Too Many Cooks

Too Many Cooks

That’s Ole Ma Fate, cooking up your destiny

You know how it is. You’ve an important meal—your boss, your partner’s parents, your publisher—and you want the meal to be perfect. But, of course, everyone wants to help. Your best friend. Your mother-in-law. Your sister. And everyone has their own way of working. And in the end that perfect meal turns out to be a disaster.

But what, you might ask, has cooking to do with myths?

 

Well, every myth began as someone’s creation, born in the head of (probably) the shaman/witchdoctor/medicine man, latterly priest, to be told as accompaniment of some rite of passage be it personal or calendrical.

But not every mythic creation would find acceptance within the community. It had to have a certain je ne sais quoi, a resonance, impossible to describe—a bit like tasting well-seasoned soup and knowing it’s just right, yet not knowing why. Today we’ve a word for that resonance: symbolism. The shaman would know if his creation had found acceptance. If it had not, when required again he’d try it a different way.

By this process of offering, tasting, rejecting, amending, the perfect myth was created—perfect for the given occasion, rich in symbolism. And just as the needs of the community never were static, so too the myths thus created were able to change to fit the new needs.

But then, in several places around the world, at several times, a means of recording—at first numbers and items, later stories and concepts—was found.

Now at first all was well. Take, for example, the Sumerian hymns to Innana, their sacred words consigned to tablets of clay. It’s fair to assume these hymns were sung at the relevant feasts and recorded, perhaps, by the same people who used them. Whatever the symbolism contained, it remained contained (though lost only to us in their translation). The Egyptian myths, too, (though perhaps only a small portion) scribed upon the walls of their tombs and on their coffins that these might aid the soul on its journey through the afterworld. These, surely, were the written version of the spoken, equally rich in symbolism (if we could but understand them).

The trouble began with the professional storyteller. The poet. The artist. He—or she—who, with a remit more political or entertaining than sacred was allowed, shall we say, a little ‘licence’.

Take, for example, the bulging body of Greek myths known to us today. With few exceptions, these were the works of poets. Without meaning any comparison, yet as a fantasy-fiction writer I can see their trick: to take a core of a myth and to fancify it. Embellish it. Embroider it. Give it a storyline more in keeping with the poet’s philosophy—or that of his patron. I’m reminded, here, of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and the storyline he gave it, essential if it was to gross at the box office but veering widely from the original.

Take, too, the Celtic myths. By the time they were set down in writing—in the early Middle Ages by Christian monks—they had lost their validity, their symbolism forgotten. And these particular storytellers had been educated in Latin and Greek. They knew those same Greek myths we know today. Any wonder, then, that in reading one beside the other we catch glimpses of shared motifs and believe them rooted in the same soil.

There is another body of written myths, collected and set down by (mostly) Victorian anthropologists. A shame they didn’t record sufficient of the myth-tellers’ culture for us, now, to understand the symbolism contained.

And that is the point I’m making here. Though we read these myths we don’t understand them. We might say: this is a creation myth, this is a calendrical myth, this is a hero myth. But though we notice the inclusion of symbols, and some we might ‘understand’ them—Freud was a dab-hand at it—the truth of their symbolism now is lost to us. We do not live in their times, do not share their concerns. And the water has been thoroughly muddied.

Take Homer’s great epic, The Iliad: Most modern versions of this story begin with the abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, by Paris, the youngest son of the king of Troy, over whom hangs a prophecy of doom and destruction. Some versions take it yet further back to a neat little tale wherein Hera, Athena and Aphrodite ask the young Paris to judge which of these three goddesses has the greatest gifts to bestow upon the humans who worship them. Aphrodite seals the young man’s choice by offering him the most beautiful woman: Helen of Sparta. This ‘Judgement of Paris’ is used to explain the youth’s obsession with the wife of the brother of Agamemnon (self-appointed overlord of Greece). You could say the tale turns on it, for if Paris had not abducted Helen, Agamemnon would not now be sitting outside the walls of Troy, bent on destruction.

And that is where Homer begins. For him, the rest is backstory, to be fed in where and when appropriate with the briefest of sketches.

Homer opens his story nine years into the siege of Troy with a feud erupting between Agamemnon and Achilles. While the cause of the feud is given as the woman Briseis, snatched from Achilles by Agamemnon, it does not go unnoticed that, to date in this war, Achilles has been the most loudly proclaimed warrior. In pique, Achilles withdraws from the battle, taking his Myrmidon force along with him. In his absence the Greek forces under Agamemnon’s command are slowly depleted as the war turns in favour of Troy. The story continues with point and counterpoint. No one can fault Homer’s ability to tell a tight tale!

But does Homer’s Iliad—in part or in whole—qualify as a myth? i.e. a story involving deities, ancestors or other spirits, rich in symbolism, and told as accompaniment to a rite.

In as much as later in the poem Homer  brings in the gods, it qualifies there. Yet his gods exist mostly to side with their champions: they meddle, they aid, they hinder; they work jolly hard at entangling the storyline—especially in that awkward-to-write middle section. But as far symbolism and rites . . . no, I see little of it, and when Homer does bring in mythic material it is as allusions, given as additional description: e.g. he references the Pelasgian creation story, that life originated in the Ocean, with Tethys as mother. In such a way he tells us much about the Olympian gods and the Fates, etc, along with various snippets of folklore. Indeed, the Greeks considered him their first theologian, and even the creator of the Olympian religion.

But these snips and descriptions are not myths if a myth is a story, rich in symbolism, told as accompaniment to a rite. It would be devilishly difficult to divine from what rites these snippets of Homer were taken. Their symbolism is all but lost. What mythic material exists in Homer’s Iliad is there to serve his story, to ramp-up the tension, to tell a good tale.

This is only one example, chosen because even those who don’t know myths have met with this. I could equally have chosen the Celtic myth of Cuchulain. Or the Christian myth of the nativity. I could have taken examples of one cult supplanting another, but that I’m leaving for another time: when I look at the mythic meaning of serpents.

As said, the myths remaining to us today have been spoiled by too many cooks. And how ironic that writing—and yes, I know, Homer composed his Iliad before it’s supposed that Greeks had writing (but lo: the Mycenaean Greeks already had it; and someone at some time recorded The Iliad in writing else it wouldn’t have reached us)—that writing itself depends upon symbols, and that writing has effectively diminished these stories whose existence was initially guaranteed by that very same thing: their rich vocabulary of symbols.

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Behind the Mask

Perseus

the ‘hero’ Perseus

If the title of this post brings to mind Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that is my intent. It could be argued, with his much-lauded massively comprehensive work, Campbell helped set the course for the past three generations of writers—George Lucas of Star Wars fame perhaps the best known. A ‘spin-off’ of Campbell’s work is The Writer’s Journey (subtitled Mythic Structure For Storytellers And Screenwriters) by Disney screenwriter Christopher Vogler. Though I have both books on my shelf, it’s the latter that’s been the most thumb-battered of late.

Yet that ‘mask’ of the title isn’t the hero’s. It’s the shaman’s—call him/her medicine man, witch doctor or what you will. Consider this:

In non-Western societies, without ‘benefit’ of our present-day medical care, the shaman was/is the healer. To him/her befell the healthcare of the community. By that I don’t mean simply the physical and mental health of each of its members, as with our present-day medical care. Nor even the mental and emotional health of each of the families. Nor their interpersonal health in regards to the community at large. Nor the community’s health in regard to neighbouring communities and the environment. We need add to that each members health regards the resident spirits of the local and general environment, the spirits of the ancestors, the earth-spirits and sky-spirits, and the deities. A somewhat wider remit than our present-day medical care.

And how did the shaman effect such heroic healthcare?

First came the diagnosis. Since it was the spirits who caused illness, disease and discord, it follows that the spirits must be consulted for the diagnosis. But despite the meddling of spirits that cause the disruption, we’re not able simply to ‘talk’ to them. There is a barrier between our two worlds. Therefore the shaman must resort to an intermediary. A spirit-guide. That guide might be any of the abovementioned spirits though it’s most often an animal-spirit or ancestor (especially of the previous shaman). And often as not it was that same spirit who had chosen the unfortunate candidate to train as shaman. Unfortunate, for someone with the shaman’s power was inevitably feared and thus shunned.

