Today is Flash Fiction Thursday… and I decided to try something a little different.
This is a story that I grew up with, something that was told to me when I was very young, in many different ways. And I’ve decided to share it with you today.
There is a town in Iowa, where I spent the first 11 years of my life. And in this town, there is a park, with an enormous, glacier-dropped boulder. In fact, the park is named “Boulder Park” because of it. And there is a giant crack in the side of the stone, and a cross…carved deep into the top of this stone. This is the story I was told about where this crack, and this cross came from.
The Maiden of the Stone
Many years ago, in the time of The People, a maiden of the tribe fell in love with a hunter from an opposing people. They had met at the time of the great hunt, and had been seeing one another secretly, each slipping away from their own people to meet in the forest.
But they were discovered. And the maiden’s love was forbidden by her father. He had her every move shadowed, keeping her close to the camp, not allowing her any space to sneak off again to see her love. He also sent a message to the opposing camp, warning them to keep the hunter away from his beloved daughter.
But the hunter refused to stay away. He had fallen for the lovely maiden, as well, and would not stay parted from her for long. Late one night, he snuck, stealthily, to the maiden’s camp, searching for his love. Finding the tent she slept in, he cut a slit in the side of the hides, reached in, and found himself dragged inside by her father.
Enraged, the maiden’s father had the hunter tied to a post in the center of their camp, threatening to have him killed to keep him from stealing his daughter away like a thief. The maiden pleaded with her father, but he was resolute, and the hunter was brought to the sacrificial rock. A giant boulder not far from their village, which the old ones had said was an altar, left by the earth spirits, it was used to lay out the seasonal sacrifices for the ancestors. Most often, it was grains, gourds, and fruits. But occasionally, when a hunt had gone badly, or the elders declared that the spirits were in need of a larger gift to bring the rain, there was an animal sacrificed there.
And now, the maiden’s love was to be killed here. Not as a necessary sacrifice, but out of revenge, anger, and hatred. The maiden was inconsolable, weeping and tearing her hair, as they brought her hunter out to the stone. He sang of his love for her, and of his deeds for his tribe as a hunter. Watching as her father began to cut the hunter, which would cause him to bleed slowly to death, the maiden keened and cut herself too, letting her blood flow from her arms and legs onto the stone, wailing that she would not marry any other than him, even unto her own death.
And when her father was satisfied with his work, he returned to his daughter, grabbing her as she struggled to reach the man dying atop the rock. In a surprising show of strength, she threw off her father’s restraining arms and leapt onto the sacrificial altar with her beloved.
Standing atop the stone with her long butchering knife in hand, the maiden declared that if this was to be her love’s last moment, it would be hers as well, and any that followed her to the top of the stone would meet her blade.
No one followed, they all waited in silence, as she laid herself down next to her hunter, her love. They knew that strength such as she had shown did not come from the body, but from the heart, and the gods, and to defy such was to defy their own ancestors’ wishes. None would dare to do so.
And as they lay in one another’s arms, the life slowly slipping from them both, the maiden wept, whispering to her hunter of her love for him, as he gently kissed her brow and breathed his last.
Knowing that her love had walked over the river of death ahead of her, to await her on the other side, the maiden took her blade and drove it into her own heart. It passed completely through her own body and lodged itself into the stone beneath.
And at just that moment, the earth gave a mighty groan, a rumbling that shook The People from their feet, and the sacrificial stone heaved once and settled back, booming a mighty noise. When they arose, the tribe saw that the stone had cracked, an enormous fissure, now visible, along the front of the stone – but looking as though it had always been. The spirits had spoken.
Elders stepped forth, keening for the lost maiden, and berating the father, telling him that the Ancestors had broken the sacrificial altar in her honor, spilling all the magic into the ground, where it would no longer benefit The People. It could no longer be used for any spiritual purpose, but had been profaned in his act of revenge.
Humbled and afraid, the father begged the Elders to help him, to tell him what needed to be done to placate the spirits. And the answer came swiftly.
There was no way to bring back the dead, but he could honor the sacrifice they both had made for their love. They would be buried in a place of honor, and songs sung to speed them on their way to the Summer Lands. The hunter’s body was retrieved easily, having just been tied, and weighted with rocks wrapped in rope – but the maiden’s body had been pinned to the boulder by her blade, and the only way to remove it, was for the father to pull the knife from her, himself. Grasping the hilt, he wept as he pulled the blade from the stone, and when her body had been lifted away, he looked down and saw – a cross, cut into the bare rock- just where her heart had been pierced.
Deeply cut into the stone, it was stained with her blood, red as crimson, and it ran like tears along the face of the boulder.
And it remains there, to this day. No longer red with the blood of the slain, but deep, and as lasting as the stone, itself.
And so it was told to me, and so I keep the tradition, and tell it to the next generation.