January 28th, 2019

Flower person

In the Service of the Cow-eyed Goddess: Part 1

 Back in Jun 18 @NeolithicSheep on Twitter had a thread  that, among other things, talked about the Ancient Greek use of the phrase 'cow-eyed' to describe goddesses.  Despite what the Ancient Greeks actually meant, my mind went to 'what if they meant that literally?" and then, 'hang on, I have a universe where that would be true' which is how I wound up with a 8,880 word story.  @NeolithicSheep was kind enough to tell me about cow horns partway through the writing process and it was a great help.

This is set in the world of the Chambourian Verses, which can be found
here on Dreamwidth or here on Live Journal
.  This story takes place after "Tasking" and "In Which A Job Is Handed Out."  Part 1 runs to 2,113 words.

Eliane hadn’t slept well in the night, but the rhythmic hard work of shovelling the fresh dung out of the cow stalls was helping.  She’s started the day feeling restless and unsettled, and the familiar routine of work that had to be done for the animals’ well being was dispelling that feeling.  Not even the arrival of someone important enough for her grandmother to emerge from the farmhouse and add her shrill greeting to her husband’s and son’s gruff and respectful tones was enough to agitate her again.

Besides, no visitor was going to meet Eliane in the middle of this job, unless they were buying cow manure or selling shovels.

Once the dung was removed from the cowshed and added to the latest pile in the pens out the back of the farmyard, the fresh straw and sawdust spread, and her tools were cleaned, Eliane’s after milking chores were done.  There was just time for her to make sure her hands were clean, and then harvest the ready leaves from the everlasting greens section of the garden before lunch.  She delivered the basket of greens to her aunt at the kitchen door, and then went back through the kitchen garden and out into the yard to get to what her family called the farmyard door.  Taking the long way around meant that she could leave her work boots in the mudroom that was a buffer between the yard and the rest of the house.

Passing the herb patch on her way, she absentmindedly broke off the growing tip off a twig of red-leaved shamosay, put it in her mouth, and started chewing.

She didn’t realise what she’d done until all that was left was the unappetising wad of fibres from the stem.  She took it out of her mouth with her fingers, looked at the pale pink bundle that could only be shamosay, and began to panic; the plant was poisonous, and she had no idea why she’d eaten a piece, nor any memory of putting it in her mouth.

I must say,” the voice in her head was not the one of her own thoughts but it was somehow familiar, “you are sensible, and thus very hard to get to put things you don’t think are food in your mouth.  Do you have any idea how difficult it was to get you to chew on that?

“Who are you?”  Eliane was alone in the washroom and so she spoke aloud, albeit quietly, to keep her own words somehow more separate from the voice in her head.

“You know that divine spark of The Mentor of Those That Work in Life that your family has been carrying around inside them all these years?”  The voice chuckled, “Well, that’s me.  Congratulations, you are the Bearer of your generation.”

“But my grandmother, she’s the Bearer, everyone says so!”  Eliane stopped and then asked, “Nothing’s happened to her, just now, has it?”

“No, your grandmother is fine,” the voice assured her.  “And everyone only says that she’s the Bearer because she’s claimed to be so long and loudly that these days they think she knows what she’s talking about.  She was never the Bearer, and she’s convinced herself that she is based on some self-serving reasoning.  It was your mother who was the Bearer before you, and when she died I passed to you.  Your father’s line separated from the Bearer’s four generations back through your grandfather and six through your grandmother.”

“My mother’s been dead most of my life,” pointed out Eliane.  “Why are you talking to me now?”

“It’s time to stop hiding quietly out of sight,” said the voice.  “The prophecy is finally moving on, and I need to be moved into position.  Over lunch matters will be worked out so you will be escorting some heifers to the big temple at Prothiarn – all you will need to do is not object.  You’ll need to pack everything that you want to keep but given the length of the trip there and back, doing that shouldn’t get anyone agitated.”

Eliane demanded, “What prophecy?”

