In the first golden weeks of autumn, when las monarcas descended into el Valle from the mortal world, Elvira finished her weaving as quickly as she could. She put down her shuttle and spent a moment stretching stiff limbs, relishing the heat of afternoon on her brown arms and light cotton dress after a long misty morning.
Then she stood, closed her eyes, and ran.
The path to the pine grove was carved in her muscles, in her heart. Never once did she open her eyes as she ran, trusting the sun-warmed earth and dry needles beneath her bare feet to guide her. Cooler air against her flushed cheeks and bare arms meant she was close; when pine fragrance bit the crisp air, she knew had reached the heart of the grove.
There she stopped.
She opened her eyes.
Butterflies covered the trunks of the pines, thick as serpent scales, their plumage ruddy as sunsets after a storm. The trunks quivered like the hides of living beasts, rippling and trembling with thousands of brilliant wings.
Every autumn, Elvira begged her older sister Rosa to come with her to see las monarcas. Rosa was the undisputed head of their little family of two, the one who taught Elvira to weave and kept her warm at night when clammy mists descended into el Valle. Elvira yearned to share the wonder of racing blind into pine grove with her. Perhaps it would soften the frown that so often creased Rosa’s face. Perhaps then Elvira would feel that she was looking after Rosa as Rosa looked after her.
But Rosa refused. She remembered a time before el Valle, faces and stories that were strangers to Elvira. She remembered a legend of how las monarcas were the spirits of mortals who had passed on from the mortal world, who stopped in el Valle to rest in the middle of their long migration. When they left el Valle, they would soar over the volcanoes that ringed the valley and across la tierra negra beyond to paradise.
“They come. They leave. And we stay here.” The finality in Rosa’s voice was as brittle as dried pine needles.
So Elvira wandered the pine grove alone. She tilted her face up, drinking in the thousands of monarcas as they rose from the trees in waves. Their wings thickened the air, brushing Elvira’s cheeks and arms soft as breathing as they soared past her, past the crowns of the pines into the azure sky.
The passing of time changed neither Elvira nor Rosa in el Valle. It was one of those gods-touched places that was neither here nor there, a narrow, soft-earthed valley with a stream flowing from the north and carving its way lazily south, past a cave where the girls slept, and a clearing where they wove. In the clearing grew twin young pines, their slim bodies bound by the ropes of backstrap looms. Between the pines sat a large obsidian bowl, gleaming with the seamless silky black of a blessing from the underworld.
Every morning the xolotl, a squat hairless spirit dog, shepherded a new flock of souls to the sisters and left them folded neatly as linens in the obsidian bowl. And every day the girls knelt before the pines, fastened the end of their looms around their waists and lower backs, and began their work: the weaving of these damned mortal souls into aguamiel, the ambrosia of the gods.
The weaving of souls was entrusted to only the most skilled and delicate of weavers, for souls would shatter beneath the heavy hands of gods. With deft fingers, Elvira and Rosa plucked feathersoft souls from the bowl and spun them, whispering spells taught to them by their master, the goddess Mayahuel, to silence their cries.
Sometimes the souls spun quietly, for they were tired and resigned to their fate as they stretched and transformed into golden thread. Others wept, crying out names or prayers to gods unknown to Elvira. When these souls passed through her hands, their sorrow warm against her calloused fingertips, Elvira silenced them as quickly as she could.
Once their spools were heavy with silk thread, golden as sunrises, the sisters wove. Only the rhythmic pass of the shuttle and steady breathing broke the silence of the clearing until Mayahuel arrived to collect the golden cloth of aguamiel.
Mayahuel was a quiet goddess, but that did not mean she was kind. She moved slow as honey as she entered the sisters’ clearing, her rich yellow skin luminous as that of a golden idol. Her smiles for the sisters were cold, her painted teeth gleaming like a jaguar’s after the kill. Her jet hair was crowned with a diadem of maguey agave thorns, her lips and teeth reddened with dye in the way of the women of Xochitlycacan, the city of the gods.
Mayahuel trusted no one but herself to carry the aguamiel to paradise. The sisters watched as she left el Valle by an unseen path, crossing la tierra negra. Once in Xochitlycacan, Mayahuel unfolded the cloth of woven souls and willed it with her magic to melt, to pour as amber liquid into the obsidian goblets of her brothers and sisters.
