Darkness settled slowly over the land as a veil draped across the arboreal sky. The forest below lay clothed in pure white winter’s raiment, as if awaiting with reverence this night’s solemn reverie. It was the night the wise old owl in the great gnarled cedar in the marsh had spoken of. She knew of such things; she could feel it in her wings and talons, she’d said, when the seasons changed. As twilight deepened and the last vestiges of sunset vanished far in the west, she left her tree house nest and flew ahead to Gathering Hill as she had done for so many years to welcome the travelers as they arrived for the event.
From all reaches of the lower forest, they came. Opossums and raccoons, the great bats and wolves, even porcupines and mice; all came silently through the bare columns of dormant trees to the peak of the hill in the center of the wood. Guided only by their knowledge of the way and the faint s