“We don’t have time for that now,” said the voice firmly.  “Now, go and have a big lunch and drink lots of water.  Oh, and you’ll need to open your bowels fairly violently in about an hour and a half.”

“I could have taken a dose of constipation syrup to do that, instead chewing on raw shamosay,” pointed out Eliane tartly.

“The bowel opening part wasn’t what you needed to open the lock in your mind,” the spark told her primly.  “Now, go and eat.”

Everyone at lunch was bumped down a place at the table except Eliane’s grandparents.  The guest, a priest of the Mentor named Ruudmund, was seated between her grandfather and uncle, and opposite her grandmother.  Eliane’s father and aunt rounded out the top of the table.  Great-Uncle Banning, who’d gone off on pilgrimage when he was younger and returned a decade later dedicated to developing better pasture plants, sat in his usual place at the foot of the table and the space in between was filled with Eliane and the cousins of varying degree who worked on the farm.  Eliane ate a little more than usual for her and drank more water, while at the head of the table the priest was plied with the first choice from each serving platter and was given citrus cordial to drink.

At the end of the meal her grandfather turned to the table at large and said loudly, “Wait a moment everyone, we have an announcement to make concerning the Learned Ordained Ruudmund’s visit.”  He turned to the priest, “Would you care to explain the reason for your visit, Learned Brother Ruudmund?”

“Thank you, Skilled Brother Almo,” the younger man smiled gratefully at Eliane’s grandfather who was, like most of their extended family including Eliane herself, a Skilled Dedicate of the Mentor.  “I would be most happy to.”  He turned to the rest of the table, “As you have probably heard, Jonan the Sun Emperor has claimed the seer of the Silence Under the Hills as his bride, and the temple in which she lived collapsed as soon as she left its grounds.  It turns out that the priests of the Sun God have spent generations building a network of treaties through the foothill kingdoms and duchies that have activation clauses like ‘when the Sun Emperor claims his bride’, so almost overnight Jonan’s Empire went from Jokkiel’s temple holdings plus Meshtinbar, Uustridge, Pellchase, and a dozen odd duchies that had pledged to his family for protection from bandits, to most of the western headwaters of the great river.  There’s a prophecy that says his empire will cover half the world, and it seems the priests of Jokkiel are working to make it come true.”

He made a face of distaste and went on, “Consequently, we are expecting a period of disruptions while the empire expands.  Just to insure against unfortunate incidents, we’re spreading out the Divine Herds and Flocks; expanding their numbers and locations.  Cows from here and two bulls from Prothiarn will go to a new farm in the upper Guadalfambra valley.  The lands there cleave to the Duchy of Ondon which is already within the empire’s orbit, so we expect things there to remain calm and settled.  Two bulls from here and cows from Prothiarn will go to another new farm near Charoix, up on the Balan Ranges.  It should be a generation or two before the empire bothers going up there.”

“Excuse me, Learned Brother,” that was Cousin Gwelifra who wore her hair in twin braids, “but were many people hurt when the temple collapsed?  I’ve heard that it is, perhaps was, the size of a large village.”

“That’s one of the things that has everyone talking,” admitted Learned Brother Ruudmund.  “No-one was hurt.  The emperor assumed that this Chambourian Verse prophecy thing meant exactly what it said and used his soldiers to enforce an evacuation of the entire complex.  The place collapsed in front of them and no-one was inside it.  Gossip says that the former high priest took himself off somewhere on his own the next day, but news said a lot of the clerical staff are going to some university-thing the emperor is setting up in his capital.”

He sighed.  “Important members of the senior clergy are excited about both the prophecy and the university-thing, and I can understand that, but no-one has explained the prophecy to me, so I can’t explain it to you.”

Thanks and blessings for that,” said the divine spark acerbically in Eliane’s mind.  You could probably make good money taking bets on which of your extended family would get to Prothiarn first if they knew what it was about.  What we don’t want is a fuss about who goes-.

“Send young Eliane to help take the cattle along,” recommended Great-Uncle Banning from his place on Eliane’s left plus two.  “She’s the only one who hasn’t had a trip since her Dedication.  She’s a neat hand at managing the muck pile, but that’s no reason for her not to see more of the world.  Besides, it would be a good idea if a few more people her age on this farm had experience with keeping the thing in line.”

