I think this section has been written three different times. Still, it was the one thing I knew was on my list (though the reason why has long been lost to the Unwritten Annals of Time) to complete when we started the Wondrous Wiarton Writing Retreat, so that’s what I did! And here it is for you, dear reader, to peruse and enjoy. It was a good way to ease into the week. It had been awhile since I gave ye olde Creative Writing juices a good go, and this set me up for a positively effective week.
“Shhh!” Raul gestured for Charlotte to duck down, and she dropped into a bush that immediately started gripping her dress with tiny, dagger-like thorns. She worked to make herself as small as possible, cursing Lucinda’s love of blue1, so obvious in the world of green and brown. She could feel the bush tearing through her dress, and thin red lines crisscrossed on her exposed flesh as she pulled the enormous sword in after her, it become completely unwieldy2 in the thorny branches. She huddled back even farther into the bush in the hopes of protecting line of sight from whatever patrol Raul had spotted; the dense foliage would have to be enough to disguise her and the sword. She nearly cried out when a small spider flew by her on a strand, a particularly sharp root jabbing into her lower back as she fell. She dropped the sword’s handle and stuck out her left palm to the ground to keep from falling over.
“What is it?” she whispered at Raul, trying to spot the troop while remaining balanced in her hiding spot. “Patrol?”
Raul shook his head, grinning. “Trees!” he whispered back with so much glee Charlotte was ready to grab him by the throat and pull him to the ground. “Trees!?”3 she said through clenched teeth.
Raul nodded, and disappeared forward into the bush. Charlotte blinked, and it was as if he hadn’t been there, barely a branch disturbed in his passing. How does he do that? It was several moments before she had satisfactorily removed4 herself from her own hiding spot, sacrificing one sleeve, several buttons, and leaving behind a trail so obvious she could spot it5. As she tried to follow Raul she snapped twigs and bent branches, cursing under her breath. Eventually she used the sword as a cane, trying to hop over the worst branches, and getting her skirts caught anyway.6
Susannah always made it seem so easy, like the forest just opened up and closed around her in a lovers embrace7. The only thing that seemed to love her were the pests. She casually flicked another spider off8 her torn sleeve into the woods.
She followed Raul deeper into the brush until it finally opened up into a small clearing. He was standing near its edge, eyes open wide staring into its centre.
“Do you have any idea —” she started to say, but he raised a single finger to his lips, cutting her off. With his other hand he pointed to the collection of trees in the centre of the small clearing.
There were half a dozen gnarled trees, hunched over in a semicircle. Their trunks were fat and twisted, but their branches were sleek, as round as her forearm, and each jut out at an angle away from the trunk before raising upwards into the sky. Each branch ended in a variety of different sized smaller branches, like long, spindly fingers, that twitched back and forth in a breeze Charlotte couldn’t feel. There was a slight chill to the air, and a sheen to their bark. Charlotte stared, transfixed.
“What are they doing,” she whispered to Raul, only to be treated to another gentle shh and one whispered word — watch.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the trees reached out to intermingle their smaller branches before swaying back to their centre and intermingling with their own. Again and again, the gentle movements back and forth. As the limbs reached out, invisible threads started to form together between them and Charlotte nearly gasped as short scarfs made of light appeared. With every gesture, back and forth, the line of weaving grew longer, until Charlotte realized it wasn’t light but impressive amounts of spider web reflecting in the light.
Absently, Charlotte tightened her grip on sword handle and felt a light reverberation. She slackened her grip and the feeling fell away. Gently closing her fist and releasing it again, she noticed the sword seemed to be responding to the same sway as the trees. At that point she realized the hairs on her exposed arm were humming, reaching out to the trees, too. Faint wisps of blue light wafted up from each strand, only visible from the corner of her eye.
They stood there until the sticky scarves reached all the way to ground, at which point Raul gently touched her shoulder, and gestured with his head into the brush. He led her through a path she couldn’t see, and only when they were a hundred paces away did he finally stop.
“Magnificent!” he said, his grin beaming across his face. As she watched, traces of blue slowly faded away from the edges of his clothes. “I haven’t seen a circle like that in years!”
“What were they?” Charlotte asked. “It almost seemed like they were — knitting.”
“Good eye, Charlie! You are quite right, as they are knitting trees! A truly auspicious sign. Many good folks go years before spotting one, and rarely in such form. To spy a whole circle — our quest must surely be blessed!” Raul sat upon a fallen tree, closing his eyes and taking in several deep breaths. Charlotte waited for him to boast about his previous sightings, but no such story was forthcoming. As she watched, he simply continued to breath deeply, in and out, as if still entranced.
She thought about his words. “Why does it take so long for people to see them? Once you know where they are, can’t you just…go back?”
Raul opened his eyes, grin still huge, and shook his head. “They come, they go.”9
Charlotte shook her head. “They’re trees. Trees don’t move around.”