Whatever the spirit-guide’s explanation of the disruption, the shaman now must root out the problem and rectify it. This inevitably requires a journey into that ‘other (spirit) realm’. And here we have the hero’s journey.

The shamanic hero must first negotiate the guardian spirits which try to block the way to the ‘special’ world. Oh how easy to accept the rebuff and turn back. But the shaman has a responsibility to the community and cannot retreat. In becoming a shaman he/she has committed to protect and ensure the health of the community. Even if that means personal death.

Minotaur

Was Ariadne the spirit-guiding for Theseus?

Once into the ‘otherworld’ the shaman needs to gain his/her bearings (the hero goes to the local bar and makes enquiries—remember that scene with Hans Solo in Star Wars?)

With knowledge gained, the shaman then seeks out the culprit. Inevitably, when we’re talking heroes, there’s a battle. In reality the shaman is more likely work by inveigling rather than fighting. But where’s the drama in that. Then, foe defeated or medicine gained—the Holy Grail—the shaman returns.

Hydra

the ‘spirit-demon’ hydra

The audience has been with the shaman every step of the way, the unfolding drama in the ‘otherworld’ heard by all. For, although the journey is effected whilst the shaman is in trance-state, it has been narrated either by the shaman or the shaman’s assistant. This is an essential part of the healing process. The community needs to know what is happening. Even if the disruption concerns just the one person, still it affects them all and so all need to know. The community’s support is essential to the success of the cure. And thus we have the hero’s story.

It is not so difficult to imagine the community remembering the most dramatic, outstanding, amazing performances. And performances are what they are. For while the trance is genuine, the narration is an art acquired and perfected to ensure the community’s vital support. It’s easy, too, to imagine the community repeating, repeating that one outstanding story . . . until, lo! the hero’s myth is born.

One such myth comes at once to mind. Jason and the Golden Fleece. Jason, the name, comes from the Greek iasthai meaning ‘to heal’.

His journey to gain the fleece—which in the original was probably the skin of a snake (the serpent that guarded the fleece)—was a journey through the spirit world; his original companions not the heroes of many a Greek tale but his own spirit-guide(s). King Aeetes, who sets him seemingly impossible tasks, is the spirit with whom the shaman must fight or negotiate. And the healing medicine with which he returns? None other than Medea (she even protects him with her special ointment).

But as is the nature of any good tale, the story of Jason’s shamanic journey has attracted unrelated accretions. We all are guilty of this: every storyteller must add something to it. It’s not only Hollywood does it.

Do any other such shamanic journeys turned myth come as quick to mind?

Heracles

Heracles . . . of course

Indeed:

  • Heracles and his labours
  • Theseus and the Minotaur
  • Perseus and the Gorgon

I’m not saying that all heroic journeys are shamanic. Yet most are. For it is the hero’s task to heal his/her community—just as it once was the shaman’s.

Musing On Myths

Feast Fables the story now is told. But Feast Fables the blog continues, now to be used as a vehicle to ‘muse upon myths’. And my first subject, of course, is the story Feast Fables.

The story was a myth but told in reverse—i.e. ‘in the beginning’ wasn’t told till the end. But that wasn’t the only reversal. For the perceptive you’d find the story riddled with them. But to start at the beginning—or rather, the end . . .

In the beginning—to quote the many myths of cosmogony—there was nothing but Darkness.

How long Darkness existed alone nobody knows. Yet it happened within it, a speck of a glimmer arose. Light. Unable to exist together with Light, Darkness expelled it.

With the force of expulsion Light was sent spinning—and in the spinning it separated, becoming then Air and Fire.

Within the dance of Air and Fire, while they spun around each other, a solid sphere began to form. Earth. But though Earth was spinning, yet Air wept to see its changeless form.

Air’s tears fell as Water upon dry, barren Earth. And thus being watered, Life was brought forth.

From Darkness, Light. From Light, Air and Fire. From their dance, Earth. From the tears if Air, Water . . . and Life

From Darkness, Light. From Light, Air and Fire. From their dance, Earth. From the tears, Water. And Life

Aeons later these Five Divinities of First Creation, along with their associates, were banished to the hard and tangible Realm of Form. It was now they took the name of Asars (for to them their exuding lights seemed to burn).

But why were they banished? That question occupied the greater part of the Feast Fables story.

The answer is another reversal. There is a Judaic story of the creation of Adam. I gave it to Dr. Filbert, a character in Neveto tell. And so well did he tell it—in his wife’s colloquial style—that I’m repeating it here.

Feeling chuffed at His making of Adam, God called for His angels to gather around him.

‘Look!’ He said. ‘Isn’t this the most exquisite creation?’ And He bid them bow low in admiration.

Theliel, Rahmiel, Raphael and Donquel, the angels of love, readily fell to their knees. But those angels led by Azazael just plain refused Him.

God beetled his brows and frowned upon them. ‘You dare disobey me?’

Azazael hitched his trousers before he answered. ‘Why should we, the sons of purest fire and light, fall down before this son of muck and water?’ Which somewhat pissed-off our Mighty Lord.

‘Be banished!’ God bellowed and caused a storm. ‘And may your feet forever be mucky and wet to remind you of your audacity.’ And with an almighty thrust, He kicked Azazael and his 200 angels from Heaven.

Feast Fables (the story), with its theme of reversals, reversed this story too.

It was not a He but a She who created humankind—Kerrid. Whether as the feminine part of the duality Light, or as Air (Breath), she is the very stuff of Life. But, as Jiar frequently reminds her, she didn’t do it all on her own. He, as the masculine part of the duality Light, and as the animating Spirit (Fire), was just as involved. And even then they weren’t alone in their creation. To quote Azazael, Adam was the ‘son of muck and water’. Barega (Earth) and Paddlo (Water) were equally involved. As was Neka—for there’s no denying that humankind has a dark side.

These Five Divine Creators were joined by seven divines from amongst the myriad emanations of Light, offspring, you might say, of Kerrid and Jiar. Moreover, each was supported by their own divine powers (those that Christian-Judaic folklore calls angels).

Those divine emanations of Kerrid and Jiar not involved in the act of creation took strongly against this new species, against us, we humans.

They accused the Creators of weaving through us ‘a sensitivity of touch and smell and taste beyond requirements,’ such as would ‘encourage man and woman eagerly to explore these senses.’ They said the Creators had made begetting too much of a pleasure.

They accused the Creators of threading we humans with curiosity. They said not only had the Creators given us the desire to explore and to speculate, but that they had in some way teased our tongues so now the truth snags upon them and ever would we exaggerate all that we say. They said the Creators had encouraged us to lie by giving us speech and filling our heads with tales of the divines.

They accused the Creators of ‘planting in frail humanity an awareness of death.’ And now, because we’re aware of what awaits us, we fear the future. And in fearing the future we cling ever to the past. And in clinging to the past we then might seek our creators.

They accused the Creators of whispering into our ears of what gifts they had bestowed upon us. By such means the Creators were accused of inciting us to raise ourselves above all other creations. They further said of the Creators that so pleased were they with their new creation that they didn’t want to lose us to death and so gave us life ever-renewing.

They accused the Creators of giving us a desire to mark our passing, that though our lives may be short they would be recorded. They said the Creators had given us this to compensate us for our mortality, that we would thus be remembered long after we died. They said in such a way the Creators had encouraged us to glorify ourselves, to make as if we are, ourselves, divine. Moreover they said they had given we humans the desire to encase ourselves in precious metals and stones, as if our given form were not in itself quite beautiful.

They accused the Creators of endowing we humans with such an appetite that ‘its gratification could lead only to the utmost turning of their frail bodies and witless minds.’ They accused the Creators of perverting their own creation.

For these crimes against balance and harmony, the divines banished the Creators and their assisting powers to the realm below which, though to us is the Realm of the Living, to them was the Realm of the Dead.

Let them walk amongst the shades.
Let them know death without the dying.
Let their senses be polluted by the smell and the taste of their corruption.
Call them no more divine.
Call them demons instead.

And so it was.

But the story didn’t end there. After the Battle of Idiglat, with the successful defeat of Neka and the demon’s return to the Dark Realm, a divine in the form of light and song appeared to Kerrid and Jiar to tell them of an amendment in the divines’ judgement.

For twelve thousand years these banished Creators and their powers (the Asars) were to dwell in this realm, with or away from their human creation.

