The girl who was not satisfied with simple things
An Iroquois Legend
There once was a girl who was not satisfied with simple things. Her parents despaired of ever finding her a husband she would accept. Each man who came was not good enough. "That one was too fat; he will never do." Or "Did you see how shabby his moccasins were?" Or "I didn't like the way he spoke." Such were the things she would say.
One night, as the fire flickered low, a strange young warrior came to their door. "Dahjoh," said the mother. "come inside," but the visitor stood a the edge of the light and pointed his hand at the girl.
"I have come to take you as my wife," he said. Now this young man was very handsome. His face shone in the firelight. Above his waist was a fine, wide belt of black and yellow wampum that glittered like water. On his head he wore two tall feathers and he moved with the grace of a willow tree in the wind.
But the mother was worried. "My daughter," she said, "you would not take any of the men in our village. Would you marry a stranger whose clan you don't know?"
It was no use, for at last the daughter was satisfied. She packed her belongings and walked into the night, following the handsome stranger.
The girl walked for some time through the darkness with him when she began to feel afraid. Why had she left her mother's lodge to come with this man she had never seen?
Just then her husband grasped her arm. "Do not fear," he said, whispering in the darkness. "We will soon come to the place of my people."
"But my husband," said the girl, "how can that be? It seems we must be close to the river."
Her husband grasped her arm again. "Follow me," he whispered "just down this hill. We have almost come to the place of my people."
The two of them walked down a steep bank and came to a lodge which had a pair of horns, like those of a giant elk, fastened above the door. "This is our home," the husband said. "Tomorrow you will meet my people."
The rest of the night the girl was afraid. She heard strange noises outside. She noticed that the lodge had a smell like that of a fish. She held her blankets tightly about her and waited, wide-eyed, for the morning.
When the next day came, the sun did not shine. The gray sky was filled with hazy light. Her husband gave her a new dress, covered just like his with wampum. "You must put this on," he said to the girl, "before you are ready to meet my people."
But the frightened girl would not touch the dress. "It smells like fish," she said. "I will not put it on."
Her husband looked angry but he said no more. Before long, he walked to the door of the lodge. "I must go away for a time," he whispered. "Do not leave this place and do not be afraid of anything you see." And he was gone.
The girl sat there wondering about her fate. Why had she come with this strange man? She saw that if she had been satisfied with simple things this would not have happened. She thought of the fire in her mother's lodge. She thought of the simple, good-hearted men who had asked her to marry them. Just then a great horned serpent crawled in through the door of the lodge. As she sat there, stiff with fear, it came up to her and stared a long time into her eyes. Around its body were glittering bands of yellow and black. Then it turned and crawled out of the door.
The girl followed slowly and peered outside. All around, there were serpents, some lying on rocks, some crawling out of caves. Then she knew that her husband was not what he seemed, not a human being, but a serpent disguised in human form.
Now this girl who had been foolish was a girl who was not without courage. She knew that she would never agree to put on her husband's magical dress and become a great serpent herself. But how could she escape? She thought and thought and finally, for she had gone the whole night without sleep, she closed her eyes and slept.
Then, as she slept, it seemed to her an old man appeared in her dream. "My granddaughter," said the old man in a clear deep voice, "let me help you."
"But what can I do, Grandfather?" she asked.
"You must do as I say," the old man answered "You must leave this place at once and run to the edge of the village. There you will see a tall steep cliff. You must climb that cliff and not turn back or your husband's people will stop you. When you have reached the top, I shall help you."
When the girl awoke, she realized she had to follow the old man's words. She looked outside the lodge and saw her husband coming, dressed again in the form of a beautiful man. She knew she had to go at once or be caught in this place forever. So, quick as a partridge flying up, she burst from the door of her husband's lodge and dashed toward the cliffs.
"Come back!" she heard her husband shout but she did not look back. The cliffs were very far away. She ran as swiftly as she could. Then she began to hear a sound, a rustling noise like the wind rushing through the reeds but she did not look back. The cliffs were closer now. Then once more she heard her husband's voice close to her whispering, whispering, "Come back, my wife, come join my people." But now she had come to the cliffs and began to climb.
She climbed and she climbed, using all of her strength, remembering the old man's promise, as her hands grew painful and tired. Ahead of her was the top of the cliff and as she reached it she felt the hand of the old man lifting her to her feet.
She looked back and saw that she had just climbed up out of the river. Behind her were many great horned serpents. Then, as she watched, the old man began to hurl bolts of lightning which struck the monsters. And she knew that the old man was Heno, the Thunderer.
The lightning flashed and the thunder drums rolled across the sky. In the river the serpents tried to escape but the bolts of Heno struck them all. Then the storm ended and the girl stood there, a gentle rain washing over her face as the Thunderer looked down on her.
"You're very brave, my child," he said. "You have helped me rid the earth of those monsters. Perhaps I may call on you again, for your deed has given you power."
Then the old man raised his hand and a single cloud drifted down to earth. He and the girl stepped into the cloud which carried them back to her village.
It is said that the girl later married a man whose heart was good. Between them they raised many fine children. It is also said that her grandfather, Heno, came back to visit her many times. Often she would fly with him to help rid the earth of evil creatures.
And when she was old, she always told her grandchildren these words: "Be satisfied with simple things."
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