Genesis Scrolls Round 3: {Fool's Errand: Part 4}

Name/Pseudonym: {Quetzelcoatlia}
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{Fool’s Errand, Part 4}

The fire crackled upon the hearth, rippling its light outwards in orange reflections across the shallow water that filled the toad-demon’s living room. Nigel and his newt-wife Lucellia were helping themselves to stew from the cooking pot; the children Nullrush, Buss, Shrulia and Mully were looking expectantly to Prince Leif for his story, spoons poised between bowl and mouth. Their grandmother, the ancient old toad-crone in her shawl and glittering brooches, shushed the mewling baby tadpole in the sling upon her back, and gestured at Leif to begin. He cleared his throat a little self-consciously.

“There are many different beliefs amongst humans about how the Divine Relics - or afbrigati, as you call them - came into existence, but I will tell you the story that my family and my Order believe in,” Leif said. “Once upon a time, many sunsets ago, the God Lasmellus came to visit the world and to look at the people upon it. He saw that there were people who were kind, and others who were cruel. He saw that there were some who were weak, and some who were strong. He said unto himself, “I shall give the humans a gift so that the weak shall always be protected, and the good shall be defended from the wicked.” He created Divine Relics of many sorts and in many shapes, and placed them around the world within magical bags to keep them safe. “May the great Order of Protection find these bags,” the God said, “and use them to keep peace upon earth now and forevermore.” He sent a dove across the land and the dove landed upon the finger of the first founder of the Order of Protection, and said to him, “truly yours is a powerful order, and most fit to wield these bags and the gifts within them.” And the Order of Protection accepted this great gift, and vowed to gather up as many of the bags as they could and to use them to protect the weak and the poor, and also to defeat their enemies, who were very wicked. And the moral of the story is that we should serve the Order with a loyal and true heart. The end.”

There was a silence as the audience processed this story.

“And then?” asked Nullrush, with her mouth full.

“That’s all!” said Leif serenely. “It’s the true story of the origin of the Order of Protection, and the reason that we are dedicated to gathering the sacred bags and the divine relics within them.”

“Wonderful!” said Rojin, in delight. “How wonderful! And TRUE!”

Nigel cleared his throat. “Well, Prince!” he said, “that’s quite a story! Very… very…. Er… what would you say, dear.”

“Very human,” said Lucellia, diplomatically.

But the old grandmother toad was very pleased. “Well, well, well!” she croaked. “By the reed and the rush, so that is a human story, is it? I am a great collector of stories, young prince, and yet I have never had the pleasure of hearing a genuine human story told to me before. And by a human, no less! Tell me again, what was that phrase you used at the conclusion?”

“The end?”

“The end! The end. Announced out loud - that is very original, a most unusual device.”

“We say it so that people know that the story has ended,” explained Leif.

“So that people know that the story has ended,” repeated the grandmother, gravely. “Listen to that, children, stop your chattering. In the Prince’s culture, stories end, and their ending is announced!”

The children looked doubtfully at Leif. Now the old lady began to unpin one of the decorative brooches on her shawl. It was a small, stone thing, shaped like a lotus-flower, the petals of which glowed with a faint, magical light. When the children saw it they began to croak and clamour.

“The story stone! The story stone!”

“Finish your dinner, girls!” Nigel said, sternly. “Settle down! Nana shall tell us all a story, I’m sure, that’s no reason to spill your soup.”

Leif looked curiously at the little stone. “What is it?”

“This is a story stone,” said grandmother toad. “It is a clever little thing that can hold within it the songs and stories of our people. Its name is called glymja önd –in your tongue it would be something like Soul Roar. This one is filled with the stories of our kind, and particularly the stories of the bird-folk, such as our friend Rojin here.” For some reason at this point she looked very rogueishly at Rojin, and waved the stone at them with a twinkle in her eye. “Yes, Rojin! You might well look surprised! This stone once belonged to your mother, may she rest in the quiet waters. And your mother, like me, loved a good story, and recorded all that she heard in his little stone here. Prince! I shall record your story in here. I think it was a good one. It can sit alongside a great many other true stories.”

And here she placed the pad of her great webbed hand into the centre of the stone, and Leif saw that the edges of the stone petals glowed briefly with a curious blue light as she closed her eyes and thought deeply. He guessed, then, that she was in possession of an Eye. Although he had never seen one himself before, he knew that the Order of Protection held one of its own, which had inscribed within it an entire library covering the histories, philosophies and accounts of the Order going back hundreds of years. He watched curiously as his own story was captured within Soul Roar, to sit alongside thousands of years worth of demon tales and magpie song.

