Liliwhite and the Will o’ the Wisp

The story of Liliwhite changes depending on the telling. Do you want to hear a story? Where the snow fell deeply and the forests ran thin, Liliwhite met the Will o’ the Wisp not on the scree field, but on a sucking bog. He does not fall, in this story, but he becomes stuck when the ice under his feet gives way to mud and peat. He calls out to the Wisp, and the Wisp agrees to free him. But Liliwhite is indebted to the Wisp, and he knows he cannot repay him: the price of a life saved is a life given. So Liliwhite decides to trick him. He tells the Wisp he will give him a fine hunting knife, which was carved by his ancestors over two lifetimes, and must be worth more than a single life. But when he takes the knife out of his pack, he plunges the blade up to its hilt in the peat moss. This is an old trick taught to children for escaping spirits, but Liliwhite, in all his cunning, does not realize what he has done. The Will o’ the Wisp begins to bleed from his heart, as if it had been stabbed there.

“I am sorry,” says Liliwhite, “I am so sorry, I did not know.”

“Do not fret,” says the Wisp, “For I do not feel pain.”

And the Wisp does not feel pain, but Liliwhite does. He watches the Wisp falter and fade. At last, the torch drops, and where Will o’ the Wisp falls, nothing grows. The hunting party closes in, the dogs show the whites of their eyes.

And I heard from the moss and the stunted pines that Liliwhite took up that torch alone.