On the twenty-second day of December

By nine o' clock, as arranged, the little bearded fellow, the treecreeper, and the elder had gathered by the forest lake. There too were the little girl and her mother, preempting the elder's planned visit.

Waking to snow still lying deeply around their home, covering all but the tips of the bushes they would ordinarily see through their kitchen window, they had felt called to excavate their circle of puffballs; and, having made an early start, were now assiduously clearing the snow away from the puffballs with their gloved hands.

The other three thanked and praised them; the elder and the little bearded fellow in words, the treecreeper in enthusiastic song. "I believe, though, that there may be a different way to do it, if we can build up a fire by the side of the lake and collect a handful of dry twigs," the elder said to them all.

The little bearded fellow's cottage being not far from the lake, he offered to fetch logs. He had brought a large snow shovel and a spade down to the lake with him, tied to the wheelbarrow; unloading these, he set off with the wheelbarrow for home.

The little girl's mother picked up the spade, and began to dig a well in the snow by the side of the lake, all the way down to the frozen ground. The treecreeper, meanwhile, took upon itself the collection of the twigs: little, fallen-off branches that lay off the ground amongst the boughs of a pine tree, or on a sheltered stone. The little girl continued to brush away the snow around and on top of the puffballs, one at a time; the elder stood by, encouraging her and, when she was done with one, advised her as to where he thought the next might be found.

At his cottage, the little bearded fellow stacked logs preposterously high upon the wheelbarrow. He struggled to lift it off the ground... but, that accomplished, then shepherded it with virtuosity — not least an extraordinary sense of balance — through the forest back to the lake.

The little bearded fellow and the little girl's mother then built up a pyre in the snow-well; lighting it, it soon blazed. Coming over, the elder took one of the twigs which the treecreeper had gathered, and inserted it into the fire so that it ignited at its end like a large match.

Walking over to where the circle of puffballs lay still four-fifths buried, the elder then held the burning twig, just above the snow, where he thought a puffball might be... and one in that very moment came indeed to sight, the snow around it melting instantaneously away as though boiling water had been poured over it! The emancipated puffball propulsed a little plume of orange light into the air in celebration.

The little girl and her mother now followed the elder's example, proceeding around the entire circle; the flames of the twigs setting off the same magical reaction inside the puffballs.

Whilst the ring of puffballs was being uncovered, the treecreeper had flown to enlist the help of the roe deer fawns once more. It now flew above them as the fawns trotted, at his lead, to the set-apart pine. Once there, the treecreeper began to brush with its wing at the snow which had fallen on the smooth wood which the fawns had exposed four days ago.

This snow had frozen icily against the wood, and the treecreeper had difficulty removing any of it... but the fawns grasped his purpose, and soon the hole into the light — still pooled in honey-transparency — was cleared, and raw wood surrounded it. At all the light-holding trunks which they had discovered, the ritual was repeated.

On their way back to their mother and father, the fawns played catch-me-if-you-can with the treecreeper. In the deep snow, the treecreeper had rather an advantage, and teased them — hovering audaciously close by as they industrially tried to turn. But their protests turned to triumphant delight as the treecreeper finally allowed them to catch him!

By the forest lake, it was now dark, but the elder, the little bearded fellow, the little girl, and her mother had kept the blaze fuelled, warming themselves by it. Will-o'-the-wisps prowled unseen amongst the trees behind them, but the fire and the presence of the little bearded fellow kept them from coming closer.

The little girl's mother had shuffled the inside of the circle of puffballs with the snow shovel which the treecreeper had brought, so that now it was again shimmering ice. And as they looked out upon the circle, the first sign's light danced effusively there, as it had under the skates of the little girl and her mother two days ago.

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

Last updated: 21:44 (GMT+1), 23rd December 2022