“I can see that you are confused. I sense a goodness in you, with just a touch of deceit, so I will tell you my story For your sake, since you have freed us from the beast, I will make haste with my tale. It will probably be too slow for you still, but I will try. My name is one that you would not be able to pronounce, but I have heard it said as Leshyie. I have been for longer than you could possibly imagine. I watched men learn to farm, and I remember when man first learned to manage a horse.
For me, it is not too long ago, though you might think it differently. I had been roaming, visiting other herds. I was in a forest, when a group of your humans came along. They began cutting up trees, and Ents. I tried to defend us as best I could. Once they got over the surprise of a “tree” fighting back, they were dangerous. I lost several limbs. They left many slashes that became infected, and I was sick for a long time afterwards.
A young man had wandering, and found his way into our forest. He found me sick, and did what he could to help me, little though it was. Afterwards, we sat down and talked. He told me that he was a soldier for his king. He told me of an award that he wanted to devise to honor those soldiers like him that fought bravely. Once he explained what an award was, I chose to help him as he had helped me. As you can see, I bear such fruit. It is not easy, but it can be done.
As time passed, Otto, that was his name, came to visit me every so often. He became very important in his homeland, and I was happy to call him my friend. One day, he told me that his people had gone to war with other humans. He said that he wished he had many hundreds of his favorite award that he could give to his armies, to show his appreciation for their efforts. When he next came to visit, I had a surprise for him.
You humans would call it ironwood, but we, er, Ents, would call it heartwood. Some of us can exude this wood, in any way we like. When Otto showed me what he wanted, I knew that’s what I had to make. So I did. He only came back one more time after that. I had made a handful of the Crosses. He seemed very surprised, and grateful. He never came back after that, but I have never stopped making them. It is the least I can do for one who saved my life, even if it was a human.
Not very long ago, I was visited by another man. When I asked him about Otto, he told me that Otto was long since dead. He told me too that Otto’s king had died, and that his people had a new leader. He was a great man, destined to lead his nation to a greatness that would last a thousand of your years. We talked of my fruit, and he told me that Otto’s design was still in use, but that it had been changed. In honor of my friend, so then has my fruit changed. But now I don’t know what to do with these. When you came, I was sure that you had come for a harvest. Is this not so?”
Tom looked about him. “May I pick one?” Leshyie lowered a branch, and Tom plucked a cross. Holding it in his hand, he could see that it was indeed an Eiserne Kreuz, but a modern one, not an older style.
“Is it not satisfactory?”
“Indeed, Lord Leshyie, it is quite satisfactory. Are we to take these then, to our leader, so that they may be awarded to those who are deserving?”
“Truly, that is what they were meant for. Take all that you can carry, and use them to honor those who are worthy.”
Tom was taken aback, and was sure the others were as well. He looked around at the others. Beppo seemed to be in awe. Frodo and Sam had looks that were almost stricken. Tom was sure that they had an understanding that went beyond the ken of mere mortals.
“Old one, we can take those from you. We’ll see that they are given to those that deserve them. They will honor your personal sacrifice, giving up of yourself for these awards.”
“Yes, that will be good. If you see Otto, tell him that I remember him, and think of him.”
“I will do that, Old One. In his name, I thank you. And what is it that we can do for you?”
“Now that you have rid us of that dragon, we are free to move on. We seek a place where we may live in peace, without fear of those with blades trying to cut us down. Know you of such a place?”
“Sadly, there are few such places left. The only ones I know are cold, if you do not mind the temperatures. Go north, until you can smell the sea. There you will find wide forests, where you may hide among the native trees. There you should be able to live in peace.”
“What is the name of this place, that we may ask along our way, and not get lost?”
“It is called Karelia. You should be able to live there for many years, and see nary a human during that time.”
“I thank you, all of you. Go now. There is need of you whence you came.”
As they didn’t have anything to carry Leshyie’s ‘fruit’ in, they all took off their Panzer wraps, and laid them on the ground. Gently they plucked the crosses from the old Ent, and filled them with fresh Iron Crosses. When they were done, they folded up their ‘harvest’ in their clothing, and gathered them up. Looking around them, they knew that never again would they see something like this. Too, nobody would believe that they had seen it even now. It was the Shadow that noticed that there were different sizes. “Well,” he said, “isn’t it interesting that even a tree can distinguish between the EK1 and Ritterkreuz!” When they had gathered all that were there, they picked up their bundles.
