by Kelly Lee
Never try to take what does not belong to you.
My Lady Tree
When I was a boy, I remembered seeing the tree. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. It stood there majestically with part of the trunk and roots growing on the large boulder that made up part of its base. Bright green leaves decorated the branches, which seemed to glow in the sunlight. The wood and bark were lovely shades of brown, mossy green with red. It grew just outside the castle gates near a small ravine that took water to the village surrounding the fiefdom and the farmland nearby.
It was a part of the landscape of the lands, and yet it was also its own entity, or so it seemed. The villagers talked about the spirit of the tree, and always left gifts or offerings at the trunk every day. They told tales about it. The tales were scoffed at by most in the castle, but I enjoyed hearing them. They gave me a sense of knowing the tree, almost as if she were a person.
I say “she” because even when I was a child, I had a sense of the tree being feminine. It looked like an ordinary tree that had twisted its way around that boulder, but it also seemed to me to be a graceful sort of tree. The curves of the bark and branches didn’t have the same structure as the knotty oaks and pines of the nearby forests. She was different.
When I was older, in the early stages of my manhood, I would escape my tutors and go sit by the tree, silently reading my books of poetry, imagining that she was reading them with me. I would be scolded for sitting near her, saying the spirits would be angry about my presence near her. I rebuked them, saying she welcomed the company. In my mind, she watched over us all: a little company would have been preferred. And I found myself longing for her.
When I was the age of 22, my father had informed me of my impending marriage to a fellow lord’s daughter. I knew it was duty to do such a thing, but I did not welcome the idea. I was young, and I wanted to see and do things before I married and carried on my father’s name and kept the lands. I was saddened, too, by the fact that I was not consulted about this turn of events. My parents had planned my life for me without any thoughts about what I wanted. I told them this.
“What you want is not important,” my father huffed at me.
“You need a wife, and heirs,” my mother said.
“But I don’t want to do that!” I protested.
“He is young,” the chancellor said to my parents. “When they wed, he will change his mind. It will be a good match with Lord Eric’s daughter.”
Lord Eric. I frowned. Everyone knew that Lord Eric was a warmonger and a greedy man. The only reason he agreed to wed his daughter to me was to gain the lands that my father’s fiefdom was on. Our people would suffer if Lord Eric ruled here.
Angry, I threw a book across the room. “I won’t marry her!” I shouted. “I have nothing against the lady: indeed, I do not know her, but I won’t do it!”
“You will,” my father said in a dangerous tone.
“Father, please, think about this. Lord Eric’s offer can produce no good. He is not to be trusted!”
My father exchanged a glance with my mother, a passing look of clarity. But then he looked back at me and said; “You will wed the girl in a month.”
I huffed and stomped out of the castle, and ran to the tree I loved so much. I sat under her and wept, for my freedom would be gone in month’s time. I did not want to do this thing, wed someone for the sole purpose of letting another gain control of our lands. But what could I do? If I ran, Lord Eric would surely punish my father. No, there had to be another way.
“What, my lady tree, do I do?” I asked.
A small wind rustled the delicate leaves, but no answer came.
I tried desperately to think of a way to free my father from this dreadful bond, as well as myself. I knew it was not the girl’s fault that her father was such a greedy man, but I would not willingly participate in letting Lord Eric gain control of my father’s lands.
So it was, that a month had come and gone and I stood before the priest awaiting my lady bride, still trying to think of a way to beg out of this unsavory situation. My father and mother sat nearby, with sad looks upon their faces, almost as if they realized their mistake in letting this happen. Then, Lord Eric came in with his daughter, and the vast gathering became terribly silent. The girl was meek thing, small next to her father. She looked as if she were afraid of him. Perhaps, I thought to myself, she was afraid of me; I was a stranger after all. She stepped next to me and refused to look at me. I suddenly felt pity for her.
“’Tis all right, my dear,” the priest said, hoping to ease her fear. He raised his hands in preparation for the wedding ceremony. “My lords and ladies,” he began. “On this blessed day, we—“
All turned to see who had spoken.
The minute I saw her, I knew who she was.
Her body was bark-covered in tones of brown, red and moss green. Her eyes a deep green as were her lips. Her hair was made up of leaves, moss and small twigs. As she walked, leaves and blossoms fell to the floor, sprinkling the stones with sweet smelling foliage, and the sunshine followed her.
She had heard my plea! I was smiling at her when she began to speak. “You cannot allow this to happen, my lord priest.”
The priest was flabbergasted, and could say nothing in protest.
Lord Eric, on the other hand, could. “Who is this woman?” he roared.
“Who I am should be obvious to you, Lord Eric, for I have protected these lands and this family for generations. Do you not remember me?” She spoke with a firm tone.
Lord Eric narrowed his eyes at her, suspicious of her. “Should I?” he asked.
My lady Tree simply scoffed. “I saved you once, my lord: in exchange for a promise.” She eyed him carefully, waiting for remembrance to grip his brain. “’Twas many years ago, when you were but a child.”
At this, Eric paled. Then, he regained his composure. “Bah! I remember not!”
“Oh, but you do.” She walked around him, leaves sprinkling the floor like golden dust. “You were on these lands against your father’s orders, but you thought to sneak about. You tried to spy on this castle by climbing the tree near the ravine. But you fell, and I caught you.” A knowing smile came to her face. “I promised to get you out of the ravine in exchange for your promise to never try to conquer these lands. You lied to me.” She stopped in front of him, her eyes level with his. “You see,” she said to the room at large. “Lord Eric’s father knew who dwelt on these lands, and this is why he never tried to claim them. But his son did not listen to his father. Nor did his son listen to me.”
“Who—Who are you?” The priest had finally found his voice.
“I am one of the Fey. My name is Lemvere, and I was charged with protecting these lands. This is Fey land.” She looked at me. “Young Simon, the tales you heard were true. Your father knows them to be true.” She held out a hand to my bride-to-be. “Come, child, it is time.”
Confusion overwhelmed me, but I suddenly knew.
My bride-to-be had asked to be taken to the land of the Fey, away from her present life. Lord Eric did not like this arrangement and began to protest. But, for as fearsome a man as he was, he was no match for a Fey woman with the power of a tree. Wood tendrils grasped his throat, and she left, then, with the girl and her horrible father.
She still stands twisted around her rock to this day. I am now in my fiftieth winter and still live on these blessed lands. I still go sit under her shade and read my books, but now I do this with my wife and children. I tell them the stories of My Lady Tree Lemvere and how the Lord Eric met a terrible fate that day: to be sealed in the rocks of the ravine.