Once there was a woman of rare magic and rarer wisdom who saw the world growing darker and determined to fight it. Her magic was not of a kind to perform spectacular displays of power, but of a quiet sort that goes unnoticed while it works down deep and springs up in unexpected ways. She made healing potions for the sick whose doctors had given up hope, she put wards of protection around small children so they could walk the streets unharmed, she made gardens grow and flourish, she tripped up the plans of evil men with small accidents and missed timing, and no one ever knew that she was responsible.
No one understood why her city was brighter and safer and healthier than those around it, but the people who lived there felt hopeful about the future and even began to talk of helping those who lived in darker places. Meanwhile the woman found a man of rare wisdom, though no magic, who would fight the dark with her, and they married and lived happily for a time. The happiest moment of all was the birth of their daughter, a laughing baby with her father’s dark hair and her mother’s bright eyes. They named her Helena, which means ‘bright one,’ and her mother always told her, “You will bring sunshine wherever you go.” And she did, with her smiles and her cheeks and her little baby ways.
Unfortunately this happy time was not to last. When little Helena was only two years old, her mother and father were taken in a wave of sickness that swept over the city. Her mother, too sick to save herself but still determined to fight to the end, poured all her power into a little locket and placed it on Helena’s neck, whispering one last time, “You will bring sunshine wherever you go.” These were her last words, and Helena was left alone.
So many children had become orphans during this terrible sickness that the city could not care for them all, and Helena was one of those sent to another city, a dark and dangerous city, a city with little light and less hope, where evil men had filled the sky with a constant cloud of dirt and pollution. In that city she lived in an orphanage with many other children who had no parents, in a dreary corner of the city where nothing green grew and everything was dirty.
The day that little Helena arrived at the orphanage, everyone remarked at the strange and wonderful break in the weather. It wasn’t often that the sun was shining brightly enough to burn through the haze above. The small child was taken away by a worker made slightly more cheerful than usual by the warmth to a bare and dismal room rendered just a bit less oppressive by the sunshine peeking in at the window.
Things just got stranger and stranger, for the sunshine persisted day after day as the new little orphans settled into their new life. It might not seem like a few rays of light would make much difference in a life as grim as theirs, and it is true that their world continued to be full of thin, hard mattresses and cold echoing halls and pale, tasteless porridge. But sunshine makes little differences, too, all but unnoticed at first, but changes just the same. The heavily lined faces of adults who worked hard for little reward were occasionally smoothed as they looked up into the warming rays. Dirt and grime, long unseen in the gloom, were brought to light, and those who saw it would clean it away. Small green things began to grow in the narrow yard, giving a sense of hope and life that only small green things can give.
Of course, Helena, who had not known how terrible life here was before, felt only how much worse it was than her former home. The little locket she carried around her neck was her only tie to the beauty of life with her mother and father. Every night she took it out from where it rested under her shirt and lay looking at it on the pillow next to her, feeling the love that rested inside though not understanding its power.
Helena grew up, as all children do. She saw the neighborhood around her slowly change, as gardens sprang up in the sunshine and people clamored to live on the only street in town that wasn’t under the cloud. When she was older, she helped with the younger orphans, showing them how to dig in the fresh earth, to plant and weed and breath in the garden smells. She told them stories as the last rays of sun faded into night’s darkness and taught them to read in the shade of the willow tree in summer. She made them happy with smiles and hugs and braided hair and paper airplanes, and when at last the day came that she must leave the orphanage, all grown up, she found that it had become her home.
You know what happened next. Helena left the orphanage and went to another part of the city to work and live, and the sunshine went with her, following her locket as her mother’s magic worked its way. The orphanage was once again a dark and gloomy place, and all the more so since those who lived there remembered what light had been like. Helena worked hard and made her new neighbors’ lives brighter and better, and each week she visited the children in the orphanage and gave them one day of sun in their new dim.
It didn’t take long for her to notice that things at the orphanage were not what they should be. The garden was dying, dirt was creeping back into corners, and the children’s faces were pale and serious. Helena began to question the children, who told her of the clouds above and the sun that only shone when she came to visit. A new understanding came to her. She walked and she talked to everyone she met. She asked questions and put answers together and finally realized the magic her locket contained.
That night Helena sat at her little table in her tiny apartment and thought about light and darkness and magic and hard work. Then she went to bed, and in the morning she walked in the sunshine all the way to the orphanage and out into the garden, where the littlest orphan was pouring water on a sad and lonely rosebush.
Helena knelt down and took the locket from her neck and put it around the neck of the little girl. She whispered a precious secret in the little girl’s ear. Then she stood up and walked away, leaving the sunshine behind her, her mother’s gift to guard the children, as she moved off into the dark city to fight against the darkness with her own light.
So it was that Helena proved that she had none of her mother’s rare magic but all of her even more rare wisdom. And only time would tell if it was enough.