Once upon a time, there lived a young, wealthy couple who yearned and prayed for a child. The woman, Madeleine, had not yet been able to conceive and feared her husband would leave her. Her husband, Matthew, however, reassured his beautiful wife that he loved her dearly and would stay by her side even if they never had a child. Still, he longed for a son to whom he could teach his trade or even a daughter that would bring joy and comfort to his wife.
Matthew and Madeleine lived in a large and lovely home atop a hill, as Matthew was a successful, and therefore wealthy, merchant. In Madeleine's bedroom, there was a window from which one could see a garden on the neighbor's property. It was quite a splendid garden, full of the most beautiful flowers and an interesting variety of herbs. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall. No one dared to go into the garden because they believed the woman who tended the garden was an evil sorceress, and they all feared her. This did not stop the birds, butterflies, and bees from building their homes on her land, and, in fact, there were a number of large beehives from which the old woman harvested the most delicious and nutritious honey in the land.
One day, Madeleine stood by her bedroom window and looked, as she often did, into the evil woman's garden. She watched as the bees buzzed back and forth in their busy work, gathering nectar from the beautiful blueweed flowers. Suddenly, she had a great desire to get some of that honey to sweeten her tea. She dared not ask the enchantress, Leffertia, for any, so she went without. But the desire increased every day, and she became pale and miserable. Matthew became alarmed and asked her what was the matter.
"It sounds ridiculous when I say it aloud," Madeleine explained, "but I'm literally dying for a taste of honey from Mistress Leffertia's garden."
"Well, why didn't you say so? I will send the maid to the market, and she'll bring back as much honey as you like."
Madeleine shook her head. "It's no use. I've already had her bring me samplings of all the honey she could find, and none of it smells as sweet as the scent coming from that beehive in Mistress Leffertia's garden. I must have some of her honey."
Matthew was used to his wife's whims, and, as the daughter of a wealthy merchant, she was used to getting her way. He also knew that she was as scared of Mistress Leffertia as any other person in the land. But he wanted to make his wife happy, and so he decided he would try to talk to the old hag. It was pointless to ask any of his servants to go; he was not a cruel lord.
Matthew filled a purse with gold coins, wandered around to the old woman's land, bravely opened the iron gate, and walked up the cobblestone path to the front door of the house nearly hidden amongst the bushes and trees, save for the large tower attached to the odd dwelling. The modest white cottage was turning brown with age, and the large whitewashed tower in the back did not seem to fit with the rest of the property. Matthew knocked, two quick raps, but the sound echoed loudly around him. He waited.
"Go away!" a voice screamed out at him.
"Mistress Leffertia, I am your neighbor. I wish to purchase some of your honey." Matthew stood patiently, awaiting an answer.
"Go away, I said!"
Matthew stood his ground. "I have a purse full of gold coins. Certainly that is enough to buy a small jar of honey?"
"Leave me alone! I don't want your filthy gold!" Mistress Leffertia continued to shout.
Matthew shrugged his shoulders and left. She seemed like a harmless old fool to him. He was more frightened of how Madeleine would react when he returned home without the honey. So he headed to town, instead. He briefly considered buying some honey and lying to his dear Madeleine, but knew that was folly. She would be able to tell the difference instantly. While he was contemplating entering a tavern for a drink, he saw his good friend, Winthrop, walking by.
"Winthrop, my friend!" Matthew called to the tall redhead and motioned to the tavern.
Winthrop smiled in return and crossed the road to join the other redhead, and the two entered the establishment. "Matthew, what brings you to town today?"
"My dear wife, actually."
Winthrop raised his right eyebrow in question.
Instead of explaining, Matthew claimed a small table in the back of the tavern and sat down with a quick motion to the barmaid for some drinks. "And how is your lovely wife and your young son?"
"They are both doing wonderfully, thank you. I remember when little James was just learning to walk, and now he climbs over everything." Winthrop sat down as well. Talking about his son was one of his favorite ways to pass the time.
"How old is the little rascal now?" Matthew asked, as the barmaid plopped two tall mugs of mead on the table, spilling only a few drops.
"Almost sixteen months." The edges of Winthrop's smile turned down. "Madeleine is still without child?"
Matthew nodded. "But it's not that important."
Winthrop nodded. "You mentioned she is why you're here in town. How is she doing?"
"Ah, well, she wants some honey."
Winthrop was confused. "So, why not send the maid to buy some?"
"It's not such a simple matter. You see, just any old honey will not do. It must be Mistress Leffertia's honey." Matthew grimaced. "And Leffertia refuses to sell."
Winthrop guffawed. "Big, mean Mistress Leffertia? The one everyone thinks is a sorceress?"
