This is a story about beautiful things. It’s about love, loyalty and goodness. It’s about a girl too, but she’s not the important thing. I don’t mean that she’s unremarkable, mind you. She has the most beautiful face you will ever see and the most gorgeous hair – soft and as brown as freshly turned soil. And more importantly, she has a beautiful heart. Or none of this would ever have happened to her.
Every story must have a handsome prince, so this one does too. I’ve never seen his face, but those who have tell me it’s as brilliant as the sun and just as warm and kind. He is the important one. He chose her, you see.
The story began on a day like any other. The first leaves of the mother tree had fallen that
morning. They’d all woken up to see them. The joyful celebration was that evening so, a lot of work needed to be done.
They were fetching firewood when Cora looked up and saw the mountains.
“What do you think is up there, Diva?”, she asked her sister.
“Wolves, bears, rocks, more trees. Who cares?”
They kept working but Cora couldn’t stop thinking about it. She felt strongly that something beautiful must be up there.
Soon, they had gathered as much wood as would fit into their cart and they hurried back home. Mother had just put a pot on the fire and Cora’s eyes were drawn to a small cloth package lying by the fire.
“Did Goma come by?” She asked hopefully. Mother didn’t look up.
“Yes, the package is for you.”
She took it into the privacy of her hut before carefully unwrapping it. A smile spread on her face. It was a necklace with smalk green beads and a snake pendant – the symbol of the goddess. She put it on.
“More jewelry?” Diva asked from the doorway “Don’t look so pleased. Once you’re married he will stop. Men are like that.”
“Goma is different.”
“That’s what I said about Manon.”
Her sister’s disastrous marriage to a chief’s son was still the talk of town. When she had failed to conceive after three years, he had declared her cursed and thrown her out. Since she had been discovered pregnant a month after the event, she had refused to return home.
“I don’t mean to scare you”, Diva said, sitting beside her sister. “I doubt Goma would hurt you. He is the prince. It would disgrace his father. I just don’t want you to have any illusions.”
A sudden quiet fell over the compound. Even the birds had gone silent. Both girls listened intently and they heard, unmistakably, the sound of bells.
“No!” Cora’s eyes widened in horror. Tears sprang to her eyes. “No! Papa!”
She ran outside and right into her father’s arms. “Papa, you can’t let them! Please!”
“Go inside, Cora”, he ordered.
She kept crying until her grabbed her by the arm and shoved her inside. Her two sisters, mother and grandmothers were close behind. With the doors shut, Sara, 6, fell into Cora’s arms weeping.
Denine, their maternal grandmother pulled Sara away sharply and slapped Cora.
“Foolish girl!” she fumed “What is wrong with you? Has your mother taught you no sense?” She pulled Sara into her arms and gently comforted her. “It’s okay. It is a great honor to serve the goddess. You will love it. She has chosen you of all the girls your age. It is a privilege. The goddess only picks the most beautiful girls with the purest hearts. You’ll love it. You’ll see.”
Sara kept sobbing. Denine turned to Cora “You once wanted to serve the goddess. What has now possessed you that you have filled this young girl’s mind with foolish thoughts?”
“I grew up.”
With her heart sorrowful Cora went early to bed. It was a custom for the goddess to pick one 6-year old every year to serve at her temple, separated from her family and the hope of a normal life – of marriage, children and love. She had wanted it once – before she was betrothed to Goma. She had hoped her sister would be spared.