Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.
The Glass Box
Love is the crooked thing.
—William Butler Yeats
Imagine a village.
Imagine it perching high on a steep slope just above the treeline, clinging to the mountainside like a bird to a branch in the instant before it takes flight.
You have seen such villages before, and you know how the winter wind laces its fingers through the cracks under doors and around windows, crying to be let in. You know that scrabbling a scant living from rocky soil has carved deep lines around the mouths and eyes of the men and women. You know that their children run wild over rock and alpine meadow, driving the goats home just before twilight falls.
You have seen such villages before, and you know their inhabitants. There is always a mayor. He always has a wife who died in childbirth, and an ample waistcoat, and some number of lovely daughters, and the sharpness of his vision always extends just to the borders of his own town.
There is always a healer, an old man or woman whose cottage smells of pungent herbs. The healer always sees a little farther than the mayor, just far enough to see his or her own death as it approaches, padding on soft paws up from the foothills.
There is always a holy man, too, though he goes by different names—prophet, seer, madman, poet, fool. He stands with one foot in this world, and one in another. He sees things that do not exist, and hears voices on the wind.
There are always craftspeople, filling the streets (which are always winding) with the music of their industry, and their forges and kilns and looms and ovens are always attended by wide-eyed and slightly underfed apprentices. The craftspeople and their apprentices squint inward, into the mysteries of fire and clay, the warp and weft of fabric, and the alchemy of rising dough.
There is always a beautiful young woman, and a minimum of two strapping young lads are always in love with her at any given time. Whether one rival kills the other will determine many of the events which will follow.
And there is always another, a stranger blown in by the mountain storms that rage about the peak.
You have seen such villages before, but not this one.
This village backs up like a cornered animal against an impassable mountain peak, which is not unexpected. A thick forest covers the slopes below the village, hemming it in, which is also not surprising. If this were any other village, a path would run through the forest. Few of the villagers would venture down it, of course, but occasionally a small caravan would make its way up the mountain to trade. Perhaps once or twice in a generation, a young woman or man, weary of smoky fires fueled by goat dung and houses huddled together against the wind like old gossips, would venture down the path that wound through the towering firs and aspens, and would embark on a quest for True Love or Adventure.
But there is no path through this forest. There may have been, once, but the trees have grown close together. The forest is expanding, inching slow fingers up the slopes. Every year, the grazing lands grow a little smaller. Every year, the village boundary contracts just a little, almost too little to be worth noticing. The villagers have built a low boundary wall of the grey stone that is their chief natural resource. The wall keeps nothing out or in. A child can step over it. The wall is a reminder only, a way of marking time. Each year, the forest creeps a little closer.
Nothing in the village is wooden, unless it is a hundred years old. The sounds of axes never echo off the mountainside, and there has not been a carpenter in the village for a hundred years. If there were Woodsmen here once, no one now living remembers them. And no one ever, ever ventures beneath the shadow of the trees.
There is something moving in the forest. What it may be, no one can say. The villagers understand one thing about the forest—whoever enters it will die. Because there is always an exception to prove the rule, a boy wandered into the trees once, seven years ago, and sprinted out again with only emptiness behind his eyes. Now he speaks in riddles by day, and screams at night. Now, if a child dares another child to dart between the trunks and back again, both children’s fathers set the rope to their backs, for love of them.
No one comes to the village through the forest. From time to time during the brief summers, when the slopes burst into a patchwork of color, a traveler-mage materializes without warning in the village square. No one else has business with the village. The only enticements it has to offer are copious amounts of goat cheese and the beautiful young woman, and both these things can be found in any other town of its size.
Once upon a time—or somewhere in its general vicinity—a man came to the village. If this was a different story, such an occurrence would hardly be worth mentioning. To this village, however, no one ever came, and so the event proved to be not only noteworthy but very nearly cataclysmic.
The villagers feared the stranger when he first arrived, because he had emerged alive and whole from the forest, and the light of reason still shone in his eyes. They watched him as he set up camp on the slope just above the village, wondering how long he would stay, and if he had brought anything to bargain over. One or two wondered if he had anything worth taking, and calculated whether anyone would notice if he went missing. Then they watched him as he built a house after the manner of their own, lifting and stacking stones and roofing it with sod, and wondered what he could possibly be thinking, to settle there.
This man’s name was not Frost, but he called himself that anyway, and so that was how the villagers came to know him. When he arrived, more than a few of the village maidens sighed and pined and batted their eyelashes, until their fathers asked them if they had something in their eyes, while their mothers wisely asked nothing and silently wondered if they, too, were not too old to be sighing and pining and batting. If this were another story, this would have been due to devastating personal beauty or at least a seductive aura of danger on Frost’s part. However, it was due mainly to the fact that Frost paid no attention to anyone, and did not smell like goats.
At first, he threatened to live up to his name. On closer inspection, everyone found that their first impressions had been correct. Frost was, in fact, as cold as the winter winds that swept down from the peak, freezing the goats’ milk in the pail in the time it took to move between the shed and the kitchen.
The next time the traveller-mage arrived in town, he brought, for some inscrutable reason, a great quantity of window-glass. Frost bought most of it, and fitted his stone cottage with windows looking up toward the peak and out over the treetops below. The villagers shook their heads, but a few of them bought glass, too, when the others weren’t looking, and replaced the goatskin-covered windows in their own houses. The traveller-image returned the next spring with more glass, and by the time he left, most of the windows in the village glinted in the sunlight, though all but the stranger’s looked back toward each other, away from the storm-wreathed mountain and the shadows of the trees.
Time passed. People got married, had children, grew old, and died, hemmed in by the trees that pressed closer each year. Many things happened, but three in particular are worth noting. In order, they are these:
1) The village matchmaker died.
2) The mayor, improvising as mayors must, broke with hundreds of years of tradition that dictated that the matchmaker be an eccentric old woman, and foisted the job off on Frost.
3) The beautiful young woman vanished without a trace.
Because you have known villages like this one, you know that a village has a long memory, but also a prodigious capacity for forgetfulness. By the time three more winters had come and gone, the first and third things had become irrelevant, and only the second mattered. It mattered because of a glass box. Because you have known stories like this one, you have heard about a princess in a glass box, who is awakened by True Love’s Kiss.
This is not that story.
nb. the above is the beginning of a larger meta-fairytale which Brenna is currently developing.
I am a writer, wife, mother, beekeeper, and chicken-wrangler living in rural Virginia. I write YA fantasy, and am currently seeking an agent.