Myth – Ernalda Feeds the Tribe (1999)

By Robin D. Laws Copyright ©1999 A Sharp,LLC.

This myth is drawn from A Sharp’s computer game King of Dragon Pass.

An enemy once took everything that the bountiful mother Ernalda had. This god was a kinsman of her husband, but did not care that Ernalda had to feed the tribe. Ernalda could see what her foe had done. Uralda the Cow Mother, whose children provided milk and meat for the tribe, was dead. Barntar the Plowman, who knew the ways of the earth, was dead. Esrola, who made the seeds, was dead.

Ernalda knew that many things which seem to be dead are really just hiding in the earth, and so that is where she went. The enemy had dried up many things, and so the old passages were gone. Ernalda went to her grandchildren, the Aldryami, and asked them for one of their seeds. The elves were reluctant to help her, because they thought she had abandoned them for their enemies. The elves do not like humans; they call us forest-killers. Ernalda taught them that she was not a traitor, and they gave her the seed she needed. This seed was called Adborl, and it was a burrowing thing. It burrowed deep into the earth and left a tunnel open behind it for Ernalda.

Ernalda entered the tunnel. There she found her sister Maran, the terrible earthquake goddess, who had taken Barntar as her thrall. “Your son, he helps me break up the earth into pieces, so that I can hurl it at our enemies. You think that this fight with Orlanth’s nephew is a terrible thing, but it is merely the harbinger of what is to come. The kinstrife he causes will soon be forgotten when other bad things happen. Three bad gods will force Orlanth to give them his blessing, and together they will make a god that is worse than all of them together. I need Barntar to help me fight them.” Ernalda looked at her son, who looked sad to see his life-giving powers used to bring death. Ernalda convinced Maran to give Barntar back. She told Maran that without Barntar to plow the lands, there would be no reason to fight the enemies, because all of their kinsmen would have long since starved to death. Maran relented, and this is why people praise her today and give her sacrifices, in thanks for what she gave to them.

Ernalda took Barntar with her and went further into the tunnel, where she found the cavern of her terrible aunt, Ty Kora Tek. Ty Kora Tek had been collecting dead souls in her cavern. During the troubles with Orlanth’s enemy-from-within, Uralda and Esra had wandered in there, seeking protection. Ernalda asked Ty Kora Tek to release her bountiful daughters. But Ty Kora Tek refused: “What comes into my realm cannot come out again. I cannot set a bad precedent now and just let out anyone who has a good reason to leave. Very bad times are coming, and my halls, and the halls of the other lords of the dead, will soon be fill to bursting with the slain.” Despite her aunt’s strong arguments, Ernalda persuaded her to relent. She pointed out that Uralda and Esra had too much life in them, and were bringing life and vitality to Ty Kora Tek’s garden of carefully-tended silence. It might be acceptable if Esra spent some of her time in the cavern of the dead. “But,” Ernalda said, “if both the cow and the grain goddess spend all of their time here, everything will become its opposite, and then where will anything be?”

Ernalda had the kin she was looking for, so she headed back to the tunnel mouth. But a terrible woman she had not seen before blocked their way, looking fierce and brandishing an axe. “You cannot leave here. The tribe is sundered, and cannot so easily be mended. Your man committed kinstrife, and so I, who have not been born yet, have been charged with the task of keeping the broken things broken.” Ernalda told her why she should step aside. “Although you have not been born yet, I can tell who you are. You have death and vengeance in you, things I do not have in myself. That tells me that my aunt and my sister are right, and that this bad time is only a glimpse of a worse time to come. You must be my daughter, which means that I myself will come to the place of the dead, and you will seek to avenge me. Only then will there be enough suffering to erase the stain of kinstrife. Now that you know I understand, you can go back to sleep and wait for your birth. In the meantime, I must feed my people, so that they have at least a chance of surviving this bad time.” So the terrible woman stepped aside, now that Ernalda had learned her secret of kinstrife. She went back to her tula, and with Barntar, Uralda, and Esra, fed the tribe. She did this in order to lay a path for us, so that we could do the same for ourselves when she was not here to help us.

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