Robin Ray is a musician/author from Seattle, WA. His literary output includes poetry, short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels and screenplays. His short fiction has been published in Red Fez, Darkest Before the Dawn, Flash Fiction Online, Aphelion, and Enchanted Conversation.
Once upon a time, a grain miller and his wife tried for years to have a child, but as fortune wasn’t in their favor, they had no such luck. The other people in the village thought the couple were cursed, or perhaps did something in their past lives which they’re now paying for, but the childless couple knew better. If going along without a progeny was written in the stars then so be it. No use in crying over what was out of their control.
One day, the female, Mrs. Miller, went down to a stream just outside the village to fetch a bucket of water. When she dipped the wooden container in the cool brook, she heard a faint whimper coming from behind. Curious, she stopped moving to listen closely to whatever had made the sound. After a few moments, when the sound wasn’t heard again, she continued her task. As she scooped out the bucket load of water, she heard the whimper again, this time, louder than before. Eyeing a shrub not too far away, she tiptoed over to see what animal was perhaps in dire need of aid. Laying the bucket on the ground, she carefully parted the thistled hedgrerow. When she saw what was whimpering, she shrieked, panicked, quickly reversed and tripped over the bucket. Water went spilling everywhere as she regained her composure. Getting up she returned to the shrub and, once again, parted it. In front of her, laying naked on the ground, was a baby no more that a few weeks old. Unlike the other babies in her particular village, however, this one was black, as black as a starless night. Feeling sorry for the shivering little tyke, the miller’s wife removed her apron, wrapped the youngster in it, and promptly brought her home. When her husband saw her he, too, was somewhat startled. Nevertheless, considering her a gift from Heaven, he named her Lamp Black for that is what she reminded him of.
Lampie, as her friends often called her, grew up to become a precocious child. An excellent speller, she always won the quizzes conducted by the village’s school teacher. As the years passed, her other talents came to the fore. She showed shepherds a better way of herding sheep. She showed craftsmen how to better utilize their etching knives in whittling soft wood into fantastic shapes. She introduced cooks to a new kind of thick, creamy, tasty, stomach-filling soup using ingredients already at their disposal. She even helped designed a new, efficient windmill which did three things at once - crush grain, deliver water, and aid in twisting vines to create ropes much stronger than the villagers ever had before. Indeed, Lampie was quite an asset to her little hamlet. Everyone loved her, and so did the boys, especially since she grew up to be quite an attractive lass. Unfortunately, a few girls became jealous of the attention she was receiving and often wasted no time in talking behind her back as only true gossipers would. One day, when she was down by the stream fetching a bucket of water, two girls about the same age as her from town approached.
“Snow White! Rose Red!” Lampie called when she saw them coming. “I haven’t seen you two in a while.”
“Don’t patronize us!” Snow White shot back.
Lampie was taken aback by her friend’s brusqueness. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Stop pretending you’re so innocent,” Rose Red explained. “We know what you’re up to.”
“What do you mean?” the confused water carrier asked.
“You show off to all the boys,” Snow White exclaimed. “Short ones, tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones…doesn’t matter to you. You hook ‘em in with your smart inventions and addictive food, but we know what you are.”
“And what’s that?” Lamp Black asked.
“A witch,” Rose Red ascertained.
Lampie started laughing. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” she swore.
“Really?” Rose Red asked. “No one knows where you came from or how you know so many things.”
“And I’ve seen Moors,” Snow White added, “and none of them are as black as you.”
“And that makes me a witch?” Lampie asked.
“Then, how else else can you explain it?” Rose Red wondered. “How come no one has come to claim you all these years? How could you suddenly solve mechanical problems in the village that generations of artisans couldn’t? How could you know all these different ways of threshing grain that no one has done before? Sounds like witchcraft to me.”
“You two are being absurd,” Lamp Black moaned. “I’m just going to ignore you at this time and return to my work.”
“Oh, no, you’re not,” Snow White promised.
Just then, six young men entered the area from the surrounding forest. One of them was carrying a giant net while the others were dragging a canoe with foodstuffs in a sack in it. Lampie, quickly reading the writing on the wall, dropped her pail and started to run. Rose Red, a champion sprinter in her younger school days, darted after the fleeing maiden and, mere moments later, tackled her on a grassy knoll. Lampie started fighting back. To her surprise, Rose Red held her own. Despite her pale, skinny arms, she was as strong as a tiger. Seconds later, Snow White and the young men caught up to the sparring duo. In no time, they restrained the struggling lass and cast the net over her.
“Amazing,” Rose Red whined, catching her breath. “She’s as fast and feisty as a cobra.”
