It was a forest of trees yet to be. Ghostly apparitions all, shimmering shadows hanging in the air, vague shapes in the outlines of trees to come.
In the middle of it all, however, was one wide as a mountain, a deep, brown trunk appearing from the red earth below and disappearing into an impenetrable forest of leaves above. It was the tree to end all trees, the source, the alpha. It was what all other trees came from, but none was quite like it. It stood like the rock of ages, impossible and inevitable all in one.
And behind it, black as the blackest velvet, was the endless sky. Its inky hue, however, was warm, somehow. Not menacing like one overcast with clouds, but welcoming. It reminded me of summer nights and midnight sojourns. It reminded me of rooftop sleepovers, cool breeze and the music of crickets. The stars shone like the Maharaja’s jewels that had just been stolen, and the detective would have to recover them. He would have to, there were only ten pages to go, but my eyes are so heavy, the torch is flickering, and…….
I started, jolted from my reverie. The world tree was rumbling. The time was at hand. The prophecy was true, and my ten year journey was about to bear fruit. The path had been long, and my hands had been stained with so much blood that it would never truly be washed away, but it would all be worth it – every scar, every dead friend, every treachery, every murder – when I would hear the world tree speak.
“You seek wisdom, but there is no wisdom in blood.”
That the world tree would know my thoughts is no surprise. I had expected it. I also had an answer.
“Then there is no wisdom. Every human may not spill blood, but each and every person owes a debt to blood spilled. A child benefits because the soldier kills at the borders. Sighing lovers benefit when they gaze upon the Taj Mahal, built on a river of blood. Every human being lives because their ancestors spilled blood when the enemies were at their gates. Do not tell me there is no wisdom in blood, because without blood, there is no humanity. You have spoken. I am here. The prophecies have foretold that I will be blessed with your wisdom. Even you cannot change that.”
The forest was still once more, but the texture of the silence had changed. It was somehow harsher, less welcoming.
After a reverie of moments or eons, the world tree spoke once more.
“True. I cannot change the prophecy. I can, however, offer you a warning. Turn your heel and go. What I can offer will only destroy you.”
I wavered. The world tree spoke the truth. Always. If it said its words would destroy me, they most certainly would. If it told me there was nothing to be gained here, there wasn’t. If it told me to walk away, I should.
But I didn’t. Greater than wisdom, greater than prophecy, greater than even the world tree was the one, singular truth. I had to know. Otherwise, it was all for naught. So I stayed, and stared, no words, but my intent writ large on my eyes.
A sigh that seemed to break the heart of the universe, and the world tree spoke.
“Hear it then. Hear what you cannot accept.”
And it spoke. It told me everything. It told me, in exquisite detail, how my friends had felt when I, in my quest for the tree, has betrayed them. It told me how my daughter had felt when she had realised I had sold her for a scrap of the map. It showed me how she was today, and how she suffered every moment. It told me every man’s last, gasping thought as I slipped a knife between his ribs, or encircled his throat with my fingers and pressed down with my thumbs until he was choking in his own blood.
It told me of families ruined, children left orphans, wailing mothers. It poured all the rage, grief, desperation and dull surrender into me even as I sunk to my knees under the weight and begged it to stop, to let me go, to forgive. I screamed that this was no wisdom, even as in my heart I knew the truth I had already known – there is no wisdom in blood.
How many hours later I came to, I do not know. I was curled in a fetal position. Tears had soaked into my shirt. The forest was gone, the world tree was gone, the sky had changed. Even the ghostly shadows of the trees-to-be had disappeared. All that was left was the red earth, the endless sky, and the memory of each and every drop of blood spilled, all in the name of wisdom.