A Feather, a Bone, and some Tears

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In the mountains where the rocks are purple, in a valley where the grass is green all year round, in a village by the lake that reflects the blue of the sky, there lived a healer of deft hands. The only thing she was famous for more than her medicine was her daughter, who was as beautiful as the white moon above.

Everybody admired her and even the rich families’ sons came from far away to look at her and hope to be her friends and lovers. Their hopes, however, were in vain, for the healer would not give her daughter away for any prize or riches and wished to keep her by her side as long as she lived.

“Her golden hair is more precious to me than any gold in the world,” she said, “and her lovely voice delights me beyond compare.”

Little did the healer know that every night, while the girl slept, there came a winged one to her window, and he watched over her until the sun would rise pink in the morning. And although the daughter could feel his gaze, she was unable to wake up, but her heart grew fond of him, with his wings of silver and his skin of clouds.

One day, therefore, when her father prepared to leave in order to get herbs for his wife to make her potions, and asked his daughter what gift she wished for, the girl replied, “Dear father, please bring to me a feather of the altair,” for it is said that these have powers to bring whatever one desires most.

Her father easily found the herbs, but spent many days in search of the feather his daughter had asked for. Finally, he returned home and told her, “Dear daughter, on the top of a rocky hill there is a sanctuary made of black marble and inside it lives an old and venerated hermit. He is the only one who can find you the feather you desire, but says the only way to catch it is with the net of your hair.”

“Is that all?” the daughter replied and she took the scissors and cut her golden hair, so as to make the net that was requested, although her mother cried bitterly the entire time.

Soon enough, her father came back with the feather, but he did not return the net, and what else the hermit might have caught with it, neither he said nor the girl asked, so thrilled she was with her gift.

That night she closed herself in her room, and waved the feather three times to the right, so that the winged one she named appeared before her. And because he had looked over her for such a long time, he had also come to love her and they spent many happy hours together, that night and many more thereafter.

When the sun rose pink, and her mother woke up, the girl would wave her feather three times to the left, and the winged one would be gone to his celestial home, so that not a trace was left of him, though by the shine in her daughter’s eyes, the healer suspected there was something awry.

As her father prepared to go away again, to find some salts for his wife to make the healing baths with, he asked the girl what it was she wished for, and this time she replied, “Dear father, please bring to me a bone of the altair,” for it is said that the one who puts it in their mouth may understand the languages of all creatures.

The salts were easily brought back, but to the girl, the father said, “The hermit from the black marble house on the steep hill is the only one who has such a bone as you named. But, my dear child, he says you will only be able to use it if you take your own tongue from your mouth and send this to him as payment for the bone.”

“That is but a little thing,” the girl said and took a knife and cut her own tongue from out of her mouth. She gave it to her father to bargain with the hermit, and stopped her hears so she would not hear her mother scream and curse.

When her father brought back the bone, she happily put it in her mouth, and could understand what any man, beast or bird said, and was finally able to enjoy the sweet words of her lover, which he whispered into her ear for as long as the night lasted and he stayed with her. And by her smile in the morning, when the sun had risen, her mother knew the girl’s heart had been stolen, but could not guess by whom, and she was consumed with wrath.

Finally, one day, her father needed to travel in order to bring for his wife water from the high and clear springs in the mountains, and again he asked his daughter what she wished for. This time the girl wrote, since she could not speak, “Dear father, please bring me the tears of the altair,” for with these one could remove oneself wherever they wanted, be it near or far.

Returning with the spring waters for his wife, the devoted father wept with tears of his own. “Now the hermit asks,” he told his daughter, “that you should buy the tears with your own blood, a thousand drops for each one, for he is the only one who has any of these.”

The girl just smiled, and took a long needle to collect her blood into a bottle for the hermit, until she was as white as the moon they used to compare her to.

This time, however, her mother did not utter a sound either, for she knew her daughter was planning to leave her, and was rendered mute and uncaring by this knowledge. She went to the window of the girl’s room and in the night she framed it with knives and needles, thinking that, if she could not have her daughter, then nobody shall.

So it was that, when the girl waved her feather that night, her lover was unable to come to her, for he stabbed himself on the knives and needles left by her mother. Seeing what she had done, the girl called in the language of the dumb upon justice to be done on the healer that had used her hands against her calling. Her mother fell down, struck by the curse she had incurred upon her own self.

Then the girl took the three tears she was able to buy from the hermit, and, sprinkling one on herself and the other on her lover, she was immediately transported to the rocky hill upon which there stood a house of black marble, inside of which the hermit lived.

The girl knocked on his door, and when he opened them, in the dirt before his doorstep she wrote a plea to help the winged one that had been hurt. The hermit smiled and took them both in. To the girl he offered a warm bath, warm food and a warm bed, but when she was washed, fed and rested, she saw that the winged one was nowhere to be seen.

Then she wrote on the ashes of the hermit’s fireplace, asking where the winged one was. To that the hermit smiled again and took her by his cold hand into the cold night and showed her, in the cold sky, a beautiful silver moon that had never before shone its light upon the world. The girl knew it was her lover, who was now sundered from her in this world, but was well and hale in the one above.

She cried and cried, and finally wrote in the sand, asking the hermit how she may be reunited with the one she loved most. And the hermit said, “You must die three times, like he did,” and then shut his door and left her on her own.

The girl used the last drop of the altair tears to return home, and was just in time for her mother’s funeral. Such emotions took over her then that, seeing the funeral procession, she started to laugh and dance and when the people saw her, they said she was mad, and sent her away from their midst, and the girl was glad, for she had managed to die the first time.

Not knowing where else to go, she found some water and shelter on a river bank, and while she slept, there came two young nightingales and they chirped so sweetly that she put the bone in her mouth in order to learn what they sang about. It was a dirge for their beloved ones who had strayed into a field of red poppies. Inebriated by their sweet smell and the dreams they incurred, the birds were loath to leave, so they remained sleeping and never woke up.

The girl was inspired then and took from her breast the feather, waved it to the right and was showered by the red poppies. She made herself a bed of them and lay down to her final rest, and so she died for the second time.

But when the hermit passed by the next day and saw how beautiful the lovely girl was, with her white face, golden hair, and her bed of red flowers, he took pity upon her and by his magic powers brought her back to his black house. There he laid her on the roof of marble and put many spells so she would not be spoiled.

And when night fell and the silver moon started upon its course, he was struck to his heart by the vision of his darling, resting so peacefully upon the black marble.

Then the winged one, which was now the moon, dropped the silvery ladder from the sky and came down to caress the one he had loved so dearly. And at his touch, her hair grew long and golden again, and by his kisses, her tongue grew back, and his breath dispersed the smell of the poppy flowers, so she woke up and climbed the silver ladder back with him.

Just before the sun rose next day, the hermit woke up to say his prayers, and he saw, low on the horizon, the silver moon and a new white star shining lovingly to his right. Then the hermit smiled at them and climbed to the roof of his house, and there he took off his old and withered body and took up from the floor the new and lovely one, with hair of gold and skin as white as the moon above.

He greeted the silver moon and his darling bride in the sky and, when the sun rose pink in the sky, he walked out of the black marble house and down the rocky hill, and then made his way along the side of the blue lake, through the green valley and on to the mountains of purple.

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