They should know we’re watching. And in hindsight, many of them will say they do, they did. And yet.
And yet we still bear witness to all the secrets and horrors that mortal lives suffer, and even welcome. Is it any wonder we dryads have no great love nor devotion to humanity? Better to stay hidden, lest we be drawn into their drama, we say. Unlike our treacherous and arguably royal cousins, the Sidhe, we gain no pleasure from tricking an unarmed enemy. But over and over, we’re forced to witness every imaginable betrayal.
How do we bear it? By remembering that we are souls of wood, that we do not have to be soft, that only the laws of the wild magic, such as they are, apply to us, and we need not be bound by mortal folly.
Even so, even so. Even so, there are happenings that will move even the slow and steadfast heart of a dryad. Most of us have a story: this one is mine.
I have lived as the spirit of many trees, moving from seedling to sapling, slipping away when death comes near, and many years ago, I lived in a juniper tree that was sat in the forecourt of a wealthy man and his wife.
The wife had a liking for trees, and she believed in many things it was not seemly to believe in for a woman of her age and time. She wanted a child, badly, and she came out and sat beneath my tree every single day. She told her husband she was praying. And she was, after a fashion: she was beseeching the faeries to bring her a child, whether it be her own or a changeling she did not mind.
She left me gifts, apples mostly. That always made me laugh. Could I not walk over to one of the apple trees and pick my own? Is a gift a gift, if one can get it oneself with so little trouble? I am sometimes plagued by these philosophical questions. But suffice it to say that apples did not interest me overmuch.
No, it was the day she cut her finger peeling one of those apples that she got my attention. She gave herself a good nick, and blood dropped onto the snow. That’s when I started listening, because while human drama doesn’t interest us, human blood, even to a tree spirit, is a lovely, lovely treat.
I went away and conferred with the Dryad Council. And bicker, bicker bicker, back and forth, but finally I was allowed to place a magical juniper berry into the woman that would certainly cause her to bear a child. It had to be done while she was asleep beneath the tree, which was a bit of a faff, but I’m perseverant (most of us are).
And there follows the tale you may know, of this beautiful lady finally conceiving and bearing a child, and of her being so pleased with the baby boy that she died of happiness on the spot, once she had looked upon him.
Mortals. What are they thinking? What was she thinking, dying of happiness because she’d borne a child, with no consideration of its future, its welfare? I cursed myself for my softness in helping this lady’s wish to be granted, because while I’m not the oldest dryad in the forest, I’m old enough to know how these tales go.
Child born, mother dies, father remarries evil stepmother.
It’s drilled into us. This is how the stories go. And even if the second wife wasn’t evil to begin with, fairy stories will twist her to evil, and that’s exactly what happened here.
After a long mourning period, the man of course remarried, and his new wife gave him a daughter, and that’s about the time the story twisted her to evil.
She became obsessed with her daughter’s future and decided that the best way to ensure house and lands for the girl would be to kill her older brother. Of course, it took her years to come up with this plan, by which time her daughter and the boy were beautifully bonded as siblings, despite the fact that the stepmother did nothing but abuse the boy. No-one ever called her out on this behaviour, not even her husband (also known as the boy’s father). So by the time she got around to killing him, he was something like ten years old and the girl was perhaps seven. I do not know: time goes by so quickly for mortals; for trees it is a bit more slow.
But you know the next bit of the story too, don’t you? You know that she killed her stepson by decapitating him, and then to cover up what she’d done, she placed him in a position where his sister would surely find him and knock his head off, effectively making the girl believe she was the murderess and not her mother.
I think, mortals, that there should be rules about this sort of thing. There really should be. First of all, it is not acceptable to die of happiness on the day of your child’s birth. That opens the child up to a future of torment over which you, happy mother, will have no power. Secondly, if you’re going to murder your child, evil stepmother, it should not be acceptable to pin the blame on the surviving child whom you mean the death to benefit. Think of the psychological scars!
Luckily for the boy, the sister knew quite a bit about fairy tales, and after having seen her mother cook the boy up into blood puddings, which her mother and father ate happily at a dinner where she could only cry, she had enough wits still about her (a miracle, considering her day: oh, it makes me fume even now to think of it!) to gather up the boy’s bones and bury them beneath my branches.
I sang with the wind all night, and in the morning, because of the girl’s quick thinking and my not inconsiderable talents, there rose from the branches a beautiful tufted bird with snapping black eyes and a voice that could make a Sidhe queen’s frozen heart melt.
We conferred briefly, the boy and I, and then he went off to collect the things you know from the rest of the story: the gold chain, the red shoes, the mill stone. Chain to the father, shoes to the sister, mill stone to crush the stepmother. Magically, the bird becomes the little boy all alive again, and seemingly regardless of the stepmother’s corpse out there somewhere in the forecourt, the man and his two children go inside and have their dinner. Which, I just have to hope, did not include any leftover puddings from the last meal served at that table.
And that’s my story of that one time I softened my heart and tried to improve a mortal’s life. I’m so glad this is a fairy tale and not a fable. If it were a fable, I’d have to come up with a pithy moral, like, The family that kills together, chills together, or something equally macabre.
The Juniper Tree: Rivendale, Juniper Tree (At Enchantment until November 30th)
The Juniper Bird: Rivendale, Juniper Bird (At Enchantment until November 30th)
Head: LAQ, Lisa Bento Mesh Head (New at Uber)
Hair: Raven Bell, Willow (At Enchantment until November 30th)
Skin: Fallen Gods, Wood Nymph, Spring
Ears: Eclectica Elf Ear, Creature Version
Wings: Evolved Creatures, Fae Wings
Eyes: Seydr, Hallows Eyes, Grave
Leather catsuit: !go! Findis Overalls, Brown
Wrapped Tree Top: Shi, Tree of Life Creepers Top
Boots: Illi, Medieval Archer Boots
Location: Awenia Faerie
Apple Trees: The Little Branch, Apple Tree
Wishing Well: Hextraordinary, Wishing Well (At Enchantment until November 30th)
Basket of Apples: Finishing Touches, Basket of Apples
Stone Wall: Artisan Fantasy, Maiden Tor Stone Wall
All poses, except tree sits (included with the tree) are from Frolic Poses (Beseeching, Harbinger, and Fairy)
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