A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the woods, the roses, and the weeds.
After having eaten a stolen fruit from it when just a child, a young woman feels compelled to sneak into a witch’s garden just one more time.
Special thanks to K. for being my sensitivity reader.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen, you can find a transcript and an MP3 download on patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the woods, the roses, and the weeds.
Laura: A heads up for those who need it. This story deals with themes of chronic illness.
The Enchanted Garden
There once was a girl that grew up in a fine house with many good things. To start with she had a father that loved her, a stepmother that doted on her, and a fond mother sailing the sea, which were all very good things to be sure. They called her Ama and she had the light of the moon in her eyes, the light of the sun in her hair and she was as blythe as she was bonny, which was both a great deal.
The only thing that caused her parents worry, was her health. Ama’s body was not strong, no matter how quick her mind was, and often her limbs ached without anyone understanding why. Of course they consulted a doctor about it, many in fact, but none of them had anything helpful to say. Until the last one, a shy man with a thoughtful face admitted:
“There may be a cure in the garden of the forest witch. The plants he grows have many mystical qualities, who knows if there is one that could help your daughter.”
Neither Ama’s father nor stepmother were very pleased with this suggestion, but they supposed, that if it might help her, they should at least try. So one afternoon, when they were feeling particularly brave, they bundled their young daughter up and took her into the forest.
They took her all the way to the witch’s house, hidden between the tallest trees. The witch didn’t answer until they had knocked several times and waited very long and Ama was just about ready to fall asleep leaning against her stepmother’s side, because that day was a very tired day. But finally, the door opened, and the witch appeared. He had shadows clinging to his fingers and dark circles under his eyes, and he listened to Ama’s parents with a cruel smile.
“There is sure to be a cure growing in my garden somewhere, but I will not give it away for free. You give me your girl as a servant for me and I will make sure that she is restored to full health.”
Little Ama promptly began to cry and her parents refused with indignant fire, because they would rather take care of their daughter every second of every day, than to miss her even a single one.
The witch shrugged his shoulders and told them to do as they pleased, but as he slammed the door behind him, Ama’s stepmother boiled with rage.
“No one threatens me into bargaining my child away and refused to help her to boot!” She grew as round and ruffled as an angry hen and promptly told her husband and daughter: “We shall get into this garden ourselves!”
So they snuck through the trees, all around the house, and found just the smallest of gaps in the underbrush. On the other side, when peering through it, they saw the witch’s overgrown gardens. The leaves of the trees spread so thickly overhead that barely a ray of sunlight reached the ground, and yet his garden flourished. Left and right branches were heavy with fruit, bushes bloomed, herbs sprouted and vegetables ripened.
“We cannot get through,” the father lamented.
“We shall find another way,” the stepmother said, but in the moment that their backs were turned, young Ama had already dropped to her knees and crawled into the shadows.
Her stepmother nearly cried out in fear, but her father quickly put a hand on her arm. “Let her look,” he said urgently. “She was born with what ails her, surely she’ll know what will help her most.”
And he seemed to be right, because Ama, wandering through the garden with eyes as big as saucers, came upon a prickly bush with large, pale green berries and as soon as she ate one she felt both the tiredness pressing on her neck and the ache in her young bones lift just enough to make her smile. She grabbed three more in every hand and ran back to her parents to show them, but once safely back on the other side, eating more of the fruit did not seem to help any more.
For Ama and her parents it was enough however. Enough for the pain in her limbs to not plague her too much, and for the tired days to become few and far between instead of frequent.
Ama was happy, and her parents were happy, and life was good. Except Ama had taken more from the garden than a handful of berries. She had taken a longing with her. Because even though she had been in the magic garden for only a moment, the beauty of it had stuck in her mind. Even as she grew up, the memories did not grow faint. They only became more beautiful, more vibrant in her mind’s eye. Ama grew into a joyful young woman, but her joy was wild and her spirit yearning, even on her tired days. At night she dreamt of endless woods. Where the trees grew so close there was naught but shade on the grass and where in that shade grew roses so wild that they cared not for sunlight.
