In lieu of anything particularly interesting happening on the herb front at the moment, here is a short story that was given to me by Glastonbury a couple of years ago. I finally got it more or less finished this afternoon and I am hoping that you, my dear readers, might enjoy it.
The Tale of the Seasons
Once upon a time, in a land far away from here, and in a time that is not our own, there was, at the very heart of things, a glorious court known as the Court of Time, the birthplace of the winds and the home of the four seasons. In the centre of the court there was a beautiful castle, all ethereal towers and spires, surrounded by trees hung with ribbons in all the colours of the rainbow. The castle’s beautiful, protective walls of stones coloured a thousand shades of amethyst, tourmaline, garnet, sapphire and emerald curved around the garden at the middle of the castle, and at the heart of the gardens there was a fountain, the very summit of which contained a beautiful, glowing white stone, the anchoring point of all the flow of time. In these gardens there lived four sisters, named Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. All had been born at the same time, springing from the womb of Mother Earth herself, and each had dominion over a different season and all the elements, flowers and jewelled creatures that went with it.
Spring, resplendent in brilliant green silken robes encrusted with gleaming jewels and living flowers, loved her easterly facing garden of verdant greenery, bright flowers and lush grasses, forever caught in the first flush of the season. She had a long fall of red hair and mischievous green eyes, and was possessed of a fey, merry temperament, quick to anger but full of joy.
Her sister Summer favoured robes of paler green, ivory and gold, crowned with summer herbs and meadow flowers, her golden hair braided down her back, and her blue eyes reflecting summer skies and her serene temperament, both. Her gardens were all of pale green and gold and white, with meadows of fragrant wildflowers and a river running sweetly throughout the whole of it.
The third of the siblings, named Autumn, had unruly, curly brown hair which often had seeds and twigs caught in it, great grey eyes, and favoured robes of earth brown, berry red, rust and copper, with a crown of autumn berries and leaves. The gardens she cared for were caught in the early stages of autumn, in reds and browns and rusty golds, misty and full of the sweetness of the season. She mothered all she looked upon, and was possessed of a gentle, affectionate nature.
Last, but most certainly not least, the fourth sister was named Winter, a tall maiden of dark hair and eyes of the palest icy blue. She wore a dark dress, like unto the tree in winter, with palest drapes of glittering silver, fawn and soft grey like the breast of the mourning dove. Her gardens were simple and elegant in line, stone underfoot, cast in glittering ice and snow and frost, trees jewelled with icicles and fallen snow. She fancied herself the plainest of the sisters, for her robes were not of bright colours, and her season the most scorned by the world. She was of an austere character, cold and full of diamond clarity, yet pure and steadfast.
These four sisters lived contentedly in their castle of gleaming silver stone, surmounted with roofs of mother of pearl and hung about with glowing lights, as they guarded and protected the Stone of Time, safe in its watery casket. However the nature of all things is to change, and one day, Raven, full of mischief, took a liking to the shining Stone, and, stooping low over the gardens, he took up the gem and flew away with it. The four sisters sent their emissaries, the four winds, to chase after the miscreant and bring the fabled gem back, however Raven managed to stay ahead of all of their attempts and flew off into the sunset with his ill gained treasure.
The sisters were filled with consternation, not knowing how the world would continue without the presence of the Stone, and they resolved to seek after it, wandering through the world and searching out where Raven may have hidden it. So they set off, all four at once, to the four corners of the world as the old stories say, seeking high and low. However they had not accounted for what would happen if the four of them were abroad in the world at once, and chaos ensued, with heavy frost and snow blighting the tender flowers of summer and spoiling the crops, and autumn and spring clashing and causing flooding and uncertainty. At long last, the trees and animals rose up and spoke to the sisters.
“Go back!” They entreated, “For your presence is driving the world to chaos, and we will starve in the colder seasons without the proper order of things!” The four sisters were crestfallen as they had not properly considered the repercussions of their actions, and they returned to their castle, chastened and saddened by their failure.
When they returned, Earth Mother herself was waiting for them. As they sat at table in the great hall of the castle, she spoke to each of them in turn, and explained that they would need to reach an agreement, to travel the world one at a time and search an area each. The four wild sisters decided that each would search the world for a certain amount of time, returning home after that time so that another sister may set forth. Thus would the order of things be maintained, each season in its proper time. Earth Mother, realising that the four sisters would need some way of measuring the time, reached to the bottom of the boundless oceans and found a great and glorious pearl, which she hung in the sky so that they could see their time of searching pass. Thus, the moon waxed and waned, and the sisters had a way of knowing how long they had been searching and when they should return home. After long discussion, an agreement was reached. Each sister would search for three waxings and wanings of the moon, and then return home, so that another sister could set off. The following morning, Spring, bright and lively, volunteered to go forth first. She travelled with the glittering east wind, and searched the mountains and the high places of the world, tall hills, places where the wind blew and tangled through the tree branches and new leaves. The birds of the air helped her, travelling light and fast on the wind to those places not easily reached, exchanging stories and news on the wing, and as a reward, she gave each a special gift, to the robin his glorious red breast, the blackbird his sun golden beak, the thrush her delightful song and to the blue tit, the smallest and bravest of all, she gave a splinter of the very spring sky itself. As she travelled, the world gradually woke up, called to life by the birds singing, shoots and buds sprouting and the earliest flowers blossoming, the sweet spring rain nourishing the earth. She searched high and low, as the world took on the same hues as the robes she loved, but after three moons of searching, there was still no sign of the stone, and, disheartened, she turned back. She met her sister, Summer, a short distance from their home, and the sisters greeted each other and shared knowledge of the world, before Spring returned home and Summer set foot on the path in her stead.
