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The Weighing Woods

“You have been weighed and measured by the magic of the forest.”

By Kelley SteadPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 10 min read

I smelled the wizard before I saw him- the all-consuming stench of death came in through my nostrils and ran through my body. Even the sweet poppysuckles in those Gods-forsaken woods could not cover the smell.

Digon smelled it too, the rat-faced thieving bastard. He placed his hand over his nose and cursed against his palm, “As if it isn’t bad enough.”

The trees around us swayed and moaned in a sudden breeze, knocking a large branch loose somewhere in the canopy. It fell straight onto Digon’s head, pointed edge down. A little blood ran into his eyes and he cursed again in his shrill voice.

“Stop with the curses!” I shouted. “Or you’ll get more than a branch.” I studied the trees, the shrubbery, a boulder looming just off the path. All of them were alive, you could feel it in your veins. The Weighing Woods were not just alive, they were judge and jury. And Digon and I, the thief and the murderer- we weren’t fit to make it out. I knew it. He did too.

But the boy didn’t know. He walked near me with his lanky gait and his dopey face- not a hair sprouted from his chin. Couldn’t be more than thirteen and only the Gods knew what he’d done to be sentenced to the Weighing Woods. I didn’t ask. I had enough on my mind.

The boy looked concerned, and I put a hand on his shoulder. “He’s a big man. Don’t give him a worry.”

Digon wiped blood on the sleeve of his tunic and spit some onto the ground. But he kept walking. We all did.

The wizard was off the path, but close enough for us to see him propped up against a tree. His green robes were tattered as if small animals had nibbled on them in the night. His eyes were open and his jaw slack, gray beard twisted and frayed. The smell was overwhelming now and the boy pulled his tunic up to cover his face.

I watched Digon, his beady eyes took in the wizard and I could see the rusted gears of his mind turning.

“Don’t,” I said. Low and serious.

“What?” He sputtured. “I’m not an complete idiot, Portis. You insult me.”

“And I will continue to insult you, you incomprehensible nitwit.”

Digon flailed his arms like a child caught in a lie, “I didn’t touch the bloody chest, did I?”

It was true. The first night, we had come upon a little cottage in the woods just as the sun set. There was a little fire inside, creature comforts from the Weighing Woods, and a chest hidden under one of the beds. Digon had found it and cracked it open, supposing there was food inside. But there were only gold and jewels- a proper test for a proper thief.

The woods hadn’t claimed Digon then. He was smart enough to understand the games played here. Not a coin was touched- I had made sure of it. I slept in the room with the trunk, the boy laid at my feet.

“Do you supposed he was Sentenced?” The boy asked as we passed the wizard. “Can a wizard be judged?”

“Anyone can be judged,” I said. “Anyone with a soul.”

“Wizards don’t have souls,” Digon said and spit again.

“Digon was a wizard’s apprentice once,” I told the boy. “A lousy one. He stole his staff and took off to a nearby town, did magic tricks for a bit of coin. Despicable.”

“You killed your brother-in-law,” Digon said. “Leave the judgement to the trees, eh?”


There was no cottage that night- and no fire. I tried to start one a hundred times, and each time the wood caught, it was immediately extinguished by a burst of wind. The dapplewoods sighed and the squirrels grew loud with a chittering laughter as I gave up and lay on the cold hard ground. The boy was shivering, so I covered him in my tunic- it wasn’t the first time I’d slept half nude in the forest. Though this time there was no pretty filly to keep me warm.

Digon sat against a tree, his rodent nose pointing back the way we came.

“Don’t,” I said again, this time in a growl.

“What’s your problem?” Digon stood up as if his spindly body was any threat to me. “I’ll knock the words out of your mouth, you bloody fool.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll be dead tomorrow anyway.”

Digon relaxed and slid back against the tree. “So morbid, eh? Men have made it through.”

“Good men,” I said. “Not you and I.”

“What about him?” Digon motioned towards the boy, his breath rising and falling in the slumber only teenage boys could find so quickly.

“Don’t worry for him,” I said. “He’s not thinking of raiding a dead wizard.”

“I’m not,” he said. “I’m telling yeh, I’m not.”

