maeve “Come now, young one,” Maeve cooed, gently stroking the soft leaf of the sapling aspen. “It is time to rest.”
The aspen rustled its leaves in answer. Maeve heard mirthful defiance in the rush of wind through its thin boughs. A soft smile turned the corners of her mouth.
“Oh?” one delicate eyebrow arched in query. Her camellia-pink eyes danced. “Well, we shall just have to see about that.”
Lifting her flute to her lips, Maeve wove a restful melody that hung upon the air like a soft blanket. It was early autumn, time for the Falling. Her music had drifted through the forest for several weeks, heralding the approach of winter, encouraging trees to change their shades of green for a kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges, russet-red. All the trees of Falling had heard her gentle reminder, bar one - a little aspen that clung stubbornly to its summer green.
Its full tear-drop shaped leaves swayed gently as Maeve’s music wound about the damp hollow, lifted golden leaves from the ancient oak at whose feet it sheltered, stirred the thick forest carpet of mottled autumn colours. Maeve paused. Save for the rustle of wind through dry leaves, the woods were eerily quiet. The young aspen hung its head, apparently lulled into obedience.
Yet, when she flew into the little hollow several days later, the sapling still wore its coat of green.
“Oh, dear heart,” Maeve sighed, settling on a branch, soft burgundy and golden skirts rustling.
The trunk was smooth beneath her hand. She felt the pulse and flow of water and nutrients through its wood, strong now, but not in the weeks to come, not if the sapling refused to drop its leaves and ignored its need for rest.
Maeve’s flute sang with every desire, every yearning in her heart, its soft voice pleading with the aspen to see sense.
Sleep, rest, still your dancing,
lay down your leafy coat, store up your strength.
The cold is coming, the cold is coming.

The aspen’s leaves shook though no breeze stirred. It giggled its defiance. “Nothing can harm me.” It seemed to say. “I am strong, I am brave. Sleep is for craggy old oaks, and washed-out willows. I want to sing, I want to dance. I want to see the snow falling and dance all winter like the holly and fir.”
“No, Littlest,” Maeve whispered sadly, “you don’t”.
Autumn reached its end. The forest lay bare and dull save for the splash of rich evergreen in groves of juniper, stands of noble fir or the glossy leaves of holly. Every day Maeve filled the hollow with sweet music, every day the aspen laughed at her melancholy. But her heavy heart knew that its laughter could not last, it was only a matter of time.
That time came one morning in early winter. Maeve woke with a start, her heart racing fearfully, knowing instinctively that the first frosts had fallen. Emerging from her cosy bower in the thick trunk of an ancient yew, she saw for herself the silver-white sheet lying heavy on the ground outside the walls of Ingengaard.
Fear dogged her through the forest, though she raced to keep ahead of it. Icy air blasted her tiny frame until her whole body grew painfully numb and her cheeks burned to a rosy red. All around her an echo of alarm whispered through branches naked and skeletal. The pines shouted a ringing cry through agitated needles.
The young one burns, the young one cries.

“Oh, Littlest,” Maeve’s voice caught in her throat at sight of him.
Frost clung to the brittle humus of oak leaves at his feet, preserved past dawn within the sheltering hollow. His thin branches drooped, stiff with pain. The once merry green leaves had been burned black, their saw-tooth edges shrivelled and fragile.
Throwing her arms about the pale trunk, Maeve pressed her raw cheek to the smooth bark and wept at his agony.
“It will be all right, little friend,” she said gently, wiping the salty moisture of her tears from the bark with the flat of her hand. “You are strong, you are brave.”
Settling in the crook of a branch, Maeve pressed the flute to her lips once more, but her icy fingers were stiff and her music halting. Slowly, she became aware of a soft warmth spreading along her shoulder-blades at the point where they touched the aspen’s trunk. He was giving her what strength he had left.
Sensing the aspen’s apology in the gentle warmth that infused her frozen body, Maeve tried again and this time her fingers played smoothly over the holes of the flute.
Soaring into the frostbitten silence, her lullaby twined about the little tree’s branches, tingling along the leave stems, washing over the ravaged leaves and turning them the most beautiful shade of pure gold.
Finally, her song spent, Maeve patted the branch beneath her affectionately. In a few days the leaves would drop and the aspen would join its silent companions.
“Do not worry, I will return. And then we shall sing a merry tune together to welcome in the spring. You shall not miss a moment of it, I promise.”

© 2003 - Sherri-Lee Lavender Green