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Ley Lines Finalist: “The Apple Thief” by Maggie Hoyt

Ley Lines Finalist: “The Apple Thief” by Maggie Hoyt


The eastern Margreve was desolate, an endless waste of sparse trees. Finna crunched through falling autumn leaves, her footsteps echoing against the silent, lifeless backdrop.

Her hunger hadn’t been so bad yesterday, for she had gorged herself on candied apples at the festival the night before. Finna loved apples. Every autumn after harvest time she would run to the orchards and choose a few of the bruised apples left on the ground. Never pick an apple off a tree, her father had told her, because that belongs to someone. The candied apples had tasted even sweeter this year because they were especially for her.

The harvest festival was for remembrance, her mother said. Centuries ago, a terrible sickness had rolled out of the Margreve into the tiny village of Lundar, nestled against the forest on the Rothenian Plain. Only one young maiden was brave enough to seek aid from the forest itself. Within a few days, a thrush descended into the town square and spoke with the voice of the maiden.

“Take heart, people of Lundar, for the Margreve has taught me a few of its secrets. In return for your lives, because no one but I would venture into the forest, every ten years on this day, you will choose a daughter of the village to repeat my journey, and I, Kerdwin, will teach her the wisdom of the forest.”

The next morning, a bubbling cauldron appeared in the square, and one bite of an apple dipped into the miraculous liquid eliminated the disease from even the weakest of villagers. They had been protected ever since because they remembered Kerdwin: every ten years, the village elders chose one young woman of at least sixteen years as the harvest maiden. None were ever seen again.

When Finna was eight years old, she realized that she would be sixteen when the next harvest maiden was chosen. She imagined the moment of entering the Margreve: Kerdwin, preserved magnificently by Porevit and Yarila, would extend her hand, ready to teach the wisdom of the forest. That meant magic, like how to brew the healing draught in the story.

With her stomach gurgling, however, Finna could hardly think of mysteries. Like Kerdwin, Finna could take no supplies. It had been a full day now, and Kerdwin still had not come for her, and the Margreve was rejecting her. She needed water so badly. Finna huddled miserably at the base of a tree. What if Kerdwin only found you when you died?

Something brushed against Finna’s leg, and she shrieked and sprang away from the tree. She looked down into the beady stare of a small fox.

“I don’t have any food, puppy-fox,” she said. He trotted forward and patted her with his paw. “I wish I did. Maybe you could help me?” Finna’s throat cracked as she tried to swallow.

If the fox had an answer, he had no chance to give it. Finna heard leaves rustling behind her and she held her breath, knowing she probably couldn’t escape. What stepped into view was not a predator, however, but the crooked form of a crone leaning heavily on her gnarled staff.

“Has it been ten years already?”

Finna leapt to her feet, her heart pounding and her voice trembling. “Noble Kerdwin, I’ve been looking for you!”

“Truly, that has been your goal?” The old woman fixed her piercing blue eyes, one larger than the other, on Finna.

“Today I’ve been looking for food,” Finna admitted. “Yesterday I searched all day for you.”

“I am not your witch, child. You aren’t looking for me at all.”

Finna’s disappointment hung heavily in the air. “My elders said Kerdwin would teach me the wisdom of the forest.”

“You’ll starve first. Come on. The Margreve is no place for children.” She beckoned Finna to follow, but Finna was not ready.

“But I must find Kerdwin! It is my duty to my people! I will not be the only maiden who fails!”

“No. You won’t. Each time your village sends a helpless young woman into this inhospitable dream world, I guide them safely out. The last is living quietly with the Magdar. Now it’s your turn.”

“You’re lying!” Finna cried, her eyes brimming with tears.

“You are being rude,” the old crone said sharply, then softened her tone. “Consider how frightened you’ve been. Is this child’s story of yours worth your life? Come with me.”

Finna listened to her stomach growl. If she left, she could have food. Then she pictured Kerdwin extending a hand toward her.

“Is there truly no chance I will meet Kerdwin? None at all?”

The old woman was silent.

“Then I will not waste my chance,” Finna said, jaw set.

“Listen to me, child!” the crone hissed, pointing a shaking finger at Finna’s heart. “You’re not ready for the forest’s secrets! You care only for filling your stomach. This forest will eat you!”

