She was aware even before her shell cracked; cocooned in an acorn waiting for the right time, the time of her hatching. Protected from the changes of weather, she neither felt cold nor heat, but in her shell she felt herself ripening, maturing toward her hatching day.
She supposed she was looking forward to it, but the truth was, while she could think, she was really in a type of stasis where she couldn’t really rouse herself to…feel. She just knew that soon her time of hatching would come, a sense of immanency pervaded the shell, building in intensity, so she could scarcely breathe without knowing she would soon be released from this nothingness. It wasn’t a feeling, for that required her to feel, it was a sense of just… knowing. She didn’t really know how long this would take, her mother and the oak, were the only ones who knew the when. So she waited…waited for the call…the knowing to become a reality.
While she lay, curled in her cocoon, she seemed to recall many seasons, of leaves falling and the heavy snow making her sleep, and when she awoke it was to the feel of sunshine on her shell. She seemed to recall many, many such seasons through the hard surface of her shell. She listened to the sounds of the outside, familiarizing herself with all their differing calls and rustles, knowing one day she would find out the makers of each and every call and woodland rustle. She knew that one day they would be as familiar and comforting to her as the tiny capsule that kept her safe, was to her now.
She passed time by listening, always listening. It never occurred to her that she had been in her little cocoon for nearly a century, as time had no real meaning to her in her little world. No real changes could penetrate the ridged, hard outer shell. It was always dark, she never knew what the dark was, it just was, like she just was. It was a comfort, a blanket that enveloped her. She lay in this state without knowing, but knowing would come with her hatching.
While she lay, curled in her cocoon, waiting, a shudder ran along the branch where her acorn was attached. A soft voice penetrated her consciousness. She listened, struggling to catch the words, knowing she must remember them, knowing it was important, for the first time, feeling something, feeling excitement, something was changing. She concentrated hard, moving her mouth, repeating the words as they were whispered into her tiny home.
“I am of the tree, the mighty oak,
Of the branch, the leaf, the acorn.
I am shielded by its bark,
Fed by its roots,
Nurtured in its care, we are one.
I am one with you, we are one.
I am home in you, we are one.
I am of the mighty oak,
We are one.”
It sounded like a litany of sorts, she sighed, would the voice not tell her more. She listened hard, hoping for anything that would give her a clue to the strange chant, but knowing that she must remember the words. She repeated them to herself once more, and deep inside her, an answering call, recognition of the whispered chant reverberated through her tiny body, she knew now she needn’t worry, she would never forget.
A sigh passed through the cocoon, and another shudder shook her little home. She tensed waiting, what was happening? Could this be her hatching? Joy flooded her being; she thrilled at the feelings that were pouring through her. Suddenly the voice spoke again, no longer soft but joyous, ringing in the shell.
“Child of the oak, child of mine, soon, very soon you will begin. So many things will dazzle you, frighten you, thrill you. Life is waiting. You are beautiful, child of mine. Only one are you, one is all; you are a prize in this, the time of forest. The forest has waited long, long for a child of mine. Be brave, go forth and find him who seeks you, he who has been faithful for so long. The time is now, he is nearly asleep, and you will have to go far. Call him, call him with all you are, he has waited for all time for you. Wake him and be one, do not forget, you will have little time, and the journey is far. The earth waits for you, resist its pull, do not sleep until you find him who waits. Remember my words little one, do not sleep. The forest will try you, the earth will pull at you, but be brave my child, for you are a child of the oak, and he is strong, strong as time and he has loved you, for father he is as I am mother and he will watch over you. Be free now my lovely one, go in love and…LIVE!”
The last word was said with a triumphant shout as a ripple ran along the shell and a noise like thunder deafened her ears. The shell shook and shook, and then in the silence that followed, a tiny crack appeared in the smooth surface of her casing. Excitement coursed through her. Suddenly she could move her body, her limbs wriggled, squirming, trying to gain purchase at the edges of the crack. She knew it was up to her to widen the opening, it was part of the birthing. She swung her arms, hammering violently along the cracked seam, trying desperately to widen it. All her instincts were crying to get out. All her energies focused on breaking out of what had once been her comfort, but now her prison.
