was waning and a cold wind blew, scattering the dry
leaves. The crops had all withered, and the roots
been stored away for winter. In the village, a man
named Duskward looked up somberly into the bleak
sky. His wife had taken ill, and he feared the
coming of winter.
went to the home of the village healer. "My wife is
ill," he said. "She has a terrible cough and cannot
stand up for long. She eats little."
pulled a great book down from its shelf and quickly
turned the pages until he found what he was after.
He read, muttering to himself, and then closed the
book with a thud and spoke. "She has taken ill from
swamp vapors. Here-" He rummaged through his
shelves until he found a bottle of yellowish
powder. "You must give her this, a spoonful
dissolved in hot water, three times each
squinted and scratched his chin. "It is the best
treatment known," he said. "But her illness is a
serious one. Not everyone survives it."
paid the healer and returned home with the
medicine. A week passed. His wife's cough improved,
but she became very weak and dizzy, and her
complexion was very pale. Fear grew inside him. The
medicine was changing her, but she was not getting
well. He did not know if he was doing the right
then visited the village priest. The priest
listened patiently to his worries, and put his hand
on Duskward's shoulder. "Listen, young man. You
must pray for her, each morning and each night
before you sleep. Only by the favor of God does
each of us enjoy the blessings of life and health.
Your wife, perhaps, has done some wrong, and so God
has withdrawn his favor from her. If you are pious
and dutiful, it may be that He will be merciful and
bring her back to health."
thanked the priest and walked home, quiet and
thoughtful. He knew his wife was not perfect, nor
was he. But he did not believe her illness could be
a punishment for wrongdoing, when there were so
many thieves, killers, and scoundrels in the world
who remained in fine health. Nevertheless, Duskward
did say a silent prayer before entering his
looked even paler than when he had left her. He
prepared the medicine for her, but she refused it.
"Take me to the wise woman," she said, "she will
know what to do."
"It is a
long way," said Duskward. "and it is cold
"If I have
my walking stick, and you to lean on, I will be
Duskward agreed, and they prepared to walk to the
wise woman's cottage. He gave his wife his heavy
coat and fur-lined boots to wear, and helped her
from her bed. When they stepped outside, a bitter
wind blew down the village street, carrying with it
the first snowflakes of winter.
indeed a long walk. The wise woman lived at the
very edge of the village, in a cottage nestled near
a large copse of old trees. Brown leaves covered
the ground, and the gray, clouded sky made the
place seem forlorn and dark. The path leading to
the cottage was lined with bushes and herbs of all
kinds, and wild grass and vines grew up between
knocked on the small wooden door that was the
cottage's only entrance. After a long pause, the
door opened. The wise woman, whose name was
Shadecloak, looked at them both with dark, sharp
eyes, and welcomed them into her cottage. Her body
was small and bent with age; she carried a twisted
old stick to lean on, and wore layers of gray and
explained the illness and his efforts to find a
cure. "I know you are wise with herbs and spells
and old lore. Can you help?"
approached the ailing woman, who was slumped over
and shivering. "Are you in pain, child?"
"Yes, in my
made some strong, hot tea and gave it to her. "This
cure her illness?" asked Duskward.
"Do you know
what will cure her?"
sat silently for a few minutes, gazing off into
space. Then she pulled a small shawl off her back
and handed it to Duskward. "Would you mend this?"
happy to," he said, "but is that all you need in
exchange? I could bring you food, or money,
understand," she smiled. "I didn't ask you for
anything except your opinion. Would you mend
took a closer look at the shawl she had handed him.
It had many lines of stitching where it had been
repaired before. It was frayed around the edges and
the cloth had grown thin. Many small holes were
opening up around the old stitchwork. He was
wouldn't," said Shadecloak. "If it tears again, I
will take it out into the garden, and it will
crumble under the winter snows. In the spring,
birds will use pieces of it for their nests. It was
mine for awhile, I have made good use of it, and
now it is time to pass it along. I can find
began to weep. "I thought you would help. But now
you are saying I should just discard her, let her
die? She's not a shawl, she's a person. She can't
understand," Shadecloak smiled again. "It's not you
that needs to let go of something, it's her." The
wise woman turned her gaze away from Duskward and
toward his wife, who seemed very peaceful now,
slowly drinking her tea.
this body of mine . . . I should give it
When the time comes, and you know that you no
longer need it." She turned to Duskward again,
"It's very hard for those of us left behind, on
this side of the veil," she said. "Because we miss
the ones we love. But you cannot stop the turning
of the wheel. One thing must pass into the next.
Everything comes, stays awhile, then goes away so
that something new can come."
"But she is
about years," she said quietly, and Duskward
suddenly realized how very old she seemed. "It's
about what we do. The years are just an empty pot,
be it large or small. It's what you fill it with
There was a
silence that felt to Duskward as though he had
stepped outside of time and found a place where all
the happenings of the world, real and imagined,
became like the foam on a tumbling mountain
With a dull
clink, the empty tea cup hit the earthen floor of
the wise woman's cottage.