Balhe myths

Rik's writings - novel excerpts, short stories and suchlike

Balhe myths

Postby Rik on 04 Dec 2008, 17:23

My first novel (not yet published) includes a number of Servant stories, detailing the mythology of the folks who identify themselves as Servants. I don't think I'm risking anything by posting them below ...
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The tale of the two creations

Postby Rik on 04 Dec 2008, 17:26

"They say," started the Story Keeper, "the universe was created in a great explosion, and one day the Universe will tidy itself up into a little ball no bigger than a grain of sand that lodges in your eye. But nobody can tell me why the universe is as it is. Some say that maybe the Creator explained it to Giey, once, but neither Giey nor any of her daughters have gossiped the secret into the ears of the world.

"After the Creator made the stars and planets, the land and the seas, He sat on the highest peak within the circles of mountains that are the Roof of the World and considered His great work. It was pleasing to Him, with wide oceans and tall waves, hot volcanoes and smooth plains, cliffs and beaches and valleys with rivers and waterfalls.

"And yet, after long thought, the Creator said: 'This place needs more colour!' He set about casting together the rules of life – weaving together ash and water, air and fire, until a heap of seeds lay at His feet. Then He took each seed in His hand and whispered a secret word into its core, and threw it across the curve of the world to land and unfold in the form of its own true nature.

"Time grew fat, and the world became bronzed and coppered and black, thick and twined with ever-growing life. A time came when even the Roof of the World was matted and clogged, life covering the twisting pillars of ice and fire with its fecundity. Indeed, when the Creator woke from one of His many long naps He found that life had woven His pelt to the mountain rocks!

"'This cannot do!' the Creator roared, and hacking His way free from His bindings He took a new thought. From the fires that roared from the depths of the globe He grasped some dust, whispering to each mote a harsh word and releasing them all into the hurricanes of His anger. Disease came to the world, and decay, and unmaking. Soon the battle of life and death circled the globe, each side adapting new strategies and forms to defeat the other.

"But the Creator found Himself saddened by His actions. This was not the world He desired!

"Once more He took thought, lasting for so much time that continents grew up and grew old. Finally He rose and set about a new endeavour. This time the Creator took two seeds, shared a secret word between them before cleaving them together and casting them around the curve of the world. And from this sowing grew a second, more perfect creation!

"From one pair of seeds arose Thoel-sastrhivde the Corn Bird, and her companion Kaj-brhishne, who farms the winds beneath his great wings. From another pair of seeds came Tarhose and Harhose, His great hounds. Pairs of seeds were scattered everywhere; some grew, while others – such as the Leaping Dragon and the Waily Fish – died soon after their birthing, caught in the plagues of war.

"Many seeds were created at that time, many words of power spoken into their cores. Finally the pile dwindled until just two seeds remained. These seeds were beautiful, with skins of many hues and depths of many complex, inter-woven layers. When he took them up in His great hands, the Creator knew that these were his finest work, and deserved a word of the greatest power. For a moment He hesitated, for the only word left to him was his own binding word, the word that kept his flesh to his bones, his thoughts to his head.

"Nevertheless, He spoke the word, breathing it deep into the cores of the two seeds. As he clove them together, He said: 'I have given you a gift beyond measure. Grow well, my children, and be happy with the world I have made for you!' He drew back His arm and flung the seeds far and high, so far that it is said the seeds circled the globe three whole times before falling into the Valley of Home.

"And where the seed landed, a great tree grew, and from that tree came forth a great fruit. When the fruit fell, it split in two: from one half strode Sam-loivjarhe, Prince of Men, while from the other rose Giey, first of all women and Queen of Princes. And the creation was complete!

"Believe the truth of my story, a story that has passed from the lips of only the greatest storytellers. And take this truth with you as you depart this storytelling circle. Never let the Corn Bird steal the story from your head or your stomach. For this is your story; my story. Our story. The story of why we are here."
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The Valley of Home

Postby Rik on 04 Dec 2008, 17:32

"Someone once told me – a wise woman, this – that the first men and women were budded from God's own fingers. That is why, she told me, people are built in the image of God.

"And she was right, this wise and wonderful woman, because people are built in the very image of the Creator. And men and women did indeed bud from the Creator's very own fingers.

"But alas for this clever woman, for even though she protected her thoughts and her words well, the Corn Bird was able to confound her and steal away the real story. The whole story.