Raul shrugged. “These do. And so should we. Probably never should have stopped, still…” his voice grew quiet, and he looked to her with conspiratorial eyes from beneath his bobbing hair. “I couldn’t resist! Still, your Count Vilnius certainly has more operatives scouring the forest. Come!” He hopped up, and picked a direction seemingly at random. “Not that they’ll be able to track me! As we walk, let me regale you with the tale of how my great uncle taught me to dance, a useful trick I mastered to aid in my forest step…”
Charlotte followed along barely listening, head cocked to the side. The story was clearly another tall tale, grossly exaggerated and undoubtedly false, but as he talked she didn’t feel the same frustration she had before10
. She kept thinking of standing in the clearing, both their eyes wide as the knitting trees wove scarfs made of spider silk and light. 11
More coming soon, faithful reader! Check back soon. This is but the beginning of the Wondrous Wiarton Writing Retreat!
Also, speaking of previously written, here’s an earlier approach to the scene that James took:
Sure enough, Raul lead them around a particularly sturdy oak (at least Charlotte thought it was an oak, but she admittedly did not know her trees well), and a truly magical sight met their eyes. A group of unusual trees stood before the pair. A strand? A copse? Charlotte thought back to all the old stories of Joanna battling cats in forests, searching for the right word. Certainly not a mire. Maybe a thicket, or a boseage? So lost was Charlotte in the words that she hardly took note of what she was actually looking at.
The group of trees before her were the same no matter the word used to describe them. Each was clicking softly as their boughs swayed and pulled some sort of gossamer thread and stitched it into ghostly sheets.
“Knitting trees,” Raul explained, although Charlotte has left the question unasked Answering Charlotte’s unasked question.. “They spin and weave spider’s silk to make the strange fabric. Light as air and tough – although not terribly practical, as flies tend to get stuck in it.”
Raul and Charlotte watched the ponderously slow dance of the boughs for a few moments. The trees moved with such exaggerated care you could almost believe the wind was blowing them around. None of it was random, though. In watching, Charlotte could see that each careful movement directed the fine spider’s silk to a certain location. They were standing too far from the trees to see the source of each thread, but the trees collected and collected until, as if out of thin air, the silvery fabric was suddenly there. Each tree had a sizable bolt of the strange fabric lying haphazardly by its trunk.
Watching the trees, a single word rose unbidden to Charlotte’s lips. “Why?”
Raul didn’t answer at first. Charlotte wondered if he was trying to find an answer to a question he had never bothered to ask himself. Finally, he said “ you should know better than to question the why of magic, Charlie.”
Charlotte raised her eyebrows and nodded, considering it a fair point. “Okay then, but how? Why do the the spiders even come?”
“That one’s easy. The trees let out an unholy stink – attracts all sorts of flying critters and mites. Its a regular spider buffet in there.”
Charlotte sniffed the air cautiously.
“We’re upwind — thankfully.”
The pair watched for another few minutes before Charlotte finally said “we had best move on.”
“I was about to say.”
Of course you were.
As they resumed their course through the great Cottonwood, Charlotte asked Raul a question. “Why were you so fascinated by those trees? I mean, I know magic is always fascinating, but you know all about them already. What was special about them – beyond the obvious magic, of course.”
“Oh, simply because there were so many of them in one place. Usually they are alone. On rare occasions, you’ll find a pair. I once saw three within an arrow’s flight of each other by the Dark Spring with Surprisingly Good Trout. A whole collection of knitting trees, though? Completely unheard of.”
“But aren’t we close to your clan’s home? Shouldn’t somebody have found that boseage before?” (Yes, boseage was the right word after all.)
Luke: Match to colour of Charlotte’s dress when introduced.↩
James: I mean, it already was. So, word choice, I guess?↩
James: “In a forest? You don’t say!”↩
James: extirpated, extracted↩
James: Perhaps as an acknowledgement pf her own fish-out-of-waterness “so obvious even she could spot it”↩
James: Also, maybe the sword could sink into the ground a bit get get a little stuck?
Luke: THE SWORD!!! Bafuckeristalmighty…↩
James: Spiders aren’t what comes to mind I think of pests, but I do like the image here. Of course, presaging the arrival of the knitting trees is just good planning, so.↩
James: I like this.↩
I’m thinking this can actually be the first moment of her realizing maybe there’s more to Raul than she first thought; which will prove absolutely true once they meet his clan.
James: More like the full realization comes when they’re jail, but I think putting the seeds here is a good plan, too.↩
James: Nice take – might be useful to bring back in the discussion about magic being more saturated in this area, build up the ruined fort a little, but I’m not convinced it is entirely necessary. Definitely not necessary, but a fun bit of worldbuilding: the suggestion that the Cottonfolk use the knitting tree’s product is fun, too. hyperstrong and super rare material? Siiiick.
Luke: Hmm, maybe he scoops up a little bit of it, and that’s what triggers them to leave. He can then offer this up to someone in the clan. Maybe it sets up Charlotte to make a jab at him that he volleys back (“Well, of course you’d keep it, probably for a bow of magical shooting?” Raul: “A good imagination! That would be a truly mighty bow, but it is not possible. This is but a small amount. It will do for an unloosable button, perhaps.”) and then when in the clan, he hands it off to someone apparently at random. Shocking Charlotte, as she just figured he’d keep it for himself.↩