Reward

Triumphant, the heroine wins what she has sought for so long. She snatches her lover from the Fairie Queen’s horse, or saves her child from certain death. She may find the brief romance she’s sought for so long. Still, the quest has not ended, until she returns safely home.

          Higher and higher Zhiyu climbed. Behind her, she heard screams and curses, but she didn’t look. Then cries turned to sounds of weeping. Still she remained resolute. Then she heard her elder brother crying for help. She shivered. Now she heard her second brother as well. She put her hand over her heart. And there she felt the rice cake. She pinched two pieces off and used them to plug her ears, shutting out the cries. Thus she climbed the mountain to the top. Awaiting her was a black dragon. She shot arrows into both of its eyes and it vanished into black, greasy smoke. When she gathered the well water and sprinkled it on the grass, it blossomed and produced seeds, which she gathered. On the way down, she poured her flask of well water on all the rocks she saw, and they transformed into her brothers and all the other lost heroes.

          The Armless Maiden dived in after her baby. Without thought, she reached out underwater to find him, to save him. To her shock, a pair of strong, healthy arms stretched out before her. She easily snatched her child, and swam them both to safety. On the riverbank, she cuddled and nursed her child, marveling over the firm brown hands she had regained.

         The Tukonee, tiny people of the cave, swarmed around Lia, and told her to bring all the women up the mountain. The next day, she led all the women up the mountain, and thrust her digging stick into the crevices between boulders, deep enough to touch the mountain’s heart. The entire mountain shook, as the stick sprang from Lia’s hands and burrowed deeper into the earth. Water exploded from the stone and cascaded down the mountainside, down to the dry desert, where it pooled into the Murumbidgee River. The women eagerly drank, water cool in their hot mouth and dry throats. They splashed each other and poured water over their tight, dry skin. They laughed and hugged. They cried tears that blended into the new, life-giving river. And then they crossed the river and built a village of women, and never returned to the stingy men

          One luckless Persian prince named Shapur was captured by the enemy Shah Kisra. He was taken to the women’s quarters of the palace, where the women bound his hands and sewed him up in a donkey’s skin, whereupon, he was cast into a dark dungeon with only bread and water. A beautiful damsel, slave to the Kisra’s wife, took pity on him. He begged her to bring him warm milk when she secretly visited, so she could soak the donkeyskin in it and thus render it supple. Though fearful of discovery, the girl faithfully did so. At the end of two weeks, the hide was soft enough for Shapur to emerge. He blessed the girl and vowed to be her slave.

          When Marwe missed her family above ground, the old woman took her to two pots and asked her whether she preferred hot or cold. “Cold,” Marwe said. Her guide dipped her hands and feet into the cold pot and they emerged covered in jewels.