The Tale of the Tree

Here is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. Hope you enjoy it!

 

The Tale of the Tree

By James R. Colbert, Jr.

Lucas A. Kaine walked down the long, mahogany paneled hallway to see his Great-Grandfather who had insisted on speaking privately with him today, his thirteenth birthday. A grand party had been arranged and his Great-Grandfather seemed quite excited about it. He said he had a top-secret surprise for him. Lucas loved both secrets and surprises. Coming to the end of the hall, Lucas tapped on the heavy ornate door. He heard his Great-Grandfather’s voice acknowledge his knock and went inside. He could see the old man sitting in his wheelchair next to the enormous bay window and waved a greeting…

“Ah, Lucas. There you are. The guests should be arriving soon. Listen…I think I hear someone coming up the drive now; yes, I’m sure of it. Thirteen years old already! My how the years go by. I have a wonderful, secret surprise for you, dear boy. You have been given a true honor my great grandchild. Oh, this night will be most memorable for you. Tonight, another will be elevated to carry this service, this honor, for I can bear it no longer and you, dear Lucas, have been chosen. Come, sit here beside me so you will learn the great secret and know what power you will soon be granted. When I was chosen, I was also a young lad, much like yourself…a child who liked exploring the hidden places, a child who loved to know…secrets. I especially enjoyed the quiet, dark solitude of the old forest that borders our family home. The remnant of that once incredible forest still survives in its virgin, primordial state today on the Northeast corner of our land. Look, from my window here you can see that magnificent forest. See how it rises above that hillside?
What’s that, child? Yes, yes, that’s what the townsfolk call it: “The Ghost Woods.” They are little better than ignorant peasants! Even when I was young they referred to our precious forest in such a crude fashion. Its reputation for being a danger is not wholly undeserved. Scores have sought out its soothing, cool, dark places to end their depressing little lives over the years. Many other people have been hopelessly lost within those ancient grounds over the centuries and most have not survived. The bodies are rarely recovered. It is said that the ghosts of all the past victims take them away, but it is not ghosts that they should fear. The few uninitiated that have dared to enter our sacred forest and managed to survive have come back with wild-eyed tales and typically, end up confined to an institution for their remaining years. For us, though, my dear child, our forest holds and shields a promise of a future beyond anything we’ve known, a future that we are an important part of. Tonight you will behold such wonders! But enough of all that, I wish to tell you now an important part of our family’s history. It is critical for you to know now that the great honor will be passed on to you…”

Lucas kept his “attentive face” turned on for his Great-Grandfather, but, truth be told, the talk was getting boring. He could hear the old man droning on, but paid little attention to what he was talking about. His Great-Grandfather seemed ignorant of the fact that he’d already gone exploring in those woods many times and never found the old forest overly scary. Actually, it was quite pleasant: dark, cool and quiet. A few years ago some of the older kids at his private school tried to tell him some of the old tales the townsfolk kept alive in an attempt to frighten him, but he did not frighten easily. In fact, Lucas could not think of a time when he’d ever been really frightened. The only thing the tales had accomplished was to compel him to go into the forest that very evening. He was actually disappointed when he didn’t see any ghosts that night. His Great-Grandfather’s image came back into sharp focus and Lucas noticed a look of agitation coming over the old man’s face.

