bab tales

Tales of Beauty, Adventure and Bravery for Golden Hearts

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Location: Colleyville, Texas, United States

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Girl and the Horse

Once upon a time I saw a girl standing in a field of green upon a hill over a meadow, and she was fair and carefree, exploring the beauty of the hills and the meadow but careful to keep herself clean. She wanted to be the best lil girl. And then I saw a horse standing across the way on another hill, and the horse was wild and free. And the horse began to neigh and bounce, running this way and that, seeming playful and gay. And then the horse saw the girl. And the girl saw the horse. And the horse began to run towards the girl. At first, the girl didn’t know what to think. Maybe the horse would be her friend. But as the horse got closer—which didn’t take long as the horse was swift—the girl saw that the horse was beautiful and terrible, and she was sore afraid. The horse seemed to have fire in its eyes and a storm in its nostrils. So she ran and was escaping the wild and dangerous horse—for she too was swift.

She ran and ran and ran until she reached the end of her world where there was a great cliff. She turned to find that the horse was now upon her, for the horse was indeed swifter than she, and determined to overtake her. Beside herself, she jumped. She fell and fell and fell until she hit the bottom of the canyon with a great crash.

When she came to, she realized one of her legs was broken. But at least, she thought, she was alive, and she wasn’t overcome by that dreadful horse. After a time, her leg healed up. And the girl said to herself, Girl, you’ve got to get back up to the top of that cliff. Surely that frightful horse is gone by now and the meadow is so wonderful, filled with beauty and adventures. And even if now you’re dirty and broken, it would still be wonderful to live in all that beauty. So she began to climb back up the cliff. She climbed and climbed and climbed until she finally reached the top. And behold, there was no horse, and the girl was happy, and she was more careful now, and she was just as fair.

Again she explored the beauty of that place. Days went by without a crisis. She had many friends—the birds, the trees, the little creatures making their living in the grass, the meadow, and beyond in the edge of the forest. And they loved her. And she loved them. It was simple, it was peaceful, and she felt like she was on top of the world again. But then one day the horse returned. She saw the horse first this time, for she was more careful now. So she lay down in the grass. Surely, she thought, the horse won’t see me from such a great distance, and then that treacherous creature will go away. But the horse seemed to know exactly where she was—whether by keen smell or sight, or by some intuition, the horse began to run at her even as she lay in the grass. The girl was terrified. She felt like throwing up! She felt jittery, like she would shake apart from the inside out! She steadied herself, thinking perhaps the horse has seen something else, and if she would lay still perhaps he would charge right by. But then the sobering truth settled in her heart—she was being hunted! She must begin her escape and begin quickly.

She ran and ran and ran until she reached the end of her world where there was a great cliff. She turned to find that the horse was now upon her, for the horse was indeed swifter than she, and determined to overtake her. Beside herself, she jumped. She fell and fell and fell until she hit the bottom of the canyon with a great crash.

When she came to, she realized that both of her legs were broken. But at least, she thought, she was alive, and she wasn’t overcome by that dreadful horse. But now she felt foolish. Why hadn’t she planned another escape route? Oh foolish girl, foolish girl, she scolded herself! If ever I heal, I will climb back to that beautiful place, and I will make sure that I never have to jump from this great cliff again—it hurts way too much, and it’s making a mess of me. After a time, her legs healed again, and the girl began to climb. So she climbed and climbed and climbed until she finally reached the top. And behold, there was no horse, and the girl was happy again, and she was even more careful now, and she was just as fair.

For her first order of business, she sought a new escape—she would do anything not to fall over that cliff again, and she knew now that even as wonderful and safe as she felt in that place, there would always be a return of that perilous horse. So she walked and walked and walked far and wide over all the meadow and the hills, searching for another escape, until finally she came to a great rose bush, growing to fifty feet high on a lattice. The girl thought it very strange indeed to find a lattice here in this meadow, and could not understand how or why it would’ve gotten there, or who would build such a thing in the middle of nowhere. But, she said to herself, you have found your escape—that horse won’t be able to climb the rose bush, but you can! You know you can because when you were on the bottom of that cliff you could climb and climb and climb until you reached the top!

Again she explored the beauty of that place, though not too far from the rose bush—she didn’t know when that horse might return, and she wanted to be sure to be near her escape. She felt a little sad that she wasn’t as free to roam and explore as she used to, but this almost felt like she was on top of her world. And the rose bush did smell sweet. After many days, the horse returned. As careful as she was, the girl didn’t see the horse until she was almost overcome. Perhaps she was paying too much attention to the roses. Whatever the case, the horse was running at breakneck speed directly at her, so she ran and ran and ran to the bush and climbed and climbed and climbed up the bush, but as she climbed the thorns pierced her fair skin. She cried and wept bitter tears for the thorns were sharp and they cut deep. The girl found herself unable to climb to the top of the bush for all the pain, so she just stopped and stared at the warm blood streaming down her arms and felt the warm tears streaming down her cheeks. This is dreadful—I should think it’s more dreadful than the horse! The horse! She had forgotten all about the horse. In an instant her mind raced to and fro—perhaps it was the intensity of the pain bringing her thoughts into heightened focus—she thought of the horse waiting for her at the bottom, she wondered how long the horse had waited for her atop the cliff before deciding to leave—she realized how foolish she was to climb the rose bush where she wouldn’t be able to stay long for the muscles in her arms would give out after a time—she thought of a million other things she would’ve, could’ve and should’ve done—all this she thought in a few brief seconds. Now she looked down to see if the horse was still waiting for her, but no horse was to be seen. So she looked and looked and looked for the horse, groping through the rose bush, smarting with every move.

Still there was no horse, so she decided to climb down. She climbed and climbed and climbed until she reached the bottom, every step, every placement of her hand bringing torture. Oh foolish girl, she said to herself! You shouldn’t have done that—that was more terrible than the horse! Well, how could she know that? And then she realized that at least the pain from the thorns was predictable. It was better after all than the falling from the cliff and breaking her legs. And at least the cuts and scrapes and bruises of the rose bush would heal and the blood dry up. Also, she knew now that the horse wouldn’t wait long for her if she climbed that bush—or at least that’s the way it seemed.

Again she explored the beauty of that place, though very close to the rose bush—she didn’t know when that horse might return, and wanted to be very near her escape. She didn’t feel too sad that she wasn’t as free to roam and explore as she used to—she was learning to forget how wonderful it was to live in all that beauty and adventure. And after all, she had the rose bush, and it did smell sweet.

One day, she decided to pick a rose for herself—they were so beautiful and what a pity that they should live and die without ever being plucked free and enjoyed by someone who had the ability to truly appreciate such a beautiful creature. As careful as she was plucking it, she still pricked her finger. She first jumped back and cried ouch! Foolish girl! You should be more careful! But then the pricks of her fingers reminded her of her escape from the fierce and terrible horse with fire in its eyes, and the remembering summoned a feeling of control, a feeling of safety, a feeling she didn’t want to be without. From time to time, she would pluck roses and swathe them for herself to enjoy, and she would always be careful to prick herself at least once to remind her that she always had an escape from the dreadful beast. But she felt ashamed to prick her fair skin that way—something in her was trying to cry out that this wasn’t meant to be, that there must be another way, but that little voice sounded like the muffled cry of a little girl suffocating under a pillow or at the bottom of a deep well. The girl decided never to tell anyone that she had done this on purpose, not until the horse had long since died and the rose bush withered to the ground and her beautiful skin was healed and all the scars gone. And maybe not even then.

