In the beginning all was chaos, cold, and darkness. All was without form. Then Vasae'ah, the seed of life, fell into the seething abyss and made form from formlessness. Where before there had been only chaos, now spread a harsh plain of ice wrapped about in the Evernight, the spaceless realm of spirit. In the midst of the ice Vasae'ah stood.
The chaos of before had consciousness, and now, with creation and order, this consciousness was forced into form. This form was like to Vasae'ah, but filled with darkness and rage. Blindly and hatefully it struck at Vasae'ah, at the light which blinded it, but Vasae'ah bound it with fire. Nine drops of its dark blood fell onto the ice. It cried out, burning, and cowered, for Vasae'ah called forth the full might of her power to destroy it. But seeing its hate and wretchedness, Vasae'ah withheld her destruction in compassion and spared it. She cursed it instead, saying, "Ever shall you desire the light and life of this new world, but it shall hold no beauty or joy for you. You are cast out, now and forever." So saying Vasae'ah cast this being to the edge of the world where it was bound in sleep, fated to awaken in the future with no memory of its beginnings. It was known from then on as Esaemad, the accursed.
Then Vasae'ah began her transformation. Her body became still, bright flowers blossomed in her hair and leaves rustled among her fingers as her arms changed to branches. Her legs and feet flowed into the icebound ground and changed to roots. Finally she gave her transformed body and the beating heart within it to the new physical world, and her soul departed to fly into the Evernight, to the Shadow Land, where the dead go to sleep. The tree spread its branches towards the dark sky, and so time began and the world was given life.
The flowers amid the leaves of the tree grew full and fell from their branches. The brightest one landed amid the roots and split into eight petals and a seed. The others blew off into the night and their blossoms spread to fall into the snow, there to sleep until it was their time to awaken and become the sentient children of Vasae'ah. All but a few. Of these some became sparse grasses which grew beneath the snow and evergreen trees; others became great white deer and great white wolves that hunted them. Of the eight petals and the seed, they changed presently into nine people who lay sleeping in the snow. These were the First Children of Vasae'ah.
The nine drops of blood the being of chaos had bled into the snow writhed there and became nine demons. These creatures beheld the spreading branches of Vasae'ah. They felt a terrible hunger deep within themselves and desired to consume the tree and its beating heart. Whispering fell words of avarice they advanced upon the tree. Now the nine sleepers awoke and, seeing the nine demons advancing, changed into nine great white wolves. Loping out across the snows, they sang a wolf-song the like of which has never since been heard, a sound so great and terrible that the demons were struck with fear, and fled to the dark edge of the world.
The nine wolves returned to the roots of the tree and changed again into their man-forms. Five men there were, and four women. The tallest of the men, the one that had come from the seed at the center of the fallen flower, spoke. "I know our purpose, my brothers and sisters. As we slept I dreamt of our Mother, who gave me the gift of clear sight. I will be our guide. We must bring into being the lights of the world from which will stem the seasons. We must prepare the world for the coming of the others who have yet to awaken."
The others bowed to him and vowed to follow his guidance. He raised them up and bade them bring the stones scattered amid the ice and the pines that spread their green branches above the snow. These they brought, and with these he bade them build a great hall and a hearth within it. When this was done he stepped into the cold shadows of the hall and knelt beside the hearth and behold! Bright fire leapt from his hands and the hearth blazed. Warmth seeped into the hall, banishing the cold night without.
"Here we will live," he told the other gods. "With the light within and the dark without. Here you will lie with your lovers. Here your children will be born." So he gave each woman a man and each man a woman until none were alone but he. And as they found their own corners of the hall and lay down to sleep, he sat before the blazing hearth and stared into the flames. There he saw his visions, bright amid the dancing embers, of a world yet to come.
One night as the wind howled beyond the walls, one of the First Children, whom E'taem had named Saemurah, came to his side at the hearth. She was with child, having lain with the God named Yahnal. She sat before E'taem, and looked into his face. "My lord E'taem," she said, "I know you see many things within the flames. What have you seen for my children? Outside, the world is cold and dark, and I fear for them."
"I have seen your children," he replied, "and their destinies are lofty. You also carry a lofty destiny, for you are destined to bear the children that will bring light to the world."
Saemurah was amazed, and asked, "What must we do, Lord E'taem?" "You will bear a son, and a daughter," E'taem replied. "When they have grown old enough, send them to my side, and I will tell them what they must do."