At the end of these years should one, a mere one, of their creation—untainted by their Asaric blood and unprompted by any—speak out of their own accord to say that they, these banished divines,these Asars, were not the evil said of them but were a goodly kindly people, then they, the divines, would allow the banished to return to their Divine Realm.

To complete the myth, this return of the Asars from their banishment did eventually happen—in 1086. It’s one of the stories that weaves through the time-slip fantasy of Neve.

In the course of Feast Fables several other myths are told. But they are not integral to the myth told here. And though all are myths of cosmogony, I’ll leave them to a later post.

There is also the matter of Kerrid’s dreams to address. Laden with symbolism, these dreams were from the start shouting at Kerrid of the facts of her story. But I’m leaving those, too, till later.

A Last Moment Amendment

FF Sphere on SeaTHE CHEERS AND CLAPPING NIGH WERE DEAFENING. Were they not tired of it yet? Five weddings! Degam and Tgaram, Hawena and Zrone, Uadnis and Barbilio, Ypsi and Malpni . . . and now Kerrid and Jiar. The people living alongside the sea must have feared a host had come to fight them. But now they were wed. And as Jiar looked for long moments into her eyes, such love she saw there. Then his lips were upon hers, hungry and burning.

“We’ll take a walk away from the people,” he said quietly, though with such noise around them had he shouted no other would hear.

She nodded agreement, unable to speak. They both had waited long for this.
They found a spot, secluded, and beneath the moon they consummated their flesh and blood union. Close before dawn they returned by the shore, their feet in the surf as it tumbled the small shingle-stones. And never had she felt so happy. Her exuded light swelled, filling the sky.

“Tomorrow . . .” a mere breath, and allowed her gaze to drift out to sea, dark and forbidding, lit only by stars.

“Are you not afraid?”

She shook her head. “No. Brenstuhe doesn’t scare me. We’ll feed her well before we set out. Give her some goats—and Uisetan has fetched some gazelles.”

“She? But isn’t the sea the Bitter One’s domain?”

“That’s Gusrikt, and we now have left Gushan behind. Now we must learn the Eskin ways. They say Brenstuhe. Her name means Killer yet she’s also the Giver of Life. Brenstuhe is to the Eskin as the Spinner is to our Gusrikt.”

“And would that be Brenstuhe there, now?” Jiar asked with a nod towards the sea. Kerrid followed his gaze.

“No.” But she was curious of what it was. For in the distance there was a light.
They stopped walking to watch. It was no longer far out at sea. It was coming towards them and fast. And now she could see it was not a white light but of all soft colours as in a rainbow. She stepped back.

“What is it?”

“I’ve seen such colours before. In the Web.”

The light at first was spherical. Yet closer in it formed to a bird. She closed her eyes to still her panic. No! Please don’t let it be.

Again Jiar asked, “What is it?”

The light-formed bird flew towards them. She could see the colours more clearly now, changing, ever changing: lavender, rose-petal, primrose, forget-me-not blue. Colours that pulsed and swelled from its heart.

“Kerrid, is that . . .?”

“Shush.”

Though there was scarcely a breeze she could smell the sweetest scent that wafted from it—of the lilies of Gushan, of roses, of violets, of every flower.

“Is this one of our divine children?” Jiar asked, a touch of fear tightening his voice.

“Hmm-mm.”

A soft sound as of a gently-blown shell whispered around them.

“And that is the sound of a divine voice singing. I’ve heard it before, in the Web.”

Her heart was a stone knocking inside her, her mouth dried to a desert. But, though the divine bird flew straight at them—like an eagle, prey sighted—and she clutched Jiar’s hand, her fear was more of why it had come. Was it because she and Jiar now were wed?

Then memories rose. She sweated as the dreams again were remembered. What the divine beings had done to her, their beaks and talons tearing, their claws prying and cutting away her eyes. Their jeering, Finish her, finish her, throw her over the edge. Was it all to happen again?

Its only form was colour and light. Yet it seemed to have weight as its incorporeal feet touched the shingle and its claws impossibly clutched at the stones. No little thing this, it towered above them, covering them. She felt small and defenceless standing beneath it, its ethereal weight pressing upon her. Jiar, too, felt it. He glanced at her as if for reassurance.

It settled. Its two feet became four. Its flame-feathered chest changed to the fur of a cat. Its tail grew long and curled over its back. It arched high its wings. The gentle breath now was a definite singing. It rose in volume to fill the air. And as it formed and reformed and formed yet again, its colours changed through every impossible hue.

Awed, Kerrid fell at its feet. Jiar too. Yet oddly this being was their creation, their child.

It spoke.

As with the Spinner it didn’t use words: neither through the mouth spoken, nor direct into the head as with Asars. Instead an intention seeped into Kerrid. She understood its meaning.

«kerrid/jiar/i-bring-news-to-you»

Kerrid waited, fearful. She didn’t ask if she’d again offended. The heat of Jiar was still upon her.

«accused/found-guilty/condemned-were-you»

And the punishment administered, Jiar answered defiantly.

«we-were-hasty/we-amend»

Jiar glanced at Kerrid. No, she didn’t understand either. Was their divine child calling them back from their banishment? She dared not hope for it. More likely it came to impose more.

They waited with breath held, the only sound now the divine being’s song. Its light flared and its colours danced around them, enfolding, including.

Fascinated yet terrified, Kerrid had no desire to glance away. She felt herself absorbed into its body. Her panicked thoughts faded and ceased. She no longer asked of this amendment, what might be the divines’ revised judgement. She was again in the Divine Realm and again surrounded by these wondrous beings. They talked with no words yet she understood them.

For twelve thousand years the first-gotten Asars will dwell in this realm. Twelve thousand years with or away from their human creation.

Twelve thousand years, a mere breath for divines but unimaginably long for a human. But at least now they were allowed to cohabit with humans. And thereafter, what was to happen to them? She must know. They told her.

At the end of these years should one, a mere one, of your creation—untainted by your Asaric blood, unprompted by any—speak out of their own accord to say that you and your Asars are not the evil said of them but are a goodly kindly people, then we the divines will allow you first-gotten Asars to return to our Divine Realm.

~ ~ ~

Kerrid cried tears of joy. And on their journey to Li’en Ershi, set on the western rim of the Boundless Sea, she sang, so happy.

Yet as the years passed and thence became centuries, word reached her from the land between the two rivers. She knew then the amendment had been an empty gesture. For those same divine beings had whispered into human ears that the Asars, blazing creatures of light, were the blackest of demons, banished from Heaven and damned for all time for scorning the angels’ highest creation. Themselves. The humans.

The End


The 3 books of the Feast Fables Trilogy will remain available on this blog, accessed via the menus above. Other Asaric tales are available on crimsonprose (see link on sidebar)

Meanwhile, don’t leave yet for this blog (Feast Fables) will be given over to ideas and speculations regarding mythology

Take This Man

FF PuddlesKERRID SHIVERED and drew her wrap closer. Yet despite the wind gusted, chilly and damp, she stubbornly sat on the steps of her house no longer there. She’d have been warmer had she returned to the town. But there was noise, and people looked askance at her. And there were questions, questions, questions—even here.

Chadtamen wanted to know what to do with the launch-device.

“It hasn’t a use,” she told him. “Unlike Neka, we can’t return to our realm. We’re forbidden that for all time.”

He wagged his head and sighed and tutted. “Oh, my Most-Baneful-Sister won’t like that when I take the forbidding news to her. She did so want to return to the clouds.”

Uisetan grinned. “She still can do that. She just can’t go farther.”

“May I sit alongside you may I, hey, please?” Ypsi asked then sat before she could say. “Only someone is snoring grindingly loud in my granary.”

“That will be Meret,” she said. She had sent him there to be safe from Kallaren. He was terrified of Kallaren after seeing what he’d done to Nilai. But at least Meret now had a home. The councillors (without any coercion) had asked him to stay at Lohanit, to be their new Qar.

“And still no sign of our Olun is there?” Ypsi asked.

Kerrid shook her head. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, there’s no need for that, there’s not. I was there I was when he tried to kill you, remember. But no matter, hey, he’s probably far away now. Farfooting again, that’s what he’ll do. And talking of farfooting, I’ve a message to give you, from Raesan I have.”

