On the fourteenth day of December

As day transmuted to dusk, the elder waited by the forest lake, at the same spot from which the little bearded fellow and he had beheld the light under the ice — the first sign — a little under a week ago. He hoped that the clock-tenderer would today be out upon an errand and would pass this way again — and indeed he was and did.

The elder greeted the little bearded fellow in a manner at once both dignified but cheery. Unused to company as he was, the little bearded fellow stopped awkwardly, his discomfort not ameliorated by the elder's curious soil-like shirt and marsh-like cardigan.

But the elder began to speak of the light under the ice, and the little bearded fellow was soon reassured — the elder's voice had a timbre of wisened kindness: root tones and obscure tones; solicitous notes in a purposeful rhythm.

"Every so often, after many new moons have risen from the old, an event takes place in the forest upon which many a fate depends. An event in connection with which primeval fear and discord struggle with ancient goodness, within us and within the forest.

"The storm of six days ago — raging, terrible as it was — was the quickening of dark tumult; will-o'-the-wisps — harbingers, begetters of dread — were brought again to life, to deceive and waylay from the forest's shadows.

"Unfortunately, I don't know yet the nature of the event which will take place. It was the flight of a treecreeper to the Hazel grouse hills which first suggested to me that the time had come: it was perturbed to a degree that only chancing upon extraordinariness could have engendered.

"Three signs — never the same — augur the event's imminence, and those to whom they are divulged are foreordained to have the event's outcome in their hands. After many days' seeking, I believe now to have found them.

"The first is the fleeting light trapped under the ice here which you yourself discovered. Thus you are one of those upon whom responsibility has fallen this time around. If you will walk with me, I would like to show you the other two."

Though the little bearded fellow was daunted, he felt fortified by the elder's presence; he felt instinctively that at the elder's side, goodwill would prevail. He nodded therefore, and strode willingly alongside the elder. First to the puffball mushrooms, pressing out chandeliers of light like white-frozen deciduous trees; and then to the set-apart pine.

The little bearded fellow and his kind rarely chose to invoke their ability to understand birdsong, believing it best to allow the ordinary nature of things to take their course. Now, though, the elder, knowing where the nest of the treecreeper was to be found, asked him to invite the treecreeper to join them; it did so with alacrity.

At the elder's supplication, the treecreeper, with a few nimble pecks into the hole he had made, evinced the set-apart pine's trunk-barrelled light for the little beard fellow, and the latter related to treecreeper what the elder had told him of the three signs; all the while, the elder heard still only exalted melody.

"It is our task now to find what it is that will take place, to which the signs portend," the elder said, the little bearded fellow translating to treecreeper-song, "and we must do so soon, for once the signs have made themselves known, only a little time remains." And in three directions they embarked, two on foot, and one in the air.

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

Last updated: 02:57 (GMT+1), 15th December 2022