No one knew where the girl had come from. She was found on the road, half-starved, cloaked in dirt, unable to utter a single word. There was only one other person who knew the story, and she didn’t speak of it until later, much later, when the events that should change the land forever began to unfold. This is the story that was forgotten, as it is still told in the story houses of Allembach:
Once upon a time, there were a mother and her child, who loved each other dearly. They lived together in a small cottage in the rolling green hills of a faraway land, surrounded by sheep, whose wool was the means of the small family’s survival. One day, the mother fell gravely ill, and had to lie in bed for months and months. The child, not grown yet to womanhood, but strong and healthy, tended to her mother in the most caring way, but there was little change in the woman’s condition. Time passed, and the cottage grew dusty and unclean, for the girl did not have the strength to care for both her mother and the little farm. The sheep were no longer sheared, and there was no money left to spend for food. But the girl knew that they needed medicine to cure her mother, but they had neither the coin nor the means to get it. So they lived on together in the cottage, which slowly fell apart, and the hills behind it no longer seemed green, but dark and unfriendly.
One day, the girl went to the market to buy food with her last few coins. She was half-starved, having given all the food she could spare to her sick mother. But on the market they laughed at her, and told her she did not have enough money to buy anything. So she walked home, with hanging shoulders, thinking that now she must surely starve.
On the road she met a man, whose face was hidden under the dark hood of his long black cloak. He asked her for the way into the village, and because she was a dear and friendly girl, she told him without hesitation. He thanked her, and asked her if he could do something in return. At first, she shook her head, but the man persisted, until she told him of her sick mother and the empty coinbox. The man seemed to think, and said: “I know of a remedy that would cure your mother fully, and I have it her, in my pocket.” With that, he pulled a small vial from his cloak, and held it high up into the sun. The girl was overjoyed, and wanted to reach for the vial, when the man put it back into his pocket and asked what she was prepared to pay for it, as giving directions into the village was not nearly enough for such a powerful remedy. The girl thought hard, but could not come up with anything valuable she or her mother possessed. When she told the man, he laughed, and said: “You have something that is worth more to me than any coin you could ever have in your pouch.” Without thinking, the girl cried that he could have it, anything, if he would only give her the vial of medicine. But then he grabbed her, and stretched a clawed hand towards her chest. He sank his hand into her flesh and pulled out her beating heart, dripping with blood. “This is what I want as a payment, your heart, all loving and fresh and innocent. You will not die, little girl, for I do not want you to. You will live, your mother will be cured, but I have your heart. If we will meet again, tell me if it was worth it.” And with a chuckle, he walked off, leaving the girl kneeing in the middle of the road, clutching her chest.
When the girl came home, she fed her mother the medicine, and colour came back in the mother’s cheeks, and for the first time in half a year she stood up from her bed. But the girl could not rejoice over her mother’s cure, for she no longer had a heart, and she could no longer feel for others.
The girl became a woman, but she didn’t notice it. She walked through her life empty and unaware, but only her mother noticed the change, for all the intimacy and love between them had gone, and they lived their lives next to each other, not together. And the mother was very upset by this, for she did not know that her daughter had traded her heart away.
The girl felt no love for anything, not for the sheep she had cared for so lovingly before, not for the green hills, which she had walked on all her childhood years, not for her mother, not even for herself. She did not feel anything, only once when she had to kill a sheep that had broken its legs she felt something, something terrible, stirring within her. And because she yearned to feel again, she sought out this feeling. In time, she noticed that the suffering and death of others would bring her a moment of release from the emptiness within her chest. So she began to kill bugs and spiders first, then mice the cat had brought in, a newborn lamb, and later even the cat. And it became an addiction, for even though she no longer had a heart, she remembered how it had felt. But her mother never noticed any of the cruelties her daughter committed in secret.
After several winters had passed, a young man rode by the cottage, who was sent by his father to find a suitable girl for marriage. When he saw the young woman standing with the sheep, he was startled by her beauty. At that moment he knew that he could have no other wife than her. And so he asked her, and she agreed to marry him, because she did not know what else to do. The mother was happy, for she hoped that her daughter would find happiness with the young man, who was well spoken and and seemed to care a great deal for her daughter. And even though the man noticed that there was no love between him and his chosen wife, he thought to himself that love might grow with time.
And they lived together for some time, and even though there was no love between them, he was happy. One day the woman fell pregnant. Her husband was overwrought with joy, but in her, the deep dark feeling stirred whenever she looked on her swollen belly. When the child, a girl, was born, the husband often caught his wife looking at the baby with a dreadful look, but he pushed these thoughts aside, for he could not believe that his wife was evil. But she was tempted every time she saw her child, and in time the pressure in her became too much. So one day, she took a knife and went to the crib in which her daughter was lying. When she raised the knife high over her child, the husband, who had entered the room unnoticed, threw himself in front of his daughter. The knife pierced his heart, and with a final breath, he sank to the floor. Trembling, his wife let fall the weapon, and fled the house. She ran as fast as she could, never looking back, and was never again seen in this part of the country.
Her mother, who had heard of the events, came and took in her granddaughter, and cared for her lovingly. But she was growing old, and with every day more of her former strength left her. Some years they lived together, and even though the little girl laughed and cried, she did not speak. There was something different about her, but the old woman was so happy that there was some young life again in her little cottage, that she did not ponder on these thoughts.
Then, one day the grandmother died, and the girl, old enough to walk but too young to survive on her own, left the house, for there was no one to care for her. Walking through the woods, over the hills and over small streams she did, until she came to a road, where she lay down, for she had not eaten in many days. There she was found by some travelling folk, who took pity on her and took her in. With them she travelled far and wide, forgetting the place she had came from and the people she had known as a child. She became part of the travelling folk, and never knew how different she was from everyone else.
In the village she was born in, they never heard of her again, and they did not care, until later, much later, when the elders regretted of not taking care of what had happened in the little cottage in the rolling hills.
And this is how the story begins...