From time to time, she would see the horse charging at her again, and she would climb her bush—her bush it was now—so much hers she felt like it was an extension of her very self. But over time she saw the horse less and less until finally she thought perhaps she had seen the last of it, but she was wise enough now to know that that kind of thinking was a trap! She knew the horse would return when she least expected, and the bush was her best friend.

It was boring for the girl who was chained to her bush—her best friend—for there was no meadow or hills to explore, no other creatures nearby, no beauty and no adventure. So she decided to busy herself. She wrote poetry and songs about the adventures she used to have and the ones she would have some day, and of course about the blessed roses and their wonderful pricking thorns. But soon enough, she ran out of things to write, and she realized that she could not give what she didn’t have. Then she said to herself, Girl, there’s more to life than just sitting by a rose bush and singing the same old songs to yourself over and over and over. You need to think of all the starving and hurting people in the world that have never had beauty or adventures or even a warm meal. You need to plant a garden and grow food to feed others, and share with them your poems and songs and essays and novels.

So she dug and dug and dug a garden, always looking over her shoulder and taking care to return daily to the rose bush for a prick or two. She planted all sorts of fruits and vegetables, in dazzling array she set her table, and the little people who always wander the edge of the woods heard tell—maybe the birds spread the news—and they visited the rose-girl for feeding and refreshment. She built a large fire and kept it going day and night to cook her stew and warm the feet of the weary travelers. She would listen to their woes and give them advice for their journey—and especially warn them to be careful to watch out for the monstrous horse. At dusk she would sing and read to them—some would listen but some were only interested in true tales of battle, adventure, and rescue. But even they were polite enough, and thanked her for sharing with them. Some took her advice, most did not, but all ate and enjoyed her fire.

One day a traveler noticed all the scars on her hands and arms, and he stared at them, and he cried for her. When she asked him why he was crying, he only reached out and rubbed her beautiful skin, and kissed each of her scars. Then he kissed her on the forehead, rubbed her golden head, and whispered, “Who did this to you?” “What, these?” she scoffed, “these are just my clumsy pokes where I wasn’t careful enough in picking the roses. Here, I’ll pick you one.” As she took the rose to him, she didn’t even notice that her hand was bleeding, but the traveler did. He took her hand, kissed her bleeding wound, and whispered to her, “It’s supposed to hurt.” She was stunned. She changed the subject, “You there, would you like some more stew? I was just telling my friend here how much I enjoy serving and serving and serving all of you blessed children—I haven’t even a concern for myself any more—it’s so wonderful to be beyond the pains and cares of this world.” But inside she was crying, begging, straining to listen for that little girl’s voice inside. But it was gone. And so was the traveler.

One day as the girl was plucking roses, she noticed that she was pricking her fingers, but they were not even bleeding any more. Oh dread! she thought, now what am I to do? I haven’t seen the horse in ever so long, but the horrible thing is sure to return, and what will I do if I’ve forgotten my escape and wandered from my refuge, my precious rose bush? I must find the tender parts, I must find a way to remember the sense of control! I must find new ways to bleed! Oh dread! She couldn’t think of a sure way to always prick her beautiful skin in the course of her daily affairs, so she decided she must be more deliberate, more extreme. She would write it down to remember to do something that would bring the pain she needed to remember. She would use her fingers to stoke the fire rather than a stick, for the pain of that would remind her, too. She would climb the bush, for that brought the most pain of all and was without fail the best way to ensure something would be poked and bleed. So the girl decided to climb the rose bush on odd days, and on even days to use a new finger to stir the fire. So she stoked and stoked and stoked until her fingers were blistered and charred, and then she climbed and climbed and climbed until her arms were red and her cheeks were wet, and she again felt something like being on top of her world, but mostly something very unlike it.

After doing this so long, she could no longer even feel the fire or the thorns, and there was nothing left but to do nothing. She was perfectly miserable. And tired. What is the point of all this, she thought? I may as well be dead! I have missed the beauty of the fields and the adventure of my world for the sake of this stupid bush and these ungrateful people. Climbing and bleeding and cooking and crying for days and days and days until nothing is left for me but misery and numbness and solitude. You are my only friends, you sweet bush—putrid bush—and warm fire—wicked fire. If only I had been killed by the horse, at least that would have been something—at least it would have been an exciting way to die, instead of watching my life run down my arms and down my cheeks, drained away like time leaking out of some incessant ticking clock!

The girl laid as if dead for days and days and days, wondering if she would ever move again. She didn’t remember the pain of the thorns or the terror of the horse or the pain of her broken legs from her falls. Finally, she said to herself, Girl, what are you doing here by this bush? At least you should go back to the meadow and to the hills and roam once more before being tortured and killed by the horse. At least you have the cliff there—it hurts more than the thorns and who knows—maybe you’ll get lucky and die from the fall and end all this misery.

So she decided to go back to the meadow and the hill, so she walked and walked and walked until she arrived. And when she arrived, she found it to be more delightful than she had ever remembered, the way the sun winked at her through the clouds, the way the air itself was light and sweet and fresh like spring rain, the way the little winged creatures flitted effortlessly from flower to flower, the way the ground runners darted here and there, playing with each other and looking hopefully but warily at her—for they almost recognized her under her marred skin, limpy legs, weary eyes, and torn clothes. She almost lost herself in all this, but then she was slapped with a horrifying thought—the horse knew about this place and will surely find her. The horror passed when she realized it was for this very death she came back, but the delight never returned—she couldn’t shake the thought from her head, it’s too late for you, girl. You’ve ruined your body and wasted your life at the bush, and now all that is left is to die.

She waited and waited and waited for the horse to return, but on and on and on time dragged, without a sight of the great muscles, a sound of that rushing snort, a terror of those fiery eyes, a threat of those dreadful hooves. After a while, the girl thought that perhaps the horse was dead. And strangely enough, she was a little sad about that. After all, this was to be her last great fling. Before she knew it she was crying. She said to herself, Girl why on earth are you crying? You finally got your wish! No more horse! Nothing but you and this place! You could go anywhere! You could do anything now without the fear of that terrible beast haunting you, stalking you, lying in wait to pounce on you unaware. This should be the happiest day of your life! But it wasn’t, and she couldn’t hear her little girl’s voice. And there was no one to offer counsel or consolation. She was alone. And inside, her spirit had died.

She could do nothing now, not enjoy the sunrise, or the sunset, or the critters, or the grasses, or the flowers, or the hills, or the water, or the meadow. All that was left was to lay on her back and gaze and gaze and gaze toward the heavens hoping that death would take her and someone might find her and bury her so that her spirit and her body could be reunited in a tomb. As she had just completed this thought, she heard in the distance someone running, no something running, perhaps it was not feet but hooves, yes it was definitely hooves, and they were speeding up, faster and faster, louder and louder. Dread filled her from head to toe—she was stunned—the sick feeling returned. Then she remembered herself and her hope to finally be free from this miserable existence was rekindled. She rose to her feet and prepared to brace herself, but it was too late. The horse was already upon her, his wild hair slapping the wind! Mere yards away, he made the most frightful face and narrowed his fiery eyes, opened his mouth wide, and yelled out the most ferocious neigh she could ever have imagined! She froze! Had she any life left in her she would have surely fainted! Still the horse approached at breakneck speed to trample her under foot, making a quick work of her death! But then, as if by magic, he stopped.

