Tales from Kilgour Forest
“I was nineteen when I married Amie, who was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. When I would bring the cheese to market, I would always bring back little presents for her. Her favorite was bright ribbons, which she would weave into her hair.”
Daniel noticed now, tied around Elias’ wrist, a ribbon of faded blue.
“We were gladdened when she quickened with child. But after the third month, she bled and bled and we knew the child had passed on. My mother told me such things are natural, and we would have many other chances to have a child.
I still yet worried, so I went to Father Albin, and confessed my sins. When Amie quickened with child the second time, I spent all our spare coin to purchase new prayer books all the way from Philadelphia, so the Lord may know my faith was true. But the second child also died.
My friends jested that I was a coward to not bed with a wife so pretty. I could not defend myself, for the truth was worse; my seed was cursed.
As the third child quickened in her womb, my father told me my luck might be the result of a curse laid on the family by the Natives who had once lived there. His father had fought the Natives for the land, which had appeared as the most fertile he had seen across the whole of his travels.
But when his father dug into the land he had taken, he found it all rock. He could make nothing grow but a thin layer of grass. That first winter he and his family near starved. After that, he became a dairy farmer.
My father believed this was a curse passed through the generations. Before I was born he had dealt with a cruel illness of his cattle. Their heads would roll back in their heads and they would seize up at times. Others would thrash and kick in their pens all through the night; their faces black and bloodied come the morn. He had to set the whole herd of them alight and start anew.
Perhaps, he said, this was my version of the curse.
To assuage the Natives, I hired a Native man as an apprentice, and even sponsored his child to attend a good Christian school. The people of the town began to whisper that my actions were quite queer, that I had perhaps been taken with the Native woman and deserted my wife.
This fiction could be no farther from the truth. I loved Amie deeply, but she had grown increasingly thin and weak. She cried whenever we lay together in bed. We had once spent hours talking about future names for our children under the moonlight. Her father had gifted us a beautifully crafted wooden crib at the news of the first child, which now sat like a coffin at the end of our bed. She had stitched beautiful needlepoint flowers on tiny socks and head-caps. Those had been squirreled away in closed chests.
I fell deeper into drink and spent more and more time away from home. At the meetinghouse I met Jeremiah. While one should not speak ill of the dead, he was known quite widely as the town drunk. He told me there was another power I could call on. Her name was the Silvadaem, Maiden of the Forest.
When Jeremiah was a child he heard the tale of a Logger, who lay amidst a circle of birch trees when the moon was full and wished for a wife as beautiful as the stars. A maiden walked from the darkness as if picked from starlight.
She told him she would be his wife. But, he must swear to plant a tree in the forest on the night of the full moon every month. The logger was more accustomed to cut trees than plant them, but the woman was so beautiful he happily agreed.
Soon after, they were wed.
Dutifully the man went out to plant a seed under the light of the full moon each month.
For twelve months the Logger went out and planted a seed. But at the thirteenth month, he had some pints in town, and the wind bit and the snow flakes swirled icy hands around him as he rode his horse back home. He thought there would be no harm to plant the seed the next day.
The Logger awoke to find his wife gone. After that whenever he would enter the forest the trees would crowd around him, their branches to pick at his clothes and thorns to stick to his jacket. The bark of the trees he touched would leave deep gashes and rashes. Worms worked their way into all the wood he wished to sell.
Jeremiah told me he hardly believed a word of the Logger’s tale. But he was recruited into the ranks of the Confederate soldiers, and had run away. Deep in the forest he lit a fire for warmth when suddenly a gypsy appeared. The woman’s eyes saw into the deepest reaches of his soul, and pulled out his heaviest secret.
She told him that she could bring him to a place that was safe from war.
That morning Jeremiah awoke, sore and cold, and set off once more on his escape. When he came to the next town he was cautious, but he was so hungry he begged for food and safety from the war in a farmer’s barn. The farmer laughed at him. The war had been over for twenty years!
Jeremiah had in fact gotten his wish, but in a way that he had never imagined. He turned to drink to cope with the fact that most of his family was dead. Those that lived did not believe that it was him when he came back to the family farm, twenty years later, but hardly aged a day.”
Elias was silent then, his eyes closed. Tears dripped down his face, which he turned away from Daniel. After some moments Elias pulled back and began to walk down the path.
Daniel was still curious how Elias had come to find himself stuck in a tree. But he could feel the weight of Elias’ grief, and so kept his curiosity to himself.