Once upon a time, there lived a couple in a cabin far from the village; it was across the wide-open prairie, on the edge of a great forest. The husband worked most days, just to sustain their way of life, while his wife worked on developing her business. She was a talented healer who could perform magic with most people; she helped many to achieve their state of well being, simply by touching them where they hurt.
Being so far removed from the village, she rarely had the pleasure of a visiting client. It was dreadful for her to see her husband come home every day after long hours spent at the farm. He barely made enough money to pay for their cabin and their simple life, and sometimes, even those simple things seemed most difficult to attain. He didn’t know how long he would be able to sustain them.
“If they only knew the work that I can do.”
The husband heard his wife say those words on many days. Sometimes he would hear her crying them aloud to herself; perhaps she would remind him over a shared meal, or maybe she’d mutter them in her sleep.
One night, while speaking those same words, she was stopped in mid-sentence by a sound coming from outside the cabin. The husband went out to investigate. Finding nothing there amiss, he returned to finish his dinner. Later that evening, they both retired to bed. Maybe an hour after that the wife awoke out of deep sleep, hearing the same sound as earlier. Something was outside, and she was determined to find out what it was. The husband was soundly asleep and snoring loudly; she easily managed to get up without disturbing him. Putting on her robe, she walked out with a lantern to investigate things for herself. The forest was dark; rarely would anyone visit so late, with their home being such a distance from the village.
“Who’s there?” she asked.
She stayed quiet for a few moments, and then heard footsteps slightly ahead of her.
“Who’s there?” she asked again.
She held the lantern out, swinging it, so that she could see further out beyond the nearest trees. She then saw a small figure approach, which became more defined as it drew closer. At first, she saw a deer (and this was true), but it spooked, and ran swiftly past her and beyond, into shelter of the trees. The small creature remained, and now stood before her.
“What is it that you want?” she asked fearfully.
“It’s not entirely what I want, my dear, but also what can be done for you.” As the voice drew closer, so did its visage grow more clear. The elf bowed before her, with his hat in hand, as gentlemen will do when meeting a fair lady. She was taken aback by the sight of him. She had never seen such a creature before.
“I’ve been watching you for some time. I know that though you suffer, and feel impoverished, you also hold great truths in your heart that you wish to share.” He sat down next to her. “Sit with me, please.” He motioned for her to join him. She sat next to him, and he began to speak.
“I can help you obtain the work you need to not only sustain your life; you will actually come to be known as ‘The One Who Can Heal’ by those in your village. They, in turn, will tell all those they know from surrounding villages, and soon your talents will be known throughout the land.” His smile beamed, and he said, “you will never again struggle for survival.”
“That sounds wonderful, of course, but what do you expect from me in return?” she asked: it was a valid question, though she was anticipating his answer to be something unrealistic and painful.
“I want your tears,” he replied.
“What? That’s foolish. Why do you want my tears? That’s all you ask from me?” She crossed her arms, displaying her doubt and curiosity at once.
“Yes, but you will never be able to cry again. Never be able to feel the pain of another, nor shed tears at the loss of a loved one.”
She pondered his words for a moment; she didn’t feel comfortable with freely forsaking something that was so valuable (and dear) to her. The thought of never being able to shed another tear didn’t feel right, especially being someone who readily empathized with others (just by being who she was--and working her works).
“If it’s not tears you are willing to leave, then I would have your uncertainty,” he bargained.
“My uncertainty helps me to discover what I am capable of, and in a sense, helps me to avoid danger.” She was feeling suspicious of this little, bargaining elf. Equally true was that she had long since grown tired of struggling with her life of poverty. She felt she might jump at anything that would alleviate pressure from her husband; It wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t be able to work the way he always had.
She hesitated to give an answer, considering that such an opportunity might never come again.
She was desperate to change her life.
The elf gave her a third option, which was: Travel for twelve miles through dense forest to reach the train stop on its outer edge and bring back something that he had left behind during his previous travels. She would not know what that was until she had arrived.
“Alright,” she said, “we have a deal.” She stood up and extended her hand.
“Excellent, you have made a wise choice,” he said.
While shaking hands, he looked up at her and winked. The elf took a golden horn from his side and put it to his mouth. He blew three times to the northern winds. Each time he blew it she felt something rise inside of her. “What is the horn for?” she asked.
“It will call the Guardian Spirits to come join you during your journey. They will protect you from any danger.” He repeatedly assured her of this, and in his words, she found comfort. “At dawn you must depart. Set a good pace through the forest if you wish to reach the train before it leaves,” he told her.
