Be Careful What You Wish For
There are several different versions of this myth, with more emphasis in some parts than others, which is different for each version. The circumstances of Loo-wit also differ, so my telling of the myth will be different than any of the versions of the myth that exist. Part of the reason for the different versions was that the Native Americans carried their folklore through oral history, and two tribes might share the same myth, but details would differ. One of the titles of the myth is 'Bridge of the Gods', but you can also Google 'Loo-wit' or 'Loowit'.
You can look up the myth if you like, because I'm not going to put all the details and differences/comparisons up here. Besides, I am giving my own twists and additions to the myth, much as I am doing for Darkness Becomes Her and my other mythology-based works.
This will be a novella, running for no more than a few chapters, and is kind of a experiment for me because I am trying a bit of a different format than DBH. All feedback is welcome.
Loo-wit's full name is Loo-wit-lat-kla. Lady of Fire'
Many years ago, when the children of the Great Spirit were spreading across the land, there was an great man called Sahale, who resided over a tribe whose name is no longer remembered. He had two sons who constantly quarreled, and their father did not approve of this discord between brothers. Sahale asked the Great Spirit what he should do, and He told the chief to take his two sons on a journey to a great river.
They traveled for many days with their tribe, and at last came to that great river. Sahale took his bow and arrows. One arrow he shot north, across the river. The other one he shot to the west, on this side of the river. The land on both sides of the river was beautiful and bountiful, and Sahale pointed to the vast expanse before them. 'One of you, go across the river and find the arrow. There you will have the land. And the other shall remain on this side of the river, and where my arrow landed, you shall have that land.'
So the sons obeyed their father, for they knew that he was guided by the Great Spirit, and that their quarrel needed to end. One son went down the wide plain and became the ancestor of the Klickitats. The other one went up into the valley, becoming the ancestor of the Multnomahs.
So that the two halves of the original tribe not be cut off from the other, the Great Spirit guided Sahale to raise a great stone bridge over the river, so that the tribe of Sahale would remain friends. This bridge was the Bridge of the Gods, 'Tomanowos'. On this bridge he set a woman chosen from the tribe for her wisdom, and commanded that she guard the sacred fire.
Sahale joined the Great Spirit, and in time, so did his sons. The two tribes grew, and the sacred fire remained guarded by the wisest women of the tribes. Over time, the tribes started to quarrel, which displeased the Great Spirit. They quarreled over land, animals, and women. Such discord should not exist when the land was bountiful, but evil had a way of following good. The tribes listened to whispers of hatred and chaos, and fighting occurred more and more often. They filled their days with fighting, gambling, and raiding. The Great Spirit was displeased when He saw this, for it was not right that one man should go against another, for then they forgot Him and what He had given them.
So to remind them who cared and provided for them, He extinguished all the fires within the hearths, and drew a thick cloak of clouds to obscure the sun. This grieved them, and angered the evil spirits, for without people, they could not draw sustenance.
The only fire that continued to burn was within the hearth of the wise woman of the bridge, Loo-wit. She alone held the fire, for she served the Great Spirit and was wise, staying out of the conflict and refusing to get involved with either side. Although she would attend to the injured from either tribe, she showed no preference, for they were all children of the Great Spirit. She guarded her fire carefully, and told them that only when did they realize why their own fires had disappeared could she share with them.
The people were reminded just who had taken care of them and provided for their warmth and well-being. They repented, and drove the evil spirits away from their tribes. And Loo-Wit shared her fire, welcoming everyone to take some until every home in both tribes had their own.
Loo-Wit had lived through a hundred winters, leading a quiet and solitary existence within her wigwam, attending to the needs of both tribes. She had been chosen at an young age by the past Fire-keeper, and had spent nearly eighty decades tending the sacred flame as well as making medicines and healing the various ails of her people. She had seen many things through her life, and dearly hoped that such a thing as she had seen in her later years would never happen again. It had been gradual, this growing disharmony between the Klickitats and Multnomahs. Normally, she treated common ails – the soreness that seeped into the limbs of the elderly, the pains that came to a woman during her moon-time, the aches that came from carrying a child within one's belly, and rarely, an injury that came from a wayward arrow or a slip of the knife. But then, more and more men came to her hut, some injured, others carrying injured or dying with them. She could feel the evil spirits in the air, but her own wisdom prevented them from influencing her. It had been easy enough to banish them, but the same could not be said for the people, especially the younger ones.
But the conflict was now over. She had been tempted to share her fire at first, feeling sorry for the tribes, but she knew that the Great Spirit had done so for a reason, and she would not go against His will. In her wisdom, she had seen what happened, and guided them onto the correct path. And when people tried to steal her fire, whether by tricking her or using overt force, she always eluded them. It was not often that someone could play such an important role to the Great Spirit, and she felt proud of herself, though she remained an humble woman. She was one hundred years old, and knew that her time drew near.