“And now I shall tell you a true story of our own, Prince,” said grandmother toad. “This is the true account of how the afbrigati came to be.”

The children splashed the surface of the shallow water with their feet, excitedly.

“It is just like this!” she began, grandly. “The gods of no-sound, no-thought, no-light and no-thing are standing at the hem of our world, before it has been unfolded at all. They are picking it up by the corners – they are shaking it out! Now it is flat, they lay it down upon nothing, and seat themselves one at each corner. They are having themselves a picnic, before the beginning of everything. The lakes are nothing yet, and the ponds have not yet been poured! Listen! They are salting the sausage rolls, and the many grains of salt that are spilled are becoming us, the people! They are laying out the sandwiches upon plates, and the many crumbs that are falling are becoming the wild people – those with wings, and those with hooves, and those with fins! And from the ground below, up swarm the first humans, like little ants from the soil to join us. Now the pieces of shell from their hard-boiled eggs are becoming our rocks and stones, and the drops of tea from their cups and saucers is becoming our ponds and our lakes, and the cucumber from their sandwiches is becoming all that is green around us – the trees, and the lily-pads both! And then, look, the gods are dropping their sugar-tongs, and the wild people startle and flee away at the sound, but the first humans and the first people are each taking a little piece of the metal until there is none left. The first humans are making weapons, and the first people are making tools, and all are imbued with the power of the gods of no-sound, no-thought, no-light and no-thing. And then!”

The audience nodded, gravely. Leif stared, his mouth hanging open slightly. Nothing more appeared to be forthcoming. “And then?” he asked, tentatively.

The children burst out giggling. Leif blushed.

“That is all of the story that I have,” said grandmother, “though doubtless there may be more of it.”

“Surely that isn’t… a true story, though, is it?” asked Leif, doubtfully.

“Oh yes,” Rojin assured him. “A true story.”

“But,” Leif hesitated. “Surely the bit about the cucumber sandwiches…”

“Quite true,” said grandmother, gravely. Leif looked around the room and saw that everyone was looking quite serious, and that they were not teasing him. He became rather confused.

“I have a story that I would like to tell you, Prince!” said Mully, who was the eldest of the toad children, and also the boldest. Grandmother passed her the story stone to hold.

“I would be very glad to hear it,” said Leif. “What is it about?”

“It is a true story of how the afbrigati came to be!” declared Mully, very loudly. “It is just like this! I am waking up, and it is this morning! I peep outside of the window, and look! A thousand thousand flowers are blossoming outside our house, and in the centre of every flower is an afbrigati! And the people and the humans are picking the flowers! And then!”

She sat back down with a splash. Leif waited until it was evident that no more story was forthcoming.

“Thank you,” he said at last. “What a fine story!”

Mully beamed.

“But,” said Leif, tentatively. “The afbrigati were not created this morning, so… although it really is a lovely story, it can’t possibly be the truth!”

Again there was a little ripple of laughter around the room, as if this response to the story were quite charming and unexpected, and Nigel clapped the Prince on the back. “Ha! Ha! What a mind you have, Prince!”

“I have a story!” said Rojin, importantly. “I have a story now!” When the general chatter continued and nobody immediately paid attention to them, they flew up onto the top of the hearth as a magpie and began to sing very loudly and harshly “CHAK-A-CHAK-A-CHAK-A-CHAK-A-CHAK.”

“Rojin, that is quite loud,” said Lucellia. “Do stop, dear.”

“I have a story now!” said Rojin, flapping their wings and knocking down a ladle. “And it is just like this! The great magpie-demon Parfyon approaches, and the beating of his enormous wings bruises the sky, and he pulls a cloak of shadow across the lands below him as he passes! The sound of his feathers against the wind is the song of a thousand flutes! He is as black as the cold skies-above-the-clouds, and as white as starlight! When he sings the earth shakes, and the nuts fall from the trees, and the berries fall from the bushes, and the good fat worms rise from the soil to be eaten! He is my father! It is the time before I am even a little egg! And in the woodland below, a wonderful sound rises up to meet him. It is a warbling, burbling sound! It is a whistling, kistling sound! It is the most beautiful sound he has ever heard! It is as bright as a berry among the leaves! It has loops and it has colours and it dances! It is the sound of my mother, singing in the branches!”

