On the eighth day of December

Dark water swelled... drew itself cavernously, massively up... and flung itself with grim force against the sea wall, crashing over onto the road.

Receded in a momentary lull... gathered itself to a terrible, churning mass... and thrashed against the concrete barrier once more, froth exploding from it in a cascade.

In the forest — a couple of kilometres away, as the crow flies — the elder of the Hazel grouse hills sought signs; the form in which they would appear, he did not yet know. Against the full onslaught of the storm, in his unrushed way, he peered into cavelets; scrutinised stone, bark, and moss. Hail fell, driven into his face in cutting blasts by the gale.

Dark had long since set in, but great, swollen clouds blocked the stars and moon. There were little flashes of light, but not like the elusively beautiful light under the ice or the honey-light of the set-apart pine tree — rather sneering, mocking: the light of will-o'-the-wisps, in league with the squall. They confused the elder, led him falsely, but he stepped steadfastly on.

In due course, the elder unwittingly came upon the set-apart pine. He stroked its trunk — and halted abruptly. He felt an old power. "You have made the acquaintance of elders before me," he observed to it quietly, with deference.

Lightning struck wildly... in that moment a ghastly light filled the night. Rapidly — as desperately as the sea was still summoning its waves to its barrage of the shore — it struck and struck again. It had been a prolonged, precipitation-less cold spell, and the forest was in large parts vulnerably dry. Where it came down upon a tree, the lightning was ruthless, burning it to ash.

But the set-apart pine would survive the night — though he held no sway over the matter, the elder would stay by it, withstanding the storm, to see it.

This is the eighth part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 00:07 (GMT+1), 11th December 2022