The Stars Come Out at Night: A mythological Fairytale

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The Stars Come Out at Night: A mythological Fairytale

Kathleen Myers

A long, long time ago, before the moon was born, a wild young girl named Nomiza lived with her family in the deep woods of the Place of the Two-Suns. Ever since Nomiza's father had been killed by a bear while gathering honey, her mother had to work very hard to care for the children. Nomiza's mother even worked during the sleeping time, which Nomiza's people called "dimmening," for that was what happened to their sky twice a day- it merely dimmed instead of growing dark, as our night sky does. Much of the time Nomiza's older brother and sister were in charge of her, which Nomiza thought very unfair given how tyrannical and stupid they both were. How Nomiza hated to listen to their orders! She hated to fetch wood, carry water and sweep the cottage. Nomiza loved to run silently through the woods, alone and free, looking for animal tracks and splashing in the brook. She loved to feel the air on her naked skin. She was becoming wise in the ways of the woods, for sometimes, when she was able to quiet her mind in the manner that Mother had taught her, she was able to hear what the plants were saying. During this ancient time, no person, no matter how learned, was considered wise until she was able to hear to the song of all living things. More than anything, Nomiza wanted to grow wise, like her mother Marian, and to know the song of all the living things.

Early one autumn morning Nomiza snuck out of the family cottage while the light was still dim. Soon the days would be growing colder, and it would be much harder for her to slip away. She was walking through a meadow, enjoying the feel of the long dewy grass slapping her legs, when she noticed an unusual stirring in the grass ahead. Nomiza remembered what her brother had told her about startling wild animals, and she began to sing the Spider's song quietly, hoping to alert the grass-shaker to her presence. Suddenly, a head poked up from the grass. The head was covered with dark matted hair, bristling with leaves and small twigs. "I have never seen such a creature. I should not turn my back on it," she thought. Nomiza stood staring, and watched in amazement as the creature used two hands to push some of the dark hair from its eyes. "Are you a person?" Nomiza asked, then waited, tapping her foot. "Stand on your legs and show yourself to me," she commanded. The matted head rose, and the voice that issued from it was smooth and sweet as honey.

"I am Phera, born of the woods," the dark form announced. Nomiza walked toward her, noticing the skins the young woman wore for clothing. Then she reached out a hand to stroke the dark hair. It felt coarse. Phera's large, deep eyes crackled, throwing off light and sparks that enchanted Nomiza. Phera reached to touch Nomiza's smooth hair, and then spoke in a musical voice. "Let us be friends," she suggested.

"Yes, let's," Nomiza agreed, her heart leaping like a fish on a line, and they set off to find breakfast.

After becoming friends with Phera, Nomiza was even less eager to help with the chores. She snuck away to play with Phera so often that finally, her busy, busy mother had to make time to speak to her about it. "You must help your brother and sister more, Nomiza. You must not hide from them and avoid doing your share. You are no longer a nursing child. You can no longer expect to be given everything, while doing nothing in return. Everyone who is grown must earn her own bread. And she must earn it every day."

"I know that I should help more, and without having to be asked. But Mother, I have made a friend in the woods, and I want to be with her day and dimmening. It is hard for me to sleep here under this roof knowing that's Phera's canopy is made of the sky."

"Who is this Phera?"

" She is a girl my age who lives in the woods, who says she is born of the woods. But I have seen her navel, so I think she must have born of a woman, like me. Not only can she hear the plants, Mother- I believe that they can hear her! I'm hoping that she will teach me some of her ways, but she is quite mysterious."

"Bring her to meet me, Nommie. I wish to speak with her."

But when Nomiza brought Phera to meet Mother, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. In her hurry to make everything perfect for Phera's visit, Nomiza set fire to her own skirt while making griddle cakes, and Mother was very cross about her carelessness. Worse yet, when Phera arrived at the cottage, she did not knock on the door, but instead called for Nomiza until Nomiza went to meet her at the edge of the clearing. Once Nomiza had Phera in the cabin, she became very aware of Phera's odor. Phera smelled of musk and wood-smoke and untanned hides, a bouquet that Nomiza found quite pleasant, but which was obviously giving her mother some trouble. Phera seemed to have forgotten how to speak while in Mother's presence, which caused Mother to heap question upon question. Nomiza hustled Phera out of the cabin as soon as courtesy would permit.

