Hilary’s Short Challenge #2 -Good vs Evil/Magical Forest/Romance
So this is the second challenge I did with my partner Hilary where she provided me with a Theme/Location/Genre and I gave myself 24 hours to write and edit it. As always, this is by no means perfect, but I think it is always fun. So number two coming at yea now.
A friendly reminder that I do have an email list and I don’t use it often. Occasionally, I will reach out to people who have shown interest in being beta readers, but mostly I only update it with news about when a book will be coming out, along with some updates on other books. If you’re not on the email list and you want to keep up to date with different projects I’m working on then please sign up!
Story length: 3000 words
I hope you enjoy it.
Quinn waited impatiently by the base of a rather annoying and very chatty Oak tree. She’d been hoping for a moment to solidify her thoughts about… him. The one she’d been waiting for and the one, it would appear, cared little about being on time. Although Quinn wasn’t entirely sure what the ‘Sun’s highest point’ was. But she assumed it was midday, which it was, and still he’d not arrived.
It had been a fortnight since they’d made these arrangements and Quinn had suspected that maybe, perhaps, he’d forgotten about it, or her or them for that matter.
Human brains are like dried leaves in the wind. The oak wood had prattled on in the way only a tree who’d not moved for a millennium could. It hadn’t been Quinn’s idea to come to the woods, she hated the woods. Mostly since she could never meander through them without the thousands of tiny voices chattering in her ear as she walked. She’d longed to be one of those humans not cursed by the call of nature.
It was a term often misused by those who felt the woods spoke to them in some way, as if nowhere else on earth could put them more at ease. Not Quinn. Quinn truly possessed the call of the nature and with that the never-ending streams of consciousness that sprouted from the earth in the forms of trees, grass, vines, flowers even the supressed microfibers of mycelium whose chorus of trillions of muted voices, were muffled by the earth itself. Only tips of tiny fungal finger breaking free to share their stories in the fresh air.
“I don’t find you very helpful.” Quinn said kicking the heel of her foot into the trunk of the tree, regretting it immediately, as she tried to mask the pain she felt from her now throbbing foot.
Who said anything about being helpful? The tree replied as Quinn ignored the smattering of rustled leaves.
“Funny.” Quinn said as she began pacing back and forth a long the small stretch of grass that had long since been trotted down.
To be still is to be stable. The tree said.
“Are you implying that I’m unstable?” Quinn asked her eyes narrowing as she tilted her head to look up at the tree’s canopy. But the tree remained silent. “Smart tree.” Quinn’s attention pulled away by a twig snapping nearby, only to be disappointed as a tiny chipmunk ran out from the woods its mouth bursting was tiny nuts as it stopped to peer up at Quinn briefly before running off into the woods.
“Why would he insist on making plans only to not show up? Does he think I don’t have better things I could be doing? I do by the way.” Quinn said rolling her eyes at the still silent tree. “He was charming, very charming. He was the apprentice at the potters where I’d been sent to collect jars for my mother’s remedies, for her apothecary. It was the first time I’d ever offered to go because I despised leaving anywhere that forced me to trudge through the woods. You all can be very… incessant you know.”
Can we now.
“Yes. You can.” Quinn said shooing away the trees jest. At least it had felt like a jest, though Quinn wondered if trees could jest. They appeared a little to two ridged for something like that. “But I conceded, mainly to rid myself of the perpetual boredom that was Thicket River. A poor name for a town that isn’t anywhere near a river. I know,” Quinn said shaking her head as she slumped down on the ground and rested against the trunk of the tree. “How can it be called Thicket River? I have no idea.”
Time destroys meaning until all that’s left is truth. The tree said, its trunk groaning as it swayed in the wind.
“What?” Quinn asked, breaking a stick she picked up from the ground and was now snapping pieces off mindlessly as she tossed the tiny remains into the woods. She paused briefly looking at the stick then at the tree and feeling an ounce of guilt as she did so. “Sorry, does this… bother you?”
Does loose hair swept up by the wind and pushed swiftly into a nearby fire bother you? The tree offered which cause Quinn to merely shrug as she continued breaking away the stick.
“Anyways, his name is Aiden he was quiet, at first he appeared to despise eye contact and was covered from head to foot in clay. I would not have thought twice about him had he not informed me that the pots I was scheduled to pick up were not ready and they would likely be another two days.” Quinn said shaking her head at the tree. “Two days I would be stuck in the town, not enough time to return home, and I lacked the means to stay any longer. That might have been the end of it had it not been for Aiden’s suggestion I stay with his family while I waited.”
Rain is but a thousand single drops until it meets the ground. The Oak said and Quinn thought maybe she sensed something akin to joy, or a smile, but was unsure if trees smiled.
