Beneath the spreading boughs
Of the allifendae grove,
In the woodlands of the dawn,
Two sweethearts spoke of love.
The lovers exchanged vows,
Forever to share hearts,
In the woodlands of the dawn,
They promise ne’er to part.
In the deepest wilds, in wastes that have seen no human eyes, a lucky explorer may yet find the rarest of plants, the beautiful tree known as the allifendae. Once these lovely trees were common, yet today one may search the forest for weeks without finding any. Named after the Elvish word for the Aurora, the magical reputation of these trees is legendary, so that even a sliver of their bark can command astronomical prices.
In days forgotten by all save the Elves, groves of allifendae towered wherever the ley lines and meridians of magical power coursed through the land. Slender and supple, they reached above all other trees of the forest, the smooth grey of their bark contrasting with their bright leaves of golden green. Narrow streaks of dark green striped their bark and leaves, exaggerating their already slender form. When Spring’s first rains touched the land, their bark would slough off in massive sheets and be collected by the waiting Elves, to be made into healing teas or used as more modern folk use parchment.
In Autumn, the allifendae leaves turned a fiery gold, covering the floor of the forest like drifting piles of precious metal. The forest squirrels would carry off dozens of fragrant nuts, spreading the trees throughout the land.
In the evening’s twilight, the reason for the tree’s name becomes apparent: Flickering light dances over the bark and along the waving leaves, hypnotic spectra of color and beauty that fascinate and amaze. It is said that the eldest of druids could once read the health of an entire forest in the prismatic lights of just one tree, and an entire grove of such could compel entire armies to lay down their arms, just so that they could watch the beautiful spectacle.
At night, hundreds of insects could be seen around each of the trees, fluttering in the dancing light. Through a sort of sympathetic resonance, many of them would glow as well, drawn to become a feast for the bats and night birds.
That time has passed, however. The trees’ healing reputation drew woodsmen and brigands, alchemists and apothecaries, all eager to harvest their bark and claim their bright wood. Folktales and legends exaggerated the trees’ virtues: Some claimed that a marriage bed made of allifendae wood would guarantee a fruitful union, while others claimed that those who regularly ate of the tree’s nuts would gain eldritch power. Others were more practical: The red-streaked wood, resistant to most insects, became furniture, roof beams, or ships’ strakes. Over the centuries, the slow-growing trees gradually vanished.
All that most folk see of the allifendae these days are a few pieces of antique furniture or carven doorposts, their beautiful wood slowly succumbing to time and decay. An occasional apothecary might have a jar of powdered allifendae nut, reputedly a sovereign remedy against many ailments, but now aged and bitter.
The reckless harvesting of these prized trees is only one cause of the allifendae trees’ disappearance. To grow to full maturity, these trees need a strong magical field: As the land’s mana levels declined, the trees slowly faded and died. They only prosper where the ancient magic retains its full potency: In other places, less magical plants soon overshadow them and they wither away.
The Elves, who once walked among the groves of allifendae, now fear them. Their legends tell that the trees were once elves, priestesses of an unforgiving woodland god. This capricious deity transformed his worshippers into trees when they grew too arrogant, that they might serve their people without pride. The Elves believe that the remaining trees know what happened to their sisters, and will exact a stern reckoning from the young races when the god’s curse is lifted. When they pass near one of the handful of surviving allifendae, some even claim that they can hear the trees’ souls: Angry spirits whose songs are chants of wrath and lament.