“I knew there was someone I’d not seen after the battle. Where is he? They’ve not left him bound—is he still angry?”

“Who knows, Kerrid, who knows what our Raesan is—except contrary. He says to say he cannot stay. He says he has to go away. He says this is a big wide land and that he hasn’t yet seen it by half.” He shook his head and heavily sighed. Then with a grin he said, “I ought not to have told him your tales of Daxi and her half-naked women. But he says he knows he’s been muddle-headed, getting attached to a bird—by which he means your Ardhea. So he says he’s going to do what he intended to do from the start—he’s off farfooting he is. He left while you were out doing the death-things. He said for me to say the powers’ protection and all that to you so . . . I’m saying it, hey. May the powers always protect you. Our Raesan was always an odd one wasn’t he?”

“Most odd,” she agreed. “And my thanks for the message. But what of you now? Any plans?”

“Me? Oh I’ll go wherever there are granary-women, you know that of me.”

“Gushan? Vestiri?”

“I’d miss the Anas.”

“Not Malpni?” she teased.

“No, I’d miss the Anas,” he insisted.

“But Degam will probably go to Gushan with Tgaram.”

“Now that’s something I’d like to see I would, Degam and Indriella together. But do you think that’s wise of her, Kerrid, hey, do you?”

“I think it’s not wise for me to say. Do not interfere, do not intervene—”

“And don’t get involved. Yes, I know, Kerrid, I know.”

“And since Hawena will probably go north with Zrone, that leaves only Uadnis to accompany me.”

“To . . . accompany you? You-you-you’re going away are you, Kerrid?” He did look worried.

“I can’t stay here, nor anywhere near. Not now they’ve seen me being the Spinner. You know I’ll have no talk of being divine.”

Ypsi screwed his face with concern. “So to where?”

“I can’t say yet. Where’s Ardhea? Don’t say she’s left us too? Only I have something to ask of her.”

She ought to have asked Jiar first. But no matter, he conveniently chose that moment to arrive, sauntering down the track out of town, the heavy-winged heron flying above him. They’d become oddly attached of late.

He sat beside Kerrid, and then shuffled in closer, his arm snaking around her. A Gusrikt, she wasn’t used to this touching and being so close but she did enjoy it with him.

“Look at this now, chicks in the nest,” Ypsi said with a mocking sigh. “And when’s the wedding, hey? We’ve waited a long time for this we have.”

“Not yet,” Jiar said. “We’ve a long journey ahead.”

“Two quarter-moons—three at the most: that’s not long,” Kerrid objected.

“And beyond?”

She flicked a look at him but couldn’t see his face for his hair.

“I’ve not yet asked Ardhea of that,” she said. “And how did you know?”

He kissed the top of her head which she wished he wouldn’t with her hair dusty and in need of a wash.

“How many times must I say it, Precious Lady? You and I are one.”

She wanted to correct him and say we once were one, and that only at the very beginning. Instead she asked how he could possibly know when only on hearing the news of Raesan had she decided.

He smiled and offered no explanation. “So will you ask her? Or should I?”

Ypsi sighed and looked from one to the other. “Would someone like to say would they, hey? Or am I to guess it from . . . oh, from the bounding flight of the flapping birds?”

Ardhea flicked her beak from side to side and up in the air as if to ignore them.

“Ardhea . . .” Kerrid started and the bird deigned to look.

“We’re looking for a certain place,” Jiar said.

“Where those Gusrikt who want to join with us—”

And the Lohati and Sussui,” Jiar added in case she forgot them.

“And any others,” Kerrid said with a withering glance at him, “who might come along, will find good growing soil for their seeds, and sweet grass grown long for their goats.”

“Did they take their goats with them?” Jiar asked.

“Mostly they did though I told them not.”

“We were thinking of some place where snakes might be . . . shall we say . . . a rarity?”

“No. Preferably where they’re entirely absent,” Kerrid corrected. “And also some place where, though winter is cold and dark—”

“But not too dark.”

“But, Jiar, you can’t have long light summers without a dark winter.”

“If you say. As long as you’re with me. We would like such a place at our journey’s end.”

Ardhea hopped two steps down, and changed again to the image of Child-Kerrid with beaded shirt and beaded breeches, grubby at the sleeves and knees. She perched her hands on what passed for her hips, and with head atilt she squinted up at them.

“I like her like that,” Jiar said with affection. Kerrid playfully elbowed his ribs.

“And what,” asked the heron-cum-Kerrid-illusion, “of my Eskin? And what of Eld Freilsen?”

“But Raesan said you’ve him trained now to obey you. And my Gusrikt will bring with them skills.”

“And Kallaren and I will provide metal for blades,” Jiar added.

“And our men are already building the boats. I gave them instructions before they left,” Kerrid said.

“So you knew?” Jiar accused.

“It was a contingent—for them, in case we lost. And there’s plenty of land all along that western seaboard. It need not be only Li’en Ershi.”

~ ~ ~

Though they had no body to place upon it (Jiar had convinced Kerrid not to open the shrine) as their final act they set to building the Paddlo’s pyre. They built it at the centre of the remaining dance floor, in the shrines’ garden, and used the twelve beast-headed posts to fuel it. There they piled their gifts upon it. As befitted Loqaru, Lord of Lohanit, this rite was to be more elaborate than those of the battle-slain.

The Lohati looted the empty houses and brought forth cloths and pelts and skins. It annoyed Kerrid to see them burn when the Lohati and the arriving refugees would have a need of them. But the death-gift was supposed to be painfully given. She grubbed up the lilies that Kallaren had planted. She thought it fitting: Paddlo had always called her his Lily of Gushan. As the wood took the flames they each said a word, most with affection, for the dead do have ears.

Jiar and Ypsi, Zrone and Chadtamen, Kallaren and Uisetan stood close around Kerrid while Ardhea watched from her perch in the trees—no one had dared to fell them though they needed the wood. Arith and Tgaram were there with the Lohati but Vaynto and the other Gimmrin, like the Sussui and Lilui, had stayed away. They hadn’t known Paddlo and it now was difficult to explain who he was. Not Loqaru, Lord of Lohanit, Lord of the Ashes, Lord of the Dead. And neither was he Neka’s son, for Neka had lied. He was the Water of Life though he had grown bitter.

As the flames took the gifts, charring, distorting—killing—Kerrid gave thought to the body still sealed in the shrine. Paddlo had scared her from their first encounter. Yet now she found herself thinking of him with affection. She remembered not the squat toad but the young man, tall with shoulders broad and honey-brown skin, his hair streaked fair in the sun, his features sharp and his quick smile wide. She wondered what would have happened had she gone farfooting with him as he’d wanted.

Jiar nudged her. “The words?”

They had worn out those words the day before and now they’d lost meaning. Yet words were needed.

“I ask you, dear Mother, to take this man Paddlo, son of Nemenid, brother to Farfoot Eneedtas, my grandfather’s brother, my son, to take him and spin him to life once again.” And that, she prayed, would defeat the demon.

She looked up at the clouds. Since dawn they had hung like dense slabs of granite suspended above them, threatening to fall and to crush all life from the earth. Now the first drops of the rain splattered her face. She sighed a sweet breath of relief.

The rain fell as tears, one at a time, huge and heavy, that burst on the paved yard of the shrines. They marked the paving with dark circles.

More quickly followed, the Lord of the Windy Heavens emptying his pots of water upon them. The Lohati fled, streaming through the gates, pelting off to their homes. The remainder made a dash for Kerrid’s shrine.

They squeezed in, ill-manneredly pushing and shoving, arms holding, hands touching in an orgy of over-familiarity. Kerrid shivered. Despite their lights the shrine was dark with its pitch-coated walls exposed. There were yelps and curses as shins were barked on the stacks of gold and copper sheets that yesterday had been the reflectors. Ypsi had heaped them disorderly against the walls. Chadtamen tutted.

Kerrid stood in the doorway with Jiar and watched the rain. It hammered hard on the paving, sending the water splashing up high. Puddles formed, grew and soon were a pond busy with circling eddies, their rings reflecting the green of the trees around it. Thunder cracked, rolled and resounded—not only once or twice and be done, but on and on, one strike chasing the tail of the other, the sky flashing bright as the lightning ripped through the stone-clouds.

