In a time that stood for all times, a small child lay among the brackish water and tall reeds and rushes. As the water lapped over her tiny feet, she lay, half-asleep, dreaming of better days, willing herself into quiet for just a few more moments, for she knew what realization would come to her on waking: she had been abandoned.
This small child, who had never heard her own name spoken by her parents and only the rough, caustic words “you” or “stupid” or “lazybones” uttered from their contemptuous lips, had never experienced those better days she willed her half-asleep self to dream of. They were but figments of her glorious imagination, the very colorful, creative world that filled her mind, populated by water nixies, goblins with gorgeous, delectable fruits, animals who could speak, and all manner of spirits of grass, rocks, and even the breeze that ruffled her long, tangled hair. It was this world that she had yearned to express that her parents condemned, calling her touched by evil spirits. And it was this world which made these dark and brooding people, too concerned only with the world they could see, to leave their tiny daughter in the muck, the bracken, and the reeds of the water in between the rivers and the sea, to the elements. Left there to starve, to die of exposure, or to drown, this tiny nameless child lay in a state between dreaming and awake.
Suddenly, another presence was there.
The energy shifted, and a cloud of insects hovering above the water dispersed, and there emerged what looked suspiciously like a mermaid. But here? In the brackish water, and not the sea?
The tiny child stirred as the mermaid reached out her delicate hand, lightly patterned at the wrist with iridescent scales, and touched the little girl’s foot.
The mermaid touched her again, ever so deftly.
The little girl laughed harder.
The mermaid tickled both of her feet.
The child, giggles and mirth stopped up in her for oh so many years, rolled around in laughter, holding her stomach in pleasure and smiling so brightly that the sun above noticed and shone stronger.
She finally sat up and spoke.
“Who is that tickling me?”
The mermaid pulled her hands away and surfaced completely to sit at the water’s edge next to the child, her beautifully patterned tail slowly flapping against the surface of the water, making a pleasing “smack” each time.
“It is I, Janessa, a mermaid. An Empress was my mother, a river-god was my father, and together they gave birth to me.”
The little girl was stunned. She could not take her eyes off the mermaid’s tail. “You’re….you’re real?” she asked, in her tiny voice.
“Of course I am,” Janessa said. She took the child’s tiny hand and guided it to touch her tail. The child marveled at its surface, smooth in one direction, rough in the other. As she pulled her hand back, she saw that it was coated with a thin film that looked studded with specks of diamonds.
“What is your name?” Janessa asked.
The child hung her head in shame. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never been given one.”
The mermaid got a knowing look in her eyes. She had come across nameless abandoned children before. She knew exactly what to do in cases like these.
“Do not worry, my child. Everyone has a name given by the Mother. We will find out your name. Together.”
The child asked, “The Mother?”
The mermaid said, “Yes. The Mother. Not the woman who called herself your mother, the one who left you here. THE Mother. The Mother of all things in this world and the next, and the next, and the sideways worlds, and the upside down worlds, and the backwards worlds. ALL of the worlds. SHE knows your name.”
The child said, “ALL of the worlds? You mean those….arereal? All the worlds I think of and dream of?”
Janessa said, “Why, of course! Who told you differently? Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. That was then, but this is now. But you can’t travel to all those worlds until you know your name.”
The child said, “Why is my name so important?”
Janessa said, “Why, for introductions, of course! You must have a name and a lineage with which to introduce yourself, wherever you go, just as I introduced myself to you when I met you! It’s what you need in the worlds to be treated with all the dignity and care that you deserve.”
The child said, “I understand. How do we go about finding out my name?”
Janessa said, “We must ask an emissary from the Mother, and I know just the one. But I’ll have to leave you for a moment to go get him. Will you be alright alone for a bit more?”
The child sat up straighter and nodded her head, “Yes! I will wait for you, Janessa!”
And with that Janessa gave her a warm hug before she swam back into the brackish water, her tail making a loud splash as she entered.
As she waited, the child noticed that all around her a group of birds were gathering, so she tried talking to them.
“Hello, bird friends! How are you today? I am going to find out my name. Isn’t that wonderful?”
The birds twittered excitedly. They didn’t t speak to her, but the child realized that she didn’t have the words to properly introduce herself yet.
So she stood up and began to collect seeds from the plants at the edge of the water and, gathering them in her hands, spread them out on the ground as an offering to the birds. The birds gratefully accepted the seeds and ate every last one.
Then, one by one, each left. The little girl looked sad for a moment, until the first who left returned with a pink flower in his mouth. He dropped it at her feet. Then another, and another, and another did the same, until she had a pile of beautiful wildflowers in front of her.
Then another bird landed on one of the tall swaying grasses and bent it towards her. Another nudged another grass towards her, and then another, and suddenly, the child had an idea. She would make a crown for the mermaid!
And so as Janessa went to seek the emissary, the tiny child made the mermaid a beautiful crown of reeds and flowers.
Soon after, Janessa returned, followed in the air by a formidable creature. He flapped his wings majestically as he neared the child who shrunk in fear of his mighty size. He landed on a nearby tree branch and there he sat, looking down at the child who was afraid but who couldn’t look away.
