Friday, December 5, 2014

Spitting at the Sun -- part 1

This is a story I wrote for a dark fantasy anthology my friend Alex Ness complied a couple years ago titled Hunt the Winterlands.  The stories of the collection were set in a world where a tremendous catastrophe long ago had plunged the land into a centuries-long winter.  (Alex lives in Minnesota; can you tell?)

My story is set about the time of the catastrophe and tells how the shaman of an orkish tribe deals with the sudden changes in his world.

Spitting at the Sun

(c) 2011 by Kurt Wilcken

(part 1)

            Long ago when the world was yet new; when unstained was Earth by the blood of the weak; the Great Powers whom men call gods descended to earth and called all the peoples together.  “Choose among us whom you will worship,” they said, “and we will bestow upon you our blessing.”

            And so the Father of Men stood forth and chose the Sun to worship, for his power and majesty; and the Mother of the tall Elves chose the Stars for their beauty; and the Father of the burrowing Dwarves chose the Earth for her deep wisdom.  And so each of the peoples of the Earth chose one of the Powers to be their god.

            Lastly came Urg-Dar, the Father of the Orcs.  “What say you, Urg-Dar?” the Sun asked.  “Whom amongst the Powers do you choose to be your god?”

            “I choose none!” Urg-Dar replied.  “For what use have I of gods?  If I want something, I take it by the strength of my own arm!  If I lack something, I endure by the power of my own will; and if I desire wisdom, my own mind will teach me what I need.  I desire no god’s protection.”

            Then the Powers grew angry at Urg-Dar’s speech, and the Sun spoke thus:  “Hear me, Urg-Dar!  Though you scorn the gods’ favor, you cannot doubt their power!  From this day forward, my face shall be hateful to you and you will hide from my presence!”

            And Urg-Dar looked upon the Sun’s face, and the brightness of the Sun was like a spear in his eyes, and the rays of the Sun were like a fire upon his skin.  But Urq-Dar flinched not, even though the tears welled in his eyes as if he were a female.  “I have no desire to look upon a face as ugly as yours,” he said proudly, and only then did he turn away.

            Such is the story my father told me and his father to him, and his father’s father for unknown generations.  And for just as long, each morning the Loremaster of the tribe has stood out under the open sky to greet the dawn and remind the Sun that we, the Children of Urg-Dar, are still here and we bow to no god.

            And such is the story that I once told the youths of my tribe, for like my father, and his father before him, I was a Loremaster.  I spoke to the spirits; I instructed the tribe; and every morning, I challenged the Sun.

            Always when I taught the youths, some would ask questions.  “Why do we fear the Sun?”

            “We do not fear him, but we respect his power,” I would answer.

            “If we worshiped the Sun, perhaps we could walk under him in the daylight as the Children of Men do.”

            “We are free Orcs, and worship no Powers, whether the Sun above or the Earth beneath.  That is the meaning of the Morning Challenge.”

            Then one surly lad in the back of the others said, “I think the Morning Challenge is simply to make the Loremaster look important.  Surely the Sun does not hear his words, nor would he heed them.  It does not take deep wisdom to stand in the mouth of the cave and speak great words.” 

            Borklan, the lad was.  Even then he was querulous youth; always arguing and testing, as if the Wisdom of the Past was an enemy to fight instead of a father to obey.  Sometimes in meeting his barbed questions and defiant tongue, the wisdom my Father gave to me failed me and I had to resort to giving the lad a clout on the head.

            So I took Borklan by the arm and dragged him to the mouth of the cave and waited for the morning Sun.  “See then!” I said.  “If it is no great thing to stand and speak words, then stand with me.  You are full of words yourself; speak them to the Sun and see if he hears you!”

            As we waited for the dawn, I saw fear in Borklan’s eyes, for no Orc likes to be under the Face of the Sun.  I had been taught by Loremasters, and so I knew the tricks; how to avoid looking directly at the Sun’s Face and how to cloud my mind to block the pain of the sunlight on my skin.  Borklan knew not these things, and so when the eastern sky grew pale and the Sun’s bright disc crept into sight, he squirmed in my grasp, trying to flee, while I boldly spoke the words of the ritual.

            When the ritual was complete, I released Borklan and cast him back into the cave with the rest of the tribe.  “Do not mock the wisdom of your elders,” I told him.  “For thus these things have always been, and thus shall they ever be.”

            And Borklan was silent; but he regarded me with a hatred and resentment that I later came to remember.

            For many years my tribe lived as our fathers had before us:  hunting game in good times; grubbing for roots in bad; and sometimes venturing out into the Human-lands to raid the villages of Men.

            Then the sky fell.


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