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Three Times Countess Hanna Glawari Danilovitsch Saw the Vilja up the Mountain, and Lived to Tell the Tale

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1.

"Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsch! Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsch!"

The saint's name belonged to the best story in all the proud history of Pontevedro. Saint Lezhenza was once a humble cheesemaker before she received visions from the Holy Virgin, strapped on a sword, rode to war, and saved the life of the Pontevedrin monarch three times over before mysteriously disappearing within a storm-cloud.

This saint's name now belonged to a goat, which was searched for by the innkeeper's daughter, somewhere up the steep sides of the Padurovitsch mountain under the scorching height of Midsummer.

The girl stumbled when her woven sandal-strap came loose on a rock, clutched her beaded shawl across scrawny, sunburnt shoulders, fell forward and raced upward.

"Ah, cacat! By the bones of the Holy Virgin's mother's great-grandmothers, I will find my goat or die trying! May our king get bunions if I fail!" she swore.

The red sun beat down on the mountain, the strongest it would beat all year. Yet all too soon, day would slip into night. In all of Pontevedro, the tradition was kept and would be kept for all time. Come Midsummer-eve, always travel home by sunset, bar all the doors, lock all the windows, and let not a chink of the balmy night inside on that particular day. All stay quiet that one night, quiet and dark and locked within and without while other things roam freely in that shortest night of the year. Then dawn comes and with it the cheers of the autumn festival, the first of nine days of harvest celebrations. There would be fires all night, dancing still longer than that, and braided bread and copious beer and thick hams and heavy sides of mutton in sauerkraut that would feed even Fat Sergius' appetite. The girl's stomach rumbled at the thought of such good things and even more than that her clever feet twitched and longed for the dance.

But she would find Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsch, her very wicked and self-willed goat, first!

The girl clambered over yet another pebbled hill, her foot blistered and burnt from the loose strap. She had heard a faint bleat, a rattle of hoofed feet, just beyond the next rock. It had to be Saint Lezhenza at last. She heard more stamping, more bleating. Hanna looked upward at the precarious path above, looked hard at a thorn-bush that moved suspiciously. She heaved herself up to the narrow trail. She clung to the rock. If Saint Lezhenza could take it, so too would she. Nimble as a goat herself and with fresh energy now she could see her goal, Hanna flung herself across the way.

And was greeted by not one but two identical goat faces, blinking at her in turn in the red light of a dying Midsummer-eve afternoon.

Hanna sank to the dusty ground. "Twins!" she moaned. She counted every last point on each goat's features. They tallied in each particular down to a hair. "Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsch, do I dream? Have you found a friend? No, you have not merely found a friend, for I see not one but two Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsches before me. Did I not raise you from a kid and pull you from your mother's womb myself when you baulked and decided to turn feet first inside her? You are most certainly not twins, and yet twins you are before me."

Both goats behaved as perfectly ordinary goats: that is to say, they stamped idly at the ground, stared at the human, and blew puffs of air at each other. Then one Saint Lezhenza attempted a head-butt, and the other Saint Lezhenza did exactly the same to her counterpart.

"By the king's bunions and all the saints above, what in the name of Pontevedro am I to do with you?" Hanna complained. "I could lead both of you home, I suppose, but if one of you is a fairy my papa will not be best pleased when you transform in our stables and then eat all our guests broiled alive with a hint of vinegar. Reveal which one you are!"

The goats continued to butt at each other. They tried to work out which of them was the stronger Saint Lezhenza, at least, if not the correct Saint Lezhenza. Hanna trailed after the goats, watching every gesture for a hint of which was her true goat. When the competition came to naught, both rivals retired in a discreet silence. One Saint Lezhenza nipped at a stray piece of grass, then the other Saint Lezhenza did exactly the same.

Which gave Hanna something of an inspiration. She dug through her apron pocket until at last her fingers alighted on a scrap of wax candle, cleaned and forgotten from one of the guests. Saint Lezhenza enjoyed eating wax and had to be prevented from it at all costs ... but a supernatural counterpart might not share the same tastes!

Both goats drew near to Hanna's outstretched hand, seeking the treat. She looked from one to the other. Both Saint Lezhenzas snapped at the candle at the same time. They enjoyed half of it apiece.

