My usual session of RuneQuest this week was cancelled, so I spent my time in Sylthi writing a myth instead. A collection of similar stories will be collected in one chapter, “Sylthelan Mythology,” of the forthcoming City Guide. I’ll probably post other tales as they get written.
I really enjoyed writing this story. That’s the main reason I’m sharing it. It’s just a first draft, but it’s the first fiction I’ve really enjoyed writing for some time.
If you’re familiar with Glorantha, don’t worry too much about canonicity. I was inspired by several bits in The Book of Heortling Mythology—as well as a desire to present Ernalda as vulnerable, without being weak—but I wasn’t trying especially hard to stick to the setting as written by others. Throughout, my goal with Sylthi’s mythology is to be internally consistent, but not to worry overmuch about if I’m consistent with other publications.
If you’re unfamiliar with Glorantha, I hope you enjoy the story. I tried keeping you in mind, too, as I wrote. The story is a myth about when the primordial goddess Asrelia—sort of a parallel to Kronos or Ouranos of Greek mythology—grew old, and gave the Universe to her children. One of my goals is that you shouldn’t need to know Glorantha to enjoy this story.
Dusty, stale, the air of antiquity filled my nose. Old Age has entered our house, ducked its head underneath the roof’s palm fronds, withering them with each step. He first embraced my mother long ago, and now she too—the Great Creatrix, Power, Asrelia—is dry and frail.
No longer does she dance with Maran.
No longer does she praise Esrola’s seeds.
No longer does she spin with me. No longer does she hand me the shuttle, caress my fingers as they trace the warp thread and woof. Instead Power sits on the throne Father carved for her, and gazes into the quiet fire.
I rise from my place by the door. Yesterday I finished a new blanket, one using wool from the Sheep of Dreams. Approaching my mother, I spread it wide, then wrap it around her shoulders. She stirs, she looks up at me.
“I am tired,” says Asrelia.
We—her daughters, the six of us—stare without understanding. Weariness is not a new creation. I feel it in my fingers and back every day after I abandon the loom. But the Great Creatrix does not grow weary. She is Eternity, the source of the Universe. She does not get tired. She is my mother!
“I have created a new being,” she continues, “and he has come to me, and he has loved me. I love him too, just as I love each of you.” Mother slowly smiles, her face cracking like dirt when it seduces rain. “His name is Old Age. He is a part of me, just like you are a part of me, and just like I am a part of you. Do not despise him, for like the cows and the humans and the sheep and the geese, he is your brother.”.
“What does he look like?” asked Orana.
“Is he a good lover?” asked Esrola.
“When shall we meet him?” asked Delaina.
The fire laughed, and Asrelia laughed with her. “You can only see Old Age if your eyesight is bad, like mine. You can only feel his touch when your arms get weak, like mine. He’s a jealous lover. Takes everything you give. But, you all will meet him one day. When you finally meet him, you’ll love him too.”
Mother’s fingers grasped the white fringe of my blanket, and pulled it around herself more tightly. Her eyes followed the fire’s smoke, white and pure as the sky, up to the hole she made in the roof so it could run outside.
Maran’s hand touched mine. Her feet were still. “What will happen next?” she said.
Asrelia’s eyes seemed to grow pale, reflecting the clean smoke. “I will grow more tired,” she replied, “and more weak, until I must sleep. After sleeping a long time, I will wake, and I will be different. I will no longer be Power.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. “That can’t be true!”
“And yet I have said it. But, for the present, I still am she, and still one act remains before me.” With a slow noise, Mother stood up from her throne. “Ernalda,” she said, smiling. “This is a good blanket. Please keep practicing.”
Pride heated my chest and belly. I could remember each time Mother praised me, distinctly. She spoke kind words often, but praise rarely. The emotion turned sour, spinning like Lord Larnste as Mother swayed on her bare feet. Leaning toward the hearth then lilting away, the smoke dirtied her black hair grey.
Then Asrelia snapped her fingers, and the Great Creatrix appeared. Joy surged in my heart, to see the Creatrix wearing my blanket—my blanket!—as her robe. Her presence brought change. Colors grew deeper, more true. Maran’s heartbeat began dancing beside me, her feet tapping with a new, undiscovered rhythm. Already I found myself seeing flaws in my blanket (How could she wear a blanket with flaws? Oh, merciful Creatrix!) and swore to weave a new one. No, I’d build a new loom, just to weave her robe—then feed that loom to Fire afterward, so no one could ever repeat that one, perfect weaving. Nothing in my life would ever achieve such glory!
My fingers slipped as they clutched Maran’s hand. Sweat began dancing across my body, its tiny bodies born from my own, coaxed forth by the presence of She. Maran’s beatific ecstasy radiated beside me, as though she could burn through my skin, as though she could bear to hurt me. We clutched one another like goslings beneath their mother’s wings during a cold rain.
