Daphne pulled a petal free and watched it float to the grass. Death.
Around her, children’s happy shrieks infused the air as they played hide-and-seek among the trees ringing the meadow and swinging in the arm-like branches. Oh, to be like a child again, fearless and carefree with no worries for the future besides which game to play next. No fear of the Forest of Surrender or the trees contained within it.
She tugged a second petal free. It hovered in the breeze a moment before touching the ground. Destiny.
But how could one fear grafting when the trees stood as silent sentinels, ever watchful and protective?
Pluck. Death. Pluck. Destiny.
Which was correct? She alternated between the two options as she plucked the daisy’s head to one final petal. Destiny.
An omen or wishful thinking?
“Wishful thinking,” Oren had pronounced when Daphne had told him the trees were calling to her.
“Just listen,” she’d insisted. “Can’t you hear them?”
He’d stayed silent, pretending to listen, then shook his head and flashed her an indulgent smile. “Why would anyone choose to be Arboreal?”
Her people, the elves, tolerated Arboreals but didn’t understand them. Elves saw life grafted to a tree as one of limitation and slavery, not of possibility and freedom. Daphne had had the same misconception until she’d received her calling.
A shadow fell across Daphne, tugging her back to the present.
“You don’t need to resort to flower plucking, you know.” With the sun behind him, Oren’s silhouette glowed, while his expression lay shrouded in shadow.
Was he still angry with her for asking for time to decide? “What do you mean?”
“There’s no debate. I love you.” His tone gave no indication whether he smiled or scowled, but as he removed his cloak and quiver to settle down next to her, he faced the sun and his roguish grin made her blush.
Her heart dropped like a petal from a daisy. “And I love you.”
Oren pushed his blond hair behind his pointed ears—a sure sign of anxiety—before reclining on his elbows. “You’ve made up your mind, then?”
She hesitated. A group of fairies flitted around a mushroom ring, their iridescent wings glinting in the sun’s light, at peace with nature—both the world’s and their own. She took a deep breath. “Yes, beloved—”
He whooped, and before she could finish, he pulled her to her feet and swung her around the meadow. “I knew it! I knew you’d say yes. I will make you forever-happy, Daphne. I promise.”
He silenced her with a lingering kiss. She savored the moment, steeling herself to confront him. When she finally opened her eyes, he was collecting his belongings. He gave her another quick kiss and started toward their village.
“Oren, wait!” She called after him. “I need to talk to you.”
He turned, trotting backwards. “After the ceremony. I’ll see you at twilight.”
Daphne groaned and bent to gather the fallen petals. She hadn’t meant to deceive Oren, but when he’d mistaken her yes, beloved as an answer to his betrothal offer instead of the answer to whether she’d made up her mind about her future, he hadn’t allowed her to correct the misconception. Part of her didn’t want to. She wanted to make him forever-happy, but she knew she couldn’t, at least not in the way he pictured it. Not until he opened his heart to receive his own calling.
Eventually, Oren would seek her out and she would explain once again. Then she could tell him with certainty what she had suspected all along: grafters weren’t slaves to their tree. The trees sustained them. Living in a tree, being unable to leave it for more than a few hours, made no sense to Oren, but the rightness settled in the core of her soul. She could no longer refute it, any more than she could will herself to stop breathing.
Daphne wound her way through the forest to a young aspen near the stream. Now that her decision was made, she was dying to begin her new life. She dropped the petals into the stream where they settled on the water and a gentle current bore them away.
Her heart soared as the tree embraced her. Wood and flesh, heart and xylem, veins and phloem.
Death and destiny.
Everything Arboreals did for the trees was out of love, not obligation. Fulfillment of the calling was true freedom through submission—a carefree, childlike existence. Grafting was life as it was designed to be for all who will hear the calling.
Death and destiny, selfish leaving
Rebirth and renewing, now appeasing
Yearning desire, graft fulfilling
Abiding as one, true completing
Destiny eternal, abundant believing
A version of this story was first published on Splickety's Lightning Blog. Splickety has since closed its doors, but not before birthing Havok Publishing. A great place to go to get a daily dose of flash fiction.
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