“It was out to get me,” said Eliane’s aunt.

“You let it catch on fire,” pointed out her brother, Eliane’s father.

“I didn’t let it do anything,” she tossed her single braid back over her shoulder with one hand.  “It charged ahead and did what it wanted despite my best efforts.  Cheese is a more sensible thing to work with.  You can reason with cheese.”

You can reason with cheese, dear,” her husband teased.  “It’s not something that works for the rest of us.”

Everyone else at the table laughed, giggled, or at least smiled, even Learned Brother Ruudmund who looked like he wasn’t quite sure why he was smiling.  Then Eliane’s grandmother said, “I think Banning is right, no matter who else goes we should send Eliane.  As you’ve come here, Learned Brother, I suppose that at least some of our heifers will be going to the Guadalfambra valley?  Will more be coming from the other subherds our family’s families look after?”

“I wasn’t one of the people making the selection, Skilled Sister Liadra,” replied the priest, “but I’m told that they selected the animals in question with a view to establishing a vigorous bloodline and a herd with experienced animals to guide it from the beginning.”

“So, you’ll be taking some of the older cows then too,” commented Almo.  Then the conversation moved onto which animals would be going, and Eliane’s participation was an accepted fact.

That went more smoothly than I feared,” commented the divine spark as they left the lunch table.  I hadn’t considered that everyone might already believe that you were owed a trip away.  I was told that it would all work out, but I’ve been inside the minds of members of your family for a long time, and I’ve known more of you than the Bearers: I was worried.”

In her thoughts, Eliane asked, “Who told you?”

My…principal?  Technically, in theological terms, I’m an independent autonomous aspect of Rhenasanamofa, Mentor of Those That Work in Life.  We talk sometimes, well, a lot very recently.  I know you, your predecessors and your wider family very well.  She knows a lot more people.  Eliane got the impression that the divine spark was very happy about all of that in a child-like skipping on her way manner.

“So, do you have a name?”  Under the circumstances, Eliane didn’t want to be rude to the other person in her head.

Rhenasanamofa,” replied the divine spark.  We’re both Rhenasanamofa.  Or perhaps it’s all of us are?  I shall have to ask.”

“That sounds complicated,” allowed Eliane.

And that’s before we go into why I am what I am and what my function is.”  The divine spark giggled and then added in a serious tone, “You have your normal work to do this afternoon and I’m sure that you’ll need start packing tonight, although things won’t be organised for you to leave for a few days yet.  We’ll talk again later.  In the meantime, make sure that you’re near a privy in about three quarters of an hour.  Oh, and plan to take anything you’ll miss if you don’t have it with you when you leave.”  The voice in her head went silent but Eliane thought that there was a background hum to her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed before.

The advice about the privy was very much on point.

This is now followed by Part 2.
This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/114796.html. There have been comment count unavailable comments there.
Flower person

In the Service of the Cow-eyed Goddess: Part 2

 This follows on from In the Service of the Cow-eyed Goddess: Part 1Thanks to an inadvertent prompt from @NeolithicSheep on Twitter back in June 18, I wound up writing 8,880 words of story. This part contains a font change to indicate something particular in the story, and I have no idea if the font change in my document is going to show up anywhere that the document is posted. Whether or not my attempt at cleverness is visible to you at all, this portion of the story runs to 2,546 words.

I hope you all enjoy it.

The thing that Eliane hadn’t expected was the overhaul of her wardrobe that happened later that afternoon.  “I know you’ve had those boots long enough to get them well broken in,” said her grandmother critically, “but are they going to be enough to get you to Prothiarn and back?  And where’s your best outfit?  You’ll need it for attending services while you’re there.”

Eliane asked, “Does it really matter?”

Her aunt closed the door and leaned back against it, then looked at her mother, Eliane’s grandmother.

