“According to what I read last night, she was harassed by one particularly nasty old woman, the wife of the wealthiest landowner at that time. So none of the villagers dared challenge her assertions about the Widow Vellhelmina. A few brave farmers tried to provide shelter for the old woman. But they could see that the vile things being said about her were having a terrible effect on her mind. So, her muttering and wandering around at all times of day and seasons of the year simply reinforced the notion that she was evil, or in league with evil.” Anders voice trailed off.
“Why, that’s horrible, Anders! Really, really horrible,” cried Freida. “Was there anything else you learned?”
“Oh, yeah. Loads!” Anders kicked another rock against the oak tree. Paign thought he looked angry.
“See, the reason we were taught that the widow was a witch was because there were so many people in town guilty of treating her like one! No one wanted to be found out later. Their descendants are people we go to school with…shop owners our parents buy from, even people we worship with!”
“And you learned all this from that dusty old book you read last night?” an unbelieving Paign blurted out.
“Yeah! Yeah, I did, Paign! You know who wrote that old book I studied last night? It was your great, great, great, grandfather, Olaf. He wrote the true story about Widow Vellhelmina. He was one of the farmers who tried caring for her as best he could. So did my ancestors. And Freida’s, too. In fact, our three families were the only ones that Olaf records as extending kindness to her. But it wasn’t enough to save her! It’s painfully clear from his journal that he regretted that to the end of his days.” Anders had worked up a head of steam, enough so that Freida could see his breath as he spoke.
“When crazy Helmut, the hermit, told all the townspeople about the widow’s being snapped up into the cavern, they all laughed. No one went to look for her. No one cared enough to even search for her on the ridge. At first, they mockingly called it the Cave of Departing, saying that she departed them through it. Almost immediately, they shortened it to Cave of Parting. Olaf doesn’t say why, but he clearly considered the shortened name a great evil. And he was incensed that the townspeople just went back to what they were doing…and she was never seen again.” Anders’s voice cracked. He savagely kicked another rock. It flew well past the oak and thudded into the snow.
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