"But tonight I shall help this wise and beautiful woman. Tonight with my words I shall do combat with Thoel-sastrivde and take back what is rightfully hers and ours to know.

"The Creator came and made the world, the mountains and the oceans, the rivers and the plains. And then He created life to make the world beautiful in his eyes. But He underestimated His powers. His life consumed the world, choking the rivers and sapping the mountains of their strength. So the Creator made death, and decay, and the battle of life and death became.

"The Creator was saddened by His world, and left it for many, many years. But He never forgot this place as He travelled among the stars. He yearned to make things right again, and finally he returned. With new magic he undertook a second creation, a more powerful and ordered creation. And in his final act of this creation he formed the People Seed, which He threw across the arc of the world to land where it willed.

"This seed fell to the ground in the Valley of Home, and there it took root and grew a great trunk and a great branch, and on that branch it formed a great fruit. And there, within the fruit grew the first man and the first woman, clasped together in their formation. When that fruit finally fell from its branch it clove in two. From one half strode Sam-loivjarhe, strong and lithe and eager to hunt and explore. And from the other half emerged Giey, perfect in every way: beautiful and intelligent and quick.

"These are the words of my story for those wise women who sit with me tonight. Listen to my words as I tell you the fortunes and misfortunes of Sam-loivjarhe and his birth-sister Giey while they lived in the Valley of Home. Keep these words close to your hearts and your guts, so the Corn Bird may never steal them away from you again!

"The Valley of Home was the most beautiful place in the world. Through it ran a river whose waters were fresh and cold for the drinking, but which also provided shallow, warm pools where the first man and the first woman could wash and swim and play. Above the river were great cliffs, their faces dressed in a riot of vines and lianas, with wholesome mosses and sugar-sweet fruits for the eating. Within the cliff walls were wide caves where the siblings could shelter from the wind and the rain, and sleep in safety from the battles of life and death that still raged across the world.

"In those first days the world was a wonder to explore, with each day bringing a new discovery. Every morning Sam-loivjarhe would head off into the hills around the valley to seek new pleasures and sights, and every morning Giey would head to the river to learn new knowledge by listening and watching the ways of the world.

"For the Creator was never far from His greatest achievement. Sometimes He would become the divine breath and sweep through the trees, letting their leaves dance at His passing. At other times He would become the giving rain, whose patters and spatterings would entrance the siblings. And sometimes He would send His other creations to teach His beloved children.

"For instance, one day Sam-loivjarhe met Wrak-Kateh, the cockerel who greeted the morning with praise and song for the Creator, who came back to the valley to teach the siblings how to prepare and mix their food so that it would always be tasty and safe.

"And then there was the time when Uruk the toad stayed for a while in the valley. It was from the marks on her skin that Giey learned the secret arts of reading and writing words.

"But their greatest teacher was the People Tree, for this was their birth tree. By listening to the voice of its creaking bark the siblings learned which foods were safe to eat, and which would harm them. From the whisper of its leathery leaves they learned the shape of the world beyond the valley, and from the curves of its questing roots they learned of the Creator, and how to worship him through their enjoyment of life.

"Ah, my wise women! Now you must listen hard to my words. For now I must rest from recalling the pleasant things, and instead whisper in your ears important words. Words that must not be forgotten!

"One morning there came to the Valley of Home Leprhe-he the rabbit, and his wife Leprhe-she. Giey was enchanted to meet the couple, and begged them to stay with her and her brother for a while.

"The rabbits were glad of the invitation, for the grass in the valley was sweet. They built themselves a home in the ground and every evening they would entertain the siblings with stories and plays. Their speech was a treat, for they bickered their way through conversations – first Leprhe-he setting out a tale, then Leprhe-she correcting him in his details; sometimes their arguments would last so long that the story they were telling was forgotten! Then they would start a new story, for their quarrels were of the moment and conducted within the love the two creatures had for each other.

"A morning came when Giey came across the rabbits beside the river. At first she thought they were fighting, such was the noise they were making. She grew scared for her friends and interrupted them. Leprhe-he was most annoyed at this intrusion, but Leprhe-she cuffed her mate around his long ears and led Giey away to the stream.

"'You frightened me,' said Giey. 'I thought you were battling like the storm clouds.'

"Leprhe-she laughed. 'You could call it a battle, little straight legs, if you like. But we were not fighting. This morning is a special time for me; it is a morning for making rabbits.'

"'I do not understand,' said Giey. 'Why do you need to make more rabbits? There are two of you already.'

