In the before time, Old Hareek lived with her granddaughter in a small cottage at the edge of a wood. When winter arrived, they tucked themselves inside near the fire and lived on roots and nuts. Lola, the granddaughter, listened entranced to Old Hareek’s tales. So it was that they passed the time.
One evening, when a slender slice of cold moon hung high in the sky, Old Hareek said, ‘Lola, I tell you now that today was your 8th birthday, and it is time for you to hear of the spell under which we have been cast.’
Lola huddled low, and her eyes grew wide, but she said not a word.
‘How fine it was when I had my powers,’ began Old Hareek. ‘Oh,I had them. I was a splendid witch, to be sure, until. Until the white owl challenged me to answer the question. I failed, Lola, and it was then that the owl cast its spell. Doomed to be powerless I was, doomed.’
‘What was the question?’ asked Lola. ‘We’re witches?’
‘We won’t be witches again until the question is answered. I can’t tell you the question. It must be heard from the owl’s very beak. The owl prophesied that I would one day have a granddaughter, and when that granddaughter turned 8 years of age, she, and only she, could break the spell by finding the owl and answering the question.’
Lola jumped up and said, ‘Where is it? I’ll go now.’
‘Yes,’ said Old Hareek. ‘Wear my cloak to keep warm. There is an open meadow in the center of the wood. Go there and spin around three times, calling “Owl, owl, owl”.’
Lola raced from the cottage into the black of night under the sliver moon. Her trail through the snow was straight and true to the meadow in the center of the wood. She spun around three times and cried out, ‘Owl! Owl! Owl!’
Low it came over the snow, white of wing, white of face. It settled softly and regarded Lola. The owl blinked it’s eyes, and of a sudden gold they glowed.
‘I am Lola, 8 years old and the granddaughter of the one they call Old Hareek. What is the question?’ said Lola boldly.
‘How can you count to ’17’ by ‘2’s?’ asked the owl.*
‘So easy,’ said Lola, who was quite clever with numbers. ‘Start at 1/2. 2 times 1/2 is 1. Then go 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17.’
The owl was astonished speechless and flew off in ragged confusion. Lola felt powers stirring and ran home, growing all the while. She burst into the cottage to find the 8 year old Hareek grinning at her. Old Lola looked down at her wrinkled, twisted hands.
*Thanks to L. Frank Baum for the question.