Photo © Sue Vincent
Saliente and Etalas were together from the beginning, when the sky was first created. Like any old friends, rivalries developed. Etalas was jealous that mortals work during his day, but relax and make love during Saliente’s night. Saliente resented Etalas for never visiting her. When she visited him, she suspected him of shining all the brighter, intentionally making her look pale and weak.
One year at winter solstice, Etalas teased Saliente. “Here it is, the longest night and shortest day, and do they celebrate you? No, they hold grand festivals to beg me to come back. The mortals love me more.”
Saliente grumbled, silently hatching her plan. She crept closer to Etalas, day by day, going unnoticed, so small and gray she seemed. Finally, she was close enough to attack. She covered Etalas, blocking his rays, swallowing his light. The world went black. When she continued across the sky, heading back to her night, she left Etalas hanging there, dark and cold and impotent.
He called to her, pleading.
She laughed. “We shall see how the mortals love you now.”
Saliente’s followers waited for her to return the sunlight, praying and making sacrifices, but the sunless days added up. The people went from hopeful to worried to panicked.
Finally, high cleric Esquarto decided she must act. Under the full moon, she gathered the younger clerics and acolytes around her, to help cast the dream of communion.
In the dream, Esquarto found Saliente. The goddess had taken the guise of a mythical swan, filled with the golden light of the sun, floating on an endless sea of liquid night. Saliente looked tired to Esquarto, strained, as though the burden filled her to bursting, but the priestess was wise enough not to mention it.
Esquarto stood quietly until Saliente recognized her. “Speak, child.”
She chuckled. It had been ages since anyone was qualified to call her “child.” She stood straight, honoring her opportunity to speak directly to her deity, wondering why her voice did not shake. “I have been loyal to the moon my whole life. I have sought the nine passions, survived the nine journeys, and, now, been blessed with the nine dreams. I have lived all nine phases, waxing to my fullest and back down to the last wane. I am ready for the tenth phase, for the darkness. But before I die, I must beg, for my people: return the sunlight to the sky.”
The swan tossed her implausibly long neck. “Etalas disrespected me. I cannot forgive him.”
“You don’t have to, to return what is his.”
The swan swam as she pondered this, leaving ripples in the still water. “Is it true? Do the mortals love him more?”
Esquarto considered her response, wanting to hold back, to give the soft lie. But how could she not speak truth, her one time facing a god? “For many, Etalas is easier to love, easier to understand, simpler. He offers warmth and safety in our daily lives. Dreams and fate are more important, but they are also darker, riskier. We fear you as much as love you.”
“He will fear me now, knowing what I can do.”
“You can do much that he cannot. Let him do what he does best. Let him serve the day.”
Saliente sighed. She was indeed filled too full, and aching with it. She wondered how Etalas could hold such brightness within himself all the time, wondered how it did not burn a hole through his being. She knew her people needed his gifts as well as hers, and she could not be both sun and moon.
But the sunlight had fused into her. She could not let it go.
“Come, take it from me.”
Esquarto hesitated, drawn by the promise of touching a goddess, but knowing these would be her last steps. She walked across the water, farther than she thought, for the swan that had appeared so small from a distance was in fact gigantic.
She whispered a prayer and touched the golden swan.
The swan burst with all the power of the sun, the explosion filling the dream world, sending shudders through every mortal heart.
Esquarto, absorbing so much divine power even in a dream, died instantly. In the waking world, her mortal body shattered into shards of light. Saliente gathered up the pieces and placed them in the night sky to form the constellation of the Counselor, so that Saliente could have her nearby.
When the next day dawned, Etalas shone as brightly as ever. For a while, he was polite to Saliente, but soon they were back to their bickering. Periodically, she reminded him of her power by eclipsing him, right in the middle of his bright, sunny day. But since that time, Saliente has never again taken his light from him. And when she considered it, she had the Counselor to remind her why not.
Written for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. It’s a new challenge for me, but I loved the photo so much, I had to try!