"If one of you is a fairy in disguise, I hope it gives you severe constipation," Hanna sternly lectured. "And you too, Saint Lezhenza; it is your fault for leading me into this!"

As Hanna glanced at the mountain about her, her blood indeed ran cold. Red light coated the dry rocks and narrow paths of the Padurovitsch mountain. It was Midsummer-eve, under the light of a setting sun, and Hanna desperately must return to the inn before it was sealed, before she too would be mistaken for one of the creatures that walked in the shortest night of the year. She shivered. A wise and sensible girl, most likely, would have left Saint Lezhenza behind and suffered the reprimands she would get - even and well-tempered reprimands compared to those for staying out on the Padurovitsch mountain on a Midsummer-eve night. "None will believe that I found Saint Lezhenza and she was twins!" Hanna muttered to herself. "No one believes in the old tales these modern days, not with the Glawari train lines running through even the meanest village and the Glawari-Vorow telegraph lines ruining all our clean landscape views. How I could poke a willow stick into all their eyes!"

Hanna stuck out a defiant chin toward the sunset. There was one trick from a tale that she had not yet tried. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply into her chest, drew on her memories, and began to sing.

Legend said that the Vilja of the mountain, the spirit who lived there, loved one thing best of all: a song. Hanna sang the prettiest melody she knew, though the words were nothing special. The song told of a girl with a soldier lover, who did not confess her love to him before he left her for the wars. He returned only upon a bier, and the disappointed girl stole to the woods to plant willow trees on his grave. There, one dim misty morning, her dead body was found among the trees.

Such a stupid song! Hanna thought. I would follow my lover to the wars, or at the very least would tell him frankly how I felt so he would know he had to love me back. And if that didn't work, I own a heavy copper ladle and know how to use it!

Yet she liked the longing sweeps and tricky rills of the melody, its melancholy and weird progression as it stuck halfway between different modes, and sang to the sunset with all her ability. She had the captive audience of a goat.

The other reason to sing was this: little did the Vilja know that Saint Lezhenza Traganza Jorblinka Rowenovitsch had one pet hate in all the world, and that pet hate was Hanna's singing voice. Whenever Hanna raised her voice in a light ditty or lay or air, Saint Lezhenza fled for the other end of the field.

Hanna closed her mouth and opened her eyes, and smiled at the one goat that had remained to listen. She was astonished to see the goat smile back.

Then suddenly the goat was a woman, an ageless woman with unlined skin stretched taut over her fine bones, her hair rippling like a storm-cloud behind her. She approached Hanna as if she floated on air, and bent to kiss her on the lips in payment for the song. The Vilja's kiss was as wild and beautiful and impossible to remember as a dream. The next moment - Hanna did not and could not recall how it all ended - Hanna was frantically rushing down the side of the Padurovitsch mountain with her goat Saint Lezhenza secured on a leash torn from her apron.

The girl and the goat ran madly down, alight with a fiery restlessness, and slipped into the innkeeper's kitchen the moment before the doors and windows were barred to the spirits. That Midsummer festival, Hanna danced more brilliantly and sung more powerfully than at any past festival, and laughed as much or more than most. It was a fine season for the village.

2.

"I'd spit on you for calling me a wench, Morzow, but you're not clean enough for that," Hanna said.

"This may be considered animal abuse, Rollo, but I'm going to clip you over the ear with my copper ladle unless you stop making that whistling noise this instant."

"Your bloody mother should've thrown you away and kept the stork, Barjol."

"It's said that some lucky men cause happiness wherever they go. You're one of those lucky men who cause happiness whenever they go. Whenever you want to leave the inn is fine, Janni."

"I fear an infestation of plagueous vapours has cursed the inn ... on second thought, it may just be your breath, Mardo. Stand facing the wall and we'll all be much happier."

"Would you like another wine? No, let me say that another way. Do you really need yet another cup of the same mediocre vintage that's draining what's left of the inside of your head at such a rate your skull will collapse on itself before the next morning, Pavo?" Hanna said, scowling bleakly at the drunkard. He turned away. At last the final guest left the inn. It was closing time already, Hanna thought savagely. She gathered her armful of other people's filthy glasses with a sullen air.