Finna prepared to argue, but stopped as the fox stepped in front of her.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” the old woman said. “Are you certain?”

The fox bowed his head.

“Be it on your conscience,” the crone replied. She raised her cane and pointed directly behind Finna.

“You will find what you seek there. But beware. The Margreve does not take kindly to thieves.”

Finna’s eyes followed the woman’s cane. She turned back, her mouth filling with questions, but the old woman was gone.

“She does not know me,” she said to the fox. “I’m not a child. I will learn everything there is.”

Finna marched into the woods, past gnarled trees whose branches clawed and grasped at her if she strayed too far from the center of the narrow path. Suddenly, something red caught her eye. She broke into a run, anticipation overwhelming her.

She stopped, panting, at the edge of a clearing. A simmering cauldron, its owner nowhere in sight, sat tucked near the back, but it held little interest for Finna, for the floor of the clearing was littered with apples.

“Look!” she cried as she knelt to examine her bounty. “They’re a little bruised, but they’re still perfectly good.”

Finna picked up two apples and offered one to the fox.

“You have followed me a long way, little fox. May I call you Pikko? Here, an apple for each of us.”

The fox considered the offering but instead tipped his head toward the rear of the grove. Hanging out over the cauldron, one apple was still attached to its branch, bold red and perfectly shaped.

Finna lowered her hands. “But that is still on the tree,” she said softly. “It belongs to someone. Picking an apple from someone’s tree is stealing.” The more she looked at the apple on the branch, however, the less appetizing the ones in her hands appeared. She frowned. Then a realization hit her.

“This must be Kerdwin’s orchard! Apples don’t grow in forests, but Kerdwin would want them. The old crone really was Kerdwin, but she was testing me! This is my chance, Pikko, to prove I’m not like the others. I don’t only care about filling my stomach, I want the wisdom of the forest!” Finna dropped the blemished apples and stared at the apple on the branch.

“I’ve never been a thief. But I want the very best.”

Finna walked cautiously up to the cauldron and reached a trembling hand toward the apple. The forest does not take kindly to thieves, she recalled, her hand hesitating.

Is a story worth my life? I will be a thief, but I will have my dream. Knowledge I will have forever, food I will only have today.


As soon as Finna plucked the apple, her senses shifted. Colors intensified, but the air felt clogged and her movements slowed. Pikko yapped, and slowly Finna spun around. Hobbling down the path was the old crone.

After only a few steps, the old woman threw her staff away and began a loping stride. Her wrinkles vanished and her muscles strengthened, and in a blinding flash her tangled white hair became a thick golden mass. Her jaw opened wide, revealing a row of pointed teeth ready to bite into Finna’s flesh.

“You need to run,” said a voice in her head. Pikko sat at her feet, staring intently into her eyes.

“I can’t outrun her,” Finna said. “I’m just a girl. She knows everything.”

“She is old, with much knowledge, but you are young, with many dreams.”

“If I were a hare, I think I could run fast enough,” Finna said.

“There you are. Now ready. Set. Go.”

Finna pictured a speedy hare, and as her thoughts raced, reality altered to match them. She bent forward. Her hands became paws as they touched the ground, and her back legs were ready to spring. The trees parted before her, and she and Pikko raced ahead.

Dreams are the secrets of the forest, she thought. Then she spared a glance back and saw not the witch but a lean, hungry wolf galloping toward her.

“She will eat me, Pikko!” Finna cried. “If I were stronger, I could fight her.”

Pikko yapped a warning, but Finna wasn’t listening. She had dreamt of strength often. Like the bears that father hunts, she thought. She turned and stared down the grinning wolf.

Every part of Finna grew as her snarl echoed through the trees. She reared onto her hind legs, baring her teeth. Any real wolf would have stopped running, but the witch only smiled wider and grew as tall as the trees.

“Help me, Pikko!” she said, realizing her foolishness.

“You must fly!”

“If I were a bird, I could fly.” Finna gazed at the sky and stretched, shedding her thick fur for the soft wings of a thrush. Now she could escape, Finna thought, and she would take the forest’s secret with her.

Screeching filled the air, and when she dared look back, she saw a falcon swooping toward her, talons extended.

