even made enough to buy honeydew, my favorite fruit. He knew better than everyone else how I loved sweet things, especially fruit. That was one of the reasons he called me Honeysuckle, for he said I was sweet just like one, that I even smelled like them. Mother laughed every time he said it, saying that he was spoiling me.
Whenever the traders reached Bren, it was a large event. All year long, the villagers prepared for this, working tirelessly to gather every valuable thing from the magic trees. There was always a large pile of the wood kept near the meeting building, which continued to pile up as the year progressed. Juice from their fruit was bottled and sealed with great care, as well as the nectar from the flowers. This was added on top of all of our daily chores, keeping both adults and children busy.
Then, when all was safely stored and prepared, the traders would make their way through the mountains, bringing their carts and wagons full of wonderful things. From them we acquired foreign produce and supplies, such as metal tools and soft cotton fabric. There was also sugar and cinnamon, salt and flour; even rice and yeast. There were also beautiful combs and bracelets made of ivory and silken fabrics that flowed like water. Countless other goods were carried by these traders, some even magical. Such things, however, were never bought by the villagers, as there was a strong stigma regarding magic. It was considered to be a powerful and dangerous thing, and the only member of Bren trusted to use it was the great shaman, Hemanias. He lived a good ways outside of the village, living much like a hermit, but his wisdom and healing powers were well known. Those with serious illnesses came to him for health and enlightenment, which he always gave willingly. The only payment required for his services was the gift of a meal, for he lived only on the land around his hut.
Of all the goods the traders brought, my most favorite things to look at were their charms. They had a number of pendants, brooches, and bracelets carved and shaped from metals and woods; most of them taking the form of an Elven or ancient symbol. Occasionally, there were animal carvings, too, which were startlingly lifelike. Mother did not approve of this fascination, so she was always quick to pull me away, though I continued to pester her with questions.
“Mama, they say the rabbit charm brings luck. Why is that?”
“I do not know, but it is foolish to believe in such things.”
“But that one charm, the one with the squiggly letter, you remember? It was the darkest red. They said it protects people from curses.”
“You needn't worry about curses. There are no evil magics to bother us here.”
“No more of this, Leonna. The garden needs weeding, and we must go to it.”
“But the traders—”
And so I had to be wrenched away from the traders and their stories, which were as rich as their goods. I was always sad to see the carts laden with their sparkling treasures disappear back into the trees, but they had to continue their route into the lands beyond. After all, they would always return next year.
When I was seven, the true sign of my power revealed itself. I had been in an argument with another child, angry at him for his constant teasing. We kept exchanging insults, with me getting angrier and angrier, when suddenly, the boy screamed with sheer terror. I saw that he was staring at my hands clenched by my side, and when I looked down, my hands were engulfed with fire. I screamed then, throwing myself on the ground to put out the flames spreading up my arms. It took a few moments and a lot of screaming to realize that the flame wasn't burning me, nor was it getting even close to being put out. As soon as I calmed down, merely staring at my hands, the flame finally disappeared. I became aware of a strange sensation on my back, as if I had grown new limbs. To my horror, I felt the limbs moving on my back. It was like I had grown new fingers I did not know how to use, and when I touched them, they twitched, sending a shiver down my spine. They felt like long, thin scales, smooth and slippery. They even went far back enough that I could see them; a pair of orange tinged dragonfly wings sticking out of my back.
I screamed. What else could I do? Those things on my back, the fire on my hands— they were all signs of a monster! Normal people did not have such things, and now I could never be one.
After that incident, it was firmly decided that I was some sort of fire demon. People feared me, believing that I could raze their entire home with a wave of my hand. Everywhere I went, I was haunted by the fearful cry of young children and the repulsive silence of adults. Even my parents became afraid, though they were much more subtle about it than the others. The people of the village started to turn against us, reprimanding my parents for taking in such a creature. My parents would not speak openly about this, but I could hear my mother crying at night.
"Leonna...I just... feel like I don't know her anymore! What is she?" My mother cried in the arms of my father, her voice trembling.
"Nothing's changed? Have you seen her wings? That empty look in her eyes? Erevan, she's not the same girl we raised!"
"She got in a fight. It happens to everyone, especially at such a young age." My father's voice became stern, defensive.
"Erevan, she could burn the entire forest down, just like that night seven years ago...the night she—"
"Enough. Leonna is not a creature of destruction. We raised her..."
"Children grow up, Erevan. They start making their own choices. Who's to say Leonna won't choose destruction? She nearly burned that poor boy..."
That was the night I left. After my parents fell asleep, I ran out into the forest, wishing to be anything that was not me. My mother was afraid of me. Afraid! Even my father's defense was wavering, knowing that I did indeed hold the power to ruin all he had...all the village had. I did not want to hear any more screaming, see any more fearful glances. I did not want my parents to argue, to be upset, so I chose the only thing that would stop it all. I left.
