by Mike (Binary Rhyme) Heffernan
One autumn evening three companions huddled against the cold and damp. Each felt their lot to be most unfortunate and were warming to a long evening of complaint. They were interrupted by a passing bard, seeking succor against the night. Reluctantly, they took him in, fearing he had a faerie look to him.
As evening drained into night the bard was ignored. The company moaned protest piled on grievance and scorn. Only after the moon had come and gone and the litanies waned did the bard speak.
“Seldom have I heard lamentations stretch to such epic length as yours. It is clear I have neither song nor story to cheer you in thanks for your fire. There is, however, a place of which the faeries speak that may relieve your misery.”
At the mention of faeries the three exchanged satisfied glances, glad to have read his appearance correctly.
“On the mountain south of here there lie two magical groves ringed in willow and yew. On the equinox the lines between worlds thin and mortals may enter the henge. Seek out the groves and their keeper to gain mastery over your plight.”
They looked again at each other, dubious and doubtful. In that instant there was a flutter of feathers and the bard was gone.
The strange disappearance ignited the curiosity of the company enough to overcome any doubts; they journeyed to the mountain. On the afternoon of the equinox they found a great ring of willow and yew, just as they had been told, and entered through a narrow gap in the trees.
A bent old man with sea blue eyes greeted them. “I am Fionntán Senechs, keeper of the groves. Your coming is a puzzle, for rarely do mortals pass the barrier.”
“A bard came to us. Upon hearing our tales of woe, he said we would master our ills here.”
“Ah yes, the bard,” smiled Fionntán, his eyes twinkling. “Well, let us see to the groves; the day passes quickly.”
He led them into the heart of the circle. To the left was a great spread of hawthorn, to the right of ash. He stopped and turned.
“You are to travel through each grove, the hawthorn first, then the ash. Speak that which most grieves you and enter; the trees will grant you power over it.”
Each of the three in their turn tenuously approached the first wood, paused to gather their thoughts and spoke.
“I must work hard and long for little and have long wished for the riches and comfort of others.”
“I have suffered many evil injuries and have long wished that justice would be served on the guilty.”
“I have long been outcast and shunned and wished for the admiration of my fellows.”
They emerged as dusk was falling, trembling and worn, much the worse for their sojourn.
“What will you say of what passed?”
None were eager to speak but feared to rile the keeper.
“In the grove I was given all the wealth I could imagine and more. As I journeyed I was accosted by bandits, beggars, relatives and friends. I built vaults and hired servants to turn away the greedy. I was left with only my gold and walls, alone.”
“I was given power over all that had wronged me, and I was able to repay each in kind. As I journeyed, great hordes of others came who had power over me for sins I had committed. I was left beaten and bruised and only a small number had had their way.”
“For my part, I was given the skill to be to each person exactly what they wanted. All folk lauded me and my works. As I journeyed, I realized they praised that which they desired of me. There was nothing of myself left.”
Fionntán Senechs nodded. “You have passed the Grove of Wishes. Now you must traverse the second.”
The three approached the ash stand with more trepidation than the first. “You must see the other side. The day’s end approaches and the way will close to mortals.”
The stars were a brilliant scatter in the sky when at last the companions emerged from the trees. They were invigorated and renewed.
“Will you speak of your passage through the ash?”
“I was set to the labors I have resented, yet after a time I noticed the crunch of the good earth, the rich smell of the trees about me. All things were fresh and the work worthwhile. When I retired to my stead my meal seemed delicious, the fire warmer.”
“I was in the village and my oppressors were all about. Yet in my mind we were not so different, each of us having inflicted our share of damage on others. The pangs I felt were diminished and I felt a kinship with them. I said kind words and they were returned.”
“When I entered the wood, I travelled alone. In my solitude I set to my interests and began to use my virtues to good effect. Others came who shared my goals and we formed great bonds of friendship.”
Fionntán Senechs nodded a final time. “You have passed the Grove of Wisdom. Now you must choose which grove will give you mastery over your desire. Take a sapling from the grove you choose and plant it near your home.”
When the bard returned the following year he sat at the fire singing lays and telling tales. Laughter rang out and the stars shone brightly on three new ash trees ringed about the pit.
I wrote this little tale as an email send around thing for Christmas 2010. I apologize profusely to J.R.R. Tolkien for it’s allegorical flavor. Click the book cover if you want the original pretty PDF.