When later, Kerrid poked her head out of the door, to the west the sky was brightening. The storm soon would be done. Yet by the time the rain finally eased to no more than a patter the water was lapping around her knees!

She stood aside while all waded out of the shrine. And they all did the same as she. They each took a deep breath of the newly-washed air, and let out a sigh.
They laughed—all laughed. And some of the councillors giggled like girls.

Ypsi slapped her hard on the back. She ouched. He slapped Jiar, too. Then he decided all needed a slap. Many returned them, all with a laugh. Kerrid cried happy tears; Jiar enfolded her. Chadtamen caught her eye. She looked to where he was nodding, and turned Jiar around so he could see too.

It wasn’t just one rainbow, or two, but three coloured bows arched over the hills where later that day they must go.

. ______ .

Next episode, the final, The Epilogue, tomorrow Friday 27th May

Death Rites

FF PhoenixKERRID ENTERED THE TOWN, her head abuzz. They needed to organise the collection of bodies, decide how many they could pile upon each pyre, then adapt the rites for those men whose names and lands and clans weren’t known. Then, amongst the slain, they’d doubtless find some still alive; they would need healing. It was as well they had the Gimmrin for many hands now would be needed.

Ypsi greeted her and Jiar, arms held wide to hug them. But there was no greeting from Kallaren; he glared at Kerrid before walking away.

“We’ve all tried speaking to him we have but . . .”

“He’s alive, Ypsi. That’s all that matters.”

“I’ll talk to him,” said Jiar and followed Kallaren into the town.

“We should be joyous we should, all shouting our triumph from the wall-tops Instead we’re all glum.”

Kerrid agreed. “It’s the day.” The plain and the hills were monotonous grey with no shafts of sunlight to sharpen and colour them. Indeed, the clouds had more colour with their washed-out blacks, whispers of blue,and  their mucky duck-down of baby swans. But those clouds bore heavy upon them, unmoving.

“Trouble is,” said Ypsi, “Kallaren wasn’t there when we talked of demons and realms and . . . things. We Uissids know demons don’t . . .” he made interesting pictures with his fingers “. . . You know what I rammitting mean.”

“They don’t couple like humans,” she said.

“No. And if Jiar called up Neka as well, well . . .” Ypsi didn’t usually lack for words but he seemed lost for them now. “Anyway, it’s good to see you returned it is, Kerrid. Indeed, it’s giftingly good to see you. I was worried.”

She nodded her thanks and patted his arm. “But it’s not over yet. There are things we must do, and do fast. Where are the Gimmrin?”

“Oh good, yes, glad you said of the Gimmrin ‘cause Kallaren says he wants you and Jiar to talk to them when you return. But what’s this needs doing, hey, what’s that? More fighting?”

“No, not more fighting. Call it tidying.”

Ypsi nodded as if he understood, and led her down Leathermart Lane to another ladder. In passing she looked around at the town, surprised at how many houses remained.

The flame-headed Gimmrin—Arith and Tgaram, and Vaynto who she’d not yet met—sat together on the edge of the wall with legs dangling like boys on a riverbank fishing for tiddlers. Was the intent to keep out of the way of Zrone and Chadtamen? She could hear the clanks and clatter as those two methodically dismantled the reflectors. Ypsi coughed. The three flame-headed Gimmrin sharply turned. They gave nods of greeting and arranged themselves, now to sit cross-legged in a circle.

Arith patted the places either side him left for Kerrid and Ypsi.

“And for Jiar and Kallaren,” Tgaram said . . . the circle was far from complete.

Kerrid sat, though she’d rather have paced.

“We’ve been discussing the snakes, how to be rid of them,” said Arith.

“That’s easy,” Kerrid said. “They’re an illusion. Release the illusion and the snakes are gone.”

Vaynto laughed. Tight. Anxious. “Lady Kerrid, I’ve seen what you are. And I admit that you scare me. But still I have to say against you. Those snakes down there are undeniably real.”

“Yet Jiar and I walked through them this morning. They’re nought but illusion.”

“Oh? But, Lady, you weren’t so sure of that last night.”

She swung round at the sound of Jiar’s voice. He was then clearing the ladder. “Where’s Kallaren?”

“Off foraging wood for the pyres. He agreed, it’s best done while the rain holds away.”

“It won’t rain today,” she said.

“The Lady talks to the Lord of the Windy Heavens?” Vaynto asked with a cheeky smile on his fair freckled face.

“And the Lord is another son?” Jiar asked close to her ear as he seated himself beside her. His hand closed over hers in most proprietorial fashion. “I remember the fable.”

“No, that one is Barega’s son: she is the Lady of this realm.” And she allowed the hand to stay. She rather liked it. “As for the snakes—”

“Are you Gimmrin afraid of them?” Jiar cut in. “Afraid and ashamed of it? Yet you know,  my kinsmen, there’s neither need for shame nor fear. You’d be no different from our Lady Kerrid here—she was trembling last night.”

“At the notion of being alone with you?” Vaynto grinned.

“Oh, and I thought her trembling because of the snakes,” Jiar said. “But no, last night she was scared of them. And yet this morning we’ve walked amongst them.”

“Excuse me,” Kerrid said. “If we’re to talk of fears, let me tell you—sons of Gimmerin—it was Jiar who refused to walk through them ‘til dawn.”

“So there,” Jiar said. “We both were afraid and there’s no shame in it.”

“But the snakes are an illusion,” Kerrid said. “And if I must then I shall prove it. We can’t have you sitting up here when we need everyone out there contributing their hands and backs.” She must have those battle-slain treated today for she’d succumbed to Jiar’s wheedling that Paddlo’s rites must wait till it’s done.

“And how will you prove it?” asked Arith. “Pick one up? Show us how it ‘magically’ disappears in your magical hands?”

“I could. But that wouldn’t prove it.”

“No,” Tgaram said, quick with the taunt, “because those slithering snakes are real.”

“No,” she said. “Because it’s you Gimmrin holding the illusion. And not just you three here, it’s your men as well. It’s here.” She tapped at her head. “Think about it. None of you Gimmrin wore lead-hats.”

“With respect, Lady Kerrid, we hadn’t the time for your hats,” said Arith. “We saw what was happening; we charged straight in.”

“And we’d have said many thanks for some warning.” Tgaram added and stared hard at Ypsi. “You could have told us. We thought we’d be fighting men, Asars, not tigers, eagles, spiders and snakes.”

“No, that’s not wholly true,” Arith said. “We had been told of the snake-demon Neka.”

“Yes, but no one warned us that Degam’s mother was a—excuse me, Lady Kerrid—was  a . . .” he snorted irritation. What word could he use without it an insult?

“Try monster,” Vaynto said with an unabashed chuckle.

Kerrid decided she liked him. He was an over-grown boy (which some said of all men but at least Vaynto was honest about it).

“But then, don’t all men say that of their wife’s mother? Scaresome creatures, one and all. With respect, Lady Kerrid,” Vaynto added, “you’re not included.”

“Besides, as I told you, Tgaram, the spider was nothing but an illusion. She won’t eat you,” said Arith though with a wary glance towards Kerrid.

Amused, she showed him her teeth and licked her lips. She saw his quick swallow. So she smiled to show she was only playing. As the divines said, she would always be the child.

“Yes, well, Lady Kerrid,” Tgaram said, having coughed to clear his fear-clogged throat. “Perhaps now you will say how our lack of a hat was to blame for this . . . illusion?”

“Not to blame,” Jiar corrected. “You misunderstand.”

“I’ll explain,” she said. “You and your men arrived just as Jiar and I released Neka’s spirit. Freed from the snake-form it was forced from this realm—as we intended. But before leaving the demon cast one last illusion. Had you been wearing lead-hats, as were our men, you’d have been protected. Instead the demon cast that illusion deep into you. So now, though you don’t realise it, you and your men are holding it. Thus to you these snakes seem real. But believe me they’re not.”

“They killed our horses,” Tgaram said.

That wasn’t true. But such love they had of their beasts Kerrid couldn’t tell them the truth: that in believing those snakes were real, the Gimmrin themselves had killed the horses.

“Listen,” she said. “I could walk out now. onto that plain, and pick up a snake and you would see me holding it. Yet my hands would be empty. So how can I prove it that way? The illusion is lodged in your heads. I need find another way.”

