The Delicate Sound of Thunder
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An Orlanthi Fable, as told to Raynart Finn
All this happened a long time ago, before Time itself began.
Once there was a king who ruled across all the tribes from Skyfall Lake down to the shores of the Homeward Ocean, and across to the Fire Mountains of Lodril and thence to the scattered islands in the east. He had fought many battles and overcome many foes, and was feared by all his enemies (of which there were few). And the king, through his battles, accumulated many items of power that gave him command over things that walked, crawled and ran; and things that slid, oozed and swam. When the king spoke, all listened; and the mountains rumbled to the sound of his voice.
Now the king pondered his power, and wondered why he could not command the four winds, the thunder of the storm, or the setting of the sun. He checked each of his items of power but could find none that would let him command these things. And so he called together his three sons and charged them each with a quest. "Go out into the world and find those who command the winds, the thunder and the movements of the sun and send them my respects. Inform them that I command many items of power and wish to complete my collection. To do this, they should relinquish unto me those things that allow them command over the winds, the thunder and the sun. In return I will make them my lieutenants and give them gifts of gold and silver."
The three sons of the king did not wish to disobey their father, and so went out into the world to find the rulers of the wind, thunder and sun. One of the sons travelled north, following the north wind. Another travelled west, following the darkening clouds and sounds of thunder. And the third travelled east, to where the sun rose every moming.
At last the eldest son came across a huge field that was being ploughed ready for planting. On his father's steads, oxen pulled the plough, but here the plough was not pulled by anything. A single man, toned of body and long of beard, pressed the plough through the earth, carving deep furrows into the soil. Behind him came a fair lady, scattering seed into the new furrows and singing more sweetly than any bird. When they saw the king's son, the ploughman stopped his work and hailed him. "Come and break bread with me," the ploughman said. "I have worked this field since dawn and could do with a rest. And my wife and I have not seen any travellers for a long time." The king's son thanked the ploughman and they sat together and shared the bread and wine brought by the ploughman's wife. "Have you no oxen to pull your ploughshare?" the king's son asked after a while. The ploughman chewed his bread thoughtfully.
"Why would I need oxen when I have the four winds to help me push?" He wondered aloud. "And besides, my cousin Barntar usually ploughs the fields. I am simply helping him along." The king's son then recognised Orlanth, Lord of the Winds, and apologised for mistaking him for a simple ploughman. "There is no apology needed. Today, I looked like a ploughman. Tomorrow, I shall probably look like something else."
The king's son then gave his father's respects and told Orlanth of his father's request. Orlanth drank more wine and frowned, the creases in his face as deep as the furrows in the field. "A very strange request," Orlanth said. "Your father seems powerful enough. Why should he wish to command the winds as well?" The king's son agreed that it was a strange request, but said that his father felt entitled to mastery over all things.
"Well," Orlanth said. "I have something that provides command over wind. If you finish the ploughing of my field, then I shall make you a gift of it." So the son pondered Orlanth's offer, and examined the ploughshare and the field. The blade of the plough was dull and chipped, and the earth of the field was parched and full of hard stones. It would not be easy to complete the task, but the son knew that he had no other option than to agree to Orlanth's request or return empty handed. "Good! Orlanth boomed, and he and Emalda retumed to their Hall for a well-deserved rest.
The son struggled with the plough and made slow progress. The stones dulled the blade, and the hard earth made his feet bleed. In all, it took him a full year to finish ploughing the field, but when he was done, Orlanth took him into his hall, bathed his feet and fed him. And, true to his word, he made a gift to the son. "This bag," he explained, "captures the wind. Any wind. Merely open one end and the winds are yours to do with as you will." And he demonstrated by capturing the north wind and then releasing it. The son thanked Orlanth and Emalda for their hospitality and gift, and hobbled back to his father's stead.
Now, the second of the king's sons had travelled west, towards the mountains where the thunder roared. On the same day that his older brother came across Orlanth and his plough, the second son came across a valley between two sets of mountains. In the valley was Urox, the Storm Bull, who was challenging a variety of opponents to a wrestling match. Each opponent struggled with Urox courageously, but each was overcome and limped away with a bruised and aching head. Urox laughed with each defeat and stamped his hooves, making the thunder that rolled through the sky.
The son watched as each opponent challenged the Storm Bull and lost. Then, as a large, battered Troll limped past him, he asked what the prize was for beating Urox. "Why, the secret of the thunderclap!" the troll muttered. "With that secret, one can move entire mountains." Well, the son knew at once that his father would greatly appreciate the secret of the thunderclap, and so he marched into the valley and issued his challenge to Urox. Urox regarded the son with an amused expression, and thumped the ground with his hooves.
"But you are a mortal man. I have wrestled with gods, demons and the Mistress Uz. I have beaten them all. What makes you think a mortal man can best me?"
"I have watched your technique," the son replied, "and found it wanting. I have a stratagem that will result in your defeat."
"Oho! Have you now? Then stand ready!" And Urox charged at the son, head lowered, horns as sharp as swordblades. The son stood his ground, although the sound of the charge made the whole valley shake, and then, at the very last moment, just as the homs dipped ready to gore him, he stepped to one side. Urox was confused, and so great was his speed that he was unable to stop and charged straight into the base of a mountain, where his homs lodged fast.