Eliane’s grandmother took a deep breath and began with, “You know how we like to marry inside the family and we keep the Blood Books to make sure we don’t marry too closely?”  Eliane nodded.  “Well, as each of you get old enough, we go through our Book and work out who your possible matches are.”  Her grandmother took a deep breadth and went on, “You’re too closely related to everyone for marrying any of the available men to be a good idea.  Being married can be a wonderful thing, with the right person, and not being doomed to only have dead babies helps.  This trip to Prothiarn is your best chance to meet someone suitable that you like.  Clothes help make good impressions.”

Eliane looked at her aunt, who nodded in confirmation.  “So, I’m going to Prothiarn to deliver some cows and find a husband?”

“From a certain point of view,” agreed her aunt with a nod of her head and a twinkle of amusement in her eye.  “This is just us making sure that you have all the tools you might need for both jobs.”

Later that night, Eliane moved from a dreamless sleep into something that wasn’t really wakefulness.  The sky above her was clear and the light had all the qualities of midday in early autumn, even though the sun wasn’t visible in that clear sky.  The air temperature held the warmth of early autumn too, and somewhere close there were enough bees that Eliane could hear them buzzing.  In front of her, on her left hand, was a planting of an unfamiliar crop; ranks of tall segmented stems as thick as her forearm, each row separated from the others by a space wide enough for a person to walk down, each stem segment joint having both a panicle heavy with purple grain hanging from it and two broad green leaves thrusting up and out.  On her right, splendidly rainbow-coloured geese browsed through a short pasture heavy with unfamiliar flowers and seed pods.  In the centre of the scene, seated on a stool made of moving things that might have been vines was…the goddess.

Elaine prostrated herself on the mixture of pasture grasses and other plants, narrowly missing a blackthorn thistle with her face.  The broad-faced, brown-eyed deity continued talking to the red heifer she was stroking for a few moments more, then said in voice that echoed in Eliane’s mind, “Please get up, my dear.  I know you don’t remember our previous conversations, but in the future, please don’t do that every time you come here.”

Eliane stood and asked, “Our previous conversations, ma’am?”

The generous mouth on the wise, beautiful, inhumanely-proportioned face smiled.  “Yes, we’ve spoken a number of times.  Usually here,” Rhenasanamofa gestured to indicate their surroundings with the hand that wasn’t being used to rub the black-horned heifer behind the ears.  “It is the one of my workspaces that you are most comfortable in.  But not remembering our conversations?  That’s part of what I did to your mind’s perceptions so that you didn’t know that you are carrying my spark.”

“Why did you do that, ma’am?”  Eliane had always wondered why the identity of the spark-bearer was a secret.

The goddess sighed.  “I’m afraid that several of your predecessors weren’t very nice people.  I picked Iorcan to take up the mantle after those righteous mabheads massacred the dwimmerweavers, including the then spark bearers, because he was the only surviving descendent of my previous last spark bearer.  Although he was definitely born with magic, he wasn’t detected by the zealots’ magic hunters, and he never exhibited any magical ability afterwards.  I don’t know how he did it, but I suspect that he tied it up in something big.  His children didn’t have any magic either but,” the goddess glowed with enthusiasm, well Eliane hope it was enthusiasm, “but some of your family do show signs….  I suspect it’s to do with the cousin marrying cousin thing that you’ve got going on, something that did not come from me.  Your aunt, for instance, really can talk to developing cheese which is even more remarkable when you consider what she’s doing to achieve that.  Blood line breeding is so interesting!”

Feeling that the goddess may have gotten off the topic she’d been meaning to talk about, Eliane asked respectfully, “Is that why you hid your spark from us, ma’am?”

“Sorry, I’m afraid it is easy for me to drift off into subjects that are related to my bee-alda, my existential essence.”  Rhenasanamofa smiled and went on, “Iorcan’s idiosyncrasies were probably due to having most of his close friends and family murdered, but his daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter had no excuses for the way they treated other people.  My long-term fix was to breed for better temperament, as well as health, intelligence, and reproductive viability, but I needed a short-term fix too.  So, I made it so no-one knew who the spark bearer was, especially not the spark bearer themselves.  That took away the alleged root of the problem.”  She shook her head.  “There may have been a better way, but the substance and function of life are my sphere, not social engineering or outright mental manipulation that’s not aimed at reproductive behaviours.”

