Beech, Please

If Rhiannon had to carve one more butterfly into a poplar’s trunk, she was going to close her shop and fly away. And who would the forest’s dryads turn to for body art then? Eric the Pyro Pirate, with his hackneyed hook hand and asinine wood-burning technique?

Fran hopped off the table, fluffing her leafy hair and swaying her hips to an imaginary breeze as she made her way to the mirror. She squealed in delight when she saw her reflection, twisting around to admire the image Rhiannon had spent the last two hours carving into her bark.

Rhiannon resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she started cleaning her knives. It wasn’t like the butterfly was any different than the last eight she had carved. The newest trend among the poplar spirits was growing old fast.

“Willow is going to be so jealous,” Fran gushed. “Don’t tell anyone, but she went to Eric and let him burn an infinity symbol into one of her branches. From what I heard, there was a mishap with the iron, and he singed her hair. Poor thing.”

“That man is a menace.” Rhiannon’s wings began fluttering, and she had to force her toes back onto the ground. “People have been carving pictures into trees for hundreds of years. Why go and mess with that?”

Fran nodded. “That’s exactly why I came to you. I didn’t want to go outside the box, end up with something weird, you know?”

“That’s not what I—”

“But I guess some people like the danger of it all. Playing with fire and all that. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather play it safe.”

Rhiannon frowned. Was her shop seen as the safe option? Stars, was she part of the establishment now? Rhiannon thought back to the types of clients she’d had when she opened ten years ago. Sapling dryads who were starting to spread their roots, all limbs and knots and trying to figure out what shape they wanted to be, and gnarled old crabapple spirits who were done trying to please everyone in the orchard. Lost souls and misfits. Now her customers were more often fad-chasing firs and basic birches.

Fran breezed out of Rhiannon’s shop, trailing a calming scent of damp moss behind her. Rhiannon sighed. She couldn’t abandon her clients to Eric’s clutches, no matter how much some of them deserved his hook-handed attempts at art. Not that she had many clients these days. Fran was only her third this week.

Eric’s orange neon sign flashed in the corner of Rhiannon’s vision, and she glanced across the path to see her rival standing outside his studio. He was charming a group of guyads—Rhiannon’s nickname for young male dryads of the bro-ish variety. They wore their vines slicked back and slouched like their arms were blanketed in snow. The guyads were all laughing at something Eric said, until a yell broke through the titters. An elm stomped up the path, pulling a young holly by her upper branches and splattering the guyads with dirt and dust.

Rhiannon stepped outside, leaning against her door. These showdowns were the best parts of her days. What does that say about your days, a snide voice asked, but she batted it away. A pixie had to find her fun somewhere. And this was her favorite kind of fun.

“What the fungus is this?” The elm was gesturing to a charred mark on the holly’s arm, one that the holly was desperately trying to cover up.

Eric raised an infernal eyebrow. “It’s an axe. Exactly what Harper asked for.”

“Who do you think you are, burning something so—so vulgar into a young tree’s bark? She’s only got sixteen growth rings! And now this disgusting image is permanently on display!”

“It’s her trunk, her choice,” Eric said, his voice growing colder. Rhiannon caught herself nodding along, then frowned. Was she really rooting for Eric?

“Well, I never—you rotten—” the elm spluttered, then changed tactics. “It looks more like a mushroom anyway. And you call yourself an artist. Ha!”

With that, the elm swooped away. Harper slumped her shoulders and looked glumly at Eric. “It really does look like a mushroom.” With that, she followed the elm, who had already set his sights on another shopkeeper to harangue.

For the first time, Eric seemed caught off guard. He rubbed his hand on the back of his neck. Then he looked across the path, and his cheeks flushed when he saw Rhiannon watching him. He kicked at the ground and went inside his shop, closing the door with a firm click.

And that was why Rhiannon couldn’t throw in the towel, no matter how empty her shop felt these days. If she closed up for good, all of the dryads in the forest would have no choice but to get their decoration from Eric, served with a hearty side of burnt leaves.


