THE LEGEND OF THE WINNOWWOOD
our hundred years ago, there were over five hundred of us, sisters who shared powers we were born into. Powers that gave us dominion over nature. I only know a few stories that have been passed down mother to daughter over the generations, but the clearest remembered is the killing story – the curse that was put on our kind by an evil witch named Cassandra Dragon Slayer.
It was during the time of dragons and dark magic that the Winnowwood came out of the shadows and into the history of humans, much to our own ruin. My mother said it was because our hearts were too tender, that we could not continue to turn a blind eye to the witches and how they terrorized the poor humans. The witches hunted the human children down, then ate their still-beating hearts to prolong their own evil lives. That would be the most wretched, horrific act I could imagine and I’m not sure if it’s true, but I like to think it is – that it was something that heinous that forced my ancestors into action thereby sealing our own doom.
The Winnowwood knew it would be easy to kill the witches, for they underestimated our powers. We, unfortunately, underestimated their wrath.
At that time, there were seventeen witches who lived in our lands. They had ignored the Winnowwood thinking us akin to odd hermits who lived in the forest with the animals for we were a shy people who hid from them as well as the humans. We had reason to hide from the humans.
Years past, two young Winnowwood had crossed the paths of two human men and barely escaped with their lives. The men thought they were trolls and tried to kill them for a reward. Trolls aren’t the only creature with an unfortunate countenance, my people are ugly as well. So, the warning was passed down, “Don’t speak to humans, they’ll kill you for the troll reward!” For as you certainly know, humans despise ugly people and love beauty, and it is that love of beauty that would lead to the downfall of my people.
“Anhelo Eximo Fulgar Winnowwood!” That’s the phrase that destroyed the witches. It basically translates into: I desire to release lightning! Witches hate lightning. It smites them into nothingness in less than a second, leaving a small pile of ash that could fit on the palm of your hand. Witch ash contains powerful magic, but there is no longer anyone alive who remembers how to make it work. Once there was a book that contained all of the spells, history and lore of the Winnowwood, but it has not been seen in well over a hundred years. That is really unfortunate for me, as I have so many questions, but I digress.
The story is that an elderly Winnowwood named Ursula was in the forest when she came upon a witch who was about to rip the heart out of a six-year-old, blond, human girl with green eyes. Ursula said it was the green eyes that did it – the girl had Winnowwood eyes.
Ursula warned the witch to stop, but the witch only laughed at her, her black tongue licking her lips as her dirty claws ripped the girl’s dress away. The little girl managed to slip out of her dress and run towards Ursula and that was that. Ursula uttered the words and a huge bolt of lightning crackled in the sky and smote the witch.
But as fate would have it this was no ordinary little girl; she was the only child of the widower King of Alganoun. When she returned to her home, she told her father all that had happened. He sent hundreds of men into the forest to hunt for Ursula until they finally found her. The King begged her to help him kill the witches and promised he would give her whatever she wanted for the deed.
She agreed. Shortly thereafter, a great battle took place between the witches and the Winnowwood. The witches did manage to kill twelve of the Winnowwood, but no matter, the lightning was too fast, too powerful for them to fight, until there was only one witch remaining: Cassandra Dragon Slayer. In her great despair, she crafted her revenge.
It is said that at midnight on the shores of an enchanted lake, Cassandra created the knife from an evil brew filled with magic. This legend has actually been passed down via a Bear, who supposedly watched Cassandra create the blade. With this little knife (which I have seen), the Winnowwood would be tempted with their most secret desire: beauty. All Winnowwood are women, all have emerald green eyes and we all have an extra segment on our left little finger that stems out of the top joint of the finger making it look like a branch. We call that little segment the crux for it is the heart of our power. With this Blade of the Winnowwood (which has become its name, though I think Cassandra’s Cursed Blade for Oblivion would be a far better one), if you cut off the crux with the blade under the light of the moon, you changed.
It did not matter if you were old (there were many Winnowwood well over three hundred years old), you regained your youth and obtained what no Winnowwood had ever had: beauty. Initially, no one understood all of the effects, so I could almost forgive them for using it, but once it was understood that you lost your magical powers if you chose to be transformed by the blade, how could one choose it? Ask my mother and sister for your answer.
Ursula was the first Winnowwood who used the blade. It was presented to her by the King who was tricked into thinking it would be a gift for the Winnowwood by Cassandra. She had disguised herself as a shaman and convinced the King that it would be the perfect reward for all the Winnowwood had done to help him.
There are few details about how all of this actually transpired, but the end of the story was always repeated throughout the ages: when Ursula cut off her crux under the light of the moon, she became the most beautiful woman any human had ever seen. The King immediately fell to his knees and begged Ursula to marry him, which she did thereby becoming the Stepmother to the little girl she had saved.
Do I need to explain the rest? Within the first year, over four hundred Winnowwood converted, filling the land with the most beautiful women the world had ever known. I think the remaining hundred only waited because every King, Prince, Earl, Count, Baron, Lord or Knight in all of the land was taken and the remaining men were basically goat herders or farmers. Not the bargain they wanted to strike I suppose, but nonetheless, slowly our numbers dwindled.
Additional little secrets of Cassandra’s revenge became clear as the years passed: if you converted before you were eighteen-years-old, none of your daughters would be born as a Winnowwood. If you used any other blade to cut the finger off, you lost your powers and were stuck in your ugly body forever. Most importantly, there was no changing your mind once cut.
And the powers they gave up – I will never give them up! I am the last high priestess to the Bestiallas, which is made up of all the animals of the world. They are mine to command and to love. I can change into any animal on this earth, though I most love to change into an eagle and fly and fly and fly. I can talk to animals and they can talk to me. And I can heal the animals if they’ve been injured, which has come in handy on quite a few occasions as testified by the marks on my face.
In the past, the Winnowwood not only could create lightning bolts, but had true dominion over nature. They could make it rain, clear storms and many more dramatic acts, but I haven’t mastered any of that, nor do I really understand how to do it. Nor, unfortunately, does my mother.
My grandmother died shortly after my mother’s birth and with her death, the detailed history of the Winnowwood died with her. She knew how to create lightning bolts! The stories of my grandmother’s extraordinary powers are absolutely intoxicating to me, but it was all lost. My mother floundered with understanding her powers as I flounder with mine.
So, why would anyone willingly give up these powers? Well, there is one small problem. Being a Winnowwood, we are born very plain to begin with and then every time you use your powers to change something outside of yourself, you get uglier – a wart, a small lump, sometimes a boil. It’s not pretty to be sure.
Ursula had hidden her face inside a hooded cloak as her face was covered in such hideous warts, bumps and boils that it gave her the appearance of a leper. She was well over three hundred years old and was known to have healed hundreds of animals in the forest, which obviously left damage to her face and certainly the lightning bolt would have left its mark as well.
The Blade exploited that ugliness for the uglier you were the more beautiful you became when you converted, or winnowed, as the term morphed into. Ursula was very old and very, very ugly and so when she winnowed, she became simply the most beautiful woman in the world. To become so beautiful that every man who gazed upon you would fall to his knees in awe is indeed a powerful inducement, though a pathetic one in my eyes.
My mother professes that the legend of the blade states that if a Winnowwood could be loved warts and all, that she would become beautiful and retain her powers, but I don’t believe her – just another jab from the grave from that horrible old witch in my opinion. But she did have her vengeance because all of the magical Winnowwood are now gone, save one – me.
Excerpted from "The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood" by Henderson Smith. Copyright © 2014 by Henderson Smith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.