Evervale had always been afraid of the thornwall.
The sprawling, tangled mass of prickly tendrils had been the stuff of her cubhood nightmares. Even tinier blackberry brambles sometimes made her shiver, thinking of the giant thorns and the craggy, twisted trunks of their flora barrier.
She could appreciate the logic of having it - the dense, clinging, scratching stuff was hard enough to fight through where it grew wild. No human would idly explore through it in the direction of the Holt, especially as it got deeper and denser and angrier towards the wall itself. It was a safe barrier, a wordless protection from the threat along their northern border.
But appreciating the thornwall didn't mean Evervale liked it, and she tended to skirt well away from it whenever her travels took her from the safe branches of the Dentrees.
Then, it became her duty.
The first time Cloudfern took her to it, she trembled on Halfmoon's back, dreading every part of this task. She was not ready for this undertaking, she knew. The horrible, spiky creature that guarded their boundary would overcome her. She reflexively pried her fingers from Halfmoon's fur, caught again in the terrifying, trapped feeling of being helplessly captured by the tree bark when her shaping powers had first bloomed. Halfmoon gave an unexpected lurch, and she almost fell off, grabbing again at his mane.
Cloudfern gave her a curious sideways look, and she tried to smile bravely back. He was as good a teacher of shaping as he had been of the herbal lore that she was learning from him before her gift had revealed itself, patiently showing her the trance that allowed him to dive deep into the roots of a plant and shape it from within. "Brightwood didn't have to go into such a trance for living trees," he had told her, with regret. His sister had been in wrapstuff since long before Evervale was born. "You might not have to, either." Their short time practicing together had proved that Evervale's powers were unpredictably strong, and Cloudfern cheerfully admitted that she would be able to do more than he could; a fact that didn't sit easily on the young elf's shoulders.
Evervale liked the trance. She preferred the ritual and rhythm of letting herself sink into a separated state to work her magic. When she let it spill from her hands without finding that place of balance first, unexpected things happened. The trees giggled at her and pulled at her, and she couldn't always figure out what was her imagination and what was the whispers of their desires. She could almost feel their bark growing up around her whole body, trapping her forever, and she knew that as soon as she touched the thornwall, she would be sucked in, caged in thorns the size of her forearms, imprisoned in magic she couldn't contain —
She hissed her breath in and shook her head. Some days, her imagination was as wild as her little sister Crackle's.
Halfmoon's steps faltered, in response to her own unconscious knowledge that they were near their destination, and Cloudfern took the lead. Evervale reluctantly followed, and they cleared an innocuous stand of willows... to see the thornwall.
It was everything her imagination had supplied. From the other side, it was a gradual change - a few straggling thornbushes, then a larger thicket or two. A wanderer might look for another path, choosing not to press through, only to find themselves routed eventually all the way around the territory that the elves claimed for their own. If they fought a bush or two, trying to stay to a particular direction, they would find only even denser brush beyond, with larger thorns, and tangled branches too thick to fall before a blade. It was made to look natural, from that approach. But from inside the thornwall, no such care was taken. The wall rose up, a tangled skeleton bleached with age, sending out evil arms of thorns and branches; even the leaves had jagged edges and glinted a deep, poisonous green.
Evervale made herself dismount and move to Cloudfern's side, trying to keep her face serene and desperate for any of that serenity inside of herself. She slowed down to stand beside him, then abruptly recognized that she was never going to make her legs move towards that wall again if she didn't keep some of her momentum. Steeling herself, she took the final steps towards the great, looming terror and raised a shaking hand to touch a twisted trunk, closing her eyes at the last moment.
She didn't remember opening her eyes, but suddenly she could see, with the strange, earthy clarity she was coming to expect from touching a tree. She could see the thornwall in its entirety - the entire wall from Raincaller Creek to the Holt's River, every shy little early bush with unraveling curls of new growth, and every matron thornbush, patiently putting out flowers for the summer. She could see the roots, each touching, twined together like soulmates to share the soil, and the sturdy frame of the biggest trunks at the back of the wall. She could see the leaves, tipping up to drink in the sunlight, and taste the old magic that permeated every length of every branch.
There was no prickle, within the thornwall, no hint of the nasty thorns that kept invaders at bay. There was only thirst for life, the tingle of ancient magic, and a deep contented feeling of self-satisfaction. This beautiful old being had been told, over and over, that it was important, that it mattered, and asked to do A Thing. It didn't really understand the thing, Evervale realized, but when she tentatively — so carefully — suggested a place that didn't feel quite as thick as another, it unraveled a new vine with her, lending its own merry enthusiasm to the weaving of the wall.
Beside her, Cloudfern chuckled. "I didn't think you'd have any trouble with this," he said.
Evervale's eyes flew open and she had to adjust to a whole new way of seeing again. "I thought I would," she confessed. "I... didn't think it would feel like this."
"It's almost beautiful," Cloudfern agreed.
'Almost?' Evervale thought in astonishment. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
And she was never afraid of the thornwall again.