After this visit, Nomiza's mother forbade her to run in the woods with Phera. "You do not need any more wildness, my child. You are getting older, and it is time for you to begin thinking about the sort of future you might like to create."

"Phera is the only part of my future that matters to me!" Nomiza cried.

"And that is why you are no longer permitted to cavort with her," Mother said, wrinkling her nose.

"If you make me choose, you won't like what I choose," Nomiza warned her. Her mother responded by slapping her so hard her ears rang for the rest of the day.

The next day Nomiza stuffed a sack with several crocks of jam, a length of strong rope, a wineskin, a tin of salt and a thick blanket. She wrapped her knife and sharpening stone in an old cloak and tucked them into the sack. She considered for a moment and then added a half-dozen bleeding-time rags and her flute. She ran into the woods feeling free and scared and exhilarated, and began to look for Phera.

Nomiza finally found her by the brook, drinking water on her all fours like an animal. Vomit freckled the bank of the brook. "Are you ill?" Nomiza asked.

"I think that I am going to have a baby soon," Phera replied. "Look at my belly," she said, pulling aside her wrap. Her belly was round as the sun, and her navel poked out like a budding flower.

"I did not notice your belly growing!" Nomiza exclaimed.

"But I believe that your mother did, " Phera said sadly. "I don't know what to do about this. I don't know how to birth a baby. Or how to care for one."

"I know enough to find you something to soothe your belly," Nomiza said, and she set off.

While digging for ginger in the swampy part of the woods, Nomiza met a very friendly, very stout old woman who was also in the swamp to collect medicinals. The woman was short and bent over like a question mark, with a basket in one hand and a long, pointed digging stick in the other. "Child, what brings you here?" she asked.

"My friend is ill- I mean, I think my friend is going to have a baby. And I wanted to make her some ginger brew to soothe her belly. I should hurry back. I believe she is frightened."

"And where do you and your friend live?" the woman asked, setting down her basket and digging stick, and fingering the charm around her neck.

"In these woods," Nomiza replied.

"Perhaps the two of you could use some assistance," the old woman suggested. She pulled a piece raw honeycomb from her basket and began to suck on it. Nomiza stared at the comb, for she had not tasted honey since her father's death. " Sweets are a weakness of mine," the old woman said, shrugging. Nomiza stood stock-still, not daring to believe their good fortune. Here was the solution to their dilemma! The old woman mistook her silent stillness for suspicion. "I am Greensleeves," she said, offering her hand. " I have helped many a mother bear new life. It can be a tricky business sometimes, without someone there who knows how to help."

Nomiza invited Greensleeves to accompany her back to the bank where she had left Phera. Phera was sitting very still, eyes closed, throat humming. Nomiza noticed that she seemed to be listening to the plants intently, but she opened her eyes upon hearing Nomiza and Greensleeves approach. Greensleeves sat next to Phera on the bank and spoke softly to her. "The two of us are going for a walk," Phera announced. And with that, Nomiza was left alone.

When Phera returned from her walk with Greensleeves, she was carrying a small carved chest cradled in her arms. "I have taken care of everything," she said. "Greensleeves has given me the simples and charms to keep me well until the baby comes, and once the baby comes, Greensleeves is going to take him. She said that I am carrying a boy, and that he would be coming shortly, before the leaves fall from the trees." Phera's smile looked phony to Nomiza, and when had her eyes stopped throwing sparks? "I offered Greensleeves a blood oath," Phera said, holding one still-oozing finger aloft for Nomiza to see. "Or rather, it seemed that a blood oath was required of me."

"A blood oath? What is a blood oath?"

"I am not sure but I believe that it is very serious. It does not permit me to deviate from the course Greensleeves laid out for me. It is an exchange of sorts." At this, Nomiza shuddered without knowing why.

Weeks passed without event. The young women slept under the sky and ate the food they hunted and foraged. They lit fires, and told each other all their most secret secrets. They combed one another's hair with green twigs split by Nomiza's knife.

Greensleeves seemed to know that the baby was coming before the baby did. She appeared by Phera and Nomiza's dugout rather suddenly one dimmening, rubbing her hands together and stamping her feet. "He's coming, he coming and everything's ready for him," she said. She began singing the "Happy Birthday" song in a strange crazy voice, and Nomiza and Phera looked at one another in fright. "This is not an entirely festive occasion," Nomiza thought to herself. Phera doubled over with a sudden pain, and Nomiza huddled down next to her. "Take care of me," Phera begged her, and Nomiza promised her she would and held her hand. Quiet your mind, move away from your petty concerns, and listen to the plants, Nomiza told herself. Rather suddenly an urgent song filled her ears. Danger! Danger! everything seemed to be saying.