"'Oh, we are not the only rabbits in the world,' said Leprhe-she. 'The Creator has given me the gift of life, but only for a short while. A time will come when I shall no longer be. Then it will be the turn of my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy the Creator's gift.'

"'What is a children?' asked Giey.

"And again Leprhe-she laughed. 'In a few weeks I shall be able to show you my children, if Leprhe-he has done his work well!'
And sure enough, after a few weeks, Giey led Sam-loivjarhe down to the river where they met the rabbits with their new babies – miniature versions of them squabbling and playing in the long grass of the bank. Sam-loivjarhe was amazed by what he saw. He went to Leprhe-he and asked him how this miracle happened.

"'I have no idea,' said Leprhe-he. 'There comes a certain time when Leprhe-she looks most beautiful, her fur is so sleek and her scent is so intoxicating, and then we play with each other the special game where we roll and bicker in the grass and I mount her many times, rubbing my nub in her until the Creator's own pleasure shakes our bones in our skins. Then Leprhe-she boxes my ears hard and tells me to fetch her the sweetest young shoots so she can eat them and grow fat. I do not mind; soon enough the children are born and then we can play again.'

"'Do all creatures play this game?' asked Sam-loivjarhe.

"'Oh, yes,' said Leprhe-he. 'It is the Creator's greatest gift. Do you not play such games with your Giey?'

"Sam-loivjarhe was confused. Later, he told Giey what Leprhe-he had told him, and Giey repeated what Leprhe-she had told her. Then they wondered what it would be like to play the special game and Giey boxed Sam-loivjarhe around the ears, but Sam-loivjarhe said that that was supposed to come later. So Giey apologised and placed her lips on his ear, and Sam-loivjarhe took her in his arms and placed his lips on hers.

"The sun fell out of the heavens and they didn't notice. The moons rose above the hills, the red dog hard on the heels of the white rabbit, and they didn't notice. When Wrak-Kateh summoned the blue sky back to the valley Sam-loivjarhe clasped and Giey arched and their bones shook in their skins.

"Sam-loivjarhe did not go out exploring for many weeks. Each evening he bought the freshest green shoots to Giey in her cave, and every evening Giey would throw them to one side and take her sibling into her arms instead. Eight times the red moon grew fat and shrivelled away, and in time Giey too grew fat, though she chose not to eat the fresh shoots and instead went hunting for mud and bark to sate her strange cravings.

"When the first waters flooded from Giey's loins, the siblings grew fearful. 'What is happening to me?' wailed Giey. Sam-loivjarhe went looking for Leprhe-she, who by this time was surrounded by many children and grandchildren. Together they went back to the cave which Giey had decorated in soft leaves and dry earth.

"'Now is the time for you to relax your limbs and let the birthing waves flush your children from your body,' said Leprhe-she. But for Giey the waves were earthquakes breaking her body. For a day and a night the pains wracked her spine and her stomach, until a time came just before morning and a new person pushed past Giey's loins and entered the world.

"'Now is the time for you to lick the new one clean,' said Leprhe-she. 'He will bring you a present at the end of his tether, which you must eat. Then you can place him near your teat so you can return the gift, pressing the warm milk into his belly.'

"'Why does he have holes where we have eyes?' asked Sam-loivjarhe.

"Leprhe-she looked at the baby. 'I do not know,' she said. 'My children are born ugly and naked, but they all have their eyes hidden behind their lids. Maybe the next child will look better.'

"But there were no more children born to Giey that day, just the tethered meat which Giey ate, its blood running across her cheeks. And by the time she had licked the baby clean and placed it by her teat, it no longer cried, or breathed.

"Giey knew at that time a shivering and sorrow and hurt of such force that she could have rent the universe into pieces, if only she had known how. Leprhe-she said to Sam-loivjarhe: 'Maybe if she had eaten the green shoots instead of mud and bark, your child would still live.' And then she went away.

"For a time the siblings were sundered from each other, though no mountain or river separated them. Giey had loved her son from the first moment he had tickled her ribs with his toes. Together the siblings dug a hole by the river and laid his tiny body within it. They showered him with flowers and moss, then filled his grave with tear-mixed earth and laid a great stone on top of him. Then they left the Valley: Sam-loivjarhe climbed the mountains that lead to the Roof of the World, while Giey followed the river down and down until eventually she found the ocean. Seasons passed until a new spring came, and time had curdled their pain into an ache beneath the heart; only then did the siblings – each in their own way – return to the Valley of Home.