“I guess you met your match,” Snow White told her red-haired friend.
“Let me out of here!” Lampie yelled, struggling to free herself from the net.
“Oh,” Rose Red assured her, “you’ll be let out…far away from here.”
“Help!” Lampie shouted. “Help!”
“Hush, girl,” Snow White warned her. “You’re too far in the woods to be heard.”
“Wait till my parents hear of this!” Lampie castigated them.
“Easy come, easy go,” Rose Red taunted her.
“What does that mean?” the captured young woman asked.
“When your parents realize you’ve gone,” Rose boasted, “they’ll just see it as you rediscovering your roots and returning back to where you came from.”
“Just so you know,” Snow White confessed, “not everybody in the village likes you.”
“That’s a lie!” Lampie asserted.
“It’s only because your parents are well respected that you’ve lasted this long,” Snow White assured her. “Behind your back you should hear the names the people call you.”
“I don’t believe you,” Lamp Black scolded her.
“Midnight Child, Charcoal Sister, Sootie...” Snow White elucidated.
“Black Rose, Blackstone, Blacksnake,” Rose Red added. “Should we go on?”
Lamp Black, beginning to feel the painful sting of the village’s betrayal, started sobbing.
“That’s not true,” she cried. “You’re lying.”
“People only opened their arms to you because they didn’t know if they could trust you,” Rose Red explained. “Face it, you’re different. People are cautious of those that are different. You’re not one of us. You’ll never be one of us.”
“Then, let me go,” Lampie countered, “and let the villagers tell me so themselves.”
“Too late for that,” Snow White explained.
Lampie gazed at the long faces of the young men who’d capture her. At least half of them she knew.
“Billy Blue,” she pleaded to the shortest member. “We grew up together. I taught you how to tie all different kinds of knots. Why are you doing this?”
Embarrassed, and barely unable to look his ex-classmate in the face, Billy silently stared at his feet.
“And you,” she said to another young man, “Peter Rich, the magistrate’s son. Didn’t we have a lot of laughs together, you and I?”
Like Billy, Peter also couldn’t look Lampie in the face.
“We planted a lot of fields together, Young Starling,” she said to a third. “As a matter of fact, you used to have my back when kids from neighboring villages picked on me. How can you do this now?”
“Maybe,” Starling began, somewhat forlornly, “maybe everybody’s right. You don’t belong here.”
“Do you really believe that, Starling?” Lampie asked. “After all we’ve been through, like a brother and sister?”
“You’re not my sister!” he abruptly blurted out, shaking Lamp Black to her core.
“Take her already,” Rose Red commanded the sextet. “It’s getting late and all this sentimental back and forth nonsense is giving me a headache.”
Thus, the six young men from the village placed their struggling victim in the canoe and dragged it towards the beach not far from where they stood. Then each man, grabbing an oar, sailed off into the great expanse while Snow White and Rose Red watched from the shore.
For six unbearable days and nights, Lamp Black tried her best to deal with the improbable journey. All her pleas to the six boatmen went unanswered. In fact, they were so ill-prepared for the journey that they decided to cut their voyage short. Originally, they were headed off to Maereus, the Isle of Lost Souls, an island so bleak that it is rumored those who stepped foot on it were never heard from again. A virtual prison, it required no high fences or towering balustrades as it was surround by countless man-eating sea creatures of all shapes, colors and sizes. However, because the sextet were running out of food, and catching fish proved more irksome than fruitful, they agreed to drop her off at the next inlet they came upon.
It didn’t take long before they saw a bay that, from all outward appearances, seemed calm. Assured that she might perhaps survive in that wilderness and, therefore, allow them to sleep guiltlessly, they oared towards it.
“Where is this?” Lamp Black asked weakly, she herself starving for food.
“Doesn’t matter,” Young Starling retorted. “The Isle of Lost Souls is just too far to sail to in this dinghy.”
“Is that where we were headed?” Lampie asked. “Why?” she cried. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“What’s done is done,” Starling claimed. “Perhaps you’ll learn your lesson from this experience.”
“What lesson?” she asked. “I did nothing to deserve this treatment.”
“Who are we to argue with the fact that you are but a trespasser?” Starling inquired, hoping to receive no response from the dismayed captive.
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe I was a gift to our village?” she asked him.
“You are free to ponder any question you like,” Starling said as the boat touched the shore. “You’ll have lots of time.”
“Please, Starling,” Lampie pleaded again. “Don’t do this. Snow White and Rose Red are evil. They’ve corrupted you, all of you. Can’t you see that? Jealousy has led them to this.”
“Come on, girlie,” he said as the other men helped carry her off the canoe.
