Splintered Sacrifice
by Scott Appleton

With a sigh that sounded as hollow as a night wind, and a creak as old as the earth itself, the oak tree drooped its branches. All around it, where once had been a million other boughs as strong as its own, a billion other leaves as vibrantly green, a thousand trunks thick and hard, there was now a flat wasteland. A young woman stood near at branch, a string-fitted longbow held in one hand and a short sword in her other. Her hair was red as a rose's petals, and the unrelenting breath of cold wind coming at her from the east froze her cheeks into a paler hue of the same color.

The tree's branches drooped despite the rays of sunlight spilling from the eastern horizon.

In the distance, from the north, the tree felt the encroaching hoards of another tyrant bent on crossing the wasteland, determined to pass over the corpses of those who'd fallen before on the quest for greater power, more dominion. The hoards of men with spear and ax, melded to the would-be-conqueror's will. The clang of their weapons was offensive to the tree. They had no respect to nature, no desire to better themselves beyond what they were. They would not stop to consider, to listen, to patiently learn before stepping out into a world they knew little about.

If, the tree reasoned, the Creator had wanted men to be this way, then he would have sent them clear instructions to do so. And he would not have bothered with the crafting of trees and all manner of animals and insects. Instead he would have made a dull world, colorless, without a sunrise such as the one now occurring.
To the south was all that remained of a people worthy of creation, who knew not war but cared for the gardens in which the Creator had placed them. And around the gardens (which were far to the south, beyond sight over the horizon) there had once been a vast ring of trees like this one.

The tree sighed again, recalling how his brethren and sister trees had, one by one, fulfilled their purpose. His day would come, the tree had known. He just wished he had a little more time.

"They come," the rose-haired woman said simply. Without even glancing over her shoulder at the tree she held her hand toward its branches.

"Are you ready?"

It took the tree a long while to reply. Stretching out its branches it saw the enemy come on the run, yelling at the top of their lungs.

Suddenly, with a painful twist that felt like ripping its heart out, the tree broke one of its branches and laid it on the ground by the woman. The sap bled from the rip and the tree, hardened its bark before ripping another branch from its trunk.

As each branch was laid beside her, the woman cut them into angry shafts which she notched to her bowstring and sent into the oncoming warriors. Fast and accurate she shot the arrows, using up the branches as quickly as the tree could sacrifice them.

At the end, when the hoards of men had been reduced to a small mob, she cut into the tree's naked trunk. The last of its sap flowed, the last of its fragments, shot from the bow, lodged in the assailants' hearts.

In the end nothing of the tree remained, save for a bit of root dying in the sunlight. But a few shoots split the earth, coming forth to grow, and the woman waited. Another day might come when the trees could again serve their purpose.

Scott Appleton is a freelance writer living in CT. LongStoryShort has published three of his fiction works. Currently he is preparing for next year's release of his fantasy novel, Swords of the Six. Hemaintains a blog at www.flamingpen.blogspot.comContact Scott.

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