The annual harvest was over and it was the time for the festivities to begin. The lord of the manor was hosting the event and had his cooks and servants create a large feast for not only themselves, but for the entire town to enjoy. It was the one day of the year that the peasants and hard working folks of the lord’s land could truly rest from a year’s worth of hard labor. It was a time of celebration and fun.
On top of the large feast being prepared, merchants, peddlers, traders, and storytellers would come to sell with the commoners. Children were able to buy special treats, while the men examined tools and animal harnesses for the next planting season, and the women would examine pots, pans, and fine jewelry.
Away from the crowds young Esme peeked out from behind a water barrel by the door of a house. She watched with wide brown eyes as a group of children were running around chasing one another with their sticky treats in hand. A small amount of Esme wanted to join but she remained hidden. She knew that no one would want her near them. Not even her parents had loved her enough to keep her after they discovered her tainted skin. Though they had kept her purple blemish a secret, they had never treated her like a daughter, and when the sheriff from her previous home had discovered it and announced it to the village, Esme’s parents did nothing to stop the villager’s attempt at burning her at the stake after accusing Esme to be a witch. Luckily, Esme had been able to escape before they had the chance.
Now she stood hidden away from the people of this new village. Her dress was torn and nearly rags, and because of this she couldn’t reveal herself. The sleeve that covered her arm was now torn revealing the tainted skin beneath.
Esme watched the children enviously as they were called over to the commencing feast. Her mouth watered at the sight of the roasted boar and all of its juices dripping down into the now distinguished fire. She had not eaten in a few days now and even her last meal was just a few berries. At the sight of the meat being cut, there was a rumbling sound from her stomach urging her to go forward, but her mind kept telling herself to stay put.
“Would you like to join?” A voice asked from behind Esme. She jumped up suddenly and knocked against the water barrel causing some of the cold liquid to spill over the side. Esme turned quickly, trying to right the barrel, but only managed to spill more. After it finally steadied, she whipped around causing her dull colored brown tangled hair to hit her face.
A man stood before Esme with a bright smile that had a magical comforting effect toward Esme. He had one arm hidden behind him. With the sight of the man’s arm hidden, Esme threw her arms behind her remembering the blemish.
“Well?” The man asked.
“Um…er…yes…I mean no,” Esme squeaked.
“I guessed as much, so I brought you my plate,” The man said soothingly and he then revealed a steaming plate of boar from behind his back. Esme ate the meat quickly and soon only the bone was what was left. After she had finished eating the man spoke again, “Come I want to show you something.”
Esme didn’t budge. She knew nothing about this man. Even with his kind manner, as far as she knew he could be leading her into a trap, and if it was then this time she wouldn’t be able to escape.
“It’s alright child,” The man reassured. “I know about the arm, but it does not matter to me, nor will I speak of it to anyone.” Then he held out his hand as a sign of peace. Esme gradually reached for it, feeling its coarseness, a sign of years of working. Yet it was still warm and comforting. She noticed as well a large scars in his wrists. They walked in silence for the longest time. Esme was content to do just that after seeing the man was leading her away from the village and toward the forest. As they entered, the bright sunlight disappeared and darkness enveloped them, not enough where they couldn’t see, but it was enough to cause Esme to grow nervous. She never liked the dark damp trees. The place seemed endless and cramped, and after having to survive there for many days avoiding wolves and other predators, it only added to her fear. With a soft squeeze from the man, however, Esme was reassured. She trusted him and if he wasn’t afraid why should she be?
Then after about another twenty minutes the man led her to a rock wall covered in vines. Esme looked up at the man, confused. “You led us to a dead end,” She stated simply, a little confused.
“Not everything is what it seems, child.” Was the simple reply.
“Well, it looks to me that we are standing in front of a wall of rock. That seems pretty straightforward to me,” Esme answered dryly.
The man didn’t answer but instead pushed against the vines, causing them to part. Before Esme could say anymore, he took her hand and led her through a tunnel and then straight into a wondrous sight.
A large clear glistening pond rested in the center of a willow tree forest. Esme had never seen anything like it. The willow trees were tall and strong, but ever so droopy and sad looking. Even with that, they also had a wondrous joyful feeling. Some of their lowered branches gracefully touched the pond’s surface causing gentle ripples to emerge. Bright sunshine shone down upon the trees and on Esme and the man as they walked forward. The warmth of the sun made Esme feel so happy. There was nothing like it. As she peered upward, however, she noticed there was no sign of the sun.
Seeing the puzzled look the man spoke, “Come I will show you.” He then released Esme’s hand and led her to the far end of the enveloped forest where the largest of the willow trees stood tall and strong. Its leaves, however, were not green or drooping, but golden and raised to the sky with a power that Esme could hardly stand to look upon it. The man stopped and stood to the right of the tree.
Finally, Esme had the courage to ask, “Where are we?”
“The Willow Tree Forest,” The man replied. “A comforting place for all the lost. I have taken many here to find peace.”
“How did it come to be?” Esme questioned.
Then the man began his story, and thus, it went like this:
“Long ago the first willow tree, Father Willow, created the world and two willow trees to be like him. Everything was perfect and never wrong. In fact the willows of that day had branches that stretched to the heavens in happiness just like Father Willow’s. They had everything they wanted.
“However one day the two rebellious willows had decided to test Father Willow’s greatness. This was unfortunate indeed. It caused Father Willow’s world to not be perfect any longer. Soon all were subjected to the ability to do wrong. The two willows were soon distraught with great sadness and their branches drooped in mourning. Soon their children were born from their seeds, and they too did wicked things, and their children after them, and so on. Each one was saddened with how the world became. That is why every willow now droops. However, their is a hope in them that one day Father Willow will restore what was broken so long ago as he had promised. That is why so many are drooping but have a sense of joy.”
Esme looked in wonder as she saw the forest with even more interest, “And will Father Willow restore this place again?”
“Of course. Father Willow does not break his promises. He has already promised a second coming.” The man replied. “He loves all of his children and would never forsake them.”
“I wish I had a father like him,” Esme said longingly.
“But my child you do,” The man answered. “Father Willow never turns away anyone who comes to him, nor does his son.”
“You mean I can become part of his family?”
“Yes. You only need to ask.”
Esme turned away just then and stared into the beautiful forest. She could see the struggles many were having, some far away from water and slightly withered, with others near the pond that grew tall but were beginning rot for they soaked up too much water. Only those closest to Father Willow were tall and strong. However, every one of them was set on a goal: to trust Father Willow and wait for him and his son to come. Esme knew she wanted it. She longed for it. She longed for a family. Esme turned around to speak something to the kind man but saw he was no longer there, instead replaced with a willow at the right side of Father Willow. He stood tall and stronger than any of the other willow trees. The willow tree’s bark was scraped, a large gash was on the side, and there were four holes, two within two branches, and two more down at the bottom, but it looked all the more powerful and kind because of it.
“I want to be part of this family. Please let me,” Esme said softly with tears in her eyes.
A gust of wind blew in and a bright light from Father Willow shone, blinding her. She felt an amazing, unexplainable transformation. Then when she could see again, Esme saw that she herself was a willow tree. A hope for the future emitted throughout her drooping branches and leaves. Though she knew her life would be hard, the hope outweighed the pain. She was free and would be able to be comforted knowing Father Willow and his son accepted her despite her blemish. She was free indeed.