He couldn’t at first pinpoint where the whispered children’s voices where coming from. But as he noiselessly neared the tree he caught sight of the two of them perched on a branch high above him, their two heads close together, deep in secret conversation. They clearly hadn’t noticed him. They must have tired of the family gathering which was into its second day and slipped away unnoticed by their parents. The twins spent much of their time together since their mother had died. Rumour had it that she often brought them there to teach them the ways of the wood. They certainly had few equals for their woodcraft. It was true that the tree was a familiar destination for many of his family who were often drawn to it as a source of refuge, comfort or inspiration. It’s twisted branches always gave him the impression that it was not only old but almost human. Had he been alone, he might have talked to it out loud, sharing the trouble that filled his heart at the thought of leaving home for the first and possibly last time, but as he was not alone, he made do with the reassuring feel of its bark on his finger tips. Deep down he felt reassured, knowing that the tree approved of his decision. Since the soldiers had begun meticulously searching through the villages nearby , dragging away young men to fight against the rebels, he’d had little choice. He was of a fighting age and would surely have been “recruited”. It was only a matter of time. When he overheard his uncle that afternoon saying he’d spotted a group of soldier in the next village, he knew his turn had come. Taking his leave of the tree with a parting caress of its trunk, he donned his backpack and shifted silently on heading for the wood beyond, not wishing to be seen by the children above.