t was a week before Aphrodite's birthday. All the gods in Olympus were getting ready to give the most beautiful gifts to the goddess of love and beauty. They all claimed that Aphrodite would like their present the best while their jealous wives stood back and watched the competition. Poseidon was getting a choir of sirens to sing their beautiful music to Aphrodite; Hades was training Cerberus to do tricks for her; and Zeus was having a gown woven from the clouds just for her. But these were only a few of the many beautiful gifts the gods prepared.
Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus was the only one not gloating over his present because he was still working on it deep in his fiery forge. Hephaestus wanted to make Aphrodite a crown unlike any other she had ever seen. He tried using gold, silver, bronze, any metal you could think of and more. What he finally came up with was an ivy-like tiara. It was the loveliest thing Hephaestus had ever crafted, but it was missing something.
The centre of the crown, however, was missing something, something special. Hephaestus moaned to himself, "Oh, I'll never finish my gift before Aphrodite's birthday," for Aphrodite's birthday was fast approaching.
When the gods first made animals, they made the first male and female of each species immortal so that even the animals could have a leader to look up to. These animal gods were friends with Hephaestus because, unlike the other gods, Hephaestus didn't have a dangerous temper. When the animals heard of his troubles, they offered to help. "We'll search the land and the sea until we find something to finish your crown," the animal gods chorused, and with that they ran off in all directions.
The aquatic animals were first to return to the forge. They had searched every ocean, sea, and lake on Earth. With them they brought the shiniest seashells and the largest pearls. These would've been fit for any queen, but not for Aphrodite. Hephaestus thanked the sea creatures for their lovely offerings, but politely declined them.
The next to return to his underground forge were the animals of flight. They had searched the skies for worthy contributions. They gave Hephaestus the softest, most colourful feathers and bits of the stars from the sky. But these wouldn't do for Aphrodite's crown either, so Hephaestus politely thanked all the winged creatures for their efforts.
Following the winged creatures to Hephaestus' earthen lair came the many rodents. They brought the brightest, juiciest berries and the most perfect nuts. These were delightful gifts for any small animal, but not for a goddess crown. So Hephaestus returned their little treasures to them with many thanks.
For the next little while the rest of the animals filed into his forge. They made a small pile of shiny rocks, little trinkets, tiny webs from the spiders, the best and the brightest that the animals could find. Hephaestus appreciated the animals' gifts greatly, but they just would not do. Hephaestus was back to where he started. But then from the back of the room, a little mouse peeped, "Don't despair Hephaestus, the squirrel hasn't come back yet, maybe he'll find something."
Meanwhile, deep in one of the lush forests on Earth, the little squirrel and his mate wandered unhappily through the green foliage. They hadn't been able to find a single thing fit for Hephaestus' crown. He was called Zip and his mate was called Aeta. Zip wanted to give up and go home to their tree in the heavens, but Aeta wouldn't forsake their task.
They wandered across the land until they came to the end of the world. That's when Zip saw it, a beautiful garden full of the most magnificent flowers and a tree with golden apples. "There has got to be something in there worthy of Aphrodite," he cried.
"I wouldn't go in there if I were you," warned Aeta. "I've heard terrible things about a garden at the end of the world. Some say there's a dragon there that never sleeps."
But Zip wouldn't listen to her advice and zipped off towards the garden (hence his name). As he drew nearer the garden, Zip could make out the shape of a scaly purple dragon head, but its eyes were closed. "So much for a dragon that never sleeps!" muttered Zip, but he still made sure not to get too close to it. Zip snuck through the divine garden. The flowers were all so beautiful, how could he choose just one. Then he saw it. Right under the golden apple tree, there was a single lily that never seemed to stay one colour. First it was blue, then purple, and now it was pink. It was the perfect flower for Aphrodite's crown. Zip ran up and bit the lily off. But just as he was about to leave, an apple had to fall off and land right on the dragon's head!
The dragon roused, looked around and saw Zip with the lily. Having intruders in your private garden wouldn't make you too happy but add a dragon that's just been woken up by a bonk on the head and you've got one mean problem. The purple dragon charged at Zip, but luckily, drowsy dragons are a bit clumsy, so he missed. Zip ran out of the garden as fast as his four little feet would carry him, careful not to drop the lily.
Zip and Aeta didn't stop running until the dragon and the garden were out of sight. Zip showed Aeta the flower and she agreed that it was the most perfect gift. The two squirrels hurried back to Olympus, but even as they ran, the flower began to droop. When they finally reached Hephaestus' forge, the petals had curled up. The squirrels were miserable. Their perfect flower was dying. When they showed Hephaestus the curled up lily, his eyes lit up. "It's perfect. Thank you squirrel friends!" he exclaimed.
"D-don't you care that it is all curled up?" stammered Zip."Oh, that's easy to fix!" he replied.
With that he hurried all the other animals except for the two squirrels out of the forge. Then he turned to his metals and started working. When he was done, Hephaestus held up an exact copy of the lily made of metal. It even changed colours. "I discovered this metal while making the crown," he told the squirrels, "now your flower won't wilt or die."
Hephaestus finished attaching the lily to the crown the night before Aphrodite's birthday and presented it to her the following morning. It was by far her favourite gift of all.
Hephaestus decided that the squirrels deserved an award for their bravery and the long journey they made just for him. He took them to the garden on Mount Olympus. There he led Zip and Aeta to a golden peanut tree.
Hephaestus broke one golden peanut off the branch and handed it to Zip. "Plant this on Earth so all your descendants for the rest of time can be rewarded with peanuts as good as the gods' own," he told them. Zip took it in his paws and ran down Mount Olympus, but as he was jumping over a rock, he dropped the golden peanut. Zip and Aeta gathered all of the squirrels and told them to help look for the golden peanut that they lost. Even today squirrels bury peanuts in hopes that it is the golden peanut they lost and will sprout into a peanut tree.
© 2003 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board