The Gift of the Moon and Sun, as told to Yarrow White-Eyes by the dragon Half-and-Again
On nights of the full moon, though the Blighted were tireless and dragons seldom slept, Half-and-Again insisted they stop their work on the eggs and take time out for stories. Sometimes she pestered Yarrow for them, and haltingly, in language plain and graceless, he told her: half-remembered stories from his own childhood or the childhoods of a hundred-hundred other Blighted, or memories of better times worn so soft and frayed around the edges that they might as well have happened to someone else.
More often the dragon herself held forth, producing stories like a merchant would pluck pearls from a velvet pouch and hold them up for her audience's inspection. At first Yarrow simply thought she was such a creature as loved to hear the sound of her own voice, until one of her many husbands had come visiting and she kept them up all the night listening to his stories, and she chortled over the fine additions to her collection when he was gone. It was the getting of stories that pleased Half-and-Again the most, though she took great delight in having a house-guest to display them to; it was simply she was a consummate hostess, and did not wish to discomfit her guest overmuch, shy and halt of speech as he was.
So it was on this night Half-and-Again led Yarrow to the garden outside her lair, and plumped herself down like a great cat with mane and ruff on end against the early autumn chill. She arranged her solari guest against one huge flank, solicitous as ever of his comfort (he could scarcely feel the wind and told her as much, but she insisted on making of her tail a windbreak anyway), before settling comfortably in on herself and beginning her story.
"Tonight," she said, "I am hopeful in our work, so it is auspicious to speak of beginnings. You are a Child of the Sun, and the Moon is full-gravid; thus I will speak of how your gods came to live in them.
"As you know, the Moon and the Sun were not always the homes of your Mother and Father." This Yarrow did not in fact know, but he knew better than try and stop Half-and-Again in the middle of a story; he more easily might have redirected a river in full spate with his bare hands. If she wished to wax eloquent on nonsense, when everyone knew the Sun and the Moon had watched over Urd from the beginning--well, it wasn't any stranger than her other stories. He made a noncommittal noise, closing his eyes and leaning back to bury himself in her fur.
She took no notice. "When Island was first formed out of the mud and the dust in the Vast Black Deep, our Celestial Parent kneaded it with His claws and breathed the sweet breath of His nostrils upon it, and at last when it was round and beautiful as a pearl, He folded Himself about it to brood it until life burst forth. The bright polished scale of His belly became the firmament in the day; His right great-eye roamed it as the Sun, while his lesser eyes were the stars that spangled the darkness of his midnight fur, and He rolled His left great-eye among them as the Moon. 'Why,' you might ask, 'would He let His eyes wander about so? Had He not so much control over His members as the least child?' Of course He did! But there was much to watch in those first days, as the first and smallest lives kindled in the seas and beneath the stones, creeping ever forth to bud and bloom and grow. He would not miss a moment of it, and so the light of His eyes shined ceaselessly, night and day, as He looked down upon what He had engendered.
"Life fought with life in that greatest, most sacred, most auspicious of battles, and the greatest and strongest of lives survived to glorify our Parent's handiwork. Soon the first child in His image walked the face of Island, then another, and another, until our five first parents--Mother and Mother, Father and Father and cherished Begetter--beheld each other and embraced at last. With them began the great work of Becoming, and their second-children multiplied and coupled and refined themselves until here we are today. We have made much of ourselves, but still have much yet to Become.
"But the great work is more suitable talk for spring, when our eggs are all safely gathered in and our second-children secured from the plague that dogs their heels. Tonight, we speak of your Moon and Sun and how they came to Island.
"It was long after our own first parents had embarked upon Becoming, and the numbers of their second-children waxed great to fill its great roundness, so that the light of our Parent's eyes did not cease to behold the progeny He had shaped, and it was good to Him. And yet, though He had much to watch on Island in those days, He kept his lesser eyes upon the Vast Black Deep--for the howls of the Hunters echoed through it even then, and He would not have them steal Island from Him, nor mar its face. One day, He saw afar off a brightness in the Deep that was at once both familiar and strange, like the spoor of distant kin long ago parted from the same first-child. The brightness wavered and struggled and drew nearer, and at last became two brightnesses in the shapes of a half-sexed Man of your people and his Wife. Though they were like no creature of Island, our Parent recognized them as distant siblings enjoined in the same Work that He was, and He welcomed them and wept to see them wounded. They had with them children of their own Begetting, and these our Parent marveled to see, for they were formed so differently from us--small, half-sexed, unchanging in their essence but wonderfully arrayed across all the forms and types life can take.
