Today’s story tells how the Four Divine Animals of my trilogy, SAGE, came to be. There are probably many stories that tell this same thing in many ways, as is the way with origin stories.
If you enjoy this story, I invite you to buy the SAGE books: The Fall of Onagros, Bargain With Fate, and Silver and Iron.
How Tortoise Got His Shell
by Marian Allen
The storyteller, Farukh, from the distant land of Sule, was always welcome in the market square. He settled himself upon his pillow and began.
Long ago, my children, when the world was new, the Mother of Life created the Four Divine Animals. She began with Tortoise, for everyone must begin somewhere.
~He mimed shaping something with his hands, regarding it, reacting in surprise and disgust, and putting it carefully away from himself. His listeners laughed nervously, for Tortoise was a dangerous – though irresistible – figure to mock.~
The Mother had made Tortoise’s body low to the ground and soft, something like a lizard that’s lost its tail.
“I’ll put it aside,” the Mother thought, “and dispose of it later.”
Then she made Dragon.
~His mobile hands sketched a graceful shape in the air.~
She made Unicorn.
~His hands all but brought the land’s favorite figure into their presence.~
And, last of all, the magnificent Phoenix.
~He held up his hands and wiggled his fingers, and his listeners imagined flames.~
The Mother of Life was pleased with these, and turned back to Tortoise, certain she could do a better job on him now.
He was gone.
While she was distracted with better creations, Tortoise had seized his chance and slipped away.
~The audience laughed. It was such a Tortoise thing to do.~
“The Mother made me, and now she wants to destroy me,” he said to himself. “Me! Her firstborn, and the crown of all creation! We shall see about that!”
He crawled, and he crept, and he slunk, and he skulked, until he came to an armory.
Of course, he didn’t know it was an armory, for Tortoise was still very stupid.
~No one laughed at this. Indeed, many on the edge of the crowd edged further in, or cast apprehensive glances at the ground.~
Men and women came and went, fitting themselves with breastplates, choosing shields, donning helmets, testing swords. Through the open door, Tortoise watched the soldiers learning and practicing, learning and practicing. At night, he would change his shape to that of a man, outfit himself from the armory, and mimic what he had seen.
Even Tortoise can learn, if given enough time, and he became good enough to insinuate himself into the practices and learn even more.
Then, one night, The Mother of Creation found him.
“I wondered where you’d got to,” she said. “You need to come home.”
“And be tossed into the pot of Creation and made into something else? Do what you can, but I won’t come willingly!”
Tortoise returned to his original shape, with a breastplate beneath him, a shield covering his back, a helmet on his head, and knives at the end of every finger and toe.
The Mother picked up the shield, but Tortoise caused it to stick to the breastplate beneath, and there he was, encased in armor.
“Very well,” said the Mother. “Let it be as it is. Nevertheless, you are coming home.”
And so the Four Divine Animals were reunited. The others were delighted to meet their kind and charming elder brother, as you may imagine.
~This was too much, and the audience laughed until they cried.~
And, from that day to this, no one has ever seen a tortoise without its shell – unless they’re about to toss it into a pot and make it into soup.
Coins clinked into Farukh’s hat and his audience dispersed, off to buy what they’d come to the market place to fetch. Farukh tied the coin-heavy hat – now a full purse – at his waist, picked up his pillow, and left the town. As he rounded a bend beyond the last outlying farm, a man in black armor fell into step beside him.
“I was listening,” he said, jerking his head back toward the town.
“Were you?” The storyteller grinned, teeth bright, eyes glittering. “Did you like it?”
“As well as I like any of your witless stories. In other words, no.”
The storyteller laughed as the armored one melted into the shadows beneath the trees.
~ * ~
Today is Tuesday, so I’m at Fatal Foodies, posting today about the first fruits of the season. 🙂
MY PROMPT FOR TODAY: 4