Matthew nodded. "What should I do?"
"How hard is it to get into her garden?" Winthrop asked in return.
"It doesn't seem too difficult. Do you think I should just go in and take the honey? I don't know anything about beehives." Matthew looked closely at his friend, surprised that the honorable Winthrop would suggest such a plan.
Winthrop was grinning from ear to ear like a schoolboy. "Ah, but I do. Why not teach the greedy old witch a lesson?"
Matthew was skeptical. "You don't think she will get revenge on us?"
"S'wounds! I don't believe she has any more magic ability than you or I do. But I'm not suggesting you steal the honey outright. I'm sure you have enough gold to leave her well compensated."
Winthrop and Matthew continued to discuss the problem, and it wasn't long before the two of them were walking back to Matthew's home carrying heavy gardening boots, heavy gloves, and some jars.
Later, just after the sun set, Matthew again visited Mistress Leffertia's land. Winthrop had joined him, and they found the iron gate locked with a heavy chain. Surveying the scene around him, Winthrop noticed a nice sturdy tree he could use to help him climb over the wall surrounding her property. He pointed it out to Matthew, and the two of them soon found themselves standing among tall gladioli.
Being as quiet and careful as possible, Matthew showed Winthrop the beehives, and Winthrop was pleased to see that Leffertia had fashioned caps for the skeps so the honey could be collected without destroying the hives. Most beekeepers had to destroy the hive in order to harvest the honey. He started to have second thoughts about taking the old lady's honey without her permission, as she obviously took good care of her bees.
The bees buzzed about angrily, concerned about the intruders. But Matthew was pressing him to get on with it. Matthew was more concerned about Madeleine's craving than Leffertia's property.
Winthrop explained that the heavier skeps were full of honey and to leave the lighter ones alone. Carefully avoiding the black bees, Winthrop took one of the skep caps and turned it over to see the honeycombs covered with wax. Using a small hunting knife he had on him, he cut out a section of the honeycomb and placed it in the jar Matthew held out to him. The bees were now truly infuriated, and he and Matthew quickly ran off to avoid getting stung. Matthew left a handful of gold pieces on the ground near by, and the two of them found another tree they could use to climb out of the garden. Once on the other side of the wall, they rushed back to Matthew's home.
Madeleine had been watching them from her window. She hadn't known about their plans, but was elated to see them enter the garden. She was really looking forward to having some of that precious honey. She heard the two of them enter the house and dashed to the kitchen to greet them. "Where is it? Where's the honey?"
"I've got it," Matthew answered. He showed her the piece of honeycomb in the jar.
Madeleine grimaced, and her impatience was obvious from her tone of voice. "Well, how do you get it out of there?"
Winthrop took the piece of honeycomb and started to cut the wax off on one side. Before he could finish, Madeleine grabbed it from his hands, dipped her little finger into one of the now open combs and then sucked her finger. "Mmmmm. Now this is heaven." She sat down quite ungracefully at the kitchen table and continued to scoop out little bits of honey with her fingers.
Winthrop raised his eyebrows in surprise. He had never seen the lady act so commonly. It was quite unlike her.
Madeleine had given up on using her fingers and was now sucking the honey directly out of the little piece of honeycomb, occasionally spitting out bits of wax. Suddenly, she looked at the two men. "Do you mind?"
"Oh, uh, excuse us." Matthew was also flustered at seeing his wife behave thusly. He ushered Winthrop out of the kitchen and saw him to the door. The two friends made some hunting plans for the coming days and said their goodbyes.
That night, Madeleine was in much better spirits. The honey had obviously done her a world of good; her cheeks were rosy again, her step was quicker, and, for the first time in over a fortnight, she did not complain of a headache or feeling weak. Matthew had worried about giving in to her whims, but, now that he saw the results, he was pleased he had gone ahead and stolen the honey.
Unfortunately, the good results did not last long. It was only two days before Madeleine was again pining for more honey. She was pale and weak, and Matthew was quite worried for her health. He waited until sunset and again snuck in to Mistress Leffertia's garden.
He tried to be as careful as his friend, Winthrop, but he obviously did not have the same finesse. He emerged from the garden with a larger piece of honeycomb, most of which was indeed capped with wax and therefore good to eat, but he also had three bee stings. He would have had even more stings if it hadn't been for the heavy gloves and his long sleeves. His face, however, hadn't been protected. Sighing heavily, he returned home and gave the honey to his wife. Madeleine barely acknowledged her husband as she grabbed the jar from him and again devoured the honey. Meanwhile, Matthew carefully plucked the stingers from his face and then sliced some onions to cover the stings.