He whinnied. He pranced around her gaily. He nudged her with his soft, warm nose while he circled her several times. At each circle, he moved closer and closer. She could smell the sweat and feel the heat from his body until he was finally at rest against her. She wasn’t sure if the horse was leaning on her or she the horse, but she could feel his sweaty coat and smell his wild, powerful scent. And then, she began to cry. Still the horse stood. Now she was sobbing. The horse picked up his foot and dropped it again, sighing heavily, the massive girth of his barrel pulsing with every breath. Now she was wailing. The horse shuddered and neighed. When she had wailed every tear from her eyes and every moan from her soul, she fell quiet. At last, the horse spoke.

“Why have you spent your whole life running away from me?”

Unnerved to hear the horse speak, the girl backed away as quickly as she could, and gazed with wonder upon this strange, powerful beast who now not only frightened her, but also wooed her with his words. “I…I…I was afraid,” she said.

“And rightly so,” said the horse, “I am beautiful and terrible, am I not?”

“You are.”

“Dreadful, relentless, powerful, exhilarating, wild, and treacherous, no?”

“You are all those things and more:” said the girl, “I was afraid you would kill me, afraid you would disturb my peaceful life, afraid of the way you would show up at the worst times, afraid to make any plans or promises for fear that you would again show up to completely undo me!”

“So you ran?”

“I ran.”

“And you hid?”

“I hid.”

“And you fell, and you climbed?”

“I fell and I climbed.”

“And you plucked the roses and stoked the fire?”

“I pierced my skin and burned my hands.”

“And you busied yourself?”

“I busied myself to forget the life I had lost.”

“Pity,” the horse finally said.

“Yes, pity. Pitiful me.”

“No,” said the horse, “Pity that you don’t even know my name.”

“Your name? Oh, goodness—I…what…I suppose you do have a name—you can talk after all. Well, forgive me, but what is your name?”

“My name is Passion.”

“Oh. Goodness. Of course. You’re everything I’ve lost, everything I’m not. Of course you are Passion.”

“I am everything you have run from. But how can I be everything you have lost? I am after all right in front of you. What an odd thing to say.”

“Well, I mean that I have lost my passion.”

“And now you have found him. My dear, I am your Passion.”

“My? What? How?”

“I am the wildness you’re afraid to set free. I am the beauty you’re afraid you can’t be. I am the fierce love of a violent embrace, and I am the gentle wisp of wind on your face.”

“You are my Passion?”

“Or, if you please, call me Romance. Or, you could call me Wild. Or,” he seemed to grin, “call me Crazy. Ah, I’ve been called so many wonderful names, but I am Passion.”

“Oh this is all so confusing, but…Wait a minute! How is it that you can talk? You’re a horse.”

“Some say the Wind is my voice. I don’t know. I have neither the time nor the desire to answer all that can be answered, nor any that cannot.”

“Oh. Well…well…well this is all just so confusing, but—”

“But not, eh? Oh, Girl, Girl you have been so afraid to embrace me, or I would have swept you off your feet to the greatest adventures, beyond your control, beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Well, I’m not sure I—”

“I would have taken you across the canyon into which you fell and broke your beautiful legs.”

“Oh, but everyone knows there is no way over the canyon!”

“No way over? My dear, where do you think I’m from?”

“Oh! I assumed you were from the same place as me—this meadow, these hills. But of course you’re not from here—you’re…different from me…you come and you go… unannounced. Do tell me where you are from.”

“Yes, I do come and go unannounced and unbidden. I am from the land of Cor, across the canyon. Or, as some call it, the land of Heart. And if you ever want to go, there is but one way. I must bear you across.”

“Oh, so you can fly?”

“Yes. I can fly. Or, you may call it that. Let’s say I can bound high enough and far enough to span the gap.”


“Goodness? You have no idea.”

“Oh, is it wonderful there?”

“It is better than you can imagine. And there is more.”


“I can pick the roses for you without getting stuck.”

The girl cried. And she cried. And she cried. She felt humiliated, wasted, undone, and ashamed.

“Cheer up,” said the horse, “We’ve got a lot of living left to do. And the Wind does wonders for scars…and memories.”

She looked up, empty yet beginning to fill, dead yet beginning to finally live. The icy sheets of disbelief were slowly beginning to melt away. She looked into the fierce eyes now facing her, and as she walked closer and closer to him, he walked closer and closer to her until they were nose to nose. There were so many things she wanted to ask, so many things she wanted to explain, so many things she wanted to understand, so many things she wanted to get a handle on. She wanted to know if she could depend on him to be there for her if she joined him, but there were no guarantees. She wanted to know if she could count on him to come with an announcement and never ruin her plans, but looking in his eyes, she knew that his coming and his going would be at his choosing, not hers. She gazed for what seemed a lifetime into his eyes, struggling with the biggest decision of her life—was this it? Was this her last chance? Would he ever come again? Would the offer still be good? Would she have to give up her life in the meadow? What…how…oh, when…where…but, why…? All of her questions were swallowed up by a single new question that seemed to form in the depths of her soul, even seemed to be given birth in that moment, even it seemed that the reason she was born was to give birth to this question, the question she was made to answer. As the question took on form and became words, she noticed in the fierce eyes still gazing into her own a new sparkle, or no, it was a sparkle that had been there all along, the sparkle of excitement, even pleasure, or perhaps thrill, titillation, enchantment, intoxication, felicity, rhapsody, no, it was ecstasy. Life and death met in those fierce eyes, love and hate, beauty and terror. She now realized that it was her fear that kept her from seeing this before, but as she stood face to face with the Terrible Beauty who was engaging her, even embracing her with his eyes, she stood face to face with her own reflection that she had so eagerly and willingly turned away from before. And her question was this, “Who am I kidding? This is the only life worth living. This is why I was born. All that I had hoped for, all that I tried, and all that I wanted to be is dead. I no longer want to die, but to live—from the tips of my toes to the top of my head I will live from my heart leaving all else for dead. I shall never be called again timid, afraid, but will ride on the Wind with my Passionate Aide.”

There was no bargain to be made, no deal to be cut. She knew the offer was but one, and he would accept no terms from her. And she now realized that she wasn’t making a decision at all—had her decision not already been made, she would never have seen deep into those fiery eyes.

“But I might get hurt.”


“But I might die.”


“It’ll be dangerous.”


“What if you go somewhere I am not ready to go?”

“I may, and you should be prepared to appeal to the Wind, for only the Wind controls me. I am more powerful than you—in fact I am your power, your gift from the Wind to finish your race, to become your destiny. But apart from the Wind, I am nothing, and neither are you. So we are in this together, you and I, that is, if we are to live. And if there is no life, then all of this, all of us, is nothing but a lie—a fruitless chase after the wind. Ride with me, Girl. Ride the Wind. Embrace the life you were born to live.”

“Yes, I will ride.”

And the girl and the horse had many adventures—beautiful ones, terrible ones, delightful ones, painful ones. Many joys they shared, many pleasures they knew, many losses they suffered, many victories they won. They spoiled many enemies, and graced many a humble one. They played joyfully, loved fiercely, fought valiantly, bled righteously, wept earnestly, gave freely, walked humbly, rested peacefully, and in the end, they most certainly lived happily ever after.

