The Gift


George Stewart

Art by Dale Bott

The storyteller traveled from village to town, gathering and sharing tales.  One day, he came across a small town preparing to send their warriors to battle.  Their king had called for every able man to take up sword and shield against their adversaries.

As he walked among the vendors in the market, the storyteller heard the people speak of their fears, especially for the children.  The people feared the children wouldn’t understand.  In truth, the children were frightened, mostly because the adults were frightened.

The storyteller asked around and learned the children were being kept in the large building at the center of town.  The building served many purposes, including use as a school.  He made his way there and asked if he could tell the children a story to help ease their fears.  The adults accepted his offer and gathered the children to him. He placed himself in a high-backed chair and began his story.

“This is the story of one single hair.”

The storyteller stretched his long legs out in front of him as he settled into his chair.  Reaching into his pocket, he drew out a long, brown hair and held it up for the children to see.

“A hair much like this one.”

“Was it magical?” one boy asked.

“Did it belong to a princess?” a little girl in pigtails asked.

“I bet it belonged to a monster, like a troll,” another boy called out.

“Or a giant,” said another.

The storyteller smiled at their questions.

“This hair may not look like much, but a hair just like this saved a peaceful people from a horrible fate.”

“The people of the lower plains and the valleys of the east have a legend of a great warrior.  This warrior was stronger than many men, and fearless in battle.  His enemies dared not speak his name.  They were afraid he would hear and destroy them.  When he would swing his sword, five men would fall down dead.  When he would charge up on his horse, brave men ran in fear.

“The people said his great prowess in battle came from the four magic items he carried with him: a belt which gave him strength, sandals which would not let him lose his footing, a helmet which kept his mind clear in battle, and a single hair which he called “The Gift.” Of all the magic items, The Gift was said to be the most powerful.”

“What did it do?”

“What power did it have?”

“Did it make him fast?”

“Did it keep him from being hurt?”

The children’s questions came in quick succession.  Japheth raised his hands to silence the questions.

“All in good time, dear children.  Allow me to tell the story as it was told to me and you will see what power The Gift possessed.”

The class settled back into their seats and waited for the story to continue.

“As I was saying, the warrior valued The Gift above all else.  He would return from battle and credit The Gift for bringing him home safely. He kept The Gift over his heart in a small pocket on the front of his tunic.

“After many years of war, the plains and eastern valleys were at peace.  The enemy had been defeated and sent back to their lands.  The warrior saw he was no longer needed and bid his farewell.  When the people realized he was leaving, they worried about what would happen once their enemies heard the warrior had gone.  The warrior told the people he would return if the need arose.  With that, the warrior rode off toward his home.

“Many years went by in peace.  The land prospered and the people were happy.  The scars of war on the land healed and the land became bountiful once again.  The people did not forget the warrior.  They built a statue of him and would place flowers at its base during special days.

“This prosperity drew the attention of their old enemies.  Their lands had not regained their bounty and the people were hungry.  Rather than seek trade with the people of the plains and valleys, their king desired war.

“When the enemy swarmed over the plains and the valleys, the people did not fight back.  They were waiting for the warrior to return as he said he would.  They knew the warrior would be able to push back the enemy.  Only, the warrior did not come.”

“He broke his promise?”

“Was he still alive?”

“Children, please, let me continue. All will be explained if you will just be patient.

“The plains and valleys fell under the control of the enemy who were cruel and heartless.  They forced the people to work long, hard days and then took almost all of the harvest, leaving just barely enough for the people to live on.  The people lived in constant fear of being imprisoned for even an imagined offense. They were made to serve every whim of the enemy.  All freedom and joy had left the plains and valleys.

“The enemy remembered the warrior as well. They tore down the statue of the warrior and threw it in a deep pit.  Only the base of the statue remained.  On this base they would throw their garbage and refuse.

“One day, a man of the plains who still had hope and faith in the warrior’s promise went in secret to place flowers at the base of the warrior’s statue.  To do so in the open would have meant his death.  When he reached the base, he saw the enemy’s guard walking a patrol around the area.  The man waited until the guard went out of sight before he approached the base. As he laid the flowers down, he noticed something moving in the breeze.  The man looked quickly around, expecting the guard to return at any moment.  Reaching out, he took hold of a long, brown hair which had been caught on a small flower growing at the base of the statue.

“The man grasped the hair with both hands and carried it back to his home.  His heart beat hard within him as he considered what this hair by the statue meant.  It could only mean one thing: The Gift had been sent to the people by the warrior.  For some reason the warrior could not come, but he sent his greatest magic to the people.  He knew he had to share this with the leaders of his village.

“He went to the homes of the three village leaders and asked to meet with them in private.  They agreed and gathered in the home of the eldest leader and listened patiently as the man told his tale and the conclusion he came to.

