Witch of the Wilds (Part Two)

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a story where flowers play a central role.... view prompt

16 comments

Fantasy

The tiny purple flowers were lovely, and Nuala focused on the little dots of color instead of the pain. Her hands, swollen and red from the day of harvesting. The rash was slowly creeping to parts of her body that had never even touched the stinging plant.  


Breaking the spell was a complicated task, and there were to be no shortcuts. Typically, one would wear gloves when working with stinging nettles, but part of the process was the pain. To save her brothers, she would have to give herself to this completely.


Aoife had explained to her what fashioning the shirts would entail. At first, Nuala had thought it a jest, and a poor one at that. She had never believed the stories about her stepmother being a witch of the wilds, but pain and sorrow were clear on Aoife’s face. Nuala knew in her heart it was true.  


It had been easy for her to sneak off the castle grounds, as her father barely knew she existed. He had no use for a daughter, aside from marriage to some faraway political ally.


She had gathered a few belongings and headed into the Graythorn forest. It was a dangerous choice, being so close to Aoife’s mother, but none of her father’s men would think to look for her there. The magnificent stag that was her brother Sean, led her to an abandoned hut where she set up residence.


Her other brothers stayed close, as well. They were barely hanging on to humanity, and Sean was the strongest, but the others often reached out to her mind as well. She never spoke back, of course, afraid that even talking in her thoughts could ruin her chance. Their presence offered her comfort, and they remained near.


Each day would start with harvesting the plant. Five shirts would take a lifetime, and she needed to complete them within five years. The first season was the hardest. Her skin throbbed with pain each night after spending hours collecting the awful plant. She would brew tea from the leaves to soak in, but it wasn’t enough. At one point, her hands become so swollen she couldn’t even gather for days. This would not do- if she were going to achieve her goal, there would be no rest.  


Fall was coming, and hopefully, she had enough of the plant to get through the winter and finish the first shirt. Each night after gathering, she would remove all the leaves and set them aside for making the healing tea. Then she would place the long stalks into a giant tub of water. This water needed to be changed each morning. She would trek back and forth from the nearby stream to the tub with the single jug she had.


After about a week, she would remove the soaked stalks and place them on a rack to dry, and then fill the tub with fresh ones. It was tedious work, and sometimes she forgot to eat or drink, only remembering when passing out.


After the plants were dry, she would work each one until it split, breaking the stalk and scooping out the pith with her fingernails. Often this process would cause her to lose a nail, and when she lost too many, she would have to wait for them to regrow before retrieving more pith.  


After that, she would work the pith until it was pliable and wind it into a ball of yarn to set aside for winter. This would build her stores when the plant was no longer available to harvest.


Aoife was the only person who knew where she was. Every couple of months, she would come by and drop off supplies. Nuala longed to talk with her and pour out her woes, but it was forbidden.  


Sean’s shirt would be first. She poured all her love for him into the task, imagining his powerful arms bouncing her on his knee when she was little. He had been more of a father to her than her own. Nuala’s mother had died in childbirth, and sometimes she felt as though her father had blamed her. Sean had never made her feel that way. He had told her stories of their mom and sometimes even let her tag along on adventures.  


The second shirt would go to Cornelius. He had been solid and silent as a child, but never missed a thing. Like her father, he had often been distant. She still loved him profoundly and poured herself into his shirt. 


She struggled to find the love and joy to pour into shirt three. Finn had always loved to tease and trick her. He was clever and intelligent and sometimes cruel, but he was also her brother, and she loved him.


The third shirt would be the easiest. Patrick was by far her favorite brother and most like herself. He was quiet and thoughtful and a hard worker. His little mouse form was always close by, and she would leave him gifts of nuts and berries in his nest.


Finally, there was Angus’ shirt. He was the most obstinate, stubborn person you would ever meet. Technically, he was older than her, but he was the only brother she would attempt to boss around. Not that he would ever listen.


Each day she toiled away at her task from dawn until the very last ray of sunlight disappeared from the sky. She was careful never to light a candle, for fear someone would find her, or even worse; she would fall asleep and cause a fire.


The only exception was on the night of the full moon. She would go to a clearing that Aoife had shown her, and her brothers would arrive one by one and transform from their animal forms to the men they were. She could not speak, but they understood her task. When the first rays of morning touched them, they would return to animal form.


She listened to her brothers argue she should not suffer so and that they could just give in and become their animal forms. Then they would comfort her and give her gentle hugs. Even Finn was kind to her in these moments, for he knew her sacrifice. Each month she feared they would not return, but each month, they were there.


As the culmination of five years came close, Nuala raced to complete her task. Aoife had come less and less each year, and food and supplies had withered to almost nothing. Nuala’s already-slight frame had wasted away, but she would finish.  


The night before the full moon, Angus’ shirt was almost done. She had only to attach the arms to the shirt. In desperation, so she could work through the night, she lit a candle to complete her work. Tomorrow this would all be over, and it would not matter who knew she was here. Using the last of her yarn, she worked and worked, and exhausted to the bone; she placed her head down to rest her eyes. 


Pain seared through her as her eyes flashed open. The candle had tipped, and the flame had caught on her hair and the cuff of Angus’ shirt. Her mouth opened wide to release a scream of pain. Instead, she bit down on her lip hard, drawing blood and cutting off any noise. Tears of pain streamed down her face, and she beat the flames from the last shirt. The fire had ruined the arm, and she had no more yarn to fix it.  


