Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Fairy Wings and Donkey Carts

(30 July 2006)

He wandered into the village on a rest day.  Everyone was about their household chores, getting ready for the big family dinner that evening.  No one was working the fields.  He made his way into the village unseen.  A little boy found him resting his feet by the village well, his donkey and his cart beside him, and the little boy reported to his mother that there was a sayer in town.

News of the sayer spread fast, and soon the small courtyard around the well was full of people, all asking the sayer for their favorite story.  He smiled at them but kept silent.  He just nodded in a friendly way and continued drinking his fill from their well.

Finally people started to mutter about whether or not he really was a sayer.  It seemed he had to be, though - he had the look of all seven worlds about him, a man whose origin you could not quite place.  And his eyes had a faraway look, of a man who spent too much time gazing inward.  He had no trinkets to sell - he was no trader.  No, for sure, they agreed, he must be a sayer.  Sayers were notorious, after all, for having poor social graces.

The man in the wellyard was silent for a long time, until a little girl had joined the crowd and made her way up to the front.  She was very quiet, unlike the other boys and girls who squawked and shouted at the sayer, and she gave him a most peculiar look, as though torn between uncertainty and insatiable curiosity.

Finally she walked up to the sayer and pressed a coin into his palm and said, in a somewhat shaky voice, "tell me a story please."

And he did.  He told them the story of the fairy princess who fell in love with the fish king and traded her wings for gills and fins so that she could join him in his watery kingdom.  But she had made a deal with a treacherous witch, and when her first daughter was born, the witch claimed her as the price of their bargain.  When the fairy princess refused, the witch said she would take her gills and fins instead, and the princess drowned.  Her daughter was saved, however, and grew up to be quite lovely, and to fall in love with a human prince (but that's another story).

When the sayer had finished, everyone clapped and began asking for more stories, pulling coins from their pockets and pouches.  The sayer told many more stories that afternoon, but the little girl sat and stared off into the distance, seeming not to hear him.  Finally, it was time to finish the dinner preparations and the townsfolk reluctantly moved away.  As they left the sayer, the people joked with each other about his ludicrous tales, his unimaginative story-telling technique, and his lack of timing and dramatic tension.  The same people who moments before had been in his thrall, now ridiculed everything from his feeble plot devices to his unfashionable hairstyle.

Only the little girl remained.  The sayer fed his donkey and was packing up his drinking cup and his earnings, when the little girl said: "The princess should never have given up her wings.  She made a terrible mistake."  

"But it all turned out alright in the end," said the sayer.

The little girl shook her head.  "She left her home, her family - everything she knew. And then, just when she had found happiness, she lost it all."

"Hm," replied the sayer.  "I disagree.  She gambled, sure, but she achieved her heart's greatest desires."

"She died alone.  No one tried to save her," said the little girl.

"Everyone dies alone," replied the sayer.  "Some journeys must be made alone."

And with that, the sayer and his donkey left.

The next morning, no one could find the little girl.  She had taken very few possessions with her - just enough to survive to the next village.  

But one donkey and one cart were missing.


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