Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was desperately longing for love that did not stop to count the cost of loving. She had lived a long time with love doled out based on merit, and had learned that that kind of love never stayed, if it ever arrived. After this many years, she had learned to stop setting a place for love at her table, and then she stopped going to her own table. It had become such a lonely place, that it wasn't worth going there to wait for any visitors, and so she never ate there, herself.
She had once grown a garden, but since no one seemed to want to enjoy what she grew, she stopped tilling the soil, and stopped planting, or watering or tending at all. Her little cottage became very overgrown, and the dark forest that had long occupied her back acres encroached, and soon the sun barely touched her little roof. She had once thought that she would sing out in her front yard as she tended to her little plot, but the songs she had planned to sing became long and lonely, haunted verses that she barely recognized as her own.
This little home was so unsatisfying and unfulfilling without any Love visiting her, that she stopped going back. For many days at a time, she would wander in the woods, fascinated by the shadows and thick gnarled trees, scavenging whatever she could for sustenance. Sometimes she wondered when she would accidentally pick a poisonous mushroom or berry, and the thought never really frightened her as it should have. When she saw the quick moving shadows of wolves and strange lunatic birds, she contented herself with the thought that they were farther off than was dangerous. Sometimes she wondered how she would fare if they were close enough. In her heart, she knew that one day she would meet one face to face, and there would be no sunshine, no torch, to keep them at bay. The thought brought only vague curiousity, and the ebb of sadness that flowed in her would rise and wash over her.
There was a village of run-down sheds and cottages somewhere in the forest, that she sometimes stopped at and met and sang her lonely songs to the people that lived there. Sometimes they listened, and one or another villager would walk with her for a day or two. But they would always go back, because her little cottage was too far to walk to, and no one really wanted to do more than walk awhile, anyway.
One day, while walking along the outskirts of the village, she saw another lone figure along the path up ahead. This person was so bundled against the cold that she could not tell if it was a man or woman, old or young, dangerous or safe. It had been so long since she even thought of her little cottage, that she forgot that anyone might visit her at all. So when she saw this figure, all she thought was that it might be fun to walk with someone else for a time. She knew that just like every other villager, they would leave her to the dark woods.
As they passed, she saw that this was a young man, whose face showed the same sadness that she lived with. He breifly glanced up, but neither spoke. She took comfort in the simple fact that she was not alone.
The woods were darker than ever over the next few days, and more and more she found herself travelling through dangerous territories. More and more she could glimpse the wolves darting between the trees, hear the flutter of the owls that took more than small rodents. She stumbled into an opening in the forest one night, tired from so long wihtout a roof. With great surprise she found it was her very own little cottage, nearly overtaken by the grasses and thorns. the paint was chipping and one shutter was hanging from one nail, but inside the table was set and there was everything she needed to host a lovely little party.
The supplies and the lovely table made her sadness harder to bear. She laughed at her own innocent hopefulness, and the laugh was so bitter it tasted foul in her mouth. It was too painful to stay, so she left her little house by the front door.
Out by her broken down little garden plot was the same young man she had passed by those few dark days ago. When he heard the door, he looked up, the remaining delight from the sight of her little garden plot still on his face. There was hope, and longing, and she recognized both because she had never been able to shed either from her lonely heart.
There had never been any fence around her cottage or her garden, because she had taken them down, believing that Love must have been convinced that the fence was there to keep it out. All that happened was strangers would come and take her fruit and flowers, and leave. That seemed so long ago, and so full of hope.
This young man apologized for trespassing, and complimented he ron her little plot, and she went out to him and they stood for a long time by her poor little garden plot. After awhile, he shuddered from the cold, even with all his layers. So she invited him in to sit by the fire, and he agreed, more delighted than she could ever fathom. Why would anyone want to sit in such a broken little home? She hoped she could get the fireplace to work. She didn't bother to warn him how mean and poor it was inside, because she was quite sure it all spoke for itself.
But it seemed the young man never noticed. His face registered such delight and wonder and pleasure at her dusty little rooms. The old curtains were still up, and the interior, which she had taken such care to furnish, were dirty, but unchanged. She looked around and began to see what she had once taken such care to create- a place where Love could live.
Sometimes they walked together in the woods, and mostly they shared the little dusty cottage. After awhile, she began to dust, and clean, and fluff out her table cloths, and curtains, and she began to clean out the flu, and prepare her table setting for a feast. After all, she had the supplies, and finally there was a guest who cared to stay and share the food with her.
She tended her garden, and pulled out the paint cans in the cellar. Just when spring was coming to her little cottage, her visitor came and spent the day with her, but he was preoccupied. He told her he wouldn't come to visit her anymore. The woman felt all her hopefulness like a dagger in her heart. She realized what a fool she had been, and turned her eyes to the beckoning night of the woods. Maybe if she let an owl tear her heart from her chest, it wouldn't hurt like this.
But before he left her yard, she called to him, and laid all her heartache on his shoulders. She pulled out all the feast plans she had made, and handed them to him, and when he left, at least he would know what he had cost her.
The trees were gnarled and ugly, and the wolves circled her from a distance, and she wandered so far, so long, that she stumbled and fell asleep on her feet. But it was never far enough, because she still felt that dagger in her heart. She went to the village, and took no company. There were nights she laid down in the woods and slept, dreaming frightening dreams, and woke shivering in the cold dawn. It was always a disappointment that she had not been devoured.
After days of sleeping in the woods and walking the windy paths of the village, her paths crossed with the young man once more. The sight of him was so comforting, that she thought maybe if they would only walk together, and no more hoping- then maybe she would be alright. There would be company but no hope. That, she thought, would be alright.
He agreed to this arrangement, but as they walked the dark cold paths, she found that he was leading them back towards the little warm cottage. He was shivering, and he smiled with great longing. When they came within sight of the tended plot, she stopped. "Please." he whispered. "I did not know how cold I was, until I sat by your fire. I did not know how dreary it was, until I saw the pretty curtains, and soft chairs. I did not know how hungry I was until I could not eat wiht you any more. I dis not know how terrible it was to wander until I had a home."
And in her heart, she knew she felt the same. There was no home without Love. "Please don't turn away." he pleaded, and reached out his arms. It was not her sadness, or her loneliness that moved her then- it was the greatest thing she feared and longed for. It was Love.
She went in wiht him, then. Laid out a hot feast and warming mugs of mulled wine, and they sat and ate and when they were done with all their fruit, they went out together and planted a garden full of seeds. During the day, they worked to bring the little cottage back to it's original state- bright and warm and cheery. He chopped down the trees that had come too close, and the sun shined on their little yard. Together they put up the fence that she ahd taken down, and she realized that it had never kept Love out, but kept out those who had the worng intentions.
After a time, they took in visitors who needed the warmth, and they saw many a traveler stop and take heart at the sight of their chimney puffing smoke and the windows lit with yellow glowing light.
There were days when she wondered if she would have met him if she had never wandered- if he would have come to stay when her garden was blooming and her fence was still up- but she knew that it was no matter, now. The old scars had healed, and she was cold no longer. The night outside was not hers, and she knew that it never had been. Wherever the villagers were, whatever they did, she could not find it in her heart to care. If there were wolves and the lunatic birds out there, she lived within strong walls that kept them out.
Love had finally come, and this Love stayed.