“Sure. But Aiden, for reason undenounced to me at the time, was reluctant to go home and so he offered first took me to the river at the heart of town where he’d suggested a personal guided tour. Not that I’d really wanted a tour, I was tried and been travelling all day, but the offer came with a boat, one with a plush seat I’d felt inadequate to sit on with my traveling clothes. Nor did I think the owner would be to please with a two-day stench of ragged clothes on their nice fabric. But Aiden insisted and using a long stick he began ushering the two of us upriver without a single person pressing him about the boat or its owner despite lots passing by, and many even stopping to wave. Aiden appeared to know everyone. I found this odd.” Quinn said as she picked a leaf from out of her hair and placed it on the ground.
“Aiden, as it would happen, was a marvellous host. His calm and quiet demeanour disappeared, his true personality lighting up as we drifted down the river taking great care in describing landmarks and stories in great detail for me. I’ll be the first to admit how surprised I was to find myself having fun. I was even more surprised when Aiden moored the boat along the river of a large estate hopping off first before offering me a hand to assist me. I’d asked where we were and he’d said his house, though I didn’t believe it at the time that the clay covered boy in ragged clothes lived in an estate home. Impossible.” Quinn said chuckling and shaking her head as if even remembering it, didn’t make it real.
The canopy of the tree may block the sun, but this does not mean the sun is not there. The tree said thoughtfully, and Quinn glared up at its towering branches over her head.
“Do you ever speak plainly?” She asked shoving her hands in the dirt and pushing herself up to her feet.
Yes. The tree said brightly, and Quinn scoffed as she kicked off the dirt.
“So just not to me?” She said her brows raised accusingly, but the tree remained silent once again. Quinn’s bottom lip stuck out as she lazily skipped around the tree finally stopping with a heavy sigh. “Do you think he is coming?”
What I think means little to what you feel.
“I dislike you, Oak.” Quinn said as she dusted the dirt from the palms of her hands. “As it would happen the house was, in fact, his. Or rather his families, Viscount Aiden Townsend the youngest and so I would later find out, oddest, son of Countess Lady Townsend and the Earl of Townsend. Needless to say the Countess was less than thrilled to have a poor apothecary apprentice in her home, though her stubborn pride was only marginally outmatched by the naive optimism of Aiden who somehow managed to convince his mother – though I take pride in the fact that I did manage, once, to remind them both that although I was not of noble birth I was still, in fact, standing in front of them. I’m unclear if this helped or hurt my cause but I’m not one for staying quiet.”
You are not. The Oak replied, sounding rather amused by themselves.
“As I was saying.” Quinn said pacing slowly around the tree, hating herself for engaging with such a stubborn relic. Quinn’s mother had told her that her skills were a gift and perhaps it was if you wished to be an Apothecary, like her mother and father. At least the former was, and the latter had been, before he’d managed to get himself killed in battle. ‘He’d been courageous.’ Quinn’s mother used tell her. But the reality was he’d been naive and he’d died for nothing, at least nothing that Quinn could see, simply lines on a map she would never read.
Luckily for them Quinn’s mother had been smart enough to understand her father’s profession and had a knack for it. It also helped significantly when Quinn’s… talents had manifested and her mother had coming up with the brilliant idea to not register her talents with the registry in case they were seeking more bodies for their war.
Quinn was happy not to2 be at war though she admitted that not being in her village would also be nice.
The villagers were skeptical at first when Quinn’s mother had reopened the apothecary, but with Quinn’s deeper understanding of the earth combined with her mother’s knowledge the two eventually created a thriving business. People from all over travelled for their ointments, balms and elixirs.
Footsteps approach. The Oak said, and Quinn felt a surge of hope, although there was no hiding the wary quality in the tress voice.
“Ouch!” Cried a voice in the distance. “Stop struggling.” Said another, neither of who sounded like Aiden. Quinn tucked herself behind the large Oak putting its massive trunk between her and the newcomers.
“I told you it would have been easier to not bring him, Gant.” Said the one who’d sounded like he’d been kicked, and Quinn thought maybe she’d heard the name before but couldn’t picture where.
“Mother told us to bring him, so we bring him.”
“You’re not the one carrying him.” Said a low rumbling second voice.
Quickly to the bush. Said the Oak as Quinn spotted the waving Downy Arrowwood bush a short skip away.
Not hesitating, Quinn leaped across tucking herself in behind the bush just in time to see the three figures step out from the bushes. One was a stalky fellow much older than Quinn, mid-twenties though he appeared older with the thinning hair he’s kept combed to one side. The other appeared slightly younger but his physical prowess was clearly visible to Quinn as he stood more than a head taller than the other men with broad shoulders and thick beard. He was holding up the only figure Quinn could recognize.
Aiden squirmed thrashing around as he tried and failed to wiggle free, but even this did little to bother the larger one who easily gripped the cords binding Aiden’s hands behind his back.
The smaller one held up a hand to stop them as he peered around the woods cautiously. He turned towards Aiden.
“Where is she? We’ve been waking around these bloody woods for hours.” He said as he flicked some dirt from under his nails. Aiden’s voice made a muffled sound with the cloth that had been tied in his mouth.
