1. The Tale of the Three Sisters by hillstar
One morning, three sisters were playing at the side of the river when they heard a splash of water. Out of the water emerged the strangest Lady that the three sisters had ever seen.
The Lady seemed made of the river itself. Sparkles of sunlight and pools of shade clothed her and ripples of color made her form dance and shift. In one moment, the Lady's hair was as white and as faded as a crone's. In the next, her lips were ruby red, like a maiden's. With a streak of silver, her eyes became wizened, like the eyes of an ancient witch. With a flicker of a cloud passing by, her eyes turned wild blue as the eyes of a newborn baby. The water flowed and her belly grew full like a mother's. The tide changed and her hands turned grasping like a child's.
"Who are you?" asked one of the sisters.
"That is for you to decide," said the Lady. "If you can guess my name, I will give you a gift."
The three sisters huddled together and each made guesses at the name of the shapeshifter. The eldest guessed that her name was Beauty and the youngest sister thought that the Lady looked more like Ugliness. The eldest sister called her Age and the middle sister believed her to be Youth. The middle sister called her Madness and the youngest sister suggested she might be Wisdom.
Finally, all three agreed on the only answer to the query that made sense to each of them.
"You must be Life," the three sisters exclaimed together.
"Very good," said Life. "Now tell me quick: What is your heart's desire?"
The eldest sister spoke first, ready with her reply.
"I want a powerful Wand, strong enough to cut down all the weeds of the world, so that only the most worthy flowers may grow."
Life laughed out loud. This answer suited Her very well, for separating the pure from the impure and the silver from the dross was one of Life's proudest handiworks.
"Wise woman," thought Life, as she gifted the eldest sister with the most powerful Wand in her possession.
The youngest child spoke next. She asked, with a blush of dewy pink on her cheeks, for a Stone that could grant her eternal life, to make her forever young and beautiful, and to keep her sisters forever close to her.
Life held back a snicker at this request. It flattered Life how often she received this request, for it showed humankind's aching desire for her. However, she felt that this wish also revealed a gross misunderstanding of her nature.
Nonetheless, she gave the youngest sister a Stone made out of her own essence. The Stone sparkled in the youngest sister's hand as the youngest sister stared upon its surface.
When the middle sister spoke, she spoke in no more than a whisper.
"Life, my family is haunted by a dark curse. I wish for a Cloak so that I may escape the troubles that have so afflicted the rest of my family tree."
Now, this request offended Life the most, but Life supposed she couldn't blame the young maiden for her foolishness.
Life drew from the depths of the water a Cloak so frail, diaphanous, and delicate that it may as well have not have existed at all.
The eldest bore no child of her own flesh, but, with the swift flicker of her Wand, she midwifed many slumbering babes from the soft haze of their babyhood to the fresh shock of childhood's confusion. Wand in hand, she shepherded ill-formed half-women and part-men through to the threshold of adulthood. With her most potent Wand, the eldest sister perfected the art of separating what was fleeting and trivial from what was lasting and true. She kept it with her until the night of her death, when she lay down at last with the Wand held at her own heart.
The youngest sister kept her Stone with her for many years, using it to keep herself fresh and childlike. When she bore a son, she passed down the Stone to her boy, hoping that it would keep him forever tender, innocent, and sweet. However, instead of making her son childlike, the stone turned him perversely childish, so that though his body became the body of a growing boy, his spirit remained the spirit of a whining, prattling baby. He played with his mother's precious Stone as if it were a toy that could be tossed about and easily replaced by a new, shinier plaything whenever he so wished. In an extreme moment of carelessness, mother and child both misplaced the Stone, so that her family began to age without aging at all.
When she found at last the Stone again, it was in the hand of a different boy. She realized that, to get back her Stone, she was going to have to give up her over-valued youth.
"He is dead," spoke the youngest sister and brought one who had been merely surviving back to life at last.
The middle sister gave birth to a daughter who seemed to the middle sister to be oddly, distantly familiar, like an old friend or nemesis she had once known but forgotten about.
When her daughter began desiring to leave home, the middle sister gave her daughter the Cloak she had worn for many years. "You must wear this when you go out. It will keep you safe."
"I do not want to wear your Cloak," said her daughter.
"You will wear it so long as you live under my roof," said the middle sister. "You are too young to know what you want."
However, her daughter did not feel particularly young. The daughter felt both young and old, wise and mad, beautiful and ugly, and numberless mysterious things besides. Nothing irritated her so much as the Cloak draped around her shoulders and, at the first chance she got, the middle sister's daughter ran off into the wild, dark night.
The middle sister learned too late what Life had been forbidden to tell her so long ago- that a Cloak made to hide from Life could never keep Death at bay.
In her grief and despair, the middle sister threw the useless Cloak upon her floor and fell into an outburst of tears.
Suddenly, she heard a knock at her door, as soft as a splash of water.
The middle sister opened her door and in walked a beautiful Lady, carrying a baby in her arms.