On the eighteenth day of December

As soon as it was light — the middle of the morning — the treecreeper flew to where the roe deer family slept. The fawns had long since woken, but as the treecreeper flew near, they stood contemplatively on the impenetrably frozen undergrowth, perhaps casting their minds to late summer, when blueberries would be ripe in the heather. Seeing them thus, the playful in the treecreeper took upon itself to startle them!

Turning ninety degrees so that it was full against the wind, it flew a hook so that the wind was now at its tail, and then approached the fawns from behind, swooping at the last moment virtiginously down, flailing with its wings, in front of their eyes. Shrieking with indignant delight, the fawns leapt helter-skelter after the treecreeper in hope of revenge!

They played merrily a good while. But in due course, the treecreeper indicated with seriousness to the fawns, through little gestures that they were learning to read, that it wished for them to follow it. This they did.

Will-o'-the-wisps, having once succeeded in terrorising the fawns, followed the group malevolently at its side, as closely as they could whilst remaining in the cover of tree, moss, and rock-shadow. But in the daylight, and with the fawns marshalled by the treecreeper, who had conquered the will-o'-the-wisps to steer the fawns to safety on that previous occasion, they did not show themselves.

They reached the set-apart pine. It was now a significant challenge for the treecreeper to explain to the fawns what it had in mind. For a considerable time, the treecreeper, making use of the curvature of its beak, tore off bit after little bit of bark around where it had made its hole in the trunk to reach the aureate light inside; it still felt alarm upon approaching the hole, but its sense of responsibility for the fawns — necessitating, it felt, remaining outwardly unperturbed — along with its greater familiarity with the phenomenon, emboldened it to not succumb to it.

The treecreeper looked significantly and intently at the fawns for each bark fragment which it pared. Then they suddenly caught on — and within a short interval, a neighbourhood of the hole had been stripped of bark.

This was the first part of the task that the elder had yesterday asked of the treecreeper, as sung to it by the little bearded fellow. Where the light was pooled, this would not damage the tree, the elder had told the treecreeper; of this he felt sure.

The treecreeper and the fawns now proceeded further into forest, in search of cousins of the set-apart pine: trying a tree here — the treecreeper incising a hole, and bracing itself for light — and a tree there. The elder had predicted to the treecreeper yesterday that they would find several — and they did indeed, their intuition acuminating as the hours passed: one whose green and white lichen was of particular venerability; or one growing out of a steep hillside, its roots at giddy angles, binding the earth and moss around it. In each case, the fawns deftly removed the bark around the treecreeper's hole, leaving a neat patch of smooth, bare wood.

As dusk began to install itself upon the day, before it was dark enough for the will-o'-the-wisps to assail, the treecreeper led the fawns back to where it had began the day by dropping suddenly in upon them; the task that the elder had given them well-completed.

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

Last updated: 15:01 (GMT+1), 19th December 2022