Laya, Lady of Sorrows
By Samuel W. Bailey
The ancient kappa crone took several minutes to comfortably settle into her chair next to the blazing bonfire, the gentle lapping of the star infused lake barely heard over the crackling of the flame and the giggling of the hatchlings as they watched. After wiggling her old worn shell under a knitted blanket, she suddenly locked eyes with the young group with steely blue eyes, as bright and alive as the day she pulled herself onto the sandy beach many, many years ago at this very spot.
“Don’t you know it is rude to laugh at your elders!” She said in a voice still strong and clear, deep with judgement. Only when the hatchlings had fallen into a shameful silence did she let her eyes smile to show that her anger was in jest, even if the lesson was true. “Now, now. What story should I tell this evening. A tale of the old turtle perhaps?”
“No! We’ve heard that a thousand times!”
“As many times as there are stars and sand!”
More laughter. The crone smiled. “Very well. How about the Egg of Wonders and what stirs within its shell of diamond and dreams?”
“You told that last week!”
She scratched her old, leathery head. “Oh, I did, didn’t I. Well, what do you want to hear?”
“Something with humans!”
She squinted old, tired eyes at the hatchling who had said that. It was not uncommon for hatchlings to want to hear something new and exciting, or tales of the humans who were so strange in their minds, but rarely did they want something scary. Ah. It was Kuoru. He was always wanting something that would help him prove he was brave.
“Very well, very well. A tale you have never heard before, and may never hear again. One that not even those who live in the village where it happened remember. There are humans, love and sadness. Hope and loss. And yes, even scary ghosts.”
The hatchlings instantly drew closer, not making a sound besides the dragging of their soft shells on the sand.The crone pulled the blanket closer around her against the chill and began her story.
“In the city of Mirnast, where the Emperor now rules on his golden throne, there is a small overgrown park. In its center, choked with weeds and vines is a statue of a strange woman, lonely and weeping. Etched in the stone, hidden beneath layers of eons and moss are the words “Laya, Lady of Sorrows.”
Laya was not always a lady of sorrows, but once a maiden of laughter and joy. So beautiful and fair was she, that a powerful spirit desired her and wanted to take her away. The villagers would not let her go, for they loved her too deeply and refused to give her up to such a covetous being. So they hid her under the common hall, among the dust and cobwebs, so the spirit could not find her.
For many years Laya stayed imprisoned there by those who loved her, brought food and water by the villagers but never allowed to leave. The spirit mourned the loss of her, not even being able to see her smile or hear her life. So it began to take others. Children first, and then the rest, bit by bit. Snatching them up in the dark.
Then one day no one came to visit Laya. She waited until she was famished and parched, emerging to find the village empty save for the withered form of the spirit who was starved without her. Just as weak from the lack of her beauty as she was from the lack of food and drink.
It begged her to smile for it, to laugh and give it sustenance. But she refused, for she had no laugher in her. It promised to return all the villagers it had taken for but a single kiss. She sneered at the spirit, telling it that she would rescue the villagers herself and then thrust her hand into the husk of the creature, tearing out its heart and consuming it as the being died.
Using the spirit’s power, she sought out its realm, where the villagers were kept imprisoned in cages of frozen tears. One by one she freed them, but soon realized that not one child was among them. When she asked where the children were, the villagers told her that the spirit had consumed their joy and laughter, taken their souls until they turned into ghosts and floated away.
They returned to the village in melancholy celebration. A statue was built in her honor. “Laya, Maiden of Joy and Laughter” the plaque read. But there was no joy or laughter left in Laya. She would just wander the woods around the village, quietly weeping, looking for the spirits of the children who had been lost for her.
Even as other children were born, and life returned to normal, Laya never saw beyond her tears, until one day someone stole the plaque from the foot of her statue. She stared at the blank spot of an entire day, while the village moved around her, wary and worried. Then as night feel, she reached down with only a finger and etched in the stone the marking that remains there to this day “Laya, Lady of Sorrow.” Then she turned and walked into the forest, never to be seen again.
Over the years that village grew into a bustling town, and from a town into a city, and city into the grand Imperial Capital and yet the statue still remains. And yet, Laya still wanders the deep woods of this world, and in the sky above, looking still for the children she lost.”
The hatchlings sat in awed silence for a long moment until one yawned loudly and the others giggled, happy to exchange their sadness and unease for happy laughter. So quickly do the young ones shed sorrow, while us old turtles must keep remembering every regret.
“Alright hatchlings, it is time so sleep. I will return for another story by the gibbous moon. Skuttle on home now, skuttle!”
Most quickly moved away, joining with their parents who sat just beyond the fire’s light. Kuoru paused though, looking at the old crone. “Do you think Laya will ever find the human hatchlings?”
“Oh, I think she will one day. She isn’t the type to let anything get in her way.”
Kuoru frowned, pondering what she said and then smiled, deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble to figure it out. “Thank you for the story! See you next moon, grannie Aurora!”