The Goblin Tree – Four

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Song Suggestion: Chapter 1 – Lament Of The Shadow Elves by Peter Gundry

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Four

Bethany stood looking at a tree that may have been beautiful, once, but, in death, it had the presence of some terrifying, evil creature. The Goblin Tree, the girl at her side had named it. Bethany’s clever tomcat sat on her other side, silent and watching the wicked tree. Before Bethany could ask what he was waiting for, there opened in the tree a door. Out of the door came a small creature that she knew must be a goblin, though it was not the sort she knew from her homeland.

Bethany did not hesitate, but walked out into the clearing to face the creature. “Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your tree?” The goblin looked nothing at all like she’d have expected; though he was smallish and thin, he was not ugly or frightening. He looked, rather, like a very small, very old man. He had a large, lumpy nose, rather like a potato, wispy, white hair and bristling eyebrows, and fingers that were far too long for his hand.

“It is,” he said to her, “though what business it be of yours, I don’t know.” He had a sharp gleam in his eye and Bethany thought he looked a little more frightening for it.

“I am here to help a child I found crying along the road,” Bethany said. “She claims that you have taken all those she loved and imprisoned them beneath your tree.”

“Oh she does, does she?” the goblin said. His grin was most unpleasant. “She is not lying, stranger. I’d have her too if she was not too frightened to finish the game she started.”

“So you are wicked after all?” Bethany asked.

The goblin raised a single eyebrow at her. “I? The wicked one? Not at all, young lady. And if you’re going to go about shoving your nose in other people’s business, then maybe you ought not be making accusations until you know the whole of it.”

“Then why don’t you tell me your side?” Bethany said, but she’d already half made up her mind and the goblin sneered like he knew it.

“My name,” said the goblin, “is Shrim. And, once, I was the guardian of the village called Stonehaven, protecting them from the darkness of the forest. And my tree was known far and wide because it did not blossom with leaves or flowers, but with stars. It was the most beautiful of all trees that were ever grown in any world.”

“What happened to it?” Bethany asked, motioning to the bare, dead branches spread above them.

“What always happens when mortal men are about?” Shrim asked angrily. “Greed.” He scowled at her as if, at any moment, she might personally be to blame for this. “This tree was planted by the Lady of the forest, herself. My own queen, Elphame, did come to earth to marry my father and rule his wild children. Here she buried the remnants of her life as a goddess as proof of her love for him. The tree grew up in this spot and from its branches, stars were born which shone with the light of her renounced divinity. She asked me, in those early days, to guard it and so well did I love her that I promised to give my own life to protect it.”

“When the forest was cursed, her Ladyship gave me another task. She plucked from the branches a single, shining star and gave it to me in a lantern. By its light, all darkness would be cast away, said she. And she bade me to look after those mortals in the village, for the curse was not of their making and she would not leave them at its mercy.”

“So every night I did make my way to the village and kept at bay those dark and hungry creatures that hunted there. At first, the people were grateful; they were frightened of my mad father and those of his fell children that followed him instead of our mother, as well any ought to be. They are foul and full of nasty tricks, and mortals are easy prey for their cruel tricks.”

“Soon, though, the villagers’s own nature overtook them. As a Knight of Elphame, surely I had riches, they supposed. And right they were. I have mountains of wealth, but it was not for them to know of or take. What fool, I ask you, wishes to steal from he that gives them safety? Yet they were driven by this desire. Soon, the villagers became so jealous of my wealth, hidden beneath my tree, that, while I guarded their homes, they crept off and tried to find a way to break into mine. When all else failed, they tried to dig beneath the roots and, in doing so, killed the tree. So, you see, all that was left of Elphame’s power was the light from my lantern.”

“So you stole them away and made them prisoners?” Bethany asked. “Do you not know that two wrongs cannot make anything right?”

The goblin gave her a knowing grin. “All I did was ask them to play a game. Because the people of fair Stonehaven were so bent on stealing my wealth, I did nothing more than give them a way to win it fairly. If they bested me, I would let them wish upon the last of Elphame’s light and they might have my wealth besides. If I won, however, they would give me their soul and bend to the service of healing the tree. T’is not my fault that none would turn away from the challenge or that each one failed and, in return, gave their life to try and give the tree a way to bloom again.”

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