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This one told of a woman who was courted by a vain and wealthy man who wished her hand in marriage. She was poor and had little other choice but to do as he and her parents asked, but she made one provision. The man was to spend a single season as an animal of his choice, to prove not only his love for the woman but his worthiness of her. For she had the animal magic and he did not, and she wished for him to learn to understand this other part of her.

The man tried everything he could to get out of this request. He offered more money in dowry for the woman, or offered to give money to her now, for her to live happily for a season on her own, before they married. He offered to bring her to the great teacher of animal magic who lived in a neighboring kingdom, but to all these the woman said no. She was firm. He could choose which animal he wished to become, but he must choose one—or give up his desire to marry her.

The man did not wish to give up his desire to marry the woman. He had never met a woman so beautiful, and she stirred his desires so that he could not think of anything but marrying her when he was anywhere nearby. And so it was that, against his better judgment, he agreed to become an animal for one season. She had the magic to transform him. He had only to tell her the animal he wished to become.

He did not think long over the decision. He did not want to become an animal that was likely to be killed. So deer, rabbit, boar—those were all impossible. He had been on the hunt too often for all of them. He had rather be an animal that was the hunter than the hunted. And perhaps it would impress this woman he wanted to marry when she saw how magnificent and terrifying he was in the guise of a great eagle.

He told her and saw her eyes widen with surprise—and awe?

“Are you sure?” she asked him.

He assured her that he was.

So she touched his eyes, and then his chest, and then his legs, and he felt himself change in an instant to the shape of an eagle. He lifted his wings and tried to fly, but found that he could not.

He stared at the woman who had changed him. What had she done?

“You must learn as an eagle learns,” she told him. “Now go your way, and return to me after a season and I will make you a man again.”

Well, the man suddenly lost his love for the woman. She was beautiful, but it was only a trap. She meant to kill him, he was sure of that. So instead of doing as she had suggested and trying to learn how to be an eagle, he went back to his own home. But of course his servants would not let an eagle in, and when he tried to get past them, he was nearly shot through the eye with an arrow.

Next, he tried to wander through a nearby town, in search of another who had animal magic as the woman had, who would change him back to the man he had been. But of the two he met who might have helped him, one was a man whose farm he had stolen the previous year to add to his own, and the other was a woman who simply laughed at him and said she had heard all about it, and thought it was very appropriate, too.

In the end, there was only one place he could go, and that was back to the forest. He spent a fearful night there, sure that he would be devoured at any moment, but somehow survived to see morning. That was when he spent a considerable amount of time and effort staring at the other birds of the forest and watching them as they took flight. He tried a few fledgling efforts the first day. Then, as his hunger grew more overpowering, he did nothing but try to fly for two more days. At last he was good enough that he caught a small mouse and could not even savor the taste or his triumph, since he was nearly as hungry after that effort as he had been before.

After a season of this, and he counted each day of it, he returned to the woman’s home and landed before her as she stood sweeping the dirt off of her floor and into the yard. She recognized him instantly.

“So, you’ve returned to be a man again?” she asked, smiling viciously—or so the man thought.

He edged closer to her.

“But it appears you’ve learned something as an eagle.” And she put out her hands to transform him back to himself.

When he was a man again, she hardly had the chance to remind him that she would still marry him, if he wished it, for he was running far from her and her magic. He had no wish to be married to a woman who had such power. How could he trust her not to become angry with him at any moment and turn him into a flea and swat him with her hand?

He took his possessions and fled the town and kept as far from animals and animal magic as he could for the rest of his life.”

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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2008 all rights reserved.
Last revised January 31, 2008.