(Re) Quest – Tree of Memory
Ahead, between massive boles of trees that stood hundreds of feet tall, dappled sun shafted down, stabbing the red five-pointed leaves of the Trees of Memory. Dwarfed by their arboreal cousins, those vampire trees stood with their limbs bending towards the ground. Red leaves trailed like spilt blood on the ground as the procession carrying a linen wrapped corpse wound around the clearing.
Explosion of red
five pointed leaves cut like knives
Tree of Memory
Every step of the leaders took her body closer to the rustling red profusion of those damned trees. This was the end of the line for his deceased wife, Seprah. Her last trip and her final resting place once those trees had finished with her.
Henneth stood framed between two monoliths, a pair of Shayarin oaks standing five hundred feet tall. Between them a well worn path led down the hill past their sentinel brethren into that damned grove.
Rooted to the spot
horror drove nails in his head
cold dread clenched his heart
Now mixed with then, the last time he’d had to visit this foul place. Then he’d been at the head of that damned snake of mourners. Kneeling to consign his mother to those leafy monster, he’d felt it–an alien intelligence that had settled on his skin like a cold misty rain chilling body and soul. After the prayers were said and the litany of the dead recited, the mourners had filed out and so had he. If only his younger self hadn’t snuck back to take a peek, to see what would happen next.
Henneth squeezed his eyes closed as a cold sweat trickled down his back. The wind cut through his garments and chilled him. God he’d been an utter fool then, so full of himself. So certain that he knew the truth. But he hadn’t. Not even close.
While everyone else had returned to the treetop village to feast and toast the memory of the deceased, he’d retraced his steps. He’d found that clearing with the weeping red trees. The dying rays of the setting sun had set its leaves afire. Laying a bed of shed leaves the color of blood, his sheet draped mother had lain like a sacrificial offering before a monster.
Sharp roots had poked like knives out of the ground. Branches had slithered towards his mother’s corpse. They had struck lightning fast, a dozen and then four times that many.
He’d clapped his hands over his ears to shut out the sound of bones snapping and things being sucked out only to stare at in horror transfixed at the red-leafed tree swaying in ecstasy as branches lifted her corpse. More branches had plunged into her skull, through her eye sockets, breaking the cartilage of her nose in its feeding frenzy. It had drunk coagulated blood as all the memories recorded by his deceased mother had transferred to the Tree of Memory.
Memories flicker in leaves
each one a life lived.
When it had finished, the ground had opened up, helped by its roots scraping the dirt aside. Into that hole it had tossed the mutilated carcass of his mother. And tonight the same fate awaited his wife’s body. Henneth shivered; his whole body rigid with a soul-deep rejection of that reality.
He stood a thousand paces away and it was his wife’s turn to be sucked dry and buried beneath the tree to decompose and nourish its grove. Her memories would be taken and stored. And he could nothing to stop it. It was the law of the Enchanted Forest, immutable. It allowed men to live in its trees so long as their bodies returned to the earth that birthed them.
God help him, he couldn’t be a party to this. He couldn’t mouth prayers he didn’t believe in not knowing what fate awaited her at nightfall. His heart tripped in his chest, his breaths coming fast, as if he actually were running away from the grove instead of thinking about it. Her voice rose, whispering her last request in case he had forgotten it. As if he could ever do that.
Journey far from here
stand where suns rise each morning
lay down where they set
A crackle of leaves and the creak of wood wrenched his head around as the trees to his left parted offering another path, one that would take him away from here. At its other end, silver light blazed where miles distant, the Queen of All Trees stood, her bark shining. She offered a way out and he took it.
Tripping in his haste, he darted down that leafy colonnade. He didn’t look back and no one called out to him. Maybe none of his children had noticed his absence. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t go into that grove, couldn’t face the Tree of Memory. Not after what he’d seen years ago.
He ran towards the promise of that the Queen of All Trees represented and behind him the trees resumed their places, closing off the way he had come. Ahead her light winked out as if she had been naught but a daydream. His pace slowed and he blinked at a rope ladder dangled ten feet in front of his face. Somehow his path had turned in a circle returning him to where today had begun.
Tilting his head back, he stared up at the village in the boughs that he had lived in for decades. Her voice urged him to climb up while everyone was still at the memorial in the grove. Hooking a foot on the bottom rung, he climbed. in the back of his mind, a packing list compiled itself. He would travel light and he would see what Shayari had to offer. If he hurried, he could be off before anyone returned.
~ ~ ~
To be continued…
Part of (Re) Quest*
*A retelling of Quest