Not long ago, there lived a kindly salt miner and his wife. They were happy together but wished for children. For many years they tried…
Ava was a happy child, always eager to explore or help her parents with work, whether it be in the kitchen with her mother or weighing salt in her father’s shop. She was a perfectly normal child in near every regard. Except sometimes, her Mother would notice, she smelled distinctly of honey and the smoke of burning herbs. This occurred even though there had been no recent fires and Ava disliked sweets, scrunching her nose when honey was offered with her bread. Other children would call her strange when she declined snacks at school. She was firm in her insistence that carrots were sweet enough.
It always struck her Father funny how she would always complain about being thirsty, though she never was seen without a glass nearby. Seeing her running through puddles out in the rain became second nature for her neighbors. She’d happily go swimming any chance she had. Eventually she became such a proficient swimmer that at the tender age of twelve she ended up saving a neighbors teen from drowning. At fifteen she took up being a swimming teacher for the community.
Her boyfriend was the first to ask if she was always chilly to the touch, to which she replied, “I’m always cold. But I figured long ago, if I hunkered down by the furnace every time I felt chilled, I’d never see anything of the world but ashes.” Winter was the hardest on her, but even thickly bundled, she was on the go, dancing in the crystalline flakes. It was during this frozen season he finally asked her to marry him.
They had a spring wedding.
In the years that followed they had several children, boys and girls. The abundance of little running feet left Ava’s own mother no shortage of happiness. Each consecutive birth seemed to spur retold tales of her own struggles with conception in earlier years, sighting her unfruitful womb for why Ava had never had any younger siblings. Her mother and father both become more quiet and thoughtful after this, her father sometimes getting up to walk the yard so he could grumble to himself. Ava could only shake her head knowing neither would open up and share if asked.
The once distant year finally came when Ava’s father called her home. Her mother had taken ill some years back, but as of late, her health had been deteriorating by bounds. It was her mother’s wish to clear up the secrets between them before her time was up. At her bedside, the woman told her daughter of the sister she lost before her birth and the box of salts in the root cellar, and what was in those salts, and how their care would fall onto her precious daughter when her time would come. Almost unbelieving, at her mother’s wish, Ava set out to retrieve the box. Only when she returned to the house some minutes later, box in arms, did she learn of her mother’s abrupt passing.
Time became like the chased rabbit, sprinting ever faster forward, until Ava became the wise matron with little ones crowded round her knees. Then she also become the one who called her children to her hospital bedside. A light series of knocks pulled Ava from her deep thoughts, her tired eyes smiling as her eldest son came into the room and sat by her side, resting the old oak box she’d asked for on the mattress beside her. Her shaky hand rose to stoke the patterns in the wood she memorized long ago.
“You and your Emma have been thinking on adopting another one for a while now,” she prompted casually.
“You know our motto, Mama, the more the merrier.” He gave a cheeky grin with his shrug, voice rough from holding back his rawer feelings.
Ava took his hand in comfort. “Strange as this may sound, trust me when I say that I know you’ll be meeting your new little one soon. It’s been a long time coming, and I know you will take good care of her, because she is precious to me.”
“Mama,” his brow pinched in confusion, “you’re not making any sense.”
Ava only gave a knowing smile as she moved to undo the clasp of her necklace attached, which was a key. Her son moved to help her when she struggled. When the key was in hand, she turned to the box beside her. Then, as if she’d done it a thousand times, she slid the key into the padlock on the box and twisted it open. A wobbly smile wrinkled her face. “It’s almost time now.” She seemed to say more to herself as her hands drew away and she relaxed more deeply into the pillows.
“Nothing dear. Just tired is all.”
With that, the elderly woman seemed to fall asleep. The sons eyes flickered to the box in interest, but figured his curiosity not so urgent in the face of waiting for his mother to explain it after she had rested. Tucking the blankets more firmly around her, he kissed her head gently, and went to go fill his time in front of the vending machine, maybe go get a coffee. The Snickers never even made it out of the machine as he took off after the nurses, who rushed past him shouting his mother’s room number.
It wasn’t many minutes later that he was left alone to sit at her side and grieve. Doctors assured him she had gone peacefully and quick. He was startled from his grieving when a shuffling sound broke the quiet. His head turned about in search of the source as the noise quickly became the more identifiable sounds of a baby. The box his mother told him to bring had been moved to a nearby table in the ruckus. From there, came cries of distress.
Quickly he undid the latching in order to slide the lid away. Awestruck, he stared at the half swaddled and flailing newborn. With hesitant hands he carefully extracted the screaming child, noting the bits of sticky crust that clung to her entire person. Looking at her, he then realized there was something clutched tightly in her grasp. It was a tiny scrap of rolled up parchment he discovered after prying it away. Shaky hands unrolled the aged parchment and he read the name written there.
“Ronna.” The son pulled the child from his shoulder so he could look at her closely again. “I guess that’d be you.”
Not long ago, there lived a kindly salt miner and his wife. They were happy together but wished for children. For many years they tried. When finally they conceived they were blessed with twins. However, tragedy struck when one came early into the world, stillborn. Stricken with grief that her husband could not console, in desperation the wife vowed her child would be granted life again, while promising protection to her child not yet born. Soon as she was able, the wife set out with her tightly bundled stillborn intent for the home of the witch who lived on the mountain.
Hearing the wife’s plight, the witch promised that in return for a share of the salt stores the wife husband collected each year, she would weave a spell for the woman. There would be catches to the spell, she cautioned. “You will never get to see this one alive.” The witch warned, gesturing to the bundled stillborn still in the wife’s grasp. “Her life will only begin once her sisters’ has ended.” This time the witch’s eyes fell to the wife’s still swollen stomach.
“But know that for as long as your youngest here lives, she will be protected. Mortal ailments will slough away; injuries heal with no more than a scar to mark their having been. This little one will bear the burden.” This time the witches hand fell upon the bundle stroking softly. “Make no mistake; this one must be cared for as well. Should harm befall her fragile form, the others fate is mute.” The witch stood imposing. “Can you bare this burden?”
The wife, though her heart quivered, stood firm in her resolution. Nodding to the witch she allowed her baby to be taken from her arms. “So long as she too may live.”
Giving a returning nod the witch set to work, collecting up jars of herbs, salts, and infused honeys. Sage and lavender burned by the hearth. A kettle for tea was set to boil, and the wife was left to sit quietly by the corner bed while the hours passed. Long into the night worked the witch, pausing only to hand the wife a cup of tea and dismiss her to bed with a chiding air.
Come morning the wife woke at the witches urging. “There is needed only one more thing to seal the spell and you must be the one to do it.” When the wife asked what she must do the witch smiled softly. “You must give her a name.” she said, sliding a quill and thin roll of parchment into the wife’s hands.
Quill feeling heavy in her grasp the wife wavered for only a moment before writing the name. Without hesitation the witch took back the slip of parchment, rolling it tight as she walked back to where she’d left the primed stillborn, resting on fresh linens. With careful hands she slipped the parchment into the babies’ sticky fist, before finally, gently folding and re-swaddling the tiny form.
“Ronna. It’s a good name.” The witch assured the wife as she returned the child. With a satchel of breakfast the wife departed with her burden, heading back to her home, husband, and life down the mountain.