Anguish washed over Nuala as she realized there was no way around it. She had failed in her task. Her shoulders heaved in silent sobs as she sucked in air. She still had to try.  


That evening, she carefully folded each of the shirts, placing the one with the burned arm on top. She strode solemnly to the clearing where she knew her brothers would be. If her last hope failed, it would be her chance to say goodbye.  


One by one, they arrived, and she placed the shirt she had made with such love on them. Noble Sean, keen Cornelius, clever Finn, determined Patrick. When Nuala arrived at Angus, she hesitated, and her eyes turned down in shame. He hugged her tightly, removing the shirt from her hands and placing it over himself stubbornly.  


The siblings sat together in silence for the rest of the night, hands intertwined, not knowing what would happen. As the sun peaked over the horizon, they watched as the light crept across the meadow. It touched each of the brothers, and miraculously they remained in human form. When it crossed Angus, one leg remained a cleft hoof.  


Nuala looked at Angus, and her mouth opened, her voice cracking from disuse, “so… sorry.”


He just laughed and swept his sister in his arms in a giant hug. Then the six siblings linked arms and made their way home.


March 25, 2021 21:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

16 comments

Daniel R. Hayes
05:16 May 27, 2021

What a great conclusion to this whole story. This one didn't miss a beat from the first story, which I really like. I thought the idea of bringing them back by having to craft those shirts was very creative! I feel bad for Angus, because of his one leg... poor guy. He'll be the talk of the town at least... lol :) Honestly as a whole, both stories were amazing and I thought you did a great job writing these. You have such a gift for storytelling!! Now I need to read "Six Swans" because I've never read that one!! You did a great job on b...

Reply

Beth Connor
18:37 May 27, 2021

I wish I could take credit for the shirts, but that was part of the fairytale. I think both Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen have a version!

Reply

Daniel R. Hayes
18:46 May 27, 2021

I didn't know that, I'll have to check those out! You did a great job with these though ;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Ryan Lm Colli
14:28 Apr 09, 2021

That was an amazing book! Catolg intense a bunch of dialog and and reminds of a book ive read before... AMAZING JOB!! I really wnt to read more storys from you... Also please follow and like my storys please my storys are usally funny, thanks.

Reply

Beth Connor
16:35 Apr 09, 2021

Thank you so much, Ryan! I can't wait to read some of your stories. There was an author that did a retelling of the same Grimms story (Six Swans), I wonder if that was the one you read? I can't remember her name off the top of my head.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Valerie June
23:27 Mar 28, 2021

Beth, you have truly outdone yourself. This was fantastic! You gave a lot of detail, especially about how Nuala made the shirts and the pain she went through, so I was able to imagine it so vividly. Then, the ending with Angus’ hoof was a nice touch. I loved reading this retelling so much! If you ever write any more fairytales (or any of your stories for that matter) you can count on me to read them. 😉

Reply

Show 0 replies
Hannah Dominguez
11:42 Mar 28, 2021

Yes! A realistic fairytale ending. It made up for all the pain Nuala went through. I think this might be the most satisfying ending I've read yet. Although I still have questions, like about Aoife, but all is well. This ended really, really well. Thanks for the part 2!

Reply

Beth Connor
16:07 Mar 28, 2021

I’m glad you enjoyed! I had more in my head, but not enough time/words 😂 maybe someday I’ll write an epilogue.

Reply

Hannah Dominguez
09:32 Mar 29, 2021

Yes! Please do so!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Holly Fister
13:27 Mar 27, 2021

Loved the happy ending 💕

Reply

Beth Connor
15:58 Mar 28, 2021

Thank you for reading!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
H L Mc Quaid
14:14 Mar 26, 2021

A lovely ending to a great story. Well done. :) I only spotted a few little typos "headed" as it past tense here: "She had gathered a few belongings and head into the Graythorn forest." A comma after Sean might help here: "The magnificent stag that was her brother Sean led her.." "downtime" seems like a modern word..maybe use 'rest' or something similar here: "This would not do- if she were going to achieve her goal, there would be no downtime." It wasn't clear whose shirt she's working on this in this sentence: "Fall was coming, and hope...

Reply

Beth Connor
18:13 Mar 26, 2021

Amazing help, especially the "in desperation" because that is exactly what my brain was attempting to say! I got both edited as much as they are going to be. Next week looks like I may be able to play with fairy tales or myths again- there are a lot of fun trickster gods!

Reply

H L Mc Quaid
13:31 Mar 27, 2021

We all have those moments, where we're like, I know what I want so say but my brain ain't cooperating! Looking forward to more myths/fairy tales from you. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
02:49 Mar 26, 2021

I'm so glad you got the second part out this week! This was beautiful. I liked the added detail at the end about Angus' hoof, but that it still had a happy ending anyway. I also really enjoyed the detail you put in to explaining how she made nettle wool. From the first story, I imagined that she would sew the leaves together to make a shirt, but your way was much more clever. I could really picture it all as it was happening, you describe it so vividly. Fantastic! :)

Reply

Beth Connor
18:14 Mar 26, 2021

Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun with these stories and may play with fairy tales some more. I LOVE to read retells but have always been intimidated by writing them.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply