On the nights when there was no rain the Tray Bearer would come.
The Elders would come to the edge of the clearing. Led by Manda, when she could make it.
Manda was regarded as the most insightful and honest of them all, but her health was failing her. As a result her visits became sporadic.
She told them often: “I‘ll not see the grave before I found out what it wants.”
For several generations, the tray bearer had appeared at the same clearing in the North woods. Always from the shadow of the Coppla tree. It had a large white head with staring orbs for eyes. Bearing a large empty tray of what appeared to be a dark metal. It wore white gloves.
A few attempts had been made to apprehend the bearer from the tree’s shadow. But it was discovered that anyone that got too close to the tree (or the Bearer) was overcome with a dizziness and giddiness that would send them wandering off, loudly exploding with laughter and strange rants.
It was not uncommon for new members to the Elders to be pranked with a direction to catch the bearer when it appeared. The wandering ranting would cause great amusement. Although in recent years, this had been frowned upon.
Many attempts to communicate had been made.
Many attempts at giving gifts had been made. Food, precious metals, and jewels.
Nothing garnered a reaction.
On a normal night the Bearer would appear and walk to the centre of the clearing and stand for a time (there was never any consistency with the recorded times), and then walk back to the shadow of the Coppla tree to vanish.
One night when it was raining the Tray Bearer appeared.
Manda’s niece, Yellow Girl, rushed to Manda’s house to tell her. Manda fought her body pain to get dressed and make the long walk up through the village to the North wood.
Yellow Girl made sure Manda was wrapped up well and supported her walk, even though her aunt used a stick.
A large lock of her long grey hair sat across her face as she smiled at her niece.
“This is very unusual Yellow Girl. The first time ever it has appeared in the rain.”
Yellow Girl smiled back: “I know. The Elders are all buzzing with excitement, they had to have you come. I was hoping to talk you out of it, and then I realised I know better!”
When they reached the clearing, Manda was aching and out of breath, her excited gaze explored and assessed the scene.
All around the clearing stood Elders, and their charges, holding torches. In the centre of the clearing stood the Tray Bearer, straight and unmoving.
Droplets of rain ran down it’s smooth head dripping into the empty tray.
Manda struggled to the edge of the clearing and motioned Yellow Girl to let her go. Reluctantly she did so.
Manda had seen the Bearer so many times, yet this sight in the rain was so compelling. She looked up. Above the clearing the sky was glinting with bright stars, yet she saw no clouds.
She looked back at the bearer, who appeared to meet her gaze. It’s bright red lips spread into a smile, and for the first time ever it spoke.
“We are so glad to see you. Will you come to me Manda?”
The voice was neither woman or man and seemed to echo all around the clearing and skip off through the trees.
Manda, without hesitation, began her laboured walk towards the Bearer.
Yellow Girl made to help (or possibly stop) her aunt.
Without looking back Manda raised her voice: “No Yellow Girl. Stay where you are. I must do this. I love you all.”
Yellow Girl stood still.
Manda’s walk became less laboured and as she neared the Bearer she began to walk upright.
Striding with confidence she threw her stick to the side.
When she reached the Bearer she stopped and looked up into the big round eyes.
“You have it.” The Bearer’s voice commanded.
Manda reached into her pocket and pulled out a large key made from dark metal.
The rain stopped.
Manda looked at the key as if she had never seen it or had any idea it was even in her pocket. She smiled a broad smile.
With a clank she placed the key on the tray.
The Bearer still grinning spoke once more.
“Good. Come now Manda.”
And with that the Bearer and Manda walked single file towards the Coppla tree and disappeared into the shadow.
Yellow Girl would go back to the clearing every night for ten years. Only to see nothing. No Manda, no Bearer, no tray.
After ten years she would go once a week, then once a month. Now as she grew into her own old age she would go whenever health permitted. Her grandchildren would accompany her.
Sat at the edge of the clearing she would tell the stories of the Tray Bearer and of Manda.
She would point to the, now withering, Coppla tree and tell them all: “That was where she disappeared all those years ago. The last thing she said was ‘I love you all’.”