Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Winter (the season) (08/13/09)
- TITLE: When Winter Fades to Faith
By Ann Grover
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“She must look at the sky,” the trollkone directed Olava in a raspy voice.
Olava did as she was told, turning her daughter over so that her hollowed eyes gleamed deceptively bright as they reflected glimmering stars . The baby was passed through a gap where the three fences intercepted. Once, twice, three times, the howling child was squeezed through the hole in the rough wood to the trollkone and back again.
“The smøyg is complete. She is healed,” assured the healer. Olava tried not to flinch as the trollkone’s gnarled, dirty fingers stroked the baby’s misshapen head. She never would have consented to the “threading,” but it was their final hope.
Kristianne had been such a fair child, flaxen-haired, blue eyed, her tiny limbs lively when she was unbound from her tight swaddles. But, one morning, soon after the longest night of the winter, when there is no sun except for a few moments of frail rays, Kristianne awakened Olava and Pedder with a shrieking cry.
They’d rushed to her hanging cradle and gaped in disbelief. What had happened to their beloved baby? Her legs and arms were swollen, her face distorted, eyes sunken.
The engelsk syke. The English disease.
The sunless day became darker, colder. Their beautiful girl would become a monster, with a thickened head, bowed arms and legs, a deformed chest. Olava’s heart chilled, frozen deeper than the ice on the fjord, bleaker than the winds that drifted snow as high as the roof.
Kristianne grew listless, turning away from the tygge, morsels chewed to tenderness, that Olava offered. When Kristianne wasn’t lying motionless in the cradle, she was screaming relentlessly.
“Ah, you have a bytting, exchanged for Kristianne by the huldrefolk while you were sleeping,” clucked Old Kari. “You must take her to the house of Sven, who is now dead, and pass her beneath his body.”
So, in desperation, Pedder trudged through the snow and biting cold to the Thorsen farm, nearly sliding off the icy path several times, so that Kristianne could be passed under Sven’s coffin. Meanwhile, Olava hung a knife in the doorway and placed coins in the cradle, as Old Kari advised.
Still, Kristianne ailed. Her blonde curls coarsened to rough straw, and the baby bloom faded from her thin cheeks.
Then, the trollkone performed the “threading,” to scrape the disease from Kristianne as she was passed through the fence.
But, Kristianne, or the changeling that had replaced her, continued to sicken.
“There is one more thing.” Pedder kept his eyes on his steaming sour cream porridge. “Today, in the village, I heard of a woman who can heal the English disease.”
“No more.” Olava swallowed her bitterness.
“Just this, Olava. She will return Kristianne to herself.”
Olava wordlessly watched smoke coil through the hole in the roof.
Nor did Olava speak during the long trek to Marit-Helene’s cottage, the sod roof frosted with new snow. Olava’s hope was as icebound as the silent waterfalls embracing the mountainside.
“You will leave her with me. Come back at Whitsuntide, in May, when the grass is green and the ash tree blooms.” Marit-Helene frowned at Olava’s downcast face. “You must not despair. There is råd for uråd, a solution for the unsolvable, I promise. So, now, go. Peace be with you, i Jesu navn.”
Olava’s fingers lingered on Kristianne’s brow until Pedder finally pulled her away. A ray of new sunlight caressed Olava’s cheek, a whisper of warmth to begin thawing the glacial hardness of Olava’s heart.
On a breezy day in the spring, Pedder returned from the sod-covered cottage, bearing a smiling Kristianne. Olava dropped the freshly laundered sheet she’d been spreading to dry and ran to them. A freshet of words poured from her as she became aware of Kristianne’s thrusting legs and clapping hands.
“Fish oil, can you imagine? And sunshine and milk. That’s all, Marit-Helene says, but I say it’s a miracle.”
But the greater miracle was the faith blossoming in Olava, as icy fear was melted away by restored joy, as certainly as winter turns to spring.
Author’s Note: Over a century ago, a rickets epidemic swept over northern Europe and Great Britain. There were several causes, including poor nutrition and lack of sunlight. Although it was unknown then that cod liver oil contained huge amounts of Vitamin D, it was the miraculous cure.
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