Copyright © 2005 by Steve Coan All rights reserved. Written permissions must be secured from the publisher to reproduce any part of this story, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles. Published by Steve Coan, 1909 Ashton Court, Colleyville, Texas 76034

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fair Vera of Vérderah Wood

here once was a girl named Vera who lived in a cottage in the woods of Vérderah.  She, like all her kin, enjoyed living among the trees and bushes bearing fruits and berries, and had communion with bird and beast as well.  Vera loved to go into town to see what was new, and she loved to round up a game of seker-dep with the girls who met every day in the square.  Vera was fair and outshined the others in every way—her sparkling eyes, her winning smile, her joyful laugh, her witty quips, her winsome songs—and all the townsfolk sang her praises.  But Vera always felt a little empty inside—perhaps she didn’t really belong with these people, perhaps this wasn’t really her home.  From time to time she’d find herself with another who was kind and admired her, but there was a sadness between them.  At times like these time would stand still and the music would stop. 

But she’d laugh it off and turn up her smile
Crack a joke and dance for awhile
And soon the whole world
Was loving the girl
And never suspected her guile.

Vera was beginning to wonder if that wasn’t the case with every one of her kin, only she just didn’t know it yet.  She found herself spending more and more time at the cottage with herself, and less and less time in town.  After all, there were less and less people she felt akin to, and she hated for the music to stop.

And so it was that Vera missed a great deal of what went on in town.  But the people always wondered where she was, and felt sad to go a day without seeing her, and even felt a little bit cheated, even though they knew they’d no right to demand her to come.  But the absence of sparkling eyes, a winning smile, a joyful laugh, a witty quip, and a winsome song is not enough to stop a thriving village—it only makes room for other things, and Vérderah was no exception.  Strangers moved in, and brought other songs, and before long, the city lost its luster.  The townsfolk knew something must be done, so they repainted the town in bright colors and threw a party.  Everyone seemed to have a great time.  That is, until the witch showed up.

Now the witch was a beauty, none could deny
With long blond hair, and a gleam in her eye
And soon the whole town
Had gathered around
And never expected to die.

It was clear the witch wasn’t their kin (for all the folk of Vérderah had green eyes and beautiful red hair).  All the men were enchanted with her blond hair and her beauty, while the women shrunk back, but in such a short time the witch won the whole town over with her honey laced words.  She was so easy to be around.  And so it was easy enough for her to round everyone up and lay her trap.  With a snap of her fingers, the great net came down, dropped by the ravens that served her.  Then they tied up the net and carried them off to the witch’s lair in the caves.

Just about then, Vera came strolling into town, humming a merry tune she’d just made up.  And there stood the witch, laughing and gloating over her prey flying off.  But Vera hadn’t seen them.  All she saw was an empty town with a beautiful stranger laughing in the square. 

“Where’d everybody go?” said Vera.

“Where’d who go?” said the witch.

“All my kin.”

“Oh, they’ve all gone away.”

“Why did they go? And to where did they fly?”

“They went far away, ’neath a different sky.”

Vera didn’t know exactly what to make of the beautiful stranger or the empty town.  The witch would have just as soon put a spell on Vera, but she had already used up all her magic for the day on the ravens to carry the townsfolk off.  The witch was frightened by Vera, who she too saw as fair, and so she thought about a way to trap her without magic.  She said,

They all left so quickly, without a good-bye
From Vera, from Vera away we must fly
And soon the whole lot
Like arrows they shot
Were gone in the blink of an eye.

Well, Vera didn’t know what to think.  Maybe this was why she always felt so distant from everyone.  Maybe she really didn’t belong, but they didn’t have the heart to tell her, so they were just going to vanish into thin air when she wasn’t looking, so they wouldn’t hurt her feelings too badly.  Yes, she decided, that must be it.  Well, there was no use in staying in town—the shops were all closed and there were no people to meet, except for the beauty before her now.  But then her face turned as red as her hair when she realized how foolish she must look—everyone had run to get away from her!  She wanted to just disappear.  She would run, but she didn’t want to embarrass herself any more.

So she laughed it off and turned up her smile
Cracked a joke and danced for awhile
And soon the whole world
Was loving the girl
And never suspected her guile.

Or so she thought.  But the wicked witch was not deceived.  She giggled and clapped her hands and said, “Oh how delightful!  My dear, I think everyone’s missed you!”  But inside, the witch was terrified, for something was different about Vera, and the witch could feel it crawling under her skin, portending anxiety, even doom for witch.

“You think?”  Vera said, half-believing.

The witch began to twitch ever so slightly, but she knew she must move.  Quickly, she said, “Well, I can’t let you walk home alone, especially now that all your kin have deserted you and there is no one left to comfort you.”

Vera took at least some consolation that this stranger would stay by her even though all her kin had flown.  So, they strolled off together down the trail to her home.  Vera never suspected that the witch was only going with her to spy out her place so she could come back and trap her later.  When they got to her cottage, Vera invited the witch inside for tea.  After being entertained for a while by Vera, the witch begged leave, and Vera saw her out and bid her well, though she felt a certain distrust for all her niceties.

The witch went straightaway back to her lair where the ravens still netted all the citizens of Vérderah.  The people had all been dazed and exhausted, wondering why they were there, how this had happened, and tired from fruitless efforts to free themselves.  But when she arrived, the people began to stir in the net, to murmur and cry out to her for release and for answers.  The witch yelled in a loud voice, now not dripping with honey, “Silence!”  The people all fell silent, and the witch began,

One of you robbed me, you stole from my tree
Luscious persimmons you snatched gleefully
But soon you’ll be sore
And seen no more
For nothing is ever for free.

“Which of you stole from me?” the witch demanded, but none of the townsfolk replied.  Silence fell on the crowd.  “I’ll not wait forever.  There’s justice due, and in the morning, when my powers return, I’ll put a spell on you that none of you will forget!”  And at that, she walked off, wringing her hands and smiling a crooked, evil smile.

Well, the townsfolk were beside themselves.  No one wanted to admit to the stealing, as the witch called it.  In fact, none of the townsfolk ever knew of the witch or that she owned any persimmon tree.  They had always just helped themselves to whatever fruit they wanted, but they reasoned, perhaps one of them had wandered too far from Vérderah and helped themselves.  Still they conversed, deep into the night, and even till the sun came up the next day, but no one would admit to helping themselves to the witch’s claim.

The witch returned the next day, ready to mete out her punishment.  She paced about a bit, and then said, “Alright, I’ve decided to give you one more chance to deliver up the thief.  But if you don’t, then one of you at my choosing will be selected to pay for the crime.”  Then she laughed a hideous laugh.  The people were dumb—no one knew what to say—and if the thief was among them, he was too afraid to step forth.  A long silence passed as the witch glared from face to face, waiting, seeking, looking for that twitch that would give the thief away, but none gave up.  At last she came to the end of her patience.  “Enough!  She shouted.  I have made my decision.  Now you will know that I am not one to steal from, and one of you will pay the price.”  Fear seized everyone in the net.  People closed their eyes and cried.  Mothers held their children, husbands held their wives, and everyone held their breath.  But none of the people expected what would happen next.

