She was beautiful, inside and out.  Her hair was a deep brown that cascaded in waves down her back, as wild and alive as the spark in her equally brown eyes.  In those days, and for a long time, men only saw a woman’s hair loose and long after they were married and in private.  Ordinarily it was braided and coiled, shrouded under veils and shawls.  Women’s bodies were hidden in loose robes. 

            In the “modern” age, people seem to think that skin is nothing special.  Young women walk around in shorts and shirts that barely qualify as clothing, leaving little to the imagination.  Go to a beach on a warm summer’s day and you’ll see over ninety percent of every woman’s body, and a nude beach lets you see everything.  But, during the dawn of Mankind’s days on Earth, everything was left to the imagination.  There was mystery in a woman then, one tantalized men by being an enigma, shrouded in secrecy.  A glimpse of an ankle or a lock of hair could send a maiden’s suitor into fits of passion.

            Unfortunately, this young beauty had no suitors.  She was the daughter of a shepherd that lived in isolation among the hills.  She was not lonely, for the shepherd had a wife and seven daughters, but there were no men for the daughters to marry.  Often one or another would ask their father about where all the men were, since their mother had obviously found him somewhere.  Their father would always brush off the question, saying that when they were older he would find them husbands.  He had taken his beautiful wife to this remote home to avoid other men, for he feared she would be taken from him.  Now his beautiful daughters wanted to leave him, and he feared their loss.

            His youngest and most beautiful daughter, the dark beauty we have been talking about, was the only one that never asked.  She was content to keep the simple life that they all shared, and saw no reason to seek something different. 

            Every day, from the time this young maiden was seven years old, she had the same chore.  Perhaps an hour or two before mid-day, she would set out from their home in the hills with water-bags filled from the stream behind the family’s house.  She would then trek across the miles to her father’s flock, trading with her father for his empty water-bags and bringing him his lunch, so that he would receive refreshment and nourishment during the time of the hot sun at noon.  Along the way she would sing songs of her own making, and whistle along with the many birds.  Sometimes she would stop to look at trees and their leaves, or stare at tiny insects crawling over rocks. 

These were her friends and playmates, these inhabitants of the wild world around her.  And her best friend was God, for she spoke to Him constantly on these long walks, thanking Him for each wonder He revealed.  All in all she was happy, for she could play with her sisters, talk to her father’s sheep, watch the sunset, dance with the wind and stare dreamily up at clouds.  She revelled in the beauty of the world, and thanked God every day for making it.

            On one of these days, in the fourteenth summer of her life, she had the urge to set out early in the morning, for that way she could take more time to visit nature and God before delivering her father’s water.  She walked along the well-worn path away from the house, and, on a whim, she mounted the tallest hill in the region, one with a tree at its crest.  She lay in the green grass just below the summit of the hill and she watched the clouds with rapt attention (and did that one not have the face of a lamb?  And, goodness, is that one not unlike a fish swimming in the stream near the meadow, only it swims in the air?).  As she lay there and began to daydream, she was startled from her idle reveries by a sudden flurry of motion.

            She sat up, surprised, and saw that it was a white dove, floating through the sky on grace-filled wings.  She could not take her eyes away from the delicate ballet it danced with the wind.  She marvelled at the precise shape of each exquisite white feather, each one working in unison with the others to create motion and lift.  Such a perfect design, such a marvellous creation!

            The girl was enthralled by the bird.  She watched the gentle bird in amazement for a time, and she thought some more while it played with the breeze.  A strong gust pulled at some loose tresses of her dark mane, so she removed the hood of her robes from her head, freeing her hair so that she could better feel the breeze on her face.  She could feel the wind pull playfully at her newly freed dark tresses, as if inviting her to come along and dance with it and the small bird.

            For a moment she wished that she could fly, to soar like the bird on the wind, and even spread her arms to feel the air ebb and sway beneath them.  The girl closed her eyes to revel in the sensations of the wind’s caress.  She imagined herself flying, going higher and higher, but then suddenly felt the need to ground herself.  She opened her eyes.

            “God made the dove to fly, but I am on the ground.” She said aloud, pondering.  “I am me for a reason.  Why should I want to be anything else?”

            She stood to leave, but as she walked she felt a quiet longing in her heart that she had never had before, a longing for something indefinable and elusive, yet real for all its intangibility.  Try as she might, she could not ignore this feeling, nor could she dispel its hold on her.  She trudged slowly down the hill to eventually walk the remaining distance to her father and his flock, delivered the water to her father, and then found her way home in a dazed state of reflection on that morning’s events.

            From then on she returned to the hill every evening, when the day’s work was done, and she would watch the sunset.  Some days the dove would dance for her, while others she simply lay in the green grass and watched the soft white clouds until they gave way to the brilliant dark canopy of night and the stars.  Each day she let her mind wander in search of an answer to a question in her heart, a question she did not know how to ask with words.

            At home her parents saw the sudden restlessness in their youngest daughter.  They sensed that this state of faraway reverie was a sign of discontent, and mistakenly assumed it was the same as what her sisters felt, a dissatisfaction with the simple life of the hills.  The parents knew the time had come to assuage at least some of the restlessness that all of the daughters seemed to be feeling.  It was decided that their father would walk back across the green hills to the town which had once been home to him and his wife in their youth, where there would surely be men looking for wives.

            After a week he returned, bringing with him three men from the village, three men who wanted wives and had come to woo one from among the seven sisters.  Both parents agreed that the three youngest were still too young for marriage, but the suitors could vie for the hands of the eldest four.

            One man was a burly and quiet shepherd, not unlike their father.  This man was obviously the father’s favourite, for like calls to like, and he figured that the girls were all used to the simple life that was the lot of the shepherd and the shepherd’s wife.  The second was a rich young man in town on a journey, the son of a wealthy merchant.  The old shepherd’s tale of seven beautiful daughters inspired the traveller, for he had long searched for a woman that he could love.  The other man was a shopkeeper in town.  The young traveller had been in his shop discussing a trading route between the shop and the rich son’s father when the shepherd had come to town with the story of eligible daughters, and the two men had decided to see the young beauties for themselves.

            As the shepherd had expected, the three eldest daughters were quite taken with the trio, and the fourth was resigned to wait her turn.  Also as expected, the men were amazed by the beauty of the sisters. 

            The eldest daughter, always responsible and a virtual second mother to her sisters, ended up spending the most time with the young shepherd, making the statement that “What was good enough for Mother is good enough for me!” when one of her younger sisters questioned the choice.  The second daughter, the most rebellious and restless daughter, was quite interested in the merchant’s son, with his stories of far away places and strange animals, the sea and cities.  She wished to travel and see the world, and was charmed by the young man’s quick educated wit and warm smile.  The third daughter chose the shopkeeper.  She was very timid and shy, and the shopkeeper was much the same.  A quiet life in a town, where things would be different from the hills, but not too strange, seemed to her the best choice.

            After a few weeks, good-byes were said as the eldest daughters left with their suitors to be married and to start new lives.  Their mother and younger sisters wept at their departure, waving until the newlyweds disappeared over the crest of a hill, while their father stood stoically by, his arm around his wife’s shoulders.

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