The Wind Dancer twirled lightly on her feet, poised in the air. Day and night she breezed around the world, wherever the wind would take her. Sometimes, people could see her face in a rare day cloud or in a collision of the nightly stars. But mostly they just heard her; sifting through the trees, or making their cheeks cool in the heat of the summer.
The people of the village Watiki knew these facts well. They were told them when they were young and kept them in their hearts for the rest of their lives, especially the girls. For their was another truth about the Wind Dancer. Each year, three newly turned sixteen-year old girls were chosen to try and join the Wind Dancer. They would prepare for a special test for a month. Judging on the results of the test, the Wind Dancer would choose one girl to join her up in the heavens. The other two would go to other goddesses who displayed their special talents. No one but the Wind Dancer knew of these goddesses and they were kept secret from the girls until the special girl was picked to be with the Wind Dancer.
The girls of the village knew that being chosen was a high honor and they must try their very best at the test. And although it would still be an honor to be with the other goddesses, they must aim to please the Wind Dancer. For she was the highest goddess who displayed grace and beauty and would give the girls the happiest life in the heavens. Oh, how all of the girls wished to be with the Wind Dancer!
One night, the Wind Dancer was blowing about in the wind. She knew it was time to collect the chosen girls, but she wanted to wait for the exact right time.
The night got colder and darker. But still, the Wind Dancer did not go. When the old clock chimed twelve vibrant tolls, the Wind Dancer broke free from the wind and went to find the messenger.
The messenger was a god in the form of a human, who lived in Watiki to help the chosen girls prepare for the test. He was asleep in his bedroom when the Wind Dancer found him. She blew her cold breath onto his face until he was awake. The wise god knew that the only cold air in the world that wasn't bitter belonged to the Wind Dancer. "It is time," he said aloud.
The messenger went to the ceremonial grounds, set out specifically for the task at hand. He knew that the Wind Dancer would bring the chosen girls there, and soon.
The messenger was right. Riding along the wind, the Wind Dancer sailed into a village hut bedroom lined from wall to wall with the most rare and elegant goose feathers. On a bed made of shiny wood and silk lay a beautiful girl named Seina.
Now, most girls her age were pretty, but Seina was beautiful. She was tall with a beautiful bronze tan stretching over her body. Her shiny, black hair fell in wavy ripples down her back. She had big, deep brown eyes, a tiny nose and full lips. When she smiled, she showed off her two perfectly straight rows of straight, white teeth.
Seina knew of her beauty and knew that everyone else knew of it too. Whenever she traveled, she had a row of girlfriends to her left and a row of lovers to her right. Whatever she asked for, she got. So she always asked for the most rare, objects in the world, to decorate her room and body in. She greased and painted her skin and bathed every three hours to make sure that she was still admired for her beauty. The Wind Dancer found her with her eyes closed, dreaming about traveling the world and gathering up more admirers. They all had gifts for her because that very day, she had turned sixteen. The Wind Dancer chose Seina because of her beauty.
The Wind Dancer blew her breath onto Seina's face until the girl was awake. At first, Seina was frightened. She had never felt a wind like this before. She considered calling her father, or the village boys to help her. Surely one of them could get rid of this evil wind! But when the wind outside her window breezed on and the wind inside stayed put, Seina grew truly afraid. "Get away from me!" she whispered. Then, putting on her bravery act, she said in her sappiest voice, "You're going to wrinkle my skin, like a prune."
But the wind still chilled her face, in a way that Seina couldn't understand. Finally, she decided that she had had enough. She was Seina, the most beautiful girl in Watiki, who always got what she wanted, no matter what. And right now she wanted to know why there was a wind blowing on her face when there wasn't even a breeze outside! "Daddy!" she yelled.
Seina's father, called Guapo for his handsome looks, rushed into the room. "What is it, my angel?" he asked anxiously.
"There's a wind blowing on my face and I don't know what it is," Seina pouted.
Guapo walked over to his daughter and touched her cheek. Once he felt the kind wind spread throughout his body, he knew that the Wind Dancer had come.
"Well, what is it?" Seina asked impatiently.
Guapo looked at his daughter with pride. "My daughter, you have been chosen to try and join the Wind Dancer!"
Seina's impatience immediately turned to gloating pleasure. "I was? I mean, of course I was! I am the most beautiful girl in Watiki!"
