Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Truth, Lie, and the Devil's Daughters

An adapted folktale.

Once upon a time in a far away and dangerous land, there was a traveller called Truth; and it so happened that she had the misfortune of falling in with a traveller called Lie.

"Let us journey together," said Truth, "for this whole land has been wasted by devils until nothing grows any more, and provisions are scarce for travellers in this part of the world. I see that you have water, of which I have just run out, and I have some bread I can give you for it."

"Certainly," said Lie. "I have been travelling for a very long time now without eating. Give me the bread now, and I will give you the water later when you are thirsty."

So Truth gave the bread to Lie, and Lie ate. They travelled for a long time, and finally Truth said, "I am thirsty. Can I have the water now?"

"I don't know," said Lie. "If you drink it, would I have any more? I tell you what, you must give me something very precious in return for the water."

Truth by now was desperately thirsty. "What do you want?" she asked.

"Your eyes," said Lie.

And so desperately thirsty was Truth that she gave her eyes for the water. But Lie only gave Truth some of the water, saving the rest for herself.

And they journeyed for a great while longer, and Truth was thirsty again. "Please give me more water," she said to Lie.

"I am almost out," said Lie. "I don't think it's fair for me to give you something so precious unless you give me something precious."

Truth, who was again desperately thirsty, asked, "What do you want?"

And Lie said, "Your arms and legs."

Truth was so desperately thirsty that she agreed, and Lie took her arms and legs. Without arms and legs Truth could no longer travel, and Lie was going to leave her simply by the road. But Truth begged Lie not to leave her in the blasting hot sun, but at least to carry her to the shade of the bushes a little ways off. So Lie kicked Truth until she rolled under the bushes, and Lie went off on her own.

But God looks out for Truth, even if no one else does. As it happened, the bushes where Lie left truth were near a crossroads leading to a gallow where periodically the Devil's daughters gathered the souls of the condemned to take them away to Hell. Two very vicious men were dead on the gallows, so in the twilight, indeed, at that point exactly between day and night, the Devil's daughters came down the road and packed the souls of the vicious men in little boxes to take back home.

The Devil's daughters, however, are great gossips, as I am sure you know all demons are, and, though some may be surprised to hear it, it is very difficult to gossip in Hell. The reason for this is that Hell is already filled to the brim with gossips, and they all talk so much and so long that the entire place is just a roar of noise as each gossip tries to talk more and louder than all the others. Further, they are constantly shouting at each other to shut up so that they can hear the news; indeed, they shout this so much that no one could tell them any news if they wanted to do so. You can't hear a thing in the place. Thus it was that whenever the Devil's daughters came to take the souls of the condemned men, they stopped at the crossroads, near the bushes where Truth now lay hid, to gossip.

Said one demon to another, "What have you come across in walking to and fro over all the earth?"

That one replied, "Today I took the soul of a doctor who had discovered a great medicine that no one can ever be allowed to know."

"And what is this medicine?"

"It is simple enough. This next night is a new moon; and every new moon the dew carries with it enchantments that in every other phase the moon jealously hoards. And when the conditions are right -- when it is a Friday, and the grass is green, that enchantment is a great power to heal. If cripples roll in that dewy grass, or if that dew is put on blind eyes, the cripples will walk and the blind will see."

Then the first demon turned to the third and said, "And what have you come across in walking to and fro over all the earth?"

"Oh," said the third demon with glee, "I have a great thing to tell. There is a town not far from here which gets water from a little pool deep in a mountain. I have poisoned the water with a subtle poison, and all the population will die."

"What is this subtle poison?"

"It is not too difficult. I have placed in the pool a stone that taints the water, so that if anyone drinks from it, they will inevitably die, but slowly enough that it seems like a plague. If someone took the stone out for even fifteen minutes, the flow of water would carry all the poison away into the underground river where the dark things of the earth will draw it out. But no one ever will, for the stone looks like an ordinary stone, except with silver flecks, and the poison works slowly enough that they will never learn the cause."

"Splendid!" said the other demons.

The Devil's daughters talked of many other things, much more terrible than these. They are things that no human being should ever know, and therefore you will not get me to tell you what they were, no, not for all the gold and power in the world. Truth heard them all, but many of them were about things very far away or about people long forgotten, and she did not remember them all later.

Truth waited under the bush until nightfall again, and then rolled around on the dewy grass as best she could. She was greatly relieved when her arms and legs grew back again; it was very painful, but there was no pain that she had ever felt that was so precious, nor would she ever feel any pain equally awful and equally precious until much later, when she gave birth to her child, Hope. But that is another story. With her arms and legs restored, she was able to rub the dew into her eyes and see again. No sunrise was more wonderful than the one she saw with new eyes when the sun came up.

Truth hurried to the nearby town and went directly to the office of the Lord Mayor, telling him all that she had heard. He did not believe her at first, but being a cautious and prudent man, he had someone bar the way to the water and sent another man inside to fetch the stone. There he found the stone, just as Truth had said, and brought it back.

"Can this stone really be so poisonous?" he asked. He had the townsmen catch him a rat, and having put the stone in a bowl of water, put the water in the cage with the rat. For one day nothing happened, although the rat drank from the water. But on the second day the rat's hair and teeth began to fall out, and on the third its skin began to fester and bleed, and on the fourth it was dead.

"This," said the Lord Mayor, "is a truly terrible poison." They threw out what was left of the water (where it touched, plants died and never grew again), and, locking the stone in a box, and that box in another box, and that box in a chest, and burying the chest deep under ground far from any water, he had the townsmen roll a great boulder over the spot, so that no one could retrieve it.

The town rejoiced at the good fortune Truth had brought them, and shared with her everything they had.

After Lie had left Truth, she had journeyed on. She did not know where the town was, or even that there was a town, and so she wandered long and aimlessly, seeking food. She indeed grew very hungry, for she had had nothing to eat since Truth had shared her bread. So when she came to the town she began to beg. But the townsmen did not know her, and did not trust her, for having just recently narrowly escaped with their lives, they worried that the Devil's daughter might come back to finish the job. Thus they did not give her much.

In this condition, she happened to come across Truth again, and was amazed at her condition. Truth shared her bread with Lie again, and told Lie all of what had happened to her.

"Thus," she said, "even the selfishness of Lie turned to good for Truth, and this is why I do not begrudge you my bread: you may have meant me ill, but it all turned out better than it could have otherwise turned out."

Then Lie became very jealous, and determined to go back to the crossroads and hear the secrets of the Devil's daughter, and use them as Truth had to get good things. This she did, and hid beneath the bushes.

The Devil's daughters came again. But they are fools who think to take advantage of a demon twice, and the Devil's daughter who had planned to poison the town had heard that they had, impossibly, escaped the fate she had put on them.

"There is no way the town could have survived unless someone knew everything I had told you," she said.

"I told no one," said the one demon.

"Nor I," said the other.

"Then someone was listening. Before we speak another word, let us look high and low and all around to make sure that not even a field mouse can hear us tonight."

This they did and, of course, they discovered Lie. They were not amused. They burned her with Hellfire until she was nothing but ash, and then went on their way.

But the wind picked up the ash that once had been Lie and carried it to and fro over all the face of the earth; and like all the ash of Hell it clings most especially to anything that has a human heart. And thus it is that, no matter where in the world you go, wherever men and women dwell, you always find traces of Lie.

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