Once upon a time, a peasant maid fell in love with a woodcutter. The two would glimpse each other in the town square or other gatherings, and because each of them was shy with their feelings, it was many months before each realized that the other cared for them. As this understanding grew clearer, they began to step cautiously toward one another, like two deer meeting in a meadow for the first time.
One night while listening to musicians playing in the square, the woodcutter reached out his hand to the maid, and she found herself dancing in his arms. Everything changed for them at that moment, and their eyes could see nothing but one another, and it was clear to all that their paths would soon join.
But sometimes dreadful things happen in life to stop the wonderful moments that seem sure to come: shortly after that night in the square, the woodcutter fell terribly, desperately ill. The peasant girl was frantic, as she knew her heart could not carry on without him. She stood under a tree across the road from his home for many nights as he battled to live, for she had no proper claim to allow her by his side to nurse him. And as for him, the young wood cutter was so gravely ill that he could not even muster the words to ask for her to be brought near.
One night as she stood watch near his home, the maid saw the door open, and the young man’s sister slipped outside. She slowly crossed the road to where the maid stood and said, “It is nearly time, he will not live the night.” The maiden fell to her knees as though struck by a bolt. “He wants me to tell you that he loves you,” his sister went on. Face in her hands, the maiden replied, “I love him too. Gods, I love him too.” The sister returned to the house and closed the door, and she whispered the maiden’s words into her brother’s ear so that his last breaths were taken knowing that his beloved cherished him as he did her.
The next day dawned, and the wood cutter’s family slowly left the home, one by one, as the older women of the town arrived to wrap him in his burial shroud. Their eyes slid to the tree where the young woman still sat, all but empty of life. No one saw when she stood and stepped into the woods at her back. No one saw her follow, slipping along from tree to tree, as her love’s casket was borne into a glade in the woods that he’d loved, and his remains lowered into the earth. And no one was left to see her step toward the grave in the dusk and lay her body down upon it.
The maiden lay there weeping all through the night. Her hands clenched the freshly turned soil, and her cries were carried throughout the forest on the night’s breeze. As the night passed, the creatures of the forest grew disturbed and vexed, as her grief was so great that it could not be ignored. “Can it not be stopped?” the dryads whispered to the fauns. “I think I shall go mad,” the stag said to anyone who would listen. And so it was that word of the maiden’s grief spread through the woods and finally to the ears of a crone who lived alone in a cottage in the heart of the forest. The old witch, though possessed with great and dreadful powers, had a very tender heart and so she gathered some few spells together and tucked them within her cloak, and made her way to the new grave.
The pitiful sight of the young woman forlorn upon the earth wrenched the crone’s heart. She stepped close to the maid and laid a gentle hand upon the girl’s head. “Child,” she said. “Can it truly be so bad?” The peasant girl raised her eyes to meet those of the witch, and within them the witch saw the truth and the depth of the love that fate had denied the two young people. “It’s like that, is it?” she asked, and shook her head.
“Can you bring him back to me?” the young woman asked, for it was evident from the crone’s touch that she commanded forces unseen. “Nay,” the witch replied. “It is not given to me to raise the dead, and I tell you true that you would not know nor like what was returned to you from death’s gate.” The maiden did not reply, for the brief flare of hope she’d felt was now thoroughly extinguished. She turned back to the grave and pillowed her head upon it.
The witch stood gazing at her, watching as the maid’s tears rolled unchecked from her eyes and into the soil. “It is clear to me that you shall not be stirred from this spot, and that your soul will move no farther from here,” the witch said. “And well I know that fate does not bring happy endings to many. Some loves are too great, and few are gifted or cursed with such. For the one who remains behind then, I grant you what mercy I may. If you choose it, I will give to you a slumber of your own, though it be not death. As you sleep, your soul will find that of your young woodcutter, and the two of you shall live out your love in dreams. This is the only heaven that you will ever know.”
“It would be enough,” the maiden said. “Please, grandmother, grant me that ease. I would be with him wherever he is.” “Truly spoken,” the crone nodded. “There will be no waking for you. Your body will remain here, in these woods, and as it shall be with your love, so it will be with your body. You shall not decay, but will sleep here eternally.” The maid simply smiled and closed her eyes upon the world and all it contained.
The witch paused a moment more. Then she began to mutter, and her twisted hands shaped the air in patterns mysterious. The smile on the maiden’s face grew yet more beatific and her breath grew even and deep. The crone continued to chant and sketch with her fingers, and began to back away. Her mutterings faded into the forest with her form, and at the grave side the maiden fell into deepest sleep. Like a child’s, her lips quivered in her dreams, and for a moment her smile flared in brilliant welcome.
Before the light of dawn lit the woods, one more miracle occurred. The breezes that stirred the tops of the trees began to carry leaves and dust across the maiden where she slept upon the grave. Seeds and pollen drifted over her like a blanket, and then as days and weeks passed, her body and the grave upon which she slept were both enshrouded by the forest. The seeds cracked open and reached questing roots down through the clothes that crumbled upon her body, and they pierced her skin and drew nourishment from her. The maiden slumbered on through this, painlessly and undisturbed, blissful in her dreams. Perhaps it was the witch’s spell, or perhaps it was because they rooted inside a body that lived only on love and magic, but the seeds grew so quickly that before the season of the woodcutter’s death had turned, the tallest trees in the forest stood thickly upon and around the grave. The creatures living in the soil granted the lovers a gift as well, for they turned the earth between their bodies more quickly than ever known possible, and they devoured the coffin that held the young man’s body. The weight of the trees above pressed her down, and the maiden came to rest, wrapped within the bones of her most beloved.
And there she sleeps still, in a vast and forgotten grove of forest giants, where no human foot has stepped in the centuries since the witch cast her spell. The creatures of the woods walk there still; the stag and the doe meet in the glade and touch noses in greeting, and the songbirds fly among the branches of the pines and sing love songs to their mates. A spring has bubbled up near the base of the largest of the trees, and the ermine and the fox come to drink of its waters at night. And if it were possible for us to see as the trees see, we would see the maiden and her woodcutter, holding hands and whispering to one another of love and lost things.
(This story is the sole intellectual property of Anonyvox, a pseudonym representing the owner of this website. The story is her sole property, and no right or license is granted for its redistribution or reprinting, in part or in whole, without her express, written consent.)