Let me preface this post by saying, I adore a good folktale. From the timeless Aesop’s Fables to the sinister Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to stories passed on in countries around the world, I’ve always been fascinated by their style and their structure. There’s something both lovely and intrinsic about how beneath a simple, seemingly straightforward tale lies wisdom and knowledge that we can still learn from today.
That, and they had no problem plucking out people’s eyes, carving out hearts, drowning people…Basically driving the hard lesson home with a slight, necessary touch of grotesque truth.
But I digress.
I wanted to try my hand at writing a folktale. Just as the scribes of olde probably had their own trouble expressing themselves, I think a folktale will fit my needs perfectly. Enjoy!
The Girl and the Goddesses
Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a great and prosperous kingdom. The girl was not wealthy, but she was comfortable and made her living on her small farm selling goats’ milk and making medicine.
Now, the girl’s kingdom was so huge, it was divided into four quadrants and ruled by four monarchs. The monarchs were revered and renowned for their exceptional beauty, grace, charm, and militant prowess. In fact, they were so revered that their citizens and enemies alike had determined that they must be goddesses.
Of course, no one revered the goddesses more than the medicine girl. It was their decree only a year ago that had allowed her, an unmarried girl living alone with no dowry, to sell her medicines respectfully.
One day, while gathering herbs and roots for her daily medicine making, the girl accidentally ran into the goddesses’ caravan as they returned from an extended campaign.
The captain of the caravan pushed the girl aside rudely. As she staggered back, she noticed the caravan driver’s son, who was sitting beside his father, coughing fitfully. So, too, were several of the guards who rode behind him. The girl knew of the illness they were displaying; it was highly contagious and, were it allowed to take its course, the entire procession would be dead by morning.
Bravely, the girl called to the caravan driver and asked that she may treat his son, noting his symptoms as she ran to keep up. The captain left his post to kick the girl away again, but the girl stayed nimble and persistent.
This disruption passed like a wave through the procession until at its depth, the goddesses overheard of the captain shirking his duties to play with some “shrill little toy.” The goddesses climbed out of their carriage and traveled the length of their train on foot, until they overheard the girl’s cries that she could save them.
“Save us from what?” The North Goddess said. She was as calm and as chill as a winter breeze, but she moved as smoothly as water.
The girl turned and was immediately awed. She fell to her knees and prostrated herself before the four monarchs. “Oh, great Goddess! Forgive me for disturbing your travels.”
“Oh, stop that,” said the South Goddess. She was grounded, like her Northern counterpart, but could appear cool like a crisp autumn afternoon. “What were you saying about saving us?”
The girl lifted her head. “That is, my ladies, I have seen that some of your companions are sick. I know this illness well, and I would like to provide the treatment, that you may all live on peacefully.”
The East Goddess clapped her hands. She was bright and pleasant as springtime, but she could be a bit flighty. “How strangely she talks, but how sweet! So what’s the problem? Give them the cure.”
Once more the girl lowered her face to the ground. “I cannot. That is, your captain has forbidden me to administer the dosage.”
The West Goddess glared so hard at the captain, he flinched. The heat in her eyes, usually bestowing summer warmth, bespoke of her fiery temper when her patience was low. “I understand your concern, captain, but shouldn’t we test her theory if it is right? After all, you don’t want to be the reason we all die.”
“I mean–that is, of course not, your grace,” stammered the captain. “But who should test it to be sure it isn’t poison?”
The girl did not hesitate. “I will test it, of course,” she cried, and immediate ate a double dose of the medicine. The goddesses, the captain, and the caravan driver all watched her nervously. Minutes passed, then an hour.
Finally, bored out of her mind, the East Goddess exclaimed, “Well, if she was to die, I think she would at least be twitching now. Let us distribute the medicine.”
The captain could refuse no longer, and the girl tended to the caravan driver’s son at once. Within half an hour, his coughing fit subsided, and his eyes had cleared. All others who were inflicted also quickly recovered.
Once it had been confirmed that all of the afflicted were well away from death’s clutches, the caravan made camp for the night. The goddesses summoned the girl after she had made her final round to her patients. “We wish to thank you for your help, dear girl,” said the South Goddess. “Without you, many innocents would have died.”
The girl was still quite nervous around the goddesses, but she did her best to hide it. “It was my pleasure, my ladies. It is the least I can do to repay my gratitude.”
“Gratitude?” the South Goddess asked.
“For the decree that you passed last year.” The goddesses stared at her blankly, and the girl straightened up.
Since the decree was announced in her town last year, the girl had dreamt of a magical, near-impossible day when she could tell the goddesses herself just how grateful she was for the freedom and allowance she had received. The scorn and disgust in her fellow villagers’ eyes as she had attempted to give credence to her trade had made business-building tough. Without a father, brother, or husband to vouch for her, she had been nothing more than a foolish waif daring to ignore the system.
“The one about allowing unmarried women to lead their own businesses. It has given me much regard in my town now. Women everywhere in the kingdom, whether married or no, with children or no, can create their own destinies with the talents of their hands and the brilliance of their minds!”
“Really? That was a thing?” said the North Goddess.
“Which one of us was in charge of business license decree approvals last year?” asked the South Goddess. North and West Goddess pointed to East Goddess.
The East Goddess shrugged. “I guess I approved it. Oh, I had to sign so many things last year. I didn’t feel like going through each of them, so I just signed them all. I guess that decree was one of them.”
The West Goddess laughed long and loud. “Well, wasn’t that lucky for us? Looks like we saved our own lives.”
The goddesses began to tease East Goddess mercilessly and talk so happily among themselves; they completely forgot that the girl was present. After a minute or two, she bowed to the goddesses and retired through the shadows of the forest to her own humble house not too far away.
She had missed a full day’s work tending to the goddesses’ caravan and had not even received payment for her services. Still, that was a small price to pay knowing the goddesses were alive and well. In her small way, maybe the girl had helped keep the kingdom in balance. If any of the goddesses had even become partially ill, the entire country would fall into chaos.
The goddesses were as marvelous and as radiant as she had always expected them to be. To know that she’d spoken to them–in real life, not in a dream!–made her shiver and shake with the revelation of it all. And how approachable! They’d seemed to have no trouble addressing and engaging her. For a blink, an observer might have seen them all as casual acquaintances. At least, they would have if she was wearing a wealthier cut of clothing.
It didn’t matter that they hadn’t even know that they’d signed the business decree. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t realized the impact of such a simple action. It simply mattered that they did it. For it is less important as to the purpose of the action, than it is that the action has been fulfilled to complete satisfaction.