The farmhouse was dark and shut up. The meadows were overgrown and seemed abandoned. The farm roof was crumbling at the back; it was covered in black plastic sheeting. They jolted over a ridge and Shadow saw it there.
It was silver-gray and it was higher than the farm-house. It was the most beautiful tree Shadow had ever seen: spectral and yet utterly real and almost perfectly symmetrical. It also looked instantly familiar: he wondered if he had dreamed it, then he realized that no, he had seen it before, or a representation of it man, many times. It was Wednesday’s silver tie pin.
The VW bus jolted and bumped across the meadow, and it came to a stop about twenty feet from the trunk of the tree.
There were three women standing by the tree. At first glance Shadow thought they were the Zorya, but no, they were three women he did not know. They looked tired and bored, as if they had been standing there a long time. Each of them held a wooden ladder. The biggest also carried a brown sack. They looked like a set of Russian dolls: a tall one – she was Shadow’s height, or even taller – a middle-sized one, and a woman so short and hunched that at first glance Shadow wrongly supposed her to be a child. They looked so much alike that Shadow was certain the women must be sisters.
The smallest of the women dropped to a curtsey when the bus drew up. The other two just stared. They were sharing a cigarette, and they smoked it down to the filter before one of them stubbed it out against a root.
Dusty, ancient wood, horehound, and sage, with viper’s bugloss, mugwort, chamomile, nettle, apple blossom, chervil, and ashes.
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