The Whisper of Leaves – A Short Story

This is my newest Pay It Forward offering! It features my beautiful friend Dava. Enjoy!

Once upon a time in the village of Inglewood Hamlet, there was a boy that held the world in his hands.

He had purchased it from the witch woman that worked in the apothecary. She had watched him as he had been pursuing the goods on offer, running his fingers along all the items that he could touch: feathers, animal bones, pieces of coloured glass, stones of breathtaking beauty. According to the witch woman, every item held a different kind of magic. He was at a loss as to how a piece of glass could be magical, though.

The witch woman, who was really named Nathalie, motioned him over. “Come and sit a while, young Cedric. Come sit and I will brew you a cup of tea.”

Cedric was startled. “How do you know my name?”

“I know many things about you. Your name is written all over your face, as well as a lot of other things about you.” She smiled at him and motioned to a stool that sat in front of her counter. “Come and sit a spell, I won’t bite.”

He had always been warned against the witch woman. While his mother was alive, she had always told him to be wary of her and treat her kindly, even though he knew that a great many people in Inglewood Hamlet always visited the witch woman for a great many things. She helped to birth the babies, was called upon when people were sick and was very good at telling the farmers when to plant crops and when to harvest them.

Cedric knew that she was very wise, but other than that he didn’t know much about her. Every time he went into her shop, she would watch him while he went about touching things on her shelves and would give him a little wave when he left. Cedric had never heard her speak.

Heading up to the counter with his knees shaking slightly, he actually looked at the witch woman directly instead of out of the corner of his eyes, something he had always been too afraid to do. She was around sixty moons of age instead of the one hundred he had always imagined she was. The witch woman had shining white hair that fell to her shoulders like a soft, shining cloud. He wondered if her hair was magic.

She looked at him now with clear blue eyes that looked at him through spectacles that were perched on the edge of her nose. She gave him a small smile. “Not as frightening as you thought I was, am I?” Her voice was soft and kind and had a lilt to it that made her words sound like a song.

“No witch woman, you’re not old at all.”

“Well now, is that what they call me?” She let out a laugh that that sounded like foghorn. It made the wind chimes in her shop tinkle happily. “I suppose it fits, doesn’t it? It’s a find moniker, but not much of a name. You can call my Dava.” She reached out and ruffled his hair. “Sit, sit, I am going to make you a cup of tea.”

Cedric wrinkled his nose. “I don’t drink tea.”

“You’ll drink this tea. It’s made from wishes.”

That had his attention. He watched her as she made the tea. He expected her to put some loose-leaf tea in a cup with hot water. It’s what his mother use to do. Instead, she took a bottle off of one of the shelves behind her and poured a substance that was bright like the stars and flowed like water. It was multifaceted with colour: reds and golds, blues and greens, silvers and yellows. To this, she added some liquid from another bottle, this one shaped like a drop of rain. The liquid was a purple so deep that it almost looked black. She stirred this concoction with a small silver spoon and set it in front of him.

With some trepidation, Cedric looked into the glass and expected it to be full of that sparkling liquid that Dava had poured into the cup. Instead, it was as if he were looking into a seeing glass, except this one was reflecting images that had already happened instead of his face.

Inside the water, he watched his mother as she held his hand the last time. He was asleep and he could see her crying in the soft light of the moon. He watched as one of her hands reached out to stroke his face, but it wasn’t a hand that reached. Leaning closer to the cup, Cedric tried to see what it was but couldn’t make it out. He watched as the shape brushed his cheek and draw away quickly. A line of blood graced his cheek.

Reaching up, Cedric touched the mark that graced his cheek. He had always assumed that it was a birth mark. Had his mother given it to him? He looked for more within the cup but the liquid within went clear and the images faded.

“Oh my boy!” Dava said. She reached into a tin on the counter in front of her and pulled out what looked like a biscuit. She held it out to him. “Here you are now.”

“What is this made of?” Cedric asked. “Is this biscuit made of dreams and stardust?”

Dava ruffled his hair again. “Good guess, but no. This is a simple ginger cookie. Go on, take a bite.” 

