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Ruby's Tree

A Tree Talker Tale

By Michael J. WinePublished 13 days ago 12 min read
Top Story - April 2024
8
Ruby's Tree
Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

You are close now. Very close. The Great Tree spoke inside his mind.

Thank you Great Tree. Master Jigmond brought his hands together in focus, slowing the hollow wooden sphere that carried him down the trunk of the Great Maple, a mountainous tree that grew several hundred miles northeast from the center of the forest. Reaching out with his mind, he merged with the tree's consciousness, allowing it to fill him, pointing the way forward. Toward the runaway child.

He breathed, relaxing all his muscles. He did not allow his face to tighten even as the pain throbbed through his skull. Humans, even Elluvendei as he was, were not made to hold the mind of a Great Tree within their tiny brains. And yet he had to find the child, and the fastest way to do that was to use the knowledge of the Tree itself. But he could only sustain the connection for a little while.

In his mind's eye he saw what the tree saw. More accurately, he felt it, and his brain interpreted the information as a vision. Every Elluvendei, every "Tree Talker" as they were called by the common people, saw something different when they merged their consciousness with the forest's. He saw everything in gold and black. The forest itself, every high branch and monolithic trunk, every leaf and vine, every city-sized chunk of bark, everything that lived, flared up in a deep rich golden yellow, while everything dead - mostly the empty space of the sky around the tree - was black.

He saw the wooden sphere where his body was as if he were outside it. It was connected to the trunk of the enormous maple tree, a tiny outgrowth, a miniscule bump on the surface of the trunk, one he would not have noticed if he hadn't been previously aware of its existence.

From the tiny point that was the wooden ball, he scanned around the tree, looking for any sign of the child. As he searched, the memory of how the child had received his gift replayed again in his head.

Jigmond had accompanied the family inside the Chamber of Gifts within the heart of the Source Tree, a black haired boy and his mother - no father. She was skinny and drawn, with dark circles under her eyes. The boy looked well fed and strong by comparison, brown eyes alight with an inner fire. He'd concluded that they were poor, destitute, and that she gave most of her own food to her child, who was still too young to understand what she was doing.

The child had approached the wall of white flowers. Not every child who approached is given a gift, and Jigmond recognized the fear in the mother's trembling hands clasped in front of her. She need not have feared though, for as soon as the boy stood close enough, the entire wall erupted in a cloud of golden pollen. The boy could not help but breathe it in. He had been gifted. He had become Elluvendei.

And then, a mere two weeks after his training had started, his new life living in the Emerald Temple with the other gifted children, he'd run away without any explanation. It had taken an entire day for Master Jigmond to track him to the Great Maple.

Now, floating inside the mental space, connected to the mind of the tree, Jigmond found the boy. A small golden figure, huddled and trembling, in the the middle of a circle of black. Probably a natural hollow that had formed in the tree. But wait, he was not the only glowing figure. There were more, hundreds more. They were coming up from deeper within the hollow. The boy did not seem to realize they were coming.

He separated from the tree's consciousness, while still keeping his physical connection open, drawing on the strength of the tree to maintain his grip on the hollow sphere, even as the mental connection closed. Heavy spikes drilled through the top of his head, and he could not help but release a grunt of pain. But he forced himself to breathe, and to move.

Focusing, he pointed his hands in the direction of the hollow. The sphere moved. Wooden fibers separating and reconnecting to the large trunk, propelling it around the circumference of the tree. Within a minute, he was at the hollow. He positioned the sphere against the side of the maple tree so that it partially covered the opening to the wooden cave. He sliced a hand down, causing the wall of the sphere to part, releasing him.

It was dark. He heard the sound of quiet sobs. He stepped into the hollow, and his foot splashed in a pool of water that had formed from drips in the wood above. The crying stopped.

"Who's there?" A small angry voice said from inside the darkness.

"Thadius?" Jigmond said, gently. "It's me, Thadius. Master Jigmond." His eyes were starting to adjust to the light, and he now saw the small boy, wearing the blue and brown robe of a student, huddling against the wall of the cave, arms folded across his knees, pulling them close to his chest. He took a step forward. As he did, he heard the distant sound of many feet running up through the tunnel in the darkness.