Rhiannon had just finished cleaning up Fran’s litter—autumn in Celestia was always a letdown—when her door slammed open and Penelope lurched in. Whoever had decided to stereotype dryads as graceful had never met Penelope. She was a beech spirit who shook and reeled like a storm was battering her on even the mildest of days. She was also Rhiannon’s best friend.

“Rhi Rhi,” she called out. “I have the best idea for a new tattoo, and I need you to carve it now, while the inspiration is fresh.”

Rhiannon and Penelope had very different aesthetics. Last month, Penelope had strong-armed her into carving “leaf and let live” into one of her branches. The time before that, it was “good things come in trees” in her roots.

“Picture this: flowing cursive, wavy lines, just about here,” Penelope said, gesturing toward her collarbone area, “and it says ‘beech, please.’ Get it, like—”

“I get it,” Rhiannon assured her friend. It was awful. And it was so very Penelope. “Come here, then. Let me do a mock-up first.”

Penelope wobbled her way to the table, her roots tangling on themselves on her way there. Just as she plopped down, the door slammed open again.

“Help!” someone shouted from the doorway. “You have to help me!”

Rhiannon spun around, knife in hand. It was Gregory, one of the oak spirits. Penelope yelped and hid her face in her leaves. She was shy around the oaks.

Rhiannon rushed to the front of the store. “Are you okay? What is it?”

“Oh, it’s a disaster,” Gregory wailed, running his twiggy hands down his cheeks. “It was one of those awful ogres. He—oh, I can’t even say it, it’s just too horrible.”

Gregory sank into a chair across from Penelope and lifted up his leg. On it, someone had gouged out a crude heart and attempted to carve words inside of it.

“Neil + Araminta?” Rhiannon read.

“Araminta is the mermaid he’s been flirting with,” Gregory said glumly. “Little heathen went and defecated my tree just to try to win her over.”

“I think you mean defaced.”

Gregory nodded. “That too.”

“Well, he won’t be winning any points for style. That’s some of the worst carving I’ve ever seen.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Gregory burst into tears. This display of emotion lent courage to Penelope, who peeked out from behind her hair. “I think it’s kind of cute,” she offered.

“You—you do?”

“I bet Rhiannon could just fill in the heart for you, maybe add a nice little border of vines around it, and then it’d be prettier than anything!”

Rhiannon inspected the carving more closely. “It doesn’t look like he went very deep. Penelope’s right, it shouldn’t take too much to do a cover-up.”

Gregory let out an entire breeze’s worth of air in the breath he had been holding. “Oh, thank the stars. Can you do it now?”

“Sure she can,” Penelope volunteered, hopping off the table. Rhiannon gave her a dark look.

But as Gregory climbed up, Rhiannon noticed something on his back. Just below his left shoulder was a series of twisted lines with a dark X in the middle. “I didn’t carve that. One of Eric’s?”

“What?” Gregory tried to look over his shoulder. “I don’t have any tattoos.”

“Yes you do,” Penelope volunteered. “A yummy one right here.” She poked the X on his back.

Rhiannon inspected it more closely. The lines looked like they were guiding the eye to the X, almost like— “Gregory. Why do you have a treasure map on your back?”

The door slammed open for a third time. “Did someone say treasure map?” Standing in the doorway, with his hip cocked, his eye patch arranged jauntily over his face, and his hook raised proudly in the air, was Rhiannon’s nemesis. Arch-nemesis, even. Eric the pirate-turned-wood-burner.

“Am I being punished for something?” Rhiannon grumbled to herself.

But five minutes later, Rhiannon was bent over Gregory’s back, staring at the meaningless squiggly lines until her eyes began to water, trying to ignore Eric’s infuriating humming.

Finally, Eric couldn’t keep it in any longer. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Or is this a map only a pirate can read?” When no one answered, he stroked his beard with his hook. His smile grew even more smug. A few minutes ago, Rhiannon would have bet her shop that no one could have looked more like an asshole than Eric did standing in that doorway, but leave it to him to beat his own record for assholery.

“The only thing that’s obvious to me is that this is the work of an amateur. For all I know, the ogre got bored and started doodling on Gregory’s back.”

