One of the projects I am currently working on has required me to generate several background myth-cycles. Here is a story from one of those mythologies. In the larger novel it appears as a tale from a children’s book called, “Tales From Lands Afar”. Perceptive readers might recognise allusions to several other stories from the real world within it.
Here is a tale that the old women of the Kalari tell in their hoop and skin houses on the shingle coves of the great and dark Otter River. It comes from long ago and tells of Irgolan, who is also called Tamashye, in stories from other places.
In the days before days, in a land far away where people lived close to the gods, there lived a chief named Nemari and his three sons, Hanar, Magan and Irgolan. Now Nemari loved Hanar and Magan for they were the sons of his strength, but he despised Irgolan for he was born in the year of scattering, and he was lame. So every day, when he went out to hunt, Nemari took Hanar and Magan, but Nemari said that Irgolan should remain with the women and make shoes for the men.
Now Nemari hated the gods – especially Avad, the father of the gods – because he was proud and thought that he should be a god like them. And so he was always looking for a way to make war against them. So when he heard that the Great Elk of Avad had been sighted in the high mountains to the east, he gathered his people.
We will travel to the dawn and bring back the body of Tsorve, the Elk of Avad whose antlers hold up the heavens.
“Pack up your camp, people of Nemari,” he said. “We journey for the hunt. My sons and I will travel to the dawn and bring back the body of the Tsorve, the Elk of Avad whose antlers hold up the heavens. Thus we will avenge ourselves on the gods.”
But when Avad heard of Nemari’s plans, he laughed. That night he came to Irgolan in a dream and said, “Get up, Irgolan, despised son of the mighty hunter; Irgolan who makes shoes while the men hunt. I have work for you to do this night.”
In his dream, Irgolan got up from his bed and found scraps of leather by his pillow – the makings of a pair of shoes. So he took up a needle and stitched them together. And when he had finished, he heard the voice of Avad come to him again.
“These shoes are for you, Irgolan,” Avad said. “Now, put them on and join your brothers, for the dawn has come.”
And Irgolan awoke. And there, beside his pillow, were the shoes that he had made. He placed them on his feet and sprang up, for the shoes made his legs straight and strong.
So as the sun licked the horizon, the hunters set out, and Irgolan went too. When his father shouted at him to go back to the women, he fell behind but kept on following. When Hanar hurled a rock at him, and Magan threw a club, Irgolan skipped aside, for the shoes had made him wonderfully nimble.
Thus they continued until the hunters came upon the great elk – and truly, it was an animal more magnificent than any of them had ever seen. Its hide was like silver moonlight, and its antlers shone with the glittering light of a thousand stars. Nemari, Hanar and Magan all gave chase, and still Irgolan followed behind.
Then the elk climbed a high mountain that reached almost to heaven, and the men followed until Nemari grew tired and was forced to turn aside.
Yet the elk ran on, and the brothers too, into deep forests and dark valleys, over hills and across the steppe until they were many miles from their home.
Finally, they came to the edge of a wide swampland that stretched on as far as the eye could see, and the hunters rejoiced, for there was nowhere for the beast to flee. But when it came to the water, the elk continued on, running with hooves so swift that they merely rippled the surface. Hanar and Magan tried to follow but sank into the mud.
Yet Irgolan, wearing the shoes of Avad, sprinted on.
Three days and nights, he followed the beast across the great marsh until Irgolan’s strength was all gone, and his bow fell from his hand. Then he sank down into the marsh, crying out to Avad, “Help me, Avad, for I am drowning.”
And then Tsorve, the elk, turned its head and came back to Irgolan. It sank down into the mud until it disappeared, and Irgolan thought that it too had drowned. Yet it rose up beneath him and lifted him up, and bore him from the mire. It carried him through forests, up and up to a high lake ringed by mountains.
And then the elk spoke to him. “Avad has blessed you Irgolan. You were lame, but he raised you up to heaven. You were dying, but he lifted you from the mud. Henceforth Avad will bless you, though you are the son of his enemy. But now, choose how you will be blessed. Will you return to your brothers and be the most exalted of Nemari’s sons? Or will you come with me to a good place far from here? Your name will be lost to your brothers, yet, in the end, your children will become the people of Avad.
And Irgolan said, “I will go with you, great elk. For though I have not known Avad for very long, who but he has ever treated me like a son?”
“You have chosen well, Irgolan,” said Tsorve. “Now climb down, and I will bring you to your land.”
Then the elk lifted his head and bellowed, and all the chattels of Nemari – his wives, slaves, servants, flocks and herds appeared before Irgolan. He called again, and Irgolan saw the lake change so that the mountains reflected in its water were not the same as the mountains that surrounded it.
“Now come,” said Tsorve. “Come and see the place that has been prepared for you.” And he led Irgolan and the people down into the water so that they came to the land between the clouds.
Featured image based on an original lithograph by William Morris Hunt, c. 1857