The Woods Are Dark
You know of what I speak child, the shadows where the nightmares live. The places your mother tells you to avoid, where foolish children wander and never again return from.
She will never tell you why the men of our village light burning torches on the forest's edge when night falls, or why even the brave hunters count their footsteps so carefully when their prey vanishes amid the trees.
I will tell you now though. Because tomorrow you will be a man, and all men should know what it is that lives in the dark of the woods.
It is hate. A hatred ancient and primeval, born of envy and longing. The trees live you see, they think and feel. In times long gone, they would speak with men and offer their shade and fruit, their sweet sap would be given gladly in exchange for the stories we would tell.
The trees loved to hear our tales of far off lands and the journeys that took us so far from home. For they could not take the journey, never would they look upon the mountains save from afar. The beauty of the sea depths, the golden sands of the desert. No, the trees stand where they are born and never may they move for the gods who made them cared not for the desires of the the forest. "Stay in your place, and care to the ground" they told the trees. "You will shelter the beasts, and provide that which men need of you, that is your purpose and your lot." And the trees were happy enough, for they knew nothing of the world's wonders beyond their boughs.
And so the trees stood silent in their place, they sheltered the beasts and gave to men that which was needed, be it wood for burning or fruit for eating. They looked out upon the distant mountains, and though they wondered what might lie there, they were content. For they knew no better.
Until the day a hunter and his son took shelter beneath an ancient and mighty tree, and the great old one heard the voice of the man as he taught his son of the world. The old one listened to the tales of the mighty ocean depths, of the snowy mountains and the other wonders he had never considered in all his years. In his cracked and creaking voice, the old one spoke to the hunter and begged of him more tales of the wonders he had never dreamed.
And so began the sharing of tales with the trees, for the hunter told his people that the trees yearned for news of the world and of their generosity in payment. Hunters would tell their stories to the trees, and they would snare birds in their boughs and bring forth the sweetest fruit to pay for these tales.
After many tales had been told, the old one, ancient beyond measure cried out to the gods who had made him. He begged them to let him roam beyond the forest, to let him walk the roads he had heard so many tales of and see the other wonders the gods had made. "No, that is not for you old tree" the gods answered. "The soil and wind is for you, the company of your kin and the tales of men are all you shall know of the world. For we have made you and this is your lot." And they would hear no more of it.
The old one grew wroth at this, and when the men came to share with him his bitterness was so great that he caught them in his roots and buried them beneath the ground. "If I cannot walk upon the world, then nor can these men" the old one rumbled to his kin as they watched in horror. "Until we can be as the men, we shall share no more with them" and so it was, for the old one was as the king of the trees, eldest and wisest among all the forest.
Soon enough more men came, seeking their lost friends, and many of them too were ensnared by the old one and his kin. Many men were buried amid the roots of the forest, their bodies taken to feed the trees until the gods released them to walk as men did.
The gods did not release the trees. Instead they taught men the secret of fire, that they could punish the trees for their disobedience. And so the men came again, with fire and axe they made war on the forest, cutting and burning until the forest howled with the creaking and cracking of fear, and the sap drenched the ground.
The trees could do nothing against the flame or blade, for though they could catch up men in their roots, or swat them with their boughs, the men were many and their fire was a bane to the trees. The men could not burn all the forest though, for they needed the fruits or their bellies and the wood for their shelters, and so they left many trees to serve them, but no longer did they share their stories. Now they took that which they desired, and no man spoke even a word to the trees in their prisons of soil.
And so it is that the trees longing to share the wonders of the world with men turned to envy, and to hate. Hate for those who had what the forest will never know, and hate for those who brought fire and blade to fell the old one, the king of all the forest.
You will find it, should you walk to far into the woods. The heart of the forest, where the hate is strongest. Where the only fruit is poison, and the trees whisper their hate to the beasts, to the birds and the bears, to the wolves. They tell them the old stories of hunters, teaching them the tricks of men so the beasts might outwit the hunter and themselves hunt men for their own prey.
You will never come back from the woods should you go so far young man, because when the night is dark and the shadows are long, the old one's seed is growing again. Growing from ground fed on the men he once snared, the king is returning to his forest.
The old one is the oldest and wisest of the trees. The king of all the forest. And he has learned many things from the men he buried in his ground. He has learned to escape his prison, and he is teaching all of his children those secrets.
Now go and help your father light the torches. The woods are dark tonight.