Wood Maidens

"I warn you, woodsman, respect the trees. I will mark the ones you may cull - the old and strong, not the young and green - and as long as you do so, you will have my protection. Cut the unmarked trees, and their parent or child will mark you and those between you and them for culling instead."
— Wood Maiden to a Woodcutter

The Wood Maidens - tree-guardians of forests and shepherds of the towering and spindly Skeleton-Trees - are believed to be a type of faerie tree. There are stories of Maidens protecting people who enter their forests, causing the ill-mannered to wander until the next dawn, or exacting retribution against those who would defile their region.

Maidens generally refer to themselves as trees and say they sprout from seed pods among their sapling Maiden siblings. In their older age, they become trees again. Many people who live near their forests claim the trees that look like people are the aged Walking Guardians who have Stilled and passed the forest on to another.

I am a tree, a child of Nature, grown from seed as any tree. I am a tree, I am the forest, just as a Nøkken is the lake or pond they dwell within. One of your deities, the Boundary Guardian, teaches you how to be among those of us who are children of Nature.

|Fragment of a Wood Maiden's written memoir

Anatomy & Morphology

My grandmother is very striking with green eyes - the kind of green that makes you forget what the color green is supposed to look like. Whenever I had met with her, she would let me braid her stairstep moss-hair and tell me about her fellow Wood Maidens. Then she would braid mine with her wood-wrinkled fingers.
Nada Liyas Ellascas

Maidens are a monosex species who always take a feminine form when they Walk. However, they tend to adapt themselves to take on traits they individually like.

The tree-bark patch on a Maiden's back grows with time until the Walking Guardian Still and becomes a tree again.

Most Maidens take on traits of animals who live in their forest and maintain some semblance of their forests' trees, bushes, or other plants. These traits can range from, or combine, from goat hooves, antlers, inhuman coloring, in-season or out-of-season blooms in their hair, to hair made of plants.

Most Wood Maidens are described or recorded as having unique features.

She has the tail of a cow, the markings of a deer, and hair like ferns. No matter how different from me she looks, I'm in love.

- Note transcribed from a woodcutter by their niece.
Facial Characteristics & Features

As most take on aspects of Nature in their appearances, their faces also tend to take on similar traits. The primary unifying feature is the Maiden's eye color. All descriptions of their eyes include colorings no mortal can carry - "true" tends to dominate most descriptions trying to define the exact shade, such as "true green." Most Maiden's eyes are shades found in Nature with an unnatural intensity in color.

Biology

Childhood

Walking Guardians initially sprout from seed pods, then grow as a tree until they begin to Walk. Most believe the sapling Maiden learns from their parent tree as they grow, though the exact manner is uncertain.

The sapling stage seems to vary based on the state of the forest, if the region has a Maiden tending to it already, or the seasons. Most who had been asked described their time as a sapling as "being asleep, but not asleep, much like the parent tree is."

Adulthood

Upon Walking, they are considered an adult. The Maiden will take a more humanoid form, save for the bark patch on their back that will grow as they age until they Still. These patches may also hollow out over time, usually after giving birth to part-Maiden children or after acts of wrath.

Eventually, the Maiden will Still and reform into a tree. The Stilled Maiden will continue to live but becomes more dormant over time.

Wood Maiden WIP.png
Wood Maiden WIP by Lyraine Alei/AG Art
Origin/Ancestry
Believed to be Faerie, but are known to be Tree
Lifespan
400-500 years
Average Height
1.4-1.8 meters
Geographic Distribution
Related Ethnicities
Alternative Name/Title
Walking Guardian
Wood Maiden CD10 Starting Traits
+2

Enemy(The Order)
-3

-2

Iron Physique(Physical)
+2

MagicalPlaceholderTrait
+2

-3

+2

Sensitive(Heat)
-2

Sensitive(Poison)
-1

+2

Wood-Rot
-1
 

Further Reading

Skeleton-Trees
Species | Aug 10, 2021

Skeleton-Trees are towering and spindly tree beings stalking prey within the deep woods of forests in Theydim. They are herded and guarded by Wood Maidens, who also guard the forests.