Summer travelled more slowly, with a gentle and dignified tread, and where she passed the crops began to ripen, and the sun shone with a mellow beam, warming the earth with its sensuous kiss. Summer loved to walk the meadows of the land, and left in her footsteps plants of Meadowsweet, which sprang up and took on the colours she loved to wear. Ever after, the plant has been named Queen of the Meadow, and bears her fragrance and colours. When she lay down to rest, the ground itself welcomed her and Lady’s Bedstraw grew to scent her sleep. Summer, in her flowing gowns, wandered the world, attended by crowds of butterflies and bees, dragonflies in her hair and ladybirds flitting around her. These little creatures looked in all the small places of the world, in amongst the hedgerows and burrows, in the roots of trees and amongst the woodlands, and as a reward, she granted them brilliant colours and wings that could reflect the sheen of the sun, the better to glorify the season. Alas, as time went on, she reached the end of her three moons of searching and still there was no sign of the Stone. Downcast, she returned home, and her sister Autumn began to tread the unmarked path across the lands.
Autumn brought with her gentle rain and a gloriously richer shade of sun, and the berries ripened and the hedgerows became jewelled with berries of a multitude of shades of red and purple, first the blackberry with its clawed shrubs, then the hawthorn berry and rosehip with their brilliant red colours, and the nuts and seeds of the world to feed the animals and birds through the colder season to come. She searched the waters of the world, the seas and lakes, the rivers and streams, attended always by the mist that flowed from her gowns, and where she walked, she was attended by the fishes and creatures of sea and stream, river and lake, who sought out the gem wherever they went. As their reward, she painted a multitude of rainbow colours on their sides, and gave to many of them the reflection of the moon, itself a creature of the waters. As she walked amongst the woods of the world, she sang a gentle lullaby, and the trees donned red, gold and bronze finery in her honour, finally letting their leaves fall to the ground as a thick, warm blanket for the earth as Autumn gave up her search and turned homeward.
Lastly, Winter set off to travel the world and seek out the stone, and where she stepped, the snow fell and ice formed, and her small companion Jack Frost left patterns on the frozen waters of the land. The sound of her robes as she walked was that of ice rattling together, and the winter itself was in her dark hair, the pale skies reflected in her eyes. She walked with grave and solemn dignity, and as she passed creatures burrowed deep in the land and slept, for her touch brought sweet sleep and dreams, sleep that nurtured and nourished and would allow all to return to life at the turn of the season. Her only companion was the sharp north wind, cutting to the heart of everything, shaking the last leaves from the trees that stood barren against the pale skies. Snow covered the land, yet she left no footprint as she sought out the bleak places of the world, the moors and mountains where the wind wailed its eery music, accompanied by her dark winged children, the ravens and crows, as they circled and sang corvid songs of death and sleep. After three moons, she turned homewards with sadness, thinking that her mission had failed and that once again she would be least of the sisters, feared and despised, but then, possessed by the urge to take one last long look at the mountains stark against the night skies, she turned again and looked heavenwards. To her amazement, she saw, shining above the highest mountains, a gleaming point of light that had not been there before. For Raven, possessed by his usual spirit of mischief, had dropped the Stone high up in the heavens where it had cleaved to the velvet of the midnight skies. None of the sisters had seen it before – it had taken Winter, with her sharper edges and shorter days, to allow the Stone to shine its brightest, so that it could be seen amongst the glory of the starry night. Winter, smiling as she observed the Stone, realised that perhaps the stone was its proper place after all. So she returned home, her steps lighter than when she had set out, and with a joyous heart informed her sisters and her mother the Earth that the Stone had found a new home. The four sisters had learned a great deal in their journeys, and they now vowed that henceforth they would travel each year, each season in turn, three moons each time, so that they may see and enjoy the earth, far greater and more glorious even than their own gardens that possessed the heart of each season but not the soul. And from that day to this, the seasons come and go, each in her own time and turn, and the moon waxes and wanes, to guide them, and the Stone itself shines high in the sky as the North Star. This, then, is the tale of the seasons, and here is an end to it.