With steady hands, the Creatrix called forth the Loom of the Universe. Three lines, glowing emerald, appeared before her. I marveled as, lighted by the Loom, Mother’s cracked and lined face grew smooth again, and whole. Dela and Orana whispered to one another, and without hearing I knew their thoughts: Power returns to us! She will never abandon us.
Enraptured, my sisters and I watched Mother work. Her fingers—more nimble than mine ever shall be—caressed the Loom’s great cords, coaxing the Pattern to show herself. Five threads followed her fingers, and then eight more, and then two hundred and eighty more. Every color on display, and new ones too, colors my imagination hadn’t even considered contemplating. Truly, it was the greatest act of Power I witnessed Mother perform.
“My children,” said Power, “this is to be my last act of creation—your inheritance, your queenship over all the wide world. Spool out to me your selves, that I might weave you into the Pattern.”
A little eon passed as we stared agog. Then, timidly, gently, Esrola gave birth. She gave birth to a single seed, which was a perfect cube, and smelled of She. Then Esrola pressed her seed into Mother’s palm. Likewise each of my sisters in turn gave to the Creatrix what was born of herself, until at last they all looked to me. When I met Esrola’s eyes, we knew one another’s fear, and one another’s love. Then I too gave birth, and passed Mother a small spool of simple green thread. The color was dull, and the twine was rough and loose. Despite a sodden heart I did not confess my tears, not even when Mother thanked me for the thread.
Each gift we gave to Power she wove into the Pattern of Glorantha. There the objects we birthed were transfigured. They became beautiful, for the Pattern is more than its yarn. All except me. I could see it, as Mother kept weaving. The green thread. Simple and bland, like me. It slid through the warp of the Loom unchanged by Glorantha. It was the dullest part of the cloth Mother made—each of my sisters shone with new majesty as the Creatrix worked, but not me. Not me.
The shuttle clicked against Infinity. “Maran, speak!” said Asrelia. “You are the strongest, the Mighty Daughter, the Cheerful Dancer. What is your inheritance? You already know it!”
“I am the Cheerful Dancer, the Mighty Daughter,” said Maran at once. She rose, and her feet fell to the floor of our hut with crashes of laughter. “Give me the Earth in all of her strength—I played in lava as if it were sea, I hugged dinosaurs instead of a babe’s blanket—give me the Earth in all of her strength. She’s mine! I want her!”
The shuttle clicked faster as Asrelia smiled. “Esrola, speak!” she said. “You are the loveliest, the Bountiful Mother, the Generous Grain-Giver. What is your inheritance? You already know it!”
Esrola’s voice sang strongly, rattling the fronds of the roof. “I am the Generous Grain-Giver, the Bountiful Mother. The wide Earth is mine, wherever she feeds life—I planted her seeds, I gave birth to her animals—the wide Earth is mine, so I may birth even more life!”
Already, half the great Loom was filled with magic. Maran had claimed Power, and Esrola had claimed the Earth—what could possibly be left for Dela, Orana, Delaina, and me? Worry nibbled my heart whilst my sisters spoke, each in their turn. Turning back and forth, the shuttle slowly filled the Loom. Mother looked at me.
“Ernalda, speak!” she said. “You are my beloved, the Wise Queen, the Fire-Tender, the Mistress of the Crafthall. What is your inheritance? You already know it!”
Panic danced in my throat, and I stammered. “I do not know this woman,” I answered to Power. My chin fell to my breast. “If she is one of your daughters, she’s not me.”
“That’s me!” Black rage filled my heart as Leurmaia strode into our hut. Our hut, not hers—she was our cousin, not one of the daughters of Power. Leurmaia’s hands stuck on her hips as she stared at the Creatrix with a level eye. “I am the Mistress of the Crafthall, the Fire-Tender, the Wise Queen you all should love. The Universe is mine—I understand it, I weave new life from it—the Power is mine, give it to me, I want it!”
Maran stamped her foot. “You know nothing of fires! When have you ever nurtured one from birth, fed it dry things, and taught it how to dance? You cannot be queen!”
Esrola’s face turned red, as if she had spilled red paint. “Your fingers are clumsy and foolish—you cannot become queen!”
Orana spat at Leurmaia, and made the right-handed gesture of Disgust. “I have never heard you say one wise thing. How could you possibly become queen?”
Leurmaia laughed at my sisters’ protestations. Her fingers smoothed the long black strips of her skirt, and she sat, with the cloth tucked beneath her. “Only the willing woman shall have power. Is this true, Mother?” Asrelia nodded yes. “See Orana? I am wise.” She twisted, tore off a piece of her dress, and tossed it for Fire to eat. “See Maran? I have fed Fire. Look, she likes it.” Leurmaia tore off several more strips, and then began plaiting them into a simple braid. “See Esrola? I am a weaver. I am fit to be a queen.”
