The tree inspired me to write this scene, which is a part of the longer story I am currently writing. It ended up not playing a big part, but it is a beautiful tree and and I am now planning on giving it a role in the story.
The branches of the tree I was tied to started to creak softly above me. I thought it was the wind. But I had been sitting here most of the night and my initial terror had slowly but surely been replaced by something like boredom. There was nothing to do except look up, so I did. Where earlier there had been only the network of thin, leafless branches, there was now a black shape, blocking out the stars and the smallest, greenish moon. I was still staring at the thing, trying to figure out what it was, when it dropped from the tree, landed right next to me and placed a hand over my mouth.
“Shh,” a voice whispered in my ear and this close I recognised Tade. “Don't make a sound. You helped me, now I'll help you. I am going to cut you loose.”
It took me a moment to understand what he meant, then panic welled up in me. He removed his hand from my mouth, but I was afraid to speak, afraid that someone would hear and find him there. Instead I shook my head so violently that I made myself dizzy.
When I stopped, he was looking at me curiously. One of his hands was on the rope around my wrists, the other held the knife, but at least he hadn't started cutting.
“Don't,” I hissed as softly as I could. He had to lean closer to listen. “If I escape, the deal is off and they will attack my home. I can't let that happen.”
He frowned. “You shouldn't have to pay for what your cousin did. You set the negotiations up in good faith; it was he who broke the peace.”
“Don't you see? It doesn't matter. Your people will attack my homeworld and they had even less to do with the slaughter than I had. I tried to make peace and I made a mess off it, but at least I can stop it spreading to my home.” The words were pouring out of me. All the arguments I had told myself before and after giving myself up. I still didn't know if I believed them myself, but they sounded good.
Tade sat back on his haunches. He had to be looking at me but in the darkness, I couldn't read his expression. “So you're willing to die to pay for a slaughter, that wasn't you fault.” It wasn't a question.
“No, I'm willing to die so no-one else will have to pay. Then it will be back to just your people and the others, killing each other.” I was growing exasperated. “I've already told you, I don't want your help and I've even explained why. Now go, before someone sees you and we'll both be in trouble.”
He didn't move.
I heaved a big sigh of annoyance. “Go,” I growled.
He leaned towards me again and I could see his face. He suddenly looked scared, his eyes even bigger than usual. “You don't understand,” he whispered. “You don't know what they will do to you. You think it's just death, just an execution.”
“I don't care. Go.” It was a struggle to keep my voice down. I wanted to yell at him. If my hands hadn't been tightly bound to the tree, I would have shoved him away or maybe just clapped them over my ears. I did not want to hear this.
He leaned in even closer, his lips so close that they grazed my ear. “They are going to …”
Then a new voice broke in. “Stop it.”
I jumped and looked around wildly. In the darkness I could just barely make out the figures standing in a circle around me and Tade. I felt tears stinging my eyes. They would never believe that I wouldn't have run away. It had all been for nothing. Now they were going to kill me anyway and then invade my home. I hadn't managed to stop it, just as I hadn't managed to make peace. I was a complete and utter failure.
I turned to Tade, who was still kneeling next to me. Even though it was his fault, I wanted to tell him to run and save himself. If he didn't die, that would at least be something. But to my surprise, he didn't look the least bit frightened. In fact, he was smiling.
“I wasn't done,” he said, speaking to the surrounding figures.
“You have done quite enough,” one of them said, the same who had spoken before. She came closer and I recognised her; it was Irivi. “We know now that she would rather die than run away, which is all we can demand from someone at her age. We can't conjure up vivid images of torture and a prolonged death and expect her to also be willing to endure that.”
Slowly, it began to dawn on me. “This was a test?”
“It was a test,” Irivi said, with a nod. She looked at the other people, who were still nothing more than dark figures in the gloom. “And she passed it. Whether it was because she wouldn't break her word or because she wanted to protect her home is irrelevant.” She cast a stern look at the others, as if daring them to argue the point. Nobody did.
“But …” I asked, even though I hardly dared to hear the answer, “what does it mean?”
“It means,” Tade answered with a smile, “that you get to live.”