Rojin’s feathers were all puffed up with glee and pride. “She is a wild magpie, she is one of the wild people, and my father hears her song and he loves her! He is courting her for three moons, and she is the cleverest and most beautiful bird in all the world! He is building a sparkling palace of jewels around her favourite tree, and it is a place of marvels, and she names it the Landing of Rapture. And in this palace my father is gifting to her a magical glowing stone, and it is a wonderful gift, and everybody says so. My mother is singing to it, and it is keeping all her songs and her stories safe, and it is gleaming as brightly as a glow-worm. And now they go together to the Harvest Ball, to dance and to meet the great personages of this time, and now they are so very deeply in love that they agree that they shall no longer be undecideds, but shall marry at once! And now they are marrying, and now I am here, and I am an egg!”

Here Rojin paused and looked seriously at Leif. “This is only in the story,” they explained. “I am not really an egg.”

“Aha,” said Leif. “Yes, I see.”

“My mother is singing to me through my shell. She is a true magpie, a wild magpie, and she cannot sing long under these skies. Not as long as my father, and not as long as me. She must fly ahead of us – she will get there first! I am still an egg when she starts her long flight, and she is singing goodbye to me. Toad-grandmother is coming to visit her on her last-nest, and she is giving toad-grandmother the glowing stone for a present, because she cannot bring it where she is going. And then her singing isn’t, any more. And then! And then! And then what happens to the stone, grandmother?”

The toad grandmother stooped to pick up the fallen ladle, and placed it back above the hearth.

“It is just like this!” she called up. “I, Rebbula, am keeping the stone quite safe, and now I am gifting the story stone back to Rojin, who is now quite out of their egg, and out of their featherlings, and they are all grown, and are building a sparkling nest for someone of their very own, just as their father did before them!”

Rojin hopped from foot to foot with delight. “Yes! Is that right? Is that how it goes?”

“Yes. Now fly down here, Rojin. Let me look upon you.” Then the old toad grandmother Rebbula looked at Rojin for a long while, and did not speak, but joggled the tadpole-baby at the sling on her back absently until it fell asleep. “It is a great sadness to me that the lifespan of a wild magpie should be such a fleeting thing,” she said at last, with a sigh. “Your mother was a wonderful bird. She was very proud of you as an egg, and she will be very proud in the after, when she sees what a great being you have hatched into. Here is her story-stone. It is full of a great deal of bird song and stories, and I’m certain you will add to it in your time.”

She handed the stone to Rojin, who took it in human form so that they could turn it over in their hands and run their fingers over the pattern of lotus leaves. They were quiet now, and thoughtful.

“I had quite forgotten your father and mother at the Harvest Ball!” said Lucellia, clapping her hands. “They were a wonderful pair! Your mother was dazzling, I remember! She knew all the old songs, the very oldest ones – songs without words to them. How wonderful that she has kept them all in that stone!”

“Well now, you’ve missed the Harvest Ball, but the Icewhile Ball is coming up quickly, my son!” croaked Nigel, nudging Rojin with a conspiratorial glitter in his eyes. “Anyone you’re thinking of bringing? You’ll need to get a ticket fast if you want one! If only you knew a certain toad on the party-planning committee, eh?”

Rojin almost dropped the story stone in his excitement. “What, could you get me a ticket, Nigel?”

“I should think so!” said Nigel. “I’ll write you one this minute if you like!”

“Oh, do stop flapping, Rojin!” said grandmother, sternly. “You’re making the fire smoke! And don’t you drop that stone, put it somewhere safe if you’re going to jump about so!”

Rojin, momentarily chastened, tucked the story stone away in their cloak but then caught Leif’s eye and hopped about again from foot to foot. “Oh, Leif! The ball!” they burst out, excitedly.

“What is it?” asked Leif, laughing a little at his delight.

“The Icewhile Ball! Oh, there’s dancing, and songs, and all the great people will be there, and the oldest families! Shall we go, Leif? Would you like to go with me, as my undecided?”

Leif glanced smilingly around at all the pleased, interested faces. Having attended a fair number of human balls in his capacity as crown prince, the thought of a grand demon ball was very intriguing to him. The significance of attending such an event as Rojin’s fiancé was not lost on him either, and he blushed a little as he stood and bowed, and took Rojin’s hand in his own.

