The wind whispered through the tall trees; and whispered was the right word. Its pitch rose and fell as it coiled around trunks and whistled through branches. You could hear the hint of laughter at times. At others, sadness, sometimes even anger or loneliness. Each wisp of wind held a deep whisper. And each tree made the wind sing its own song. On a windy day, if you closed your eyes, you could almost hear the trees breathing in and out. You could hear their sighing on the breeze. This, Styx reflected, was something he had grown to love.
Their song surrounded him, filled him, enticed him to listen more carefully and longer. Their whispered words filled him with intrigue and a hunger to know what they spoke of. He lovingly stroked the bark of an old Ash tree as he wandered through the woods. The bark seemed to curl at his touch, shifting ever so slightly in the autumn breeze. To some, it might have seemed like the wind simply made the old trees sway, but Styx knew better. He’d seen the dance of the ancients in the autumn storms. He’d danced among them himself, and relished every minute of it. He’d stood with them through the winter snows, while icy needles stuck to each woody limb and snow covered the soft, autumn leaves like a pure, white blanket. He’d whispered to the hidden seeds and acorns as the snows began to melt, reminding them to wake up after their long sleep. Oh, and he’d sung the Song in summer. He’d sung it with all of his being. He’d danced among the lofty pines and raced the streams in the valleys, weaving the Song all the while. He’d softly sung to the saplings as they grew, and whispered the final words to old trees so they could fall into their rest. He’d helped raise Cann woods from seedlings, plant the forests of Exmoor with his brothers and even played a part in sewing the wild gorse of Dartmoor. He scratched himself absentmindedly as he remembered how sharp that gorse had grown. Even with skin like Oak bark, those sharp spines still left marks!
He leant against a single Ash tree and dipped three gnarly fingers into the stream. He could sense the song in the water too. Small fronds of weeds swayed in the stream’s gentle current, dancing to the tune of their own voices. Soft as silk, smooth as white sand, they flowed around each other, savouring the sunshine while it shone.
While it shone. Styx’s hard brow knotted. While it shone, where had he heard that before? A memory tugged at his mind like a loose thread. Pushing himself up from the dank, humid moss, he walked back along the bank of the stream. Winding its way across the woods, he soon arrived at what looked like an enormous uprooted tree. Its roots crisscrossed in the air, looping in and out like the strands in a weaver’s tapestry. Emerald green moss hung from the roots like a curtain, soft and warming. Styx paused to look around for signs of any human. In an instant, he turned back to the tree roots. Styx knew better. What would people see if their eyes rested on him? They’d see a gnarly brown tree next to an old uprooted tree. They wouldn’t see him. They had lost the sight. They couldn’t see him. Not anymore.
Climbing in through the tangled maze of roots, Styx eased himself underneath the tree. The roots had left a chamber of sorts, where the tree had once stood. Light filtered through the gaps between the roots like brilliant, white beams, creating sparkling clouds of dust. The chamber had a slightly magical feel to it. Styx paused and took in the dim, damp space. He hadn’t been here in quite a while. Not since last winter’s snows. He breathed the musty air in deeply and savoured the smells of grass, earth and decaying wood. Letting out a long breath, he let his eyes accustom to the darkness. As his eyes adapted, he could make out small hollows in the walls of the space where the tree had once stood. Each hollow seemed to glow faintly with its own mysterious light. Styx smiled to himself, lost in his own thoughts. As he did so, a shower of earth cascaded down his pointy nose, like a small rockslide. Carefully, he brushed the remaining soil from his head and turned back to the hollows.
Each hollow was no more than a hand-span’s width high and wide, though easily an arm’s length in depth. As you placed a hand inside, the sides felt oddly smooth for something that looked like it had been dug straight out of the earth. Yet these secret places could be found in all fields, woods, forests and moors; if you knew where to look. These places were where the tree wardens stored their knowledge, kept a record of their trees’ growth and sleep, noted strange happenings through the seasons and would even note odd whisperings on the wind. Earth had a long memory. Earth endured. Earth remembered its secrets.
Styx raised a knobbly hand and slowly inserted it into each of the nine hollows. As he did, memories sprung up in his mind, quickened by the earth memory of the wet sod around it. Weather. Seasons. Whisperings. Humankind. Two hollows later, he heard what he had been looking for. Deep memories. These were the oldest memories that tree wardens from the dawn times had shared with the earth, locking them away like a living library underground. Styx had known other tree wardens in his time in the woods, though after the first seeding, he had been given care of Cann woods while the others had gone on to continue their work. Waking life where there was only barren ground. That was a tree warden’s true mission. Bring life where is none, nurture it, treasure it and know it.Tracing back through the deep memories took some time, though Styx was in no hurry. That phrase, while it shone, had woken a memory long forgotten in him and he wanted to know more. He paused on a certain memory, several thousand years back. This one was deeper than most, clear and tinged faintly blue in his mind’s eye. A cerulean memory. A foretelling. A future message. Words spoken that would come true one day. Styx breathed deep, exhaled and watched and listened intently.