THE MULLOG MYTH OF MIAN OF THE LONG SHADOW

PREVALENCEHISTORY/ORIGIN/PURPOSEIMPORTANCESTORY 

The Galumbé marshes, where the mullogs live, is a harsh environment – in order to survive there for as long as they have, the mullogs as a race have had to be resilient, sharp-witted and above all, resourceful. Seen in this light, it’s not surprising that their mythology should contain a fair few tricksterish figures, be they malevolent, benign or infuriatingly ambiguous. What is more surprising is that among their most famous and best loved tricksters is one who is neither mullog nor native swampdweller, but, according to some storytellers, one of the “outside people”. That he should help them to avoid famine by pioneering the only real form of contact mullogs regularly seek with the outsiders is therefore fitting. It should be noted that this version of the myth was taken down as a literal translation by the scholar Lumbe Bloggson, and it has therefore lost a lot of the lyrical quality that characterises mullog stories.

Prevalence. Like all mullog tales, this myth is confined almost exclusively to the Galumbé area of the Silvermarshes in Nermeran province. Whilst within this territory it is widely known, with at least one or two mullogs in any given village or hamlet able to recite it by heart, outside the marshes it is unheard of, simply because so few mullogs ever venture into the outside world, and so few visitors are allowed to pass through their lands. Return to the top

History/Origin/Purpose. This myth explains the origin of the practise among mullogs of raiding barges that travel along the rivers bordering their territories, to steal goods such as food, fabric and raw materials for making tools and buildings. Though it is a bane to merchants wishing to transport goods along the Lysh or Galum rivers, the small quantities of goods they steal can be of vital importance to the mullogs during hard times, such as the fierce winter described in this tale. However, such active seeking out of the outsiders, who are usually avoided at all costs, requires a story to give reason and precedent to the practice, which is what this myth aims to do.

It seems fairly clear that Mian Longshadow shares heritage with the halfling trickster-hero Mian Longfellow, but over time he has become divorced from these origins, and slowly turned into a more uniquely
mullog-created figure. He is still, however, an outsider, albeit a refugee fleeing from some un-named pursuer, and therefore someone who the mullogs would be obliged to take in and shelter. This gives him a status as a sort of stranger-hero, whose actions and thoughts can appear mysterious to a mullog audience. Return to the top

Importance. Though not as revered or as central to mullog culture as, for instance, the kotairitenga origin myth, this tale does represent the enduring link that the mullogs have, despite themselves, with their halfling ancestry, and with the modern world around them. Whether they acknowledge it or not, Mian is a hobbit folk hero who seems to have wandered into the mullog world one mythical winter, stayed long enough for a story to build up around him, and then drifted away.
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Story. The tale of Mian of the Long Shadow goes as follows:

The Tale of Mian of the Long Shadow. Not ever so long ago, my friends, there was a winter that tried to eat up the world. Winters are always the hungriest season, but this one devoured as if it would never stop. It was a winter, my brothers and sisters, that clawed at the earth and killed all the water dead as stone. It was a winter that chased every little creeping thing into hiding, and set even the great spirits shivering at its cold breath. It was a winter, my children, that drank up the sunlight and ate up the warmth and rubbed out all the green in the Galumbé, remaking the world into a thing of black and white and the grey of slow death.

One day, when food was scarce as it ever had been, and everyone was living off dried fish boiled into thin broth, a stranger came walking out of the edges of the world. He was a strange one, with much of the Gentle ones about him, and a little of something else entirely. He was as tall as any man and taller, and his eyes were the colour of an empty sky, fearsome bright to behold. He carried a bag full of little spirits which would do his bidding, and he claimed to have fought monsters with ten times as many teeth as the greatest kaimun, and bested them by wits alone. He said his name was Mian, and his shadow stretched out behind him like a cloak, as he fled the hungry winter. Fleeing he was, not only from the winter but from something nameless and angry, and so he was offered shelter, and what little food could be spared.

So through the hungry winter, Mian Longshadow sat with us at the pot of boiling fish broth, which got thinner and thinner as the days went on, until it was more water than food, and still the winter gnawed at the world.

One morning, Mian of the long shadow awoke to the sight of the bubbling soup pot and its smell of old fish and empty bellies, and he stood up tall on his long legs, and said “I think I’ll go fishing today. Does anyone want to come?”

Everyone was confused – did Mian not know that all the water was frozen? But when they pointed this out, he smiled, and said “never say all. It is a rude word, pretending to know everything. I doubt greatly that all the water is frozen, else I would not see the great rafts[1] of the outside folk going along on the big rivers, now would I?”