I grunted and shoved my fists under my head, trying desperately to save my neck from being completely stiff in the morning. Not that it mattered. Not that any of it mattered.


Somehow I slept. I slept deep. My mind ran dreams of bloody hands and crippling fear. I relived my crimes seven times over that night. Saw my sister’s battered face, her quivering hands as she begged him to stop. I saw my own fists smash into his face over and over, his eye socket crumpling under my strength. At some point he became the wizard, slack- jawed and dead-eyed.

And I felt nothing. I left him there to rot, under the dapplewood trees. And I whistled as I went.


Something rustled near my feet and my eyes snapped open, taking a moment to adjust to the darkness. The moon was full and bright, creating shadows that darted along the ground like imps, making me sit up in cold fear.

The boy was awake, staring wide-eyed at the forest and clutching his knees to his chest.

“Boy?” I said. “What is it?”

“I don’t want to die,” he said, and I saw tears cutting riverbeds in the dirt on his cheeks. “I don’t want to die.”

My stomach rolled as my mind remembered where we were, and what it meant. Leaves crunched under me as I moved towards the boy and put my arm around him. He tensed at first, but then relaxed.

“I don’t know your crimes,” I said. “But a boy of thirteen is no evil worthy of death.”

“I am evil,” he whisperered. “I do deserve death.”

My hand flew on its own, I hardly realized what I’d done until the slap registered in my ears. The boy uncurled himself from me and pushed me as forcefully as he could manage.

“Hey!” I said. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. You are not the judge and jury here. You are being weighed and measured, and only you can seal your fate in this place. Do you understand!

My own voice frightened me- not the booming sound of it, but the obvious resemblance to my own father’s.

The boy’s eyes were wide and he rubbed his cheek where my open hand had landed. It was too dark to see the mark, but it would assuredly be gone by morning.

I sighed and looked round for Digon- and noticed he was gone.

“Where’s Digon?” I asked, my heart picking up speed.

The boy frowned and shrugged, sure to let me know I was not forgiven. It made no difference, my heart was racing now. “The thieving bastard probably went—”


There was a blaze of flames and I instinctively jumped onto the boy, covering him with my body as blue fire washed over us. I could feel the heat along my bare back, but did not catch the smell of burning flesh. I had been burned before — the smell always came before the pain.

Then came the sound of Digon cackling— I had never heard him make that sound. It was like cloth being ripped apart slowly. It was the sound of madness.

The flames subsided and I leapt to my feet. Digon was standing a few yards from me, his mouth curled in a harrowing smile and his eyes wide as saucers. “Look at this,” he said. “Look what I’ve found.”

He had something wrapped around his left hand, but it was too dark for me to make it out. I had no words, only flashes of thoughts of pounding Digon’s face with my bare hands.

“Watch,” he said, and gathered my fumbled pile of sticks and leaves together. He pointed his hand at the pile and whispered something, and it went up in a flame. Now I could see it, illuminated in the blue firelight, a round stone wrapped with twine around Digon’s hand. “Do you know what this is, Portis? Do you have any idea?”

I said nothing.

“There are only four of these in the world. Only four, you understand?” Digon knelt by his blue fire and smiled into the flames. “I knew I recognized that old fool. Hermetico, the wizard who struck down his entire village in a fit of madness. They must have Sentenced him.”

“You raided the wizard,” I said. It was not a question. “You raided the bloody wizard, do you have nothing in your head!” My blood was boiling, the hair on my arms picked up like before a lightning storm.

“Sit by the fire,” Digon said to the boy. “It’s warm.”

My hand reached over the boys chest, he was standing behind me breathing hard. “Don’t,” I said.

“Let the boy warm up, for the sake of the Gods, Portis.” Digon beckoned. “No one is going to die tonight. I did it for the boy. It’s a good deed, eh boy?” Digon smiled and his teeth were crooked and jagged in the firelight. “The Woods shall weigh me and find me not wanting.”

Digon was beside himself with glee. He could barely keep himself together, his hands rubbed furiously together over the fire and he chuckled to himself.

“We’re leaving, boy,” I said and grabbed my tunic from the ground.