“Lucas, are you listening to me? It is important to know where you come from child, so pay attention. Now, as I said before, I’m sure you are aware that our family line was among the earliest settlers of this region, planting down roots almost two centuries before the Declaration of Independence was written. Our direct ancestor, Thomas Kaine, who has blessed us with this magnificent legacy, arrived on the continent aboard the Godspeed in 1587. He was a member of the second Roanoke Colony. Thomas liked secrets too, like us. In fact, it was a secret that caused him to become a member of that venture. Exploring was not a new experience for Thomas. He’d already made a great voyage as a young boy to exotic locales; his stepfather was an investor in Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation in 1578 and Thomas served as a cabin boy aboard the Golden Hind, Drake’s own ship. It was during this voyage that Thomas happened upon a “seer,” a fortuneteller, in the West Indies that passed on a very important bit of information to Thomas. He told him that he could see Thomas was one of the chosen bloodline that served the great Giver of Knowledge and that he would travel across the sea to a new land, where he would begin his service. The seer told him to seek out a passage to new lands in the West and find the One Croatoan, he who would lead him to his destiny, a destiny that I share, as will you.
Of course, Thomas’s curiosity was piqued and he pressed the soothsayer for more, but that was all the old man would speak of it. It was then that Thomas determined he would keep a detailed diary and began to compose his memories and thoughts at the end of each day. This journal has been passed down from guardian to guardian and is now in my possession and after tonight, my sweet child, you will keep the sacred work for the next. All will be explained in greater detail tonight after the ceremony. Now, where was I…oh, yes, yes the voyage of the Golden Hind…”

Had he known this would turn out to be a history lesson Lucas would have tried a lot harder to have not bothered coming to the old man’s room. Great-Grandpa Kaine was fine to listen to in small doses, but this was getting to be too much. He remembered what his mother always told him: “Great-Grandpa Kaine still holds over seventy percent of the family trust in his name and he has not yet chosen his heir, so always be nice to him. You’re his favorite, Lucas so don’t screw it up!” What a pain she was sometimes. Okay, better tune back in before he notices.

“…So, when Drake’s ship returned to England successfully in 1580 Thomas was eager to find a passage to the New World and found it when Sir Walter Raleigh set out a second time for Roanoke. Once there he learned of the island of Croatoan and set his sights on traveling there as soon as possible. Within the year, Thomas found the opportunity and made his way to Croatoan. Upon his arrival, the natives recognized that he was there to complete the tribe’s role in fulfilling the prophecy of the old stories. He was someone they had been waiting for, someone their own tribal elders had had a vision of just weeks before. He was deferred to and treated as an honored guest. A ceremonial feast was arranged with huge bonfires, thundering drums, much-fermented drink and naked natives moving in a frenzied, heathen, decadent dance. Now, during the height of this bacchanal, a small leather bag was given to Thomas. He opened the bag and found a single seed. An ancient, withered man was carried on a litter over to where Thomas was seated and placed directly across from him. A young boy also took a seat next to the old man. The young boy introduced the ancient man as the tribe’s eldest shaman in surprisingly good English and also told Thomas that he was to serve as his interpreter. The old shaman began to speak and as the young boy translated, Thomas knew then he had found the One Croatoan…”

Lucas nodded as if he agreed and smiled at his Great-Grandfather, but really, what caught his interest was the talk of the wild party. Why not talk more about the naked natives? That and the drinks might have been fun, but if the old dude talking to Old Tom spoke like Great-Gramps is, that must have been like torture.

“…So, for many seasons, the tribe had waited for the coming of the Guardian and with his arrival, the prophecy was being fulfilled. The ancient, withered creature that now sat before Thomas told him of a time, eons in the past; a time when the earliest human tribes walked the lands when the earth was new. The first great Earth spirits caused a magnificent garden to form and embodied all knowledge of life and death, of good and evil, unto the One Great Tree. To eat of the fruit of the One Great Tree was to gain the knowledge of all things, but the tribe was not yet ready to learn such occult knowledge, so it was forbidden to them. The first woman of the tribe ate of the fruit before the One Great Tree had chosen who among them would be so honored and caused an imbalance within the order of things and so the garden was ever forbidden to the tribe as punishment. The imbalance caused strife within the tribe. One of the first chief’s sons, his first-born, struck out at his own brother in a jealous rage and caused his death. For this, he was forever banished from the tribe. As he was to begin his banishment his mother, who had tasted the fruit of the One Great Tree and learned of its awesome powers, gave him a parting gift. It was a single seed from the fruit of the One Great Tree. From that moment, the bloodline of the first chief’s first-born would serve as the guardians of the One Great Tree and its knowledge, spreading the progeny of the One to all places in the world…”

Wow, is that Grandpa Kaine’s old knife out on the dresser? He always keeps that hidden. At least, he thinks it’s hidden. That thing is mad cool! I hope he gives it to me as a present. I could scoop that right up. Gramps is looking out at his woods, he probably won’t even notice. Oh, it’s heavier than I thought. This black blade is way cool. Oh, crap, he turned around!

