When Opilio moves away from the clustered stones of the Ladona and the Estate, he feels more at ease. Each time he settles under the sprawling branches of a Maviolan oak, he is able to rest: not quite sleeping, not quite dreaming.
It feels almost dangerous at first. Common folk from Vanas to Rasenna tell stories of hungry woods, of trees that drink deep of corpses and grow twisted on the draught. In Calvera, the peasantry talk of Witch’s Tangle in particular — and also of the trees of Maviolo, so gnarled that their lumber builds crooked houses and contrary boats. They say that Maviolo has bones under the soil wherever you go. The curling, gnarled roots of the oaks that shelter Opilio seem to hint that this is true.
But the trees are alive, even welcoming in a terse, stand-offish way. When Opilio goes into reverie he feels the distant summer sun on their highest leaves, kept away from the cool earth below. He feels the dark, cold, thick flow from soil to root. He hears the movement of small animals, smells old earth and ancient sap. And he sees — he sees a girl.
She flits in and away at the periphery of his vision. When he focuses on her, he wakes — but when he acknowledges his trance and embraces it, he can almost perceive her. Her hair is a flash of sunlight filtered through the leaves. She laughs once, like a mournful brook hidden in echoes. She seems young, but he can’t tell if she’s Vesper’s age or if she is beyond age entirely.
She is far away. He feels her pass through trees grown so tightly together they’ve become one colossal oaken braid, a monarch of the forest. Red and orange leaves fall from the canopy, become fragrant white flowers, then land on frozen ground and melt into jagged splinters. He feels the cold in his roots — no, in his toes. There are pale stones there, and the smell of oiled metal, and warm blood, and he hears something exhale. The smell of carrion chokes its sigh.
And he must wake.