"My eye is the blackbird-same, green amongst the branches far from the bland threshing hills, where nobody wants me!” —cried the Hazelnut Girl, high in the wildwood, her wood-limbs in the wind and her girl-face flushed with blood from the chase. She spied the blackbird resting in a fork, and shot it down quick as a viper for a pie, hurling the sling’s stone with death’s skill. The Hazelnut Girl’s cooking fire spat in the woody dark, keeping her slight ragged rebel shape warm and roasting the bird on an iron skewer. Her tea was wild from wayside rosehip bushes, its aroma put mettle and flame into her young eyes and made her declaim again to the night— “The boys, well, they called me Hazelnut, because I was too wild and wise for them, and too browned by sun and dirt. I want no-one’s hand who wants all me; my tongue was longer than a lady’s ought… But now I’m free, free, free as brother Salmon, and all the boys in town I’ll push in a well for it, and for the taste of Eternal Knowledge.”
A wild thing halfwinged in the eye-filled night, she curled back down in her bracken bed and slept the peaceful sleep of mice. In the morning she rose like a spring and leapt across the dripping wildwood, crossed seven streams, skimmed ten green hills that poked their bald heads from the sea of trees and then down again she sped into a valley twixt two stone mountains where spread the sombre soldiers of the silver-birch. The Hazelnut Girl knocked upon the oak door of a monastery. Out came a bespectacled monk, seedy and squinting at the girl and her hazelnut breasts. “Peasant? Lost Soul?” The holy man’s lips were dry from a fevered sermon and his palms were sweaty with the odour of sanctity. She stepped up brightly and stretched her stick form to its extreme, asking for a little bread for her hollow stomach, then wondered for a moment, adding, “I have heard you men of habit teach Eternal Knowledge here, from books made from the flesh of a little calf. I can write, father, with my own wood-ash and bird-blood ink I have practiced, for hours father, on my own self!” And she lifted her skirts to give him full view of the illuminated manuscripts that trailed across her belly and over the landscape of her torso, upside down of course, verdant with her strange calligraphy and a forest of knotwork beasts. The monk—repulsed—stepped back—aghast, “Harlot! Blasphemer! You stain my eyes, you filthy filch, pig-suck’d, puddle-wench! Get you gone!” But another monk came out then, a brawny brother with wires of black across his palms, and seeing the girl’s display with lusty breath approached her, calling her “Little Robin,” and “look you poor, lost thing with crickets in your hair, come inside my love, and we’ll feed you well enough, and I’ll be your mentor in the dark night when you’re cold. Come for some warm bread,’ he beckoned, ‘here, behind the kitchen house, where your lodgings will be.” But then emerged a third figure, a nun from the woods, who bellowed
“AVAUNT! BEAR HER TO ME!”
And the two monks fell back in terror before the powerful matre, who was eight feet tall and had eyes like avenging embers. “Mother Orsino Furioso! We humbly beg your pardon with our lives!” And with that the two fled, sweat and scuff, back behind the oaken door which quickly closed behind them. “They think I EAT little monks,” the matre chuckled, “and well they should fear me; I ate an abbot once. Or was it an archbishop? Quite a Feast! Crook and all. Think I’m going to eat YOU?” Her eyes bristled with shivering stars. The Hazelnut Girl answered politely, as was proper, without fear, “What do I care that a Giantess dressed as a nun swallows me whole, or a lion, or a herd of raging walruses? I’m free as a twig in the river and I’m looking for Eternal Knowledge. Who am I, the Hazelnut Girl, to say that it is not in your teeth?” The matre smoothed her midnight gown and straightened her white-rimmed habit. “Eternal Knowledge? You may be in luck,” she said, “I have a task for you, Hazel-Child, and in return I can offer you a small slice of that eternity. I am heavily pregnant with seven babes, and am in dire need of a midwife. The birch runes told me that a girl would appear here at this moment, and that she would deliver my darling brood.” The Hazelnut Girl looked perplexed, “I have delivered goats, foals and piglets, but never a human child!”
