Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Old Woman and The Fire

                          The Old Woman and the Fire
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

A very long time ago, when everyone spoke the same language and the rocks, trees and animals spoke as clearly as any human, an old woman left the place where she’d been born. She’d been widowed for many years and her children were grown and far away. During a war, foreign soldiers ravaged her farm and left no food for her to eat. Her neighbors had their own struggles and could not help.
The woman pulled on her worn boots, cut a walking stick from an alder tree in the front yard, glanced at the house where she had raised her family and began to walk. She was heavy with sorrow, sad to leave her home and worried how she would fend for herself.  Her sorrow and worries weighed upon her like a heavy sack of potatoes.
She soon came to a rushing river. It was clear and sparkled in the morning light. The old woman sat by the river to rest and had an idea. “River, river, will you take my sorrow and my worries? They are too much for me to carry, but you are strong and flow swiftly. Surely you can take them away.”
“No,” replied the river.  “Do not leave them with me. They are heavy and will sink like a stone and be mine forever. I cannot take them.”
 The woman walked on, observing everything around her. A gentle breeze kissed her face and cooled her. “Wind,” the old woman said.  “You are so kind to refresh me. Will you take my worries?  Blow away my sorrow?  I am old and growing tired of carrying them.”
The wind huffed and huffed. “No, I cannot,” it replied. They are heavy and will not move no matter how hard I blow.”
Once again, the old woman travelled on. She was weary and hungry. Her worries grew as she walked and her back ached under the terrible weight of her sorrow. On a rocky path over a mountain, the woman asked, “Earth beneath my feet, may I give you my worries? May I bury my sorrow in you?”
A deep voice replied. “If you bury them, they will live in me forever. I do not want them. I cannot.”
That night the woman sat alone at the edge of a great forest. She built a small fire, boiled water for tea and roasted a small potato. The fire warmed her and she looked into the flames. “Fire, will you take my worries and my sorrow?”
The flames crackled as the fire answered. “Yes, give them to me and I will change them into something else. I will turn your worries into ash, lighter than feathers and the wind will whisk them away. I will shine light through your tears and make rainbows. I will burn away what has no use and leave pure gold. I will take your burdens and transform them.”
 The woman understood and looked through her small rucksack for things to feed the fire. A small pebble from her village.  Living there was behind her, she had no need for it. An old dress she’d worn during hard times. Her empty coin purse.  A sad letter from her daughter.  To say thank you, she added a pinch of lavender from the garden she’d left behind. Smoke rose and she danced in it, singing for the first time in many years. 
A much younger woman awakened in the morning, refreshed and bright, excitement for new adventures burning in her heart.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author. 
Published August 12, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Orissa, Queen of the Forest

                                Orissa, Queen of the Forest
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

A young girl named Orissa lived at the edge of a great forest with her mother and father. She was eleven, with braids long enough to neatly wrap around her head. In the spring and summer, her mother wove flowers Orissa picked in the meadow into her braids. Daisies and honeysuckle, red  poppies and Queen Anne’s lace crowned Orissa. She loved wearing flowers in her hair.
            One morning, Orissa’s mother gave her a metal pail and asked her to go into the forest to gather berries. Orissa skipped down a dirt path into the forest singing,
                  Raspberries, blackberries, ripe and sweet,
                 Tonight we’ll have pie to eat!
As much as Orissa liked flowers, she liked her mother’s berry pie even more.
Orissa slowed when she entered the forest. She admired the mottled white bark on the birch trees and took a deep breath to smell the clean scent of pine. She listened to the cuckoo’s call and the shill cry of a hawk. Warm sun filtered through the leaves and made lacy patterns on the forest floor. Orissa sat in the velvety moss underneath the trees to rest and listen to the birds for just a moment. Soon she fell asleep.
 Orissa woke with a start and found a bright blue eye staring into hers.  A tall woman wrapped in a blue cape lifted her to her feet. “At last! The Queen of the Forest!” The woman pointed to Orissa’s flower crown.
Orissa shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m a little girl.”
“Ha!  You can’t fool me,” said the woman “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. You’re the Queen of the Forest.” The woman smiled slyly. “Now that I’ve caught you, give me all the gold you’ve hidden.”
Orissa frowned. “Only leprechauns hide gold.” Orissa looked at her empty pail and how high the sun was in the sky. She was anxious to pick berries or there would be no pie after supper.
            “Wait, maybe I have my creatures mixed up,” the woman said. She scratched her head. “Pearls. I want all your pearls!”
Orissa rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure, but I think mermaids have those.”
“How about diamonds? Rubies?”
“Where would I find those around here?” Orissa said.  “This is the forest!”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and she looked at Orissa’s empty pail.  “Oh, you’re a clever one, trying to trick me. What’s the pail for?”
            The woman laughed. “Magic berries! That’s why you look so young. Why I bet you’re over a hundred years old and you don’t look a day over ten.”
            “I’m eleven,” Orissa said.
             The woman cackled. “And I’m only twenty-one. Ha! I can’t wait to eat some of those magic berries. ”
            Orissa shrugged. “If you help me fill my pail,” she said, “I’ll show you where the berry patch is. You can have as many as you can eat today.”
            “I understand,” said the woman. “They’re only magic when the moon in full. Tomorrow they won’t be magic anymore.”
            “No,” said Orissa. “I leave enough berries for the birds and the bears. They enjoy them, too and people shouldn’t be greedy and take more than they can use.”
            “Right,” said the woman. “You’re the Queen of the Forest. I should have expected you’d say that.”
            The woman quickly helped Orissa fill her bucket with sweet ripe berries and Orissa sang her way home. A pie was soon baking in the oven.
            The woman stayed in the berry patch and gobbled berries until her fingers and lips were stained and her stomach was full. Since she expected the berries would make her younger, she was careful not to eat so many that she turned back into a baby. She thought being eighteen or nineteen again might be nice and that’s what she hoped for.
When she looked in the mirror the next morning, she wasn’t even one day younger.  For the rest of her days, she told anyone who would listen how the Queen of the Forest tricked her.
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Copyright 2017  by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 8, 2017, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).