Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: July 11, 2021
Ch. 33

My stomach rumbled again and River handed me a plate. Then she guided me through the fair before us. The smoked fish was familiar but the spice that coated it was new to me. It deepened the flavor and lightened the saltiness nicely. Next to that were some of the season’s last grapes. A cake made of ground corn replaced the oatcakes I was used to. There was also a bowl of roasted nuts that River claimed came from pine cones. They were oddly bitter but not unpleasant. She then filled my mug with a pungent tea made from dried roots. I found everything to be delicious. Still, the meal left me heavy-hearted. The people of the kingdom I had been raised in were suffering from near starvation. I had only escaped the same fate by being secreted away to live with the grandfather I had never known. The war that ended when I married the king of The People of the Trees was particularly cruel on those sheltering at Stonewood Castle. This left my half-brother in dire straits in these first days of his reign.

“Might I speak with my new husband, the King?” I asked River. “If you are willing to translate, I feel that I should begin working on relations with Stonewood Castle. The siege has been hard on them. If there is a way to help with food for the winter, it may calm the people and begin to build trust.”

“King Ember and the men are away clearing the battlefields and honoring the fallen,” River said with a sad frown. “He made arrangements to send your people supplies before he left. I believe he hopes it to be a step toward good will. I wrote the letter of explanation myself so there would be no misunderstandings about the nature of the caravan.”

“You don’t think there will be more fighting do you?” I asked. The small hope that my coming here would lead to instant peace floated away like the steam from my tea.

“There will always be fighting, Queen Natalia,” she said. “It’s the nature of man and though sad, perhaps it is a needed thing for our growth. Who am I to say? All I know is that I have been on this earth long enough to know that the battle will not ever truly end for mankind. But take heart. If everyone respects the other as the dead are gathered, I believe peace will come to these lands sooner rather than later.”

I frowned into my mug. “Then my coming here could be for naught. I may have failed in my destiny.”

“No, love,” River cupped my face in her parchment-like hands. “You coming here was only the first step in fulfilling your destiny.”

“First step?” I said. “I thought…”

“So young!” River said and laughed. “Destiny is never done until we are in our graves. Even then sometimes it finds a use for our memory. You have barely even begun on your journey. Yours is a builder’s life. You will build a marriage and a family. You will build a strong relationship with your new people. You will build ties between the people from whom you came and the people you have so recently met that are so strong there will come a day where the line between the two is blurred beyond recognition. You will build a foundation for the future so firm that Time Himself can’t crumble it. You, Queen Natalia, are fated to help begin an empire so beautiful and just that anyone outside of it will sigh with longing.”

“I can’t build an empire!” I said. I felt tears running down my cheeks. “I can’t even ask for a glass of water without help.”

“That, my queen, is part of building. We take one step at a time and Fate guides our feet. The first building block you need to shape is your ability to communicate between two worlds.”

A girl of eight summers slipped through the door’s curtain and smiled shyly at me.

“H…hello,” she said, making the greeting sign. “I am Nettle.”

“And so we learn and shape this first block together,” River said. “Come in, Nettle. Meet our new queen.”

The girl came forward and curtseyed. I sniffled and tried to smile at her. She made a gesture that I understood referred to my tears and looked at River.

“Queen Natalia was worried about her people at the castle,” River said as she signed. I was grateful that she left my other worries out of the explanation.

Nettle looked at me as if searching my heart. Then she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my neck. She dropped a gentle kiss on my cheek, picking up a tear in the process. She stepped back and made a series of signs with a look so solemn that I wondered if Fate was looking through the child’s eyes.

“We are all your people now. We’ll learn to love each other and take care of each other as we are meant to do. Don’t worry,” River translated.

This time, the smile I gave Nettle was real.


By the time King Ember returned from the gruesome job of laying to rest those who had been slain in battle, I had learned enough of the language of hands to greet him. His face lit and he immediately made a series of lightning-fast signs that I couldn’t comprehend. I made the motion for slower and the one for repeat. I was very good at both of those signs from using them so much throughout my days. River stood close by to translate the meanings that were beyond my knowledge.

“My queen,” I said to myself as he began again at a much slower pace, “It gives me joy to see you greet me in…”

“…the way of The People of the Trees,” River supplied.

“I know we…” I said and paused to look at River for help.

“…have just met, but I know in my heart that we will be a good match. You are brave. That would have been enough for me. A warrior must have a brave wife or none at all. But, I am also a king now. A king must have a smart queen by his side who will find solutions to difficult problems. Your greeting shows me that you are such a woman. The look of happiness on the faces around you shows me that you bring my people joy as well. I am a lucky king.”

Font size
Font color
Line spacing
Background color