The Oak King

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Gwyrthur leaned on his oak staff and wiped the wet snow out of his eyes. Every direction he looked, it was white as far as the eye could travel. Snow lay thick on the ground, sticky and saturated. It hung heavy in the trees, and the branches bowed under the weight. An icy wind blew through the nearby village, rattling shutters and whistling through keyholes. The tall young man blew into his stiff hands and wrapped his green cloak tighter about him.

He squinted into the snow glare and nodded as if making a decision, then he turned abruptly and returned to the meager warmth of the campfire in the clearing. His traveling companion held up a tin mug, and Gwyrthur accepted it gratefully. He sat down on the rough blanket near the fire and stretched his wet boots towards the weak flame.

His companion was a small, wizened man of indeterminate age, stooped and slow moving. The old man gave the pot over the fire a vigorous stir, scooped some of its contents onto a wooden trencher, and passed it over to where the younger man sat. Gwyrthur jammed a spoonful of the stew into his mouth with distaste.

"Salt mutton again?" he complained, setting the stew aside.

"It's all there is, boy," the old man admonished. "You should be grateful for it."

"I am grateful, Myrddin. I just miss real food."

Myrddin smiled sympathetically and grimaced into the midwinter sun, which was as high in the sky as it ever seemed to get those days. "Winter's gone on too long," was all he said.

"I can't stand it anymore, Myrddin. I feel responsible. There are no crops, and the animals are dying. He's starving the people to death, and I'm going to do something about it!" Gwyrthur said. Then he stood up and walked over to a small grove of trees, their branches black and barren against the pale blue sky. He raised his staff into the air and brought it down into the snow in the exact center of the grove. Then he knelt there amongst the trees, still and silent. Myrddin watched apprehensively as the energy shimmered about Gwyrthur's fair head. Under his hands, the snow began to melt, leaving the rich, brown soil showing through. From the place where his staff had struck, a green tendril emerged from the earth, greeted the sun, and stretched upward. Whether it took a long time, or no time at all, Myrddin couldn't tell, but when Gwyrthur stood up, an apple tree stood in the grove, its green branches laden with bright red fruit.

Gwyrthur plucked two apples from the nearest branch and tossed one to his companion. Myrddin caught it with a frown. "Magic like that, Gwyn's bound to notice," he said softly.
Gwyrthur took a large bite from his apple and through a full mouth and a grin said, "Let him notice. My time has come."

"Has it?" Myrddin gestured back towards the grove, where the apples from the young tree lay on the ground, already flecked with snow, and the brown leaves fluttered in the wind. "Are you ready?"

Gwyrthur shrugged. "Doesn't matter now, does it? I'll have to be."

Myrddin looked back over at the grove of trees. The apple tree stood bare in the center. The blanket of snow at its feet covered all traces of the fruit that been there just moments before. "It still stands," the old man said, cocking an eyebrow at Gwyrthur. "How long have you been able to do that?"

Gwyrthur slung his rucksack over his shoulder and gave a determined smile. "Awhile now. I told you, my time has come. I can feel it."

"Perhaps it has at last," the old man considered. "So what next?"

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