HIGH in the Andes Mountains a frog lived in a cool stream. The frog had been born with a right leg much longer than the left leg. “If only I had two perfect legs like my brothers and sisters,” bemoaned the frog whenever she saw her limping reflection in the water. She could tell her brothers and sisters didn’t know what to make of her, and gave her distance.
Not far from the frog, and feeling just as sad, was a girl who lived in a vulture’s cave even higher up in a mountain. Not by her choice did she live there, for the girl was a prisoner. She had been a shepherdess in her happy livelihood when a condor – a giant vulture with wing spans over 10 feet – had plucked her away and carried her back to its nest high up in the rocky cliff. Every day she had to work hard. The condor brought back its prey, dead vicunas (those are animals in the llama family), and she had to beat the vicuna skins into rugs for the cave nest and into blankets. She also had to prepare huge meals to satisfy the voracious appetite of the condor. She dare not even leave the cave even for a moment, for the condor could see her from very far away and swoop down in a moment’s time. Who knows what it would do?
Sometimes the little frog watched the condor sail high in the air and swoop down for its prey. To the frog, the condor was a marvel to behold. Indeed, between its wingspan and weight, the condor of the Andes Mountains is the largest flying bird in the world. One day, the frog decided followed the condor home. The frog could walk well enough even with her too-long leg, and before long reached the high mountain cave of the condor. There she overheard this conversation-
“So – did you beat the new vicuna skins to add to my bed?”
“Yes, it’s done.”
“And where is my dinner?”
“No worries, it’s all ready. Now I really need to go to the stream to wash my clothes.”
“Absolutely not! Do you take me for a fool? You would try to escape!”
“How could I? Look, I simply must wash my clothes. Besides, as long as you hear me beating my clothes on the rocks, you’ll know I’m still there.”
“Hmm, very well then. But be sure I hear you beating the clothes. Or I’ll fly there in a second and beat you myself!”
So the girl, whose parents had named her Collyur, a name that means Morning Star to her people, wrapped herself in one of the vicuna skins. She tied her clothes into a bundle and carried the bundle to the stream.
As Collyur beat her clothes against the rocks, she cried bitterly for her lost freedom. She was nothing but a slave, tending to the condor’s every demand, while fearing every moment for her life. It wasn’t fair! But she could see no way out.
“Please don’t cry,” said a small voice. Collyur looked down to see a little frog on a rock, looking at her with sympathy.
“What is the matter?” said the frog. And the girl poured out her troubles while the frog listened and sighed.
“I can help you,” said the frog.
“If only that were true!” said Collyur. “I know you mean well, but there is nothing on earth that can help me.” Collyur turned away, still careful to continue to hit her clothes against the rocks with a regular beat.
“But I can,” said the frog. “I have a bit of magic. For a few minutes, I can change myself into any creature. If I change myself into you and keep beating your clothes, the condor will think you’re still here. And you can escape.”
“Really?” said Collyur, brightening. “Can you really do that?” Collyur looked with wonder at this little frog, who seemed at that moment to be the most beautiful creature on earth. She leaned over and kissed the frog on the forehead.
“We cannot wait a second more,” said the frog. In an instant, the frog changed into the image of Collyur. The new Collyur picked up the girl’s clothes and resumed beating them against the rocks.
“Now go!” said the frog-turned-Collyur.
At once, the real Collyur ran as fast as she could down the mountain to the valley and the shepherd’s home. The little frog, as the image of Collyur, kept beating the clothes with the same motion.
“What’s keeping that foolish girl?” hissed the condor after many minutes had passed. “She’ll make me wait here all day!” The condor flew to the stream where he saw the image of Collyur kneeling over the rocks, beating her clothes. Landing on a high rock, the condor shook its beak, a hook powerful enough to pierce the hide of a llama, and shrieked, “Stop it at once, you silly girl! Come back to the cave now!”
The girl stood up, jumped into the stream, and completely disappeared. The condor flew directly over the very spot but saw no shadow of a girl swimming underneath the water, only a frog hopping about. While the condor flew up and down over the stream, the real Collyur was running away, closer and closer to freedom. After several hours had passed and there was no sign of the girl, the condor flew back to its cave in a rage.
When the frog rejoined her brothers and sisters in the stream, they all gathered around her in a crowd. “What is it?” said the little frog nervously, and she tucked her too-large leg underneath so it wouldn’t show as much.
“Why – you’re beautiful!” said one sister. Fearing a joke, the little frog glanced in the water. She noticed a shiny jewel glimmering on her forehead, where Collyur had planted the kiss. The jewel was in the shape of a morning star.
“Look! It’s like the morning star!” said another. From then on, the frog lifted her head with pride, no longer afraid to catch a glimpse of her own reflection in the rushing waters.