K is for Kukuweaq

Riddle me this, bat-friends. What has one head, one tail, and ten legs?

K is for Kukuweaq.

The Kukuweaq comes from Inuit folklore. The beast is a polar bear with ten legs. Yes, that’s right – ten of them. I wouldn’t want to be chased by a four-legged polar bear, much less ten!

The bear’s ten legs help it travel long distances on both land and water. Some sources also claim that the beast is as large as an iceberg and almost impossible to kill. But in one folktale, a man does bring down one of these creatures.

Two neighbors settled in for the winter. One had stashed away a walrus to feed him during the harsh months, while the other (Kucriak) had nothing. Kucriak’s neighbor refused to share the walrus with him, so Kucriak went out in search of food. He came across the Kukuweaq’s den and killed it by stabbing his harpoon in the Kukuweaq’s eye. Unlike his greedy neighbor, Kucriak shared the bear’s meat with his entire village, saving them from starvation. Of course, his neighbor was embarrassed, since he had not shared his walrus.

I think the message in this particular folktale is clear – one must be generous towards his or her community. This is a significant cultural need, especially in isolated societies where resources are scarce. Hawaiian cultures have similar story in “The Calabash of Poi,” as do the Australians in “How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch.”

What I’d like to know more about is why the Kukuweaq has ten legs – aside from the fact that the creature can travel long distances. The scientific term for having multiple limbs is polymelia. Many cultures have mythological creatures with polymelia, such as the Hindu Kali (a goddess, not a creature) and the Greek Hekatonkeires. I’ve been looking for more information about why this is so significant, but have failed to find anything yet. Let me know if you have a hint! (And I’ll let you know if I find something.) Aside from arms typically connoting strength, I’m at a loss.

Sources:
Robert F. Spencer. The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society. (1959)

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 3)

This post contains foul language, so please read on at your own discretion. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

0928_map_crop

Not my map (which is not ready yet)

The pair walked down the hallway towards the Protector’s study. Tabor suddenly felt like a young boy again, trailing behind his father on his way to be reprimanded for pulling his sister’s braids. It was a walk he knew all too well. A guard opened the door to the study and stood back so the men could enter.

Shorack walked to a corner table and poured a single goblet of wine. Understanding that he was not to partake in a drink with his father, Tabor sat down and glanced around at the maps that donned the walls to his right. An immense map of Nebe hung in the center, while smaller renderings of the different strongholds and major cities were draped around it. He could feel his father’s icy blue eyes on him. When he realized that his father’s attention was not going anywhere, Tabor turned to face him.

“The Hinder Blue is missing.”

To Tabor, the sentence sounded like an ancient riddle or secret message that required a precise response. Unfortunately, he had no idea what the reply should be. What in Azed’s name was the Hinder Blue, and what did it have to do with his spending too much time at the Hammer and Anvil? Tabor scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head slightly to the right. His father continued to look him straight in the eyes as he took a sip from his goblet. Tabor fumbled for the correct response.

“She left Vust Goffany near a fortnight ago and hasn’t been seen since.”

Oh, a ship. Of course. Tabor nodded.

“She was carrying a hundred tithes here to Llewling. They were supposed to make landfall in Vust Rana on their way, but they never showed. That was seven days ago. We thought perhaps they decided to forgo the mid-journey stop and head straight here. They were due three days ago. We haven’t heard word of them.”

He paused to let the import of the situation sink in.

“Shipwreck?” Tabor asked.

“We’ve had reports of a series of spring storms reaching the Cape, so it’s possible. However, no scouting parties have found any wreckage washed ashore. There certainly would have been something if that was the case.”

Tabor nodded.

EuropeanShips3“To make matters worse, Racine has sent two hawks to Goffany. We’ve heard no response. All communication with the vusts there seems to be at a halt. The last message from the other side of the Pentheas came when the Hinder Blue set out. Since then, nothing.”

“You think someone is intercepting the messages?”

“Either that or there’s no one capable of responding.” The Protector took in a deep breath, weighing his options. “I’ve sent word to the Neban Guard in Rana to prepare for a march westward through the mountains.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to send another ship, father? We could bypass the rough terrain altogether.”