Reproduction

Wood Maidens sprout from seedpods fallen from their Stilled parent tree that had their blooms pollinated. If they have part-Maiden children, they will be born similar to the mortal partner's species, though the process appears to use magic.

Part-Maidens

The children of a Guardian and their partner are generally considered the partner's species and share more features with that parent. However, the part-Maiden will inherit various traits - such as eye color, skin markings, a magic-like tendency towards having plants in their hair. These traits can be passed down in further generations, though the descendants inherit fewer traits.

Diet

While a sprout, a young Wood Maiden is sustained by the soil, air, and rains. Once the Walking Guardian begins to Walk, they continue to subsist from contact with soil, air, and rain. However, they can eat the same food as the mortals, even seem to keep healthy when doing so, until they Still and live out the rest of their lives as immobile trees.

Magical Abilities

  • Misdirection - Usually done as a form of protection, a Guardian can shift the walking paths and trails to entrap or redirect those who wander into their forest. Tales tell of a tree-woman protecting children when they fled into the forest during wartime before walking out unharmed. Woodcutters, who have disregarded or ignored the directive on which trees they may harvest, have found themselves wandering in circles for the day, before walking out and discovering they've only gone within a half-hour's walking distance deep when they wake up and walk out the following morning.

    Most methods to prevent this misdirection include following the directives, being kind and courteous to anyone, and carrying a ball of yarn to mark the path back. It has been suggested the yarn method is not a guarantee, only a way to detect if one is under the misdirection ability.

  • Tree Walking - An ability inherited from the Maiden to the part-Maiden children and descendants, Maidens can travel by touching a tree to any tree they have touched before. The part-Maiden children have a more limited range, but Maidens have not recorded or shared the furthest distance they can cross through their Tree Walking.

  • Forest Tending - This is one aspect of magic kept secret from anyone outside the forests when performed on a large scale. The result has small saplings grown into adult trees, a small bush towards full size, and a general explosion of plant life in the region the Maiden had been.

    Stories have described attempts at "sneaking a peek" as leaving the observer in a shaken state, muttering about "hissing grass" or "stretching trees" though said observers also tended to find themselves developing plant-like growths on their bodies.

    • Forest Movement - In times of extreme danger, a Guardian can move an entire forest. This has occurred twice in over two thousand years since the Adrakian Empire's fall in recorded history. In both times, the relocated forests fell into a sharp decline for decades before an explosion of new growth, while the nearby forests would shift into late fall or winter stages regardless of the season.

  • Soul Trapping - This particular ability is considered one of the most dangerous a Maiden has. In times of extreme anger, the tree-bark over their back will grow and "rot out" into a hollow. Anyone who peers at the hollowed back will find themselves unable to look away as the hollow void eventually looks back with their own eyes. The trapped individual then sees their body collapse.

    This also uses the other abilities to help the Guardian track, follow, and ensure their targets cannot escape at all or for long.

    The more often this ability is used, the more hollowed out the Maiden becomes until there is nothing left but the rotting front-facing facade. Maidens who reach this stage will rot apart instead of Stilling.

  • I don't know how she knew it was us or where exactly we were - but when she spoke, she wasn't speaking to us and the trees grabbed for us too. Hal was caught. We kept running, and when we thought we were on the paths again, he was running with us - his eyes were gone.
    The Order can find others, I'm never stepping foot in the woods again.
    — Woodcutter's report
    • Skeleton Roots - The body of one who has been trapped can be manipulated via detachable roots under the control of the Maiden who had trapped the body's soul within their hollowed back. This body can be animated for as long as the Guardian lives regardless Stilling or Walking, and lends to stories of haunted forests where ancient dead pace without rest.

