The Four Seasons
Once upon a time, there were four brothers who lived in the lands of Wyck. They were called Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. To each of the brothers the gods gave them a time of year that was to be their own. Each was given the gifts of their season to use as they saw fit. Spring, though born first, was the least mature of all of them, full of the vigor of youth. Summer, second to be born, was tall and strongly built with hair the color of wheat, was eager to start his own family. Fall, third to be born and the most mature, was quick to plan ahead and a clever craftsman. Winter, the youngest brother, was always greedy and honeyed his words to lure other people to do for him what he would not do for himself.
When they came of age, they each moved away from their parents’ dwelling to build themselves homes to survive the coming snows. Winter found a damp cave deep in their forest and, considering himself more clever than his brothers, decided that he did not have to build a home for himself.
Spring decided to grow himself a house of evercrawl ivy, purple pilgrim and bramblethorn, hoping to entice any young girl to be his bride. They would warm the house of vines with their love and survive the coming winter in each other’s arms. Spring eventually found his bride and made the birds sing with envy for many weeks until his youngest brother, Winter, came upon their home. The woven nest of vines was clutched in a bramble-thicket on the eastern side of a high hill to catch the first rays of morning sunshine. Winter moaned to Spring and begged him for a place to stay for the cold months. He flattered Spring by complimenting him on the growth of the house and asked if he could step inside and get out of the heat of the sun.
Spring did not want his younger brother living with him and his bride, and so he sent his youngest brother away with mocking laughter. Winter ran into the Wood and found a cave hidden by a dead tree. Inside the cave he found a cloak, a bag and a stick as though someone was living there. Winter, mean-spirited and constantly greedy for attention, was not about to be stopped by his brother’s harsh words. He disguised himself in the tattered black cloak like The Wither, hiding his face behind a rotted, bottle-gourd mask, and returned to Spring’s home. Winter, as the Wither, stood before the door of ivy and moaned and howled in torment until it was answered.
“I am the Wither of the Wood. Give me shelter or I shall blight you and your bride with sorrow and dread for all of your days.”
The sight of the Wither scared Spring, and he invited the twisted figure inside. Spring and his bride tried to live with the Wither as the rains of his season lessened and the days grew brighter. Winter, still dressed as the Wither, constantly moaned, demanding that Spring’s bride serve him berry juice and bring him sweet nuts from the trees. He howled at his brother, Spring, that his house of vines was always damp from the rains and that leaking water dripped onto him as he slept in their wedding bed – for no other bed would suit his twisted back. As the season became hotter, Winter could not wear the cloak and mask while he slept. Spring’s Bride, Rose, saw that the Wither was actually her husband’s brother and threw him out of their home, chasing him with a bundle of thorns.
Winter retreated to his secret cave and returned the next day with a leather bag that had been filled with a fierce north wind. He snuck up to the home of his brother Spring and untied the bag just a little. With a loud WOOSH of air, the frost of the north covered the ivy nest and the couple inside ran out into the sun to warm their naked flesh. Winter, disguised as the Wither, roared in jealousy at them and chased them out of the valley.
Winter claimed the house of vines and thorns as his own, much better than the cramped cave he had found earlier, but the frigid north winds in the bag had killed the vines and wilted the soft ivy; only the thorns remained. He would have to find a better house.
Summer, who was younger than Spring but a bit more mature, had woven his house out of straw and decorated it with yellow meadow flowers. He and his wife, Thistle, were happy in their home eagerly anticipating the arrival of yet another child in the months ahead. When the sun was highest in the season, the youngest brother, Winter, came to Summer’s home and begged to be let in.
“Generous brother, I can not build myself such a lovely home as you. The sun is high and I have found no home before the coming of the snows. Please let me stay with you and your beautiful bride. Your house is twice as big as that of Spring; surely you have room for me?”
Summer did not know of Winter’s trickery upon their brother, Spring, but told him that he had no room in his house for they had plenty of children and were expecting another soon. He sent Winter away but gave him three loaves of sweet bread so his brother would not go hungry.
Winter would not stand for Summer’s insult. He stormed back into the forest to find the Wither’s cave, muttering angry words under his breath.
“Summer has enough wheat in his house to feed his wife and their children and more. I’ll show him the Wither’s stick and make him feed me.”
