Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Hermit

   All askafroa are protective of their ash tree. Consumed with concern for its health, their spirits and fates intertwined, they are vicious when approached. Few with any sense go near inhabited trees, day or night, for fear of the nymphs' wrath. Treading accidentally upon their roots usually results in the most ruthless ailments, and snapped twigs in curses of entire households.
   But where all other askafroa relished in their devotion to their verdant sanctums, one had grown lonely. Once, she'd adored the isolation; her tree had been enough. But now, she was tired. All thoughts were her own, opinions were her own; there was no argument, no discussion, no sharing or stories. Nothing and no one approached the aggressive little nymph. Even the birds feared her boughs.
   In time, she turned ever further into herself, hiding from her empty life. She dove deeper and deeper into her beloved tree, searching for the comfort that had once filled her so completely. She sank into the bark, slipped into the grain, seeped into the sap, but no matter how deep she receded, she could find no comfort. She found only her own heart, a knot of rotten wood. There was no contentment. There was no love. No joy. She realised she hadn't felt any such thing in a very long time.
   She began to cry tears stolen from the roots, and her voice rasped in sorrow. She hadn't spoken in a very long time, either.
   As her throat ached, she realised at last what she had long refused to face. And she knew, fearfully, how to fix it.
   Humans came on Wednesday. A whole village, each carrying a jug of water in shaking hands. They were pallid as they poured it, one by one, over the roots of her tree. She watched them as she always did from the safety of the branches.
   When the village elder poured the final jug and spoke his hallowed, beseeching words, she held her breath and scurried like a squirrel down the trunk.
   The whole village shrank back. She stared at them closely. They were peculiar, their skin so smooth, free of flaky lichen. But they didn't look scary. They looked frightened.
   She made her decision.
   Bracing herself, gritting her teeth, she reached a twiggy arm up into the branches and pulled one free. It hurt, but it was nothing like she'd been told; snagged hair, not a broken finger.
   Tentatively, she handed it to the elder. It would make a fine and sturdy spear shaft, or a whole quiver of hunting arrows.
   The surprise and gratitude upon their faces warmed her strangely, and she vanished quickly back into the tree, feeling fulfilled despite her loss.
   From then onwards, humans weren't so afraid of the askafroa, and visited often, watering her roots in exchange for strong wood or honeydew for the apiaries, and stories. And she savoured their visits. Despite her kin's disapproving whispers, she had opened her heart.
 
Written based on the Hermit tarot card for a scrapped project



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