The Trees Have Tongues (Part 3 of 4)
Child, get up.
Ella raised her head. Sleet pummeled her. Wind shoved her. She saw no one. “Who are you?” she moaned. “Are you real?”
Yes, said the voices, rising above the howl of the wind and the rattling of the snow. Yes, Ella. We are real. We have always been real.
“Then who are you?”
As you said.
“Whatever do you mean?” the girl screamed.
As you said, the voices repeated. We are the trees.
“You are real then,” she shouted, her words barely audible.
Yes, of course. And now we need to keep you safe. Follow us.
“To where?” Ella yelled, shivering violently. “Tell me.”
Follow us. Just as you did before.
Ella stood on shaky legs and followed the voices. Soon she arrived at the entrance of a cave sheltered by a tangle of tree roots and a thick blanket of sleet-covered moss.
In there, the voices instructed. You will be safe. The bear is asleep. Use him for warmth.
“The bear?” Ella screamed. “No!”
You must. It is warm.
Reluctantly Ella pushed away the overhang of vegetation and peered inside, but it was too dark to see anything other than the inky blackness. While the warmth she felt emanating from the cave enticed her to enter, the pungent, musky odor kept her at bay. “I cannot,” she pleaded.
You must, the voices said again. It is safe. We have made it so.
Ella took one step into the darkness … followed by another. As her eyes acclimated to the gloom, she made out a heaving mass of fur lying in front of her. The bear snored loudly, snorting great clouds of warm steam into the air. A large stone lay on the cave floor in front of the bear’s snout. Several handfuls of dirt and smaller stones covered the bear’s head and lay scattered about the damp floor.
You see, we have made it safe. The rock has knocked out the bear, and he will sleep the rest of the night.
Ella stood speechless, fear giving way to trust.
Lie down now and rest.
An arm’s length away from an ursus so large he could gobble her up in one bite, she bedded down on a bed of pine boughs and fell asleep.
“Mama, come quickly,” Ella yelled as she burst through the gate. She had awakened that morning to the bright stillness of a new fallen snow, feeling as rested as if she had slept under the covers of her own straw bed. The bear lay as it had when she had fallen asleep, still snoring deeply. As before, the trees guided her back into familiarity. Now, as she rushed into the cottage, with bare feet blue and lips quivering, she threw her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her warm red cheeks. “Mother, you will not believe it.”
“Where have you been, my precious flower?” her mother cried, holding her tight against her bosom. “I have been sick with worry. You are so cold.”
“But Mama, inside I am warm. The trees kept me safe.”
Her mother relinquished her embrace. “The trees?” she uttered. “Again?”
“Oh, yes, Mama. This time they led me to a cave. With a bear! They told me to sleep in there as I would be safe.”
“A bear?” Mama gasped. “Wha—“
“Yes, a bear,” Ella continued breathlessly. “A big one. The trees pried a stone loose from the cave’s ceiling. It dropped on the bear’s head and knocked it out. I slept restfully, not waking until the trees called to me again this morning and accompanied me home. It was all quite exciting.”
“I am certain it was,” Mama said, taking a deep breath. “Go, warm yourself by the fire, my precious flower. We shall talk about this further, after your father returns.”
“Yes, Mama,” Ella sighed. Peace settled over her as she realized she would not be punished, at least not until her father came home. And she knew without a doubt she would receive no punishment then, either, as her father upheld telling the truth far above the consequences of disobedience.
“I am quite concerned, William,” Rhoswen confessed to her eldest son as they crunched through the snow in the forest beyond the cottage. A slight breeze rustled the boughs and snow fell in clumps around them. “I am afraid your sister has taken to lying.”
“But Mother,” William replied. “Poor Ella is quite convinced she heard the voices, and she believes she is telling the truth.”
Rhoswen shivered, not entirely from the cold. “And you, my dear son. What do you think?”
William looked up at her, his pensive brown eyes piercing her heart. “I believe her,” he said. “She is a good lass.”
“Alas, William,” Rhoswen said. “I believe her, too.”
You must believe her, came the voices. Because it is true.
Rhoswen froze. “Did you hear that, William?” she gasped. William stopped.
“I did,” he said, voice thin. “Hello?”
“Do not entice it,” Rhoswen whispered. “Perhaps it is of the devil.”
We are not of the evil one, the voices said. Quite the opposite is true.
“Who … who are you, then?” Rhoswen asked.
We are the trees whom your husband, the woodcutter, has begun to harvest while we still live.
Rhoswen gulped as William spun around and around, a whimper issuing from his clenched lips.
You must remind your husband of the ancient precepts. We have served his family for generations, yet he murders us. As you know yourself, Rhoswen, violating the edict could again bring about a great famine as the animals will have nowhere to dwell.
Rhoswen took a deep breath and put a hand on her son’s shoulder to stop his panicked gyrations. After a moment she had the courage to speak again. “Why have you not spoken to him yourselves?”
The woodcutter is deaf to our pleas. He blames us when it is the hunger of worry which gnaws at his heart, driving him to violate our edict. Worry for you, for your children. He has lost patience in waiting for our guidance, and in his desperation he has shut his ears and has turned inward, to himself. It is up to you to open his heart so he will again recognize and respond to our wisdom.
“Again?” William said.
Yes, your father is a woodcutter by calling. Our calling. As was his father and his father before him.
“I have heard the old tales, many times, and thought them to be only stories,” Rhoswen admitted. She looked at William whose face shone as white as the snow covering the woods. “I will speak to him.”
Very well, the voices said. He has already filled his cart and is making haste toward town as we speak. He is another day’s journey from home. We will cover him and keep him protected, but it is you who must remind him who he is and from where he comes. Only then will he again hear our voices as you hear them now. Only then will he remember. Only then will he act.
“Come,” Rhoswen called to William. “We must hurry home and tell the other children.” She took her oldest son’s hand and allowed him to lead her back to the cottage. And for the rest of the day and deep into the night, the woodcutter’s wife and children told each other the old stories in front of the fire.
Copyright ©2015 by David C. Hughes