Lessons Given and Received

When she tired of her brothers’ plot of land, Mara snuck away to see the rest of the world she’d been born to.

In some lands she was more welcome than in others. Not every tribe was interested in planting and giving up a wandering lifestyle, and the lessons of planting did not work as well everywhere. Some of the spirits of fields and forest hounded her away, while others learned from her and were transformed. She met her uncle Chenek and barely escaped to the west, where she found a river spirit married to the valley and they cared for her. She met the Iron-Hearted Woman, who asked only how quickly she could leave.

In the far north, the big spirits of the land finally showed themselves to her. These were old mountains and dark forests, spirits that remembered upheaval. Mara bowed as the river had taught her, and while the forest laughed at the formalities, she did not tear Mara’s throat.

“I have known your brothers,” the Forest Mother said, showing a mouth full of sharp teeth. “You are far more polite.”

“I was born from death, and my father never whispered greatness in my ear,” Mara told her.

The Forest Mother nodded. “Stay, if you want. The land here will not answer to you, but we can be gracious hosts when it suits us.”

“That is more than generous,” the younger god answered.

From the Forest Mother, Mara learned the importance of the Wild and the language of monsters. She became enamored with one of the Forest Mother’s children, and sie with her. She called hir Vala, and they ran together thick as thieves. Often she would think of leaving and ask hir to come with her, and always Vala would answer “I cannot.” Mara believed that sie lacked her mother’s permission, until one day when Vala disappeared.

She asked the Forest Mother about hir, and the Mother would only say that sie had entered the labyrinth.

Mara didn’t understand.

“You have been dead and then alive. There are mysteries in that cycle, and in humanity, that my Serpent has resisted. You have asked hir to walk with you, though, and sie has decided to do that by following the crooked path into life and death.”

Mara bowed to the Forest Mother. “Then I will take special care of hir people.” And from that day to this she has done so, such that the lines between her and her Vala have long been blurred. She would not have it any other way.

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