Notes: The southern grasslands, midsummer
Rose early this morning, hoping to reach the pampas plains by nightfall. I have been informed of the presence there of a group of nomads, and it is thought that among them is the wise-woman known as Mother Iwilanga. Unfortunately, I was detained by a summer storm--a monsoon, of sorts--and was forced to seek shelter for fear of lightning strikes. My quest shall continue on the morrow.
I found myself at the rough edge of the pampas plains (so demarcated by a wide stream and a slight change in landscape) shortly before midday, and I felt obligated to stand there a spell, gazing out at the vast, rolling sea of grass before me. A sudden fear struck me, a fear that I would never find the object of my search in such a large and unforgiving area--but then I came to my senses. After all, I would never find them if I never tried.
The sky was scattered with fleece-like clouds, but there was, thankfully, no sign of storm. After walking for several hours, I was happy to espy several pale trails of smoke rising into the blue sky. I made my way towards them, and soon came upon a collection of white tents. A pair of healthy young boys with long hair and beaded clothing ran forth to meet me, bearing handfuls of pampas grass, which they gave to me, and indicated that I was to follow them.
The children brought me to an aged woman with broad, welcoming features. She stood by the doorway of a sturdy little hut, very unlike the tents that comprised the rest of the village. The woman wore a brightly colored shawl about her shoulders, and her hair was divided into several score of narrow braids and decorated with an assortment of colorful beads.
The old woman confirmed to me, upon my asking, that she was indeed the one called Mother Iwilanga, and she invited me to enter into her hut. I introduced myself and made my intentions known, and she obliged me in sharing her wisdom through several stories, which I have recorded to the best of my ability. One of these tales I shall here repeat:
The Snake that Swallowed the Earth
In the days of long ago, when the world was young and wild and the people were few, there lived a mighty king of men. Powerful and dangerous was he to his enemies, but to his subjects he was good and just. Under his dominion, the fields were fruitful, the people were healthy, and there was no war, because all others so feared him.
But this king had a secret: For although he was a ruler of men, he was no man. He was a dragon, hidden in human form.
Also in this kingdom was a meddler of nature, a sorcerer, who was hot-headed and ambitious. By some accident unknown to all but Time, this sorcerer discovered the king's secret, and hungry for power, sought to exploit it. But the sorcerer knew that the king was much stronger than he, and more popular amongst the masses, and he must not let the king know of his discovery before the time was right.
The sorcerer thought long and hard on the subject. Of course, thought he, after some days of contemplation. Perhaps I myself can never exceed the king in power, but I can create a being greater than he can ever be!
And so the sorcerer sculpted a creature from the poisonous smoke of his fire, a serpent of darkness and stealth, and bound it to his will. Then he sent this snake of smoke forth to terrorize the subjects of the king.
The serpent passed through the lands without notice, as is the way of smoke, but where it went, it left blight and plague in its wake. Within a span of a few short days, all the kingdom had been decimated by disease and starvation, and the people no longer thought so highly of the king. Some blamed the problems on their monarch, others merely realized that he was not nearly as all-powerful as they had once thought him to be, but whatever their opinion, their minds could be easily swayed--the sorcerer reasoned--to support the possibility of a new ruler. It was the ideal opportunity to reveal the king's secret.
And so the sorcerer once more ordered his snake of smoke to him, but this time he set it after the king. The king, upon seeing the snake for what it was, knew that he could not face it, and so he took to his true form and fled to the mountains, never again to be seen by mankind.
Once the sorcerer had ascended the throne, he deemed the smoke serpent no longer useful to him. He called his creature back to him, and then ordered it back to the ashes from whence it had come.
But the sorcerer's commands did not work. The being he had created had grown so powerful that he could no longer control it, and instead of melting away into its component parts, the snake grew angry. Opening its mouth very wide, it swallowed the sorcerer. Then, opening its mouth even wider, it swallowed the kingdom. And then, opening its mouth the widest it could go, it swallowed the earth. And there, in the belly of that great snake, the world sits to this very day.