Please…Help the Old Crone of the Woods

Once upon a time…

In a deep forest, in an ancient cottage, an old witch lived—the Old Crone of the Woods. She was neither pleasant nor disagreeable; she simply was. She lived with seven cats because seven is a good number. All of them were female, and they lived happily together. Year earlier, they had begged the Old Crone to save them from the agony of bearing and losing endless children, so she’d fed them the same tea so many women in the city beyond the forest came for.

The Crone lived for many years in that cottage, during which she came to know many generations of women. Their wanted children grew into adults, and those women visited the Crone, and then their children after that came. The women kept the old woman’s presence a secret. It was their deepest secret, kept from men who did not believe their women should decide to wait to have children until they wanted them.

One fall morning, the Crone lay in her bed, her eyes still closed despite the sun that filtered through her window tapestries. She hadn’t even risen to feed her fur children; they were so concerned they brought her bits of their food. She smiled wearily and petted each one thoroughly. “I’m sad,” she told Sabrina, her oldest companion, a beautiful cat with the blackest fur and the bluest eyes. “I know why I’m sad, but what help is to be had?” The old woman heard footsteps outside her door but still didn’t rise. “That will be my dear Fleura.”

Fleura filled the cottage with her youth and vitality. She wasn’t beautiful, but who noticed? Her smile was almost as brilliant as her copper-colored curls, hanging long and loose down her back. She was too kind-natured to cause jealousy among other women and too indifferent to men for them fight for her attention. All she wanted was what the Old Crone gave her—a meaningful life. Fleura was the Old Crone’s apprentice.

“Mother, what are you doing abed?” Fleura cried. “Are you ill?”

The Crone lifted a hand, waved it once, and dropped it. “I am not ill, my dear… but something is indeed amiss.”

Fleura sat on the edge of the bed and took the withered hands in her soft, young ones. “Please, tell me, what can I do for you?”

“I’m sad,” the Crone murmured, “yet don’t know how to how to remedy it.”

“Tell me,” Fleura said earnestly. “You know you need only ask.”

The Crone chuckled weakly. “I know, dear child. But what I lack…I cannot see you providing. Yet… Perhaps you can help. What have I taught you, Fleura? What do we do that consumes the greatest time?”

Fleura’s clever brain didn’t have to think at all. “Why, you write magical words to help others! The women ask questions or request medicines, and you tell them what they must do and how to use whatever you give them.” She smiled. “Your missives are so clever that the women save them, keeping them hidden to share with each other.”

The Crone frowned. “That is not my intent. Those missives must not fall into the wrong hands.”

“They know. They don’t keep them in their homes; rather, they bind them together with twine between the thinnest wood veneers and place them where men will never set foot.”

The Crone brightened. “And where is that?”

“In the Orust,” Fleura replied with a twinkle in her eyes. “That place men thought to banish us after our cycles to cleanse us has become the most serene place to bathe and enjoy our privacy. And to gather with other women.”

The Crone laughed now and sat up. “The women of your time are very clever, dear Fleura. But the ritual of the Orust was just as enjoyable when I was your age. And my missives are kept there? But that is just what I need.”

“What do you mean?”

“I awakened to sadness and realized that I yearn to know what each missive I’ve written means to others. I ask only a few words to assure me that I was not amiss in what I gave them. You know better than any of the time each takes. How I pour my heart into them…how sometimes I write until my fingers have no feeling left in them.”

Fleura patted the older woman’s gnarled hands. “I will explain to those who read and enjoy your missives how they can heal your heart by taking a moment to write and tell you what your words meant to them, and perhaps how joyously they share them with others. Will that help you?”

The Old Crone clasped her hands to her heart. “It is all that I ask, dear child. Acknowledgment that my work has meaning to others.”

And so…Fleura visited many who came to the Crone for her magical words. She told them of her sad heart and what it needed to become light again–a few words telling them what her words meant to them. Will you help the Crone?

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