Lara and the Lake
an ancient tale from Lakeshore Province
in the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne
on the planet Homeland of the star Tau Ceti
Once upon a time, in a village by the Lake, there lived a little girl with skin as brown as well-baked bread, and hair as black as night. She and her father were fishers by trade, and they were very poor. Because her mother had died many years before, she had to help her father with his fishing. Each morning she helped him load his boat; each afternoon she helped him unload it, so they could take all the wiggly fish to market. When day was done, she mended all the nets. She labored seven of the eight days of every week.
Since her father was very poor, he still could not purchase enough food and clothes for both of them, even though his daughter helped him in his work from dawn to dusk.
“Father,” said the girl, “Is there something that I could do to help you even more?”
“Yes, my child,” he said. “Do you remember the old boat?”
The girl nodded yes, for she remembered it well, though it made her very sad. Her mother had used it long ago, before she had died. Now it just sat in the boat house, unused, and in disrepair. It was just a small boat with a tiny sail and a pair of oars, suitable for only one person. Alone, it could not support even one fisher.
“You could repair it,” he said, “and fish on the western side of the river, which flows from the glaciers in the far southern mountains into our fair Lake. Fishing there is easy, and catches are large. If we combine our catch, we would have enough to live quite well.”
So the young girl, out of devotion for her father, labored every night by lantern light to repair her mother’s boat. She rested two hours after the last meal of the day, and began her repairs before the twenty-seventh hour every evening. She replaced the rotten wood with umbrella wood from the forest, and saved her precious coins to purchase nails, waterproof cement, and varnish. On three-moon nights, she worked twice as hard as all the rest, and rested only on Eighthdays.
Three months later, the boat was finished. The girl called her father to the boat house and showed him the boat, which glittered under the light of the lanterns.
Her father praised her, “That is a fine boat, and the workmanship is exquisite!” The girl was so proud, she could not look at him directly, but only at her unshod feet.
“I am pleased that you are happy with my work,” she said. “So tell me how to sail to the western side of the river, where I can fish and add to our catch.”
The father rubbed his hand through the curly black hair on her head, and said with deep affection, “It is late tonight. You cannot leave until the morning; let us discuss it then.”
The girl decided that one night of waiting was easy, compared to seventy-two days of repair; so she rewarded her father’s praise with patience.
She could hardly sleep with excitement! It was a two-Moon night, and the Moonlight flooded the simple room where she slept. Outside, she could here the chirping of insects, and the other sounds of the forest. On any other night, they were her lullaby, but tonight they kept her awake with thoughts for the morrow.
Sleep finally sneaked up and overtook her, and brought a dream. In the dream, a Hugmup wandered by her window; which was a marvelous thing, since it was wintertime in the south, when all Hugmups hibernate in the mountains.
“Are you Lara?” asked the Hugmup.
“Yes, I am!” said the surprised girl, sitting up on her sleeping mat to see this marvelous Hugmup with extraordinary gifts of speech.
“Your father is a wise, but desperate man,” the Hugmup said gravely. “You will undergo great hardships, but your father intends good things for you. Persevere!” Then the Hugmup disappeared.
The dream ended as suddenly as it came, and Lara awoke in a cold sweat. The dream troubled her, but not enough to keep her from falling back to sleep again; for she had labored hard on the boat on this last day, and her body demanded slumber.
The next day dawned bright and fair, and the girl had forgotten her dream. The time of launching came. How exciting it was to see the people of the village lower her small boat into the gentle Lake!
“The Lake is too wide for all but the greatest vessels, my child,” the father warned. “Do not stray from the sight of shore! Sail to the west, across the mouth of the river, where fish abound.” With that, he gave Lara a gift of fishing nets, and set her off.
Lara sailed westward, always mindful of her father’s advice. She never let the shoreline out of view! As she crossed in front of the river, the Lake was far more turbulent than she had expected, and she rowed with all her might.