Laying her on the beach in the net, Young Starling removed a sharpened stone knife from his waistband and placed it on the beach not far from her reach.
“I’d cut you loose,” he remarked, “but you’d attack us and then we’d be forced to do something we will regret later. At least that knife will help you survive in this wilderness. Goodbye, Lamp Black, and good luck.”
Lampie cussed the six sailors as they returned to the canoe and sailed off towards their homeland. Looking at the sky, it was apparent that night would soon fall. Inching towards the knife, she secured it and freed herself from the net. Then, standing up, she surveyed the area with great intensity. As beaches went, this one was no different. Covered with shells and driftwood, she ambled along the soft sand, the net slung over her shoulder, hoping to find some sign that people were present. Nearly an hour later, and with no signs of human life in sight, she discovered the shoreline in front of her stopped at a small mountain of rocks which dropped off into the ocean. Delving into the nearby forest, she hoped perhaps she’d have better luck than she did on the beach. As night fell, and with seemingly no end to the forest, she returned to the beach where, at least, berries thrived in the shrubs not far from shore. Indulging in both green and black ones, she gorged herself until she could eat no longer then, folding the net into a pillow, lay down beneath the moonlight and cried herself to sleep.
Early the next day, and already tired of eating just berries, the deserted maiden decided to try her hand at fishing. Remembering that she’d passed a tree which leaned out over the sea, she returned to the spot down the beach, climbed the leaning tree’s relatively thin trunk, and headed up towards the branches. Fastening a long end of the net to a branch, she eased the rest of it down to the water below and, while she waited for fish to swim past, sang herself a song her mother used to sing to her.
Lampie, Lampie, don’t you cry
Papa’s ship is sailing by
Close your arms and make a wish
Mama’ll make your fav’rite dish.
The exiled lass started crying thinking about her mother and father. She even recalled what her fav’rite dish was. Just then, she noticed gentle motion from the rope hanging from the tree. Quickly, she pulled the net out of the water. In it were an armful of denizens of the sea.
“Fish!” she exclaimed, using nearly the exact same voice she did when her mother had completed her little tune.
After cleaning 1/4th of the fish, roasting them over a spit, and eating her fill, she filleted the rest and laid them out on leaves to dry in the sun. These she would eat later. Even though they would be pungent to smell, simply salting them in the sea water would make them palatable.
It didn’t take long for days to turn into weeks and weeks into months as Lamp Black acclimated herself to life in the distant land. Because of her warm, outgoing personality, she made friends with a few of the woodland animals she’d encountered. A hare with white feet she named White Socks. A deer with no tail she called No Tail. A fox who’d lost an eye, perhaps to disease or an accident, was called One Eye. The quartet were, essentially, kindred spirits as they were outsiders from their own kith and kin, and although Lampie pined to return home, at least she had good company in the friends she’d acquired.
One day, Lampie, White Socks, No Tail and One Eye went for a walk deep into the woods. Just for fun, they liked to travel to places they’d never been to before. Lamp Black, the strongest of the quartet, carried the net, which was full of food, over her shoulder. Arriving at a newly discovered area, White Socks started feeling jittery. Refusing to continue, he started thumping his hind legs in fright. Looking up ahead, all Lampie could see was a collection of trees that were typical in appearance. Several sky-high pines were arranged in a near perfect line, but other than that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
“White Socks,” she spoke to him, “why are you fearful? There’s nothing here to be scared of.”
The poor hare, barely listening to a word Lampie uttered, started reversing back from where they’d just came from.
“Don’t leave, White Socks,” she pleaded. “It’s because of you we have all these delicious roots to eat.”
The deserted maiden’s words fell on deaf ears as White Socks disappeared.
“I’ll never understand hares,” she groaned.
Onward, the remaining three continued. Several yards past the pines, No Tail started feeling jittery and refused to continue; his wobbly limbs exhibited this fear. Looking ahead, all Lamp Black could see were a near perfect row of oak trees. Other than that nothing else seemed out of the ordinary.
“No Tail,” she spoke to him,” why are you fearful? There’s nothing here to be scared of.”
The poor deer, barely listening to a word Lampie uttered, started reversing back from where they’d just came from.
“Don’t leave, No Tail,” she pleaded. “It’s because of you we have all these delicious nuts to eat.”
Lampie was talking to herself because, by the time she’d finished her spiel, the deer was no where to be found.
“I’ll never understand deer,” she lamented.
She then turned to the fox. “Well, One Eye,” she told him, “I guess it’s just you and me.”