Society

Most city-dwellers often see Maidens as over-reactive tree monsters who lure or seduce men or children away from the cities. These views are reinforced from the stories and warnings about a Guardian's abilities, and from the natural corruption of sharing stories or ideas through word-of-mouth.

To those who live closer to the forested regions within a Wood Maiden's territory, a Maiden is either a Skeleton-Tree's shepherd and the one who protects others from their trees, or as a guardian protecting the forest from over-harvest by redirecting the woodcutter or hunter.

Most Maidens rarely leave their forests and generally interact with mortals who enter their domain. The actual number of Wood Maides is uncertain and believed to be far higher than those who interact with mortals.

Stories from the more rural towns and villages describe how a Walking Guardian has sheltered individuals or small groups from bandits or enemies. Though these stories are often couched with warnings not to count on such possible protection - one must catch the Maiden in a forgiving mood, or else they could wander and become lost or led into more dangerous situations.

Among Other Maidens, Spirits, or Monsters

Few Guardians tend to a forest and herd Skeleton-Trees simultaneously, so usually one will tend or herd. When two or more meet up, there is often an exchange of information and a small gathering of neighboring Maidens if there is at least one who hasn't been in the region recently.

Herding Maidens are more likely to travel and are often the cause for gatherings of their less migratory kin wherever they go.

"Did you have, I don't know, tea parties or something, Grandmother?"
"Ha, sometimes we would have tea. One time I was dragged into going on a hunt for a boar - I broke my arm in that, and it never mended right. I met your grandfather because of a similar gathering, though it was more because I had to call off my herd from him when they mistook him for another."
— Young Nada Ellascas and Linea Ellascas

History of the Species

My mother would tell me stories of their mother before them. I write them down now for you to pass down to yours...

- letter from Linea Ellascas

Most Wood Maidens' history records describe more mundane tasks tending to the forests and their parent tree. Often, they're blamed for introverted men preferring not to be in the cities or festivals or for children getting lost for days or weeks at a time. However, most who lay the accusations are people who live in cities.

In Theydim, there have been growing cities, creating a divide between the city-people and the more rural inhabitants of the regions. The Order of Speared Light, in the last century, began taking a more focused interest in reports of Maiden sightings and their locations tends to lead in the deaths of forests. Unfortunately, the people who make a living from the Maiden's domain are often the unintended casualties when the Walking Guardian is trying to protect the forest and themselves.

One of the primary reasons for this cultural division is the distance between the forests and cities. Towns and villages tend to be much closer to the forests, and as a result, much closer to the Boundary Guardian's domains, whose teachings include manners towards the children of Nature. A woodcutter learns which trees may be felled, while a city-dweller is less likely to have been taught the forests' first rule.

When walking the forest, leave kind water and a meal for the Walking Guardian as payment for your safe passage.
— The first rule of the forest

When a Maiden dies, their forest will begin to wither and decline; the once harvestable trees will hollow out with rot. If a herd of Skeleton-Trees Walk within then the skeleton-trees will turn on every living being that bleeds. These forests have led to the ruination of several mills and logging towns. As a result, the Order drew the locals' ire towards city-dwellers who seem to ignore most of the rules of living next to Nature's entities, particularly the Maidens.

Usually, a Walking Guardian would have to temporarily take on the region as part of their forest if a Maiden was killed. They will cultivate saplings from the previous Maiden's parent tree - if the parent tree survived. There are cases where the region declined or turned into rotting woods.

Unfortunately for the Maidens, the Order has begun a clear-cutting campaign to hunt them down. While the logging and milling industry benefit from the forests being cleared, the Guardians have withdrawn more of their polite mannerisms. Woodcutters report seeing signs of Skeletons Roots formed from their friends and peers chasing them out.

Beauty Ideals

Most Maidens find themselves partnering with individuals who can maintain gardens or work in forests because of a fondness for plants.

Despite being called Maidens and having a feminine form, their mortal partner is not always a man.