She pounded away for seeming hours, and slowly, oh so slowly, the crack widened. Her eyes were dazzled, spots danced before them at her first glimpse of real light. She had been nurtured in total darkness for so long, she was grateful the light was weak, realizing instinctively it was the beginning of a new day; her first new day. She was elated, the newness of everything made her eager for more. She rubbed at her eyes, hoping to clear her sight quickly so she could look at everything, but first she had to get out. Slowly she opened her eyes, squinting, seeing much clearer as her eyes adjusted. She reached up with her arms and pulled at the season’s hardened shell, trying to make the hole big enough for her to escape. All at once a large break split the shell in half, spilling her onto the branch supporting her, the pieces coming away in her persistent hands. She was free.
She felt excitement pulse through the tree, and laughter rippled along the branches, it was celebrating with her. She laughed out loud, wobbling on her unsteady feet and fell flat on her back against the rumbling branch she had been attached to for so very long. She hugged the bark, holding onto the oak that had nurtured her, realizing the love the tree had for her. As she quieted, lying content on the branch, she realized he was speaking to her.
“My child, my dear one, you are a single acorn born to us, so special, so wanted, so dear. Born of our need to bring a child to the forest after so long, we have finally been gifted you. You have been waited for, longed for, now you need to find your home, your life, your soul. He waits for you, call him, keep calling till he hears. So long he has waited, his strength is nearly spent, but you dear one will find each other. You must go, but know you are loved. We cannot go with you, each child has to find her own home, it is her greatest task, for some it is too much, and the earth waits. The forest will not help you, but will watch to see if you are strong enough for the test. We have faith my child so special are you that you will be strong. Go in love dear one, and when you have found your home, you will be able to be with us often. Go my child, go my little acorn, child of our bark and branch, of our love. Find your home.”
She gave the branch another hug whispering words of love she knew the oak and the dryad inside would hear. She felt saddened to leave but she couldn’t stem the rising tide of excitement that welled up within her. She stood, steady on her feet at last. She stretched her tiny body, and stretched, and…stretched. Her body felt it had been curled up forever, and only now realized it was free to move, as it wanted. She stretched her hands to the skies, and then she lay on her back and pointed her toes, wiggling them at the heavens as well. It felt good to be out and feeling the winds softness against her skin. She laughed as it tickled her as it breezed through the treetops. Her skin felt all tingly and new, every touch set her hair on end, and it stood out all around her head, charged with energy, crackling in the air.
She looked around from her perch in the tree, the view was breathtaking. The forest was endless, filling the surrounding countryside so densely there seemed no end to it. She wondered how she was ever going to find her home in all its spreading greatness. One thing at a time; firstly, she needed to get down. Sitting down on the branch, she looked down, such a long, long way. She watched as a leaf, shaken loose by her antics, floated gently to the ground. An idea was born. She gently plucked one of the oaks’ huge leaves, thanking him gently. She leapt out into space before she had any second thoughts, using the leaf as a parachute. Tilting it in the direction she wanted to go, it landed her gently on her feet, barely brushing the leafy forest floor. She was down.
How tiny she was, how huge everything else was. She searched her memory. What had she been told to do? Wandering around the fallen leaves, she felt she needed to do something, but she couldn’t remember; only that it had something to do with the earth, something important. Following the train of thought to its natural conclusion, she searched for and found a clear patch of bare earth among the piles of fallen leaves.
As soon as her feet discovered they were on true ground, a shudder ran through her, leaving her weak and breathless. She felt like she was rooted to the spot, unable to move, but before she could be frightened, her body began to convulse, twisting and turning like a young shoot, sprouting for the first time, struggling to get its head above ground. She began to grow…and grow…and grow. She went from two inches tall, if she stood on tiptoes, to five feet tall in a matter of minutes.
She felt the earth rumbling under her feet. She bent down, squatting on her heels and placed her hand, palm outward on the ground beneath her feet. A sibilant whisper called to her. She bent closer to listen. “You have been given life and growth, by taking from me. For soon also, from me you will feed. But if you falter, if your strength fails you, then your life I will take. I will watch you, your every move. Closely your steps, I will monitor on my shell. Falter at your peril, for I will call your life from you. Ashes and dust you will become.”