It was for those roses that Ama’s heart yearned most of all. Roses, she was sure, that would never wilt, but that she could barely remember the shape or scent of now.
She told her parents nothing of this, she did not even write about it to her mother across the sea, for they would only worry, but Ama’s longing grew as she did, until she could bear it no longer.
So on one fine afternoon, when she was feeling particularly brave, Ama slipped away from her books.
Silently she snuck out of her room, through the hall and out of the house, down the path to the deep forest. The further she got, the faster her feet and when she reached the darkest part of the woods she was breathless and bright-eyed from running. She had to slow down under the cool shade of the trees, catching her breath and minding her steps, but as she rested her feet seemed to know the way. The trees seemed suddenly familiar, and a moment later she saw the witch’s house. It was all overgrown, the underbrush so thick she could barely walk through it, but Ama persevered. Until suddenly, there was the smell of roses drifting towards her.
Her heart leapt, because she remembered now. “If I could have only one of you,” she whispered. “One of you never-wilting roses. I will never yearn for anything again.” And she struggled silently through the brushwood.
She stumbled on the uneven ground, caught herself, and when she looked up again Ama gasped in delight.
There, right before her, was the witch’s garden, and never before had she seen such a pretty spot. The fruit trees from her memory were still there, as were the bushes, the herbs, the vegetable plots, but she barely saw them. Because in the midst of the shadowy garden the grass grew green around a natural well of clear, fresh water and all around it grew wild roses. In crisp white, soft pink and deep red, with briars winding and twisting between them.
“Oh, you’re almost too pretty to pick,” Ama sighed. “But if I can keep only one of you for my hair, I will be satisfied.” And she leaned down to pick a white rose.
Barely had she touched the stem or a shadow stirred beside her and a melodic voice spoke:
“What is this? A beauty picking my roses? And without permission from the gardener?”
Ama started, jumping back up with the rose in her hand. Before her stood a tall figure, clad all in green like the witch had been, but this was surely not the witch. Their skin was not pale, but dark, with attentive, young eyes, and far too handsome features. Ama’s own eyes were wide with surprise and she found herself quite speechless.
“What makes you think you can pick my roses?” the beautiful stranger smiled. “How dare you even come here at all, I’m sure you haven’t been invited.”
Ama nearly blushed, but she was quick to protest. “This place does not belong to you! And neither do these roses. Who are you to claim that they are!”
The stranger blinked at her with a look of equal surprise, but this lasted only a moment. Very soon they started smiling again and said in a tone of charm and amusement: “Who might you be, if you know so much about whom these roses do and do not belong to?”
“I am Ama,” she replied defiantly. “And I never said I knew so much, but I know this is the garden of the witch, and you are certainly not him.”
They shook their head, eyeing her curiously. “Do you know my master then? If so you should know that I am his gardener.”
That she had not expected. “When I was here last, he did not have one,” she murmured.
“He is growing old,” the handsome gardener replied.
“Then,” Ama said hesitantly. “You grew these roses?”
“I tend to them,” they agreed.
“If these were my roses,” Ama said brazenly. “I would be generous with them. There are so many roses here, one or two cannot be missed.” And they cradled the rose she already picked in her hands.
The gardener laughed softly and the sound wrapped around Ama like an evening breeze at dusk. “If you wanted roses for your hair, you only had to ask,” they said. My master rarely comes out here anymore nowadays.”
Without another word they reached out towards the briars and picked six crisp white roses. With their elegant, slender fingers they wove them through Ama’s hair, in such a way that they crowned her head with white.
Ama did not speak a word through all of this, but her cheeks turned redder with every rose.
“There,” the gardener smiled, slanting their head slightly as they looked at her.
Ama had been bold only a moment before, but now she knew not what to say. “Thank you,” she said finally and after looking at them for a quiet moment she held out her hand.