"Why did you follow me? Why couldn't you just leave me alone?" Thadius said, voice tinged with despair.

"I will answer all your questions, Thadius. I promise. But right now we have to leave. Something is coming."

"What..." Then the boy's eyes grew wide as he heard the sound, realizing what it meant. He jumped up, looked into the darkness of the tunnel for a moment, and then came quickly to Jigmond's side.

Together they stood, facing the depths as the sound grew louder. It was a terrible, crawling, scuttling, rattling sound. Then, as it reached a crescendo, from the black mouth of the tunnel, hundreds of shiny black bodies burst forth, all rushing and racing toward them. Ants. Huge, black tree ants the size of dogs. They raced in unison toward the two humans greedily, hungry for meat.

"Into the sphere!" Jigmond cried.

Thadius rushed to obey, but as his hand touched the sphere, the boy froze. And then he did something that Jigmond did not expect. He closed his eyes, breathed in deeply, and yelled. As he yelled, a blast of power went out of his hand, smashing into the sphere, breaking it off of the tree trunk and sending it falling down into the abyss below.

Then, the boy leaped, empowered by his connection to the tree with supernatural strength and speed. He jumped high and caught the top lip of the hollow, pulled his body up, and was gone.

Jigmond was too stunned to react quickly enough, and then the ants were on top of him. He allowed the tree's life to course through him giving him agility and power. He could not directly kill a single ant, of course, for - connected as he was to the tree - he was a being of pure life. Just like the forest itself, he was now incapable of killing even the most foul, man-eating insect. It was a severe limitation that many Tree Talkers disliked, and even resented at times. Jigmond however, thought it was beautiful. And as the ants surrounded him, he smiled, feeling the thrill of the challenge lift his spirits.

An ant dove at him, frantically crunching its pincers together, trying to bite and crush and kill. He turned to the side and stepped away, even as another ant tried to break his legs. He jumped high, holding his hands up so that his fingers sunk into the wooden cave's ceiling. There were many screams and screeches from the monstrous insects as Jigmond traversed the roof of the cave, swinging his body from one hand to the other, each time sinking his fingers deep into the wood.

And then he was free of the swarm, free of the cave. He was on the outside of the tree. Quickly, fingers of his left hand embedded in the bark so that his body hung from it, he focused his power through his right hand, commanding the tree to seal the cave entrance before any of the bugs could escape. The tree obeyed, its wooden side growing quickly, covering the opening to the hollow. The shrieks of the insects went silent as the wood creaked and groaned shut.

Once that was done, he turned his focus again toward the boy. He looked up, and gasped. The child was running up the tree on all fours, like some kind of wild creature. What awesome natural strength he possesses! And before he's completed even a month of training... What a Tree Talker he will be someday!

Smiling broadly, he formed a shelf under his feet from the side of the tree. Then, he lifted his hand, bracing his legs. The shelf sprang upward at an incredible speed, sliding up the trunk while remaining flat and horizontal, allowing him to stand upright. Had it not been for his long years of practice, and his empowered muscles from his connection to the tree, Jigmond would have surely fallen.

But Jigmond was a master, the youngest to ever sit on the Elluvendei council, and the fastest Tree Talker alive. He rushed up the side of the tree at incredible speed, wind whipping past his face, rapidly closing the gap between himself and the wild boy. As he overtook Thadius, Jigmond laughed at the joy of the chase, caught the boy in his strong arms, and continued upward, even higher. Up and up toward the highest branches.

Finally, he allowed the shelf to slow down. Thadius was squirming and fighting and screaming, but Jigmond held on tight. Not allowing him to break free. He navigated the shelf over to a branch that was close to the top of the tree. It was thin, about twice as thick as his waist, but it was perfectly strong enough to support their combined weight. He set the boy down and caused vines to spring up from the wood and wrap around Thadius’ body, securing him so that he would not flee again. Then, he sat down beside the boy.

"Let me go! Let me go!" Thadius screamed as he fought against the tree.

"I will let you go when you calm down and agree to come back with me." Jigmond said, still smiling. "And don't try to use your connection to the tree to escape. I've asked the tree to resist you for a while. It listens to me since I am a master, and you are but a student."