“Yes, I will follow your instructions: cross the forest, reach the train before it leaves, and find what you left there. I will return before sunset.” They shook hands one more time, and the elf walked away, melting into the dark of the forest.
Dawn came, and she quickly ate breakfast with her husband. She waited for him to leave, so that she didn’t have to tell him what she was up to; she wanted it to be a surprise. They kissed one other and he departed, down the path he walked to reach the farm each day.
She assembled the sack of supplies that she would need for the twelve-mile trek, then set out through the forest. At first the path was kind, and she thought to herself that the journey would be simple, but as the trail wound through the thick oak trees she realized it was getting more treacherous. She scaled giant boulders. She slid downward on her bottom to maneuver the steep hills and avoid falling. At last, she came to a clearing in which stood four trees. She thought it a perfect place to stop for a short rest and a snack. As she sat, she began to feel like she was being watched (and she was)… The elf had been there the whole time, but he blended so well with the forest that she had not noticed him; he was curious to see how she would handle herself while on the journey.
She heard geese flying overhead, which was a good sign that she was getting closer to the train. There would be a water source not too far from where it was stationed. Slightly after the honking of the geese, she heard a twig snap behind her. She looked to the side without turning her head, suspicious that there was something dangerous sneaking up on her. She grasped the knife she had brought out to cut her apple, and quickly turned around. It was a wolf, bearing his teeth. He meant business. The elf was still close by, thoughtfully watching the scene.
“You don’t seem to be my guide, so what do you want?” she asked Wolf. She was slightly crouched, in position to jump at him if he attacked.
“I will not eat you if you give me all of your food,” the wolf said.
“I need it to complete my journey to the other side of the forest!” she exclaimed.
“Well, then, I will eat you.” The wolf was displaying an attack posture, which made her nervous. Suddenly, he heard a distant pack howling and reconsidered his interest in her. “You’re lucky this time, but you won’t be when next we meet,” he said and ran off in the direction of the pack.
“Phew, thank goodness” she said aloud. Quickly she gathered her things together and started on the path again. She had walked only a few feet, when she tripped over a sharp, almost invisible, object sticking up out of the ground. She tumbled, rolling repeatedly, before coming to a stop. Shaking herself off, she looked down at her shin and noticed she was bleeding freely.
“Damn! I don’t have anything to stop it! Now what am I going to do?” she cried out loud. Then she began sobbing, feeling helpless, and didn’t want to continue any longer. The elf watched from behind a nearby tree, waiting for her to make a decision. Would she quit, journey back, without reaching the train? Or would she muster the courage to move on? After sobbing for several minutes, she grabbed some leaves from the path and placed them on her wound, applied pressure, and waited for the bleeding to stop. She eventually got up and continued down the path toward the train.
Before long, she saw a clearing through the trees and heard the music of the geese filling the air again. She knew that she had nearly arrived at the train stop; it would be waiting slightly behind the next hill, just moments from leaving.
“All aboard!” she heard the conductor shout. Shortly after, the train horn sounded. She ran as quickly as she could to reach the back of the now visible train and jumped on as it began to depart. It was moving slowly enough for her to spend ample time carefully checking each car, to try and find whatever the elf had left behind. So far, she had found nothing. She then saw the conductor and asked if any items had been found after recent trips.
“I’m sorry my dear, we always check the train carefully each night and have found nothing left behind,” he said with assurance. She was greatly disappointed and at a loss.
“What am I going to tell that little elf when I return with nothing? I’ve come all this way, through the dense forest, and yet still have the journey back,” she thought to herself. Saddened, she jumped from the moving train and headed back, knowing that she didn’t find what the elf said had been left behind. She wanted so much for her dreams to come true, but now she was at a loss.
She quietly returned to the homeward path, with head downcast. “If they only knew the work that I can do,” she began singing aloud. It was the only comfort she could give herself, and it distracted her enough to shorten the long journey. She heard geese flying overhead, and instead of their usual honking call, they started singing with her; changing the lyrics slightly to: “If she only knew the work that she can do.”
They startled her, but she raised her head to see them. Not only did it make her lift her head high again, but as the geese flew overhead she saw a lone feather floating down toward her. She stopped, watching it, and it eventually landed directly in front of her. She picked it up and smiled to herself. This was a gift! She delicately placed the feather inside of her pack and continued. “Maybe I could give the elf this beautiful goose feather, and he will be satisfied with the find,” she thought to herself. She still did not realize that he had been following her the whole time. He could have helped her during the journey, but it was hers to travel alone. They had an agreement. He kept his distance. She now felt a little better, so continued again along the path toward home.