Eric gaped. “What? No! This is leagues better than ‘Neil + Araminta.’ Definitely someone with a real knack for wood art.”

“Will you please stop rambling and tell us what you know?”

“I will, my dear Rhiannon.” He paused dramatically. “For a price.”

“If you mean the treasure, I’ve decided we should split it equivocally,” Gregory said, twisting to look at them.

“He means equitably,” Rhiannon supplied.

“I don’t want money,” Eric said, swatting the air with his hook. “I want in. I want to be part of your shop. Can’t you see it? The pirate burner and the pixie carver working together to beautify the forest one tree at a time?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

Eric looked at Penelope and Gregory. “We go together like moss on a tree, don’t we?”

Penelope nodded, her twigs bouncing. The traitor.

“If you mean that you will always be in my shadow, then you’re right,” Rhiannon snapped.

Eric shrugged. “If you want me to help you find the treasure, those are my terms.”

He was the most infuriating pirate that had ever lived. But Rhiannon thought about her empty appointment book and her depleting savings account. The memory of those guyads crowding around Eric was still fresh. Maybe with him around, she would be able to draw clients back in.

“Fine. If you get us the treasure, I’ll let you come work in my shop.”

When I lead you to the treasure, I will gladly work side-by-side in our shop.”

Rhiannon sighed. “Just tell me where we need to go.”


Rhiannon slammed her empty margarita glass onto the bar at the lagoon tavern. She glanced over to where Penelope and Gregory were dancing, twisting their branches up into the air like saplings, having given up all pretenses of looking for gold. “I don’t see any treasure here.”

The mermaid who swam up to take Rhiannon’s glass huffed. “You’re no prize either, hon.”

“We aren’t here for the treasure. We’re here for the next clue,” Eric explained.

“Well? Where is it?”

Before Eric could answer, the tavern exploded in a cacophony of shrieking and chatter. A birchelorette party descended on the bar, filling the place with drunken giggles and a confetti of winged seeds.

“I told you to stop planting yourselves in here,” one of the mermaids shouted from the lagoon behind the bar, but none of the birchelorettes listened.

Rhiannon was sweeping seeds out of her hair when one of the dryads noticed her. “Ohh, you’re the carver, aren’t you? Girls, it would be so much fun to get carvings together, don’t you think?”

The shrieking somehow got even louder.

“Could you do me? I love the patterns on your wings. Would you carve me a butterfly to match?” a second dryad said, draping her arm-branch across the bar.

If Rhiannon never saw another butterfly, it would be too soon. Honestly, she was going to have to try really hard not to take out her frustration on real butterflies from now on. She had no such reservations with the insipid birch spirit invading her space. “Go fall in a forest and see if anyone hears you.”

Unfortunately, everyone heard that. The chatter finally quieted, so much that Rhiannon could hear the last few seeds plopping to the ground.

The dryad glared daggers at Rhiannon and tossed her leafy hair back. “Girls, let’s go. Some people just don’t know how to have a good time.”

Eric gave Rhiannon a sidelong look after the birchelorettes left. “That’s your problem, you know. That attitude is why you’re losing clients to me.”

“Excuse me?”

“We both know you’re a better artist than me. Stars, the whole forest knows. But sometimes people just want to feel special. They want their ideas to be appreciated, or at least not be made to feel like an idiot for wanting something pretty or trendy.”

Rhiannon felt something uncomfortably close to shame twist in her chest, but she pushed it down. “You planning to become a therapist next? I wouldn’t bother, you’re as bad at it as you are at body art.”

She meant to tease him, throw a jab to defend herself from his gaze, but the words swung out of her like a sword.

Eric flinched. “You know what? You like to think you’re all tough or whatever, but you’re really just mean. Maybe you deserve to go out of business.” He stood up and flipped the bar stool he had been sitting on upside down. The bottom of the seat was scratched to hell. “Here’s your damn clue.”

Rhiannon sat for a minute, stunned. But Gregory and Penelope materialized behind her, twittering about the clue.

