|Butterfly and the Witch Boy
From the Stardancer Stories
by Barry B. Longyear
There was a young girl in the village whose name was Butterfly. She had been named Butterfly by the name spirit who chooses the names of all newborn children very carefully. There were some in the village, though, who thought the name spirit might have made a mistake in her case. One night, before the great fire, a few spoke what they thought about the girl named Butterfly.
There was an old man, who some thought very wise because of his many years. His name was Left Hand. "Butterfly is very foolish," he declared. "She has no experience, and that is why she is foolish."
Some listened to Left Hand and agreed that Butterfly was foolish. And Butterfly was one of those who listened.
There was a young girl, who some thought very beautiful because of her slender form and raven hair. Her name was White Dove. "Butterfly is very ugly," she declared. "She has thick bones and a heavy face, and that is why she is ugly."
Some listened to White Dove and agreed that Butterfly was ugly. And Butterfly was one of those who listened.
There was a hunter who some thought very strong because he had large muscles and could lift heavy stones. His name was Growling Bear. "Butterfly is weak," he declared. "She can't even carry a full basket of earth, and that is why she is weak."
Some listened to Growling Bear and agreed that Butterfly was weak. And Butterfly was one of those who listened.
Finally there was a potter who some thought very smart because he could remember the names of all of the tribes, of the men, women, and children, and of all of the birds, animals, insects, and fish. The potter's name was Fox Tail. "Butterfly is stupid," he declared. "She doesn't even know the names of her ancestors, and that is why she is stupid."
Some listened to Fox Tail and agreed that Butterfly was stupid. And Butterfly was one who listened. She went away from the fire calling herself foolish, ugly, weak, and stupid.
When she had walked far from the camp, she sat alone upon a high rock, looking up at the stars through the tears in her eyes, wondering why the Spirit had created such a terrible child. She prayed to the Night Mother to make her different.
A voice came from behind her saying, "Why do you cry, Butterfly?"
She jumped at the sound and turned to see a tall boy painted with white ashes and wearing a cap of black and silver tassels on his head. Although few had ever seen the boy, even Butterfly knew who he was: East Wind, the witch boy. He was said to live in a cave with a bear and that he feasted upon raw bats. He had great magic.
Although Butterfly was frightened of the witch boy, her heart was very troubled. She decided to tell him her problem. "East Wind, I am crying because I am foolish, ugly, weak, and stupid."
The boy's teeth gleamed in the darkness as he smiled. "That is, indeed, a dreadful problem." He thought for a moment, smiled again, and said to the girl, "Butterfly, it troubles me to see you so sad. Tell me what you would have me change about you and I will do it. What would you have me try, Butterfly?"
The girl placed her hands together and begged, "Oh, East Wind, East Wind, end my foolishness and make me as experienced as Left Hand."
The witch boy lifted his hands, closed his eyes, and said, "It is done."
Butterfly soon found herself inside Left Hand's body, looking through Left Hand's eyes, and feeling with Left Hand's fingers. He was sitting alone at the edge of the village before a small fire. He had a patched robe about his shoulders, and he hunched his head and shoulders into the robe and kept his eyes toward the fire, looking very wise and experienced. Every so often Left Hand would glance at the villagers who passed by to see if anyone noticed him looking very wise and experienced.
This puzzled Butterfly. Left hand was very old. Therefore he must be experienced. Why would he care who looked at him or what they thought about him?
She saw a familiar face and realized that Left Hand was looking at Butterfly as she was playing hoops with three boys. "Children are all the same," Left Hand grumbled to himself.
Then Butterfly did a strange thing. She could turn and look into every moment of Left Hand's past. She could see him as a child, being called foolish by a elder. She could see how he stayed away from the other children, making himself almost an outcast among his own people.
He was not good at games, so he refused to play. He was not good at hunting, so he refused to hunt. There were many things he was not good at, so he refused to do any of them. All that kept him from starving was a charitable mother who lived a very long time. A very long time after that, long after the deaths of those who had been children when Left hand was a child, Left Hand had done almost nothing during his entire life except complain about others and stay alive.
Left Hand looked at Butterfly playing with the other children and said, "Children are all the same. They are all foolish."
And Butterfly knew that what the old man said wasn't true.
And Butterfly knew that almost anyone in the camp had more experience than Left Hand. As young as she was, Butterfly knew that she already possessed more experience than he.
She begged the witch boy, "Let me take back my wish, East Wind. I want only to be as experienced as I am."
Butterfly found herself back on her rock looking at the ash painted boy. "I still see tears on your face," East Wind said to Butterfly. "Why are they there?"
"I may be experienced, East Wind, but I am still not beautiful. I am ugly."
"What would you have me try, Butterfly?" asked the witch boy.....
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