Once there was a troll who was far from home. Her eyes were heavy with grief and loss. She apprenticed with a blacksmith.
Imelda, the troll, worked the bellows, she positioned the new anvil, but she never spoke of her burden. The blacksmith stopped asking about family, and they worked in companionable silence.
One day the scent of burned leaves laced with sweet apple floated on the wind into the shop. The troll took notice.
“A witch approaches,” she declared to the blacksmith.
He stopped his hammer midair.
A woman walked through the door. She wasn’t very striking, her clothes and hair the color of the earth. Her eyes went right to Imelda.
“Grief is a heavy burden. I can help ease it.”
Imelda’s throat squeezed shut, her voice trapped. She grunted and shook her head.
The witch asked the blacksmith if he could make a key and a lock, and left.
All that day Imelda worked as usual, but the blacksmith saw her brow was creased and her eyes clouded. Still, he couldn’t complain, so he left her to her work.
The next day the witch entered the shop.
“Your grief is written on you. Let me help.”
Imelda shook her head. Later that day though, her thoughts drifted as she filled the forge with charcoal.
The witch came again the third day to collect her lock and key. She wore a deep wine-colored cloak, and her eyes carried the warmth of the sun.
“Promise to do as I ask when I’m done.”
This time Imelda nodded and breathed, “Yes.”
In the evening, before the sun dipped below the horizon, Imelda and the witch walked side by side through the village. The villagers knew the troll, but the witch was a stranger to them. Tongues wagged as the pair walked past the butcher’s shop to the low hills that ringed the village.
Up they climbed until Imelda stopped in front of a flat round boulder. She gripped it with her large wide hands and rolled the stone away to reveal a small cave.
“My heart lives here.” She beckoned to the witch and went inside.
The dirt floor was swept smooth. A circle of white and gold flowers surrounded a tiny skeleton. At the head, a doll made of straw kept watch.
“She was five when she fell ill. We were passing through this village on our way to the sea. The people here were kind, but none could cure her. She died on the seventh day.” The flow of words released Imelda’s breath.
The witch sighed and held Imelda’s hand.
“I can’t leave her. I’ve tried to take her with me, but her bones turn to dust. No container will hold her. I’m bound here, but I yearn for the comfort of home.”
The witch nodded. “I’m so sorry.” The last sunlight shone on the mountains outside. “I think I can help you, but I’ll need the forge. Each day I work, I want you by my side.”
The next morning the witch worked the bellows and hammered a small piece of metal, dark and hard.
“Tell me about the day your daughter was born.”
Imelda sat on a stool and her words spilled out. She recalled the clear cold morning. The women of her village buzzed with excitement and then joy when the cries of the newborn rang out. Visitors streamed in with congratulations while Imelda gazed at the tiny creature, amazed she had brought forth such beauty.
The witch hammered at her sable metal, heated it, and hammered again, pulling the threads of the newborn’s cry, all the while Imelda’s story wove in and out until evening.
“That’s my work for today. We’ll begin again in the morning.”
The second morning, Imelda arrived at the shop as the sun climbed over the hills, but the witch was already at the forge. She worked the metal into a flat disc; it glowed a dull pewter.
“Tell me about the day your daughter spoke her first words.”
Again, Imelda’s story poured out and she smiled as she recalled her daughter’s delight in shrieking “Ma!” and then grasping for the moon and shrieking again.
Imelda chuckled as she reflected on her babe’s discovery of the world.
The witch hammered and folded the metal, weaving in wisps of laughter, until the metal burned bright.
That evening the witch put away her tools and wrapped the cooling metal in softened leather. “Tomorrow will be the most difficult day. Join me as the sun rises.”
Imelda tossed and turned through the night, but she rose well before the sun and made her way to the blacksmith’s shop. The witch was waiting.
“Today you must tell me about the day your daughter died.”
Imelda faltered, but she forced the words out. She recalled how the light faded in her daughter’s eyes and she despaired: she wanted to sink into the earth, to follow.
The witch hammered the metal; heated and folded, hammered the shards of sorrow. It burned white and silver as the sun crossed the sky.
Imelda sank to the floor, her tears and tale spent. The sun slipped below the horizon.
“Tomorrow we’ll meet at the boulder again,” the witch whispered as Imelda drifted to sleep.
In the morning Imelda strode up the mountain. The boulder was moved aside, and the witch waved her in. The tiny skeleton was gone. Before Imelda could cry out, the witch placed a hand on her arm.
“She’s here.” The witch held out a shining heart shaped pendant. “She’s here, in your words, in your joy, and in your tears. Feel its weight.” The witch smiled in encouragement.
Imelda placed the pendant around her neck; she felt its warmth and its weight, and yet it wasn’t a burden. Her eyes were clear.
“I only ask that you seek to ease the burden of another’s sorrow.”
Imelda nodded and whispered her thanks. The village was at her back, her heart in place.