A thunderous storm roared and ravaged in the dead of night, billowing through the grove of Honeywood. Willow, an ancient and beautiful tree spirit that had bark-like skin adorned with lichen, moss, and various tree-growing mushrooms and whose head featured feathering and sweeping leaves, made her path through the grove unbothered by the storm that raged.
She was the protector of the grove, what was left of it by the humans who made their home there. She tended to the flora of the wood, using her magic to give them strength to survive the weather. It was a task she had done many times before. It was her charge to the lesser spirits who inhabited the forest. Most lay dormant within the young trees, shrubs, and grass.
The wind whipped and howled, thunder crackled, and lightning flashed. And amid the chaos, Willow heard something out of place. A sound that didn’t belong out in the dead of night, in the storm, in her wood. She shook her head and strained to listen for the soft sound underneath the cracking and whining of tree branches. The spirits whispered to her, beckoning her to the sound, showing her where it came from.
They guided her to a grand hollowed-out tree stump that once marked the centermost part of the grove when it was still a mighty forest. With a pained look, she laid a hand against its bark. Her predecessor, the protector who came before her, had long since been cut down by the humans and used to build the village stationed at the new center of the grove. She smiled sadly at the memory and averted her attention back to the hollow where a whine came from within.
Willow knelt, emitting a soft orb of light and sending it within the tree. Its warm glow lit up the trunk's interior, revealing a blanketed wicker basket. Underneath the cover, something shifted and whined as the thunder reverberated throughout the wood. Whatever lay within the basket screeched.
Hesitantly, Willow reached to uncover the mysterious creature. What could it be, and how did it end up in her grove? Honeywood had long since been protected by a barrier after the humans had arrived, keeping anything dangerous out. As a forest spirit, benevolent and a crucial part of the woods, Willow lived and roamed freely. She knew every human, entity, and animal that resided in the grove. Whatever lay within this basket didn’t belong.
As she reached to reveal the creature, she realized that it wasn’t a creature at all, but a small human baby, tiny and shivering in the cold of the damp night. Willow knew there had been no births that year in the village, though there was one expecting family who was still a ways off from their due date. Willow was puzzled at how the child came to be. Nothing got past her, within her grove, especially with the barrier in place.
Shaking her head, Willow pushed aside her thoughts. There were more important things to do. If the baby laid out in the cold for too long, it would surely fall ill and die. Humans, after all, were such fragile things. She lifted the child in her arms, sending warming magics and shielding the baby from the storm.
Willow contemplated what she should do, thinking of the various humans who lived in the village. Then it struck her, the idea of a middle-aged couple who had tried time and time again to conceive a child of their own but never blessed with one. Willow knew that the family would be a warm and kind one to raise the baby if they accepted it.
She decided she would take the child to them. Since most humans could not perceive Willow, she would have to think of a way to gain their attention. She would not be able to enter their homes as her feet could only walk across the natural ground, and she could only travel as far as the roots of her tree stretched. Thankfully, those roots had grown and connected to the trees around hers so she could travel freely in the grove.
She forged through the harsh storm, protecting the baby with each step from flying branches and sharp rain. She stopped at the medium-sized cottage on the outer edge of the village. There was no sign of candle lights, and the owners were soundly asleep despite the weather.
Gently, she set the baby down before the threshold of the cottage; it lay in the basket wrapped tightly up in its blanket. Willow put her hand against the wooden door and cringed.
Another friend. Dead.
She let out a soft, remorseful sigh and studied the door, only to find it locked. She would not be able to open it. Forest spirits, bound by the rules of nature, were restricted in how they interacted with the physical world around them. Bringing the child to the house had already drained Willow enough. If it weren’t for the wicker basket, that connection to the natural world, to Eltiar, she would not have been able to bring the child there.
The wind picked up around her, and a loud snap echoed. Willow jerked her head, whipping around as a thin pine tree moaned and creaked. The wind pushed at it, driving it toward the ground, towards the house. She snapped her head back, facing the baby, and reaching out a hand, she sent a shield around the basket.
The uppermost branches of the pine tree slammed against the thatch roof, and the house trembled. Despite the jarring noise, the dwelling sustained minimal damage.
Candlelight flickered to life within the cottage. Willow quickly removed the shield from the baby, stepping back as the front door flew open.
Candle in hand, a middle-aged man stood at the threshold assessing the storm from inside his home. His skin was tan, worn, and slightly scarred, and his hair was beginning to pepper with age. In his younger days, he had been a war hero, but now old injuries had set in, and he spent his time as a skilled carpenter of moderate success.
His wife now stood behind him. She was a full-figured woman, short and with a stern face. Her hair was a vibrant golden blonde, and she had an air of nobility. She was a seamstress, and the couple occasionally would combine their talents to create works of art for the nobles. Their modest cottage alluded nothing to their success, but they enjoyed life in the quiet village of Honeywood, choosing to invest their wealth in other aspects.
“Nathanael,” the woman called to her husband. “Is everything all …” She trailed off when she heard the soft snobs of the baby. She peered down at the basket with the child nestled in it and softly gasped.
Pushing her way past her husband, she picked up the baby, holding it to her bosom, and cooed, “How on Eltiar did you get here?” She turned to Nathanael, her eyes flashing towards his face, and softly asked. “Do you think she is a miracle from Lucerus Himself?”
“Light shine upon us.” Nathanael breathed before speaking up.”We should probably search for her family. But maybe- just maybe He has blessed us.”
Holding the door open wider, Nathanael beckoned to his wife. “Come- bring her inside, Astrid. An infant shouldn’t be out in this weather.” glancing at the pine, he added. “I will take care of that tree in the morning and the damage. Then we can put out word about the baby.” Astrid only nodded in silence, the longing in her eyes visible.