It was winter. The seashore was constantly lashed by crashing waves. They flung themselves relentlessly against the sand, pebbles and cliffs. Driftwood and seaweed were born along with the tide. As the water receded the beach was left strewn with the flotsam carried by the cold, green sea. As the young dryad watched the unfolding drama from her warm hiding place she was entranced by the wonderful colours of the winter scene. The grey skies were tinged with red. A hint of blue appeared now and then as the clouds scudded by. As the waves grew their green colour was topped by white foam while underneath they were a dark sea-blue. All these colours mixed with the deep red sandstone of the cliffs and the rainbow hues that were reflected in the wet pebbles and sand.  She sat cuddled up in her high cave and thought how she came to be here, all alone in the middle of a storm. It had been an unfortunate set of circumstances that had been made worse by her own stubbornness. She sighed, stretched and snuggled deeper into her fine spun blanket and continued staring at the sea.

Further out, where the sea was deeper and calmer and the current was less erratic there lived a seahorse. His name was Sheldon and he was rather unusual in that he had a mane made of hair just like a land pony. Also he didn’t need to be in water all the time. He had been orphaned for so long that he could not even remember his mother and father.  On the day of the storm he ventured a little higher than usual because he was intrigued by the patterns made by the waves as they broke overhead. He had not thought to go too far from safety as his instincts told him that there was extra danger there. He was about to turn back when he was caught by a passing piece of jetsam and it knocked him off his course. He clung to the sodden, jagged wood and hoped he would soon be able to drop and go home. This was not to be. The wood had a rusty nail embedded deep within it and Sheldon caught his tail on this and was unable to free himself. After a few minutes of drifting in this manner he was close to the surface and quite a long way from his home on the shelf. He closed his eyes and gave himself up for lost.

ii

As the rough winter day drew to a close the dryad took one last look at the dramatic scene that was fast fading into the twilight. She made her cave even more cosy and settled down for the night. She had many dreams that always plagued her sleep and they were often the same story. She would be standing before the woodland council who would all be chiding her from every side about her foolish and unthinking actions. Although she was very young she was not given any quarter. Her punishment was very severe and that was to be banishment for ten years. At this point in the proceedings a venerable dryad spoke out and offered a way back for the youngster. She said that if Sorel should prove herself worthy by an act of extreme bravery and dedication then they would let her back to the forest. Dryads are woodland creatures and have the job of looking after the trees. To be exiled from the woodland was a bitter blow and for many dryads would have proved fatal. Sorel was made of sterner stuff. She knew she was innocent of the crime for which she had been condemned but her loyalty to her sister’s memory would not let her speak out in her own defence. Her sister had died trying to right the wrong that she had done and so Sorel, with great compassion, had been silent and taken the punishment.

Sorel had lived in the cave for two years and it was very cosy. Gradually she had gathered sweet moss and bracken, twigs, drift wood and stones to furnish her home. Her cave was halfway up the sandstone cliffs that overlooked the sea. Oakwood, Sorel’s former home, was just over the horizon behind the cliffs where the trees were protected from the might of the weather by the towering rocks. A kindly elf took pity on Sorel and gave her the finest woollen shawl that would keep her warm and safe. He had an inkling that Sorel was hiding something and that she was not guilty of the crime for which she was banished so he decided to keep an eye on her and make sure she was not friendless. There was magic woven into the shawl and it would serve her well.

iii

Morning came clear and calm. Last night’s storm had passed and the cliffs and the beach were bathed in pale winter sun. There was a chill wind but as Sorel walked along the beach she had so much energy that she started to run and hop and dance over the pebbles. It was too cold for her to dip her toes in the sea but she ran by the side of the water as it lapped more gently, to and fro across the sandy stones. This morning the little dryad felt full of hope. When she had been exiled she thought she would be lost for ever but suddenly she began to think that there might be a way back. She had brought with her a tiny oak sapling that she kept and nurtured in the entrance to her cave. Not having a tree to care for was unthinkable and also it gave her a sense of purpose. She tended it with the love of centuries and watered it with tears that she shed for her sister who was now lost to her for ever.

As Sorel danced along the shore she spotted a piece of driftwood with an unusual shape lying in a rock pool. She decided to take it back to her cave. As she bent down to pick it up she noticed that some kind of creature was attached to the end of it. It looked dead to Sorel and she felt sad that the storm had taken a life. Gently she unhooked the creature’s tail and cradled the body in her hands. Sudden tenderness and the light of the sun encouraged Sheldon to open one eye. He realised that he had survived the battering of the waves but here was another danger. He did not know what this thing was that held him. He tried to wriggle free. He was so energetic despite his injury that Sorel dropped him into the rock pool. As Sheldon sank to the bottom of the pool he tried to swim but his injured tail would not work properly and so as he moved instead of being in control he turned round in circles. Sorel laughed at him and spoke, “Hey little one, who are you? What are you? Can I help?”