Cedric did so and the biscuit was sweet and light. It filled him with a warmth that reminded him of when his mother had baked the same treats for him. This new memory shone more brightly than the sad one that he had just witnessed in his cup of tea.

“I think there is one more thing I must give you.” She reached down under the counter and handed Cedric a small, shiny black box.

Cedric turned it over in his hands, marvelling at how the light made the box look like the box was made of light. “Thank you.”

“Open the box, that’s a good boy. The gift I have for you is inside of it.”

Looking more closely, Cedric saw that there was a small latch. He pressed it and the box opened in his hand, gently releasing what it held within. Picking it up out of the box, Cedric looked at the object. It was round and he could hold it in the palm of his hand. There were notations around its edge. There was a large silver needle balanced in its centre. He marvelled at it as he turned it over in his hands.

“Do you know what it is?” Dava asked.

“No, ma’am.”

“It’s called a compass. Normally, you use it to find your direction in the world around you. This compass is special, though. Rather than trying to find out where you are, you must follow where it points you.”

He looked at her with wide eyes. “Will I have to follow it for a very long time?” Cedric asked. “I have to help father get the sheep in before dark.”

“No, no, not that long at all, dear boy. Not that far at all. You just follow that compass where it points you, okay?”

Cedric nodded. “Thank you, witch woman!”

“Dava.” She said with a smile.

“I’m sorry. Thank you Dava!”

He ran out of the door, eager to find out where the compass would point him. He was young enough to believe in magic, but old enough to remember when it has been absolutely real to him. Cedric followed the pointer of the compass, first going north then north west. He couldn’t follow it completely, as the scribe’s storefront was in the way. He walked on and the land around him was familiar. He had grown up in Inglewood Hamlet so he knew every cranny.

As he followed the pointer of the compass, he had a vague idea of where he was going. After all, Cedric had just walked this route to get to the witch woman’s store. He had wanted a distraction and she had given him one. However, the compass was leading him to the very place he had needed a distraction from, he was sure of it.

Reaching the edged of the lawn he knew so well, Cedric looked up and stared at the bedsit he shared with Ms. Mayhew. She had been looking after him after since his father had passed away and had been like a mother to him when his mother had passed on.

Now grumbling slightly, he kept following the compasses pointer and it led him to the backyard. There was a wide field there that he often explored in or went looking for buried treasure. Only now, when he went to the backyard, there was a tree there that had not been there this morning and it was growing through the table that he and his father had once made. The table had a bench that ran all the way around it.

“Ms. Mayhew!” He called out. “Come and see!”

She came out from the bedsit though the back door. She had a cloth over her shoulder and a sunny expression on her face. Whenever Cedric saw her, he thought of springtime. “Oh Cedric! Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Where did the tree come from? It wasn’t there this morning.”

“No, I only noticed it after you left when I came to hang the laundry.” She motioned at the twine upon which blankets and sheets hung, basking in the sun. “Isn’t it glorious?”

Looking at the tree, Cedric thought that it must be dancing to a song that only it could hear. Its branches swayed in the air. Watching it, Cedric was mesmerized. He watched the movement of the branches to see if he could hear the music.

“You go and sit by the tree; dinner will be on in a moment or two. Enjoy the sun, child. You look like you could use it. Where have you been all morning?”

“I went to see Dava the witch woman.” He said truthfully. He didn’t tell Ms. Mayhew about what he had seen in the cup or about the compass in his pocket. That seemed like a secret best kept between them.

“Such a lovely woman. Do you know that she plays a mean game of hearts and queens down in the tavern!” Ms. Mayhew said. “Well, amuse yourself for a while Cedric, I’ll call you when the lamb stew is ready.” She ruffled his hair much like Dava had before turning and heading back inside.  

He approached the table. He had built it with his father years ago when they had thought it would be a lovely place to eat outside. Strangely, the wood was not broken or chipped but bent around the tree. It looked as if the table was hugging the tree. He went and sat on the bench and looked up at the tree. Reaching out, he touched the bark of the tree. It was rough and uneven under the palm of his hand. It was as if the tree had always been here; it was not a newly grown shrub, but a fully-grown tree.