She stood quickly, straightening in alarm. What had her parents said? The earth waits. She knew now it was true, the earth did indeed wait, and now it waited for her. She knew the earth could not harm her while the pulse of living ran strongly in her young veins. But, she had yet to find her home; she didn’t know what lay in store for her between now and finally finding her soul mate. She stepped hastily off the patch of earth onto the comfort of fallen leaves covering the forest floor. At the familiar touch of oak leaves, her happiness returned. The love she had been given stayed with her and the hissing voice faded to the back of her mind. Joy filled her whole being. She had all the time in the world, and she was so very young.
She threw up her hands and shouted, dancing wildly, filling the air with her ecstatic laughter, smiling happily the whole time, no longer a little acorn; she had blossomed, grown true as a young sprout. Without her own name, she kept the name her father tree called her; Little Acorn was fine until her name was given by her own soul tree. She would find him, but now, she was suddenly ravenous. Acorn scooped up a handful of the rich loamy soil under her feet and ate. She kept on eating the rich, delicious earth until she couldn’t eat another bite and her skin gleamed with a healthy sheen. She admired the effect. It made her skin shimmer.
Feeling thirsty, she followed the sound of running water. Heedlessly she ran into the bubbling, fast moving stream, wading out till she was almost waist deep. She gasped in shock, drawing a sudden breath to settle her breathing, and shuddered at the touch of the icy cold against her sun-warmed skin. Once her body temperature adjusted and she was used to the feel of the current rushing and rolling her body, and the sweet coolness against her bare skin, she found it exhilarating, invigorating, never had she felt so alive, so at one with all that was around her. She flung back her head laughing out loud in sheer joyful happiness.
She bent her head to the water and scooped a handful of the lovely clear liquid to her mouth to drink. The water tingled, sparkled in her mouth. Never had she tasted such sweetness, she savoured every drop, spilling nothing, lest any of this delightful liquid should be wasted. Suddenly she caught a glimpse of something in the rushing water, a flickering reflection, fragmented, pieces of an image, alien to her.
Acorn looked closer, catching a passing echo of herself; she shook her head, a little frustrated that she could not make the reflection stay still long enough for her to see. She lifted her hand, moving it slowly over the surface of the rushing water as if to stroke it. Stillness, a small pool was created in the noisy, moving stream, making for her the perfect mirror. Her eyes widened in amazement at the lovely visage that stared in wonder back at her.
She studied the reflection intently, really seeing herself for the first time. Her long wavy hair trailed softly behind her, floating on the surface of the still water. She picked up a strand and examined it closely. Deep greens and earthy brown hues coloured each silky tress, while golden highlights shone as the light was caught and held in each glowing strand. Acorn liked it; she decided it was very pretty.
Turning around slowly, she inspected her hands, holding them to the early morning sunlight, her face, and her body. Twisting herself she really looked at her skin. It was a lovely muted green, and softer shades of forest greens played across the shadows and hollows of her lithe, young body as she moved. She was taut and supple and her skin highlighted every lovely, sweet curve. She ran her hands slowly over her body, reveling in the feel of her soft, silky skin, admiring the shape and texture of this wondrous new creature she found herself to be.
As she turned her head, she caught a glimpse of a pair of flashing eyes and long, long, curling lashes. She bent her head to the pool for a closer inspection. Her lovely full lips pouted in concentration. She saw the lashes she admired, were the same colours as her lovely hair, but with darker hints of gold, tinting the ends, giving the illusion of a golden frame to the almond eyes below. Acorn widened and narrowed her eyes in experimentation, enjoying the effect the lashes had against her pretty skin; then forgot it all in the first real look at the deep, drowning pools that captured her attention. Swirling greens and golds whirling constantly gave the impression of life never still, always moving, a pool so deep and intoxicating, that a life could be lost there, staring, just staring into the mesmerizing whirlpool of Acorns eyes, and yet be content. To be drawn into those hypnotic depths, to be unable to look away, such was their power, and their indescribable beauty. Acorn drew back, a little in awe and in great amazement from her critical inspection. She was speechless. Then like a flash, awareness dawned. She laughed, deliriously, ecstatically happy.
