The first adventures of the legendary hero Par, in which she rides a sacred bird, meets her faithful bear companion Ebor, travels the known world, discovers fire, and saves the world.
Photo credit: Marcia and Mike Nelson Pedde
This story goes back to the beginning, when humans were new and young and ignorant.
Back before the founding of Layor, when the whole land held only a few tribes, scattered across the purple-grassed plains.
Back before metal, when people hunted hares and graybucks with sticks and sinew and stone.
Back before the land was cleared for farms and villages, when a wolf could travel from the Great Forest to the western shore and never leave the cover of trees.
Back before Sambar found us, when we still worshiped the first gods.
Back then, Jallor was the father and king of the gods. Par was the high priestess of Jallor and ruled as estar of the humans in the southlands, the first person ever to hold both roles. Her mother had been the high priestess before her, and her father had been the estar. Par was their only child. The night she was born, the moon disappeared. It was said the moon was consulting with the other gods about who would give her which blessings. On her name day, eight stars fell from the sky, one for each of the first gods.
Par was tall and broad, with skin the color of sand and eyes the color of stone. She was known for being strong and fast and wise, and for wielding a blessed obsidian spear. Par pushed her people to try new things, to learn and grow, to advance beyond mere survival. The humans in the southlands prospered. They adopted new means of hunting, and making shelters, and finding new foods.
Then, Par broke completely with tradition by approaching the Duuin—the earthmen. Par saw that in her tribe, only she had the favor of Jallor. But among the Duuin, even the least of them could tree-talk and run the shadows. The Duuin worshiped no gods, and prayed only to the earth. Adopting their ways was blasphemy against the first gods. Yet Par sought to learn their powers, to bring them to her people.
When Jallor found out, he was furious. To punish such a dire transgression, Jallor took his favor from Par. Suddenly powerless, she reeled.
Jallor, still angry, sucked the heat from the sun and swallowed it. The sun hung in a gray sky, pale and cool, like a corn-eyed moon.
All of Eneana felt winter for the first time. The people had no idea how to live in the cold. They had no warm shelters or furs, no food saved up from warmer days. Par begged Jallor to forgive her and to spare his people, but he was not convinced that she was duly penitent.
Par made many sacrifices and prayers. She fasted for days and days, and days again. Eventually, Jallor relented. He gave Par an impossible challenge: if she could bring him the sun in her hand, he would cure it for her and put it back in the sky.
Par spoke with all of her wise ones. Nobody could tell her how to hold the sun in her hand. So she resolved to search the world for an answer. She took her pack and her spear and set off alone.
On the first night, Par was visited by Enna, the goddess of death and healing. Enna appeared as a shining silver bush, offering Par magic berries to aid in her quest. As Par picked the berries, one of the thorns pricked her palm, leaving a scar that never healed.
The trickster god Tan-Tan took the form of a squirrel and began following Par. He teased her that she would never succeed without his help. Tan-Tan asked for the magic berries, again and again. But Par did not trust him, and refused.
Par went first to the tribes nearest hers, hailing them with gestures of peace. She gave one of the berries to the people of the western plains. They could not help her find the sun, but they knew where the sacred birds—the giant k’nee—were roosting. They took Par there, to see if the birds might bless her quest. The leader of the k’nee, K’nan-et, was impressed by Par and agreed to carry her on his back to speed her journey. When people saw the priestess on the back of the sacred bird, they knew she was holy, and they bowed low before her as she passed.
Tan-Tan made himself larger so that he could run alongside K’nan-et. Tan-Tan teased the bird about letting a human ride him, like a donkey. K’nan-et stopped. When Tan-Tan stopped in front of him, the bird kicked out with one claw, quickly and viciously. The squirrel-god flew high in the air and disappeared beyond a hill. The sacred bird turned and resumed running.
Par gave one of the berries to the people of the white woods. They claimed that they had captured the power of the sun underground. They took her to see amazing cave springs, with bubbling water as hot as the midday sun. The people of the white woods were huddled around the springs to keep warm, yet they were willing to give the heat to Par, to save the true sun. But when she took a jar of water away from the spring, the heat seeped away and was gone.
Par gave one of the berries to the hill people, who were known as great archers. They built a bow larger than any human had ever wielded, and arrows to match. Everyone in the tribe blessed it with the rites for luck and distance, and Par blessed it as well. Still, even the strongest archer could not pierce the pale sun, hanging limp in the dim sky.
