The Message Spider
Long, long ago, in the time when people and animals had not yet forgotten how to speak to each other, there lived in the very smallest of villages a brother and sister. The brother and sister kept sheep, whose wool the sister spun and knitted into the softest, warmest sweaters you could imagine. Every month, the brother would take these sweaters and some of the extra produce from their garden and go to the great city for market day. Each time before he left, he’d say to his sister, “Well, I’ll see you in a week!” and each time he would return exactly as he said.
One month, however, a week passed and he did not return. The sister began to worry. “Perhaps,” she said to her sheep as she herded them out to pasture, “he is lost! Or perhaps he’s hurt, or he’s been robbed, or all three! I should go look for him.”
The sheep, being sheep and mostly unconcerned with the affairs of any human, ignored her. The sister thought about leaving her home and searching for her brother. The more she considered it, however, the more she realized that she couldn’t possibly go alone. Not only did she not know the way to the city, but the dangers that might’ve taken her brother would be far greater for her.
She decided that she had better go to her neighbors and see if any of them would help her. First she went to her next-door neighbor, a woodcutter, thinking “He is strong and brave! Surely he’ll help me!”
But when the woodcutter heard her request, he shook his head sadly. “Sorry lass. I’d love to help, but I’ve a wife, a new baby, and three other children to take care of. I can’t leave them.”
The sister said “Thank you anyway, sir,” and went to her other next-door neighbor, a farmer. “He is generous and patient; he’ll help me, I’m sure!” she said to herself.
So she found the farmer in his field and told him of her need, but he, like the woodcutter, slowly shook his head. “’Tis planting time, lass. I’ve no time for a journey. I’ll be glad enough to keep an eye on your sheep while you’re gone, but I can’t be going with you.” He sent her off with a pat on her shoulder and an apologetic, “Sorry about your brother. Hope you find him.”
The girl, though disappointed, thanked him. She then went to the shopkeeper, thinking “He is shrewd and experienced; perhaps he’ll help me!”
The shopkeeper, however, did not even apologize when he shook his head. “I’ve a business to run, girl,” he said, barely looking up from his account books. “A business to run and a living to make. I can’t go off on a wild chase after your brother, or anyone else’s for that matter. Besides, it’s your business, not mine.”
Heavyhearted, the girl left without a word. One by one, she visited each of her other neighbors in the town, but not one of them could help. All were too busy, or had a sick relative, or were ill themselves, or simply wouldn’t come.
The girl, however, refused to give up. “If my human neighbors will not help me,” she said to herself, “perhaps my animal ones will.” So, she set out to ask the beasts and birds to help her.
First she asked the dog, thinking, “He is keen and loyal! No doubt he will be glad to help!”
The dog listened to her, but when she’d told her tale, he barked sharply and shook his head so his long ears flapped about. “No good! No good!” he growled. “I’m bound to guard my master’s house! I can’t leave! Not for anything! No good! No good!”
Disappointed, the girl next tried the horse, saying to herself, “Surely he will help! He is swift and powerful!”
The horse, however, shook his mane and turned away when he’d heard her plight. “I’d love to help,” he said, in a way that meant quite the opposite, “but I can’t. I’m a noble beast. I’ve the affairs of my own herd to take care of; I can’t get involved in outsider’s problems. Goodbye, maiden, and good-luck.” And with that, he galloped off before she could say another word.
The girl was quickly losing hope, but she continued her search for help anyway. This time, she went to the cat, thinking “He is patient and cunning; perhaps he will help.”
The cat, however, ignored her altogether, pretending to be asleep on the hearth. Try as the girl might, he would give her no response, and she went away more dismal than before.
After that, the girl went to each of her other animal neighbors and asked them for help. Like the humans, every one refused her. Now the girl could think of no one to ask for help at all. Tired, disappointed, and quite out of hope, she curled up in a corner of her house and cried.
As she wept, she heard a voice, smoother than silk and so small that it was nearly lost before it reached her ears. “Why are you crying, maiden?”
The girl did not recognize the voice, but she was too distraught to look up. Between sobs, she explained what had happened, how her brother had disappeared and no one would help her search for him.
After she finished, the voice said sympathetically, “That’s too bad. I’ll help you if you like, and I’ll ask my friends to help as well.”
“What?” The girl looked up, astounded that she’d missed anyone in her search for help. What she saw made her give a little shriek. Dangling from a near-invisible thread was a spider, fat and black with two sun-bright yellow splotches on its abdomen. “You’re a spider!”
The spider climbed up a short ways on its web, safely out of smacking distance. It knew what humans were like. “Yes, I am. I’m a message spider, to be exact. I write messages in my webs so all the spiders and insects can read them and hear the latest news. I can write about your brother in my next web- see?” And the spider began busily spinning a small web in the fireplace-corner. The girl watched and saw that there were indeed words in the spider’s web, though they were in a language she didn’t know.
The spider finished spinning and sat contentedly in the middle of his work. “It says ‘Lost- a maiden’s brother. Please help.’ When I make the real message web, I can add in what he looks like, and all who read it will know to look for him. We insects and spiders are everywhere, you know, and if we haven’t seen him, he’s disappeared off the face of the earth. Once he’s been found, one of us can simply guide him home, or if he’s hurt, send a message to you.
“You’d do that?” the girl asked, amazed that a creature who’d undoubtedly lost many relatives to her broom and shoes would help her. “Really? Oh, thank you!”
“Of course,” the spider replied courteously. “It’s only right.” Then, having listened to the girl describe her brother, he scurried out the window to begin his work.
The spider was every bit as good as his word. Each day, he wove a new web telling of the girl’s lost brother and instructing insects and other spiders to keep as many eyes out as they could and to spread the word. A week after he’d begun, the brother, who’d been lost during a thunderstorm, was found. Three days later, he returned home safe and sound, having been guided back to the road by several friendly bees. And they all lived happily ever after.
"Medieval Village 9" by Dragoroth
"Messages" by Anna Goodling (the original inspiration for message spiders)