Vera, fair Vera will pay for my fruit
For you all were silent—no cheep, no hoot
Stiffened and buried
Ne’er to be married
Her end is the price of your mute.

At this many cried and protested.  “No!  Not Vera!  She’s the best of us!  She’s so fair!  Take me instead!”  But it was too late.  The wicked witch had already decided, and her magic was already beginning to work.  She vanished before the people knew what was happening, and slowly, the ropes of the net became weaker and thinner until they were easily broken.  The people began slowly making their way back to town, shaking and crying as they went, but some of the young men ran as fast as they could, hoping to find Vera to warn her, or take her away and hide her from the witch.  But they were too late.  By the time they arrived at Vera’s cottage, she was gone, and they were sore, and they saw her no more.

Years went by and no one ever saw Vera.  After a time, they stopped mourning her death and resumed life in fair Vérderah Wood, but there was always something missing as long as she was gone.  But what none of the town knew was that the witch was deceptive as well as tricky.  For Vera was not dead or even gone.  She was only under a spell such that no one could see her, nor could she roam.  Vera had been turned into a persimmon tree, planted in the ground near her old cottage.

Now, the townsfolk had noticed a beautiful new persimmon tree by the road tree near Vera’s cottage, but they were sore afraid of it, because they reckoned that the witch had planted it there to tempt the people and to trap them again stealing from her, so they just avoided that road altogether and never even looked upon the tree.  But from time to time a little child would be seen staring at the tree, and before their mother or father could snatch them back safely, the child would say, “That’s the loveliest tree I ever saw.  And I think it waved at me.”

“Oh, that’s just the wind shaking the bows, dearie, and we’d best be going.  It looks like a storm,” their folks would reply (even when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky).

Meanwhile, Vera had all but given up hope.  When she first looked down at her arms and legs, and saw them covered with bark, she was shocked, and when she realized that instead of fingers she had twigs, and roots for toes, she was terrified.  For the longest time she waved people down and cried out to them, “Don’t you see me?  Don’t you care?  Why won’t speak to me?”  But over time, she realized that they too must be under a spell, so that they could not talk with her, or see her through the bark and the twigs and the leaves and the fruit.  She wanted so badly to cry, but only sap ran down her beautiful bark, and never hit the ground.  She was trapped and alone and longed to break out.

But she couldn’t laugh or turn up a smile
Crack a joke, or dance for awhile
And now the whole world
Was missing the girl
And never suspected the guile.

So in time, Vera just learned to live with her bark.  She wondered how long she would be stuck like this.  Trees live longer than girls, she thought.  Was she bound to the years of wood and bark, or would her flesh and blood fail first?  Or was the witch’s magic so strong that she would stand like this forever?  She didn’t even know what was real any more—was she a tree or a girl or neither?  She became numb.  She thought, if only a woodman would come and chop her down, at least someone, if only to hurt her, would pay her some attention, and for a moment she would be able to feel again.  But then the hard stiff reality would set in and she would give up all hope to ever join the land of touch and words again.  She dared not hope for a soft caress or even a strong embrace, or a gentle whisper or even a slap on her face.

The only relief she ever got was when the wind blew through her boughs, bending and stretching her, and tickling her twigs.  It reminded her that she was still alive.  And somehow, she almost felt like she was being hugged.  But after the wind stopped, a new wish would come over her—the wish for a violent storm to come and blow her down, break her to pieces so she could rot and feed the worms.

Years passed.  All of Vera’s friends grew old and died.  Their children’s children roamed the woods and played, but cautiously around her, for even though her hope and memory had died, the legend of the witch’s tree still haunted Vérderah, and none could deny an anxious feeling when they neared it.

More years passed.  So many years passed that Vera stopped counting any more.  She wondered if her rings could be counted if anyone ever chopped her down to see how many years she had stood in this place, but she couldn’t remember growing even an inch in girth through all these seasons of rain and drought, springtime and harvest, sun and snow.  She only waited in the endless firm, cut off from the land of the living, for what?  Vera suddenly had a new thought after all these years.  She was waiting for something.  Early on she waited for someone to actually recognize her.  Then she waited for someone to chop her down.  She waited for a great storm to blow her down.  She waited for the witch to return.  But every time the thing waited for came near, it never played out—she was still stuck right how she had always been.  She went through years when she thought that this waiting was part of the cruel spell, for hope deferred only made her heart sick.  So by and by she gave up hope so that her many woes were eased.  Nevertheless, even though she had given up all hope, she had never been able to shake off the feeling that she was indeed waiting for something.

Just as she had this thought, she heard someone’s whistling carried across the vernal breeze.  Or perhaps it was a bird.  This was very strange indeed because it was well past midnight, when neither bird nor man scurried.  Vera peered out in the moonlight towards the sweet sound to see who was approaching.

And she searched the ground and searched all the sky
Looked below and looked way up high
But was it a bird
Or human she heard
This night when the wind was nigh?

And then he appeared.  Or rather, they appeared, walking through the woods down what used to be the path, leading right beside Vera.  It was indeed a man who was walking lightly but wearily through the woods with leather shoes and woolen garb, and a hat of felt with a big white plume.  As he got closer she could see that the eyes of the man grew heavy though the eyes of his owl were wide.  Just as they came to Vera, the man looked at the owl on his shoulder and said, “Nock, dear friend, this is as far as we go.

You’ve had a long day and I a long night
Caught a great bunch, the rest gave a fright
But now we must rest
So we’ll be our best
Tomorrow at daybreak’s new light.

The next thing you know, the owl flew from his shoulder and alighted on one of Vera’s branches above the man who had quickly unfastened his cape to cover himself and curl up beneath her, resting ever so close to her trunk.  She couldn’t believe this.  Vera couldn’t remember ever being this close to another person, nor could she remember any creature touching her.  The talons of the owl tickled a bit as he padded her bark, trying to find just the right spot to watch till dawn.  More surprising, she could feel, even through her thick bark, the warmth of the man as he slept peacefully.

For a long time she looked at the man and thought to herself about this strange encounter.  The man, not all that handsome, and quite scruffy from his time in the woods, did not seem harsh or brutal like the hunters she had heard about from lands far away.  But then again, she had heard of people hunting with owls and hawks and other birds of prey, and she knew by now that looks can be deceiving.  And he did carry a knife.  Still, the man had a certain gentleness to him, rough as he was, and so she set aside her suspicions of him and thought of herself.  A thrill of hope stirred in her leaves, coming through twigs, through bows, through her trunk, forming all the way down in her deep roots.  Maybe their coming meant something, a sign that something long waited for was about to happen.  But no, Vera was used to getting her hopes up only to have them dashed again with endless waiting and nothing changing.  Still, the closeness she felt from the two strangers brought her joy unthinkable, more than she could ask or imagine.

How long had she longed for love’s simple touch
Or warmth of a man, ev’n a ruffian such
Yes, this was good
And felt like it should
A kiss not too little or much.

Vera basked in the love she now felt, if it could be called that, at least she imagined it so.  And the basking gave way to peace, and the peace gave way to rest, and the rest gave way to sleep.  And Vera slept more soundly that she ever had—even as a tree, even as a girl.

“What are you doing here?”

Vera awoke to a man’s voice, seemingly talking to someone, but she didn’t open her eyes.

“Hullo there.  Are you alive?”

