The clearing’s just where the village elder said it would be.
Light streams into the forest from a rent in the canopy, like a cleft in the roof of a submerged cave.
The glade is the only golden spot in a land of shadow-play.
She gently puts down the package of five seedlings, their roots careful bound in the finest skins and bark.
She’s a tall child of thirteen, with long red hair and skin as pale as thistle-down. They chose her, from all the settlement’s girls, because her lovely locks exactly match the colours of rowan when the year starts to fail.
She knows what to do, the glade must cleared of all fallen debris, which must be burnt, and the cooled embers and ash spread all around. Only then can she use her sharp digging stick, cut from the mother tree, to make slits in the deep loam and plant the five precious saplings. They must be in a circle, exactly thirty one paces apart, and she must chant all the while, “Oh rowan tree, rowan tree give your strength to me.”
Then briars and holly must be cut and gathered to protect the seedlings from deer.
From this day forward she will tend and protect them until they rise up into the sunlight bearing their beautiful and bloody fruit.
Then her blood will flow and she will dance over to the other world.