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Holly and Oak

In a time when footprints never disappeared a young fox played, undisturbed, in the middle of sheltered woodland. His mother proudly watched the carefree antics from the shade of leafy trees. Contentedly she remembered her own youth. Many years ago she visited the woodland with her mother to have fun and amuse herself. A soft smile wrapped around her face as memories recalled the happy days of youth. The birds still sang twittering, hurrying notes, flitting from seed head to twiggy perch. The ferns gave refuge amongst their fronds. The holly, the one next to the venerable oak, still carried sharply pointed leaves that gave a painful scratch. As the day advanced the cub tired of his games and begged for food. Mother led him off to a comfortable grassy glade and the woodland fell silent.

The oak surveyed the ground around its trunk. The earth was littered with broken cups and shattered nuts. The fox had been playing acorns, picking up the rounded nuts and then trying to land them in their cups. The oak was not troubled. In no time they would be gone, as the elderly boar regularly visited in the evening and enjoyed a bedtime feast of acorns. The oak was proud of who ate the acorns. They had even been collected for the king’s table. With this thought the oak sighed – the sleeping king would not enjoy another meal for a long time. He lay in a cave over the hill and would not waken until… well, no one knew when…

The oak spread, the seasons passed, the fox brought his own cubs to play, and they, in their turn, brought their cubs. The holly matured, red berries in the winter, small white spring flowers, fresh summer shoots. All a pattern of events through the years. Then, people came to the wood, cut down trees, built a log cabin, cleared the ferns, dug the earth and harvested strange plants.

The oak grew bigger, the seasons passed but the fox no longer visited. It stayed deeper in the wood, away from the people. ‘The holly is King of the Forest’ the children sang, collecting festive branches to decorate their homes. The holly became a favourite for its jovial red berries shone amongst dark green leaves adding colour on wintry days. At other times they gathered near the great oak and chanted, ‘the oak is King, the oak is King’. Neither the oak nor the holly were impressed with this – for they knew who was king – and they knew where he was – waiting –

In a time when footprints never disappeared a graceful queen and a handsome king were custodians of the woodland. On their marriage day the king and queen planted two trees to symbolically express their love – an oak and a holly. Their jubilation filled the woodland with laughter.

The court was renowned for its hospitality. They entertained numerous guests who enjoyed superb feasts and eloquent company. They lived in harmony with the giants, invited the dwarves and pixies to banquets, danced with the fairies on moonlit nights, and rode on white unicorns when visiting neighbours.

But nothing lasts forever, all turns to dust, becomes wasteland. And so it was with the king and his queen. The old man’s hair became grey and the lady’s skin wrinkled. As they grew old they faded. And their companions faded with them. The giants withdrew to the mountains, the dwarves and pixies disappeared into the mists of the valleys, and the fairies became points of light within the thicket at the woodlands edge. The white unicorns retreated to a lake to ride the winds that ruffled its surface. Only the oak and holly, the expressions of their love, flourished and grew stronger.

The king and queen did not seek immortality yet immortality sought them. Mysteriously, one evening, out of the east plunged a magnificent bird. As the sunset traced red and violet clouds across the sky, a commotion boomed through the woodland. Perplexed the white haired king and the queen, walking uneasily with a stick, went to a balcony overlooking the entrance to their palace. The bird offered a brief explanation of its arrival announcing that it could renew itself from fire, practiced a special alchemy, and knew of the beauty that surrounded the king and queen.

No one knows what happened in the following days. There are rumours, there is gossip. Only the oak and holly are acquainted with the truth. Little by little the court and the palace disappeared forever. For the queen the bird built an island of glass and led her there to rest. For the king it built a cave of comfort and led him there to rest. They will not waken until… well, no one knows when…

Page last updated: 13th Jan 2011