Sunday, February 24, 2019

On the Other Origins of Haraal.

We all know the classic version of the story by now. Kibra says as much while prefacing the speech she is surely about to give us. We each nod our heads, but then don't really object when she goes on to describe the origin myth anyway.

Most commonly (or at least, traditionally) the culture-hero Haraal is believed to have been birthed from the trunk of an aging tree on the side of the peak known as Yorl'di. This mountain is generally considered to have been an isolated part of the southeastern Pashels. Haraal is unequivocally described as being exceptionally tall and of Ersuunian ideal, so theories that he may have been one of the Pach-Pah are quickly quashed. He fell from the mountain, injuring himself, and then he was nursed back to health by a family of herders who would become his first servants in the conquest of the whole Ersuunian Basin. Spectacular feats of strength, skill, and seemingly divine luck quickly follow, mixed in with some tribal politicking. Wrap it up with a few vague allusions to abduction and ethnic cleansing here and there, and you've got the early years of our beloved bronze god-chieftain. Plain, simple fun for the whole family at the monthly Reaffirmation of the Law.

But there is another story. Several in fact, but this fountain brings to mind one in particular.

In the Histories of All by our beloved Sage, Yashka, there is a single verse which reads that once Haraal had conquered the last of the Ersuunian holdouts in the west--specifically after he finished tightening an iron band around the skull of king Sperhel until his head exploded--he decided to "settle down and embrace the land of his birth."¹ This excerpt has three primary interpretations.

The first, generally tied with the above narrative, is that it is metaphorical, and that Haraal was decreeing that he was going to shift from conquest to administration, thereby embracing all of the land that he now claimed as his own by birthright. Thus "the land of his birth" is synonymous with every area of the Basin which he eventually claimed as part of his empire.

The second is that Haraal was specifically regarding the area where he would later found his court and capital city, styled on the palatial nomad camps of old. Following this line of logic, the area in the northwest of the Basin would have been the place where he was "born", which happened to be the farthest point in the entire empire from the purported site of Yorl'di.²

The logical conclusion of this interpretation was that Haraal was born in some other fashion, and that the mountain and tree were more symbolic than actual, historical sites. The Ersuunians of the northwest were quick to apply one of their own myths to the story, in their attempt to subsume their conqueror into their own culture, probably before those filthy mid-landers or water-drinking east-fringers could make the same claims or some such. The myth in question was one of immaculate conception.

There once was a great, nameless king among Ersuunians, said to be of the twentieth generation of nobles descended from the chieftain Gohr himself. This king had an insatiable desire for collecting wives, though for exactly what purpose was unknown: they were entirely leisured within his court, and were not made to engage in any state or domestic matters. Nor did they serve the less common but more infamous purpose of a harem, for they all remained virgins in his company, and he had no known children. The count varies from source to source, but it seems that he had several dozen such brides in gilded cages.

And one day, he decided to add one more to the bunch.

Kibra tells us that the young woman's name was Tiamis. She was the daughter of one of the king's sub-chieftains, and probably the sister of one or more women who were already the man's wives. She was brought to him in time for the spring harvest, when the chiefdom's agrarian subjects were paying their tribute of grain, animals, and leather. A great feast was held by the king to host the representatives of his vassals and bond-servants, as well as to celebrate his latest wedding. At that feast all manner of Ersuunian delicacies were to be found. Among these curiosities of semi-settled cuisine was the pasture date.

Ciudo asks our guide "what are pasture dates?" because of course he would. She seems all too happy to answer him.

"Pasture date" is a euphemism in modern speech used to refer to roasted horse testicles.

How they got that name and why anyone thought that disembodied genitals resemble pitted fruits, I cannot fathom, and I'd rather not try. But that is what they are, and that is the origin of the unusually-shaped, fist-sized globe which the statue now identified as Tiamis is reaching for.

I am not sure if I approve of this visual pun or not.

Our storyteller goes on to describe how great rows of spitted pasture dates were being roasted over trough-like fires all throughout the camp on that day. They were fresh- exceedingly so in some cases, for the stallions they'd been "harvested" from had been gelded earlier that morning. When Tiamis arrived at the banquet and saw these highly seasonal treats, she seized one at once. Unfortunately for her, the date she plucked had not been cooked sufficiently, and she did not realize how raw it was until she'd eaten more than half of it. Kibra illustrates her nonchalance at this discovery by shrugging her shoulders and mimicking downing the remainder.

I begin to consider what I will do for my lunch hour today, because none of us are going to be eating now.

Rather than becoming wretchedly food-poisoned, Tiamis felt herself become mildly bloated after her meal. Over the course of the next few days, it became apparent that she was miraculously (and severely) pregnant. Her husband was as confused as he was enraged, and chose to wait until the birth of the child to decide just what should be done. Tiamis gave birth after only forty days. Within minutes of his birth, the boy named Haraal was able to stand and speak, and warded his father away sternly. Another forty days passed, and he had grown into a fully mature young man. On the forty-first day of his life, Haraal strangled his "father" to death and assumed control of all his holdings. This story serves as an explanation for how Haraal appeared so suddenly and with such a solid power base at his disposal, once conquest of the Basin began. Tiamis and the other widows disappear from the narrative at this point, and the story quickly takes a shape resembling that of the traditional rise to greatness.

Kibra explains unsolicited that the merger of the two contradictory tales in this piece of art is meant to represent equal appreciation of all ideas, grand or small, orthodox or fringe, in the name of the greater goal of acquisition of knowledge. I am impressed- this simultaneously reaffirms Porylus' relationship with the Ivory Tower, and takes the latter to task in its approach of research in recent centuries.

Our guide turns and quits the scene now, gesturing with both hands for us to follow after her as we make our final approach to the tower of Porylus Mons.

I quietly wonder if any statues are hidden away here depicting the conflicting beliefs about the disappearance of Haraal.

¹ Verse 16,982, line 44 of the Histories of All, Yashka the Sage, 1284 BR.

² The third theory is that Yorl'di is misidentified with any of the Pashels, and that it was in fact the highest peak of the Oron'er Mountains. But this argument doesn't really come into play because the greatest proponents of it are based in Nambar, Serminwurth, and the pauper graves reserved for heretics after they've been ritually bled to death via paper cuts by priests of the Ivory Tower.

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