Once, there was a rich, rich witch, who lived in a cold stone cottage on a desolate hill overlooking a vast orchard verging a poor, poor village. The witch made her fortune selling fribbles. Hers was said to be the only fribble orchard in the whole world, which made the fruit a delicacy that princes and thieves could hardly afford. The poor, poor villagers knew of fribbles, talked of fribbles, dreamed of fribbles, but no one they knew had ever tasted fribbles.
Each autumn, the bitter breath of the North wind hacked the village like an ice axe. It was then the rich, rich witch harvested her crop to auction off.
When she traveled to market, the poor, poor villagers lined the sides of the road, while the wind whipped their skin through their ragged clothing. They always hoped a fresh fribble would tumble off the heap in the witch’s cart. None ever did.
The witch knew why they watched her pass and took great pleasure in teasing and tormenting them. She sometimes tossed a spoiled, moldy fribble to the crowd and chortled as they scrambled after it. She delighted in their cries of disappointment when they discovered her trick.
Old poor, poor villagers taught young poor, poor villagers the ritual lining of the road and in this way they kept hope alive through the decades. Hope was all they had.
Until the greatest drought in a century, that is. It didn’t rain all summer. Not a drop. In the orchard, the branches sagged and the fribbles withered.
For a month of midnights, the witch danced in the orchard. She kicked and skipped and shook a fribble branch at the sky, while she sang:
Clouds come cover up the moon
Send a downpour, send it soon
Give up your rain, your hail, your snow
Help my precious plants to grow
Flood the valleys, fill the seas
Feed these thirsty fribble trees
After four weeks and still no rain, the witch flew into a rage. She stomped her feet and screamed curses at the sky. She had to water her orchard or the fribbles would die.
She got out her spell book and carefully turned the yellowed, brittle pages. When she read the chapter about fribbles, a wolfish grin split her pruny, liver-colored lips. There was more than one way to feed a fribble tree, after all.
First she prepared a poison pudding. It started as a stew of rattlesnake hearts, scorpion eggs, nightshade, dreamroot and curdled cream with just enough sugar and fribbles to mask the nasty taste. After stirring the rancid concoction to a silky smooth goo, she spooned it into a tart shell and dusted it with cinnamon. She scratched her bony chin and admired her sweet masterpiece, as she decided how best to get a child to eat it.
The next morning, she crouched near the creek. Before long, she heard small twigs breaking and light sweet singing. Through the tangled branches of a boysenberry bush, she saw a lovely little blond haired girl skipping down the path. Stepping out of the brush, she touched the girl’s shoulder.
“What’s your name, child?” the witch asked, hoping she hid the glee she felt.
“Alexxandra,” the blond haired girl answered, smiling up at her shyly.
“Do you like fribble pudding, Alexxandra?” the witch asked. She held out the tart and laughed when the girl’s eyes sparkled with delight.
“Go ahead. Eat it,” she said. She clapped her hands as the girl gobbled the tart.
“Sit now and I will sing for you,” the witch commanded.
Alexxandra obeyed, wiping the last dabs of pudding from her lips and licking her fingers clean as the witch circled her and sang:
When rain refuses to come down
Do not fret and do not frown
If fribbles start to shrivel up
Prepare the sacred pudding cup
Feed to one who’s short in years
Let fribbles drink a child’s tears
Alexxandra felt strange. Unhappy memories overwhelmed her: mother catching her stealing a sugar stick, getting lost in the forest, burying her pet parakeet. Alexxandra began sobbing.
Grabbing the girl’s wrist, the witch dragged the crying child up the desolate hill to her cottage and locked her in a coyote bone cage. She collected Alexxandra’s tears in the hollowed tusk of a warthog and went out to water the fribble orchard.
A few tears brought each tree bursting into full bloom, for children’s tears are very powerful. The witch’s obsidian eyes danced with merry madness as the leaves greened and the feeble fribbles sprang to life. It took her all day, most of the night and five tuskfuls of tears to finish. The moon was setting when she collapsed into her raven feather bed and fell fast asleep.
The witch’s thunderous snorts and snores shook the cottage. The walls quivered, the rafters creaked and the bones of the cage chittled and rattled around the terrified girl. The spell book fell off the kitchen table and landed face up on the cobblestone floor. A breeze riffled the pages and Alexxandra read this warning:
Beware the child’s tears of woe
For as they help the fribbles grow
Their power works on witches, too
You’ll feel a change come over you
As soon as the witch awoke, she stumbled into the kitchen. Mumbling and cackling to herself, she poured her last bit of well water into the rusty pot that hung over the fire. Alexxandra’s frightened, tear filled eyes followed her every move.
When the water boiled, the witch ladeled some into a bleached badger skull and dropped in a tea ball. Spying the spell book on the floor, she shot Alexxandra a suspicious glance and bent to pick it up. As she turned her back, Alexxandra shook like a wet dog and a single tear plinked into the witch’s teacup.
The witch set the book on the table and sat down. She lifted the badger skull to her sour, puckered lips, sipped her tea and a miraculous thing happened. Her dead dry hair became soft and shiny. Her wrinkles smoothed and her complexion pinked. All around the now beautiful young woman, a sapphire glow pulsed.
“Oh, thank you,” she cried, opening the cage and hugging Alexxandra tight. “You’ve released me from the witch’s spell.”
“My name is Lorilyne,” the young woman with moss green eyes told the girl. “The witch captured me 100 years ago, during a great drought. She collected my tears for seven years until she died and her spirit took over my body. That fate would have befallen you had you not broken the spell.”
“Now we must undo your crying spell,” Lorilyne said as she opened the witch’s book. Together they read the chapter about fribbles for a way to cure Alexxandra.
After finding the answer, they read no further. They marked the spot in the book, shut it and spent the better part of the day searching the orchard. Shadows had grown long and wolves were beginning to howl in the mountains when Alexxandra cried out.
“There it is!” She pointed at the last tree in the last row of the last section of the orchard. From the tree’s largest branch hung a very unusual fribble.
It had two globes at the top which joined midway and came to a point at the bottom. They had found the double fribble. It was shaped like a heart.
The woman plucked the beautiful and very magical fruit and handed it to the girl. Alexxandra took a bite, marveling at the sweet, exotic taste while Lorilyne circled her and read from the book:
To dry the mighty flood of tears
And wash away the child’s fears
One bite of double fribble pure
Will do the trick, of this be sure
A second taste could turn the tide
Resist the urge, this rule abide
Instantly, Alexxandra felt better. Her tears evaporated like daffodil dew in morning sunshine.
“It worked,” Alexxandra shouted, throwing her arms around Lorilyne’s waist and hugging her tightly.
Stepping back, Alexxandra put the double fribble up to her lips and opened her mouth, preparing to take a second bite and Lorilyne gasped. Remembering the warning, the girl tossed the delicious, dangerous fruit deep into the forest.
Laughing, the pair hurried back to the witch’s cold stone cottage. They had many plans to make and much to do.
Lorilyne and Alexxandra arranged a great fribble feast in the village square two days later. The poor, poor villagers were soon to become rich, rich villagers when they sold the fruit of the vast orchard, which now belonged to all of them.
At the end of the evening, the villagers circled the woman and the girl. Together, Alexxandra and Lorilyne touched the burning end of a torch to the witch’s spell book. The villagers joined hands and prayed as the wicked tome burst into flame.
By the flickering light of the fire, a tear slipped down Alexxandra’s cheek.
A single tear of joy.