“The Last Song of Winter” was written for Flash! Friday (and received an honourable mention, yay!) and ended up being a sequel of sorts to “The Souls of Trees” which I had written in June this year (also for Flash! Friday). Here’s “The Souls of Trees” followed by “The Last Song of Winter”. Together they are about 600 words. Just as an aside, “Souls” were written in the middle of winter and by now it already feels like summer here in SA.
The Souls of Tree
The buyers stared at the last of the acorns enclosed in the pen. Rising from each was a wispy, humanoid figure veiled in green light. They flickered as they danced to hidden music. Only the chosen could hear the music this far from the forest.
“Got them new from the forest just yesterday,” the tree-soul farmer said.
“They look…” one man began, teeth chattering. His words curled pure white in the air. The farmer struggled to read his lips.
“Sickly,” the second added.
“They become strong when planted,” the farmer said, opening the pen.
The figures danced around them to the music that charmed people into the woods with fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps, and wilis that made you forget about a world beyond the forest. But the town needed their light to survive winter. They were hope.
“I’ll take this one.”
The farmer sent the fluttering figure sleep with a few words and wrapped the acorn in a cloth.
He took the last acorn for himself and planted it in the corner of his room, where it flickered and danced and grew into a strong sapling. Where it lit the long dark of winter. Where it sang to him of spring every night until he fell asleep.
The Last Song of Winter
The oldest of them still remembered the long winter that lasted thrice as long as it should have. They remembered the wolves and the starvation, the battles and the bloodstained snow. It took three winters to find spring after she had been stolen by the ice spirits. The guardians swore that it would never happen again.
Down in the valleys the souls of new trees would be kept safe within the houses until spring, but here on the slopes the old souls all stood vigil together. Another gust of winter wind tugged at the Tree Guardian’s clothes where he guarded the tree. A banner the colour of new spring leaves fluttered from the spear he held in his frozen hands. He had passed long nights like this while the sky danced with flames of green and purple. The guardian closed his eyes as the sky came alive and the trees began to sing. It was the song of winter, all echoes and humming.
The song stopped abruptly, voices replaced by the creaking of dying wood.
When he opened his eyes the ice spirits were standing in front of him. He lunged with the spear as fast as he could, but they were fierce fighters. He fought them, shouting curses between his calls for help
With the last of his strength he speared the final ice spirit before it could reach the tree, then stumbled backward, falling between the tangled roots. He could feel the life seeping from him into the frozen ground with every heartbeat. The trees howled a lament for him.
He heard the tree behind him break and managed to turn his head towards the sound. A young woman stepped from within, dressed in the green of early spring, her hair as white as blossoms. The trees around him quickened to life and sprouted bright green foliage. He smiled even as he felt the darkness take him.
Spring had come early this year.