Silence, child. It would serve you well to heed my tale. This is not some idle tale shared at a campfire or doused in taphouse ale. This is the Story, and you will tell it back to me word for word tonight when we take our evening meal, or you shall feel my hand.
Heed. Mark. And remember.
And so the Century of Storm wore on, and the People were afraid. Afraid that Father Order would triumph and they would be wiped from the face of existence. Or that the Argument itself would consume their tiny hovels and they would be lost to the wind. They prayed to their Creators, but their words could not reach the Two, they were utterly consumed by battle. The People waited for the end.
But then, one day, a Human child got lost chasing his family’s herd. A ewe, with fur as black as night, climbed a steep cliff into a hidden mountain pass. The child knew that he would be beaten if he returned home without the full flock, and in desperation climbed after the ram. His hands were cut by the sharp rocks and his knees were scraped and torn by the cruel stone. The winds began to pick up and his breath steamed against the blank mountainside. A storm was nigh, a storm was always nigh in those times. But his desperation drove him on and he climbed higher and higher chasing the beast.
The child did not know that he and his sheep were climbing the Forbidden, the secret mountain where Father and Mother made us all.
At last the child found his quarry, bleating and crying on the edge of a cliff, a knife-edge of stone. He laid his hands on her black wool and wept with relief, but he quickly realized that the pain of birthing was upon her. She could not be moved in her condition, the child had to help bring forth her lamb or flee empty-handed. The child looked up at the sky and saw the rain, saw the fire, but could not bring himself to leave his charge.
The rain began to fall. The fire began to fall. Still the child kept his hands on the weary ewe and did his best to cover her with his own. The ewe bleated and strained and struggled to bring a new life into a world. The child wept in despair and felt the fire hot on his back.
Now, there are some that say the child’s tears were what caught the attention of Father and Mother. And there are some that say it was merely that he trespassed the Forbidden. And other still claim that it was some sort of Human trick. But suffice it to say, Order and Chaos stood and looked at the child and his beast, and stopped their struggle long enough that the young lamb could be born.
“Look,” said Mother. “The Things We Made can make themselves. How strange! Was that your idea or mine?”
“I…am not sure,” Father Order said. “Another accident, surely it was your doing.”
“My doing?” Chaos raised her hand to strike her mate. “Why does everything have to be –”
“Please,” said the child. “Please, no more.”
And Order and Chaos turned from their argument to listen to the child, who approached with a newborn lamb held securely in his arms.
“My ewe is dead. She died giving birth. She gave everything that her child could live. How is it that a rude beast on the edge of a cliff has more care for her children than the creators of us all?” The child blinked away tears and stared unafraid at the two gods.
The gods were not ashamed.
“How dare you question us?” Order demanded.
“We are the Beginning and End, the Eye of the Storm.” Chaos declared.
“We do as we wish. We are as we wish. You are a child and your judgement is limited and small, a pebble next to a mountain,” the Two said together. “We have filled this world with wonder and life. All that walk and breathe and fly and swim are here at our will.”
“I see,” the child said. “You have filled the world with many creatures and many People. But you have put no part of yourself into it. You have no true children. This is why you care not for our plight.”
The child gently placed the lamb down and watched it totter about on tender legs. Then an idea came to him and he turned his face again to the Creators, Human cunning and guile as natural to him as breathing.
“Perhaps if you had True Children, you would understand. You could still your endless battle and let your creations grow and multiply. A shame it is that you continue to wage war, when your greatest Making is yet to be.”
Father looked at Mother and Mother smiled.
Chaos leaned down and kissed the child on his brow, and ruffled the newborn wool of the lamb.
“Go child. Tell the People that we do care for their plight, and your sly words have stilled our rage. You have given us an Idea, and in return the People shall have a time of peace while we consider it.”
And so the child took his lamb and climbed back down the fountain as fast as his legs would carry him. He bore the tale of his meeting to all the People, and they watched the Forbidden with hope and fear. For the storms at last fell still, but many were not sure that they had seen the end of the time of ruin.
Years passed, and still the people waited. Crops were planted, and cities began to rise. Children and lambs were born, and after a time the People began to dream that the gods had forgotten them, and would leave them in a time of forever peace.
But it was not to be. At last their came a Time. The sun and the moon stopped still in the air, and shared the sky like two empty eyes. The People and the beasts of the world felt a strange compulsion, and all began to walk – to journey until they all stood arrayed around the feet of the Forbidden. The first moment since the Time of Making when all of the Created stood together in one place.
And they waited. For a year and a day they waited.
Then all at once, a breath.
The Four came down from the mountain, strange of visage but somehow familiar to all who saw. Sun and Sky and Stone and Sea, the Four stood together at the foot of the mountain with all of Creation waiting for their words.
“We are the Four,” Sun said.
“The true children of Father and Mother,” Stone said.
“They are gone, withdrawn from this world,” Sky said.
“Their power and might bequeathed to us,” Sea said.
“Now come forth,” the Four spoke together. “Come forth and choose. For we have decided upon our first Game. One of us is greater than the others, one of us must reign. You will be our army, you will be our pawns. Choose a master, that the Game may begin.”
And the child, who was now a man, opened his mouth to speak — but found himself struck dumb. His words, his Idea had brought this to pass. And all that would follow after was to be laid at his feet, and the feet of his children’s children down the long unwinding of Time. He looked down at the trusty black ram that lead his flock, the same lamb that he had carried from the Forbidden all those years ago. With a sigh he took a knife and opened the ram’s throat, to spare him the horror that was just beginning.
And so began the Ash Eon. The time of endless battle, of cataclysm and pain. The suffering and sorrow of the Storm Century multiplied and compounded. The ceaseless, tireless clash of the Sun against Stone, the Sea against Sky, and each against the other. Generations of the people were born and died, knowing only the endless war, the endless smell of burning in the air, the tireless rain of ash.
A thousand years of ruin, all from one human’s clever idea.
Now remember these words, little human. You will speak them true tonight, say them right and clear or you will feel my hand.
Heed. Mark. Remember.
- Prose Willow, Cleric of Banu, Yellowdale