The story so far:
The Tree Talker: Prologue by purplesea
Located in Central Luzon over 80 kilometers northwest of Manila, the barrio of Araya is bounded by rice and corn fields to the west and south and the Araya River to the east. The river flows from a mountain rising to the north, at the foot of which Araya sits bordered by a thick forest—the heart and cradle of its enchantment.
According to the barrio elders, it was in the 17th century when nine families arrived in Araya and decided to make it their home. Whether it was before or after the Spaniards came, the confused grandchildren of the barrio were not sure. The elders were themselves foggy about this detail and so kept changing it with each storytelling. It was widely suspected that this was the effect of constant betel chewing. In any case, the forest nymphs were worried for the trees that had been entrusted in their care, especially when the strangers started to chop down the bamboo trees by the river to build their houses. The trees were willing to share the earth, but they feared that the settlers might take more than their fair share as their numbers grew. The nymphs held a conference and decided that an agreement with the settlers was in order.
And so, one moonless night, the nymphs lured the most senior member of each family into the forest. Having reassured the mortals of their sanity and safety, the nymphs laid down what were to be known thereafter as The Rules.
Rule number one: the settlers would be allowed to stay but they were not to cut down any tree that belonged to the forest, or the killer would be taken by the nymphs, put to sleep and buried alive in the forest. There he would be tended to by the nymphs and grown into a tree, thus restoring balance in the forest.
Rule number two: the settlers may take the trees’ fruits, leaves, and fallen branches, even gather their seeds to plant elsewhere and call theirs, without fear of harm from the nymphs and their spells. In return, each couple from the nine families and all of their descendants should have no more than two children. Should a third child be born, the male head of the family would be given exactly twelve moons to spend with his family before the nymphs took him and turned him into a tree. This was to ensure that the settlers did not occupy too much of the land.
The settlers had mixed reactions. The male settlers especially were alternately outraged and scared and sad when they considered the implications of the second rule. The women, on the other hand, were alternately relieved and scared and dismayed. But Araya was too rich and breathtaking to resist, and The Rules did seem fair. And so every nymph, tree and human present swore allegiance.
Several decades passed peacefully between the settlers and the forest, until one fateful night when a couple named Carlos and Lucia forgot themselves as their two children slept peacefully on the other side of their one-room hut. Poor Lucia spent her third pregnancy already mourning for her husband, and the old women thought she would die of grief and pain when she saw his hair turn white as she gave birth. The couple’s only consolation came from the happiness that Carlos felt during his conversations with the trees and brought everywhere with him. Never had a person radiated such peace and contentment; it was contagious.
Twelve moons later, the nymphs called to Carlos and he was never seen again.
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