Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, there was a city named Holum in the northern forests. The forest surrounding Holum was known to be enchanted by fairies and cursed by a Witch, and so in fear of the Witch, very few ventured through the forest to reach Holum, and even fewer were able to complete the journey. Holum was so isolated that her people did not speak English, and their language was said to be influenced by the sound of a fairy’s song.
Despite the many dangers in the forest, many wished they could visit Holum, as they had heard about the great beauty of Lady Holum, whose jade-colored eyes and honey-tinted hair were said to resemble a fairy’s, and her great wisdom and kindness that of a saint’s. Eventually and slowly, news of the birth of her twin boy and girl spread throughout the southern cities and kingdoms, and soon after, so did news of her untimely death. The southern citizens long inquired to travelers and adventurers about the cause of her death, but none who were asked could answer, as none knew. Her husband, Lord Holum, died soon thereafter, as did his baby boy.
The news kept spreading south and eventually reached the noble house Almeidro. Lord Almeidro, being a courageous and skilled leader, decided to travel to Holum with his family and servants, so that his family might establish order in Holum. Blessed by the King, the Almeidros went north, the Lord and his only daughter, Alondra. Every person commanded by Lord Almeidro reached Holum unharmed by the Witch, and so they settled in the castle left behind by the Holums, and adopted their daughter, whom Lord Almeidro named Almendra.
Almendra Holum and Alondra Almeidro grew up together like sisters do. They were often seen playing together in the gardens, chasing each other or plucking roses that they would arrange into crowns. As the years passed, they only grew more inseparable. At the age of sixteen, Alondra looked like her father—she had a round face, pale cheeks kissed by freckles, and brown locks that curled about her head. Almendra was said to be identical to the late Lady Holum—a delicate, pointed nose, rosy cheeks, and blonde drapes of hair. Curiously, Almendra had also never learned to speak English. She hardly spoke a word, and when she did, it was in the tongue of the former royals and the people of Holum. Lord Almeidro had hired the best tutors in Holum, and later called to southern kingdoms in search of a teacher, to no avail. Still, Almendra grew up to be like a daughter to him.
Being sixteen years of age, Almendra and Alondra were to marry soon. Lord Almeidro had by then picked husbands for them. Alondra was to marry a relative of the Almeidro family—a little older than her, rumored by her maids to be of foul character and short temper—since Alondra was the heir to the ruling of Holum, and she was to marry one of the Almeidro bloodline. Almendra was to marry a relative of the late Holum family, who was as handsome as she was beautiful, and who wanted to travel south in order to establish himself and his family in another part of the kingdom. Alondra, of course, was jealous. As a young girl who loved Almendra very much, Alondra’s jealousy was quiet, and was repressed by her love of her adopted sister, who she could not bear to hate.
Almendra herself was not completely accepting of the marriage. She had doubts and fears, and could not voice them to her adoptive father. She turned to Alondra for comfort instead, and the two sisters made a plan to go deep into the forest and ask the fairies to take them away to the Fairy Kingdom, which legends told to be eternal and magical, away from their fates. So one early morning, while the sun was barely touching the edge of the sky, they ran past the doors of the castle, past the gates of Holum, and into the dark forest.
They searched, and searched, and searched for fairies, but by noon they had grown disheartened. By the evening, still unable to find any fairies, they grew even sadder, dreading the consequences of their return to Holum. Indeed, by the time the sun was setting, they believed that somehow they were repelling the fairies. They had to separate, they concluded, for a fairy would not talk to them in the company of each other.
And so they parted ways, as Alondra went towards the setting sun and Almendra went towards the darker edge of the sky. The sky grew darker, to where it was equally dark on both horizons, and then Alondra heard a loud, loud noise, like rocks and trees falling on top of each other, and felt the group shaking. She screamed, “Almendra!” and ran and sought for her sister. Neither her calls nor prayers were answered. She was only able to find, at the base of a hill, that rocks from the top had slid to the bottom, and had dragged trees and mud and more rocks down. She knew, the way young wisdom knows, that Almendra was trapped under the mud, the trees, and the rocks.
She had not time to mourn. Behind her, a deep, dark voice spoke from the woods.