“Now what do I do, Pikko?” she asked, but she could not hear Pikko’s quiet voice amidst the falcon’s shrieks. I can’t outrun her, Finna thought, and I certainly can’t fight her. I’m just a little girl.

Little… If only I were back at the clearing, she thought, and below her the trees rearranged themselves, revealing the cauldron and Kerdwin’s apples. If I were tiny, a small apple seed, she would never find me.

As Finna began to shrink, she curled into a ball, wrapping her arms around her legs. She closed her eyes and floated downward on her back. Suddenly, the falcon screeched again and Finna’s eyes opened wide. She watched as the falcon’s face returned to that of the young Kerdwin, golden hair covering the sun and her fierce blue eyes piercing Finna’s focus.

Finna screamed. Her concentration lost, she returned to her normal shape, hands clutching the apple. She plummeted into the clearing, the witch’s talons drawing ever nearer. Just as she expected to feel those sharp claws rake her flesh, Finna blinked—and found herself lying on her back in the clearing as the old woman took the apple from her hands.

Tears filled Finna’s eyes. She had lost. She had tasted the power of the Margreve, caught a glimpse of the world’s mysteries, and she had failed the test.

Finna sat up and watched as the crone hobbled to the cauldron. Pikko yapped at Finna’s side.

“Yes, yes. You were right. I’m human enough to admit when I’m wrong. Ha. Come here, child.”

Finna hurried to her feet. “Kerdwin,” she began, but the witch waved her speech away.

“What is it you expect me to teach you, girl?”


Kerdwin grinned as she dipped the apple into the bubbling liquid and pulled it out. Scalding drops fell back into the mixture. One, two, three… Kerdwin turned toward Finna, offering the apple to the girl.

Finna held out her hand. It did not tremble.

17 thoughts on “Ley Lines Finalist: “The Apple Thief” by Maggie Hoyt”

  1. Very “fairy tale” indeed. Although what exactly was Kerdwin’s motivation for requiring new girls to enter the forest? Was it just to punish the rest of the village for not following in her footsteps? And what happens to the harvest girls in the 10 years between… kind of concerning that Finna didn’t run across any of them!

  2. Great story! Kind of like Snow White meets Paradise Lost. I really loved the sensory imagery, and it is well-written. However I’m a little confused as to the fox’s role in all this; what relation was he to Kerdwin? Was he a friend? Or did he just know her because he lived in the forest? And what ties does he have to Finna? What compelled him to stay with her when he met her in the forest?

  3. I love the fairy tale feeling. It captures for me how I felt about the Margreve when I first read and ran adventures from Tales of the Old Margreve. I really appreciate how the magic is handled; it doesn’t read like someone’s gaming journal, which I get a little tired of. It has characters I can care about, and I want to know what will happen next. Great job!

  4. I really enjoyed this story. I read it yesterday and keep thinking about it. I appreciate the way Maggie Hoyt introduced the personality of Finna through the plot development. In some stories I’ve read it takes forever to figure out the personality of the people. But as this story progressed I learned a little bit more about who Finna was and why she would make the choices she did. The story moved along quickly and kept my interest. A great story!

  5. Tarlan The Bearded Bard

    That’s a little disheartening when considering both fairness and originality.

    One of the conditions of the contest clearly states:

    “…The entry must be your own work, which is not being considered for publication by any other publisher, and is original and does not infringe upon any copyrighted material.”

    Watering it down for the purposes of this contest serves to make it not only unoriginal, but also infringing on the original material, even if it was the same author’s work. The fact also remains that it has been published elsewhere.

    I hope the judges will factor that into their consideration. It’s a shame because I originally thought the piece was quite creative.

    “Is a story worth my life? I will be a thief, but I will have my dream”. I find these words to be rather fitting.

  6. I don’t understand how this is unoriginal. It’s her own story. How could she be infringing on her how copyrights? Is she plagiarizing her own work? I think you maybe need to go back and rethink your argument. It really is thoughtless comments like these that ruin discussions that could be beneficial to the writer. There’s good criticism and then there’s criticism that wasn’t actually thought out well and that doesn’t help anyone.

