There was a woman of age who walked into the woods, collecting berries and seeds with which to make a meal. She was careful of her footing, kind to all that she passed, feeling within them a spirit and a life. She collected her needs lovingly, smelling of the flowers and soon her basket was full. She sighed sadly as she turned to leave for she must return home.
From the corner of her eye, she spotted silver fur and a long lovely tail. A voice came to her loudly and asked, “Why do you sigh so child? Is it not to your hearth that you return with a basket full of food?” She froze, staying very still for the tail was that of a wolf and she was no fool. While she was kind, so too were the sheep upon which it might feast. She had not, however, ever heard a wolf talk before and this gave her great pause. Her head tilted, she answered softly, “It is to my hearth I return, wolf. I know what you are. You cannot know of my burdens for you live here, in the woods, free.”
She heard a light chuckle, like the tinkling of bells and then the voice came yet again to her. “I know many things. I know it is your man that gives you such a deep sigh, it is to him and not the hearth that you dread to go.”
She gasped, frightened, for the beast was right. But how could a wolf know such things? It was witchery, clearly and she had no wish to be punished for consorting. She rose, looking about fearfully. “You must not talk to me for you shall bring me bad luck with your words. You must let me depart.” She took a step, snapping a twig before stopping with great concern, falling to her knees to apologize to the plant, the treeling from which it came. It was then that wolf stepped out from the bushes to show itself in it’s full splendor and beauty and sat patiently, watching her. “If you listen to me, I can solve your problems and take from your heart this dread. Return to your hearth and your man. When he sends your tongue forth to cast hate upon others, to bring them harm, tell him only this. A man does not use his elderly mother for building, nor his sister for his needs, nor his wife for a tongue. When he rails against you, let him rail. Trust me and this shall end.”
The woman raced home in fear, the words stuck in her mind. She began the evening meal, sweat dripping from her brow as she worked in the heat, baking the berries into a pie last that she might please you husband. When he arrived, he sat at the table with a sluggish thump, she thought he might brake their only chair but the wood held. He ate what she had made and then seeing that she had taken only a little, ate more until it was gone. Only then did he demand her pie. After filling himself past the brim, he spoke and told her of how he despised the woman down the row, for she refused to give in to his every demand. Her husband was small and weak, not large like him and he saw him as more of a maid than a man. He was a poet, he spat as he said the word.
The woman listened quietly, eating her small meal and mulling over the words given to her by the wolf earlier. A sudden booming of the table, a cracking and splitting of wood from a heavy hand brought her back to the moment, her mind had wandered briefly and she’d missed what he said. “Woman”, he growled, “Must I repeat myself? Are you so lazy that you cannot listen? Tomorrow, go out on your way to the woods and to the town mayor’s wife with you and tell her that the neighbor is a witch and you’ve proof.” She breathed, aghast. She opened her mouth to plead with him as she had done before, for such words carried great power and the woman was innocent. It was then that wolf ran once more through her mind and she breathed deeply, fearfully. Knowing full well what was to come, she took a chance and she said, ” A man does not use his elderly mother for building, nor his sister for his needs, nor his wife for a tongue. ” He railed against her as a storm does a tree or a hut and though he yelled and she saw his mouth moving, she was protected from hearing his words. Though his fists rose and fell, she felt nothing. She was confused and afraid but smart enough to pretend that she felt every blow and when finally he slept, she snuck out to the woods.
She followed her steps from the day before, stopping before the snapped twig and whispered, “Please, what witchcraft is this? What magic, what spell? Will I grow sick and die?” The chuckle rang through the clearing. “No, child. Fear not. Fear not man nor wild for you are a child of earth and fire. Did you say the words then?” Her head hung as she wept, “I did.”
At once, she felt a peace and calm. “You are safe child”, rang the voice over the wind, caressing her cheek. “Return to your hearth and when in the morning he demands again your servitude, repeat the words I have given you but at the end, add only this. Better you were a tree to see all, to provide but not to bring harm.”
The woman rose, still in shock and quite unsure but hurried home that her husband might not find her gone. In the morning, he rose and once more demanded that she do as he bid of her, certain that the beating of the night before would get him his way but to his surprise, she smoothed her only gown and said only this. ” A man does not use his elderly mother for building, nor his sister for his needs, nor his wife for a tongue. Better you were a tree to see all, to provide, but not to bring harm. ” She watched his eyes widen, his jaw tighten in anger, but he was in a rush and had no time for the folly of a girl right now. He had important manly things to do. He did not notice the lack of bruises, nor that she stood so well, but instead spat at her and left with a promise that when he came home, she would pay dearly.
The woman, terrified of her new found bravery, ran once more to the woods. She did not head to town, defying him instead to seek out the wolf once more, in fear of her life. She fell to her knees weeping, her breath ragged as her hair flowed in waves to the very earth she was upon. “I have done as you said, I have done it and I fear what will become of me. Please, protect me. I beg of you. Do not make me go home.” Her cries did not fall upon deaf ears as once more the wolf returned to her. “Do not fret, do not worry so, the fear it makes your face swell and puff like the wishes upon a dandelion in seed.” She choked back a laugh at the words as she thought of how she must look a fretful mess. “Return home, I bid of you, but do so without fear. When he returns to beat you, do not pretend. Stand before him as a mountain does the wind, do not waver as he rails against you. Sing to him the words I have given you a third time and then as he backs away, sing them thrice more and again thrice more. Do not stop until my bidding is done and as you do so, chase him towards your neighbors house, whom he has sought to wrong.”
The woman, frightened but assured, returned home and prepared the days meals as she always had. She cleaned the house, lit the hearth and tended it, and when he returned home and refused even food, seeking instead his revenge upon her, she did exactly the wolf had bid. She sang to him the words of the wolf. He lifted his fists against her but she did not fall and gaining strength from this, she began to walk towards him even as he railed. Terrified by this, he began to back towards to the door but she followed him, herding him towards the neighbors house as she sang unto him in the quiet night. Not a soul was near, not a soul heard, for all were frightened of this giant of a man. As he moved, he became stiff. Each step brought with it more pain of movement, his muscles tightening into iron, his limbs refusing to be used, until finally he stood before the house. He began to yell but he had no voice. He struck out but did not move.
His wife walked about him in awe, studying her work, confused but pleased. She sat beneath his reaching bough and heard the padding of paws and a familiar chuckle. “He is a tree”, she gasped, “What words you gave me, what magic you possess that this man is now a tree and that I am now free.” The wolf settled beside her peacefully. “An apple tree, to be precise, that he might feed those he hated and sought to destroy.” And as she watched, the wolf became a man, the poet, her neighbor. Indeed, the wolf was not a wolf at all and she nearly forgot herself and screamed with fright. He hushed her kindly, smiling upon her as he stood there naked in the light of the moon. “It is not I”, said he “who can claim this power. It is not I who can claim this magic. Child, I only gave you the words lost to you long ago, the strength to say them. The words were your own. The voice, your own as was the magic.” And just like that, he walked away into his home as she sat there, pondering this night and its meaning.
And to this day, the tree still stands. This old twisted apple tree which has fed generations of man and beast stands beside an old hut, near the woods, on the land of a druid who cares for it still. It sees all and if you listen very carefully, it might tell you stories and warn you to never, ever, mistreat your wife. If, that is, you can stop long enough to hear the whisperings sent upon the wind.
This story is mine and written by me. I retain all rights to it. Any reproduction or copying of this story without my direct consent is theft and against the law.