Vera was confused—as anyone knows who has wakened from a deep, peaceful sleep filled with dreams of love and closeness.  She didn’t want to wake from her wonderful dream—the tickling talons above and warmth below—she closed her eyes tighter and thought she could make the dream return if she tried hard enough.

Now she felt hands on her trunk (or were they on her hips?) gently shaking her. 

“Wake up now.  It’s morning light, and a new day is born.”

But she didn’t want to wake up.  This dream was so nice.  She was a girl again, and the human touch she had long forgotten, even if a dream, was too good to leave.

The man stepped back from her now and puzzled at this strange sight.  Here before him was a girl so stiff she looked like a tree.  Or was it a tree so lovely it looked like a girl?  In either case, she was asleep, and to find out the story, he must wake her up.  So he said,

From the tip of twig to root below
Or nimble finger and stubby toe
I’m seeing you now
And wondering how
The truth of this riddle to know

When he began to rhyme, the owl woke up, returned to the man’s shoulder, and closed its eyes again.  Whether the hearing of these words or the sudden loss of touch woke her, Vera didn’t know, but now she opened her sleepy eyes and yawned wide with a great stretch of her bows.  Goodness, she thought, I don’t think I ever slept that hard or that well, and hullo!  All of a sudden, she saw the man and Nock the owl standing before her!  Immediately, she closed her eyes again and stood very still.  She didn’t know why she was doing this.  It just seemed like the thing to do.  Perhaps he wouldn’t see her?  She needed time to think.  She cocked open one eye for a peek and shut it quickly when she saw him still standing there looking straight at her.  At that, the man chuckled and said, “Who are you hiding from?”

“What?  I’m not hiding!” said Vera.

“Oh.  Well that’s good, because I was starting to think you didn’t like me very much.”

“Well, who are you, and what are you doing here?”  asked Vera, “Wait, she said, I know who you are.  You’re a hunter from the North and you’ve brought your bird of prey with you.”

“Very good.  I see you’ve still got your wits even though you’ve seemed to misplace your skin.  I am a hunter, and my name is Hamish son of Iain.”

That Hamish was a hunter disturbed Vera, but not so much as to distract her from his talk of her skin.  She thought of her skin, once fair, now rough as bark, chipping and flaking, dark and pocked, and she felt a tear beginning to form. 

But she tried to laugh or turn up her smile
Crack a joke or dance for awhile
And soon the two
Would know what to do
Abandon her over her guile.

But she couldn’t.  She was too stiff.  And meanwhile the tear was welling.

“So what’s it like being stuck under all that?” Hamish asked.

Oh, what torture!  Couldn’t he just go?  Why must he make her think of all the long hopeless years past and all the long hopeless years ahead?

“Fine, thank you,” she said, but of course she knew it wasn’t fine.  It wasn’t fine at all.  It was perfectly miserable.

“Fine?  It’s a fine mess you’re in, what with leaves growing out your fingers and no way to walk or dance or even return a hug when given.”

“So what are you doing here?  Is the hunting so bad in the North that you’ve come to Fair Vérderah?”  When she said “Fair Vérderah” she said it mockingly, for there was nothing fair about it any more, since everyone had left her and only she lived there.  And she hoped also to change the subject because whatever happened, she didn’t want to cry.  She hated to be sappy.  And it took days for the sticky stuff to harden and chip away.

“No, the hunting’s fine up north.  Truth is, there was no one like me in the middle lands any more, so my father asked me to come and look after these woods.  But why are you changing the subject?”

“Look after these woods?!” exclaimed Vera, “You call killing my only friends looking after these woods?”

Hamish smiled.  And he cried a little, too.  For two reasons.  First of all, Vera misunderstood what it was he hunted.  And second, he saw her pain was so deep that it might never be released.  His pity for her was deep, and he longed so much just to hold her and let her weep.

I hunt for two things in this fair wood
One is so simple, though misunderstood
The other is lost
O’er years of frost
For it I’d give all that I could.

“So I’ve misunderstood.”

“Yes, but that’s expected.  I am a hard look after all.”

“Well, explain to me the riddle, for I am wont of company and conversation, even from the likes of you.”

“Ha!  Fine then.  Please forgive my condition, and forgive me for being so slow to get around to introducing myself properly.  The thing I hunt for is little birds, lost at night.  Nock here helps me to find them, with his keen night eyes, for they usually are scared and hiding when they get cut off from the ones they love and who love them.   I whistle their tunes like my father taught me, and draw them out of their hiding, alone in the woods.  Then I lead them back to their nests and deliver them back to their families.”

“So you don’t kill and eat them?”

“Heavens no!  I do kill and eat wolves, which there’s always plenty of on my tail, but they’re for naught when dancing with my trusty blade.  And of course I eat all kinds of fruit, even persimmons, but I’d feel quite rude to ask to pluck any of your fair fruit.”

“Oh forgive me for thinking badly of you—I just have never known of a hunter to be like that.  And I wouldn’t feel ashamed at all to give you some fruit.  Only, you’d better not.”

“It’s alright.  Being misunderstood is part of life.  That is, if you’re going to amount to anything.”

“Well, I’ve not amounted to anything but a bag of twigs.”

“Yes, I can see that.  But I can see more than that.”

“You can?”

“Of course I can.  I can see that you are fair, more beautiful than any other tree, and more beautiful than any girl that ever I’ve seen, even with your bark.  And I can see that you are strong, strong not from sturdy foundations of wood, but from a heart of gold.  In fact, I’d ask you to marry me if I thought you could walk down the aisle, but that would be a bit of a trick, since you’ve lost your feet and put down roots.  And it makes me wonder, how’d you wind up this way?  It couldn’t have been from your own choosing.”

“Oh but it was,” said Vera. “I have never spoken of this before, and I don’t know why I tell you now, but for some reason, I am sure it must’ve been.  Somewhere in my childhood or somewhere in my youth, something went dreadfully wrong with me.  It doesn’t really matter what it was or why, but I know that somehow I grew different than the others, and they knew it too.  Everyone seemed to love and admire me, but after a time, there would always come a sadness, and the music would stop.

And I’d laugh it off and turn up my smile
Crack a joke and dance for awhile
And soon the whole world
Was loving this girl
And never suspected my guile.

“I think they never really loved me though, for why would the music stop?  I was a misfit, and doomed to be all alone.  I did this.  It’s all my fault.  Now years have passed, decades, perhaps centuries, and I am all alone, and no one will speak to me, no one will touch me, no one will even look at me.  Forever and ever I will wait all alone.  I’m no closer to ever after than ever before and this is how I will be until the end of my story, if there is an end.”

“Well I’m here, and I’m looking, and I like what I see, and I’m here and I’m speaking, and I like what I hear, and I’m here and I’m touching, and I like what I feel.  In fact, I’m going to embrace you properly now that we’ve met.”

Hamish walked up to Vera and put his arms gently around her.  He squeezed her gently at first, but when she only stiffened, he rested his cheek against her bark and whispered gently, “Receive this gift,” and a tear trickled down from his eye.

