reading time: 10 minutes
Tags: Cluj Napoca fairies Hoia Baciu forest hope Love magic magic forest Romanian traditional life selflessness. serpents snakes
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In a far-flung corner of Eastern Europe, buried in northern Transylvania lies the city is Cluj Napoca, with roots going back thousands of years. West of Cluj is a forever-green haunted forest shrouded in mystery. The name of the forest is Padurea Hoia-Baciu, but some locals call it Ho-bu.
Visitors’ spake of time travel, ghosts, strange creatures, memory loss, of discovering objects such as coins from another age, which can still be seen in local museums. Some of these objects were found in the pockets of people who claim to have ventured into the forest for a walk and experienced time travel to past centuries for several hours or days. When they returned to our time, they claim their watches had stopped working or had moved and they speak of several unexplainable memories. These stories are many and one can readily search them out. Legend has it that the forest will only relinquish its magic to one willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the wellbeing of another. One story that sticks in my mind, is the disappearance of a 5yo girl who became lost in the forest. Extensive searches brought no results & she was eventually pronounced dead. Some 5 years later it is said that she emerged intact & alive, wearing the exact same clothes. Little hard evidence of this story can be found on the internet, but the rumours never fade, including the name of the girl.
And so it is that our fictional story begins with a young handsome man, called Nicolae, who decided to take a shortcut through Ho-bu forest on his way home from the wood shop where he trained as a cabinet maker. Despite having worked many years at the wood shop, he had not been into Ho-bu since early childhood when his father forbade him to do so. Now in his later years, sadly, his father was taken by the angels one dark night while out hunting for Wild Boar. A terrible accident occurred and he was found to have shot himself with his hunting rifle. No one knows if he was cleaning his gun and suffered a terrible accident, or foul play was to blame.
Nicolae missed his father greatly and often wrote letters to him that he kept in a secret box, never to be read. In the letters, he described how proud he was and how he wanted to inherit his father’s traits of bravery, manliness, kindness to others and his undying love for his mother, Florentina.
One sunny afternoon as he entered the forest, in order to arrive home more quickly so not to be late for supper, since he had worked overtime to finish some work for the local church. His mother had prepared his favourite dish, Rabbit stew, or ‘Supe de Iepure’, in Romanian. Very quickly though, things grew dark due to the rich canopy and Nicolae realised he was lost. He tried to retrace his steps but with each change of direction, he realised he was getting more and more lost.
Florentina was becoming increasingly worried about him and his uncharacteristic lateness. She sat in the upstairs window which overlooked the valley below, hoping to see Nicolae approaching. Darkness fell and Nicolae realised it was not only dangerous to keep moving by night, with no light to guide him, but also he was getting more lost. He made a sort of basic camp as best he could, in the darkness, with a bed of dried wood and leaves for a mattress, but as brave as he tried to be, he had to admit to himself he had not yet gained his father’s bravery. The night went very slowly, with many strange and mysterious noises to keep him company. He heard birds talking to each other in the blackness of the forest, something very unusual. Strange whistling noises from the wind in the trees, and deep growls from beasts he could not name.
Gradually he fell asleep exhausted just before dawn as a grey light started to penetrate Ho-bu Forest. Suddenly a fierce wind appeared, so strong that centuries-old trees seem to yield. Suddenly, instantly, it stopped and in the eerie stillness, he looked around. “Hello”, said a female voice, “this is a nice surprise”. Nicolae turned to see a young woman standing before him, of such beauty he could not speak. Never had he imagined another person could look so beautiful. He was so happy to see another human being, and one so kind and gentle. Seralina and Nicolae spoke for hours, and with each word she spoke, his heart melted more and more until he realised he was hopelessly in love. He realised he wanted to spend every moment of his life with this beautiful woman. She was tall and slender, with skin so pure, like an infant. Her eyes were a yellowish green that glinted like diamonds. And her voice seemed like it could calm rough seas. He didn’t notice the fact that she evaded every attempt he made to ask her about her background, where she came from or why she was in the magical forest.
Forgetting all about work and his responsibilities, he anxiously invited Seralina home to meet his mother, who would surely approve of her and feed them both heartily. Seralina guided them out of the forest remarkably quickly and Nicolae marvelled at how smart she was. How rugged yet gentle at the same moment. So off the went through the valley and up into the foothills, chatting all the way. Nicolae could not believe his good fortune at meeting one so beautiful. On arriving home he found his mother asleep in the chair b the window overlooking the valley. Florentina looked tired and had obviously been crying. Nicolae gently woke his mother up, excited to introduce his new beau.
