Each time, storytellers clothed the naked body of the myth in their own traditions, so that listeners could relate more easily to its deeper meaning.
Joan D. Vinge
“Listen to your mother, o my daughter, for I am soon for the next world. Oh, do not weep, my beloved. All are called to bow before the Great God Tash and be judged by Him at the moment of His choosing, not our own, and it is shameful to wish it otherwise. And yet, I cannot help but regret that I will not be here with you, my child and my jewel, shall not be the one to take you to the Zardeenah's Temple at your time, shall not be the one to bathe and anoint you before your wedding night and whisper the secrets of marriage into your ear. Tash wills as He does, though, and so I beg you, o my child and my most precious, to listen to me in the time I have left. Be open to my words as I try to teach you what lessons I may.
“Years ago, when you were only so tall as your father’s knee and his beard had not yet been streaked with the grey that wisdom brings, the land to the north was covered in ice and snow. It was a hostile place where its inhabitants suffered for having displeased Tash by refusing to make sacrifices to Him, despite it being His simple right to demand such things. And so He sent a servant of His, a great lady, a true queen, who so revered Tash that she gave Him her entire being to use as His tool. Through the lady's hands Tash's own power flowed, and through her He punished the northerners for their insolence. And it came to pass that while our own land prospered, as do all lands whose inhabitants show gratitude for what the gods have granted them, the north grew colder, to the point where those who had not fled froze like statues. The only creatures that could live in such a land as their sacrilege had created were demons of the most vicious and disgusting sorts.
“And yet, they continued in their blasphemy, to the point that one of them, a great Cat Demon in the form of a Lion—and demon he was and is, o my daughter, with teeth longer than a scimitar and his long lashing tail a whip—rose up against Tash's faithful servant. In Her mercy Zardeenah, Lady of the Night, did reach out and take Tash’s servant home, where she was rewarded for her faithfulness to Tash the Inexorable.
“All manner of unholy spells the Great Cat then cast, violating Tash's will and warming the North again. When he was done, the land green once more and more filled than ever with the animal demons—animals bigger than those you and I know, their demonic nature granting them the gift of speech that is meant only for men—the Lion took what remained of the ice and snow and formed two men and two women from it, their skin as sickly pale as the material the Cat Demon had used to craft them. To his children the Cat Demon said, 'Now then, o my children, I shall give you this land, and you shall rule it in my name,' though it was not his to give.
“The snow children began to call themselves kings and queens, and the demons of the land bowed before them and served them as if they were so. Even our Tisroc—may he live forever—was forced to treat them as if their titles were theirs by right, for though Tash is powerful, so is the Lion’s magic. O my daughter, keep your distance should you ever see a Northerner! They are barbarians, all of them, the women more so than the men. None of the snow children, not even the queens, have married, despite each being well of age. But beware, for they are fair to the sight and bewitch those that see them. It is likely because of this that so many have gone to seek the hand of one or another of them over the years, o my daughter, sent home only when the rulers find themselves no longer entertained. It is said that the women amuse themselves by coupling with demons of the land, the men with spirits of the earth, but they entertain those that come despite that—sometimes more kindly than others.
“O my daughter, and o the delight of my eyes, it was not long ago that a young tarkaan of our land did go to see the youngest queen. She is even fairer than her sister in coloring, hair as pale as her skin, and said to be the worst of them, foul-tempered and more like a man in behavior than a lady, even for their country. It is said she is the closest to the Cat Demon, (though how close or why she has gained his favor not even the sages in Tashbaan can say; perhaps they are lovers, or perhaps she is merely as devoted to the Cat Demon as the Snow Queen was to Tash, or it may even be that she and the Lion have plans for the country that they share with no other) and perhaps it is for that reason that she is so wild in behavior, a little hellcat to his Lion.
“The tarkaan was thought to be wise by our people, my daughter, though he was yet young. Perhaps that is explanation enough for his actions, for youth is as dangerous as it is pleasant. When the tarkaan told his father of his plans to court and win the youngest queen, his father advised him against it. The elder tarkaan warned him that a lioness is as deadly as she is beautiful to behold, that even if you should think one successfully tamed that you will one day find yourself proven wrong. But as I said, o my daughter, the tarkaan was young, and—though he is wise now and worthy of all respect—at the time he was occasionally called headstrong. Despite his father's warning, he sought to prove he could do what none had yet and take the barbarian queen for his own. So he left our land, left behind the bride his father had originally chosen for him, and he traveled to the North.
“When he reached their castle, my child, he was brought into the courtyard by demonic servants whose horns curled about their heads, and it was in there that he saw a servant laughing while she ran barefoot after a small dog. ‘Girl, you would do well to tend to your mistress, rather than waste your time on childish play,’ the tarkaan scolded, and the woman stopped and looked at him for a moment with wide eyes. And then, to his astonishment, she laughed again, acting as if he were a mere servant like herself instead of a great lord.
“O my daughter, he did grab her arm, but only as he intended to be stern, as one must be with servants or slaves. In an instant she pulled a knife from her hip before he could stop her and slashed his hand. The move was inhumanly fast, and it proved the queen’s true nature despite any protests the northerners might make. For as you well know, o my daughter, no human woman could strike a Calormene man of any sort, let alone a tarkaan. He let go in surprise and with a shouted curse, and yet could not help but stare at the girl, who was smiling in a small and cold way while her eyes still laughed.
“Various demons of all shapes ran to see what the noise was about, and the tarkaan was astounded to find two of the largest demons, their bodies monstrously twisted forms mixed from man and horse, taking him roughly by the shoulders as one might a common criminal. And then came the horrifying realization; the servant girl was the queen he’d come to woo, o my daughter. The moment the girl—the queen—ordered him released, the tarkaan immediately began preparations to return home, refusing to spend the night in the barbarians’ home.
“As he began to leave through the front gates, the young queen came to him again, hair wild and feet still bare, beautiful in a way that made it yet again clear there was something Other to her, for no woman so ill-behaved and should be found attractive. The tarkaan bowed stiffly to her, not fool enough to wish to cause more ill relations between our empire and the north. He was shocked when the queen smiled once, softly, and told him that she had once been given healing magic by a demon and that she would like to use it to heal his hand, if he should let her.
“But the young tarkaan had learned the lesson his father had tried to teach him before, o my daughter, and he did not reach out for the lioness a second time. Instead he returned home, tired and with a faint scar to remind himself to not reach for what is not approved of by Tash. He begged his father's forgiveness, which the elder tarkaan kindly granted, and shortly thereafter he married the bride his father had originally meant for him, a tarkheena of great beauty and grace. Tash, well pleased to see His blood-line not mix with that of the Lion and his snow children, did gift the young tarkaan and his wife with many children, and even today his wife is preparing to present him with another son.
“So remember, o my daughter, my delight, my heart, and my blood, that the North and its inhabitants are dangerous, no matter how pretty their words or faces may seem. Do not suffer as the tarkaan did, for wanting that which was not his. Remember this, and my words, and my face, o my love, and learn these lessons now so they may save you in the future.”