Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Witches and Strawberries - Part 1

Strawberries and a pear by Antoine Vollon. Painting at Manchester Art Gallery.

There were once three witches who were sisters: The Witch of the Golden Mountain, The Iron Witch and the Witch of the Deep Savage Forest. Now not far from the Deep Savage Forest there lived with their old mother, three daughters. The two elder girls were crosspatches, but the youngest was charming and beautiful and for these reasons the two crosspatches hated their little sister. Their mother did not hesitate to get her amusement by setting her daughters at each other. She called the little Strawberry for she was so pretty and so sweet.

Well it happened as it must. One winter the old woman died and left the little cottage to her three daughters. The two older crosspatches saw their chance and took it. They plagued their little sister until she wept. Then the eldest daughter told her,

"We want strawberries for supper. Go and fetch them from the forest."

The little sister pointed out that it was winter and strawberries did not grow in winter. The oldest sister knew it but out of sheer spite pushed the little sister out of the cottage into the snow and told her,

"I don't care for your excuses. Come back with strawberries. If you don't find strawberries then don't come back at all!"

Then the door was slammed shut and the little sister, for shelter from the cold wind walked into the forest through the snow. The cold gnawed at her and clawed at her, but wrapping her arms about herself she trudged into the trees.

Now in the forest there were wolves with eyes like fire, bears with huge paws and sickles for claws. There were foxes who would hunt you and crows who would peck out your eyes and eat you alive. Or so she had once been told when she was a very little girl. So you may imagine how frightened she was as she entered the wood. The trees were tall dark columns that towered over her. Branches seemed to reach out to pinch her arms and to snatch at her thin dress as if they would tear her into morsels. But still she wandered on stepping cautiously between the trees. Above her in the trees black crows cackled together, for they saw that she was heading unknowingly towards the house of the Witch of the Deep Savage forest. One of the crows cawed down to her, jeeringly.

"Whither do you go in the Deep Savage forest nestling? When you freeze, you will die."

The little sister shivered but gazed up at the crows and said softly, so that they had to strain to hear her,

"Please my lord Crow, I am looking for strawberries, for if I don't find any my sisters will not let me go back home."

The crows cackled briefly at the thought of strawberries in winter, yet the little sister seemed so beautiful and so ethereal and had spoken so politely to them, which was more than most people ever did that they felt their small hearts beat with pity for her. Then the crow who had questioned her, shook himself to free his beady, glittering eyes from the tears. Three of his feathers fell like soft black shards of snow. In the magic forest, as soon as they touched the little sister's shoulders they spread about her and became a cloak of feathers. She thanked the crow very much and curtseyed before pulling the cloak about her small body. The crows huddled together and murmured at the cruelty of the humans upon their own.

The little sister trudged on wearily until a fox came out of the trees and licked his lips hungrily at the sight of her. She gave a little cry of terror and drew the crow cloak about her. Then pulling herself together with some effort she said,

"Please Lord Fox, I am looking for winter strawberries."

"Absurd child," the fox answered, sitting and curling his bushy tail about his paws, "There are no strawberries in winter."

The little sister sobbed helplessly then.

"I know, I know, but if I don't find any strawberries I cannot go home for my sisters will not let me in," she said so sadly that even the fox was moved to tears.

Even I would not let my fellow cubs die like this, he thought to himself. He shook his head in disbelief at such cruelty and to remove the tears from his eyes. Standing he shook his tail and three hairs flew from it upon the little sister's bare feet. The magic of the forest transformed the hairs as they landed upon the little sister's feet and became warm boots. She would have hugged the fox for such kindness, but he was so wild that instead she thanked him and curtseyed. The fox told her to be careful for the wolves would find her and they were more pitiless than he. She thanked him again and said she would try. The fox sighed and leapt away into the shadows, only the white tip of his brush just seen as he went.

The little sister trudged on until she came to a small clearing. It looked so wild that she was about to turn away when a large bear came from behind her and pushed her to the ground. She was so frightened that she could only cry out,

"Lord Bear please help me to find strawberries."

"Strawberries?" the bear growled, "What nonsense. Strawberries don't grow in winter, every cub knows that."

He took her up in his huge paws and thought her barely a mouthful.

"My lord, my sisters will not let me come back home unless I bring strawberries," the little sister told him.

"They are foolish cubs then," the bear replied.

The little sister was too polite to answer that, but she agreed completely in her own mind. The bear harrumphed and snuffled then. He did not like to tear her to pieces for his dinner when she already had such foolish cubs for sisters. Instead, he hugged her as if she were a cub of his own and told her to be very careful in the forest.

"The wolves must have smelled you by now and there is a witch in the wood. Little one you are in the wrong place for one without claws and sharp teeth," he told her.

Still he could help and he did. He wrapped her in his own fur until she smelled of bear before putting her back down on the ground. Then he patted her gently and sent her on her way. She thanked him kindly and curtseyed. He watched her for a little while as she went off through the trees and shook his great head.

"Poor pretty cub," he said to himself mournfully.

The little sister continued on her way, heading, tho' she did not know it, towards the witch's house. She stopped for a moment when she heard a long mournful howl in the distance. Then fear caught her in his great jaws and shook her like a boat in a storm. She fled, she knew not where in her terror and around her the forest seemed to hold it's breath. It was as if a wind passed through the forest. As if all the little birds hid their heads for fear. Then the howl was closer and there was a sound like many fallen leaves being blown along the ground. Among the trees then, the little sister saw what appeared to be a multitude of fiery lights - as if Hell were empty and all the devils were there with her. Almost as if they had grown up out of the ground around her, the wolves were suddenly there. Their glowing eyes seemed to burn through her to her very fear. They snarled at each other and licked their ravening jaws and wondered at who should get the choicest morsels.

The little sister cried out to them as if it were her last words,

"Please Lord Wolves, I am looking for some strawberries or my sisters won't let me come home."

The leader of the wolves stood forward then and there was a wicked look upon his face. He did not think she would make much of a meal for his pack, but she would do. Still, at the mention of sisters he paused.

"And where are these sisters little cub?" he asked her softly.

"They live in a castle Lord Wolf at the edge of the forest," she answered, for if she was no fool, she was not cruel either and would not point the wolves to her cruel sisters cottage.

The wolves gathered and wondered what to do, when they heard loud growlings coming from the trees. The bear had taken pity on the little sister and gathered his great brothers. Now they came lumbering through the trees ready to do battle. But the wolves glanced at the little sister and agreed that she was hardly enough of a meal for them all. The leader turned to her and gestured with a paw through the trees.

"Head that way cub, you will find safety there. If we smell you again in the woods you will not be so lucky," he snarled and the wolves melted away into the trees like ghosts.

The little sister would have thanked the wolves, but hearing the growlings and not realising that the sound was bears, she headed through the trees towards a large house from which a light was shining. This was the house of the Witch, but the little sister did not know that.


madameshawshank said...

Oh, what comes next!!!

the beating of the crows' hearts..my oh my

G, so many thanks for this one..loved every word.

Griffin said...

This is just part one as well!

bad penny said...

I can't wait !!!!

those wolves were very scarey indeed