This story originally appeared in the Earth First! Journal in 2014.
When the wind runs through the elders, it casts their branches out every which way and I love it. I love when autumn storms come through and take leaves with them and the leaves take off into the skies like flocks and tidings of birds.
I walk through the eldergrove unafraid, and for me that is something. I remember, when I was so young that my mother still wove leaves into my braids—I remember playing in the eldergrove and I skinned my knee and the blood came out, thick as sap, and I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid because I’d tripped over my grandfather’s roots and I knew his blood was the same as mine.
The shots rang out around us, lodging ineffectually in the bark and the wood of those-who-cannot-walk, but still we kept ourselves hidden. A second barrage came, and then the sound of a human commander ordering his men to hold their fire.
I started shaking. I’ll never not, I’ve come to accept. Alectoria, to my left, and Sorrel, to my right, wove their arms across my back, locking their fingers together, holding me still.
“It’s alright,” Sorrel whispered. “It’s alright.”
It wasn’t, of course. We were hiding behind an oak — a tree who has never walked — and somewhere before us were the hired soldiers of a human empire. Soldiers who seemed to want nothing but to cut us and kill us and burn us, to ravage the land and crush us beneath their heels.
They were the demons of my grandmother’s stories, and they’d torn themselves free of legend to come upon us from the west with axes and cattle, rending and slaughtering every tree in their sight. They lived the short lives of the damned, and were committed to eradicating any who might otherwise outlive them.
I took a breath. In. Those of us who can walk fight for those of us who cannot. This calmed me. Out. I will never grow tall, I will never feel my toes stretch down into roots, entwining with the forest. I will never join the eldergrove. I will die alone, cut down in my prime, a hundred miles from my home.
“Breathe!” Sorrel said, pulling me back into the moment.
In. Without us, there will be no eldergrove. Those of us who walk fight for those of us who cannot. Out. It has always been this way. In. I am part of the forest. Though I still walk I am part of the forest. Out. My mother, twenty-feet tall, beginning to slow. In. I fight for her. Out. The wrinkles are setting on her face, and soon will be bark. In. By my actions she might grow five hundred years more. Out. By my actions, I might grow five hundred years more.
“Ready?” Sorrel asked. At twenty-eight, he was ten years my senior, almost nine feet tall. In another five years, he’d be too slow for this work. In another five years, maybe we will have won or lost.
“Ready,” I said.
We hit the tree in front of us with our fists, shaking the uppermost boughs and tossing out the birds. We pounded and pounded. A hundred other trees took up our call, and what began as cacophony soon found rhythm. The deep sound rippled through the forest, bringing us together.
The human commander called something in his unintelligible tongue. But I knew his soldiers were quavering. They outnumbered us. They bore rifles and hatchets, they had cannon and commanders. We had our fists and one another. But to them, we are the demons.
We stopped our pounding. The forest grew quiet. And we charged.