Under no circumstances were the girls to try to do so themselves, or even to try putting the aguamiel cloth in their mouths. Mayahuel warned them sternly that aguamiel was poison to mortals, and she would not mourn her slaves if they proved themselves stupid.
Rosa was convinced Mayahuel was lying to them. But then again, Rosa loathed her.
As it was with many things, Elvira knew this was because Rosa remembered a time before they were slaves of Mayahuel, endlessly weaving souls with their spider-like fingers. It didn’t matter how many nights Rosa spent telling her stories of grandmothers and cousins and the smell of rice browning. Elvira could not remember.
Sometimes she tried to imagine what a grandmother looked like as Rosa tucked her beneath wool blankets in their cave at night. Did a grandmother have white hair like her and Rosa, spider-silk plaited into two long braids down her back? Was a grandmother like Rosa, delicate as spun sugar in the sunlight and hard as coal inside?
But then she would look through the mouth of the cave at the night sky, at the brilliant diamonds glittering in the raiment of Tezcatlipoca, the god of night, and remember she was content with their existence in el Valle. Content to dream of butterflies.
Rosa was not.
One morning as they wove, Rosa broke the silence between them.
“You should listen to them.”
Elvira froze. She glanced over her shoulder at Rosa’s turned back. Her sister’s hair gleamed bright as Popocatépetl’s peak in the sunlight as she passed the shuttle back and forth, rhythmic as the burble of the stream. Had Elvira imagined her speaking?
“To the souls.” Rosa did not turn her head as she spoke, nor did she cease her weaving. “They want to be heard.”
The skin of Elvira’s arms prickled. She glanced down. Every hair on her forearms stood on end.
She turned her back on Rosa, and lifted the shuttle to resume weaving.
Instead she paused, and stared at the thread winking in the sunlight. At the geometric pattern she had woven into the aguamiel. How many cries were bound into each golden knot?
How many people?
She clenched her jaw and thrust the shuttle through the next row. These souls were damned. Their purpose was to be turned into aguamiel, to be sustenance for the gods. She wouldn’t listen to them.
That was what she told herself.
Deep in her bones, she knew she couldn’t listen. Perhaps Rosa could, because Rosa remembered cumino and the names of aunts and stories about monarcas, but she couldn’t. Even those brief moments the souls’ cries brushed her fingertips before she spun them into gold were enough to make her heart race in fear.
But fear of what?
She pushed the thoughts from her head and wove hard.
Later, Mayahuel scolded her.
“Stupid child!” she snapped, shaking the cloth in one balled fist before Elvira’s face. She threw it on the ground, and slapped Elvira’s cheek. The force of her immortal strength snatched the breath from Elvira’s lungs as she staggered to keep from falling. “You ruined it. Now fix it.”
Rosa glared at Mayahuel’s back, her black eyes flinty with loathing.
Though her face stung, burning from the goddess’s hand and humiliation, Elvira hoped Rosa would not overreact—after all, the goddess was right. The rest of that day’s weaving was tighter than the beginning of the cloth, and its edges curled in on themselves. Such imperfect cloth would not melt and pour when Mayahuel’s magic willed it to. So she stayed in the clearing long after the goddess left for Xochitlycacan, unravelling the ruined cloth and beginning again.
Elvira’s hopes were in vain.
The next day she finished her work earlier than Rosa, and raced blind to the pine grove. Though the trunks were bare of carpets of butterflies, she brushed her calloused fingertips over fragrant bark to remind herself they would be back soon.
A shriek shattered the the grove. Elvira froze, her heart in her throat.
Another shriek, but this one stretched longer, echoing through el Valle—until it broke with a sob. And another.
That was Rosa.
She sprinted through the pines, ignoring the branches whipping her arms and the stones cutting the soles of her feet.
Lungs burning, heart racing, she reached the clearing. Rosa knelt next to the obsidian bowl, cradling her hands in her lap, her cheeks slicked with tears. Mayahuel stood over her. Neither girl nor goddess acknowledged Elvira as she ran forward, then stopped short with a gasp.
Rosa’s fingers bent in all the wrong places. They were broken, all of them.
Mayahuel whirled on Elvira, her face a mask of rage. She held up a small piece of gold—no, it was cloth. A small piece of aguamiel cloth about the size of Elvira’s palm.
