By Hunter Liguore
On an unnamed island in the Gulf of Riga, fifty miles north of the Latvia coast, there lived a chiseler and his wife. They owned a house that sat at the top of a sloping hill in the middle of a cemetery, where the chiseler was given charge of cutting stone and shaping it into headstones for the faery realm.
As a boy, a near-fatal fever left the chiseler with the gift of seeing across the veil, allowing him the ability to commune with the faery spirits. It was said the chiseler did more than carve a word or two of endearment on the faces of the headstones, like “mother,” “beloved” or “friend.” Rather, he listened and spoke with the faery ghosts that walked the barren hills in search of their stories. Afterward, he would get to work on the front-piece, always starting with an image of the faery, and then beneath it he inscribed an epitaph that read like poetry, to sum up the life the faery once lived.
It was for this that the chiseler was also known and sought after by the people who lived in the nearby village, a mile west, along the path through the cottonwoods and trout lilies that grew beside the lake. They came heavy with their grief and sorrow, paying handsomely for the chiseler to create a headstone worthy of their departed loved ones.
On one occasion, during the hot season, when the sun found a way to penetrate the deepest pockets of shade, a young man, who had recently lost his mother, paid a visit to the chiseler.
“She was the last of the Kruminš,” said the young man. “I need to honor her for the dear mother she was to me. She always put me first. If there was only a morsel of food, then she let me have it. Though we lived poorly, she managed to save up a modest sum that will keep me well for many months to come.”
As the chiseler listened to the young man’s story, his wife brought out tea and biscuits to them on the front porch. When the young man said all he could about his dear mother, and cried all his tears, they settled on a sum. As soon as the young man left, the chiseler got to work.
It took three days—the average—for the chiseler to finish the headstone for the young man’s mother. He propped the fine specimen against the front stoop, and gave his wife instructions to see that the lad was careful with it when he came to pick it up.
“It’s a delicate thing, like his mother,” said the chiseler.
As was the tradition after he finished a headstone, the chiseler took a respite down at the village tavern, where he bought a cold drink and shared his own tales with the locals.
Meanwhile, the chiseler’s wife busied herself with cleaning the workshop. It was the only time she could do so without disturbing her husband’s work. She swept the floors and washed the windows. She soaked his tools and dried them. She hung clean curtains and beat the rugs. When she was done, the place glittered like faery dust.
Coming up the road was the young man to collect his mother’s stone. The chiseler’s wife greeted him, and seeing he was still broken up about his mother’s death, invited him in for tea. It didn’t take long for her to cheer him up, and before sending him on his way she gave him a kiss on the cheek.
The young man warmed inside, feeling his grief subside, and quickly took up the headstone, bidding the chiseler’s wife goodbye. But as he started down the footpath, that sense of loss and loneliness returned. Seeing the chiseler’s wife in the garden plucking weeds, he saw her beauty, and longed to be near her again.
When she saw the young man coming back, she worried he had broken the headstone, despite her warning to be careful.
“It’s not the stone that needs mending,” he said, and pulled her into an embrace and kissed her.
At first, the chiseler’s wife thought nothing of it, but when he kissed her again, her heart started to flutter. Before long, she was leading him to the bedroom, where they made love until the moon reached its zenith in the star-knitted sky.
It was nighttime before the chiseler returned home. Little did he know his wife was hurrying the young man out the back door as he was coming in the front.
Before the young man left, the chiseler’s wife reminded him to be careful with the stone. “Should you break it, he’ll charge you double to replace it,” she said.
Down the path, and out of sight from the chiseler, the young man whistled a tune, as he carried the headstone home. But not far past the lake, where the moon reflected silver and gold, he grew sad and lonely. “The only cure for me is to see her again,” he told the stars. And with that he threw the headstone into the lake.
The next morning the young man returned to the chiseler’s workshop and asked for a new stone, saying he’d lost the first to thieves on the road home.
