The Elder Gods
By David Eddings Leigh Eddings
Warner Vision Copyright © 2003 David and Leigh Eddings
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-446-61333-9
Zelana of the West had grown weary of the brutish man-creatures of her Domain. She found them repulsive, and their endless complaints and demands irritated her beyond measure. They seemed to believe that she lived only to serve them, and that offended her.
And so it was that she turned her back on them and sojourned for several eons on the Isle of Thurn, which lies off the coast of her Domain. And there she communed with Mother Sea and entertained herself by composing music and creating poetry.
Now, the waters around the Isle of Thurn are the home of a rare breed of pink dolphins, and Zelana found them to be playful and intelligent, and in time she came to look upon them not as pets but rather as dear companions. She soon learned to understand-and to speak-their language, and they gave her much information about Mother Sea and the many creatures that lived in Mother's depths and along her shores. Then by way of recompense, she played music for them on her flute or sang for them. The dolphins came to enjoy Zelana's impromptu concerts, and they invited her to swim with them.
They were much perplexed by a few of Zelana's peculiarities after she joined them. So far as they could determine, she never slept, and she could remain under the surface of Mother Sea almost indefinitely. It also seemed odd to them that she showed no interest in the schools of fish which swam in the waters around the Isle. Zelana tried to explain to her friends that sleep and air and food were not necessary for her. Her periods of sleep and wakefulness were much longer than theirs, and she could extract the essential element of air from the water itself, and she fed on light rather than fish or grass, but the dolphins could not quite grasp her explanation.
Zelana decided that it might be best to just let it lie. The man-creatures of the Land of Dhrall knew full well just who-and what-Zelana was. She held dominion over the West, but there were others in her family as well. Her elder brother Dahlaine held sway over the North, and he was grim and bleak. Her younger and sometimes frivolous brother Veltan controlled the South-when he was not exploring the moon or contemplating the color blue-and her prim and proper elder sister Aracia ruled the East as both queen and goddess.
The ages continued their stately march, but Zelana paid them no heed, for time meant nothing to her. Then on a clear day her dearest friend, a matronly pink dolphin named Meeleamee, surfaced near the place where Zelana sat cross-legged on the face of Mother Sea playing her newest musical composition on her flute. "I've found something you might want to see, Beloved," Meeleamee announced in her piping voice.
"Oh?" Zelana said, setting her flute aside in the emptiness just over her shoulder where she kept all her possessions. "It's really very pretty, Beloved," Meeleamee piped, "and it's exactly the right color."
"Why don't we go have a look then, dear one?" Zelana replied.
And so together they swam toward the stark cliffs on the southern margin of the Isle, and as they neared the coast, Meeleamee sounded, swimming down and down into the depths of Mother Sea. Zelana arched over and followed, and soon they came to the narrow mouth of an underwater cavern, and Meeleamee swam on into that cavern with Zelana close behind. Now, reason and experience told Zelana that this cave should grow darker as the two of them went deeper and deeper into its twisting passage, but it grew lighter instead, and the water ahead glowed pink and warm and friendly, and Meeleamee rose toward the light with Zelana close behind.
And when they surfaced in the shallow pool at the end of the passage, Zelana beheld a wonder, for Meeleamee had led her into a grotto unlike any other Zelana had ever seen. There was a rational explanation, of course, but mundane rationality could not tarnish the pure beauty of the hidden grotto. A broad vein of rose-colored quartz crossed the ceiling of the grotto, filling that hidden cave with a glowing pink light, and almost in spite of herself, Zelana feasted on that light and found it delicious beyond the taste of any other light she had savored in the past ten eons. And she shuddered and glowed with pure delight as she feasted.
Beyond that shallow pool at the entrance was a floor covered with fine white sand touched with the luminous pink of the prevailing light, and there was also a musically tinkling trickle of fresh water in a little niche at the rear, and all manner of interesting nooks and crannies along the curved walls.
"Well?" Meeleamee squeaked. "What do you think, Beloved?"
"It's lovely, lovely," Zelana replied. "It's the most beautiful place on all the Isle."
"I'm glad you like it," Meeleamee said modestly. "I thought you might like to visit here now and then."
"No, dear one," Zelana replied. "I won't need to visit. I'm going to live here. It's perfect, and I deserve a little perfection now and then."
