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The wind blows through the wasted trees, full of snow and mystery. Down the path it seems to lead us, down to where the Dryads sleep. Birds start overhead and we begin to wonder if we are in fact supposed to be here. Crows squawking, flapping, causing snow to fall on our unsuspecting heads. Still the wind blows.
A small sound of laughter on the breeze. I look at my brother nervously, and he point up into the trees. A face, that of a beautiful woman made out of trees and leaves looks at us pensively. Before she disappears, she smiles at us, seeming to beckon us onward. A sudden gale at our backs surprises us and the remaining dry, dead leaves fall from the winter trees. There is no doubt now, we are meant to be doing this.
At long last, we find the ancient graveyard. Wind swirls among the tree shaped headstones, kicking up snow. Each stone is a different kind of tree, each carefully shaped, down to the tiny delicate leaves. Few still stand upright though, most have been worn by time and the everlasting wind and lie in pieces on the ground. An aura of sadness and waiting permeates the air.
I crouch down, for at my feet as though it was meant for me, lies one of the delicate fallen leaves. A rowan, perfect down to the veins, nearly transparent, despite being carved from stone. I look at my brother. He has found a leaf as well, though his is white ash. I almost laugh. How ironic. Two children of some of the world's leading botanists in a Dryad graveyard, finding the leaves of their namesakes.
“ Look Rowan, it's beautiful!” my twin walks quickly across the graveyard, careful not to step on any of the old stones, and I stumble after him.
I see what he meant now. Lost in my reverie, I didn't notice the only tree stone still standing. A stone live oak, older than time itself, just like the real trees. Ash touches it, then puts his arms around the trunk. His long, skinny teenager limbs don't wrap even a fraction of the way around the trunk.
“ Feel it,” he says in amazement, “ it's warm.” I stare at him as though he's crazy. It's maybe ten degrees outside and he's telling me the stone tree is warm. But still, Ash is not one to lie, or even joke about things such as this, so I touch the tree, and nearly yank my hand back in surprise.
It is warm, and feels just like a real tree. The only thing that tells me it isn't is that trees don't have leaves when it's snowing and ten degrees, and even then those leaves are not made of quartz. I lean against the trunk and wrap my arms around it too. What an amazing creation. When I'd heard about the Dryad graveyard I'd thought it was all myth. I could stay here forever...
“ Hey, look at this!” Ash calls. He's moved around the side of the warm stone trunk. I creep, never breaking contact with the tree, around it, carefully balancing on its roots. Ash is looking at something on the side of the tree, appearing deep in thought.
There's an inscription on the trunk. It looks like a poem, but it takes me a moment to decipher the fancy script.
The children of the trees
Can be awakened only by the ones who see
Ash and Rowan
Heroes of the trees
Call to us, return us home
“ That's us Ro!” Ash grins at me.
“ Should we?” I whisper.
“ What?” Ash cocks his head.
“ Call them,” I smile slightly, “ the Dryads.”
“ Sure, sis,” Ash's smile widens. “ I wonder what'll happen.”
“ We'll just have to see,” I smile back.
“ How?” he asks, taking my hand as we walk to the front of the giant stone live oak.
“ Say whatever comes to mind,” I glance at him and take a deep breath. We begin at the same time.
“ Children of the trees, the heroes have come. Be released from your bonds and live again!” We stop and stare at each other.
Suddenly, the graveyard fills with birdsong. The wind kicks up, swirling snow about us. The birdsong begins to form words. “ Freedom!” “ The Heroes come!” “ Free, free, free!” My hair blows into my face and I use my other hand to push it away. When I look again, the woman is standing there, the woman who appeared in the trees, now appears full body, in snow.
She wears a long dress, with wide sleeves, and appears to wear a crown, which holds back her flowing curls. Ash and I stand there dumbstruck. She smiles at us.
“ I am Nerena, Queen of the Dryads,” her voice is strong, but still sort of wispy and light, “ Thank you, Heroes Ash and Rowan. You forever have our gratitude.” she bows slightly and then dissipates.
We continue to stand in awe. The wind dies down. The birds sing normally again. The aura of sadness and anticipation has left abruptly, now one of joy and stillness. Something suddenly occurs to me. I pull the little stone leaf from my pocket and stare in amazement.
“ Ash,” I whisper. It doesn't feel right to speak loudly.
He peers over my shoulder, and gasps. The stone leaf is now real. Not a dead, brown leaf, no. It's bright green, as though I just plucked it off of a rowan tree a moment ago in the middle of spring. Ash pulls out his, which is also green. The inscription on the stone tree is gone.
“ Well,” Ash smiles at me, “ this'll be one to tell the grandkids.” I shake my head and smile, knowing he's right.