“There is no greater folly than stealing from the gods.” Mayahuel’s voice was soft, but soft in the way of the underbellies of snakes. Her dyed teeth glinted in the sun. “Consider it a boon I did not kill her.”
The goddess tucked the piece of cloth in the waistband of her robes, and cooly ignored Rosa’s sobs as she collected the rest of the aguamiel cloth. She straightened, an impassive expression settling on her strong-featured face, and swept past Elvira without so much as another glance.
A moment later she was gone.
Elvira stumbled forward and fell to her knees at Rosa’s side. Her head spun with smell of salt, of tears and sweat and Rosa’s sun-warmed hair. She kept her eyes on her sister’s face, not daring to look at her ruined fingers.
“What happened?” she whispered.
Rosa lifted her chin. Her eyes were puffy and red.
They burned with hatred.
“I wove a piece for us.” Her voice was thick from crying, but steady. Steady and cold and so determined that fear seeped into Elvira’s bones.
“They get their immortality from it, I know they do.” Rosa’s breathing came in sharp gasps as she fought to keep from crying. “I know it. If we are damned to be here forever, then I think we should be as strong and powerful as them. I think—”
“But she could have killed you!” Elvira cried. Now she looked down at Rosa’s hands, and felt bile claw at the back of her throat. “How could you be so selfish! What if she had killed us both?”
One look at Rosa’s hard face was all Elvira needed to know that she had thought of this, and it had not swayed her.
Elvira pushed herself upright.
“You deserve this for being so selfish,” she said. “Mayahuel is right. It’s folly to steal from the gods when they have given us so much.”
Rosa lifted her chin, looked Elvira in the eye, and said nothing.
Proud, stupid Rosa. Elvira was glad for the anger she felt, for how its heat smothered the fear in her gut.
She turned and stormed into the forest. When she returned, she came with fistfuls of strong sticks. She unraveled part of one of their wool blankets for thread, and bit the inside of her cheek as she bound Rosa’s ruined hands.
Splayed-fingered as a frog, Rosa could not weave for weeks as her hands healed.
The xolotl clicked its tongue when it saw the damage. “Will you be able to keep up with Mayahuel’s demands on your own?” it asked Elvira.
Elvira resisted the urge to look at Rosa for approval before responding to the squat spirit. She held her head high and took the first new soul from the obsidian bowl, ignoring its cries. “I’ve always been the better weaver.” It was a lie. She willed her voice not to betray her as she silenced the soul with a spell. “I can manage.”
The xolotl cackled, raspy and dry. “Ay, que orgullosa eres. Don’t anger her again, girl.”
“We won’t,” Elvira said. She felt Rosa’s gaze on her face as she reached for the next soul, but kept her attention on the xolotl. “We’ve learned our lesson.”
She wove from dawn to dusk to keep up with each daily delivery of souls. Rosa stayed in the cave, her back turned to the clearing as Mayahuel arrived, stony and silent, collected the aguamiel, and departed. She exchanged few words with Elvira, never sang or told stories, and stayed in the shadows of the cave as her hands healed.
Elvira should have resented her. And for the first few days of double the work, she did. She composed long arguments with Rosa in her head as the shuttle raced back and forth, as her legs went stiff from sitting with the loom tied around her waist and lower back. Arguments where she eloquently defended Mayahuel’s actions as just punishment and silenced her sister’s fiery temper at last.
But then, as she lay one night beneath their shared blankets, lulled to the brink of sleep by the crickets in the clearing, she felt Rosa’s back shudder against hers. Heard her sister sniff once, then twice, before falling silent again.
She inched closer to her sister. One breath, then two, and their exhales slid one into the other, graceful as dancers as they led the girls into the land of dreams.
Rosa’s hands healed imperfectly, but Elvira helped her relearn how to spin with crooked fingers. From that time on, Rosa spun all the souls into thread, and Elvira strapped the loom to her back to weave. Thus divided, their work went quickly. Perhaps Rosa was the superior weaver before angering Mayahuel, but now Elvira’s long, steady fingers flew deft and confident across the cloth. She had always loathed silencing the souls, and though she never told Rosa, she was grateful to be free of the task of spinning.
Slowly, stories returned to Rosa. She laughed less, and never sang, but Elvira was hopeful that soon Rosa would return to her brash self. Soon her bright voice would soar above the pines, the monarcas would return, and all would once again be well in el Valle. As it had been, as it would always be.
