Creative Writing, Short Stories

The Guardians of Willow

A child born from war finds peace under the safe shelter of the surrounding woods. But, when that peace is disturbed by the only human she loves, she must face violence to protect her peaceful guardians.


The Guardians of Willow

A child born from war finds peace under the safe shelter of the surrounding woods. But, when that peace is disturbed by the only human she loves, she must face violence to protect her peaceful guardians.

Long ago, a child came to the trees.

Born of war, this child was brought into the world through the union of a Great Warrior King and his kidnapped bride. While his wife was a treasured prize from one of his many victorious battles, to her father, the child was merely an inconvenient product of the spoils of war and was treated as such. Ignored by the war-hungry King, shunned by the reluctant and home-sick Queen, as soon as she could walk, she turned her back on the castle that was never truly her home.

Not far from the grounds, before the edge of the surrounding village, stood a quiet wood filled with strong, solid trees of every kind and the small, scared child fell gratefully into their outstretched arms. She stumbled onto the soft moss of their shade before she could even talk and they comforted her with their whispers.

As the cocoa-haired child grew, the trees became her solace. Unwatched and unloved by those that were meant to care for her, she found comfort under their arms and played in the dangling, dancing branches that softly kissed her cheeks. Ruled by a King who lived for battle, the castle pulsed with a violent energy, but the trees radiated gentleness. The walls of the palace vibrated with the war cries of soldiers and the lessons learned from battle, but the trees taught her peace. They buzzed with energy. What she knew of life, she learned from them. They did harm to no one, but simply offered the breath of life to all who surrounded them.

In the castle, she would have been offered as a prize, forced to marry into a conquered Kingdom, a pawn in the violent game her father had mastered. Instead, she chose not to return to the castle. The trees became her home, their moss her bed, their language her own, their whispers her lullabies. Their thoughts were hers and the more time she spent with them, the more attune she became to their feelings. She knew nothing of humans, only the peace of the trees.

It soon became known across the Kingdom that the only child of the King and Queen had shunned them, turned to the wild, and become a feral beast. To many, she was simply a rumor, but it was often said that, on the days the army rode into battle, she could be seen chasing after them, pleading with them to reconsider each battle and practice peace within the Kingdom. ‘What a shame,’ the townsfolk whispered, ‘that the child of such a great warrior should be ashamed of his conquests.’ It was soon decreed by an insulted and embarrassed King that anyone coming across the princess was forbidden to make contact with her. She was to be treated as the trees and flowers of the woods she loved so much, observed but given not a greeting, a polite exchange or even an extra thought.

The trees accepted her as one of their own and to them she became known as Willow.

And there, in the shade of their arms, Willow lived peacefully as a part of the woods for fifteen years.

Then, one day when the child was on the verge of becoming a woman, the outside world crossed into her sanctuary and the peace of Willow’s existence was disturbed by a fluttering in her chest. For the man that had crossed into her shady cove took her breath away. Her heart danced like the branches of her guardians when he smiled in surprise at finding her there.

“You are the Princess of this Kingdom, I presume? You may call me Andreas.” He bowed in greeting and the heart that knew nothing of humans was suddenly lost to one.

For when Andreas looked at her he did not see just another tree or flower, he saw nature itself. Her shining hair was the color of the acorns littering the ground of the forest and her eyes matched the leaves falling around him. Her skin was touched by the sun and her cheeks were rosy with energy and life. He seemed to care not of the decree that she should be ignored and their love washed over them like a sudden storm.

But, as the rush of their romance roared in her ears, the trees suddenly fell silent. Caught up in their courtship, many days passed before Willow noticed the absence of their whispers. And still more days fell away before she tried to rouse them again. While she was deeply in love, she began to miss the comfort of her first family. She wanted to share the beauty of her life with her dear one, but as long as the trees stayed silent, she could not.

At first, her efforts were futile. With Andreas by her side, she called to them. But, no matter how she tried, the only sounds that came back to her were the occasional birdsong from deeper in the wood. Andreas only smiled sadly and stroked her hair and she knew he couldn’t see the trees for what they were.

“Worry not, my love. You are miracle enough for me.”

Because of the decree cast when she was just a child, their meetings were often short and he would ride from the wood upon his horse, promising to return as soon as he was able. She never knew where he went during these absences, only that she counted the moments until his return.

Finally, during one of these separations, she could stand the silence of her family no longer. She called to them, “Friends! Why have you forsaken me, the one you embraced, raised and loved? How have I wronged you?”

