Trickster's Tale (book)

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A Trickster's Tale
by Gwyneira Greenmantle


"Mother! Mother! "

The anxious words heralded the arrival of my daughter as she ran pell-mell into my study. Throwing her arms around my neck, she buried her face against my neck as hot tears streaked down her freckled cheeks. A boy's derisive laughter could be heard through the open window. Recognizing the voice, I shook my head ruefully as I stroked Callina's back.

"Callina, sweeting, what did the Ollsyn's boy say now that has you so upset?" I asked, wondering what kind of conversation I was going to have with that boy's parents this time. With one final hiccupping sob she wiped her eyes and drew a deep breath, visibly trying to regain her composure. I hid an indulgent smile. She was so very serious and conscious of her dignity, was my nine- year-old daughter. So like her father.

"He, he said --" Her voice quavered slightly as she trailed off, looking uncertain. I nodded encouragingly, putting her reluc- tance down to that loyalty children share against The Adults, that unspoken pact that children everywhere seem to have that prevents them from 'snitching,' even when they should. She dropped her eyes as the words tumbled forth in a rush. "We were telling scary stories, an' when it was his turn, he said Huldah was gonna wake the World Dragon to come eat us all cause Huldah is evil an' hates Elanthia an' everythin' livin', an' we're all gonna die screamin' in the flames! An' he said I was gonna be ate first cause I beat him in archery practice last Evandu!"

I raised one eyebrow at that. Hateful little bully, I thought, always trying to cow the other children when things don't go his way. I looked down at Callina and knew she had left out a few choice tidbits since she was more frightened than such a story would warrant. I wondered briefly how best to soothe her fears, when my eyes fell upon the collection of thirty-nine figurines that graced the altar by the window.

"Let me tell you a story," I began.

Long ago, when Elanthia was yet as young as a newborn, the Lands were bathed in eternal summer. Winter had not yet been conceived of, nor had Urrem'tier yet visited death upon the world. At first, Elanthia prospered in the warmth and sunlight, but, as time went on, the never-ending summer took its toll upon the lands. Rivers dried up, plants withered, and the animals slowly starved -- but still nothing died.

Truffenyi regarded his creation with worry. Something needed to be done. But what?

He asked his brothers and sisters, the other Immortals, to help him. Out of curiosity, out of a desire to help, out of selfish- ness -- for whatever reason, most heeded his plea. And for several days Elanthia was scrutinized by the Divine Ones. Not one could think of what needed to be done. And so nothing changed.

Until, one evening, late at night, Huldah crept to Hodierna's chamber and found her seated in contemplation, seemingly lost in her thoughts with her sister Tamsine's spindle motionless in her hand. Drawn from her reverie by the Trickster's quiet approach, she glanced up and smiled gently in welcome.

"Do you know what will come to pass from this night's work?" he asked warily as he drew closer.

"I know all that may happen. However, the future is not set in stone, but fluid with possibility. Much depends on one's efforts to forge one's own destiny," she replied.

"You know then, why I am here?" he asked.

The goddess nodded, laying the spindle aside as she unbound her fair hair and shook it loose. The heavy mane of shimmering hair caught the light and shone almost as brightly as gold. "You are here because I asked it of you. You are here because you love to cause chaos. But does the weasel have the courage to meet this challenge?" she asked, tilting her head to one side with a mischievous grin.

Huldah laughed quietly at her barb, wondering why she showed her playful side so seldom. He took the shears from the worktable and, with an apologetic look, chopped off every strand of the goddess's shining locks. Soon he stood in a deep carpet of gleaming gold hair. He ran his fingers over the prickly stubble on her head, all that remained of her crowning glory. She seemed so diminished by the loss that tears came to his eyes. "Forgive me," he whispered.

Hodierna hugged him close. "Be brave," she said, "or all will be for naught."

<cetner>The Following Morning</center>

"What is the meaning of this! " Everild thundered, his eyes flashing dangerously as he held Huldah aloft by the scruff of his neck.