“I am beautiful! I am beautiful!” She called to all who would hear.
“I have wondrous curves and secret places. I am vibrant, alive. I AM LIFE!” This last statement was shouted in joy to the tops of the trees, and they rustled in agreement.
She sang a wordless song that rippled and flowed with the hum of the current and plunged into the stream, swimming strongly with the pull of the waters rush. When she finally emerged, she was tired but happy, filled with the life pulse of the stream. She climbed out and wandered slowly back, aimlessly walking among the trees.
She had neither direction or knowledge, only instinct, and she let this carry her for awhile, familiarizing herself with the sounds and the scents of the forest that would be her home, glad to simply be alive. She knew she was missing something, some knowledge from her birthing place, but she continued on, secure in the knowledge that it would return to her, and she would recognize it when it did. Still, she sought it out, trying to catch a will-o-wisp by the tail, always there, but always elusive. She knew it was important, she felt slightly troubled but not yet worried.
Acorn wandered into a clearing and found herself among a small grove of young oak trees. They were still too immature, too unripe to be ready for pairing, but they all greeted her with great civility and respect and no small admiration. Envious that one older than they themselves would be paired with one such as this. As she spent time with the younglings, the words of her birthing came crashing into her memory. She gasped in shock that she could have forgotten him, knowing he waited for her, knowing he needed her soon; she danced in joy at the remembering. She went to each of the young oaks in turn, gently greeted them, and inquired of him who waited. She knew he was sung about on the breeze, and whispered about in the earth, his roots were deep and strong, no longer young but not yet old.
The trees told her a story, of a young oak that believed in his core he would meet a dryad made just for him. He knew he had to wait for her, and with no one else would he share his home, his soul. He passed his first century alone, lonely to the core, but faithfully waiting still. When his second century had slipped away with the seasons, he found himself waiting still. His awareness was fading, he needed a companion to keep him awake, alert, or he would become as the dead trees, those doomed never to speak to be aware. His third century found him nearly gone; still he struggled to be faithful, to be strong for her. His belief in his one true soul mate was still just as strong and as passionately believed in as before, but his grip on the land was fading, he was barely conscious and falling asleep. They were not sure it would be too late. Other dryads came and went, but still he refused to take for his soul, one who was less than she whom he waited for. He became a legend, but like all legends, his exact location became lost, faded in time, the forest wouldn’t tell her, it was part of her test. If she was to be worthy of this greathearted tree, she must be worthy of the journey.
A tear slid down her velvety cheek, and she thought of this tree, this one true, faithful tree that had waited so long…for her, she realized. This was her soul; she must find him before he fell asleep altogether. She had been playing, wasting the day while he waited, now, she had little time left. She had been so careless of the time and her life would fade with the night if she didn’t find her tree before dawn. She had realized in coming to the grove, she had learned something of her mate, but they had cajoled her, flattered her, and she had spent more time with them than was wise. She looked around, suddenly noticing the passing of the shadows. They flowed over the little glade reminding her of why she was in the grove in the first place. I came to find information, and they have kept me here out of jealousy; jealous because they were young and not yet fit for her, but unwilling to let her go.
She fled the grove, and the oaks rustled their apologies for their selfishness and the danger she now found herself in. They whispered their love and bid her farewell. She barely noticed, I must find him or all will be lost, not just my passing but his also. Tears flowed freely and she let them fall unheeded and unhindered. She stopped suddenly, tilting her head at something not quite heard, but more felt. She lifted her lovely arms to the trees and called.
I am yours, born of my mother and father tree. Call me. I am young, newly born and beautiful. Call me. You who have waited so long, I am here. Call me. How can I find you unless you call? Call me. What tree among you would not want me, look at me, I am here. Call me. I am here.”
Her arms fell to her sides as she listened. The trees around her rustled their invitations, even joined trees nodded acceptance, and angry dryads left their pairing, anger and fear marred their lovely faces. They encircled her menacingly; knowing one this special could break the new made bonding with their soul tree. Trees were not fickle, but sometimes, rarely, a dryad came along who was so tempting that even trees that had been bonded for centuries broke a pairing to try and become one with her. The dryad, who was the indweller, was evicted from a loved mate and left to fade as the night came. Unfortunately the dryad they broke the pairing for was usually already tied to another, and the tree would fade as his life mate faded. It was tragic and unavoidable as a dryad such as Acorn, came along once in a trees lifetime. The dryads encircling her were frantic with worry. She could mean the death of them. They advanced on her, determined to make her go away, no matter what it took.