From beyond the window, the jungle was in full song, overloading the night air with unknown howls and chirrups. In the room, Arbelle was crying. Delesse moved over to her sister to comfort her, wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.

"This is an awful story, Maeduul! What do you hope to gain by scaring her like this?"

Maeduul rose up from her kneeling position, limped her way across the room to refill her mug with water from the tap in the corner.

"How could the little baby die?" sobbed Arbelle. "This story is worse than the waily fish!"

Still Maeduul said nothing, instead returning with her mug to resume her kneeling position on her heels. She held her head down, nestling it to one side so the bony flange along her jaw line dug into her thin shoulder.

"I will have an explanation, Servant!"

Maeduul looked up at Delesse, the features of her face smudged and flickering in the light of the half-burned candle. But her stare was strong and steady, unfazed by Delesse's admonition.

Finally she spoke. "You must know the truth of these matters. Send the young one to bed if she is too upset to hear more of my words."

"What truth? There is no truth in your stories. They are an abomination to God!"

At this, the tiny woman smiled: "And you have lived in the Old City for how many years?"

"What? I don't understand you! I live here, in Bassakesh."

"And by your own words you confirm your ignorance, sweet one. They will eat you like a sugared date; they will suck your flesh like a mango, and throw the stone of you in the street."

"I will be a Courtesan ..."

"You will be what your husband decides you will be, and nothing more, unless you know the truth of these things!"

Delesse was shocked at the sudden, harsh tone Maeduul had used – never had she heard her Mother's Servant talk in such a direct, challenging way. Arbelle, too, was staring at the woman, her crying now restricted to gulps caught in her throat.

Maeduul straightened her head, smiled at the open mouths in front of her. "The wise ladies should settle themselves," she said. "Gyano-ten has asked me to tell you both a story. It is a story I have told before. I told it to gyano-ten many years ago, when she was scared to her death. Scared by not knowing who to trust in the windy courts of the Old City. I was sent by another to tell her this story; it horrified her, yes, the story can do that, but then that is the purpose of stories, is it not?"

"Mother told you to ...?"

Maeduul nodded. "No, Lady, she asked me to tell you this story, just as she asked me – begged me – to tell you stories oh so many years ago. She begged me to risk my very life to tell you the Servant stories, of Giey and Sam-loivjarhe, of the Princes of animals and birds, of the majesty of the Creator himself. And so I have done." She sipped her water, then continued. "But once this story is told, this night, there will be no more. Understand? Maeduul will not risk her very life for gyano-ten or her sweet kittens after this night is done.

"Now settle, my wise women, and listen to my words."

"Seasons passed until a new spring came, and time had curdled their pain into an ache beneath the heart; only then did the siblings – each in their own way – return to the Valley of Home.

"But the valley had changed in their absence. Now it was the Valley of Rabbits – everywhere Sam-loivjarhe looked, he saw fur. The green swards along the banks of the river were trodden to mud; the warm pools filled with dung. Everywhere Giey looked she saw Leprhe-hes mounting Leprhe-shes; she saw Leprhe-children suckling at their dam's teats. Sam-loivjarhe was angry at the destruction of their valley, but Giey could only taste a bitterness in her mouth, and her teat ached for the touch of a miniature man's lips.

"One morning Wrak-Kateh returned to the valley, his loud song welcoming the dawn of a new day. Sam-loivjarhe said: 'let us go and talk to Wrak-Kateh.' Together, the siblings climbed the valley cliffs. The Prince of Chickens welcomed them warmly, but he could see grief in their faces. 'Tell me all that has happened since I last visited you,' he said, and so they did, each recalling a part of their story until the puzzle of its telling was made clear.

"Then Wrak-Kateh howled! 'Woe that Princes of Creatures should be so poorly advised! I wish my wattles ran with blood for leaving you to learn such things from the rabbit folk!' And indeed, from that day hence, the wattles of all cocks and hens became the colour of blood, to remind them of how they failed to teach people the truth of the Creator's intent.

"'We thought the Leprhes were wise, like you,' said Sam-loivjarhe.

"'The Princes of the Rabbits are indeed wise creatures, but the Leprhes are not princes. Princes are born of the first fruit of their Life Tree; they are the knowledge and the souls of their race. But the creatures that emerge from the fruit that follows are lesser creatures. I am the first fruit of the Tree of Chickens; I would not trust my kinfolk to tell you the time of day!'

