A KYRANIAN MYTH: THE HUNTER AND THE RED KING

PREVALENCE HISTORY/ORIGIN/PURPOSE - IMPORTANCE - STORY 

A folk tale of Kyranian origin, this story is especially popular among children for its simple explanation of why bulls so hate the colour red, and of course also for its bloodthirsty end. The mixture of cunning and bare-faced audacity embodied within the hunter mark this out as an especially enduring tale, which has kept children wary of their father’s prize steers for generations.

Prevalence. This story has moved with the Kyrattin to wherever they are domesticated, and beyond. It doubtless originated in the Kruswick Steppe, but now it is widely known across the Aurora and Narfost Plains, and has become popular among cattle breeders and traders throughout Santharia, though this gradual spread has given rise to many regional variations, additions and omissions. Return to the top

History/Origin/Purpose. Though it most likely has little basis in truth, the story of the hunter and the red king does provide an interesting symbolic representation of the impact that the Kyranians had on the Kruswick Steppe when they first arrived. As an origin story, it was most probably thought up by early Kyranian cattle farmers who had realised their cows were enraged by the colour red, and wanted to find a reason behind it. It’s doubtful that many believe it to be literally true, but it makes for an entertaining tale and keeps the kids quiet, so it remains popular. Return to the top

Importance. As aforementioned, this is an origin tale – a story which explains something of how the world is by means of a story. The way such tales are told can reveal much about a peoples’ worldview. In this tale we can see not only the Kyranians' dependence on livestock such as the cattle, but also the mixture of pride and a certain disdain for vanity and rashness that is integral to the Kyranian mindset. The character of the hunter is a typical trickster – bold, brave but also a little over confident, and in the end, always cleverer than his opponent. What is unusual is that the cattle, and especially their king, is given a very fair portrayal, and the ending of the tale is metered with sadness because of it.
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Story. The most common version of this Kyranian myth is usually narrated as follows:

The Hunter and the Red King. A long time ago, all Kyrattin cattle were wild, and took no orders from humans. They ruled themselves, led by the king of cattle, a glorious bull whose hide was as red as sunset. He was a proud bull, and though he was rash and vain as many powerful leaders are, he had also the long memory and strength of will which is so native to the temperaments of cattle. He reigned over the Kruswick Steppe unchallenged, his horns like a great ivory longbow, the sound of his hooves like summer thunder, twice as big as any bull that has lived since. His ferocity was legendary, and it was rumoured that his red hide was so coloured because it had been stained by the blood of the hoppers he had crushed.

A Kyrattin Bull

View picture in full size Picture description. The "King of all Cattle" as described in the Kyranian myth. Image drawn by Seeker.

When men moved to the plains, the Kyrattin found them laughable. Who were these wriggling little creatures who scurried across their plains, collecting sticks and scratching in the dust like birds, building tawdry nests and allowing dogs and goats to follow them around and eat their scraps? The cattle largely ignored the humans, keeping away from them but not troubling to fear them, should they come into contact. This soon would change. The humans chased the cattle, catching them and making them into livestock to feed their growing families. When word of this insolence came to the red king of the Kyrattin, he was filled with a rage as bloody as his coat. He arched his neck, too thick for a strong man to encircle with his arms, and pointed his great head to the sky, bellowing his anger so loudly that the humans far away on the edge of the plains heard it and were afraid. They feared the revenge of the bull; they cursed the day they had first taken and imprisoned the cattle. But there was one among the humans who did not tremble. There was one who smiled. There was one who was ready for the bull.

Lowering his horns so they scraped great furrows in the earth, the red king began to run. By the time he had come to the human settlement his hooves were thundering like a great drum sounded on the outbreak of war. From afar, the humans espied his crimson bulk hurtling towards them, and began to flee in panic, carrying infants in their arms, leaving their homes in disarray and their dogs barking frantically as the roaring of the red king grew nearer. Only one human stood fast, leaning on his bow, safely stood on the roof of his house. He watched the red king draw close, listened unmoved to the bellowing and echoing of his rage. This, you see, was the greatest hunter of the Kyranian people, and he felt no fear at the approach of the red king. He had been the one who had suggested capturing some of the Kyrattin cattle, even though he knew it would greatly anger their fierce king. The hunter was not merely brave, he also had a pride to rival the king’s, and he greatly wished to show that he was cleverer than the mighty bull.

The red king of the Kyrattin was pleased to notice the people fleeing their village, but the sight of the hunter leaning casually on his bow, puzzled him. For the first time in his reign, the king felt a flicker of doubt. He barely noticed it, but it must be said that it was there. Perhaps that is why he approached the hunter with such arrogance, slowing to a menacing walk in order to impress on the hunter the full majesty of his magnificent presence. His crimson coat gleamed in the sunlight, his horns a bow that encompassed the horizon. He strode up to the house on which the hunter stood, rolling his dark eyes to stare balefully up at him.

“Why do you not run, as the others do? If you flee now, I will chase you, as your dogs chase my people. There is a chance you might escape. But stand here and I will crush your house with a single blow, and think no more on it.” The red king’s voice was a booming lowing, the sound cattle used to talk long ago. The hunter stared speculatively down at the king, and replied in far less impressive tones; “I wanted to see for myself what manner of animal presumed to rule the beasts of this land.”

