The Sun Went Dark
“Grandmother, how did the world die?”
The old woman sighed; the child had forgotten again. She leaned back against the pile of furs, wincing at the dull ache in her bones, a result of the insistent cold of the world outside their cave. She began to stroke the child’s silver curls with her gnarled fingers, weaving several strands into a complicated braid. “Haven’t I told you this story many times before? The Incitement? The war? Don’t you remember?”
The child flopped against the furs, picking the fraying edge on one of them. “Yes, I remember some of it. But can’t you tell me again? You might have left out some parts.”
The old woman looked at the child, who grinned mischievously, with a disapproving expression, though the leathery skin around her eyes was creased in the edges with amusement. She knew she hadn’t forgotten. Just the same, she obliged.
“There were once only two spirits on this world,” she said. “Khalaqu, the spirit of light, rain, and creation—and her brother, Tamiru, the spirit of darkness, storms, and destruction. After they balanced the sun, rain, and darkness, they became invisible. Then people rose up from the elements: Jagaser from ice, Sviroser from sand. The spirits gave them a heart, the life-giving part.”
The child groaned. “No, Grandmother,” he protested. “Not that far back. Start with the exciting stuff!”
The old woman stared at him, then sighed and nodded.
“It began with the melting of the ice,” she began patiently. She waved her fingers, and with a flash of blue light, a small piece of ice had formed in her hands, with jagged edges. The child gasped and leaned forward, reaching out a hand to touch it. But the ice was melting quickly, and soon it had dissolved into a puddle.
“It didn’t happen quickly. At first, no one noticed. Then the cliffs began to break, and the Vandrender began to die. The tribes were terrified. We ran to the kingdoms of Sviros, pleading for help before the ground beneath our feet became sea. They helped us at first, but then, I suppose, their cities became too crowded with the Jagaser. They no longer let us in, though there were many tribes left on the ice. And then, just like that, the sun went dark.”
She stretched out one of her gnarled fingers, pointing to the sky, speckled with stars. She made a quick grab, as if catching something, then pulled her hand back down. When she opened it, a little circular shadow rested within.
“The sun had always been distant, that much was sure. Always favored Sviros over Jagas. But we could see it, rising and falling, in the distance. I was not even born the day it abandoned us completely. But my mother told me one moment the sun was there. Then, darkness. That was the last we saw of the sun.”
“Ever?” The child’s eyes were wide with fascination, and the grandmother nodded sadly, letting the shadow fall from her fingers.
“Perhaps the spirits heard our cries to stop the melting ice. It did stop, but the weather grew colder. Jagas has always been cold, but soon even we couldn’t stand the frost. And then there was war. You see, the tribes of Jagas grew increasingly fearful as Jagas froze over, and Sviros would not let them in. Fear can cause us to do irrational things sometimes. First comes pain, then hate. And violence soon broke out.”
She paused and glanced at the child, who seemed to have lost interest. He was squirming on a pile of furs. The old woman raised her eyebrows. “Am I boring you?”
The child looked up. “No, Grandmother! Not at all. But…when are you going to talk about him?”
Instantly, the old woman’s expression changed from wistful to one of disgust. “Him? Why would you want to know about him?” She spat the word, loathing strong in her voice.
The child shrugged. “Because….”
The old woman shook her head wearily. The child watched her face, suddenly worried she would stop the storytelling. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to tell—”
“No, no, I will tell you about him,” the old woman said ruefully. “My refusing won’t make your curiosity go away. I know that. So. Him. Some might say he was the cause of all of this. I don’t think that is necessarily true, but I do know he was the reason we went to war. He was the cause of so much bloodshed and violence, and he is to blame for many deaths, though he himself was dead before he was able to see many of them. Perhaps it would have served him right, to watch the destruction of his world, to hear the screams of agony that he caused. I don’t know if it would have done any good, though. Most say he had a heart of ice.”
“Why do they say that?”
“He was a murderer of innocents. A breaker of families. A purveyor of doom, if I’m feeling particularly dramatic. He committed the very worst of sins among his own people, and without cause.”
The child looked thoughtful. “Without cause? Why would anyone do that?”
The grandmother shrugged. “I’m not sure. Some, my dear, are born evil.”
At that, the child frowned. He didn’t say anything for a long time. “I don’t think anyone is born evil,” he decided, speaking at last. The grandmother tilted her head, inviting him to elaborate.
“Babies aren’t evil,” the child went on, emboldened that his grandmother had taken him seriously. “At least, I don’t think they are. They don’t want to kill. Something must have made him that way.”
“Well, it must have been very bad, whatever it was,” the grandmother remarked wryly. She got to her feet, with difficulty. “Perhaps that’s enough storytelling for tonight. It’s almost time for bed—”
The child leapt up. “Wait! Not yet! I want to hear more!”
“There is not much more to tell,” the grandmother explained. “These are stories my mother told me, and her mother before that. They change over time, and I do not have the best memory, you know.”
The child looked disappointed. “Why don’t you write any of it down?”
“Our books for writing are very limited. We don’t have enough to fill them up with stories.”
“Even if it’s our history?”
“History,” said the grandmother, placing her hand on the child’s chin, “can be passed down many ways, whether it’s writing, or painting, or, in our case, storytelling.”
“Are there no books? No paintings, at all?” The child’s questions would not cease.
The old woman opened her mouth, about to respond, then closed it, frowning. She turned and hobbled into the depths of the cave, muttering to herself. The child caught some of her whispered words, “inappropriate,” “forbidden,” and then, “not good for a child to hear the words of a murderer.” The child looked on, straining to hear, trying to stifle his questions. Then she turned back to the child.
“There is one book,” she announced, her eyes dark. “But we are not supposed to have it.”
The child opened his mouth, but the grandmother held up a hand. “However,” she said, “I will read it to you. It’s not as if they can harm us, anyway.”
She disappeared into the cave, and the child trotted after her. They walked for quite a distance, taking several sharp turns until finally, the grandmother halted. She walked over to an old pile of skins and bent over, flinging them behind her, revealing a little wooden box. Carefully, as if handling fire, she grasped the top of the box and removed it, gently setting it on the ground. Then she reached into the box. The child waited in anticipation as she drew out a small, worn book, which she gingerly handed to him.
The child held the book in his hands. It had a crude cover, leather-bound, so old it almost disintegrated with his touch. In the cover was engraved a single word, unfamiliar to the child. Tabidaque.
“What does it mean?” he asked, but the grandmother just gave a quick shake of her head.
“It’s an ancient language. Open it.”
He began to open the book, but the grandmother quickly stopped him. “Perhaps we should sit down. This may be a while.”
The child nodded and sat down on the pile of skins and furs. The grandmother joined him, and together they poured over the book, such a rare object in these times, lit only by the faint glow of firelight. With a delicate touch, the child flipped open the cover. Slowly, he read the words out loud.
“Unfold the web of sorrow and deceit
Buried deep in shadowed regions…”