Once there was a witch…

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And she was a friend to all in the land.  She was beautiful and wise, well known for her good magic and healing ways.  Her long brown hair fell in waves past her shoulders and her eyes were dark as night.  No one knew where she came from, but her name was Lily.

Lily knew the secrets of native plants and what medicines and magic would help cure and ease pain. She not only helped the people in nearby villages, but was also a friend to any and all animals that sought her out.  Many people called her a witch…and some claimed she even talked to the animals and plants.

One day, she was on her way home after helping an injured deer in the Far Meadow.  She smiled, as she recalled the little half-grown doe and the way she had hopped around after being healed.  She loved helping others, Lily thought to herself, as she walked through the Small Woods.  This path was the fastest way back to her cottage and she had no fear of the forest animals.  They were her friends and she always enjoyed walking between the tall trees.

But this time there was something different.  A stillness she had never noticed before.  It was far too quiet.  As if the animals and birds were suddenly…gone.

She looked around and realized there was movement between the trees.  Strangers were in the forest.  Perhaps someone was lost.  As she started to call out, an arrow sliced through the air only inches in front of her.  No time for visiting, she thought…and ran as fast as she could through the woods.

She recognized this arrow.  It was from a band of men, who lived some distance beyond the Far Meadow.  She knew if they were here, there was only one reason.  They had come for her.   She had rejected their chief’s marriage proposal a month earlier, but she thought they were still on good terms.  Apparently, not.

As she ran, Lily realized she would soon reach the edge of the trees and end up on the cliffs with their long drop to the river.  She could do many things, but flying was not one of them.  Even her magic had its limits.

As she turned around, she looked for an ally.  Any ally.  She decided to ask the trees for help.  One group of large elms said they would hide her in their branches.  She only needed to climb up and they would protect her.

So, she climbed and the trees hid her from the warriors.  As the men looked around, they grew increasingly frustrated.  A lone pine tree broke its own branch, hoping the men think Lily had gone that way to jump into the river.

The men argued about whether to jump in after her and during their argument, they ended up pushing each other into the river.  The last man swore the tree gave him a little help, but the others did not believe him.  They went back to their chief and told him the witch must have drowned.

In return for their bravery, Lily promised the trees she would grant them any wish she could.  The pine tree asked that it might fly like the wind, but protect her always.  Lily granted its wish and turned the tree into a beautiful eagle, large enough for her to ride.   This would be her most faithful friend for all their days…and now they would both be able to escape any enemies.

She asked the elms what wish she could grant them, but they did not want to leave their home.  Their wish was to be able to see the rest of the Small Woods and even visit the Far Meadow.  Lily explained that since the pine tree kept its needles year round, she could change it into a creature that moved about anytime.  But the elms lost their leaves each winter, so even in their new form they must sleep part of the year.

The elms agreed and she changed them into lovely, large creatures.  They were able to move around all summer and enjoy the Small Woods and Far Meadow, but before the snow came they went into caves and slept.  And that is how bears came to live in the woods…..

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