Throwback Thursday: Grandmother Brua, The Sisters & The Wind by Mike Neis
Editor’s note: We're a sucker for a grandmother story. And what a grandmother! And what daughters! Such powers they have! This story hits all the right notes for a Halloween fairy tale. Enjoy!
A long time ago at the edge of a village in a remote valley there lived twin sisters who were still babies when their parents died. Although the girls were orphans, fortune had smiled upon them in three ways.
The first was the wind, which kissed them on the day of their birth. This kiss showed itself in their wavy, windswept hair and in how they could run like the wind. Likewise, their temperament was usually as placid as a summer breeze, but at times could turn as turbulent as a winter blizzard.
The second way that fortune smiled upon them was their grandmother, who was known in the village as Grandmother Brua, respected for her knowledge of plants, and feared for her power. Few ever dared to approach her.
Grandmother Brua always sang melodies that were haunted with aches and longing, and the twins would ask her why she sang such sad songs. “Because life changes and people lose things,” she would say. “Your day of change will come, and you too will have to give something up.”
The twins would laugh and say, “Oh Grandmother, things will never change. We will always play here in our hut, and you will always be there to care for us.” And Grandmother Brua would listen to her granddaughters’ innocence and laugh with them.
The third thing the twins had in their favor was each other. Since the day of their birth, the twins woke together, ate from the same bowl, and played the same games which always ended in a draw. At night, they slept in the same tiny bed, in which they would sing each other lullabies until they both drifted off to sleep. Although Grandmother Brua thought it strange that the twins could be so close, she knew that she too, was a bit strange.
But not even Grandmother Brua knew the strangest thing of all about her granddaughters. From the time they were still small, the wind would call them on nights of the full moon, and the two would slip out of their hut and plunge into the forest. There, the twins would sing into the sky. The wind would mix its voice with theirs, and the three would sing together. On such nights, a gentle breeze would caress the dwellings of the valley, and villagers would drift into a contented sleep. The old people would smile at each other by the fire and say, “how blessed we are to live in our remote valley, so far from the troubles of the world.”
Such blessings were too good to last, and, sure enough, a blight struck, so that the crops of the valley began to wither. A young farmer, who had not yet learned to fear Grandmother Brua, approached her hut and called out, “Grandmother Brua, our crops are beset with a blight. If they fail, we will starve this winter. Is there nothing you can do to help us?”
Grandmother Brua emerged from her hut. “I will help you,” she said, and gave the farmer a large bottle of yellow powder. “Mix this powder with dirt and spread the dirt over your crops and they will be saved.”
The young man went to the other farmers and showed them the powder. Although they were suspicious of Grandmother Brua, they did as the old woman had instructed, and their crops were saved.
Not long afterwards, the twins were old enough to venture forth from the hut. They sought out other children to play with but were rejected. Terrible rumors had always swirled about Grandmother Brua and her household.
The old woman ached for her granddaughters when they came back home crying, for she knew the pain of rejection. She also knew of the vicious gossip in the village, and she knew of three women who fed those rumors. These women were so widely feared that all simply called them “The Three.”
From this moment, when the twins sang with the wind on nights of the full moon, the dwellings of the village moaned with fierce gusts. The villagers would sleep fitfully and suffer from troubling dreams, and the old people would gather by the fire and say, “how alone we are in this remote valley, where no one can help us.” A spirit of unease settled into the land.
Whether it was caused by the unease, none can say, but a terrible plague struck. The children of the village grew sick and weak. The sound of coughing and wheezing filled the streets, along with the wailing of their mothers.
The young farmer had a son, who became quite ill. Again he went to Grandmother Brua and begged for her help. But this time Grandmother Brua refused. “Let The Three come to me and ask for help,” she said. “For I have a complaint against them.”
The Three were terrified upon hearing Grandmother Brua’s words, for they also had children who were ill. That afternoon the villagers saw the three women, with shawls pulled around their heads, walking west to Grandmother Brua’s hut. The news flew like the wind.
Grandmother Brua heard a mournful noise outside her hut. She opened her door and was astonished to see all the mothers of the village bowed down and wailing, “Please help us! Our children are dying! Please help us!”
Grandmother Brua emerged from her hut and broke down in tears before them, for she herself knew the agony of losing a daughter and felt ashamed for withholding her help. She gave the women a powerful mushroom potion. “All must drink,” she said. “Everyone, with no exceptions.” The villagers did as she had instructed, and the village was saved.