Elvira’s hopes were, once again, in vain.
She realized this when the xolotl appeared unannounced one afternoon in the clearing, panting.
“What did you do?” it wheezed. “What in the name of Quetzalcoatl’s hideous feathers did you do?”
Elvira stumbled, then caught herself. Her arms were full of blankets, freshly washed and heavy with cold stream water. Mayahuel had come and gone for the day; the long warm afternoons were for chores and stretching her stiff back and legs. They had plenty of thread for the next day’s weaving, so there was no reason why the xolotl should return. “What are you talking about?”
Rosa was too quiet, too steady, as she took the top blanket from the pile in Elvira’s arms and spread it out on a sun-drenched stone to dry. Elvira’s stomach soured, twisting with anxiety even before the xolotl spoke.
“I warned you not to anger her!” it barked. “Today she brought the cloth to Xochitlycacan. She melted it into the serving goblet as usual, but when she went to pour the aguamiel into the obsidian cup of Tezcatlipoca, it screamed.”
Elvira’s jaw dropped. Rosa took the last blanket from her arms, but the chill from the wet wool did not lift from her body, even in the afternoon sun.
“The aguamiel was screaming,” the xolotl cried. “The halls of Xochitlycacan echoed with it—the screams and cries of mortals, and weeping. Children weeping!” It shook its head vigorously, as if to clear it from the memory.
The gooseflesh rippled up Elvira’s arms. She turned to her sister.
Rosa’s face was stony, her jaw set.
“You did that!” Elvira cried. “I know it was you. It must have been you. How did you do it?”
Rosa said nothing.
“I can’t believe you.” Elvira’s heart raced now. “Why would you do that?”
She thought of how white Rosa’s face went beneath her tan as Elvira bound each mangled finger between stiff twigs to heal. What punishment would Mayahuel dole out next? Trick a god once, and they may forget the insult, but trick them twice…
“They should know our suffering.” Venom stung the air when Rosa spoke at last.
“They will know your suffering,” the xolotl cried. “Mayahuel is on my heels. Gods help you, wretched girls.”
It vanished into thin air with a sharp crack.
Elvira turned to Rosa, opened her mouth to speak…but it was already too late.
Mayahuel descended on el Valle like a storm cloud, thundering and heavy with unshed rage. Other gods followed followed in her wake. Dark Tezcatlipoca, god of night and sorcery, appeared at her right. His face was painted with thick stripes of ceremonial black, his diadem an obsidian mirror reflecting the shadows and smoke of the underworld. In his hand he carried an obsidian spear, the base of the blade adorned with a train of his brother Quetzalcoatl’s long emerald feathers. At her left strode Xipe Totec, the burnished-skin god of gold, his skirt—made of flayed human skin—swaying with each step.
To the girls’ left, glimmering Chalchiuhtlicue rose from the stream bed, her jade skirts dripping water. Her bottomless eyes fixed on the girls as she poured hungrily into the clearing.
Elvira grabbed Rosa’s hand. Rosa gasped in pain; Elvira loosened her grip. She fought the urge to step back, to turn and flee as her thundering heart begged her to do. It was no use. There was no running, no hiding.
They were cornered.
Mayahuel pointed one long finger at Rosa as she glided across the clearing, devouring the space between her and the girls.
“You,” she whispered.
Elvira’s heart throbbed in her throat. She stared at Mayahuel, but all she could see were Rosa’s shattered fingers, all she could hear was Rosa’s lullabies, Rosa’s laughter, filling el Valle with the same lilting waves as butterflies rising from the pines.
She whispered a silencing spell. And then she spoke.
“It was me.” She jutted her chin forward, feigning Rosa’s insolence, Rosa’s hubris.
Every pair of eyes in the clearing, mortal and immortal, snapped to her.
Rosa opened her mouth to speak—but no words came out.
It was a guess, a shot in the dark, but Elvira was right: the spells to silence the dead worked on once-mortal weavers as well.
