Mexico, popular literature: Princess of the Night

The King of Michoacán sent his messengers to the villages and towns. “By order of the King: all the girls of the kingdom are invited to participate in the Flower Contest. The girl, be she beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, who presents the most beautiful and unknown flower will become the wife of Prince Tutul,” they announced everywhere.

All the terraces and porches immediately filled with chit-chat. Where could one possibly find such a flower in the harsh hills of Michoacán, in the dry patches of this arid land! The young were disheartened; the older mothers knew that Tutul’s passion for flowers would land him no wife.

Yet, Red Moon was not going to give up. All her life she wanted to leave her small town and be someone of importance. The comfortable affluence her father afforded her was not enough. She wanted to be rich and powerful. But how could she win the prize?

Moonlight, her maiden servant, told Red Moon that she could try and help. “If I cannot find the solution, how could you, a mere slave, know the answer?” was the reply. In the end, she let Moonlight try.

Moonlight left the small town and went towards the mountains behind it. She climbed, oblivious to the stones that hampered her journey. When she spotted a bush, she would look for flowers, only to find ordinary ones, surely already in Tutul’s possession in his great gardens. After three days of searching in vain, she thought of going back. It would be a sour return. She wanted to help Red Moon, but she was all aware of the punishment she would get for returning empty-handed.

It was then that a hummingbird fell at her side, tired of flying in the heat of the day without food or water. Moonlight picked him up and said: “You poor thing, you are exhausted! Me too, and I do not even have water to give and help you”. The bird hardly moved, shaking his head without strength. Moonlight had an idea. “If I can break the smallest branch of a cactus, I might find a drop of water. That would surely be enough for this bird”. And so she did. She placed the dying bird in the shadow of a large stone and climbed a crop of rocks where there was a cactus. The thorn entered in her soft skin, but she was oblivious to pain.

Once she got hold of a smaller branch, she broke it. A drop of whitish liquid appeared on the surfaced, and she gave it to the hummingbird. The bird regained its strength and flew away. Moonlight felt better but was tired. She had neither water nor food and so she slept there, worn out by the long walk and the fruitless search.

She woke up suddenly at daybreak. She felt fine, her strength had come back and she was strangely happy. She got up, and, as in an afterthought, looked at the cactus she had broken the day before. There, where she had cut the little branch, a beautiful flower had bloomed during the night. “How beautiful!” she exclaimed. Moonlight remembered why she was there, took the flower and placed it in a little basket and headed for her home.

“Here is the flower, my lady”, said Moonlight to Red Moon. The snobbish girl looked at the flower and realized that with that she could win Tutul’s heart. However, she was also suspicious. “The king said that who found the flower would become Tutul’s wife. Did you talk to anyone?” “No – answered Moonlight – I talked to no one.” “Perhaps, but you could talk later!” said Red Moon who immediately called Xilo and Huitzli, her two slaves, ordering them to take Moonlight and put her in the cellar, where she could not communicate with anyone. The two slaves did as they were told, paying little attention to Moonlight’s cries.

Tutul was delighted to see the beautiful flower. After placing it in a precious vase, he ordered his servants to prepare for the wedding the day after. He was not particularly happy to marry Red Moon, but it was too late to come back on his word. Tutul went to the treasury room to choose the appropriate jewellery for his wife to be. On the main coffer, the one holding the most beautiful necklaces and bungles, Tutul saw a hummingbird. Tutul was surprised to see the bird, and even more to hear him talking. “I am the hummingbird of one hundred colours. I am sent by god Mocuilxochti, protectors of flowers.

It is Mocuilxochti – whose name means five flowers – who disposed for the blooming of the flower you received today. It was a gift to Moonlight, Red Moon’s slave, for her act of kindness to one of Mocuilxochti’s messengers. Moonlight is the one who walked for days to find the flower; she is the one who has a kind heart. She is the one who deserves to be your wife”.

This is how the faithful slave, good and humble Moonlight, became the spouse of the Prince of Michoacán. To remember her, the beautiful and white petals of the cereus cactus open only at night, and they are called the Princesses of the Night.

(From Maya Tradition)

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