I lost my heart on the way to the war.
When I say I lost it, I mean the day before the Legion came marching through my village, I went to the witch woman in the forest and asked her to take it out. My true love the turnip farmer was going to be called away, and I wasn't interested in feeling the consequences.
I will be Koschei, I vowed, but it will be my heart, and not my life, bounded in an egg.
She said no at first. "Usually," she said wryly, "Usually, it's a girl in here asking for another heart. Not to lose one." She took my pulse, "Acceptable", fed me tea, "let's talk, dear", and patiently put me off "not tonight, my old joints are stiff", and finally took the silver I'd stolen from my dowry, spit on it three times, and explained how it would be.
"You must go from here," she said. "You can't turn back. It won't be pretty. Either one hundred years of salt, or you'll see his face and it's straight off to the front lines with you." She spit on the coins for the third time, said, "Your turnip farmer isn't worth this, dearie."
"He's worth everything," I said, and she said "alright, then", and had me lay down on her kitchen table, with my hair in the flour from that morning's loaf of bread, and a swallow of whiskey burning in my throat.
I can still remember the way my heart shone, flickering and week from the cavern of my chest, and her dry commentary "young love is so fleeting. so callow. Really, dearie, he wasn't worth it." But it was red and full of youth, and I remember how much her knife shone as she cut it out from under my ribs like a particular gristle-filled chunk of meat and tossed it into the slop bucket for her pigs.
After that, I had no fear, no love, no qualms. I got off the table, and took the tablecloth with me. It was cold, I remember, as I bound my chest, and I cut down a long pole, and with my heart on my flag, I waited at the crossroads for the Legion with my turnip farmer and the pig keeper and the village scribe and five others, armored and girded with weapons taken from the mantle of the witch woman's house.
Five years later, I came home, my blood-stained banner long gone and burned. And I have seen so much death, and so many far lands, and my turnip-farmer died in a rush of arrows over a fog-filled field far from here. I do not turn to salt, but as I pass the witch woman's hut, smoke curls from the chimney.
The pig that waits for me at her gate has deep, sad, eyes, and the yard smells like fresh bread, and my heart is gone. But when I knock on her door, the same door from so many years ago, something in my heart aches.
She welcomes me in, and she feeds me whiskey in my tea. "Was it worth it, dearie?" she asks, and her eyes are deep and old and green.
And I think about it, and I say "It was worth everything."