Whilst the sign of two days ago irrefutably told that something was afoot, the elder was still clutching at straws. He did not know how events would unfold, or what those events would be; moreover, he expected three signs, if his intuition as to what might be astir were correct.
The elder had sensed from the first that it might be the fate of the treecreeper to conduct him to one of the signs. The day after the December full moon, he had therefore recommenced his roaming through the forest, with a twofold purpose: to find the treecreeper, and to cast about for the third sign.
In this respect, yesterday had been fruitless, and today too, thus far. Turning now, though, the elder encountered a curious sight. Under a low, over-hanging rock face — a metre and a half or so from the ground at its highest point, sloping diagonally down to it at a gentle angle — lay an old branch. It must have been cracked off from a tree in a storm and fallen there some years ago; it had since splayed open, its innards becoming a fibrous, orange-brown mulch.
Growing there, remarkably for the time of year, was a group of puffball mushrooms1. The ground was indeed not frozen there: the rock trapped the air to an extent, whilst thick moss grew around the branch and water dripped from the underside of the rock ceiling, so that a moist micro-climate existed, and changes of temperature occurred only very slowly.
All the same, the elder found the presence of the puffballs there, this far into winter, to be, if not incongruous, then certainly most unusual; walking over to the little grotto, he kneeled to inspect them. They were a mottled grey and white which would have appeared rather ordinary to a transient glance, but which formed in fact, to the elder's discerning eye, a pattern of uncommon intricacy.
With a childlike pleasure in the tactility of the operation, the elder pressed one of the puffballs between his thumb and forefinger... and it erupted not just with smoky spores, but with a fountain of threads of light! Some white... some golden; some with hints of the pink of a winter sunset... some of cornflower blue — as magical a light as that under the lake's ice and pooled in the set-apart pine's trunk.
It is a quality of the wise to be able to forget themselves in a pleasure, to be transported away by it. And crouching under the rock face, the elder went from puffball to puffball, squeezing them with a care that was almost veneration, admiring with wonder the geysers of light that were ejected. This was, he did not doubt, the second sign.
This is the eleventh part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.
Last updated: 15:12 (GMT+1), 11th December 2022