Saemurah was overjoyed at the destiny of her children, and turned away. She told Yahnal what E'taem had said, and he too rejoiced, and they were happy.
Before long the son of Saemurah and Yahnal was born, and he was named Shidar. He was a handsome child, and he grew strong and tall. His father Yahnal, who was the greatest hunter among the First Children, taught him the use of the spear, and how to stalk and kill the white deer, and how to perform the rites of thanks with propriety. His mother taught to him songs that had been whispered in the branches of The Mother Goddess before ever the First Children had walked the snows, but he had little taste for music. Soon he had become a greater hunter than even his father, and the other children of the First Children revered him.
Soon enough Saemurah was again with child, and the daughter E'taem had spoken of was born. She was beautiful, with eyes like the ice, and she was named Doshiru. Yahnal taught her how to run, how to throw the spear, and how to stalk the white deer, but she had little taste for the wisdom of the hunter. Instead she learned the songs that Saemurah taught to her, and she played a flute that Yahnal made for her from the bone of a white deer so beautifully that the other children were placed under a spell.
So Shidar and Doshiru grew. When Shidar had grown as tall and as strong as his father, Saemurah and Yahnal sent him to sit beside E'taem as they had been instructed. They had told him to ask what task E'taem had for him, so he did. "Lord E'taem," he said, "if you have a task for me, I will gladly perform it. Command me."
E'taem looked at him and said, "The task I have for you is dangerous. Are you prepared to face this danger?"
Shidar rose. "I am afraid of no darkness or cold or danger, Lord E'taem. I am the strongest hunter among the gods, and there is no fear in me. Give me this task, and I will perform it. Command me." "Very well," E'taem said. "To perform this task, you must be swift and strong."
"I am the swiftest of all the gods, Lord E'taem," Shidar said, "and the strongest. Give me the task, and I will perform it."
"Very well," E'taem said again. "Here is what you must do:" so saying, he thrust his hand into the fire of the hearth, and removed it again with a spark between his fingertips. He drew back his arm, and cast the spark out into the endless night. "This spark will mark a stag that you must run down and kill. You will know the stag immediately, for the spark will burn between its antlers. When you have killed the stag, you must perform the rites of thanks, and then you must cut its heart from its body, and bring the heart to me. Do you understand this task?"
"I do, Lord E'taem," Shidar said. And with that he caught up his spear and ran into the night.
Shidar could see the spark before him in the distance, and so he ran towards it. He ran until he came to the dark edge of the world, where he saw a strong stag crowned with great spreading antlers, between which burned the spark from the hearth. This was the stag whose heart the Mother Goddess had hidden half of the world's light within, before the First Children were born. Upon seeing Shidar, the stag dashed off. Shidar followed, as fast as he could. He tried to come in range so that he could cast his spear, but the stag was always just a step too far ahead. So he ran, and the stag ran, the stag never swift enough to escape, and Shidar never swift enough to overtake his prey. Around the rim of the world they ran, past the doors of the icy fortress of the demons, once, and twice.
As they passed the first time, Uyam the avaricious, the king of the demons, glimpsed the fleeing light from his frosty throne, and he desired it with a powerful hunger. So he leapt up, and raced out into the night, and stood before the doors of his stronghold. Watching the chase unfold, he saw the two runners fly past a second time, so he thought to lie in wait for them to come around the edge of the world a third time so that he could leap upon the spark of light that he so strongly desired.
So again around the rim of the world the great-antlered stag fled, with Shidar running behind, spear held aloft. As they came to the north for the third time, Uyam lept upon the stag, and swallowed it and the light whole. He reared in his triumph, but Shidar, coming swiftly in the path of the stag, cried, "Foul demon, the heart of that white stag is mine, and your theft of my prize will cost you dearly in blood." With that, he cried a battle cry and advanced upon the demon. A battle ensued, bitter and well-matched. Neither demon nor god could wound the other, try as they might. Had things gone differently, the two might have fought forever; but soon, Uyam felt a burning in his belly where the spark of the hearth seared his insides. He writhed in agony, and in that moment Shidar sliced open the demon's belly with his spear, and pulled from it the stag.
