The Guardian Tree
by Tara Tyler
Our tree has a secret.
Three years ago I was a simple farming elf. Every day after working in the fields I would pat our sturdy jale tree’s trunk on my way in to dinner with my wife and two children. Simple.
The purple storm was the forecast of change. A thick wind blew in from the Northern shores of Kanch and bellows of thunder called for our attention. The lavender blasts of electric strikes and the deep violet clouds tumbling in our direction mesmerized us in the fields.
I ran home and had my family huddle under the eating table, prepared for the worst. But when the storm arrived, it had weakened to a spring lilac drizzle. Outside, the sun had a plum hue and to this day the grass retains burgundy tips.
The elders met and pronounced it a natural phenomenon. Unsatisfied with that explanation, rumors spread of the Dark Sorcerer’s return.
That night, when I patted my tree as usual, I paused. The tree had given me a shock. “Hey, old friend tree. Did that storm bother you, too?”
The tree rustled in the breeze, as if answering. I laughed at my foolishness. Talking to a tree.
As I tucked my children into bed, I saw the restraint in their eyes, holding back a thousand questions. I sighed. “What do you want to know?”
They exploded. Prattering and chattering, louder and louder to be heard over each other. I raised my hands. “Bless my ears! Hold! That’s better. Chinney, you first.”
“Thank you, Father. Who is the Dark Sorcerer? And is it coming to get us?”
“Hey! That’s two questions! No fair!” Bana said.
“Sorry, Bana. You may also have two. The Dark Sorcerer Indigo is a legend of a thousand years ago. He was evil, using his powers to warp and twist innocent creatures into hideous beasts to serve him. His goal...”
“To rule Chromatia?” Chinney asked.
“Yes. Luckily, his twin sister, Sage was good and just as powerful. They had a great battle. Sage finally tricked Indigo and locked him in a prison.”
“In the caves of Kanch? With the trolls?” Bana asked.
“Quite right,” I said and tapped her nose.
“So is Indigo trying to escape?”
“I doubt it. It’s just a legend. One last question.”
“What do we do if it is Indigo?”
“Your mother and I will protect you. Now go to sleep.”
“But do you have magic?”
“No more questions. Time to dream of happy things. Good night, children.”
I shut their door, but wondered what we would do if the legend was true. I shook my head and went to bed.
I woke with a start, in a cold sweat. I had dreamt that ugly little creatures were attacking our house. The window let in the lavender glow of a full moon. The wind whispered outside and my tree waved at me through the window. Feeling strangely assured by the tree, I almost fell back to sleep until I heard the crunching of grass.
I leapt to the window. The creepy critters from my dream were real! Half beetle and half possum, with an armored back, six furry legs, sharp claws, and long snouts. Small and harmless if only a few, but there were hundreds! They lurked in every yard, scratching to get into the houses, waking everyone.
The odd thing was the little vermin weren’t harming anyone. They just sniffed the residents and moved on. I stepped out to help and several sniffed me. That sent them into a frenzy. They spun around, making clicking and clacking noises that reverberated through the lot of them, then they all ran away to the north.
We looked at each other, scratching our heads, with puzzled expressions. I shrugged and went back to bed.
“What was it dear?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s gone now.”
When the sun glared into the window the next morning, I felt a steady rocking motion.
“Dad! Dad!” My children burst into my room.
“Go back to sleep, children. It is resting day.”
“But Dad! We’re moving!”
“No we aren’t.”
“Dear. I think we are.” My wife tapped my shoulder and pointed out the window. There was my familiar tree, but through the branches, clouds flew by.
I hopped out of bed and lost my balance, grabbing the window ledge to steady myself. Our tree had picked us up and was transporting us! Impossible!
“Where are we going, Father?” Bana asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you ask the tree?” Chinney suggested.
I scrunched my brow at him. Logic of a child. I wonder.
“Tree? Could you be so kind as to tell us where we are going?” I smiled at the children, feeling silly for talking to a tree. But it was walking, so why not.
It spoke in my head! I looked at my family. They would think I was crazy!
Who are you? I asked back, hoping it heard me.
I am your bondmate, it answered.
I had to sit down.
“What is it, Father?”
“The tree answered in my thoughts. It is my bondmate and it is taking us to Sage.”
