Warning: contains spoilers. Please read "Saplings" first if you're going to.
"Saplings" is easily one of the most peculiarly populated stories I've written in terms of the characters and elements I used. My initial inspiration for the story was to do a word-hop. This is a writing exercise I created for myself where I gather a list of words, put them in any order, and start writing. For every hundred words, I have to incorporate the next word on the list somehow.
With "Saplings," the word list was every "fun" word I could think of that started with H. I got some volunteers from fantasy-writers.org to offer me suggestions, as well. I ended up with a sizable list, though not enough to take me through the whole story. So be it! If you look at Saplings carefully, you'll notice some of the more unusual H words popping out here and there.
Before starting, I needed some general idea of the plot. The word list suggested that an herbalist would be a good idea. I'm not sure where the idea to write about a character who watched royal / prominent children came from, but as I developed it, I realized I needed a reason for a young, fish-out-of-water herbalist to be entrusted with such responsibility. Ping! Nanny powers. (And even though I didn't use that term in the story, that's how I think of them.)
I quickly decided that I wanted the story to take a twist in that the child who was abducted was not going to be the prince or the High Sorcerer's daughter - but rather the gardener's son. My main character would probably assume that this was a mistake, but it wouldn't be ... and what kind of foe would hold a grudge against a gardener, a man of growing things? From there evolved the idea of using vicious tree spirits as my antagonists.
I didn't know how the story was going to end when it started, but as I hopped along from word to word, I realized that it had to somehow stem from her nanny powers. I only figured it out as I got much closer ... that her ability to protect had to overcome the odds, had to be central to the conclusion.
So that's "Saplings" in a nutshell. No pun intended. Ahem.