On the twentieth day of December

It was now only four days until the young wife was due. In the morning, the doctor, her route happening to take her close by, dropped unplanned by the cottage of the young couple, to see how the little one and its hostess were — no miraculous change, alas.

Nor was there any change in the kindness of the young wife and her husband, notwithstanding that their worries ahead of the fateful day were now onerous indeed. Seeing the little girl playing in the distance, as she had been when the arresting smell of baking had reached her a few days ago, the husband called her to him, and, leaning over the porch, offered her a cranberry snap that they had baked yesterday; effortlessly moist, with a hint of sharpness from the cranberries, and a touch of cinnamon for warmth!

The little girl returned home for lunch, and it was there that, a short while later, she opened the door to the little bearded fellow. When upon an errand, his own company was all, for as long as he could remember, he had felt he required or desired; but since they had first met two weeks ago, the little girl's spirit had enlivened him — brought a little extra joy to his work. He now said, looking principally at the bottom of the door he had fixed: "Hmm, perhaps, hmm, would you both like to join me, hmm, in picking puffballs as, hmm, the elder has tasked me?"

For earlier today, the elder had briefly called upon the little bearded fellow. "I sense that there will be a change in the weather tomorrow. It would be best to gather the puffballs today, if you can," he had said, being met with a nod and a hot English muffin of phenomenal proportions, the baking of these being, as the little girl could happily bear witness, part of the lifeblood of the little bearded fellow, that other days of baking were merely a pleasurable excursion from.

The little girl and her mother agreed to accompany the little bearded fellow, and — he now finding his way to the over-hanging rock without error — the three of them soon had collected a large quantity of the puffballs, cutting them carefully at the stalk, and placed them in a wheelbarrow which the little bearded fellow had piloted with zeal through the forest. If will-o'-the-wisps observed them, none showed themselves, their banishment yesterday by the little bearded fellow still fresh.

The three now made their way with the wheelbarrow to the lake. Following the elder's instructions, half of the heap of puffballs was unloaded upon the ice, and the little girl and her mother began to arrange these in a large circle. At that moment, the treecreeper — to whom the elder had earlier given word of the planned harvest — arrived, only to immediately set off again, with the little bearded fellow in tow with the wheelbarrow; the elder had asked that the remainder of the puffballs be placed in smaller circles around the set-apart pine, as well as around its cousins that the treecreeper had found along with the roe deer fawns.

This they did, and then made their way back to the lake once more with the empty wheelbarrow. The little girl and her mother had completed their circle, and were now skating blithely together within it, light on their feet; the little girl spinning a pirouette and almost falling — her mother catching her, both laughing... their hips gracefully rising and falling from one side of the circle to the other, sweeping into a turn, legs criss-crossing behind one another...

And as they swept, and jumped, and turned in what was now approaching twilight, the light of the first sign appeared once more under the ice; in white-golden, refulgent lines, beneath them for half a second as they glided, and in the sparkles — evaporating in a trice — of a scintillating turn under them, in step with their twirling caprice, it seemed to dance with them.

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

Last updated: 16:52 (GMT+1), 21st December 2022