Teddy Q had grown up in an orchard.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. His mother had had an orchard, and she was outside amongst her apple trees every day of the week. Rain or shine, she spent at least three hours a day in the orchard, whispering to the trees and collecting fruit when it was ripe. And most of that time, Teddy was right beside her, listening to her words and absorbing the lessons.
“Halflings have to stick together,” she told him time and again. “Like calls to like, and although monsters will recognize you for what you are, not all of them are going to treat you as an equal.”
“That sounds a lot like how the humans act,” Teddy had said one time, a pout in his tone, and Momma had laughed that bell-like laugh she had.
“Oh, my sapling,” she’d replied. “Yes, many humans are that way. Your daddy is one of the exceptions. And you’ll find friends who like you for who you are, regardless of your blood.”
He hadn’t been entirely certain that her words were true, but he still went to school and attended to his lessons. And when the day was done, he rushed back home and tossed aside his books and made his way to the big apple tree in the center of Momma’s orchard.
That one, well… It was just special.
The big apple tree grew the sweetest fruits, no matter the season. It never suffered during times of drought or times when it was too wet, always just growing and thriving. The neighbors had asked time and again for Momma to give them a cutting, but she always just smiled and shook her head.
“It takes something special to make this sort of apple tree thrive,” she told them, and because she was an earth elemental, a dryad to to be more precise, they accepted that as the gospel truth.
When Teddy turned twenty, he decided he’d had enough of Missouri life and figured he’d go west. Momma and Daddy had just smiled, Momma’s a bit teary-eyed, and told him to go where his heart led him. Daddy had helped him buy up the supplies he’d need to go out into the world, and he made plans to join up with a wagon train in Independence that was headed out that-a-ways.
Teddy could only stare at the small pot she’d handed him, filled with a bit of freshly-watered soil and a cutting from the big apple tree in their orchard.
“Momma,” he said finally, “I can’t take this.”
She had given him a firm look with her verdant eyes and said evenly, “Yes, my sapling, you can. You’re the only one I will ever trust with a cutting.” She had then smiled and said almost wistfully, “Watch it grow.”
He hadn’t seen his parents since, although he still wrote home often. Teddy had crossed the entire country with the same group, tending to the cutting the whole while and letting his instincts tell him just what it needed when. It took nearly five months to get to California, to the little newly established town of Rose Creek and the land that he’d purchased prior to leaving his family home.
And within the first week he was there, with just the bare bones of his house built up and honestly too late in the year to actually begin planting, Teddy took the cutting his mother had sent with him, the cutting that had survived five months of travel when he’d seen plants others had brought with them wither and die, and planted it just behind his new home.
He finished building his house with the help of his new friends in town within a week and was content with the one room. The cutting grew rapidly into first a sapling then into a tree in less time than it honestly should have taken; typically, it should have been about six years for the tree to grow enough and begin to produce, but Teddy’s tree was fully grown and producing within his first year in Rose Creek.
And from that one cutting, another dozen seemed to appear from nothing; one day it was the one tree that should not be mature, and the next there were even more saplings growing far quicker than they should have. And from that dozen came another ten or so, until Teddy Q had an orchard of twenty trees before his twenty-third birthday.
The people of Rose Creek knew that Teddy was part monster; the trees alone proved that. But they accepted him, because he always shared his apples without having to be asked. When newcomers arrived in town, he was one of the first to greet them, arriving to where they were building their homes with a bushel of apples or some apple tarts or, on one occasion, a handful of pennies and a smile for the newlywed Cullens.
And Teddy was happy in Rose Creek, with his small orchard and his connection to his primary apple tree and the secret knowledge that Emma Cullen was like him and that Matthew Cullen was well aware that Teddy wasn’t entirely human but was still his dearest friend in spite of—or because of—it.
And then the warlock Bogue arrived, searching for gold and demanding their land. He came with the hedge witch and the skin-walker and no respect for the land, the land which was all but screaming at Teddy to do something.
And then Bogue shot his best friend Matthew dead in the street, shot him down like a dog and told the sheriff to let the bodies rot in the sun.
The damned hedge witch McCann must have known that Teddy was planning to make a move of some sort, given than he slammed the stock of his gun into the back of his head, knocking him to the ground and nearly knocking him out. He managed to stay aware, however, watching as the church burned and as Emma’s eyes went from sorrowful to vengeful.
Teddy did not hesitate to help her bury her husband, his best friend in Rose Creek. He watched her dust off her hands and walk back towards her home even as he set up the cross and used his penknife to carve Matthew’s name into the wood. And then…
And then he walked back to his own home and began to gather up anything bright and shiny that would appeal to a monster, making sure to walk outside and ask his apple tree for one of its juiciest fruits, which it dipped its boughs and offered him three beautiful specimens to choose from. He plucked one, thanked his tree for its offerings, and dropped it into the bag before going back inside.
It took no time to change, and he was outside Emma’s door when she threw it open to stalk outside.
“Teddy?” she asked, confusion in her voice but that vengeful glimmer still in her eyes.
“He was my best friend. If you’re going for an army,” he said, before correcting himself to, “if you’re planning to find monsters to bring down on Bogue, then I ain’t letting you do it alone.” Teddy paused for a moment, remembering Momma’s words, and added, “Halflings have to stick together. That’s what my momma always said.”
He could see the gratitude in her eyes, but she didn’t ask what he was. He did her the same courtesy, knowing that someday she would share with him. But until then, Teddy would support the woman he thought of as a sister in her quest for vengeance.
And maybe, just maybe, whatever monster they found would appreciate the apple he had tucked in his rucksack. After all, it was good for the soul.