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“Gently, gently,” he counseled himself. “No man with the power to summon Robin Hood — indeed, to create him — can be bound for long. A word, a wish, and this tree must be an acorn on a branch again, this rope be green in a marsh.” But he knew before he called on it that whatever had visited him for a moment was gone again, leaving only an ache where it had been. He felt like an abandoned chrysalis.
“Do as you will,” he said softly. Captain Cully roused at his voice, and sang the fourteenth stanza.
“There are fifty swords without the house, and fifty more within,
And I do fear me, captain, they are like to do us in.”
“Ha’ done, ha’ done,” says Captain Cully, “and never fear again,
For they may be a hundred swords, but we are seven men.”
“I hope you get slaughtered,” the magician told him, but Cully was asleep again. Schmendrick attempted a few simple spells for escaping, but he could not use his hands, and he had no more heart for tricks. What happened instead was that the tree fell in love with him and began to murmur fondly of the joy to be found in the eternal embrace of a red oak. “Always, always,” it sighed, “faithfulness beyond any man’s deserving. I will keep the color of your eyes when no other in the world remembers your name. There is no immortality but a tree’s love.”
“I’m engaged,” Schmendrick excused himself. “To a western larch. Since childhood. Marriage by contract, no choice in the matter. Hopeless. Our story is never to be.”
A gust of fury shook the oak, as though a storm were coming to it alone. “Galls and fireblight on her!” it whispered savagely. “Damned softwood, cursed conifer, deceitful evergreen, she’ll never have you! We will perish together, and all trees shall treasure our tragedy!”
Along his length Schmendrick could feel the tree heaving like a heart, and he feared that it might actually split in two with rage. The ropes were growing steadily tighter around him, and the night was beginning to turn red and yellow. He tried to explain to the oak that love was generous precisely because it could never be immortal, and then he tried to yell for Captain Cully, but he could only make a small, creaking sound, like a tree. She means well, he thought, and gave himself up for loved.
A tree in love: misty, rose-flecked leaves, warm bark, frankincense smoke, and shuddering branches.