Spiders In The Soup

There were three brothers who lived in a cave. They were sorcerers, and they could put on bearskins and become bears whenever they liked. One day River Woman was out looking for herbs to make medicine, and she came too near their home. The three men saw her and came out to talk to her. They weren't too bad looking when they were men, and they talked her into coming to their cave for a feast.

Soon enough, River Woman found that she would have to cook the feast herself and the men wouldn't let her leave the cave afterward.

When night came, the brothers put on their bearskins, and River Woman saw that she had been tricked double. She demanded once more that they let her go, but they refused. They wanted to keep her there to cook for them because they didn't have mates. Now you know that it isn't easy to keep River Woman from doing whatever she wants to, ah? Even Beaver can't handle her when she gets mad.

River Woman was strong, but she was alone against three. The three sorcerers worked together, and that made them stronger than anything or anybody. They blocked up the cave entrance with big stones, too big for River Woman to move without some help. The men would move one away to pass food and firewood in or for her to hand the cooked food out, and put it back. They left one little opening between the stones to let air in. River Woman couldn't climb up to the crack that let the smoke out, and there was no other way in or out of the cave.

She stayed there for many days, all by herself. The sorcerers slept outside in a tent because it was summertime, they only needed to sleep in the cave in winter. When it snowed, they put on their bearskins and slept all winter.

So, here River Woman was stuck in this dark little cave, nothing to do but cook simple meals. The sorcerers were happy, because their food was never burnt any more. River Woman was not. She had enough to eat, but no one to talk to, and not enough to do. They gave her only enough water to drink, because they knew that water gave her strength. River Woman could put her ear to the air-hole and listen to the birds singing; and sometimes, when the men were away hunting or gathering herbs for their magic, she called out to see if anyone would answer. One day she heard a voice outside sing back to her.

"Ah-yei! Ayah! Stones can't talk! Cruk-crawk, can't talk. Ah-yei!" It was an awful voice.

River Woman knew that voice. It was her old friend Raven. "Hai, Raven, help me out, ah?" she cried.

Raven called back, "Nah, woman, I can't move those big boulders. Why are you in there when you want to be out here? I thought three bears lived in this cave. I came to see if there was a good bone to pick."

"Bears, hah!" River Woman said. She told him all about the three sorcerers and how they had trapped her and made her cook for them.

It made Raven angry. He might play a lot of tricks on people, but most of the time he meant well and was only trying to help, and things got screwed up because somebody else didn't know what was what. River Woman was a good friend, she had helped him out when he fought the giant that ate trees. "Let me think about it," he told her. "I'll come back when I have a plan."

So Raven flew away, but he came back as he'd promised. "Hai, River Woman, listen, ah?" he called into the little hole.

"I hear you, Raven," she answered.

Raven told her to tell the bear-men that she wanted to make something special for them, a wonderful soup, to show them that she wasn't really mad at them for keeping her here.

"What?" she said. "I am mad. But I'll tell them it's for their health. But I can't make soup in this little cave. I don't have a soup-pot, or any water, and I can't make a fire big enough to heat enough cooking-stones, even if I had the cooking-stones."

"That's part of the plan," Raven replied. River Woman saw his eye wink at her through the little hole. Then he flew away.

Raven found the sorcerers out in the bush gathering herbs. He sat nearby and sang "Soup, ayah. Soup is good, ayeh. I wish I had some soup."

One of the sorcerers hollered at him, "Hai, bird, what are you squawking about?"

"I am hungry, I am tired. If only I had some of River Woman's good soup I would have all my strength back ten times over. Only River Woman can make such good soup," Raven said, and then he flew away.

The three sorcerers were always eager to try anything that would give them more power, and besides they were getting hungry. Soup sounded good, a person gets tired of the same thing every day. So they went back to the cave.

Right away River Woman told them that she wanted to make a special meal for them. "Some of your good soup, ah?" they said.

"How do you know about my soup?" she asked, playing along like she didn't know what Raven had been up to. Of course he'd flown back there ahead of them and told her what to expect.

River Woman told them what she needed to make a proper soup, and they got to work. They gathered lots of wood and smooth stones for cooking and lined a pit with a pig's skin to make the soup in. They got all the roots and herbs that River Woman asked for, and enough water, and tore down the barrier to build a bigger cooking hearth. She brewed up a good batch of soup in that pigskin with lots of the pig's meat. When it was done, she ladled out a big bowlful for each of the sorcerers and one little one for herself.

They waited for her to taste the soup first; those fellows didn't trust anybody but themselves. While they were waiting for their soup to cool and watching her, Raven flew over and dropped a big hairy spider into one of the sorcerer's bowls.

When that man went to take a spoonful of soup, he saw the spider. "Achh," he hollered, "which one of you did this?" The other two denied having anything to do with it, but they had been watching River Woman so closely they all knew she couldn't have done it.

While they were arguing, Raven flew over again and dropped another spider into one of the other men's bowls. When he found it, the argument started all over again. River Woman kept her mouth shut and tended the fire, keeping her face turned away so they wouldn't see her smile. They couldn't ask her who did it either, if she wasn't watching.

They bitched and bellyached until the soup in their bowls was getting cold. The men who had spiders asked for fresh bowls then. As they were getting their soup, the third sorcerer went to take a taste of his--and there was a big hairy spider in it, still wiggling!

Well, those guys were really pissed off. None of 'em would admit to doing it, they all accused each other. That got them started arguing again, and they got so mad that they put on their bearskins and started fighting with teeth and claws. They roared and ripped and tore up trees--big trees, not the little bushes that grow here nowadays--and threw them at each other. Dust and fur flew. They fought so hard that they never saw River Woman slip away. She went a long way from the cave, back to her own lodge.

The bear-men slowed down a bit when they got tired, and they heard Raven laughing at them. "Crruck-crrrawk," he said, "I see three fools." They were so pissed off that they threw a mighty curse at him. But Raven was too quick and clever. He flew off, and instead of hitting him, the magic bounced back on the three sorcerers and they turned to stone. You can see them to this day, in a valley west of here.

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A slightly different version of this story was published in Ursus2, on behalf of ecfans.com