Many seasons ago, there was a wild woman who lived outside of the village, Mountainside and away from the Water. She was a coarse soul with frazzled hair and milky eyes like frosted grass, and she was known to all as one to be tiptoed around and one whose glare you should not wish to catch overlong. And yet, despite, folk hastened to her small cottage at every budding, for her gardens were the most magnificent in all the land, and they yielded the most remarkable of cuttings and the heartiest of bulbs. Why, it was said that a flower from the wild woman’s beds grew twice as tall and endured twice as long as a flower from any other nursery, wild or no. How she got them so, she never told, and no one ever asked, for it was said that her secret was in the soil round her home, which was made from the ground bones of those that had done her ill or cast a wayward eye in some direction she deemed them unworthy of.
And so the people of the village, when the flowers were not in bloom, they stayed away from the wild woman and her gardens, but when the springtide grew nigh and the colors arrived, they were drawn back to her strange, little corner of the forest, where she attended to their marveling faces in trade, her grimy hands and soiled sleeves always finding them the flower they desired without them even knowing they had pined for such, and then sent them on their way, bemused and forgetting wherefrom they had come until they smelled the floret air that wafted up from their arms.
Lovelier than all the flowers in the wild woman’s gardens, though, was the maiden who grew inside her cottage, she whose face sometimes shown at the windows as villagers passed by on the broad side of the path, who could sometimes be seen working in the soil alongside the woman, and who sometimes visited the village market with basket in hand and song in voice. Contrariwise to the murky soul who housed her, the lass had eyes like the sky and a way like dancing on water, yet the villagers averted their gazes whenever they saw her, for fear that being ensnared by her beauty would bring them back to the wild woman’s gardens—they never to leave again. So the wild woman grew her wild flowers and the girl she kept shimmered like the sun in the edge of your eye, no one daring to turn her way.
Also in the village at that time was a woodworker who had taken on an apprentice, an untouched boy who was more heart than head and more soul than savvy. The lad was not a quick learner, no, but he was determined, so the old woodworker kept him on in spite of his failings and began to send him more and more into the forest to gather timber, for while he was poor with a lathe and plane, he had an especial eye for picking out that lumber which would best turn a tradeable good.
So it was that the boy was returning from the deep forests one day when the wheel of his trap struck a rock and sent a section of trunk tumbling toward the Long Water. Off the boy went after it and soon he was a-tumbling as well until both boy and bark ended in splashing.
As he righted himself with a yipping quiver, he heard someone laugh at him from the bank and looked up to see the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on in all the Forests, which up to that point had been his whole world, looking down at him in a titter. And, indeed, he was right in his reckoning because never before had he looked fully on the young maiden from the wild woman’s cottage, only ever doing so from the corner of his eye for fear of his bones being ground to dirt, but he saw her then and all his fear was vanquished. The lass smiled at him, and he swore right then and there, soused from head to toe in love and Long Water, that she would be his wife. But she ambled away from him as careless as a breeze in the trees, and when he reached the path, she had disappeared. He hustled the slippery timber back to his trap and rode straight for the cottage, but the maiden was hid out of sight and the wild woman glared at him over her gate and through her milky eyes, wielding a pair of old garden shears in her hand, until he was gone the same.
Unable to loose the image of the young maiden from his mind, the boy went back to the forest early after sun-up the next day and returned at the same time he had the previous, stopping to look for the lass who had sopped his heart so in the same place from which she had snickered at him. But she was not there. And he did not see her when he passed by the cottage. Come the next day, he tried for her again, doing the same and meeting the same, and, still, the day after and the day after that one as well. But, on the fifth day, his persistence was rewarded, and he arrived just as she was leaving to return to the cottage, a pail of wet garments under her arm.
He offered her a ride in his trap, but she declined. He offered to carry her load, but she declined. He asked if he could walk beside her along the path, and she consented, so he did. When they drew nigh the cottage, however, the maiden left the path and the boy, him calling after if he could see her again but receiving no answer, affirmative or otherwise. So, the next day, he was back at the river at the same time as before. But she was not there. Not for another five days. He then escorted her again down the path, short of the wild woman and her cottage, but at that end, when he asked if he could see her again, the lass gave her consent.
So, five days hence, the boy and his trap were back at the Water and earlier than before. And, every five days thereafter, earlier and earlier until he was helping the young maiden with her chore, or trying to anyhow, her chuckling at his tendency to soak himself ever more than the sundries in his arms. Likewise, they spent every fifth eventide until, eventually, she consented even to her washing pail being laid upon the trap and her hands being left free to speak as she wanted and he wished.
The lad began, too, to accompany her on her trips to the market, and words of wonder and worry passed over all the village as folk nattered on what would come of the affair and the woodworker’s poor apprentice when the wild woman caught on to his attention for the girl. But the two youths were unaware of the prattle or of any threat to their bliss, set apart as they were from the world and its cares by the burgeoning vines they were wrapping round each other’s hearts, until, one fifth day, the young maiden did not show at the Water. The boy waited, but the next fifth day came the same, and three more fifth days passed and, still, she did not appear. So he took to waiting for her outside of the market, but she never showed there either. Instead, the wild woman herself began to visit the trades, and all the villagers gave her a wide berth and kept their eyes trained to the ground in their dealings with her, a wary mood overwhelming their barter.