Some say our bark is worse than our bite,
But our spite might the whole forest ignite
Knock thrice if you wish to join us,
but you’d better be deciduous.

Stars above.

Penelope tilted her head. “Is it a riddle?”

“Worse. It’s the Bough No More club pledge,” Rhiannon said, shuddering as she remembered stumbling over the choppy meter at club meetings. Her mother had been furious when Rhiannon joined the group of malcontents, especially when she chopped off her hair and dyed her incandescent purple wings a deep black to match it. Rhiannon hadn’t lasted long in the club, and the black dye faded soon after, but she kept the pixie cut as she began carving a name for herself.

Gregory gulped. “You don’t think we have to go there, do you? From what I’ve heard, the Bough No Mores can be quite,” he dropped to a whisper, “voluptuous.”

Rhiannon cocked her head.

“Volatile, I think,” Eric murmured. He seemed recovered, but he didn’t quite meet Rhiannon’s eyes.

Gregory nodded solemnly.

“Grow your sense of adventure!” Eric clapped Gregory on the back, forcing an extra pinch of swashbuckling into his words. “Danger is part of the hunt, and we must meet it with aplomb!”

“We’re real treasure hunters now!” Penelope squealed, clapping her hands so hard she fell off her stool.


Rhiannon still remembered the pattern for the three knocks on the makeshift door to the Bough No More Club’s cave. After she knocked, there was some loud whispering, then the door creaked open. Harper, the holly from Eric’s shop, stood on the other side, a scrap of cloth tied around her arm.

“Who is it, babe?” a voice called from inside.

“Um … it’s that woodburner pirate guy and a bunch of old people.”

“I’m thirty-four, you—”

Eric put his hand on Rhiannon’s arm and cut her off. Again. “We’re hoping to find something here. Some kind of clue. Would you mind if we took a look around?”

Harper shrugged and opened the door the rest of the way. “Do whatever you want. Not like I own the place.”

Harper walked back to the table, where a magnolia spirit was bent over some papers. No one else was in the cave, which had seen a makeover since Rhiannon had last attended a meeting. More than a decade ago, said an unwelcome voice in her head. The club had put up string lights and strewn bright rugs across the stone floor. Overstuffed sofas sat in place of the austere wooden chairs. The only thing Rhiannon recognized was the phrase written on the back wall of the cave in an artistic scrawl: Bough No More. It had been her one meaningful contribution to the club.

“Where is everyone?” Rhiannon asked Harper.

“I dunno, probably at work?”

The original Bough No Mores would be ashamed.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Penelope asked.

“A clue can take many forms,” Eric said sagely. “Look for anything out of place or unusual.”

Rhiannon was meandering around a circle of bean-bag chairs when Harper crumpled the papers on the table and threw them away from her with an “Augh!” The wad landed at Rhiannon’s feet.

The magnolia put her arm around Harper and shot Eric a dirty look. “It’s okay, we just have to keep practicing. We’ll get it right eventually.”

Rhiannon picked up the papers and unrolled them. They were all drawings of mushrooms. No, not mushrooms. Axes. “Are you trying to fix your tattoo?”

Across the room, Eric let out an undignified squeak and dropped whatever he was holding.

The magnolia eyed Rhiannon. “How do you know about that?”

“That elm was shouting about it loud enough for the whole forest to hear.”

Harper put her head in her hands and muttered something about “dads” and “so embarrassing.”

“Come on, it can’t be that bad. Show me what we’re working with.” Rhiannon nodded to Harper’s arm. Eric was hovering at the edge of the table, shuffling awkwardly.

Harper unwrapped the fabric and revealed the tattoo. Rhiannon schooled her face into a blank expression. It was worse than she thought. She glanced at Eric, and his ears turned bright red.

“See?” Harper groaned. “It’s mortifying.”

Rhiannon’s hand itched. She grabbed a pencil and paper. “It’s fixable. You need more depth in the handle and some shading to bring out the steeliness of the axe. Sharper lines too.”

She showed them the sketch. They were silent for a minute, and then Harper started to cry.