"Hurry to the ceremonial grounds, my child," replied Guapo. "There, the messenger and other chosen girls will wait for you."
"Those girls don't stand a chance," Seina glared at her father, as though he had insulted her. Then she picked up her bottles of grease and paint, and two best dresses, and left.
The Wind Dancer knew that her work with Seina was done. So she flew next door to collect the next chosen girl.
This bedroom was lined wall to wall with weights made of stone. Surrounding the room were awards for strength and bravery. On a stone bed with no blanket, mattress or pillow lay the chosen girl, named Thea.
Most girls Thea's age did as Seina and obsessed over their looks. Thea decided long ago never to bother with that "sissy stuff". So she started lifting weights and working out. Soon, she grew a nice set of stable muscles. After that, she was considered the strongest girl in Watiki.
Thea was also tall and bronze. Her jet-black hair touched her shoulders when she walked. She had small gray eyes, black, bushy eyebrows, a big nose, and full lips; a masculine beauty.
Thea, like Seina, knew what people thought of her. So even though she didn't have to, she worked out and lifted weights whenever she could. She also organized competitions with her friends, who were mostly boys. And every time they had one, Thea won it.
Thea was asleep, dreaming of standing on a big hill, with the whole world watching her, showing off her strength. And they also had gifts for her because even though Thea turned sixteen a week ago, she thought she deserved more presents. The Wind Dancer chose Thea because of her strength.
The Wind Dancer did to Thea as she did to Seina. But the girl's reaction was different.
Thea looked tough on the outside, but inside she didn't quite live up to her name. It took a tremendous act for her to cover up her insecurity. "Who is blowing wind onto my face?" she growled, with the deepest voice she could muster. "If you don't leave soon, I shall punch you."
But soon, Thea thought up a reason for not hurting this strange wind. It was blowing against her cheeks. If she hurt it, she would hurt herself. Now, Thea didn't want to be a sissy, but there was only one thing she could think of to do. "Hey Pop, come here and help me," she yelled.
Thea's father called Mulsco for his strength, dashed into the room. He knew that Thea wouldn't ask for assistance unless something was really wrong.
"Help you with what, my Thea?" Mulsco asked.
"There is an odd wind, blowing against my face," Thea said in her bravest voice. "If I pound it I will hurt myself. What should I do?"
"Can you describe this wind, daughter?" Mulsco asked.
"No," Thea said impatiently. This wind scared her with its odd, almost empty feeling.
"Will you allow me to touch your cheek, my child?" asked Mulsco.
Normally Thea would've said no, saying, "You could never touch such an exquisite, healthy body, let alone have one for yourself." But right now, Thea was so scared that she agreed.
As Mulsco felt Thea's cheek, he felt the same feeling that Guapo had felt. He looked at his daughter with respect. "My talented Thea, you have been chosen to try to be picked by the Wind Dancer!"
Thea's fear turned to surprise. But she would never admit to that feeling so she hid it with anger. "What do you mean 'try to be picked'? Of course I'll be picked! I am Thea, the strongest girl in Watiki!" Giving her father a glare, Thea picked up a weight half her size and a weight one third of her size and headed for the ceremonial grounds.
When Thea was out of her house, the Wind Dancer knew that it was time to collect the last chosen girl. This girl lived at the edge of the village, so it took the Wind Dancer a little more time to get to her house. The Wind Dancer entered a room that was bare except for a dresser containing a few outfits and an old wooden bed with a thin mattress and a torn blanket. Sleeping peacefully on that bed was the chosen girl named Annelise.
Annelise wasn't pretty or strong. She was paler than anyone else in the village. She had thin lips, a long nose, and tangled black hair that was a few inches shorter than Seina's. Her only beauty was her gorgeous, huge blue eyes.
Annelise spent most of her time doing chores and helping needful animals and people in the village. Her only friends were those who she helped. She was looked down on by most of the village for she displayed no talents and acted like no lady. Instead of trying to attract lovers, like Seina or positive attention, like Thea, she'd rather be by herself in the woods, enjoying the beauty and solitude that surrounded her.
Annelise was dreaming of a world where everyone and everything was loved and happy. She hoped it would be a belated birthday present for her; after all, she had been sixteen for a month. But Annelise would never ask for happiness on Earth; she never asked for anything. Instead, she would try to make the world a better place. The Wind Dancer chose Annelise because of her kindness to others.