“…and so Luca…now what are you doing? Lucas, please stop fiddling with that! Now, pay attention, my child! This is important. You must listen carefully and learn. Thank you. Now, ah, oh yes, with that, the banished man left the first tribe and headed into the vast desert. After many weeks and months of wandering, the man felt suddenly compelled to plant the seed. The earth there was barren of life and dry, but his mind told him that this was the chosen spot. He dug madly at the hard ground with his bare hands and after clearing a hole of the right dimensions; he held the seed tightly in his cut and bleeding hands. He vowed to protect the tree as it grew and guard its secrets and location from any who would cause it harm. He planted the seed and immediately fell into a deep sleep. For thirteen days, the man slept and dreamed. In his dreams, the seed had already sprouted and broke through the earth that he’d covered it with. In his dreams, the tree spoke to him of service and sacrifice. When he awoke, he saw that the young tree had already grown to be as tall as a man. Its trunk was sturdy and strong; its roots gripped the hard earth with unyielding power. Nearby, water that was seeping up from the formerly dry and barren ground had formed a small pond and tender plants and grasses had begun to sprout where there had been none before. The One Great Tree would reward its servant well. His blood had bonded with the spirit of the One locked within the sacred seed, had given it the nourishment it required to awaken its consciousness fully. Now and for all time, he and his descendants would serve the One Great Tree…”

Lucas really wanted to get out now. His thoughts raced through his mind. So, does Gramps honestly think I can take this seriously? Magic seeds that suck up blood; trees that think? Next, it’ll be a beanstalk and a giant. I think I hear my mother calling for me.

“…Now, according to Thomas’s diaries, the old, wizened man produced a crude map fashioned upon a dried piece of leather. A spot was marked deep into the mainland to the west of the island of Croatoan. The elder explained to Thomas that a man who came from the sea had given the map to the tribal elders and told them to prepare for the arrival of the guardian that would help spread the power and knowledge of the One Great Tree that had been bestowed with all knowledge by the Great Earth Spirits at the dawn of creation. He stated that he, Thomas Kaine, was a direct blood descendent of the first guardian and that he now must follow the map to the chosen spot and plant the first seed of the One Great Tree in the new land. Thomas was given a choice of warriors to guide his expedition into the deep wilderness of the mainland. They were to obey and protect him unto death. He was also given his choice of the tribe’s most beautiful women to accompany him and be his companion who would assure the bloodline of Kaine continued in the new world. His party left for the mainland the next day…”

Lucas was actually now starting to listen more carefully to the tale his Great-Grandpa Kaine was telling. Now, this is getting interesting. Old Tom Kaine got his pick of the hottest girls? So, this guardian thing has some great perks. I wonder if Great-Grandpa Kaine got the same treatment? And that would be very cool to have people obey your every command. This story is turning out pretty cool after all. I hope there’s more stuff like this.

“…and so, after a period of several weeks, the party reached the area specified by the map and Thomas began to prepare for the planting. Since the time of the first guardian, the ceremony has been largely unchanged. First, the blood of the guardian must be mingled with the sacred seed before the seed is placed into the living earth. As I told you earlier, this both awakens the soul of the seed and bonds the two together, the One Great Tree and the guardian. The children of the One also adapt and change to the conditions of the region as they grow. They and the One are the same. The seed Thomas planted those centuries past has chosen the form of a mighty oak. It is magnificent to behold, child and tonight you will gaze upon it and know its power. I wish I had more time to explain everything, but you will learn all soon enough. Tonight, I will pass on to you several important artifacts: the diary of Thomas Kaine, The Sacred Book of Wisdom and the Dagger of Enoch.”