“My pleasure,” the gardener murmured. “They become you.” They gently took her offered hand and raised it to their lips. The kiss they pressed on it was hardly more than the ghost of a touch, but to Ama it was the sweetest kiss she had ever been given.
With only a few more stammered words of parting and with her cheeks fairly burning she withdrew her hand and hastily hurried off, leaving the gardener standing between the trees.
They watched her go with an expression caught between delight and regret and only when she was quite out of sight did they turn back to the witch’s house, slowly going back inside.
Ama ran all the way home with her heart dancing within her chest. The roses nestled in her hair spread perfume all around her and it was as if she could still feel the gardener’s eyes lingering on her face and their lips lingering on her hand. She returned home and spent the rest of the day helping in the kitchen, but as she measured the flower she was hearing the rustling trees and as she peeled fresh fruit she was seeing the smile in the gardener’s eyes.
“If I could feel this way for all my days,” Ama sighed to herself. “I would never be discontent again.”
Such feelings do not last, however, and Ama had been mistaken. The roses did wilt after all. One morning Ama woke up to find them all faded and withered and her heart yearned. Only now it did not just yearn for roses. It yearned for the charming voice she now heard in her sleep and the gentle touches she imagined she could still feel tangled in her hair.
So once again Ama left her work, slipped out of the house and wandered away to the woods, by the very same road she had taken before. Only this time she walked slowly, because it was day with aches and Ama took her time.
This time when she reached the garden, she saw the gardener there at work already, their knees planted in the grass and their hands stained with dirt. They looked up when she approached. Ama’s heart leapt as the gardener smiled. They looked just as charming and composed as before, but there was something in their eyes that seemed eager.
“Here you are again,” they said happily.
“The roses wilted,” Ama replied, dark eyes fixed on them. She could have given so many more reasons for her return, but she swallowed them all in favour of a single brilliant smile.
The gardener gave her a grin in return and shook their head. “Well, their loveliness is better spent on you than on that sour old man,” they said and this time they took up a briar strewn with pink roses. Carefully they picked the seven prettiest and Ama walked willingly to their side so they could weave them through her hair.
Once again Ama thanked them when they stepped back to admire their work, but this time she did not flee back home so quickly. No, this time she stayed awhile and the wind itself seemed to hold its breath to hear what was said between the gardener and Ama as they wandered through the garden.
Eventually Ama felt she had to go home. If she didn’t, she would surely be missed, and she had been on her feet for a very long time. So she had to take her leave, but instead of holding out her hand for the gardener, she raised her face to theirs.
“Goodbye,” she said softly.
“Will you come back?” they asked and for a moment a shadow of worry passed over their face.
“I will,” she promised.
The gardener smiled and when she didn’t step away, they leaned forward and very softly kissed her cheek.
For one brilliant moment it was as if the sun finally managed to shine straight through the trees and then Ama hid her face and hurried home, heart racing with happiness.
The pink roses seemed to wilt even faster than the white ones. Ama sat at her piano practicing and every time she moved a petal seemed to tumble past her face.
Her parents could tell that Ama was more absentminded and more restless than she had ever been before, but whenever they asked, Ama just shook her head and told them nothing was wrong.
That this was not the case was clear enough, for barely had the sun risen on another day or Ama left again and hurried back to the witch’s garden.
This time it was very clear that the gardener had been waiting for her and Ama’s spirit danced within her because of it. Before either of them had spoken any sort of greeting, she had already slipped her hand in theirs.
“I’m glad you’ve come back,” the gardener whispered.
“I’m glad you are here,” Ama smiled.
They wandered around, talking of everything in their hearts and minds and while they walked the gardener picked seven roses of the deepest red. Whenever they picked one, they carefully wove it into Ama’s hair, running their fingers through it so lovingly that Ama was sure she had never felt anything like it before.