Uyam crawled with his wound back into the frozen walls of his stronghold. In his agony, he swore an oath of revenge and hate against Shidar, and cursed him bitterly. Shidar did not give chase, for many demons guarded the cold gates. Instead, he cut open the body of the stag, took from it the heart, and, after performing the rites of thanks, returned to the Hall of the First Hearth with the stag's heart in his hand, dragging behind him the stag's body by the antlers. He entered the hall, and stepped up to the hearth where E'taem sat, and, holding out the heart, said, "I have performed my task. Here is the heart I promised you, Lord E'taem."
E'taem took the heart from Shidar's hand, and thrust it into the hearth. It caught fire and burned away, leaving only the light the Mother Goddess had placed there behind. "This," E'taem said, "is the light of the sun. It is the bringer of day, of movement, of warmth, and of outward thought. So shall it be known hereafter." So saying, he stepped out of the hall and up to The Mother Goddess's tree, where he placed the bright light of the sun in the uppermost branch. The light shone out through the night, banishing the darkness.
Not long after, Saemurah sent Doshiru to Lord E'taem. She sat beside him at the hearth and said, "Mother told me you have a task for me, Lord E'taem."
He nodded. "The light of the world has two parts. One part your brother has found; the other is your task. This the Mother Goddess hid within the soul of every sentient creature. You must search for it and bring it forth."
"How?" Doshiru asked.
"Be still, and like the dissipation of a snowstorm your being will clear. Then you might find your way."
Doshiru nodded. "I understand Lord E'taem," she said, though she did not. So she went apart, and sat upright and still as she did when she played her flute. She sat there, and slowly her mind calmed and she turned more and more inward. For an entire day she sat there, not eating or drinking , from morning to night. After this time, it seemed as though she dreamt, and there was a still darkness all around her. She felt no fear. A soft light glowed from somewhere, but she could not see it. She turned-or thought she turned-in every direction, but could see the light nowhere. Finally, she looked down, and saw that she herself was the light. It lay at the center of her being. She grasped it, and rejoiced, whereupon the darkness disappeared, and she found herself sitting within the warm fire-lit hall, the light she had seen resting in her cupped hands.
She presented it to E'taem, who again climbed the hill to The Mother Goddess's tree, and in its uppermost branches set it to blaze beside the other.
Now the world was lit, and the snows about the hill upon which stood the tree and the hall of the First Children melted. The grasses twined upwards, and clear waters flowed. The night was forever banished.
The demon-king, from his fortress of ice in the far north, beheld the lights. He still suffered the pain of the burning deep within and hated the lights for it, but at the same time he greatly desired them. So great was his avarice that he mustered the demons that he commanded on the morning of the winter solstice to attack the First Children.
The battle was fierce. The demons far outnumbered the First Children, but the First Children had their spears, and the power of shape-shifting-they changed from fierce warriors to great ravening white wolves and then back again in the blink of an eye. E'taem himself stood from the hearthside and strode into the battle, wielding in his hand the bright flames like a sword. Soon the demons were in retreat.
But in the battle, the demon king, unobserved, had leapt to the top of the hill and snatched the lights from the uppermost branch, carrying them away.
Only Shidar saw him, and gave chase, leaping in wolf-form across the snows. Seeing him fly from the battle, Doshiru followed, though she soon fell behind, not being as swift as he. The Demon King ran fast at first, but soon the lights in his hands began to burn him, and he slowed in agony.
Then Shidar caught him, and they fought together. The demon-king was mad with pain, desire, and vengeance against this young hunter who had wounded him before, and he fought fiercely. In the end he was defeated, and Shidar threw his broken body down into the snows. But with his final blow, the demon-king had torn open Shidar's body, and he fell also, near death.
Soon Doshiru came, and finding her brother dying fell to her knees beside him, weeping bitter tears. The world-lights had fallen in the snow nearby, and they began to flicker and fade, having been separated from the sustaining power of The Mother Goddess's tree. In desperation, Doshiru put forth all her power and will, and shared her life with Shidar. But she knew, though she had saved him from his wound, two beings could not live on one life. So she snatched up the light Shidar had found in the heart of the stag, and thrust it into his body. The light and Shidar completed each other, and he rose up high into the sky, glowing with golden fire . There he runs still, around the rim of the world as he did in his hunt for the stag, and he is called the sun.
