At the beginning of things that are remembered, the Emperor extended his rulership among the deities of the Earth Tribe. The ruler of that tribe was the goddess named Asrelia. When the Emperor ruled, she retired.
Asrelia was the first goddess who had ever lived outside of the Great Mountain. She had many children, but only three are of interest right now. They were triplet sisters, whose birth brought new music into the world.
When Asrelia retired, she divided her earthly goods among these three. The Great she gave to Marangor, the Most she gave to Esrola, and the Least she gave to Ernalda.
Marangor therefore is goddess of earth’s greatest manifestations, which are earthquakes, volcanos, landslides, autumn, diseases, and implements designed to bring death.
Esrola (also called by many other local names) is the goddess of the earth’s great bounty, manifest as food, children, sexual desire, and blood.
Ernalda therefore is goddess of the spiritual earth, whose power is not found in solid things, but in actions, rules, ceremonies, music and familial care.
As part of the Emperor’s Rule, Ernalda went from her mother’s house to the Emperor’s to serve as a handmaiden to the Empress.
Every tribe sent people to the great palace to help. Thus it was at the Emperor’s court that Orlanth first met Ernalda.
Trouble was already deep when they met. War was started in the outer edges of the universe where Umath’s people were making a kingdom. Parts of the great Palace were s tarting to crack. Vermin had been seen in the kitchen, and creatures in the gardens. It was not safe and it was no longer fit for Ernalda to remain there.
When Orlanth came to the Palace the first time, to contest against the Emperor at dance, he and Ernalda saw each other for the first time. She saw that he saw her, and he saw that she was watching him, even in the war dance when most others looked away.
Everyone said it was a defeat for Orlanth, and even his stupid brothers laughed at him for wasting the time. Orlanth wanted to see her eyes again.
Then Orlanth came to the Palace for the magic contest, and revealed that he held the secret of Becoming. When Ernalda saw that she made sure that she placed herself close to where Orlanth would exit. He saw her there, but would have strolled past so she spoke first, and so they met.
Orlanth’s third visit was to compare his music with the Emperor’s. The Emperor of the universe played the harmony of the spheres upon his harp of oneness. Orlanth played a bagpipe, and when the gods of the Palace heard it and saw his puffed out cheeks and red face they all broke into laughter. Orlanth planned for that, for the court had never before laughed in the Emperor’s presence. But the judges did not laugh, and considered the effect of his playing on the court to be immoral, and judged him loser of the contest. When he left several of the people who had been living there were going to leave with him. They were all laughing as they traversed the corridor to depart.
Ernalda was laughing too, because the court had never shown anger in the emperor’s presence too, and she had seen that the intrusion of these emotions into the public at judgement court had disturbed the Emperor. She was laughing because now the dishthane of the Emperor would be proved a liar, for having claimed no anger or laugher polluted the world. She alone had told the truth to the emperor, and now he would leave her in privacy. In her privacy, she hoped, she would prepare.
“Your laugh is like new music,” said Orlanth, “and so pure that I would like to bring it home with me.”
“Not today, lord Wind,” said Ernalda, “for when I leave here I will go to my own tribe, to my mother’s house.”
“If you will promise to share that music with me again,” said Orlanth, “I would take you anyplace.”
“Not today, wind lord. Not today. But please, I bid you to come once again, with whatever contest you need to get inside the doors.”
So he did the impossible, which was to get a fourth contest with the Emperor. He did it because the Emperor had once demanded that all things unknown to him must be brought to him for inspection.
Orlanth searched for something new, which was impossible because the world was all made by that time, and the Emperor had been reviewing things for a long time.
Orlanth one day came upon the god Eurmal, a cruel god who was friendless because of the many terrible deeds he had done, like taking bear’s tail, or urinating in a sacred place, or speaking during sacrifice, or this, his latest deed — making the first corpse ever made.
Eurmal was in the shape of the ancient raven, which was still white. It didn’t turn black until later, when Eurmal brought fire to Hantrafal the Godi. Eurmal was trying to eat the whole corpse of the dead man.
“What is this?” asked Orlanth. At first Eurmal was surprised, because no one xcept Orlanth ever talked to him.
“It is a, uh, well, you know, a new thing.” Eurmal was not feeling very confident about having Death at that moment.
“You crafty little monster,” said Orlanth, “let us not play your games. Just give it to me, without fussing. What will you want from me? Just ask, and we’ll make the exchange and go on. How about if I provide you with protection?” That was no small thing.