Crowned with red roses she walked on the gardener’s arm and in that moment she was so happy that all her troubles seemed lifted.
Cruel was the time that ran out on them and heavy was Ama’s heart when she reluctantly said she must go home again.
“Will you come back?” the gardener asked once again.
“I’ll come back,” Ama promised. She looked up at the gardener, their face shrouded in the shadow of the many leaves, and asked: “Kiss me goodbye?”
The gardener’s smile was warm as they pressed their lips against hers and Ama carried their warmth with her all the way back home.
From that day on Ama visited the enchanted garden as often as she could, roses or no roses, just to spend her time with the gardener. There were quiet talks, and soft laughter, and secret kisses, but whenever she asked them to go wander through the woods a little, they shook their head and told her no. The gardener wouldn’t leave the garden.
So Ama kept coming to them, and kept returning with the smell of roses tangled in her hair and the light of happiness shining in her eyes. Her friends and parents did wonder, but she seemed so content and happy no one wished to question her.
Until one very sober day. And old friend of the family would be visiting and Ama helped her parents to prepare for his arrival. Everyone in the house was so excited and the cheerfulness of it all made her sing. Until she thought of the gardener. No sooner had the thought of them entered her head or a shadow followed it. The gardener would never be welcomed into her home like this. Just like they would never sit beside her at the dinner table. They would not leave their garden, would not leave the witch, and even if they truly loved her, they would never be truly hers.
Soberly Ama set about her work, folding the napkins for dinner. But soon there was a tear on every fold and as the days went by Ama grew pale and sorrowful. She wilted like the flowers in her hair and everyone around her started whispered anxiously how Ama, who had been so glowing with health and happiness, now seemed to grow so ill again. They did not see it was a different kind of ailment this time.
Eventually Ama did not even go back to the garden again, for what good could it do her to be with her lover if she only had to leave them again? Her books and music lay untouched and her cheeks were stained with tears.
At last her parents could no longer bear to see her sorrow and her father came to her room and sat with her just like he used to do when she was little. “My dear,” he said softly. “Do not make me watch you waste away. If there is anything I can do to help you, tell me so.”
How surprised he was when his daughter wept and told him of the pain of a broken heart rather than the pain of aching limbs. If this was the case, he had never seen anyone so sick with love as her, and he begged her to tell him who it was she loved so desperately.
“I will not,” Ama refused. “For we cannot be together.”
“My little Ama,” her father spoke gravely. “Whomever it is that you love. Whether they wear their hair long or short, whether their pockets are full of gold or filled with coal, whether they were born and raised here or came travelling from far away, if they have your love they shall have mine.”
At this Ama cried and kissed her father’s cheek, but she still would not tell him of the gardener. No father, no matter how loving and gentle, could help the child that fell in love with a witch’s companion. From this silence her dejected father concluded that whomever Ama had fallen in love with did not love her back.
Her father and stepmother both lamented and seeing her family grow so sad made Ama finally make up her mind. She could endure her own suffering, but not theirs. She would go back to the garden one last time. She would bid the gardener farewell and she would take something from the garden to ease her pain. Because there grew flowers there, that could make sadness feel like happiness, and there grew reeds, that prevented tears from flowing, and there were weeds that would make a heart forget who it was yearning for.
So once again Ama walked to the woods, and though it was a day without aches of the body, the aching of her heart and mind made her walk with her head bent and her face grim.
Nothing stirred in the garden when she entered. Roses still bloomed all around the well, but Ama did not look at them. Instead she searched the rest of the garden. She passed by the flowers, she passed by the reeds, but knelt down when she found the weeds. They had sharp leaves, but Ama picked them all the same, plucking the leaves off one by one.
Her head was bowed so low that she did not see them approaching, but even when the gardener spoke to her she did not move from her spot.
“My love,” their voice came apprehensively from behind her. “Why do you pick those weeds? Please pick my white roses instead.”
“No,” Ama said quietly. “I will pick the weeds.”
