Herself

Once upon a time there was a girl who found herself on the edge of a river. She was shaking, cold and wet, for she had been dumped into the water for about the thousandth time. This was a common practice of the village, for every time someone did something unexpected or unusual in any way, they received a dunking.

    The funny thing about it was that no one else but the girl ever got tossed in the river.

    She couldn't understand it. Why her every time?

    All she did was feed the birds and the squirrels and the deer that came to the small cottage where she lived. All she did was mix poultices for the sores on the feet of the poor, or give her breakfast to a small wee one who would have gone without. All she did was bathe naked in the river, forgetting that a river moves and finding, as she floated and looked up into the eyes of glaring neighbors, that she had floated too far. All she did was run through the forest so that she could smell the damp moss while she felt the wind in her hair. Really, all she did was live.

    One day she had had enough. Although she loved swimming in the river very much, it was another thing entirely to be chucked unceremoniously into it by the blacksmith every time someone complained about her behavior. And so she left the village to try and find a place where she could just be herself without constant dampness.

    But, though she traveled far and wide, in every village she stayed, there was a punishment not so different from the river. People turned their backs. Or they scolded harshly. And in worse places she felt the sting of whips on her back.

    Until one day when she was middle aged and she found a young girl who was being fined a gold piece for wandering barefoot through the nicest part of a village. It was a price the girl could not pay, and as the stocks closed around the girl's wrists, it was then that the woman marched into the deepest part of the longest forest she knew, built a cottage and a garden, and set back to the last village where she offered the girl a home.

    When the woman had reached a very old age, she looked at all the girls around her and made them promise to be kind and themselves. Then she fell asleep for the last time, quite satisfied, dry and, too, very much herself.

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