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Harmony Lost

For the Whispering Woods challenge

By Hannah MoorePublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 6 min read

There was a time when one thousand languages were spoken and understood between this soil and this sky. There was a time honour was everyone’s, and fights were fought to live, not to kill. There was a time rebirth rode on the thorny jagged spines of death and the fallen were mourned as we mourn the close of each day, with the lowering of the light, and a ceding to the stars and the rhythms of the moon.

There was a time we nurtured our enemies as our enemies were friends of our friends. A pact like that was always likely to be broken.


Back then, this land teemed with life. Oak, Ash and Yew, skyscrapers of the forest, housed a hundred different beasts apiece, who crawled and burrowed and perched on their branches. Hawthorn scented the sheltered air below as the chill seeped away and the days lengthened, bringing foxes and badgers to court amidst the bluebells, and later to forage beneath arching ferns, seeking beetles amidst damp moss and decaying leafmould as ants supped on sweet honeydew they took from the aphids in exchange for their protection, and carried seeds and other snippets across the forest floor and up and down its many stories.

Harmony is often thought to be a peaceful state, but here harmony was at the confluence of a million pathways, each as lined with the blood of the killed and maimed as with the offerings of the bountiful, each holding some other to its course, each of equal import to the whole. This is how we lived in harmony, the whole subjugating the parts, the parts so varied that all other variation was likened to ours, for more than the life of the oldest Yew in our number.

Yew had spread its boughs over soft, needled ground, its vast trunk wizened and crooked, split as if to form twin trees, a sign, we knew, of its wisdom. In its footprint, nothing grew but itself, and itself grew on through the beginnings and endings of all other beings, and that is why the fairies came to ask it questions of life and death. Nearby, Oak and Ash looked down upon Yew without disdain, and the fairies brought their young to learn the suppleness of strength, and those in need of vigour when vitality waned. Though they were not of us, we were hospitable to the fairies, and they were respectful guests in our universe. They took as needed, and it was the work of only a century to flex our equilibrium around them.

Fairies, we know, are storied creatures, made and made again by their own words. We have no such magic here, and are only what we are, but as the fairies took our fruits and coppiced our wood, they gifted us our own stories in exchange, and we grew around those too. Owl, who had once been only Owl, was gifted wisdom, and Bee, who had once been only Bee, industry. Primrose crowned itself in youth and Blackthorn shrouded itself in mystique that darkened the blue of its berries. But these were superficial guises, shrugged off when the fairies ventured away, as they did often when the winter settled about us. We did not miss them when they were gone, nor were we sad to see them return.

So life continued in this way for several centuries until, as the days grew longer and the nights grew more temperate, the fairies returned with a beast of long departed descendancy, seeing in him perhaps a kinship that echoed in their open hearts. The man, for his part, had long forgotten his ancestry, but had enough fairy in him to hear their laughter without knowing he heard it, and to remember their stories in his soul. He reached further and further into the forest believing himself free and alone, whilst the fairies drew him on with fingers he mistook for the breeze and tales he mistook for his own.

We were only what we were, until they reached us, and by then it was too late.

Man, bastard child of fairy and fiend, is damned to conflict. Harmony has never been his, and though he senses it’s whirring at the edges of his perception, he finds it nowhere he goes. From fairies, he takes his hope and his storymaking, from fiends his despair and his hunger. He hopes always for more, and where fairies weave yarns that strengthen being, his are of monsters and gods and monstrous gods. Man stood before Ash and told of his own rebirth after times of want. He stood before Oak and spoke of how he would grow mighty fixed upon this land. He stood before Yew and promised that his line would last forever. Standing among us, he promised to subjugate the whole for his own part, and the fairies, weeping, departed forever.

Through roots and fungi, through wafting air and on scurrying feet, news of the first blow rippled through the forest. The ambulant retreated and the fixed threw bitterness into leaves and prepared healing saps as Man took down Crab Apple, and piled the wood to hide himself from the night.

Then, he cut down the silver birch, a beginning and an end. Unused to death on such scale, we felt our first pain, and the moon shone full and red and out of time. Then he brought great beasts who ate and ate and did not know our languages, as we did not know theirs. Without Birch, the safety Man had mistaken for a promise, dwindled to gnawing vulnerability. We promise nothing. Man brought Dog, who promises all, and lives with shame as a consequence. Dog chased and killed and even fox and badger learnt fear then.

Next he cut the wych elm, who would have heard his struggles, and took the trunks from us to build barriers and weapons to protect what Birch had left exposed. To build his own coffins, with so few winters between. Where Elm had stood he planted first Pine, then Spruce, and then more, and then more, and then more, his son’s son’s sons cutting deeper into the forest each winter, then circling back upon themselves to cut again what they had planted and plant again what they had cut until we were reduced to a fraction of ourself. Yet we reached out, touching beneath the soil, hearing the language of our new brethren, seeking to make ourselves a whole once more.