“I am. One will leave from Vust Rana for the Cape, to see what they can find. Another will leave from Vust Wasland to enter the Goffan port. However, what concerns me most is not the missing ship. We can always gather more tithes. My worry is the lack of communication from Goffany. If Vust Goffany has been taken, then sending another ship will be an expensive waste of time.”

Tabor thought for a moment. While there were only two vusts in Goffany, it was unlikely that a band of rebels could overtake both camps without word getting out. There had been a few squabbles with traditionalists in the strongholds, but nothing to lead Tabor to believe that a formal rebel faction existed. Certainly, whatever separatists were out there didn’t seem large or powerful enough to overtake two cities full of Neban troops. Unless there was something his father wasn’t telling him.

“You and Racine will be leaving in the morning to join with those congregating at the Central Ranan gate. From there, you will march through the Pentheas into Goffany and attempt to re-establish communication with the troops posted there.”

This what it! What Tabor had been waiting for. A chance at a purposeful mission and some action. A Cheshire cat grin spread across his face, which he quickly checked for fear that his father would renege on the offer.

Shorack stiffened and looked at his son sternly. He seemed uncertain whether to address his next words to his son or his soldier. “You will be under Racine’s direct command. Your track record has been less than stellar recently.”

Tabor winced and looked to his feet, unable to meet his father’s gaze.

“No fuck ups.”

“No fuck ups,” the boy repeated.

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J is for Jörmungandr

I have a thing for snakes. I don’t want one as a pet, but they have to be my favorite animal characters. They’re highly symbolic in almost every culture, which piques my interest. I’ve chosen today’s animal because it reminds me of a tattoo I have of an ouroboros. If I had a totem animal, that would be it.

jourmungandJ is for Jörmungandr.

Jörmungandr is a giant snake in Norse mythology. He is the son of Loki and Angrbotha (the “th” here is the letter eth, but it wouldn’t transfer over properly); his siblings are Fenrir and Hel.

When the creature was born, Odin threw Jörmungandr into Midgard. There, the snake grew to epic proportions and completely encircled the realm. When he rises from the sea, his coils become a rainbow.

The most popular tale including Jörmungandr is his battle with Thor. On a particular fishing trip, Thor sails far out to sea, despite warnings from his sailing partner. He uses a decapitated ox’s head as bait, which he ties to a fishing line and throws out to sea. Jörmungandr takes the bait and surfaces. Before Thor is able to kill the best, Jörmungandr breaks the line and returns under the water.

However, Jörmungandr and Thor are fated to meet once more, during Ragnarok. At the end of Ragnarok, Jörmungandr will emerge from the sea and poison the land. He and Thor will meet one final time, and the two will kill one another.

I suppose what fascinates me about snakes is the conflicting symbolism that we meet with. As a Christian, I was brought up believing that snakes were bad. When I began to study cultural mythology, I realized that they are often dualistic creatures, neither good nor evil. Often, they are associated with the life cycle, as they are able to shed their skin and be born “anew.” Thus, they represent both life and death, the creator and the destroyer. Their simultaneously phallic and vaginal appearance adds to their use in fertility myths.

Snakes are most often associated with the earth. They are tied to the ground in a way that most animals aren’t. They come to represent the physical world, which is likely why they have been looked down upon by religions that focus on transcendence rather than earthly pleasures. Jormungandr seems to fit into this symbolism, as he surrounds the earth, holding it together. If he were to let go, the world would end.

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 2)

I’m quickly running out of chapters to showcase. I need to start writing more…

***

By the time Tabor arrived at the palace, it was well into dinnertime. He had spent the rest of the afternoon with the South Islander, seeing no reason to leave a good woman wanting. If nothing else, it was the chivalrous thing to do, and he was the son of the Protector, after all.

He sauntered into his father’s private dining room, where he found an open seat at the round table between the aging relic, Glandare, and his father’s newest acquisition, Larissa. A serving girl brought him a plate of braised pheasant over a bed of greens while another poured him a goblet of red wine. Tabor set into the plate immediately, having worked up quite a hunger from his busy afternoon.

Nikolas didn’t look up from his plate when his son entered, though he certainly noticed his presence. Aside from Tabor, the other Shorack children dined separately. Tabor had never been formally invited to his father’s table, but he had never been formally turned away either.