The fox nodded as they continued their journey. Several yards past the oaks, they came to a clearing in the forest. A few yards ahead of them was a small quaint hut made from branches and twigs, no doubt, garnered from the very forest they were in. To the left of the hut was a life-sized statue of a growling bear. To the right was a life-sized statue of a roaring lion. What made the statues so unique was, instead of being constructed of alabaster, wood or clay, they appeared to be made solely from water. The eerie sight made the fox freeze in his tracks, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up straight. Lampie, eyeing the house, thought it looked ordinary, but unlike the animals, she was ecstatic to finally come into contact with a human again. She turned to her last companion.
“One Eye,” she spoke to him, “why are you fearful? There’s nothing here to be scared of.”
The poor fox, barely listening to a word his human friend uttered, started reversing back from where they’d just came from.
“Don’t leave, One Eye,” she pleaded. “It’s because of you we have all these delicious berries to eat.”
The fox, scared out of his wits, failed to say goodbye to her as he disappeared into the forest. Lampie shook her head.
“I’ll never understand foxes,” she revealed.
Turning to face the little house, she eyed it with curiosity. I wonder who lives here? she asked herself. From where she stood she could see a light on in the hut. Cautiously, she approached the remote cottage, listening intently for any sounds which would be a warning to keep her distance. She then scrutinized both statues, dipping a finger in each, wetting it in the process. Impossibly, both animals were sculpted from water. How can this be? she pondered. Water statues? Still disbelieving her eyes, she rolled up the sleeve on her right arm, stuck her arm straight through the bear statue, then passed it from left to right in her quest for something solid. Retrieving her arm, she wiped the water off it and rolled her sleeve back down. What manner of trickery is this? she asked herself. Just then the front door squeaked open; a short, hunchbacked old woman with a kind face exited with an empty bucket and a hand shovel. Lampie introduced herself.
“Good afternoon,” she began. “My name is Lamp Black. I thought I was alone in this forest.”
The old woman stopped and eyed the stranger. It had been so long since she’d spoken to anyone that she almost forgot how to speak.
“Hello, dearie,” she finally greeted the traveler. “Are you lost?”
“I was exiled here many months ago by my own people,” Lampie explained, “because they suddenly said I was trespassing.”
“What do you mean?” the elderly female inquired.
“Have you noticed,” Lampie asked, “that my skin is blacker than black?”
“That’s why you were exiled?”
“Yes,” the young forlorn mistress answered. “I was discovered in a stream by a childless couple who raised me as their own. All went well for years, but eventually, all dark secrets are revealed one way or another.”
“And you were betrayed,” the old woman guessed.
“I was betrayed,” Lampie repeated, nodding in exasperation.
“Do you want revenge on those who wronged you?” the elder stranger asked.
“Oh, no,” Lamp Black quickly answered. “That is not my way. I harbor no ill will towards them. In fact, I’ve spent many nights contemplating their actions from their point of view.Who am I to judge right from wrong?”
“I see,” the old woman said. “That’s quite noble of you. Still, I’d love to stay and chat more, but as you can see,” she elucidated by hoisting her shovel and empty bucket, “I’m off to the woods to dig up whatever edible root I can find.”
“Oh,” Lampie smiled, laying her own filled sack down on the ground between them. “There’s no need for that. As you can see,” she added, displaying all the contents of her net, “you can have your fill right here.”
The old woman’s eyes lit up like a star in the night. Laying her tools aside, she started handling the collection of nuts, berries and edible roots with care, relishing the feeling in her crooked little hands.
“Beautiful,” she exclaimed. “What are you selling these for?”
“They’re not for sale,” Lampie assured her. “You can have them. Help yourself to whatever you like.”
“Really?” the old woman asked. “No tricks?”
Lampie laughed. “I see now why you live alone,” she chuckled. “Mankind has been bad to you with their broken promises and deceitful ways.”
“That’s right,” the old woman nodded. “You’re quite astute. Since you’re willing to help me out, I am willing to return the favor. I can teach you things that will make you powerful, more so that you can imagine.”
“Tell me,” Lampie asked, “how are these water statues keeping their shape?”
“I can teach you how to do that, too,” the stranger answered simply. “My name is Markette.”
“Are you a witch?” Lampie asked.
Markette chuckled. “I haven’t heard that word in years,” she revealed. “There are secrets I know and things that I can do that some may label me a conjurer or diviner, and others may label as witch, but personally, I don’t care for that word. It seems too…evil. Years ago, when I did live amongst your world, they called me the Water Witch because of my ability to manipulate water. It’s just a gift I have but earned me the disdain of the people, so I had to leave. I am in exile, but unlike you, by choice.”
“Then you understand how I feel,” Lampie guessed.