The chiseler didn’t believe for a moment anyone would want the stone, since it was made especially for the young man’s mother. He suspected the young man didn’t want to confess that he had broken it. He doubled his original price.
Prepared for this, the young man agreed, and paid the sum. Then, while the chiseler got to work on the new stone, he secretly made his way to the main house, where the chiseler’s wife greeted him first with tea, then with kisses.
For three days, while the chiseler crafted the headstone, the young man snuck into his house and made love to his wife.
On the evening of the third day, the chiseler’s wife said to the young man, “He will be done soon, and you’ll be back to your old life, won’t you?”
The young man remembered the sorrow he felt before he’d met her, and thought of returning all alone to his empty house. “I will take you with me,” he said. “For I fear I’d die with a sorrowful heart if I were to leave you.”
That night, as the chiseler went for his respite at the tavern, the young man and the wife packed up her belongings into the wagon and set off at great speed toward the young man’s home, new headstone and all.
On the way back from the tavern, the chiseler came upon an injured faery lying on the side of the road. With his lantern raised, he saw the faery’s blue wings growing pale. The dazzling glow of life was nearly extinguished. “Your time will come inside the hour,” he said, and asked her if there was something special she could tell him about her life, so he could record it properly on her headstone.
The blue faery, seeing the chiseler’s kindness, shared her story of the great lands she’d traveled, and of the people she’d seen, and of the horse and wagon that came upon her so fast and trampled her. The chiseler took note, and when he thought he had enough to make the stone, told her to conserve her strength, then scooped her up into his hand, where she passed away moments later.
That night, by the light of a dimming moon, the chiseler buried the blue faery—magic dust and all—beside the wild sarsaparilla and evening primrose. After a few prayers to the faery realm for her safe crossing, he went to the workshop and started on the headstone, never once noticing his wife had left him.
After three days of nonstop work, with hardly a wink of sleep, the faery stone was ready. The chiseler called for his wife to come and see what he believed to be his best work. “The finest stone I ever crafted,” he said, waiting on the front stoop for her. When she didn’t answer his calls, he searched the house, believing it only mildly odd that some of her things were missing. He waited until nightfall, and rather than set off to the tavern to celebrate his accomplishment, he continued to wait, hoping she would come, only she never did.
Seeing the chiseler’s good heart, the blue faery’s spirit came down from the barren hills to ease his sorrow, and explained what he had begun to suspect: that his wife had left him for the young man.
“But have heart, chiseler,” continued the spirit, “for she will seek to return in three days’ time once the young man’s money has run out, and he can no longer care for her.”
“But how could I take her back? I’d always worry she’d run off with him again, especially if his luck changes.”
“Buried in my grave, there is a dibbydab of magic dust left in my satchel,” said the faery ghost. “With it, you will tell your wife you’ll gladly take her back, but first she must agree to one of two choices.”
“Go on,” said the chiseler.
“She must choose either a single day of sleep, after which she will have no memory of the young man, or three years of sleep, after which she will still have her memories of the young man.”
“But a day, faery, what will that do for me? He’ll only return for her.”
“Ah, but she won’t remember him. When the young man comes around, you will tell her he has come to harm her, and she will become frightened whenever he shows himself.”
“And the three years?”
“In three years, the young man will have moved on to a new lover; he’ll be the one who won’t remember her.”
And so it was that the chiseler agreed to accept the faery’s help, and dug up the magic dust. In three days, he set off to the young man’s house to collect his wife. There he found the young man penniless and unable to feed or care for her.
“Please take me back,” the wife pleaded. “I made an awful mistake.”
“I will take you back under one condition.” The chiseler gave her the faery’s offer.
After some consideration, the chiseler’s wife agreed to sleep for one day, even though she would forget the love she had shared with the young man. She told herself, “He’ll sell off all his belongings and with the money return for me. We’ll fall in love again.”
