There was a woman from a distant land, who was blessed with two wonderful children. A long time since they had set sail for new lands, but she had not heard from them. Fearing the worst, she made enquiries, and then journeys, and then long voyages, in search of their whereabouts. She learned much. The sailors told her they had boarded a vessel which had been shipwrecked on a faraway island.
She made her way to this island. Here she called, and searched, and yet there was no sign of them - no sign of anyone, for the island was deserted. Just as the sun was setting, she came to a house of fine wood. She knocked on the door and it was answered by a wizened man with a face as pale as bone.
‘Oh sir’, she pleaded, ‘I am looking for my children, and I hear their ship has been wrecked on this isle most recently. Can you help me find them?’
The pale man smiled, and it was a hungry smile. ‘Why, of course. I would certainly help you, if only I wasn’t so busy. My workshop is in disrepair and I have no time to clear it - for my older brothers work me so very, very hard. But if you do me a service, then I will do you a service.’
‘Anything’, she said.
‘Very well. If you can clear my workshop before the sun rises, then I will promise to help you’, he said. ‘But if you cannot…then you must swear to become my wife’.
She shot him a disgusted look, but being desperate to find her loved ones, she agreed.
‘Very well’, he chortled, and he skipped off into the darkness.
The man’s workshop was large and clogged with filth of all kinds. Working in the dark was hard. Worse, there were no tools or other implements to clear the workshop with; no clean water to be drawn. After hours of effort to no great consequence, the woman began to cry.
And in that moment, she remembered the art passed down through her tribe - the art of burning the soul. And she closed her eyes, and concentrated, and felt keenly her emotions. She remembered her feelings of love, of hope, and joy - and fashioned these into tools to work with. She remembered her fear, her sorrow, and her loneliness, and cast these deep into the dry earth - and in that place a cold spring erupted. She remembered her feelings of stubbornness, of defiance, and determination - and from within her a shadowy flame emerged, banishing the night before her.
So armed, she set to work scouring the workshop. By the time the sun had risen, it sparkled brightly, and everything inside was neat and in its proper place.
Returning from work, the youngest brother rubbed his hands together, and grinned his grin, knowing that there was no way the woman could have finished his task. But, on entering his workshop, his grin broke like a wave upon the rocks.
‘You have done me a fine service’, he said, bitterly. ‘Very well. Your children were on that boat, but it is not my place to tell you what has become of them. Rest here for the day, and at sunset, go and see my older brother; I will show you the way’.
And she did so, and at sunset, she made her way to a large farm where the second brother lived. She knocked upon the farmhouse door, and a gaunt, shrivelled man with a face as sharp as bone appeared.
‘I am here -’
‘Oh, I know why you are here’, the sharp man smiled - and it was a hungry smile. ‘My layabout brother has sent you to ask me for a service. The cheek of it! Why, my other brothers work me so hard, and so long, I have barely had any time to look after my horses, which have broken free of my pasture and even now run wild in yonder forest.’
‘I will do you this - as a service’, she said.
‘You may - on one condition. You have until the sun rises to gather all my horses. But if you do not bring them back by then, you must promise to become my bride’.
She cursed. But, driven by her will to seek her children, she agreed.
‘Very well’, said the older brother, cackling. And he skipped off into the darkness.
The older brother was craftier than the first. For, in truth, he had no horses, but for a long time had coveted the wild creatures that ran in the woods and longed to rob them of their freedom.
The woman made her way to the woods, and now she tracked the horses: silently, silently. She brought with her a coil of rope, but each time she cast it around the necks of the wild horses they threw it off. She tried again, and again they threw it off. And she tried a third time, and the rope landed around the neck of a good strong stallion, and the stallion snorted, and bucked, and broke the rope in twain.
The woman sighed, and closed her eyes, and concentrated. She remembered the sun shining. She remembered where her shadow ought to be. She shut her eyes tightly and, gripping the base of her feet, she pulled her shadow - up. And as she did, it stretched, and she wound it around both her hands: gently, gently. When she opened her eyes she held before her a fine lasso.
The lasso was so light, and so strong, that she quickly set to work rounding up the horses and breaking them in, one by one. By the time the sun was rising, she led the last horse - the good strong stallion - into the sharp man’s paddock.
Returning from work, the older brother chuckled, and licked his lips together, knowing that there was no way the woman could have completed his task. But, on entering his farm, his confidence broke like a ship upon the rocks.
‘You have done me a fine service’, he muttered, dejectedly. ‘Your children were in that boat, but it is not my place to tell you what has become of them - that is for our oldest brother to do. Rest here during the day, and I will show you the secret path to his lodgings tomorrow as the sun sets.’
