The Life-Bringers Quest

Written in RQ days, before the expansion of the Earth goddesses into ten billion sub-cults, but I think it still works.
This is an attempt at the "modern" (circa 1600) Sartarite version of the story, as known by women. It's meant to show:
  1. the roles of the Six
  2. that the Destructive side is necessary and must be accepted as well as the Creative. (earth = soil, growth v. earth = stone, strength).
  3. that the Creative side is cyclical, whereas the Destructive side is static.

So on the Creative side, at any given time there will be a Maiden, a Mother and a Crone, but no guarantees are given as to who occupies each role.

The male side of the story doesn't actually conflict with this, as they share the same ceremonies in many places. There's just some differences in emphasis. In particular, the men speak of Ernalda as being "asleep" or even "dead" when in fact only her body slept while her spirit journeyed.

Orlanth and Yelm quarrelled, as men do, over which of them was the greater. Orlanth killed Yelm, hoping to marry the Earth Queen and become King of the World, then went around boasting of his conquest. But this made the world he hoped to rule dark and cold, and the crops died. He tried to be a good husband, but soon others followed his example, using Death as a solution to their problems, and Chaos entered the world. Esrola died, and Babeester Gor was born from her body.[1]

Ernalda was a young maid at this time. She went to her mother Asrelia, then to her grandmother Voria[2], to ask what should be done. They agreed that someone would have to reach Yelm beneath the earth and bring Life to him.

Voria said that she should go first. "I am old", she said "I can no longer bear children. My absence for a time will be no great loss." She thought to herself that her death would perhaps be no great loss either, but she did not say this.

Babeester Gor knew her thought, and disagreed. "I will guard you on your journey", she offered.

But Voria refused her help. "I seek Life, not Death", she said. "Violence is not an option here."[3] And she left, seeking a way down into the underworld. Babeester Gor followed her, but at a distance. After many days of wandering, Voria found the place where the uz-folk had come up. They greeted her and offered her food and drink, and all unknowing, she accepted, for she was hungry and thirsty. But what is food and drink for Uz-folk is not so for others, and Voria died.

When Babeester Gor returned and told them of Voria's fate, Asrelia and Ernalda mourned for her. Babeester Gor however did not mourn. Instead she vowed to protect her family, no matter what the cost.

Then Asrelia said that she would make the next attempt. "You are young, my daughter, and not yet wise in the ways of the world", she said. "You stay here in safety."

Asrelia could see that her journey would be dangerous, so she went to her dark sister, Ty Kora Tek, mistress of the dead.

"You know the secret ways beneath the lands of the living, sister", she said. "Will you not guide me to where I must go?"

Ty Kora Tek agreed that she could do this. "But the paths of the dead must remain hidden from the living" she warned. Asrelia readily agreed to keep her sister's secret.[4]

They journeyed downwards on the Path of the Dead until they reached the lands where Darkness ruled. There they met the Night King, who treated Asrelia with respect and offered to shelter her and her wealth from the horrors of Chaos. She accepted, and left her wealth safely buried in a secret place under the earth before continuing on her way, guarded by his warriors. Other monsters sought to bar her path, but they fled when they saw her escort. At length she reached the Hall of the Dead, where Yelm now ruled. The Night King's warriors could not enter this place, as they feared even the feeble light that Yelm still commanded.

Yelm however greeted her haughtily rather than with gratitude. "What do you do here, old woman?" he asked.

Asrelia looked down at herself and saw that during her journey with the dead, her hands had become wrinkled and her hair was grey. "I have come to lead you back", she said. "You are needed in the lands above. My sister knows the path and can guide us there."

But Ty Kora Tek interrupted her. "I cannot lead him back" she said. "I promised only to guide you here. He is dead, not alive. For the dead, that path leads only one way."

"Can you not give me Life?" asked Yelm. "You are a mother: that is your function."

"I need Life to make Life" said Asrelia[6]. I cannot make Life from Death".

At this Yelm grew angry. "Then you have come here only to mock me" he cried, and ordered Asrelia to be put in chains.[7]

At home, Ernalda felt the power of Fertility fill her, and knew that her mother was lost. She considered what she should do, and decided to consult her sister, Maran Gor. "I cannot bring Life by the paths of Death" she said. "There must be another way."

"If another way is needed, let us make one", said Maran Gor. She stamped with her foot, and the earth opened before them. Ernalda stepped downward into darkness. As the last guardian of the fertility of the Earth left, the last crops died, and Famine ruled above.