When they returned home, the chiseler put his wife to bed and sprinkled the blue faery dust over her. Soon she fell asleep. Not until the sun and moon traded places twice did his wife wake up. When she did, the chiseler asked her to recall their latest client, and saw she did not remember the young man. Satisfied, he went to the workshop to start work on a new stone for a recently deceased purple faery.
That afternoon, the chiseler saw the young man coming up the footpath, and went in to see his wife, who was busy knitting by the front window.
“Do you see this man?” The chiseler pointed.
“A handsome fellow,” she said.
“He is a devilish lad who murdered his mother a short time ago. Now he comes seeking to absolve his deed with a handsome stone.”
The wife rose from her chair. “We won’t do business with a murderer, will we?”
“I will send him away. But he might return when I’m not looking, and try to harm you. Who knows what crime he is capable of?”
“I promise you on my life, I won’t open the door.”
The chiseler met the young man at the door, and sent him away. He waited until he was down the road before going back to work. Once inside the shop, the chiseler watched the trail to the back door. Sure enough, the young man tried to get in that way. But true to her word, his wife didn’t open the door. Satisfied, the chiseler returned to his work, and thought no more of it.
Now, the young man was beside himself when the chiseler’s wife wouldn’t see him. He had sold all he owned of value and had a small sum he was going to use to take them to the mainland of Latvia, where he had friends and work waiting for him. But when the wife wouldn’t let him in, his heart grew sorrowful. Retreating to the lake, he sat down and cried, letting his grief get the better of him. Beneath the water’s surface, he spotted his mother’s stone. It reminded him of all the good she had done him, and how alone he was again. He tried several more times to see the chiseler’s wife, but each time she turned him away, always with a look of fright. When he could take the heartache no more, he jumped into the lake, and drowned himself.
The moment the young man’s spirit crossed the veil of death the chiseler’s wife was released from the faery spell. Determined to get back at her husband, she waited until he left for the tavern, then went into his workshop. She had resolved to ruin his tools and destroy the latest stone he was working on. But as she raised a hammer to crack it she stopped, knowing she couldn’t really do it. No matter how much he hurt her, she couldn’t do the same to him.
“Please,” said a small voice. “If you break the stone, I will help you get even with your husband.”
Hovering at eyelevel was a purple faery spirit. The chiseler’s wife had never seen a faery spirit before, though she believed enough, which gave her the power to see him.
“I told your husband my life story,” began the purple faery, “but he twisted what I said and now look: what he’s written will stand for all time, even though it is wrong.”
“How can you help me?” asked the wife.
“I will point the way to my home. There you will find a tiny bucket of love magic. Use it to enchant any possession of one person and give it to another. Then for all their days will they know love.”
“But why would I do that?” she asked. “I already have his love.”
“The enchantment is not for you, but for someone he will regret falling for. Give it to a married woman with a violent husband who will not take kindly to the chiseler’s affections. When he has been beaten, he will grieve as you have.”
The chiseler’s wife debated, remembering the demise of her young man. Finally she raised the hammer and cracked the stone in two.
In the afternoon, when the katydids and black birds sang, she followed the purple faery spirit to his old home and collected the tiny bucket of love magic. She used it on a charm that belonged to her husband, then made her way secretly to the tavern. There she tucked it into the barmaid’s pocket. This particular barmaid had a husband who was known to have fits of jealous rage toward anyone who looked at her the wrong way.
From the window, the chiseler’s wife watched the spell take effect. Her husband was quick to woo the barmaid at the back door, and though it pained her heart to watch, the wife waited until the barmaid’s husband came calling and beat the chiseler straight into the ground.
The wife rented a wagon and took her husband home to nurse him back to health. “Now, you’ve learned your lesson,” she said.
But each time he was healed and able to walk, the chiseler left his wife and went to the tavern in search of the barmaid. Each time he was discovered by the husband, who would beat the chiseler, and send him home in a wagon.
