Tales from the Islands of the Sun: Saenum

A story told among the Doldeni (a Ghadari sect):

Praise Heaven, whose laws are eternal and whose judgment is certain. Praise Heaven, which has given us eyes and hands to shape the earthly world. Praise Heaven above all men and all teachers.

Magic is a corruption and a blight to the people. It makes us a stench in the nostrils of Heaven. It is the temptation of the dracas and the doom of the islands. The only way to save ourselves is to abandon it, as Saenum learned at the gates of the sun.

This Saenum had been born in the old country, and was thoroughly steeped in the old ways. He was a priest himself, but his father had been a magician who had taught him to defy Heaven with prideful rituals that raise up the soul of man to stand among the high courts. In their household magical toys were common, and even used in sacrifices to Heaven – the same toys that were used to shed blood in the great wars.

When Saenum came to the islands he was an old man, set in his ways and far up in the hierarchy of priests. He expected that soon he would die and pass on into unknown seas, so he took special care to train his subordinates in the same way that he himself had been taught. He praised magic and magicians, unwittingly blaspheming the power of Heaven. But Heaven’s mercy is great, even to such as Saenum.

In his sleep Saenum was translated by good spirits that brought him to the path of the sun to show him all the world. He saw the continents and the oceans, the cities and farms, the ships and soldiers, the priests and magicians, the kings and craftsmen, all laid out before him, tiny and glittering in the sun’s light. He looked up, and saw the sun following its ceaseless glorious track, and cast over the sky was the silver net of the moon’s cycles. Beyond were the stars, and beyond that he could not see.

He trembled then, knowing that he was in the hands of a great power. “I am an impure man,” he said, “of impure birth. Overlook my transgressions, I pray, so that I may continue to kneel in this thin air and perceive what no mortal flesh has seen before.”

A cold breeze chilled his arms but he did not notice, so entranced was he by the glories that were around him. Again the cold struck him, but he did not notice. He stood firm in the sky unmoved by any being. Such is the pride of the Ghadari!

But his hand began to hurt, until he thought that he would surely die from the pain. He looked to see what had hurt him and saw a tiny man standing on his palm, driving a sword into his flesh. “Why do you do this?” he asked the tiny man.

“I am the archon of the entire world,” said the little man. “My sword lets me slay giants such as you.”

“Foolish homunculus,” said Saenum. “I could crush you with my finger.”

The little man laughed so scornfully that Saenum grew angry and began to clench his fist to destroy him, but when he saw the face of the little man he hesitated. It was his own face that he saw, and when he looked closer he saw that the little man was wearing his own clothes and holding in its other hand his own bag of magic tricks.

“My magic,” the little man said, “is great enough to challenge Heaven itself!” And he pulled out from the bag a point of white light and threw it at Saenum’s head. It flared and disappeared. “I wager you felt that in your skull!”

“I felt nothing,” said Saenum in truth.

“You lie!” the little man screamed. “My power is enough to destroy you with a blink of my eye! You are trying to deceive me!”

But now Saenum was tired of this miniature image, so he brushed it aside and looked up to the stars again. To his dismay, clouds were growing to hide the stars from his view. Thunder rumbled, and in the thunder was a voice.

“Who are you, man of the earth, to raise yourself above the simple things of hand and eye, to seek to master the spirits and command them? What evil inspired you to violate the laws that Heaven laid down to govern nature?”

“Forgive me,” said Saenum. “I have reached over my head for things I cannot grasp. I will return to my home and worship Heaven in humility.”

So the vision disappeared and Saenum was in his bed again. When the sun rose the next morning he took all his magic toys and destroyed them, and for the remainder of his life he rejected the magicians’ teachings, preferring the simple things given to us by Heaven for our edification and training in obedience. Heaven be praised above all things.

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