by Devin A. Poet

With a scream and a squelch the fight ended.

Tom lay on wet moss, breathing deeply and waiting for feeling to come back to his arms and legs.  As the soft light faded from the silver runes of his weapon, so did his battle fury, leaving only the weariness of blood loss. Before he had regained enough strength to pull himself out from beneath the carapace of his slain enemy, exhaustion took him.

“Wake boy, you come uninvited, you have invaded my grotto, and I did not let you in.”  Tom woke in the darkness. He could see nothing clearly in the shadows, but heard the rustling of leaves, and something like the wind, or the breath of something deep. He saw no speaker, and yet the voice continued.

“I should kill you now boy, pierce your body, and feed you to my trees. Yet, you have done me a kindness. So I will grant you a few dozen breaths, I will give you trial, and I will listen, before I speak the Law to you.  Now tell me boy, why shouldn’t I kill you?

Tom took a deep breath and began.

“I am-”

“Yes, Yes.” The voice said dismissively. “You are known Tom Silversmith, Tom Twinborn.  You wander the wood searching for your lost sister. You trade silver for stories of the wood, you seek out secrets great and dark.  Then you look for danger.  You hunt the darkness and name takers, and you have hunted well. Worse, you track the Daughters of the Eyrewood. I see no reason to reward, accept, or tolerate such behavior.” The voice continued.

“Your sister is gone. The Wood has called her, and she has listened. You have sought out any Daughter you could find, a few Mothers too. Now you are in my grotto, and I am no kindly daughter easily impressed by songs or pretty eyes.  You will give me three questions boy. Then you will give me three answers. Thrice and thrice.  And after that I will speak the Law. Now then boy, think well, and ask your first question.”

“You are no Daughter or Mother.  Then you must be Matron, or Queen of the Wood?” He asked, but laughter from the voice quickly rose up.

“You mean Crone? Or Hag, boy?  I know what words your kind use, and your flattery is meaningless here.  You know nothing of us.”

“I know the stories.”  He said

“Then you know less than nothing. You know rumors, lies, and half-truths. But Yes.” The voice said. “Now, my first question.  Silver is of no small value to your kind, and it does not grow, and yet you plant small bits in the hands of almost all you meet. Why do you this thing?”

“I was born to the Silver, like my father. I know it’s secrets, and it can bring a light when darkness comes. Like the thing that came last night.  I take silver to all the wood, that they might have some if the darkness comes.”  This was a common enough question, Tom had answered it many times before, but usually in warm homes near warm meals.

“A wise answer, and perhaps a kind answer if tis truly true.  Ask your next question and if your question is about me then your bones will decorate this grotto as a warning to others.

“My sister, she is of the forest now.  Does she want to see me?”

“She has not spoken of such, nor of leaving the forest.  If she is like others, she has probably thought of it. But she has heard your stories, and knows the tragedies. Still, she is stubborn like you, her twin, so I can not say for certain.  Now boy, give to me my second answer.  You came to my grotto to seek me, to speak to me, as you have spoken with the daughters. You seek us out, and study us.  Why?”

“My sister may be lost to me, but I will understand why, and what, and perhaps how.  We grew from matching seeds but our trees are very different. If I cannot find her, then I will learn all I can about her, and her new sisters.” Tom’s voice echoed in the silence, waiting for the wind to blow and the voice to speak. The voice did not come immediately, and when it came it was tight, like it had been prepared to force a final question, yet none had been asked.

“Ask your final question, boy.”

“Is my sister happy?” Tom asked, and again waited while the voice paused.

“The one who was your sister now watches over the lives of trees, and ferns. She watches over predator and prey, over several birds and many more insects. She has responsibilities, and work, but she takes satisfaction and pleasure in it, and with her friends and sisters, and sitting in the sun. And despite the task given to her, her every need is met. Beyond that I can not say.” The voice sounded, thoughtful as it answered, and still as it finally asked. “What shall you do, Tom Silversmith, should you finally see your sister?”

With that, Tom smiled a small sad smile pulled a small cherrywood box from a pocket, and opened it.

The sun rose as Tom walked away from the grotto.  He probably did not know how many eyes watched him as he went.  Behind him, still in the grotto, someone who was once a girl, looked down to what had once been a hand. There a lilly made from silver hung on a fine chain. A beast growled a question.

“You allowed that one to live?” It asked with a snarl and a gesture of tooth.

“I did, and I sent him on a path to find an open vein of silver on his way. I can see that perhaps those Daughters saw more in that one than just a pair of pretty eyes.  Watch over that one, my old friend. He may yet be dangerous, and he may yet die, but I can see why the young ones have started calling him Brother of the Eyrewood.”

As she watched him go, she thought again of his final answer.

“You are loved and all your sisters are loved. And as you grow and change and as the world changes, I give you a flower of silver, unchanging, that you might always remember the roots from which you grew and the love that still comes from them. I love you, and I will always be your brother.”