Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another great story from Them Lock. It is entitled
The Hanging Tree
Background music by Smartsound
The elder dryad of Grunvald has long been dormant. Deep in the forest, nestled within her sacred grove, she had taken root and entered a cycle of hibernation that would last one hundred years. Her delicate frame had grown strong and tall, towering above the canopy in the form of a massive oak tree. Her presence enriched the very soil for miles around her, invigorating growth and warding off disease. Immobile but aware, the forest had grown vibrant and flourished around her and for a time she had known joy in its purest form.
She initially became aware of the outlanders presence when the first trees were felled, the distant harvest at the very edge of her realm stung her like a salted lash. She had reached out with her mind, sending forth the predators of the forest in an attempt to bring the intruders to justice. But one by one the creatures consciousness were lost to her, victims to the same axes that had murdered her wards. Saddened, the dryad poured her energy into the forest in an attempt to heal some of the damage. But the massacre had only just begun, as each day passed more and more axes tore at her forest as stones were driven into the soil in an ever expanding scab of roadways that delved ever closer. Nothing slowed the brutal advance, she had summoned thorns and brambles and swarms of biting insects to no avail. Day after day, month after month and year after year… she was losing ground.
It was twelve long years before the monsters reached her. Frozen in place, she stared down at them with fury as the horrid creatures took shelter from the sun beneath her boughs. If she could move she would eviscerate them, but move she could not. It was one week later when her heart splintered and broke. Her sacred grove, her children, her greatest loves were taken from her. Before her eyes axe and saw tore her babies from the earth, their bodies dragged aside, drawn and quartered. Her silent screams sent out a shockwave that caused panic throughout the forest, birds took flight and deer bolted, all life for miles sensed her pain and fled… all except the outlanders. In the days that followed, her wailing continued as, with horror, she looked on as the dismembered remains of her family were crafted into a great hall.
Like maggots in the rotting corpse of her grove, the outlanders grew quickly in number, a forest of human structures sprang up around her in cruel mockery of her loss. The green life that once surrounded her was replaced with cold, grey stone and the air was filled with the unbearable stench of burning wood. They had made her a captive, a centerpiece, a trophy of war displayed at the very heart of their lifeless, ugly settlement. The weight of foot traffic compounded the pain of cobblestones that bit deeply into her network of roots, causing her great pain and cutting her off from the outside world. As far as she could tell, all life had been wiped out. She was utterly defeated and so very alone, she had begun to will her own death to no avail.
As a stage was constructed at her feet and ropes hung from her boughs, the dryad could not help but wonder what fresh torment her captors had in store. A crowd of the stinking beasts gathered at her feet, jeering and calling out as a trio of outlanders were led to the ropes, hands bound behind their backs. In horrified amazement the dryad watched on as the creatures were hung by their necks from her limbs. She felt the life slip from their bodies as they dangled and twitched from the ropes… they were killing their own kind!. Over the years many such executions took place, and she grew to take pleasure from the act. After decades of tortured misery she had come to delight in the fear she sensed in the condemned. Sanity had long since abandoned her, she had forgotten her own name and all that came before her captivity. Now she had a new name, a name that gave her purpose… her name was Hanging Tree.
And then it happened. At first she thought she had imagined it, but no. Ever so slowly, over several days… she clenched her outstretched, woody hand into a fist. Ninety years had passed, her hibernation cycle was nearing completion. Her mind raced, the fires of hatred flared brightly within her, soon she would be mobile. In ten short years time she would tear herself free from this polluted soil and finally make her true presence known. Oh and how the outlanders would know her. She is rancor, she is retribution… she is Hanging Tree, and she will hang them all.