Once, many winters ago, there lived a woman in the forest dark, well into the hills overlooking the town. It was said that she arrived one cold winter’s night after the last stroke of midnight rang through the trees. No one had seen her arrival and no one knew where she had come from but her presence was soon known to everyone in town. At first, the only way that anyone knew that she had come at all was by her small footprints in the deep snow and the faint lingering scent of flowers on the cold December winds. After a time, the young woman was spotted by the small town but she was nothing like anyone they had ever seen before. Tall with dark hair and wild green eyes, she was said to be one of the most bewitching women in all the world. That first winter, she would wander into town late in the day but only very occasionally and she never stayed after nightfall. Everyone knew it was her because no matter what the weather, she could always be seen wearing a wide cloak that seemed to flow around her like water. Drifting like a ghost through the streets when she did appear, she rarely spoke to anyone. It was said that there was a streak of wildness in her and this was why she could only live in the woods. The rumors around this beautiful woman only grew more fevered as the cold of winter gave way to the spring thaw. As the weather warmed, she was seen less and less by people in town but still, they knew that she had been there. Wherever she had been, there lingered the heavy perfume of roses in full bloom haunting the air as though she were still standing in the same spot unseen.

As spring soon gave way to summer, their world became alive with dazzling blooms never seen before. All manner of flora painted the little town in hypnotic colors and a soft symphony of perfumes as diverse as the shades of their petals. Always within that mixture of scents was the presence of the roses. It was so beautiful in its perfection but the people of the town soon became wary. They said it was unnatural for the flowers to be so brilliant. It was suspicious for a girl so young to be so very beautiful as she. She paid the talk no mind but in the height of the summer, she was never seen at all. The rose perfume that was the essence of her seemed to hover over every garden and in every shadow. Though she had never done anything, the town became fearful and no one would dare venture into the forest in fear of this strange, mysterious woman.

It was widely rumored that she was able to charm her way into the heart of any man who laid eyes on her. It was true that just as there were many fearful people in town, there were just as many gentlemen who longed to find a way to make that woman his bride. Some lusted for her beauty while others assumed that she was reclusive to hide a store of wealth. Whatever the case, there were many men who sought to find the lady in the forest but she would have none of them. Not until the day that one very important man came to town.

This man was a young nobel who had come from Europe and rumor had it that he was being sent there under the strict orders of his parents. His handsome face and charm were well known before he set foot in the town but he was also famous for his taste in women. Easily a prince among men in the tiny town, there wasn’t an eye that didn’t turn for him when he appeared in the room. He came during the sultry July heat and though it was clear from the onset that he did not intend to stay, he was charmed the first moment that he smelled the heady rose perfume that hung in the air. Though he was constantly telling all he spoke to that he would be leaving soon, he could not bring himself to leave the sweet scent of the roses that seemed to haunt him every day. It was only on the first day of autumn that he would finally see the woman responsible for this beautiful spell that the roses had cast on him. She was taken aback by his attention and he was immediately smitten with her. The man might have been young and a nobel but he knew very quickly that this was not a woman who would be stolen and made to be a bride against her will. He loved her beauty but he knew her power even before he had met her. He vowed that he would be the man that she would wish to marry. Upon the first snowfall of the year, he made his way up the forest trail in the hills to the woman that he loved.

Though he returned days later without the lady on his arm, the nobel gentleman was elated. He seemed a man possessed of a kind of joy that seemed positively otherworldly and the town grew vicious with gossip. He spoke nothing of his time in the woods to anyone no matter how hard he was pressed. It seemed unnatural, the town folks scowled. He was glowing with affection but would not speak a single word of the woman he had gone to seek. He would not even tell her name and some sneered that it was likely she had never told him. Despite their cruel words that seemed to follow, he paid them no mind and his spirits were bright as ever. On the first day of winter, he made another trip up to see his love. This time he did not return for some months, well into the spring. The young woman was not seen at all that winter but the scent of roses was strong in the shadows. The scent lingered on the morning frost and many feared that she had bewitched him or that he had gone to his death. The swirling rumors turned more and more vile. They spoke of her as though she were a wanton temptress who had designs on every man in town. They told tales of how she lived in squalor that was dressed up to look like a palace. They even accused the girl of eating human children and using their bones to decorate a home they had never seen. By the well of January, when the winds grew most bitter, there was a story that seemed to stick. One that was never spoken aloud anymore but but understood among the town. This was no young woman who lived in those woods. She was nothing more than an old hag, seeking to ensnare the young and innocent.

“That’s it? That’s all this stupid book says?”

“I guess so. Looks like this is all that’s left of the pages.”

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