Once upon a time in the Queen’s Forest, a wise woman lived in a rather large cottage. In the nearby village, the more ignorant of them called her a witch and wanted her banished. Others sought her out for her wisdom and healing abilities. And then there were the children who scared one another by whispering about her craggy face, wrinkled hands, and wild hair.
Her name was Anne which is a rather uninspiring name for a wise woman (or witch dependent on your point of view.) The villagers called her “The Queen’s Forest Crone.”
Anne spent her days foraging, gardening, preparing potions, and cooking. She loved to cook. The alchemy of breadmaking still enchanted her after all these years. Occasionally, a villager would arrive in need of one thing or another.
Over the years, she learned that mostly they needed a sympathetic ear. Often, her potions were of no real use to the malady at hand. In those cases, she gave them fresh baked bread and honey from the hive in the Twin Tree.
The great tree grew a short distance from Anne’s cottage. Like Anne, it was gnarled and sometimes ugly but possessed of a great spirit. From the trunk of the old tree, a branch extended that formed another tree growing perpendicular in the air to the old one. Not really a twin, the younger tree was still in it’s prime. A woodsman had tried to cut it down, but her roots screamed in agony until the spirit of the old tree took hold to rescue her.
The branch grew into the side of the tree preventing the young tree from being felled. The two trees shared water, nutrients, and thoughts. The younger learning from the old one; the old one awash in memories of her youth.
The hive was in the trunk of the old tree near the ground, but not too near. It was easy for Anne to reach to collect the honey. She was respectful, said please and thank you, and always blessed the hive and the tree with a gentle touch.
She put honey on her bread and in her tea. She took it for medicinal purposes in the spring when all the new growth provoked sneezes and tears. She made mead with it and sometimes drank too much of it on full moons. Very rarely, she took extra to put in a pottery jar to give as a gift. As the years went by, the gifts became fewer and fewer as her friends and colleagues were succumbing to the wheel of time.
The villagers did not know of the Twin Tree or were so unimpressed by it that it didn’t warrant mention.
The woodsman, now old, but not as old as Anne, would tell the tale of the tree that wouldn’t fall, but he was dismissed as old and not clear in his head.
The Queen’s Forest Crone was collecting honey one day when she noticed blight. The young tree was unaffected, but the blight was curling and blackening the leaves of the elder.
Anne fretted. She’d seen blight before on other trees and it never ended well. Sometimes the blight was like a rapidly spreading fire and killed the tree in a matter of days. Other times, it took months before the tree succumbed. Anne could not decide which outcome she hoped for. She did not want to lose the trees, but she didn’t want them to suffer.
It didn’t seem fair that the young one would die too. She had survived the woodsman only to be felled by nature. The benevolence of the old tree had increased the younger’s lifespan, but the end would be ugly. Death often is.
Anne sat on the ground with her back to the trunk of the old tree and sang sweet melodies to the trees. Her voice was still clear and beautiful without wavering.
Day after day, she sang to the tree. It was not a fire blight, but a slow-moving one.
Each day, more and more leaves dropped from the old one and the younger grew hungrier and hungrier. Still, neither complained, soothed by songs the Queen’s Forest Crone sang.
Eventually, autumn arrived, and one couldn’t tell what was blight and what was the annual shedding of leaves. Completely denuded, the first snow came, and the old woman bundled up in her cottage.
All winter long, she dreamed of the two trees. It was a winter of heavy snow and many storms. Anne couldn’t leave her cottage for the snow was piled up so deep she couldn’t open the door.
In early spring, a villager-in-need knocked on the crone’s door. The snow was gone, but it was still cold. Getting no answer, he opened the door. Anne was lying in her bed as frozen as the ground.
The villager heard a great crash in the forest but did not investigate. Trees were always falling this time of year.
The Twin Tree, like Anne, had not survived the cruel season.
The bees were in an uproar but soon settled down. There was no one to tell them the crone had died. But they continued their spring rituals.
The wheel turns.