Wild and flourishing, the ivy grew rapidly, rushing along the surface of the stone wall. The creeping vines found every imperfection in the man-made surface which to use as purchase. Reaching the top and spilling over, the growth finally began to slow, eventually stopping altogether. Elara removed her hand from once was an old, rusted torch mount.

Gasps from behind startled her, and she quickly turned to see a small group of women standing a few yards away. Forcing a pleasant smile, Elara bowed and moved quickly along the road and quickly donned the thick cotton gloves she never went without.

Since Elara was six years old, she has had the ability to turn anything she touched into plant life. The people in her small town of Woodshire considered her ability to be a gift from the gods. Elara, however, saw her gift as a curse rather than a blessing.

While her abilities received praise and she was treated well enough, everyone kept their distance. Though her ability brought forth the beauty of nature, an innate fear was instilled in the townsfolk that a single touch would cause them to become one of her transformations. Too terrified to test this theory, Elara spent the next twenty years of her life never knowing the touch of another living being, human or animal.

Having no effect on plant-made items, such as clothing, she kept her hands covered in thick cotton gloves. Even this did nothing to convince the locals that it was safe to interact with her.

Thoughts heavy, Elara made her way back to the church, where she resided. Just as she reached the hall to her room, she found one of the nuns standing before her door. The young woman bowed quickly upon seeing her.

“The bishop would like a word with you before you retire for the evening.” Elara donned her normal pleasant smile, which had become more of a mask than any true emotion.

“Thank you, Annette, I will head to his chambers now.”

The young woman bowed quickly again before turning and fleeing down the hall. Sighing, Elara headed back the way she had come, taking a branching hallway that led to the bishop’s chambers. Ensuring her gloves were in place, she knocked and waited for permission before entering. The ancient man was bent over his large desk, one of the few pieces of furniture in his chambers.

“Ah, Elara, thank you for coming so quickly.” Normally, he would invite his visitors to sit. She had never received such an invitation and did not expect one now.

“You received a missive from Daralon, the capitol city.” Along with the disbelief that anyone would write to her, she also found herself bothered that rather than deliver a missive that had apparently been for her, the man had taken it upon himself to read it first. 

“It is a summons. King Alden has requested an audience. An escort should be here shortly to retrieve you.”

Elara was struck silent, unsure how to respond or even what to think. Though revered as some gift from the heavens, she had been ultimately ignored for the majority of her life. To think that her existence was even known to the King was difficult to fathom, much less that he requested an audience with her.

“To be fairly honest, I cannot begin to even imagine why the King would summon you, but we cannot ignore his summons.” Elara tried not to be offended at the old man’s words. “You will spend from tomorrow until the retinue arrives preparing for court. You are to report to Katarina first thing in the morning. You may go.”

After a respectful bow, Elara returned to her own chambers. Deep into the night, she still lay awake, questions racing through her mind.

Elara spent every following day from dawn until dusk learning the rules of court. How to speak, or rather how to not speak unless spoken to. She was even taught how to properly eat if invited to dine. Elara would have never thought there were so many rules to something as simple as eating!

With hardly any fanfare, the company of twenty armored men on horseback and a single covered carriage arrived early one morning. Her release to the soldiers and journey out of the town was just as uneventful as the escort’s arrival had.

The only information she had gathered about her escort was that the man leading them was a Captain named Kael. Though she had heard him introduce himself through the gap in his large helm, he had not removed the armor and she had no idea what he looked like. Nor did she know what any of her escorts looked like, as they had all been similarly garbed in thick, shining armor.

When they finally stopped for the first night on the road, Elara was unsure what to do with herself. Part of her wanted to hide in her carriage, even if that meant she would forgo any dinner. The decision was made for her when the small door opened, and she spied the captain just beyond.

“We have set up your accommodations, My Lady.”

Elara nodded and the captain stepped back, giving her room to emerge from the cramped carriage. They had stopped at a large clearing alongside the road and several campfires had already been constructed. Just next to the carriage was a single pitched tent, obviously put up for her.

Elara was uncomfortable with the treatment. It felt awkward that she was the only one sleeping in a tent, while the rest were exposed to the elements. She also noticed that the soldiers were still fully donned in their armor, including their helmets.

“Do your men sleep in their armor?”

Shocked, the captain looked back at her.

“It is a sign of respect, My Lady. They will stay covered while in your presence.”

“Please, do not let my presence make you or your men uncomfortable. Surely you allow your soldiers to rest after a hard day’s ride?”

