the runes are laid out, slicing a circle into twelve even pieces on the forest floor. in the centre is lucky thirteen, added on a whim. in the carver’s pocket there’s a spare twig and a rumpled bit of parchment detailing the meaning of each one. technically it’s not breaking any rules.
nor is the dictionary in the cabin, nor the way the carver practices for days on end, learning how to flick her wrist just so and create lines in a number of different media: paintbrush and quill, pen and parchment and every surface she can think of. this year is her first year: this is the only year that a “user manual” is permitted.
next year, and every year after for the next twenty-seven, she will have to do this from memory.
the fire blazes to life when the last rune is spoken aloud, the flame picking up stray windswept salt crystals and fluttering blue, purple, gold all throughout the forest. tonight is a night for burning the earth, for refreshing the ground. rumour has it that these blue-salt-flames don’t harm people, but the last two carvers who wielded the fire were too wary of it, too concerned with the power in their fingertips.
this time, she breaks with tradition, stands close to the flame and lets it brush over her hands. nothing happens, and she sinks wrist-deep into the fire. it’s pleasant, warming and soothing.
before she knows it the blue has pulled her in, winding through her clothes with strands of purple and she is lulled to sleep, curled up on the forest floor while the flames twist through. they skim over her, and nearby the watchers in the security of the decorated cottage watch, anxious, bunching the curtains in nervous hands.
the fire fades as peacefully as it began, and the carver lies on the floor, arises. she was picked for her age – they are always between thirty-one and forty-six, but now she appears to have lost decades. she is too youthful now; she no longer has the gravitas of her former appearance.
they cannot cast her out either: she is the seventeenth in a long line of sacred predecessors, this millennium, and now she has the lifespan of someone touched by fire. she will not be finished carving in twenty-eight years.
(no, more like two hundred and eighty)