When the Wind Dancer blew her breath onto Annelise's face, the girl woke up dreamily. She felt warmness spread throughout her body. It made her feel so good that she decided to take a walk and enjoy the moonlight.
As Annelise stepped outside, the clock tolled one a.m. The moon was bright and seemed to lure her into the thicket behind her house. She strolled by a winding stream for a while, until she reached a big tree stump by the edge of the water. Annelise sat down, leaning against the stump and falling into a deep sleep.
When she woke up, it was darker. At first, Annelise didn't know where she was. But then she saw two robins flying and figured she must be safe. "Excuse me, fair robins, but would you mind leading me home?" she inquired.
The birds remembered Annelise from when she saved their newly hatched chicks from a hungry tiger. They had followed her home, chirping happily in thanks. So they decided to help her out. They took the ends of her hair and gingerly led her home. "Thank you, my friends," Annelise said when she recognized the outline of her house in the distance. "You may go home now." The birds gave one final "tweet" and left.
Annelise walked the rest of the way to her house, but stopped short by the porch. Slouched on the steps was her father with three big bottles of gin surrounding him. He was called Mad Dog because of his drunken ways. Everyone in the village, except for Annelise, feared him.
Taking a swig out of a jug, Mad Dog glared at his daughter. "What you doin out?" he asked groggily between hiccups. "Aint young gals need their sleep?"
"I felt like taking a walk," Annelise said, not allowing herself to look at his drunken face. She could smell his foul stench and knew he hadn't changed his clothes, bathed, or shaved in weeks.
"Well git back in the house," Mad Dog mumbled.
Annelise obeyed, accidentally brushing her bare arm against his sleeveless shoulder as she climbed the steps. Mad Dog felt the Wind Dancer spread to his body from Annelise's, but it took his foggy mind a second to realize that something special was going on with his daughter. "Git back o'er here!" Mad Dog yelled, dragging Annelise back by the end of her nightdress. He forced her to her knees in front of him and roughly lifted her face into his hands. As he felt the unmistakable feeling spread through his body again, and realized that Annelise was chosen to try and join the Wind Dancer, he couldn't hold back his surprise and joy. Annelise had been such a big burden to him. Was this really a chance to get her out of his life forever? "You been accepted to try and git with that Wind Dancer goddess," said he, "So you better do well on that test so I can be rid o' you."
Annelise was deeply touched and honored. "I was chosen? But I am just a plain, servant girl. There must be a mistake."
"Shut-up and get to those ceremonial grounds!" yelled Mad Dog. "Mistake or not, I never want to see ya again! Now git!" With that, Mad Dog shoved her down the steps and lugged himself inside, slamming the door behind him.
In the dark of his home, Mad Dog felt something inside him create sympathy for his daughter. So he grabbed some breadcrumbs, opened a window and threw them out. "Just case you git hungry," he said and slammed the window shut.
Annelise was not the least bit offended or sad by her father's behavior towards her. She knew she'd be with some goddess soon and even if the Wind Dancer went back on her word and rejected her, Annelise could make a home in the forest with the animals. They loved her more than her father did.
The clocks of the village tolled 3 a.m. and Annelise knew it was time to go to the ceremonial grounds. It would take a half an hour to get there but the girl didn't care. She was accustomed to walking at least three hours a day anyway.
About halfway to her destination, Annelise bumped into a starving little boy, wandering about the paved, dirt road. He was all skin and bones, his clothes were rags and his hair was more tangled than her own. "Help me please, miss!" he cried when he saw her. "I lost me parents and me little sister to pneumonia three weeks ago. I'm alone, lost and scared."
"Oh poor, little boy!" cried Annelise. "Shall I direct you to the village?"
"Mama said when she was sick that the village folk don't care much 'bout homeless. They think there's too many of 'em around. Mama said I'd be better off to make me own livin."
"Well, at least let me give you my bread crumbs," said she, gingerly opening his hand and pouring her handful of crumbs into it.
"Oh, thank you miss! May the gods and goddess' bless ye forever!" With that, the boy ran into the forest, surrounding the path, and disappeared.
Let us now go to the ceremonial grounds. Seina and Thea had arrived hours before and were at opposite ends of the grounds, not daring to look at each other. The girls had had a jealous feud with each other since they were little and were bitter enemies. Although their forms of bragging were different, each girl wanted all the attention of the village for herself and not any for the other. The messenger was standing calmly between them.