“Ah, I see that has caught your full attention, Lucas. Oh yes, these are just some of the secrets you’ll learn tonight, my dear child. This book, the only one in existence, contains all the knowledge gained by our long line of guardians, ever since the first. All the ceremonies, and rituals needed to nurture the One Great Tree’s children to maturity. And that dagger you are so enamored with is very special. It also is the only one in existence. It cannot be duplicated; it was forged only because of the knowledge of the One. Its obsidian blade will never lose its razor edge. The handle of the dagger is formed from a branch of the One’s first offspring. This precious wood is bonded for eternity with the One and its progeny. It is a most powerful talisman and a critical tool of the guardian. You are so very fortunate, my dear child, for you will be honored with the sacred seed during your service as guardian. The highest honor a guardian can perform is to plant a new offspring of the One. You see, once the seed of a new child of the One Great Tree has become fused with the Guardian through blood and spirit and placed within the womb of the Earth, it seeks to bond with the One. Once the joining is complete, the tree will offer a single seed to a new guardian so that he may plant the seed in a new location and spread the power of the One. There is no higher calling. As the numbers of the One Great Tree’s offspring grow and extend over the whole of the Earth, so too will its knowledge and power over all things. The One will reward loyalty and I can assure you that The House of Kaine will be at the side of the One when it ascends to its rightful place among the old gods. You well may become the first New Man, my child and ascend into perfection! Legions will bend their knee to you. The One will give you dominance over the whole Earth; the common rabble and the titans of society alike will cower before you and the House of Kaine! Lucas Kaine, I name you my heir. After tonight, all will pass on to you.”

Lucas stood caught a bit off guard. His mind working to sort out what he’d just been told. Well, I guess my little visits have paid off. Wow, that’d be cool. Being in charge of everything…but I think Great-Grandpa Kaine forgot his meds today. God, what if this is for real, though? I’d be able to make everyone do what I want then. The jerks at school, they’d find out real fast not to push me around anymore. This story ended up being way more interesting than I first thought. I could be like a king with all this.

“Well, my boy, I’ve said quite enough now, haven’t I? I hope I haven’t frightened you with all this at once, but you must know what your destiny is to be. Tonight, we will perform the changing ceremony at the base of the Great Oak and your path will become clear. I suppose I’d better let you go now so you can ready yourself for your birthday party, shouldn’t I? I don’t want anyone, especially your mother, to start to worry about you. Tell no one of these things I have spoken to you about, it is knowledge meant only for the chosen. It is our secret. You have so much ahead of you, Lucas. Now, run along I will send for you when the hour approaches later tonight. I’m so proud of you, Lucas. Out you go now.”

Lucas looked back at his Great-Grandfather as he reached for the door to leave and smiled. He opened the heavy wooden door and walked back out into the hallway. He felt no fear: just a sense of excitement. Lucas began to consider that maybe there really was something to this “magic tree” thing after all. He’d seen the tree once before in his exploring and it was huge and spooky looking, well over one hundred feet tall, probably twenty-five, maybe even thirty feet in diameter. Besides, if Great-Grandpa Kaine believed it, then he could too, especially if meant naming him as heir. Once he was officially named heir he, Lucas Kaine, would be able to command people, make them do what he wanted to do, make them grovel. Oh, some things will change then! He went downstairs and out onto the front porch and looked toward the dark forested area of the old Kaine estate. Since holding the dagger, he felt himself drawn to gaze upon that part of the property. He felt attuned to an ancient, concealed power, a thirst for secret knowledge and a desire to control all things. Lucas held his arms out, away from his sides, closed his eyes and thought about people bowing down before him. His lips curled into a wicked smile. This turned out to be the best birthday ever!

 

Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved

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