I. The First Age
Most animal tales show the influence of the earlier rustic peoples, who inhabited the Lands before the coming of Hope (and even before Despair). Descendants of these races include the Northmen outside the boundaries of the Novar colony, the Bedou-uu who inhabit the Shimmering Mindsea, and the race of giant black-skinned Nubians of the southern jungles. That such distant cultures could have shared the same tales seems unlikely, but for the existence of the wandering Rom. These mysterious people also predated the waves of Hope, and live in a state of civilization between the rustics and that of the settled lands. Their oral traditions are certainly what has preserved the Animal Tales intact to modern times.
Many sages see in this story a kind of lament, wherein the old customs and order of the rustic folk (portrayed here as animals) must give way to the arrival of civilized, magic-wielding mortals. Lion is of course the avatar of Earth in the zodiac, and it is no surprise that he should be looked to as leader. The place of the Rom, or gypsy, is accorded much honor as one would expect from the tale’s true author. Lion’s words about removing the animals from the vicinity of Man, and the end of roaming for most animals, speak to a paradise of some kind wherein there were no boundaries and very little of the “mortal game”, which is to say warfare.
-Anteris Valenthisson, Scribe of the Trainertown Guild, 1998 ADR
Lion Becomes Lord of the Animals
In the earliest days, when languages were different but all understood them, in the time before Man came, the animals each went where they liked. Beasts of every kind mingled whether in forest or on mountain; most birds liked to walk as well as fly, and a few fish even came upon the land at times. The animals agreed that things were often quite confusing, but most everyone got along (for those that were hunted by others quite understood the game was mortal, that was all).
Gypsy went among the animals from time to time, watching them at play and swapping tales. All was well until the time of History came, when things began to happen. It became important to remember, and the animals did poorly; many more of them died than was needful, and all disagreed on the cause. They decided they must have a council to discuss the matter.
They gathered one night in early spring, on a grassy plain overhanging the great western sea, so that the birds might land and the fish could come to surface and participate. At first some rather silly ideas about the trouble had to be dispelled. Pig held the view that there was less to eat, and Elephant wondered if perhaps the lands were shrinking. But everyone quite rightly spoke down these motions.
After a number of voices expressed dismay and confusion, the Lion spoke, and his calm deep tone did much to settle the congregation. “Think carefully. What has changed in recent days? What different thing has occurred?”
After a short silence, one of the smaller beasts offered, “Well, there is of course the new animal among us.” And the others began to rapidly agree.
“Yes, that hairless one.”
“What is its name?”
“I know not, it speaks an odd language.”
Lion considered this strange thing. “I have roamed far from here, myself, and recall no such new creature. What is its appearance?”
“Very large!” shouted the Ferret.
“Not so,” scoffed the Gryphon. “A middling creature, at best.”
“It makes no proper use of the legs,” Horse offered.
“And it cannot run quickly for long,” Wolf claimed; after a moment he added, “Yet I find I lose the race time and again, and death is the prize.”
“It has no claws of its own,” said the Stag, “but it can devise them from stone and wood and things under the grass. The game is less fair than it appears with this one.”
“I see it has hair on top,” said Hawk. “It did not come from my mountains.”
“Nor did we see it until recently in the forests,” remarked the Fire Ants.
“We saw it some time ago,” called the Dolphin from the shore. “Many great families of them passed above us on wooden walls that did not sink.”
“And now it lives with many others of the same kind, behind stone cliffs,” added the Horse.
“It sounds like Gypsy,” the Lion mused, but many animals began shaking their heads and snorting.
“It does not speak to us at all!” they shouted. “And once it was not here.” “Gypsy never leaves us, not truly, and we have all our stories in common.”
“Silence!” roared the Lion and everyone obeyed him. “We must make sense of this puzzle and it won’t do to have each speaking out of turn. Gather by your families to either side there. As for Gypsy, I hear the truth of your words. Still,” said Lion, “let us summon her and ask,” and this made sense to the others.
Gypsy was brought forward, and when questioned about the new animal she nodded her head but did not speak more of her own will.
“What can you tell us, sister Gypsy,” Lion urged her, “Do you know its name? Is it one of you, or another creature?”
“It is not one of the Rom,” Gypsy said at last, “and you should call it Man, though that is a poor name indeed for what has come among us.”
