Entering the wood, the clamour and busyness of a typical British suburb seemed to fall abruptly away. They walked a little further in and then she stood, hushing both girls and prompting them to stand and just look, just listen. Muffled giggles – both felt a little silly, a little self-conscious, while Elen smiled to herself and breathed in the scents of earth, trees and a thousand growing things. Together they watched dappled light on tree trunks and deadfalls, the flick of a leaf as some small thing hopped out of sight, watched and listened to the slow creak and sway of the taller trees high up in the canopy. They stood in a small clearing, a natural space where several worn paths seemed to converge and two fallen birches formed a natural arch. Elen motioned her nieces to another fallen trunk and they sat.
“So Aunty, you were going to tell us about the thing – the wood…the woodwerd?”
Elen laughed and pushed a strand of coppery hair out of her youngest niece’s eyes. “The Wood Ward, yes!”.
Two pairs of expectant eyes met hers. Even Sophie, the older girl, was not too old for stories. Plus, Auntie Elen was, as her mother said, a proper old hippie, and thus almost cool.
Elen gazed into the trees, to where the land fell away abruptly into the very centre of the wood and a forbidding tangle of deadfalls, bramble and undergrowth. Composing and opening herself in a manner that had become almost automatic, she closed her eyes momentarily, as if waiting for a cue, some signal to begin her tale.
A sudden woodpecker-like rattle sounded somewhere above the little group, and the woman smiled.
“It was a time of feudal lords, when the Norman barons were still setting their mark on the land and the people who lived on it. All this land yere, and this wood, that became the lord’s hunting ground and Goddess help any poor folk what got caught foraging or catching themselves a bit of game for their dinner. Most touched their forr’eads and made do, but there were some as didn’t want to give up their groves. There were some as decided that something had to be done…”