I ran deep into the forest, where the magic wood grew. The trees were amazingly tall there, their branches reaching up into the heavens. I knew by the color of their bark what they were, but they had such a strange presence about them. It made my skin tingle, as if there was some sort of new energy slipping into my body. Such a sensation made me feel part of the forest, as if we were sharing the same power. Even the grass seemed to glow slightly in the moonlight, tinged by the strange energy that flowed through the grove.
But none of these things held my attention more than the huge rock that jutted out from the ground. The rock was actually made up of a group of pillars, most of which had fallen into ruins. The dark objects had been placed in a circle, encompassing a round stone dais with strange characters inscribed into it. The forest had long since grown over a large portion of it, but the black rock was easy to pick out from the foliage. I bent down to touch the stone, which was strangely smooth. Somehow, the same energy as the rest of the forest was pulsing through this as well.
That was where stayed that night; close to this strange energy. I began clearing of the black stone dais, uncovering the characters that were carved in it. They looked like curvy lines, and even glowed orange when the moonlight touched them. As I carefully uncovered each one, I found that many had been damaged, halfway eroded off of the smooth surface of the stone. Time had obviously done its damage here, but why was it here in the first place? What significance did it have?
Unfortunately, I did not have much time to ponder over this. In the morning, the lumberjacks of Bren came to collect their wood. I had wandered into the center of the grove they cut from, and sure enough, I realized it was time to move before someone found me. I ran even deeper into the woods to escape them, where I was sure I would never be found. It would be difficult to live alone, to try to survive on what the forest had to offer, but I was determined. Never again would I return to the village where I caused nothing but fear.
Such was the ignorance of my youth. I was a domestic child, a young child, a child with no understanding of the world outside of Bren. I had been taught that the forest was dangerous, that one never wandered off alone, but I thought I was smart enough to survive. I believed that my sheer will alone would save me, but even that wavered. My anger and frustration was directed at myself, this being that had once destroyed a beautiful forest. I was a monster whom all feared, even the parents who had raised me. My life had brought them pain, and now...now that I was a monster, how could they love me? What was the point in living if there was no place for me?
Perhaps it was a good thing that I separated myself from my people, though I suffered greatly from hunger. My anger and frustration manifested itself in the flames I could not control, and I was constantly surrounded by the ashes of my fire. Trees, bushes, grass— it all burned near me. I could not wander any distance without something catching flame, which made it difficult to find food. It was only when I became too weak to walk that the flames finally stopped, and I could only lie in misery by the roots of the trees.
It was while I was in this state of misery that something extraordinary happened. While I was lying in the grass, a small rabbit approached me, sniffing the ground with its delicate pink nose. When it caught sight of me, its ears pricked up and its body went rigid, but it did not flee. It stayed tense only for a moment, then hopped towards me. The white creature stopped just out of arm's reach, its small black eyes regarding me curiously. I stared back at it with equal intensity, for my stomach was crying out loudly. Once it took one more small step towards it, I seized the small creature, grabbing it by its neck. It twitched uncomfortably in my grasp, but made no effort to fight back. It merely sat there, its innocent face as placid as a lamb's.
It... trusts me, I realized with horror. The creature had not fled from me as it should have. It did not avoid me as even humans did. All I had to do was snap its tiny neck and it would be dead. This stupid, foolish rabbit still trusted me, as if it really believed a starving monster would not eat it. I stared at it for a long time, my hunger urging me to kill it and my heart screaming to let it go. I could not betray even the trust of an insignificant animal.
Against all reason, I let the creature go. My hold on it softened and it slipped away, though it did not run. As if to mock me in my weakness, the rabbit licked my fingers with its tiny pink tongue and hopped away.
I'm amazed with the detail you gave the forest. I can feel it exuding magic out the page/screen. With that setting in place, the character scenes really come to life. Considering her situation, I still don't think the protagonist is being overly emotional or self-absorbed. My only criticism is that I'm still waiting for 'something to happen'... :p
:3 Why thank you! This story really is quite heavy on the detail, and I'm slowly realising that there's even more to add than I originally included. There is more of a climax to come, but I'm afraid I am going to make you muddle through more... stuff first.
* * *
I must have been somewhat tougher than I realized, for I did not stay curled up on the ground for long. My hunger pushed me to eat everything in sight, whether it be plant, dirt, or insect. I stuffed these things in my mouth without thought, chewing them quickly and letting them fill my stomach. This food left me weak, but I was still able to walk, and I continued my aimless wandering through the forest. To this day, I still do not know what it was I was looking for, for I had no home to go to nor any purpose to be anywhere at all. It was only the need to survive, to keep the pain of hunger away that forced me to continue.