Some of those listening murmured among themselves, at that, or even laughed a little at Mian’s foolishness, until the shaman of that village, who was named Knosst, spoke up: “I don’t think you understand, Mian. We cannot go near those places, they are too often passed through by outsider people, and we want nothing to do with them. The big rivers may still flow, but the waters are dangerous – more fearsome creatures than kaimun swim them.”

But Mian stayed smiling just the same, and he folded his long arms and replied. “Oh, I’m quite used to monsters, my friend, and it strikes me that we have little choice in the matter. Whether it’s in two days or three, very soon there’ll be no food left, and if there’s fish to be had in the Lysh River, I would at least like to try and get it. So I ask again. Would anyone like to come? I’m sure you’re all better fishers than I could be.”

And with that, Mian of the long shadow hefted his bag onto his back, and stepped out into the cold, silent marshes. After he had walked ten paces, he heard doors opening behind him. He smiled to himself and kept walking. After he had walked thirty paces he heard running footsteps behind him, and still he smiled and kept walking. Then, when he had walked ten paces more, a group of young girls and boys caught up to him, carrying lines and tridents and any scrap of food that might be spared for bait. And Mian kept on walking alongside them, and smiled at them, and said “How nice of you to join me.”

The children grinned, though their eyes were nervous, and asked “you’ve fought monsters, haven’t you Mian?”

“I certainly have, my dears. Dragons and all sorts. Why do you ask?”

“If you’ve fought such monsters as the dragonbeasts-“

“Which I have.”

“-which you undoubtedly have, then you’ll protect us from the outsider people, won’t you?”
Mian smiled even wider at this, and nodded. “Of course I will! You’ve nothing to fear in that respect. How about this – I’ll keep watch while you fish, and if I should see one of the outsider rafts, I’ll call out, and you can hide away among the reeds before it’s even close?”

The young mullogs were very pleased with this idea, and so they all set out towards the Lysh River. The only sound as they trudged across the Galumbé was their footsteps. Even the sounds of wind on water were gone, as it had all frozen over. The whole world seemed eaten up, and the fishing party spoke in hushed voices, as if in the presence of death.

When they arrived at the Lysh they found it still flowing, rimmed and rimed round the edges with ice, but clear and glossy-black at the centre, flowing as smooth as ever. The young mullogs quickly started setting out the baited lines while Mian found a high place to stand on his long legs and keep a lookout. Standing so tall amid the grey-white marsh and the black river, he looked like a watcher phantasm from out of the Despondmire, come to haunt the frozen land.

The mullogs soon found that the ice all round the riverbanks prevented trident-fishing, so they stayed with their fishing lines, nursing them and watching with keen eyes for biting fish. It wasn’t long, though, before Mian suddenly stirred from his watch, calling out “a raft!” and they all had to flee into the reeds. Mian, though, didn’t retreat so far, but ducked behind a frozen tree to watch the raft pass by. It was a heartbreaking thing to see how the great floating monster tore through all the lines that had been so carefully set out, carrying them off into the middle of the river where they couldn’t be retrieved. But Mian’s glittering blue eyes saw something else as well, because he smiled just a little to himself, and said nothing when the mullogs ventured back out of their hiding place, and wailed and despaired at their lost lines, and asked Mian in panicked voices how they would catch anything to eat now.

He was quiet for a long moment, and seemed to be thinking. Then quite suddenly, he said “I suppose fish is not the only food available... my friends, I have an idea. Run back home and fetch coracles, and rope, and nets. Go quickly, we’ve work to do!”

The young mullogs ran home through the ice and snow, and came back laden down like gopags, bearing coracles and loops of rope on their backs. Mian grinned to see how quickly they worked, and bid someone paddle out into the river and try to pull the lost lines back in, to start with.

“But are we going to try again the same? We’ll never catch anything if the outsider rafts keep coming.” Asked one of the girls. Mian pointed to the nets and rope, and said “no, my dear, it is very important to learn from your mistakes, as I’m sure you know. We can’t catch fish, it’s been gathered. So we will try to catch something bigger. We are going to set a trap.”

It was then that the mullog in the coracle returned, and the lines with him, were hauled back into land, all tangled together. But Mian seemed happy at the state of the lines. “Here is what we will do. See that narrow part of the river, on the bend? Just downriver from there is a tree, all frosted over and dead. Take these tangled up lines, and wind some rope through them, so it is one long knotted strand of lines and hooks. Thread the nets among them, so they hang underneath. Now, fasten one end of this to the tree, and then take the other end across the river in the coracles. Let it hang in the water, so it only barely floats and the nets and hooks hang down under the water. Fasten the other end to a rock or a tree, or whatever you can find on the other side.”

