Here is Part 3 of my fairy tale, A Harvest Tale. The story had grown a little too long to be a regular blog post, so I've posted it in four parts. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. And Part 2 is here.
For those who are all caught up, Part 3 starts now…
A Harvest Tale
By Catherine Mesick
“Wicked girl!” the woman cried. “You will pay dearly for what you have done!”
“Forgive me, my lady,” Marta said, for a great lady the woman must be. “I humbly beg your pardon if I have offended you.”
Not quite believing her senses, so wondrous was the woman’s beauty, Marta glanced around then to see if the young man could see the woman, too.
But the young man had disappeared.
“How dare you turn away from me!” the woman thundered, and all the trees of the forest seemed to shake with her fury.
“Forgive me, my lady,” Marta said.
“Forgive you?” the woman said, outraged. “There can be no forgiveness for what you have done.”
“I beg of you, my lady, tell me how I have offended you.”
The woman snorted. “Wicked and ignorant. You will come with me now to face judgment.”
“Judgment?” Marta said. “My lady, what could I—”
“You will come with me,” the woman snarled, “or I will curse your family.”
Not doubting the woman’s power, Marta bowed her head. “I will go with you.”
The woman reached out a hand and touched Marta on the shoulder. Marta felt an icy chill run through her, and then she felt herself flying through the forest.
When she came to a stop, Marta found herself standing in a large, dark chamber. She held her lantern high. Many pairs of eyes were staring at her through the gloom.
“Bring the prisoner to me!” cried a ringing voice.
Several pairs of hands clutched her arms, and Marta clung to her lantern and basket tightly. She felt herself being dragged forward, and when the hands released her, she was standing in front of the lady in white, who was seated on a throne. The glow around her illuminated a little more of the chamber, and Marta could see a crowd of strange, pale creatures with unnaturally bright eyes. Though the creatures were human in form, Marta had a strong feeling that they were anything but.
“Where am I?” Marta said.
“Silence!” the woman said from her throne. “You are here to answer for your crimes, girl. You are not to speak unless directed to do so.”
Marta fell silent.
The woman rose. “I am Lady Frost, and these are my people. They all act as witnesses. You, girl, stand accused of cruelty, selfishness, and neglect.”
Lady Frost’s glow suddenly blazed brighter, illuminating the entire chamber.
“I will now name your punishment!”
“My punishment?” Marta said. “But I have done nothing.”
“Silence, girl!” Lady Frost cried.
“My name,” Marta said, “is Marta.”
Lady Frost’s eyes flashed fire. “How dare you correct me, insolent girl? How dare you speak in my presence? I didn’t give you leave to speak!”
“Is this a trial?” Marta said.
“Yes,” Lady Frost replied, “and you have been found guilty.”
“How dare you—”
“If I have been found guilty,” Marta said, her eyes also flashing fire, “then I have a right to know why. But I haven’t heard any evidence. I haven’t even heard what I am supposed to have done.”
Lady Frost’s lips curled into a smile. “You wish for evidence? Very well. I will give you your evidence.”
She cast a glittering eye over the assembled crowd and then seated herself once again upon her throne.
“On this very night,” Lady Frost said, “you met three members of your own kind, and in each case you refused to help them. You met an old man who was dying of thirst and refused to give him so much as a bite from an apple. You met an old woman whose horse was suffering and refused to soothe the poor animal’s pain. And, not content to ignore the humble, you then refused the mighty. You met a great lord who was lost in the woods, and you refused to show him the way. Every single time you were tested you failed. You have no respect for age or station or beauty. No care for animals. No care, even, for love. You are like all others of your kind. When tested by my people, they have all failed.”
“Perhaps they have failed,” Marta said, “because you and your people cheated.”
The glow around Lady Frost suddenly blazed brighter.
“You say I refused to help an old man,” Marta said. “But he was not an old man, and he was not dying of thirst. He was one of your creatures. And you say I refused to help an old woman, but she was not an old woman, and her horse was not truly injured—they were both your creatures. And you say I refused to help a great lord, but he was not a great lord, and he was not lost. You set a trap for me, and now you wish to punish me for the crime of not falling into it.”
Lady Frost rose. “A trap? You dare to accuse me of wrongdoing? It was your hardness of heart that brought you here. You spurned my own son. You should have been allowed to go had you not—”
“I see,” Marta said.
“You see what?” Lady Frost said.
“What this is all about.”
“Oh? Do enlighten us.”
“Pride,” Marta said.
“Pride?” Lady Frost cried, outraged. “Who are you to judge me? I am Lady Frost. I bring an end to the harvest. I stop all growth. I send the earth to sleep. I have true power. And who are you? Nothing. Less than nothing. You haven’t even laid eyes on your own human queen, I’ll wager. You’re a simple, rustic girl, and you know nothing.”
“It is you who know nothing,” Marta said quietly.
“I rule nature itself!” Lady Frost cried. “I am ageless, timeless. I rule over a great people, and I care for them!”
“How do you care for them by deceiving hapless human beings?”
“I will not tolerate your insolence,” Lady Frost cried. “You should be begging me for my forgiveness.”
“I beg your forgiveness, my lady, if I was lacking in courtesy. But I meant what I said. You know nothing. You are powerful, it is true. And you have many great responsibilities. But you don’t know what it is like to fear the cold and the dark.
“You showed me someone who was dying of thirst. You showed me a horse that was suffering. You showed me a man who was lost. But you yourself know nothing of these things. You don’t know what it is to be a lone girl in the forest. This is just a game to you. You don’t know how fragile life is. You know nothing of what it is to be human. And for that I forgive you.”
“You? Forgive me?” Lady Frost said.
“And I see something else.”
“What is that?”
“I can leave here any time I wish.”
Lady Frost laughed, a high, harsh sound.
“You are ridiculous. What are you compared to me?”
“You have great power,” Marta said. “But it has limits.”
“You have no idea what I am capable of, human girl.”
“Yes, but I do know what you aren’t capable of. You want these apples—the ones I have right here in my basket. But you can’t just take them, can you? Otherwise, you would have done so by now. I have to agree to give them to you. That’s why you employed all the trickery—to get me to hand them over to you of my own free will. And that’s why I’m here now—because I agreed to come with you. If I had not agreed, you could not have taken me.”
“Yes, you agreed,” Lady Frost spat. “And now you will remain as my prisoner. You will never leave here, you wicked girl. You will never see the world above again.”
Marta shook her head. “I only agreed to come with you. I didn’t agree to stay. I can leave here right now. And I’m going to.”
“I forbid you to leave!” Lady Frost cried. “You will remain right where you are, or I will curse your family, just like I said I would!”
“I have already defied your orders by speaking,” Marta said. “All you have are tricks and threats. You have no power over me or my family.”
“You don’t know where you are!” Lady Frost screamed. “You are hopelessly lost! You will never see your home again!”
“I will find my way,” Marta said.
“Then you will do so in the dark,” Lady Frost hissed.
Suddenly, Lady Frost’s great glow went out, and Marta was plunged into darkness.
Marta held her little lantern high.
But as far as Marta could see, Lady Frost and all of her creatures had vanished. She was alone in the great, dark chamber.
**End of Part 3. You can find Part 4 here.**
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