Children of any species are generally seen as a delight. Depending on their disposition, a lost child will either be indirectly or directly guided back to safety, whether that safety is with them or in the nearby town.

Taboos

It is abhorrent for a Maiden themselves to cut trees that are still in their prime.

Cutting down a Guardian's living parent tree is an offense most mortals will not survive.

Disrespecting Nature's forces is a surefire way to encourage a Wood Maiden to work her magic towards misdirecting the individual or group who was disrespectful.



Cover image: by Lyraine through Artbreeder

Comments

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18 Mar, 2021 06:43

What a wonderful article. I can see the bittersweet fate of falling in love with a Wood Maiden - a love doomed and judged by society. Darn those city-dwellers!


Let us unite against the enemies of Album!
18 Mar, 2021 15:16

I'll be going into detail, but yeah, they are sort of doomed when the Maiden outlives their partner, but most of the romances are on the quiet side. (And city-folk generally don't see the appeal of generally preferring being out in the wilderness instead of being in the city where survival is much easier. The Order of Forged Light is a force who basically reinforces the views of the city people to everyone else)

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
18 Mar, 2021 06:50

I'm getting some super strong "Skogsrået" vibes. Inspired by Norse myth, if I'm not mistaken? It's the bark-back that gave me the vibe.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
18 Mar, 2021 11:02

Lovely article. I especially like how the Maidens become a tree at the later stages of life. There is also a well thought out relation between the people and the Maidens.

Feel free to check out My Ship entry if you want to see what I am up to!
18 Mar, 2021 15:20

Thank you! The relationships of people to nature is something I enjoy exploring in a setting, and I wanted to find ways of making the Maidens seem alien to other people. It's also a fun way of playing with cycles as well. XD

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
18 Mar, 2021 11:37

This is a really nice article, I love the vibe of these creatures! Awesome work :D

Author of Interarcanum.
18 Mar, 2021 15:21

Thank you! Tying the webs between plant and person is a fun project for me to work on.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
20 Mar, 2021 02:23

I like both of your Wood Maidens and Skeleton Trees and the idea that they're just hiding in the forest and people can fall upon them at any moment. Wood Maidens make fascinating guardians for your forest! I like how you've described their physics, and the little quotes make them and the world seem more alive and like real characters.   I have taken notes of some of my reactions and suggestions:   " Cut the unmarked trees, and their parent or child will mark you and those between you and them for culling instead." I like that, that sounds very ominous!   " the old and strong" I'm wondering about the logic being that. Disease trees I could understand, but contrary to us trees don't weaken with age. And normally you would not think of cutting/killing something healthy.   "Whenever I've met her, she let me braid her stairstep moss-hair " – should be "has let" " Then she'd braid mine with her wood-wrinkled fingers" you can't say "had braid" with the tenses you've used in the sentence before, here it should be "she's braid".   " Walking Guardians initially sprout from seed pods, grows as a tree until they begin to Walk." should be "grow"   Also, in your tooltip you say that "trees mobilize" and this strike me as a weird word choice. Is it a term specific to your world? Otherwise I would say 'become mobile". Mobilise is for mobilising people to take an action or mobilising resources.   " All descriptions of their eyes include colorings no mortal can carry." I'd like a few examples here. Also, I'm curious to know if there is any colour that is not possible for their eyes to take?   How long does it takes the Maiden before they start Walking?   "Maidens are often seen as over-reactive tree monsters who lure or seduce men or children away from the cities by most city-dwellers." This feels a bit awkward, so I would move the "by most city-dwellers" to say "Maidens are often seen by most city-dwellers as…"   " Children are generally seen as a delight. Depending on their disposition, a lost child will either be indirectly or directly guided back to safety." You mean human children here, right? From the first part of the sentence I thought it was the Maiden's own children, so that could be clarified.   " It is abhorrent for a Maiden to cut trees still in their prime," I get your meaning here, however the sentence is ambiguous and at first I read it as maidens can't cut trees.   "In Theydim, there have been growing cities, " this formulation feels awkward. I would say something like "In Theydim, cities have been growing"   " The Order of Forged Light taking an interest in Maidens reports tends to lead in the deaths of forests." I'm not sure what you mean here, that they take an interest in the reports of Maidens? Having "reports" and "tends" one after another makes it confusing which one is the verb. What are those reports? Sighting of Maidens?   "to encourage a Wood Maiden to work her magic" I'm curious about what kind of magic they can do!   At the end of this article I'm curious about Skeleton-Trees. Even if they have their own articles, I think you could give a brief explanation when they are first mentioned. I like that bit from their article "Skeleton-Trees are sentient walking trees who appear humanoid and skeletal. They generally stand hundreds of feet tall, with sweeping branches and pines gracing their tops, fingers, and arms." And you could put that into the mouseover snippet.   Random other thought: what's the density of the Maidens in a forest? I think I understand that they have a vast territory for each individual and to take care of the mother tree, since when a Maiden is killed, a neighbour needs to extend their own territory to keep control of the Skeleton-Trees. However, the Mother Trees make several pods, so there must be more Maidens? Are the pods "born" at the same time and raised together? Do the Maidens visit each other and have some kind of tea parties?