“And now ma’am?”  Eliane thought she knew what the answer was.

“After things went so badly wrong the first time, most of us got together and petitioned Hlactea, the patron of predictions and oracles, for guidance.  She was,” added Rhenasanamofa, “peeved that we asked for something that she couldn’t calculate with measurements and mathematics.  I recall that she told us that we deserved whatever it was that we were going to get.  What we got was a money lender’s clerk who only spoke and wrote Navreen writing out a hundred and one five-line verses of not very good poetry that gave us events, milestones and an order to it all.”  The goddess pouted.  “Hlactea and the Silence Under the Hills both seemed amused.  Anyway, my spark doesn’t get bred into the, the divine conceptus that we’re making for many human generations yet but there is a verse much earlier than that about my spark and Sluan’s spark doing something in the place where my spark will be living.  I’m not sure what it’s all about, but it must be important, or it wouldn’t be in the prophesy.”

“So, you need me to go to Prothiarn so one of my spark-bearing descendants can meet the bearer of the spark of Sluan,” finished Eliane.  “About that descendant thing, you know I’ve never been much interested in boys and stuff, don’t you?”

“Given how closely you’re related to all the possible men around your home, I count that as a good thing,” replied the goddess.  “I must say, I was impressed by your grandmother and aunt.  I thought they were going to tell you not to be swept off your feet by some strange young man, and to make sure you got back home unimpregnated.  Instead they practically told you to go looking for a good stud.”

Eliane flushed and protested, “That’s not what they said.”

“They might as well have,” retorted Rhenasanamofa, “and I am.  We’re after a good constitution with lots of disease resistance, intelligence, a good disposition, and a family background of nice, broad birth canals.”

“So, no-one with a big head,” snapped Eliane tartly.  Then she realised something, “Wait, I’m part of an actual breeding plan?  That’s…actually way more appealing than ‘just go out and find a suitable man’ is.  Do you have any physical conformation standards?  Desirable patterning and colouration?”

The goddess chortled.  “That’s my girl!”

Eliane woke in the morning with a clear recollection of the conversation in the night.  The trip to Prothiarn wouldn’t begin for a few days yet, so her normal chores were still to be done, but the appeal of finding a suitable husband was beginning to grow on her.  She had truly never been interested in any of the boys and young men she knew, all cousins in some degree, in any way that might result in children.  With lists of necessary and desirable attributes to check off, the whole concept seemed far more interesting and achievable.  She also recalled that parts of her wardrobe were going to be updated before she left…

She was up and getting dressed when her aunt tapped on her door.  “Don’t get fully dressed,” she said through the door when Eliane acknowledged her.  “We need to measure you up before you start work.  That way we can check the fit of your new shirts and chemise before you start shovelling out the cowshed, and we should be ready to start on the kirtle after lunch.”

Eliane opened the door at that and asked, “When was it decided I’m getting a new kirtle?  I barely worn the one I’ve got!”

Her aunt smiled.  “Oh good, you’re already decent.  You can come downstairs with me now.  Your grandmother decided in the night that you haven’t been wearing the kirtle you have because it wasn’t a flattering colour on you.  Not nearly as flattering as your best vest and jacket.”

“Well, it was picked out so that not all of us were wearing the same thing,” pointed Eliane.  “And I was the one who agreed to use the last of that particular bolt.  I’ll admit that I didn’t expect to get much chance to wear it at the time.”

“I know,” her aunt acknowledged as she began to usher the younger woman to the stairs, “and then we found that flaw in the cloth that we had to work around, and I was never happy with the way it sat on you.  It always looks slightly uncomfortable when you wear it.”

“Does it?”  Eliane admitted, “I just thought that because I didn’t like the way it felt it meant that I don’t like wearing kirtles.”