The woodworker’s apprentice was distraught, his soul lost in a fog, until he determined to make true that which he had vowed at his first chance meeting with the lovely maiden. He steeled himself, put on his best clothes, and strode to the wild woman’s cottage with the best wildflowers he could gather in his hand, all the village sad and sure they would never see him again.
He stood at the gate outside the gardens, and it was not long before the wild woman appeared, shears in her hand and frowning at the flowers in his. Undeterred, the boy recounted his falling for the young maiden, professed his feeling for her, and asked for her hand from the wild woman. She was not impressed by his affections for the lass, saying, “Be on your way, boy, you know not of what you pledge.” But he protested, proclaiming that he loved her.
The wild woman scoffed. “Yours is not love,” she said. “Raised in a day and gone just the same; that is not love. It is a weed. It grows. It creeps. But it does not provide. It does not nourish. It robs. And its prettiness is a fool. So be gone, boy, your meager and meddlesome play at love is not wanted here.”
The boy stood tall, declaring that his was not a meager love, that his was not the love of shallow waters that soak one quickly and dry easy in the sun but that his was the love of the deep that surrounds one’s soul and requires all one’s life if they are to remain.
Upon hearing his speech, the wild woman grew angry, and her soil-laden hands raised the shears at him in accusation, asking whether in all his alleged love he had stopped to think what the girl wanted, and though the breath was slow to his lungs, he responded truly that he believed she loved him as well. Then, to support his claim, a voice from behind the woman admitted, “I do.”
The wild woman sunk into her shoulders and her head drooped down as the shears dropped to the ground at her side. The apprentice and the young maiden stared at one another, lost in the exhilaration of their confessions and smiling as those who have never known the darker edge of the Forests, but then the girl’s joy obscured and her face went blank and her limbs hung loose and she fell to the dirt among the gardens. The boy jumped over the gate and ran to her side, but the young maiden would not stir, for she had been overtaken in a farsleep and neither his shaking nor his yelling could fetch her back.
“It is a sickness,” the wild woman explained. “A sickness which will not let her love.”
The boy remonstrated, insisting it could not be so and declaring, “if it is a sickness, it can be cured,” but the woman informed him there was no crafted remedy or physic that could treat the girl’s ill. “But there must be something,” the boy moaned, and the wild woman replied, “There is one thing.”
“You can cure her,” she said, “but to do so will require a certain flower which does not grow in this corner of the world.”
“Where does it grow?” he implored her. “Tell me, and I will retrieve it.”
“It grows in the Southern Mountains,” she said, “but no one knows where, for very few have even seen it in bloom.”
“Have you seen it?” he begged. “Do you know where it grows?”
“I have seen it only once,” she said, “but I cannot tell you where, for I was very young at the time and many sadnesses have clouded my days since then.”
“Then tell me, what did it look like, this flower that will cure her?”
“It is a purple flower,” said the wild woman. “A dark and purple flower. The color of mountains far off and night that has not fallen. And it grows of its own accord, away from all else, its roots secreted in private longing. By this, you will know it when you see it. If you see it. For you will not find it easy, boy, and there is no foretelling what the search for it may require of you.”
“It is no matter,” said the woodworker’s apprentice, “I will give my all, and I shall not return until I can do so with this dark and purple flower in my hand.”
And so the boy left the cottage and journeyed straightaway to the Southern Mountains. There, he searched for the flower that would cure his love. Sun-up or sundown, he searched. In rain or in shine, he searched. And days passed. And then months. And then seasons. But, still, he searched. He hiked and climbed as far as the land would allow, and when the Wide Blue cut off his march forward, he turned around and searched his way back. When his easterly route ended in Blue as well and still he did not find the flower, he turned around again. Back and forth, the East to the West, he traversed the whole of the Southern Mountains many times over and grew old in his search, his youthful face gaining rough whiskers, his tender skin hardening in the rigid mountain winds, and his hands budding harsh calluses as he climbed ever to the tops of those snowy peaks in hunt for the dark and purple flower.
Many leagues away from him, back in the cottage, the young maiden aged as well, but she did not move, for the farsleep’s hold over her was too great. At her bedside, the wild woman kept vigil and watched, helpless, as the lass grew but did not bloom, while, outside, her gardens suffered like in neglect and the colors of them ceased their coming. The cottage of the wild woman fell into shadow, and seeking to avoid its sad aspect altogether, for fear of catching the sickness or sorrow that plagued its grounds, the folk of the village soon began to forget it was ever there or how they had used to be called to it on the season.
