EWYN'INE AND THE AEK'ASH

A HIVELING FOLK-TALE

 
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Introduction. The roots of this story are lost in the bitter and longstanding enmity between the Kuglimz people and their orcen neighbours, the Losh-Oc. Similar tales, with many variants, abound throughout Northern Sarvonia, but are largely concentrated in the Kuglimz territories. Though each version is different, twisting the tale to give the best portrait of the people telling it, (a possible exception being the Ashz-Oc version, which seems simply to portray both Kuglimz and Losh-Oc as foolish and thoughtless) the version told here is unique for its ending not with a noble, self-sacrificial death, but the intervention of a third party. Whether this makes it more likely to be true or less so is debatable, but it is quite possible that this myth has basis in truth – even if it is too much to expect to be able to find the truth of it under all the ingrained hatred between races and tribes.
 

he Losh-Oc are evil creatures. They came a long time ago, as the snow was thawing, to this place and burned all, put all to blade, attacking first and cruellest the women and children, taking them away before our warriors could fight back. They ran into the night, dragging their prisoners behind like an Argrothin bear its prey, running to the forest to devour it in private.

Beautiful Ewyn’ine was among the prisoners, young daughter of the strongest warrior of the tribe, Lor’ine. The Losh-Oc saw her beauty and her pride, and thought thus: “She, surely, is the greatest treasure of our enemy. She, surely, will bring them running if they hear her screams. She, then, will bait the clever trap that we will lay for the menfolk.” Ewyn’ine, then, was chosen. The other prisoners cut down like sheep slaughtered. We remember them here.

Ewyn’ine wept to see such cruelty, and was filled with fear at what her captors must have planned for her. They tied her hands behind her, and covered her eyes with a hood of animal hide, and they attached a rope to her neck, to lead her stumbling through the forest like a blind, frightened animal. She was frightened indeed, and wished that they would reach where they were taken to, so that she could only know her fate, and meet her end at last, instead of this terrible darkened journey. It seemed forever that she was led like a lame horse through the forest, and all she could hear was the mutterings of the hateful Losh-Oc. They argued, it seemed, bickered and nagged at each other in their barbaric snarling language, and a tentative hope flowered in Ewyn’ine’s heart. Were they anxious because they were pursued? Certainly, they seemed to move ever faster, and though Ewyn’ine was near exhausted by the relentless march that dragged her through the darkness, she clung to the hope that they were pursued, that her father and all the other men were chasing her, would rescue her soon and kill every one of the murdering Losh-Oc.

Her hope soon vanished as she was pulled to a halt, dragged roughly to a tree, and heard the rope knotted round the trunk. She felt the sickening, rotted-meat smell of orc breath as one of her captors pulled at her hair, forcing her to bend so that he might speak directly to her face. The hood was roughly pulled away, and she saw his yellow eyes, she smelt his awful breath, and heard him speak one word; “Vubuaz”, before they left her, alone in this silent clearing. She shuddered with a sudden cold fear, knowing suddenly what the Losh-Oc planned for her. She was tied only peds away from a great, ancient nest of Vubuaz, the Aek’ash whose sting brings unbearable pain. When the sun rose they would waken, and descend on her with their fierce stings, so that her screams would bring the men running, and they too would be attacked, fall in helpless agony, where they could be butchered by the Losh-Oc as easily as a litter of newborn piglets, or perhaps just left to die in the cold of the early spring. Losh-Oc are cruel but not stupid. They would rather watch from a distance as their enemies faded away, than risk Aek’ash stings themselves by going too close.

It was yet three hours until daybreak, yet try as she might, she could not loosen her bonds. She sank to the ground in desperate prayer to Lier’tyan, and lost herself for a time in grief; for herself, for the women and children already slain by the Losh-Oc, and for the men who would soon die by her screams. It seemed an age she lay weeping in silence, but there came suddenly upon her a realisation – both that it was light, at last, and that her low sobs were not the only sound in the clearing. She shuddered, not daring to look up, as she realised she had been hearing for some time the dreadful growling buzzing song of the Aek’ash. She dared not look up, for it seemed so loud it must be that they hovered close above her – she lay still and barely daring breathe, frozen by the awful terror of suspense, until she found herself only wishing they might strike, and end the agony of her waiting with the real agony of their stings. She looked up, into the face of her death.