"'So why did life run so quickly from my child?' asked Giey. 'Why was the wind of his lungs stolen?'

"Wrak-Kateh looked into the sky, as if searching for answers in the shapes of the clouds. Finally, he said: 'The Creator first created life to decorate His creation, but that life was without knowledge. It knew nothing of His designs. When He created life anew, He arranged things differently. To each race of creatures He gave knowledge of what was and what is, and maybe what shall be. And yet life is life, and is driven to recreate itself. So He chose to give knowledge to the first fruit, and fecundity to those fruits that follow, so that knowledge will not be diluted through the ages.'

"'I do not understand,' said Giey.

"'You are the first fruit of the People Tree,' said Wrak-Kateh. 'Within you, you hold the knowledge of everything the Creator wishes your race to know. But it is not your purpose to create new life: that shall be the work of the lesser fruit that the People Tree will bear.'

"Giey was silent for a while, then said: 'I wish now I didn't understand. I would trade all the Creator's knowledge to feel a child grow inside me again.'

"But there was hope in Sam-loivjarhe's heart, for he learned from Wrak-Kateh's words that the Leprhes were lesser folk. The Great Cockerel called out to Kaj-brhishne, the Prince of Eagles, who came to the Valley of Home and taught Sam-loivjarhe how to hunt and cook rabbits. 'They are good eating,' said Kaj-brhishne, 'and their fur will keep you warm when you travel to the mountains where the rain turns to ice and snow.' Soon the valley was cleared of the vermin, except for the fattest and furriest rabbits, which Sam-loivjarhe kept in a cave.

"For Giey, though, the days turned slowly. She took no interest in Sam-loivjarhe's activities, instead preferring to sit between the great roots of the People Tree, waiting for signs of new fruit. One evening, when the valley was flush with the growth of new grass, Giey fell into a dream. She climbed the People Tree and sat on its great bough, close to the trunk. The tree asked: 'Why do you sit among my roots, little one?'

"'I wait for your fruits,' said Giey. 'If the Creator does not wish me to carry a child in my womb, then I will nurse the lesser people to come.'

"'Little one, there will be no lesser people. You and your brother are the only fruit I shall ever bear. It is the Creator's will.'

"And in an instant Giey saw the truth in this knowledge. She raged. She woke from her dream and still she raged! Her anger brought rocks crashing from the cliffs. Her wrath drove the waters in the river uphill. When her feet stamped on the ground in her passion dance the very earth cracked and bled!

"'What ails you?' shouted Sam-loivjarhe. The sight of his sister's violence scared him so much that his eyes almost came loose from their sockets.

"Giey screamed, the force of her lungs carrying her words even to the peaks of the Roof of the World. 'I am Your greatest creation,' she roared, 'and yet You would deny me what I most desire? I deny You! I shall oppose Your work and Your world with every last muscle and sinew in my body. I shall see You crawl on Your belly like the least of worms!'

"Giey was not challenging Sam-loivjarhe. She was challenging the Creator Himself. And the Creator heard her challenge and for the first time since the start of existence He knew fear. For Giey was indeed His greatest creation, greater even than Sam-loivjarhe, and the knowledge within her was the most powerful.

"The Creator knew He had no choice but to answer Giey's challenge. He stepped from His palace of ice and fire within the peaks of the Roof of the World and stepped into the Valley of Home. Sam-loivjarhe cowered at the sight of him, a giant in the form of both man and woman, and covered his ears when the First Voice of the Universe spoke. Giey, however, stood firm.

"'I am,' said the Creator.

"'I shall become,' replied Giey, her voice a whisper compared to the Creator's.

"'I remain,' said the Creator

"'Only to the end of days. Only until the last galaxy has spun it's final circle. Then You shall be no more. A void as absolute as the space within my womb!'

"And the Creator smiled. 'That is a truth,' He said.

"Giey, too, smiled. 'Change me,' she asked. 'Let me be the mother of lesser people.'

"'You have eternal life,' said the Creator. 'You are the Queen of Princes. You are the eyes that see my creations and the mouth that gives them meaning.'

"'Nevertheless,' said Giey.

"'And what of the Prince of People?' asked the Creator.

"'He shall come to understand, in time,' said Giey.

"The Creator nodded. 'That which has been set in motion, it cannot be changed. Only a new situation can be created, only a new motion set.'

"'You have that power in your hands,' said Giey.

