by Rolin Joles
The wood warns Anna of what awaits her. What awaits her has tired of waiting.
|When Anna got home, the sun was nearly set. She noticed her father walking towards her house from the forest. He was holding an ax, and was panting. “Father,” Anna called out to him. Her father turned to see his daughter and smiled at her. “What are you doing?”
“You said that the tree out there was dead, so I spent the day chopping it down,” Her father pointed to the fallen tree and Anna’s eyes widened a bit. A crude stump sat rotted to the ground next to a lifeless tree, its branches cracked and rendered from its fall. “I figured you’d want to use the wood to carve more arrows and other things. I suppose you’d get a lot of those out of that, eh?” Her father placed his hand on her shoulder with a satisfied grin on his face. Anna could only sigh at the sight of the felled tree. The tree was dead, and her father's actions were that of only benevolent intent. She touched his hand and closed her eyes, rubbing the rough hairs on knuckles gently before looking at him.
“You look tired,” Anna examined the sweat stains on her father’s shirt. “You should go in and rest.”
“Yes,” Her father nodded, “We can cut it into logs tomorrow.” Her father walked towards the house with the ax over his shoulder. "That wood put up one hell of a fight; I'm not the man I once was..."Anna turned to follow, taking a glance back at the fallen tree. She stopped and looked closer, noticing a silhouette standing there pass the branches. She could see its green eyes shining in the remaining sunlight as it appeared to be staring back at her. “Anna,” Anna turned back to the sound of her father’s voice, “Come wash for supper.” Anna nodded and began walking towards the house, taking one final look behind her. The silhouette was gone.
The next day, Anna and her father chopped the tree into firewood and saved the sticks and branches for Anna’s arrows and figures. With every swing of her hatchet, Anna whispered a 'sorry' to the wood, feeling guilty after just speaking with it the other day. She tried to take comfort in the fact that the wood would keep her family warm and her father happy to provide her with the wood she so often used. The other trees were silent that day, and she prayed that they did not hate her for this.They managed to get half the tree done before taking a break for lunch.
“Anna,” Anna looked up from her plate and looked at her father. They sat outside on the patio with the firewood piled up on the side of it. He put a cup of cool water to his lips and took a long gulp before he continued to speak. “Have you been feeling alright?”
“What makes you ask this, father?” Anna asked with a confused look on her face.
“Samuel,” Anna’s father started, clearing his throat, “He said you ran away from a Crusade the other day. What happened?” Anna slowly looked back down to her plate and picked at the food on it. She remembered ruuning out of Samuel's shop in a hurry. She probably looked foolish if it was enough to make Samuel bring it to her Father's attention.
“Nothing, I…” Anna hesitated. She shook the nervous feeling from herself and looked towards the firewood. “I bumped into the Captain, and I didn't want to be any further bother…”
“I do not want you to fear the Crusade.” Anna’s father’s voice was stern. When she looked at him, he was looking towards the forest. “What happened when you were younger was not your fault. We left on our own accord.”
“I hear the people in town talk.” Anna muttered. "They say I'm a witch because of what I did. Because of what the trees..." She jumped at the sound of a loud bang as her father slammed his fist onto the arm of his chair. His fist shook for a moment, but he soon relaxed and brought his hand up to his head..
“Let them talk,” He sighed. “They are ignorant. They are filled with fear over something they've never even witnessed.”
“What do you-?”
“The Holy Church is never something you should fear, Anna.” Her father’s eyes peered into Anna’s. “They are meant to protect the people. You, your mother, and I; we are the people the Holy Church protects.” Anna put her plate down and listened to her father’s words, “I don’t want you running from them, or anyone in that town, again. You have just as much right to be there as they.”
“I didn't run because of the captain.” Anna’s curly red hair fell over her face as she looked away. “I saw Michael, there. He’s a Crusade, now.”
“Michael?” Anna’s father sounded shocked. "He’s…one of your friends?” Anna shook her head, pulling her legs into a fetal position.
“He’s the boy…from before.” Anna’s father thought for a moment, and remembered who she was referring to.
“Ah, yes…” Anna’s father cleared her throat, “THAT boy…” Anna’s father picked up his ax and began heading towards the tree.
“Father?” Anna raised her eyebrow and started to stand up. Her father turned around and shook his head at his daughter.
“I’m not good at talking about romances. You can ask your mother about…boys.” Anna’s face turned as red as her hair. She shook her head furiously and grabbed her hatchet, running after her father to aid him with the rest of the tree.
“Father, that’s not what I meant!” Anna yelled out. Anna’s mother stood in the screen door, listening in on her family’s conversation. She giggled at her husband and daughter then turned away to head to the kitchen and prepare dinner.