“My love,” the gardener urged again, their voice closer this time. “Why do you pick those weeds? Please pick my pink roses instead.”
“No,” Ama spoke, swallowing tears. “I will pick the weeds.”
“Ama,” the gardener said, voice trembling. “Why do you pick those weeds? Pick my red roses instead!”
“No,” Ama cried out and she rose to their feet with the weeds clutched to her chest. “I will take the weeds. I have come to say goodbye.”
Now the gardener understood her and there was pain on their face and tears in their eyes. “Why do you want to forget me?” they cried. “Is it not enough I have to wait here until you wander back again?”
“Wait for me?” Ama wept. “It is me that has to leave knowing that you will never stay with me! It is me that fell in love with a witch’s companion! If we can’t stay together, I must forget you and you mustn’t stop me!”
But before she could turn away the gardener grasped her hands, crushing the leaves she held within them and pleaded: “If I were free to, I would have gone with you. The first time you asked, the first time you let me. But I am bound to this garden and to the witch who saved my life. Nearly seven years ago I got lost in the woods, nearly starving there. The witch found me and brought me to his garden and turned me into a rose he could nurse back to health. When I was strong enough to put to work he changed me back and I have served him ever since.”
“But then you are human,” Ama said with trembling voice. “And we can strike a bargain with the witch to get you free.”
The gardener’s face twisted with love and sorrow and in a voice that sounded suddenly more mournful to Ama than her own heart had ever felt, they spoke:
“Nearly seven years I have served him. Seven years under the witch’s power. Tomorrow the seventh year is past and I will be bound to him for ever more. I cannot even speak to him of leaving, or he’ll surely turn me into a rose again.”
Ama had feared and she had hoped, but now her face sobered and their eyes shone with determination. “You feel yourself bound to him?” she asked.
“I know myself to be,” the gardener said sorrowfully.
Ama clasped their hand. “But do you feel yourself bound to me.”
And the gardener answered without a moment’s pause. “More than anyone.”
“Then I care for no witch,” said Ama with her heart leaping. “And I will take you home with me.”
“There might be a way,” the gardener said doubtfully.
“Tell me,” Ama demanded. “And I’ll do it, so that you may belong to yourself and to me and to no one else.” The weeds that were to make her forget had dropped to the ground, they themselves forgotten and now all Ama was holding was the gardener’s hands.’
“I can’t leave the garden,” the gardener said. “My feet obey the witch who once planted them in the earth, but I may be carried out.”
Ama mourned and horrored, because the gardener was tall and she did not think she would have enough strength to carry them. But the gardener’s dark eyes had suddenly lit up with inspiration.
“You must go home, Ama,” they said urgently. “You must go home and I will tell the witch I want to leave. He will turn me into a flower again, to wait out the last day of the seventh year. But now you know you can come back to the garden tomorrow, before the sun has set, and you can pick me and carry me home.”
“But will you be able to be yourself again?” Ama asked fearfully. She would not have her love trapped in a flower for the rest of their days.
“I will as soon as I am out of the witch’s power,” the gardener assured her. “But you must not let go of me until we are out of the woods he calls home.” And they warned her that as soon as the witch found out, he would surely try to stop her, but that she should not stand still for even a moment, or look back, or let herself stray off the path back home.
Ama listened to all this without any further fear. There was no room left for fear in her lover’s heart.
“If that is what it takes, then that is what I shall do,” she promised and she sealed her promise with a kiss and another and another, until on unwilling feet she hurried back home, leaving her lover behind in the garden one last time.
Now there were no tears and no roses in her hair, but Ama had the fire of persistence in her heart. She retired to her room, trying to rest as well as she could, gathering all her strength. She slept as the sun set, slept as the sun rose, but when the afternoon had come and she was feeling braver than ever, Ama set out once more towards the house of the witch.
