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The Patron Saint of Spring

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Blossom covers the courtyard like snow, knee-high. The four trees cluster so closely together and their branches have grown so numerous, and the courtyard is so small, that the petals have nowhere else to fall.

The walls on either side are crumbling. The cherry trees grow without any person to witness them.

A folktale current in the land fifty miles south of the courtyard with the cherry trees tells of a woman who wandered the deserted northern countryside two hundred years ago. It goes like this:

She wore snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and tulips in her hair, every day of her life. No one knew where she came from -- no woman admitted to birthing or raising a child with her yellow eyes. On a cold midwinter’s day, she walked out of the woodland with her hair full of colour, with only a flimsy dress the colour of newly budded leaves covering her pale body.

At first the townsfolk did not trust her. Fey creatures lived in those woods -- all sensible people knew that. Her unnatural eyes and the unseasonable flowers in her hair confirmed their suspicions.

One girl was not so fearful. When every door was barred shut to the strange woman, this girl held out a handful of stale bread.

They ate it together under an ice-limned tree.

By the time they finished the tiny meal, all the snow around the base of the tree had melted. The woman ran thin, pale fingers over the snow. It withered under her. The soil softened. A single snowdrop grew, unfurling its green stem like a swan raising its head.

Two men accused her of witchcraft. Another gently took her hand and led her to his shed where ice had ruined stores he feared to hold a torch near. An old woman led her to the lake so that a boy’s body could be brought above the ice for the proper rituals, and a younger woman showed her the earth to thaw so he could be buried.

Every step she took in the town brought snowdrops.

Crocuses followed, quicker than usual, and the first tiny daffodils as bright as her eyes.

It drained her. On the day a field of tulips flowered as red as fresh strawberry jam, she fell to the ground as cold as the snow she had melted. The townsfolk buried her in a separate courtyard on the edge of the church grounds.

The cherry trees that grew there never stopped blossoming.

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