“It was unsustainable,” Grania was cleaning boots with her second eldest. Thend was of an age to ask the questions and listen to the answers. “It was reasonable to begin with. You asked the spirits to do something for you and you paid them for it.”
“That seems fair,” offered Thend as he rubbed at the boot he was working on, orange-haired head bent over the his task.
“It was and is,” agreed his mother, “but most spirits meant their help to be a onetime thing. How many times do you need to show someone how to light a fire before they can do it for themselves, for instance? But some people were lazy, and some were afraid of offending the spirits, so they kept asking them to do things even after they were capable of doing it themselves.”
“Like if Benji,” Thend named one of his younger brothers, “got you to dress him every day because he thought you’d be cross if he did it himself?”
“Exactly,” Grania agreed. “The spirits didn’t want to spend their days starting fires, making needles and cleaning water for people who kept fouling it. So they started putting the prices for their help up, thinking that if it cost too much, people would stop paying, but they didn’t and the prices got steeper and steeper.”
“But people didn’t stop paying?” Thend was looking at her now, puzzled.
“That’s right. They put all their effort into paying the spirits to do things for them that they could have done for themselves. In the end, they could have done most things themselves for far less time and effort.” Grania began to apply polish to the boot with a generous hand. “To make it worse, they thought that the spirits were making them do it. They felt like slaves.”
“So what happened?” Thend was applying polish now too, much less expertly than his mother but that was only to be expected.
“The Three Strand Gods offered to free them from their oppressors.” Grania smiled. “They warned people that it would be hard but the people jumped at the chance and took their offer. The people renounced the spirits, divided themselves up amongst the gods and the spirits took back the trinkets they’d made, like magic swords. Then people learnt to do things properly for themselves.”
“But the story’s not over yet, is it?” Thend could be shrewd, he was his father’s son.
“Of course not,” his mother agreed. “People, gods, spirits – the story won’t be over till all of us are dead.”