“Lamp,” Markette said, “you are free to stay in my home as long as you like.”
“I would like that,” the precocious youngster nodded. “I think I can learn a lot from you.”
“And I, as well,” Markette said. “Come, let me show you how I prepare roots. You will find my recipes to be the most enticing things your tongue has ever tasted.”
And so began the tutelage of Lamp Black by the so-called sorceress the Water Witch, a schooling that would last for seven years. Theirs was a truly symbiotic relationship as they did learn and grow from each other. Markette, at her age, thought she’d learned all she possibly could in life, but Lampie brought her a gift she’d rarely had any use for – compassion. For instance, the old woman, who already had a handle on animal behavior, gained new insight into the local fauna and came to respect their kingdom as much as her student did. Lampie also had a few tricks up her sleeve in reference to cooking, and through her, Markette discovered how to prepare new ways for the old roots. And, to the elder woman’s surprise, she had no idea that, for years, she simply grazed past wild plants she could’ve consumed, roots and all. Soon, because of her protégé, she came to identify and appreciate the purplish, large-leaved burdock, the corn taste-a-like cattail, the bushy chicory with their light blue flowers, the white-flowered wood sorrel whose roots tasted a bit like potatoes, and many others, including the easy to find dandelion which she never suspected could be eaten once the roots are boiled and seasoned to taste.
As an apprentice, Lampie was a quick and eager student. She learned the history and art of divining; that is, using Y-shaped dowsing rods to help locate sources of ground water. She also learned not only how to predict weather but also the total amount of rainfall expected. Although there were countless failures after failures, she eventually did learn how to create water spouts from streams and seas, how to part the rain from falling on her when she went out for a stroll, how to manipulate sea waves to move objects such as shells, driftwood and fish, and even how to sculpt images using water alone. Lampie’s growth was astonishing, but it also made Markette nervous. In case her young charge became corrupted by her gifts, she purposefully didn’t teach her all she knew. The student, however, guessed that the old lady was holding back from teaching her everything, but Markette swore she had nothing else to impart.
One day, when the elderly woman went scouting for some edible roots, the supremely inquisitive Lampie started rifling through the tomes Markette had thought she’d kept well hidden high above a wood beam in a box near the ceiling. Perusing quickly, she soon learned about sea cucumbers, unusual animals that can liquefy themselves by unhooking the bonds that keep their cells together. More importantly, she learned that even a human could turn into water if they knew how to manipulate the same forces of nature. She also learned that, through manipulation of similar forces, she could change her skin color like a chameleon, from black to white to all the shades between. Fascinated by her discoveries, Lampie studied the books whenever her teacher wasn’t around, that is to say, very often; the times she was alone she poured into the forbidden manuals as deeply as she could. First, she learned how to submerge her hand in water and watch as it became water, incredulously mixing in and becoming invisible with the clear liquid in the trough. Eventually, she learned not only how to turn her whole body into water but also how to turn it into a stream, puddle, raindrops, or anything else that involved water. Proud as she was of her new gifts, she feared showing them to Markette lest she be scolded, and perhaps even kicked out, for accessing the hidden ledgers.
Throughout the years, Lampie tried hard to forget the only village she knew as well as the only parents she had. This weighed heavily on her heart but did not go unnoticed by her compassionate mentor. One afternoon, while they were enjoying tasty crimson weed soup, Markette’s tongue felt so heavy she simply felt she had to relieve it somehow.
“Lamp,” she asked her charge, “isn’t it time you went back home?”
“It’s been on my mind,” the maiden-in-exile revealed, “but I’ve become so used to you and this forest over the years that I feel like this is my home now.”
“I’m old,” Markette lamented, “and probably won’t be around for much longer. I would regret it deeply if it’s my fault that you’ve completely turned your back on your loved ones.”
“But how would I get there?” Lamp asked. “It’s so far.”
Nearly an hour later, Lampie and Markette were standing on the shore, the same beachfront where the young maiden arrived seven years hence. A canoe stocked with a sack of bread, nuts and berries, as well as a new suit in a case, were sitting in it.
“This is why I was gone so often,” the old lady admitted. “I’ve been building this boat for you for some time.”
“But suppose I don’t want to return?” Lampie asked, tears filling her eyes.
“My dear, Lamp,” the old woman said, caressing the youngster’s hands, “all things, good and bad, must come to an end. There’s no escaping fate. Perhaps it was your destiny to stay here with me these past seven years, but I believe you belong in that village. We don’t know where you came from or who your parents are, but it doesn’t matter. The ones who call you their child and love you are back there, and they miss you.”
“How do you know?” Lampie asked.