After awhile, Seina forgot about her pride and marched up to the messenger. "Oh where is that third girl?" She asked impatiently. "Does she not know that I have not washed my hair in 5 hours?! Soon it will be all oily and gross!"
Thea turned around to glare at Seina. "Oh shut up about your stupid hair," she snapped. "Until this third girl comes, there can be no spectators to watch me lift my new weights!"
Seina cringed. "Working out makes you sweaty and smelly."
"And being a fashion show only reduces from your bravery and strength. In the end, it's people with my virtues who are appreciated." Thea gave a deliberate pause. "Of course you never had my incredible talents to begin with."
Seina glowered and was about to say something back but the messenger stopped them by saying in his most cheerful voice, "Enough of that, girls. Look, here comes the third chosen girl."
And that did stop them. For walking towards Seina and Thea was the ugly and weak Annelise! "Oh my gods and goddess', what is she doing here?" mumbled Seina.
"There must be some mistake," murmured Thea.
Seina and Thea moved closer together and held hands, to exclude her.
"Oh hi Annelise," Seina said as Annelise neared the grounds. "Thea and I were just talking about being chosen. The Wind Dancer will probably have to make an exception to her rules and chose both of us to be with her."
"And since one of the other goddess' will probably be jealous since she didn't get a girl, the Wind Dancer will probably say 'that's OK, none of you will get the other girl; she will have to live until she's old on Earth and all of you will be treated fairly.'" Thea added. The girls giggled.
Annelise eyed the younger girls without interest. "Seina. Thea. Congratulations on being chosen. I can see why the Wind Dancer chose you."
"Of course," the girls said in unison. Seina applied some grease to her face and Thea grabbed it to lubricate her weights.
The messenger held up a hand. "Listen, girls," he said, "The Wind Dancer is gathering up the village now. After the village congratulates you, you must go home for a month and prepare for the test."
"How are we supposed to prepare for the test?" Annelise asked softly.
"Just do what you normally do during the day," replied the messenger. "That will be enough to prepare you."
Thea and Seina couldn't hold back their surprise and pleasure when they heard that statement. They both went prancing about until the rest of the village came. Then they picked up their things and joined in on the compliments given to them.
After Seina and Thea had received enough compliments to keep them happy forever, someone shouted out, "Wait! Where's the third girl?"
Seina groaned and Thea said, "Oh great, now she has to show herself." They ran into the crowd so they wouldn't be seen with Annelise and revealed her for she had been standing quietly behind the two girls.
For awhile, no one spoke. Then someone began to laugh hysterically. "She chose Annelise, daughter of Mad Dog. Surely the Wind Dancer is playing a joke on us!" Soon, the whole crowd was roaring in laughter.
"Enough!" shouted the messenger in his godly tone. "The Wind Dancer did not choose Annelise as a joke. She has every right to be here as Seina and Thea do."
That quieted the crowd. Annelise gave the messenger a small smile of thanks. "No you will leave so the chosen girls can get home!" ordered the messenger. Everyone obeyed.
The girls' agendas for the next month were very different. Seina went home and spend day and night in front of her mirror, greasing and painting her face. Every three hours, the village boys carried a huge basin to the Watiki River, filled it with water, and brought it to Seina's room so she could bathe.
Thea went home only to collect her father and all of her weights. She spent the whole month working out in the forest, lifting weights, eating and sleeping. She did take some time for bathing but only once a week.
Since Annelise wasn't allowed back into her home, she went to the forest to live with the animals. The animals accepted her with sympathy because she had helped most of them. Her previous daily activities were to be housemaid to her home, so since she didn't live there anymore, she just did what she felt like doing. The activities done by Annelise totaled up to be the essentials of eating and sleeping, bathing every other day, going on nature walks, talking with the animals, and helping those in need.
At the end of the month, the Wind Dancer went to collect the girls, once again blowing her breath on their faces. Recognizing the blows, each girl returned to the ceremonial grounds. Seina brought her best dresses. Thea lugged her weights with her and a train of animals followed Annelise.
The messenger was waiting for them, for the Wind Dancer had also stirred him from his sleep. The time was midnight, exactly thirty days after the girls had been chosen.
"Now that you have finished preparing," said the messenger, "I will take you to the cornfields for the test."
"Why would it be held there?" Seina wrinkled her nose.