"'Indeed!' agreed the Creator, and in that moment He took His great axe from His belt and in one shining sweep severed His hand from His body. And then He took that hand and laid it upon the bough of the People Tree and drove a splinter of diamond through it, so that the giant hand hung from the tree like a fruit.

"'Grow!' He commanded the tree. And the People Tree did as it was ordered, pumping its life-sap into the Creator's hand. As the fingers lengthened, the tree's roots became brittle and dry; as each digit took the shape of a person, the tree's trunk withered and cracked. When finally the lesser people stretched free of the husk of the palm, the People Tree died, its last act complete.

"And there, my wise women, my telling of this story must end. For you know the rest, from the faint resonances that you remember after the Corn Bird stole the true story from your mind. To the first man came four women, one from each finger, shapely and comely and compliant to his will. But know this: from the thumb grew a man, a husband for the first woman and the father of her many daughters, who held in their bodies the steel certainties of their mother.

"I have restored this truth for you; do not repeat it! You do not have the skills – yet – to defend your minds against the Corn Bird, and she will be eager to reclaim those words from you. Keep the story close to your hearts and your guts! While the meat that hangs from your bones may be a flesh-gift of your parents, and theirs, and theirs before them, be aware that the blood of Giey herself runs within the veins of women as wise as you!"
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The death of Sam-loivjarhe

Postby Rik on 04 Dec 2008, 17:39

"As all you wise people gathered in this story telling circle know, Sam-loivjarhe was given four wives by the Creator, who each gave him four sons and four daughters. And the firstborn of those sons took a wife for himself and also had four sons – these are the Grandsons we remember: the Lord of Rock, and the Lord of Storms; the Lord of Wood and the Lord of Imps - as we learned to call them.

"Each of the Grandsons was proud of his heritage – over-proud, as would become clear if the story was to be told properly. For each of them competes with their siblings and comes to dominate all the other progeny from the loins of Sam-loivjarhe, until such time as they declare themselves to be the rulers of all folks. Every person in the wide lands bowed to them except for one: Sam-loivjarhe himself.

"By this time Sam-loivjarhe was old. Eldest, they called him, and Hallowed Man. Many of his descendants worshipped him as a god, when they should have rightly worshipped the Creator! But Sam-loivjarhe did not know this, for at that time he lived by himself in a steep valley at the base of the Roof of the World. His beautiful wives were long since dead, and his sister Giey was lost to him. His children had all moved away, as each in turn grew weary of his voice and, to the children of children, he was nothing more than a legend.

"Except, that is, to the Grandsons. They came to know of his continued existence, and in that knowledge each perceived that the one who enabled the Hallowed Man's death would inherit the world. The years had not been kind to their love for each other; each wanted dominance and, in the ways of such proud people, they would do anything to undo the power of their siblings. And each in their own way had found means to extend their lives, bargaining with various powers to put off the day that their feet would step over the threshold to oblivion.

"But you know the stories of their duplicities and deceits. It is enough for me to recount their encounters with Sam-loivjarhe; how each in turn failed to bring about the outcome they desired.

"The first to attempt the task was the Lord of Wood. His bargain was with the trees of his realm. When he found his way to Sam-loivjarhe's valley, he took a wooden club and beat the old man around the head. At first Sam-loivjarhe fought as if possessed by Rakh, Prince of Tigers, but he was too old. Soon enough the Lord of Wood prepared to deliver the killing blow. Yet in that moment Sam-loivjarhe bargained with the wood of the club itself: 'deliver me to life and I shall give your kind my eyes!'

"With the contract agreed, the club smashed against his skull, knocking his eyeballs clean from his head – but not killing him. The force of the blow splintered the club, and one splinter caught fire and drove straight into the Lord of Wood's chest, piercing his heart and slaying him in an instant. And as you know, from that day to this, there are trees in the jungles and forests of the world that have the power of sight, their eyes buried within the bark – endlessly watching all that takes place around them.

"A year passed before the second Grandson came to the valley. Sam-loivjarhe grew used to his life without sight, discovering new joys in the world around that were previously hidden from him: sounds and smells and tastes and textures.

"The second to come was the Lord of Rocks; he chose to attack the Hallowed Man with spar of granite. Again the blows rained down on Sam-loivjarhe and again, just as the killing blow was to be delivered, he bargained with the stone of the spar itself: 'deliver me to life and I shall give your kind my anger!'

"The contract was made. As the granite spar pounded into his face it shattered; a diamond at the heart of the spar spun free and sliced the Lord of Stone's throat with its cutting edge. And from that day forth the mountains and cliffs have rumbled and tumbled as they dance to the pulse of the anger that was once the driving joy of Sam-loivjarhe himself.

