The Maiden Who Couldn’t Speak

 

       There was once a maiden who lived in a village that had lost its story. Few in the wide world remembered its name, and even the turning of the seasons seemed to pass it by. The maiden’s mother and father were poor and struggled to bring up their daughter. At dawn and the ending of day, they told the part of the story they remembered. They were burdened though with sadness, because from birth their daughter couldn’t speak, but could only sing. How they marveled though when she sang, for they saw that at night her songs brightened the candle flames so they danced and glimmered, and leaves of flowers hidden in the dark would rustle in the stillness and breathe out the sweetest scent of memories lost in years long past. 

        No one would help the family or even spoke to them because the maiden who couldn’t speak was so beautiful, that people would forget what they were about when they saw her in town or gathering roots and berries in the forest. And when the people heard the maiden sing, they would stop and look down with a far-off look in their eyes, and their heart would breathe in something strange and wonderful. But when they tried to tell others what she had been singing, they couldn’t remember a single word.

 

         One day, just after the sun had set and the candles were being lit, the village experienced something that had never happened before. A great sorcerer, tall and lovely to look at, in long coats edged with golden thread and silver buttons shaped like the moon, appeared from out of the night in the center of the village. When all were gathered, he said the he had come to bring Knowing to the people so they would have fame and wealth. Now the people knew about things, but they didn’t know about Knowing things. They were all very excited that now they would know things and all manner of things, but they were also confused because the Knowing the sorcerer brought was both good and bad, and the people didn’t know which was which.

        Days past, at first the people felt happy, but as they discussed all the new things they had come to know, they fell to arguing and shouting, still not able to decide what was the good in the Knowing and what was the bad. Finally, they went to the sorcerer and humbly asked him to come every day and tell them more things to know so that their fame and wealth would increase and they would be happy again. 

        The great sorcerer with the long coats and silver buttons would walk out to the people, and when they were quiet, he would tell them more things they didn’t know. The people loved knowing more and more and finally stopped discussing what they knew, and just started telling each other about how much they knew. Their wealth grew, their village grew into a town and became known far and wide.

      With this they were quite content, but they were not happy, something pushed and touched and bothered them like an insect buzzing or a mouse gnawing. When the maiden who couldn’t speak came out amongst them, they still felt confused, both because of her beauty, but more because when she sang they would forget what they had just come to know.

       One after the other they complained to the sorcerer about the maiden. He said that it was all very strange, and that there must be something wrong about a person who couldn’t speak but only sing. Still he said he had come to help them, and so he would take the maiden as his servant. She would live in his house and he would take care of her. He had many beautiful things and she would have no desire to come out into the world that could be so cruel and confusing. This sounded very fair and right to the people, and they went back to their homes happy and relieved.

        So the maiden went with the sorcerer who put her in a small room at the very farthest back of his great house, where no one could see or hear her. The sorcerer kept her all day in the room and forbade her to come out except for a few hours late at night when everyone was sleeping.  And from that day on, no one could remember having ever seen the maiden again.

         As time passed the people got to know more and more and became more and more famous and more and more wealthy.  The only problem was that everything seemed to be the way it had always been before they got to Know about knowing things. There were weddings and burials, births and deaths, sickness and despair as well as joy and festivity. The knowing made them happy but the bad things made them just as sad and frightened as they had always had done. Some wondered if knowing really helped, but most just settled into sadness and tried not to remember.

          But late at night, year after year until now, when everyone slept, the maiden who couldn’t speak but only sing, would sing the songs that everyone knew but couldn’t remember. When the people feasted at their weddings and celebrated the rounds of seasons, the faintest sound of singing could be heard from over the far hills and glimmer in the brook’s still water. But no one could recall hearing anything though they remembered being happy. And in the corners that hid the grieving and the frightened, there was a song like the warm laughter of children in a sunbeam. Those who could hear would look up and smile though they didn’t know why.  And when the dark winds of night shook the houses of the sick and dying, the leaves of all the trees would bend and quiver to a song that was like the coming of the new dawn, gentle and serene. The song would spread throughout the whole land, and every heart would rejoice, and Joy would be all that they could remember.

 

David Russell OFS, Fyn