At these words, Thadius stopped struggling, and began to pant for breath. The two sat on the branch and looked out over the whole of the forest below. It was staggering in its beauty. It was the middle of autumn, and the tops of the trees were a sea of red and gold and green. Sunlight glistened off the leaves all around, and it was so bright that you couldn't look at one place for too long or your eyes would start to sting.

Jigmond sighed, feeling grateful to be alive. To his right, Thadius began to cry.

"What's wrong? Are you hurt? Did I bind the vines too tightly?" Jigmond asked, concerned.

"N-no." Thadius spluttered, his cries turning into wretched sobs. "L-letter. I-In my p-pocket."

Jigmond frowned, and looked down. There, poking out between the coiled vines from the boys pocket, was a corner of yellowed parchment. Jigmond pulled the paper out with care so it would not rip.

"May I?" He asked the boy, who nodded even as his face contorted in a fresh batch of sobs.

Jigmond opened the letter and read, and his heart sank.

Dear Thadius Adaghast,

We regret to inform you that your mother, Ms. Ruby Adaghast, has died in a fatal accident with a metal merchant's wagon. We were told that her last words were, "Tell Thadius I love him. And I'm proud...."

We are so very sorry.

Yours In Mourning,

The Office of the Mayor of Sentis Ren,

Gerome Dafoe

Jigmond stared at the letter, mouth open. Then, with a wave of his hand, he released the vines, and immediately pulled the boy into a tight hug. Thadius leaned in, now weeping uncontrollably, his small body shaking with enormous grief and sorrow.

As he wept, the Great Maple responded. It listened to the boy's cries, to his grief, to the bitter pang of loss, and it could not help but reach out to him. Jigmond saw it beginning, and froze, eyes growing wide in awe. There, from all over the branch on little twigs that emerged from its surface, appeared hundreds and hundreds of bright red flowers. They grew slowly at first, and then more and more rapidly until they covered the whole branch. But the tree did not stop there. More and more flowers grew on the trunk and branches beneath, covering every inch in the red pedals.

By this time, Thadius had noticed, and had stopped his crying to stare at the miraculous sight. The air filled with the strong sweet scent of cherry and almond. But the tree did not stop. Jigmond gasped as he watch the flowers burst forth from further down the trunk, they spread like fire, until they covered the entire Great Maple. Every surface, every branch, every inch of bark, sprouted one of the red flowers.

Then, from the corner of Jigmond’s eye, he saw a smile form on Thadius' lips, and the boy closed his eyes with a sigh. "Thank you." He whispered.

Jigmond felt a tear form and wiped it away. I have never seen such power, such natural connection. He moved the tree to act on its own, without any clear command or will, simply from the force of his emotion. His love.

He cleared the lump in his throat with a cough. "This Great Maple shall now henceforth and forevermore be known as Ruby's Tree." He said dramatically and with all the dignity of a Master Elluvendei he could muster.

Thadius' eyes went wide at that, and his face burst into a wide grin. "Yes! Ruby's Tree!" He exclaimed. Tears were still falling from the lad's eyes, but now he was smiling. From within, Jigmond felt the Great Maple rejoice at its new name, accepting it gladly.

"Shall we go back now?" Jigmond asked, cautiously, hoping it was the right time.

Thadius paused, looked around at the red flowers all around, breathed in deeply, and then nodded. And together, the man and the boy went home.

FantasyAdventure
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About the Creator

Michael J. Wine

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer, and I also like to write the occasional poem or essay. I aim to make my stories as unique and yet meaningful as I can, and I hope you enjoy them.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (5)

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  • Gabriela Trofin-Tatár12 days ago

    So much feeling and magic in the Ruby Tree! 💕✨Thank you for this superb piece, very inspiring and candid at the same time.

  • Ameer Bibi12 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎉 for top story Your resilience is an inspiration to all who know you. Keep inspiring others with your strength

  • Anna 12 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!!

  • Novel Allen12 days ago

    Beautiful writing. Great story line, the sentient connection is palpable. Congrats.

  • ROCK 12 days ago

    Newly subscribed! Congratulations on your top story!

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