The inn's business was far from thriving. Hanna had left a year before to Paris, a simple country girl yearning for the sights of the city and labouring under the delusion that her abilities would set her on the high road to earning a fortune and riding back to her village in a golden carriage with four white horses. Cacat, as if! In Paris, Hanna met Pontevedrin countrymen and women and, more achingly homesick than she'd expected, found common ground with them. In Paris, Hanna met the nephew of her king, a young cavalryman out to see the world. In Paris, Hanna had her heart broken by the revolting, rancid, duplicitous, empty-headed, vain, weak-willed rat of a king's nephew. Count Danilo Danilovitsch considered a lowly innkeeper's daughter not good enough for his high and mightiness. He turned his back on the promises he made Hanna when they danced in Maxim's, held in his arms while the whole world was empty but for the two of them.

Hanna returned to her village with her proverbial tail between her legs. She'd sunk her Parisian earnings into a seemingly endless sewage pit of repairs for the inn. Now instead of trying to sing she gave a surly double-edged tongue to the inn's customers, not bothering to catch herself any longer when she thought of a quick insult. Fewer and fewer customers came to the inn.

It was not all the fault of the inn. Fewer travellers came to the village at all, preferring the stops on either side of the new-fangled Glawari train to a country backwater. The only customers here were regulars from the village, except for one traveller, an older man on a walking-tour of the Pontevedrin mountains. There was nothing that stood out about his plain dress and ordinary manner of speech, but Hanna's instinct was to call the old man a gentleman - except that Hanna was once and for all time done with gentlemen, and if the walker identified himself as a gentleman she would promptly kick him out of doors and invite the Grand Duchess Alitza Perovow Varannia Blitzenovitsch, the out of wedlock daughter of Saint Lezhenza, to carry out further kicking.

Hanna viciously cleaned the glasses, leaving cracks and streaks behind and caring none at all for it. She attacked the floor with the broom in a sudden burst of vitality as if to make up for her earlier lapse in duties, then returned to her angry sullenness. She would chain the door, go to her bed, and be done for the night. Let the next day come as soon as possible, and the next and the next until all her past blurred away in a miserable lonely trap of a country inn closing around her, while she struck, venomous as a black viper, at any male customer who dared question her.

The thought came to Hanna that the next day would certainly come soon. It was another Midsummer-eve. Close upon the heels of that thought came a passive observation that suddenly burrowed into Hanna's mind like a nest of bore-worms finally showing themselves through wood: The traveller on the walking-tour went up to Padurovitsch mountain and he has not come back.

Hanna rattled his door and forced it open in case the man had snuck in after all. No such luck. It was empty. She seized her cloak from its hook, took up a fresh lantern, fastened the doors tight, and hastened out on a Midsummer's night, where no Pontevedrin should ever venture.

Hanna called to mind the scanty all she knew of the traveller. He signed his name Dagobert in the guest-book. His hair was grey, his face lined and tanned by the outdoors, his clothes plain but well tailored and highly durable. He spent his days walking the mountain trails, rarely appeared at the inn itself, and ordered plain bread and cheese and cabbage delivered to his room, the food of a Pontevedrin labourer. His speech was Pontevedrin in every way. Hanna would have placed his birth in the south of the country, with a countryman's burr escaping him every so often. He would not intentionally be out beyond nightfall on Midsummer-eve.

A cold wind whistled around Hanna. She paid it no heed. As long as her lantern did not go out, she was resolved to fear nothing! She felt less secure on the trails than she had as a young girl; she was out of practice. She drew on her memory and reasoning.

Were I Dagobert on a Pontevedrin Midsummer-eve, where should I go? I would wish to see the sunlit view on the longest day of the year, and I should make attempt for it to be easy to return ...

Hanna's lantern gave her few signs of disturbed ground. Dagobert seemed a tidy person from the little she knew of him, the sort of man who'd not stamp down grass and tear off branches for the sole pleasure of showing the world that he'd been in a particular place at a particular time. Knowing her home as she did, Hanna must find him by imagining him instead of tracking him - using only her wit to understand what paths would draw him at this time in this place.