"You won't stay here all the time, will you, Beloved?" Meeleamee squeaked in consternation.
"Of course not, dear one," Zelana replied. "I'll still come out to play with you and my other friends, but this beautiful place will be my home."
"What is 'home'?" Meeleamee asked curiously. It was on a day much like any other when Dahlaine of the North came up out of the passageway that led to Zelana's pink grotto to advise his sister that there was trouble in the wind in the Land of Dhrall.
"I don't really see how that's any concern of mine, dear brother," Zelana told him. "The mountains protect the lands of the West on one side, and Mother Sea protects them on the other. How can the creatures of the Wasteland ever reach me?" "The Land of Dhrall is all one piece, dear sister," Dahlaine reminded her, "and no natural barrier is completely insurmountable.
The creatures of your lands of the West stand in as great a danger as all the others. I think it's about time for you to come out of your little hideaway here and start paying attention to the world around you. How long has it been since you last surveyed your Domain?"
Zelana shrugged. "A few eons is all-certainly no more than a dozen. Have I missed anything significant?" "The man-creatures have made a bit of progress. They're making tools now, and they've learned how to build fires. You really ought to look in on them once in a while."
"What in the world for? They're stupid and vicious, and they stink. My dolphins are cleaner and wiser, and their hearts are large and filled with love. If the creatures of the Wasteland are hungry, let them eat the man-creatures. I won't really miss them."
"The people of the West are your responsibility, Zelana," Dahlaine reminded her.
"So are the flies and ants and roaches, and they seem to be getting along well enough."
"You can't just ignore the world, Zelana," Dahlaine told her. "There are changes taking place all around you. The creatures of the Wasteland are growing restless, and it won't be too long before the Dreamers arrive. We need to be ready."
"It's not nearly the age of the Dreamers yet, is it, Dahlaine?" Zelana asked incredulously.
"The signs are all there, Zelana," Dahlaine said. "The servants of the Vlagh have begun to intrude into our Domains, which is a fair indication that the Vlagh is about to make its move, and we're not ready to face it yet. In a peculiar sort of way, this confrontation is the work of Mother Sea and Father Earth. Evidently, they know more than we do, and they're unleashing the Vlagh now-quite probably to force it to come against us before it's really ready. If we give it more time to modify its offspring, they'll swarm us under."
"We should have destroyed that hideous creature as soon as we realized just exactly where its instincts would send it." "We can talk about all this some other time, dear sister," Dahlaine smoothly changed the subject. "What I really came here for was to give you something I thought you might like." "A gift-for me?" Zelana's irritated humor seemed to vanish. "What is it?" she demanded eagerly.
Dahlaine smiled. Somehow the magic word "gift" always seemed to bring his brother and his sisters around to his way of thinking. Zelana in particular always responded in exactly the way he wanted her to. A gift wasn't really a form of coercion, but it served the same purpose, and it was a nicer approach.
"Oh," he said in an offhand manner, "it's not really very much, sister dear. It's just a little something I thought you might enjoy. How would you like a new pet? It occurred to me that you might be getting a little tired of your dolphins after all these eons, since they can't really come out of the water to play with you here in your lovely grotto, so I brought you a pet that should be able to share your home."
"A puppy, maybe?" Zelana asked eagerly. "I've never owned a puppy, but I've heard that they're very affectionate." "Not exactly a puppy, no."
"Oh ..." Zelana sounded disappointed. "A kitten, then?" she said, her eyes brightening once more. "I've heard that the purring sound kittens make is very relaxing." "Well, not quite a kitten either."
"What is it, Dahlaine?" Zelana demanded impatiently. "Show me."
"Of course," Dahlaine replied, concealing his sly smile. He reached both hands into the unseen emptiness he always carried along behind him and took a fur-wrapped bundle out of the air. "With my compliments, my beloved sister," he said extravagantly, handing her the bundle.
Zelana eagerly took the bundle and turned back the edge of the fur robe to see what her brother had given her. She gaped in obvious disbelief at the newborn pet drowsing in the warm fur robe. "What am I supposed to do with this thing?" she demanded in a shrill voice.
He shrugged. "Take care of it, Zelana. It shouldn't be much more difficult to care for than a young dolphin." "But it's one of those man-creatures!" she protested. "Why, so it is," Dahlaine replied in mock astonishment.