This was done, so that the river was blocked at this narrow point by a hidden barrier of hooks and nets and tangled rope. Mian grinned, and said it was very good work, and then he told the young mullogs the next part of his plan. “Now, we all hide in the reeds, close by the bank of the river, and wait for our prey to arrive.”

The girl who had spoken up before did so again. “You still haven’t told us what it is we are waiting for. It can’t be kaimuni, for they’ve all gone to hide elsewhere until the ice thaws. It can’t be stilted elk for they don’t wade in deep rivers, and in any case they have all gone away as well. What is there left that needs such an enormous trap?”

Mian looked at her, through the ice encrusted reds, and said “outsider rafts, of course.” She looked alarmed at that, as did all the young mullogs who heard. Mian smiled, not looking up from tying rope round his trident, and said “you mustn’t worry, my dears. Just do as I ask, and we will have all the food we need, however long this devouring winter lasts.”

With this he settled down in the reeds, and kept quiet as any non-mullog can, and the young mullogs may have been worried still, but they kept quiet as well, and tried to trust that Mian of the Long Shadow knew what he was doing.

By and by, there was a ruffling of the river’s surface, and a noise of strange talking and bustling about, such as the noisy outside people make, and a great raft came drifting downriver. Mian tensed, and clutched his trident, watching it as a crane watches a fish, and whispered to the mullog children gathered round. “When the raft drifts into the nets we’ve set out, it’ll get stuck. They’ll try to free themselves, and I need you all to go up towards them, keeping hidden, and shout and wail to distract and scare them. Then, when I give the signal, untie the rope from round the tree, so the boat can go onwards. Got that?”

The mullogs nodded, round eyed with fear and excitement, but determined to help. Suddenly there was a cry up ahead – the raft had got stuck, just as Mian said, and off the young mullogs went, moving like dragonfly -lizards between the reeds, making scarcely a rustle as they flitted along, until they reached the raft’s head, and started a wailing and yelling out that sent all the outsiders into a confusion of callings-out and running shouting at each other. It was such a muddle that the mullogs laughed, and their wailing and whooping was like warm sunlight in the frozen marsh.

All the while, Mian was getting to work. His trident with a rope tied round, he flung at the raft, and tugged till it was caught fast over the edge. Then he climbed up, quick as a flaxrat, and onto the raft, unnoticed by the panicked outside folk, who were all up the other end, trying to fend their raft off the nets with poles that only got caught in the hooks and tangled in the lines.

Grinning to himself like a blue-eyed kaimun, Mian of the Long Shadow lifted up the great sheets covering the treasure the raft carried – huge crates of dried meat of a kind never seen before, and melderapples, and jars of malise-honey, and other things that there aren’t names for, but which taste good nonetheless. As much as he could carry, he took to the side of the raft, and threw over, to land in the reeds. Covering his mouth to keep from laughing to himself, Mian took his trident, and hopped back over the side, before turning towards the racket at the head of the boat, and calling out “free the poor beast! We’ve all we need!”

The mullogs at the head of the boat quickly unfastened the lines and they slid into the water, letting the outsider raft with its cargo of panicked outsiders drift onwards, a little lighter than before. They all watched it go, gathered round the mound of food they’d won off it.

When they came back to the village they would all be heroes, and would teach others how to trap outsider rafts, and they too would be heroes, and the hungry winter would eventually skulk back to its lair in far-off lands, and maybe Mian of the Long Shadow would stay or maybe he would continue on his travels and his battles with strange monsters. All this was to come, but the end of this story is now, in the moment of triumph by the side of the river Lysh, as the outsider raft slinks downriver, like a fearsome monster with its tail between its legs.

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Footnotes.

[1] The use of the word raft in this context requires some explanation: in the original mullog language version of this tale, the generic word “wuyakti” is used for the outsider’s barges. Yakti is a word for any kind of watercraft, from a small lifereed kayak to a floating island, natural or mullog-made.

The “wu” prefix specifically denotes something related to the outside of the Galumbé, and can also mean just generally alien or unknown, or even “I don’t know/ have never heard of it” depending on the inflection, context and stress. Thus calling the barges “outsider rafts” in this translation, whilst representing the mullog’s referring to the barges as a boat in the vaguest terms, doesn’t truly convey what the original story does. (The compendiumist thanks Lumbe Bloggson for his explanation of this, and many other aspects of the mullog language). [Back]
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 Date of last edit 19th Fallen Leaf 1670 a.S.

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