Mayahuel blinked in surprise, but recovered with the speed of a predator. “You,” she repeated. “How dare you—”
“How dare I be a better weaver than you?” Was it fear or anger that loosened Elvira’s tongue? She barely recognized the voice that rang through the clearing. She kept her eyes on the maguey thorns of Mayahuel’s diadem, too cowardly to lower her gaze reddened teeth. “Did I embarrass you before your sisters and brothers? You boast that you are the inventor of weaving, but your hands are too heavy and clumsy to make aguamiel yourself. You know as well as I how difficult it is to silence the souls with magic, yet not only do I do it every day, I’ve now spun spells into the aguamiel to release their cries when I command them to. You’re not angry because mortals humiliated you, you’re angry because mortals bested you.”
Mayahuel’s lips paled beneath their dye, tightening in anger.
“Did we come here to listen to you be mocked by mortals or for blood?” Xipe Totec’s human-flesh skirt swung as he shifted his weight impatiently.
“I tire of your games, Mayahuel.” Tezcatlipoca’s voice was the growl of a jaguar, velvet, dark, and deep as it rippled through Elvira’s bones. She was suddenly aware of how clammy her palms were; how despite the pain, Rosa clutched her hand so tight her fingertips had begun to tingle.
“Decide on a punishment,” Tezcatlipoca ordered his sister. “And let us be done with this.”
Visions of Rosa weeping in the clearing, fingers shattered, flashed through Elvira’s mind.
Mayahuel opened her mouth to reply, but Elvira spoke over her, words springing to her tongue before she could think them through.
“Why don’t we see who is the better weaver, once and for all?” she said. Her lifted chin was a challenge, but the haughtiness of the gesture was hollow. Terror coiled her belly as her racing heart beat the time of each silent passing second.
Defying the gods meant nothing but trouble.
What had she done?
“A duel?” Chalchiuhtlicue burbled, curiosity blooming in her hungry eyes. The water dripping from her jade skirts had formed a pool around her feet, and she stood ankle deep in water.
“A duel,” Elvira repeated quickly, keeping her eyes on Mayahuel’s diadem. If there was one thing she learned from Rosa’s stories about the gods, it was that the only things they loved more than obsidian and gold were duels and wagers. Aguamiel was ambrosia of the gods, but sport was their sustenance. “The winner will be she who weaves the most beautiful cloth. If Mayahuel wins, she can do whatever she wishes to me. But if I win, you must return us to our home in the mortal world.”
Whatever that was, wherever that was. The thought of leaving the pine grove and las monarcas filled Elvira with dread so heavy and ancient she felt she could sink into the ground. El Valle was all she knew, all she could remember.
But Rosa could not stay here.
For Rosa, Elvira would to fight to leave.
So as Mayahuel’s siblings began their own round of mockery of their younger sister, Elvira pried her hand from Rosa’s and walked on trembling legs to her loom. She lowered herself to the ground as steadily as she could, and, summoning every ounce of courage in her gut, cast a haughty look over her shoulder at the gods.
“Do we have a bargain?”
Mayahuel narrowed her eyes. She glanced to her siblings and back to Elvira, then sauntered over to the second loom—left unused since Rosa’s punishment.
“Bring me thread,” she snapped at Rosa, not bothering to look her way as she lowered herself to her knees and fastened the loom to her waist. Rosa obeyed, meekly keeping her eyes on the earth as she handed Mayahuel the spool and a shuttle. She retreated, hovering near Elvira’s loom.
“Brother, we will begin at your word,” Mayahuel said, tossing her jet hair over her shoulder.
Elvira picked up the shuttle. Her pulse thundered in her ears.
“Then begin,” Tezcatlipoca commanded.
For a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, Elvira stared at the shuttle in her right hand. She didn’t know how to weave beautiful images into aguamiel. She spent her says weaving common geometric shapes, never thinking of their beauty—for would they not be melted by Mayahuel and poured gleaming into goblets anyway?
A warm hand settled on her shoulder—a hand with crooked fingers. Elvira looked up. Rosa’s dark eyes burned, and though she could not speak because of the spell, Elvira knew precisely what she wanted to say:
Elvira inhaled deeply, took the spool of thread in her left hand, and began. Inch by inch, as the shuttle flew and thread fed into the cloth, she untangled the spells silencing the souls of the dead.
And she listened.
Hours later, Tezcatlipoca’s voice broke the silence in the clearing. “The duel is finished.”
Elvira jumped. So engrossed was she in her work she had not noticed how the sun slipped down to the mountains west of el Valle, how the shadows grew long and violet.