So years went by, and the boy, who was no longer a boy, had reached nigh the ends of himself, and he walked on as a corpse that did not know it was corpse, and he walked many days not remembering why he did so. He had climbed every ridge and ascended every peak, enough so that he recognized them on sight and had given unhappy names to each and all, but still he had seen no purple flowers. At last, as he crested the one he had dubbed “Hopeless Crag”, he gave in to the weariness inside of his soul, threw his rucksack onto a rock, and fell backward so that he lay staring up at the sky.
As further wound to his heart, he saw that the stars had come out but that it was not quite night and that the violet eve which haunted his search of the Mountains had yet to turn dark. It was to the old woodworker’s apprentice as if the heavens themselves wanted to remind him of his lacking, as if all the worlds were urging him to surrender to his failing. But he could not do so. He had made a vow. He had pledged to love. So he gathered himself, turned away from the nightening sky, and collected his ruck from the stones atop the peak. As he made to leave, a strong wind blew cold over the mountain, and he set his pack on the ground to take his scarf from inside, and when he did, he saw something growing from the rock on which he had tossed it earlier.
It was a dark and purple flower. And it grew from the center of the rock as if it cared not for soil or for the wind that would blow it down.
The apprentice cursed himself for not seeing it before and wondered how many times he had overlooked it, but he did not understand how that could have been, for it was so obvious to him now. It stood out clear as the mountain on which it grew and as unmistakable as night that covers all in darkness.
He reached out to grab it, but when he touched its stem, his head was thrown back and his eyes were snapped open. Despite their broad shot state, however, he was made blind and could no more see the sky nor stars above him. Indeed, he could see nothing until a mountain materialized in his mind.
It was a mountain very much like the one he stood upon, but it was not exact, for there were souls on top of it—two of them, a young man and a younger woman, and they were reclined on their elbows, looking out over a darkening sea and fledgling stars that peeked out from a fading dusk and talking merrily, the man saying, “We shall have a cottage near the river, and you will grow your flowers, and I will catch us fish, and we shall have children that know nothing but love of the truest sort.”
The woman laughed at him. “You believe so?”
“I know so,” the man replied, “for we will make it so.”
“Then we shall have to see to that soon indeed,” said the woman, “for I am already with child.”
The young man’s eyes grew large in surprise, and he questioned the lass if she spoke true. She said she did, so he asked her if she knew whether it was a boy or a girl, and she proclaimed that it was the latter. He placed his hand on her belly and she intertwined hers among his, and he said to her and to the power beyond, “Then let it be that she will never know any love that is not the truest love.”
“Let it be,” the woman whispered, and the pair of them kissed, and from the spot their hands touched the ground a dark and purple flower grew.
The boy who was not a boy crashed back to the mountaintop. He grabbed the flower to remove it from the rock and braced himself for another jolt or resistance from where it had dug in the stone, but the bloom came easy from its place, roots and all, and so the woodworker’s apprentice began his journey home. After years traveling the Mountains, his way passed quickly, if not easily, under his boots, for he knew now every nook, cranny, and trail that would lead him faster to his end. Indeed, all that slowed him down was how he insisted on holding the flower in his arms at all times. Having made a soil bed for it in his cap, he carried it ever, even when he slept and even as he climbed, until, in that way, he found himself back among the trees he had used to scour for the old woodworker and on the path that would take him to his young maiden.
He began to run. And he ran all the way to the cottage he had left long ago. But, at his arrival, he discovered something had gone amiss in that corner of the forest, for the cottage he so longed to see was no more and the gardens were gone from sight and all that remained was a twisted heap that had used to be a gate. The whole of the lot beyond was entombed in weed and branch and barb, and not a creature moved within.
He began to rip at the brush that tangled the gate so, even as its briers tore back at him and the fine clothes he had been wearing when he left on his search all that time before. As they were now much worn and frayed anyhow, he continued to pull at the thicket, it seeming to grow two more branches for every one he broke free and he yelling as he tore, calling for the wild woman to show herself. Suddenly, the vines seemed to withdraw from his hands and from the old walkway to the cottage, as if they had been commanded retreat, and a coarse soul emerged from a door that appeared amidst the bramble. The wild woman had grown grey and stooped, and she hobbled toward the gate on a knobbed tree branch, her eyes to the dirt.
“I have the flower,” called the apprentice, but as the wild woman looked up to see the prize he had brought her, the dark and purple flower began to crumble in his hands. Its petals turned black and fell to the ground, and its stem shriveled into the soil, which dissolved through the threads of his cap and scattered about the land beneath him until a wind came down the path to blow it all away.
He moaned, repeating that he had found it, that he had it, he promised. But then he looked up to find the wild woman smiling at him, her milky eyes wet with melted frost, and she said to him, “You need not fret, boy. You will grow your own flowers.”
From behind the woman, he heard a door open, and from a cottage renewed into gardens grown bright, the young maiden stepped on wary feet that had not felt the dirt in a long age. But when the boy opened the ungnarled gate and ran toward her, her feet remembered themselves and ran to meet him so that they plunged into each other’s arms in the middle of the gardens.
There, embraced and turning elated circles, love’s apprentices kissed, and all the flowers round them turned purple.
A dark purple.
The color of mountains far off and night that has not fallen.