"A joke, merely a prank!" replied the Trickster, as he squirmed in war-god's grip. "Truly, no harm is done!"

"No harm? No harm! Do you not hear the weeping of your sisters, all because of your 'prank'? This time you have gone too far!" Each angry word was punctuated by a rough shake, until losing patience, Huldah snarled ferociously and twisted free from Everild's grasp. Landing lightly on his feet, he surveyed the chaos surrounding him with a faint curl to his lip.

All that morning the Goddesses had gathered around Hodierna, offering comfort and sympathy as she quietly mourned the loss of her beautiful golden hair. Ugly stubble covered her scalp -- a sharp contrast to the silken pile of bright locks that lay at the foot of her bed, the color shifting from gold to amber reminis- cent of a wheat field at sunset rippled by a gentle breeze. All gathered knew only Huldah would have dared cut Hodierna's hair as she lay sleeping, although that's not to say that a few didn't spitefully comment that such a deed wasn't beyond Kerenhappuch.

Although, surprisingly, Hodierna herself was not weeping over the loss of her hair. But as to who was, well, best not for me to say.

Huldah straightened his clothing, adjusted his collar and said, "Fine, I'll replace it."

Everild glared angrily and pointed towards the door. "You'd better hurry. If I have to listen to this wailing and weeping for an entire day, I will smash every bone in your body."

At this most dire of threats, the Trickster god merely rolled his eyes. With a wicked grin, he winked over his shoulder at the War-god as he sauntered out of Truffenyi's abode. Whistling softly, he made his way to Kertigen's forge.

Kertigen was overseeing the last finishing touches to the moons Phelim had commissioned him to craft. Four moons to nestle amidst the velvety black heavens of Elanthia, already lightened with a scattering with Tamsine's bright tears. For this reason, he had not joined the others in helping Truffenyi discover a way to fix Elanthia because the forging was in a critical state, and Kertigen dared not leave for long.

Blue Xibar, red Yavash, and golden Katamba were already fin- ished. The final moon, gold-kissed ivory Grazhir, lay gleaming upon the anvil as it cooled from a final tempering when Huldah arrived. With an admiring look tinged by something darker -- possessiveness? gleeful anticipation? -- Huldah approached the anvil and ran his hands lovingly, lingeringly over its surface.

He gazed down at the pale moon and whispered softly, "So beautiful you are now, but wait until they see the wonderful surprise you now hold within."

"Here now, what are ye doing?" Kertigen demanded gruffly, hurrying over to inspect his work for any damage.

"Why nothing at all, Master Crafter," Huldah said, as he straightened up and smiled ingratiatingly. "Just admiring your fine work."

Frowning thoughtfully, Kertigen chewed absently at his beard as he checked over his work. The moon seemed all right. Perhaps a trifle less bright than before, as if some shadow lay within its heart, dimming the moon's glow ever so slightly. But something in the way Huldah had touched Grazhir, something in his expres- sion made the Forger faintly uneasy, although he couldn't say what or why.

Sensing his apprehension, the sly Trickster distracted Kertigen by explaining the reason for his journey, but somehow managed to leave out the exact circumstances of how Hodierna had lost her hair. "So you see," he said, "there is no smith as skilled as you, and only you could spin gold as fine as Hodierna's hair and imbue it with such magic that it will grow upon her head as if it were her own."

Kertigen had instantly softened in manner, as soon as he heard of Hodierna's plight. He had a special fondness for the golden- haired Goddess, as well Huldah knew. Kertigen wavered for an instant, with one last look upon Grazhir. But that work was finished, for good or ill, with nothing left to be done by the Smith's hand. He turned silently and began to pile wood into the furnace, heating the forge for work.

With a cheerful grin, Huldah offered to man the bellows. And as he sweated and worked, watching and marveling as Kertigen worked, hammering and spinning the gold, his eyes flickered red in the dull forge-light.