“What did I do?” Rhiannon mouthed to Eric.

Rhiannon was enveloped in a leafy hug. “Can you really make it look like that?” Harper sniffled.

“Of course,” Rhiannon said, looking bemusedly over Harper’s foliage at Eric. But Eric was studying the drawing, his head cocked as he followed the lines of the axe like it was another treasure map.

“I don’t have my tools with me now,” Rhiannon said as Harper let go of her. “But come by my shop tomorrow and we’ll fix it right up.”

Harper retreated back to the magnolia, who planted a gentle kiss on her lips. “I told you we’d figure it out.”

Harper nodded, looking gratefully at Rhiannon. Then, she gestured to the door. “Your clue’s on the doorframe. I noticed it this morning.”

Rhiannon moved toward the door, but Eric stopped her. “Rhiannon, I—” he took a deep breath. “I was wondering if you could teach me to draw like you do. Everything you make is so beautiful, and my stuff just never turns out how I want it to. I keep practicing, but I’m not sure I’m even getting better.”

Huh. Rhiannon paused as she thought about how to answer. “You’ve got an eye for it,” she said. “You just need to pay more attention to perspective, and that will solve a lot of your problems. I’d be happy to show you some things, if that’s what you want.” She hoped he could sense the apology in her words.

Eric beamed at her like she had just presented him with a chest full of glistening treasure, and her breath caught in her throat.

“The clue’s here!” Penelope shouted from the doorway. Rhiannon, grateful for the escape, rushed over.

The true treasure lies within?” Gregory asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I have no idea,” Rhiannon said, her heart sinking. “But it doesn’t look like a clue to me.”

“Ooh, Gregory, don’t you see? Whoever drew that map on you wanted you to look inside yourself and see your own worth!” Penelope did a happy dance, knocking over a fern with her hip. “You have a fairy godmother somewhere!”

Rhiannon’s eyes caught on the words she had carved on Penelope’s hip months ago. She had cringed as she etched the phrase onto her friend’s body, but now…good things come in trees. “Gregory. The treasure is inside you.”

“I get it,” he said. “I need to recognize the value that I bring, no matter how empty I sometimes feel.”

“No,” Rhiannon said. “It’s not a bullshit moral, it’s another clue. Gregory, the treasure is inside you. Or more accurately, inside your tree.”

Gregory’s mouth dropped open. “Inside my—oh, come on! Of all the invasive species, pirates have got to be the worst.”

“Or the best, depending on how you look at it,” Eric said, flashing his pearly whites. “Got any hollows we can dig around in?”

“You wood-n’t dare.”

Rhiannon put a reassuring hand on Gregory’s shoulder. “Just take us to your tree and I’ll remove all of your unwanted body art, free of charge.”

Gregory thought for a minute. “I have one stipulation. You throw in a carving too. I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a bird on my shoulder, here-ish.”

Rhiannon almost groaned. But then she caught Eric’s knowing, twinkling, singular eye. She released her clenched teeth and attempted a smile. “I’d be delighted.”

“I love that idea,” Penelope gushed. “Maybe I can get a matching one.”

Gregory’s leaves reddened as he blushed.

But he took them to his tree. And there, in a hollow at its base, sat a gleaming pile of gold coins.

If Gregory’s leaves had been tinged red before, they glowed like a sunset when Penelope grabbed the gold from his hollow with a triumphant squeak.

She presented it to Rhiannon, dropping at least a dozen pieces of gold in the process. “Two matching birds, please.”

Rhiannon grinned at her friend. “A deal’s a deal.”


Rhiannon stood outside her shop, staring up at the new sign. Cutting Flame, with accents of fire and shadow. The pirate beside her flashed a self-satisfied grin.

“I know you hid that treasure,” she told him out of the corner of her mouth. “No one else would have burned an X into that map.”

“Even if I did know what you were talking about, any treasure-hiding was clearly conducted to help Gregory learn about self-confidence and for no other purpose.”

“Of course it was. And like I said before, a deal’s a deal. But Eric?”


“You’re doing all of the butterflies from now on. Every. Damn. One.”