The Stone Sister by Betty Stanton
A very long time ago a huntsman and his young wife lived in a small cottage by the forest. The huntsman and his wife wanted to have a child, but though they tried for many years, they remained childless.
One day news came to them from a nearby village of a woman found living in a small cottage in the forest. This witch, for so she was called by the people of the village, could speak with the spirits of the dead during heavy rains and would grant favors to those who came to her in the wet dark.
The huntsman begged his wife not to visit the witch. It was said that beyond the black forest there was a land of dead spirits, and that those who traveled there would be filled with dark and dangerous magic, but the wife was so overcome with her desire for a child that one morning when he was out hunting, and a heavy rain welled up suddenly in the sky, she traveled into the forest alone.
She came upon a small shamble of a cottage set around a willow tree so ancient and thick that the rain could not slip through its leaves. When the wife knocked at the door of the cottage, a gnarled woman answered, her body bent and twisted and her skin holding the pallor of death.
The wife was nearly overcome with fear, but her desire was so great that she found herself being led into the cottage where the witch agreed to help the huntsman’s wife conceive a child. In return, the witch asked a promise of the young wife. She would have to give her word that when the witch came for her she would leave her family and travel to the land of the dead.
The huntsman’s wife was grieved to make such a promise, but so great was her desire for a child that she agreed and left the witch’s cottage with a magical draught. She was surprised to find the heavy rain halted and sunshine slipping through the heavy canopy of leaves as she walked. That night, before her husband could ask what she had done, the wife drank the draught and took her husband to bed.
That very night they conceived a daughter and, overjoyed, the young wife forgot the promise she had made to the witch in the forest, but on the very night their daughter was born the rain welled up heavy and hard against the thatch of their cottage. That night, the witch arrived and forced the huntsman’s wife to keep their bargain. Leaving the newborn with its father, the wife left her family and traveled to the land of the dead, never to return.
As the weeks passed the huntsman’s heart grew cold. He resented his newborn daughter. Her cries and needs. Her resemblance to his lost wife. One evening he woke to her cries and called out, “I wish you were a stone, and could be put out and forgotten.” Then he fed the child and returned to bed. When he woke in the morning there was a large round stone where his daughter had been. The huntsman sat the stone in the garden that had been his wife’s pleasure, and though he did not truly forget, the years that passed dulled the huntsman’s pain as it dulled his memory.
Eventually the huntsman remarried, and with his second wife conceived a son who brought joy and warmth back to his father’s heart. When the boy was five years old, however, the huntsman’s new wife was also taken to the land of the dead. After her death, the huntsman grew afraid even of a light rain and locked his son inside their cottage, fearing that the world would take his one last pleasure.
The boy grew strong in the cottage, but he also grew very lonely with only his father as company. Many times he tried to escape. Through his window he could see the world outside, but he could only open the window enough to breathe in the clear air and never enough that his small body could fit through. Every day he would stare out his window to their little garden and the forest beyond and wish for friends to care for him.
One day during a light rain, while his father was out hunting, a pale and gnarled woman appeared at his window. Excited to see someone new, even if her visage was terrifying, the boy rushed to open the window wide to speak to her. To his surprise the woman only passed him a large stone through the open window. It was a stone from the garden, one that he had stared at many times but never really thought of.
“Make your wish upon the stone,” the woman said, “and you shall have someone to care for you.”
The boy, who had been warned about dangerous witches by his father, was wary, but his desire for a friend was so strong that as soon as the woman had gone, he sat the stone down on his small bed and wished for it to become a friend. Immediately the stone began to transform, and soon became his sister, now grown to a young woman.
When the huntsman returned home, he was met by his son and his daughter. At the sight of the young woman who now looked so much like his first young wife, the huntsman’s heart was overcome, and he begged to be forgiven. His daughter, rather than see him in such agony, only said; “I wish you were a raven, so that you could fly far from here to be again with those you have lost.”
Immediately, the huntsman was transformed into a raven. He flew from the open window and crossed the forest to the land of the dead, and when he had gone the stone-sister and her brother lived together in happiness.
Betty Stanton (she/her) is a writer who lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals and collections and has been included in anthologies from Dos Gatos Press and Picaroon Poetry Press. She received her MFA from The University of Texas - El Paso.
Cover: Amanda Bergloff