With hopeful steps her feet carried her there and she found the garden as it had always been. Only it was quiet and empty, with no gardener to tend to it, but among the roses by the well bloomed a rose of the deepest red she had ever seen.
How her heart beat in her chest as she crossed the garden to pick the rose, but no one tried to stop her. The thick stem broke under her fingers as if the rose was eager to be picked and Ama walked off with it as fast as she could, clutching the flower to her chest.
But then, as she left, the trees suddenly quivered and a terribly voice cried out, as if from high above her:
“Who goes there! Who is carrying off my gardener?”
It was the voice of the witch, just as she remembered it from when she was a little girl, but Ama kept her head bent low, hurried on and called back:
“I carry no one but those I love in my heart.”
All the trees shuddered as the furious witch roared: “If you carry no one, then no one will sting you!” And suddenly the rose turned into a nasty nettle that spread it’s stinging leaves all over Ama’s hands.
But Ama was far too used to the weary sting that seemed to dance across every place at once, and she stubbornly walked on, holding the nettle fast.
“I heard not a murmur from the brazen girl’s lips!” the witch’s voice thundered. “Who is carrying off my gardener?”
Again the answer came: “I carry no one but those I love in my heart.”
All the trees groaned at the terrible voice spitting: “If you carry no one, then no one can sting you!” And at that the stinging nettle turned into a vile thistle.
Now Ama flinched, as the thorns drove into her hands, but she had flinched at pricks and stabs far too many times and it did not distract her.
“I heard not a cry from the wretched girl’s lips,” the witch fumed. “Who is carrying off my gardener?”
And once again Ama replied:
“I carry no one but those I love in my heart.”
This time the wood all around her creaked and once again the violent voice raged, now from very far off: “If you carry no one, then no one will harm you!” And at that the prickly thistle turned into a vile vine of poison ivy.
Now Ama wept, for the leaves blistered her skin, but she had wept for pain many times before and she still did not stop walking.
There was the sunshine of day streaming down before her, there was the end of the deep dark woods. The blistering leaves shuddered and trembled and as soon as she stepped out from under the shade of the last tree, Ama felt her arms give way under a sudden weight. She sank to her knees in exhaustion and in an instant the gardener was right before her, helping her back up.
“There,” Ama said, her voice hoarse with happiness. “You are free.”
And the gardener would have answered were it not for the voice that came rumbling deep from the woods, furious, but powerless. “I see you thieving girl! You have stolen my gardener away!”
“That I have!” Ama called back boldly. “And you shall not have them back again!”
At those words the trees of the wood shook themselves with fury and Ama stumbled as the ground became unsteady underneath her weary feet, but the gardener put an arm around her to steady her, mindful of her aching hands. They knew that the witch had lost his hold over them, and they were as free of fear as they were full of love.
So the young lovers turned away from the wood, the gardener supporting Ama this time as they slowly made their way to her home.
There they were greeted with great surprise, but also great joy, for as soon as Ama’s stepmother had bandaged her hands there was time for explanations and introductions and it was plain for all to see that despite everything, Ama looked better than she had done in a very long time.
She was positively glowing by the time the gardener had introduced themself to everyone and you can depend upon it that things only got better. With every kiss they bestowed on one another the gardener and Ama seemed to grow lovelier, until there was not a finer couple to be found in all the land.
Neither of them ever went near the witch’s woods again. After all, there was nothing left there to yearn for. Why should they care for roses grown in shadow, they could wait for the ones growing in the hedgerows. So whenever the wild roses bloomed, the gardener wove them all through Ama’s hair, and they were both as lovely as any creatures blessed with perfect happiness could hope to be.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. You can follow this podcast on podcatchers like spotify, iTunes or Stitcher, where new episodes will be available for 90 days. But you can always find all my fairy tales on the website patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com, where you can also contact me, and find out about my other projects, like my book and my webcomic. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy, or you can follow @patchworktale on Twitter.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Bind your wishes into a ribbon, never chase wild hares, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.