O’ Tannenbaum

Once upon a time there was a tree. It was quite the most wondrous tree in all of the Schwarzwald. Folk travelled for miles to marvel at its verdant branches. It was said that anyone who laid their eyes upon the tree wept with joy, until their heart was cleansed and their vigour renewed. Bards dedicated poetry, written in adulation whilst the strings of the folk sung out with reverence for nature and all its glory.

“How beautiful, it is the most beautiful tree in all the world.”

In time the tale of the fair tree reached the ears of the King. The King was a man who loved the world and loved all that he saw. Even though the last few years had been some of the hardest of his reign, he was still moved by the tale of the tree. The King knew he must set off at once, to see the spectacle for himself. For the king supposed, that if his heart was washed clean, his people would prosper and joy would spread throughout his lands. 

Despite his ardour, the King could not set off at once, as he had the affairs of his court to consider, so he called for his son and daughter at once. The kingdom would need protection whilst he undertook his journey; so he had to determine which of his advisors would be left in charge. A task that required both wit and wisdom – for everyone knows that advisors seldom can be trusted.

The Crown Prince spent his days hunting, riding and wooing, as most young men of his age were prone to do. The King thought that some time performing princely duties would temper his rash impulses. What was a tree to a prince? A trifle! There were thousands of trees in their own estate, each as beautiful as the tree in the tale. The Crown Prince had much more important pursuits than the tree. So the King bade his son to stay behind and ensure the safety of the Kingdom whilst he was away.

Ever since she had been born, the King’s daughter was the apple of his eye. When she heard of the tree she was charmed at once and begged her father to take her along. It would be an adventure, perhaps the last she could take before she had to wed a prince from distant lands. Ever since her mother died these three years past she had become her father’s constant shadow. Now she was not content to be left behind while her brother held court.

Every morning she begged her father to take her with him on his grand adventure. Every evening, as she brushed her hair, she sent her wishes to the Gods. The princess begged them to let her see more of the world than the castle, which she knew inch by inch. One day she would move far away and it seemed, to her, that she needed to know more about the world. All she knew was how to be a princess. Soon she would learn what it meant to be a wife. The world was so very big and she felt as though she knew so very little. Touched by his daughter’s plight finally the King relented and agreed to her demands.

It was, therefore, decided that the King would take his daughter, and the prince would make sure none of the Earls who might seek to usurp the King, were able to lay hands on his crown, whilst he was away. 

It was winter and progress was slow but the King owned the finest horses in all of the land. At his side were the finest knights, the procession was quite the finest in all of Baden. Everyone said so. Every morning they hitched the King’s banners, colours fluttering in the breeze. Every afternoon they pitched their camp and made merry long into the twilight.

Whispers of the King and his men flitted through the trees, carried on the breeze to the glade where the Fir stood, tall and majestic. I can draw a King, thought the tree, arranging its branches this way and that until the snow artfully draped around needles and the light caught every whorl in its bark. I am the most magnificent tree in all of the world. After all the tree had heard the words of men and had no reason to suspect them false. It had grown proud over time and wanted everyone from peasant to prince to admire it.

Not even the first storms of winter halted their progress and after two weeks the King’s journey came to an end. At last he could look upon the tree and he was pleased with all that he saw. The tree was every bit as beautiful as he had heard, and perhaps even more breath-taking than he had imagined. The court artist was called and bade to paint the tree so the King could always remember its loveliness. Yet the artist was a wicked man and when he saw the tree he knew that he could never render its beauty; for art comes from the heart and all that dwelt within the artist’s heart was ugliness and vice. So the artist devised a plan that neither the tree nor the King could have foreseen.

When no one was looking he slipped arsenic in the princess’s wine goblet. Soon she fell ill and retired to bed. The artist was every bit as clever as he was cruel so he scattered the tree’s needles upon her pillow. The tree had only thought the artist wanted to more closely admire its foliage so had gifted him its finest leaves. As the princess tossed and turned and gasped her last its needles wove with her auburn curls.

No one would suspect the artist, not when he could present another culprit for the princess’s untimely demise. A tree could not defend itself, especially if the artist provided evidence. Needles in her hair, a painting that was warped by dark magic and an absence of any other motive. Who but the tree would have cause to cast such a terrible curse upon the King?