When Florentina woke, she was overjoyed at her sons safe returned but scolded him strongly for his dangerous misadventure. Only after she had calmed down did she get a good look at Seralina. Instantly, she saw that the woman was not who she appeared. No greater intuition exists that a mother’s for her offspring. She knew straight away this woman was a Serpent and tried frantically to warn Nicolae.
Nicolae would hear none of it & insisted he was happy and very much in love. Seralina moved in and gradually, began to take control of things. She was mean to Florentina but Nicolae was blinded by love. Seralina made his mother cook, clean, tend the large garden, wash the clothes, and would take her plate away before Florentina had finished eating. Day by day, Florentina grew weaker and at night she would lie in bed crying, hoping for any way out of her horrible situation.
One night as she lay sobbing in her room, the fairies in the magical forest heard her cries. So the gathered a few chosen ones and flew up into the canopy, and across the land, over the village, up into the valley to Florentina’s house, entering through the bedroom window. They hovered over the bed of startled Florentina; each with four paper-thin wings flapping so fast, one could hardly see them move. “I must be dreaming! Who or what are you and what brings you to me?” said Florentina. “Hush now sweet Florentina, we have come to help you. Be still and quiet lest the evil Seralina should hear the din”. With that, the fairies picked up Florentina & carried her off the bed, out of the window, down the valley, across the lowlands and into the now dark Ho-bu forest.
Soon they arrived at a clearing called Poiana Rotunda, strangely lit by beautiful fairy lanterns. They dropped Florentina a few paces from an old Cedar tree. By the look of its trunk, it was a thousand years old or more, judging by its huge width. All the fairies from around the forest joined in the excitement. After a few short moments, the Cedar tree began to groan & twist, as though awakening from a deep sleep.
Suddenly, two big black eyes opened in the trunk and lips appeared to open. “Who dares wake me from my slumber,” said the tree, in a deep and frightening tone. “We brought you Florentina, who is suffering great sadness,” said one of the fairies. Florentina at this time was unable to speak. Paralysed by fear and surprise. “Ah, yes, Florentina, I know of your troubles and the evil Seralina’s power over your son”. “Really, you do?” said Florentina with relief. “I am so sad and I hope to die to end my misery”. “Be still, my child. You shall do no such thing. I am Ceygar, Lord of this magical Forest and all her lands around. I have the power to help you. But I cannot defeat the evil one, Seralina. She comes from a power far greater than mine, a source of pure evil that has no match”. “If only I was younger,” said Florentina, “I would fight Seralina”.
“You have given me an idea,” said Ceygar. “I can make you 60 years younger again and you will be young, beautiful and strong again as you once were”. “Really?” said Florentina. “That would be a perfect solution”. With that, Ceygar raised up so his roots were now out of the ground. He moved his great branches in a violent flurry, like a windmill spinning. “ Hoia-Baciu, Hoia Baciu, hear me now. I summon all your magic now at this place”. With that, suddenly, a huge pair of golden gates appeared close to them, glittering brightly despite the darkness.
“Walk through the gates, my child and you shall remove 60 years from your life,” said Ceygar. With that, Florentina sprang to her feet with surprising nimbleness and strode over to the gates. She put one foot across the threshold when suddenly she had second thoughts. “Wait, what will happen to my son?” said Florentina. “Well, of course, he won’t exist. You will be free to start a new life, have a family, and a husband to love you” said Ceygar. With that, Florentina stepped back, saying “I would rather live in sorrow and to know my Son Nicolae, than to have all the happiness in the world.
With that, the gates vanished in a split second. Florentine turned around to see the tree had returned to its original form, the fairies had vanished and all of the magic of Hoia-Baciu had gone with. One willing to sacrifice their own happiness for another had broken the ancient spell of the forest, and Seralina had returned to being a Serpent in that instant. Nicolae, realising for the first time what he had been unable to see, drew a large axe from the woodpile and cut the head off the Serpent, which immediately transformed into a sizzling smoke cloud before vanishing into the air.
What parallels do you draw from this? what lessons? Please comment below, and please share the story on facebook if you liked it.
This story is based on a real Forest of the same name, with plenty of mystery surrounding it, and combines some Bosnian/ Croatian folklore. I hope you enjoyed it.