“You are not,” I said. The words dragged themselves out of my mouth, the way oxen drag the plow through spring mud.
“Not a queen?” Leurmaia said. “No, I am not. Not yet.” And she winked.
“No!” My fingers curled, as I struggled to bind my emotions and speak rightly to the interloper. “I can’t speak about queens—but you’re not a weaver. And you’re definitely not a better weaver than me. When have you ever woven something which the Creatrix would wear? Have you ever been praised by her for your craft? I might not be a master—but you’re not better than me.”
Leurmaia tossed braid of black cloth toward the Creatrix. Mirth danced a jig in her violet eyes. “Mother, wear this,” she said, and bowed her head low. Wrinkling her nose, as it touched the dirt floor. “Prove to my sister that I, too, am a weaver.”
“You’ll have to work harder than that, to prove you’re my daughter.” Leurmaia held the black braid in her right hand. She looked at it, she inspected it closely. “Did you spin the wool?” she asked, dropping the braid to feed Fire. “Did you weave this cloth, or just plait the pieces together?”
The Impudent Daughter tossed her chin, and frowned. “Why won’t you trust me, Mother?”
But the Great Creatrix cannot be fooled, not by Maran, not by Esrola, and not by me. She crossed her arms, and frowned. “Answer the question, Leurmaia.”
“This was just a small work—just something to prove to you who I am, so you can finish your own weaving, and go enjoy a long sleep.” Leurmaia stood. “But if further proof is required, I’ll joyfully make it. Sisters! Bring wool, please—unless you’d rather we start with the whole sheep?”
“Wool will suffice,” I agreed, nodding to Maran and Asrelia’s other daughters. “though I doubt you’ve ever sheared fleece. You wouldn’t know what to do if Sheep gave herself to you willingly, if she brought you the knife and lay her head in your lap. You know nothing of craftwork. You are not my sister!”
Maran brought wool, and Esrola brought my tools. No one knew where Leurmaia’s tools were, because her house is unordered. She left, and returned with tools bright and new, well-made from wood and from stone. “Look at your shuttle, look at your spindle,” she said. “They’re cracked and aged, they’ve nearly broken apart. Mine are ever so much nicer. You can’t possibly outspin me.”
I held the spindle tightly in my hand, while preparing the threadstarter. It was a gift from my Mother, who taught everything I know. I knew Leurmaia couldn’t have better. With a twist I dropped the spindle, coaxing the carded wool along with an even length and steady hands.
Laughing, Leurmaia dropped hers too. When twisting it shone, blue dye reflecting Fire’s light. White wool slipped through her brown fingers. Our spindles played near one another, and I couldn’t see a flaw in her spinning. Faster, I coaxed the wool through my guiding fingers, urging it to race onto the wooden rod. Fearless. There was no way an untutored girl could spin faster than me.
And I was right! For my spindle filled first, a great bundle of white yarn ready for my loom. Esrola grinned proudly at my feat. I carried the yarn to Mother and knelt down before her. I gave it to her as an offering, born from heart’s love.
“This is well made Ernalda,” said Asrelia kindly. “But the contest is not to see who shall spin fastest—it’s to determine who’s the truest weaver.” She stroked my hair and bid me stand while Leurmaia finished.
She spun well—I’ll give her that. Although slower than me her wool looked strong and even. It looked like wool I’d be happy to have spun myself, and happier still to put onto my loom. As Leurmaia tied off her spinning, I began to set up my loom with a new frame of mind. Mother was generous; she had given me a warning. If I was sloppy, I may well be beaten. Beaten, at weaving, by that lazy waste-of-womanhood! The concept boggled me. Still, Mother sees all possibilities when she weaves on the Great Loom, and clearly my loss was one pattern among many.
I leaned into the backstrap, while stout Maran held the warp cords. Stronger than hooks, stronger than walls, I trusted the Mighty Daughter with all of my essence. She would keep my work taut. Once prepared I remained still, staring at the loom, at its lines of wool. Unafraid. I wanted to practice my patience, as Mother had hinted—I wanted to see a pattern, a brilliant pattern, emerge from my working. “This blanket will be better,” I promised to Asrelia. “It will keep you warm while you sleep.”
Leurmaia laughed, but said nothing. Already I could feel her beside me, feel her presence like thorns scratching my skin, bleeding out the tranquility I usually felt while in the presence of Power. The pattern emerged again, like a ghost, like a chance. It hovered before my sight, and my sight alone. I picked up my yarn, and threaded my shuttle. Leurmaia’s loom was clicking away.
Two throws, then a third, the pattern stayed strong. Like reeds along a riverbank my imagination stood straight. I knew what would happen when I cut off the cloth. At forty throws and fifty, the shuttle began wavering—my vision grew illusive as I sank into the work. Four hundred throws, nine hundred, and my fingers were tired again. Already today I had done a great work at weaving. Fatigue was my rival’s ally; he stood like a husband with a hide-covered shield in his hands. I daren’t look away to glimpse at her loom. Too quickly, I’d begun growing tired.