“I know,” Markette answered, nodding her head.
Lampie, finally agreeing with the elder woman’s kind words, kissed her goodbye then set sail back towards her homeland.
From a spectator’s point of view, standing on a beach watching boatmen man their oars, their actions seemed effortless, like they were rowing through clouds. Or so Lamp thought. Now, however, that she herself was a boatman, she found the task excruciatingly painful and tedious. Mere minutes later, deciding she was out of sight of Markette and the forest, she commanded a wave to propel the craft towards her destination. Traveling at a casual speed, she guessed it might be a day or two before she reached the village so, stretching out her legs, she went right to sleep beneath the agreeably warm sun.
When Lampie finally reached the village two days later, she disguised herself as a test to see how well the area fared without her, or even if they missed her at all. Instead of her usual appearance, she was now as fair as Snow White, complete with deep blue eyes and long brown hair cascading down her back. To add to her ruse, she even adopted a tone of voice principally utilized by noblewomen. Hiding the canoe amongst a dense grove near the beach, she slipped into the town in her brand new suit and was immediately noticed by the villagers. Men, both young and old, ran to her and asked if there was something they could help her with such as food or lodgings. Telling them her name was White Lotus, she accepted their offer and found respite in a tidy and spacious home that the villagers mainly used as a guest house for visiting dignitaries. When they asked her why she was traveling without luggage, she said that, in order for her to experience any place to the fullest that she visited, it was best she not only ate like the populace but dressed like them as well, and so preferred to move about without wares, furnishings or even clothes.
For the next few days, White Lotus was treated like a queen by the menfolk of the village. Some younger women were quite jealous of her charm and beauty but their pride kept them silent. The older females, however, welcomed her with open arms as guests to their neck of the woods were far and few between. Snow White’s mother, a fine cook and baker, showered her with fresh biscuits, delicious soups and fine cuts of meat at an impromptu dinner party at her house which her daughter herself attended. Snow White, jealous of how refined Lotus was, ignored her all night. Lotus, enjoying her disguise, simply stared at the young woman who was responsible for her previous exile. The next night, she was invited to the home of Rose Red’s mother, a fine seamstress who bestowed upon her pretty jackets and dresses that would befit a princess. Rose Red, jealous of how magnificent Lotus appeared, ignored her all night. Lotus, enjoying her disguise, simply stared at the young woman who was responsible for her previous exile.
As Lotus was usually feted during the nights as a guest at people’s homes, during the day she conducted her own investigation into the town. As it turned out, even though seven years had passed, the disappearance of Lamp Black was still fresh on some folk’s minds. Among other things she learned was that Lamp Black was a witch and got what she deserved, or perhaps did so much wrong in her past life that her rebirth rendered her a midnight-black child. Some people admitted that she didn’t deserve to to be exiled while others had no opinion on the matter. The few times White Lotus decided to visit her parents, she got distracted by the villagers who vied for her attention. Eventually, she learned that The Millers had went to another village to trade beans for grain and that they should be returning shortly.
One night, White Lotus was feted for visiting the village by the magistrate at his spacious home. Among the guests were Peter Rich, the magistrate’s son, as well as Billy Blue, Young Starling and the three other men who were part of the crew that carried Lampie into exile. During dinner, at a large rectangular table, the subject of Lamp Black was brought up.
“She was a nuisance,” Peter Rich claimed.
“She was a trouble maker,” Billy Blue added.
“She was a trespasser,” Young Starling admitted.
The magistrate simply shook his head and encouraged everyone to mind their manners because they had a guest in attendance. Gracefully, White Lotus took all the comments in stride even though, deep inside, she could feel her own internal temperature rising.
“Her parents, those millers, were to blame,” Peter Rich stated.
“If it wasn’t for them there’d be no rumors,” Billy Blue guessed.
“They’re bad luck for this town,” Young Starling concluded.
“I hate to agree,” the magistrate chimed in, “but the Millers tainted this community worse than a poisoned well. If they were to go, good riddance. I wouldn’t shed a tear.”
Again, gracefully, White Lotus took all the comments in even though, deep inside, she could feel her own blood boiling. The next day, while walking around the village, she overhead two people talking. Through them she learned that her parents were back in town. Jubilant, she went off to see them at once.