She rowed and rowed until she was exhausted, resolving not to return until she had fished the western side. Her fatigue overwhelmed her, so that she only had vague memories of the large sailing vessel which had towed her west. She landed her boat on a shiny white beach, and sought a comfortable spot in the woods to rest.
Lara woke the next day to find that her boat had washed away in the night! She was lost in a strange land and without hope of return to her father.
“What treachery!” she thought angrily, “My father knew I could never return,” she realized. “For he can live much better on his catch, if he does not have me to support!”
Filled with bitter thoughts and a downcast heart, Lara plodded her way westward along the Lakecoast. To the east lay barren coastal land and the uncrossable river; her only hope of Homelander contact lay to the west.
On the third day, she reached the City on the Shore of the Lake, and marvelled in its greatness. It had busy markets, schools, libraries, and its streets seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. People were everywhere! They were bargaining, arguing, reasoning, reconciling; it was a din of activity that bare-foot Lara had never seen before.
A young man in the crowd noticed that Lara was a stranger, hugged her, and spoke to her kindly. She told him her story of her mother’s death, her own selfless devotion to her father, her labors in restoring the boat, and her father’s treachery, which lead to her present predicament.
The young man was deeply moved by her story, and offered her a room in his house.
The girl began to cry. “I thank you for your generosity, but I have labored hard all my life. I cannot learn to accept a kindness so great!”
So the young man offered her employment instead. He was a dealer in fine books, and she could work in his store. Having no other alternatives, and since his revised offer overcame the objections of her pride, she accepted.
She began by keeping the books in order on the shelves, so that customers could locate them. Soon, she was able to assist customers in more creative ways, for she began to read the books in her room at night. Many years passed, and Lara became a woman. Her employer became her husband, and she soon became his business partner. They grew and prospered and became widely respected residents of the City on the Shore of the Lake. They had two daughters and two sons.
Lara forgot about her past.
Then came the day when the elder children were placed in charge of the business, for Lara and her husband had to travel to the eastern side of the river to visit a supplier and to conclude a contract. Lara did not even think of her origins, until familiar sights brought memories to her mind.
The old bitterness against her father had waned with the years. Even though Lara still believed him guilty of treachery against her, her love for him propelled her to the waterfront. She walked down the docks of her youth, drinking in the sights and sounds. A Hugmup ambled by, for it was the proper season, and suddenly she remembered the forgotten dream of the talkative Hugmup. She remembered that the Hugmup had warned her of hardships, but reassured her of her father’s good intentions.
Then she saw her father; an old man struggling to pull his boat in. His catch was pitifully small.
“Father!” she shouted as her heart leapt within her. He did not look up, for in the intervening years, he could not hear as well as before. She walked closer and called again!
Finally, he recognized her. “Lara, my lovely daughter!” he cried, and wept great tears. “You have become the fine woman I hoped you would.”
Then Lara asked her father why he had betrayed her; why he sent her out on a mission that no one who is alone in a boat could hope to accomplish!
“Lara, my daughter, do not think evil of me. I did that because I loved you. If you had remained here, you would be what you were so long ago; a wretched, unmarried, unhappy, underfed woman struggling to stay alive with an old man,” he explained. “If I had told you: ‘Sail across to the great city beyond the river, and seek a better life,’ you would have replied: ‘No father, for I will remain with you!’ So great was your love for me! So I tricked you into thinking the errand was for me.” He coughed a deep, congested cough, “I knew the river would prevent you from returning before you could benefit.”
The daughter suddenly realized that the misery her father had caused was really his greatest gift to her, and a great sacrifice besides. He had struggled all alone these many years, never knowing for certain the outcome of his gift. She fell tearfully into his arms.
“I followed you that day,” the father confessed, as he embraced his daughter. “It was I who towed you when you were too weary to go on!”
Lara and her husband brought her father back to the City on the Shore of the Lake, where he lived with his daughter and his grandchildren in honor, peace, and plenty, all the remaining days of his life.