The King was distraught, possessed by wrath and malevolence, lashing out at any who drew close. Even his favoured knights were at a loss as to what to do; for he would not let them approach and his daughter rotted where she lay. Amidst the confusion the painter spun a tale, whispered into ears of Squires, too naïve to know better. Soon it fell from the knight’s lips, eager to explain the madness of the man they had long loved and respected as their King. 

“A witch planted the tree!”

“It is cursed and unnatural!”

Something had to be done so a messenger was sent to the prince, urging him to his father’s side. When, at last, the Prince arrived he was flanked by a number of the court, who presented themselves as advisors, but in fact were vultures, draped in fine robes. The evidence was presented, the madness of the King, the festering remains of the princess and the whispers of witchcraft and dark magic rooted in the tree. Soon, from the lowliest camp follower to the greatest Earl, the lie which the painter had crafted was spoken as truth. The earth beneath the tree was cursed and its wicked seeds had caused a tragedy. 

Something had to be done about the tree. 

For nothing beautiful could truly be trusted and in his grief and wrath, beset by his court the King made a mistake.

“Chop it down! Burn it all. Salt the Earth. This witch cursed wood must be destroyed!”

So it came to be, that the tree with no vice, except perhaps its vanity ceased to be…

Or so they thought.

For humans are peculiar things, full of mysteries and superstitions. 

Even though decades had passed since that ill-fated day, every parent still warned their children not to go in the witch wood – The Hexenholz. A witch died there, the lands were cursed. A child might be turned into a newt. Or disappear.

So it came to be that no one knew about the tree, there was no one who could admire its strength and resilience as it had sprung anew from the charred soil. The very least they could do is praise me, thought the tree who had grown twisted with spite. Yet every day it still arranged its branches so it would be the most beautiful tree in the whole forest. Mankind had been most unkind, yet the tree still wished to be admired. Outwardly, the tree looked as though it hadn’t changed since the day that the King had come to visit.

Until one day a child disappeared.

Humans have a habit of forgetting the truths of the world; after all myths are just myths. So when the child disappeared the townsfolk thought perhaps he had fallen somewhere or become lost in the growing gloom. Some said he might have been eaten by wolves. Only a few people still believed in the tale of the witch that had cursed the forest.

No one noticed that the tree’s needles had turned a deep shade of red.

And dear children, you might think that is where the story ends, but you would be wrong. 

You see…

Once upon a time there was a tree. It was quite the oddest tree in all of the Schwarzwald. Though it was wondrous to behold, it lived in silence, mired in a pocket of unease within an otherwise normal forest. A man heard about the tree, or perhaps he heard about the witch who had planted it. Perhaps he even knew of the tale of the King who had died from grief. 

It is even possible that the man, himself, was cursed with lack of luck.

All adventure which must end in folly, beings in good spirit. So the man set off to find The Tree, if it could be found at all. At first he made good progress – the nights were long but the ground was firm beneath his feet. The further he crept into the forest, though, the more a chill of some foreboding thing settled deep into his gut. The ghostly call of owls, chilled his blood as they flitted between the trees. The sound of his own footfall seemed to suggest he was not alone. Everything seemed strange, as though reality had twisted his days into weeks.

On the eve of his seventh day searching the world became silent, the sky disappeared beneath dense foliage and even the weather seemed intent on forbidding his progress.

As snow started to drift between the lowest branches the man began to feel nothingness welling up from within. The harsh shudder of his own breath was deafening, footsteps seemed magnified by the lack of any other living sound. Twilight threatened any remaining vision, throwing spectral shapes across the unnatural glow of building drifts. The man had to stop, his strength sapped by each shin high sink into the snow.

In the dark The Tree looked like any other, how could a man know that this tree was The Tree? It was easy to become disoriented in the gloaming and so the man came to rest below The Tree, curled up amongst its gnarled roots. Soon the man fell asleep, whether through exhaustion, the cold in the marrow of his bones or the faint warmth as the snow finally cocooned him.

In the dead of night, with a mighty groan, roots ripped through the earth, ensnaring the foolish creature, who had sought sanctuary there. The Tree took great pleasure in crushing the life from tiny forms; the snapping of bones – a symphony of delight. Every limb was plucked apart, the man’s blood watering the Tree’s vengeful soul. Soon the parts which once had been the man were dragged down beneath the earth. Darkness swallowed him as the wail of a hundred voices rose from the grave woven between the tree’s roots.

Once upon a time there was a man, then one day that man was gone.

No one noticed there was a tree, or the bodies beneath its roots.

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