“I have STRANGE lovers.” The matre replied. She made a grand gesture with her hands, which were like the little white wings of doves, “My name is Madame Isis Orsino Furioso della Fosfóro Carbón. At times I have been a Contessa, Mother Superior and an opera singer. At present I am a very pregnant Alchemist living as a hermit here in this birch forest, intent every day on discovering the mystical secret of Transmutation. This way to my cave, if you will.” Madame Isis took the Hazelnut Girl up the steep stone-strewn path through the trees of the mountain, up past the writhing of petulant streams and the beneath the mouth of the hermit’s grotto. A black space of egg-shaped, coiled, fanned and gorgeous glass monstrosities loomed all around, amid heretical scrolls that seeped, spilling all over the flagstones, geometrical mutterings in the murk. Herbs and corpses hung where they should, and swayed against the tapestries, and scented the place with must and flowers. Madame undressed to a shift that showed her immense burden glistening in the candlelight. She settled herself, heaving and grinning her large white granite teeth, across her four poster bed, all rumpled about with a blue silk quilt strewn with silver stars. “Ready yourself, Hazel-Child, I am on the verge!”
That night, beneath a hermit’s moon and a ramshackle wind, the Hazelnut Girl brought seven strange babes into the world, and cut the seven red cords and plucked the seven placentas like fruit. Nestled in the star-studded bedclothes they slept: one badger-faced, one red-eyed, one green all-over with a web of tiny veins, one had pig’s hooves, another was a jackrabbit, another had wings for arms and the head of a magpie-lark. But the most beautiful of them all, the Hazelnut Girl thought, was the silver-blue child with fox’s features, whose eyes were black with well water and who clutched a small silver ball in his hands, no bigger than a thimble. The babe squealed with delight when he saw the eyes of the Hazelnut Girl, and dropped the little ball to the floor of a sudden, where it promptly bounced out the window. “After it!” Madame Isis bellowed from her convalescence, and straight away the swift girl sped, down the mountain and past the white trees with their thousand eyes, following the silver glint and belling bounce. She came at last to a lake at the bottom of the wood. Its shore was ringed with black earth, and in its midst floated a serene barge with Madame Isis sitting there, suckling six of her seven strange babes. “Quickly now,” she urged, “before it falls in the WATER!” The Hazelnut Girl leapt with her cricket legs and caught the silver ball a hairsbreadth from the lake edge. “Now quickly,” Madame urged again, “plant it in the EARTH!” The Hazelnut Girl did again as she was asked, and pushed the ball deep into the soft, black soil. Madame Isis laughed with sudden joy like a monumental sun. Her barge lifted from the water and into the night sky, flapping with the cloud-shifting billows of her blue gown and bedlinen. From the ground before the girl came a rumbling, glowing tendril of flame—the first spreading shoot of a little sapling branching out and unfurling its glowing leaves. A hazelnut tree, no taller than the girl herself, and perched in the strongest branch was a handsome youth, a blue-silver boy with black eyes like well water and foxy blue ears softly furred, and in his hands he held a tiny, gleaming, silver ball. No bigger, in fact, than a thimble. He leapt out and kissed the Hazelnut Girl full on the lips with his fiery blue tongue.
“Show me how to find Eternal Knowledge.” He said to her, and without another verbosity they raced off over the hills like two sparks in the night, and Madame Isis and her children dissolved into stars.
And that is this story’s end. But the hazel tree from the sliver seed still stands beside the black-rimmed lake, never growing old, forever unfurling its leaves, soft in the wind from the water and bearing its small brown fruits that laugh in the night like a wildgirl foxed in the thousand-eyed trees.
You can see the little tree from the ruins of a monastery. In a valley between two mountains, beyond a cave with its four-poster bed and quilt of stars, beneath a grinning, suckling sky like the vast body of an Alchemist—there it is, the tree of Eternal Knowledge.