Ever Grove

This was just a small idea I had that bloomed into something much better. I've read other stories that did this too, but the context intrigued me. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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1. Ever Grove

          The quiet. The intense and all-encompassing quiet. It’s what brings me here day after day. It seems that no matter where I’ve been, or how long I’ve been gone, you’re still here. Hello old friend. Cradle me again, and allow me to drift into worlds only dreamt of.

          It doesn’t respond. It never does, and yet I always feel welcome. Its rough bark makes climbing easy. The musky scent of earth and moss waft through the cool morning air. It’s taller than I remember, though I’m much older. It’s not just a place of calm recollection any more. It’s a companion, a mentor. I find my place within the core of its many branches. Once my cradle, now my loving friend, I settle in and open the book I’ve brought. A light breeze blows through, causing the branches to creak in the still air.

          It wasn’t the quickening breeze that caught my attention first; it wasn’t even the light footsteps thumping against the damp ground. It was the smell of smoke. I peer up from my book and stare into the fog. I knew this wasn’t private land, but still the thought of others in this old grove never really occurred to me. I slowly climb down and walk towards the smell, curious both for who and why. Presently a shape formed in the mist. As I approached, the shape came into focus. It was my friend, standing silent as ever. Had I actually come in a circle? I didn’t remember ever turning, yet here I was again. As I puzzled this, I noticed the scent had vanished. Perhaps I had imagined the whole thing. I shrug and reclaim my place within the crux of this mighty tree.

          I don’t know how much more time had passed. I could only consider how many pages had turned. The light that filtered through the leaves and fog would not betray the time, and as such, I had lost track of it myself. I blink and look skyward as a shadow quickly passes above me. My ears twitch slightly at a sudden sound, much like a wide cape billowing in a passing wind. I close my book once more and ascend into the upper branches of my stalwart companion. Reaching the pinnacle, I breach the heavy fog and canopy. I wince slightly as the sunlight splashes across my face. It’s warm and inviting, and I close my eyes and raise them skyward. Both shadow and sound are gone, so I descend once more. As before, I take my place among the loving arms of this ancient thing.

          My eyes flutter open. Had I been asleep? When did that happen? I had no recollection of drifting off, yet here I was. My book rests at my side, my thumb reliably holding my place. Shaking off sleep I return to my reading, I am almost startled out of my perch by loud sounds seeming to come from all around my oaken bastion. To my right, I hear the sounds of horses and steel on steel. In the distance to my left, I hear a low rumble of a roar. Behind I hear an echoing voice chanting in a language I cannot understand followed by the sound of rushing wind, and eventually, a hollow boom in the distance far ahead. As quickly as these auditory hallucinations begin, they cease. I am more tired than I first realized. I contemplate leaving early. Just heading home and getting some rest in my warm bed. I peer down at my book. Only a few pages more. Being this close to finishing my book, it would be a shame to complete it in any other place. I turn my eyes back to the page and pick up where I had stopped before. As my eyes scan the page, my hand begins to tremble. I want to stop, but something keeps me going. Something I’m reading. This was impossible, but there it was. The following is what I read:

          The hero sat among the branches of what he had come to know as His Tree. It is the oldest and wisest among its forest brethren. The sound of the traveler had held his attention briefly, yet he returned. The mighty skyship sailed overhead, bringing him to the top of the trees branches where he then bathed his face in light, yet he returned. Even the sounds of combat, the sounds of men crossing blades, of fel and terrible dragons, and even the casting of timeless and arcane magicks could not pull him from his place. He always returned. He now read these words within a tome of his own choosing. His hands shake in uncertainty, as he fears what the end of the book may mean for him. He needn’t worry however. Being only in a waking dream, a gift the ageless oak had bestowed upon him was an odd but comforting revelation. After decades of resting within its branches, and countless stories read and told, the magic of written word and the power of the hero’s belief in the fantastic had finally allowed the master of the forest to repay the hero’s kindness. For centuries prior, the master stood alone within a multitude, silence being his only companion. Then came a small child, carrying a small book. The child, at first, could not reach the resting place, and the master took pity, lowering a branch slowly and allowing the child up. From then, the child came almost every day, reading to the master, sharing his thoughts and dreams. The child grew, yet visited less often. The master did not mind. He was a patient king. Still the hero came and sat among his branches. New stories and fresh dreams spilled from the pages. The child continued to grow. After his last visit, it would be the better end of a decade before the child returned as a man. Though older, the king of the forest could easily recognize the shape of the hero. The hero had trouble climbing into the resting place as he had aged considerably. As before, the patient forest king lowered a branch, unbeknownst to the hero, and allowed him once more into the branches. The king groaned in happiness as the hero had returned once again with a final story. It was the last opportunity for the mighty forest king to return the kindness the hero had so graciously bestowed. Calling upon what remaining power he held, the forest king called forth the words within the book the hero brought, bringing the story to life and giving of his last bit of vitality so that he could share his own final dream with the hero. With the turning of the last page, the king would slumber for eternity, having completed his final task. The hero closed his book, sending the forest king forever unto de--

          I had stopped reading. Tears fell from my eyes. I couldn’t finish the book. I wouldn’t. I slowly descended from the tree. Only then did I notice how grey its bark had become. The moss, once vibrant green, had become mottled and brown. I had decided. This creature. This beautiful and giving thing. It would not die because of me. I placed my book down, making sure to leave its last pages open. I dug at the old trees roots until I could no longer feel my fingertips. I collect small twigs and leaves, and place them gently between the final pages ensuring they would never close. There I buried the book, and I suppose it is still there today. I will never forget the gift the king of the forest gave me that day, and I hope he still stands, offering a place of peace and imagination to those looking for it. I’ve become even older since the last time I saw the king. He was right. I never went back. I couldn’t bear to see him. Upon reaching my front door, I noticed a small package at my doorstep. Plain brown paper tied with plain brown twine. I pick it up and enter my home wondering what it could be. I sit in my chair and glance at the pictures I have upon my coffee table. My wife, now three years gone. My children. Their children. I had lived a blessed life. I slowly untie the package and once again my hands tremble and tears flow like a midsummer rain. In my hands I hold a dirty, half gone book. Its cover is unmistakable. The pages are closed, but something peeks from the back cover. With shaking hands I pull the smaller envelope. On its exterior there are only two words written in an elegant and flowing script. “Thank you”. That is all that was written, but those two words held entire worlds within them. I open the small envelope and tip it into my hand. Out drops a small seed. A final gift of a grateful king. I make my way to the back yard and find a bright patch of earth. As before, I dig. I lovingly place the seed within the earth, and almost as a final wish, place the book on top, praying its words would bring the forest king back one day. As I fill the hole, the faded colors of the books cover burn into my mind. Its gilded title will forever stay with me. I swore that day that I would never forget the stories within Ever Grove.

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