The Forger worked long and hard as he crafted a long wave of fine reddish-gold strands, and while he worked, he murmured spells and enchantments over them. Soon, the amassed strands draped over a rack like a single, shining, sheet of gold, yet the faintest breath of air was enough to gently ruffle the strands. Exhausted but well pleased with his efforts, the forge-god whispered a final spell as he ran his hands through the long strands before he passed the precious burden to the Trickster. As usual, Huldah was at no loss for words as he thanked Kertigen profusely.

Upon leaving the forge, Huldah took note of how much time had passed and hurried back to Truffenyi's abode. Despite his scorn earlier regarding the war-god's threat to smash every bone in his body, he had no wish to suffer his brother's wrath, and the time he had been given was nearly up.

All was quiet when he arrived, except for an excited hum of conversation coming from the room where the Divine Ones normally gathered to observe the events of Elanthia. He headed that way, glancing at the pile of Hodierna's shorn hair. Oddly enough, the once lustrous locks were now stiff and brittle, devoid of their former intense color (very much like straw, only in the first summer of Elanthia straw did not yet exist).

Arriving at last where the others were gathered, Huldah slipped into the room quietly and shamelessly eavesdropped.

"I don't understand it, but look. Things seem to be correcting themselves!" Truffenyi exclaimed.

Indeed they were, for it was easy to see that the first autumn had arrived. Fascinated, the Immortals silently watched the riot of color that spread like fire across the lands as autumn sped by. Soon the brilliant reds and golds withered to more muted earth tones as time marched on. Soft gasps of wonder greeted the first feathery flakes of snow that serenely drifted from the skies, accumulating in soft drifts that left Elanthia sleeping beneath a mantle of snow before awakening once more with the coming of spring. Only when summer graced Elanthia with a cloak of flowering green kissed by the sun's warmth, did those gathered stir once more.

As the Immortals turned their attention away from Elanthia to discuss these wondrous new events, several already praised Urrem'tier for triggering the cycle of seasons by adding death to the lands. The black, vaguely man-shaped form that Urrem'tier had assumed for the gathering did not lend itself well to expres- sion but those who knew the god of the Void well might have sensed his puzzlement. Suddenly Damaris laughed softly, exclaim- ing over Huldah's presence, congratulating the Trickster on sneaking in so quietly that even he, Damaris, had failed to notice. Huldah acknowledge the praise with a faint smile and a nod before stepping to Hodierna's side.

"Kertigen crafted this especially for you, fair lady of the dawn," he said as he presented the skein of flowing gold hair to her with a flourish. "As soon as you lift this to your head, it will take root and grow. You'll be no less beautiful than you were before."

Sharing a private smile with Huldah, she accepted the gleaming mass from his hands. Turning it over in her hands, she admired the craftsmanship for a long moment. Then with all the solemnity of a sacred ritual, she lifted the silken strands slowly to her head. There was a joyful whoop from those assembled, for it was as Kertigen had said: the fine strands of gold were just as beautiful as her original hair, and every bit as silky. Hodierna leaned forward to place a sisterly kiss upon the Trickster's cheek, and whispered for his ears alone, "My thanks, First Harvester."

Everild snorted angrily and rudely shouldered the god of dreams aside as he confronted Huldah with a low growl. "I asked you to return within a day, and yet it took you a year and a day to complete your task. I promised you I'd smash your bones, and so I will."

Alarmed, Hodierna laid a restraining hand upon Everild's arm and murmured, "But see, he did complete his task and there is no harm done. Don't ruin this occasion with fighting and bloodshed, I implore you."

He shook her hand off impatiently, but subsided reluctantly. The war-god lingered for a bit longer, with many a muttered oath and evil glare directed towards Huldah before he stalked off in a huff.

Soon enough, the Immortals that had gathered to help Truffenyi with his beloved creation, Elanthia, and returned to their own homes now that the crisis was over. The warm camaraderie that had earlier existed between them was strained, however, because of the suspicion caused by Huldah's actions, a suspicion that had lead to everyone choosing sides, despite the urgings of Hodierna to wait and let Huldah make reparations.

