Deep in the woods grew a grand old gnarled elm tree with countless boughs and a massive, forked trunk. It's twisted roots dug deeply into the subterranean soil. It's outstretched limbs reached all the way up to the very top of the forest canopy. This 'wise old man' had seen many extraordinary things during its sequestered lifetime. From disease, fire, famine; and the bloody carnage of untold human wars. Regardless, it held all of those arboreal secrets very close to the proverbial trunk. They were sacred, unspoken truths of the forest.
One of those secrets lie far below the soil under its deepest roots. A sizable wooden chest with iron corners and hinges was buried there many, many years earlier. The old elm tree tickled the lid from all sides with its curious roots. Daily it felt along the sealed edges of the box for an opening but there was none. Since the locked box predated the life of the tree, it could only guess what was stored within. A pirate's treasure, or perhaps a human body?Whatever it was, the wooden trunk was not revealing its secrets anytime soon. If the tree unwisely divulged its location, then humans would surely dig up the mystery box for answers. The 'old man' knew that would bring about its untimely end. Mum was the word on the buried chest hidden down below.
One day a woodsman came into the forest seeking lumber to make furniture from. With its massive boughs and trunk, the majestic elm tree looked like a perfect choice. The old man had to make a split second decision. Either he had to break the oath of forest silence and entice the woodsman with a deal, or his end was all but decided. It was the elm trees only option but it had to be executed perfectly.
As trees are not apt to speak to woodsmen of sober constitutions, the old elm had to break the ice very carefully. The sharpened axe was only moments away from shredding his wooden flesh and torso. "Mr. Woodsman. Allow me to introduce myself at this crucial moment in time. I'm the large stationary tree before you that your axe seems transfixed upon. Before you embark upon any hasty actions, I'd like to suggest an equitable trade of sorts between us. One that I'm sure you will see as profitable. Can we possibly broker a deal?"
Understandably the woodsman was startled by the break in human-tree communication and etiquette. In all his years of felling trees for lumber, not one had ever spoke up or protested. Suspecting that a lurking prankster was playing a joke on him, he looked back and forth nervously. After a thorough search of the nearby woods, he was able to confirm that he was really absent of human companionship. The woodsman grinned in amused disbelief. The old elm was really talking to him! It had no face to make eye contact with and no ears to address. He wasn't even sure he was awake but he knew he was definitely alone in the woods. He decided to reply back to the gentlemanly request.
"In all my years as a lumberjack, I've never witnessed a talking elm. You'll pardon me if I appear to be caught off guard by this revelation! So, go ahead and tell me of this deal you mentioned. I assume you'd like me to keep walking through the forest until I locate another tree to make furniture from?"
The great old elm was relieved. The woodsman seemed like a reasonable man and might actually be open to a bargain to spare his bark. Now that their awkward introduction was out of they way, they could talk business. The old tree began to lay out his proposition.
"Its true that I would very much like to avoid the point of your axe but in the spirit of a bargain, both parties should get something out of the deal for it to be agreeable. If I can get you to agree to spare my life, I have something to offer you in return. Naturally, the only thing to hold two individuals to any agreement is their word. I can't stop you from chopping me down, but if you offer your word as a gentleman that you will spare me, I will reveal a financial incentive for you to do so. What do you say?"
The woodsman was intrigued. His vocation was full of back-breaking hard work with very little monetary reward. If the old elm had a mystical means of paying a self-ransom or monetary reward, it would be far more agreeable than all the work it would take to make a table or curio cabinet. While he was interested, he was very skeptical if the tree could offer anything of interest. In all fairness, it was his first negotiation with a plant.
"Before I agree to anything, I'd like some idea of what you are offering. I'm not sure the two of us have any common ground on what we value."; The woodsman replied.
"Very well. You are wise to inquire about the specific details of my proposal. If you would spare my life, I will give to you a massive oaken strongbox and you may keep all of it's secret contents."
"Strongbox? Filled with pirate treasure, jewels, Spanish doubloons, or what?"; The woodsman inquired with considerable interest."
"Aye. That's the rub."; The elm tree explained with a hint of mystery. "As I do not possess any hands, I can't open it myself but your species isn't in the habit of burying empty boxes, are they? One thing is for sure, I have no use for it and you'll never locate it without my help. I only ask for your word that you spare me of your deadly tool. As soon as you give your word, the box and all within is yours. That's the deal. Sound agreeable to you, kind sir?"
The woodsman reflected on the tantalizing details for just a moment before readily agreeing to the unusual pact. He envisioned a steamer trunk stuffed to the brim with golden coins. Visions of untold riches danced in his greedy head. All of his long days of hard labor were over. Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble. The woodsman stepped back in nervous fear.
"Relax."; Reassured the massive elm tree. "Your prize is deep in the Earth beneath my roots. I must reach deep and retrieve it for you. I have to shift the soil back and forth to work it to the surface."
The woodsman rubbed his hands together in restless anticipation. "So it's very heavy then?"; He asked excitedly.
"Oh yes, it's very heavy!"; The elm tree remarked. "I have to shift more dirt under it so that it can raise up. Eventually I'll be able to wrestle it to the top so you can have it. In the meantime, please move over beside my trunk. I need to pull some loose ground underneath you to fill up the void I am making over here."
The woodsman dutifully did as he was told; standing between two giant limbs. Suddenly the top of the mysterious trunk broke the surface. The man shook with excitement. He was so preoccupied with watching it being unearthed that he failed to notice the massive limbs wrap around his torso. Slowly the old elm crush the woodsman to death as he gazed upon the newly unearthed chest. His fatal mistake was trusting the old tree. There's just no honor among threatened elms.
With a heave, the elm tore off the rusty padlock and cast open the old lid. The woodsman would have been disappointed. It was completely empty (but now it's not). Slowly the massive lockbox sank beneath the shifting soil to reside in its previous location. It probably wouldn't stay there forever. There was always the risk of more woodsmen.