"It was only a season before the third Grandson climbed to the valley. In that time Sam-loivjarhe learned of the power of serenity, and the peace of accepting what had to be. When the Lord of Storms arrived he greeted him civilly, asking him for news of the world beyond. When the Grandson offered to bathe his body in the valley stream he agreed readily, eager to feel wetness against his skin. He did not protest as the man held his head beneath the water. Yet as his last breath began to bruise in his lungs he bargained with the currents that wove along the length of the stream: 'deliver me to life and I shall give your kind my voice and my tears!'

"Thus was the third contract brokered. Weed caught around the Grandson's feet and he stumbled, and once he had fallen the currents pulled him and pushed him and flung his body through the rapids which separated the valley from the plains beyond. Never again would Sam-loivjarhe speak, nor would he cry, for those were now the property of the waters given to the mighty oceans. To this day you can hear the voice of Sam-loivjarhe in the winds of the hurricanes that batter the shores of this very Empire, and taste his tears in the foams of the waves.

"The last Grandson – whom we now call the Lord of Imps, though that was never his name while he lived – had seen his brothers leave their kingdoms to travel to the Eldest's valley, and was glad when they never returned. Now they were gone nobody could dispute his claim to be the King of the World. And for many years he was content with this state of affairs. He studied the realm of the imps, made his contracts with the councils of those tiny beings whom the Creator had bought into existence to scourge his first creation. But he could not change the basic truth: he was not a Prince of people; he was of the lesser kind and thus death was his duty. He grew old.

"When at last he had to confront his doom, the Lord of Imps devised a final plan – a bargain that he hoped would award him with immortality. He led a great force to the valley of the Eldest. When he arrived, he found Sam-loivjarhe sitting silently in a grove by the stream. He planned to take the Hallowed One by force back to his kingdom, yet when he laid his hands on Sam-loivjarhe – who was, lest we forget, three times the size of lesser men – he found he could lead the old man willingly just by whispering commands in his ear. It was in triumph that he returned to his great City on the Plains, with Sam-loivjarhe in a wheeled cage in the midst of his victory parade.

"One being watched this event with great sadness. Long before the Creator had made His bargain with Giey, the first woman and Queen among Princes of creatures, agreeing not to interfere anymore in the affairs of people. And yet Sam-loivjarhe had been his greatest creation, after Giey: He could not bear to see him humiliated by the son of the man who had come from his own loins. So He called together Ghan-Ghan of the pigs, and Wrak-Kateh, and his dogs Tarhose and Harhose, and together they devised a plan of their own. Then he summoned the councils of the imps and gave them his commands.

"The imps came to the City on the Plains, and there they stopped a while to play. You may not realise this, but imps are joyful creatures. They accept that their task is hurtful to those they infect, yet they are part of creation – they carry the Creator's words in their motes. The Creator bought them into being, and loves them as much as He loves any other part of his creation. Thus do they play, in the short time that is allotted to them. They grow and breed within the bodies of others; they explore each of us as if we are a new kingdom, trekking through intestines, bouncing in lungs, vaulting through veins. Blooming within the bones that hold our flesh within the skin.

"Sam-loivjarhe sat in his cage, unable to see the tumultuous crowds around him, serene to the abusive comments he heard in his ears, his eye sockets dry and his throat silent. Instead of reacting to his situation, as any of us would have, he embraced an imp within his nostrils as it sailed past in the breeze: Sam-loivjarhe caught himself a cold!

"The imps came to the City on the Plains. They played in the lungs of people and in the beaks of chickens; they partied in the snouts of pigs and in the muzzles of dogs. They did the Creator's work.

"You can imagine the fear that the arrival of the imps caused the last Grandson. He called on the councils of the imps and begged them to leave his City. He offered bargains. He offered them the lives of his many children. But they were having too much fun following the orders of the Creator. They ignored him.

"Finally the Grandson decided to go and view Sam-loivjarhe, whom he had installed in a huge iron cage in the dungeons of his castle. His plan for survival had involved ingesting the Eldest, eating him slowly, morsel by morsel, until he consumed even the beating heart of him, for his advisors had told him that only by that way could he become immortal.

"But when he opened the dungeon door and approached the cage he was astonished to see that Sam-loivjarhe was not alone. An enormous rooster sat at his head, and a massive pig lay at his feet. And on each side of the giant stood two great hounds, their tails dropped between their legs.