Janessa surfaced and embraced the child again. “He is here! I have found an emissary to the Mother, and he knows your name!”
The child said, “He…he…is huge!”
The mermaid laughed a tinkling laugh and said, “He is larger than other owls, but as an emissary who can fly between worlds, is IS different from other owls. He is special. Just like you!”
The child said, “What do I do? If I ask him, will he tell me?”
Janessa said, “He will, but you must climb up the tree and speak in his ear. He’s hard of hearing, you see. Sometimes emissaries must lose something to gain the gifts of prophecy.”
The child nodded her head solemnly. Slowly she stood up and walked to the tree.
She had climbed trees before, so of the climb she was not afraid. But the owl’s claws and beak were another thing entirely. .Could she trust him, she wondered, not to hurt her? He was as big as she! But as she put a hand up on the next branch, and the next, and the next, she thought about Janessa, and how in a single morning, she had showered her with more love and affection than she had ever received in her life. And so she set her jaw and nodded her head “yes” to herself and determined that she would put all her trust in this great owl.
As Janessa smiled from below, the child alighted onto the branch where the magnificent owl sat. She nudged herself close to him until she sat right next to him. He did not move. He only opened and closed his eyes slowly.
The child looked down at Janessa who was bobbing up and down in the water below. “What should I say?” she asked.
Janessa smiled with encouragement. “Speak from your heart.”
The tiny child slowly reached out her hand in greeting and said, “Oh great wise emissary of the Mother, I greet you on this fine day. I am on a quest. I seek to find my name. Janessa the mermaid tells me you know it. Would you be so kind as to tell me?”
In response, the owl tilted his great head towards her until his ear touched her hand. It seemed he wanted a nice scratch! So the little girl complied and gave his head a nice, long scratch.
The great owl seemed to smile, then, and he slowly turned his head towards her as she stopped scratching, and he opened his mouth and in a deep, melodic voice, he spoke:
“My dear, I have a message for you from the Mother. She named you the day you were born. You are called Soladina.”
Soladina was beaming. What a beautiful name she had!
Soladina reached out and caressed the owl’s ear again, and asked him, “Do you know my lineage, then, please?”
The great owl emissary nodded, and he said, “Your Mother is the Sun and your Father is the Moon. You are a most special child who can travel between all the worlds. You were born in a place much like this one, but you were kidnapped by an evil man and woman who had no children of their own, but who took children in order to make them toil and labor for them. The two people you knew as parents were not your parents. Your parents, the Sun and the Moon, are as old as time.”
Soladina was awestruck. Suddenly, every dream she’d ever had, by day or by night, seemed possible.
“Oh thank you, thank you, Great Owl Emissary!” And she reached out and carefully wrapped her arms around him, hugging him close as he smiled.
“Now go forth, Soladina, and claim your birthright!”
Soladina climbed back down the tree to Janessa who was smiling from ear to ear. Soladina hugged her too, then picked up the beautiful crown she had made and presented it to her.
“I made you a gift when you were gone. The birds helped me!” she exclaimed.
Janessa smiled and put on the crown. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “I love it so much. But I’m afraid I can’t accept it, for I must return to the sea, and it would be ruined were I to wear it in the water.”
Soladina looked dejected, but said, “I understand.”
Janessa said, “Besides, it was never truly meant for me. It is meant for another. You.”
She placed the crown on Soladina’s head and smiled. “See?” Janessa said. “A perfect fit.”
Soladina’s face broke into a big grin. “Now I am a proper Daughter of the Sun and Moon.”
Janessa laughed and said, “Just so. And now I must leave. But I am so glad to have made your acquaintance. Don’t forget about me!”
Soladina and Janessa embraced one last time. Before Janessa dove back into the brackish water which led to her destination, the sea, she said, “Ask the Great Owl Emissary for one more favor. Ask him to lead you to the nearest village, where you will be cared for and shown your path to the next stage of your life.”
Soladina said, “I will!”
And as Janessa dove into the water, her tail making one last shimmering splash, Soladina climbed the tree a second time and spoke to the Great Owl Emissary:
“Oh Great Owl Emissary, I, Soladina, the Daughter of the Sun and the Moon, ask you for one last favor. Will you take me to the nearest village where I will find love and comfort?”
The Great Owl Emissary bowed his head and motioned for her to climb onto his back.
And with that, Soladina, the Daughter of the Sun and the Moon, rode the back of the Great Owl Emissary to the Mother towards the closest village, where her imagination would flourish, and where ALL of her dreams, from both day and night, would come true.
PS: this fairytale was written as a response to an image, the image I included above, which is from the book called The Princess Nobody by Andrew Lang. This was an assignment given by the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic in response to the second module of the course An Introduction to British Folklore. It was the owl which struck me, and I instantly had a story in my head surrounding how that owl and little girl would connect. I had great fun writing and sharing this story in my class. I became even happier when I started to read the wonderful book The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern only to find that an Owl King figures in that story. ￼￼