Gérald was loved by the forest and he knew it. When he was young, the people were not yet so separate from the forest. And so he learned from the people around the town: the healers, the hunters, the gatherers. But he was a Steiner, the scion of the ruling line of Villefranche.
And so he learned from that position of privilege and power. When Sabine’s mother taught him about the gifts of the forest, he saw only what he could take. Never mind that no human could ever truly rule Villefranche.
But you must give to the forest in order to receive its gifts, and if you do not give freely, then the forest takes. The forest first started taking back when Bertrand was born. Like all Steiner men, Gérald had made sure to marry a woman beloved of the forest. But when Bertrand had been taken to the stream to be introduced to the forest, he had immediately sickened in a way that the children of Villefranche rarely did. His wife told him they had angered the forest, that they should perform the rituals to placate it, to give back to it. But Gérald did not serve the forest, he did not give.
Bertrand grew into a healthy boy and Gérald dismissed his wife’s concerns. He did not notice that she was out longer at the full moon, or that she had started to loose weight. She died when Bertrand was four, of a wasting disease the doctors were never able to identify.
Bertrand grew, strong and healthy of body, but weak of heart, of mind, of will. Gérald could see the fear in his eyes when they went into the forest. And no matter what he did, that fear remained. No Steiner could be afraid of the forest, and so Gérald was relieved when Bertrand left Villefranche of his own accord.
He called Bertrand back when his heart went. An arrhythmia the doctors said, bad electrical signals. But the pacemaker they implanted had a tendency to glitch in the forest, like the heart it was supposed to fix. And so he called Bertrand home, stayed long enough to ensure his marriage to a woman beloved of the forest, and left.
And even from afar, using Bertrand as his tool, he continued to take. And Léa was not wise enough, or maybe not strong enough, to sacrifice as Bertrand’s mother had. So the forest continued to exact its price, even using Gérald as its tool. Still Gérald did not learn. Still he took. So the forest took back the gifts it gave, took back its love. And when Gérald ventured once again into the forest, the forest took him as well.