Although Grandmother Brua accepted the remorse of The Three, she did not believe the village would change. She was wrong, and the village children welcomed her granddaughters into their games. Once again, the wind brought a spirit of well-being into the village, and at night, the old people would gather around their fires and say, “how fortunate we are in this valley, and we have Grandmother Brua to protect us.” The village prospered and the children grew.
The good fortune of the village continued until some young men found what seemed like a blessing, but was, in fact, a curse. A strange yellow metal lay bare by the foundation of the new village hall. Gold! News of the discovery quickly spread across the land.
The two neighboring kingdoms heard the news, and before the villagers could decide what to do, they found themselves surrounded by two opposing armies. The men of these armies were wild with gold fever and would think nothing of destroying whatever stood in their way. As the sun set, these men made ready for battle on the following day.
The elders of the village went to Grandmother Brua. They begged her for anything she might be able to do. The old woman could only stammer. “I—don’t—know!”
Grandmother Brua closed her door and wept. The blight was easy to address with her plants. The plague, though more difficult to cure, was still within her abilities. But what could an old woman with a few herbs do against an invading army, let alone two?
That night the twins did not wait for the wind to call them, and they plunged into the black of a moonless forest. In a small glen they held out their arms, tipped their heads to the sky and sang. Their voices spoke of helplessness and frustration. The wind heard, mixed its voice with theirs, and the three sang together.
As they sang, frustration rose to anger, which erupted into unrestrained fury. Clouds formed in the sky, which coiled high into the heavens like huge snakes, tense, hissing, and ready to strike. Lightning flashed and frozen rain pelted. Thunder shook the earth and the whole valley trembled as a mighty gale bore down upon it.
The wind howled with voices so discordant that people clamped their hands to their ears and cried out for fear of going mad. Gusts struck without mercy, and so the storm raged into the night.
At first light, Grandmother Brua cast a sleepy eye at the twins as they slipped back into the hut and collapsed into bed. She noticed how their return coincided with the easing of the storm and saw the frozen world outside her window. Then she understood the bond the twins had with the wind and knew what her granddaughters had done. She began to craft her own plans for the day.
Like the men of their armies, the kings arose from a dismal night with no rest. They surveyed their camps and found their great machines of war stuck in the frozen mud, their armaments brittle with cold and coated with a thick blanket of ice. The soldiers were stricken by rumors that the village was cursed, and any further action would lead to certain death. The kings held councils with their generals who advised parley instead of open battle. So they called for their personal retinues and headed to the village square.
There they found a crone with two mysterious hooded figures at her side. The villagers huddled around the square’s periphery. The kings approached with their generals.
“I know what has stopped you,” said the crone. “If you wish to leave the valley alive, you must do as I say. Sit down.”
The kings and their retinues sat down. “We are listening,” they said.
“I know of your hunger for gold,” said the old woman, and she set down a parchment before them. “This contract outlines how you are to share it between yourselves and leave the village in peace.”
The kings and their retinues reviewed the parchment and found it to be fair.
“You will sign it in blood,” said the crone.
The cleverer of the two kings stood. “We will sign,” he said, “but your companions must show themselves first. We think it fair that we know who we are dealing with.”
Grandmother Brua heaved a long sigh, turned to her beloved granddaughters, and nodded.
The twins pulled their hoods back for all to see. Flushed with the power wielded from the previous night, their glory shone like the blinding sun. All were astonished at the sight of the young women, but none more so than the two kings, who had a driving thirst to possess beauty.
The bolder of the two kings stood. “We will sign the contract in blood, but only if we have these two women as our wives. That is our condition.” The surrounding generals set their faces like stone and placed their hands on their swords.
Then the twins knew their day of change had come, and they knew what they would have to give up. They embraced, wept bitter tears, and said affectionate words with such lamentation that all in the square wept with them. Then they took their places at the sides of their new husbands.
The kings drew their knives, cut themselves, and signed the contract in their own blood. The crone rolled up the parchment and placed it in her satchel. “Do not break your promise,” she said. “For the contract makes clear your fates if you do.” The kings shuddered as they recalled the previous night and nodded.
The sisters each accompanied their husbands to their new homes. They both became mighty queens over vast countries, and loving mothers of virtuous children.
And, sometimes, on full moon nights, the wind would call to each of them, and they would slip out of their castle gates, and plunge deep into the forest. There, they would sing of their joys, their sorrows, and their longings. And the wind would mix its voice with theirs, and the three would sing together.
Mike Neis lives in Orange County, California and works as a technical writer for a commercial laboratory. His work has appeared previously in Enchanted Conversations and elsewhere.
Cover Graphic: Amanda Bergloff @AMANDABERGLOFF
Cover Painting: "The Artist's Daughters," Thomas Gainsborough, 1760