One day, while looking for a shelter in the woods during a storm, Nour and the Arab merchant crossed a mysterious location. It was a circle of four trees, each of which had a name engraved on their trunk; Helena, Marylou, Isabella and Annabelle.
In the center of this circle there was a tall stone clasped by a blooming rose tree. It looked almost like a grave but underneath the stone there couldn’t have been human bodies as the ground was almost completely covered with the high roots of the four trees circling the area. There was a phrase engraved in cursive at the bottom of the stone, partially covered by the branches of the rose tree. It red ” Here lie the four sisters. They will live forever through the soul of the forest and they will always be a reminder of what is right“.
The two friends didn’t understand who these four sisters were and why their grave was so different and mysterious. They posed a rose near the other roses fallen on the ground and walked away. After a few miles they met an old woman walking in the opposite direction. She had a handful of roses in her fist and said she was directed towards the four sisters’ grave.
“A storm is coming, Miss” the merchant said ” you should find shelter with us before the rain starts pouring down”.
“This forest is a shelter in itself, Sir” the old lady replied, “nature is not a stranger to anybody.”
Nour and the merchant gave each other a confused look but before they had the time to ask more the lady started to explained her cryptic words.
” These roses are a gift the four sisters of the forest. Long ago they were beautiful girls that lived in our village. They loved balls and social events, music and horses. We were all jealous of them, so graceful and desired by most men, always receiving marriage proposals from big lords with castles and lands.” The lady paused for a minute and her tone changed suddenly.
” But something was different about them and everyone in town was afraid to speak about it out loud.”
The old lady took a deep breath and looked at the roses in her hand, almost as if she was falling into a dream.
“Annabelle loved flowers. She wore flowers on her hair everyday, whether she was going to milk the cows or she was invited to a dance. Her garden had so many beautiful plants, of all colors and shapes. Some of them looked exotic, something you could never find in the northern forests. Some people whispered she made them with her own hands. At first no one really believe the rumors, but with time people started to notice that new flowers were appearing all around town, even in plain winter, under meters and meters of snow. One day someone saw Annabelle sing by a rose tree in December and with each note of her melody the flowers began to bloom, as red and as full as her lips. ” The old lady paused, frightened.
” But she wasn’t the only sister with peculiar abilities. Helena was a dark haired beauty with pale skin and green clear eyes. She was social and elegant. She loved to flirt, to laugh, to dance. She was the most desired of all the sisters, but often times that can be a curse. One day, rumor say, a man of the village followed her in the woods at night as she was walking home. When far enough from indiscreet eyes, the man attacked her, violated her and drowned her in the pond so she would not tell anyone about the abuse. A group of women found her body floating in the green water in the morning, as they went to wash their clothes. Helena appeared deceased, her eyes shut, her skin more pale than usual, dark hair covering her face. But when the women raised her body from the pond, her green eyes opened wide and she began to breath again. “
A cracking sound interrupted the old lady’s tale and the two friends jumped out of fear. The lady looked around a few times and then continued her story but lowered the tone of her voice.
“She didn’t tell a soul about her abuse but in the following weeks some of the men in town, those known for taking advantage of young girls, drank poisonous water from the river and died. The strange thing was that everyone else drank from the same river, animals and humans, but nothing happened to them.
Isabella, the third sister, was the most eccentric of them all, always looking for wild animals to tame in the far ends of the forest. She loved creatures, of all shape and sizes, even the ones we do not understand such as insects and snakes. People made fun of her, she was unique and weird at times. Her love for wild creature was not so surprising as she was, in a way, wild herself. Untamable, no man seemed to interest her and no rule seemed to stop her. She ignored societal customs and good manners. When a little boy saw her talking to a snake, in the woods, he told the village she was mad. But mad is not what people call women who are different, and just like her sister she was eventually accused of witchcraft.
The three sisters were burned on a gloomy autumn day, at dawn. The only one not sentenced was Marylou, who stayed on the side and watched her family burn alive.
The fourth sister had copper colored hair. She was the quiet one, in love with books and silence. No one suspected she was different in any kind of way. She was diligent and not too social. She read to the children at church and helped the elders with their daily activities. We all felt sorry when she remained alone. Everybody wondered, of course, whether she had magical powers of her own. But if she did, wouldn’t she have saved her sisters somehow?”
The old lady looked into nothingness, her eyes turned gray and the two friends knew she was about to tell something horrible.
“It was only a few days later that we found out what her power was. We heard a scream in the middle of the night. We all walked out of our houses and into the center of town to see what was happening. Marylou was standing naked in the middle of the square, her copper hair was no longer there but her head was covered with tall copper shaded flames. Her whole body, instead of burning, was burning everything it touched. Houses went on fire like paper in the chimney, and then it spread to the trees and to the horizon. I took my children and ran as far and as fast as I could, before the whole forest around us turned to dust.”
Her hands were now bleeding due to the thorns of the roses she was holding, but she didn’t seem to be in any pain.
“On that day, everything you see around you was burned to the ground, but it was not the end. A few weeks later from the ashes and the blood spread on the ground where the sisters were executed, a rose tree bloomed all on its own. A couple of days later green rivers started to slide downhill, trees were rising towards the sky and wild animals appeared from nothing. Just like that nature was born again. Nature is not a stranger, but someone we once knew, someone we betrayed, someone we should have protected from the real madness of human kind.”