20 Mar, 2021 04:01

I'm absolutely delighted with the grammar insight - most of it was stuff I had adjusted to appease the Powerful Grammarly who wouldn't leave me alone until I moved the sentences into Active Form.   The she'd is actually "she would" which becomes "she'd" in casual conversation (it's one of those weird contractions in English and I'd normally not use it, but it was a character's quote, so I'll put in a tooltip to clarify).   (Going from top now)   The "Old and Strong" is a reference to trees ideal for logging - the big sturdy trees that aren't rotting, but because they're older, they've had time to drop seeds and carry on the tree species.   The mobilizing is specific to things that normally don't walk - trees generally don't walk, and the term Walk is a placeholder to describe the process when a Maiden or SkeletonTree transition from stationary child tree form to their walking form. I likely chose the wrong form of mobile while creating the variable. I've not quite worked out how long the child tree form lasts, though I'm currently going over the idea that it varies based on other Maidens in the area, the health of the forest, and the seasons of the region.   The city dwellers bit was how I originally had the sentence and then got angey with the Grammarly AI and just stuck the less clear form in to appease it. XD   In the section about the Order, "reports" is the noun form of the word (Yeah, English is Annoying) and I haven't found a synonym that has the same meaning. And the reports describe Maiden activities, I hopefully imply the reports are colored by the perception of a city-dweller.   I'd like to know what magic they have too! Jokes aside, I've not finalized that idea yet either, though they have the ability to use trees as a form of transport and have the ability to disorient (or re-orient) someone in their forest. They have some kinds of abilities to make people wary of them (and not just because of the SkeletonTree herds) that I also need to work out.   I currently have Article Preview set, but I'll have the article block to the Skeleton Trees in a Further Reading section with their description.   The density is something still in the works, because they're a high enough number that theur abilities are a concern to the very urban-friendly Order is concerned about them while hunting other "dangerous" beings.   Not all Maidens are dedicated to a forest and instead dedicate to their herds, so another is in charge of the forest. And there are some who deal with both. I've not worked out the full logistics yet.   If you're curious as to the source lore IRL, I recommend looking into Huldra/Skogsrå/Hulder/Skogsrået of Scandinavian folklore. ^_^   Thank you for your comments, and I'll be shuffling words around to clarify, and be trying to think on wjat you add additional questions as well.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
25 Mar, 2021 11:14

I'm loving the Wood Maidens. I get a weirdly bittersweet tone from a lot of this article and I love it. I find it really interesting that they can reproduce with other species, and I like that they self-identify as trees.   The art is really good too! :D

28 Mar, 2021 12:03

The lack of knowledge from city people is real. I myself come from a small village where the main business is cultivating plants. As such, I have knowledge I always thought to be general but apparently isn't. For example, DON'T EVER TOUCH HOGWEED!!! It wasn't until I moved away to study that I discovered this isn't as much of common knowledge as I thought it was.   Point in case: I like that you used this difference in the article and explained what problems and frictions it causes in relation to different groups.

