Tuesday, April 5, 2022

MSF: Lu in the Lands of Spring

 

Jarod Smith

In the wake of the Daemonomachy...

When the ancestors came at last to the land of Daro, there was rejoicing the likes of which the world had not known since its foundations were laid. For they had passed through the snows of winter and the claws of the night; they had passed through the vast wastes of Uz, they had passed through the mighty land of Endor, they had crossed the Mountains of the Moon and now, after so many years in the demon-haunted world, they had arrived in the lands of springtime.

In the land of Daro the four great rivers flowed sweet and clear and clean, and the soil dark and rich and good for planting. The winters mild and the summers gentle. Of game - of red deer and wild horses and bison and aurochs - the herds were so great that a thousand thousand generations could not hunt them. The elders of the Ancestors said among themselves "Here at last, in this green and peaceful place, I may die without fear of death."

The peoples raised there a home for their gods, a holy place to make sacrifices and thanksgiving, upon the mount called Potbelly Hill (for it looked like a woman with child resting upon her side from afar). They raised great stones and set them in their place, and dedicated them saying "May peace reign forever among the peoples of man."

As all this came about, Lu remained withdrawn. She ate little and spoke less, speaking not to her husband nor her kin nor to the peoples that did her homage. She spent her days beneath the bodhi tree upon the hill, for its shade was pleasant, and she would look out over the land of the four rivers in silence.

No joy was to be found in her heart, nor in the arms of her husband. She lived as if dead; songs and stories were like ash in her mouth. No dancing came to her feet. Her hands were too heavy and fingers to clumsy for the loom or the needle or the brush or the potter's wheel. It was to her as if the world and all its contents had been revealed as a cruel lie and in such revelation all of its life and color had drained away, and in that emptiness there was only death and the shadow of death.

She had, in the depths of winter, declared war on the universe. She had cursed it for its blind obscenity and its mindless cruelty. She cursed and screamed until her very words fell black and burning from her lips. She swore an oath there beneath the silent stars and moonless sky - that she would fight till death claimed her, that she would teach her children to fight, and they theirs, and on and on until either the last human died or they had broken the yoke of the universe.

Now, that oath seemed a shackle, the summit of her folly. She had fought, with all her strength she had fought, and yet the yoke was heavier than ever. In her mind's eye she saw again and again the striking down of Hō-ō, and again the seas of gore she had poured out over the land of Endor. She saw the terror on the faces of her kin, the fear they had of her and the fear of death. She saw all the horrors of Winter, and heard the rasping laughter of the old gift-giver in her fitful dreams.

It came to pass, then, that a young woman came to visit Lu in the shade of the bodhi tree. Her name was Thrush, and with her was an infant but a few moons old, plump and bright eyed. Lu rebuffed her company, saying, "Please, I would like better to be left alone." But Thrush was adamant and sat down there beside the Thief of Fire.

"I had meant to come visit sooner, but the little one was sick with colic, crying all through the night till her father and I thought we might go mad."

"She seems well enough now."

"She is." In the branches above them, a bird twittered and flew off. "She was born here, just at the base of the hill. She has never known winter, or hunger, or seen a demon."

"She will," Lu said, her words like rough stones. "She will."

"Maybe. Not for a while yet, at least. And that is your doing. I came here to give thanks, Lu. From myself, my husband, and the little one. You appear so rarely down in the valley, I thought it best to climb the hill instead."

"You have wasted your time, and come to thank me for delivering doom upon your little one's head. There is no stopping what I have put in motion, there is no undoing what has been done. There can be no katharsis to atone for this. When she grows old and sits in terror of the coming darkness, she will curse me for inflicting her with such agonies. Better that she died now, before she must face the great despair I have wrought."

A look of great sadness took over Thrush's face.

"Down in the valley, boastful youths may say 'who is this Lu, who sits under the tree atop the hill and cares so little for us?', and each time the elders answer 'She came down from the mountain alight with fire, and her rage was as the bear's against the evils that plagued her people. She has already paid great cost for love of us, judge her not so harshly.'"

If you truly believed it was better to die now, then you would have killed me as I approached. You would have dashed this little one's head against a stone. But you have not. Not now, and not then."

"Had the whole host of the gods not held me back I would have cleaved the world in two, simply to strike at the demon I created when I tore Hō-ō from the sky."

At this, Thrush did not answer for a time. The infant napped cozily in her sling.

"Do you wish that I condemn you?" Thrush said at last. "Do you feel that it would be right in the world for me to climb up this hill and curse you for stealing the Crown and all that followed? Is your guilt truly so great as that?"