“One leader scoffed and said the warrior had given up on them and so they should give up on the warrior.  The plains and valleys were at peace now. Even though things were hard, it was to be preferred over the young men dying in battle.  He would not support rising up against the enemy.

“Another leader was unsure what to advise. He did not like the enemy, but he hated war as well.  He thought that, perhaps, an agreement could eventually be reached which would leave the people still under the rule of the enemy but with more freedoms.

“The eldest of the leaders sat and listened as the others debated what to do.  He kept his eyes on the man who had found The Gift.  Standing, he called for silence.  The eldest asked the man if he was willing to fight the enemy.  The man said he would fight.  They had The Gift and it would protect them as it protected the warrior.

“The eldest walked over to the man and placed his wrinkled hands on the man’s shoulders.  He said he wanted to know why the man wanted to fight the enemy.  The man said he wanted his family free of the hardships the enemy had placed on them.  He said he wanted to give his land to his children, as it had been given to him by his father.  He said he would fight to free his family.

“The eldest smiled ever so slightly and returned to his seat.  The eldest said the man must go to the houses of the people, show them The Gift, and ask them the same question.  Every man who answers as he had is to go to more of the people and spread the word of The Gift.

“The man did as the eldest said.  Every man who heard about The Gift returning to the people and said they would fight for their family spread the word.  Soon, the people were ready and rose up against the enemy.  The enemy, unprepared for such an uprising, was defeated and forced to return to their lands.  It was not a quick victory and many of the people died in the fighting.  The leaders of the people who had not wanted to fight came to believe in the power of The Gift and helped to lead the people to freedom.

“When peace and freedom returned to the plains and the eastern valleys, the people held a great celebration.  They took the statue of the warrior from the deep pit and returned it to its base.  They covered the statue in fresh flowers every day for a month in gratitude for the warrior sending The Gift.  The people decided to keep The Gift in the house of the eldest until needed again.  Peace and prosperity returned to the plains and the valleys of the east.

“In later years, the eldest grew tired and knew his time to leave this world drew near.  The man who had found The Gift had been appointed a leader of the people after the battles were over.  One day, the eldest called the man to his home where he shared a secret he had kept for many years.

“The eldest asked the man if he understood the true nature of the warrior’s Gift.  The man said he knew it to be a magic of some kind but he did not know specifically what kind.  The eldest told him that The Gift was indeed a great magic: a hair from the warrior’s wife.  She had given it to him as he left for war as a reminder of who he fought for and that she would be waiting for his return.  His determination to protect his family and to return to them helped him to be victorious.  The hair the man found had just happened to be caught by the flower.  It was not the warrior’s Gift.

“The man couldn’t believe what he had been told.  The Gift came to them when they needed it to defeat the enemy.  To find out now that it was just a stray piece of hair overwhelmed him.  He asked the eldest how he knew all this.  The eldest said the warrior had told him before he left the true nature of The Gift.  The eldest then asked the man to remember what he thought about during the battles with the enemy: The Gift or his family?  The man thought and realized it was his family.  The Gift was there in his thoughts to encourage him, but his desire to free his family kept him going to the end.

“The eldest told the man he had to keep the secret of The Gift.  It was important for the people to believe in it and also for their enemies to fear it.  The man did as he was asked and the people lived in peace for many, many years.”

“As the eldest knew, his time to leave this world came soon after he told the man the secret of The Gift.  The man who found The Gift grew old in time.  Near the end of his life he passed on the secret to another. The man was also able to give the land he received from his father to his children.

“And so the tale of The Gift has been passed on throughout all these years just as I have now given it to you.

“You see, children, the true strength of a warrior is not in a thing like a weapon or a shield.  The warrior’s true strength flows from his heart, from who he is fighting for.  He fights for his family and for his fellow warriors.  You must never give them reason to doubt your love for them.”

“I’m afraid they won’t come back,” one little girl said.

“Anything can happen in battle.  There can be no guarantees.   However, if they can leave knowing you’re thinking good things about them it will make the leaving easier.  I know just how you can let them know this.”

When the warriors left the next morning, each one carried with them strands of hair from their loved ones as their own special Gift.  The storyteller stood on a hill and watched them leave.  As the warriors disappeared in the distance, the storyteller opened a pocket on his vest and pulled out a few strands of golden hair.  Rubbing them between his fingers and thumb, he thought of someone far away.

He placed the hairs back in their pocket and turned to face the sunrise.  He had many miles to travel yet today and needed to be on his way.  With his pack hitched up high on his back and a song for the sunrise, the storyteller returned to his journey.

George Stewart is an avid fan of history, literature, film noir, and 1940s radio shows.  He is a writer, warehouse supervisor, preacher, and adjunct instructor of business and logistics.  George holds a Master’s of Science in Management, management of integrated logistics specialization from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  He lives in the wilds of Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, two kids, and two cats.

Art by Dale Bott