Par gave one of the berries to the far-neighboring Ajawats. They claimed they had caught the sun in a jar. That was a lie. The Ajawats stole her bag of berries and her weapons. They knew better than to spill the blood of the daughter of Jallor, so they put her into a deep pit and waited for her to die. But Par was fiercer than they realized. She escaped the pit and lured most of the tribe away from the village. While they were gone, Par killed the guards to retrieve her weapons and magic berries. She cast their food onto the dirt, and slashed their rugs, and smashed their pots and icons. Then Par carved the symbol of unholy exile into their center-shrine. Chanting secret rites, she desecrated all their possessions and all their land. She cursed them and their children and their children’s children. Since that day, the Ajawats have been forever reviled by the gods.
When Par left the village, she found that Tan-Tan had been distracting K’nan-et. She knew that getting angry with Tan-Tan would only encourage him, so instead she tried to learn. Par asked why he had held back K’nan-et instead of letting him help. Tan-Tan licked his lip and then said, “It was important that you do that alone. Best not to get the birds involved.”
Tan-Tan derided Par for wasting all her magic berries on people who could not help her. He asked Par again to give him the magic berries. Or just one berry. But Par pretended not to hear him.
Par and K’nan-et ran north, toward the great mountains. They avoided the plains people on the way, who were barbarians and had no words. But the savages saw her and tried to trap her. K’nan-et was fast, and darted between them, but he was one bird, and they were many.
Eventually, Par and K’nan-et were surrounded on all sides by dirty, snarling brutes. She tried calling out to them, demanding that they let her pass. They babbled back to her with their not-words, and gurgled with laughter. If Par still had the favor of Jallor, she could have called the lightning and struck them dead. But even without the god’s help, she was still high priestess, and still estar.
Par raised her obsidian spear high over her head and began chanting ancient words of power. Her spear reflected the light from the pallid sun and seemed to writhe as she waved it rhythmically. The savages stopped laughing, and edged back a step. Her chanting started low and intense but grew louder and more insistent. K’nan-et joined in with a fearsome screech after each phrase, as if to add his agreement.
Par and K’nan-et slowly advanced on the leader. As she approached, the savages realized how tall she was on the back of the bird, and how fierce the bird itself was. They had never faced an opponent who was mounted, much less on a sacred bird. They were intimidated, and rightly so. Tensions grew as Par closed in. When Par raised her voice to a shout, the circle broke and ran. They abandoned their leader and his guard to face her alone.
K’nan-et closed the gap in a second. Par had her spear in and out of the closest guard before he could even raise his shield. She killed the leader and two others in quick succession, while Knan-et clawed off the faces of two more. The others ran. Par and K’nan-et screamed their victory cries in unison, and sped off while the tribe was still scattered.
K’nan-et took Par as far as the craggy mountains that divide the world. The priestess and the sacred bird bowed their respect to each other. Then K’nan-et turned back south while Par began to climb.
Halfway up the mountain, Par found the giants. Before they would treat with this small human, they challenged her to a battle. Par argued that the challenge was not fair because the giant was six times her size. So the giants challenged her to fight a huge brown bear. The bear was only three times her size, and they agreed that was fair.
Par circled the bear. She slashed and feinted and kicked. She made the bear chase her, tiring it out. She jumped so fast and so high that she could attack the bear from behind and be gone before it turned around. The bear was strong and ferocious. It slashed at her with claws larger than her head, and hit her once, and then once again. But in time, Par wore the bear down. She had her spear at its neck and was poised for the death blow. Instead, she offered to spare the noble bear its life in return for its loyalty. The bear said he would be honored to serve anyone who had fought so bravely. And that is how Ebor the Bear became Par’s boon companion.
Par gave one of the magic berries to the giants, to take her to the top of the tallest mountain. Tan-Tan made one of the giants carry him on her shoulder, making rude jibes as they walked. Once the giant was so angered that she plucked Tan-Tan between her fingers and flung him to the opposite mountain. When the squirrel appeared on the path around the next bend, she growled, but did not flinch when he scrambled up to her shoulder.
They climbed high and higher, all the way to the clouds and then above them. At the highest peak, they were still not close enough. The largest of the giants held her up to the sky, but still, she could not reach the sun. On the ground nearby, Tan-Tan stood on his hind legs and stretched his tiny paw as high as he could, mimicking her. He cried false tears when he couldn’t reach the sky.