The last thing Hanna wished to do was to step into the shoes of some man. She had her pride and would buckle into it for no male. She'd accept no dishonourable offers from Count Danilo Danilovitsch; now he had shown his true colours and she wouldn't give half a king's copper for him. Not even a quarter, a shaving!

But she'd not see a countryman lose his life this night. Hanna remembered how the sun hit on Midsummer-eve, along the northwestern slope of Padurovitsch mountain. A carpet of purple bellflowers and vervain would shine in the light. The path upward would seem easy and comfortable to an experienced walker. But Hanna knew that three-quarters of the way through came an easy way to slip, unless you knew the secret and walked on the moss-coated log instead of the dry crumbling rock ...

She went forward fleet-footedly and held her lantern out into the abyss of the valley of bellflowers. She released a breath when she saw damage done at last - torn plants and the markings of a desperate slide down.

She heard a weak cry from the darkness. Hanna gathered her cloak and slipped downward. Soon, the lantern's light fell at the man at the bottom of the valley. Dagobert lay on a bed of purple vervain, one leg badly bent underneath him. Hanna's light illuminated a pair of bright, searching black eyes set deep in an agonised face.

"Be thou goddess or mortal on this night?" the man said. His look sought Hanna's face, almost worshipfully; once Danilo had looked at her so, and Hanna felt a spasm of suppressed anger that this man would remind her of her pain. "Either way, I am in your debt. I fear my leg is broken," Dagobert said, descending into more mundane territory. "Even were I as young as I used to be, I could not walk back on my own. Lady with the lantern that cannot flash as brightly as thine eyes, what is your suggestion?"

"No silly peasants' talk about goddesses and lantern eyes," Hanna said curtly. As a girl, she had once seen a strange thing upon Midsummer-eve; as a woman, she would like to think that the same should not happen again. "I will splint your leg - it cannot be so different from a goat's leg. Then I know a safe way back."

"Mistress Hanna of my inn," Dagobert said, at last recognising her. "In this night, I thought ... but I could not ask for more capable hands than those of my hostess."

Hanna felt blood rush to her cheeks. Surely he mocked her. As a hostess she gave her guests no more than cheese-parings now, as little as she could get away with. "Don't talk nonsense," she said brusquely. She broke off a sapling of the right length to use as a splint. Fortunately the break was clean and Dagobert had sensibly kept still after his fall. Hanna's appreciation of his courage and resolve increased a fraction, but she'd not compliment the man. When the splint was fixed in place with strips cut from Dagobert's trouser-leg, Hanna offered him a hand up.

Then her lantern went out.

I will fear nothing as long as my lantern does not go out, she remembered telling herself. Now the lantern was black, and she and Dagobert were alone in the dark.

Hanna heard a faint sighing sound on the wind. The soft hairs on the back of her neck prickled and stood upright as if they had been transmuted to ice.

She sung a stanza of a song in the dark, as if her music could light up the night: a simple Pontevedrin folk-song of the farmer returning home to his goats. It was very different to the Parisian songs she had sung before diamond-studded audiences. Dagobert leant on Hanna's strong arm for support.

But then the Vilja was upon them.

"This time a song will not be enough payment," her windy lips told Hanna. "A man wanders into my domain and remains there past nightfall on Midsummer-eve? He is my rightful prey. And I shall keep him."

The Vilja was a tall wraithlike woman of curling smoke and cloud-fog. Her slender face shone with her own strange light as if lightning tossed within her. Before Hanna could stop her, she reached a hand to Dagobert's forehead and touched him once. His eyes closed and he slumped, a dead weight in Hanna's arms.

"I shall fight for him - " Hanna declared. "I challenge you, Vilja. Let us fight if you wish to harm him."

"It will be a game of riddles," hissed the Vilja. "Mortal-wit, answer me. I am an infinity of silent eyes, and I reach my furthest when all else is dark."

Hanna felt the warm weight of Dagobert; the man's life hung upon her word. She looked into the dark for inspiration. Then her mind leapt to it. "Stars," she said. The chilly, distant lights promised her no help in this night. "Vilja, tell me - what is transformed into its opposite the more it is shared?"

"A secret," said the Vilja swiftly and readily. "Tell me - what device may move for a hundred years even after it is broken?"

