ONCEupon a time, there were three girls who were the best of friends. Childish Naomi had hair of gold, determined Rachel of fire, and quiet Eve of moonless midnight. When they were young, they ran everywhere together, and found places and rhymes that they kept among themselves. As they grew, each found a husband, and each grew a family of her own, and they drifted apart. However, as they were such friends, they still spent time together, even if they did not run so quickly as they once had.
On one such sunny day, they believed they had stumbled upon a place no one else knew, for though the field was lovely and lush, they saw no sign of any human.
Naomi, on her first excursion since her child was born, laughed aloud when she found the flowers in the clearing. She grabbed Rachel first, who play-fought to keep Naomi from weaving flowers into her hair. They seemed to come in every color and size, and Naomi managed to make Rachel's hair an explosion, if not the most symmetrical of things. The new mother moved on to gentler Eve, who made her first sound of the visit--a chuckle--when Rachel said she was jealous of the eldest's flowered braid. Naomi teased, "Lovely, if you want flowers done with skill, then you must learn to sit still."
At which point Rachel dove for a lily in Eve's hair, and Rachel and Naomi fell into a laughing tumble. Eve smiled as she watched them, and even she did not notice the shadow that moved just beyond the trees.
Then, the old witch cried: "Who has been picking my flowers!" The voice sent frost across the clearing. "Who has been picking my flowers!"
Eve stood, and then Rachel and Naomi stumbled to their feet. "Please forgive us, miss; we did not know--"
The old witch's cane struck frozen ground, and the three were not allowed another word in their defense. They were flowers, each identical to any human's eye, but not, through her magic, to the witch.
"You have been picking my flowers!" she cried at one of them. "And you rolled all over them. And you..." The witch paused, with an expression no human could decipher. Out of mercy or whim, the witch made one last motion. "May spend one last night at home." She leaned over and whispered the rules of engagement. For fun or some idea of fair-mindedness, the women had a way out.
Sure enough, as the sun set, the flower disappeared and Eve rose in its place. After running for too much of the night, she arrived at her house. "Husband!" she whispered, remembering not to wake the children.
"Sweetheart, welcome home--" He pulled her by the fire and, therefore, into the light, where quiet Eve's face spoke volumes. "What happened?"
"A witch cursed us to flowers." Her husband would understand who 'us' was, so Eve wasted no syllables explaining. "I am free this night, but you must pick me. If not, we remain."
"The witch told you this?"
Eve nodded, and he held her tightly, at least as scared as she. "Rest, dear one. We will walk back together in the morning, and I shall see you transform into the newest flower."
And so they lay together, near the warmth of the fire, until sleep came. Eve's sleep was troubled, but the rest helped them both, as it helps all creatures.
Eve woke, and stood to go. "Rest, dear one. We have time for breakfast before we walk." And she ate, but lightly, for though she knew she had not eaten for a day, she knew a too full stomach made it more difficult to run than a too empty one.
Eve ate, and stood to go. "Rest, dear one. We will be swift." And she rested more, for no reason but her fear.
Soon the two ran across the countryside, for there was not enough time, each had fooled themselves into a few more moments together, and it was the downfall of the plan. Even as they approached the clearing, Eve disappeared, and only the wind over the grass even showed him where the three flowers were.
He had hoped to find some difference: a lock of black hair, or one ducking in the wind, but there was not such hint. Each could have been the same plant in three places. He looked closely, desperately...
He picked the flower that was his wife, and each woman stood free.
Now, how did he know which flower was she?
(This was her dear husband's clue: Eve, who had stayed inside, lacked dew.)
Erstwhile's version introduced me to the tale.