The Maiden of Unai
The Maiden of Unai was fair as an earthly deity, but the eyes of man might not behold her. She dwelt in a hidden place in her father’s house, and of what cheer she made the live-long day not a soul could tell, but her father who kept watch, and her mother who kept ward, and her ancient nurse who tended her. The cause was this.
When the maid was about seven years old, with her black hair loose and hanging to her shoulder, an ancient man, a traveller, came, footsore and weary, to her father’s house. He was made welcome, served with rice and with tea, whilst the master of the house sat by, and the mistress, to do him honour. Meanwhile the little maid was here and there, catching at her mother’s sleeve, pattering with bare feet over the mats, or bouncing a great green and scarlet ball in a corner. And the stranger lifted his eyes and marked the child.
After he had eaten, he called for a bowl of clear water, and taking from his wallet a handful of fine silver sand he let it slip through his fingers and it sank to the bottom of the bowl. In a little he spoke.
“My lord,” he said to the master of the house, “I was hungry and weary, and you have fed me and refreshed me. I am a poor man and it is hard for me to show my gratitude. Now I am a soothsayer by profession, very far-famed for the skill of my divination. Therefore, in return for your kindness I have looked into the future of your child. Will you hear her destiny?”
The child knelt in a corner of the room bouncing her green and scarlet ball.
The master of the house bade the soothsayer speak on.
This one looked down into the bowl of water where the sand was, and said: “The Maiden of Unai shall grow up fairer than the children of men. Her beauty shall shine as the beauty of an earthly deity. Every man who looks upon her shall pine with love and longing, and when she is fifteen years old there shall die for her sake a mighty hero from near, and a valiant hero from afar. And there shall be sorrow and mourning because of her, loud and grievous, so that the sound of it shall reach High Heaven and offend the peace of the gods.