It looked back down at her, and it was not the face of many small insects, but the face of a man. It shimmered and buzzed, sculpted from a great swarm of Aek’ash, yet it did not strike, did not seem in any way to be the bringer of death she expected. For a long moment she stared up at the blank face that shimmered before her in pearl and gold flash of wing and stinger. It was a swarm, but not a swarm, more as if the Aek’ash had poured themselves into the shape of a man, and taken on his mind and soul as well, for it did not strike but simply looked on her, without eyes, seeming by the slow tilt of its head, by the hesitant set of its buzzing shoulders and shimmering hands, to be watching her with a certain wonder. It watched her and she watched it back, for many minutes, before it moved – tried to reach out its hand towards her, drew back, almost as if scared, when she flinched at this movement. It stood up, suddenly, waved its insubstantial arms at her, as if to show her she could leave, the buzzing of its many wings rising and falling with every movement.

But Ewyn’ine could not leave – she was tied to the tree still, her hands bound behind her. She could but watch in uncomprehending wonder as the man of Aek’ash gestured towards her, then away, towards the safety of the forest’s edge, of her distant home. “I cannot go! I am tied here, a sacrifice for you to consume!” she cried, not expecting the creature to understand her. Yet it did, for it went quite still, suddenly, watching her again, as if astonished by this news. Again it approached her, but this time it inspected the ropes that bound her, reaching down almost to touch them, before withdrawing the hands made from buzzing, venomous Aek’ash. It could not touch the ropes to untie them, it seemed, nor to break them. Watching the strange man-shaped swarm, Ewyn’ine thought that to touch it would surely be to break the spell that held it together, and thus to unleash the Aek’ash with their fierce stings. This was a gentle creature, she thought, made out of many small vicious ones. It was, she thought, very beautiful, shimmering as golden as her own hair, lighter than air, graceful as grass that ripples in the wind. She wished she could talk to it more, even if it could not reply, even if she could not be sure it understood, but suddenly it turned its faceless head, towards some sound, and was gone, half drifting, half running through the forest, away in the direction the Losh-Oc had gone.

Ewyn’ine did not have long to wonder after its sudden departure, for she soon heard the same sound the Aek’ash man had, and her heart lifted in sudden, wild joy – the tramping of feet, the shouting of men talking to each other in her own tongue! She cried out to her father, and familiar voices answered, came running and cut her fetters, carried her to the arms of Lor’ine so that they could embrace, be sure and thankful of each other’s safety. It was only now, though, that the men saw the great swollen Aek’ash nest, and began to back away hurriedly, for fear of the terrible stings. It took all of Ewyn’ine’s patience and persistence to explain to them that the Aek’ash themselves were gone. She tried to tell them her story, but as she did not understand what had happened, how could she expect the others to? Her father took her back to the village, whilst the other warriors continued their pursuit of the Losh-Oc, hungry for vengeance.

Work had barely begun in repairing the orc-wrought damage when the warriors returned, wearing expressions of wonder and amazement. Lor’ine greeted them, asking “why do you return so quickly?”

Most were silent, but one answered “we found the hateful Losh-Oc barely three hours further on from where Ewyn’ine was tied.”

Lor’ine smiled at this news, and asked eagerly “you battled, then? I see none missing from your number, none wounded – you bested them?”

Again, the one answered, seeming hesitant in his words, as if not sure whether what he spoke were the truth; “it was no battle – they begged for death – even in their barbarous tongue we could well understand their piteous pleas. They writhed like worms, their foul skin pockmarked all over with a thousand welts... welts just such as those left by Aek’ash stings, though they were near no nest, and no Aek’ash were in sight. We butchered them as they asked, and returned. Our Ewyn’ine spoke the truth, I think. Some vengeful creature hunted down those orcs, and left on them the marks of Aek’ash. I know not what to think but that she spoke truth.”
 


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Folk tale written by Seth Ghibta View Profile