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The Tree Unpicked
Confessor #6
© 2022 James LaFond
MAR/4/23
No shrubs hindered his passage across the lush lawn traced with crystal rivulets of water as he walked triumphant towards the tree.
“This must be the One Tree, the beginning tree, grown from the seed flung down from the stars!”
He grinned wide, sheathed his sword and spread his arms in welcome relief, saying deeply, “Thank you. I should not have doubted that Foundation was just, that redemption for the Starfallen was possible!”
The man fell to his knees weeping and smiling as one, looking up happy-eyed at the great white doves sitting among the sweet fruit of ease—great orange mangoes weighting the many sweeping branches of the magnificent tree, a tree a mere ten men high, but as great around as ten tall men linking hands about the base of its trunk, with a spread of fruiting branch easily a hundred paces across.
This one tree could shade a village, or a villa, might serve as the audience place for all the right-thinking men who mattered in a world remorselessly turning against its inhabitants at the far fringes of north and south where the glaciers ground down upon the remaining realm of men. His world lurked with haunting maleficence, by which the interloping things that had crept from the hellish aftermath of Man’s first sojourn upon this world sought to extinguish Oth’s firstborn races in the ages old tipping of the scales recently won. He yearned for a torch to cleanse it!
A lovely lady—a small maid, really, barely a girl, plump, fruitful and innocent with the blush of fresh womanhood on her cheeks—slid demurely around the trunk of the tree, behind which she had understandably hidden at the rude sound of the booted heels of the conqueror entering this fruitful precinct.
“Good morning, Girl—it is morning, is it not?” his voice trailing off whimsically as he searched the sky for its sun and then found himself searching among the soft-leafed branches above for a sky, then peering off into the distance after a horizon, only to be met by the sight of sunny pastures, un-grazed by any beast, with no hint of highlands from which such clear streams should spring…
“What is this place, Girl, tell me?”
She bowed slightly, smiled expectantly and approached on her softly slippered feet, as her silken garment slid away to reveal a form of soft, frail perfection, her voice the soothing rustle of fresh grown leaves, “This is the Garden of Kings, my Lord. I am your slave.”
Anger flashed in his eyes and he snarled, “I did not take the way of kings. I am a seeker and your soft kisses won’t sway me from my path, slut! You think me some fool. I could have you without your agreement if I so choose. I do not so choose, for I am sworn to celibacy. I follow the higher path. If you would make yourself useful find me a pole so that I might have some fruit. I’ve weathered your masters’ terrible tests and would have refreshment.”
The girl’s soft voice had the texture of wisdom beyond her fresh years, “No, Master—please, no. Do not eat of the fruit. It is forbidden. The doves above do not partake of it and we shall not lest we suffer.”
Vexed over discovering that his heroics had merely landed him in some puzzling conundrum presented by an under-aged bimbo in a wasted garden, Phane snarled “We? There is no ‘we,’ wench. There is ‘you’ and there is ‘me,’ no others, unless you are some blasted witch fiend here to lay curses upon me.”
“Never mind, you—go, off with your flaxen haired temptations. I should beat you for offering your body to a stranger.”
The young woman—a girl in all but form and desire—shrank visibly before his ire and cried. Phane snarled under his breath and took a mighty leap and managed to cut a mango loose with his aor, catching it with one hand as he landed and marveling at its bulk and weight, both of which equaled that of the coconuts of his home islands of Ais.
The girl moaned and cried and he sneered and turned away, peeling off a slice with a primitive knife fetched from his girdle and tasting it ravenously, only to have it molder and burst rancid in his parched mouth and wiggle of maggots as he chewed and the girl howled pathetically behind him.
He spat and turned to see the girl clutching her once pretty cheek, it having been sliced off by a blade of Aisian flint and her horror all too real as she fell to her knees and pleaded silently and blood pooled into her mouth choking her.
He retched and made to toss aside the mango and saw that it was the desiccated head of a man of powerful aspect, a crown of laurel about his head—and the entire, ghastly skeleton of a tree was hung with such heads, the heads of the chiefs of many tribes, now under attack by the ravenous vultures that now perched under the gray skies where once doves perched under blue and the heads screamed, moaned pleaded and apologized for the many wrongs they had done making their cruel way along the Road of Kings.
Something emerged from his mouth as vomit, a bit red, and he looked at the figure of the girl who suffered a wound for every talon and beak that ravaged a kingly head swinging from the dreadful tree. Yet she cried like a baby, never swearing or cursing like the heads swinging from the tree.
Phane leaped at her, wrapped his cape over her head with one arm as he cleaved a swooping vulture in two with the other and then bundled her off under his arm, running as fleetly as if he carried nothing towards the distant grasslands beyond the musty dust below the nightmare tree. He could feel her writhing in pain, hear her squeals and sobs and set his jaw as vultures began to swoop down on him and pluck and gouge with talon and beak leaving the tree and its grisly burdens to swing cursing in the dreary branches.
Soon a hundred or more of the flapping, clacking beasts were about him and he continued to run, cutting air, feathers and leathery forms of the famished birds as they flocked about him until he looked like the hooked point of a great feathered beak wading through the dead grasses beyond the tree towards a cave in the near distance.
That cave, for all its grim appearance, offered itself as a place of refuge with more conviction than the false garden behind him ever had, the girl seeming to shrink in his arms as if every bite of those dread fruits in the terrible tree had diminished her.
The vultures ascended the face of the short, glassy cliff into which he raced, into the narrow cave. The girl, much smaller now, yet stirred within his cape. Did he dare look at the horror his callousness had unleashed on that innocent beauty?
The man seemed sick beyond tears as he knelt over the softly writhing form and gathered the courage to reveal that which he had thoughtlessly ruined.
“I’m sorry child. Please have eyes to see my sincerity.”
[Conductor Wyethstone frowned harshly, wishing that it had been he put to this test, rather than that irreverent killer and theotheif. Yet he prayed that the feckless “hero” decked in the wan nimbus of a failed saint had not, through his wroth judgment made of that sweet girl a hideous pity.]
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