Mardowill

   When the monster is old, cold, and full of fury, he will wait.
   Standing at the foot of a hill, he watches the sun rise to its dawn and the night depart to its dusk. At this time of morning—when it seems the heavens are just giving birth to the world—the monster can do nothing but stand, waiting until the sun rises to an endless, hellish day. His hair in a crown, it begins to crackle, whispering as its torn keratin strands begin to shift.
   Tentacles, some would say. Roots, other would reply.
   Opening his eyes, the treant moans.
   Like a reverberating howl from the wolves in his hills, the earth creature’s thin, hollow mouth whistles across the highlands, echoing over and over until it finally hits the far mountain. The sound, like wind, echoes back, calling to him until it forces another moan.
   It’s like this every morning.
   When he wakes, he moans. When he moans, the hills groan. When the hills groan, the mountain, in turn, moans.
   Below, the light from the single house flickers to a stop.
   Mardowill sighs.
   The light has broken the cycle.
   Soon, it will begin.

   At noon—after the mighty star has fully woken his roots—Mardowill begins to shift. First his roots, then his limbs, he tears himself from the earth and shakes off the crusting remains below. These rocks—this dirt, this earth—break apart until his massive weight is free. Seemingly impenetrable until they are met with restraint, the rocks shift and begin to fall down the hill, toward the single house below.
   Beyond, a village—grand in sculpture, but nothing more than skeletons—comes to life.
   Foolish men begin to climb their towers with hammer and chisel in toe.
   They will not build, Mardowill thinks. They cannot build.
   No—something has forbidden them to. Not he, not the wolves, not the monsters in the woods—something. The something that watches over the earth with its mighty eyes and its cruel gaze, that controls time as it makes the sun rise and fall; this something—this great, eternal something—doesn’t want them to build.
   The men are destroying its land.
   Mardowill must move.
   His roots free, they tangle themselves together like moisten children in a pool, wrapping their limbs around the hardened stubs of his structure until they form hooves. Alive, in a way, they sense the things in the ground moving below them, willing him forward, but warning him of what may happen.
   The ground is weak, some say.
   If only they knew.

   By dusk, Mardowill’s bark has warmed to an almost-unbearable heat.
   He can no longer move.
   Shifting his weight into its relaxed form, the treant wills his roots away from his legs and into the ground.
   Like children, they dig, seeking the cool below.
   When they find their heart, they curl around it and begin to sleep.
   With their sleep comes Mardowill’s peace.
   The thin, moist blood that runs through his bark begins to chill and release the nutrients the mighty star has collected. His mane of green tingles, dancing beneath the fading star’s light as they begin to signal him to sleep.
   Yes, Mardowill thinks. It has come.
   His hollow eyes—which hold no more than the dull, vacant stare of an enhanced, magical being—soften.
   Had he brows which moved of their own accord, the doves that returned once every night would have noticed the shift in his complexion.
   With the star’s final descent, Mardowill can sleep.
   The birds do not notice that he has moved.

   He dreams of a place that is far and wide, with green serene and hills that gleam. Birds fly overhead and mammals graze in the distance, shifting white ears in tune with each individual sound. Bark crackles as his brethren—the living, some would say—shift. Some limbs long, some limbs wide and some limbs thin, the treants extend their arms and shift their fingers. Leaves tip most of them, but some bear the withered, ancient trait of needles, revealing their untouched majesty in a way things like Mardowill cannot.
   In the dull bliss of winter, the ancient ones do not lose their youth.
   They are to be envied.
   In the distance, there is a tree higher and grander than any other in the area.
   His face smiles.
   Yes, he says. Come.

   Dawn rises.
   Shifting, Mardowill’s vacant eyes take in the world for what it is. Twilight—bleeding across the horizon, as though the sky has just been dealt a mortal wound—breathes light to the new world before the agony begins.
   It is at this time that he must begin to prepare.
   Extending his branches, the treant begins to moan.
   The hills groan.
   The mountain calls back.
   He is one step closer.

   Eternity can pass before a mortal will realize that a tree has moved. One day, it will stand atop a hill, high and mighty and strong and wrong. The next it will be slanted, as though shifted from a grand wind from the far west, until it finally rests near the bottom of the hill.
   Miraculous, a man would say, that the tree has fallen and once more rooted itself. But unbeknownst to them, that tree never fell—it has simply moved of its own accord.
   Mardowill is fascinated by the obscure vanity the men who have been building their city for the last hundred years exhibit. Much like him, they rise at dawn to begin their day, only to waste it away destroying the world that has given birth to them. He doesn’t—or, perhaps, can’t—understand why they would waste their time. There are so many caves, so many hollow pieces of ground that they can sleep in—why destroy, then rebuild from the ashes?
   Do they know? the treant thinks. Do they know?
   Do they know that there are ancients inside their homes, whispering and groaning in the night? Do they know that they call out, moaning, groaning in the wind? Do they know that they will rise and they will fall, then be rebuilt in a wall? Do they understand that what keeps them warm at night is really screaming when it begins to crackle, that the walls they exist in are constantly speaking, reaching out with limbs that no longer persist?
   Mardowill isn’t sure.
   He doesn’t think they know.
   For one-hundred years he has avoided the blade of an axe, the touch of a hand or a fool of plenty, but for what foolish reason? He understands that his wood is thinner, vast and curled like muscles in a forearm, but he can’t fathom why he has not been cut. There are trees far smaller than him that are felled each day—why has he escaped man?
   There is no reason.
   He doesn’t care.
   He can’t care.
   He is closer.
   Maybe, just maybe, he will be there in a thousand more years.

   The city is grand. It gleams in the light of the sun and winks in the dull glow of the moon. Though Mardowill never sees the latter, he often imagines the castle watching him at night, waiting for him to rise from dream and continue his journey. Thankfully, though, the stones rarely speak, much less to wooden creatures that bear no resemblance in shape or form.
   Will you rise, Mardowill sighs, only to fall as do I?
   It is likely—probable, even. Nothing exists forever. Not even he—a sentient being that has existed for a thousand years and more—will live until the sun dies and the moon begins to cry. His age shows in the color of his bark and the sound of his voice.
   He used to groan at night—now he merely whistles.
   The wind no longer allows him a voice of boisterous confidence. Like those around him, he is forced to whisper, waiting for the mortals to listen.
   In a way, he knows they will not.
   It has been far too long since the hill has risen, then fallen when the ground shook and quaked.
   In wake of his former home, nothing more than an endless pit remains.
   Mardowill sighs.
   No more than a hundred feet away from the stones that bar passage, he begins to hear their groans.
   There is nothing he can do.
   Closing his eyes, Mardowill takes a deep breath.
   For the first time in one-thousand years, he sets his roots free.
   They dig.

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