Soon, she started shaking, What was going on?  How could this be?  How could he see her and hear her?  Perhaps the witch’s spell was wearing off, or maybe as she suspected, the witch’s spell was on the people too, and since this man was from a far away land, the spell didn’t reach him.  Now she was shaking more and more.  Oh this was terrible.  She had to stop, to laugh, to smile, anything!  But she couldn’t.  And the tear that was welling had grown into two and three and a hundred, now bubbling out from every leaf and twig, falling to the ground and running down her bark, as she shook and wept and wept and shook, but behold!  These were not the sweet sappy tears of yesterday, oozing over her bark, but big, salty, wet tears of a girl, trickling and dropping, wetting the ground and Hamish as well. 

But before they knew it, the sun grew dark, a storm swelled from nowhere, and all grew cold.  This was a storm like no other, the wind gusting fierce—from the South.

Hamish released her and jumped back to look up at the wild, raging storm, to get his bearings, and to think what to do.  But when he did, he beheld Vera standing there, still weeping, and he was smitten with her beauty—for she was even more beautiful to him when she wept than she had been before.

“Tell me,” he said, “Did you become a tree gradually, over long years of hiding, or was it some sudden disaster?”

Vera looked at Hamish, who was trying not to be blown away by the wind, and said, “It was a spell.”

No sooner had she said that but the witch appeared, floating in off the wind on a broomstick.  She had long, gray, wiry hair and warts all over her face, and her nose had grown to a hideous size and form.  It was the witch for sure, but she had outlived her beauty.  And the words she would speak had no honey at all.


Vera, fair Vera, so wasted, so lost
Why weep you now—still paying my cost
Once you were fair
Green eyes, red hair
Entrapped over years of gray frost!

When the witch alighted among them, they both suddenly stopped weeping and became stiff, for neither knew what the witch was up to, nor why she had come, although they suspected that one of them had done something wrong.

“You!” said the witch, “How dare you touch what is forbidden!  How dare you look upon the accursed!  How dare you speak to the dumb!”

Hamish stepped back.  But then he gathered himself and said,

No prohibition from doing what’s good
Will keep me from loving this girl as I should
Nor will I rest
Till passing the test
For flesh is truer than wood.

At this the witch hissed.  Hamish moved between the witch and the tree and whispered back over his shoulder, “You didn’t tell me your name was Vera, but I guessed as much.”  The witch made a hideous face and threw up her arms, spewing venomous curses that shan’t be repeated in this tale.   Hamish jumped back, suddenly dizzy, feeling a spell coming over him.

“No!” cried Vera, but there was naught to be done.  Hamish was moving slower and slower, seeming to fall asleep even as he was standing and staggering, searching desperately for his knife.  The witch started laughing a squeaky laugh, already beginning to gloat as her magic worked its way like poison through every vein of his body, into every breath passing through his whitening lips. 

“No!” Vera cried again.  But it was too late.  Hamish was frozen.  And now the witch cackled with violent laughter like thunder. 

“Please, please,” cried Vera, “Please let him go.  He’s the only one who ever saw me—whether as a girl or a tree, before spell or after.  I’ll give anything.”

“Please?” squawked the witch, “Please, you say?! Please give me back my persimmons you stole!”

“Oh,” said Vera, “very well!  Indeed.  Please take as many as you like!  You may pluck as many of my delicious fruit as you please.”

But the witch looked at her with disdain and said,

Please give me back my persimmons you stole
Oh I’m so sorry, they’re lost in time’s  hole
My magical set
I’ll never forget
Nor trade you in part or in whole!

Vera felt again worthless and lost and alone and trapped.  No one was there to help her, and now it was her fault that this poor hunter was trapped by the same wicked magic as she was.  She closed her eyes as she felt the music stopping again, and the numbness coming on.  But then something happened that she did not expect.  She chanced to open her eyes and look at her hunter again as the witch encircled him, inspecting her newest prey.  And she remembered the pity—no, the love—he had shown her, and she was so sorry for him.  She again began to weep.  It started softly, with a gentle shake that she swallowed inside.  But then she began to lose control.

The witch looked at her and suddenly her eyes grew wide and she stopped laughing. 

“What’s this?” she said, “There, there, dearie, there’s no need to cry.  He’ll be alright.”

But it was no use, the floodgates had been breached, and years of tears now broke forth.  Vera didn’t notice for all her weeping that the witch grew nervous, anxious, and then angry.  She started jumping up and down.

“Stop! Stop! Stop this crying at once!” she shouted.  “Curse you!  Curse you!  Curse you!” but it was no use.  The witch had used up her magic on Hamish.  And now Vera peered out through her wetted eyes to see the witch running around in circles and stomping and spinning wildly, spewing more venomous curses that shan’t be repeated in this tale.  And something else she saw—Hamish was starting to twitch, starting to struggle, as if he was breaking out of a cocoon.  Each time one of her tears dropped on him, he was able to break out a little more.  When Vera realized this, she cried even harder—for now her tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy.  She was able to save him!  And now Hamish was free but for his feet, with his knife in his hand and ready to fight.  And the witch was out of her mind! 

“No!  No!  No!”  she cried, “This can’t be!  I’ll get you!”

The witch picked herself up from her fits and ran to Vera’s low branch.  Plucking a persimmon, she dug her fingernails into the fruit, turning it yellow with her poison-dipped spikes.  Then she took her aim and slung it at him with all her might, hitting him squarely between the eyes.  Hamish yelled out and cried in agony as the poison robbed him of his sight.  And now the witch again laughed from deep within and crouched as if stalking her prey.  As she circled Hamish, she repeated her age-old curse.

Vera, fair Vera will pay for my fruit
For you all were silent—no cheep, no hoot
Stiffened and buried
Ne’er to be married
Her end is the price of your mute.

But then something happened that the witch did not expect.  Hamish suddenly spoke, and even though he clumsily groped around with his hands, hoping to grab the witch, he spoke with a courage and boldness of kings.  He said,

My name is Hamish, the son of Iain
And though I can’t look on you now with disdain
My father’s father’s
Father’s father’s
The thief of your fruit to be slain.

“And now I will utter the words I’ve waited my whole life to say, that my father and my father’s father and his before him, died longing to say, passed down through generations and generations, and you shan’t stop me.

I took your persimmons, by silence I lied
And I was afraid so I kept it inside
To save Vera fair
I do now dare
To all other ends I have died.

Through ages and years in lands far away
We’ve plotted and planned in hope for this day
So may my whistle
Fly like a missile
To strip all her cursed bark away.

And then he whistled the tune of a nightingale, a melancholy cheep, and somewhere up above, Nock gave a hoot.  Vera felt a tingle in her twigs.  Her leaves began to fall one by one, then several by several.  Slowly but surely, the bark from her branches began to chip and fall away revealing arms of skin and fine shoulders.  Her trunk split open and out came legs as slender and strong and lovely as a summer maiden’s.  Finally, her roots gave way to feet and toes which she plucked from the ground.  Amazed, she stood, opening and closing her hands, wiggling her fingers, wondering at the feeling she had long forgotten, and then rubbing herself from head to toe, she smiled a great smile and shouted, “Hamish!  Hamish!  Look at me!  Now you can hug me properly and kiss real lips.”

But there was no response.  For as surely as Vera’s bark had ripped away, Hamish was now encased in it.

“Fool!  Ahahahaha!” the witch laughed.  “So you thought you could just waltz in here, say your touching rhyme, whistle your cheep, let out your hoot, and walk away without paying the price?!  You’ve wasted your life for this girl, and now you’ll forever take her place!  Fool!  Fool!  There’s always a price to pay!  Nothing’s for free!  Someone has to pay!”