As a breeze danced and lifted her hair from her shoulders, her family returned to her once more. But she shivered as she sensed a coolness in their energy and they bent forward in despair, their branches brushing her cheek, for they had sad news.

“Child, the man you love is a bringer of war. He leads your father’s armies on violent quests, destroying villages and ravaging all the lands he touches. Your father cares not for the beauty of his country or those surrounding him, only of possessing them. Under his orders, this man will lead the army on a quest that will bring a war like this land has never seen. It will move swiftly forward, unstoppable, destroying all it touches, eventually bringing its enemies here, sentencing this land, and us, to destruction.”

Shaking her head violently at this proclamation, she begged them to take it back, to tell her they were lying while at the same time knowing that the trees were incapable of lies.

Soon, he returned to her, and Willow fell into his arms, refusing to meet his gaze as she asked, “My dear, is it true you are a General in my father’s army?”

He had heard the stories of her peaceful protests against her father’s war campaigns and he knew he could not bring himself to answer and lose her forever. But, it was his silence that answered her question and she fell to her knees in the moss, her heart broken. Crushed by this new pain, she retreated into the hollow of the closest tree and remained there for a fortnight.

During that time, the trees did their best to rouse their suffering child and bring comfort to her ailing heart. Their branches twisted and danced harder and harder, determined to pull her from her despair. The surrounding villages declared they had never seen such winds and spoke of an oncoming storm. Those at the castle spoke of oncoming war.

And now, with Willow still lost in her sadness, the trees still dancing with their pleas, the army begins to gather. Despite the inclement weather, the King declares that war must be waged on a nearby Kingdom and his best general is ordered to lead the troops into battle.

Sensing the coming the army, the trees intensify their call to their daughter. Their arms wave in protest against the coming troops and their whispers turn to deep howls. “Child, the army is coming and soon we will be destroyed.” From inside her dark shelter, Willow lifts her head. She can feel their fear and they know the end is near. “Please, do not let your kind destroy us.” These trees, who have only ever given unto her, never asking for anything in return are now turning to her for help. It is this act of desperation that pulls her into action. She knows she cannot let her family perish.

The ground shakes under the hooves of the approaching horses, and the winds nudge her as she emerges, stepping toward the tree line. She leaves behind the safety of their arms, the comfort of her mossy bed, and steps into the storm, directly in front of the approaching army.

Poised at the head of a mass of horses and armor, is a regal and gallant man. She faces the only human she has ever loved and tells him he cannot pass. At first she pleads, begging him to turn back, to understand that his mission will end in destruction for all. He shakes his head, his arguments almost lost to the howling winds. His orders come from her father, and her father is King.

“My father knows only war,” she shouts above the howls, “You cannot trust a man who knows nothing of peace and contentment.”

He pauses to consider her words and she sees the love they shared shining from behind his eyes, but there is also conflict. Duty and honor stifle the light she had come to love.

She closes her eyes and bows her head, knowing that her pleas and arguments will hold no merit with this eternal soldier. She opens her eyes again, meeting his gaze and the storm around them comes to a howling climax. Her hair, once dancing softly in the wind around her face, lifts from her shoulders. Her chin still dropped to her chest, her eyes remain fixed on his as her dark hair twists and dances in the wind, reaching past her shoulders, and then down her back, past her knees, dancing through the air and moving towards the enemy. It meets the hanging arms of the trees surrounding her and the watching army can no longer tell where it ends and the branches begin. As they watch in awed fascination, her skin takes on the dark hue of the mossy branches and she is lifted from the ground, branches wrapping around her, she wrapping around the branches. In horror, they begin to retreat but their General pushes forward and above the wind they can hear him calling to the girl.

Branches thrash violently and a high-pitched wail joins the deep howl of the storm’s winds. The army would swear it was a girl screaming, if they could see a girl. For she was gone and where once she stood, now there was only green, whipping wildly, closer and closer to the General screaming into the wind from his horse.

His men yell at him to turn back but it is too late, for he too is lifted and the branches engulf him in an almost passionate embrace.

After the great storm, peace falls over the land. Whispered rumors fill the villages claiming the woods have cursed any army that dares break the peace of their shelter. A terrified army has abandoned the King and without men to lead, the lost warrior slips slowly into madness and the castle falls silent.

And in the woods, those looking closely enough will find two new trees, their branches dancing happily on the breeze.