This went on for some weeks, until one night, the chiseler never returned. Fearful that something terrible had happened to him, the wife went to look for him at the tavern, and found that he and the barmaid had run away to the other side of the island. When she sought out the barmaid’s husband to go and get them, she learned he had succumbed to an ill-timed, mysterious death.
The chiseler’s wife returned home with no one to dry her tears. She searched for the purple faery’s spirit in the barren hills, but could not find him.
“He was supposed to give her up,” she told the stars. “Now I have no one, not my husband or my young man.”
As the weeks turned to months, the chiseler’s wife stopped looking down the road hoping her husband would return. Instead, she was forced to take up her husband’s work. For as the faeries passed on, their tiny spirits sought out the chiseler, and finding her instead, beseeched her to craft their headstones.
She had never chiseled stone before, but found she knew a great deal about it from all the times she’d sat nearby and listened to her husband’s stories. They contained clues, like what stones were softer than others, or chipped easier. She often watched him work by the lantern light at night, and realized she knew the way to hold the tools, and how to make a careful stroke. Her first few attempts were failures, but after a third and fourth try, she got the hang of it. Soon, news traveled among the faery and human worlds—all the way to the shores of Latvia—that the chiseler’s wife crafted headstones equal, if not better, than those of her predecessor.
Many more months passed, and one day, a faery queen crossed over the veil, and sought out the chiseler’s wife to craft a fitting headstone for one of such grandeur.
“It cannot be a common stone,” said the queen’s spirit. “And in return for your work, for it will take twice as long as any other stone, I will grant you true love.”
“I don’t think there is a single soul in all the world who will love me, a simple woman who chisels stone. But I shall make the stone nonetheless.”
Night and day the chiseler’s wife worked the enormous stone, shaping it and molding it to a new design. When it came time to write the epitaph, rather than rely on her own words, like her husband would, she queried the faery queen’s spirit for the proper sentiment, then engraved it on the stone. Both parties pleased, the headstone was placed on the faery queen’s plot for all to marvel at. Word spread across the island of its magnificence.
“You have done well by me, and now I will do well by you.” That was the last the chiseler’s wife saw of the queen for some time.
Many days passed, and the autumn wind brought a traveler from Latvia. He was a handsome man, with a cheer in his eyes, despite the recent loss of his father. “I have heard it told that you are the greatest chiseler this side of the world, and beg you to make a proper stone for my departed father.”
The chiseler’s wife took the traveler into the workshop, and showed him what she could do for him. She was taken by his beauty, and wondered if this was the true love the faery queen had promised.
“What shall you write on the stone?” he asked.
“I leave that part to you.” She gave him a few ideas, some endearing passages to remember his father by.
“To tell you the truth,” began the traveler, “now that you have me thinking, my father was a deplorable man. A no-good cheat who only caused me problems. Could you write that on the stone?”
The chiseler’s wife smiled, and tried to persuade him to let her carve something less harsh. But the traveler wouldn’t have it.
“I’ll be back in three days for it.”
On the day the traveler was to return, the chiseler’s wife put on her best dress and curled her hair, and had tea ready for his arrival. They sat all afternoon, to her delight, sharing stories of their lives. His were filled with sea travel to the arctic with his father and the sea creatures and white bears he saw along the way. She in turn shared her quiet life at the side of her husband, which only made her sad to have lost him. Seeing her sadness, the traveler sought to make her feel better and kissed her on the cheek. With both their spirits raised, she finally led him to the workshop, and showed him the stone.
“Perhaps I was too hasty,” he said. “He was a deplorable sort of man, but he had his good points too.”
“It will be no trouble to change it,” she said.
Together they decided on a new epitaph. Although it was not as cold and harsh as the first, it was still far from amicable.
Before the traveler left, he made sure to plant another kiss on the wife’s cheek, and said he’d return again in three days’ time.
