Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Who's My Truest Love of All?

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
4Q 3?P J/S

National Book Awards Honor Book in 2006

Sometimes the best stories are the ones you tell about yourself. Keturah is quite the storyteller, and has she ever got a story to tell.

"I was sixteen years old the day I was lost in the forest, sixteen the day I met my death."

Keturah is picking peas in the garden when she spies the famed great hart eating lettuce in that very same garden. Hunters from all around, especially Lord Temsland, have been trying to capture the hart for years, and he has always eluded them. Keturah can barely tear her eyes away from him, so when he leaves the garden and reenters the forest, she follows. She doesn't mean to follow him far, but before she knows it, she is deep in the heart of the forest and completely lost. Despite all her efforts, she can not find her way home. Three days go by, and soon she realizes she is too cold, too hungry, and too lost to survive. She prepares herself for death, regretting all the dreams she will never see come true: no little cottage, no wee little baby, no one true love. At dusk, death does come to her. He comes in the form of a man. Keturah knows him instantly.

Keturah is not a bold girl, but still, she challenges Death. She tells him that he has come for her before she is ready. There is something she still wants to do. Many people die before they are ready, and they all have something they still want to do, Death replies. Still...he offers her a chance to live. She simply needs to choose who will die in her place. But Keturah will not give him a name. She will die herself rather than allow another to be taken in her stead. Death tells her her courage is for nothing, for her entire village is fated to be devastated by a plague. Keturah pleads with him to let her save her village. But no, Death says, it is not in your power. What is it you want to live for? All she has ever wanted, Keturah replies, is her own little cottage to clean, her own wee baby to hold, and most of all, one true love to be her husband. Death is still unmoved. That is not too much to ask for, but it is not to be. Keturah feels herself slowly slipping away. Desperately, she tries to think of some way to save herself. Into her mind come the memories of people who have been close to death but somehow miraculously survived.

"Sir, you are not easy to entreat."
"I am not entreated at all."
"But I hear you are sometimes cheated...Good Sir Death, I would tell you a story - a story of love, a love that could not be conquered even by you."

And Keturah begins to spin Death a tale, as only Keturah can spin a tale. The tale involves a beautiful young village girl, her true love, and Death. As she weaves the tale, Death is intrigued in spite of himself. But Keturah refuses to finish the tale. "The end of the tale I cannot tell...Will not tell - until tomorrow. Let me live, sir, and I will tell you the ending tomorrow."

Death must know the ending to the tale. He agrees to let her live for one more day. But then..."I have decided that when I take you tomorrow, I will indeed make you my bride."

"No, sir..I will not marry you. I will live and breathe and dance and tell my children stories. I will marry for love."

And there's the crux of it. It is the first time Keturah and Death speak, but it is not the last. Like Sherezade, Keturah uses her stories to convince Death to give her more time to live, until finally he tells her that she has three days to find her one true love, or she will be his bride.

When Keturah emerges from the forest, there is great rejoicing -- at first. But soon, there are rumblings. The villagers, who have always loved Keturah for her sweet nature and wonderful stories, are now suspicious of the girl who disappeared into the forest for three days and returned alive. The fairies must have bewitched her. Keturah's warnings of plague are heeded by Lord Temson's son, John, but the villagers are reluctant to follow his orders, since Keturah is the messenger. Time is growing short, both for Keturah and for her village.

If she can only find her one true love in time, all will be well. Who could it be? The tailor? The choirmaster? The man who would marry the best pastry maker in the village? Is he rich or is he poor? Does he even exist at all? She doesn't know, and even the enchanted eyeball in her pocket can not see the man. But sometimes the things you can not see are the things that have been right in front of you all along.

This is the book for you if you enjoy fairy tales and quiet romances. Leavitt has created a fantasy that takes its place alongside the best of the classic fairy tales. It is not a book for those who like rousing adventure and a fast-moving tale. It is a quiet book that depends on characters to create its magic. Read it curled up with a hot cup of tea, a warm afghan, and a picture of your own one true love nearby.

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