When I first saw a picture of the Giant Ficus Tree (Ficus benjamina) many years ago, I knew that tree grew in my fantasy world. I even knew it would entrap someone within its branches. Fast forward to Healing Stones, book 5 of the Castle Keepers epic fantasy series, and we find this tree growing in the first chapter.
Isla of Maura, McGuigan and Lyneth happen upon it on their way to Moonsface. Here’s the start of the scene. You’ll have to wait to see who is trapped in it.
For the next thirty minutes, they rode in silence with no additional forks to cause problems. Isla relaxed and admired the landscape, the lush trees, tiny bunches of wildflowers and the birds singing sweet songs. A red squirrel ran in front of her horse and into a small bush. It emerged on the other side and raced towards an unusual tree. She stared at the mammoth growth; it was unlike anything she’d seen before. Relaxing her grip on the reins, she slowed the horse for a longer view.
The lower eight feet of the tree was all trunk, and broad, dark-green leaves concealed the top. Or was it a group of trees growing closely together? Countless trunks rose from the ground, both thick and thin. The maze they created provided protection from the elements and concealment from passersby. As she rode nearer, she marvelled at the roots squirming from the main trunks, gliding across the ground as if a nest of snakes of various sizes protruded from the wood.
She tilted her head, trying to make sense of the branches… No, roots growing from the outstretched branches. They grew at different stages, some a few inches long, others almost reaching the ground. Spell bound, she directed her horse off the trail and onto the forest bed covered in yellow needles.
“Why are you stopping?” growled McGuigan. “We don’t have time for sightseeing.”
“Why are you so eager to get to Moonsface?” asked Lyneth, who stopped to wait.
“With you, there’s always a reason.”
“Oh, it’s something. Fess up, young man.”
Frustrated, he blurted, “I want to get rid of those packages.”
“You’re nervous.” Lyneth shook her head. “Don’t think of them.”
“I can’t help it. You heard the warning.”
“The same I’ve been hearing for more than seven years.”
He huffed. “Back when we had the strength to defend ourselves.”
“You mean The Mercenaries.” She cleared her throat, and her expression softened. “We’re almost there. Stick to the plan, and we’ll be fine.”
“Shhh!” Isla dismounted and let her reins fall.
“What are you doing?” asked McGuigan. “It’s a tree.”
“You ever see a tree like this?” she asked over her shoulder. She stepped closer. A soft mumble or… What was that sound?
“It’s the Nathair tree.” Lyneth rested her arms across the horn of her saddle.
“Nat hair?” McGuigan grimaced. “Its branches look like dangling hair.”
“Nath-air. And those aren’t branches. They’re roots. As it was explained to me, off shoots of the branches droop or grow downward and set new roots into the ground. This is a single tree and those trunks are roots grown from the branches.”
“Strangest thing I’ve ever heard,” said McGuigan.
“That’s not the strangest,” said Isla, walking closer. “It’s humming or…” she glanced back, “groaning. It smells odd, and…” she peered closer, and a cold sensation raced up her arms, “it emits negative energy.”
“It’s a tree.” McGuigan sat up and gathered his reins. “Let’s go.”
Her hand touched one of the branches, and her fingertips tingled. Stepping between the woven roots, she peeked into one of the cavities of the clump of trunks. It was large enough for a medium size animal or a dwarf to lay down comfortably.
Her ears perked. What was that?
Healing Stones. Coming soon.