While Lampie was in exile, her parents were forced to move to a house that was located on a hill just outside of town, the trumped-up reasons being they were non-productive members and couldn’t be trusted for having adopted Lamp Black in the first place. As White Lotus neared the base of the hill, she noticed smoke rising from the crest. Suddenly, a fear gripped her heart like nothing she’d ever felt before. Racing up the hill, she momentarily looked over to one side and witnessed, in the distance, some people running down the other side as fast as their legs would take them. Among the quickly disappearing throng, she noticed, were Young Starling and his friends as well as Snow White and Rose Red. By the time Lotus reached the house, it was nothing but a smoldering collection of logs and branches. Ominously, burnt-out torches were lying haphazardly at the base of the house as if they were flung there. Quickly conjuring a spell, she caused water to rise up from nearby springs and douse the house and torches. As the flames died down, she ran into the bleak cottage where she saw her parents huddled together against a corner, both severely weakened from the intense heat and smoke inhalation. Protected by a shroud of water, young Lotus mustered all the strength she had, kicked aside some burning timber in her path, helped her parents to their feet and assisted them to the safety of the grass outside.
“Are you two okay?” the despondent savior asked as the shroud dissipated.
“My child,” Lotus’s mother remarked, albeit weakly, “you came home.”
“How do you know it’s me?” their daughter asked. “My form is different.”
“Your voice is the same,” her mother stated. “A parent knows their children.”
“I should’ve come back sooner,” Lotus cried.
“We missed you so much,” her strength-less father revealed.
“As did I,” their daughter said, weeping. “I have to get you two to a doctor.”
“I fear it’s too late for us,” her mother whispered. “Look after yourself.”
“You two are all I have,” Lotus cried. “It was never my choice to leave.”
“We fully understand,” her father surmised. “We can’t change the way these people think.”
“Whoever set this place on fire will pay!” Lotus promised.
“Even though you were gone you were always here,” her mother stated, pointing to her own heart. “Don’t forget, we will always love you.”
Lotus hugged both of her parents then stared as life seeped from their body.
“No!” she yelled.
Her eyes, aflame like red orbs of molten lava in her throbbing skull, turned her head to angrily gaze down the hill where the eight young people had ran off. At the same time, a thunderclap boomed so loudly that it caused birds to abandon their roosts in the trees and take to the sky.
The sudden, unexpected rainfall in the village seconds later caught everyone by surprise. Folks who were out working in the fields had to abandon their chores while children, out enjoying the sun, cursed the sky and returned to the safety of their homes. Although it was raining everywhere the drops came down harder in certain spots. One noted area this occurred was down at the marina where several boats were moored. When word got out that the boats were beginning to fill with water, their owners rushed down to the docks to drain them out.
Among the sailors who raced down to the dock in the pouring rain were Young Starling and his five friends, eager to rid the boat they all co-owned of its growing pool of water. With the strong winds lashing about incessantly, and with water often blinding their eyes, it became apparent that the promise of draining the boat vs the actual act were two completely different things. Like the other owners, the sextet quickly climbed aboard with their pails and began draining the water out, a task grossly impeded by the swelling waves which caused the vessels to list from side to side. A sailor, arriving a bit late to drain his own boat, quickly glanced at the others to see how they were faring. Looking down the beach he noticed something peculiar where the last boat was moored. Squinting his eyes, and still barely unable to determine what he was seeing because of the falling rain, he went towards the boat. Within seconds it became apparent that a white-footed hare was chewing on the taut mooring rope of the last vessel.
“Scoot!” he yelled at White Socks.
When the hare kept on gnawing, the sailor grabbed a piece of driftwood from the shore and flung it towards the little furry lagomorph. White Socks, narrowly escaping the log, leaped up and quickly disappeared into the nearby forest. The mooring rope, severely weakened by the overgrown front teeth of the mischievous hare, snapped in two, causing the boat to break free of the marina.
“Ahoy!” the sailor shouted to the Starling sextet, but it was too late. By the time the young sailors realized they were no longer in safe harbor, the rising waves had already thrust them out to sea.
At once, all six started panicking when they realized their dinghy was headed straight towards a whirlpool. Young Starling, frightened that the craft may get pulled under, dived into the water and tried to swim back to shore. To his amazement, the current was stronger than he imagined and he soon found himself being pulled towards the eddy. The remaining men on the boat reached over the side to reel him in but he was too far out of reach. Peter Rich, grabbing an elongated net puller, stretched it out towards his floundering buddy. Starling kept reaching for the hook-end of the puller, but the violent motion of the waves prevented it. Finally, he grabbed the hook; unfortunately, the suction from the eddy was so strong that Peter was accidentally yanked overboard. As the other four on the boat reached for him, all six began to realize what was written in the stars - struggle as they might to get to safety, it was plainly obvious that they were just too close to gaping maw of the powerful whirlpool. The other sailors on the shore could only stare in abject awe as Young Starling and his five friends got sucked into the swirling eddy, never to be seen or heard from again.