  7. Yes , logato, plagiarizing your previous work is called self-plagiarism. The fact that the story was published elsewhere is in direct violation of the contest terms. While I do agree that the work is original, in that the writer created it, we can still offer her valid criticism that can help her. That being that perhaps it is not the best idea to reuse previous work for multiple writing contests. It lacks originality on the part of the author being able to come up another good story. She has great writing potential, but at this point she appears to be a one-trick pony.

    Oh and telling someone to go back and rethink their argument is thoughtless in itself, especially when that person was simply pointing out what the root of the problem was.

  8. I do really enjoy reading all of these stories and I have been active in the past 5 years in reading and voting for various short stories on the web. While I admit that I was somewhat taken aback by the re-use of this story I still believe that it merits attention and I plan to vote for it. I have always made it a point to view the comments that people post in order to get different perspectives and I have found many of them helpful and insightful. Some however I found to be unnecessary.

    Some commenters seem to have an axe to grind against the author. Of course I have no idea why, however it seems unnecessary to be a “rules lawyer” when all one is asked to do is vote based on the content. Let the administrators of the contest deem whether her story should be taken into consideration.

    And yes logato, self-plagiarism is a thing, however odd that may seem. A simple example would be if you had written an essay for a teacher and then recycled that same essay and turned it in to another teacher in another class. I don’t know if that makes sense but I hope that example explains it a little better.

    And dres there’s no need to join in on what we lovingly refer to as “comment bashing.” If logato wants to put him or herself in that level then that’s fine. Just don’t go following him or her because it does take away from people like me who look to the comments for help in voting.

  9. In a contest meant to highlight Kobold’s Midgard setting, this author felt it appropriate to take something written for Golarion and just swap the names. That implies that there is simply not enough about Midgard that is unique enough to merit original work; that I may as well just stick with Golarion.

    Not only is it a breach of the rules, it’s offensive to Kobold Games. “Midgard: You may as well be in Golarion still.”

  10. killm1587 – it’s very hypocritical for you to tell Dres not to comment bash and then do the very same thing to him. He was simply explaining the above criticism so that people may understand why the submission is unfair to the other authors (especially when they followed the rules). It’s tough to think up an original submission, and I understand the temptation to submit an already reviewed piece – but this doesn’t excuse the fact that it violates the contest rules. Anyone could have submitted an old story that they’ve worked on for another setting, but they didn’t. Rules are important. They stop people from cheating. Nobody likes the be cheated. I’m sure you can summon the feelings of being cheated at some point in your life – it doesn’t feel good. People point out cheaters in the comment section so that people (who’s votes matter!) won’t be misguided to vote for the wrong person. Content has little to do with it when the matter is cheating vs. not cheating. Furthermore, I don’t appreciate you telling people what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Who do you think you are that you ought to be telling people how they may behave? And lastly, the fact that she cheated should be mentioned in the comment section for readers because it should be a deciding factor for the people looking to the comment section for ideas on who they should vote for. Nobody, and I repeat NOBODY, likes a cheater.

  11. Ok, folks, I’m stepping in just to say that the original notice that this was previously-submitted work has been noted by the judges, and that should pretty much be an end to it.

    This is the first even mildly rancorous thread I can remember in a long time (probably since the great Simulation/Traditionalist debate that Neal Hebert kicked off). The voters will decide a winner, and that should be an end to it. If Apple Thief does get the votes, the judges will deal with the fallout then.

    However, arguing over submissions and qualifications doesn’t endear the process to anyone. My thanks for the original notice on this; time to move on.

  12. Wolfgang, I do appreciate you stepping in and I respect that.

    That being said, Killm1587, i do not see where you are coming from. I did not comment bash in any regard. I simply enlightened someone that self-plagiarism exists, and what the previous person was getting at. I then explained how their comment was inappropriate, in a similar fashion you did to me. Not once did I say they shouldn’t comment bash, as it is their right to do so. Even if I had followed them it would be my choice, and should not distract those from generating their own opinion of any story on here. To be honest, even with the negative comments on here, as I had mentioned before, I still think it was a well written piece. I’m leaving at that. I felt a clarification on my part was in order, as I do not see I any of what I said was comment bashing.

  13. Tarlan the Bearded Bard

    Just for the record I had no intention of being a “rules lawyer”, but rather to clearly indicate the contest rules in the interest of an informed decision being made prior to casting a vote.

    Thanks Wolfgang for stepping in and clarifying.

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