This is my attempt at writing a fairy tale entirely from scratch. It’s framed as a story (or a series of stories) about the same village, the same walk that the storyteller takes with the person they are telling the story to every night. The storyteller is sharing traditions, and customs that presumably have been passed down to them in the same way. I feel that this village would be interesting to come back to another time, with its mysterious and desperate origins, and think that perhaps the storyteller has more legends to share.
The Gifts of the Forest
Many fairy tales are sinister, or warnings, but not all. Sometimes there is kindness, or at the least, relief, from whatever lies beyond. Even the darkness though, there’s always hope. Not all of the magic was bad magic, as much as they’d like you to think that. Do you know why we walk the woodland path every night? Listen, and I’ll tell you one of our people’s secrets.
There was, on occasion, a babe found nestled in the roots of the great tree at the centre of the forest. It would be nestled, protected by the great oak root walls, a cradle fortress formed of bark. A protection until they were found, and taken by a passing villager to the settlement amongst the trees.
The people were not forgiving of the mystical, or that seen as unusual or magical, though nor were many of their time. These children were, without question, taken in, becoming part of one of the families of the village. Mostly, they were given to those struck barren, who had perhaps been unable to conceive but were otherwise seen as good folk. Honest, hard-working, trustworthy folk. Those that were most deserving of a child to raise as their own. The child, once adopted, was treated without exception as the blood child of it’s adopted parents. This was accepted by their families and the rest of the village, and never again mentioned or any record kept of it. They would never know of their unusual origin , and if the townsfolk ever thought of it they gave no sign.
They would almost always grow to be good, loyal or stalwart adults. They would grow to be healers, crafters, storytellers or staunch defenders of the weak. On rare occasions, they would rise as leaders, though reluctantly. In times of war or crisis when a benevolent or stalwart elder was required for the survival of the people, though they would always relinquish responsibility when they were no longer required. Content to walk away, knowing that they had done their duty to their folk. They had little time for the trappings of greed , more often than not content to live simple lives, dedicating themselves to making life better for those around them.
Sadly, most were not long lived. Most died young, though a few lived to old age. Remember this was not a kind time, it was not unusual to be struck down by a passing fever, or an encounter with a wild beast. Some of the children of the forest simply faded, just lay down to sleep one day and did not open their eyes again. Of those who lived into age, some aged as human, some felt a call to the forest in the night and walked into the embrace of the woods, never to return.
sometimes one would begin to adopt the qualities of the forest. They would begin to watch their skin turn to bark, their hair entangle with vines and leaves. their touch would bring life to wooden beams and root furniture to the floor. It is hard, even if you have lived a good life, respected amongst the community, when you start to look different, no longer to fit in. The folk were not kind to strangers back then, and did not trust that which seemed magical.
The healers, often spending time outside of the village, would become even more elusive. Their cottages would become slowly enveloped by the overgrowth until they became like barrow copses, great mounds covered in witches-willow and emerald ivy. You can still see them, walk past them on the edges of the fields. The farmers would never move them, it’s not considered lucky to go to close, even now. They say that on moonlit nights you can hear them singing, and it’s a song that will make you stay, forever.
There is a great oak in the centre of the village, that the legends say was once the tomb of the founder of the village. Her name was Blodwyn, or perhaps Branwen, her name is almost lost to time and she was here before they wrote things down. She was so many generations gone, though the legend remained. She had brought their ancestors here, saved them from the raiders in the time when the coasts were scoured by them. She had saved them by hiding them in the forest, guiding the survivors of a particularly vicious raid along hidden paths and through secret hideaways to the clearing that became the village, in time. It was far enough away from the coasts, near fertile soil and fresh water but protected by the forest. The woodland paths kept dangers away, lured potential threats down paths they would not return from, or led them out of the forests again, away from the folk.
She had paid the price for this salvation, bought the safety of the villagers with her own life. In cloaking her folk from the raiders, those few families she could save, she had taken an arrow in her side. Though she survived long enough to guide them, she was grievously wounded. They had survived the fires that the wild men brought to the shores, only due to her. She survived long enough to be carried through the forest, whispering directions with her last breaths, as the arrow in her side writhed. They say her blood dripped green and her skin became as hard as earth. They sang her the old songs, of mountains and dragons and the heart of the forest. She smiled as she breathed her last, and as they laid her to rest in the ground it was as if the forest cried out. The ground around them was suddenly open, clear, though still surrounded by trees there was space there for them to rebuild. There were fallen trees not yet rotten scattered around and fertile ground in which to farm. They laid her at the centre, though her body was already becoming part of the earth. Her back arching into bark, her body becoming a tree. There was barely anything human left of her, and eventually there was simply a small tree where she had been. It had a certain quality though, they knew it was still a part of her, she would watch over them, protect them.
They thanked her, but collectively knew they also must pay a price for their safety. The tree that was once their Saviour would be nurtured and kept, but there was also another, deep within the forest, more ancient than imagination, and they must keep its children safe. Every day one of them must make the dangerous journey into the woods, to check the cradle at the roots of the oak . If they were to forget… Remember the forest had taken away all the threats over the years. Some it had disposed of, some it had led astray, but some it had kept, hidden and imprisoned. The price must be paid.
Even her magic couldn’t keep outsiders away forever. The World moves, as the outside world grew and the village expanded, the two were bound to meet eventually.
Outsiders came as the forest waned, bringing new ways to the village. For a time, the children of the forest would still be taken into the homes of the folk. As the years went by, they became more and more rare, even more fragile. There’s only a small wood now, where once forest spread as far as a man could walk, there hasn’t been a child of the forest for a hundred years.
This is why we still walk out there, along the forest paths, in the dying light of the evening. We owe them that, for our complicity as the world changed. The forest is dying, though it’s protected now. So many of our folk have gone to the cities, and the new blood do not know our ways. I doubt they remember the nightmares , the stories of the things the forest kept imprisoned.
So we hope, and walk our paths through the ancient trees to the great oak, and listen for an infant’s cry. Perhaps, one day, the forest will forgive us. I am filled with dread at the alternative.
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