Rose Red and a young man she fancied, meanwhile, were enjoying themselves at a picnic area near a mountaintop. It was raining, but their site wasn’t nearly as deluged as the waterfront. Also, since the site was well protected by several old oak and maple trees, they felt safe. The young man, a talented musician from the village, was regaling his paramour with songs ancient and new. Strumming his lyre, he sang while Rose spun around like a whirling dervish, her moist, wind-swept dress blowing in the wind. Because of the rain, a waterfall was created over an escarpment a few yards beyond the trees. Rose, ever the playful darling, raced over to the fall, stripped herself naked and began bathing in the flowing water. Her boyfriend, tempted by the sight, laid down his instrument and started undressing to accompany her there.
Just then, a fox leaped out of the bushes towards Rose and snarled at her. Frightened, the naked maiden backed up into the waterfall where both of her feet got caught between the rocks. Yelling for help, her boyfriend ran towards the fall while the fox, which was One Eye, kept baring his teeth at her. Her boyfriend, picking up a heavy stick, threw it at One Eye, catching him on his back, causing the fox to leap and shoot back into the woods. By then a solid chamber of water had developed around the frightened lass and was filling fast. Her boyfriend reached out for her but found he couldn’t penetrate the unusual partition. Rose, struggling to free her feet, soon realized the pool of water she was in was already up to her neck. As her boyfriend pounded fruitlessly on the transparent wall, water kept on rising till it was well above her head. All he could do was stare helplessly as his girlfriend frantically clawed towards freedom, pitifully gasped for air, trying her best to escape the water trap. Seconds later, reality struck him like a barrel of bricks when the now blue Rose Red, her lungs filled with water, gave up the fight and went silent. The wall then collapsed. Her boyfriend caught her in his arms, but by then, it was too late. Rose Red was gone.
Over on the eastern slope of the village in the midst of a heath, a birthday party, in full swing just minutes before, came to an unfortunate sudden stop when it started raining. At once, the guests began packing their belongings which included blankets and shawls, food and beverages. Almost all of the party goers were annoyed by the sudden downpour, but one guest was tremendously upset with it. Snow White, wearing a brand new dress she’d sewn for the occasion, pouted and sulked, punching her fist to the sky while uttering words so colorful that even her friends were surprised she knew them. As she began to assist with the clean up, she noticed a playful deer scamping about in the heath about 200 feet away. Abandoning her work, she cautiously went towards the ruminant, carefully avoiding sudden movements that might scare it away. When she neared it, it was apparent that the even-toed, no-tail herbivore wasn’t scared of her at all. In fact, it seemed to enjoy her company so much that they both began to scamper and frolic about like long lost pals. Snow White, ignoring her friends’ call to return, kept playing with her new buddy in the light rain, indulging in impromptu games of hide & seek and catch the stick.
When No Tail hopped into a grassy knoll next to a few vine-covered elms, the young maiden followed suit. When the deer pounced on a mound of rocks, his new friend, likewise, did the same. The deer then leaped over an earthen patch beneath one of the elms, but Snow White, lacking the same jumping ability as the feisty critter, simply followed along on the ground. Just then she found herself stuck in the soft earth. Try as she might, she couldn’t free herself from the trap. As she began sinking into the quicksand, she reached upwards and grabbed one of the low-hanging vines. As she couldn’t pull herself out, she started yelling for help. Immediately, her friends stopped what they were doing and ran towards her. No Tail, seeing the small crowd approaching, quickly darted off into the forest. By the time the party goers arrived, the poor lass, now encircled by several waterspouts, was entangled in a few of the overhead vines, some wrapped around her arms and chest. Her friends tried reaching through the powerful spouts to free her, but to their surprise, they were impenetrable. Snow White, sinking deeper and deeper, continued screaming for help as she became even more entangled in the vines. With both her arms caught in the immovable tendrils, some wrapped around her neck, she found herself being stretched out as if her body was caught in a dungeon’s punishing rack. The guests then watched and screamed in horror as Snow White, mired in the rain-soaked phenomena, suddenly had her head rented from her shoulders by the vines while her body got completely pulled beneath the surface of the muscular quicksand.
It didn’t take long before the legend of Lamp Black became a popular folk tale among the citizens. Some claim that she disguised herself as water to exact revenge on those who killed her parents, others say it’s just an old wives’ tale children are told so they’ll be careful when playing in and around water. Even so, to this day, in the heath where Snow White died, in the waterfall where Rose Red met her end, and the shore where the six sailors last stood, when it rains, you can still hear in the winds, the plaintive wail of a maiden-in-exile lamenting the loss of the only parents she knew.