"I was tricked!" Urox complained. "I win by default." And he shook his mighty head, but his homs remained stuck in the rock.
"As I said," repeated the son, "I studied your technique and found it wanting. Your technique was based on brute speed. Mine was based on quick wits. I have bested you. Now, promise to teach me the thunderclap, or I shall leave you stuck in that rock until the world ends."
The Storm Bull was angry, of course, but knew when he was bettered. With appalling grace he promised to teach the second son the thunderclap. The son, using a lever made from the fallen branch of a nearby ash tree, prised the Storm Bull's homs from the mountain and stepped quickly back, in case Urox decided to try a second charge. But Urox did not retract his promise and he started to teach the son the secret of the thunderclap. It took a whole year for him to perfect the technique, but eventually the secret was his and he retumed home to present it to his father.
Now the youngest of the king's sons went east to where Yelm, the Sun God, kept his chariot. On the same day that the eldest brother met Orlanth, and his second older brother bested the Storm Bull, the youngest son reached Yelm's palace. He waited until Yelm had completed his passage across the sky and was preparing his horses of fire for their nightly rest. Then, he approached the Sun God with a question: "Why do you tend your own horses each night? Where are your grooms and stable hands?" Yelm, magnificent in his radiance, scratched his head.
"I had no idea that there were people who would tend my horses," he said. "And besides, my fire horses are difficult and curmudgeonly beasts at the best of times. I doubt anyone save me could handle them." The youngest son conceded that the fire horses were restless after their long ride across the sky bowl, but he explained how he tended his father's horses, settling them in their stables with clean hay, fresh water, and a brisk rubbing with a rough blanket. Yelm was impressed by the son's knowledge and agreed to let him try to care for the fire horses for a year. "If you do, then I shall give you this." And he showed the youngest son a jewel from his crown that blazed brilliantly. The son agreed, knowing that the jewel would give his father power over night and day.
But of course, a fire horse is not like a flesh and blood horse. The clean hay the son fetched was immediately scorched, and the fresh water would have extinguished the horses like candle flames. For several months, he pondered the issues, whilst Yelm watched him, amused that such a confident lad was confounded by the fiery steeds.
The son, however, was not to be discouraged. First he gathered armfuls of cloud to use as the horses' bedding. The clouds were soft, cool, and glowed pleasantly when the horses settled themselves down for the night. Then, for refreshment, he made buckets of stone and collected lava from the Mountains of Lodril in Caladraland, which Yelm's horses drank gratefully. And, for blankets, he weaved lengths of cloth from ribbons of bronze and gave each fire horse a brisk rub before settling them for the night. By the end of the year, Yelm's horses were contented beasts and Yelm himself had been able to relax upon returning from his daily joumey, instead of trying to tend to his stubbom steeds.
"You have eamed your prize," Yelm said, and gave him the gem encased in a box of iron. "But do not stare directly into the box. The gem is too bright." And, thanking the Sun God, the youngest son retumed home to his father the king.
Now all three sons arrived home on the same day, each bearing the things they had been given by the rulers of the wind, the thunder and the sun. Their father listened to their stories of how they had come by each gift, and expressed scorn that such mighty gods would so easily allow their great treasures to be whisked from under their noses. The first son remarked that Orlanth had been hospitable and generous: "More fool him!" barked the king. The second son remarked that Storm Bull was mighty and proud and had bested even the Mistress Uz: "Why, I could batter a Mistress Uz flat with one hand tied behind my back!" roared the king. And the third son told how Yelm had been keen to learn how best to tame his horses: "It is a foolish person who doesn't understand horses - the most malleable of creatures!" the king laughed. "And now, through their stupidity and folly, I, a mortal man, shall command their powers!"
One by one, the sons presented their gifts to their father. First was the bag for catching the winds. The king seized it and tore it open, thinking it contained some fabulous treasure. But the bag immediately stole the king*s voice feaving him mute. When the king ripped the bag apart in anger, his voice was scattered to the four winds and lost forever.
Next, the second son showed his father how to make the thunderclap and to move mountains. But the king, thinking he would drop an entire mountain upon some of his enemies, clapped too hard and his eardrums burst, leaving him utterly deaf.
Finally he snatched Yelm's box from the hands of his youngest son and prepared to open it. His son cried wamings about how he should not stare directly at the gem, but the king could not hear him. He ripped the lid from the box and peered in. And the brightness of the gem melted his eyes.
So now the king was dumb, deaf and blind. He stumbled from one son to another, wordlessly imploring each for help, but could not gain their sympathy. Angry that their father had squandered the things they had worked so hard to win, the sons turned the king out of his own hall and left him to wander the world, sightless, soundless and alone.
And the three sons divided their father's kingdom equally and ruled fairly and truly. Each raised a shrine to the god they had encountered and the people of the lands worshipped there in peace and understanding.
But what of the king? None can be sure what happened to him. Some say he wandered to the centre of the world and resides there now in perpetual darkness. Others claim he was tom apart by beasts of Chaos. But no one shed any tears for the arrogant man's demise, not least his sons or the gods that he scorned.
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