The Contest for Shel (Origin Cycle, Story 3)
This story is pretty much RT’s first dollar bill, framed. In his salad days, RT was deeply influenced by Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths, and the stories in this collection plus extended searches through dictionaries of symbols resulting in “The Contest.” Understanding the connections between symbols, RT opines, is one of the basic skills of poetry, and today he would consider this story to be an example of a prose-poem. As might be expected with such writing, the story came quickly, and RT typed it out the next morning on a floppy-disk computer at work. Of course, he immediately wanted to write other stories in the cycle, but they appeared only after much more reading and reflection. Inspiration, often in youth, gets things going; deep study (plus a healthy dash of persistence), gets them over the finish line. RT
THE CONTEST FOR SHEL (told by Neb the Poet)
The Poets say that the first of all things was the night, and the firstborn of night was Shel, daughter of the night.
Shel danced, and with the joy and beauty of that dance the stars came forth. So Zochi the Dreamer and Aruna the Singer desired her. They came to her and declared their love.
But Shel could not choose between the two suitors, and she told them that she would accept the love of whoever brought the finest gift to her.
Zochi and Aruna went away and considered what they would make. When each had given long thought to his love, and put forth all his powers, each made a gift.
Aruna brought a harp of gold with seven strings. The harp shone brightly, and Aruna played a lament that told of his loneliness without Shel. But Zochi brought a silver swan, and the swan shone with a pale and lovely light.
Shel could not choose between the gifts, so she said that they would have to make a home for her.
Again Zochi and Aruna went away, and they made the earth. The two spirits made oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes. And beside the shore of an ocean Aruna made a golden city.
The city rose in three tiers from the water to the summit of a tall hill. The lowest tier was built around the wharves, and in the wharves were sixty ships that would not run aground, or burn, or sink. The second tier held perfumed and jeweled gardens. In the gardens were trees of gold and silver and copper. On the branches of the trees flowers of crystal and sapphire and ruby blossomed, and in the garden sang birds whose beaks were cunningly inlaid with golden and brazen wire. In the highest tier Aruna built the Palace of Shel, and next to the palace he built a tall tower from which one might watch the stars of the lady. And when Aruna finished the city, he went into the palace and played the golden harp.
But Zochi the Dreamer went north of the city, and there he made a forest of trees and animals that grow and die. The trees of the forest were close together, and there was little light, so Zochi made a pond of clear water in the center of the forest. And the Dreamer took the silver swan, and he placed it on the pond, so that its light filled the dark forest. And when he was finished, the Dreamer wandered though the forest thinking of Shel.
Yet Shel still could not choose between Zochi the Dreamer and Aruna the Singer.
Zochi thought of the shining city that Aruna had made, and he guessed what the Singer would next make. So Zochi took water of the pond, and he made a man and woman. But the Dreamer wrought poorly, and the couple were ill-made. They were ugly and crippled; and they were frail and mortal. Yet despite their flaws, Zochi loved his children, and he brought them to Shel and Aruna.
Now Aruna rejoiced when he saw what Zochi had done. Then the Singer took light of the golden harp, and he took its music, and he made from them a man. The man Aruna made was beautiful and skillful of hand; and Shel was pleased with him, and because of him decided to accept the love of Aruna.
Shel went to the shining city, which she named Anados, and stayed with Aruna in the palace. And the man Aruna had made lived in the city and was happy–for Shel did not tell Aruna or his child of her estrangement from En, or that suffering had come into the world.
But Zochi placed the man and woman he had made into a sleep of forgetting; and he wandered in his forest thinking of Shel. And the golden harp and the silver swan were hung in the sky as a memorial of the contest. So were made the sun and moon.
Copyright © 2013, The Rag Tree.
Engraving; Cygnus Columbianus; James Audubon (Birds of America). WikiCmns; Public Domain.