Winter fetched the cloak and the stick and the bag of wind, and hid his face with the gourd mask before returning that night to his brother’s house. Summer sat with several children playing around him, enjoying his wife’s company and the bounty of their family’s harvest. With the crooked Wither stick, he banged on the door of straw and wailed like the wind.
“I am the Wither of the Wood. Give me food and shelter or I shall blight you and your family with sorrow and dread for all of your days.”
Summer’s children cried in fear as the wind howled outside. Thistle calmed them with sweet bread and gentle songs and left her husband to deal with the blight at the door. Summer had heard of the evils of the Wither as all children did, but never expected to see one at his front door. For fear that his children would be cursed with the creature’s crooked stick if he did not offer his hospitality; he invited the Wither into his home and fed him well. Each morning bread and barley soup were taken away from the mouths of his children to fill the belly of the Wither.
The season continued and the Wither grew fatter each day while Summer’s children grew pale and weak. He demanded to sleep in their enormous bed and drink of their finest wines, threatening to curse the children with a crooked body if he didn’t immediately get his way. He had remembered to always wear the cloak and mask of the Wither lest he be caught as he had before, but the days were even hotter than that of his eldest brother’s season, Spring, and the house of hay and meadow flowers made him itch. So he would leave the house during the hottest hours of the day and travel to a nearby stream to bathe. He knew that Summer and his wife, Thistle, and all of their children were working in the fields and wouldn’t catch him, so he took off the hot cloak and the heavy mask for just a bit to submerge himself under the cool water. When he surfaced he was surprised to hear the stifled scream of a small child. It was Summer’s oldest daughter, Heather. She had been sent to the stream to fetch water for her family to drink and saw her uncle remove his mask and cloak to bathe. She knew his secret and would tell her parents of his trickery.
Before Heather could run for help, Winter reached for the stick he had taken from the cave and pointed it at the child. Pointing the Wither’s stick at her, he cursed the child. Her back twisted in horrible knots until she fell to the ground too breathless from the pain to scream. Winter knew that her mother, Thistle, was skilled in the healing arts and might be able to save her daughter from this curse but he didn’t want his secret revealed, so he began digging a hole. By the end of the hour he thought that he had dug the hole deep enough to bury the child. But before he could be sure of that, he saw more children coming over the ridge of the hill towards him. Quick as a starving fox he dumped the child into the hole and tried to cover her up, but some tufts of her hair could still be seen through the dirt. Since he couldn’t dig the hole any deeper while the children were coming he grabbed a bit of grass and wove it into her hair to disguise it. Winter sneaked back to the stream and dressed himself as the Wither to hide from the children who were calling for their sister, Heather.
One of the children spotted the Wither near the stream as another heard their sister’s moaning. The gaggle of sprats scattered as the Wither roared at them to leave his “flower” alone. By this time, Summer and Thistle had come to see why the children were screaming and saw the Wither chasing them around the hill with his stick. Summer, a protective father, hefted his scythe and charged the Wither to slice him like a stalk of wheat. Winter saw his brother and the sharpness of scythe, and reached for the leather bag beside the stream. With a quick release of the knotted cord, the frigged north winds were loosed against his bother with a loud WOOSH. Summer was almost frozen to the spot as his wife, Thistle, plucked a stone from the field and chucked it at the Wither to distract him. It struck Winter against his temple, breaking his mask. Thistle called to her children to pelt their uncle with stones and drive him away. Winter was chased away from the stream, forgetting the broken mask as he ran to Summer’s home. He would make his revenge sting more harshly than the stones they threw.
The smallest of his brother’s children, those too young to go out with Summer and the others to the field, were left in the care of an older daughter, Lily. Winter snuck into the house of straw and meadow flowers and saw the girl reading to the younger babes by the hearth. He untied the leather bag almost half way and let the frosty winter winds freeze Lily and her brothers and sisters to death. The loaves of sweet bread that had been cooling on a nearby table were now almost as hard as stone, but Winter took them all back to his cave.
The season of his brother slowly came to an end, and now the leaves were turning color to signal the time of the last harvest and the final preparations before the coming snows. Winter had eaten all of the sweet bread he had stolen from Thistle’s hearth and was now both hungry and worried that he still had no home to protect him from the snows that would come and freeze his damp cave.