“It would be a great honour,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me, Rojin - I certainly accept your invitation. Although I’m afraid I won’t know any of the dances, unless the galliarde happens to be in fashion in demon circles?”

Rojin was struck quite wordless by the warmth of Leif’s hands against his own, and could do nothing for the moment but smile.

“It is not,” said Mully, the eldest toad-child loudly. “It is not in fashion. I have not even heard of the gellyard. Everyone will be dancing the cross-horn or the noxarello. I would like to know very much why I am not allowed to go to the ball, when I know the noxarello almost by heart, and I have a new ribbon.”

“You’re not of age yet,” said Lucellia, “Come next season you’ll be the loveliest debutant at the ball, I have no doubt, but not before then. Come now, go help your father with the tickets.”

“I would just like to say,” began Mully, at volume as Lucellia steered her out, “that it is hard to see what the point is of having a new ribbon-”

“You will need an outfit for the ball, Prince,” said the toad-grandmother. “Do you have one?”

“No… just the outfit I’m wearing, I’m afraid.”

She studied him closely for a moment. “That gear is all far too heavy for you, is it not?”

“A little,” he admitted. “The Order says it will build my strength, though.”

“Your Order gave you these clothes, did they?”

“They did,” said Leif. “They gave me this crown too, and my sword.” He brandished the blunt blade, rather proudly. Grandmother toad squinted at it, and then at his dog-skin gloves and his plain hide armour with the fading enchantment upon it.

“Hmph!” she said. “What’s the spell on that armour? Looks like it’s running out to me.”

“If I eat the fruit of the fleece-tree while I’m wearing this armour, I will be twice as full and refreshed,” said Leif.

“That’s brilliant!” said Rojin. “I like how it glows in the dark, very much! I can see you for miles off!”

“Fleece trees do not grow upon this island,” pointed out Grandmother Toad.

“They do, don’t they?” said Leif, rather thrown.

“They do not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure. This Order of yours have dressed you in rags, Prince,” declared Grandmother Toad, “and sent you out to meet your death. It is quite obvious. Are you a swordsman?”

“No,” Leif stammered.

“Why have they given you a sword, then?”

“It builds character!” said Leif, hesitantly. “And – it’s true that I prefer books to swords or arrows, but the truth is simply that books aren’t princely. I will learn to be comfortable in this armour if I just wear it long enough-”

“Nonsense!” rapped out the grandmother toad. “Utter nonsense! You would do well to question a little more what you are told, young human! Use that mind of yours! Rojin, you must take your naïve undecided here to visit Arakus, the seamstress, and buy him some new robes. Silk! None of this leather and dogskin nonsense! Arakus is a master craftswoman, Prince. Put on the robes she makes for you, and let me know how long it takes you to “learn to be comfortable” in them, hmm?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Prince Leif, quietly, and bowed. He picked up his newly acquired Divine Relic, the marvellous blazing sword-sized butter-knife that the toad family had gifted him in exchange for a story, and he followed Rojin quietly out into the hallway, quite overwhelmed by his own thoughts.

Nigel had written them out a ticket to the Icewhile Ball, addressed to Rojin Parfyonsa and his undecided - the Human Prince Leif Berranek. Rojin was in a state of great excitement, and wanted to read the ticket aloud several times with different emphases and different sorts and volumes of voice, but Leif could scarcely take it all in, and could only manage a faint, bewildered smile in response. He had never paused to examine the motivations of his Order, nor to question his own discomfort under the weight of the hide armour, in his too-large boots, with his too-heavy sword. These items had been specifically given to him by the Order. He had been sent out into the wilderness by them to undertake a perilous mission, and his coming had been mysteriously advertised ahead of time to the demon-folk in a pamphlet delivered by sea-bird, the chosen couriers of the Order of Protection. He could scarcely make sense of it.

But then Rojin put their arm around his waist and drew him companionably close, and he saw that they were walking together in the cool evening air once again, with the scent of honeyflowers and nightspurs perfuming the air, and the first stars beginning to sparkle in a sky of lilac. Despite the odds, and the peculiar, uneasy circumstances surrounding his mission, he noted to himself that he appeared to be having some success. He had acquired both a Divine Relic and a fiancé, and had made new friends, heard new stories, and now was to attend a marvellous ball, the thought of which all lifted his spirits greatly. He took a deep breath in, and allowed himself to feel happy.

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