Everild's temper had not cooled one whit, and he waylaid Huldah as he traveled. Making good his threat, he broke the Trickster's jaw with one blow. "That for your fine words," he spat as Huldah laid dazed at his feet. "Try sweet talking your way out of trouble now." With that, the war-god strode off as Huldah groaned with pain.

As if the pain of his broken jaw were a focus for his thoughts, Huldah realized that the unsettling rift growing between him and the rest of the Immortals, the quick way suspicion and blame for the cutting of Hodierna's hair had been laid at his feet, was but a foreshadowing of things to come. In a rare moment of clarity, he came to realize that he would be blamed for all things that went awry, and that his love of mischief and pranking would be viewed as carelessness and malice by those he loved best. And it all came of trying to save Elanthia from burning up in eternal summer. Feeling unappreciated and misunderstood, Huldah stag- gered the rest of the way home where he fell into bed, exhausted from the pain of his jaw. He dreamed dreams of reconciliation -- and dreams of revenge.

And so the years passed slowly. The faintest hint of shadow in Grazhir's heart slowly, inexorably, darkened and spread. The "surprise" Huldah had placed within the moon was meant as a wondrous gift to the Lands: the first dragon, who would have been gentle and wise. But as the beast grew, feeding upon its father's pain and anguished dreams that reflected an eternity of the other Immortals' suspicions, the dragon became twisted with hate -- a raging reflection of Huldah's inner torment.

But that is another tale.

"Momma?" Callina's voice was slurring slightly with sleep.

"Yes, sweeting?"

"Huldah's not really evil, is he?"

"No, no, he's not. You've never heard your father or me refer to any of the Immortals as evil. Light and dark, truly -- and neutral as well. But Huldah loves chaos and change, which dis- rupt the way things are and creates uncertainty. And not many people like being uncertain, and most call change evil. One thing I think people don't remember often enough is that the only real certainty in life is change. Whatever else you may say about Huldah, he is necessary. It's often a lousy, thank- less job he carries off."

"But why do people say he's evil? I mean cuttin' off Hodierna's hair wasn't very nice, but I think Everild's hittin' him after was more evil --"

"Because saying he's evil makes it easy to blame him for bad things. Sometimes, certain things must be done so that others can come to pass. Although when good comes of it in the end, people quickly change their mind and praise another Immortal for bringing about something good. Like Urrem'tier being given the praise for starting the cycle of seasons with the introduction of death to Elanthia, when it was Hodierna's plan and Huldah's doing all along."

"Like Farmer Mattea being angry about the windstorm that blew down two of his best apple trees in the orchard? Even though that meant apple pies an' apple butter for a month at the bakery? An' meant he could plant those two Therengian apple trees?"

"Exactly so, sweeting, exactly so."

"Momma?"

"Yes?"

"Did Huldah's cuttin' her hair off make it autumn?"

"Yes it did. Harvest time comes at the end of summer and throughout fall. Huldah's cutting Hodierna's hair was the first harvest, and that's why she is also Lady of the Harvest. "

"Oh. Did Huldah put the World Dragon in Grazhir?"

"Yes. The first dragon was meant to be a gift to Elanthia, but like all children, it was nourished and shaped by what it was fed by its parent. In this case, feeding on Huldah's despair and hate-filled dreams turned the gentle dragonling into a raging beast intent on destruction."

"But, how'd the World Dragon get inside Elanthia then?"

"That is another story, but you don't have to worry about it. Peri'el's song keeps it asleep in bed, which is where you should be!"

Callina giggled sleepily and slid down from my lap, giving me a hug before going to bed. I smiled as I watched her leave, before turning to straighten the papers on my desk. I stood up, stretching as I did to relieve the stiffness in my back before leaning over to blow out the lamp. My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and I turned to the small altar set up before the window. Murmuring a quiet prayer, my fingers moved over the onyx figurines placed prominently upon the altar.

Perhaps it was a trick of the faint moonslight bathing the altar, but it seemed as though the ruby eyes of Huldah's weasel winked at me mischievously.