The boy stared up at me and he’d never looked so boyish. I could imagine him in a little cottage, staring up at his mother with those same wide eyes as she cooked a stew or maybe a cake for his birthday. I could see him bounding through fields with the other boys, flinging rocks at one another and laughing that crinkled laugh that comes just before manhood.

He would run through fields again. He would throw rocks.

The boy gasped as I clutched his shoulder, “Now.”

“Where are you going?” Digon said. He came away from the flames and held out his arms. “We can sleep in peace. I heard wolves howling this night.”

“I choose the wolves,” I said. “Come, boy.”

“Leave the boy then,” Digon said. “No need to bring him into your foolishness. Let him get warm.”

I tugged the boys arm and turned him away from Digon. To my surprise, he came willingly. I shouldn’t have hit him. That was a mistake. Somewhere, an owl pecked a notch into a tree, a squirrel scribbled my crime onto a parchment- lest I not be weighed.

“Get back!” Digon shouted at our turned backs. “You’re sentencing that boy to death, Pontis. The wolves will get you both. Mark my words, they will.”

“Don’t listen,” I whispered to the boy as we began to follow the moonlit path, away from the warmth of the fire.

Then, the forest lit up with blue lightning. The wind whistled, and then screamed through the trees. It blew my beard across my face, in every direction, and the boy covered his head as sticks and leaves pelted us both.

I could hear Digon screaming but the wind was too loud to make out his words. I did not hear his footsteps behind me, only felt the impact as something round and smooth hit the back of my skull.

My eyes watered, tears whipped away by the wind, and winced as my legs buckled underneath me.

Digon kicked my ribs and screamed above the wind, but I still could not understand. I tried to stand, to see the boy, but the wind was too strong and I feel back to my knees.

At that moment the Weighing Woods made their judgement. Vines unwound from their trees and shot out towards me. They skimmed my arms and instead latched on to Digon. He made an “umph” sound as they wound around his middle and knocked his breath from his lungs.

Clutching the wizard’s stone, he tried to call the blue flame to his rescue, but the vines entangled his neck and he could not speak. His face grew red, then blue, and his rat eyes searched the sky for something no one could see.

With one sputtering breath, he dropped the stone and the vines dragged him to the ground and wrestled him to submission. With a speed I have never seen, Digon was dragged along the ground as if caught by the sticky tongue of a frog.

The dapplewood tree nearest to the path opened like a book, and Digon was sucked into the center— unable to make a sound.

I could hear the creaking of the tree, even over the wind, as it closed itself around Digon’s body, consuming him like all forests consume- completely and without regard.

And my vision went black.


I felt the pain in my head before I opened my eyes. It felt like warm water was rushing between my ears.

It was morning, and the sun was caressing my face. The breeze tickled my beard.

“Pontis Disrefflus,” said a voice I recognized.

My eyes cracked and the sunshine leaked in. I was on my back.

“Stand, sir,” said the voice.

I struggled to sit up, and rubbed my eyes. In front of me stood the Sentencer, the man who had brought me to the Weighing Woods in his little wagon only three days past.

“I’m not going to stand,” I said. “Where is the boy?”

“Very well,” the Sentencer said and opened a scroll. “Pontis Disrefflus, you have been weighed and measured by the magic of the Weighing Woods. Despite your crimes against man, the Gods have spared your soul. You are hereby—”

“Where is the boy?” I asked again.

“Boy?” the Sentencer said. “What boy?”

“The… there was a boy.”

The Sentencer closed his scroll and shook his head, “They used to call it the Whispering Woods, did you know? Sounds like you heard a whisper or two yourself. Gods save ye.”

The wind picked up again and I gazed over my shoulder at the thick brush behind me. There was nothing but swaying branches.

“Come on then,” the Sentencer said, climbing into his wagon. “Haven’t got all day.”

Short StoryFantasyFable

About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Tom Robbins and Stephen King.

Spinning tales in the quiet moments between motherhood and building a business.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (2)

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  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    I love this, one of the best ones I've seen! I had to read it twice 😁

  • I found the image slightly disconcerting, but a wonderful story and challenge entry, and great to have you back

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