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"Fala, will you tell us a story?" Tiren asked. "While we were out traveling, we watched an eclipse. Birka said that you were sure to know a story about the eclipse and the shadow on the moons, and Kireg said it would have a happy ending."Author's Notes
Fala leaned back against the wall and drew one long leg up toward her chest, clasping her hands around her knee. "Now that you mention it," she said slowly, "I have heard a story like that. It was a long time ago, though. Let me see if I can remember how it went ..."
The young ranger hummed quietly to herself for a few moments, then gave a little huff of pleasure. "Long ago, before the world was broken," Fala began, "the Ancients ruled the land and the sea and even the sky."
Her audience sighed happily and scooted forward to listen. Someone passed a basket of flat circular story-breads. Fala took one and handed the basket to Birka.
"In that time the Ancients knew the sky as well as we know the slopes of our mountains. They named the layers of the sky, and the stars, and the emptiness in which everything drifts. Even our world is like a tiny bubble afloat in a big black lake, winking in the light," said Fala. She wiggled her thumb partway into the circle of bread, careful not to break through all the way. Then she lifted her hands, making the round shape seem to float between them. She turned to show it to Tiren and Birka at her sides.
"Even before people settled into the villages we know today, they liked different ways of living," Fala continued. "Some, like our domestics, preferred a life of quiet. Others, like our rangers, preferred a life of adventure." She tore the bread neatly in half. "Among the Ancient rangers were those who walked the paths of the sky." Fala carefully teased off a narrow line of bread from the rim.
"They rode through the air in baskets woven of metal and flame. They visited the moons in the empty lake of heaven. They spied on the stars using mysterious crystals," said Fala. She twisted the narrow line of bread into a circle and peered through it.
"But then the Ancients grew foolish. In their greed and pride, they broke the world," Fala said sadly. She tore the smaller half of bread into thirds, then dropped all the pieces into her lap. "A shadow fell over the face of the moons and eclipsed their light, for they were alone again, and lonely." She spread her hand and passed it in front of her own face. "Now we can only look up at the moons, and they can only look down on us. To be apart is to be desolate, and that is tragic price that the Ancients paid for their folly -- a price that we continue to pay."
"Wait a tick," said Tiren. "Where's my happy ending?" He glared at Birka and Kireg.
Fala was rearranging the pieces of bread in her lap. The large half formed a birdlike basket while the pieces of the shrunken half formed wings and a tail. The long line had been torn into several short curls that extended from the tail like wisps of smoke. Almost one could imagine a flying basket made of metal and fire. "Even today, we remember the stories of the Ancients," she said.
With quick motions, Fala reassembled all the pieces into a complete circle. "Ever so slowly, the world is beginning to mend itself," she explained, waving a hand over the puzzle. "We understand now that the Ancient damage is temporary, and like an eclipse it will pass, though it takes far longer than does the world's shadow crossing the moons." Fala swept her hand in a broad arc, encompassing everyone in the room, or perhaps the world. "As the harm to our homeland heals, so too do we. We've learned not to be so arrogant and greedy that our heavy boots crumble the trail we're standing on."
The ranger tilted her head back as if she could gaze right through the concrete-arched roof of the house. "I think," she said softly, "that the moons know they will not remain lonely forever. Someday, we'll find the way back to heaven's trail and send our own sky rangers there." A smile curled her lips. "When the moons look down on us and dream of that, the shadow fades away, and they shine in all their glory as hope replaces sorrow."
A hush filled the warm house in the cold stillness of winter. "Ahh," someone breathed at last.
"But is all that actually true?" asked Tiren. "Did the Ancients really go up in the sky and touch the moons?"
"Who knows?" Fala said. "That's what the story says, but we can't tell for sure. Too much was lost in the Upheaval. It might be real history or just a fable."
Kireg watched her with keen, bright eyes as a rumble of discussion went around the room. Tiren gave a quiet humph.
Then Fala slapped her hands briskly against her thighs. "Well," she said, "I'm done! Who wants to tell the next story?" She stuffed her bread into her mouth, and nodded happily as Karavai stood up with a puppet on each hand.
In Ellen Million's story "Darkening Skies," Birka muses that Fala would know a story somehow related to the eclipse. When I read that, I knew that I wanted to present Fala telling that story. The result is this "frame" story with a myth inside it, illustrated with story-bread. I also drew inspiration from many historic myths about "star people" and journeys through the heavens, so it is told in that style, using Northern motifs. The question of whether the Ancients had space travel is left open to interpretation, as the contemporary characters would have no way of knowing. This story has been sponsored by LJ user xjenavivex.