As before, the honey seemed to help Madeleine, but only temporarily. Two days later, Matthew steeled himself as he once again entered the forbidden garden, this time with a heavy cloth covering most of his face. Just as he was cutting out another good-sized piece of honeycomb from one of the skeps, Leffertia seemed to magically appear in front of him.
"How dare you!" she cried. "How dare you come here and steal from me?"
"Ah, Mistress, you do not understand. My wife needs this honey. And I asked to buy some, but you would not listen. And I have left you gold in exchange." Matthew pointed to the newly placed gold pieces nearby.
"And I told you, I do not want your gold. You are a thief. And you shall pay!" Leffertia's face looked distorted as her anger seemed to consume her.
At six feet tall and over two hundred pounds, this was a lady with whom one did not want to trifle. The air seemed to shimmer in front of Matthew, and, by some unknown instinct, he quickly jumped out of the way. A small burst of flame suddenly hit the spot where he had been standing, but the ground did not burn.
"Please, Enchantress, forgive me." Matthew spoke in a steady voice. "I would not have done it were it not for my wife's health."
Something about Matthew's sincerity must have gotten through to her, or maybe it was the fact that she had missed, but, whatever the reason, she paused, her hand in mid-air as if aiming for another hit. "Your wife?" she asked.
Matthew nodded, eager to keep her talking. He had never really believed in Leffertia's powers before, but, having narrowly missed something, he was relieved she was giving him a chance to explain. "She's been very pale and weak lately and feeling quite sick. But when she has some of this honey, she suddenly feels better."
Leffertia closed her eyes and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance. When she stopped moving and opened her eyes again, she did so suddenly, and it startled Matthew. "I see. I will let you take all the honey you wish on one condition."
A businessman at heart, Matthew took this news gladly. "Name it."
"You must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world."
Matthew faltered. He and Madeleine had been trying for many years to have a baby. Was it possible that she was finally pregnant? He would not want to give up their child.
Leffertia sensed his hesitation and lifted her arm again as if to strike. "It is the only payment I will accept for the honey you have stolen. The next child your wife bears will be mine, whether you agree or not."
Matthew shook his head. "I cannot give up any child of mine. I refuse."
The air shimmered again and Matthew felt a terrible pain in his chest. He stumbled to the ground, wheezing.
"Noooo!" a woman's voice cried. Madeleine, who had been watching from her window, was there at the gate. As feeble as she'd been feeling, she had found the strength to get to the garden and confront Leffertia. "Do not punish him. It is I who wanted your honey."
Leffertia turned to face her. She lifter her arm and made a mysterious motion with her wrist. Madeleine watched in fright as the chain around the gate unlatched itself. Although she saw the chain release, she was still startled when the gate opened, allowing Madeleine to enter "So," Leffertia said, as Madeleine stumbled forward, "are you willing to pay for the honey that your husband stole?"
Madeleine agreed quickly, fearful for her husband's life. "Yes, yes. I will pay anything." Matthew frowned at her and shook his head, but was unable to say anything.
Leffertia smiled, almost kindly. "You will give your child to me? I promise I will take care of her as if she were my own."
Confused, Madeleine nodded. "Yes. Anything. Just leave my husband alone."
"So be it." Leffertia suddenly vanished.
Madeleine ran to kneel by her husband. "Matthew! Matthew, are you all right?"
Matthew felt as though a mountain rolled off his chest, and, after a few gasps of air, was able to answer her. "I'm fine, Madeleine, darling. But, but..."
"Why did you promise her our child?" Matthew’s eyes were filled with tears.
"I did? Oh, Matthew, we don't even have a child..." Suddenly, Madeleine realized why she'd been feeling so weak. Her own tears came, and the gasping sobs shook her.
Matthew held her tightly, rocking her. "It's all right, my dear. We'll be all right," he whispered, over and over, as Madeleine quivered against him.
Seven and a half months later...
Although they had moved away from their home and had hoped they were far enough away from Leffertia, it was not enough.
Madeleine lay in her bed, her midwife, Celia, holding a small bundle now wrapped in a soft cloth. With much pain, finally a small child had come into the world. Her soft hair, what little there was, was golden like honey. After several long years of wanting a child, Madeleine was elated. But the elation ended quickly. Leffertia appeared magically.
She towered over the bed and reached for the child, simply taking it out of Celia's capable hands. "I have come for your daughter, as you promised."
Madeleine, weak from delivery, simply cried. Celia, scared out of her wits, cowered in the corner.
"I shall call her 'Honey', and I promise you, she will be provided for." With that, she and the child vanished.
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