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J. E. Schroeder

"The Willow" by J. E. Schroeder

SciFi/Fantasy text 11 out of 19 by J. E. Schroeder.      ←Previous - Next→
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A short piece, but one of my personal favorites. I'm not sure what inspired it, but I just settled down at my computer one sunny afternoon with a vague idea and it all but wrote itself. Let me know what you think! (Revised March 2005)
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←- Signals | Of Courage and Fire -→
“Don’t fly near the willow,” our Haura, who is the mother of us fairies, always said. She sang to us a song about the willow; the looming mystery, the shadow of sadness. The words were simple – it was a verse for us children. A verse of warning:

Don’t fly near the willow gray,
Where the slender leaves do sway;
Don’t fly near the willow old,
Where none leave that enter bold;
Don’t fly near the willow grim,
Where the Winged One dwells within.

We listened to our Haura, us children, but we listened only in awe. She did not explain the Winged One and we did not understand him, so we feared him and we feared the willow. It was a simple song, but we never understood.

We sisters were born in Flower Season, and we played amidst the blossoms of the river. At nighttime we slept upon their soft petals, and when the first light came each day we woke to drink the sweet dew that mingled with the bright dust of the flowers. It was warm and beautiful in Flower Season, and we were only children content in the simple delights of youth. And the willow was tall and dark, and we did not dare to look upon it.

The light came and went away again and again, and then the pale leaves began to deepen in color. Our Haura told us that it was come upon Green Season, and that the world would become warmer. The river glistened now with the lights of the River Spirits, and they ran joyfully down the shores, singing as they went along. We found it strange that they never paused to rest. We often asked our Haura where they were going, so steadily moving on and on forever. She would smile at us then, and tell us that she could not know where the River Spirits traveled to. Their path ran far beyond her eyes, and through the green hills afar. Beyond that, she could not say where they went. More than once, my sister and I tried to fly alongside the Spirits. We skimmed low over the river and called to them as they rolled along, but they answered only with laughter and danced upon the crests of the little waves and ripples as they moved ever on. We would always stop before we reached the shadow of the willow, and watch in wonder as they danced down the river. Once, as we watched them go on past the willow, my sister whispered to me in awe:

“They do not fear to pass beneath the willow.” She said nothing more, and I neither. We looked on them in wonder from then on, and slowly the Green Season began to wane.

As our Haura told us, the Wind Season was now coming. The sky and earth took on beautiful hues, but the flowers began to fade away. We moved our home now, and lived among the fragrant needles of the River Pine. They would never fade, our Haura said. While the rest of the world would burn and be left ashen and dark in the White Season, the green shelter of the River Pine would last forever. We were fond of our new home, though the bark of our new beds was neither smooth nor soft. Our Haura instructed us to gather moss from the earth to make it comfortable for sleep, and we obeyed her words with gratitude.

Our Haura worked collecting berries during this Season, and she left us to our own diversions many days. We watched the world much during this time, and my sister and I would play a game of catching the drifting seeds and falling leaves that came with the breath of the Wind. She was faster than I, but we would both laugh at our game and take much delight in the fun. Every time the Wind would stir her breath, we leapt anew to our sport. Then one day as we played, my sister chanced to catch a stray leaf blowing upstream. It was fine and slender – unlike any we had yet seen. She admired it greatly, and cast her eyes down the river. I watched her gaze, and we both alighted upon the swaying branches of our home.

“It is a willow-leaf,” she whispered in awe.

I nodded, and whispered not in awe but fear. “We should perhaps not touch it,” I said.

She looked at me. Her eyes seemed strange. She ran her fingers along the edge of the leaf, and said nothing more. She surprised me then, and let the coveted leaf fly to the Wind. I questioned her with my eyes, but she would not meet my gaze. She took to the air then, and laughed as she gently caught hold of a drifting red leaf.

The White Season followed quickly after that of the wind, and our Haura warned us early of the cold. All beasts slept during the White Season, she said. They would bury themselves beneath the earth to keep safe from the bitter cold, and they would waken when the Flower Season came again. We retreated now into the body of the tree, where it was warm and comfortable. We lined our hollow with moss and leaves, and our Haura wove a mat of pine needles to cover the entrance. We were comfortable always, and we ate from the stored berries and drank from the frozen waters that our Haura caught in the empty shell of an old nut. My sister and I were amazed at how the white sparkles faded into water. Our Haura offered to us a simple explanation: she said the sparkles fell from the sky every White Season to give us drink while the river was still and the Spirits did not run or laugh. We always thought the world was too quiet during those days, and the darkness lasted much longer than the light.

Once, when our Haura was sleeping in one of these times of darkness, my sister woke me with a gentle whisper. I sat up, and felt her hands guiding me to my feet and towards the entrance to our hollow.