But the whole was made thin and in the year round dark our saplings were not welcomed. Our mycorrhizal umbilicus could not sustain in the gloom, our insects and mammals found slim pickings in these homogenous edges, and the calls of the birds died before they could reach another ear. Man lived on in the clearing where Crab Apple once stood, building shelters from Spruce for each of his sons, and they for theirs, until the clearing became a village, which bled into the forest like the bog into solid ground. Our losses are great, and some parts of us lost forever.

Still, we did not stop Man. We are only what we always have been, and what we were when clothed in the stories of strength the fairies gifted us, and what we are clad in the stories of possession man made of us. We are never what we are not. We do not suffer the duality of the bastard Man. Yet we have watched as he comes to seek fairies amongst us, remembering in his viscera that they once lived beneath this canopy. We have observed as he brings his heart to Yew when it is heavy and uncertain. We have seen when he brings his young to Oak to root them in this world, and when he brings his sickened mind to Ash and leaves invigorated. We have heard the stories of resource, of profit and of power, and we have heard the stories of a different kind of might, rooted in what was given to our being so long ago, these stories of the wisdom of Owl and of the mystique of Blackthorn, and of the richness of the Forest, too.

We hear these stories growing louder. And we endure as we have for more than the life of the oldest Yew. Our fate is in his hands, he who sees life and death as two separate trunks without noticing the singular base of the entity, without sensing the roots beneath his feet.

Short Story

About the Creator

Hannah Moore

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Comments (16)

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  • Christy Munson2 months ago

    Wow. So many lines to quote but I'll leave it as you do, with this: "he who sees life and death as two separate trunks without noticing the singular base of the entity, without sensing the roots beneath his feet." Profound, moving, insightful, and introspective. Just, wow.

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh2 months ago

    Lyrical, mysterious, profound -- "We are never what we are not," say the trees, while we humans are ever striving to be what we are not. This is a story I wish could be read to children alongside The Giving Tree and The Lorax.

  • Caroline Jane2 months ago

    "child of fairy and fiend, is damned to conflict" Loved this description. This is such a rich, eloquent fable with really clever breadth. ❤️

  • Joe O’Connor3 months ago

    Love all the natural imagery here, like "bringing foxes and badgers to court amidst the bluebells, and later to forage beneath arching ferns". "whilst the fairies drew him on with fingers he mistook for the breeze " is a lovely way of showing how the fairies led him along too. It's a cautionary tale, and one that is appropriate considering the damage humans are doing to our planet:/ I like the sombre, gentle, watchful, long-lasting tone of the narrator tree/trees, and the small possiblity of repair:)

  • D.K. Shepard3 months ago

    WOW! This is magnificent! There’s a solemn resolve in the lament of the trees that is so fitting! The role of fairies in producing stories and assigning attributes was a well crafted dynamic. And then the arrival of the relentless consumer who stewards their fate! Brilliantly done, Hannah!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Magnificent and masterfully penned!!! Loving your story for the challenge!!!💕❤️❤️

  • L.C. Schäfer3 months ago

    This needs to win for "mycorrhizal umbilicus" alone! Smashing entry, the voice is perfect, mystical and compelling. This is how I imagine a wise old tree, or a coppice of them, would speak.

  • Gosh this made me sooo emotional! I gotta take a deep breath. It was just so moving! "Still, we did not stop Man." 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    What a fabulous story, Hannah in the true sense of the word. Moral, moving, accusatory, sad. And your description? So vivid. I could look around like I had a VR headset on at some points except it was better because it's your words and my mind conjurings combining to make visual story magic.

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Excellent story. So very descriptive and emotional. "Bastard man", indeed. Good luck in the challenge.

  • This is a beautiful & sensitive mythology grieving the loss of origins yet moving forward with care & grace. Extremely well done, Hannah.

  • Caroline Craven3 months ago

    This is how I long to write. So descriptive and beautiful. Good luck in the challenge Hannah. This was stunning.

  • “M”3 months ago

  • John Cox3 months ago

    This is a profoundly moving story, Hannah. I have tears in my eyes for the loss of living wonder of the wild that you have so lovingly evoked. I have not read prose or poetry this moving in a very long time. It's little wonder that you place in challenge after challenge. The last time I wept reading about the wild was after reading the first chapter of Richard Power's The Overstory.

  • Excellent work Hannah. You put your all into this and it shows! Good luck in the challenge!!!

  • Alex H Mittelman 3 months ago

    This is a great story. You write like if Hemingway wrote of the woods!

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