The story of the Ghost of Poor Harvest begins over three hundred years ago. At that time, the land that is now the southeast corner of the Frontier was inhabited by a number of Confederate tribes. In the place where the town of Poor Harvest now stands, there lived an offshoot of the Curn people, the Kanta tribe. They were a very peaceful people. They grew corn, wheat and squash, and they lived in what they called Longhouses, where many families lived together.
The Kanta tribe had an enemy, a band of Skae known as the Yuroian, who lived north of them, across the waters of the Sea of Storms, close to where the town of Twain’s Heart now lies. Sometimes, the Yuroian warriors would paddle their canoes across the water, and portage over the land until they came to the Kanta villages, where they would attack them in raids. At this time, the Confederacy was not united against the Empire, and there was much infighting between various tribes, some even worse than any conflict with the Imperials that has happened since. The Yuroian would burn down the Longhouses, and set fire to the fields of corn and wheat, so that the Kanta would have a long, hard winter, with very little food to eat.
On one of those raiding parties, they did something even worse than burn down the Longhouses, and set fire to the corn. They stole away the son of the chief of the Kanta tribe. And even worse than that, they killed him. And remember, this happened centuries before the Great Plague, and the introduction of magic to the world, so that people only had one lifetime, and only one death as well.
You might think that was absolutely the worst thing those Yuroian warriors could have done to the Kanta people. But in fact, they did something even worse than killing the young Kanta prince – what they did was to take and hide the body. They dug a hole, and they buried him, and then they covered it up with leaves and branches so it would look like no one had ever been there. And to make it look even more natural, they planted a young hemlock tree above the grave, because the Kanta would never think to dig up a tree to find the body of their missing prince.
When the Kanta discovered that their prince was gone, the weeping and the mourning could be heard for miles around. But it grew even stronger when all of the searchers could not discover his body. For without being able to give him a proper burial, in a Kanta burial ground, they feared that his soul would never find peace in the Land Beyond.
And so the body lay under the ground, beneath that young hemlock tree. And if you know hemlock trees, you know that they tend to grow with a single, straight stem. But this hemlock tree didn’t. It divided itself as it grew so that there were two trunks, like two arms reaching up into the sky. It was almost as if the spirit of the prince was reaching up for help, so that someone might find him and give him a proper burial, so that his spirit would truly find peace. But no one ever found the body.
And the decades passed, and the tree grew taller, and an area formed between the Empire and the Confederate Woods, known as the Frontier. When the first settlers came to the area the Kanta used to inhabit, they decided they would build their village right around the spot where that hemlock tree stood. And the village grew around the tree, and the settlers got used to their new home, and everything was fine until they went to plant their first crops. For in the fields surrounding the village, where the Kanta’s corn and wheat had been burned by the Yuroian raiders, nothing would grow.
The settlers could not understand this, as several of them were experienced farmers, and the soil seemed fertile enough. They put it down to chance, and endured a long, hard winter, with very little food to eat. The next spring, when they tried to plant their crops and the same thing happened again, they knew something was wrong. They called in a shaman from a nearby Confederate settlement – for there are still some pockets of the original natives scattered around the Frontier. The shaman went into trances, and communed with the spirits, and did his divining rituals. When he had done all these things, he told the settlers that the hemlock tree in the middle of their village square was somehow preventing any crops from growing on any of the surrounding land, though he did not know why this was.
The mayor of the town, a man named Telanus who was originally from the Empire, decided that the hemlock tree had to be cut down. So he took out his axe, reared back and gave a mighty swing … and I guess when the axe struck the tree, it started some vibrations, which traveled down the trunk of the tree and into the roots, and disturbed the spirit of the dead prince. And perhaps it was in anger – but who can know the motives of the dead – that the spirit travelled up into the trunk of the tree.
On the next swing of Telanus’s axe, it bounced off the tree, not even cutting into it a bit, and it came back at Telanus and struck him in the leg, crippling him for life. But he and the other townsfolk thought it was just terrible luck, and so another man, a strong youth, stepped forward to try and cut down the cursed tree. He took up the axe, reared back and gave a mighty swing … and his blow too bounced off of the tree. The head of the axe went flying off behind him, and struck the man’s young wife, who had been watching, and killed her.
And the people of Poor Harvest suspected that the cursed tree was giving them bad luck, and resisting their efforts to chop it down. So they went away, and the next day the local blacksmith created a large lumber saw, big enough to be used by two people, and the next night the townsfolk gathered around the tree once again, to try and saw it down, because they felt this would be safer.
And this time, when they began to saw into the trunk of the tree, the vibrations made by their sawing traveled down the trunk and into the roots, and once again disturbed the spirit that lay beneath. And as they continued to cut into the tree, the two men who were on either end of the saw started to feel an itching in their legs, just below their knees. Neither one of the men thought anything of it, until one of the onlookers noticed that bloodstains were beginning to form on their pants. And as soon as the observer pointed this out, the two men suddenly felt the pain, and fell to the ground, each of their legs having been almost severed.
The people of the town decided once and for all that it was not worth getting rid of the tree. And some of them moved on to other areas where they could plant their crops, and others stayed behind to hunt and fish for their food, and to operate the trading post that the town has now become.
I don’t know how much of this story is true, but I did chance to pass through the town of Poor Harvest just last year. And in the center of their village square there stands a tall hemlock tree, encircled by an iron fence. And unlike most hemlock trees, which grow straight as arrows, this one has two trunks, like arms reaching up into the sky.