It was to be a hard winter, she said. The apple skins were thick as hide. Berries pocked the bushes, in shades of purple and puce. These were the signs. How she knew.
She explained it to me in her slow and steady song, and I listened and watched, transfixed, while she harvested the witch hazel. She shook the scented white speckles, released a cloud of perfume – smiled as I staggered from its force.
She showed me how to crush the bark, and release the healing balm. We steeped it in water, doused a cloth, dabbed and daubed my skin to rise the cold prickle where it worked. My skin shone, pale.
I was alive.
“Iridescent,” she said, “You are moondust.” And she kissed my hands, my cheeks, and laughed at the contrast with her candied arms, her burnished chest.
That winter, she showed me many things.
We tiptoed alongside hedgerows; scurried and skipped in woods, until deeper we went. Deeper. We explored the depths of the forest: sweet violent, Jack-By-the-Hedge. And we hid and lay with the God of Thunder, under the powerful oak.
“You will remember this,” she said. “You will always remember,” as she tapped a plump linen bag of rosemary against my brow.
I believed her.
Deeper. Deeper still. Spring came, then summer started her soft knock against the door. I heard about the foxglove: ‘goblin’s finger’. How it came in the spring with a bob and bounce, even without the wind. “Fairy folk,” she said. They scampered among the bells, wore petals like gloves, and danced, and jigged, too quick for the naked eye. And they were mischievous, yes, but they helped the foxes to don the blooms in a necklace. Protection from the huntsmen – a charm to ward them off.
I picked at the blossom as she lay, dropping a pattern of pink across her chest, counting the bells where they bobbed and swayed. Wanting to keep her safe.
Her fingertips held a power. But they called it a curse, and by summer’s peak they had heard about our secrets. They whispered and hissed and broke them into pottery and eggshells. They tried to fashion us into a fragile thing – not the strength of the oak, nor the force of the moon. And I knew they were coming. The huntsmen, coming soon.
Time was running out.
Then one day, as we lay, we could hear them. The men. The brutal stomp and yells as they came; the bells bobbed mournfully and the tree’s canopy stretched in a cloak, but we could not hide. She placed her naked arm around me, and I watched as a foxglove amulet fell – shrivelled, brown. I stared at her, desperately, into her – and she gazed back. She saw me.
“I love you,” I said. “I will keep you safe.”
“Always remember,” was her only reply.
And we lay together, in those last few moments, amongst nature, amongst beauty – wearing petals like gloves, in the depths of the woods.