Anna had finished moving the last of the firewood to the side of the house. It was late and her father had grown weary of a long day's work. She had, with the help of mother, forced him into the house to rest while she finished the job. The cool evening brought sounds of the wildlife's after hour, crickets playing the fiddles on their legs while frogs and toads croaked to the rhythm. Her parents were already inside enjoying dinner, but Anna decided not to partake just yet. She walked towards the forest, near the trees surrounding the trunk where the dying tree once stood.
“I apologize,” Anna started as she spoke out to the forest, “My father was only thinking of me and my mother when he cut this tree down.” She ran her fingertips across the trunk and sighed. “I promise, I’ll make the branches and sticks into powerful arrows, and the wood into beautiful statues,” Anna pulled the dagger from her black sheath and held it up to the tree. “I made this out of one of the dying tree’s branches. My parents think it’s very well crafted. I’m going to keep it as a reminder that this tree was here.”
“And what of the rest?” Anna immediately turned around when she heard a voice from behind her. She saw nothing in the blackness of the night, but remained cautious. The voice wasn't one of the trees; it wasn't in her head like usual. The voice came from someone who was near her.
“Who are you?” Anna called out. Her grip on the dagger was firm. There was silence, and Anna relaxed a bit before the voice came from behind, again.
“The leaves, the roots, and the seeds for which it produces more of its kind; what do you do with them?” Anna swung at the voice this time with the wooden dagger, but hit nothing.
“I’m not playing your game!” Anna called out again, “Reveal yourself or leave me be!” There was a rustle in the grass; the sound of moving feet. Anna followed their sounds from tree to tree. There was only one person there, but for some reason, she couldn't see him.
“Why are you so violent?” Anna froze, trying to listen to the footsteps, “That’s probably one of the reasons you don’t have any friends.”
“What?” Anna’s eyes widened. She heard the movements of feet in the grass cautiously walking towards her.
“I see the townsfolk; the way they all look at you. You obviously did something to them they didn't like, and if you normally swing wooden daggers at people, I’d say I’m spot-on in that assumption.”
“Shut up,” Anna muttered, her anger rising in her chest. She couldn't see the person talking to her, but she had the urge to punch them in the face as hard as she could. “Are you one of them? Did you follow me from town just to make fun of me, or bother me?”
“No, yes, and no,” The voice replied. Anna swung in the dark in anger and her fist came in contact with something. Anna blinked and went to grab whatever she hit, but it moved out of her grip. “Ouch. You know, you’re starting make me regret taking on this mission.”
“Get out of here! How dare you think I did anything to those people!? They are the ones who mock me! They’re the ones who always taunt and intimidate me! I did nothing wrong! They are wrong!” Anna screamed, swinging the wooden dagger in the dark furiously, trying to hit the person again.
“Hey, watch that!” The person stumbled and Anna ran towards the noise and swung her dagger with all her strength. A green light emitted from the wooden dagger and green flames shot out of her hand, swiping across the darkness. She looked at her flaming hand as it went across the figure in the dark. Long black hair, dark skin, and his eyes shined a green color similar to her flame. Anna quickly panicked and began hitting her hand. She let go of the dagger and the green flame disappeared.
“ANNA!” Anna was now on the ground, sitting in front of the dagger, staring at it. She felt hands go on her shoulders and her body starting to shake.
“Anna, what’s wrong!?” Anna looked up at saw her mother’s face in the glow of a lantern. Her father held a rifle in his hands, scanning the darkness.
“What happened? Did someone attack you!?” Her father yelled, his finger on his rifle’s trigger. Anna pulled herself together and shook her head.
“There was a boy, or a man, he was here,” Anna stumbled on her words, her mother holding her. “I scared him off.”
“Where would he go? The only way to the road is pass our home; we would have seen him. There’s only forest in these parts.” Anna’s mother looked to Anna’s father.
“Then where do you think he came from?” Anna’s father looked back at Anna’s mother. She gasped and covered her mouth, her eyes widened as she thought of whom the man was. Anna looked to her parents and quickly became concerned.
“What’s wrong? Who was he?” Anna’s father lowered the rifle and helped her mother to her feet.
“Maria, take Anna in the house. I’ll look around in case he’s hiding somewhere.” Anna looked at her father and Maria nodded, taking Anna’s hand and pulling her towards the house.
“Wait, father! What’s going on?” Anna yelled. Maria tugged Anna along until they made it to the patio.
“Get inside and prepare for bed, Anna. I’ll wait here for your father.” Anna looked at Maria and shook her head.
“Mother, father’s out there with a strange man, I have to-!”
“DO as I say!” Maria snapped. Anna flinched and hurried inside. Her mother rarely snapped at her over anything, even when she did dangerous things. Anna prepared for bed and waited inside of her room for her father to come home. She waited up for hours until she heard her parents’ voices downstairs. That night, Anna barely slept. The only thing she could think about were her shaking hands. Her hand was on fire, but she felt no pain; she had no burns. She softly cried to herself, confused and angry.
“Why is it happening again?”