Vera was stunned.  Her joy turned to horror as she looked at Hamish, now stiff and blind.  She could not bear to see him, so she covered her eyes and fell to the ground and cried.  The witch in triumph exclaimed,

Now weep you and wail, and moan and mourn
For Hamish, poor Hamish a tree is born
Stiffened and buried
Ne’er to be married
A fool, stiff and blind, in his scorn.

Then she began walking crookedly back to the road to begin her long journey back to her lair in the South, laughing crookedly as she went.  Through tears, Vera looked at the witch, then looked at Hamish, then looked up to the sky, now blue and clear.  Then she looked back at the witch and said, “Wait.”  The witch stopped and turned around.  Then Vera started.

I’ve thought long and hard about what to say
If ever I came to this blessed day
Now mixed with joy
Is that sad boy
I guess that is where he must stay.

But you stole my persimmon, just one, but it’s true
And now I announce my claim on you
Now listen with care
For you are aware
That debts always surely come due.

The witch was slowly and warily making her way back to Vera, thinking fast, thinking of some way out of this pickle she was in.  “Aha!  So you’re a player!” she said.  “Well now, you’re well on your way to becoming a fine witch.  Name your price and I’ll bring it tomorrow, and you can hold my broom as deposit to ensure my return.”  But Vera just looked at her with sad resolve and said,

I’m weary of payback and weary of game
I’m wasted on years of staying the same
Rules and laws
Are death-like jaws
Forgiveness is my only claim.

“What?!”  cried the witch!  “Don’t say that!”

“I forgive you,” said Vera, and she would say no more.

“You can’t say that at all!  You can’t do that at all!”

But it was all she had to say, and all she had to do.  When Vera had finished, she walked over to Hamish and threw herself face down at his roots, thinking she would just lay there until she died. 

What neither of them saw was what was happening to the witch.  They heard her crying out, “Forgive?!  Forgive—no!  You can’t forgive me!  That’s not the way it’s played!  No!  No!”  But as she cried, her voice was trailing off, becoming frailer and frailer, smaller and smaller.  Still neither of them saw.  But Hamish spoke softly to Vera, fair Vera, for whom he had given his life, and said, “Look, Vera, and see what must be happening to the witch.”  So she looked and saw that where the witch had stood, there now was a single thorny briar, and they could still hear the witch’s voice coming from it, though it grew more and more brittle.  “You can’t forgive me!  It’s not fair!  It’s not right! Ahhhh!” And with that, the witch went dumb.

Before her very eyes, the briar dried up and became gray and brittle enough that even a gentle breeze would have snapped it apart.  But the breeze didn’t get the chance.  Ravens flew in and broke it into twigs, carrying it off to build their nests, and before a moment passed, the witch was utterly gone.  Vera stood stunned with her mouth gaping open.  She spun around to tell Hamish what had happened, but to her amazement, instead of crusty bark, she found arms of flesh and a body warm and full of life as she first knew it.  She jumped into his strong arms and kissed his face a hundred-some times for the hundred-some years she had lived without lips.

“Oh Hamish, Hamish,” she said, “This is the happiest day of my life!  I couldn’t even imagine something as wonderful as this could ever happen to me!  Hamish!  Seeing you thus restored is joy beyond joy.”

Hamish smiled and chuckled, having enjoyed her kisses, and then he grew still, set her down, put his hands on her shoulders and said,

The witch’s black spell did break with her life
But what was ere lost still carries its strife
Though you I can’t see
So happy I’d be
If Fair Vera would be my wife.

Oh no!  Vera had not realized that Hamish was blinded from the poison apart from the spell.  She thought that this would be a happy ending!  Oh poor Hamish!  He never even saw her except as a tree.  Oh this was horrible.   Her dream had turned into his nightmare.  Now she buried her face in her hands for Hamish—blinded for life by her own poisoned persimmon—and she cried and cried until her tears drenched her hands and wrinkled her fingers.  Alas!  It was her own fault again!  Oh that she could be blind and he see!  Oh that none of this had ever happened!  Oh that she’d never been born!

Thus she hid her face and wanted to die
With heart-rending tears she did cry and cry
But Hamish did kneel
And say with genteel
This day I’m the luckiest guy.

“But you’re blind and would you have a wife you could never see?” said Vera

“Yes I would,” said Hamish, “for what I did see of you, even though Fair Vera was under a spell, was more beauty than I ever hoped to lay eyes on.  My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  And I’m the luckiest alive for the sight of you to be the last I ever saw in this world.”

“But it’s my fault you can’t see—it was my cursed persimmon from my cursed branch that blinded you—that should be the last image forever burned in your mind!”

But Hamish replied, “You never asked me what I thought of your fault.  If we must speak of fault, it was my grandfather’s grandfather who condemned you to bark and leaf for all those years.  The fault is nearer mine, and I gladly wear these broken eyes that you can be free again.

But fault is a tiresome and endless pursuit
That no one can win, for fault comes to loot
And thus leaves us blind
Only guilt to mind
And sorrow—it’s barren of fruit.

“Oh Hamish, you are not only kind and loving but wise,” said Vera, “Why was I so concerned with whose fault any of this was?  I would give myself a hundred times to be your wife.  Only I’m so sad for your empty eyes.” She looked up into his hard blue eyes, fixed and staring through her.  Her lip quivered as she wiped back his hair, then ran her hands along both sides of his face.  In agony, she covered his eyes with her tear-soaked hands.  She couldn’t bear another moment looking at them.

Hamish replied, “And I would have you a hundred times to be my wife, blind or no.”

As Vera rubbed his eyes, against all hope, and to their great surprise, Hamish regained his sight.  Her genuine tears that she had held for so long were filled with healing power to drain away poison.  They were both overjoyed, and grabbing each other’s hands, they danced and twirled, jumping like children for the sight of themselves.

They were quickly married, and after their honeymoon, they returned to Hamish’s homeland where his father and mother and all their neighbors received them with great joy.  Iain threw the biggest banquet that land had ever known or has ever known since to honor the pair—it lasted for forty days.  The newlyweds told their story to all who would hear it—and everyone wanted to hear it—so that gave them plenty to do for a long time.  Moreover, all the people of the North loved Vera as their own, and they held her in high honor for the rest of her life because of how she defeated the witch.  And Hamish, too, found new honor, for though he had prepared his whole life, like his father and his father’s father, and many of their fathers before them, to stand for Vera, it was only Hamish who saw her.  So the people of that land started a new saying:

Since ages past it was told unto thee
That love is blind and always must be
But now we know
For One did show
That love, only love can see.

And Vera and Hamish spent the rest of their lives hunting together for the lost, the abandoned, the broken, the estranged, the hiding, and the accursed of spells.  And by their tears and their tunes they healed them and led them to their homes.  But whenever someone just didn’t want to be restored, they’d win them over thusly:

They’d laugh together revealing their smile
Tell of their story and dance for awhile
And soon the whole world
Was drawn to their whirl
And rescued from all of their guile.

Hamish and Vera had many adventures that aren’t a part of this tale.  Some say they lived happily ever after.  When last I saw them I’d guess that was true.  I’ll miss ol’ Hamish, and he’d probably miss me too, but what do you need an old owl for when you’ve discovered the girl of your dreams?