Par traveled west until she came to the end of the land, where the water stretched farther than the eye can see. Par stood in the waves and prayed to Zanzo. He sent a huge fish as an emissary. When Par told the fish her story, an ice flat emerged from the depths. Par and Ebor stepped carefully onto the ice flat. Tan-Tan squinted his eye at the fish for a long while, then refused to get on. Par thought she saw the fish smile. They left him there. Pushed by Zanzo’s huge fish, Par and Ebor rode the ice flat across the sea, all the way to the far shore.
There, Par found the land of the magruks. Asking Ebor to wait in the woods, Par crept unseen into the very midst of their encampment. Stealthy and patient, Par made her way to the tent of the chief. She surprised him there when he was alone, and calmly made a sign of peace. The magruk chief had not dealt with many humans. Par was clearly a warrior, and her tattoos and neckband indicated she had some status or important role. He was impressed by how she had appeared suddenly in his tent, as though by magic. Not knowing her powers, the wise chief returned her sign of peace.
Par gave one of the magic berries to the magruk chief. He claimed they had captured the sun in their sacred lake. When he took Par to the lake, it had the image of the sun reflected on the water, bright as it ever was, even at night. It was truly a magical lake, but Par could find no way to hold the sun-magic in her hand. The chief was disappointed that he was not the one to help bring back the sun. To aid her quest, he gave Par gifts, and food for her journey, and knowledge of the surrounding lands.
The magruk warriors escorting Par to the edge of their land did not share their chief’s generosity. They attacked her to steal the gifts for themselves. Her magic spear hidden away, Par fought them bare-handed, one against five. She whistled for Ebor. By the time he arrived, she was dealing the death blow to the last warrior with his own stone-mace. As retribution for their betrayal, Par took their weapons and destroyed their tokens.
Later, when the magruk chief found the bodies of his warriors, he believed they had been ambushed by Par’s allies. Some say this began the hostility between magruks and humans that continues even now.
Par traveled far and farther, and found the land of the elves. The elves greeted Par with flat palms, calling her “big sister.” Their expressions changed when they heard her story. The elves said they had assumed that Par, being human, followed the ways of the Duuin, and had come to consult with them about the sudden winter. Instead, they learned that Jallor was the cause of the sudden winter, and that Par was his high priestess. They learned that Jallor disapproved of the Duuin, and had brought on the catastrophe to punish Par for betraying her own god.
The elves stepped back, unsure of their position in this dispute.
Par spoke softly to them. She spoke of her respect for the Duuin and their beliefs, and her respect for the elves and their god. She spoke of the importance of peaceful relations, and their common cause in restoring the sun.
The elves withdrew to talk privately. When they returned, they repeated their greeting, if less warmly.
The elves asked to hear more about Jallor and the sun. They made Par repeat the story again and again, every time wanting new details or background information. Only when they had learned all they could did the elves turn to their own lore.
The elves had many songs that touched on the sun. They sang epic legends for days. They saved the most dramatic epics for the evenings, to be sung by the light of the star-flies. Par learned much about the world and how it came to be. She learned that the elves’ god, Zahenalan, was the second to find Eneana, and had been here long before Jallor. But the elves had no stories about how to capture the sun.
Par saw that the elves suffered from the cold, as humans did. She asked them, if Zahenalan was truly older and more powerful than Jallor, why he did not bring back the sun to save his people. The elves said that if the sun were important, Zahenalan would have restored it. Since he had not, clearly elves do not need the sun, and only the moon and stars have value.
The king of the elves brought forth a golden gem the size of an apricot. It sparkled even in the cool rays of the pale sun. They king gave the gem to Par, saying, “It has no magic. And yet, magic may not be what you need.”
Par and Ebor journeyed all around that far land. They found no other people, and none of the animals could help them. So they returned across the sea.
Finally, Par went to the great forest in the east to treat with the fairies. The elves said that the fairies’ goddess Kakika was the first to find Eneana. Surely, the fairies would know how to find the sun.
Tan-Tan appeared again. He warned Par not to talk to the fairies. He said they were dangerous. He said they would not help her find the sun. He told her not to listen to them, or take their gifts.
Par was wary of the fey, but they were her last hope. She could not go to the earthmen without angering Jallor even more. The fey were the only others who knew the ways of magic.
As they approached the edge of the great forest, Tan-Tan suddenly became absorbed in admiring a patch of wildflowers, and stopped short of entering. When Ebor and Par crossed the forest boundary, the trees reached down and blocked the giant bear. Ebor struggled to continue, protective of Par. But Par motioned for him to stay outside, and went in alone.
