Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Butterfly Child
by Ila Rae White

(edited by Paula Thompson)

East of the rising sun, beyond a small mountain village, grows a rare bewitched lilac bush. Only once every fifty years does it produce its deep purple blossoms. These blossoms attract beautiful, enchanted butterflies.
Now it happened that there lived in the nearby village a couple who, as yet, had no children of their own. Once crisp morning when the snow crunched with every step, the husband came home early from searching in the forest for medicinal herbs. Tucked under his great coat was a butterfly cocoon of a size and color he had never seen.
"I've brought you a present," he said to his wife. "I found this on a bush, in a part of the forest that I'd never searched before."

"How beautiful," said the wife, "and so unusual. With some tender care, the butterfly inside may live. I'll take it to the warmest corner of the house." So she put the cocoon in a doll's basket and set it near the stone fireplace where the coals glowed day and night.

Early the next morning, when she went to make breakfast, she gave a loud cry. There in the basket, where she'd put the cocoon, lay a baby girl with lilac eyes and hair like liquid gold. She was wrapped in a covering as soft and weightless as spun silk.

The husband cam running when he heard his wife cry out, and he gasped when he say the baby.

"It's a dryad!" the wife exclaimed. "Dryads remain in their cocoon on bewitched lilac bushes until someone with a great emptiness finds one. Then the dryad becomes a child. But if that child ever again touches the bewitched bush, it will change into a butterfly forever. I heard of this when I was a child, but thought it was only a story."

The husband thought for a moment, then said, "This dryad will remain a girl, for we'll never allow her into the forest."

"Her name will be Idalia," the wife said, "for truly she came from a butterfly."

The wife became a homekeeper though she still left some blooming bushes uncovered for the butterflies. The husband became a farmer, though he still roamed the countryside for medicinal plants. He told the villagers that the herbs that grew in the corners of their fields were useful, but they shook their heads and didn't believe him.

Idalia grew from a baby to a child, too big for her cradle. She grew from a child to a young girl. She was kind and gentle, and had a loving nature. She picked wild flowers for her mother and learned of the healing plants from her father. Though she begged him with longing, he never took her into the forest.

"Great danger waits for you there," he told her. " You must not go into the forest."

One bone-chilling day, when Idalia had been a girl through sixteen winters, her mother was cooking a big pot of lentil soup over the fire. As she swung the bubbling soup out from the hearth, she suddenly lost her footing. With a great shriek, she fell into the blazing fire, and though her husband and Idalia pulled her out instantly, she was horribly burned.

Her husband carried her to their bed while Idalia gathered the salves and lotions her father had made. Soon the pots and jars were empty, and the husband sent Idalia to the people of the village for some of the medicinal plants he'd seen growing in their fields.

She ran to the nearest neighbor and pleaded for some of the herbs.

"Those weeds?" said the neighbor. "We fed them to the goats."

Idalia ran from farm to farm, crying out "Please, some herbs for my mother's terrible burn."

"We turn them with the plow," one said.

"They made good thatch for the roof," said another.

Idalia knew her mother would surely die without more salve, but the fields were empty. She would have to go into the forest that had been forbidden her.

Her heart pounded and her breath came in quick gasps as she ran deeper and deeper into the woods. Finally she found the plants she sought, but there in the midst of them was a bush she did not know. Because it grew among the medicinal herbs, she thought it might have healing powers. She pulled off some leaves and bundled them with those she had already gathered.

When she returned, she didn't tell her father where she had found the herbs. He quickly made a poultice to heal his wife's burns and soothe her terrible pain.

Idalia began to feel strangely tired. She lay on her bed, intending to rest only a little while, and fell into a mysterious sleep.

When morning came, the wife woke to find the husband asleep at her side. She smiled at him and gently touched his hand. "you and Idalia saved me," she whispered. "Where is she?"

"Idalia," the husband called, but there was no answer. He searched the small house. When he came to her bedroom and opened the door, he found a beautiful butterfly against the window. Its lilac wings were outlined and veined with the color of liquid gold. Then he knew where the herbs had been gathered. Slowly he opened the window and set the butterfly free.

He returned to the bedroom where his wife lay resting. "She's gone," he said softly. There was a great sadness in his voice. "The herbs she brought for you came from the forest."

All that day the wife cried into her pillow, and tears filled the husband's eyes as he worked their fields. They were childless again, but where before there had been great emptiness, now there was a memory of laughter and love.

The wife remains a homekeeper, and she still leaves some blooming bushes uncovered for the butterflies. The husband remains a farmer, and he still roams the countryside to find medicinal plants. And each winter, when the world is covered with snow and there isn't a flower to be found, a beautiful lilac butterfly flutters at the windows of the small cabin where once lived a girl named Idalia.

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