Hyacinth King
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The Journal of the Walk, Sunday, June 1st

It had been so pleasant out, and such an easy stroll through the forest, that I nearly failed to notice the change in the trees around me. The old, familiar oaks and beeches and firs had given way, though slowly, to massive, twisting species I could not identify. Each was carpeted in moss soft as velvet and draped with luxuriant vines of every possible color of green imaginable. As I passed by a particularly towering specimen, I gently ran the back of my hand against the moss, wondering to myself how old the arboreal titan beneath must have been.

The air itself had grown much, much warmer, and I surmised I must have somehow entered into a more tropical climate. The humidity caused my clothes to adhere to my sweating skin in a way that wasn't unpleasant, so much as it was a reminder that I was inhabiting a living, breathing body. Sometimes, in my travels, I enter into a state of near-reverie, and it is easy to be so focused on the journey that the self is entirely lost to it. In this new forest, such a measure of tranquility was nowhere to be found.

After a time following the path through the underbrush, as much as "path" is a word that adequately describes the beaten-back and trodden-down ferns that seemed nevertheless poised to overgrow the trail in a night, I came upon a village. It was a sort of a tangle of stone and wooden buildings weaving in and around the trees and along the bank of a broad, white-water river, across which was constructed an exquisite wooden bridge. I was grateful to see the village, as such places are often generous with hot meals and friendly conversations.

As I entered the village, I noticed a young woman splitting wood against a tree-trunk slab so large that, had I laid upon it, there could have been four more of me and the five of us together might not have measured its full diameter. After cleaving a chunk of wood in two, she rested her axe against the small cottage next to the chopping block and waved to me.

"Hello, stranger," she said. "You must have come a long way."

I shrugged. A long way means many different things to many different people, after all.

"Well, in any case, it's good you happen to be visiting now, rather than last year," she continued. "Our little village has had its fair share of struggles, but our new king is going to set everything right."

I had never heard of such a little hamlet having something so lofty as a king before. Curious, I inquired about the difficulties her village had faced. She led me down the path and into the heart of the village and into the square.

"Look around," she said, gesturing with open arms. Several of the buildings were burnt to cinders, and small memorials had been constructed where the entrances to them might have been. Wide swaths of the forest nearby had also been burnt to the ground. The other people of the village waved to us as we passed, but they seemed downtrodden, and I noticed how their eyes slipped past the ashen ghosts of the buildings around the square.

"What happened here?" I asked.

"Our last leader made a huge mistake." She pointed up the trail to the beautiful bridge I had seen before. "He was eager for us to explore and build, to grow on the other side of the river."

I realized that the bridge was indeed quite new. With my shifted vantage point, I was able to see that, to be as sturdy as it was against the force of water at its length, it must have taken a tremendous amount of wood to create.

"He chopped down the tallest tree nearby, and it took us four years to fashion it into the bridge," she said. I understood then that the chopping block she had been using must have been the stump from that very tree. "The tree was very old, and it was twice as tall as any of the other trees around."

I looked up at the canopy high, high above. It must have been a very tall tree indeed.

"Every few summers, we have thunderstorms," she went on, as we walked to a cottage that must have been hers. She opened the door and waved me inside. "Every few summers, the old giant would hold out her branches, and by her kindness we were shielded from the wrath of the heavens above."

We stopped in front of a small fireplace in her cottage, above which hung a limb of a tree, charred black from a lightning strike. She reached out and touched it with a tender reverence, like a child touching her mother's face.

"Last summer, we were not."

I asked why they did not find a different place to live, one where they were not subjected to the fierce summer storms.

"Have you ever abandoned everything you know and love, of a place, of a home?" she asked.

I thought about that question for a moment. Quickly, I realized that any answer of mine that did such a difficult question justice would be far too complicated and long-winded for this conversation, so I treated it as a rhetorical one. However, I did remember that she mentioned a new leader, a king, and so after that king I inquired. Her eyes brightened as she picked up a wooden bowl full of something I could not make out in the dim light and led me outside again.

"We found our new king, and he will make everything right again. He is wise, and he would never teach us to harm the forest or to grow past our station. He will keep us on the right path and in our right place." As she spoke, we wound around a dark grove of trees to a small clearing. The sun shone down pleasantly through the canopy, and glittering dragonflies darted through the air.

Around a gnarled tree stump in the clearing, empty wooden bowls just like the one the woman carried were scattered about. In the sunlight of the clearing, I realized the bowl the woman was holding was full of nuts and seeds. She bowed her head and set the bowl gingerly on the stump, then stepped back, and she motioned for me to do the same. Of course, I obliged.


Down from the canopy swooped a brilliant blue parrot. The bird was bigger than most I had ever seen, and its color more dazzling than any. "An offering for you, my king," the woman said, as the bird began to devour the seeds in the bowl, cracking them with its heavy beak and discarding the shells. Soon, the parrot was finished, and it looked curiously at the woman.

"Your majesty, if my offering was pleasing to you: what words of wisdom do you have for me and for this traveler?" she asked of the bird.

The parrot's gaze seemed to flick back and forth between us, and it spoke, in a harsh and shrieking voice, "Carry on," before extending its magnificent indigo wings and returning to its perch high above us. The woman seemed satisfied and collected the empty wooden bowls, stacking them one on top of the other, and we returned to the village.

I found my legs restless before too long, and though the woman offered to find me a bed in the village for the night, I knew I needed to be on my way. She sent me with a bundled meal of grilled fish and fruits, which smelled delicious, and with it I crossed the wooden bridge.

I made sure to thank the planks under my feet for holding me up, above the rapids below.

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