Many years ago, when the West was farther from us than it is now, a tree with white skin and leafless limbs sprouted in the Orchard. The bark was bright and smooth, and even at noonday in summer, it burned cold to the touch.
It was said, by the spirits who hung wishes on its skeleton arms, that beneath the tree was the body of a Man*. And the body of a Man had given the tree its pale skin and it was the body of a Man that kept the tree from ever blooming.
(the Clarene knew this was hogwash, of course. She had plenty of trees with blood at the root. They all bloomed fine.)
As these things go, there was a day when a spirit came to the tree who did not wish nor petition its branches. He was many armed and as green as the moss along the River and horribly alone. And, alone as he was, he walked to the white tree and sat beside it.
(the Clarene knew him for what he was, of course. An outsider, a traveler with no home. She knew the truth in his dark stone eyes. She could see in his arms his twisted and cracked bark.)
He did not stay long – but he hung no ribbons from the tree nor spoke any pleading words.
And he returned again and again. The spirits of the West whispered. They came, soon, not to wish on the glowing leafless tree, but to watch the man they now knew as Othani.
Othani was then as much as a spectacle as the tree, but he seemed so enamored with it as to not care.
And in the cold of winter, with snow at the roots, the bark glowing even still, he touched the tree.
The gasps of the crowd were unheard. The cries of fear fell unheeded.
And where he had touched the bark, a bright green handprint remained.
Othani’s hand was charred and burned.
(the Clarene had seen many people touch the tree, of course. She had never seen the tree change color.)
The spirits said then that he was cursed, burned by the tree, marked out for never wishing or hoping.
“I have hoped,” Othani said. “You do not know the language of trees, so you cannot hear.”
(the Clarene could hear, of course. But a hope so bright and biting could not be shared aloud. A hope so rooted could only be burned with cold fire.)
Rumor followed him.
His green blood handprint remained on the tree.
Winter snow melted, and summer flowers bloomed. New wishes were hung on the branches.
Slowly, the charred skin of Othani’s hand grew. It wrapped up his arm. It curled up his shoulder. It spiraled along his torso. And with each bit of flesh the char consumed, more green leeched into the tree.
And still Othani sat beside it
It was then that the spirits went to the Clarene.
“You cannot let him die like this,” they pleaded. “You cannot let the curse take him.”
“What curse?” she asked. “It is a blessing.”
The spirits cried out in woe, “Then do not let this blessing kill him!”
(the Clarene listened, of course. It was then she rose from the dark heart of the forest to see Othani, the green soft boy who was dying beside her white bone tree.)
The char had branded all of his arms. It split up his neck. He had been scarred before, but the canyons in his skin burned red. He had coals within him.
Othani gazed upon the god of the Orchard, and through the pain of his burning body he saw her power. In each of her horns was a world, a forest, a city, a mountain, and in each of her eyes was a seed bursting in green flames.
She had no sympathy for him.
“You have fallen in love with a fire, and that fire has filled you with the only thing it knows,” she said. “No matter how the fire is – tree, stone, man – he will burn you.”
“I know,” Othani said. “But I will not let the fire go unchanged.”
“A boy made of leaves can do no harm to a tree made of ember,” the Clarene said.
“I am not hurting him,” Othani said. “I’m making him bloom.”
And with that, the Clarene knew entirely his purpose. She lifted him from the ground and thrust him into the tree, and with a great hand snapped a white branch free, and she thrust it through Othani’s chest.
(The spirits gasped in horror, of course. It is sometimes hard to know the violence of the gods.)
Flaming coal burst from his chest, and then flowers like fire, and all the color the tree had taken seeped again into the boy of leaves until he fell, green again, to the ground.
In his place were endless blossoms pouring forth from the tree itself, and each spun and wove until a man with red hair and daisy skin and poppies on his neck fell, just beside Othani.
And so it was a plant with many arms turned a god of fire into one of flowers, and the two have never since been the same.