Hanna reeled; this was a low blow from the Vilja. Yet she knew this answer. "A heart," she said defiantly. "Mine is shattered and mine still beats - and so too will this man's tonight."

The Vilja raised a hand as if to strike Hanna. But then a lightning-fast mood passed across her stormy wraith's face. "Then hold him if you can."

Hanna felt Dagobert struggle to wake in her arms, as if a fighting spirit in him also battled for his own life. Then she heard the bleat of a goat, and it was now a creature with hooves that struggled against Hanna's hold.

But she had long raised and tussled with goats. This was easy, Hanna thought. She clung to goat-Dagobert and let him try to kick all he would. And then the goat was no longer there. Hanna stumbled at the lack of weight in her hands. The goat was replaced with a snarling, spitting lump of fur: an angry cat, whose claws raked Hanna's cheek. She held on for dear life. She challenged the Vilja to do better - but that was a fool's challenge, she thought, clinging to a howling wolf against every primal instinct in her to let it go. And after the wolf's teeth and claws followed a hot iron to blister her skin, a wet eel to try to wriggle free, a hawk whose wings trembled in her fierce grasp.

Then Hanna's arms felt empty. A chilly wind tossed her hair. Did the Vilja choose a mouse, perhaps, or earthworm or pin? Then the truth hit her - the Vilja had transformed the man into a winter wind. She wrenched off her cloak and wrapped it about the air as best she could. The cloak was not enough to hold the wind, which blew through. She tore off her apron so that another layer should trap it. Then came her dress, then her first petticoat. Hanna caught the wind wrapped in her clothing, blowing and flapping. Only her shift remained on her body. She held on past the point she could hold no longer. "He is mine," she told the Vilja in the sound of the wind, but she doubted she was heard.

And yet then the tempest ceased. Hanna saw into the sky. The stars were fading and the dawn of Midsummer approached. The Vilja and her kind no longer held sway over the mortal world. Hanna's lantern flickered back into life. In the glare of sudden light, Hanna saw nothing. She saw nothing still as her eyes adjusted to the light.

The Vilja had gone. Hanna was left with sudden weight of a man in her arms, wrapped and tangled in all the layers of her clothing.

After Hanna's ostler had found them in the valley and twenty-three different versions of the tale spread through the village - most of them condemning a tavern girl who had led an innocent man on a wild freak in Midsummer-eve, and was found with him while wearing barely anything with her left cheek ripped to ribbons - Dagobert was at last able to open his eyes and speak, his leg treated by the village doctor.

He'd hardly be expected to be coherent, Hanna thought; she straightened his coverlet, checked the fragrant bouquet of rosemary and sage by his bedside, and discreetly removed the bed pan. Dagobert's dark eyes rested clearly on her despite the fever in his face. Hanna thought suddenly that he had rather nice eyes. They reminded her of her third favourite goat, Baron Petrovic Vladikas Nikola Luksic va Eratovitsch, a clever but kind-hearted goat who always rounded up the others in the herd at Hanna's command. Dagobert held out his right palm to her.

"My hand! I've ruined your reputation and you have saved my life, so you must allow me to make reparation to you."

"Your leg is broken; you are excused from any amorous activity," Hanna said. Dagobert's serious expression did not change in reply to her joke.

"My hand in marriage," Dagobert said. "It is not fever speaking; it is a grateful man who knows full well not to let an opportunity slip by him. You are the cleverest and bravest woman I know. Be my wife."

"I would have done it for anyone," Hanna said. The man was old enough to be her father or even her grandfather, although he was not ill made. "Besides, your name is Dagobert - I would never marry a man called Dagobert."

"Let me wave that objection away: Dagobert is a mere alias," confessed Hanna's rescued man. "I am only Dagobert when I travel. You see, I have a great need to avoid unnecessary attention. I love my solitude in the quiet hills and villages of our country. My true name is Maximilian Glawari, and if you pry into my satchel you can see my pass-book and papers for proof. I don't wish to flatter myself, but I lead an interesting and exciting life. A clever, beautiful woman with a head on her shoulders could enjoy such an opportunity."

