Agnil and the Tree Spirits
Agnil listened to the rhythmic sounds of the waves crashing onto the shore and her dad snoring next to her, an open book propped on his chest. Tracing patterns in the soft, yellow sand with her fingers, she glanced at the unused bodyboard lying next to her on the beach. Her dad had promised to take her surfing but so far he’d spent all his time reading and snoozing. She was bored.
Spring had come early and he’d brought her to the coast for a holiday. It was already warm enough to sit next to the windbreak in a T-shirt and shorts. Ben Lang had borrowed a caravan from a friend at work and they were due to arrive that very afternoon. Agnil wasn’t looking forward to having other people around; it would mean she’d have to share her tiny room for a couple of days and she liked her privacy.
In her mind she was plotting how she could persuade Estil, her elf mother, to return from Aberrian and make her family complete again. She wanted both her parents in the same place at the same time! Was that really too much to ask?
A walk along the beach and the chance to explore a few rock pools seemed like the best way to entertain herself. She brushed the sand from her feet and slipped them into a pair of flip-flops. As she stood up, a gust ofwind blew her hair into her face. It suddenly felt cooler. She tied her sweatshirt around her waist before setting off down the beach. Because it was so early in the year, the only other people Agnil saw were an elderly couple walking their dog who greeted her as they passed.
She followed a wavy line of seaweed that snaked its way around and between the rock pools. The bigger and better pools were closer to the cliffs and Agnil crouched down next to one of the larger ones to peer into the clear water. A tiny crab scurried around, well camouflaged against the sand. As Agnil watched it, first one and then a lot more large raindrops plopped into the pool, sending ripples across the surface of the water.
The rain began to pelt down. She didn’t want to get soaked to the skin and looked around for somewhere to shelter. Not far from the rock pool, she spotted the entrance to a small cave and ran there as fast as she could. She sat down just inside the mouth of the cave and stared out towards the sea. The waves were growing, roaring as they hammered the beach and tossed spume high above them. Heavy grey clouds darkened the sky. A storm had come out of nowhere.
Agnil realised that her father would now be awake and worried that she wasn’t there. Her mobile phone was safely locked in the caravan so she had no way of letting him know where she was. She wished that she could talk to him through the wizard’s ring she always wore on a chain round her neck, just like she could talk to her mother.
Who was calling her? Was she imagining it? From somewhere close behind her, the voice called again.
She peered into the darkness behind her. Something shifted by the wall of the cave. Cranus, the old man of the forest, emerged as if he were stepping out of the rock. His eyes glistened like pieces of jet as his craggy face broke into a smile.
“What are you doing here?” she asked as she gave him a hug.
He smelled of damp moss and bare earth after a summer shower. Agnil breathed it in as if it were reviving some long-forgotten memory that she wanted to recall.
“Enjoying your holiday?” he asked, ignoring the question.
“Nothing much to do here on my own,” replied Agnil.
“But you have your father here and his friend will arrive this afternoon.”
“How do you know that?”
“Dear me, Agnil, have you forgotten that I know a lot of things? I used to know everything but it all got too heavy to carry, so I left some of it behind,” he sighed. “We need your help again, Agnil, but the situation is so bad I’m not sure even you can do anything.”
She stepped back and looked at him for a moment, wondering what challenges lay ahead.
“I have to tell my dad this time. He’ll already be missing me. I can’t just disappear!”
“There’s no time now, Agnil. It will take too long to explain! We can adjust time a little when you come back and he won’t even know you’ve been gone!”
Agnil knew he was right. Now was not the time to start going into the whole story with her dad. How would she explain that she had found the mother he’d told her had died? How could she tell him about all her new powers?
Cranus led her to the wall of the cave and pulled the rock aside as if opening a curtain. Sunlight and warmth poured through the gap. Agnil looked back at the sea outside as the waves pounded the shore and the rain drenched the beach. Sunshine seemed a much more appealing option. She followed the old tree spirit through to the other side.
A symphony of animal sounds filled her ears as she emerged onto a beach of soft white sand that almost dazzled her in the bright sunlight. A cloudless blue sky reflected in a clear, calm turquoise sea. This was nothing like the beach she’d just left! Why couldn’t her dad have brought her somewhere like this instead?
When she turned round to follow the sounds, she saw a forest, teeming with life, rising high above her.
“Is that where we’re going?” she asked. “It’s beautiful!”
“It is,” replied Cranus, “but it’s dying.”
And the sadness in his eyes reached out and wrapped itself around her heart.