To enter the forest, to move freely amongst the trees, Lucida wore her talisman, an apotropaic symbol to keep her safe. As a child, then, she skipped daily out into the Mirabilis Woods, all her senses alive. Air perfumed with scents of pine and wild asters; rough bark beneath her finger tips; birdsong and braches singing as the zephyrs danced. When shadows did grow long, she wound back, basket full of mushrooms, sweet grasses, wild herbs, and bark to be boiled into a smoothing balm. Her mother ne’er worried about her daughter; the amulet of cat’s eye surrounded Lucida in all that was good. She shone as a light in the evil shadows of a Balden tree.

More ancient than the forest, these malevolent beings could only shake off their wooden forms by taking flight. To unfurl their wings, to repair the flaws and tears from a thousand years, they needed new life blood for their cold, desiccated heart wood. An infusion of light into all that was dark. Jinxette watched daily as Lucida, untied to the earth by gnarled roots, tripped lightly along the maze of paths. As a young woman, her childish games and songs gave way to romantic lilts and far off sighs. The woodman’s son, Spin, strong, with eyes the colour of pines, lips full and red like poppies had caught her young heart’s fancy. Shy, she watched him working with his father, wiping sweat from his fine brow, his waven bark-brown hair curling around his broad shoulders. She sighed, wishing for his friendship, longing for his love.

“You mother seeks to shelter you always” The words surrounded Lucida as she sat in the forest clearing, braiding wildflower circlets. “What has she said about yon woodman’s son?” Lucida, started, jumped up, dropping her basket, sending  flowers scattering. She noticed a tree, now shaped as a woman, branches bowing back as leafy hair, forming two arms with long woody fingers. The trunk, a head on stalky neck, two legs bending forward into the grove. “Has she told you of love, of caresses, of the sweet kiss upon the lips?” the tree-woman asked.

Lucida shook her head; her mother did not want to speak of boys, love, the marriage bed. “Too young,” she would say, smoothing Lucida’s flaxen hair. “In time, my sweet, in time.” Lucida’s sky-bright eyes blinked. Why was this tree so different? It spoke to her in words; the others only whispered or howled, groaned or squealed when driven by the wind. Jinxette knew she had the girl’s attention. Now, to devise a plausible tale so that the silly one would abandon her talisman. Then, with the girl’s sweet breath upon her wooden cheek, she could capture what she needed. To finally fly beyond this forest prison, to join with her own kind and make the keepers pay for the imprisonment.

“I can tell you what you need to know. What spells and sweet enchantments will make the woodman’s son yours and yours alone.” Lucida took a few steps closer, though her amulet glowed warm against her skin as a warning.

“Come close, I shall wish the secrets of love into your ear.” Lucida hesitated. “Take off that chain that binds you to your mother like a tame animal!,” Jinxette commanded. Before Lucida realized, she unclasped and let if fall at her feet. Lucida approached – the long woody fingers grasped her hand and shoulder, holding her tight. Their roughness tore at her garment, she felt the pressure against her skin. “All I ask, in return, is but a small kiss upon my weathered cheek. It will remind me of when I was young,” Jinxette cooed.

Whiz. Twang. An axe went deep into the Balden tree witches’ shoulder. A knife flew through the air, striking the stalky neck. The tree let go of Lucida, screaming, hissing, spitting sap-blood. The woodman’s son, who followed her into the clearing, scooped up Lucida before the witch could regenerate her branchy limb. He held her abandoned amulet tightly in his hand. “Wear this always,” he warned, a stern look upon his face. “To keep you safe, my love,” his voice and face softened. “We shall go speak with your mother so that we may be wed. If that is what you wish too.” Lucida, breathless from knowledge of what might have transpired, and by future possibilities, nodded, and nestled her head against his broad shoulders, her arms linked around his neck, her talisman shining brightly, lightly through the shadows of the forest.

© Lorraine 2017

Inspired by the words from mlmm wordle # 144: good enter tree mirabilis different abandon plausible bald flaw Lucida (star) apotropaic (protective) grow; and a selection of words from the special two-for-one Saturday/Sunday whirl, 288 a & b.

(image: Arthur Rackham)