Friday, February 5, 2016

Free Fiction: Tree at the Edge of Nothing

This one is a little different than what I usually write. I don't often try for fantasy, but I was listening to the radio and there were a few lines in a song that sparked this idea, so here it is!


At long last, the tree.

Thike approached the tree slowly. He'd thought it would tower above him, grand and amazing, but this tree grew only slightly taller than his own height.

"Is that it?" asked Farfe from behind him. Even farther back waited their ship, The Running Glory, with what remained of her crew. Only the two of them had descended to the small piece of land that seemed to levitate on the bewildering edge of nothingness, and the deepness of a blue ocean.

"What else could it be? This is the end of the world." Thike dared to rest his hand on the trunk of the gnarled tree. It was rougher than he would have guessed, and knotted in several places. The leaves were small, bright green, and delicate-seeming. This tree did not look as if it had lived for millennia and would live for millennia more.

"There is nothing else here," Farfe observed. "If it is not the tree we seek, then we would never know it."

"Look. The fruit." Thike pointed skyward, and there remained one solitary golden fruit hanging on the tip of one branch. He reached for it, onto his toes for it dangled barely within reach, grasped and tugged. There was a moment of resistance and the golden orb came free. Thike cradled it in his hands. It was oval and smooth and he brought it to his nose to sniff. It smelled like nothing much at all.

"If you mean to take that with you, you must leave something behind that is its worth," came a voice.

Thike turned, and noticed Farfe did also, but with his hand to his sword hilt.

A woman stood there, come from nowhere. Her hair was black and long, and her dress covered her from neck to feet, plain and brown. "The tree only grows one a year. Many come looking, but few ever find it." She gestured to the area of mist and emptiness past the tree, where Thike did not like to look. "It is not a gift from the tree, but an exchange. What will you pay for it?"

Thike looked to the pale golden object in his hands and tried to think what he could possibly have that would be as precious. He had nothing to equal its worth, not if it were true what the fruit could do. Nothing on his ship was of great value, although he had brought some gold and some precious stones to pay for things if needed. But the fruit would be worth more. If he bargained his ship, there could be no trip home, and the voyage here meant nothing but a death sentence. The men on his ship owned their own souls. He could not deal their lives away.

After thinking it over, he handed the fruit to Farfe. "Take good care of it, and bring it home. Let Mez eat of it. It will cure him, and he will live at least a hundred years more."

"No," Farfe said, "do not do this. Mez would rather die with you, than live on without you."

"As would I, instead of him. It seems there is a choice to be made, and I am the one to make it." Thike turned to the woman. "I can only offer myself. My life, or my labor." He nodded to Farke and waved a hand at his ship. "Their lives are not mine to barter with. And a hundred ships would not be worth a single bite from this fruit."

The woman cast an experienced eye over him, and then smiled. "That is true, warrior. But your offer of your life is enough, without needing to pay the claim."

Thike breathed out in relief.

"Instead of such a debt, bring a cask of drinking water and pour it at the base of tree. And give a dram of your own life's blood in the same place, and then take your prize."

A look to Farfe was enough, and his good friend and companion hurried to comply with the request for water. Thike took out his knife and cut a shallow slash across his forearm. It stung sharply, but Thike knew it to be a very small payment indeed. After a moment, the wound bled freely and he stood there and let it drip out.

The woman watched as he bled, and as Farke returned with the water and spilled it across the ground where the roots lay beneath. "That is enough. Look."

Farke shoved a clean rag into Thike's hands, and he pressed it against his wound. Then he followed where the woman pointed, and saw a flower bloom out at the tip of one of the branches. Soft, white petals glowed, and then drifted down after a moment of resplendence. Thike blinked, and there was a small bud of something left behind, and it grew. A moment later, another golden fruit hung on the branch.

"For the next one who seeks the fruit of the tree on the edge of the world," the woman said.

"Please," Thike said, "if you would tell us who you are. Are you the keeper of the tree?"

The woman began to walk away. Over her shoulder, she tossed a few words. "The ocean is rising, you should hurry."

Thike looked to the Glory and saw that the distance between his ship and where he stood had become halved. It had been the oddest dockage he'd ever seen, with the land dropping off just where it met the sea, as if meant for a ship to perch just against the shore. Now it seemed the ocean threatened to swallow the land entirely. Thike looked to Farke and the two of them took off running.

"The fruit?" he asked as they scurried.

"Safe, in my pocket," Farfe panted.

They reached the ship just as the last of the land vanished beneath their feet, scrambling up the ladder. The crew rumbled and breathed and shouted to one another, afraid and discontent.

"Make for home," Thike ordered. "Quickly."

All around him, men sprung into action, readying the Glory to escape the edge of nothing as soon as possible.

Farke pulled the golden fruit from his pocket and handed it over to Thike. They both stared at the spot where land, and an ancient tree, once stood.

"It must still be there," Farke said. "A tree cannot live beneath the water."

"Perhaps," Thike replied. "But I do not care. I only sought it out for Mez's sake, and now I will return to him, with a cure in hand. He will heal."

Farke grunted. He eyed the fruit before Thike slipped it into his own pocket. "I'm glad of that." He slapped one hand against Thike's back. "And I've another adventure to tell, as well."

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