The blood tree was dying.
Marcum stood aghast, unsure how to react. Henrietta was gripping his hand, hard. The tree had been there his entire life and, from the stories, his great-grandparents’ lives as well.
The tree was over fifty feet at its crest. In summer, it would be flush with deep red leaves. Most of those had already dropped in anticipation of the coming winter. The bark was so dark as to be almost black and often dripped with a crimson sap that gave it its name. There were none other like in the world, at least as far as Marcum had heard.
There were many tales and superstitions about the tree. Most of them were far-fetched and easy to dismiss. One thing was certain, though: the sap of the tree was a true panacea. The town relied on it to keep everyone well, humans and animals alike. The elder folk mixed it into their tea – it wasn’t unusual to live to one hundred or beyond in these parts. It had been generations since illness or infection had been more than a passing concern.
And now the tree was dying. It sagged like an old woman pent over her cane. A core branch had fallen, likely in the gale of winds the previous night. The sap that ran from that break was thin and grayish. Even the bark seemed old and brittle, somehow.
It had never needed tended in the past, so nobody would know what to do. How do you heal something you have come to rely on to heal you, instead?
Marcum pulled Henrietta closer and worried.