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Susu & the Magic Mirror
(Bolivia)
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          This is the tale of Susu, who was the daughter of a very rich man, and a very kind-hearted one, too. Never was a beggar turned from his door, nor was there hunger or want in the length and breadth of his land. And he loved his daughter no less than she loved him. For a long time there was happiness.

                Susu's mother had died when she was a small child, and so it came to pass that one day, her father married again. Not long after the wedding, a cloud of grief settled in the maiden's heart, because on a silent, moonlit night when she walked with her father, he told her that he was troubled with a wasting sickness and feared he had not long to live. Some enemy, he said, had cast a spell upon him, so that day by day he grew weaker and weaker and weaker. Because of what her father had told her, Susu was sad and often wandered to a quiet place where she could tell her troubles to the trees.

                The stepmother not only disliked Susu, but was very mean and treacherous, hiding her hatred from the father and petting Susu when he was near, stroking her hair and saying pretty things. So well did the wicked woman play her part that nothing could have made the father believe other than that she loved Susu quite as much as he did. For instance, on that moonlit night when he had told his daughter of his trouble, seeing her tears, for she had wept bitterly, he had said, "But Susu, my dove, your mother will care for you tenderly when I am dead, for she loves you as dearly as I do."

                At that the girl stifled her sobs and dried her tears, lest the father she loved so well should be wounded by her grief, and seeing her calmed he had supposed that all was well and that his words had soothed her.

                But see how it really was with Susu and her stepmother. There was one day, not long after, when father and stepmother and daughter were standing by the fountain, when the man suddenly felt a clutching pain at his heart and was forced to sit down for very weakness. When he felt a little better and the first sharpness of the pain had gone, Susu walked with him to the house, and when he was comfortably seated and had a feather robe cast about him, he bade her to return to her stepmother. That she did, only because he bid her to, since she would have much preferred to sit at his feet. And what was her terror when she came upon the wicked woman talking to a great horned owl that sat in the hollow of an old tree!

                Seeing Susu, the stepmother took her by the hand and drew her into a place where they could be seen by the father, yet far enough away to be out of earshot. The father, seeing the woman and the maiden standing thus together, was happy, thinking that his daughter had a friend. It made him happier still to see the woman take Susu's arm and pull it gently around her waist. But he did not hear what was said, for had he heard, it would have cut him to the heart.

                This is what the woman said, and her voice was like a poison dart as she whispered loud enough for the owl to hear: "Susu, stand thus with your arm about my waist so that your father may see us together. Thus he will think that I love you." Then she hissed in the girl's ear: "But I hate you, hate you, hate you."

                And the owl lifted his head, blew a little and repeated softly, "Hate you -- Hoo! -- Hoo!"

                From far off in the woods came the sound of an answering owl like an echo: "Hate you -- Hoo! -- Hoo!" and it seemed to Susu that all the world hated her for no cause, for the screeching parrots, too, repeated the cry. As for the sweet feathered things that she loved, they had all fled from that place.

                Soon the stepmother spoke again and the owl dropped to a lower branch the better to hear. "Susu," said the woman, "your father cannot live much longer. The spell is upon him and day by day he hears his death. Because of that I am glad, for when he dies, all this land, the house, and all its riches, must be mine, mine!."

                Hearing that vicious speech Susu was well nigh faint with fear and horror and would have sped to her father to warm him. But the woman caught her by the wrist, twisting it painfully, and pinched the soft place on her arm with her other hand, and stooping again so that it seemed to the watching father that she kissed Susu, she said, "But see to it that you say no word, for the moment that you say anything but good of me, that moment your father will fall dead."

                Now while all this was going on there lived in the hills far off a youth, whose name was Huathia. He was a herder of goats and llamas who had seen Susu from a distance in her comings and goings, but never could summon the nerve to speak to her. Brown-haired he was and bright-eyes, too, with clear skin and strong arms, and all who knew him said that he was a good lad.

                One day, Susu chanced to see a falcon wheeling high in the air, carrying something in its beak that sent the rays of the sun flashing far, like silver light. Then the bird dipped with the thing it was carrying, looking like a glittering falling star, and Susu for a moment lost sight of the bird as it dropped behind a bush. But it soon rose and took to flight, this time without the shining thing. So Huathia went to the place where the falcon had dropped, and there at the bottom of a little stream she saw a bright round piece of silver.

                She rescued it and looked at it with astonishment as it lay in her hand, a polished and smooth disc it was, that reflected her face as clearly as a mirror. So she kept it, wrapping it in a leaf, and took it that night to the place where Huathia lived with another herdsman, a very wise man who knew many strange things, and he told the youth that it was the wonderful mirror of one called Paracaca, long since dead.

                He said that whoever looked in it saw his own face as others saw it, but whoever owned the mirror saw something else, "for," added he, "with it you may see the hidden spirit of other people, seeing through the mask they wear. And if a man has the face of a man but the heart of a fox then certainly while such a man beholds his own face, you shall see the other creature in him."

                Hearing that, Susu was much amazed at the magic of the thing. The wise man was looking into the mirror himself that very moment, and when Susu looked over his shoulder at his reflection she saw, not the rough bearded face of the man alone, all knotted like a tree trunk, but a face that was full of kindness and gentleness. Husathia stepped up from behind to gaze at the mirror, too, and Susu saw in his reflection a face of eagerness, gentleness and strength. She felt glad of what she saw in them both.