She didn’t mean to sound accusatory, realizing only after the fact that she might have done just that. Elara noticed that the solders around them had stopped and were all looking at their captain. With a loud snort of laughter, which startled her, the captain removed his helm, revealing clean-cut sandy brown hair. With a lopsided smile that Elara found strangely endearing, he bowed his head to her before turning to his troops.

“Well, you heard her. No reason to be so formal.”

A chorus of cheers were released as the soldiers began pulling their own armor off. Elara felt the tension in her shoulders slowly ebb away as the captain turned back to her again.

“I apologize. My intent was not to make you uncomfortable, but rather give you a sense of security.”

“I would much prefer you and your soldiers be comfortable around me.”

He nodded and gestured toward the tent. “You are welcome to retire if you’d like. I will have one of my men bring you dinner shortly.”

Elara looked toward the tent, then back at the campfires, which seemed much more inviting. Kael noticed her hesitation.

“You are welcome to join us.”

Surprised, Elara shook her head and slipped on her mask of a pleasant smile. “That is quite alright. I do not wish to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence.”

“Why would your presence make anyone uncomfortable?”

“Well, because…” Her words trailed off, unsure how to respond to his question. She thought it would have been obvious. Unsure what to say, she instead gestured to her gloved hands. The confusion lifted from the captains’ features, his lopsided smile returning.

“Seeing that we are in the middle of the forest, I don’t see any issue with you creating a few more trees or bushes.”

Elara again didn’t know how to respond.

“You… you aren’t afraid I might turn one of your men?”

He brought an armored hand to his chin and seemed to contemplate this for a moment. “Have you done that before? Turned someone into vegetation?”

“Well, no. Not exactly.”

“Then why should I be worried? As I understand it, we should all be safe as long as you have those gloves on. Is that right?”

Elara glanced at her gloves, then back at the man before her. “Essentially, yes.”

“Well, then please feel free to join us. These are my best soldiers, and I hope that you will find them to be pleasant company.”

He left her then to join his troops. Unsure what to do, Elara turned to study the gathering. Now with most of their armor removed, she realized then that there were not just men, but men and women. With one last glance at her tent, she stepped towards the fires and the solders surrounding them.

The remaining week of travel went by quickly for Elara. Each evening, she sat with a different group of soldiers. Though she was asked many questions about her abilities, not a single person showed any apprehension towards her, instead welcoming her openly. Captain Kael joined her around the fires as well.

On the fifth day, they finally emerged from the woods and onto a large, open plain. Peering from her window, she saw that stumps littered the ground on either side of the road where trees had been severed. Never before had she seen deforestation on such a large scale. When the escort stopped for the evening, there was a visible shift in the demeanor of the soldiers. Though still good-natured, they were quiet and reserved.

The remaining days of travel showed much of the same scenery. Finally, on the eighth day of travel, the walls and spires of the capitol city could be seen on the horizon.

Upon hearing that they would reach the gates just before nightfall, Elara’s nerves and fears came roaring back. As the open gates neared and crowds could be seen gathering, she pulled the curtains closed. Murmurs of the crowd filled her small carriage, and Elara had to stop herself from shrinking down in her seat, as though eyes could see her through the drawn curtains.

The stop of the carriage brought Elara from her thoughts. Kael opened the door and stepped back so that she could climb out. It was weird to see him fully donned in his armor. She briefly wished they were still out on the road, and he instead was opening her door with his helm removed and lopsided smile on display. 

The keep before her was so large, Elara had to lean back to see its distant spires. All around her was stone. The road was paved, every building within sight made of the same material. Despite her awe, Elara found it to be disturbingly unnatural.

She was led through two massive doors and a series of stone corridors until finally into a throne room. The only piece of furniture in the massive domed chamber was an ornately upholstered chair upon a tall dais. Seated atop the magnificent chair was King Alden himself, glaring down at her.

An awkward silence dragged on, and Elara resisted the urge to clear her throat. Was she supposed to speak first? Captain Kael now stood to the left of the dais, and she glanced to him for help. He bowed his head at her ever so slightly.

Sudden horror filled Elara. Scrambling, she curtsied before the King. Her face burned as she held her curtsy.


The single word echoed deeply through the massive room. Legs trembling, she stood and raised her gaze to the King.

“Elara Farrington from Woodshire. Do you know why I have summoned you here?”

 “No, Your Majesty.” Her voice broke on the title, and she winced.

“You possess the touch of nature. Is this true?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Show me.”

Sheer panic rose within Elara. “Right now?”

The Kings glare intensified. “Yes, now. Is that a problem?”

“I…” She swallowed and glanced around the empty chamber. “I need something man-made to use as a resource, Your Majesty. I cannot create something from nothing.”

