by Rolin Joles
Anna is a young girl who lives near the wood. Anna has secret that only the wood knows...
| There was once a powerful race of magic users known as the Wiccans. The Wiccans practiced magic using the essence of the earth itself to aid them in their lives. Because of their abilities and power, most people feared the Wiccans. Despite their best efforts to show the people of their benevolence, their unique abilities brought about an imbalance of power in the Christian faith. The Holy Church issued a ban on the practice of magic, causing many of the Wiccans to be captured and murdered. Outraged, the Wiccans began a war with The Holy Church which lasted 12 years. Many Wiccans and Priests died, but the Holy Church came to be the victor, banishing the Wiccans into the harsh, winter forest where they were to die off. However, the Wiccans persevered, and were determined to keep their teachings and way of life. Thus the Wiccans went into hiding, never to be heard from again.
"Anna, I need you to go into town and pick up a chicken for dinner tonight," Anna's mother shouted from the kitchen. Anna played with her curly red hair as she watched her wooden cradle click back and forth. Anna was a 17-year old girl who had a knack for building things. She would spend her days collecting sticks and branches and whittling them into things using her father's tools. "Your father's coming home tonight. I want things to be perfect for when he gets here, so hurry back," Anna's mother shooed her away from her wooden cradle and pushed her out the door with money in hand. Anna grabbed her travel bag from her mother and walked towards town without a word. Anna made it halfway before her mother shouted from the window, "Anna! Remember, don't go into the forest!" Anna looked back and nodded, and continued towards town.
She did what she was asked of and began returning home, ignoring the odd looks the people in town were giving her. She ignored their comments, them calling her "wood girl" or "tree witch", and she didn't reply when they would call out to her. Anna had no friends, none that were human at least. She saw no reason to respond, for it would only lead to more ridicule. Anna was considered weird because she refused to play with children when she was younger, and had been sighted talking to trees. Her mother worried about her and had many doctors and therapists examine her, but none found anything wrong with her. When her parents asked why she talked to trees, she replied, "It's not I who talk to trees, but the trees that talk to me. I merely reply, because it's rude to ignore people."
"Do not fret, my child..." Anna looked up to a nearby tree as she was passing a home on her journey back. "These people do not understand your talents. Most are afraid of you; I hear them talking about you. Do not take their criticism as hatred."
"I don't," Anna started, "I just wish that-"
"Take your crazy talk elsewhere, witch!" Anna looked at an elderly woman that was shouting from her home. The tree Anna was talking to was in her yard. Anna gave her a cold stare that made the old woman jump. Anna sighed, and looked towards the tree.
"I have to go." Anna left town and headed home. She gave the chicken to her mother and left the house again to collect stick and branches from the yard. Anna had many trees around her home because she lived on the edge of town near the forest. She would take their branches and create art from them as a form of thanks for being kind to her. The trees near her home, however, never spoke to her. She would sometimes try to talk to them, but they would all be silent. Anna picked up a branch from a nearby dying tree. She heard the leaves rustle from the wind blowing.
"They watch you." Anna heard the breaking voice of the tree in front of her. She looked around for anyone, but saw no one. She turned to the tree and touched its trunk.
"You shouldn't talk," Anna ran her fingers across the bark, "You'll waste your energy." She heard the rustling of leaves in the distance, and the dying tree spoke again.
"You do not belong here...They are not your kin." Anna stared at the tree.
"Who are you talking about?" The wind blew harder and the last leaf on the dying tree flailed in the gust.
"The forest...the forest...they lay in the forest." The leaf blew off, and the tree died. Anna looked towards the forest for a long time before hearing her mother's voice calling her home. Anna gathered her branches and went home, thinking about the tree's last words. When she returned home, Anna greeted her father with a warm hug, and sat down to eat dinner. Afterwards, she whittled a thick branch into a wooden dagger and went to sleep.
"Anna, I need you to go into town again," Anna's mother stepped into Anna's room to find her carving an arrow out of a stick.
"May I have some spending money for myself?" Anna's mother was taken aback. Anna rarely asked for something from anyone, let alone her parents. Whatever she needed, she'd either make it of wood, or sell her wooden trinkets in town in her father's shop.
"For what, may we ask?" Anna's father stepped into the room after hearing Anna while passing by. Anna showed her parents the wooden dagger she had made. Her mother gasped and gazed at it and her father applauded her for the craftsmanship.
"That tree outside without any leaves; it died yesterday. I made a dagger from its branches, and I wanted to purchase some leather to fasten a sheath for it," Anna explained. Her father nodded and gave her the extra money.