"'Welcome, Sister and Brother, nephews, nieces,' He said to them. 'Though a sad welcome it must be, for you have been driven far from your Begetting and your own Island. What has happened?'
"The Man, bright as our Parent's Eye and as golden, spoke: 'It is the wolves, dear brother, come out of the Deep in vaster numbers than any We have known. They overran Our world in the space of a breath; We gathered all that We could and brought them safely hence, and now I will return to do battle against them though I know Myself surely doomed.' And at this, his Wife, fair and silver as a mirror, wept; for even then she knew she would be witness to the death of her beloved in the defense of all they had made.
"Though He had been made singly, being a perfect union of all things within Himself, still our Celestial Parent knew the love of mate for mate and parent for child, and He wept to see this woman weep. 'Do not weep, o Woman,' He said to her, and to him: 'Do not go yet, o Man. Your children will have a place upon my Island, and they need Your guidance. When the Hunters come in their numbers, We three and all that We have Begotten may stand together against them, and will not die.' And so saying He plucked His great-eyes from His head, and made of them homes for the Man and Wife; and together, the Three reshaped a part of Island so their children might live safely, though you were a sort of life so different from our own.
"So moved were the Man and Wife by this great gift, that they promised their own children would ever be friends to our Parent's, and should the Hunters come with their gifts of plague and fear and poison, the Man would stand to our defense as he did to the defense of his children. And when the Hunters did come out of the Vast Black Deep, the Man laid down his life as he said he would to stop them, and they were stopped, and so the gift of the Moon and Sun were repaid a thousandfold."
Yarrow felt Half-and-Again tilt her head to regard him as she pronounced the last word of the story, and he imagined her great-eyes catching the light of the Moon and shining back as silver as her god's. The Blighted could not weep, but it was still some time before he could force words around the lump in his throat: "Is it true?"
The dragon laughed her high, tinkling woman's laugh, a sound too delicate for the house-sized creature it came from. "Of course it's true, dear guest. All of my stories are true; I tell you so every time." She ruffled out her wings, the folded feathers hissing over each other with a sound of distant waves. "Do you mean, is it fact? For I tell you it is not your Moon and Sun that stood always in our skies, and you, Sun-child, are not of a sort of life that could thrive here on its own. I do think that you and your gods came across the Deep, and that much of the story really did happen as told.
"But," she continued gently, as Yarrow swallowed hard and pressed the heels of his hands against his sightless eyes, "I do not know so. There are some who say you are our Creator's joke upon us, because we ask too many questions of life instead of getting on with the great work, and there are others who do not believe in Him or any gods at all and make up their own stories about stones in the sky carrying life across the Deep to land on Island's shores. I wonder what they will say when you tell them of the miracle you were part of." Half-and-Again seemed to relish the thought; she loved contentions as much as she loved stories. Her avarice for it wrung a weak, involuntary laugh from Yarrow, though his own feelings on the matter of the miracle were yet tender.
"But--," he began again, then found himself without words. The dragon waited politely while he sifted through his thoughts for them, struggling around his own emotions to form them into something coherent. "It isn't how we were told it. I didn't know--not everyone knows, the priests and the skalds say that this world was ours to begin with, and the ulven ruined all but the smallest part of it. That's why there's hardly anywhere to live outside the forests, and the vampir and the rusalka and the d..." The lump was back, and he couldn't complete the thought.
"And the dragons, should they exist at all, wish you naught but harm?" Half-and-Again's voice was gentle still, with no shade of offense. "Because we were not children of your gods, but beasts twisted by the plagues of the Hunters, when all the world fell beneath them?"
Yarrow nodded, mutely. Though it did not beat, his heart had never felt so leaden in his chest as now.
The dragon was silent for a long time, though he could hear and feel as she moved her wings and claws by tiny increments. 'Hunting down the prey of thought,' she had told him in the past; she was thinking deeply. At last, she said, "If it is not grossly rude, dear guest, I will venture to speak your thoughts: If your version of the story is not the truth," and she paused to be polite, should Yarrow wish to voice the thought himself.
"Then there's no offense before God to love a dragon as a sister," he completed, though the words hurt to speak. "I k, knew you couldn't be varulf yourself if ulven would hunt you, too, but I have been so wrong before--and we were pledged to be your friends..." He stammered into silence and put his hands over his face again.
Half-and-Again thought over this, too, then gave a great gusty huff of a breath and rearranged her wings noisily to cover the sounds her guest was making. At length, she announced, "The horizon is halfway to the Moon, and there was another story I wanted to tell, before we might retire to speak more about truth and fact. For when your Sun saw that our Parent had put out His own eyes to make them welcome, he spoke a prophecy of one of his own children-to-come, who would be blind by his own hand..."