Without prompting, Kael removed his helm and stepped away from the dais, handing her the piece of armor. He smiled encouragingly at her before stepping back to his place.

Hands shaking, she accepted the helm. She had never been able to control her ability as far as deciding what would grow or how large the growth would be. Taking a deep breath, she removed one of her gloves and rested her palm on the metal.

Brown and green burst forth from the steel, shooting toward the ceiling. Gasping, Elara dropped the helm. Creaking and rustling filled the chamber. Within seconds, the sounds quieted, and the room descended into silence once again. Before her stood a massive oak, its branches reaching far above to the ceiling. The only damage Elara could see were from the massive roots, which had cracked the tile of the floor to bury deep in the ground.

She stepped around the massive base to see King Alden on his feet, staring at the oak in awe and astonishment. A smile climbed across the King’s features, which Elara found more disturbing than his glare. As he descended the dais, Elara moved to stand beside Kael. She tensed, awaiting his verdict.

“Elara Farrington. I have summoned you here because you are the only one who can save my kingdom.”

Elara blinked in confusion. She glanced at Kael at her side, but his awestruck gaze was still focused on the oak.

“Save the kingdom, Your Majesty?”

“Yes.” The King finally pulled his attention from the massive tree and faced her fully, his hands clasped behind his back.

“I am sure you noticed on your travels, but there are no trees or growth of any kind for miles surrounding Daralon. Farmlands are infertile. Trees no longer regrow. Herds and game have ventured so far, our hunters come back empty handed. Even livestock hardly survive. I fear for the future of my people. However, you and you alone can save this kingdom and its people with your gift.”

“I am not sure that I can, Your Majesty.” At her admission, every set of eyes in the room snapped to her.

“You would refuse your king?”

“No, Your Majesty! It is just that… I have no control over this gift. I may be able to summon forth nature at a simple touch, but I have no decision in what grows, or how much. I am afraid that I might cause more harm than good.”

“Will you not even try? My people are starving. Hundreds of innocent people will either die or be forced to leave their homes if I do not find a solution. I have tried all that I can, and you are my last hope. Do not do this because your king demands it, do it because people will suffer if you don’t.”

Stunned, Elara could not find her voice. So instead, she nodded.

The following mid-day, Elara found herself surrounded by miles of empty landscape in every direction. Accompanying her was a small contingent of ten solders who had brought along a wagon filled with old armor and other discarded items for her to use.

Shakily accepting a dented chest piece from one of the soldiers, she stepped a few paces away from the others. Placing the piece of armor on the ground, she hesitated before removing her gloves. With one last deep breath, she placed both hands on the metal.

Greenery burst forth, this time out instead of up. Green grass flew out over the landscape as rushing water might when released from a dam. Trees sprouted from the trunks of their ancestors. Bushes and wildflowers sprang from the ground. Cheers came from behind her. Elated, Elara released a cheer of her own.

That evening, a great celebration was held. Elara was welcomed by the city folk with open arms and praises. Several hours and a few drinks later, Elara found herself sitting on the ledge of a large fountain in one of the many town squares. With finally some time to herself, she removed her gloves. Since she was a child, she had hated her hands. Her gift was destructive and instilled fear in those around her. For the first time in her life, she felt proud of her ability. Proud of herself.

“Didn’t have too much to drink, did you?”

Elara startled. Caught off balance, she slipped and fell back towards the water. Just before she would have hit the surface, a hand reached out and grabbed her own, pulling her forward. She came face to face with Kael, who was finally not in a suit of armor.

Elara stared in horror as he still held her ungloved hand. Tears sprang to her eyes and she screwed them shut. She couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes, to see what had become of Kael. He had been the first to treat her as a normal person, not as some “blessed” being to be feared. And now that same ability she had finally learned to accept had killed him.

“Are you alright?”

At the sound of his voice, her eyes sprung open. Kael stood before her, his hand still holding hers.

“Your alive…”

Kael’s features bunched up in confusion. He looked down at himself, then back at her. “Yes, it would certainly seem so. Should I… not be?”

She swallowed. “You’re touching me.”

Kael glanced at their joined hands. After a moment, confusion gave to surprise, then elation.

“I am.”

No greenery burst forth, no trees sprouted, not even a flower emerged from his skin. All her life, she feared the touch of another, unsure what would happen should her ability be triggered. As it turned out, nothing would have happened at all.

“Thank you.” She whispered.

“What are you thanking me for? You’re the one who saved this kingdom.”

“No.” Elara sighed deeply. “This kingdom saved me.”

August 27, 2023 20:42

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