Short Fiction: The Gold-Green Forest

Hey all, just wanted to post a short story I scribbled up today.  It’s not quite a flash fiction, although I’ll categorize it as such for easy finding later, but it’s about the right length.  A short fantasy story about a thief trying to steal from a god.  What could go wrong?

Small disclaimer: This is the first draft of a quick one-off story, so there may be typos and other errors, but I hope you enjoy it all the same!

Stealing from gods just shouldn’t be so damn hard.

Lyra walks through the thick undergrowth of the forest, wincing at every step that bends a twig or rustles a leaf.  The god of this place is ancient and knows it like a dragon knows its horde.  Every little displacement, every footstep, is a sign to it that something might be wrong.  A buzzing in its ear growing more insistent with every mistake.

It’s been rumored that there’s no way to sneak up on this god, that he grows from the forest itself and sees every spot in it in all its complexity like you and I see color, without any undue thought.  But she tries to sneak up anyway.

Above her thrushes flit between branches heavy with spring leaves, the light turning green as it filters down through.  There are ferns everywhere around her legs, brushing against nicked and scarred leather armor and the hilts of daggers.  The soil underfoot is black with nutrients and soft with water from rains and the creek that babbles somewhere nearby, unseen.

And in front of her is a clearing, with tall grass waving in the spring breeze, bringing the scent of sunlight and honeysuckle to her nose.  Flowers grow among the grass, splashes of color like paint splatters on a green canvas, and bees and butterflies flit between them to feed.

Lyra reaches the edge of the clearing, easing into the shadow of one of the great trees, rough bark brushing her face as she peers around the side of it at her prize.

There is a single tree in the center of the clearing, ancient and gnarled, that reaches with twisted branch-fingers towards the clear blue sky.  Moss grows over it in irregular patterns, and birds nest happily among its branches.  The leaves start high up, a strange narrow crown, and it has seeds that spin through the air as they fall, spreading far and wide as they’re carried by the wind.

And nestled up there, high in the branches, is a bundle of golden fruit.  It weighs down its branch, bending it to the point the fruit lays nestled in the crook of two other branches, three hands working when one should do.  The fruit sparkles in the sunlight, more than just mere reflection making its surface seem to glow.

Lyra takes a deep breath and blows it out slowly, quietly.  She scans the clearing with grey eyes, brushes an errant short lock of brown hair out of her face, and steals across the clearing, moving with the low creeping walk of the finest thieves of the age.  Her head whirls around as she reaches the base of the tree, but there’s still nothing but birds and bees.  She realize she’s holding her breath, and lets it out before taking a great leap and grasping her slender hands with their quick fingers around the top of the first branch.

She heaves herself up, moving with the swiftness of an acrobat of the Finesian circuses, leaping between branches, cushioning her landings so that the birds on the tips are not even disturbed.  She moves towards the center of the tree, where the bark lays in great slabs, and pushes the tips of her boots between them, climbing the trunk like a rock face, until she is mere meters from her target.  Lyra eases out onto the branch, and then creeps along on all fours like a mountain lion, careful balance keeping her stable until she reaches the crook where the golden fruit lays.

She gets down on her stomach, wrapping her arms and legs tightly around the branch, and then reaches out with one hand to pluck a fruit from the bunch, eyes dancing with the sparkling light.  Her fingertips can almost brush the glowing surface when the tree shakes like a willow caught in a thunderstorm.

The world turns upside down around her, but Lyra hangs on tight, hair whipping this way and that as the tree continues to buckle and bend.  The sky grows dark, and she feels an icy cold set into her bones—

And the world is as normal again.  The birds look at her, cocked heads curious, the sky is blue, and the sun warms her skin.  The golden fruit is there, within reach, but she keeps herself clamped to the branch, unwilling to let go, when a voice sounds in her head:

Who tries to take the fruit of the Gold-Green Forest?

Lyra’s eyes fly wide, her heart races.  But she tries to keep her voice even as she speaks.

“I am Lyra.  Some know me as a thief, others as one who has walked among the gods.  But I am simply me.”

Lyra.  We have heard of you.

“That’s terrifying.”

Worry  not.  Lofglyn sends her regards.  Why do you seek to steal the fruit? How have we wronged you?

“Wait, what? How do you know I’m here to steal it?  Maybe I just want to look at it.”

When you touch the bark, we can see through your deceit to true intentions.

“To be fair, I didn’t actually lie just then.  I just posited a few hypotheticals.”

Silence.

“A man requested that I bring back one for him.  He wants his daughter to have it on her wedding day.  He offered good coin, which I may use to finance the safety and continuation of my guild.  I saw no ill in this, thinking the fruits a curiosity of the forest, if well-guarded.  I have no malevolent intentions.”

We disagree. The fruit must remain.

“I can’t even take one?”

The tree rustles, leaves sounding like rain as they brush against each other.  You cannot.

Why?

The Golden Fruit is the core of the forest.  It is why this forest grows, its very center. It is me, the spirit of this place. It is the birds and the insects, the grass and the trees.

Lyra turns this over in her head. “And let me guess, without this, the forest will die?”

It will cease to be.

“So, die?”

I have said what is the truth.  If you cannot interpret it as such, that is not my concern.

“You’re very helpful.  I don’t suppose you have something I can take with me as a substitute, do you?”

No. I am sorry, but your concerns are not my own. Anything you take from this forest that would even approach the value of the fruit would diminish it too much to be allowed.

Lyra thought again.  “Okay, I have a proposition.”

Yes?

“Could I get your permission to let them have the wedding here? To be in the presence of the glory the fruit represents, even if they cannot take it.”

They would take of my streams, my bark, my grass, my trees.  The greed of humans would corrupt this place in such numbers.

“I guess it did only take one of me, huh?”

You are an elf.  That is different.

“Less than you’d think.  Okay, how about just the girl and her husband-to-be? And I’ll chaperone them to make sure they don’t take anything. Sound good?”

Why do you care so much for this wedding? Do you not merely desire coin?

“They seem like nice kids, I guess. And I hate leaving a job unfinished.”

A woody silence followed before the tree spoke again. This is acceptable. When you return, knock on the outer trees of this forest, so I know it is you who brings in more outsiders. Now leave me to peace, for now.

“Geez, always in such a hurry.  I thought trees were supposed to be slow.” Lyra clambers down out of the tree, trying to stop her hands from shaking long enough to make the descent.

You are disturbing the birds, she hears, and then the voice of the tree is gone, and she walks into the forest, surrounded by its very essence as she makes her way home.

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