Meet the Eldest.
No! She is the one. Let her come to me.
The last voice had been singular—deep in tone, but pleasant, almost musical in quality.
Come to me, young one. I will send a guide.
Annabelle calmed. She felt the assurance and authority in the new voice. The others still whispered to her, but there was no enticement now, only soothing and reassurance.
A white owl landed in the tree in front of her. It looked at her, cocked its head, flew to the next tree closer to the centre of the valley, and turned to look back at her again.
‘Follow the white owl,’ Annabelle muttered.
As they moved deeper into the valley, Annabelle realised the trees were getting bigger and they weren’t growing in rows so much as circles around the centre of the valley. Soon, they were so huge that there was little space between them. Branches tangled overhead in a canopy that block any light. Despite the darkness she could see clearly, so clearly that she had barely noticed how dark it had become.
She reached the bottom of the valley.
The owl landed on the lowest branch of the central tree. It was the largest tree that Annabelle had ever seen. She couldn’t see through the canopy to get any idea how tall it might be, but she thought it would take her some minutes to walk around the trunk. The woodcutter’s hut would easily fit inside it.
‘Nice to meet you.’ Annabelle wondered if she should curtsey. ‘You have the advantage on me. What do I call you?’
I am Brucinapolisticalopopolisinstantinople. You can call me Bruce.
Annabelle blinked. ‘Oh! Hello, Bruce. Why am I here?’
Chance, destiny? Who can say? Did you bring the pumpkin?
‘Pumpkin? What pumpkin? Oh, you mean the one the lady gave me at the plaza?’
You didn’t bring it?
‘What? No. How could I know? I left it with my mother?’ She frowned as she remembered. ‘Actually, I gave it to her boyfriend. Who knows what he did with it?’
Ah, there goes plan one.
Brucinapolisticalopopolisinstantinople. Really? Yeah, Bruce is fine.
What do the trees want with Annabelle?
And what did they want a pumpkin for?