It was a delicate task, and one that was crowned with honor, to gather the wreath that would be displayed above the capitol doors.
In seasons past, Master Gavrel had led his party to the greenwood and the pinewood, selecting individual boughs from the trees there, and then he and the other masters and mistresses (who were also called ‘master’ now, but forgave him for using the old ways because he was old) would weave them into the Great Wreath.
But this year, this year, Master Gavrel wanted something different, something organic. So, he went to the winter wood. He knew that others had gone before him, seeking a wreath from the Order of the Brambles, and that most had come back injured and empty handed, while others had not returned at all.
He had prepared though. He had learned the prayers and practiced the ritual bows and walks. He had brought an offering of fresh soil and nutrient-rich mulch, and not one in his company carried an axe or saw.
Gavrel’s party reached the clearing, and he alone moved forward, through the impaled skeletons of those who had made this attempt, and failed, his movements precise, deliberate.
He spoke the words of the prayers and made his offerings of soil and mulch. He made his bow, and walked in a circle around the offerings, then bowed again.
And then he waited.
He was expecting drama. A sudden storm, perhaps, or trees come to life. But none of that happened.
Instead, there was a rustling sound, then a strong shake, and the suspended wreath dropped to the forest floor. He gestured for his companions to step forward and retrieve it, and then he bowed again and backed out of the clearing.
The wreath, wrapped in white lights, was hung above the capitol doors, and while some people complained that it looked like a bunch of dead sticks, most passersby understood that it was meant to represent the stark beauty of winter, and the idea that death is part of the entire cycle of life.
Master Gavrel stood among the crowd on the last night of the winter festival and smiled.