The old man who lived in the woods outside of the village had said that she was born with a curious fate. Her mother had said that is must be something good, and so she had called her “Hope”. The village folk had celebrated her birth briefly before returning to the fields because the harvest waited for neither king nor peasant.
As a young girl growing up, she had been fascinated with the simple folk surrounding her. Something about her had felt different. Something in her had felt apart–more unique–that the simple villagers around her going methodically about their daily lives. They would wake up early and work hard before coming home, eat and drink and then fall fast asleep.
Then they would do it all again.
In the winter, they would huddle together in the small Town Hall, drinking around the great fireplace there and telling tales both tall and true. After the winter food had run out in the spring with empty bellies, they would plow the land till it was raw and cast seed into the wind with prayers of food. In the summer, they would wade back into these now lush fields with sickles and scythes to harvest what they had sown. And, in the autumn, they would eat and drink, pretend the cold winter was not coming and forget about the great labour that would shortly be coming.
And then they would do it all again.
One cold winter’s night, a stranger walked into these mundane seasons of village life.
He appeared on the step of the Town Hall late one icy night. The cold air blasted in from the door and the fire flickered wildly before someone invited him in out of the cold. He stepped in and closed the door behind him. Knocking snow off his black, leather boots he cast his gaze around the dimly lit interior with no tangible expression upon his face.
Hope felt his gaze linger on her, but before she could smile or react the villagers had flocked around the man. Here was something more interesting that tales of earth and grumblings of taxes and age. Here was something more interesting than their neighbors and what happens in the nearby woods.
When the strange man began to speak, Hope crept nearer to listen. She was ashamed to admit that she as was intrigued as her fellow villager. She hated to admit any similarity between her and the simple folk.
Now that she was nearer, she saw how pale and thin–almost gaunt–the stranger looked. He had black, straight hair that cut his near snow-white features as his dark, brooding eyes flickered up to hers for a second.
She was now a young woman, so she could stay in the Town Hall as long as she wanted, but the elders got to speak. And speak the elders did, throwing questions after questions at the stranger. They asked about news of the other villages and how the king was doing. Would he raise their taxes next harvest? They asked how the neighboring lands were doing. How was their harvest? They asked about the rest of the world. They asked and the stranger told them.
Hope began to realize how big the world was and how small their village was. She began to realize that she had seen enough of simple folk. She wanted to see all the fancy folk that this stranger spoke of. She wanted to see the lands that reach out further than the eye can see. She wanted to see the ocean that stretches out further than the mind can fathom. She wanted to see the great river in the East and the rugged, snow-capped mountains in the West. She wanted to dance with the royals, sip from the crystal glasses of the court and whisper intrigue to the king. She wanted to see the foreign kingdoms, dance in the starlit lakes of yonder and walk the bustling streets of the great cities…
Suddenly she realized that everything was quiet. The stranger was standing before her. The elders and the simple folk in the hall were all just sitting and blankly staring at where the stranger used to be sitting. But he was standing in front of her now, holding her head in his cold hands.
“Do you really want to see the world?” he asked looking down at her with an expressionless face, “Do you really want to see everything there is to see?”
Why was everyone just sitting there staring? Why was the hall so quiet? Why did she feel terrified? Why were his hands so cold?
Hope’s mind was screaming. Her fear was rising like a pit in her stomach, but all that came out was a soft whimper and her head nodded slightly.
The stranger smiled. It was not a happy smile nor a cruel one. It was more mechanically with all the right muscular movements, but no real emotion behind it. And it revealed the fangs in his mouth. Hope wondered if they had always been there or just suddenly appeared?
“This pain will release you from your mortal coil, but deliver the world to you,” the stranger whispered as he leaned down to gently bite Hope’s now exposed neck. The sharp pain made her cry out, but another part of her registered that he smelt of roses and ash.
And then Hope grew tired. The cold began to spread across her now-heavy limbs. Her eyes closed and her head slumped forward into the stranger’s arms.
He would carry her from that village. She would awaken six days later in a great, hidden castle many leagues from her old village. She would begin to live a great tale of her own, sometimes wonderful and sometimes dark. Sometimes with kings and courts in it, but sometimes with midnights and winters too. She would swim in the midnight lakes of twilight and dine on the snow-capped mountains while wolves howled in the distance.
She would do all of these things and more, but far away in her old village, two small droplets of blood in the town hall were the only signs that she had ever been there. Her mother would cry herself to sleep, but soon enough the tears ran out. And then the years passed and so did her mother. Her father had already passed with many harvests ago. The elders that were there that night would also soon be buried in the woods with the rest. All of them would be replaced by some of the younger generation, now old with their children’s children around them. Children were being born and the harvest sowed and reaped, as summer would turn to autumn and the cold winter would give way to crisp spring.
And then they would all do it again.
And, after many lifetimes of harvests had passed, no one would remember the girl or the stranger. The village would grow while new generations filled the old cobbled streets that all led back to the old Town Hall. The only fragment of the mysterious death of Hope echoing through the folk songs would be the two dark stains in the old Town Hall where her blood dripped on that cold, winters night.
Dark in the winter when the drinks had flowed and the fire was low, the elders of that generation would point at those two blood stains and talk of the mysterious death of hope. They would talk of how the harvest had died and the cold winter had come early and left late. They would whisper of the devil and the demons that knock at doors late at night. And so the tale would grow, from generation to generation.
Until late one winter’s night a strange, beautiful lady appeared at door of the Town Hall. The cold air blasted in from the door and the fire flickered wildly before someone invited her in out of the cold. She stepped in and closed the door behind her. Knocking snow off her black, leather boots she cast her gaze around the dimly lit interior with no tangible expression upon her strikingly beautiful face.
One of the villagers piped up, asking about the king and the other villages. How had the harvest been in the southern part of the kingdom? The mysterious lady walked to a chair, pausing briefly as she passed the two, faded blood stains on the floor. Was there snow on the mountains yet? She sat down. And then she spoke, her voice strangely familiar to all who listened.
“Why don’t you all tell me about the harvest? Tell me about waking up early and toiling in the earth under the warm Sun? Tell me about a long, honest day’s work and a quiet night’s sleep surrounded by your loved ones? Tell me about your beautiful lives?” The strange lady smiled. It was not a happy smile nor a cruel one. It was more mechanically with all the right muscular movements, but no real emotion behind it. The smile revealed the two, small fangs in her mouth, but no one noticed as all the folks began talking at once about their simple lives in the small village nearby the dark woods.