She scanned the sky for birds—hawks, buzzards, kites, those that would eat a snake. The sky had been full of them yesterday, used by her wind-Asars to deliver the hail-storm. But now . . . none, and that with so many corpses here to feast upon. She supposed the imminent rain was holding them off, pressing so heavy upon them they preferred not to fly. Yet she found a lone buzzard, a young one. She called him to her. Then she sent him to where the snakes lay thickest—around the charred remains of Neka’s cart.

Several times the buzzard swooped, coerced by her. Yet each time he rose with empty talons .

“See?” she said. “Yet were those snakes real that bird would have caught one, easy, by now. So go tell your men, these snakes are just an illusion. The sooner it’s broken the sooner we can claim the slain.”

Tgaram and Vaynto were still not fully convinced. She could hear Arith arguing with them as they wound their way through the lanes in search of the Gimmrin.

~ ~ ~

Jiar waited for Ypsi to leave. Then he leaned in close to Kerrid. “On the matter of last night. . . tell me, why do you think I wouldn’t walk through those snakes?”

“Ha, that’s easy,” she said. “Because you wanted me all to yourself and knew once we returned here there’d be people everywhere wanting our attention?” Such as those councillors now heading towards them.

“Yes that. But also for fear.”

“What? So you are afraid of snakes!”

“No.” He leant in closer and whispered into her ear. “I’m afraid of the dark.”

She pulled away enough to look at him, wide-eyed, disbelieving.

“No, it’s true,” he said. “But you are my light, Lady Kerrid. So now, will you also admit to your fear?”

She shrugged and looked away. In her life she’d had many fears, the first of which had been for her children.

“One hiss,” Jiar said, “and you wouldn’t walk through them.”

She smiled and tried to wave it away.

“Admit it.”

“I’ve no liking for them.”

He looked at her and she couldn’t look away. “Say it.”

“But wouldn’t you say I’ve hidden it well all these years?”

Say it.”

‘Fine then, I’ll say it. Yes, I am afraid of snakes. I’m terrified.”

“And that makes me tremendously proud of you,” he said and hugged her tight.

She pushed him away and looked at him, frowning. “But why?”

He grinned. “Because, Lady of Mine, of what you did yesterday. As bold as a goat you walked out of that gate and stood there, not a few paces away. Never mind the pots of poison buried within a toe’s reach, you faced those hundred snakes all hissing and threatening. You, Precious Lady, did that.”

“But they were an illusion, I knew that. Only Neka was real. And in truth . . .” she sighed. He wanted to know her fears? Yet dare she tell him? “Jiar, in truth I was more afraid of what you and the others would say, would do, when you heard what Neka had to said of me.”

“Oh that? That was nothing.” And he said it like it really was nothing. And yet she’d been so afraid. “And I’m glad that you’ve admitted your fear.”

“But why?” she said. “I don’t understand.”

“Because, Precious Lady, here we are no longer divines, and yet you are a most powerful woman. That’s not what most men would want of a wife, and I admit your power would terrify me were it not for your fears. They make of you flesh and blood. Like me.”

She kissed him. She intended only a light touching of lips but . . . she lingered.

“Lady, you do that again and you can forget anything else for the rest of this day.”

She shook her head at him. “As I remember, you were the one to say of doing it properly—like the humans we are. So now you’ll wait for the wedding. And before then there are rites—before Neka makes demons of them all.”

And before then there were the councillors waiting in Leathermart Lane.

~ ~ ~

Mulmayar, their spokesman, looked straight past Kerrid and spoke to Jiar. “We would rather speak with Chief Kallaren, but you will suffice.”

Jiar politely dipped his head to acknowledge but said nothing until both his feet were off the ladder and back on the ground. Then he absently brushed at a stain on his otherwise immaculate shirt. Kerrid smiled: the first time she’d seen him less than perfect . . . until she realised what was the stain. Her blood. He pushed aside his hanging of hair. “Now, Councillors, what is it?”

“Worthy One, the wood,” Councillor Mulmayar said.

But where was Elder Solnaiyar? Kerrid plundered Mulmayar’s head for news and discovered Solnaiyar had died, along with eleven other Lohati, during the fire-bombing. Yet if that was their full loss it was small.

“The wood is for pyres,” Jiar said.

“You intend to burn the dead?” asked Mulmayar gruffly.

Jiar frowned.

“Such is not the Lohatim way.”

“And neither is it ours,” Jiar said. “But we haven’t the men to dig the graves. Have you? I do understand your concern, and if you want to give different rites to your dead then please do take them now.”

“With respect, Worthy One, we wonder your haste. Could it not wait while we celebrate your success?”

“Councillors, you may celebrate as you will. But for ourselves, we will tidy our messes and then will be gone.”

Their eyes shot wide. And now Council Mulmayar finally addressed Kerrid. “Ana Krit, is the Worthy intending to take you away? And Chief Kallaren? Oh please say the chief will stay. Ana Krit, we would be honoured beyond our expression.”

“Hush,” she said and waved her hand to brush aside their protestations. “I came to Lohanit only to prepare for this battle.” It was true. Though she’d not realised it till then. “And now that it’s done, I must move on. Besides, when you look at me now you will see only a spider.” She kept her tone light and offered a smile. “You must know, like the snakes, it all was illusion.”

“Of-of course we know that,” Mulmayar said. “Though the Lilui aren’t so easily told. They have named you Gal-Uttu.”

She laughed with the councillors over that. “I would say then to tell them that, yes, this lady spins and weaves. But there the likeness ends.”

But after the chuckling their faces grew again glum. “You would leave us with no Ana, and no Qar? Not even a chief?”

“You’ll find another,” said Jiar. “The Gimmrin talk of yet more people moving along the Idiglat. Our Lilui and Sussui were merely the first. Open your town to them, open your hearts. You’ll need these new people to help you rebuild your town.”

He inclined his head—and that caused a flutter. What, a Worthy, a Gallasin, showing the councillors such high regard?

~ ~ ~

The Gimmrin didn’t so much fear the spider, as what the spider had done. And that fear kept them from openly questioning Kerrid’s instructions. Yet there were those who rather would deal death than to give life to  those surviving host they found injured and weak. But Kerrid had all were to be returned to the town. Released now from Neka’s thrall, these men were just men, nothing evil. Jiar detailed some men to guard them. “You’re to give them ample food and water.”

And still the dark clouds above them pressed heavily upon them, not helped by their chore.

Jiar found the remains of Nilai. He tried to keep Kerrid away but she’d seen. Tears streamed, and she crumpled distraught to the ground. “And what if . . . Meret?”

“Hush,”he told her. “At least our Kallaren’s alive.”

Oh, Kallaren was. But it was Kallaren who’d done this to his own wretched brother. And then he’d the gall to glare at her? She ought to hate him. She felt his eyes watching; she hoped now he regretted. She looked back to the town. He stood there, watching from atop the wall.

Jiar led her away to be with Vaynto, to guard and distract her while he returned to gather up the pieces, pieces that had been her son. Now the only part unharmed was his hair, and that was blood-washed. Jiar placed them together in some semblance of a man upon a pyre.

That pyre was but one of hundreds. So many mothers here had lost their sons and didn’t yet know it.

~ ~ ~

The grey of the day had deepened to dark by the time they gathered for the rites. At other times those rites might have been elaborate and lasted throughout the day and maybe the night. But these they kept simple. All that was needed was for the living to claim and name the dead. But there was the problem. For most of the dead were of Neka’s host and those still living, though weakened or wounded, were able to name but a few. Jiar claimed the other Asars: he named them as his companions and brothers. Kerrid claimed the mortal men. Taken by Neka from the southern towns along the Magarran coast, nobody knew them. She named them her children along with Nilai.

And the first pyres were lit.

The smoke lay heavy beneath the lowering sky. Through the murk Kerrid was sure she saw an icy light, weaving. She squinted, trying to see more. The light threaded between the fires, moving left of her. She slipped her hand from Jiar’s hold and quietly stepped away from the men. She scarcely could see now for tears, but she’d know Meret’s hair anywhere.

He too was crying, silent tears falling. She clasped his hands and gently squeezed, and tried to bring him closer to Jiar and the surviving Asars. But he shook his head: he wanted to keep at a distance.