Tabor noticed that his mother was missing from the table, as was Wilona – neither of which surprised him. Kantessa and Wilona rarely deigned to dine with the other wives, preferring instead to take their meals with their respective children or with their own company. Tabor, as well, typically ate abroad or with his mother. Shorack’s Seraglio, as the realm derisively referred to his father’s unorthodox marital arrangements, was a sticking point with the boy. Plural marriage was not unheard of in Nebe, as it was practiced amongst the unhallowed and certain South Island immigrants, but it definitely went against the grain.

regicide-3

I’m an eighteenth-century scholar, so much of my novel is drawn from the English period of the Regicide of Charles I (1649) through the end of the eighteenth century. Charles II plays a major part in my characterization of both Nikolas and Tabor.

After the Unified Army’s conquest in Rana and Shorack’s appointment as the High Protector, the Doxal Eminent had issued a special dispensation allowing him to marry the wives of the three fallen Lords. Shorack deemed the marriages a political necessity. The act allowed him to avoid the appellation of a violent tyrant, as he did not have to try them for treason alongside their husbands. His scriveners wrote day and night, publicizing broadsides and chapbooks regaling Shorack’s clemency – and downplaying the unconventional consortium. Further, Shorack argued that the marriage would be a symbolic representation of a Unified Nebe. As the six strongholds would come together to form one country, the former Ladies and the Protector would come together as one family. Traditionalists could hold on to a part of the old regime while embracing the change.

Of course, it hadn’t been that simple. In addition to the outcries of many Nebans – the wasals in particular – Shorack had the difficult task of convincing the Ladies that aligning themselves with the man who essentially “murdered” their husband and children was sensible. On the eve of the ceremony, Lady Perle of Vustania leapt from her chamber’s window to her death. Tabor was not sure how his father had managed to convince Lady Becca of Feldeen and Lady Glandare of Rana to go through with the sacramental function (which had not been postponed despite the death of Lord Willif’s widow), but he had.

Two years later, when Hrundl fell, Lady Meaghan chose to follow Lady Perle’s example and sliced her wrists while her husband awaited beheading. Steps were then taken when the fifth stronghold, Agralax, fell and Lady Mallary was to wed the Protector, though they were unnecessary. Lord Simonis effectively sold his bride to Shorack in return for a life of exile in the South Islands. Mallary seemed unconcerned at the shift in husbands, as she had previously been sold to Simonis before her first blooding. Rumors abounded regarding the Lord’s harsh treatment of his wife – his third in a line of Ladies who had all succumbed to untimely deaths. Mallary became even more endeared to Shorack when she was allowed to issue the orders to the executioner upon Simonis’ assassination, a wedding present from the Protector to his newest bride.

But it was Wilona Taksony’s marriage to his father that puzzled Tabor the most. The Goffans fiercely outlasted the other strongholds’ unification, and Wilona had fought alongside her husband the entire way. Of all the former Ladies, Wilona was the only one whose marriage had not been arranged. She and Lord Taksony had been childhood friends whose relationship blossomed over the years, or at least that is what Tabor had heard. Why she had married his father was a mystery to the entire realm, who assumed she would rather die alongside her first husband than marry another. Rumor suggested that it had something to do with her daughter, Makenna, but other rumors suggested something more nefarious. As Wilona only had a tiny threshold for Tabor’s presence, she had never confided in him.

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James Gillray is one of my favorite artists of the eighteenth century. This is a depiction of the French Revolution, based on Edmund Burke’s interpretation.

Of course, there was no love lost between Tabor and any of his father’s wives. He had been five when his father took the first two of his new wives, and he always took the action as a slight against his own mother, the original Mrs. Shorack. Kantessa never complained in public against her husband’s proclivity for taking on new wives (or even in private for all Tabor knew), but her eldest son was sure that his father’s marriages had to be a source of pain for his mother, especially when the Protector continued to take on additional wives after all the former Ladies had been incorporated into the “family.”