Because everybody always was ready to strike and curse Eurmal these days, this was perhaps the greatest possible offer. That way Orlanth fooled Eurmal. He tricked the trickster, so Eurmal too gave something great.
“But only if I obey you,” blurted Eurmal. Thereafter that condition of obedience to Orlanth was necessary to make the bond real. That was how Orlanth tricked Eurmal, because he knew that the trickster would blurt out an exchange of something as equally valuable.
They both laughed, and locked double forearms in agreement.
Orlanth went away with his new thing. Eurmal went back to his meal.
At the gate of the Palace stood a guard, the God Gryphon, who stopped Orlanth outside. He was a powerful guardian, and he could have forced Orlanth to stop, as he had done to many gods whose entry was undeserved. Tough Vadrus was thrown ignominiously down the steps. He had thrown flown aloft with Urox and dropped he outside of the walls. Against Orlanth now, God Gryphon prepared for a fight, “You are not welcome,” he said, “Be Gone.”
Orlanth stopped, and did not even try force, but simply drew forth his new weapon and showed it to God Gryphon. That god blanched from fear, and was so afraid that turned from his natural golden color to silver, and rushed from his post to tell his lord.
Orlanth went in through the unguarded gate, and instead of going right to the Court of Judgement he went to where Ernalda was. She had not expected this, and came forth from her chambers to meet him.
“This is too hasty,” she said, “There are tests. You must change the Emperor of the World first.” This was Ernalda’s Challenge.
So Orlanth went off to change it. The 294 judges were summoned, and the contest of weapons was declared, and held. The Emperor’s golden arrow flew straight and true, and pierced Orlanth though a place which would have felled him, if he were not rightful. He drew the arrow from him, and it turned black, and he said, “This is an ill message for someone.”
Then he showed his own weapon, and swift death whistled from his scabbard, and struck the Emperor in a place which would have been harmless, except that it slew him, dead, forever. As he fell his blood ran out in liquid flame, and the entire crowd of courtiers and guest burst into pandemonium. Orlanth wiped his sword clean and left the room.
A band of people were waiting for him. They had liked his music before and joined him. They were the lowly who had served the grand. They said, “We know the secret way out of here, where the lord’s soldiers could never go. Come with us.”
“Go if you would,” said Orlanth. “Or come with me instead, as I find my wife.” He strode to meet her, followed by his new friends. At her chambers, the doors were open, waiting for him.
“Good Ernalda,” said Orlanth, “I would like to hear you laugh at your mother’s house.”
Ernalda had already prepared her escape. Kesta had laid aside food, Berlintha had packed clothing, Mahome had made clay tubes to bear fire, and Istena had filled many skins with water and wine. Arnna has a small treasure box, Jera the healing kit.
Beseta and Besanga could turn themselves into mares, and were ready to carry it all away.
Only Ernalda’s loom needed packing.
“This, above all else,” she said, “must go too.”
“I could probably carry it in one hand,” said Orlanth, “But I expect great fighting shortly, and would prefer not to have to carry it.” He turned to his new followers and said, “You, whowould serve, go and bear that for the good goddess.”
The former servants all gathered around it and began grunting in rhythm, and heaved. And again. And again. There were plenty of strong men among them, but they couldn’t get the loom up. Orlanth could hear the approach now of the Emperor’s avengers.
“Then I guess I will use one hand after all,” he said, and he bent and lifted the great piece of equipment. Astonishingly, the loom shrank as he lifted it, until it was small enough to be placed into his pouch.
“What is mine is no burden, even though it can create life,” she said. And then she added, “My partnership leaves both of your hands to you, and how you use them is your choice.” That is when Orlanth took both her hands gently, not in the formal manner by the wrists, but instead holding in what we call the two grip, that’s used in flirting. They looked eye to eye.
Then Orlanth spun back as he drew his weapons, facing the great horde of angry demigods who wanted to avenge their lord. Orlanth drove away the gods, proving there is a great different between their desires and abilities. Orlanth had Death in his hand, and soon there were corpses at his feet and panic fleeing before him.
He went out of the Palace through the front door, followed closely by Ernalda, her servants, and the growing crowd of others who sought to join themselves to Orlanth.
Orlanth took her home, to where her sisters lived, and prepared to leave. He took her hands in the two grip, and said goodby. She did not let go of his hands when he sought to, but held lightly as if with a question, so he too held on a moment more. That is called the four grip. She spoke.
“Come inside, and let me share my laughter with you.” So he stayed a while. Not long. She dressed his wounds, he brushed her hair. They both laughed. So their courting began.