Old witch of the wood
Once there was a girl, born to a loving father and mother, under an auspicious sign of the stars. She was the most fortunate girl in the world, because both of her parents adored her. Her father considered himself to be the most fortunate man in the world, because his bride, the mother of their child was an angel. Literally. Her mother considered herself the most fortunate woman in the world, because she had developed a relationship with a good man, with the means to support them comfortably, who was strong, brave, and above all else, respected; and he loved her dearly.
The girl grew quickly, and it was quickly apparent that she’d inherited her mother’s fair form and grace, as well as her father’s intelligence and kindness. Nearly all who met her were charmed by her and she flowed through life with a ready smile for anyone who chanced to meet her eyes.
Sadly, in this world, when one person is blessed so much, others less fortunate become envious. Some would try to take for themselves that spark of life and love to make it their own. The good fortune of the little family drew attention of the most dreadful sort. The eye of one whose love of self was only rivalled by his lust for the good man’s wife.
At first, the attentions of this man were pleasant and proper to the angelic wife. He would smile and greet her in the street of the village when they chanced to meet, and she would return the smile with all the glowing warmth of the sun, as she did for all who met her. The envious man grew to believe that such smiles were for him alone and plotted to spirit her away. He called upon her at a time he knew her husband would be away and her daughter playing with the other children.
When the jealous man explained his purpose to her, she was shocked and apologetic that he had misread her friendliness for something deeper.
The jealous man grew enraged at her rebuff and demanded that she give him what he felt was his due. Again, she denied the man, but her eyes grew fearful. Again, he demanded, but this time, sensing her fear, his rage grew and he took her by force. When she fought against him, he reminded her that he knew where her daughter was wont to play in the early evening and a permanent visit to the town well might be in order, the angel ceased her resistance.
Now it happened that the weather took a turn and the sun, which had been shining brightly all afternoon disappeared behind dark clouds. Raindrops, as fat as a bullfrog fell from the sky and effectively ended the workday of the fortunate man. As he approached his house, he heard sounds coming from within that had previously been reserved only for him when he and his wife had performed their respective spousal duties. He peered through the window and was shocked to find another man in bed with his wife. Broken, he turned and left, heading into town.
When he arrived, he headed for the tavern. He was greeted with surprise, as he was generally a sober man, but being a friendly one as well was immediately welcomed and provided with drink and a bit of bread and cheese. He stayed most of the day, until his daughter came looking for him, at her mother’s behest.
He staggered home, and his daughter was confused by this behavior. She knew nothing of what had transpired that day, only that her mother seemed tense and now her father was acting strangely as well. When they arrived, dinner was waiting, as usual, and the hearth fire was warming their little cottage. Dinner was an unusually somber affair and afterward, the girl prepared for bed without speaking much more than her parents.
The angel did her best to pretend that nothing had happened. After all, why hurt her husband with the news that she had been violated? The fortunate, or perhaps no longer so fortunate, man said nothing to his wife and allowed his anger to fester, wordless, growing with the passage of time. Their relationship never recovered.
From time to time, the jealous man returned and perpetrated his heinous crime upon her again. Her husband knew, but continued to say nothing, never realizing that it was within his power to stop it all, that his wife silently prayed that he would realize the truth and act. And so in this way, the darkness that began within the heart of the jealous man was spread like a cancer to the fortunate family, and from them to the rest of the village.
Several years passed and the daughter discovered a talent for healing. She was an accomplished apothecary, midwife and physicker. As she grew into a woman, her knowledge and expertise, in addition to her ready charm and wit made her very popular among the people of her village. She became so popular, in fact, that it became nigh impossible for her to simply walk down the street to the market to purchase some cheese, owing to the many times she would be stopped by her people to discuss their ailments.
As she matured, she began to see patterns emerging in the ailments that she treated. Bruises once explained as minor falls, she began to recognize as the signs of abuse. Fake smiles plastered onto faces hid depression and desperation. It was as if the entire town was without true cheer; even her own heart was bereft of it.