"How strange that I didn't notice that myself. You're very perceptive, Zelana." He paused. "It's not an ordinary man-creature, dear sister," he added gravely. "It's very special. There are only a few of them, but they'll change the world. Care for it and protect it, Zelana. I think you'll have to feed it, because I don't think it can live on light alone as we do. You might have to experiment a bit to find something it can digest, but I'm sure that you're clever enough to solve that problem. You'll need to keep it clean as well. Infant man-creatures tend to be messy.
Then, after a few years, you might want to teach it to talk. There are things it's going to need to tell us, and if it can't talk, it won't be able to pass them on to us."
"What could one of these creatures tell us that we don't already know?"
"Dreams, Zelana, dreams. We don't sleep, so we don't dream. That baby in your arms is a Dreamer. That's why I brought her to you."
"It's a girl, then?" Zelana's voice softened. "Naturally. I didn't think you'd get along very well with a boy. Care for her, Zelana, and I'll come by in a few years to see how she's coming along." The baby in Zelana's arms made a cooing sound and reached out one tiny hand to touch Zelana's face. "Oh," Zelana said in a trembling, almost stricken voice, clasping the infant more closely to her.
Dahlaine smiled. It had turned out rather well, he congratulated himself. All it had taken to totally enslave his brother and both of his sisters had been a few peeps and coos and one soft touch from an infant hand. He might have gloated a bit more, but his own baby Dreamer was home alone, and it was almost feeding time, so he really should get on back.
He swam out of Zelana's grotto and remounted his well-trained lightning bolt. Lightning bolts are noisy steeds-there's no question about that-but they can cover vast distances in the blink of an eye.
Zelana's first problem with her newfound charge was finding something to feed it. She rather hoped that Dahlaine had been mistaken. If the infant could live on light alone, as Zelana herself did, feeding it would be no problem. The vein of pink quartz in the ceiling of the grotto concentrated the sunlight into a glowing pink pool, which was presently centered on the bed of moss where Zelana occasionally rested. Hopefully she laid the fur-robed bundle on that moss bed and turned the robe back to allow the sunlight to touch the child.
The infant began to fuss a bit. Maybe the little creature didn't like the color. Zelana had discovered that a steady diet of pink light took a bit of getting used to. Pink, it appeared, was an acquired taste.
Zelana snapped her fingers, and the quartz obediently turned blue. The baby didn't stop fussing, though, and her discontent was growing louder.
Zelana tried green, but that didn't work either. Then she tried plain white. It was a little bland, but perhaps the baby wasn't ready for advanced colors yet.
The sounds the infant was making grew louder and more insistent.
Zelana quickly gathered the squalling infant in her arms and hurried down to the edge of the shallow pool at the mouth of the grotto. "Meeleamee!" she called in the piping language of the dolphins, "I need your help! Right now! Please!" Now, Meeleamee had mothered many, many young, so she had great wisdom and much experience in such matters.
"Milk," she advised. "What is milk?" Zelana asked, "and where can I find some?" Meeleamee explained in some detail, and for the very first time in her endless life, Zelana blushed. "What a strange sort of thing," she said, blushing even harder. She looked down at herself. "Do you think I might be able to. . ." She left it hanging. "Probably not," Meeleamee replied. "There are some things involved that are just a little complicated. Can the young one swim?"
"I don't really know," Zelana admitted. "Unwrap her and put her down in the shallow water here. I should be able to nurse her without too much trouble." It was a bit awkward at first, but they found that if Meeleamee laid on her side and Zelana held the infant, things went quite well. Zelana felt a real sense of accomplishment-which lasted for nearly four hours.
Then they had to feed the child again. It seemed that there was a great deal of inconvenience involved in caring for infants. The seasons turned, as seasons always do, and summer drifted on into autumn, and winter followed shortly after. Zelana had never really paid much attention to the seasons. Heat or cold had little meaning for her, and she could create light whenever she grew hungry.
The female dolphins were taking turns feeding the infant, and Zelana noticed that the child seemed to be very affectionate. The dolphins were a bit startled by kisses at first, but after a while they even enjoyed being kissed by the grateful child, and sometimes there were even arguments about whose turn it was to nurse. The arguments broke off abruptly when the child sprouted teeth and began chewing on whatever was handy, though.
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