The Wind Tree
by Joel Doonan
Firelight glinted in the storyteller's eyes as young people gathered closer to listen.
"This is a story about a town and a tree," he began, "It is a story about the fortunes of a small village, the lives of its people, and the unexpected ways in which nature will provide. It is a tale which was told to me by my grandmother, long ago one summer evening at this same camping place."
The night was velvety dark and stars sparkled in a moonless sky. Bedrolls and blankets had been arranged about the fire and as young folk listened, firelight sparkled in their eyes as well...
"Long ago there stood a great and ancient tree near the edge of a town named Edant," he said. "It was a modest village of humble craftspeople. The elders among them did not how old the tree was, and even the wisest knew nothing of its origin nor had ever seen any other tree like it.
"Each spring its branches displayed beautiful pink blossoms which scented the breeze, and during the hot spring planting season, farmers would lunch and nap in its cool shade. Children often climbed its sturdy branches, and in the afternoons women would gather beneath to chat about the dayís efforts and make plans for the busy season ahead.
"Late each summer just before the trading season began, the tree would bear abundantly. Its alluring red fruit produced an aroma so delicious it enticed all to whom the wind carried its fragrance. It was also secretly known by the townspeople that if one were to partake of the strange and colorful fruit it would grant favors of a most personal nature; men would be graced with a more lengthy endowment, while women would become more buxom and beautiful. But while the fruit was wondrous, unfortunately all those who ate the fruit were also filled with such wind that the wise and knowledgeable among them warned all to partake very sparingly. The great tree became known as the Wind Tree.
During the late summer trading season there often came merchants to the village to barter with the local craftspeople before journeying eastward to the larger cities of Kalibra and Salazar. Passing travelers who were strange to the region and enticed by the tree, often sampled its fruit before continuing toward the central marketplace, to the dismay of local townspeople and shop owners.
A single busy road wound through town, first past the shops of weavers and merchants, inns and taverns, and then past the many workshops of smithies. These were forgers of metal who labored over coals and fires as they hammered out the quality ironwork for which the village was known: pots and axes, hinges and hammers. Children often worked the bellows while older men taught apprentices the skills and trade of the ironworks.
It was during a particular summer trading season when one evening, a mighty caravan came to rest outside the town of Edant. It was the grandest assembly of men and beasts that the villagers had ever seen. There were no less than twenty-five animals of burden carrying gold and silver wares, jewelry, silks, spices and precious stones, each with its own handler who walked attentively beside. There were guards armed with swords and lances, workers to tend the animals and a cook with two young helpers.
At the front of the line the chief merchant strode proudly, attired in a lavish robe of blue and gold. Rings sparkled on his fingers and even his camel leather boots had a shine to rival the sunrise. It was his finest achievement, a caravan of priceless goods destined for the Palace of Kalibra.
They had traveled all day in the hot sun, and chose to make their encampment for the night near the great tree. As tents were raised and evening fires were built, townspeople came near to admire, inquire and marvel, only to be turned away by the scolding merchant and his armed guards.
It had been a favorable growing season with plenty of rain and warm sun, and just as the crops in the field had done that year, the tree bore abundantly.
It was the cook who was first enticed by the fruit's color and aroma. While his helpers climbed the branches and filled baskets, the animals began to forage for fallen fruit beneath. That night, all feasted heavily on the tree's abundance.
As morning sun brightened the fields and pastures, the men of the caravan awoke for a new day. Workers, guards and cook, even the master merchant were each privately astonished by their greater personal endowment which had developed overnight. Tents were struck, rolled and packed and the animals arranged and loaded for the slow, long day of travel ahead.
On that warm summer day the air was unusually hot and breeze-less as the caravan ambled proudly through town. The merchant scoffed at the local vendors in passing, saying, "Your wares are of inferior craftsmanship!" All the while, disquieting rumblings from each man and beast could be heard, and foul vapors began to accumulate along the full length of the caravan.
Teary eyed townspeople closed doors and shuttered windows. The guards who followed the rear of the caravan began to lag farther and farther behind leaving the goods unguarded. The merchant nervously looked for the guards as he paced the caravanís length but he could not afford to halt the progress being obligated to deliver his goods to the Palace of Kalibra by nightfall.
The slow passage through Edant continued in this manner and without event, until they reached the shops of the many smithies. It was there that fortunes suddenly turned.
No one knew exactly how it came to pass. No one, save a single child who worked the bellows, bore actual witness.
In his young words, there came a sudden fiery brilliance and a rush of thunder. Within moments the entire caravan vanished. The merchant, the beasts and handlers were suddenly gone -- all except for the guards who had lingered behind, who, upon hearing the thunder, stepped out from a tavern door flushed and swaying from strong drink.
Gold and silver wares, jewelry, silks and precious stones began to rain down upon the humble town like blessings from the heavens.
Great prosperity had come to the village of Edant. For many years after, no child hungered and no beast went untended. A celebration was begun each year thereafter to honor the ancient and mysterious Wind Tree, and a plaque was carved with an inscription and placed beneath the tree to bear testament: "Those who eat of this tree will be forever blessed; but neither linger by the fires nor work at the ovens lest the winds of fate change and misfortune fall upon you."
"It is a true story that happened long ago," concluded the storyteller.
"So, what became of the tree of wind?" asked a young woman.
"Turn around and look behind you," he encouraged.
Just visible in the dim firelight, the tree's massive trunk was easily two arm spans wide. Numerous dead and broken limbs gave testament to lightning, wind storms, and drought. But there was still some green to a few of its branches, and the soft fragrance of its blossoms lightly scented the breeze.
"The town of Edant grew and flourished long ago at this very place," he continued, "It owed its fortunes to this ancient tree. Slowly as years passed, the town's farmers and merchants moved away to find adventure or earn a living in the larger cities. Gradually the town faded to dust. Only the tree is still here; just as it was before the town's first brick was ever placed."
"Through the many years, all attempts to propagate the tree proved unsuccessful. The seeds were never fertile. But just three years ago during the spring bloom, an odd change in the weather brought a strong wind down from the mountains to the east. Later that year the tree's fruit were unusually large and aromatic.
"I happened at that time, to be among a group of pilgrims on our way to the shrines at Kalibra. We camped here by the tree for the night and noticing the fruit's unusual size, I gathered up as many as I could carry."
The storyteller reached into his bag and withdrew a dozen, finger long seeds. "Guard these well and plant with discretion, for each of you now has the opportunity to begin an entirely new story."
© 2011 Joel Doonan
Bio: Joel Doonan resides in the central Texas hill country, operates a small signs and graphics business, collects rain water, grows a few vegetables, puts up pickles and sauerkraut, and dabbles with creative writing. A number of his stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Jesus of the West (December 2010), and Tin Indian (in this very issue).
E-mail: Joel Doonan
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