A glimpse of the mischievous elf Neap and other times
Neap ate the bitter talking root and became wise instantaneously. She began to wail, “I am so bored with nothing left to learn! Before I was just a wittle elf who stole the moon. Now that every riddle is solved I see where this all is headed! Waah.”
The farmer Virid replied, “Little Elf Neap, you may have eaten the wisen root, but you are still hungry, like our household god:
The land was soon bare of fronds and food. There was not a drop of water. There was not a morsel of food to be found. Each night the ravenous god child begged his mother for food.
So the mother removed her teeth and sowed them in the field, and they became ears of corn. She removed her flowing locks and set them in the sea, and they become strands of kelp. She removed her toes and buried them in the ground, and they became the tubers we still eat today.
The child, now well and plump, turned to thank the mother for her bounty, but she was nowhere. The child turned back, and she was everywhere.
The mother began to tell the child a story:
“Long ago, the world ocean was changing. Little spots of land began to be visible during the full moon. The land would wax and wane with the lunar body.
A large stone emerged and remained visible always. It grew proud.
The lord of the air, who was accustomed to swirling around and swimming in the firmament, became jealous. He did not wish to share his domain with the new imposing land. The air lord cast a lotus seed into the heart of the stone.
There was no sunlight to the seed. There was no air around it, only the rough concrete hardened around its bitter germ.
The lotus could not go up, blocked as it was by stone above, so it grew the only way it could - down. Digging down into the softer muck, it let its water-spirit alter-ego wander.
At first it grew slow, light and airy, and then it grew fast and heavy, delving deeper.
Above, the lotus complex and rock simple tore against one another. Always down but dreaming up, the lotus roots began to sing down the world’s mountains and valleys. Though it throve in the world of the waters, it could not forget the air it had flown through nor solid rock in which it was first sown. Among the underwater hills and caves it sang Shum:
“O Shum, the mountain child! The very moment she was born, she lifted her stout father into the air with one chubby hand. He hooped and hollered with pride! She carried her exhaused mother back home from the midwife’s. For her first dinner, Shum reached out her hand and grabbed four pigeons out of the air, one in each of the gaps between her fingers.
In their tent by the rookery, Shum tended to the eaglets. Her skin resisted beak and talon like stone. Her brow was sturdy like an iron shield. Shum grew by leaps across chasms and bounds up to peaks. As she suckled, she carried her mother aloft in the air while also chopping firewood. Her mother sang ballads and folk songs, filling Shum’s mind with feats.
The other children practiced hunting with slings. Shum merely flicked pebbles, which knocked her prey unconscious instantly. Strong and quick-witted, the mountain child’s eyes grew brighter each day.
Shum learned the places where to meet the alpine mints from her father. Shum learned all the ways to catch a wild horse from her mother.
Many summers passed in the mountainside, and the child had grown wide and tall. Soon the valleys called to her. She had reached the age to search for wives.
Shum walked down the switchback trails from her village. A season ago, she might have jumped down impatiently, incautiously, impetuously. But Shum was in a contemplative mood. This is what wifing does to a woman.
In the neighboring hills of Saÿ, Shum saw a handsome farmer on the road. The traveler stopped moving when Shum approached.
The ruralite carried bundles of fine millet on her back. Her eyes shone like dew on a spring flower, her cheeks bright as fall color, her lips as thin as the crescent moon.
Shum showed the farmer how to hunt mountain goats, where to find everlasting sage, and when to soak up the moon’s nutriments. In their roving, the farmer showed Shum how to spit the plum’s stones so they would grow into sparkling groves, where to defecate so the berries they ate would proliferate into sprawling patches, and how to chew a tomato without crushing its seeds. All the while, the ruralite cast small quantities of millet for next season’s meandering forage.
The pair did not know the vicissitudes of life. Shum’s companion would pluck a thorny branch and brush her hair with it. Shum would kneel down and delectible fungi grew into her hand.
In the days spent together, the ruralist always faced Shum, never removing her right hand from behind her back. She cooked their evening millet lefthanded, traced the constellations lefthanded, and embraced Shum lefthanded.
After one season, the farmer whose name was Yeyo said, “Fair Shum, I must now return to my people.”
“Don’t say such things. Filial piety is too heavy a burden for even me! Come, Yeyo. We will roam, scooping our sustenance off the top of the world like foam.”
“Ay! Bold Shum! Our time has been all idyll and no toil, serenity without severity. How I wish it could be so forever. Yet it remains that I must return.
“Long ago my ancestors swore fealty to the grass and the dew. The price for breaking this oath is life itself.”
“Dear Yeyo, I will placate the grass and the dew. I would bring them sun and moon, if they would only release you from your vow! Tell me how.”
“They have all the sun and moon they desire. The grass and the dew, they require tending and brushing, day and night. My family provides them constant care, for the grass and the dew of our valley are in deep contemplation, seeking one elusive rudiment."
Shum felt the geas settle upon her like a mantle
“Say this elusive rudiment’s name and I will bring it forth for the dew and grass.”
Yeyo suppressed a wail and asked if Shum were truly up to the task.
“Tell me the name of the rudiment, and I will fetch it. Whether it belong to vicious chieftan or supreme god, it will be theirs.”
“Very well. Far to the south, beyond the beyond, there is the world mountain, whose roots extend to the bottom of time, whose peak pierces the sky, whose slopes extend beyond the wingspan of the most supreme gods. Bring this to the dew and grass, and then will we be wives.”
“What is the name of this mountain you call the world?”
“It is known as the deep mountain of conditioned phenomena.”
“I will bring this mountain to your dew and grass.”
I think I am going to talk about plants next time!
- cas ey