Acorn didn’t realize what was happening; she was so in love with her life and all living things, she never dreamed anyone would want to hurt her. She was still trying to listen to the hint on the wind, and she retreated uncertainly, trying to back away from the looks on the dryads’ faces. She was feeling frightened and she wasn’t sure why.
They, like Acorn, were newly born, they too were afraid that one such as she would and could disrupt the soul bond, that their beloved trees might be tempted for one such as her. Their bonds were new-forged, and not that strong yet, so they were very afraid. She was beautiful beyond belief, she terrified them. Their trees rustled welcome to the lovely dryad and she greeted them in joy. At least the trees were friendly. She had thought her own people would be friendly as well. The looks on their faces didn’t look friendly at all.
One tree bent its branch and stroked Acorn’s shoulder, in invitation. A dryad with lovely black hair screamed in fury and pain and smashed her fist into Acorns’ lovely face making her lip bleed. As if the blow was a signal, the other dryads leapt at her, striking and clawing, ripping at her lovely hair and tearing her soft skin. Acorn went down under the press of bodies, screaming in fear and anger. She curled into a tiny ball trying to protect herself from the hitting, kicking fey. As each blow landed, pain exploded somewhere she had never before known it to be. It was a new lesson, and one she didn’t like. She had finally had enough. She forced herself to her feet, hitting and clawing her way out of the circle of angry tree spirits, who were hissing and spitting at her. Acorn was gasping for breath, her small fists covered in the other dryad’s blood. “Stay away from me, what is wrong with you? I am looking for my home; I haven’t come to steal away yours. Leave me alone!” She fled, tears running down her cheeks mingled with red blood from the cuts and scratches the other dryads had inflicted on her.
The other dryads stole back to their repentant trees that called farewells to Acorn, apologizing for their mates’ behavior. The trees encircled their angry dryads, soothing them, making the dryads feel at home once more. A renewing of faith and love to their bonded mates, until the exhausted dryads sank out of sight within the core of their soul trees.
Acorn barely noticed, she was running so fast, trying to put as much distance between herself and the dryads and their trees. She wanted her home. She ached all over, noticing the claw marks all over her arms and breasts. They were deep and blood pooled on the skin dropping to the earth below her feet. She heard the sibilant voice of the earth hissing at her, but she ignored it. She was not in the frame of mind to listen. She gently touched her face, feeling for the first time a tightness in the skin. She felt long deep weals from the scratches and blood was left behind on her slender fingertips. Acorn collapsed on the ground crying. What had they done to her pretty face? She wanted to look nice for her tree, what had happened?
The earth rippled under her, “You look ugly my dear, see for yourself.” The earth provided a damaged reflection for Acorn to see. Emphasizing the scratches, which were really only small, but making them appear much bigger, distorting her eyes and mouth, making her look badly disfigured. Acorn screamed in fear at the reflection before her. How could she show herself to her tree like this, he deserved the very best, and she was horrible to see. Tears rolled sadly down her face, uncertainty rising in her heart. What should she do?
“Come to me, my dear. He won’t want you … but I do. We can be together forever. What does it matter what you look like, to me you are special. Just rest … yes … lay down and sssllleeeep.” Acorns’ eyes were starting to close. She was tired and she didn’t see why she was trying so hard. He wouldn’t want her anyway, she wasn’t beautiful anymore. She started to slide down when she heard a rustle in her mind, urgent and very insistent. She stood up. The earth hissed in anger and frustrated desire. Standing perfectly still she turned her head toward the sound, listening with all her being, poised on the brink of flight ready to follow it wherever it called her. She heard something, did she? She listened harder, and she caught the lingering fading echo in the wind. It was him, she was sure of it. She sprinted off in the direction she knew it had come from. Uncertainty forgotten, she wanted him, at least that was a place to start, and it seemed to her, he still wanted her. She ran.