She was ready to go on to the other side because she was lonely. But she had not yet found a suitable woman to replace her as the Fire-keeper. It was a sacred position, and she was loath to choose the right person. When she asked for guidance in this choice from the Great Spirit, he was strangely deaf to her. Oftentimes, when she wished to meditate, she would go on a walk, and her meanderings usually gave her some sort of enlightenment. However, with her advancing years, her bones ached more and more despite the herbs she used to try to ease away the pain. Her entire family and everybody she had known from her childhood were now dead.
She had been a plain-looking child that grew up into a somewhat homely young woman. She was hard-working and industrious, but she did not attract the notice of the village youths, and she was lacking in joyful skills like dancing or singing. The elderly Keeper of the Fire summoned her to the wigwam that sat in a bluff above the river, and started to train her in the arts of healing. This was one thing that Loo-wit excelled at. She could find herbs and identify them, and skillfully diagnose various aches and ails. And on her dying bed, the old Fire-Keeper had passed down the sacred flame, bestowing upon the young maiden the honored title of Fire-Keeper. She had no husband or children, and though life was lonely, she at least had something worth doing.
But the years passed and she grew older and lonelier. If nobody had considered her beautiful, that was further the case as one year followed another. If not for the fact that she needed to find a suitable woman to pass the Flame to, she would be perfectly satisfied to welcome death.
Her old bones creaked as she rose from her pile of furs, shivering as she took a deep breath of cool air. She knelt in front of the firepit, breathing quickly onto the cluster of still-glowing embers before adding a few twigs. As flames leaped from the renewed cinders, she added several more pieces of wood just a bit bigger than the twigs as she sat back, feeling the creak and snap of her back. Cold mornings were hard on her, and she often meditated next to a fully-fueled fire, absorbing all the warmth it would offer her.
She peeked outside, seeing the sunrise over the hills and low peaks amidst a thick fog which cast the valleys and river under an ethereal silvery veil. Her breath came out in thin wisps that matched that mist, and she looked forward to the impending spring and the more comfortable mornings it would bring. After making and drinking some willow-bark tea, she slid on her boots and thick cloak, going outside. Her thick braids were as white as the snow that still spotted many parts of the surrounding land, especially under the shadows of the trees.
Loo-wit turned her face towards the sun, feeling its warm glow on her face as she closed her eyes. She removed her mitts and turned her palms upward, like the outstretched leaves of a plant as it takes light for nourishment.
"Great Spirit, please heed my plea. I have served you faithfully, and my life draws to a close. I fear that one day I will no longer be able to even walk. If I do not select a heir, the tribes will fight over who gets to tend to the Sacred Flame. Only you are wise enough to know who should carry the sacred fire next. Please tell me."
She felt her body suffused with warmth, and felt light fill her eyes though she had them closed.
"Loo-wit-lat-kla, through your wisdom and faithfulness to Me, you have proven yourself an adept Fire-Keeper. I give to you what only the most honored ones get. Eternal life is your reward for your wisdom."
Loo-wit fell to her knees, shocked by this revelation. Eternal life? As a crone? No! She would rather have death, and a peaceful end to her long life! The prospect was so crushing that she actually found tears running down her cheeks at the prospect. And the Great Spirit could not take back the gift.
"Loo-wit-lak-kla, why do you weep? Does this not please you? Surely this gift is not so distasteful."
"It is a honor that I would be considered for such a gift, but I would welcome an end to my pain."
"Then I will grant you one wish, Loo-wit-lat-kla. I will give you one thing to keep you happy in your eternal life."
His offer was almost deceptively simple. She could just wish to never feel pain anymore, but she was wise and understood that pain was also valuable, and was the balancing force to pleasure or comfort. But she did remember how much more enjoyable youth was compared to old age. She might not have been pretty, but she had always been in good health, and very few, if any, ever lived to be a hundred. The years had taken away the spring in her step, and slowed her, stooping her back and swelling the knuckles in her fingers so she had a harder time collecting herbs or brewing her concoctions. And age took away what little she had to her appearance, so people often averted their eyes when they came to see her, fearing that she had somehow transformed into something not quite human though she treated them faithfully and shared her fire.
And she knew just what to wish for.
"Great Spirit, in my youth I enjoyed good health. But I was never beautiful. Eternal life is little without eternal youth and beauty." That way, she would go back to being the energetic maiden she had once been, nimble-footed and strong, traveling far and wide for her herbs and to go on spirit journeys. And this time, she would be seen with admiration. Though she didn't want to admit it, she had always envied the other maidens and wished that she was one of them.
"Very well. A new day brings a new life." And with that, the light disappeared. Loo-wit opened her eyes and rose to her feet. The first thing she noticed was how easily and quickly she had risen to her feet. When she looked down at her hands, she gasped softly, seeing how soft and smooth they looked. Her fingers were long and graceful, her knuckles no longer pronounced. Slowly, she brought her hands up to her face, feeling the firm and pliant skin of her cheeks, the smoothness around her eyes and mouth, and the easy grin that broke out on her face. She stretched out her arms, noting how light her heavy cloak now felt, and the cold did not seep into her skin so readily.
She would have what she never had in her youth, and her wisdom would enable her to appreciate it all the more. With a body that no longer ached, she stretched out, taking a deep breath. She felt free, almost like a bird that had taken flight.