Sheldon was suspicious and tried to turn away but ended up back where he started.

Sorel laughed again, “You can turn and turn but you’ll always end up back at the same place.” She stopped laughing at him, “You’re hurt, let me help you.”

Sheldon’s tail did hurt and she did seem eager to help and he was in no fit state to runaway. “I’m Sheldon and I need to be in water, some of the time, my tail hurts. I’m at your mercy. Help me if you will.” 7 mins

A little while later Sorel had taken Sheldon back to her cave and settled him in the entrance by the oak sapling. She had put him in a hollow log which was filled with sea water. She had cleaned the wound in his tail and bound it with a strand of healing seaweed. It would take a while to heal but she thought he would then be as good as new. As the sun shone through the cave entrance the little seahorse slept and Sorel quietly went about her daily routine of tidying. Because she now had another creature to care for she felt even more sad that her sister was not here to share it with her. Her tears came even faster than ever and she had more than enough tears to give to the oak tree. She put some away in a dish made from a shell for the next day. As she was crying Sheldon woke from his sleep and saw what she was doing. He was over come with compassion for the dryad and determined to ask her why she cried, later when she was happier again.

iv

The elf, (Leaf was his name which when translated into Elvish looks something like; Pfthfthǽpysh♪whorl♫phewnon); who had befriended Sorel, had been asking questions about her trial. There had been intense rivalry between Sorel’s sister and Purslane, another dryad in Oakwood. It had started a long time ago because Purslane was jealous of Celandine’s beauty. Dryads have small pretty features as a rule but Celandine was considered to be beautiful beyond the norm. Trees don’t care how pretty their guardians are but Purslane was jealous and took every opportunity to damage Celandine’s reputation.  An opportunity arose one day when a handsome woodsman came to live on the edge of Oakwood. He knew that they should never cut down any living tree. He made his living by gathering the old wood that had naturally fallen, chopping it into bundles and selling them at market. Parslane grew rather fond of the young woodsman and one day made it quite clear to him of her favour. He, perhaps rather too brusquely, spurned her saying that he had fallen in love with Celandine. Parslane flew into a rage and became determined to bring them both down. So great was her jealousy that she went to Celandine and told her that the council had given up on her young tree, a rather sickly oak sapling that Celandine was nursing back to health, and that she must ask the woodsman to cut it down. This Celandine did with tears flowing down her cheeks. It was as the last bough fell that Celandine fell into the arms of the young man for comfort.

Sorel came upon her sister in this compromising position and told her to go away and take an acorn and plant it in the most advantageous spot she could find. Parslane had spoken with the elders and drew them into the clearing just as Sorel was trying to clear away the debris.  The surprise on the face of Parslane and the anger on the faces of the council was both revealing and frightening. Sorel was summoned to appear before the elders that evening. Sorel looked at Parslane and knew she had been instrumental in this calamity. As dusk fell on the wood Sorel looked for her sister to tell her to stay out of sight and explain what was going to happen. She came upon Celandine lying beside the place where she had planted the acorn. As Sorel touched her she realised that she had died for underneath her sister’s body was a slither of wood that had pierced her heart. Her sister faded away and became a shadow that would drift for ever over the tree tops of her beloved wood.

The woodsman left the wood to wander, alone and bereft, until he found a home with his brother, the shepherd.

The elders of the council were unforgiving that evening and handed down the punishment of exile. Sorel refused to explain that it was her sister who had cut down the tree so she just had time to gather her few belongings and the young sapling before she was silently excluded from her home and her friends.

Leaf made a promise to himself that he would get to the bottom of the incident and try to make amends.

v

Sheldon grew stronger by the day. Sorel grew happier by the day. They became very fond of one another and cheered each other with long stories through the dark winter nights. Each day Sheldon spent more and more time out of water. Sorel used her special shawl to keep him warm. Each time he wore it he seemed to grow. He grew larger than any other seahorse anywhere. His real mane of hair spread to the rest of his body and he started to look less like a sea horse and more like a small pony. By Spring time he had lost all of his seahorse characteristics and was indeed a proper pony. He did like to swim though and sometimes went far out to sea just because he could. Sorel and Sheldon walked each day on the shore and wondered at his transformation. They decided he must have been enchanted and that for some reason the spell had been broken. In this they were quite right. Sheldon’s parents had roamed the hills away beyond the wood. They were frivolous and left their tiny, odd looking foal while they galloped and had fun. Leaf had found the tiny creature just as a troll was about to eat him for his supper. Leaf distracted the troll and took Sheldon away where the troll couldn’t go. Trolls do not like the sea, it scares them and so Leaf transformed Sheldon into a seahorse until such times as it would be safe for him to return to land. If he ever did the spell would gradually fade away and he would be restored to his former state.