"Enough." Lu said, and there was a distant rumble of thunder in her voice. "Leave me. I wish to be alone."

Thrush rose then, and said:

"My grandmother told me of how, as her father was dying, he asked that she and her brothers eat him after he passed the sun, though he was little more than bones. She told me that her father laughed as he asked it of them, that he was joyful as the end approached, that he said 'I cannot know what happens after my death, so I shall meet Death believing that you will live, and that shall be enough.' They were starving, and so they did as he asked of them. In such agonizing cruelty, he laughed in the face of death.

You did not bring suffering into the world, Lu of the Forest, and you are not the only one whose heart aches under its weight. It was there long before our eldest ancestors came to be, and death is our constant companion with the Crown or without. We cannot avoid either. But by your doing, at least, we have this much."

And she returned to the valley alone.

Thrush's words lingered with Lu for many days after, and she turned them over and over in frustration. They were as a thorn in her thoughts, a needle of doubt that had upset the ordering of her misery. She returned again and again to them, paraded out the arguments to herself like neat rows of soldiers all to have them brushed aside as dust and broken pottery. The oath she made beneath that silent sky kept watch with her - she could not abandon it. The thought came to her, as it had before in those darkest nights, but she could not take that leap. Some kernel of self, down in the deep places of her soul, stamped her foot in the dirt and said "No! I refuse! This isn't right!" and she could not bring herself to silence, no matter the weariness of her spirit. "Get up! Get up!" said that inner self. "We cannot stop yet!"

And so she spent time in thought.

A change came over Lu, small at first and growing as time passed. She would go down the mountain and walk among the people - on holy days alone at first, later as the desire took her. She would sit in the women's lodge - with Hecate, Astare, Ilithyia, and Meshkent - to aid those seeking counsel, and to recieve counsel herself. She returned to the embrace of Tubalkhan, and in their private hours she shared her fears and hopes with him, as she had done before. Tubalkhan in turn bared his soul to her - for he had been ill with his own worries since their arrival in the land of Daro, fearing for his wife and trapped by feelings of his own helplessness. Here then they renewed that bond between them.

Lu would still go and sit below the bodhi tree upon the hill, for she found it still a place of great beauty and tranquility among the labors of each day. Any among the gods or peoples were welcome to sit with here there, to talk or to listen. Thrush, her hair now grey and her daughter now full grown, came often to sit in the sun beside her.

In speaking of things high and low, Lu turned her mind back to all that came before, and found that the past had changed shape - as if she had walked around a great stone to see that it had taken a different appearance from behind. She saw all her follies and triumphs laid out before her, but in seeing them arrayed so, she was freed from shame. She saw the truth in what she had been told, that she was no fulcrum of the world, and its foundations were deeper than eye could see or mind could know. Where she was foolish, she saw what drove her to foolishness. Where she was wise, she saw the path that brought her to wisdom. Along both paths, she saw that she was not severed from the world, neither exalted above it nor cast out from it - simply a thrower of stones into a river, casting ripples and eddies into a flow she could not divert.

It was in this time that she decided that she might again bear a child. For though her heart still ached for the infant lost during the passage of Endor, the shape of that grief had changed as well - sharp edges rounded off, acrid bitterness transmuted to melancholy. But she no longer kept that grief clutched to her heart, having shared it often at the women's lodge or beneath the tree, and found it easier to bear now. She set aside the herbs and arts that might turn away the union of zygotes, and soon she conceived sons by Tubalkhan, who would become the mighty brothers Emesh and Entu. We shall speak of them at another time.

(Editor's Note: there is no agreement as to who is considered the eldest child of Lu and Tubalkhan. Here it is the twins, but it is just as likely to be Nike or Tongsi in another telling. Calliope is consistently the youngest across cultures, rolling her eyes and bemoaning her state as forever the younger sister.)

So passed this brief period in the springtime of the age of man. Though she had never intended to teach, Lu had found students, arriving beneath the tree each day with tablets of clay and fresh-cut reeds. They called her Ama Adimatha - the Mother of Many - and this name she has kept through the ages.

5 comments:

  1. Writing these posts is always a treat. I do love how in the mythic voice, inconsistencies and the occasional cludgy sentence are features, not bugs. makes writing a whole lot easier in ways.

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  2. MSF stays fantastic and soulful. Excellent work.

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  3. Ahh, beautiful. It is good to see Lu healing. This myth is more than fiction, it is strong medicine and big magic.

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