Sam and Frodo leaned against the Ents, hands on their boles, eyes shut in concentration. Tom walked over, and put this hand out. Sam reached out and grabbed his wrist, pulling it away from the ‘tree.’ “Don’t do it, lad. You’ve a touch of the gift, but this would be too much for ye. Trust me.”
The men turned, and walked away, back to their armored car. Frodo dug around, and came up with a box to put the wooden Iron Crosses in. When they unwrapped their bundles, though, they found a surprise. They understood the old Ent’s comment about humans calling it ironwood.
Each of the wooden crosses had changed. They had hardened like, well, iron. They were no longer a rich wooden color, though. They had blackened. They almost were, in fact, Iron Crosses.
“Well,” said Beppo, “At least these can be awarded, and we don’t have to worry about any radio signals!” The others chuckled at that.
“Well, Herr Major Rosselsprung has no excuse not to reward some of the men. Literally, he has a whole ‘crop’ of awards to hand out!”
Tom looked at his comrades. Brave men all, he felt a strong bond with them. They had followed his commands into several engagements now, but none like this one. After this, he was sure they would follow him to the gates of Hell if he but asked. After all, how much more screwed up could that trip be than this? He felt almost guilty leaving the Ents, but they had persevered longer than many cultures. He was sure they would make it safely to Karelia. Besides, his crew had a duty to the other Heroes. Who knows what Ivan had hit them with while they were gone? He wasn’t even sure how long they’d been gone. As long as that bastard Davidov was loose, there’s no telling what insidious plots he was brewing up. It was time to get back. “All right, Sam, let’s head out.”
Again, Sam started the engine, and turned the vehicle around. Tom couldn’t see their tire tracks, but he knew Sam could. “Hey, Shadow, I meant to ask you. What’s the little ditty you’ve been humming since we went into that Wood?”
“Oh, that? Well, it’s just a little tune I made up, in honor of our victory. It goes like this:
We puffed the magic dragon, that lived near the Ents.
But not before he torched our car, blowing flames right through the vents!
We really wanted nothing than to talk to a tree.
The dragon roared, he was misinformed, when he thought that we would flee!
Sam and might Frodo, did all that they could do.
They caught his eye, so he wouldn’t spy, what the others were about to do!
Tom and Leutnant Beppo, valiantly they tried.
But the dragon saw, and he opened his maw and our boys very nearly fried!
Then the Shadow had a vision, and remembered his Greek.
Then he shoved a spear in the dragon’s rear where the armor was very weak!
Nothing lives forever, or so the story goes.
So you’d best beware, be very scared when you muck with our Heroes!
O, we puffed the magic dragon, that lived near the Ents.
But no one will believe our tale of the last two days’ events!
The return trip was much like the first leg. This time, though, The Shadow and Tom took their turns spelling the drivers. Even Beppo took a turn, as he knew that all of them were tired. Again, none of them were completely aware of how much time had passed.
On the third day, or was it the fourth? Anyway, the Shadow was the one that noticed something unusual in the distance. Even with the binos, he couldn’t make it out for certain. He thought he discerned a muzzle, so he told Sam to start flanking it, just in case. “I don’t suppose you can spare some of that dust, just to make it difficult for ‘im?”
As they neared the position, the gun (for they were close enough now to determine that’s what it was) disappeared. It then reappeared, facing more in their direction. Sam cut back the left. Sure enough, moments later the gun reappeared facing them. Suddenly, a figure jumped up and started waving its arms. Tom and the Shadow both glassed him, and they could see that in fact he was wearing a Heer uniform. Another came up out of the trench, and the first started running towards them.
“Shadow, pinch me.”
“You heard me. I said pinch me.” His command was rewarded with a sharp pinch. “Ouch, dammit! Not so hard!”
“Well, I did what you told me to, now would you tell me why?”
“Take a good look at that man coming our way. Notice anything strange?”
“Well, he does seem a little shorter than the average landser. But then again, Adolf is taking warm bodies almost wherever he can these days.”
“Well, I just wanted to make damned sure I wasn’t dreamin’, because he sure enough looks like a dwarf to me. Quite frankly, I getting a little tired of feeling like I’m in a tale by the Brothers Grimm!” It wasn’t Tom’s day.