This is a story told in golden pollen and the dancing of many delicate legs . . .
When the first listeners from the seaside town arrived at the Lone Chapel for the latest story, they found the Pilgrim Woman outside. She was tearing off the remains of posters from the knapped flint and sandstone walls. After every last shred of advertising had gone, she came in.
A bee flew in after her. Some children shied away. It buzzed against the nearest lancet window and the Pilgrim Woman folded scrap paper into a fan.
‘Don’t fret about the bee. Treat her with respect and all will be well,’ she told them. Then she whispered to the bee and gently fanned it away. Soon it was outside, zig-zagging over the dunes to find sea thrift.
The Pilgrim Woman poured herself a glass of mead. Then she tore and twisted the adverts into fire-lighters as she told this tale:
In the pale morning of the world when birdsong was plentiful and people were few, the meadows stood crammed with colourless flowers. Not one tint or hue gave beauty to their petals.
So the Creator collected the dreams of the sleeping people, all their hopes and delights, their wishes and notions. With these, she made the flowers glow in many shades.
Soon the flowers were visited by bees. From each they took pollen and nectar – and the sweet dreams of the first people. All three blessings went to their hives. Out of those hives – in caves, in hollow trees – came honey flavoured with magic.
Now one of the first children noticed the smell of that honey. She followed her clever little nose to the nearest hive. The gleaming liquid inside had to be touched and her sticky fingers had to be licked. And it was glorious.
‘Oh – thank you,’ she said to the bees – for she knew her manners. ‘What a wonderful thing you have made.’
Not only was the honey of the wild thought-flowers good and sweet – but it gave her marvellous dreams. She shared her visions with her people and became the first storyteller. Day after day, the girl went back to the hive and took a sip of the story-making honey. And every time she made sure to give thanks and tell her news to the bees.
Alas, the path made by her feet showed others to the hive. They came with plans of owning and selling dreams, of using the bee-given tales to make people give up their wealth gladly. When the girl resisted, the greed-driven folk broke the honeycombs and crushed the harmless bees.
One last bee flew to the Creator, her soft fur banded with dark ash, and told her sad tale. Furious, the Creator pulled thorns from roses and sloes, and took poison from nettles. She clothed the bee nations from other hives in gold and black armour – and set a barb on the end of each.
‘From henceforth, use these to protect your treasure from plunderers.’
The bee nations buzzed with warrior dances, but the last bee of the stricken hive flew up to the Creator’s ear.
‘Please tell them not to hurt the storyteller or her folk,’ she said. The Creator held up her hand and the warrior bees halted.
‘But how will we know who not to sting?’ asked the warrior bees. ‘People cannot dance as we do.’
The Creator consulted with the last bee and gave her judgement.
‘They will treat you with the manners of their kind – tell you of births and marriages and deaths. If these things are neglected, have no trust in them.’
The Pilgrim Woman took a sip of mead then turned to the children.
‘And so now you know how the bees got their stings – and why you must always be polite to them.’
top picture credit: Bee on the Teasel by rawdonfox (CC BY 2.0)