The red king tossed his head contemptuously. “Presume? Beasts? You should be a good deal more careful in how you choose your words when you speak to kings, human. I rule by unquestionable right over my people, the most valiant and mighty of these plains. I am the most powerful and worthy ruler of all who dwell here. You humans have vastly underestimated me if you think you can threaten my subjects with impunity!”

A sly smile crept across the clever hunter’s face. “Do you think so, your majesty? I would have to disagree. I am not sure that you are as mighty as you think.” The king gnashed his great square teeth in anger, snorted gales of hot breath from his cavernous nostrils. “How dare you! I am the biggest, the fiercest, and the strongest! There is nobody to challenge me, least of all you!” but the hunter only kept smiling softly, and replied “Are you sure? Here, humour me, majesty – let us have a contest to find out. If you win, we will leave your people alone; submit to your rule, as docile as catt-, umm, as docile as you could wish for. If I win, then you must admit that we humans are not so weak as you think, and let us use some of the cattle to feed our families.”

The red king tossed his head doubtfully, eyeing the scrawny human from one angle and another. The confidence of him made the great bull uncertain, but he could not bear to pass by such a challenge, to admit that the human had him worried. And how could this little simpering ape offer any threat to the great red king of the Kyrattin, whose hide was stained scarlet by the blood of countless thousands of Kruswik hoppers? “I accept your challenge, if you really wish it. What had you in mind?”

The hunter shrugged, and appeared to fidget with his bowstring, as if deep in thought. He waited until the bull was snorting and stamping his hooves in impatience, before saying “I have heard it said that your horns are a longbow which, when strung, encompasses the horizons in its length.” He paused, and glanced critically between his own, shabby bow, and the great white horns atop the king’s head. “My own bow may not be so great in size, but I wager it has no less power. With the aid of this bow I can touch a deer on the edge of the keenest vision, without so much as moving my feet.” The king snorted and lashed his tail. “Hah! I doubt that greatly. I have seen your human bows. They fire a distance that I can run in the blinking of an eye. You will have to do better than that to best me.” The hunter shrugged, lifting his bow to his shoulder. “You should not be so dismissive – in skilled hands any bow can best the fastest feet. Here, let us compare our bows – I will shoot mine, and then try yours. The one which goes furthest will win.” So saying, he reached into his quiver and produced two arrows. The king inspected the arrows carefully, but they were identical, so he merely tossed his great head, nodding his agreement.

The hunter drew his bow – it was, it should be said, a good bow – well made and carefully looked after, but not new. The hunter was skilled with it, though, and in the years he had used it the two had come to work seamlessly. Even the red king, had he been forced to answer honestly at that point, would have had to admit that there was great power there – as the hunter drew the bowstring back and nocked the arrow in one seamless movement, it was hard to say where man ended and bow began. Suddenly, with a sound like a hawk’s first dream of flying, the arrow was let loose. It soared in a long, shallow arc, seeming almost to shear the air as it passed.

But it was a normal arrow, and a normal bow, however extraordinary the skill of the archer. It landed a stral away at most, and the red king was able to snort his derision. The hunter, however, seemed unmoved by his imminent disgrace. Instead he began unstringing his bow, saying as he did so. “And now it’s your turn. Would you mind kneeling, your majesty, so that I can stretch this bowstring between your horns? You are far too big for me to reach your head, otherwise.” The bull twitched his ears and flicked his tail, not understanding why the hunter even bothered to continue with the contest – he had no chance of winning now – but kneeled nonetheless, lowering his massive head so that his horns were pointing at the hunter.

The hunter grinned now; the triumphant smile of a man who knows that at the end of the chase is a wonderful prize. Perhaps the red king would have scented danger then, but with his head lowered, he could not see the hunter’s sly smile. Quick as a shir, the hunter slung his bowstring between the king’s great horns. Drawing the string tight, he snatched up the second arrow and leapt onto the great neck of the red king of Kyrattin. Before the king could even get up, he had drawn back the arrow in its string, and used the massive ivory bow of the king’s horns to shoot an arrow deep into the back of the mighty bull’s skull. The red king roared in pain, and writhed in agony, throwing the hunter violently from his neck, his hot blood spilling in floods across the plains, its stain sinking deep, deep into the soils of the steppe, dying the earth a dark red that is present to this day. In minutes, the red king of the Kyrattin was dead.

I would like to say that cattle across the plains raised their heads and lowed in grief and anger at that moment, but in truth they did not even know. That realisation came later, when the cunning hunter cut the glorious red hide from the king’s body and draped it about himself as a marvellous cloak, proclaiming as he did so his unquestionable right, along with all humans, to rule over the animals of the plains. From that day forward all Kyrattin cattle hate the colour red with a furious passion, as it symbolises in their eyes the treacherous pride of humans, and the duplicity by which the greatest and cleverest of hunters persuaded the king of the Kyrattin to kneel before him, and in doing so to forfeit the independence of the wild creatures of the plains. If you look out on the steppe now, I can assure you will spy cattle in every shade of brown, black and grey, some patterned with spots and patches, and the calves all milk-pale as moonlight. But neither on the open steppe, nor in the corrals of men will you see a red Kyrattin cow. The hunter took that colour from the Kyrattin long ago, and they do not want to see it among their kind again.
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 Date of last edit 7th Sleeping Dreameress 1669 a.S.

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