Wishing to join her brother in the sky, Doshiru searched for the Starlight in the snow, but as it had fallen from Uyam's hand, it had been taken up by the wind and blown far away. She searched for half a year, from the longest day to the shortest, but in vain, all the while sickening slowly, for she still shared one life with Shidar. Finally, on the winter solstice, Doshiru found the starlight at last. It was dim, but she snatched it up and united it with her body. She and the light completed each other as well, and she too rose into the sky, surrounded in silver fire. But the starlight had lain in the snow longer than the sunlight had, so she did not rise as high. Doshiru to this day walks a lower circle of the sky, and she is called the Wandering Star. Separated always from her brother, she weeps still, and her tears hang in the night and glow with some of her light. These are the other still stars who keep watch in the night.
Since the two siblings still share a life, one must sicken half the year as the other grows strong. Between the longest night and the longest day, Shidar grows stronger until his peak on the summer solstice, and between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, Doshiru grows stronger as Shidar grows weaker. This accounts for the waxing of the sunlight for half of the year, and the waning of the sunlight for the other half.
The battle with the demons raged fiercely, but soon the strength of The First Children drove the demons back to the north. All but four they killed: three they imprisoned deep within the ice with chains of enchantment and sleep that would not be broken for five hundred years; as for the fourth, Uyam's own son hid from the wrath of the The First Children, and lived on in the ice fortress of the north.
The First Children returned to the Hall of the First Hearth. They did not rejoice in their victory, for many had died, and the world had been plunged back into night-the lights were gone. They burned the dead in silence.
Chief among the dead was Yahnal, the father of Shidar and Doshiru. Saemurah knelt beside his pyre as it burned, tears in her eyes. Her soul was bitter with sorrow, for her children were nowhere to be found.
Soon, as The First Children mourned, they beheld a bright light that rose into the heavens and crossed the dome of the sky. Many cried out in amazement. Then E'taem spoke, saying, "All is not lost: Shidar, bearing the sunlight in his heart, rises into the far heavens, where he will remain the bringer of day until the ending of the world. Doshiru will soon follow him, and, undying, illuminate the night. And as for the dead, do not mourn them. They are at peace, for they dwell in the Evernight beyond the bounds of the world with the Spirit of the Mother Goddess. There all of us will go, for our task here is done."
The First Children were silent with amazement and wonder, save for Saemurah the Sorrowful. She stepped forward, anger in her eyes, saying, "Just and wise is your counsel, Lord E'taem. Yet you bring sorrow to us all. To you alone is given the power to see the future, and yet, seeing that we would be sundered from the people we love, you did nothing to prevent our pain. Now my children are gone from me, and I will never see them again. My sorrow, immeasurable, rests on your shoulders, Lord E'taem. Therefore, with all immeasurability of my sorrow, I curse you to never behold the beauty of this world again, or the beauty of the world beyond this one."
Thus he was struck blind. But he said to her, "Your pain is the greatest of all, Lady Saemurah, save for mine. For it is given to me to see all the suffering the Children of The Mother Goddess will endure in all the long years before the ending of the world. You could watch your children grow as simple children, but I saw them before ever they came into the world as the sun and the wandering star. And I have seen and felt your sorrow my lady, that which you now bear, and that which you have yet to bear. As the price of your rashness and pride, I curse you, not with blindness, but with sight. For evermore, you will see what is to come, and suffer as I have suffered since first I woke."
Thus was she given sight, and she fell silent and cold. With the curse of the sight, she could see that she had no place in the Shadow Land where the dead go to sleep. So she retired to a deep pool amid the rocks of the hill, and there she sat, gazing into the water, seeing only the future reflected there.
As for the rest of The First Children, E'taem gave them a spark from the hearth to follow, and by this winging light they were guided to the edge of the world and beyond. They passed away, and dwell in the Shadow Land until the end of days.
With the passing of the First Children, E'taem alone remained in the Hall of the First Hearth, for he knew his work was not complete. Three tasks yet remained to him: for he knew, with the second sight of clairvoyance, that the Second Children of The Mother Goddess had woken, and walked the snows in darkness and cold.
So he placed an ember from the hearth above the door to the Hall for the Second Children to find their way. And he strode out into the deep winter, to a place where walls of rock rose almost to the sky. There he shattered the face of the stone, and from within it pulled iron. This he brought back to the hearth with him, and, with the power of his will, forged from it a long, bright sword, fell and unbreakable.
This great blade he set across his knees, and then he waited, until the darkest night of the year , for it was then that the Second Children found their way to the door of the First Hall. On this night they came into the light from the ember above the door, and they stood looking up at it amazedly. They did not know what it was, for they did not have fire, and the only light they knew was the light of Alar and Alana. As they stood, they heard the voice of E'taem calling them in. trusting, in they came, into the warmth, and stood there before the great blazing light of the hearth.