"Maybe you could make more money by selling that in your father's shop," Anna's mother suggested. Anna nodded, but had no intentions of selling it to anyone in town. She knew they'd never appreciate the value of the dagger, and most likely, it'd end up broken within a few days by a clumsy oaf, or some rambunctious child. Anna picked up a quiver of arrows and took her mother's list of things to buy and headed into town. Once in town, Anna walked by the tree in the elderly woman's yard.
"Sorry I left so abruptly, yesterday." Anna apologized to the tree. She waited for a response, but the tree remained quiet. Anna turned to leave, and in the quietest voice, the tree called to her.
"They call out to you..." The tree whispered, "They want their sister back." Anna turned to the tree.
"Who calls? What are you talking about?" Anna called out to the tree, ignoring the mutters and whispers of the townsfolk.
"The forest...They seek you in the forest." After that, the tree fell silent. As she turned to leave, Anna looked at the dagger in her travel bag. She remembered the dying tree saying something about the forest. The words, however curious, made no sense to her. Anna set aside her thoughts and left to finish her errands in town. After she had bought her mother's things, Anna went to the local weapon smith, Samuel. She had made good business for Samuel with her arrows, and despite her reputation as a tree witch, Samuel treated her with kindness. She stepped into the weapons shop and greeted Samuel.
"What can I do for you, Anna? Bringing me more arrows, I see." Anna rested the quiver on the counter and nodded.
"I need leather to fasten a sheath together, Samuel." Anna told him, looking over the swords in his shop. Samuel raised an eyebrow while examining the arrows.
"A fine job, as ever," Samuel muttered to himself, "What would you be needing a sheath for? Plan on joining the Crusade? You got yourself a blade, and not from my shop!? I'm hurt, Anna." Anna smirked and showed Samuel the wooden dagger from her bag.
"You always jump to conclusions. I need it for this," Anna put the dagger on the counter, and Samuel examined it, admiring the craftsmanship. "It's special, so I planned on keeping it."
"I get it, I get it," Samuel smiled and handed her the dagger back. "Still, why not just go to the tailor in town?" Anna pulled out the sack of extra money she had in her travel bag.
"My father gave me money for good leather. I know you have the best." Samuel grinned, and turned around and headed towards the back of the store.
"I've got just the thing." Anna waited while Samuel fumbled around in the back for a few minutes, and watched as he returned with black-colored leather and silk string. "Now this is of the finest quality; I acquired it from the Holy Church, itself. They wanted me to make swords for the new Crusades and sheaths for the new Crusades' swords, but there's just enough left for a dagger that size." Anna smiled and took the material and put it in her bag.
"How much do I owe you?" Anna asked. Samuel held his hand up as she opened her pouch to give him money.
"Your arrows provide me with a great sum of that, already. That reminds me, here's your cut of last quiver's share." Samuel handed her a pouch with money in it; more than her father had given her.
"You have earned it." Samuel nodded to her. Anna took the money and smiled softly.
"Thank you, Samuel. You know, out of all the townsfolk, you're my favorite." Anna turned to leave and bumped into a member of the Crusades. The elder man glared down at her, and she looked him in his eyes. She noticed his icy blue glare had been sharpened by experiences in battle, and his greying, black hair showed his wisdom. She looked behind him and noticed a much younger man following him, a man with brown hair and dark brown eyes. He noticed her and went to raise his hand to wave before Anna quickly turned away. "Apologies, sir."
"Yes, do try to be more careful, girl," The elder Crusade turned away from her, and Anna swiftly stepped out of the Weapons shop. "Samuel, are the swords and sheaths ready?"
"Anna!" The townsfolk watched as the young Crusade ran up to Anna, but she did her best to ignore him and the townsfolk's glares. The young Crusade called her again, but she hurried to leave the town. A man stepped in front of Anna and stopped her.
"A Crusade addresses you, witch. Be respectful." The man muttered, coldly. Anna looked to the ground and bit her lip. The young Crusade approached her and placed his hand on her shoulder, and she turned to him slowly, avoiding any eye contact.
"Anna, hey," The young Crusade smiled. "I didn't know you lived in town."
"What do you need, Michael?" She talked quietly, rubbing her arm uncomfortably. She could feel the eyes of the townsfolk on her.
"Well, I noticed you at Samuel's shop, and I was wondering how you were doing. How're your parents?" Michael tried to establish eye contact with Anna, but she continued to avoid him.
"They're well. We don't live in town; I was just here on errands. I really must get going." Anna tried to turn away, but Michael stopped her.
"Well, hey, good news. I finally managed to get into the Crusades, like I said I would, remember?" Anna sighed, and looked Michael in his eyes.
"I'm proud of you. I'm glad you've gotten everything you wanted. I hope you do well in serving the Holy Church. May I go now, please?" Anna couldn't take being in town anymore. She pleaded with Michael with her eyes, and Michael nodded slowly. She turned and walked away swiftly, passing the eyes that followed her out of town.