It was useless to pretend Hanna did not know the name of Maximilian Glawari. Hanna had seen Glawari's face in Parisian social papers: poorly printed in black and white, generally standing behind some more elaborately dressed beau monde. She had been a little interested in the doings of a man from her country, but certainly not enough to imagine he would ask her to be his wife. Maximilian Glawari owned the railroads and the telegraph lines, the banks and the farms, floated loans to the government and patronised most of the country's arts. Hanna raised her head in all the pride she had left. She was not good enough, after all, for Count Danilo Danilovitsch. She refused to play abased beggar-maid to a millionaire King Cophetua.

"A simple country girl is not a fit wife for the man who owns half of Pontevedro," Hanna said.

Glawari's dark eyes did not leave her face. "After your rescue of me, it is I who am humbled before you. Be my wife, Hanna."

She drew herself up and told the story of her past in a few sharp sentences. "I have spent a year in Paris, where I lived by singing and dancing in cafés. I had a love affair with a man who recanted his offer the next day because his well-bred uncle could not accept a simple country girl in his noble family. I am an honourable woman with my self-respect untarnished, but I have scarcely half a heart left to give, if any. I left Paris and returned to my inn. Now you know all the sordid details of my past."

"Then I ask a simple country girl for the half of her heart that remains. And with it her bold courage, her true generosity, her quick wit and her pride. I must confess my own sordid secret: Dagobert is in fact my middle name," Glawari said. "Now you know the worst of me, Hanna." His large hand, the fingertips splayed and spade-tipped, did not falter in its reach to her. His grip would be warm and his smile kind and clever.

"I will always call you Dagobert," Hanna decided. "It will keep you humble."

3.

Hanna Glawari Danilovitsch panted as she ascended the Padurovitsch mountain. As only rarely happened, her husband was ahead of her; she was with child and found it slow going. Her older son Hannek charged in front, his father Danilo at close hand to watch over him.

It was early spring, of course, nowhere near midsummer. Hanna was a sensible woman, after all.

"Hannek, slow - this is where your mother grew up!" Danilo said. "Breathe and take in the wilderness slowly! A gentleman does not leave a lady behind, my lad." He bowed to Hanna. "Once I did ... and it was the most foolish mistake of my life."

"One you have almost atoned for by six years of loyal service," Hanna laughed. "You may continue to atone. Come to my room tonight, Captain Danilovitsch - I must discuss gardening with you."

"That order I gladly obey," he said, with a sharp click of his heels. "Look, Hannek, at the carpet of purple - "

"Bellflowers and vervain," Hanna said. "We must taste bellflower mixed with spring onions and cabbage while we are here; it is a traditional dish of the village. Vervain is used for gout, headache, and when you have eaten too much." Her son Hannek ate astoundingly, but he looked perpetually thin and hungry; he always flew away as swiftly either of his parents could look at him, a never-ending whirlwind of running and tree-climbing and bringing constant questions back to them.

"Mother, why are half these flowers yellow and half the flowers red?" Hannek held up a group of blooms torn up at the roots for her inspection.

"Because this bloom is both the colours of the Pontevedrin flag, and grows only in wilderness such as this. You must look to such places for the spirit of Pontevedro," Hanna said.

"Can I see the spirit of Pontevedro?"

"No, for it's a metaphor - but don't ask me to explain that! Ask your father," Hanna pleaded. Hannek's innocent question brought to mind the Vilja's face of a wraith. She shivered despite the spring air. Those two Midsummer-eve nights seemed like distant dreams to Hanna now, fancies that disappeared like dew with the dawn. Yet she had saved a goat and a man from being stolen by the Vilja in the mountain, and she would be proud of what she had done.

The small family rounded the path to a clearing, where Danilo released the heavy hamper he carried. He shook out the rug and helped Hanna to her cushion, then with her son laid out their picnic lunch. Traditional village pickled cabbage, thrice stewed; a garland of fresh basil leaves with chard; thick slices of rich smoked ham from the capital; new-baked white bread, soft and delicate as dandelions; the famous red Pontevedrin cheese left to ripen for four years; and to drink a flagon of wine from the Danilovitsch vineyards and a skin of goat's milk. The fresh air gave a new tang to their banquet. But after the last morsel, Hannek could no longer sit still; he dashed to explore the path.