"Shut up," Thea groaned.
Walking some paces in front of them were the messenger and Annelise. "What a beautiful bird," said the messenger, referring to the robin perched on Annelise's shoulder. "Does she always sit on your shoulder like that?"
"Yes," Annelise said quietly. "I saved her from a tiger when she was born. She… she must have recognized me when I came to live in the forest. Since then, she's always been at my side. I call her Faithful for that."
"How sweet." The messenger said nothing of her living in the woods. He had heard many a tale about Mad Dog and knew of his temper and drinking problem.
Soon they had reached the field. Seina and Thea were both disappointed that no crowd ran up to meet them. The messenger led each girl to different parts of the field, each spot about a mile away from the other two spots. "Wait here for the test," the messenger said to each of the girls. "When it comes, you'll know what to do."
An hour passed. Seina and Thea grew bored and impatient. Annelise sat down to play with the animals. But like the messenger said, the test came.
Seina was pacing back and forth with a frown on her face. She heard footsteps behind her and turned around. An ugly old woman was coming towards her. Seina backed up, nearing a stalk of corn.
"Please, give me some food for meself," said the woman. "I have not a cent to buy me a loaf of bread."
"Get away from me, you ugly old witch!" Seina cried. "I would never give you anything."
"At least hand me a corn from the stalk?"
"Never." Seina cringed. "I don't want to touch your disgusting, dry hand."
Suddenly the woman gave Seina a very angry look and disappeared. A cold wind threw Seina to the ground and knocked her senseless.
At that exact moment, the same woman was approaching Thea. Thea picked up a weight. "What do you want, old wench?"
"Please, some food for meself," the woman begged, "I am starving and have no money."
"Get away from me!" Thea yelled. "If you come any closer, I shall throw this at you."
Thea threw the weight but the woman vanished and some strong force steered it back at the girl. Thea screamed and tried to duck but the weight came too fast and knocked her unconscious.
Annelise was stroking the fur on a bear cub. Suddenly some of the birds began twittering loudly and Annelise looked up. The woman was standing in front of her. "Poor woman!" Annelise cried. "You must be hungry."
"Indeed I am, my child," said the woman. "Might you fetch me an apple from that tree?" She gestured to a tree behind Annelise.
"Of course. Faithful," she turned to the bird on her shoulder. "Fly up to that tree and get an apple. Bring it down so I can rub it on my dress, so it becomes shiny." The bird did as it was told and soon the woman was munching on a delicious red apple.
"Thank you my child," said she. "You did a good deed just now." With that, she vanished into thin air.
Annelise was a trifle surprised but then it hit her that the woman was a part of the Wind Dancer's test. She wondered if she had done the right thing.
Just then, the messenger appeared with Seina and Thea who were looking dazed and rubbing their temples. "Very good, girls!" said the messenger. "The test is over. Now I must take you back to the village."
In the village, a huge crowd was already waiting at the ceremonial grounds. "Well," shouted the crowd in unison. "Who was chosen?"
"Be patient, my friends," replied the messenger. "The Wind Dancer will show who soon."
Suddenly, a huge wind began to blow. It blew straight across the heads of the people in the village. It found Annelise, encircled her, and lifted her up up up into the sky. The villagers watched, amazed, as she danced in the wind. "The answer lies before you," the messenger shouted. "The chosen girl is Annelise!"
The crowd was in a stunned silence. Then one shouted, "How could she be chosen? She is the daughter of a drunk!"
"Silence!" yelled the messenger. "Do not prejudge her for the actions of others! If you would just open your eyes, you would see that we should all strive to be like Annelise. Because it's what's inside that counts. Beauty and strength are good qualities, but if you are vain about them, you are nothing. You have to be beautiful and strong inside to join the Wind Dancer." The messenger gave a sigh. "Every year, the Wind Dancer and I try to teach you this lesson. We pick two vain girls and a kind one, hoping you'll learn to be like the kind one. But year after year you get obsessed with your outsides: your looks and your talents. And you forget the lesson. But whoever goes up to the Wind Dancer will have Annelise's soul."
The messenger wasn't sure if his words had an impact on the village. They probably wouldn't yet. But in the Wind Dancer's and his quest to make the village a better place, they had just taken a big step. Who knew when the next big step would come? Who knew when there would be enough people who realized the meaning of his words to become better people? All he knew was that those times would come.
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