The Legend of the Crystal Cave
by Shanon Grey
On the other side of the mountain, where the herbs grew wild and plentiful, the mountain’s mouth opened in a quiet yawn. No one from the tribe dared cross the granite teeth that framed its mouth, sharp and jagged, threatening to consume those that angered the spirit of the mountain. In return, after a heavy rain, the mountain spewed forth stones that shone in the moonlight and soft golden rocks that sparkled in the sun. The women wove the stones and gold into their clothes, headdresses, and rugs. Life was good.
Then one day, a stranger appeared. The women of the village had gone to the stream to wet the hides and found the man, half-dead, lying in the stream, water slipping over his limp body. They ran to the village and told the chief about the man and gave their leader the small disk they’d found on the ground near the man. It shone like their golden rocks and was etched with an owl on the front. A white owl.
Warriors carried the man to the village, his body burning with fever. His hair, red as the fire that burned in the hut, lay in wet curls about his flushed skin. His eyes blazed green, like many of the stones the mountain spirit gave them.The man awakened briefly several times, struggling to rise and ranting in a language unknown to the people. He grabbed the Old Mother who tended him, begging something of her, but he would fall unconscious before she could figure out what he wanted. He cried out, over and over, tears running down his cheeks, “Mah bairn lassie.”
The powerful medicine man, even with the magic of the mountain herbs, could not keep the man on this plane and he died, burning as if on fire from within.
Warriors, hunting near where they’d found the stranger, heard cries coming from the mountain. Since crossing the stones was taboo, the warriors returned and told the chief and the medicine man, fearing the mountain spirit was angry. The Old Mother, remembering the man’s pleas, went to the mouth opening, listening. As only a mother could do, she heard the cries and knew it was not the spirit of the mountain that screamed, but the cries of an infant. With urgings of motherhood overcoming fear, she stepped across the jagged teeth into the black mouth of the mountain.
As she stepped into the narrow opening of the throat, she stopped. Far ahead, a green glow emanated from the bowels of the cave, lighting small stones embedded in the walls. She moved forward towards the sound and the growing light. Just as the passage came to an end, she saw an even narrower opening to the side and stepped through, into a vast cavern. The walls glistened, their light pulsing with each piercing wail. A pool in the center shimmered with dancing lights, flitting across the surface. She hesitated, stunned by the sight, ready to run. But the plaintive cry coming from a stone ledge stopped her. Swallowing her fear, she moved forward, until she stood looking at a child, an Indian child. With trembling fingers, she stroked the tear stained cheek and the mouth rooted toward her hand and latched on to her old knuckle, making sucking sounds. As the child suckled, her breathing evened and her eyes opened. The Old Mother found herself staring into the same green orbs as the man she’d tended. The room began to darken.
Knowing she wouldn’t be able to see to get them out, the Old Mother removed her hand to lift the babe. The child let out a yowl and the room brightened once more. Not letting herself think, the Old Mother grabbed the infant and ran back up the throat, jumped over the teeth, and ran until she reached the safety of the forest. Only then did she stop, her lungs burning.
It was then that she saw the chief and medicine man. She stepped forward, holding the child protectively to her breast. Without a word, they turned and walked back to the village, no one mentioning the child or where she’d come from. The Old Mother silently claimed the infant and cared for her.
As the weeks passed, member after member of her tribe became ill, succumbing to the illness that had taken the life of the stranger. Fear ran through the tribe, many blaming the infant for the fever that claimed the people, from the strongest warrior to the youngest child. The Old Mother did not sleep, afraid someone would sneak in and kill the infant. However, when she heard her own son, a fearless warrior, lay dying, she wrapped the child next to her breast and made her way to her son’s hut. His woman fought her entry, but the chief intervened, letting the Old Mother bid her dying son farewell.
As she knelt beside him, he opened his eyes, burning with fever, and asked to see the child she fought so hard to keep. Letting tears fall, she laid the babe on her son’s shrunken chest. As soon as the infant touched his body, his eyes grew wide and he gasped a great breath. She grabbed the baby, feeling a thousand stings rush up her arms, tingling her very blood. Her son’s woman pushed her and the child out of the hut, cursing the Old Mother.
Her heart heavy, the Old Mother made her way back to her hut, knowing it wouldn’t be long before she, too, would burn with fever. She waited, taking joy in caring for the green-eyed infant that made her smile.
She was tending the babe in the sunlight that streamed through the door, when a large shadow fell across her, blocking the light. She turned towards the hut entrance. Her son stood in the doorway, as hale as he had been in his youth. He dropped next to her and held her, letting her cry her tears of joy. He gently lifted the babe and helped his mother to her feet. They stepped from the hut to find what was left of her tribe gathered in front of her door. Protectively, she reached for the child. He son stopped her with a shake of his head as he handed the baby to the medicine man. She watched as the great medicine man took the child and walked through the people, placing her against the chest of each, going first to those too ill to stand.
As he came to the last woman, he stopped, holding out the child. With a nod, the mate of the Old Mother’s son took the babe and placed her to her breast, where the child fed noisily. The Old Mother’s son brought his mother and joined his mate. He led them home, a family once more. They named the child Tanis, daughter of the mountain.
The sickness left the village that very day. From then on, no other member of the tribe fell ill and those who did or were injured, healed quickly with the simple touch of the mountain child.
Tanis listened as the Old Mother told her stories of the fire-haired man who’d brought her to them, lightly fingering the owl disk she wore around her neck. On the anniversary of her arrival, she would lead the tribe down the throat of the mountain, singing. Her sweet voice made the walls glow and the stones sparkle. She took her place on the ledge, watching her people splash in the pool and, with a wave of her hand, tiny orbs of light would dance over the pool, a promise of happiness and health only she could give.