Without the Wither’s mask to conceal his face, he would not be able to trick his anyone into giving him hospitality. So he would use the threat of the stick and the leather bag to gain his welcome. The journey to the home of his brother, Fall, was long, almost at the edge of the forest, beyond the fields of Summer and the vine-woven thickets of Spring. As he walked up the road he could see that Fall’s house was huge and well built. Walls of stone wrapped around three score and six rooms sheltered under a massive roof of clay tiles. A warm, oak-fed fire poured hearty smoke through the stone chimney; filling the air with the smells of a stew of barley and spring greens and loaves of sweet bread cooled on the window sill. Winter’s belly grumbled with hunger and his pace quickened.
“Summer and his family have come to live with Fall, and Spring and his bride have brought their love to his house. Surely he would not turn me away.”
As Winter drew closer to the front of Fall’s house, he could see all three brothers on the porch enjoying the evening. Fall was only mildly older than Winter, but sharper of wit. Fall was a man of plans and of patience. He had been gathering the harvests of his brother, Summer, and preserving the freshness of his brother, Spring, so that they might enjoy them throughout the long months of snow. Winter stopped at the front step of Fall’s front porch and bellowed.
“I am the carry the Wither’s stick and I have the north winds tied up in a sack. Welcome me into your home, Brother, and I shall spare you and your guests.”
Fall had heard about Winter’s trickery from Spring and of his spite from Summer, but to their surprise he invited his brother onto the front porch of his home. Winter slowly approached the brothers and saw that there were many people gathered; Summer’s children, their wives, and one-other person who was seen serving out stew into large bowls of bread. Winter whispered to himself, “Fall’s wife will be giving me stew soon and I shall be happy and warm while these fools serve me.”
“Brother, I understand that what you have done must have been very trying for you and that you are filled with great remorse for your deeds…”
Winter smiled in triumph for Fall was always prone to long-winded speeches before he gave of himself. He listened greedily on the porch as Fall continued to speak.
“… I know you to be a clever man, but tell me how did you come across these items that you would use against us? Give me this story and I shall see that you are given what you need.”
Winter was glad to tell the story of how he had found the cave hidden in the heart of the forest and stolen the crooked stick, the mask and cloak, and the leather bag that he used to force his foolish brothers into serving him. Once Winter had finished the tale, Fall called to the kitchen, and Winter’s mouth watered at the thought of the bowl of stew finally in his hands.
The figure walked onto the porch with a stoop in her stride, as though her legs were under a heavy weight.
“This is your wife?” asked Winter.
“No, my wife is at the Millers fetching the grain.”
Winter was confused, and again more so when the bowl was not given to him but to Fall.
“Grandmother, did you hear my brother’s story?” he asked as he accepted the food.
“Yes…” the figure croaked with a voice like a bullfrog.
“He is in need of a home for the months of snow and someone to care for him and feed him. Do you think he deserves this from us?” Fall asked.
Winter was beside himself with anticipation. His belly grumbled and Fall was playing word games with him. He did not care who the old woman was, and was ready to open the bag of icy wind all the way on them all if he did not get food soon.
“Yes…” the old woman croaked once more.
Winter was surprised. He did not think that Fall would give him what he wanted, but was eager to be lazy once more.
“Brother, my guest has agreed that you are in need of these things; a home and someone to care for you, and I am inclined to give them to you, “ Fall began. “She too had come to me and sought shelter, for someone had stolen her home and her only belongings many months ago. She would have threatened me with sorrow and dread for all of my days, but being without so much as a cave and a stick to her own, she asked for my hospitality as any guest should. She has lived with me and my wife these many months teaching us the secrets of the land. We were kind and generous to her – as she was to us and so we have prospered. I promised her that I would deliver the one who robbed her. And so, now I have.”
Winter went white with fear as the old woman lifted her hood to reveal the broken mask of the Wither, now whole. He reached for the crooked stick but his hands gnarled at its touch. He howled in pain as the stick fell into her grasp and he fell to his knees. Angrily he fought to pull the cloak over his body and conceal himself in the shadows, but his withered hands could not grasp the rough fabric. The old woman pulled the cloak onto her own back and stood a bit straighter with the help of her walking stick.
“Come, my husband, you have a cave to clean.”
“But, you said I would have someone to serve me!” Winter complained petulantly.
“And so you shall, Brother,” said Fall. “She shall serve you as you have served your own family – with trickery and spite.”
The porch was filled with laughter as Winter was hobbled by the old woman. She thanked Fall and his Brothers for their hospitality as she lead Winter down the steps by the ear.
“Don’t forget your Bag of Wind, husband… it’s all you’re good for.”