The wood was going to sleep. The oaks and the maples were quietly and calmly, almost modestly shedding their cloaks of leaves. The slender woman knelt beside the juniper bush and gently worked the leaves into the dark moist earth. Her long auburn hair fell restlessly about her shoulders and face. She hummed softly to herself as she worked. Gently we picked up the acorns and placed them into a pouch at her side. The seeds would be placed elsewhere in the forest. Glancing at the half full pouch she knew that the mast this year was sparse. A late season butterfly fluttered about in front of her and finally landed on the open hand she offered. Its small wings slowly opened and closed to a continuous rhythmic beat that only she could hear.
A man worked diligently kneading the black soil with bare hands. The flowers that called this small forest glen home gently swayed their approval as he crawled along turning the freshly fallen brightly colored leaves into the compost all around them. His garden would go unnoticed by the casual hunter or passer buy. A particularly nasty tribe of thorn bushes surrounded the small opening that contained his garden. These long thorn brutal guardians might be a curse to some, but he, the songbirds, the rabbits, chip monks, and the butterflies, all lived in perfect harmony here. The densely packed bushes made a wide barrier around almost the entire circumference of the glen. He grinned and looked at the back of his shredded hands. He had just taken the liberty of pruning the dead from the tribe and weaving arrant limbs back into the thicket away from the flowers that graced most of the small opening. They had given him fits as he gently cut the dead from the stand and placed the limbs at the feet of the still living. The living and dead alike took delight in scraping, scratching and poking his flesh. Most of the bad gashes where his own fault of course. He would let his mind wander and that is all that it would take.
The fall foliage, the brilliant colors and the cool temperatures were enough to put any mans mind to the coming of the North Wind and sunless days. He sat back on his heels, straightening his tight back and closing his eyes. Gently inhaling, he took in the scent of all that was around him. He could smell the distinct odor of the tribe, the gentle almost fragile scent of the fall flowers and the deep musty smell of the freshly churned earth around him. Off to his left he heard the rustle of leaves as a startled squirrel dashed for the haven of his treetop home. The creature made a long run, a run not of play or frolic but of purpose and at speed. Turning his head the man slowly opened his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them, far off other squirrels were barking incessantly at some invader. Their frantic alert was not that of a hunting party or lost strangers but of something larger. His ears picked up others barking now, picking up the alarm far and wide. A chip monk dashed headlong past him and dove into a rocky outcropping to his right.
She had closed her eyes and listened to the lovely lady that had come to visit her. The touch of butterfly feet upon her palm was something that she treasured always. She opened her eyes as a single flash came to her from the butterfly. As soon as it began it stopped and the insect launched itself up and away in search of another. No sooner had she understood did she begin to move. With silent footsteps and the grace of the swaying grass, she gently moved to the other side of the glen. She had barely rounded the grandfather Ash when she spied her target. His back was to her but his arm was up and at a ninety-degree angel to his body, his hand was in a fist. She knew the sign and dropped to one knee. Slowly he opened his hand and softly straightened his arm palm down. She took a half step, half crawl, and managed to glide under one of the larger holly tress. Taking a deep breath and softly touching the base of the magnificent tree, the branches seemed to lower just a bit, and almost if by some unseen force, weave themselves together, forming a protective barrier around its caretaker.
Without taking his eyes off of the forest in front of him, the man quickly pulled a sling loose from this belt. He came up onto one knee. Without letting his eyes leave the forest in front of him he loosed the hemp braid on a small pouch that contained an oddly shaped ornately carved oval that was the size of a crabapple. His dirty fingers gingerly pulled the orb from the pouch and he silently placed it in the center of the sling. Slowly he began to twirl the sling over his head. He began to whip it faster and faster and at max speed he began to twist his wrist. As soon as the airflow changed over the small orb it began to howl, skitter, bleat and whistle like the screech owl. The sound was incredibly loud and was distinctive to any who heard it. Only his allies would know the true meaning of the call. Quickly he ended the silence splitting racket and stuffed both the sling and the orb into his tunic. Then, he silently crawled into the dense thorn thicket in front of him and disappeared from view.