The sun began to sink lower on the horizon, and the light of day was leaving the forest. She began walking faster. She must make haste before sunset to avoid walking in the dark, as It was no place for a lady to be walking alone at night. She had encountered the wolf during the day, but who knew what would happen when it got dark. Her pace increased, becoming almost panicked; she was afraid that it would be dark before she made it back. Just as the sun sunk below the horizon, she saw the roof of her cabin in the distance.
She eventually made it home, without again encountering the wolf, or any other danger along the way. There was even enough time to start dinner before her husband returned from his long day at the farm. Still, she had come back empty handed (except for the goose feather). Would that be good enough for the elf? She would soon find out…She heard a noise from outside the cabin. She thought it was her husband arriving early, but it was the elf coming up the walkway. She opened the cabin door and stepped out to greet him.
“Hello, my dear. I see that you returned safely from the journey. I am here to collect what is mine.” The elf reached out his hand to receive what she had brought.
“I made the journey and arrived back safely, but I never found what you left on the train.” She felt sad, and her eyes filled with tears. She didn’t know if the elf would consider the goose feather an adequate substitute, and she felt uneasy about offering it. Even though she had mustered the courage to make the long journey there and back, it might not be enough for him to grant her the wish that she so desperately wanted.
“Ah, but, that goose feather… That is indeed a lovely item and has facilitated the writing of many an adventurous story. However, I currently have no need for it, and would rather you keep it for yourself-- as a reminder of your trip.” He pulled back his hand and motioned for her to sit, then he sat down beside her.
“So, what did you leave behind on the train?” she asked.
“It was not an object. It was rather an attribute that you found while on your journey. So, indeed, you have retrieved what was left behind on that train,” he said with a smile.
“What do you mean by saying this?” Her curiosity was mixed with frustration.
“It was courage,” revealed the elf. “It took not only strength, but also a willingness to make the journey alone. You had a few guides accompanying you, but you did all the work; it was you, alone, who made the journey.
“So, I am to give you my courage?” she asked.
“No, you cannot give someone courage, but you can help them attain it by being beside them during their own personal journeys, which is exactly what I did. You didn’t know I was watching you the whole time. So, we both obtained the courage gifted to us by that journey.”
She stood up and danced with delight. The elf joined her in celebration.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I understand now. You are such a wonderful elf. I will treasure this experience forever.”
“You are welcome, my dear. You deserve it. I see the gifts that you possess, and how you share them with the world… It was the only thing I truly wanted for you.” He bowed to her, took her hand, and kissed it gently. “I will be watching from time to time.” He said this as he slowly backed into the forest and disappeared.
Her husband came around the bend of the path with what seemed to be perfect timing. She ran to him in delight, which took him by surprise.
“I’m so happy to see you” she said. She hugged him and then kissed him a few times on his face and lips.
“’Ha ha! Hello, my love... Aren’t you just a happy little thing tonight...” he said, feeling her joy.
“Yes. Yes, I am. Come inside, for I have prepared a lovely dinner for us.”
After the meal they climbed into bed and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, she was awoken by a knock on her door. She quickly ran over and opened it to see who was there. It was a woman holding a sick child in her arms.
“Oh please! Can you help my little boy? He has been sick for several weeks now, and I don’t know what to do… No one in the village can help him, and I was instructed to come here. They told me of a woman, known as ‘The One Who Can Heal,’ living outside the village at the edge of the forest. Are you her?” the sad and desperate woman asked.
“Yes, I am she. Please come in.” She took the little boy from his mother’s arms and laid him down on her wellness table near the fire. She placed her healing hands on him and during the next few minutes, she performed her magic-- and the boy was revitalized.
“Oh, my goodness! Thank you!” replied the mother. “How do I repay you?” she asked.
“I charge a small fee of a few golden coins and ask of you in return only to spread word of my abilities throughout your village.” The mother handed her the golden coins, and they shook hands to seal the agreement.
“I will gladly tell everyone I know in the village about you! Thank you again for saving my boy.” The woman was sobbing with relief and joy, which, in turn, brought tears to her own eyes.
From that day onward, people came to her, sometimes from great distances, to ask for her help either on behalf of themselves or their loved ones. The couple would never feel poor again. They lived satisfying lives, and quickly began to see that they were accumulating substantial wealth… Enough for the husband to retire without worry when he felt ready, and for them to help pay off the debts of those in the village who struggled as they had.
They lived happily ever after.
Written by: Muriel Shickman
Edited by: Chris Drozdick
Blog/Musings by Muriel Shickman
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