Nomiza saw Greensleeves approaching, carrying in her arms the carved chest, which now seemed to Nomiza to resemble a miniature coffin. Something terrible was happening to Greensleeves' face- it seemed to be melting and reforming itself as if it were made of wax. Greensleeve's desire was carving her face into an ugly map of shifting borders. Nomiza knew without meaning to know that she must act quickly. Without thinking, she leapt up and grabbed her old sack from home, still the repository of all her earthly belongings. Remembering the old woman's fondness for sweets, she uncapped her last pot of jam and set it and her wineskin on the ground at a distance from Phera, calling to Greensleeves to come and refresh herself. Greensleeves ran to the jam and hunched over it, gobbling with her hands, and Nomiza threw the heavy blanket over her head. She bound Greensleeve's arms to her body with the rope. Greensleeves shrieked and writhed, struggling against the rope that pinned her arms. It was clear that it would only take the old woman a moment or two to unloosen herself. Nomiza poured a circle of salt in thin line around the screaming, jittering monster that Greensleeves had become, speaking the words she remembered Mother telling her long ago. With a violent jerk, Greensleeves freed her arms from her sides and ripped the blanket from her head. Her face had mostly melted away; it now looked like a skull draped with shreds of bloody flesh. When she saw the circle of salt enclosing her, she doubled over again over again, then raised her face and howled like a dog. Greensleeves moved around the perimeter of the circle, but was not able to leave. Nomiza patted the tin of salt in her pocket and thanked her mother silently for one of her many good lessons.

Nomiza then went to attend to Phera, who was squatting against a tree and working very hard, as laboring mothers do. Time seemed to pass very quickly, and then at last, the moment was at hand. Baby Stellan was born, a slippery crying new life, and Nomiza held him in her hands for the first time. She wiped him with her cloak, held him to her for a moment, then laid him in Phera's waiting arms. Nomiza felt a horrible, deep new in sadness in her heart for the wretched Greensleeves. How terrible it must be to be so alone! At that very moment, a great thunderclap seemed to shake the earth, and an awful burning light shot from the heap of Greensleeves, straight into the low sun in the sky. "He was to have been mine," the heap shouted, and flames licked the blanket.

What happened next had never happened before in the history of their planet, and it has never happened since.

Terrible, blinding brightness leapt from the quivering Greensleeves and lit the sky. The dimmening sky flared into brilliant white and in a flash, Nomiza saw the old woman reduced to a scattering of cinders. There was a terrible smell like burnt cabbage and chicken livers, and then the sky went black.

Nomiza and Phera huddled underneath the tree, shaking, Phera holding baby Stellan to her breast. It was so dark it was as if they had closed their eyes. Nomiza could feel Phera's warmth, but could not see her face. She could not see anything. They were quiet with awe and fear at what they had wrought. Phera was cradling baby Stellan, and Nomiza sat behind them, supporting Phera like a living chair. Nomiza pulled her stained cloak over their heads and waited for the end to come. After a long while, Phera stopped shivering and said, firmly, "Well, let's see whatever there is to see," and she pulled the cloak off of their heads.

"Someone has speckled the sky with glowing lights," Nomiza breathed. "That is how your eyes look, Phera."

"Perhaps those sky lights were always there and we couldn't see them," Phera responded, snuggling Stellan more deeply to her body. "And behold that glowing stone in the sky."

"That doesn't look to me like a stone. It seems to have Mother's face. Perhaps she has been with us, protecting us."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps we are very stubborn and clever," Phera said, sounding sleepy.

Nomiza sat behind Phera and Stellan all the night through, playing her flute and watching over them both. She could not get enough of looking at a strange new world born of the moonlight. Worn through from all the new sights, and from all the new feelings in her heart, Nomiza yawned and stretched her arms up to the curiously pink colored sky. "Surely, our other sun will show itself to us again," she thought sleepily, and then she laid her head on the ground and fell fast asleep next to newborn Stellan and snoring Phera.

And sure enough, when she woke some time later, she found the sun pinned in the sky. But ever after that dimmening when Stellan was born, nighttime has come once a day to the Place of the Two-Suns, and the world has been born anew each day in the moonlight and starlight

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