The Blighted Tree

[Author’s note: This is a standalone piece, but it takes place in the same  world as my earlier story, “A Burnished Banishment.” Clearly not the same narrator. This story contains, not spoilers, but forebodings.]

There is a very ugly tree in the center of the Village. It wasn’t there before, and no-one will say who planted it.

It seems a shame to cut it down. There’s Magic in the world, sure, but most folk seldom see it at work—much less very hard at work, as it must have been here. It was late at night when the thing pushed through to the surface. According to the town drunk, one moment there was bare ground in the middle of the central square, and the next there was a bit of a tearing sound, almost a sigh, as the thing heaved itself out of the dirt. (But who takes seriously the words of the town drunk?)

According to him, he was sufficiently in his cups that he simply thought it a wondrous dream, at least two steps above his normal nocturnal fancies, most of which involve thinking that a bottle of wine is almost empty, and finding it nearly full. He didn’t even cry out. He just (so he claims) stared at it as it grew and grew and grew, like a thing out of fairytale. A village constable happened upon them both shortly before dawn, and sounded the alarm.

I won’t bother to describe the chaos and hubbub as the village awakened and saw the oak, now mostly-grown, continuing to stretch its leafy branches and press out its girth into previously-empty air.

It did not take long for us to figure out that it must be of the Blight.

What else would curse us? What else wanted us harmed?

…and surely the tree must mean harm. One cannot cut down as many oaks as we have, only to be rewarded with a new oak tree in the center of the village.

The Village Druid has been fulminating against it since it was barely a sapling; to be fair, that was perhaps a day ago. You could ask her why those who worship nature would be afraid of nature, but that’s a little like asking her if her sect of Druidry engages in human sacrifices. Both answers will be evasive and untrue, and then, you’ll disappear. I don’t mean that you magically vanish; I mean that there’ll be a midnight knock on your door, and some people who’ll want to continue the discussion under very private, very permanent conditions.

That’s not the Druidry I was taught, but these are strange times.

Our Village Druid is sure that someone has cursed us. She’s not the only magic-worker in the village, but she surely knows that none of us, herself included, have the power to do this.

It’s not impossible that I’ll be hanging from that tree soon. That would be extremely foolish of her; it would be unwise for her to suggest that any of her critics can do something so far beyond her own abilities, and, as a practical note, my death won’t harm the tree (it’s not my tree), and torturing me won’t reveal how I did it (because I did not); but few of those things will comfort me if I’m dead.

Still, I have spent much of my waking hours standing as near the Druid as I could, echoing her messages, complimenting her wisdom, and calling down imprecations on the arboreal menace in front of us. I don’t feel bad about this. I don’t have the power to hurt the tree, either, and if she, or the village, are going to be stupid and illogical about this, they probably won’t aim for their fellow tree-maligners first. They’ll probably go for someone more taciturn, someone skeptical, someone who hasn’t made a public appearance saying the right things.

Going after the people who say the right things will come later, I think. After they’ve exhausted those who don’t toe the line immediately.

I’m not exactly sanguine about the prospects ahead of us, but there definitely hasn’t been enough time to escape the village just yet. Everyone’s too on edge. I’m hoping that, in a few days, there’ll be a chance to leave in the night without getting caught. (Leaving would be immediate proof of guilt; really, to those in mortal fear, anyone and anything looks guilty. It’s amazing how many times one can incorrectly prophecy, “If we kill THAT one, everything will be fixed”. Hope springs eternal, as does stupidity.)

There are two things about the tree—if one ignores the fact that it sprang up out of nowhere and grew tall in a single day—which really, really worry the village.

  1. It is placed extremely inconveniently. Extremely. It’s tall enough, and central enough, that there doesn’t seem to be a direction in which it could be felled without taking down some important village building. No-one’s tried chopping it down yet, because no-one is sure whether we want to lose the Temple, the Town Hall, the Mayor’s house, or the village well. And that’s if one can get it to come down at just the right angle. At the wrong angle, it’ll go through the roofs of at least two edifices. It’s a puzzle.
  2. We’ve examined it all over, even had the town’s one condemned criminal climb the damn thing, and we’re quite certain:

We cannot find any sign of the Blight.

And there’s only one thing you can be sure about, if you can’t find the Blight: The Blight is there. Because we’ve learned to look for it, and given enough time, we can always find the strangely-twisted branch, the root which glistens just a bit too much, the twig whose shadow seems clearly determined to form some unholy symbol.

And so they watch it.

All the elders of the village, they’re watching the tree. They’re waiting for the blight.

They do not connect this tree with all the spells of healing they cast on the forest. Because surely the forest needed it; surely the Blight was everywhere.

Surely a hundred spells of enrichment and healing, cast on healthy trees, wouldn’t go awry.

Surely none of the spells would miss.

Surely they wouldn’t rebound here and there, looking to see what it was we wanted.

Except that’s exactly what Magic does: It seeks out the will of the caster. Even if the caster’s will might be, perhaps, a bit muddled.

“You want healthy trees? What if I put the biggest, healthiest tree I can, right in the center of your Village, grow it from an acorn into a sky-stretched oak? Will that please you?”

I don’t think it pleases them.

And they’re watching the tree.

And they’re watching the tree.

And all around the village, the forest grows a bit darker.

But they’re watching the tree.

And they’re watching the tree.

And they’re watching the tree.

~Jeff Mach

 


A tale of the Blighted Branch.

My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!

I put on a convention for Villains every February.

I created a Figmental Circus. It’s happening this June. You should go!

 

 

 

Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN", or, indeed, his increasingly large number of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.

2 Comments

  1. […] of the Blighted Branch”. If you want, this could be a sequel to an earlier piece I wrote, The Blighted Tree. But every part of the Blighted Branch is its own tale. After all, each of us misfits, all of us […]

  2. […] of the Blighted Branch”. If you want, this could be a sequel to an earlier piece I wrote, The Blighted Tree. But every part of the Blighted Branch is its own tale. After all, each of us misfits, all of us […]

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