They smiled, accepting the information without question. My wife gave me a raise of her eyebrow.
“I knew it!” Chinney exclaimed.
My wife shrugged and went to make breakfast.
I stared after them with my mouth open. We are traveling in a tree!
Yes, Bain, you are. We have leagues to go, so I will explain. In your telling of the legend last eve you left out a few details. To imprison Indigo, Sage had help from four Bonded Pairs. Giant and Wolf, Faery and Star, Goblin and Rock, Elf and Tree. These bonds were passed on through their descendants. I am your Tree.
I held my head and closed my eyes. So why are you taking us to Sage? I knew the answer, but needed to hear it.
Sage is fading. She knew Indigo would be able to escape some day and devised a way to destroy him. Sage has a daughter, Amber, but they need our help once again.
This was too much. I was not a warrior. And I had a family!
As we continued our journey, my tree comforted me. He told me about our bond and what we could do together and about the other bondmates. My family was proud of me, eager to be part of a new legend. I smiled and masked my fears. I had to be strong for them.
When we reached Sage's valley, we were greeted by a wave of gray. Colorless grass, withered flowers and wilting trees. Even the stream did not reflect the sun. Instead it absorbed the light, drowning it.
Worse than I feared. Sage will not last long. Climb down my limbs and go to her. We are the last to arrive.
I did as the tree instructed. The foreboding castle with ragged banners and crumbling parapets hardly invited me in though the portcullis was raised. Inside, a brown mouse approached. He as tall as I and wearing a waistcoat.
“Sir Bain? I do hope it’s you. Hurry! Come this way!” He didn’t wait for me to answer and scampered away. I ran after him.
The meeting hall was dimly lit by torches, though the large window should have let in a generous amount of light. An oozing film coated the glass, blocking the sun. The other bonded pairs were gathered around a long table and a beautiful older woman with olive gray hair sat at the head. The golden girl who sat to her right had to be Amber.
“Bain. Welcome. Please join us,” Sage said.
I took a seat next to the goblin who looked me over and gave me nod.
“My friends, you have lived in ignorant bliss as were the wishes of your ancestors. But the time has come to know your true selves. I trust your bondmates have revealed themselves and your nature. You have been chosen to rise against the evil that has festered all these centuries. Indigo’s bonds weaken with my powers as I come to the end of my days. His aging process was slowed in his hibernated prison state and he is eager to take over when I am gone.
“My daughter Amber is more powerful than I ever was, but she will need your help in honing her strength to defeat Indigo once and for all. I realize this is much to ask of you, but I trust you can feel what I say is true and that many mysterious coincidences in your lives now make sense.”
I couldn’t help but be moved by her speech and agreed that having my tree had been a blessing. It had protected my family more than I knew. The other Bonded nodded to themselves. We all felt the significance and urgency.
Amber remained silent with her head lowered and her hands in her lap. Her golden, glowing locks covered her face. She had an ominous duty and all with her mother about to pass. Poor girl.
“We are ready to serve, Sage. What must we do?” the Giant asked. We all nodded agreement.
“You will each have one day with Amber and show her your bond strength. She can enhance your powers. Once she has practiced with each of you separately, she will be ready.” Sage lifted a frail hand to her forehead. “I must go rest now. The training starts tomorrow.”
Amber led Sage out of the room without a word.
We, the Bonded stood and considered each other.
“Well, I’m Sloan and my bondmate is Star. Who are you all?” asked the faery with fiery orange hair with yellow tips shooting from her head, looking like the sun. She put her hand on her hip and cocked her head.
The goblin spoke next, his great hairy ears twitching of their own accord. “I am Ned. My bondmate is Rock.”
“I am Kyla with bondmate Dog,” said the Giantess, giving a curtsey in her brown dress and leggings. Her head barely cleared the two-storey ceiling. “So you must be Elf with Tree, right?”
“Yes. My name is Bain.”
We held our own meeting and talked into the night. After revealing our brief histories, we discussed how we would proceed in the days to come. Spent from our long journeys, we went to our shelters outside the castle and slept.
Sage’s spirit expired that evening.
The next day, Amber would not come out or let anyone in.
While waiting outside, we received a strange horse beast with a bull’s head and arms of a man who delivered a message for Amber.