“I don’t understand? What was that?” The small man laughed at his own joke before pulling down the cloth in Aiden’s mouth.
“Quinn Run!” Aiden shouted as he received a slap across the face for his efforts.
“Aw. Aw. Aw. You said you’d play nice Aiden.”
“I’ll kill you Gant.” Aiden spat.
“Not a pleasant way to talk to your brother.”
“Go to Hell!” Aiden said stomping on the larger one’s foot causing him to cry out in pain as he hopped backwards and Quinn couldn’t help but noticed the thin root sprout up behind the man’s leg causing him to trip and fall backwards as he smashed into the forest floor.
“Get up Finn.” Gant shouted as Aiden began creating some distance between the two men.
“Did you do that?” Quinn whispered to the bush.
We did. The bush said as it’s leaves rustled. Funny, yes?
Quinn did think it was funny but the rustling caused Gant to look in her directions. She quickly ducked behind the bush.
“What do I do?” Quinn whispered and she could feel her heart thumping in her ears.
The lowest vine sometime needs the tree to access the light. The Oak said and although she’d wished the tree could speak plainly, she believed she understood it correctly. Thinking for a moment she managed to come up with a brilliant or possibly stupid idea.
“Follow my lead.” Quinn said to the plants and before she could second guess herself, Quinn stepped out from the bush to a very shocked looking Aiden.
“Quinn, I said run. My mother, she knows what you can —”
“Shut up brother.” Gant said gesturing the back of his hand towards Aiden before turning to face Quinn as Finn climbed back up to his feet both men looking a little smug. “I suggest you make this easy and come with us.” Gant said hooking his thumb between himself and Finn.
“I suggest you leave Aiden and go home.” Quinn said with as much bravado as she could muster.
“Do you now.” Gant said giving her an evil grin.
“I do. Before anyone gets hurt.” She said, as Gant began to laugh followed by Finn.
“You hear that Finn before anyone gets hurt. And I suppose you’re the one who is going to do the hurting then girl?”
“You could say that.” Quinn said.
“Quinn, you need to run.” Aiden said pleading with her.
“Too late for that little brother.” Gant said sounds pleased with himself as Gant and Flinn began to circle. “You don’t know our mother. But once she wants something she gets it. And an unregistered mage in her position would be… well priceless. You can come with us and you’ll live a good life, our mother is a sensible women.”
“He’s lying Quinn my mother would sell you to the highest bidder, you can’t go with them.” Aiden said as he charged at Gant, but his tied hands were still behind his back and Gant simply rolled to one said sticking a leg under Aiden causing him to wipe out along the earth.
“Stay down brother and make this easy on both of you. Now come girl.” He said curling a finger in Quinn’s direction.
“You want me? Come get me?” Quinn said putting her hands up in front of her like a boxer. Gant simple laughed and nodded towards Finn.
“Grab her so we can get out of here.” Gant said with calm assurance of a man taking a toy away for a small child.
Finn made to walk towards Quinn but when he got within arm’s length away and reached out to grab her, he stopped suddenly his legs firmly planted to the ground as thin wiry threads of roots rose up and snatched his legs.
“What the?” He began as Quinn stepped in and kicked him square in the groin.
Flinn cried out in pain and fell back against the ground, as more roots shot out from the woods and wrapped around the large man’s body and dragged him off into the woods.
“Your turn.” Quinn said a little surprised that the bushes had agreed to help so easily but tried to mask it in her newfound confidence.
“I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot.” Gant said eyes widening as he back up slowly.
“Do you now?” Quinn said. “Untie him.” She growled then smiled as Gant ran off and quickly untied Aiden who ran over beside Quinn, and she was excited when he reached for her hand. The same one she’d been waiting to hold for the past two week since she’d left him.
“I’m sorry.” Aiden said shaking his head like he planned to say more but she stopped him.
“I knew you’d come.” She said softly as she suppressed the urge to embrace him, not while his brothers were still there. “You.” She said turning her head to face Gant. “Leave now. And tell your mother to leave us alone.”
“I can’t. She won’t Aiden knows what she’s like we can’t.”
“Leave.” Quinn said and as if to help emphasize her powers the vines began to grow behind her threateningly and she could feel Aiden’s hands grip hers tighter.
“Fine. I will but Flinn.”
“Will catch up soon I promise.” Quinn said with a grin as she watched Gant try and figure out what he should do before finally turning on his heels and dashing off into the woods.
“You’re really just going to let him get leave?” Aiden asked, and as if Quinn could have planned it better the branch of a nearby Elm swung low and hard knocking Gant to the ground with a heavy thud.
“Now. I’ll let him go.” Quinn said with a chuckle as she turned to face Aiden. “It’s good to see you again.
“It’s good to see you too.” He said with a grin. “I had no idea you could do that.” He said looking back at his groaning brother on the ground. “To be honest, neither did I.” Quinn laughed.