Deep inside the Dark Wood atop the largest hill, stood three trees that were twice as tall as the others. They stretched their limbs as the sun rose over the eastern mountains. Their shadow’s cast far drinking up all the sunlight and all the other trees around them grew weak and hateful. To the South of the forest a lone Silver Maple stood in a grassy field. Perched atop it the Mother of the Woodlands watched as the three trees stole sunlight from those around them.
The sunlight reached her then and her brilliant white feathers shone. A crystal in her crown sparkled and sent flickering prisms of light dancing all about. The three trees seemed to shrink then as if cowering. Shamed by the beauty that offended their arrogance, they let other trees around them bask in the warmth of the sun. For three hours Aveline sat on her perch until the sun had risen high enough in the sky she could do no more. She knew once she left that the three trees would take it out on the others, but they would have anyway, it is there terrible way. They were Aveline’s bane. Her burden and she did all that she could to correct it.
Having other matters to attend to she took flight. Spreading her wings wide Aveline closed her eyes and went forward into a free fall. She let the wind fill her wings and as she neared the ground she shot out from under the tree flying just above the tall grass. She opened her eyes and let her exuberance run wild. Without a single beat of her wings she rode the wind, dodging this way and that to avoid small trees and tall thistles. The land suddenly dropped out from beneath her as she flew over the edge of a small bluff. Below at the bluffs base was a small pond fed by springs. A creek wound away from the pond to the south and west and she followed it. Ahead a large tree line emerged and the creek was running into it. It was the start of a very large forest that stretched many miles from north to south and ten times that to the west. This was the Woodlands, this was home.
Darting between the trunks of the trees she greeted each one, all she had known for decades and all she counted as friends. Mother Earth was good to her and those that dwell in the woodland. It was important to Aveline that all that live here know the voice of Mother Earth. Listening to her calls, be they blessing or warning, was the key to peace and love. We are all accountable to one another and anyone choosing to dwell in selfish actions and secrets soon find themselves alone.
Hearing chatter she turned and saw a family of squirrels ahead. They were gathering nuts in the forest, at a small clearing and were all standing around a stump of a long dead tree. The mother was explaining to the children about the importance of not taking too much, leaving some for others and giving back to the land. The father then planted an acorn in the center of the decaying stump. He explained to their young ones how to properly bury the acorn and then went on to tell them how the new tree would use the old one for food to grow strong. Aveline smiled and flew over giving them a gracious nod of her head. The mother and father waved to the Mother of the Woodlands and the children gasped in awe.
With a powerful beat of her wings she lifted to the crowns of the trees, dodging branches and then above them. The feeling was like waking up again as she crested the canopy, where the sun shone brightly. Ahead she saw many others in flight. They were children of many families of the forest. Their differing colors reflected in the sunlight as they whizzed about playing some game. They saw her then and calmed there playing as she came close. No doubt there were chores being neglected. Not wanting the young ones to feel she was prying she turned south.
The land dropped gradually beneath her and she skirted the tree tops until she reached the lake. Across the lake she could see Crescent Hill. A friend lived there but she knew he wasn’t home. It was another she was looking for. Aveline scanned the waters as she flew above the lake following the shoreline east. There she saw what she was looking for. Bubbles were slowly breaking the surface of the water near some trees that had fallen over in the early spring flood. She circled down and landed on a large branch of one of those trees. The tree was loose and it bobbed in the water beneath her.
“Oh my!” she cried aloud. The tree settled then as she flapped for balance and almost flew off. Standing precariously she waited a moment before settling in on her perch. She thought to herself, ‘that should have made enough stir under the water to get her friends attention’. Indeed some bubbles issued forth from the lake in front of her, then a very large head and eyes breached the surface to stare at her.
“Good afternoon Tabitha.” Her friend smiled in response and rose further out of the water. A very large shell emerged from the water and Tabitha hauled herself onto the bank of the lake to bask in the sun.
“Good afternoon Aveline.” Tabitha replied finally. She spoke slowly and deliberately as was her way. “What brings you to the Emerald Lake on this fine day?”
“I came to inquire about your meeting Miss Tittles. She was brave to undertake such a journey for her friends. How was she?”
Tabitha closed her eyes and turned facing the sun directly. She seemed to be enjoying the warmth immensely. Aveline knew she was not being ignored and that Tabitha would answer. Finally she responded and spoke with great affection regarding Miss Tittles. “She was well. Her bravery was fueled by her concern for others only. I believe that her thirst for knowledge has now been equaled by a yearning for adventure.”