“Sister,” I mumbled with confusion in my voice. She hushed me before I could say more, and ushered me past the fragrant mat and into the cold. She led me further down the branch and away from the warmth of the hollow. The white light shone brightly that night, and all was white beneath us with the sparkles. I whispered to her again, and this time she looked into my eyes.

“I am going to the willow,” she said.

The coldness of the dark struck me then, and I stood trembling before her. I spoke, and my words were unsteady. “Sister, we must not. The Winged One…”

“Is sleeping,” she said. “Our Haura has told us that all beasts sleep in the White Season. Is the Winged One not a beast?”

I was silent for a moment. “I do not know,” I whispered at last.

She looked at me again, and took my hand. “I will go,” she said. “I want to see the willow.”

She released my hand then, and leapt into the air. I felt cold water stinging my eyes, and my insides ached. I moved to fly, and then hesitated. My gaze darted back to the woven mat. My sister had paused in her flight, hovering silently in the white light and watching me with keen eyes. I looked back to her, and she turned to fly on. Still trembling, I leapt into the sky. My sister’s wings glowed in the darkness, and I followed her white form as she dodged through the shadows. She had nearly reached the willow, and I felt my body go numb with the awful cold. My wings would not carry me; I fell from the sky and landed softly upon the blanket of white.

I looked up to the willow, and saw my sister’s glowing wings flit beneath its shadow. I saw her pale face turn back and look for me, but she did not glance upon the earth where I lay. Though she was far from me, I saw the fear in her eyes. I saw her pause, and I saw the shadow fall from the upper branches of the gray willow. The Winged One descended in a rush of its great black wings, and though she tried to dart away it caught her little body in a grim flash of black and red. Her tiny scream pierced the night, and the terrible shadow beat its wings once more to disappear into the swaying branches of the willow. Then all was silent in the world, and all I could hear in my mind was the voice of our Haura, singing.
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24 Jun 200445 L. Shanra Kuepers
That makes perfect sense ^-^ May be justifying too, but we're all guilty at it at least once. Don't worry about it. ^-^ Like Jennifer said - it's not really the main point of the story anyway. Though I have to point out I just revel in knowing such little facts 12

12 J. E. Schroeder replies: "Thanks! It's good to know that I can get away with my justifications (at least when their well-grounded). And yet I agree with you, it is nice to know all of the fun little background details in a story. I'll keep that in mind next time! 2"
13 Jul 2004:-) Dawn Jansen
You certainly have a way with words

13 J. E. Schroeder replies: "Why, thank you! And thanks for stopping by 2"
16 Jul 2004:-) Alice Muffin Girl Smith
~ 'While the rest of the world would burn and be left ashen and dark...' < I loved this description! ^_^
~ '...but she said **it** the magical sparkles had fallen from the sky...' < Is that supposed to be there...? Also, would "fell" word better in place of "fallen"?
~ 'She had nearly reached the willows now...' < Is "willows" supposed to be plural? I could have sworn you were talking about just one this whole time...
~ '...but she did not look for me upon the earth where I **lie**.' < "lay"; "lie" is present tense. ^_^

Woah! Cool. Depressing, but cool. ^_~ I loved how you called her "our Haura"; the casual familiarity in that was just so endearing. ^_^ And when the fish were passing beneath the willow, and the sisters were awed by how they weren't afraid: that was very cute 'n' sweet. ^_^ The whole thing had the style of a fairy tale mixed with the personal narrative, which I found very intriguing to read. ^_^ Nice job on this one, honey.

I've got only one crit on this: at the beginning, some parts of this are so cutesy-wootsey that they made me want to ralph. x_x This part is the most sickening: "We slept upon their soft petals, and when the first light came each day we woke to drink the sweet dew and eat the bright dust of the flowers. It was warm and beautiful in Flower Season, and we were only children enjoying the first delights of life." In such an original and well-crafted tale, do you really want to go so overboard on the "adorable little fairy" stereotype...?

Also, have you researched to make sure that bats don't hibernate? (I thought it was a bat, at least!) I just wanted to check on that. It's a potentially fatal flaw in the plot logic if it Winged One really SHOULD have been asleep. ^_^

Questions, comments, disagreements? Please post them in your reply. I'll be back around to read whatever you may say. ^_^

:-) J. E. Schroeder replies: "First of all, thanks for the typo/grammar-hunt! Such diligence is always appreciated 2

I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed the overall style and the little touches. I had a lot (perhaps too much) fun writing this one. Like I said in the story description, the idea just popped into my head one day and developed seamlessly. When you don't get stuck on plot, you have lots of room for creativity! It was a fun story to write, despite the sad ending.