“Tell us more,” Lion said as all listened to him, “that we may know what to do.”
Gypsy spoke then, and night was near ended by the time she ceased. Many tales she told, of the great numbers of Man, and of his cities, and the families within his kingdoms. “Man would always know the reason of things,” Gypsy said, “and so when he comes, things begin to happen and be remembered. He plays a special kind of mortal game with such purpose, and he calls it war. And though his languages are few, still Man often cannot make himself understood.” This last word the animals found oddest of all.
“Why is Man so utterly strange?” Lion asked, and every animal felt that this would have been their own question.
Gypsy shrugged, “I cannot say. Yet I sense there will be many tales told of him due to this. And more, Man is divided.”
“As are we,” offered the Raccoon, pointing up to Elephant to note how much bigger she was.
But Lion shook his manely head, saying, “That is not what Gypsy means.” He bent his head in thought and finally spoke into the silent night. “We appear different to the eye, but all understand each other. It is enough for us to live, to mate, eat and die- to know the hour of each, or the order, is not important. Man seeks to always know why, and not for just himself but for all that live. This is a hard seeking, and so though they all look the same they will not agree.”
“Just so,” agreed Gypsy, “they will push to different ends, live apart and gather strength, and use war to establish the winner in a game most mortal. Be not caught in this game unawares.”
The animals were dumb in dismay at this news, and knew not what to do. All looked to Lion and saw that he also considered this question. Finally Sheep, then Stag and Wolf asked Lion to render a decision for all, and it was agreed that the animals should obey him.
“Hear this, then” Lion said while the dawn began to break. “As Man will keep mainly to his home behind walls, we too must begin to choose. The days of all wandering where they will must end; each should choose, whether plain or hill or below the ground. In this way we shall become best in our various strengths- be they speed, or stealth or something else- and through this, as well as by keeping our distance, we shall improve our chances in the mortal game.”
Stag and Goose, among many others, protested that this would not suit, and Lion at once allowed they should be permitted to move with the warming and freezing of the days. “Yet in each time your home is fixed, and when you travel that too will have a season. But bear you a distance from the places of Man. Should he come alone among us as Gypsy does, then each may decide to play the mortal game with him or not as you please. But if they come in great number, then the game is war, and it is my command you should then leave that place.”
Wolf, Ferret, Crow and a few others asked if it were indeed needful to stay away from Man. Lion conferred with Gypsy and said, “You may approach and even live with Man if you will. In so doing it may be that you will learn some of his reasons for things. Yet you will become ‘tame’ and will never play the mortal game again, except at Man’s behest. Each may decide as they wish, and your children may decide differently than you. For myself I will not go.”
The animals found this counsel wise and many began to withdraw. Yet forward came proud Hawk, fire-eating Salamander and gentle Dolphin (who waded up the shore one last time). Each declared themselves offended at the notion that Man should move them away from their homes.
“I occupy the highest skies,” said Hawk, “with my brethren birds and Gryphon, Dragon and more. Say how Man can come there, if you will.”
“I live best in the midst of the greatest heat,” Salamander said, “and have never seen Man in the volcano or a forest blaze such as makes me happy.”
“All this is true,” returned the Lion, “yet mark you, winged one, that already Man can reach into your realm with his claws. And Salamander, be not too assured in your home either, for this new creature fears not your flame but makes use of it, and joins it to his purpose.” Hawk and Salamander were somewhat abashed at Lion’s counsel. “Yet it was bravely spoken by you both,” the Lord of the Animals continued. “Think you, the many creatures who will choose your home but have not your strength and courage. They shall need leadership, and if you will it, I bequeath a portion of my sovereignty to you within these realms.”
Dolphin agreed, saying, “I see too well that Man comes to my realm at ease on his walls of wood, and I shall stay in the water from this day therefore, to safeguard those who dwell there.”
Lion nodded, saying, “For this leadership shall you all be accounted avatars; Man will see images of us among the stars of the sky, and use our heavenly figures to explain his purpose as he learns things and remembers them.”
Thus it was that the animals came to live in separate places, no longer mingling freely as they did before. When great decisions were needful, all would still gather and it was always agreed that Lion should be their leader. Their languages in time drew somewhat apart, but very few ever learned to speak with Man, except those that grew tame and also forgot their tongue. So they do not figure in the tales but Gypsy remembers them all.