She took with her a sheaf of barley[8]. When the Uz offered her their food and drink, she showed them how to make bread and beer, and they all agreed that this was better. (They even had enough to be able to offer better hospitality to the next guest to visit them: but that is another story[9])

The Night King offered her shelter, but she refused him, for she knew that wealth is to be used, not hoarded. She was assailed by monsters, but some she befriended with food[10] and others were driven off by Maran Gor.

At last they reached the Hall of the Dead. All those who had died of hunger were here, with the Emperor who had failed them. And in the centre, on a broken throne, was Yelm, still glowing faintly with the memory of Light. He greeted her coldly.

"Faithless woman", he said "Have you too come to mock, or to help my people?"

Ernalda held out her sheaf of barley. "I hold Life here", she said, "but I cannot give it to you. Only you can do that. These are your people, you say: can you live while they starve? This grain will feed them, but it cannot grow without your light."

Yelm hesitated, then agreed. He put forth the last of his light and shone on the grain. Ernalda scattered it upon the ground and it grew and spread. Soon a field of golden barley covered the Land of the Dead, shining with its own light: but Yelm was gone.

Maran Gor took an old, rusted blade[11] that lay nearby and harvested the barley, all but the last stalk. Then she ground it into flour between her hands[12] and gave it to Ernalda. Ernalda fed the starving people, and soon they were no longer thin and gaunt but fat and happy.[13]

Ernalda ate, too, and glowed with abundance. With the loving people to help her, she gave birth to a child, who grew to manhood in an instant. He plucked the last stem of barley, and it became a spear in his hands. Yelm had returned. He was a shadow of his former self.[14] But he was alive.

Meanwhile Orlanth had been shamed by the courage of his women-folk, gathered his friends and followed his wife, though by a longer route. He fought his way into Yelm's Court, and greeted Ernalda joyfully, for he had feared for her. But there were now others who also wished to wed the Earth Queen. Both the Night King and Yelm demanded proof that Orlanth was fit to replace them as her protectors. Before, Orlanth had responded to this request with violence, but this time he listened to Ernalda and for the sake of the Universe, which had already been damaged by his actions, agreed to undertake their tests.

The tests were hard, but Orlanth had learnt and grown on his travels. He passed all of them, and the older gods had to admit his claim. And, at Ernalda's request, they agreed that all her husband-protectors, the old and the new, would be friends from now on.[15] Ernalda embraced her newly-proven husband, and from that moment was born a child who symbolised the new beginning. Looking into her eyes, Ernalda recognised her soul as one she had thought lost[16]: but she said nothing to Orlanth of this.

Now that the gods were cooperating for the first time, and all the the Earth Family were together again, Arachne Solara appeared[17], and it was she who organised all of them against the Devil when he came. She gave birth to Time as a result of that fight, and it was Ernalda who was the midwife to the Pledge of the Gods.

Everyone assembled and went back to the Upper World to resume their proper places. Asrelia guarded the treasures of the Earth, Ernalda filled it with Life, and Voria danced with joy in the new Dawn. And both Yelm and Orlanth boasted of how they had saved the world. And Ernalda smiled, and let them. For there are secrets in the earth that no man should know.

[1] Some other sources say it was Ernalda's body from which she was born: but there has always been considerable confusion between these goddesses, and the chronology makes it clear that Ernalda was active elsewhere.

[2] Yes, Voria. Cyclical, remember? We'll find out what happens to her later!

[3] As Orlanth could have told her, violence is always an option.

[4] Later title of "Keeper of the secrets" comes from this.

[6] And her Life was the "wealth" she had left behind with the trolls!

[7] c.f. KoS p87, where Orlanth arrives to find "Ernalda" as "a sorry and broken slave".

[8] Other lands mention other crops at this point, but it's usually the main grain grown there. A few Colymar clans refer to apples and cider.

[9] The Lightbringers in the Obsidian Palace, to be precise.

[10] See Pam's myth of how she befriended Dog, though this is not known in Sartar.

[11] KoS p87: "Humakt was there; dull, rusty and broken."

[12] This role for Maran Gor was introduced in the 1520s, courtesy of Sorana "Millstone", wife of Saronil

[13] Of course, the ones who had died of causes other than starvation were still dead, waiting to greet Orlanth

[14] According to some sources, he was now a totally different god.

[15] KoS p 88: "after much pleading by Lodril, Dendara, Chalana Arroy, and others.."

[16] There's the cycle for you. Voria's back, and in the newly-vacated Maiden position.

[17] There is a suggestion in older sources that A.S. is the wyter of the Earth family: the sum of all of the Six and the seventh of their number.

Copyright © 1998 Jane Williams
Most recent revision May 1998