Saturday Tale - The Woodcutter's Daughter by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines
She howled and wailed as if she suffered a great pain, and it made him weep to bring her such sadness...
There was an old woodcutter and his wife who, more than anything, wanted a child to call their own, to love and raise, to care for them in their old age, which was fast approaching, and to carry their name and line into the next generation. One day while he was in the forest, the woodcutter heard a high, small mewling and he followed the sound to the hollowed out trunk of a tree he had felled the year before. Inside he found a tiny baby girl - left to exposure, he and his wife would assume, no doubt because she was a girl - yet they had for so long wanted a child that the woodcutter brought her home. That is the account he gave his wife when he passed the child into her arms. The woman put the child to her barren breast to soothe her, and in the morning sent her husband to buy a goat. And though she fed the child on milk and porridge, still she pressed the small girl to her breast, though whether for the child's comfort or her own became less clear.
The child grew in stature and strength, and the wife grew frail and ill. In time the woodcutter's wife lay down to rest and her spirit left in the way of all dreams and did not return again. The woodcutter mourned her briefly, yet was soon consumed with caring for his daughter. She was the most beautiful child he had ever seen. She was perfect in every way, and he told her so often. She seemed to grow more vibrant with his praise, and he found he could not be parted from her. He took her with him into the woods. She ran and played while he worked. When he saw her lips cornered with red, he chose not to notice further. Blood meal in sausage, blood meal in soup, it made a body strong, he reasoned. When he found her with a bird, feathers scattered around her, it's small broken body in her teeth, he resolved not to take her to the woods again, and he brought her chicken from the market, cooked fresh and delicious.
When he left again to his work, she howled and wailed as if she suffered a great pain, and it made him weep to bring her such sadness. He raced back to the house and comforted and soothed her with apologies and promises not to leave her again, his perfect, precious daughter, who was the greatest gift of his life. He had been wrong to think to leave her, he realized. Instead he should not venture so deep into the woods, though this increased his labor mightily.
He took her with him also into town to sell his wood. He drew the attention of everyone who stopped to the beauty and sweetness of his daughter. She was as good and pure as fresh milk, as new snow, as water from a mountain stream. And each visitor would ask after his health, his strength, his business, with concern. They did not see the delights in the girl that he did, and this angered him. She had become his everything, and the fault was their own if they did not see why.
The girl wanted a toy, she wanted food, she wanted a drink, she wanted some sweet, a ribbon, to be held, he must sing her a song, he must tell her a story. She always needed more, and was never satisfied, and her cries would sound through the whole market if the woodcutter delayed at all. He ran in every direction to bring her what she wanted. He found he had no time for his neighbors, for his own best interests.
He needs a break, some of the villagers said; since he lost his wife, he has no one to help him. They clucked their tongues and went in turn to care for the child and let the man rest and see to his health and his livelihood. Yet he sent them each on their way. The moment he left her, the girl started up her howling, and he knew the truth, that no one could ever care for her as he could, because in their envy they did not see her goodness and beauty as he did. His business waned as did his health, yet his only thought was that the girl would be satisfied.
"What is it you want, my pet, my beauty," he asked her, "tell your old father what you need. Anything you say will be yours."
She had been waiting for him to ask, and the girl's brushy red tail twitched from beneath her skirt. "Mother's heart made ninety-nine," she said, "and yours shall be the final."
And the woodcutter, like a man compelled, opened up his shirt, "My heart is already yours, most precious one," he said.
The fox pounced and as he felt his heart rend from chest, the woodcutter seemed to recall that misty day when he had found her, the stories of catching a fox by its tail, and of wishes granted, the bargain struck and how eager he had been to pay her price, any price. And with a quick snap of her jaws, the fox gained her immortality.
She bore the name of the woodcutter and carried it on. That family lives here still to this day.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine who writes stories and articles inspired by folklore and fairy tales.
Find more of her writing at A Work of Heart
and follow her on Twitter @ThatKiyomi
Cover by Amanda Bergloff
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