Endia was a South Island native, whom Shorack wed in a failed attempt to expand his reach across the sea, and Nance was a merchant’s daughter, whom his father had no good political excuse to wed. His newest marriage to Larissa Sem, the bastard daughter of the Doxal Eminent – the very man who had signed the original marriage dispensation – was just folly in Tabor’s opinion. However, he did hope it was a kick in the teeth to the old wasal. With each new wife, Shorack made himself a target for public satire and hatred. He just couldn’t see how his sham of a family no longer represented unification, which Tabor thought could have disastrous fallout.

The women were chatting about Larissa’s pregnancy as the servants cleared the plates from the table in preparation for the third course. She looked ready to pop any day – and about two moons too soon, according to Tabor’s calculations. They were discussing remedies for her swollen ankles and sore back.

“Did you have a productive day?”

The table went quiet as Shorack finally addressed his son.

“Yes, father,” Tabor replied, stuffing in one final bite of salad as his plate was taken from him.

“Tell me, is Merry Moll still working down at the Hammer and Anvil?”

Tabor nearly choked on the greens. Apparently his father had been following his comings and goings more closely than he had anticipated. “They call her Poxy Moll now. She’s taken in one too many sailors in her day, or so I’ve heard.”

Satirical print by Gillray - British Museum - 1796

Another Gillray. For more information on this particular story, see http://www.regencyhistory.net/2013/04/frances-villiers-countess-of-jersey.html

Shorack surveyed his son. “Follow me,” he said slowly, rising from the table as the serving women were bringing out platters of aromatic blue-gill tuna.

Tabor sighed. His father rarely missed a meal, and tuna was one of the Protector’s favorites. He knew he was in trouble if his father was skipping out on it.

[To be continued in Part 3]

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I is for Itherther

ImageItherther is a god from the Kabyle tribe in Algeria, Africa who took the shape of a buffalo. Itherther is central in the Kabyle creation myth.

Itherther lived in Tlam, which was located below ground. He wanted to live in the sun, so he made his way above-ground with a female calf named Thamuatz. The two bred, and had a son and daughter.

Their son, Achimi, had a bit of an Oedipal complex. He discovered a tribe of men, who tried to capture and domesticate him. A wise ant told Achimi that the animals should work for man, but Achimi was obstinate. (The ant is often a creature of helpful insight in many African myths.) Achimi wanted to remain free, rather than bowing to man in exchange for food and shelter.Image

Upon his return home, Achimi mated with his mother and sister. Itherther became enraged when he found out. The two fought for power. Achimi overpowered his father, and the defeated Itherther wandered the world alone.

Itherther missed Thamuatz greatly. Every time he thought of her, he would spill his semen on the ground. His seed was warmed by the sun and begat all game animals (except for the lion).

Sources:Leo Frobenius and Douglas C. Fox. African Genesis: Folk Tales and Myths of Africa. (1999)

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 1)

Here, we’re introduced to Tabor, the Protector’s son. The chapter is from his perspective, though it harkens back to the plot line established in Chapter Two.

This scene takes place in a brothel, so please don’t read on if you’re likely to be offended, though it’s fairly tame.

As always, your constructive comments are helpful and much appreciated!

***

With their clothes on, the twins were indistinguishable, but Tabor was aware of the important differences. While Jayne had plumper breasts, Bethe tasted sweeter. Bethe, though less adventurous than her sister, was more enthusiastic, while Jayne let him roam her body freely. Alone, each was well worth a silver argen, but Tabor didn’t mind shelling out a full golden crest to enjoy the company of the two together. Nowhere but the Hammer and Anvil could offer such a treat, and he had plenty of crests and afternoons to spare.

Image

This image is of an actual hotel, called Medieval Hotel Detenice.

As Tabor made his way down the staircase to the tavern’s gathering room, he noticed his stonefather seated at the bar. A nubile South Island beauty was vying with an ample Hrundl dame for his attention. Racine was awkwardly perched between the two, uncomfortably focusing on his stein of ale rather than the women at his side. Tabor stifled a laugh. Although Racine was more than twenty years his senior, he was clearly as out of place at the Hammer and Anvil as a greenhorn farm boy looking for his first romp. Tabor paused on the stairwell, wondering if he should leave Racine alone a bit longer, as his stonefather had obviously been sent to the tavern to look for him. Perhaps it would do him some good, make him a little less on edge.