The goblin, Ned took it and knocked on the castle door. When no answer came, Kyla the giantess pounded and bellowed. “Amber, it is time! Open the door!” Kyla’s Dog howled, causing rubble to fall from the castle’s walls.
The Mouse opened the door. “Come in. Come in. Amber is inconsolable. She will not leave her chamber.”
“We understand, but she must,” said the faery, Sloan.
“Yes. I know. Reports have come from all over the land of foul varmints and strange creatures destroying villages and enslaving innocent folk.” The mouse led the Bonded to a room lined with foggy mirrors. One mirror cleared to show a frightened dwarf begging Sage for help.
“Indigo is getting stronger. We must convince Amber to fight,” I said, not confident I wanted to fight myself. But we must do what we are destined to do.
“The Elf is right. Take us to her,” said Ned.
When they reached Amber’s chamber they heard her sobbing.
“Child, we know your loss. We know your fear. But you must push that aside. Let us help you fulfill your purpose. Be strong for your mother!” Kyla said and quite softly for a giantess.
“I can’t! All is lost. I know my mother said I was strong, but I can’t. I have no control. I am useless!”
“Listen, Girl! I was dragged a thousand leagues away from my love. I have seen unspeakable things happen to wonderful souls. Innocents stolen, good folks die horrible deaths. You are the only one who can stop it! You will stop it!” Sloan said, growing louder and brighter with each breath and gave the door a pound leaving a shower of sparks.
I wrote a note. “Amber. We are here for you. We are here for our families. We are here for those suffering, as you are suffering now. Sage believed in you. We believe in you. Take this night to think it through. We will come back for your first lesson in the morning. If you refuse, we will have to face Indigo alone. I pray you will help us.”
Ned slid the note under her door.
We, Bonded looked at each other. We had done all that we could do. It was up to Amber now.
As we descended the long, winding staircase, Amber called down to us. “I will try.”
We left with high hopes.
In the morning, Amber told us a note had come from Indigo. Condolences for Sage and the rest of the realm, as he told Amber to give in to his command or he would destroy her. Amber pulled herself together and vowed to do her best in the name of her mother.
The training went well. Each Bonded Pair barely knew how to use their own powers, but instinct soon took over and with Amber they all caught on quickly. By the end of each day, Amber and Bonded were in sync. As Amber’s strength and confidence increased, the color came back to the valley. Her valley now.
More reports of destruction and despair flooded the mirrors. Amber advised survivors to retreat to remote, uninhabited parts of the land to escape Indigo’s minions.
A purple fog announced Indigo’s arrival. He was escorted by a grotesque assortment of monsters. We stood ready.
The battle started immediately with Indigo pointing a large staff with a purple crystal at its tip, zapping at my Tree! With Amber’s link, I deflected the electricity into Indigo’s flank of monsters who had started to charge.
Sloan and Star flew overhead raining sparks on more of the demonic creatures.
Ned’s Rock grew into a mountain, splitting the rest of the monster horde as Indigo blasted at Amber. But Kyla’s hound, strengthened by Amber, howled the strike into harmless pieces.
Indigo was frustrated but not going to give up so easily. He summoned birds and transformed them into lizards with wings as they flew. The lizard birds attacked the tallest of us, Tree and Kyla, drawing her Dog and me to defend them.
Ned’s Rock mountain avalanched, taking care of the last of the monsters, but Indigo was advancing quickly on Amber, now alone. His strikes came in short bursts, one after another and Amber crossed her arms over her face in defense.
Sloan and Star came to her aid, lending Amber their fire power. Amber shone like the sun causing Indigo to stop and shield his eyes.
“Now!” I shouted, having subdued the lizard birds. As one, we all used our powers to envelope Indigo in a rainbow of swirling light.
Amber rose off the ground, her eyes a fierce gold, and in her hands her mother’s pale-green scepter with a topaz crystal. Amber wielded the scepter in a circle over Indigo.
“By all that is good, you are through in this world!” she shouted. And with that the colors constricted Indigo until he was squashed into nothing by the ribbons of light.
* * *
With the Dark Sorcerer gone, peace returned to Chromatia.
Rumors still persist that Indigo has a son hidden away somewhere, biding his time and learning his magic until an opportune moment should arise. But for now, there is peace and my family and I are safe with our Tree.
Copyright © 2012 by Tara Tyler