His shadow stalks swiftly from tree to tree, though the man is little more than shadow himself. The dark cloak weighs heavily on his shoulders, bound with a duty black as night.
They scream when he cuts them, but this is good. A silent harvest is a poor one. He whistles a tune as he works, and the wind whistles through their branches with him, a tune of cold, slow, remorse that no words can convey.
His sickle flashes, and for a moment the wind stills as the willow’s hoarse, ethereal scream fills the air. He gathers the freshly cut boughs and moves along the river bank to the next tree, whistling the song of lament known only in that grove.
The moon hides her face from his work, but the stars look on with interest. Too distant to hear the screams, too cold to care. He continues harvesting as they watch, winking down at him as if they understand and share in the secrets of his work.
But they don’t even know the song.
He waits for the wind to draw a veil of clouds across their peeping eyes before he tends to the seedlings. Each one so delicately balanced on the cusp of existence. No light can see them until they are rooted. Even the tiny glint lost in the dark depths of his eyes could be enough to wither their fragile shoots.
His shrill whistle becomes a low, rumbling hum to soothe the earth as their roots invade her. She trembles as they lap up her moisture, the sole comfort she can offer to these sad, tender lives. They drink greedily to ease their fears and quell their confusion, sating themselves on the tears of their elders.
The most ancient willows weep to see their children so, and the river swells with their sorrow. They rattle their branches in a howl which the wind echoes, dropping the veil in which the stars are tangled.
In the light of their curious glances the river glows. Individual streaks of silver tears gleam brilliantly for a moment before they are briskly swept away by the current.
One by one the trees grow silent as a different light moves among them. This light is dampened by the darkness with which it is imbued, a terrifying darkness with which they are all too familiar. It is accompanied by a shrill whistling which they shudder to hear.
He touches each one with the shining sickle before moving on. They shiver at its icy touch, squirming beneath the bark which imprisons them before stiffening in silence.
When dawn breaks the grove is silent but for the slow whistling of a man with no past. He vanishes as he walks amongst the trees, merging with their shadows which writhe in the sunlight though their pale bodies remain still.
The reaper fades from the ancient grove, but his song lingers in the air. A haunting echo of a man that only the earth and wind know.