A split second before Tabor turned to make his way back to the pair of beauties waiting upstairs, Racine caught sight of him. The old bachelor cumbersomely attempted to disentangle himself from the South Islander’s vines, which had managed to creep their way around him in an obscene manner – by “downstairs standards” at least. Leaving his drink behind, Racine made his way to a table near the fire, and Tabor followed suit.

The boy gestured to the barkeep, who promptly filled two more steins and brought them to the table. Tabor took a swig of the ale, waiting for Racine to begin his lecture.

Racine looked around the room with distaste. “It appears you’ve been keeping yourself quite busy.”

Tabor smirked. “How did you find me?”

“Where you spend your days is no secret, son. Your father is looking for you.”

Image

Image from Hans Holbein (1538). Title “The Drunkards.”

The boy took another long swig. “Are there more stables to muck or horses to be shod?”

“He didn’t inform me, but I’m sure he’s aware of your lackluster performance with Captain Hammon.”

“I have better things to do than practice dressage.”

As if on cue, Jayne and Bethe descended the staircase. Racine raised his eyebrow and stared pointedly at Tabor.  “So it seems.”

Though Tabor had only been out of the academy for nine moons, he’d already held four different posts in his father’s service – each more mundane and tedious as the last. He’d shown much promise as a young lad, practicing with Captain Essex in the yard and Racine in the classroom. At the academy, he progressed quickly in his courses, excelling in weaponry and battle tactics. But, upon graduation, there was little activity that spoke to his skills.

He’d begun as a Guide, leading tithes across the Spine. The assignment proved riveting for only two quick romps to Rana and back, after which he learned that the stories of the Spine were things of the past. The mercenaries seemed to have settled into respectable businesses, where they could rob travelers under the guise of free trade. When he failed to show up for his third trek, his father assigned him to two consecutive posts in the Naval Guard, neither of which lasted a moon. To better keep his eye on his son, Shorack finally placed him with Captain Hammon in the Equestrian Guard – which just happened to be annexed to the palace. Already a seasoned horseman, Tabor learned to parade around after the royal carriage on official outings and ceremonies, but he preferred to ride with his family and hated the pompous formality of the post. Needless to say, he shirked his duties as often as he attended to them.Image

“He likely has need for an errand boy, rather than something that will actually rely on my talents,” Tabor said acridly.

“Drinking and whoring?” Racine grabbed Tabor’s stein and emptied the remains on the floor.

“And how else should I be spending my time? The realm has no use for me, and, until it does, I prefer to spend my time here than with tithes and old men.”

Racine shook his head and rose. He knew it was no good to lecture the boy, so he took his leave, having delivered the summons.

Tabor downed what was left in Racine’s mug and motioned to the barkeep, who brought him a fresh brew.

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H is for Heikegani

Technically, today’s animal isn’t a mythological creature; it’s a folktale from Japan.

H is for Heikegani.

Image The Heikengani is a crab specific to Japan. Their shells resemble a samurai warrior’s face, so they were thought to be the reincarnated spirits of fallen soldiers.

Specifically, the Heikengani are the spirits of the Heike soldiers who drowned during the Battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. The Heike controlled Japan under the Empire, while the Minamoto were trying to destroy the empire and implement their own government. The Minamoto eventually won the war, which is how the first Shogun was put in power.

The drowned Heike samurai were transformed into Heikegani, who now patrol the ocean. Folktales say that the crab came into existence directly after the battle.

Image

An image of the battle by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The crab is seen on the far left panel in the center.

Carl Sagan popularized these crabs in 1980 when he discussed them on his television show, Cosmos. He used the Heikegani as an example of artificial selection, claiming that the Japanese would not eat the crabs. Thinking they were spirits of soldiers, the fishermen would throw them back into the water. This allowed the species to flourish. However, others have pointed out that Heikegani are too small to eat (the shell is about an inch in diameter), so Sagan’s theory has some holes. The creases in the shell are actually points of articulation for the crab’s limbs.

Seeing human qualities in inanimate objects (such as a crab’s shell) is called pareidolia. It’s believed that this trend was popular in early cultures, especially those who believed in the supernatural. It is a way of making sense out of the world and seeing connections that are easy to recognize in natural phenomena.

Sources:Andrew Kincaid. “Heikegani – The Samurai Crab.” (2013)

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