"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.