                Susu thought that with the mirror she might learn some clue about the mystery disease that ailed her father. And so she asked if one of the two fellows would accompany her back home. Husathia's friend said that he was too old for such adventures, at which Huathia quickly volunteered to come with her. So Huathia gave the care of the goats and llamas to his friend, gathered his arrows and bow, his flute, and after bidding his friend good-bye set off with Susu back to her home.

                On the way, he told Susu of a mysterious experience he had had the night before. There had been a thin new moon that night, and the youth had slept but little because of the croaking noise made by the frogs. Presently, fully awake, he had sat up, and it had seemed to him that the air was full of noise, not only of frogs but of the owls and bats. Presently he had seen a great white two-headed toad. Then from rock and hole slithered unclean, abominable creatures of all sorts -- serpents, centipedes, and great gray spiders, and all these creatures had gathered in a circle with the two-headed toad in the center. Soon the youth had heard the great white, two-headed toad say this:

                                 Who knows where hides our queen? Hoo! Hoo!

And first one creature and then another had answered:

                                  The toad, our queen, lies hid unsought
                                  Beneath the stone that men have wrought.


                And so it went on, a mad and horrible concert, with bat and owl and great ghost moth whirling about on silent wings, until sickened of it all Huathia had risen up and clapping his hands to his ears, fled from the place. Since then Huathia had heard this refrain in his ears:

                                  The toad, our queen, lies hid unsought
                                  Beneath the stone that men have wrought.


                "Surely," said Susu to Huathia, "these are strange goings-on. I only wish I could understand what it is all about." Speaking thus, Susu and Huathia arrived at her father's house.

                It was a day on which the good man was feeling very weak, but seeing that his daughter was pleased with her new companion, he ordered his servants to spread a table under the trees, and the three of them had a feast of goat's milk and fruit, and cassava bread, though the father could eat but little. Then Huathia took out his flute and played music until the world seemed full of peace. Susu, too, sang sweetly, so that for a moment the father thought that the shadow that was upon him was but a dream and might pass. They talked long and long, the three of them.

                Then came the stepmother, who fixed her large dark eyes on Susu, not looking at her straight, but sideways. Susu sang to Huathia's flute music again, and it seemed to her pleased father that all on earth that was soft and shapely and fair was gathered there in that garden, until catching the eye of his wife he was reminded that his life was flowing away, and the old grief came upon him.

                Somehow talk fell upon Susu, her new mirror and the strange way in which she found it, though no mention was made of its magical qualities. The father came to see this mirror, looking over Huathia's shoulder and seeing his own reflection. But what Susu saw was a face that denoted great bravery and kindness.

                Admiring the disc also, the stepmother stretched her hand across the table and took the mirror, gazing at the picture of her own dark beauty. Then Susu stepped to her side and looked into the disc. She saw, not the dark eyes and night-black hair that her stepmother saw, not the face of a proud woman, but the face of a double-headed white toad. Horrified, she continued to gaze, and Susu beheld about her stepmother's neck two writhing white snakes, a sight so horrible she could scarcely prevent herself from calling out. But of all this the stepmother knew nothing and did not even guess that Susu knew her for a vile witch.

                The rich man, already tired, stood up and beckoned to the youth to give him an arm. Having found his seat and being wrapped in his feather mantle by Susu, he shivered and held the mantle tightly about him. Huathia shivered, too, and said, "There is, I am sure, some enchantment in this place, for though the sun is warm I feel a chill, as if some clammy thing enfolded me."

                All of a sudden, Susu's eyes fell upon a large grindstone that lay nearby. It was a stone so great that two men could hardly raise it, and so it had been left there for years and grasses had grown about it. Susu had seen it there countless times, but this time there leaped into her mind the song that Huathia had heard:

                                  The toad, our queen, lies hid unsought
                                  Beneath the stone that men have wrought.


                It had meant little before, but in a flash she saw that the grindstone was a stone wrought by man. So she whispered to Huathia to fit an arrow to his bow, to hand her his weapon, and then to lift the stone. With a great effort he raised the stone, heavy though it was, setting it down to one side. And there, in a hollow place where the stone had been, sat a large, white double-headed toad.

                "Shoot, Susu, shoot!" commanded the father. "Let not that evil thing escape! It is the creature that torments me in my dreams at night."

                Swift flew the arrow in Susu's hand and it pierced the body of the toad. At the same moment there fell from the roof of the house two monstrous white serpents where they had lain hidden. Like lightning, Huathia, having seized the bow, sent two arrows flying, and each serpent was cut in half.

                In less than three moments three evil things died, and it was like the sun coming from a cloud-veil, the way in which joy came to that place. The weakness of the father fell from him like a cloak. The bodies of the toad and the snakes withered and shriveled, and as a light breeze sprang up, what was left of them was blown away as dust. The whole world seemed to burst into song. So both father and daughter knew then that the witcheries were gone and the evil creatures vanished forever, and that all the trouble that had been upon that place had come from the wicked stepmother.

                So youth and maiden were married, and the father soon regained his health and strength, and in all the world there were no happier people than they.
flourish


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Author's Note:
The evidence linking this story to Bolivia is limited. There's no country of origin cited alongside this story in the book source described below. However the name "Huathia" can be found on web sites associated with Bolivia. It appears to be a name associated with either the Quechuas (Incan descendants) or the Aymara (a subject people of the Incas and later the Spanish), between them constituting the largest native populations of the country.

Source of Story:
Based on the story "The Wonderful Mirror" from Tales from Silver Lands, published by Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, 1924, pp. 154-169.  Retold by Elaine L. Lindy, ©copyright 2006.




©Copyright 2006 Elaine Lindy - All rights reserved.
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