Frau Holle came through our village last night. Just like I knew she would. Father always said that our little village was too small to matter and the Great Ones would never take any note of us. Jaochim teased me when he found me leaving a bundle of broom for her behind our hut last night. His laughter burned, seering and scornful as he tore it apart and scattered the withies about. “You sweep the dirt off of a floor made of dirt? Out into a dirt road? Then you leave a broom out in the dirt so the Mother of the Dirt itself will see how clean you’ve made things?”
Bending down, he pressed his sweaty, leering face so close to mine that our noses smushed so tightly against each other that when I sniffed back my fear, his snot drew up into mine. “And what do you think She will give you for tidying up all of Her good, clean dirt? An apron full of gold? Huh? Brat!” he spat as he stormed off toward the muddy track which ground past what little our village could show for itself – a stable, pigsty and tavern. It is a test to see how smart you are if you can tell one end of the building from the other, but no one in the village could ever even tell that Father and Jaochim sometimes failed.
I kept our hut neatly after Mother died. I knew how to keep it warm and how to bank the fire so that it could be blown back to life in the morning. But I had not learned to cook and the kettle sat empty. I had not yet learned to spin and the spindle sat idle upon a shelf above the hearth. Still, nothing gathered dust. The air in our hut was clear, even if close.
“Clear as mud,” Father would say, tromping in at day’s end from the small patch he had managed to clear from the surrounding wood. “Clear as mud and my head’s a turnip if I know how we’ll eat supper tonight.” He always began truthfully enough, but the truth’s clarity was soon sullied. “You’re a useless brat, tha’s clear enough an’ yer Mum-mah couldn’t teach you a thing. No doubt, was the toil and strain of tryin’ that killed her. That’s clear enough!” He would continue muttering like this as he washed his face in the basin, dirtying the clear water I had filled it with from the village well shortly before. When he was done he would dry his hands and face with his grimy shirttail, leaving dirty streaks on his momentarily clear skin. I knew much better than to reveal this plain truth to him.
Jaochim would return soon after, filthy and stinking from penning up the pigs after watching over them as they foraged in the wood each day. He would throw the dirty water from the basin to the floor, stomping his feet angrily as if trying to make more mud of the floor like that which he had tracked in from the pigsty. “Even the pigs get to be cleaner than me!” he would shout. He had inherited our father’s peculiarly honest nature. Throwing the basin at me he would bellow, “Get me some water to wash in brat!” and when I had done so his own washing would make it clear that Father had truly taught him everything he knew.
Even more alike, they both would then go to eat the supper that Dritta had made at the tavern, drink the watery ale and sloppily attempt to court the tavern’s mistress herself. Dritta’s husband, a silent, thoughtful man, had been killed two winter’s past by a boar he had been hunting. Canard had grown up in a fishing village three days travel to the sea and knew nothing of hunting. Canard wasn’t always silent, only when Dritta was within hearing. Dritta was never silent. Especially whenever Father or Jaochim managed to gain her brief approval and didn’t return to the hut after supper. I never minded the squealing. At first I thought it was just one of the pigs until I realized that sometimes it was and I could tell the difference. What I hated about those nights was that whichever rival had fallen in that evening’s competition for Dritta’s company would return home to demand mine. Clearly, that was something else Mother had not been able to teach me.
Like I said, Canard wasn’t always silent. When out of earshot of the tavern’s clamor he told me and the other children in the village and surrounding crofts stories of the Great Ones. He told us tales of their natures and their ways and how to honor them and how to seek their attention. It was Canard who had told me about how it snows when Frau Halle shakes out her blanket to make her bed. He told us how a girl who worked very hard had dropped her spindle into a well and when she jumped in after it she found that the inside of the well was Frua Holle’s castle.. When Frau Holle asked why she was there she said that she must be lost and Frua Holle replied, “Very well. Since you’re here you can sweep my hearth for me.” The girl did as she was asked and did it so well that Frau Holle asked her to stay as her maid until the next moon, when she went home with her apron filled with gifts.
She had a vain and lazy stepsister who got jealous of her fortune and so had put on her very best clothes and jumped in the well. When Frau Holle asked why she was there she answered, “You gave my stepsister many gifts so I came to visit you too..” Frua Holle replied, “Very well. Since you’re here you can sweep my hearth for me,” but the stepsister answered rudely, “No. I don’t want to get my fine clothes dirty. You can clear your own hearth.” Frau Holle replied, “Very well. I shall,” and the stepsister found herself at the bottom of the well and drowned.
It was Canard who told me about leaving a broom out for Frau Halle at Sun’s ‘Turning when she is making her bed and she will sweep your hearth for you and clear the dirt out of your life.
I made Her a broom but Jaochim ruined it. So last night after he and Father had gone to the tavern, I took my broom and set it outside the window at the back of the hut when the snow began to fall. The longest night was also the coldest night and I curled up by the hearth for warmth, shivering under my blanket, afraid that only one of them would come home last night. But no one did. In the day the woods had been very quiet. The night was silent. This morning the sky was clear and the whole village was covered in a heavy blanket of new, clean snow. So much that you couldn’t make out the dirt road from the rest of the clearing where we live. I found my broom in it’s usual place by the hearth. I found Father in the pigsty. He was just a mound beneath the snow until I cleared it away to see. His clothes must be buried beneath the snow as well, but they’re not big enough to make a mound. I found Jaochim when I tried to get my wash water from the well. Everyone else thinks that he must have been drunk to fall in.
[A Wiccan priest for more than half his life now, Amergin O’Kai is a creative polymath — musician, writer and budding artist who sings like Coyote, dances like a choir of Aspen, is Loved By the Wind, and cooks some of the best etouffee you will find in any of the worlds. His heroes include Leonardo Da Vinci, St. John Coltrane, Dolores La Chapelle, and Bucky Fuller. Have Drum, Will Journey.]