"Go," Hanna urged her husband. "I will rest here; take Hannek up to the path. He would like to see the view of the cleft rock shaped like a goat's head." Danilo swooped down to steal a deep kiss from her and saw her well settled on her cushion and blanket.

The spring heat and a soft breeze soon found Hanna asleep. Her dreams brought her the sweet peppery scent of Pontevedrin folk stories and songs, shared about the village bonfire.

Thrice is the rule, a voice whispered in her head. In every story, the rule of three. A spirit that has come twice must come three times. She could not recall which story that was from, but it lingered in her like a kiss on the wind.

It had always been the case that Pontevedro was in Hanna's blood and in her bone. She would sing Pontevedrin songs and dance Pontevedrin dances until the day she died. She would never fail to salute her king and celebrate his birthday. Her children would be raised as proudly Pontevedrin in blood and name and right.

And it was possible too, now, that one day Hanna's son or her unborn child would bear the crown of Pontevedro ...

Hanna dreamt on. She dreamt of the spring of her first love, dancing with Danilo in Maxim's, taking the reins of a carriage for the first time and riding wildly with him across narrow Parisian lane and alleys. She dreamt of the vistas she had seen with her first husband Glawari, the wide-opening world he had led her to across the continent and beyond. She had travelled and discovered and learnt to manage his estates by his side. She dreamt of her first child and conjured up an imagined dance with a tiny girl, a daughter yet to be born.

And she dreamt of the the Vilja she had fought twice on this mountain, the Vilja who was as much Pontevedro as Hanna. The Vilja was a Pontevedrin story and she too was part of the rich tapestry of this country, part of the songs that Hanna would sing until she died.

For the first time it came to Hanna to wonder why the Vilja had challenged her and what she hoped to gain. She turned uneasily on her side.

She thought that she saw the Vilja's face approach her once more. Her storm-cloud hair now was only grey. Her slender face was thin and withered. The Vilja had existed since the dawn of Pontevedro. Perhaps she grew old and tired and all she wished for was company. Perhaps she needed something she did not know how to ask for, to ask for the life of old Pontevedro. It was a new Pontevedro now. Oil automobiles danced on the streets of the capital and wires flashed instant news to all corners of the kingdom. Factory machinery buzzed louder than the legends of the past. Electric lamps shone in every home and showed only blank solid spaces where spirits might have once walked on Midsummer-eve nights. The old Pontevedro only existed in insubstantial things, in story and myth and love of their land.

Such legends deserve to live, Hanna thought.

In her dream, Hanna sang the song of the Vilja. The witch of the woods, the spirit of all wild places of Pontevedro, the spirit whose kiss drove men to love or death. In her dream Hanna sung to greater heights than she had ever reached before, flawlessly ascending beyond her highest pitch and down to her deepest sweetness. Once she had sung the song of the Vilja in a Parisian mansion, drawing back her old love Danilo to her in the call of her voice and in their beloved Pontevedrin legends and songs. He had come to her that night, and today the Vilja came to her.

Hanna sung at her zenith and knew she would never sing so beautifully again. While the melody soared, the Vilja would never die. She saw the wraithlike shape of the Vilja smile at her. She knew the old Vilja faded away, away into nothingness on the air. But Hanna held the notes of her song, and imagined that a new Vilja was to be born. The Vilja's kiss brushed her lips and she fell into a soft darkness.

The sun beat down on Hanna's eyelids and she stretched in the warm light. Her husband woke her with a kiss. She sat up on the blanket to her son thrusting a scratchy bouquet of grasses and blown dandelions into her face, a bouquet that she called the most beautiful flower arrangement she had seen all year.

The family stepped down the mountainside together. Hanna's right hand was clasped in her husband's arm, while her left rested on her son's shoulder. "This night I will tell you the legend of the Vilja," she said. "It is a true legend, and I will tell you how your mother has seen the Vilja herself. I will sing you her song, and you will learn to sing it with me. It will be a real Pontevedrin party."

Vilja, O Vilja, the witch of the woods,
I yearn to love you, but no mortal could.
Vilja, O Vilja, I never will go,
Back to the home that I know.
Vilja, O Vilja, the witch of the woods ...