She found the injured raven on the outskirts of the forest one evening.
It cawed and hopped and tried clumsily to fly, furious and flapping and terrified. One wing hung awkwardly to one side, feathers shredded. Beads of brilliant red blood oozed slowly from the dark tatty folds. It took great patience, but she managed to reach it by approaching slowly - the child's calm demeanour eventually lulling the great bird into an exhausted stillness. She lifted it with immense care, and it shuffled a little in her hands, protesting - but then grew still. She walked the bird silently home, tiny drops of red blood leaving a trail behind her, burning the white snow.
It took month upon month to heal the bird - with gauzes to absorb the blood, splints to repair the fractured bones of its wings - and long hours of mending torn muscles and ligaments. And then there began the necessary progress of coaxing the raven gradually back to flight - short and brief glides to begin with, stuttering and nervous bursts into the air and back to land - before his confidence gradually grew and its muscles strengthened.
When at last the raven was fully healed, another Spring and Summer had passed, and the Autumn had returned again. And it was finally time to return him to his mistress.
The girl donned her deep scarlet hood - thick wool, heavy folds - and stout, sturdy boots. A simple yet effective way to defy the cold and the snow.
The wolf appeared as he always did, unannounced - instinctively appearing when he was needed most by the child. She kissed her parents goodbye, scrambled onto the back of the wolf, and gripped his dense grey fur with both hands. The raven - still feral but tamed enough to be familiar and comfortable with the girl - sat on her shoulder, sharp black eyes watching the path pass and the forest begin to emerge, as they set off on their way.
The journey was hours long, winding through almost impenetrable clusters of trees, through falling leaves and past moss and boulder, past caves where things watched with bright eyes. As they moved deeper into the forest, silence gradually fell - fewer birds sang, and soon the only noise was that of crunching leaves and the occasional dry snapping twig beneath the wolf's tread.
Eventually, a clearing began to appear in the distance. And it was there that she could be seen. The Lady of Autumn.
She stood - magnificently tall and regal - watching them approach. She was a creature of of sapling and branches, leaves and moss and golden falling leaves. She stood silently as they reached her feet, observing with deep hazel eyes. Leaves fell softly from her branches, twisting and spiralling in blazing orange, gold and red, crisp and curling as they fell.
A fox moved with her - a huge fox, defiantly red and blazing against the dark folding bark of her dress, amber-eyed and svelte, protective. It watched the arriving pair with some wariness, and kept vigil as the exchange took place.
The Lady held out her hand, and there was a sudden dry fluttering of ebony wings as the great bird took flight, a shimmery flurry of black-purple-green-deep-blue, of fleeting claws and and gentle mighty wings. And settled in her arms.
And the Lady smiled.
She beckoned the small girl to her, and bent over, whispering into her ear.
I do not know what secrets the child was told that day - only the raven, wolf and fox bore witness to the long, murmured, earnest exchange that passed between the two. But the girl left with a serene smile on her face, and a faraway thoughtful look in her eyes. And so wolf and child padded away through the forest, and began their long journey home.
The tall woman of the woods watched them silently as they left, and until she was just a tiny splash of scarlet in the distance. Then, with her raven perched amongst the sturdy branches that sprouted from her shoulders - she turned and made her way back, and melted into the dense cloak of the forest.
I owe an enormous artistic debt of thanks to Patrick Ness, Siobhan Ward and Jim Kay for this one, as their combined creation of their titular Monster in A Monster Calls was what got me dreaming of forest figures - and Jim Kay's memorable, haunting illustrations stay with me now, months after finishing the book.
...the sidewalk is full of people and leaves and we're all turning colors
i want more radiance and less green this season is my perfect lover
long nights for more dreaming short days to fill real and fast
sweaters for my heart's safe-keeping, for my soul's heating, through the cold of winter to last
~ Tanya Davis
And it was drawn while listening to Tanya Davis' most beautiful newest album - and particularly this luminous track, which speaks of Autumn, and loss and change and renewal.
And the music video is equally lovely :)