“You do not think she will be content to stay in the woodland with the others?” Aveline asked with concern?
“She is the most unselfish person I have ever met. If the knowledge she seeks will aid others then she will seek it.”
“I will admit that this worries me. Beyond our lands are great evils both current and ancient. Our spirits come with free will though and Mother Earth has filled herself with choices for us.” Both sat for several minutes in reflection. Both were much older than Miss Tittles and remember things neither of them wished to discuss.
“Perhaps then she will need help? Especially since Gwendol gave her that book.” Tabitha asked breaking the silence.
“I know just the person and he definitely needs to be occupied.” Aveline smiled then and Tabitha gave her a look, wondering what she was up to. They both leaned forward, their foreheads pressed together and Aveline gave a short prayer. Then they parted, Tabitha still basking in the sun and Aveline took to the air once more. “Now where might that rat be?” She asked herself and flew back north and west over the lake.
First she searched the village for fear that he had gotten himself into trouble again, but he had not been seen in many days. Then up to Wilber’s Pond where there was a cave he liked to frequent. Again there was no sign of him. Surely not the Dryads Grove? Giving a stern look of disapproval to no one in particular, she headed in that direction.
She flew above the forest for about a half an hour and it was a most enjoyable trek. Birds of all sorts were popping up out of the canopy and then darting back down. Many squirrels and chipmunks kept poking their heads above the branches, waving hello then disappearing back into the forest below. So many were in the forest away from their homes this day because it was late Spring and Mother Earths natural harvest was bountiful this year. The harsh winter snows had kept the ground perfect for germination of new seed and the early spring floods filled all the creeks, ponds, rivers and lakes. Berries, mushrooms and herbs were abundant. It was remarkable to see all the inhabitants of the forest working so closely together to ensure that only what was needed was taken and that the forest received its share and was being well taken care of. Knowing what she knew, ‘remarkable’ may have been to say the least.
Shaking that notion from her mind and continuing onward, she soon stopped seeing others and the Shagbark Hickory Grove came into view. She did not relish the idea of talking to the Dryads that lived there but they may have seen him. Just then she heard shouting and veered to see what the commotion was.
Diving down into the forest she spotted just who she was looking for. He appeared to be alone and in the throws of some sort of tantrum. He hadn’t noticed her yet and a thought came and she smiled. Circling around a large elm she gave her wings a series of heavy beats that gushed wind all around him and she landed hard. He was so startled that he must have leaped off the ground twice his height and Aveline nearly laughed aloud. But he spun about then and a look of fear was splayed across his face. She suddenly felt very horrible for what she had done for she was one of the few that knew where he came from and what his past was. This didn’t stop the thought that he still might deserve it though.
The look on his face quickly changed to one of anger and he yelled at Aveline, “How dare you! Are you TRYING to give me a heart attack? Of all the ever loving creatures of the forest! What’s the matter with you?”
She let his tirade come to an end, still feeling a little regretful of her action. She decided to inquire about his shouting that had brought her to him. “Frederick, what was all that shouting about?
“Well…”, he started loudly then lowered his voice and seeming more than a little embarrassed, “well I was just trying to gather some nuts when all these youngsters swarmed me. Took all the best ones they did.”
“They are just children Frederick.” Aveline spoke quietly and with a mothers comforting tone.
“Bah!” He snorted at her and began walking off.
“You do like living here, do you not?” Aveline’s tone was still soft yet her question was posed almost accusatory. This stopped Frederick in his tracks. Turning he looked to her. He truly had never had it better. You see he came from a port town far south where the river meets the bay. Unsavory types lived there still clinging to old ways. Now that she had his attention she didn’t want him to feel unwelcome. In fact he had shown bravery in several instances since his coming to the forest and even saved a life. Despite his ill temper he was actually very much wanted here and even liked, by most.
“I have a task for you.” She continued, “And it involves going deeper in the forest where you may find some very old oaks that drop acorns the size of your head.” Smiling to herself she knew he would be interested now.
“What sort of task?” He tried to be nonchalant but Aveline knew that he was going no matter what she asked of him.
“I want you to travel the creek all the way to its source. This place is called Three Springs. It is a rocky region of the forest many miles west.”
“Yeah I heard of it.” He interrupted. “Isn’t that where those swamp things were putting swamp goo in the water and causing all those headaches?”
It was Aveline’s turn to be taken aback. The actual source of the problem and that it was a form of attack on the good woodland folk was not common knowledge. Giving him a thoughtful glance she reevaluated him, and not for the first time. His resourcefulness would indeed come in handy.