Two thousand throws, four thousand, six thousand and eight; my fingertips bled when they brushed the warp strings, they cried when I grasped the shuttle, they shook, as though kissed by Old Age. Go away! You’re Mother’s lover—you’re not yet mine. How could she love him? How could she treasure him? Finally, exhausted, I leaned back, and broke from weaving. Hands resting on the dirt floor, gently caressed by the world’s life. A great sweat covered me, and the loom’s strap rubbed my lower back raw.
“Finished!” exclaimed Leurmaia. I blinked, as work-tears rolled down into my eyes. Finished? How could the Daughter of What’s Left finish her weaving when I’m barely half done? Slowly, realizing that I’d not continuing, not today, Maran relaxed her grasp on the loom. She stepped forward, and pressed the cloth into my lap. I touched it, I smeared my blood on it, I stained the wool with desire. With failure. I am not worthy of my mother.
With a stroke of her slender stone knife, Leurmaia cut her weaving free from the loom. It was clean and white. A strong, tight weave, one I bitterly envied. The pain in my fingers was nothing, compared to the knives cutting away within my hollow ribs. The Weaving Daughter stood slowly, and with loving grace pressed the white cloth into the hands of her Mother. I wiped my forehead, with the back of one hand.
Asrelia leaned forward, and kissed Leurmaia’s forehead. “You fail,” she said sweetly.
“Fail?” said Leurmaia. “How could I fail—Ernalda hasn’t even finished her weaving!”
“This weaving lacks magic,” the Great Creatrix said. She turned back to the Loom of the Universe, and traced a thin blue thread out from where it hung in the air. “See?” Asrelia traced the thread down to the ground, lifting it just a little with her pointing finger, and following it to where it slipped into my weaving. I stared as Mother touched my unfinished work. “You’ll never finish this work,” she said while patting my cheek. “I never finished it, either. And it’s work. It’s hard work, throwing the threads of creation. But someone needs to do it, and she’d better be a damn good weaver.”
Leurmaia stomped her foot—blushing as Maran raised an eyebrow in response, for the Dancer has no patience for competition—and whined. “But I am your daughter! Even if I’m not the Mistress of the Crafthall, I still beat Ernalda! I still won!”
Asrelia rose, her back straight. “Leurmaia is my daughter,” she declared to our mutual shock. “I bore her in darkness, when none of you were looking. She’s your shadow, your embarrassment. She is your sister.” Then, she faced the Impudent Daughter directly, and plucked up a thread from the Pattern. “Leurmaia, speak!” she said. “You are the Impudent Daughter, the Gambler, the One Without Caution. What is your inheritance? You already know it!”
Leurmaia stood straight, she looked Asrelia in the eye. “I am the One Without Caution, the Gambler, the Laughing Daughter. Give me the spare threads, give me the threads which don’t fit. Give me the power no one else wants! It’s mine, I claim it!”
Asrelia’s fingers threw an imaginary shuttle. Lines of blue and gold, threads of the Universe’s magic wove together, and wove Leurmaia into the Pattern. The three great lines of the Loom of the Ultimate Pattern were nearly filled up, as my Mother looked at me. No longer young, no longer powerful. She held Power still, she still had the Creatrix’s Womb inside her. But Power was fading, she needed to sleep. I knew in that moment the truth of her words—Mother would sleep. She would sleep long, and become someone else. Body aching, I rose while she spoke.
“Ernalda, speak!” she said. “You are my beloved, the Wise Queen, the Fire-Tender, the Mistress of the Crafthall. What is your inheritance? You already know it!”
The weaving lay in my hands. As I stared at my unfinished work, my eyes followed the blue thread which Mother had used to test Leurmaia and I. It chased the red fingerprints which stained the white cloth. Bleeding, the blue suffused my weaving. It spread into the unblemished yarn I had spun, from wool I had carded, from sheep I had shorn, and raised from lambs, and midwifed. As the blue light of Mother’s weaving leeched across my work—still attached to the now-slack frame of my loom—it was drunk up by three of the warp lines. My fingertips felt warm. The cuts closed, although my fatigue remained. To the eyes of Power and I, my frayed and uneven cloth shone with the Promise of Beauty.
It wasn’t perfect. But so, too, is the Great Pattern.
“I am the Mistress of the Crafthall,” I said. “I am the Fire-Tender, I am Ernalda. Give me your work, Mother, so that you may rest and heal.” Stepping forward, I took the bundle of yarn out of Asrelia’s hands. Then, handing the loom-hook to Maran, I sat down, and continued my weaving.
There was such a lot of Creation to do.
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