She rolled her stiff shoulders and stood. Uneasiness pooled in her stomach as she and Mayahuel removed the cloth from the looms, rolled them to conceal the patterns, and met in the center of the clearing before Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, and Chalchiuhtlicue.
“Show us first, sister,” Chalchiuhtlicue cooed. “For the mortal was the challenger. Show us!”
With a confident grin, Mayahuel threw her shoulders back and obliged her sister. Color burst forth as her cloth unrolled, filling the clearing with light. Mayahuel had used her godly arts to dye her woven depiction of the city of the gods heavenly hues: the bright pearl pyramids of Xochitlycacan soared above the emerald islands in the great lake, which gleamed jade as Chalchiuhtlicue’s skirts. She had woven the gods’ brilliant feathers, their glimmering ruby scales, their jaguar pelts, velvet as night past moonset. A portrait of Tezcatlipoca dominated the scene, his obsidian mirrors and topaz eyes gleaming in the deepening sunset.
Chalchiuhtlicue gasped; Xipe Totec nodded his head in approval. Tezcatlipoca, vain as any of them, tilted his head to one side. A smug smile twitched his painted face.
“And the mortal’s cloth?” he wondered.
Mouth too dry to speak, Elvira nodded to Rosa, who walked to her side. They met eyes for only a moment. The sun was setting behind Rosa’s head, crowning her pearly hair with an ethereal halo.
Elvira unrolled the cloth.
She did not have Mayahuel’s magic, and there was no color in the cloth but the gold of aguamiel. But each soul taught Elvira their song as they passed through her deft fingers, guided her hands as she wove their memories into the cloth: their children, their grandmothers, their ranchos, their rebozos, their long plaits, black and gray and white. Elvira listened as the souls sang memories of their gardens, their birds of paradise and humble agave, and wove the smells of the cinnamon in their cafe de ollá and the cumino of their mothers’ kitchens into the aguamiel. She wove the sounds of bags on backs, filled with a life’s possessions, the determination of cracked feet, of worn soles, as they took one step and then another, paso a paso, across dry red earth to the north. A sharp note of grief cleaved twilight at the memory of the north: the final cry of so many souls, the sorrow of separation without hope of reunion.
They should hear our suffering, Rosa had said.
But the gods should hear their joy, too. So Elvira saved the smells of grandmothers’ soft skin for the end, and with a row of tight knots, finished the piece.
The gods looked on in silence. Even the stream and the wind were still; not a drop of water spilled from Chalchiuhtlicue’s weeping skirt.
Lips trembling, Elvira untied the spell that bound her sister’s tongue.
“You remember?” Rosa’s voice was barely above a whisper. Her dark eyes shone wet.
Elvira shook her head. “But I listened.”
Then Rosa’s face changed; she took the cloth and ripped it. Ripped it again into smaller pieces.
“Stop them!” Mayahuel shrieked, and casting her own cloth on the ground, leaped toward the girls.
Something soft pressed against Elvira’s lips.
“Take it!” Rosa cried.
She opened her mouth, and bit. The softness dissolved on her tongue like sugar—
Elvira looked at Rosa just as her sister shoved a piece of the aguamiel into her own mouth with crooked fingers. Feral victory broke across her face as Mayahuel descended on her with Tezcatlipoca’s spear—
Rosa was right about the aguamiel. Mayahuel had lied to the girls. Aguamiel was not poison to mortals at all, it gave them eternal life..
But Rosa was also wrong: though it gave life, aguamiel could not ensure the eternal perseverance of mortal bodies, especially not those met with a god’s obsidian blade.
When the xolotl came to el Valle the next morning, it found the remains of Mayahuel’s final punishment. Elvira and Rosa’s immortal souls called to him from the clearing, soft and pleading as fingers of mist. The xolotl approached, curiously at first, hopeful—then its paws sank into damp earth, and its quivering nose tasted the iron soaking the soil.
There was no hope for their mortal bodies, that the xolotl knew for sure. But what of their immortal souls?
It sniffed the air. Far beyond el Valle, crispness crept into the air of the mortal world. And with autumn came las monarcas.
In a few minutes, the xolotl’s work was done.
It sat back on its haunches and sighed as two butterflies rose from the clearing. It watched as they lifted into the sky and glided lazily towards the pines.