Dreamfisher by Nancy Springer



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Ostracized for speaking her mind and standing up against a man she doesn't wish to marry, a young girl is cast out of her village and forced to fend for herself in the mountains. When she ventures too closely to a lake and nearly drowns, she is rescued by a man from Athens who introduces himself as Herodotus. What transpires after the rescue is an education for the young girl, providing names for the things that surround her. When an encounter with a fish leads her to discover her own true name, she soon discovers the gift she can take back to her village to be accepted once again. A short story.

Excerpt:

They lived on the mountainside very simply, the men hunting meat, the women gathering nuts and berries, the children playing at being men or women. They spoke names of things, of course, to say “Bring me sticks for the fire,” or “I am going to dig roots,” but these names had come down to them through generations, bestowed by some creator at the beginning of time. Fearing to take upon themselves the function of gods, they did not name one another; they were few enough, and needed only to point. To say “that man” would have been impolite, and to say “the fat man” or “the bent old woman” would have been very rude. Children learned early only to point. They learned early to kill rock rabbits and skin them and cook them and eat them. They learned to throw stones and gather firewood.

All the children learned these straightforward ways readily, except for a certain girl.

She looked no different than the others—dark eyes and shaggy dark hair, tawny skin, bare callused feet—but wrong things came out of her mouth. “Cake!” she cried, pointing at the round russet disc of the setting sun, one edge hitting against scalloped clouds. “Cake! Someone is eating it!”

“No, no!” her mother whispered, glancing around to see whether others had heard. (They had.) “It is the sun.” Sun was sun, not a round flat cake of seed meal baked on the hot stones by the fire.

“It looks like a cake!”

The mother should have punished her then and there, the others declared. But the mother was too tenderhearted, and the girl went on in her wrongheaded ways. “It looks like a flower!” she would declare of a rose-and-white cloud. Or, “See, the shadows in the moon, they look like a rabbit sitting up on its hind legs!” But the moon was the moon, not a rabbit. “See that yellow flower, it looks like a dragon’s head!” And the wrongnesses she said grew more perilous day by day, so frightening that other children stayed away from her, or were ordered away, and adults muttered when they saw her coming.

All too soon the girl began to experience the monthly courses of a woman, and it was time for her to find a mate.


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