Tales from the Islands of the Sun: The Stranger

The Islands of the Sun have long ago been drowned beneath the water and their inhabitants fled here and there across the world, but by good fortune some of the stories that were told in those islands have survived. These are the stories of the Latoirn who hunted horses with spear and arrow, and of the Ghadari who built towns of stone and magic. These stories date to around 6100.

A story that the famous wanderers Ebrinn and Lrento’ were told when they stayed with the Jobainnam tribe:

We are the free sons of the earth. We emerged from the womb of the earth and she spread her hands to make rivers for us. The Father of Deer gave his children for us to chase, and the Pirbognar traded their fish for the most beautiful of our daughters. These islands were given to us by the gods and will be ours forever.

A stranger from another tribe visited us in the time of my grandfather’s grandfather, asking for food and shelter. He spoke in a strange fashion and said that his family had been killed by a griffin. But he had not a single wound upon him.

When I speak of strangers, do not imagine that I mean to cast any shadow on you. Your sword makes you a member of every tribe, honored wherever word of you has spread.

This stranger was eager to help with the tasks of the tribe. He was strong and able, and all the women paused in their work when he passed by, so handsome was he. In time he took one of them to wife, a lovely woman named Pearl, and they lived together peacefully so that it seemed that harmony prevailed in the souls of all.

But Pearl was inquisitive as well as lovely, and she noticed that on every fifth night her husband would not lie at her side but instead go out wandering in the light of the stars, and for a time he would pass out of her sight. This puzzled her, but she was worried that she would offend him if she asked about it, so she said nothing. Strange things continued to happen in the tribe. Pearl’s father’s favorite dog ran away, stores of meat disappeared, and there were few horses to be found for miles around the camp. So we met together to discuss the problems and decide what could be done about it.

Throughout our debate the stranger was silent, but smiled to himself, and his mouth would spread wider than a normal man’s should. Not like the wide-faced Ghadari, mind you, but a smile that wrapped around the sides of his face. Now in those days we were wiser than we are now, and the stranger’s peculiarities were quickly noticed. Again and again Pearl was about to say what she knew, but time after time the stranger would give her a dark look to keep her quiet.

In her cunning soul Pearl wove a plan to ensnare her husband and discover the truth of his deeds. On the night when she expected him to leave again, she tied a string to his ankle and pretended to be asleep, until the string was tugged out of her hand and she rose silently and followed her husband.

He stalked through the darkness, and as he walked he seemed to grow in size, his arms spread out like wings, and his nose bent and curved into a great beak. He turned to face Pearl, and she saw that he had become a griffin, towering over her and staring down with cold hungry eyes. “Why have you spied on me, woman?”

“I was wondering if you were hungry,” said Pearl quickly.

The griffin laughed. “That is kind of you. But I already have a meal prepared. Go back to sleep.”

Pearl bowed her head and pretended to obey, but she continued to watch the griffin as it stalked down to the river and drank, then passed through the water and disappeared over the hill on the other side. Immediately she ran back to her hut and on her mattress she placed a bundle of nets shaped to resemble her body, and stuck a spear through it. Then she hid herself behind the back of the hut and waited for her husband to return.

I don’t know whether she fell asleep there or if she remained awake, silent and watching, until a loud screech jolted her. She ran around into the hut and found the griffin pierced through by the spear inside the hut, its innards spilling into the dirt. And then she went outside and proclaimed to all the tribe her victory over the griffin that had taken the shape of a man.

So we all must watch for those who would enter our families in guises we trust, for those who are from outside carry strange thoughts and do strange things, and to invite them in is to invite peril.

You excepted, of course.

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