The tree was warm under his hand and the breeze that moved the trees branches picked up speed for a moment. He could hear a voice on the wind and as it rushed past his ears, the voice said, “I’ve missed you.”

He gazed in wonder as the tree as it began to glow a little brighter and he could finally hear the music. It sounded like flutes and birdsong sung on the wind. It swelled for a moment and the tree glowed still more brightly, so brilliant that he had to look away. When he looked back again, his mother stood before him.

Cedric didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t seen his mother in years. One night she had disappeared, and she was thought to have perished. It had been easier to believe that she had passed on. It had hurt him less than to think she had just gone.

“You must have a million questions.” She was his mother and not his mother. She looked to have limbs made of wood rather than skin. Even her face, though human, looked to be marked like the bark of a tree. Her hair which had once been rich and full of life now looked to be made of leaves of different brown hues. As she moved towards him, he heard the whisper of leaves.

“What happened to you?” Cedric’s voice was quiet. He wasn’t afraid, not really. He just wanted an explanation. Looking at his mother, he knew that this had something to do with magic. Cedric brought his hand up to his face to touch the small red mark that still remained there.

His mother raised a hand to her own cheek, mimicking him. She smiled. “I suppose it begins with the fact that I’m a being made of magic. I’m what’s known as a dryad.”

Cedric had heard tales of Dryad’s in and around the village of Inglewood Hamlet. “You’re a tree spirit.” He said.

“Yes. I can leave my tree as long as I return to it every once in a while to revive from its energy. Do you remember the walks that we used to take when you were younger?”

Nodding, Cedric said “You were always happiest there. Why did you leave your forest?”

“I met your father while he was walking in the forest and you know the rest. We married and we had you. I don’t regret it for a moment; you are my reason for living.” She said.

“Then why did you leave?” Cedric asked. His voice had become even quieter and he wasn’t even sure he had said the words out loud.

“I had no choice. My tree was being cut down by a carpenter. I had to run to the heart of me, had to protect myself. As my tree was being cut down, I became more and more tree and less and less human. The two of us are so entwined and I could feel myself dying.”

“What happened, mother?” He asked. He reached out a hand to touch her, to prove to himself that she was real.

“I took a moment to say goodbye to you, to see you one last time before I planned to return. You are my anchor in human form.” Her voice was soft and filled with anguish. “I got there in time to see the carpenter take my tree away. He had succeeded in cutting me down. I should have been dead in that moment, I should have died.”

“Why didn’t you?” Cedric asked, needing to hear the answer.

“There was a small seed that had fallen from one of my branches. My human form dissolved and I came alive in that seed. I was glad to still be alive, but I had no way to get back to you, no way to tell you that I was all right.”

She came to sit beside him and she put her arm around him and pulled him close. She smelled of leaves and earth and sunshine. He snuggled in closer and she wrapped her arm more securely around him.

“How did you get home?”

“It took a long time. I had to make friends with the wind and the birds. I have been trying all this time to get back to you. A sweet robin was able to plant me underneath this table so that I could finally regenerate in the earth and become a whole tree again. So that I could see you again.

“Then you can come home!” Cedric said. “Ms. Mayhew lives in your room now, but she won’t mind giving it back to you.”

His mother shook her head. “It’s not that simple. My first tree was hundreds of years old. The older a tree, the more power the Dryad has and the longer they can be away from it. This tree is young, and though I have a body again, I can’t go away from the tree for long. I’m sorry, Cedric.”

Cedric sat there beside the mother that he thought had gone away from him forever. He thought of everything that she had been through and everything that she had done to get back to him. He thought of the tea that Dava had made for him that had been made of wishes.

Looking up at his mother, Cedric’s heart was filled with light. “That’s okay mom. Wishes do come true. I’ll just have to make a few more. I love you, Mom.”

She looked at him and he watched as a tear that was shaped like a raindrop fell from her eyes. “I love you too, Cedric.”  She hugged him a little closer and there was the comforting rustle of leaves.

They stayed that way, listening to the song that the wind made in the leaves, until Ms. Mayhew called Cedric in for dinner.

Or so the story goes…

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