And she did so, and at sunset, she made her way through a secret path in the mountains to the oldest brother’s lodgings, a house carved into the side of the rock. She shouted into the doorway, and shortly there appeared a tall, thin, man, with a face as cold and wicked as death.
‘Excuse me, I have come -’
‘To ask me if you can do me a service, yes’, the skull-faced man replied. He smiled, and it was a hungry smile - hungry and cruel. ‘ I have just the thing in mind. You see, I have lost something precious to me - a gold ring, so small and fine, that it must have slipped off my hand while I was working. I would look for it, only my younger brothers are so feckless that I have to work all night and have no time for searching. Perhaps you will do me a service?’
‘Yes, I will.’
‘Good. You have until sunrise to find this ring - and if you do not, you must promise to become my wife.’
She glowered at him. But, unwavering, she agreed to his bargain all the same.
‘Of course, you never will find that ring: I have searched for it for months now, and always has it eluded my grasp’. And as he left to go, he turned to speak one final time. ‘You will make a fine wife.’ And he barked a horrid laugh, and stalked away into the darkness.
And the woman breathed a long breath, knowing that this would be the hardest task yet, and that the older brother was surely more cruel and more cunning than either of his siblings.
So she sat, and closed her eyes, and concentrated. She remembered her anxieties, her moments of genius, her daydreams, and her brightest thoughts. And she set these down, one by one, upon the ground around her. Here, they took the shape of small animals,both keen of eye and quick of hand.
And she whispered to each of them in turn, and they set out to comb the island. And so she waited, and waited, and not for one moment did she falter in her faith that the ring would return to her.
And she was right. As the sun rose, a squirrel-like creature brought her the fine gold ring, light as a feather, and placed it into her hand.
Returning from work, the oldest brother strode over to the woman and leaned over her.
‘I have brought you your ring, as you asked’.
And the skull-faced man smiled his cruel smile. ‘Then we are to be married, wife-to-be - for it is the custom of our people that the gift of a ring signifies a true proposal!’
And the woman scowled, and spat, and knew then that the oldest brother had deceived her. But she was undeterred.
‘You still owe me a service, future husband. I will be denied no longer. Tell me what has happened to my children.’
‘Very well. Rest here for the day, and at night I will take you to where I last saw them and tell you all that I know.’
And so she did this, and at night, the brother led her to the top of a tall and rocky outcrop, and there the other two brothers were waiting. They stood before a large stone tower, the fire at its summit unlit. In the distance around the coast, strange flames flickered seductively.
And the skull-faced man spoke to her, cruel and ugly and full of dark triumph.
‘The boat your children were in was wrecked. But the last time I saw them was here, after I stripped the meat from their bones, and dashed their bodies onto the rocks below!’
And she would have cried out, if she had sorrow, or grief, or tears left to cry. Instead, she grimaced, and tried desperately to think, her mind devoid of all her brightest thoughts.
‘And you know what the best part is, wife-to-be? We are the ones who wreck the boats, and you will be helping us haul in miserable dead wretches like your brats for years and years to come! Come, come, you can look at me that way, but I know your light is spent - you have nothing left to burn.’
But her light was far from spent, and the fire of her determination burned hot and keen inside of her.
‘I have one thing left to use, you bastard - I still have my name!’
And the woman pulled her name from her breast with a terrible scream, and it became a long and burning sword. The younger brothers cowered, and the older brother snarled, and the woman advanced upon them, sword in hand.
‘I will never serve the likes of you!’
She cut them down with her flaming sword, and the black bile of their blood stained and melted the blade until it was no more.
And there she sat for what seemed like the longest time, squatting in their foul blood, until her eyes rested upon the strange stone tower in this place. She saw then that it was an ancient lighthouse, long lost to disrepair, and that without it, the false fires the brothers had set upon the rocks would lure other poor souls like her children to their deaths.
And then she ascended the lighthouse, and looked down into the crucible, and sighed a long sigh - for now, at the time she needed it most, she had nothing left to burn. No feelings, no shadow, no thoughts - and no name.
But the fire within her spoke up, and she was aware - how could she not be? - there was still ‘her’ - everything that made her what she was. Her memories. The memories of those she loved. And so she placed her very essence into the crucible, and there it caught fire from the flame within her heart. And the flame burned white, and hot, and strong, and banished the false fires on the rocks with the truth of its light.
And that lighthouse and this one are the very same, and the fire still burns to this day.