The boy drew back the nocked shaft almost to his ear. The bow was somewhat too powerful for his years and as he took aim he could feel his left arm begin to tremble.
Hard against the treeline the five-point buck started from grazing at the short turf. Its ears pricked and it turned its head this way and that, seeking sound or sight of the danger it sensed. The young archer froze, every muscle screaming to retain control of the weapon. It had taken him a morning to gain a bead on his quarry. The slightest sound or movement now and all would be lost.
The crunch of gravel sounded out, loud in the silence of an early morning, as he reversed the flatbed along the length of the church. Behind the building a mess of trampled earth, tiles, timber and scaffolding attested to the work that had occupied his brother's firm of architectural restorers these past months.
The man climbed from the cab and looked up beyond the laddered scaffolding to what had been - and soon would be again - one of the finest oak-shingled belfries in the country. His own part in the restoration was all but complete. Behind industrial tarpaulins vaulted the beams, struts, rafters and purlins he had crafted to replace those spoiled in the worst gales for a hundred years.
The least damaged timbers from the medieval church, most dating back to the building's original construction, had already been removed to cover at his brother's yard. In time they would find their way into some other restoration. But several of the lesser beams lay still on the ground and these he had come this morning to collect. Although rejected for future architectural use, under his skilled hands they might find new life in the heavy yet fine-lined furniture he was driven to craft in his small country workshop.
One half hour later he had managed all but one of the timbers onto the truck. The remaining piece was fully a dozen feet in length, a massive curved oak beam that had braced one corner of the bell-tower. It seemed not to have suffered in the storm and, although twisted and deeply split along its length, its size and structural significance had persuaded the brothers to leave it be.
The diocesan surveyor, however, no doubt anxious to remedy as much as possible in one commission had insisted upon its replacing. That decision alone had added a month and several thousand pounds to the work but at last the monstrous bracing had been extricated without bringing the rest of the structure to the ground - and here the beast lay.
Damaged as it was, so venerable a piece of lumber excited his imagination. He had in mind a large mock-medieval chair or throne, its high back following the curve into which the ancient tree had grown. And yet the physical challenge of raising it from the ground and onto the flatbed gave him pause.
He pulled a saw-horse into a patch of sunlight and sat to think. The larger of the two chain hoists was capable of the load but it would need careful handling if he was not to damage the wood, the truck or indeed himself. He thought of telephoning his brother for assistance but he was unlikely to relish the prospect of manual labour so early on a Saturday morning.
That aside, for some reason he felt impelled to manage - or at least to attempt - the work alone. There was something about this timber that made removing it as much a personal devotion as a job of work. The wood seemed special: holy, perhaps, though he did not think of himself as a religious man. Maybe these past months working in the church had gotten to him.
Putting the question aside he returned to the task in hand. He eyed the beam with practised care, reckoning the best and safest way to approach its lifting. If he slung it there, above where the wood was most deeply split ...
A sudden spark of light caught his attention. He walked across and knelt in the dirt to examine it more closely. By chance the morning sun had struck upon what seemed to be a shard of silver buried deep in the heart of the wood and exposed only because of the ancient, time-wrought fracturing. What the thing was and how it had got there he could only guess. Heart racing now, he fetched the chain-hoist and canvas sling.
She sat at peace in the small summerhouse at the end of her rambling garden. The light slowly shifted through pink to red and the shadows lengthened across Wordsworth's timeless verse. At last she closed the book and laid it in her lap. She rested both hands upon the broad arms of the heavily fashioned chair and closed her eyes. The wood felt smooth and warm beneath her skin and she caressed it absently.
There would be few such evenings now: already the days looked towards winter. And she would hardly see another spring. The play of dappled light across her eyes soothed the sadness of such thoughts. She was old and did not resist it: wise enough to know that her time was near.
Above her head the sun struck sudden fire from the silver star set deeply into the chair's frame.
He had not sought to prise it loose and that was partly for fear of damaging the thing, though in his heart he suspected it was stronger than it appeared. But also it seemed so much a part of the wood's story that he had neither the thought nor the heart to separate them, one from the other.
So far as could be told the tree had taken little hurt from the intrusion, had taken it rather into and unto itself, enveloping the alien thing in its living flesh. And so he had left the shard where it found itself within the wood and, straining his craft, had worked it as the adornment of a throne.
For two months the chair had stood, complete, in the window of a small high-street gallery. Then sold one day to a lady for her grandmother's ninetieth year.
The old woman arched her back, settling her withered body into the chair's embrace. With her grand-daughter's gift had come the tale of its making. The wood from the church where her mother and father had been married. Where she too had wed.
In a mist of tears now she was standing again outside the church. Her man - long gone before her from this world - tall at her side. Above them out of a summer sky came the rolling of bridal bells. She breathed his name and clutched the wood tightly in her frail hands.
Only a little while, my love ...
The boy had almost mastered the weapon when the buck turned to gaze directly into his eyes. In that moment he felt the life pulse together in the heart of the beast and in his own and knew himself unworthy of the kill.
Straining every sinew to the task he uncoupled his aim and loosed the arrow into the trees. The deer started; held his gaze one moment longer. Then melted into the shadows.
He returned home lost in his thoughts. He was still young and there was time yet to grow into the wisdom to decide the time of another creature's death.
With the greatest care he climbed the steep stairs to the flet and returned his father's bow to its hanging place beside the door: the quiver with its charge of silver star-tipped shafts. Perhaps his father would not miss the loss of one ...