None who looked down the lane failed to notice the procession. In the blowing snow, perhaps the mourners themselves were a bit less obvious, the white of their robes against the whiteness of winter, the people made visible mostly my glimpses of hair or skin. If the robes had been all they’d had, they would have been easy to miss indeed.

The quartet of bearers at the procession’s heart, however, seized any eyes that drifted their way, carrying a litter on which lay a form wrapped in a bright red shawl.

Tasks were set aside, hats plucked off heads and held over hearts, as the white-robed column filed by. In front, the priests chanted, one among them swinging a censer. Behind the litter came the rest of the mourners – a half-dozen, outnumbered by the formal procession, and some among them would be the devout who mourned every passing.

For a red shroud to be attended by so few… it was a bewildering sight. There was a question on everyone’s lips who saw it, yet none dared speak over the soft chanting.

Step by measured step, the procession moved on out of the village, the tracks they left behind already being assailed by the wind and snow. Even through the weather, the red shroud was a beacon. All watched as the bearers went into the graveyard, and then, not into any family mausoleum, but vanishing into the Crypt of the Nameless.

Tasks forgotten, snow unheeded, the people gathered around the outside of that crypt, listening to the chanting within, cutting through the wind. Still none other dared to speak, to disturb the rite.

Then those who had gone into the crypt began to emerge, one by one. First came the mourners, their faces unseen, their expressions unknowable. Then the bearers, hands tucked into opposite sleeves, heads bowed. Finally the priests came out from below, their iron masks blank of expression as always, all three silent now; and still none of the observers dared to speak.

The last of the priests swung the censer a few times in the doorway, then pulled the doors shut, lowered the bar, and locked it in place. Bending down, that figure in white laid something at the foot of the arch on one side, then the other, and then rose and stepped back. The three of them faced the portal, heads bowed, hands clasped.

From the snow at the feet of the arch, green emerged, snaking over the snow-dusted stone. Thorns sprouted along the length of the clinging vines as they grew and spread, the thorn-tips red as though stained by blood. The vines grew until they were twining together at the peak of the arch, and still they spread thicker, until stems and leaves and buds obscured most of the stone.

And then, with a faint hum in the air as though a deep bell had tolled and was fading to silence, the buds burst open, petals spreading in defiance of the winter. The priests turned to go, leaving, behind them, the entrance to the Crypt of the Nameless now blanketed by blooming roses, red for shed blood.

Red for a life given in love for a village that didn’t even know the giver’s name.