E'taem spoke to them, saying, "Do not fear. I offer nothing but hospitality. Here you will find food, and a warm place to sleep. Here will you bathe and be rested." And as he said, he showed them to the baths the First Children had bathed in from the beginning, and when they had cleansed themselves as he bade them, he gave them food. After they had eaten, he asked, "Who among you do you follow?"
A woman stepped forward, two boys at her side. "I lead these people. My name is Evdashi, and these are my sons, Doshi'ya and Y'adashi."
E'taem smiled at her. "I would have words with you Evdashi, daughter of The Mother Goddess." He said to the others, "Rest. This hall is yours now. When you awaken tomorrow, I will be gone. Sleep." As he said this, all fell into a deep and untroubled sleep. Turning again to Evdashi, he said, "Come closer child." She stepped to the side of the Blind God, and knelt, her sons at her elbows. E'taem said, "to me is given some knowledge of destiny. I have seen within the heart of the flames that you are destined to nurture your people for many years to come. For the doing of this task, I give you this gift." So saying, he touched her forehead, and to her was given knowledge of farming, the reading of the seasons and weather, and of healing. Then he said to her, "now you have what you need."
Evdashi looked up at him and asked, "Lord E'taem, if I am occupied with the planting and harvests, who will lead my people?"
E'taem looked at her and said, "You will not lead your people and neither will your two sons here, at least not in matters of the world. The rule of your people will fall to another. You will choose him, and your choice will be absolute. None may refute it. For now, I would bid you go and take the light from above the door and climb the hill. Beneath the branches of the tree, you will find a pool of clear water. Beside it sits Lady Elwing, gifted with terrible wisdom. After this night, only consult her in the greatest need. Give her the light, and ask her to answer this question: 'where does a king truly carry a circlet of gold?' When this is done, return here to sleep."
Evdashi did as she was bid. She took the light from above the door and with it climbed the hill, and she found the pool. As E'taem had said, beside the still waters sat Lady Elwing, gazing silently into the clear depths. Evdashi said, "My Lady, Lord E'taem bid me bring you this." So saying, she extended her hand with the light. Elwing looked up, and in Evdashi's face, with the sight E'taem had cursed her with, saw a part of her own destiny reflected. Sorrow filled her, but she nodded her head in thanks, and took the light. Then Evdashi said, "he also bid me ask you this question: what man bears a circlet of gold?"
Elwing looked deep into the pool. She said, "The king truly carries a circlet of gold in his heart, not on his brow."
Evdashi did not understand, but she nodded her thanks and returned to the Hall, and lay down to sleep.
Beside the Hearth, E'taem turned to the elder of Evdashi's two sons, named Doshi'ya. To him he said, "I have seen in part your destiny in the flames as well. You will be a great defender of your people, a great captain among the children of The Mother Goddess. Take this blade with which to protect your people." So saying he lifted the sword he had forged from his knees and handed it to Doshi'ya.
Doshi'ya, looking at the sword with wonder, said, "are there any other tasks you would have me do Lord E'taem?"
E'taem nodded. "On the morrow, take four embers from the hearth. Bear them with you. Go first to the north before the dawn comes, to a place where the land rises. There place the first ember. Then go toward the rising of the sun. There you will find another place where the land rises there place the second ember. The third place to the south as the sun crosses the sky, and the fourth place in the west, where the sun sets."
Doshi'ya nodded, and he too lay down to sleep.
Finally E'taem turned to Y'adashi, the younger son of Evdashi. "To you is given another task. You must lead your people in the ways of wisdom, and in the knowledge of what can't be seen. It falls to you to tell the story of the First Children, and to chronicle the story of your own people. It falls to you to keep the Rites and the teachings of the Mother Goddess." So saying he touched Y'adashi's forehead, and imparted to him the story of Creation, and the knowledge of the Rites and the teachings of the Mother Goddess. "Tell these stories yearly," he said, "so that they are not forgotten, and always keep the rituals."
"This I will do, Lord E'taem," Y'adashi said. Then he too lay down to sleep.
When the Second Children awoke, Lord E'taem had gone as he said. As he had been bidden, Doshi'ya bore the embers to the four directions, and the Second Children dwelt in the hall. That year, Evdashi sowed the first planting, and together they took in the first harvest. In the winter, Y'adashi told the stories of the First Children for the first time to his people.