Faolan Tierre knew that today was no day for being in the woods. The sky was shredded with frayed ribbons of charcoal, stone grey and indigo clouds, the huge pine trees were hunched and shivering violently as the wind howled through their branches and tore young saplings from the earth and in the distance, thunder roared and made the sky shake.
Yes, Faolan thought, hunched over as she walked against the biting wind, today is no day for woods walking.
The young girl could not say why she had decided to leave her family’s warm cabin; she only knew that she had to find something in the woods. Perhaps it was loneliness that had driven the twelve year old out of her house, her parents were away at a wedding, Faolan had no friends or neighbours and the trees and animals of Rackhorn Forest were the only friends she had ever known. She had always been a strange child, more interested in watching birds and listening to the trees than playing games, it didn’t take long for the other children in the village school to notice her strangeness and ridicule her for it.
So, she grew up with trees as confidants and foxes for playmates.
Faolan flung a coil of pale hair out of her wide green eyes and stopped walking. She was deep in the woods now, the pine trees rose tall around her like green fletched arrows stuck in the wet earth. She began to realise how idiotic she had been to come out into the woods when a storm was about to hit. Worried that she would not make it back to her house before the storm began, she turned down a path that she had travelled down hundreds of times before to the place where she had hidden herself away from the cruelty of children her own age, her tree. A huge, knurled oak, its trunk several feet wide and its roots half out of the earth like arms waiting to embrace Faolan.
Faolan stopped at the edge of the clearing where her tree stood huge and sentinel-like and surveyed the scene, her eyes green marbles in her porcelain face. Something was different here; her oak tree seemed suddenly to pulse with life. Shrugging she sat on her root that had worn itself into a stoop to accommodate her and she put her back against the trunk of her oak and began to talk, as she always did, and imagined the tree talking back.
“Hello, Oak. It’s Faolan again. I was looking for something but I didn’t know what. I think I was looking for a friend, but then, I’ve been looking for one of those for a long while.”
You have many friends Faolan; you have the forest that you protect from the lumber-axe men and the animals you help out of snares. And me, Oak, I’ve been here for you since you found me. We love you.
“I love you too, but I’m not a tree. I need a…a,” Faolan sat back sighing, “I don’t know what I need.”
An Oak Friend?
“Yes! But that is fairy tale stuff and I’m too old to be thinking about that anymore.” Faolan became overwhelmed by a tide of sadness, even her parents didn’t truly understand the connection she had with the forest, and the lack of connections she had with humans, it didn’t seem like anyone understood.
Hot, helpless tears welled in her eyes and she angrily swiped them away but still they came and they ran a hot, salty river down her cheeks and dropped onto the roots of the tree, she was too immersed in her sadness to notice the gold sparks that skittered over the tree roots where her tears touched.
Faolan felt rough bark on her shoulder and a breathy, rustling voice, like the wind in the leaves, sighed in her ear; “There, there, friend. It’s alright.”
Faolan froze; she had not imagined that voice.
She leapt to her feet and whirled around to see…a most peculiar creature.
About the same height as her, was a child. She had long hair but it was made entirely from green jade oak leaves and her skin was the cracked, light brown of Faolan’s oak tree. Her eyes were a pale gold and yellow and brown oak leaves served as her clothing.
“Wha-who are you?” Faolan stuttered out.
“I’m Oak, Faolan. Your Oak Friend. I held you when you wept when Alice Crawley made everyone in your class ignore you all day. I sang lullabies to you when you were scared that your parents were going to move away and leave you behind. I have watched over you since you were a babe.” Her voice was tender.
Faolan was both stunned and exhilarated, “So…I was never really alone? I always had you and I wasn’t crazy for talking to you?”
“Dear, dear Faolan. We will always be here for you, and you will never be alone. But…you must find someone of your own kind. Not all humans are bad, you prove that.”
“How? I’ve tried, they’re not like me!”
Oak tilted her head as though listening. “In the next village over, there is a boy called Ash, he has been shunned by his own kind too. Find him Faolan, he needs you.”
Faolan nodded, the name resonated within her, “Ash, I’ll find him.”
“He’s looking for you too, Faolan.” Oak turned and settled against the tree, “Goodbye friend.”
The tree heaved and shifted and Oak seemed to merge back into the tree.
She was on her back, staring up at the tree canopy. She must have fallen asleep. She sat up and looked at her Oak tree; there was a shape on the trunk that had not been there before. She stood up and began to walk home, her tree had sheltered her from the storm which had now passed leaving a clear, azure sky and a name sat in her chest.