Night and day the chiseler’s wife cut the stone, and with each stroke, she imagined the traveler’s face, his arms around her, him lifting her off her feet and into the bedroom. In her imagination, the traveler’s face often turned into her husband’s, which only made her sad.
When the stone was finished, and the traveler returned, the chiseler’s wife again greeted him at the main house. Once again they shared tea and stories, and like the last time, she eventually recalled the happy times with her husband, bringing tears. Again the traveler planted a kiss on her cheek to ease her sadness. Their moods improved, they made their way to the workshop to inspect the stone only to find the traveler didn’t like the new one either.
“With all the remembering and stories I’ve told,” he began, “I see now that he was a wise old fellow who really put me first in all things.”
“Then that is what we shall carve,” said the chiseler’s wife, eager that he should return another day. So she set to work again as soon as he left.
The stone was not yet finished when the chiseler’s wife received an unexpected visitor at the house. “Who are you?” she asked, but knew the answer when she came face-to-face with the familiar woman. It was the barmaid who had run off with her husband. “What news do you have of him?”
“I’m not here about your husband,” said the barmaid, “but about the traveler from Latvia.”
“I met him on the road to work and we’ve fallen in love, only he feels a special bond with you, and won’t come away with me.”
“But what of my husband?”
“I lost the charm you placed with me months ago. My old grandmother knew it was the work of faeries, and that I’d been set free. But for him, it has not broken, and he loves me still. But it’s a false love, this kind. That you know. It has hurt us both, hasn’t it?”
The chiseler’s wife couldn’t disagree. “But why are you here? Surely, the traveler sees that you are prettier than I, and will make a better wife.”
“I fear that another spell has been cast, one that will end just as badly as the other.”
“What shall we do?” asked the chiseler’s wife.
“You must ask the faery folk to help us.”
The chiseler’s wife sent the barmaid away and went to the barren hills to seek the faery spirits for help. But a few recently departed faeries were angry with her for taking so long to finish the traveler’s stone, leaving them waiting.
“Then you will wait even longer,” she said, turning back toward the house.
The next day, while the chiseler’s wife was hard at work finishing the traveler’s headstone, the recently departed faeries agreed to help her break the magic spell, in exchange for crafting headstones like the one she’d made for the faery queen.
“They will not be as big or as grand,” she warned them.
The recently departed understood, and granted the chiseler’s wife her request, that they would counteract the spells on both her husband and the traveler.
One faery said to her, “Only you should know that while we can break the spell on your husband, the traveler we can do nothing for.”
“But that was the deal.”
“You don’t understand,” said the faery. “No spell has been put upon him to break.
He came of his own accord, and has taken an interest in you just the same.”
The next day, as with all the other times, the traveler came around midday to collect the finished headstone. This time, rather than treat him to tea, the chiseler’s wife took him right into the workshop to inspect the stone. The traveler marveled at her work, and before long, he made a proposal for marriage, and offered her a ring.
“Come with me to Latvia where you can make stones for the gentry. You will earn three times what you make here, and you will live like royalty. I will love you all the days of my life.”
The notion was tempting, but a part of her still wondered if there was magic at work, that the traveler had somehow been sent by the faery queen to be her true love. Then, looking out through the workshop windows, she saw her husband coming up the trail.
“You should go,” she told the traveler. “Another woman waits for you in the tavern, and happy she will make you all your days.”
As the traveler made his way down the footpath, the chiseler passed, and greeted his wife, who waited with open arms for him.
“How long have I been away?” he asked after kissing her, noticing all the new stones in the cemetery.
On the sloped hill he spotted the faery queen’s stone, marveling at it from afar. Together they went to look at it. “This is your work?”
“Then you will have to show me how you did it. If you’ll have me?”
The chiseler’s wife embraced her husband, and led him back to the house, where she put on the tea, and told stories of the time that had passed. Before night came, as they made their way to the bedroom, she thought she saw the ghost of the faery queen, checking in to see if she had found her true love at last.