As I was walking one day, I came across a strange burrow. The hole was massive, forming a cave that was at least ten feet across. Overcome with curiosity, I snuck into the cave, wondering if there were any creatures that lived there. A rotten scent of dead and dying things seeped out of the hole as I approached it, and for a moment, I considered running back. The strange burrow was in no way a good place to play, and I was fully aware of the stories of giant spiders. This frightened me, but my curiosity was still stronger. With shaking limbs, I crept inside, covering my mouth to keep out the foul smell.
I did not make it far into the cave before I noticed a white, sticky substance clinging to the wall. When I touched it, the strange stuff clung to my skin, and I had to pull hard to separate myself from it. As I followed the sticky stuff, I noticed that it was traced around in elegant patterns, strange objects clinging to it. I looked closer to make them out, and to my horror, I found bloodless limbs of large and small animals, some with the skin still decaying on the bones. Mingled among these gruesome body parts were those of humans, too, a skull among them.
And then something moved. I had to cover my mouth to stifle the scream that threatened to come out, watching as a black lump on the floor began to stand. Large, spindly legs reached out, and I realized that the lump was in fact the body of a massive spider. The thing turned around to see what had disturbed it, the creature's red eyes glaring at me in the darkness. Silently, it crept towards me, flexing the gleaming pincers on its head.
That was when I screamed. I had been frozen in terror, but the sound of my own voice woke my body. I immediately turned an ran, the scuttling of the spider's legs close behind me. As I ran, I felt the creature's sharp pincers click just behind my back, narrowly avoiding my flesh. As the spider was about to close in on me, a shaft of sunlight appeared, the entrance to the deep cave suddenly visible. This caused the spider to screech the most blood curdling sound, so high pitched that I had to cover my ears. The sound so frightened me that I fell to the ground, expecting that the spider would now eat me. However, after a few moments had passed, I looked up to see that the spider had gone.
I tore out of the cave as fast as my legs could carry me, running through the forest like a deer taking from a hunter. To this day I do not know how long I ran or how far I went, but I was exhausted. The spider's scream still echoed in my head, its red eyes peering at me every time I closed my eyes. I could not sleep for days, blindly trying to survive on whatever the forest had to offer. My body was weakening with each passing day, but I was not afraid. I just wanted the pain to stop. I wanted to forget my parents, the village, and most of all, that horrible giant spider.
How much longer I could have survived on my own I do not know. How Hemanias found me is still a mystery, though I am forever in his debt. He walked by me one day as I sat in the dirt, scratching out the characters I had seen in the ruins. I did not look up as he approached, expecting him to flee when he saw my famed "demon eyes." I started to get nervous as he came closer and closer, his feet scratching noisily across the dirt.
"How curious. Are you familiar with the characters you're drawing?" He was standing over me now, casting a shadow over my characters in the ground.
I paused my writing, but still refused to look up. "Get away, old man. I'll destroy you."
He laughed, a dry, crackling sound. Laughter was something I hadn't heard in a long time; it reminded me of the sound wood makes when it catches the first sparks of a fire. "You have not even looked up, child. How do you know what age I am?"
"Your voice, your dragging feet, that smell..." I took a deep breath, taking in the pleasant smell of another living being. It wasn't a very substantial scent, like when you smell cooking food or a blooming flower. To me, every person seemed to smell differently, like how a wine connoisseur can tell the difference between the age and flavor of each bottle he drinks. Some people had warm scents, like a freshly baked gingersnap, while others were sharper, like a crisp clove of mint. I just supposed my sense of smell was another defect from being a demon, perhaps a way to sense a human being's soul.
I heard the man's bones creak as he knelt down next to me. "Tell me, child, what do I smell like to you?"
I did not know how to answer. It had been so long since someone had conversed with me, treated me like I was a human being. "You smell like..." I struggled to find the words to use. He smelled like a mixture of so many different things, so much of which I had never taken in before. I could tell there was a great force behind his cracking limbs and dry voice, something that went far beyond any mortal power. "Who are you?"
Another dry laugh. "I am Hemanias, the village shaman. I held you when you were just a baby."
"Then you saw," I said, hanging my head.
"Saw what, my dear child?" The man's voice was softer, sensing my deep wound.
"M...my demon eyes. Everyone says they are cursed."
Without warning, Hemanias parted my filthy, knotted hair, peering into my eyes without the slightest sign of fear. He really was old, with the crinkles in his face being the most dominant of his features. His hand was bony and feeble, but his warm green eyes held a kind of strength I had never seen before. "You have pretty eyes."
"P...pretty?" That was I word that I had never heard associated with me before.
"They look like bright green stars, so full of light, but so far away, just like you."
"But I'm right here."
Hemanias smiled again. "You will understand what that means someday, but until then, would you like to come with me?"
I merely stared in shock. "You mean back to the village? I can't, I'll—"
"There is no need to panic, child. I do not go around the village much."
Hemanias stood, sighing as he did so. "I am in need of one young enough to do the work these old bones cannot. Surely a kind soul like yourself would not deny such an old man his simple request."