A Story From: Greece
Read Time: 11 to 15 mins.
For Ages: 8 to 14yrs.
One day, a very old woman who was known to understand such goings-on came to the widow’s house. The widow offered the old woman tea and sweets and asked her why no suitors came to call.
“Truly it is hard to say,” said the old woman, “yet it can only mean one thing. One of your daughters must be ill-fated. As long as she stays in the house, no suitors will come to call.”
The widow gasped. “That cannot be!” Then she said in barely a whisper, “Which one?”
“That I cannot tell you,” said the old woman. “But you can be sure of this. The one who sleeps on both of her hands is the one who is ill-fated.”
As darkness fell and her three daughters went to bed, the widow dreaded what she must do. First she visited her oldest daughter’s bed and saw that she was sleeping soundly on her back. Then she went to her middle daughter’s bed and saw that she was sleeping on her stomach. The widow, her heart pounding, ventured to her youngest daughter’s bed. There with horror she saw that her dear youngest daughter Alena, breathing evenly, was sleeping on both of her hands.
The widow felt weak. She sat on the bedside and wept silently. Her tears fell on Alena’s hands and the girl awakened.
“Mother!” she cried. “What’s the matter?”
The mother could not bear to tell the girl the truth. “Why it’s nothing, nothing at all,” she said through her tears.
Alena insisted. Finally the mother shared with her what the old woman had said.
“Then I must go,” said the girl firmly. Her mother protested, saying what the old woman had said was probably nothing at all. But no matter what the mother said, the girl continued to pack. At last, seeing she could not stop her daughter from leaving, the mother packed for her a large basket of food and kissed her on the cheek. As the mother sadly watched Alena walk away, suitors approached the house with gifts for her sisters.
Alena traveled far and wide. Always she got a job, but always the job ended in disaster because of her ill-fate. Finally, she met a queen who took a liking to the girl.
“Surely you must be ill-fated,” said the queen, shaking her head at the girl’s latest disaster. “There is only one thing you can do.”
“Is there anything that will help?” asked the girl in amazement, not knowing there was anything one could do about an ill-fate.
“You must find your fate,” said the queen firmly. “All the fates live in the mountains far beyond. You must find the one that is yours. And she must accept a gift from you. Once she accepts a gift from you, you will no longer be ill-fated.”
With hope, Alena left for the distant mountains. After a long journey, she arrived at the one where all the fates of the world lived. Some of the fates were lovely to look at, others as hideous as could be. “Are you my fate?” Alena asked each one in turn. Some politely smiled “no.” Others scoffed and laughed at her. She went on, one after another.
Finally she saw a fate that looked somewhat like her, but her face was grotesquely twisted. Her hair was wild and she stared at Alena, making her very uncomfortable.
Alena whispered, “Are you my fate?” frightened to know what must be true.
Alena’s fate laughed and stareed at her in such a way that Alena knew she had found the right one. Alena offered her some bread, but the creature cursed her and threw handfuls of dirt in her face. When the bizarre creature was laughing so loudly her mouth was wide open, Alena quickly threw a piece of bread that landed in her mouth. As the hideous fate chomped on the bread, her face softened. She said, “Well now that’s not so bad, not bad at all.”
Alena’s fate threw her a silk ball. She told the girl that if anyone wanted the silk thread, she must demand its weight in gold. Then she abruptly turned around and left.
Delighted, Alena returned to the castle. A young man heard about her silk thread and asked to buy it for his sister’s wedding. Alena said that, in exchange, she must have its weight in gold. Yet no matter how much gold was piled on the scale, it was never enough.
Finally the young man stepped on the scale himself and it balanced perfectly. The two of them laughed, and they were soon married.
A Greek folk tale retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2005. All rights reserved.
A version of the story can also be found in The Girl Who Changed Her Fate: A Retelling of a Greek Folk Tale by Laura Marshall, published by Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.