A wintry wind blew cold and bitter. I stood by the fire, sipping a cup of hot tea, when I heard a knock at the door. I opened it to see an old woman, shivering from the extreme temperature. Snow swirled around her tattered cloak.
I extended my hand to her, “You poor thing. Come in and warm yourself by the fire.”
She accepted my invitation and hobbled to the hearth, while I hurried to the kitchen. Her eyes glistened with appreciation when I returned with a tray of hot tea and some biscuits.
She stood there, a forlorn creature, but something about her stirred my heart. Suddenly I felt compassion of such magnitude, that I was nearly overcome with emotion.
“Please, eat something. And the tea, it will warm you within.”
I watched her shaking hands lift the cup to her lips now beginning to fade from blue to a soft pink. Then, like a starving child, she proceeded to consume all the biscuits and finish her tea.
“You are most kind,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m out in the cold alone, and, well, dressed as I am.”
I squinted and tilted my head. The warmth of the fire seemed to bring out a youthful glow to her complexion, and it changed my first impression of her having been an old woman. “You don’t have to explain,” I offered, “but I admit that I am curious.”
She held her hands to the flame and looked around at my cozy cabin with unmistakable longing. “You have a wonderful home.”
“Are you lost?” I blurted out.
“I think so,” she answered.
The sorrow in her voice pierced my heart. “What happened?” I asked gently, hoping to coax her into telling me her tale.
“I, I was betrothed...to a king, but he left me and I’ve been wandering ever since, trying to find him.”
I couldn’t help but eye her condition, and she must have noticed the skepticism in my glance.
“I know I don’t look like a bride-to-be, but I can prove it.” She set the teacup down on the tray, and from the pocket of her frayed cloak she retrieved a bundle of letters, tied together with a red ribbon.
“We were to be married,” she said as she handed them to me, “but he had to go back to see his father first. When he didn’t return right away, I set out to try and find him.”
I removed the ribbon and unfolded one of the letters. “He says you are his chosen one and that he loves you very much.”
“I guess I’d forgotten he said that.” She pushed back the hood of her cloak to reveal long, softly curled hair.
I blinked at the image of beauty standing before me, and I fumbled to open the next letter. “This one has instructions on what you are to do in his absence and encouragement to be strong until he returns.” As I read it to her, I noticed she had undone the clasp of her cloak.
I read from a few more and then stopped.
“Please continue,” she pleaded.
“Have you never read these letters yourself?” I asked, bewildered.
“I used to, long ago,” she confessed, “but for some time now, I’ve just listened to what others think about them.” She removed the cloak, and we both stared at her once lovely wedding dress.
“There, there’s one last letter,” I stammered. “Shall I read it?”
She walked over to a full-length mirror on the wall, and I watched her turn and look at the condition of her garment. She covered her face with her hands. “No,” her voice quivered, “I need to read it myself.”
I carefully tied the letters together with the ribbon and handed them to her. She donned her cloak and thanked me again for my hospitality.
The cold air left me shivering as she stepped out into the storm. “Where are you going? What will you do?”
She smiled, as though suddenly aware of her surroundings. “I know where I am now,” she said, her eyes bright with excitement. “I don’t live far from here. I’m going to read his letters again and find out what I need do to get ready for his return...starting with my dress.”
She disappeared into a white haze, and I closed the door. “I believe she’s ready, Father,” I whispered.
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