The weight of her burden of knowledge grew and grew, until one day she decided she’d had enough of never taking care of herself. She was tired of being awoken in the small hours to rush to the bedside of a gravid woman, her time of delivery having come. Her cheerfulness was exhausted at the merest thought of certain of her more recalcitrant patients. Truly, she no longer thought of the villagers as her people or her friends. All were simply patients, and with that, they became a burden rather than a joy.
And so, in frustrated agony, she trampled her way out into the Boarwood one bright afternoon. Deep into the forest she tracked, following the elusive shadows that dampened the mottled sunlight. When finally, exhausted, she fell to her knees beside a large rock, offering shelter, shade and a seat to rest, she implored the sky, “Why must I continue this way? When may I rest and where can I hide myself from the ever-present neediness of others?”
And a voice, silent as a whisper spoke to her, “Within the shadows, child.”
Startled, she implored again, but received no response. She cried out, begging for a place of rest. Her eyes closed and she fell into a fitful slumber.
When she awoke, it was to the scent of a venison stew, simmering above a fire. She heard the rhythmic thump of an axe, cleaving its way through logs of firewood and the swish of a straw broom being swept across a wood plank floor. Wind chimes tinkled softly with the wind. She opened her eyes to find herself where she’d last remembered being, but the place had changed. Beneath the boulder was now a small cottage, replete with the sounds and smells of everyday life. A small garden of herbs and vegetables grew at the other side of the house and beneath the shadow of the trees was a small mushroom garden as well.
Curious, she stepped inside the cottage’s open door. Despite the fire in the hearth, with was very dimly lit within. She was amazed to see that housework was being done without a soul to do it. The pot of bubbling stew was being stirred by a spoon, moving of its own volition. The broom she’d heard earlier floated through its work with nary a hand to hold it. Her gasp of surprise caused the bustle to cease. A sibilant voice whispered to her, seemingly from a place on her shoulder, to come in and make herself comfortable and would she like some tea?
She nodded and sat, her shock causing her to stare in wonder until her eyes alighted on the tea kettle, floating from a hook over the hearth toward the table. The rest of the tea service floated from an open hutch to rest around the kettle, and immediately, the kettle rose to fill the cups. Several times, she began to stammer something, but could produce no coherent sound.
Finally, her tea was set before her and she spooned a dollop of honey into it. Without her permission, her hand replaced the spoon, taking a small amount of the honey out again and began to smear it across her eyelids. Surprised, she cried out, but a moment or two later, she opened her eyes and to her very great surprise, she found that rather than floating household goods, there were now floating tiny people carrying those goods.
As she recognized what could only be fairies, she realized each of them was a shade of gray, even their clothing. The voice whispered to her again, offering her sanctuary. It told her of the privacy of this cottage, how it could only be seen by those blessed with faerie sight or those truly desperate, as she had been. It told her how this place needed a new master, and would lead to a peaceful, quiet and easy life, away from the burden of people and their constant need, away from the pain of her parents’ quiet neglect and resentment.
When she asked why she should be chosen to be the new mistress of the hidden house, the voice told her of its own need. A need for its home to be tended and cared for, for it to be loved and embraced. The girl asked the owner of the voice to appear, that she may meet it and greet it properly and perhaps even offer the embrace so desired.
The voice answered that it would now appear and faster than thought, what little light had been contained within the cottage was snuffed out and she was left in utter darkness. The voice announced that this was its true form, a darkness that held light at bay. Within this darkness was solitude and safety, but also fear and misunderstanding. The people of her village would no longer befriend her, for they would not understand her decision to live her days out here.
In the way of a young person, whose heart holds desperation, she accepted immediately. A voice resonated, “The bargain is struck.”
At once, her eyes adjusted and it seemed that although there was no color, she could see everything within her new home clearly.
She has lived there for years.
And the moral of the story is: Seek her only in your greatest desperation. She shall appear for you otherwise.