In the fore-midnight stillness of a long, light summer evening, a low mist would rise numinously up from the lake, like the swirling, delicate steam — that one can lose oneself in contemplation of — from a freshly poured cup of hot coffee. Mist would suspend itself too, mystifyingly, in the long grass around the cottage of the husband and wife, merging with a roe deer1 family — two fawns, their mother, and their father — partaking silently of the grass; their head and necks becoming engulfed as they bowed daintily for a new mouthful.
The roe deer bounding lightly through the long grass was as graceful a sight as the husband and wife knew. Yet sublimity touches both the happiest and the darkest in us, and in a bluer mood the leaping fawns contrasted cruelly with the two little lives which the husband and wife had lost.
Today it was as cold as under yesterday's full moon, and the ground was frozen very hard. To scrape down to heather was impossible, and the roe deer had taken instead to nibbling the bark of the forest for food, wandering from tree to tree.
Above them, upon one such tree, the treecreeper was at work. Finishing up, he flew inquisitively down to the deer; his eyes, which were seldom without a playful twinkle, caught those of the fawns. He flew a little arch forwards — and the fawns hopped there too! He dashed a figure of eight — and the fawns hurtled leapingly after, tumbling laughingly into one another at the intersection point!
Hither and thither through the forest, the treecreeper and the fawns danced chaotically after one another. Now the fawns mirthfully took the lead; now the treecreeper!
But as dusk came on, eerie lights began to appear in the shadows behind fallen logs; in the holes between the earth and roots of an uprooted tree: the will-o'-the-wisps. It was as if, long dormant, the storm had awoken them — primal fears, presaging a juncture of momentous import.
Running water was scarce in the winter, and the roe deer would follow well-worn paths, taking them by what sources remained. To be led too far astray from these was to be in peril, and as night's blackness began to fill the forest, the will-o'-the-wisps plied their lures.
A frightened hesistancy, a disorientated faltering befell the fawns. Turning from one preternatural, chilling glint to another, they began to whimper to one another in distress.
The tiny treecreeper, though, was not to be ensnared. The gleams of the will-o'-the-wisps were specks compared to the inenerrable amber glow which had caused him such consternation in the trunk of the set-apart pine.
He flew right before the agitated eyes of the fawns, locking their gaze to him, and drew them away, leading them back to their bed of leaves by their doe-mother; their father standing watch with antlers erect.
Against this the will-o'-the-wisps were powerless, and receded to their hollows for the night — but their roused, lurking menace was far from spent.
This is the tenth part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.
Last updated: 00:19 (GMT+1), 10th December 2022