“That’s possible,” conceded her aunt, “but let’s make sure that this one does what it’s supposed to do so that you have a proper base for coming to a conclusion.”

The rest of Eliane’s day was normal, except for clothes fittings.  Elaine wasn’t a skilled seamstress, so she did what she was told while people who knew what they were doing did things with pieces cut from old sheets to get the fit right before they cut the dress cloth.  Cousin Liveen, who wore her hair in a bun and had a small purplish birthmark on her cheekbone under the outer corner of her right eye asked peevishly at one point, “But why didn’t you say that your old kirtle didn’t fit properly?”

“I thought it was because I didn’t like wearing kirtles,” admitted Eliane again, “and you all worked so hard on it, I didn’t want to be ungrateful.  Besides, you had so much to do at the time, I didn’t want to make things worse.”

“Goddess preserve us.”  Cousin Liveen covered her face with her hands.  “None of that means you had to put up with it for two years!  If you’d said something, there are things we could have done.  No-one in this family has to wear their work clothes all the time.”  Then she’d gone back to pinning worn-thin linen into place to get the fit right under Eliane’s arms.

It took three days to get the cows and heifers that were being moved together from all the subherds and for their human escort to assemble.  Great Uncle Banning was coming too, riding on the ox-drawn wagon that would carry everyone’s bags and the food supply.  The trip to Prothiarn, moving at the cattle’s pace, would take fifteen days, including a rest day.  The selection of cows and heifers included both light and dark phase animals, so the herd was a mixture of fawn and caramel coloured bodies all topped by heads carrying arm-long, inward curving black horns.  The ox was a light phase bullock, so his pale grey hide stood out from the others, but his horns were just as long and black.

There were more humans in the group than the task ought to need.  Learned Brother Ruudmund needed to go back to Prothiarn, of course.  Each of the family farms that had raised the animals being moved had sent along two people, so that was eight, plus Second Cousin Herome who was driving the cart because he didn’t trust anyone else with his ox, Smoke.  Smoke was coming because Grandfather’s First Cousin Elver had volunteered him and their farm’s cart to make sure they could carry everything they all needed to take with them, particularly as his granddaughter, Third Cousin Helire, seemed to have three times the luggage of everyone else.

Helire was much of an age with Eliane and wore her hair the same length, and within the space of two days everyone realised that Learned Brother Ruudmund couldn’t tell them apart.  “But you all have the same face,” he complained when Herome made a joke about it while they were eating dinner.  “There’s the male version and the female version, but it’s all the same face.  I mean, some of you have moles or birthmarks, and there are different haircuts or beards for the men, but after that, if you’re in similar clothes, I can’t tell you apart.”

Helire indicated Eliane and protested, “But we’ve got different coloured eyes!”

“They’re both dark colours,” pointed Learned Brother Ruudmund, “and there are social issues about me getting close enough to tell the difference.”

Eliane realised, “So that was why you didn’t use names much when you were staying with us – you couldn’t pick who was who.”

“Um, yes,” admitted Ruddmund.  “I realise that makes me a bad guest, but I really couldn’t.”

“When I first started travelling with the Learned Skilled Ordained Philyana,” reminisced Great Uncle Banning from his place from the other side of the fire, “I had trouble telling who was who because everyone looked different and the variation was overwhelming.”  He paused and then added, “Then I met people from down near the mouth of the river and different skin tones became a thing….”

Helire started wearing a fresh field flower behind her ear every day while Eliane knotted a bandana around her neck, and Ruudmund seemed less confused.

The divine spark was amused.  Perhaps you want one with better pattern recognition that that?” it sniggered in the back of Eliane’s mind one morning when Ruudmund was temporarily confused before breakfast.  Mind you, Learned Brother Ruudmund does seem to come with a slightly better than usual overall standard mental package.  Perhaps this whole breeding out thing should have happened a generation or so ago?

Eliane didn’t know what to say to that so she didn’t say anything.

This is now followed by
Part 3.

This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/114999.html. There have been comment count unavailable comments there.