There was no path in the forest. Although Par concentrated on walking a straight line, the leaf-filtered light seemed to change direction at whim. One moment she was alone. The next step she was in a glade surrounded by fairies, some so tiny they buzzed around her ears like lake-flies. The fairies sang Par many songs, in a language she could not quite understand. As Par stretched her mind toward the words, her thoughts became muddled. The fairies swirled around her, and around her again, and she began to sink into the grass.
Her hands going numb, Par fumbled in her bag for a magic berry. She studied the dizzying revelers, but none of the fairies seemed to be in charge. She held out the berry. A small flower-fairy stopped and took the berry, ate it, and kept dancing.
Par reached in her bag again for the elves’ golden gem. Catching the eye of a tree-fairy, she flashed the gem in her hand, then quickly hid it from the others. The fairy tried to pry the gem from her fingers. Weakened by the enspellment, Par struggled to keep hold of the gem. Despite being half her size, the fairy easily pulled Par’s limp body along the grass. Par’s mind cleared as soon as she left the circle of the fey dance, which continued unabated. Still holding her hand, the fairy led her to the edge of the forest. Then Par opened her hand and gave him the gem.
The fairy gave Par three shiny eggs. When Par asked what the eggs would do, the fairy said, “Something.”
When the fairy left, Tan-Tan reappeared. He told Par not to eat the eggs, but to give them to him instead. Par refused. She asked Tan-Tan what the eggs would do. He sulked, and would not answer.
Par ate the first egg. Nothing happened. She ate the second egg. It made her so ill that she writhed in pain for three days. Only the vigilant care of Ebor kept her alive. When she recovered, she ate the third egg. Her hair turned pale green, she never aged another day, and she was ever after impervious to poison and disease.
Tan-Tan shrugged and said, “I warned you.”
Par had traveled to every land she knew, and she had only one magic berry left. More of her people were starving or freezing to death every day, and she still had not found what she needed to save them. Tan-Tan teased her about her failure. He said her efforts were useless; she may as well give him the last berry.
Par considered. Tan-Tan was a god, after all. And it is poor trickster who lies every time he opens his mouth.
Par took a deep breath, and told Tan-Tan she would give him the last berry if he made a sacred oath to help her catch the sun in her hand. Tan-Tan twitched his nose a few times, then swore to help. Par handed him the last berry. He popped it into his squirrel mouth and smiled.
When Par asked Tan-Tan how he would catch the sun for her, he did not reply. Instead, he challenged her to play a game with him. In the game, Par must rub two sticks of wood together very quickly, as many times as she could, until she was faster than Tan-Tan. Par tried and tried, and tried again, but she could not go as fast as Tan-Tan’s little hands. Then the two sticks suddenly sparked with a small flame, like a tiny bolt of lightning. Shocked, she dropped them.
Tan-Tan told Par he would only tell her the secret of catching the sun if she won the game. So she tried and tried, and tried again, and once more she made the spark. Her tunic caught fire and burned off. She stood naked but unabashed.
Par learned quickly. She found some twigs, make the sticks spark again, and built a small fire. Par took a long branch, lit one end, and held it up high. To her delight, she saw that yes, it burned like a small sun. Now she could warm her people. Now she could bring light to even a moonless night.
Tan-Tan laughed, saying that Par was still not as fast as him. She had lost the game and he would not help her after all. Then he swished his bushy tail and disappeared in a swirl of smoke.
Par carried her burning torch to Jallor, to prove she had captured the sun in her hand. Jallor was angry because it was a trick. Still, he had to admit that Par had fulfilled the quest he set for her. Jallor belched up the swallowed heat and returned it to the sun. But because Par had listened to Tan-Tan, Jallor brought winter back every year, forcing his people to use the fire just to survive.
Par reigned as estar for a thousand years. She and Ebor journeyed together in many legendary quests. Par united the peoples of the southlands with those of the hills, the plains, the white woods, and beyond. She founded the fabled silver-stone city of Loar on the western coast, which still stands glorious to this day. Her many descendants spread out across the continent to distinguish themselves as leaders, warriors, and scholars.
Par was a brave warrior until the end. Nobody could defeat her. She outlived her enemies as well as her friends. Then one night, under the first moon of the year, Par’s beloved youngest child pricked her palm in the exact spot of the old wound from the silver bush, and Par died.
Long and longer after, when the first gods had been destroyed in the tremendous storm that swept the skies, the people were saved by Sambar Ackatalin. They prayed to Sambar to take away the winter and make the sun warm and nourishing all year long.
Sambar was angered. He brought even harsher winters to the southlands. Each winter reminds his people of what happens when they are disloyal to their gods. Each spring reminds them to be grateful for Sambar’s mercy.
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