When I was a child, I strayed too far from the path and was eaten by a wolf. A woodcutter saved me, splitting the beast open before I’d run out of air. The people in my village blamed me for what happened.

“It’s her fault,” they said. “She should never have been wearing red in the woods.”

Unable to stand the whispers any longer, I went to live with my grandmother deep in the forest. She taught me how to sing a song that brought foxes to our garden and how to brew wildflower tea to bring rain.

We spent many years together, until one day we woke to red flames devouring our home and the cries of cowardly men running back toward the village. The smoke took hold of my grandmother, and she fell into a deep sleep from which she would never wake.

I ran deeper into the woods, to where snow kept the trees always bare and men and women dared not travel. My bones ached from the cold, but I pressed on as the flames that had taken everything from me raged in my heart. When I could walk no farther, I fell into the snow and waited for winter to take me.

Wishing to see something beautiful before I left the world, I sang the song my grandmother taught me, but instead of a fox appearing, a red rose sprouted up from beneath the snow. I reached for it and pricked my finger on one of its many thorns. Three drops of blood bloomed from my fingertip and fell.

A finch called to me from a barren tree, and from its branches hung three beautiful dresses. I took them to a frozen lake where I could see my reflection and tried on each one.

The first dress was the color of sunlight sparkling through ice.

The second dress was the color of the coldest night in winter when the moon mourned for spring.

The third dress was the color of false promises made by poison berries to hungry wanderers lost in the snow.

She should never have been wearing red, they had said.

Now, I would wear it always.

The voice of winter carried across the icy winds that stung my cheeks. “You will sing for me,” it said.

The wind reached down into my chest and grasped my heart. It beat only once more, for the spell that saved me from the bitter cold had turned my flaming heart to ice.

More years passed. Those who returned home from the winter woods spoke of a voice that lured lost travelers deep into the snow. A voice so beautiful, they returned to the woods in hopes of hearing my sweet song once more. They were never seen again.

One day, a child fleeing from a nearby kingdom found herself lost in the endless winter. She had hair as black as night and eyes that danced like snowflakes. When I found the child, I felt no desire to sing winter’s song to her. For it was not so long ago that I too had been a child alone in the woods.

Witch o’ the Hills by Jana Heidersdorf
Witch o’ the Hills by Jana Heidersdorf

“I can never return home,” said the child. “I have been promised to a king and I am to be married in the spring.” I thought my heart would crack.

“You can stay here as long as you wish.”

“The king’s men have followed me into the woods. I cannot outrun them.”

“Fear not, child. For I am the voice of winter, and you are safe with me.” The child laid down to rest. As she slept, I found each of the king’s men and lured them deeper into the snow with my song. When their hearts were stilled, I returned to the girl and built her an ever burning fire to keep her warm.

“You may stay in the winter woods for as long as you wish,” I said to the child, and she was grateful.

Together, we searched for owl feathers that told us the secrets of the stars and we braided each other’s hair with red ribbons. I loved the girl more with each passing moon, but the longer I kept the fire ablaze for her, the more my frozen heart began to thaw. When my heart was frozen no more, the winter winds led me away from the flames, took me in their cold embrace, and placed me gently in an ice coffin so delicate it looked as though it were made of glass.

Cat and the Moon by Jana Heidersdorf
Cat and the Moon by Jana Heidersdorf

I had not seen that the girl had become a young woman. She braved the cold to weep beside me, not knowing I would never leave her. My breath no longer rose and fell from my chest, it was all around her, riding upon the winter winds. I had always been too fearful to teach her the song, but now I knew the strength of her heart, and I was not afraid.

The young woman heard the song from winter’s breath, and when she sang it aloud, apple blossoms flowered from the dormant branches above her. She wept, knowing the song had been sung to her by her mother. As two of her tears fell, a red fox emerged from the trees. Its bright red fur glowed like a candle in the morning light. She followed it to the frozen lake where two dresses lay on the ice.

The first dress hung loosely around her waist. She twirled and it came up and around her like snow angel wings, flowing up, and then down again to her ankles. It was lovely, but when she tried on the second dress, it made her eyes glow with animal secrets. As the ice and wind, I kissed her cheeks and spoke: “You are so fair. The fairest of them all.”

It was the coldest night of winter, but the moon did not mourn as my daughter filled her basket with golden apples. I did not weep as a raven pulled the last red ribbon from her hair. Her heart carried the warmth of an ever burning fire and the secrets of the stars. She would take this magic back into the world beyond the winter woods, and she would bring spring with her to every village and kingdom she traveled.


Winter Witch Issue by Enchanted Living Magazine - The Year of the Witch 2023 #65Enchanted Living is a quarterly print magazine that celebrates all things enchanted. 
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