Jiar continued with the naming and claiming, repeating the now-familiar formula: “I ask that you take this dead man, Vazita, my friend and companion, and spin him into life again.” Between the claiming he nodded acknowledgement of Meret.

. _____ .

The battle won, the final illusion swept away, the battle-slain claimed by the living to keep them out of the demons’ abyss.
Now all that remains is to attend to Paddlo.

Next episode, Take This Man

Out Of Blackness

FF Out Of Blackness

THE EAGLE AGAIN RISES, now crying of triumph. Joyous, elated, she wheels and swoops above the confusion of horses and men—for the Gimmrin now have arrived. Their bright metal weapons—copper-topped pikes, bronze axes, copper-banded stone maces—glint and flash in the sun. She hears their clang as they clash amid grunts and yells, amid screams and curses, as the horses fall with blood jetting, blood spurting, blood spraying, guts spilling. And helpless she watches as the horses crush their riders beneath them. Yet look, those horsemen are winning the fray. She soars above them, snapping her wings, making thunder, glorying in the late success of the day.

But her joy shrivels to a stone heavy within her. Beneath her, there, her sons, the black and the white, are swinging sharp axes to hack at each other. Why must they do that, why won’t they be done? Compelled to watch, she can’t fly away, though to watch is an agony. Both the fruit of her body, both she must love. Yet it’s for Kallaren she fears the most. She wheels above them—and they, both together, notice her presence. They, both together, stop swinging their axes as they raise their eyes to her.

Is this an end to it? Will they stop fighting now their mother is near? She sees shame in Kallaren as his hands loosen their grip on his axe. But, alas, she sees no shame in the other. And Neka’s man to the last, Nilai draws a dart from a holder strapped to his back. He raises it and aims . . .

. . . and she is an eagle for all her deep-knowing. She soars above them, languidly wheeling when she ought to have flown.

Hatred is loud in the swell of Kallaren’s shimmering light—she sees and she knows his intent. With anguish she watches as with sickening frenzy they attack, they defend, their battle then veiled by a screen of blood . . .

. . . and if Kallaren’s intent is to save her then fighting his brother isn’t enough for Nilai has already alerted others . . .

Darts fly. They zing and whish—so many now from every direction. They whoosh and zoom as she tries to avoid them. But they’re everywhere: low when she’s low; high when she’s high; if she veers to east the spears are there; if she veers to west and south . . . Trapped in a net of spears, darts and arrows, dizzied by her zigging and zagging . . .

An experienced hunter lurks. Wolf-worthy, he uses a caster to increase range and velocity. The lithe woody-stem whistles towards her with deadly precision. It hits with flesh-ripping force. She hears the crack and snap of her feathers. She feels the give of her flesh. Savage heat fills her, a shaft of wood, hard and heavy, lodged in her chest. She cannot fly. She can’t stay aloft. As in her dreams, she plummets, descending in the howling spiral of a wolf-stone falling out of the sky.

She sees the ground. It’s coming up fast. She sees the blood as it seeps from her breast, as it soaks her feathers. She sees it trickling. It drips into her mouth. It blurs her vision. Yet through it she sees a tiger pacing, sand, black and white.

She’s not aware of the pain on impact. She bounces . . . Once . . . Twice . . Thrice. And again she’s a woman, and here is her fate: brought to her death above the Idiglat Plain between the two rivers. Darkness and stillness spreads from within her.

~ ~ ~

The blackness expels her as if it is birthing, and a voice, not hissing or angry, lingers behind her. I thank you for the return, and for the many demons this day you’ve created. Especially that other, your brother, your son. Then she’s suddenly spinning. All around her is light.

At first she believes herself in the Web. Then slowly awareness seeps and fills her. It’s an odd perception that rather she is the Light. Has she known it before? Yet this tastes of the first time. It smells new and right.

Another strangeness she perceives: For all her glory she’s scarcely aglow, a babe, a mere mite.

Wilfully she expands, growing through increments barely perceptible until she becomes an intensely blinding bright light. Now by her light she can see, and she sees she isn’t alone. Beneath her, behind her, she sees her begetter, her father, her mother, her parent, her bearer: the Dark. And that Dark is as dense as her light is intense.

She suspects something is hiding in there, in that darkness. But whatever it is she can’t see it and in not seeing she fears it. She shines her light on it . . . but then along with the darkness it’s gone. She retracts her light and the darkness returns and with it the ominous presence within it. She shudders in dread of it and flees hoping then to be rid of it. But whatever it is, the wretched thing follows. She runs . . . And still it is there. She turns in circles . . . Tail-like it follows. However she tries she can’t be rid of it. Then she just has to accept it will always be there.

She spins, hoping thus to shake the feeling away—and with her spinning she’s aware of something within her that’s now spinning away. How strange. She looks and sees it’s another like her. Born from within her, it is her and yet is without her. How curious, she has become two, and both parts are her, both are Light. Yet she is Wind, this other is Fire. Yes, it is so.

Together, her two parts of Light—Wind and Fire—spin upon the Dark. Back and forth they dance and weave together, their feet a constant tap-patting. And thus from the Dark a hard and knobbled whit is freed—she claims it freed. Solid this, and unmoving, drab and lifeless without colour.

She as Wind breathes upon it and causes movement in the lifeless rock. She as Wind cries, for though it is spinning it’s still not alive. Those tears descending in splashes, form puddles, pools and springs of water—which in turn turns the rock’s dusty coat to mud—from which emerges an abundance of juicy green swards.

~ ~ ~

Awaking, Kerrid wanted to be on her feet and running not have Jiar’s arms closed tight around her.

“You’re alive,” he said, intense with feeling.

“Of course I’m alive. I am Wind, how can I be dead? And, Jiar, I’m the Spinner—but you must already know that. As Ypsi said: my breath brings life. And if I don’t give Paddlo his death rites NOW! Neka will steal that life from me. For it’s not only humans we created; it’s all of life!”

He looked at her, his eyes surprise-widened . . . then he nodded. “Yes, I guessed of the Spinner, even before. But you’re still flesh and blood and you’re not going out there.”

It was then she noticed around her: blackest night. She noticed too Jiar’s fawn-leather shirt soft against her. He tried to rock her, despite her struggles to be free.

“But, Jiar, the fight is over so why shouldn’t I go? You don’t understand how urgent this is.”

“It’s not the fight. I’ve other reasons.”

He leaned back against the cart’s solid wheel, pulling her with him, not letting her free. But the heat of him was too much and a dozen musicians had set up in her head and were banging like a feast-day celebration. She had to have air, clean and cool on her face, around her neck—everywhere.

“I thought this time you surely were dead,” he said—and it was there in his eyes and his voice that he had cried.

“But death doesn’t want me, you must have noticed. And much as I’d like to be in your arms, if I don’t return to Lohanit our fight will have served for nothing. Now please let me go.”

“No, Precious Lady, no. You might be alive, and the Spinner but you still need to rest.”

“Fine,” she said, and snuggled against him, and waited.

She felt his nod, it rocked through his chest. So he thought her now acquiescent. She felt his hold of her weaken. She waited yet further, until she felt his arms loosened about her. She could almost see the contented smile on his lips. And she’d be content too were it not for the need to claim Paddlo’s spirit before it sank to the Abyss.

Though she’d not yet recovered her strength she was again up on her feet. But Jiar was as quick and his arms again wrapped around her. She batted and pushed him.

“But, Lady, you are far from healed.”

“Look, I stand, I walk, I talk: I am healed.” Yet her legs wobbled as if they preferred not to stand. And her head reeled, everything around her in a spin. Moreover, she seemed to be seeing through water. Yet if she squinted she just could make out a blurring of lights that must be Lohanit. For a moment she forgot about Paddlo and thought instead of her sons. Her belly clenched with dread. She shivered.

“My stubbornest Lady, how fast do you expect to be healed when your neck was broken and your heart and lungs torn? You were dead, I tell you. This time you were dead.”

“No,” she denied him. “I am the Spinner, I cannot die. Jiar, think of it: the divines need me alive. That’s why they cut me, divided me, to separate the Spinner and me.”

He nodded assent. “Yet this fleshly form, though Asaric, is weak, its healing is yet incomplete.”

She heaved a great frustrated sigh, the Wind gathering force to blast out a hurricane. “Jiar, I need. To go. To Lohanit. Before it’s too late.”

