In the distant past, long before the coming of men or even the bright Fae, mighty spirits walked the land. In legends now forgotten, a spirit of death, then young and naïve, searched the depths of the primeval woodland and found the most ancient of the yew trees of the forest. He laid his hand upon it and his mark sank into its roots and its branches, a deadly poison in every drop of sap. The spirit then carved his rune into the bark of the massive tree, decreeing to all the gods that this tree would be his witness, a sentinel standing until the end of time to decree that the dark spirit had fulfilled the role apportioned to him. Within the tree, a watchful thought stirred.
Millennia passed. The yew stood silent watch as empires rose and fell. It watched as the elder races flowered and faded. It grew even more massive as the years passed. Druids erected monoliths before its immortal grandeur; their flint knives offered up the heart’s blood of human sacrifices before it. The tree’s spirit slowly learned the paradoxical ways of men. It learned to speak with the dead, souls often restless in the hours after their deaths.
Later, a new people came to the land and built a mighty edifice of stone where the Druids had once offered blood and pain to the tree. They tore down the monoliths of the ancient Druids and placed their dead into the ground around its roots. Within the building towering nearby, they sang of love and spoke of a time when hopes and fears would come true. Their dead slept around the tree, waiting for the coming time of promise. In their souls, the tree could taste their hopes, the lies some died to hold, the loves they cherished and the hatred that ate away at some of their hearts. The tree learned wisdom and sadness and truths beyond the knowledge of men. It came to understand the tongues of men, but it seldom spoke, since few had the will to listen.
Now scarred by millennia of lightning strikes and weathered by floods and fires, the tree enters the final era of its long vigil. The lovely stone building has fallen to ruin, and woodland once again has risen to surround the ancient yew tree. An occasional bone pokes from the ground around the huge plant.
Once in a while, a wizened elder rests in its shade and shares some words with the lonely sentinel, but most of its conversation is with spirits of the restless dead that haunt the land nearby. It visits the dreams of local folk, sharing vistas of unspoiled forest and druidic monuments encrusted with blood. In dreams, it appears sometimes as a woman with nut-brown skin and ancient features. She sings songs of ancient times and whispers secrets long forgotten. Sometimes other spirits intrude; when this happens she lets the restless spirit share its message with the dreamer, hoping always that the dreaming mortal isn’t killed in the shared dream.
Some have learned to court the tree for knowledge. Priests seeking wisdom, knights hoping for enlightenment, the elderly longing for reunion with lost friends and loved ones, all make the trek into the forest to sleep among the roots of the ancient tree. Some fall to the hazards of the forest before they arrive; others find nothing for their trouble besides a sore back, but a few find the dream that they sought.
Others seek to harvest the tree’s ancient wood or toxic leaves. They find that a greater danger awaits them. In anguish, the primordial sentinel calls out for the aid of the restless dead… and they answer. Undead will rise from the deep shadow beneath the tree’s boughs, striking down those who would damage it.