The Wearing of the Green
By: Rosie K Brooks

She found the green cloth in the market, on a stall run by an old woman. The other fabrics, the greys and browns ideal for field–workers' tunics, had been thoroughly picked through, but the green remained neatly folded. It was an unusual green, at once dark and bright, reminding her of the wood beyond the village. She could not help picturing herself in the gown she could make of it.

"How much are you asking for the green?" She hoped she was sounding only mildly curious.

"More than you have in your pocket."

"And how would you know how much I have in my pocket?"

"I see through cloth to skin", said the old woman, "through skin to bone and through bone to the very soul, and I know full well that you, young lady, cannot afford my cloth".

It was perfectly true. The girl smiled and turned to walk away, but the old woman caught at her arm. There seemed no shaking her off.

"If I were to give you the cloth", she said, "you would cut it askew and sew it with clumsy stitches. It would soon fall apart."

"On the contrary", said the girl, "if you were to give me the cloth I would cut it most carefully and sew it with the finest of fine stitches, for I have been indentured to Morven the seamstress since my tenth year, and am due to gain my freedom shortly. I plan to set up business on my own account."

"There is always plenty of sewing to be done, but a woman alone?"

"Maybe, alone — or maybe I will find a husband."

"Ah yes, the ploughman Aelwyn. His master's fields are not so far from here. No doubt you pass them most days and cast him saucy glances out of the corner of your eye."

"Aelwyn has barely spoken to me, old woman, and has certainly never mentioned marriage."

"But he will. How could he resist that summer–fair hair of yours, those tumbling tresses? The dress would serve as both apprentice piece and wedding gown."

"If Aelwyn were to ask me."

"You may have the green cloth for a wedding gift, young lady. It is too fine for these bumpkins in any case. I would have been unlikely to sell it this side of Michaelmas and by then the sun will have faded it. Take it, but with a warning. Green is a fairy colour, and they believe that only they have the right to wear it. Do not, therefore, wear that dress into the woods."

The dress took many months to make, by which time the market was long gone, the leaves descended from the trees and the old woman's warning forgotten.

–|–

When Aelwyn the ploughman became very old, he was forced to rely on the kindness of his four fine sons. His wife had long since died and his once powerful muscles were gnarled with pain. In winter a rocking–chair in the chimney–corner was his customary retreat, but when the weather was warmer, he liked to get out, walk by the fields he had once ploughed and feel the hot sun on his shoulders again. One day, when the sun became a little too hot, he decided to venture further, into the dark and cool of the wood.

It was not such a large wood, but by the time he reached the centre of it he found himself both weary and confused. The trees were dancing around him, changing their places each time he looked, so he sank down under a comfortable–looking willow tree, half knowing that he might not be able to get up again unaided. The ground was damp. Willows thrive in damp places, he reminded himself, half asleep already. There he remained, as his aching back relaxed against the smooth, warm bark. And beyond the wood the sun was beginning to sink.

"When I was a young man", he told the willow tree, "there was such a pretty girl – a seamstress with yellow hair that fell all around her face. She often passed where I was ploughing. Once or twice she even glanced in my direction, but before I could get up the nerve to speak to her, she vanished.

"It was fifty years ago — maybe before you grew here. They say she was carrying a green dress over her arm, her apprentice piece, so proud of it that she was taking it over to show her cousin in Sawley. She would have come through here. Might you have seen her?"

Trees do not possess the languages of men, and the willow made no reply; but as Aelwyn sank into a deeper and deeper sleep she sighed, and reached down with her long, tangled tresses to stroke his beloved face.

The End

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