“You. Need to rest,” he retorted. “Before ever you set a foot out there.”

She hissed at him, a weak expression of her frustration. His intention was good—it was just that his ‘calm’, ‘wait’ and ‘rest’ did nothing to answer the situation.

“The rain’s holding off,” she remarked—which wasn’t a change in her attention. And it didn’t surprise her, though the clouds were thick above the plain, casting all into featureless dark. It was as if those clouds were holding their breath for whatever was still to happen.

“Rain or no rain, you are not heading back to Lohanit yet,” Jiar said, his voice tight with held-annoyance. “You will wait here for the dawn.”

“Explain,” she said. “Why? And don’t say of ‘rest’ for you could support me, offer an arm.”

“The darkness,” he said as if that was enough. “Everything now is waiting on dawn.”

“But, Jiar, the fighting is done—oh, do I take it we won? But what’s now happened to the dead?” Why didn’t he understand? The slain, too, must have death rites, and that before the end of next day. These things couldn’t wait, not with Neka so eager to claim them. She listened. Strange, she could hear no grunts and hisses of vultures feeding. She sniffed at the air. It didn’t smell sweet. Blood and spilled guts, no funeral pyres yet.

“Jiar, ‘the dark’ doesn’t answer. We’re Asars, we have our own light. But . . . well, you stay here if you like, I’m returning to Lohanit.”

He turned suddenly stern. He snatched hold of her arm. “You will wait here.”

She pried loose his fingers. “I’m walking, I said.”

“I see you’ve returned from the dead without any sense!”

She glowered at him. “And I see you don’t understand my hurry. You’ve not even asked.” Even though she had told him of the death rites.

He said no more. He released his hold. He allowed her to go.

~ ~ ~

She felt bad for parting from him like this, with anger. She felt cold, too, away from his heat. She puffed out her chest—and winced. He was right, she wasn’t yet healed and she wasn’t yet strong. But how strong need she be? The fighting had ceased and though the night was black she had her light. Though a wind-Asar, her shimmer wasn’t as bright as Jiar’s could be.

A thousand worries arose within her, weaving and folding and keeping her company, mostly of Paddlo and Neka and her sons. She worried of which of her sons if any still lived. The last she’d seen . . . No, she didn’t want to remember . . . Whose flesh had she seen, parted and spraying? No! She must not think of it. Just walk. And what had happened to Meret? Had Neka killed him for the betrayal? Or had the Gimmrin? Had he shrivelled, perhaps, beneath the reflectors’ light? She bit her lip and again shivered.

And now she admitted this night-time venture was indeed foolish. She couldn’t walk fast in this unrelieved darkness. She may as well have stayed with Jiar. They could more easily run by dawn’s light. And her head kept reeling, thoughts coming and, before she could catch them, going. She had a slight notion she was thinking the same things over . . . over . . . again.

A hiss, loud and close, shattered her thoughts like ice under a hammer. She froze. Was that a snake? Her foot held awkwardly in mid-motion. What to do? Yet, on thought, a snake wasn’t possible. The hubbub, the commotion, the fray, what snakes had been on this plain would long have fast-darted. If only she could see in this dark but her shimmering exudation revealed too small an arc. She purposely puffed it out until it lit a wide circle. And now she saw it.

Black, dull, back and forth wound, its head drawn back, tensed ready to strike—and her foot hung above it.

She was an Asar, death didn’t want her. She was the Spinner, nothing could kill her. Yet that snake looked too much like Neka and the old fears ran through her.

Her body thawed, ready for action. She took a slow and careful step back.

~ ~ ~

“Now will wait until dawn?” Jiar shouted at her.

She called him some names, though under her breath, and he fetched her and guided her, his light being brighter.

“They’re everywhere,” he said—which he could have said sooner, acting all concern for her. “I reckon there’s one for every dead Asar. And they all look like Neka.”

“They’re an illusion, they must be. That one back there had no life-light.”

“Illusion maybe,” Jiar agreed. “But I’d rather be cautious and stay here until dawn. Imagine, one thousand of those things to wade through before you reach town.”

“Venomous?”

“What, a venomous illusion?” He almost chuckled. Then more gravely he said, “They’ve killed some of the Gimmrin’s horses.”

“Ouch, that’s a powerful illusion.”

If they are an illusion.”

“But what else could they be?”

“Oh, Lady, you tell me. All I know, there’s one for every Asar dead.”

All Asars?”

“Those of the host.”

“And how long now before dawn?”

“Oh, so the wise woman now wants to be wise?”

“I’d rather be walking but . . . as you say, caution.”

“And while we wait you can tell me of Paddlo. Yes, I admit I don’t understand.”

So she told him then of her expulsion from Neka’s deep realm. “—And he thanks us for returning him.”

“Him?” Jiar arched a brow.

“Well, no. In truth it ought to be ‘her’. The Dark gave birth to me and thus is my mother. And yet it’s my begetter, too, and thus is my father.”

“And as we know, there are no he’s and she’s amongst demons,” he teased her.

She laughed along with him as he’d intended. But soon she was serious again. “He called after me to thank me for the demons we’ve this day created. And, Jiar, if we don’t see to their death rites all those killed here will swell Neka’s numbers.”

“But most are Asars, they’ll be reborn.”

“It’s only we firstborn assured immediate rebirth. And even then, without the rites . . . no, I think not. But Neka said more than that, he said of Paddlo. And so I must tell you of our creation. And I don’t just mean humankind.”

She said of the spinning: how he as Fire was born from within her and separated from her as she spun.

“And haven’t you always said we were one.”

“Yes, but we’ve not been that since . . . well, not since the beginning.”

“The beginning—which beginning?” he asked, voice low—and then, the wretch, he kissed her fingers, one, two, three and along, causing deep turmoil within her.

“Stop it!” Yet she didn’t snatch her hand away. “Since the beginning of you as a separate being from me.”

“So you’re saying we both are Light, but that I am Fire and you are Wind?” He bowed his head, a slight inclination to acknowledge understanding. Though she’d part-expected it, he said nothing of this making of her his mother.

“And that’s why we can’t be together,” she said and bit her lip, not wanting to explain it.

He stopped kissing and looked at her.

“Not all of the time together,” she amended. “Yes, I yearn to be with you, a deep wanting ache. But it cannot be—your raging heat, it depletes me and if I stay there’ll be nothing left of me. Jiar, your flames feed upon me—they suck all the breath from me and then I am gone. You and no other can kill me. And so I must go. But then you in my absence are weakened, because your fire needs my breath. So you come to me with equal wanting. Jiar, you need me as I desire you. Without me, you wouldn’t exist. See, I and no other can kill you. Yet, only when you’re quiescent is it safe for me to come within reach. And then, whoosh, you blaze again as you feed upon me. And that is our dance, Jiar. First I am dying and then it is you. You consume me with your passion and I can’t breathe. But then what are you without me?”

“Lady, excuse me interrupting but we’re no more in the Realm of Divinities. Here we are hard flesh and hot blood, not Wind and Fire. Do you fear I’ve learned no control in this life, me, a wolfman? And have I not waited patiently for you?”

She nodded, yes, yes he had done that. He kissed her eyes, painful in his tenderness.

“But, Lady, don’t be deceived by that. There’s ample passion still burning for you—once you are healed. And I promise I won’t exhaust you.”

Again she nodded. This they would see.

“But,” she said, “you are not the end of my creation: you’re only my heart.” She told him then of the birth of Barega and how seeing her daughter/her sister lifeless, she had cried. “And those tears gave birth to Paddlo. He’s my son—that toad is my son.”

She remembered a Gusrikt feast-fable told in her child-days of how the Bitter One fetched his Mother’s tears, so plentiful they created the Boundless Sea. She’d thought then how Paddlo was much like the Bitter One. She’d not realised its truth.

“And, Jiar, from those tears sprang all life in this realm. And now he is dead, we have killed him. And if we don’t perform the death rites soon then Neka will have him. And that will be the end of all life.”

“And that’s why your hurry?”

“Without those death rites, Jiar, Neka has won. This battle will have been for nothing. And it was you and I who killed him.”

. _____ .

So the battle isn’t yet won. Neka could yet triumph and destroy not only humankind but all flora and fauna—all Life.

Next episode, tomorrow Death Rites