Where did all the eggs and chicks come from anyway? It’s not all lost in the mists of time and legend, but much of it is conjecture and guesswork. So, here’s my contribution to the mythos.
* * *
Hecta was lost. These old animal trails all looked the same. The sun was high and the day hot, but the thick tree canopy only let through a diffuse light and created no shadows. With no other choice, he carried on up the hill, hoping to come across a clearing and find out which direction he was going.
He had started the day with hope in his heart, a stout pony and sack filled with offerings. All he needed to do was find the shrine, present the offering, and make his request. Then the bandits had appeared, right there on the royal highway. He’d barely escaped with his life and the offerings. The pony, his water-skin, his bow and arrows and all his food were gone. Once he’d realised what was happening, he’d leapt from the pony and ran into the forest. They hadn’t pursued him, and now he knew why.
His wife of two years was still childless, despite their best efforts. Both of them had left many offerings to various other deities, but so far their pleas had been left unanswered. Almost by accident, Hecta had heard about the shrine he was now trying to find, to one of the older deities, a goddess of fertility. It was on the side of a hill, facing south over a wide valley.
Time passed, but eventually, Hecta found a clearing. It wasn’t much but he could at least see the sun and knew he was going in the right direction and it was mid-afternoon. Creatures moved in the undergrowth, small and barely seen grey and brown shapes. He took this as a good sign; the valley was said to be lush and filled with animals. He just hoped they weren’t goblins, or worse. Armed only with a small knife, he didn’t stand much chance against more than one of them. If he was near the shrine, maybe it would provide some form of protection against unnatural creatures.
The land rose and then began to descend. He was definitely in a valley here, with deep sides. Hecta followed the hillside down as far as it would go, then headed north as near as he could reckon it. The day began to grow late, the light fading early in this low valley. At last, something caught his eye ahead. At the northern edge, where the land rose again, was a cave. Nothing more than a dark void among the trees, but it was definitely something. Invigorated, he hurried on, soon arriving on the flat ground before the cave. If nothing else, it could provide him shelter for the coming night.
His heart soared when he scraped away some of the mud and found a circular stone larger than a millwheel. Hecta broke off some branches and began cleaning the stone, wishing he had water and a stiff broom. It soon became apparent he was in the right place. With furious zeal, Hecta cleaned more and more of the stone until it was fully exposed to the late afternoon sun. In the centre was a beautiful woman, surrounded by woodland creatures of all kinds, including the ones he had in his sack. Behind her, the rising sun formed a halo, while the new shoots of spring twined around her bare legs.
Hecta reached into the sack and pulled out one of the rabbits. It was pure white and had cost him a silver coin. This was a lot of money to him and his wife, but it would be worth it if their wish was granted. The rabbit was already dead, and he wondered now if he should have brought a live one. Too late for that. Hecta knelt on the ground at the edge of the stone and reverentially laid the soft white body on the altar.
“Eostre please hear me. My wife has been barren these last two years. Please bless us with a child we can love and raise to your glory.”
A voice, not much more than a whisper, spoke, seemingly from within the cave. Hecta looked up in fright, expecting a goblin to come rushing out. Instead, a white shape appeared, nothing more than smoke in the rays of light. It moved towards the stone and took on more substance until the ghost of a beautiful woman stood on the opposite edge to Hecta.
“What have you there?” she repeated.
Hecta averted his eyes. “It’s a humble offering, nothing more, but a white rabbit, a fine white rabbit, for you, my goddess.”
The woman became more substantial, her voice a little louder. “Why do you bring me this?”
“My goddess, my wife and I are barren and would like a child, with your blessing.”
“No, why do you bring me this rabbit?”
“Is it not enough? I can bring more rabbits.”
“Rabbits are not my creatures, Hecta. Hares are my companions. And not dead ones, rotting and limp.”
“I am sorry my goddess, please forgive me, I have been foolish. I will go and fetch hares. Live ones.”
“Stop Hecta. I have hares, I do not require more.”
“Yes, my goddess, of course. What then might I bring to please you?”
“What do you have?”
Hecta searched himself, knowing he had very little to give. “A knife, my goddess, just a small one, a belt, my shoes, a pouch, with a few silver coins, and some beans we chew for comfort.”
“Beans? Show me the beans.”
Hecta fumbled the beans from his pouch and offered them to the deity. Her touch was insubstantial and sent a warm thrill through his body. She lifted the beans to her nose and smelled them, then put one whole in her mouth.
A pulse of energy rippled her form and she became more solid. “Yes, this I like. Bring more, Hecta, many more. These I can work with.”
“Yes, my goddess, of course, I will bring more. And… and my wife, our child?”
“It is you who was barren, Hecta, but no longer. Go, have as many children as you feel you need. But do not forsake me.”
“No, my goddess, never. I will name my first child after you. And bring beans, lots more beans.”
“Go, Hecta, my creatures will guide you to the edge of the forest.”
Hecta stood, grabbed the rabbit and quickly dropped it into the sack, then turned away.
“Hecta, what do you call these beans?”
“We call them chocolatl, my goddess.”
“Yes, very good. I will gather many followers with these.”