“Indeed.” She continued, “There is a fern that grows there and I need a full bushel. It is bright green and its veins are red. Do not fear picking the wrong thing, it is easily identifiable. Do not pick more than one leaflet per plant.” She said the last as a warning and it surely was. This particular plant would retaliate if anyone were to take more than they should. She did not share this information though and left the particulars to his imagination.
“Ok ok.” He said solemnly as he walked over to a large rock where his pack and walking staff were laying. Quietly he donned his equipment and had the task in mind.
“I will see you in a week.” Was all Aveline said and she flew off as suddenly as she appeared. Looking back before she was out of sight she saw he was already headed in the right direction. No nonsense and reliable. She did truly like Frederick.
“Now, for the other.” She said to herself as she darted through the trees once more. Weaving this way and that, oh how she loved flying, she could hardly remember the days when… A headache wracked her then and she cursed silently. Things were better now she thought to herself and left it at that. Letting her mind go back to the task at hand the pain subsided.
Flying through the trees for a little while longer brought her to the main path. There, many were gathered counting nuts and berries. She flew directly over them and many yelled ‘hello’ or waved excitedly. She stuck to the path and was soon at the village. She flew straight through and more greetings were forthcoming. She nodded and pressed on. Just another mile brought her to a large oak, just up a small hill from the creek. There was a burrow beneath its jutting roots with several round windows and a round door. Around the home were many flowers and a large garden along the slope. It appeared that someone had recently erected a small fence around the garden. Arriving at the door she knocked.
“Yes?” A small voice replied from inside. There was a dull thud and then a clanking. The small voice then said something that was muffled by the door.
“It is Aveline dear.”
“Oh my!” There were quick footsteps and the door opened. Standing in the door way was a young rabbit whose cloths were a bit disheveled. Looking past her Aveline saw that the home was clean except several stacks of books and papers. The young lady continued, “So sorry for the mess. I’ve been reading.”
“Tis quite alright Miss Tittles.” Aveline said as she entered the home. New herb racks had been installed in the kitchen and another near the fireplace for faster drying. All were filled with various herbs, flowers and twigs. “Indeed you have been busy.”
Miss Tittles blushed slightly as she closed the door. Motioning for Aveline to have a seat she moved over to the stove where hot water was already prepared. She then poured two cups of tea using some of the dried herbs hanging above her.
Aveline noticed Miss Tittles was quite pleased with herself as she came and sat beside her. She took the hot tea and sipped it carefully. She noticed a hint of cinnamon. Where on earth did Miss Tittles find that, she wondered.
They sat for a while talking, mostly Aveline let Miss Tittles go on about her new found hobby. She was learning a lot and fast it seemed. Aveline listened intently through three cups of tea. It was the most time the two had ever spent together. In fact, they hardly knew each other at all, having only said greetings and farewells a handful of times. Regardless, Aveline quickly liked Miss Tittles very much and also quickly understood Tabitha’s fondness for the young rabbit.
And so Miss Tittles concluded her current repertoire of knowledge and sighed, “…but you probably knew all that.”
“No, in fact I did not. That is quite impressive Miss Tittles.” Aveline answered with sincere admiration for the young lady. “It seems I have come to the right place.”
“Oh yes. How rude of me? Blathering as I was. I am truly sorry. What was the reason for your visit?” Miss Tittles was clearly distraught that she had carried on so, and to the Mother of the Woodlands of all creatures. She was blushing heavily and fidgeting profusely as she apologized.
“It is alright Miss Tittles. To converse and get to know you was precisely the reason for my visit. In fact, now that we know each other better, may I ask a favor of you?”
“Of me? Yes of course.” Miss Tittles responded quizzically.
“Have you ever been up to the Three Springs?”
The two talked a little longer and of course Miss Tittles accepted the task. Aveline exaggerated a bit of urgency so Miss Tittles began packing at once. Then they politely bid one another adieux, Miss Tittles hiking down to the creek and heading upstream and Aveline took back to the air circling once to wave goodbye.
Aveline rose high above the canopy this time. She could see the lake from here and very much wished to go visit the White Willow and enjoy an evening of serenity. But alas her work was never done; The Dark Forest was ever in need of watching. Flying north instead she headed home. From there she could see much of the vast plain that separated the two forests, and watch for any sinister beings that may come forth to cause trouble. But that was for later. She decided to think of more positive things and turned her thoughts towards supper and a relaxing evening. She did hope that Garnock would have a moment to spare.