Five Gold Leaves
The trees of the Wildwood often talked amongst themselves. From spring to autumn their conversations were, for the most part, civil and focused on the coming and goings of the wood. But in winter, cold from root to topmost branch, they most often argued. About anything and everything they could argue about; which tree held the best position in the wood, which was the tallest, which had the best branch spread, which bore the best fruit?
Two years ago it had been who could hold onto their leaves the longest. The Witch, when called upon to adjudicate, had pointed out how ridiculous they were being and declared every deciduous tree in the wood a loser by default. Which had the desired effect in that last year they’d kept whatever they’d been arguing about to themselves but, like all good things, it didn’t last.
‘Now what you must understand,’ the Beech said imperiously, ‘is that we’ve already done the hard work for you.’
‘We’ve whittled it down to us four,’ said the Oak.
‘No pun intended,’ said the Sycamore.
‘What pun?’ said the Hornbeam.
‘How kind,’ said the Witch. ‘And perhaps you could tell me what it is that you wish me to decide?’
‘Is it not obvious?’ the trees said, each waving a branch that was all but bare.
The Witch was, of course, perfectly aware of what they’d been arguing about but she’d do almost anything to prolong the moment when she had to get involved and thus hated by all but one.
‘If it’s keeping your leaves again-’
‘Don’t be foolish,’ snapped the Beech. ‘It’s which of us has produced the most perfect specimen of golden leaves.’
‘And I,’ continued the Beech as if the Witch had not been speaking, ‘am obviously the winner. As the Queen of Trees I have produced one single leaf that shines as if it were real gold. I need do no more.’
‘But one of anything is no use to man nor beast,’ said the Sycamore. ‘I have produced two perfectly golden leaves, one for the living and one for the dead. Clearly my offering is superior.’
‘Amateurs,’ scoffed the Oak. ‘As everyone who is anyone knows, three is the number of wisdom and luck, and so I have gilded three of my leaves to perfection. The crown must come to me.’
‘Bah, what do any of you know,’ growled the Hornbeam. ‘Without the oxygen in the air, the nourishment of the earth, the hydration of the water, the warmth of the fiery sun we would not exist. So my four golden leaves represent each of the elements and I am clearly the winner.’
At that all four trees turned to the Witch, branches with the leaves in question outstretched toward her, waiting.
‘Well you’ve all put your cases most eloquently,’ she said, trying to work out which one she needed onside most. ‘It’s very difficult to choose. But choose I must so-’
‘Hold up, Witchy, you’ve got one more set of leaves to see.’
Allan soared into the clearing, landing just out of reach of the four now furiously muttering trees. Behind him, creaking and groaning, came Victor, the Frankentree.
‘He doesn’t count,’ the Oak shouted. ‘He’s not a real tree.’
‘He’s as real as any of youse,’ Allan said stoutly, ‘and a damn sight more polite into the bargain.’
‘How can he be more polite? The horrid thing can’t talk,’ the Beech said, distain in every syllable.
‘That. Is. Enough.’ The Witch spoke quietly but this time her words held real power.
Silence fell immediately.
‘That’s better. Now Victor may not have grown up in the Wildwood in the way you all have but the Wildwood is his home. He counts.’ She turned to Victor and softly asked, ‘Now what have you got to show me?’
Victor lowered a branch that the Witch did not remember grafting onto him. The bark shone silver and at its tip were five leaves, each with five points, and each one not merely golden but gold.
‘He made five,’ said Allan, flapping up onto the branch, ‘because although you do need earth, air, fire, and water to make anything living, to make life you also need a spark of something more. Call it magic, call it soul, call it what you will, but you can’t ignore it.’
The Witch curled her fingers around the pentacle she always wore at her neck and smiled.
‘Well that settles it.’ She turned back to the four trees, none of whom were muttering any more. ‘Victor is the winner. Do any of you wish to dispute my judgement?’
None of them spoke, just shook their branches until their own ‘perfect’ leaves fell.
This story is the fifth of a twelve part series that was written at the start of December 2022 in response to daily prompt emails from Writer’s HQ for their 12 Days of Flashmas challenge. It is presented here pretty much just as it was originally written on the fifth day of the challenge. If you’d like to know more my explanatory post can be found here.
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