It’s clear to me now – the intruder must never leave these woods.
I watch him map its edges for the better part of a day, searching for an entrance.
He hasn’t stepped inside yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
He will not suffer.
He is alone.
No sign of the intruder.
Has he gone, perhaps, or gone further in?
There are no broken twigs or fires to mark his passage, but there are other ways.
Tomorrow, I will follow the wild trails.
I come across a wreath of wildflowers.
It sits alone under the sunlight, resting under the boughs of a birch tree.
The dappled rays cast a patchwork of light and shadow across its petals, mixing purples, greens, and gold…
Even at a glance, I know that none of them were stolen in its making. Each had already fallen before a hand placed them among the others.
I do not understand its meaning.
I return to the wreath.
The days have dulled its delicate hues, but something about the pattern stirs something in me.
My mind grows hazy.
I breathe in laboured motions, as though under a great strain, and then –
A sudden emotion overcomes me, and I scatter the flowers about the field, returning them to their natural form.
The haze subsides.
I discover the intruder near the riverside.
He is drawing water from its depths as I pass along its banks on the far side.
I approach him, unseen.
He continues to drink, unaware.
It’s only as I raise my hand to strike that I see the start of a wreath on the stones.
Hands poised, I hide amongst the ferns, and watch.
The wreath-laying intruder sings.
His voice sounds like rolling water on the river’s swell.
I hear the wreath layer’s voice, as though in conversation, but it’s me whom he addresses.
I do not know him, no matter what he says.
I am not some spirit drawn forth at the forest’s whim!
The wreath-layer’s conversation continues, but I cannot focus on his words.
My mind is a haze of thoughts.
I retreat to the forest’s heart in search of peace.
I remember nothing before the wreath layer’s arrival, but something inside me does.
It remembers soft feet in the grass, carefully avoiding twig and branch.
It remembers countless wreaths, every colour of the rainbow.
It remembers a point where my memories ceased to be.
Will I cease to exist when no one is here?
I need rest.
I awaken to stabbing pain.
I am about to return to the wreath-layer when instinct draws me to the forest’s edge instead.
It’s only when I am among them that I see the group of marauders, axes and fire in hand. I hurry towards them, but each blow against the trees feels like a knife’s blade on my skin.
I scream, but my cries only hasten their work.
I am almost delirious when I see the wreath-layer charge at the newcomers from the ferns.
There is violence.
There is blood.
The axes stop.
The wreath-layer carries me deeper into the forest, beads of crimson falling from his sides. And, as each drop touches the forest floor, I see…
A man, once lost in the wilderness, who found sanctuary under these boughs.
A piece of the forest’s heart made real, to see.
A vow, to protect the forest from the threats beyond its borders in return for its gift of life.
A thousand flower wreaths from the forest’s new warden, forgotten as I fade to that from which I come.
But there shall be no more forgetting.
Because my warden’s work is done, and he shall leave no more.
Which is good.
For he has always loved the forest.
And I, the forest, have decided he should… stay.