By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Fear and panic swept through the village.
In his school days, Quinn’s friends would come to him because he never overreacted. About anything. Not when Philip fell out of the tree and broke his arm. Not when Master William found Cara cheating on one of their examinations. Not even when his younger sister came home with a hurt rabbit and Quinn’s father had had to take it deep into the woods.
But today, Quinn’s heart pounded so hard he thought it would beat right through his chest. A casual bystander might have said the pounding occurred because he ran so fast, but Quinn knew his pace through the forest had nothing to do with his speed. No, this dull thudding that threatened to overcome his hearing and his feet and his entire being came from fear.
He burst through the trees onto one of the main paths that led to the main square of Severson Dells. Many young people left the village and went to the capital city of Rosewood or even other cities, though not as large as the capital. Quinn had always known he would stay. He’d stay and become a lumberjack like his father and grandfather. He’d carry on the family trade, as he did the family name and pride, and do his part toward the kingdom’s robust economy that depended on its trees.
How can this be happening? he thought as he kept running down the path and to the village square. Does the king know? Can he help us? Are we in danger?
The scene he’d just witnessed blazoned through his mind once again. In scouting out the area to be cleared that day, Quinn had come upon the remains of several trees. That was the only way he could describe the mounds of white ash that stood where trees once rose. Had he not found the ribbons he’d used to mark the trees the previous day, he wouldn’t have known that he’d returned to the same area.
He slowed his pace as he came to the edge of the village but only just. Quinn’s heart still pummeled the inside of his chest. One thought kept him from going home to cower in a corner somewhere: he needed to report the scene to Mayor Alex. Immediately.
The sun cleared the tops of the buildings in the village square. For a moment Quinn stopped and blinked against the morning light. How could a new day start with such terrible news?
“Ah, Quinn,” the mayor said, approaching the door to his small office in the square, “good to see you on this beautiful day. Aren’t you cutting trees today?”
Quinn gulped. “That’s what I need to speak to you about, sir. The trees, they…”
Mayor Alex’s eyebrows turned downward even as he continued to smile. “Quinn, are you all right? You’re shaking.”
“The trees, Mayor. They…something is…something has hurt the trees I’d planned to fell today.”
The mayor’s face become somber. “What are you talking about?”
A few of the villagers crossing the square slowed down to listen.
“What’s wrong, Quinn?” one of them asked.
Quinn glanced at Mistress Miriam. The elderly woman fluttered over her words and tasks as if she couldn’t sit still. What would happen when she heard his news?
“Maybe it’s best to go into your office, Mayor,” Quinn said, forcing himself to calm down.
The mayor studied Quinn’s face a moment and nodded then turned to the door. He turned the knob with ease. Mistress Jane, the mayor’s helping hand, must have arrived already. Quinn gulped, knowing she’d hear the news too.
The two men entered the small space, and Mistress Jane stood behind her desk and tipped her head at him.
“Good morning, Quinn,” she said. When he didn’t respond right away, her face fell. “Quinn, what’s the matter?”
The mayor had stopped right there in front of Mistress Jane’s desk and folded his arms. “Yes, Quinn, what’s all this about the trees being harmed?”
Quinn swallowed hard again. “I went to the section my men and I were due to fell this morning…”
As he relayed the story, the faces of both Mayor Alex and Mistress Jane turned as white as the ash Quinn had seen. The sight made his stomach screw into a tight knot. He had no idea what plagued the trees, but he knew he’d just changed the fate of Severson Dells forever.
In the days that followed, as more and more trees mounds of ash appeared in the place of the trees that once stood, fear and panic spread through the village. The villagers began talking in knots of twos and threes, in hushed tones. It reminded Quinn of the days when King Vincent ruled. When people had stopped laughing and singing. When they no longer even smiled.
Since the ascension of the new king, King Christopher, life had improved, but bitterness against the former king remained. Many questioned whether King Christopher could do better for Lindeners than his father had. After he’d married the queen, the doubt had begun to abate. But now that the trees had begun to collapse, it came back.
Because Quinn understood that much, even if he didn’t understand the ailment that hurt the wood. The trees were collapsing, and along with them the futures of the people of Severson Dells. Possibly the future of the entire kingdom of Linden.