The Hallows Tree
Riding through the darkness of the forest, Charayne knew she had to hurry. She only had a paltry handful of minutes to arrive at her destination, and she’d gotten off to a late start, due to the wolves.
Blighted, bedamned things, the forest had been full of them as she’d begun her trek to the Hallows Tree. Her magicks had halted a few at the beginning, but soon there had been too many for her energies to conquer, and she’d had to take up her bow to shoot at them. Hoping to keep them back long enough to escape on her faithful Dancer, she’d carefully timed her shots, hoping she’d be at a safe distance before she ran out of ammunition. And that time of cautious aiming had cost her.
Leaning low over Dancer’s taut neck, she urged him on, nudging him with her knees and her will. And he gave her what speed he had left. Sweating heavily, he was starting to tire. After tearing through brush and jumping logs, seeking to elude the remaining wolves, it was no wonder, Charayne thought ruefully to herself. A soft pat and rub on his neck earned her a snort from his nostrils. He’d keep going as long and as fast as he could, all for her. But would it be enough?
Charayne glanced up between the ghostly white horse’s ears long enough to see that indeed, maybe they would make it to the clearing in time. Up ahead, she saw a small patch of almost complete darkness, signifying an absence of trees. She had to be getting close. She could sense it. Actually, now that she focused on that thought, Charayne knew that she could physically feel it. A tingling in her hands had begun, softly, as though they had fallen asleep, almost. But it was growing into a warmth, almost a prickling heat, radiating out from the center of her palms. And she knew that she still had at least a little time.
The clearing drew nearer, seeming to be nothing more than a space of total and utter black. But Charayne knew what lay at the heart of this darkness.
The Hallows Tree.
An enormous black-barked willow tree, standing at least 20 feet tall, it was not the tallest tree in the forest, but it was certainly the largest around. It’s girth was rumored to change whenever a group of people would come out to encircle it for measuring. One attempt would take 20 people, the next 25 or more. It spread it’s multitude of arms out, up and out, like a geyser with many spouts, spraying it’s tendrils of leaves across the clearing like green rain. And it’s legends and myths didn’t stop at its size.
One story had rumored that it had been a favorite of an ancient witch, long dead, and it was said to have been enchanted by her to contain magicks unlike those ever seen by mere humans, only truly coming alive on one night of the year. All Hallows. It had been said that the witch had spent hours under the protective camouflage of the tree’s branches, practicing her magicks and sharing them with the tree.
It was also rumored that this self-same witch had died under the tree’s loving gaze, and that the tree had simply grown up around her, taking her lifeless body into itself in one last act of either love, or to contain the magickal energies still contained within the witch’s corpse.
Either way, it was tonight for Charayne. Or never. For if this night’s work didn’t succeed, she’d be dead before morning’s light hit her face.