"'What is the meaning of this?' demanded the Grandson.

"'We are here to mourn the passing of our friend, Sam-loivjarhe,' said Tarhose, the great hound.

"'For even though he has sacrificed much, and is diminished in the eyes of lesser people, he remains a Prince of creatures and deserves to be honoured as he takes his last breaths,' said Harhose, the Creator's own bitch.

"'But he cannot die!" said the Grandson: 'The Eldest carries an immortal heart within his cage of bones!'

"'You know nothing of your history, petty lordling,' said Ghan-Ghan, Prince of pigs. 'It was your own brothers that diminished your ancestor. They crumbled his immortality as they cracked his body, stealing his eyes and his anger and his tears and voice!'

"'Is there a way to save him, o great Princes of beasts? For he cannot die in this way!' For as you will remember the Grandson had other plans for the Hallowed One.

"'There may be a way,' answered Wrak-Kateh, herald of the rising sun.

"'Then tell me, and I shall see that it is done. I would see the Hallowed One restored to his glory so that I can beg him forgiveness for the actions of my brothers!' Ghan-Ghan snorted at this, for all pigs can snuffle a lie when it reaches their ears, and in any case he did not care for the word 'beast'.

"'You must build a tomb in good soil,' said Harhose, 'and line the walls and roof in stone. Then you must carry his body to the tomb while he still breathes. Once you have laid him down on the good soil you must bring a chicken and a pig to the tomb and seal all three within.'"

"'It shall be done as you say,' said the Grandson, bowing.

"'There is more,' said Tarhose, continuing from where his wife had stopped. 'You must mourn him with great feasts; you must celebrate his triumphs in wine and song. You must learn again your history, and beg the Creator – who is the Lord of all things – for His forgiveness.'

"'And this will restore the Hallowed One to life and health?'

"'Oh, yes,' said Ghan-Ghan, his huge snout wrinkling at the fib. 'Sam-loivjarhe shall rise again! As you celebrate and mourn and beg, so shall the imps who play in his body listen to your heart-felt grief. As the force of your sorrow shakes them, they shall leave his body, entering the realms of the chicken and the pig in their shame.'

"And so it was done. I shall not tell you of the magnificence of the tomb, or the feasts prepared to honour Sam-loivjarhe. I shall not recite the litany of words the people of the City used to beg for forgiveness, except to say that in one heart at least these words were offered falsely. All you need to hear is that within the sealed tomb the imps fulfilled the last of the Creator's orders, moving between the forms of the man and the chicken and the pig until they created the deadliest imp of all, which the pig had the honour of birthing within its lungs.

"And when the feasting was done, Sam-loivjarhe walked the earth once more. Under one arm he carried the corpse of the pig and tucked within the curls of his white beard he nestled the carcass of the chicken. He strode to the surface of the land and blew the plague imps from his lungs in billowing, destroying huffs. Across the plains and the forests and the mountains and the shorelines did he wander – letting his feet lead him, for he had no eyes – and everywhere he went, the great plague followed. All men and women died in that season, good and bad alike; those who held truth in their hearts were felled alongside those who kept falsehoods in their guts. Strong men collapsed alongside their elderly mothers and their innocent babies. Yet nothing that the people said could stay his passage, for all he felt was serenity. No tears fell from his eyes, nor words from his mouth, as the screams and sobs of death reached his ears.

"For he was not only the Prince of People, but also the creation of his Grandsons. And in that final, terrible season, he became the vengeance of the Creator, who mourned the loss of Giey and Sam-loivjarhe through the punishment he devised for the lesser people.

"A few – a very few – people survived. When the winter of destruction finally passed Kaj-Brhishne, who harvests the winds beneath his great wings, flew across the world to tell the fortunate ones the truth of what had happened, and why. And yes, in the early spring of that new year Sam-loivjarhe finally died. Where he fell, the earth swallowed his form. As his flesh decayed so the earth soured, seeping like a slime across the world so that where once we could cultivate wherever we pleased, now we have to brew our soil, make it fit for life.

"For this is our task: for the sins of the Grandsons, we must tend to the needs of the second creation. In humility we must brew soil and cultivate land fit for the needs of chickens and pigs, dogs and hawks, cabbages and millets and corn. We are the Servants of the second creation: through our work and our love we honour the Creator; we honour Giey, and Sam-loivjarhe; we honour ourselves and our loved ones with us today."
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