Wow... now that you point that passage out it really is rather sickening. I hate cliches like that - I don't know what got into me! I was trying to make life by the river seem peaceful and innocent, but it definitely I definitely went a little overboard. Must edit. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

As for the Winged One, I left its identity (or species, if that's a better word) indistinct in an effort to maximze the mystery and awe surrounding it. While I rather fancied it to be a non-migratory sort of bird, I don't want to squash any interpretative images. Suffice to say, then, that the Winged One is simply a creature that somehow knows and awakens when someone passes under the shadow of its willow. Hey, that might make a good poem... 12

Anyways, many thanks for the constructive and kind comment 2"
10 Aug 2004:-) Larry N. Morris
I liked this a lot. I think what makes it so good is that you gave the fairies such a child-like quality and such innocence. Very well done.

:-) J. E. Schroeder replies: "Thanks! I'm not sure what to say except I'm glad that the story worked for you. Some of my family members tell me it's just awful and cruel, and they don't really like it for that reason... Oh well! At least my fellow Elfwooders seem to appreciate it 12"
16 Sep 2004:-) Christine M. Randolph
I love the way you conveyed how truly innocent the two fairies were. For me, it made them endearing rather than too (how did Alice put it?) "cutesy-wootsey that they made me want to ralph" Lol.

I also really liked how abrupt the death was at the end. One second she was there and then just the silence. It's a powerful image about the nature of death, especially in the 'wild.'

Stylistically this has great rhythm - the language is very fluid and moves things along perfectly.

*two thumbs up* I enjoyed this a lot. 2

12 J. E. Schroeder replies: "Well, I must say that I'm glad that the description of the fairies had a more pleasing effect than to nauseate you! I did tweak it a little in my last update, though, so some of the more "cutesy-wootsey" imagery probably did bite the dust before you read the piece...

Yay! I've never gotten a "two thumbs up" review before! You've made my day 2 Many thanks for the compliments *blushes*, and I'm glad that you enjoyed the story 2"
15 Oct 200445 Rosewood
Excellent writing, I like the innocence of the characters but I like the twist of the winged one catching the fairy sister. Its different, I write my own stories the same way.

:-) J. E. Schroeder replies: "Thanks! You know, I really would like to read some of your work. It seems we are kindred spirits, you and I 12 Anyways, glad you liked it!"
25 Oct 200445 D Joelle Duran
That is simply excellent. I don't really like writing sad endings either, but it's the grim close to this that really gives the tale its force. A close call would feel a cheat, and no encounter at all would make it seem another light, fluffy fairy story.
Since I love nature, I really enjoyed your names for and description of the seasons and how the fairies lived through them. Beautiful, beautiful work. That closing line is magnificent. =)

13 J. E. Schroeder replies: "Why, thank you! I definitely was not going for another trite fluffy fairy story with this piece, and I'm glad the tragedy worked well for you. Nature, beautiful as it is, isn't always a nice place, after all -- even for innocent little fairies. Again, thank you very much for the kind words 2"
8 Dec 2004:-) B Layne
Yes, a very nice story! It has a moral for the little children that choose not to heed the warnings of their elders. 2

Poor willows... they're one of my favorite trees. They seem to have an ominous reputation *lol*

Great story, and I'm sure I'll be making several visits to your site so I can read all your stuff! Farewell!

13 J. E. Schroeder replies: "Many thanks! And yes, it is sometimes good to listen to those wise old folks who're always rambling on and on... 12

Appearances to the contrary, I actually love willows. They have so much character - which is probably why I chose them for this story. It just wouldn't have been the same centered on, say, an oak tree... Don't you agree?

By all means, please do continue your visits! I appreciate all of your kind and thoughtful comments 2"
14 Nov 200545 Helen Auer
Heh, I really enjoyed how even through the 'happy' parts of the story, there still is a lingering feeling of forboding. Winged one? A crow? They stick around all year. Well, that's beside the fact - the way you make the fairies so free and careless is great, but there are still limits to their world.

:-) J. E. Schroeder replies: "Yes, unfortunately, the natural world is neither kind nor sympathetic! That's always a hard lesson to learn, I think -- one of the hardest. I'm glad to enjoyed that bit. AS for the winged one, it could be a crow... hm! It's a mystery to me as well ^_^ Thanks for reading!"
17 Jan 2008:-) Amanda Rose Embree
I enjoy the personification and detail here used to describe the aspects of the changing seasons! My favorite part is when the sisters are riding the Wind currents, as though they aren’t merely playing ON the wind, but actually WITH it. Riding leaves sounds like fun 1

Definitely a good moral here for young children [as it seems others have said before me]. Sometimes questioning the unknown leads to unfavorable events...and though I loathe to use a cliché, it certainly does seem the case- some things are better left alone. 2

:-) J. E. Schroeder replies: "Glad you liked it! I wrote this one so long ago you’ve actually reminded me that it was still here... but new comments are always welcome, especially on an old favorite (of mine, that is) like this one ^_^ Thanks for the kind words!"
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'The Willow':
 • Created by: :-) J. E. Schroeder
 • Copyright: ©J. E. Schroeder. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Fairy, One, River, Willow, Winged
 • Categories: Faery, Fay, Faeries, Mythical Creatures & Assorted Monsters
 • Views: 971

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