“You’ve lost your sister, child.”
The voice emerged from the darkness and came from under the hood of a black cloak. None of the person’s face was visible, as the darkness under the hood obscured everything it covered, except for a long nose that protruded from the shadows. Alondra’s eyes were soon filled with tears; she was suddenly overwhelmed by grief.
“Are you glad of it, child?”
Alondra was quick to shake her head. “No,” she had said. “No, I am not!”
“But now the world is at loss for your sister’s great beauty. Would it delight you to look like her?”
Alondra did not speak, and a deal was then sealed, as there were no more words to be said.
It is unknown today, as it has always been, the words in a contract signed between the Witch and a human. It is only known that when Alondra came back, she did not look like herself, but she had slipped into the face and body of her sister, Almendra—her long, blonde hair, her rosy skin, her bright eyes, and her reputation for being entirely unable to speak. Thus when she was back and Holum expressed great joy, she was unable to speak of anything, of thanks or of mourning for the real Almendra, and so she stayed quiet so that she might not be found out as being Alondra.
Lord Almeidro, though greatly grieved by the loss of his only true daughter, still planned to have Almendra married in a fortnight. Alondra, who was pretending to be Almendra, could only agree to her father’s plans. She could not speak, of course, and Lord Almeidro was greatly frustrated because she could also not reveal what happened to Alondra. Even more tutors and translators were brought to her than ever before, but this time, it was not an inability to learn English, but the mere fact that if she spoke, she would sound like herself—like Alondra—and would be found out. So she remained quiet, and Lord Almeidro remained sorrowful.
The wedding was a great affair. Many knights and ladies ventured through the forest to come to Holum in great moving communities, all of which carried gifts of celebration for Lady Almendra Holum and condolences for Lord Almeidro’s lost daughter.
After the wedding, Alondra believed herself to be content. In the midst of bright gowns and cakes, and seduced by the promise of adoration for her beauty and a husband that would be envied by all, she found momentary happiness and satisfaction. She had been sitting by the gardens, contemplating her new fate, when loud trumpets resonated across the kingdom, trumpets of joy.
She thought they were for her, until she looked up to the Holum castle’s balcony, and saw Lord Almeidro presenting his daughter, Alondra, who was embracing his side, smiling.
That cannot be.
She was Alondra. That was an impostor. Who could be embracing Lord Almeidro, her father, pretending to be her?
A knight came for her, and delivered the good news in joy, but she could not speak.
She was taken inside and to the impostor, disguised masterfully as Alondra, who smiled at her. Dimples former in her cheeks, just like they had in hers when she smiled.
Now, she could not smile, and she could not speak. No one noticed, as everyone was too preoccupied with Alondra.
Weeks passed. She cried each night, prayed to fairies that she never saw, and wondered—how could it be? If she was the true Alondra, how could it be? And even then, every time she saw Alondra smile at her, walking past her, she could not accuse her. She could not speak.
Her husband’s gentle heart was worn into a stone with time, his wife’s silence frustrated him.
A great beauty, he would say, who was cursed with silence and fear! What good was she, petrified as she always was, crying with no consolation, perpetually hysteric? Bound by his marriage vows, he eventually took her away with him, far into the south, away from Holum, from her father, and from the impostor, Alondra.
Her husband had lost two men and their horses in the forest, for inexplicable reasons. Fearful of the Witch, he never ventured back to the northern forests. Hardly anyone did. So news from Holum came slowly, dragged down to the southern kingdom by questionable mouths. It was months before she heard of her father and Holum, and as an old woman sitting by an old chapel had said—they were swept away by a dark and unforgiving disease, all the men and his knights and his horses. They were swept away by the curse that took the late Holum family, taken into the same abyss. As the old lady said, that as the local knights claimed, and as their maids whispered, and their wives feared, it was the Witch, who it was said was probably hiding in the cursed child Lord Almeidro had adopted, Almendra Holum, who could not speak.
Alondra, still wearing the face and silent mouth of Almendra, walked home that day and was received by her husband, who held her, and the priest, who sang at her, and the people of the city, who prepared the fire and the stake.
Image Source: Forest, Moyan Brenn, https://flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/