Willow Sam turned around, and saw fire.

A man stood there. His face was drawn, weathered. His silver hair was worn in fine curls that trailed across his face, thinning as he neared middle-age. He wore fine furs, lined with filigree.

Even so, this was a man who knew how to wield the axe by his side, or the torch in his right hand, held aloft. And from the look in his eyes, he had every intention of using either should the situation deem it.

Sienna’s eyes widened. “Father!”

Lord Smyth frowned, and nodded to his daughter. “Sienna. When you did not return with your wards, I grew worried.”

“I was talking with Vi…consulting with the countess,” she corrected herself quickly.

Lord Smyth nodded, and turned to the treemen. “And then I look at the edges of my estate to see these…men, here. Consulting, with my daughter.”

Willow Sam stared back implacably. “We had a message for the countess’s counselor.” He nodded to Sienna. “And a request for counsel of our own.”

Sienna felt more than saw her father draw closer. “My daughter is busy. If you would talk with her, arrange it with staff. Or better yet, do without.”

The treeman’s eyes twinkled. “Are you scared of a tree, Lord Smyth?”

“Why should I be?” Smyth asked. “If you sticks were going to claim vengeance, you’d have done it before I felled the first thousand trees.” He turned his back on the treemen, and walked away. “Come along, Sienna.”

Sienna followed her father. She snuck a glance back at the treemen, curious and a little embarrassed of how Smyth had treated them.

They stared back. Silent, and never seeming to judge. Sienna didn’t know if they had moved through the entire exchange. They hadn’t even flinched when Smyth had mentioned cutting down trees, or waved fire in their faces.

Willow Sam was the lone exception, the spokesman for them. And he kept his smile on his face. Small, wooden.

She tripped, and stumbled to the ground. Sienna scrambled around, her hands seeking purchase.

A branch reached out to help her, closing around her wrist.

Sienna shrieked, jumping back up. Smyth’s axe was in his hand, ready to strike. His face was contorted in fury, and his arm swung down.

Sam caught the man’s arm by the wrist. The treeman’s twiggy fingers wrapped around the lord’s wrist. Smyth wriggled, but could not move.

“Why harm a tree?” Sam asked. “We never try to hurt anyone. We just live here.”

He released Smyth from his grip. The lord prepared to strike again, but Willow Sam simply melted away. In seconds, the two appeared alone.

Sienna breathed in deeply. Viola was counting on her, and she couldn’t be rude to the treemen.

“Thank you!” She called out. “I hope we can live together in harmony.”

There was no response.

Sienna felt even smaller then. She had not seen the treeman, at all. Could anyone mistake treemen for trees if they weren’t looking closely? Were they still there, watching the humans?

What had Viola done?

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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