29 Mar, 2021 19:55

Thank you! I'm from a small city/large town myself, and I live with my grandma, she was a farm girl as a kid. I know there is a generational gap of common knowledge, but as you said, there is the urban/rural common knowledge division as well. I also admit to letting some of my own biases come through because I've seen people from the much larger cities do all kinds of locally-stupid things - petting young deer or other wildlife, or in areas where there are large beings like moose or something, stopping the cars to tack pictures after passing a sign reading "DO NOT STOP YOU VEHICLE" in the summer because the critters will rub against your car door and tear it off to try and help shed their own winter coats off.   I'm also using the urban/rural division to help signify that my setting is moving in time from a medieval time period to a slightly more modern one (think about 13-1400's in western Europe) as places become more urban, leading to a loss of rural common knowledge (though said loss is usually do to willful disregard from my conjecture).

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
3 Apr, 2021 02:38

I want to make friends with the Maidens, they sound delightful as long as you respect their forest.

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
3 Apr, 2021 02:53

Thank you! I try to convey both sides - the scary and the fun - when the Skeleton-Tree article was entirely based on the fear factor I've described in that article.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
8 Apr, 2021 16:05

Hi Lyraine!   It's nice to see consideration/inclusion of TTRPG mechanics in a Peculiar Plant article. Your layout and use of greens and browns throughout the article contributes well to the wood forest feel (and I really like the intricate page border). One thing for your attention - your 'still' variable has "s stops ing" rather than just "stops" in the hover text. Have a great day!

xtremepsy | Ölütanrı
Checkout my other favourite entries to the 2021 Peculiar Plant HERE!
Feel free to read, favourite, and comment on my entry, Digivine.
8 Apr, 2021 16:30

Thanks for letting me know about my variable! Much of the world theme is based on the Elven Forest theme that I have taken and overhauled to my own preferences.   The TTRPG mechanic was more put in to test the layout arrangement and as a way for me to recall how the species is perceived or acts. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for letting me know about my variable!

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
14 Apr, 2021 03:54

Nice!!! A whole new take on Ents (or Treants, or whatever you call them!) The quotes are memorable, and they get across the mixture of admiration and fear that the common folk have of the Maidens.

16 Apr, 2021 19:43

These sound lovely. Even the most cynical characters of mine would negotiate with the Wood Maidens for profit, not aim to harm them. Far better to trick others into enraging the Guardians, and get rid of your competition...

Too low they build who build beneath the stars - Edward Young
17 Apr, 2021 00:04

I admit, I wrote this article from the viewpoint of someone who didn't live in the cities, and when the challenge ends, I'll make notes to write segments of letters and stories from those viewpoints (Though uh, I personally agree with you about negotiations, but there are other reasons the Order has an interest in removing the Maidens).   I'm glad you enjoyed the Maidens and have your own take on how you'd live alongside them (or not).

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Sage eccbooks
E. Christopher Clark
17 Apr, 2021 19:42

Such fantastic work, and sooooo deserving of having made the short list for the Peculiar Plants challenge. I'll tell you the line that made me fall in love with this piece up front: "In their older age, they become trees again." Just that statement, and how you built to it—I loved it and what it suggested about the journey your article was about to take me on.

Don’t miss The Antagonist, my entry for The Shipwright’s Challenge!
17 Apr, 2021 19:53

Oh wow, I'm really glad that line hit you so strongly - I have that one as a "to rewrite or something because it sounds so simple and cheesy" but I had it there to try and help showcase that they are themselves trees and not just kind of critter that was just born from a tree.   I'm also glad you really enjoyed the article, and hope my writing continues to improve to be comparable to this one.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive