Revel stalled. She twisted her fingerlike tendrils of barked limb and twigs together. The lines in her rough wooden face furrowed.
“If I do this. If I make a contract with you, you will make me more powerful so I can stop the timber men?”
“But of course, my dear,” the deep voice said in her mind. “That is what pacts are for — to help each other.”
Revel placed her hand on her evergreen tree and leaned against it. It was warm from the midday sun, and she inhaled its deep heady scent into her body. Its smell was intimate to her. Loving. She stroked the tree with the tips of her fingers, her form shifting with the soft magic that was innate to her kind imbued from so long ago.
“I will make this contract.”
“Excellent, my dear,” the disembodied voice said. “Soon you will be able to take care of the timber men. You won’t have to worry about your forest anymore.”
A scroll of parchment flourished before her. Revel took up the feather quill hovering lightly in the air beside her and signed her name. And with a lesser exit, it was gone.
It was the things Revel didn’t know at first that bothered her the most afterward. In the middle of the forest, near the wards, things were bountiful and as beautiful as Asgard itself. The denizens of the forest appreciated their guardians, and Revel protected the wards as best she could with her sisters. They fought off plagues of insects, small uprisings, and once even the elves themselves. The dryads of Brightcastle Woods took their vows seriously, but they rarely left their ring of trees surrounding the wards. They didn’t know about the timber men until it was almost too late.
The caretakers of the entire forest, their minds, and hearts as large as their dormouse bodies were small, sent scouts, sent ravens, sent the fastest hoppers they could find to the guardians. Prepare, they said. The dryads assured themselves they could fight off whatever would come to the wards. Protect the wards. But it wasn’t the wards that were attacked first.
Each dryad member of the guardian force, their lifeline located secretly throughout the forest, fell. Not one by one in some attempt by the timbermen to do away with the Guardians. Instead, they fell almost all at once, as if an indifferent wind swept in and claimed grove after grove of trees. This happened faster than the wards could replace them and the dryads, save for Revel, had no time to break their link and move on. She could not lose like that again. She would not lose again.
She felt her core, her heart grow with cold strength and hardiness. She was given a gift, she believed. She broke her link to test out her new abilities. She could move quicker now. What delight it felt like to move from one side of the forest to the other in a few moments. When she first used these new abilities, she saw the work of the timbermen and the rage and grief quickly overtook the small delight at her speed. An urge from deep within her, almost like a painful burning, overtook her and she bellowed in grief and fled back to her wards.
Still, the timbermen came. She fought them as best as she could. She made arrows from fallen limbs to strike them down from afar. She took the leaves, left behind as they dragged the trees, and imbued them with power. Draped over her self she could rise and see very far now. She could see them still coming. She gasped in small short breaths. She felt she could not sleep. Could not rest with one tree. She kept her link and worked tirelessly to guard the wards alone.
The caretakers told her of the danger of not resting, of not connecting with the soul of the trees. To understand them. To be near them. But she could not spare the time to try to hear them. Night and day and night, she guarded the wards. She fought. The timber men did not take it lightly. They fought back, first with arrows, then with steel, but she was much too fast and could go unseen. She could escape but she could not take them all on her own.
“You said I would have the power to end this. I fight of tens of tens and still they come.”
“My child,” the voice said, “You could fight off a hundred and still they would come. This is the way of men.”
“You said-” The voice darkened and cut her quick.
“I said you would not have to worry about your forest anymore. And I said you would be able to take care of the timber men. Both of these have been true, have they not?”
Revel remained silent. The voice sighed as if giving in.
The hounds came that day. They appeared near a ward, its bright beacon of renewal turning slowly from white to red as it began to spew forth fierce biting dogs. Their snaps and yelps were painful to Revel’s ears, but they took on the timber men and quickly won. Revel smiled. Then the flying creatures came. Small and horned they rose into the sky and flew with Revel towards the invaders of her home. They winked in and out of existence and plagued the men. Revel laughed. The ward turned from red to a dark swirling vortex of crimson, and still things came. A beast on two legs emerged walking and snorting, drool running down its mouth as it rampaged through the forest and ate what it could find. Animals fled from its path and the caretakers, running on their small furry feet, hid. The timber men left. Revel rested.
She didn’t have to guard the forest alone anymore. She had a new family to connect with. Her link was whole again.