Every day Leaf would go to stand on the top of the cliffs and watch Sorel and Sheldon become friends. As the spring came with all the enchanting woodland flowers showing their colourful heads and the leaves on the trees burst forth with bright green light Leaf decided that the time had come to bring Sorel back to the wood. It was not going to be easy as Parslane had become very powerful since the sisters had left. She was about to be asked to be part of the elder council. Leaf had to go away to bring back the woodsman as part of his plan. One evening he took off and travelled many miles before sunrise searching and searching for the hapless woodsman. Leaf had done many kindnesses over the years to many creatures including some people who lived on the edge of the wood. When after seven nights of searching he had no clue as to the young man’s whereabouts he asked the old bodger and his wife if they knew where the woodsman lived. They told him to ask the old spinning woman and she told him to ask the charcoal burner and he told him to ask the shepherd and he said that the young woodsman was his brother and that he lived with him and his family. Since the day of Celandine’s death he had not picked up his axe for any reason. He roamed the fields and never went near the woods as it made him sad. Leaf was relieved to finally find the man as the time for Parslane’s entry into the council was drawing very near. What Leaf hadn’t accounted for was the young woodsman’s reluctance to help. He reasoned that it wouldn’t bring Celandine back as she was lost for ever. It took all Leaf’s powers of persuasion, and a little magic, to get him to agree to the plan.

vi

Early summer in the woods was always enchanting. The light shone through the leaves and branches which dappled the ground. Creatures scurried around finding food and revelling in the warmth after the cold winter and rather chilly spring. It had been decided to hold the Elder Council on the first evening after the first briar rose blossomed. Leaf kept a careful watch over the briar and when it was nearly ready he put his plan into action.

Sorel and Sheldon had received a visit from Leaf. He told them that there was a special party on in the woods and if they were quiet and remained hidden he would lead them to a spot where they could see what was going on. On no account must they make any noise or they would be chased from the wood. Sorel agreed and was very excited as she knew it was Artemis’ fete day and there would be much merriment. Artemis was the goddess of trees and dryads and so her special day was always celebrated as the dryads who held her in the highest esteem.

Leaf led the two friends to a thick bush where they were well hidden. He had told them there may be a surprise but on no account could they cry out. After the heat had started to go from the afternoon the woodsman appeared in the clearing carrying his axe; he sat on a log and seemed to be waiting for someone. A short while later Parslane entered the same clearing and went up to the young man and put her arms round his neck. She smiled up at him and said, “I forgive you for preferring Celandine. Now it is just you and me.” It was clear to Sorel and Sheldon that the woodsman was uncomfortable but Parslane was so sure of her own beauty and her new position of power that was about to be confirmed by the council that she did not notice anything untoward in his manner.

Gruffly the young man said, “Thank you for agreeing to meet me on such an important night like this. Has anyone ever found out about the truth of that day when Celandine died?”

Parslane answered still smiling her triumphant smile, “Her sister is banished and no one knows that I was the one to tell her to cut down the tree. I was jealous of your love for her. Now you want me back,” she paused and her eyes shone with the power that has no compassion, “Well I am not to be trifled with; you will die now so that you can never tell anyone of what I have just confessed.” Parslane held a thorn in her hand that was tipped with poison from the deadliest of toadstools. As she raised her hand to plunge the awful thorn into the young man’s arm Leaf leapt forward and knocked it away from her grasp. All the council who had been hiding in the bushes around the clearing came forward and surrounded Parslane. She was carried away to await her punishment.

vii

The evening was nearly over. Sorel had been exonerated by the council and allowed back into the woods. Parslane had been banished forever and stripped of all her rights as a dryad. Gradually she would become a shadow and then fade to nothing for such was the fate of dryads who lose their way so completely. The woodsman had agreed to come back to live near the forest and clear up as before.

Leaf, Sorel and Sheldon were sitting by the sea on the shore underneath Sorel’s cave. Sorel was quietly pleased with all that had happened but she was very shocked at the attempt by Parslane to kill the woodsman. Between them they decided that they would all look out for each other in the years to come. Sorel would go back to the woods but also keep her cave by the sea for it is where she found great peace and enchantment almost to match that of being in her beloved wood. Sheldon would be her constant companion and she could ride him whenever she wished. Together they would regard Leaf as the dearest of friends. None of them would be lonely again. After all it was Leaf’s compassion for a young foal and his belief in Sorel that had led to such a happy outcome.

The End

Denny Bradbury

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