Work Header

A Tale for a Cold Summer Night

Work Text:

Perhaps in other realms, there are myths and legends of how the world came into being, how the thrusting land impregnated the sky and introduced a pantheon (or how an all enveloping sky impregnated the land -- it’s hard to know with gods). But here the divines have said the Father and the Mother just were.

They were a young couple when they first became, and they played as young couples do, creating an island here or there, causing great torrents to gush, making the land green and fruitful, and of course, creating their twin children.

The Son was straight and true, the Daughter a capricious delight. And seeing how perfect their children were, they took pity on humanity and gave them the wits to know, to remember their forebears, to hope for their children, to cherish experience.

With the endowment of wit, time began to pass. The time of blossoming separated from the time of fruiting. The land was given a chance to rest between, tucked under a blanket of snow. And the other time between where hope and happiness could grow, too.

The Daughter took the offices of the spring, for what could be more capricious than a gentle zephyr in the morning becoming a raging wind at night. That’s why sailors, who are mostly men, have so many rituals to the Daughter. But most of all she was all the shy hopes embodied in young women. Some find it odd that she has a martial order, as all the others do, but there will always be flattering courtiers who remain averse to the responsibility of family. The Daughter lets them woo her by serving as her protectors.

The Son took the offices of autumn, a time where decisions are made and new plans made to be discussed over the long winter. His was the time of harvest, of young men being ripe for their destinies. His martial order was made of those who longed to adventure and see the truth of other provinces. Just as new plans are made for a herd or a field, new plans are laid for war when the light becomes golden and the air cools.

The Mother’s offices put her between her children, as mothers often need to be while they squabble. (Not that the Son and Daughter would fight, you mustn’t think that.) Hers is the time of quiet growth. Sculptors and writers of tales are often devoted to her, and all singers and musicians dedicate a portion of their talent to her because a time of warmth and growth matures their art. Hers is the smallest martial order, and most of the men -- never boys -- who take up the sword for the Mother are widowers. They understand family and will always protect it. Her orders protect the land rather than get sent to fight elsewhere.

And the Father, his is the heaviest responsibility of all. While the land is fallow and cold permeates to the very bones, he must, like all fathers, protect all that is within the world. His judgments are harsh and his mercy rare. Perhaps his greatest mercy is the warmth that comes over those who are about to die from the keening winds and cold. Those who’ve come back from that brink say they would have been carried away in quiet warmth and slumber: a mercy indeed. His martial order are often used as the quartermasters and artillery men. Often, someone who began in the Son’s or Daughter’s service asks permission to take up the Father’s sword instead. These are steady men with no illusion of adventure or glory. Often they’ve seen the mangled limbs or have them themselves. All who understand the nature of winter may find refuge with the Father.

But what of the Bastard, I hear you ask, where is he in this tale of beginnings? The answer is no one knows; some say not even the Bastard knows himself.

There were little hints he existed, of course. One year, the Father woke up abruptly from something tickling his feet. The week of snow bounding the end of the Daughter’s time and the beginning of the Mother’s was talked about for generations.

The Bastard came but slowly into the awareness of the Four. Small things were found out of sorts, a tree with both flower and fruit in the Mother’s time of year or a boy who should belong to the Son, yet he yearned to be a daughter.

One day -- well, whatever counts for a day to the Gods -- the Four were talking about these odd signs and portents, with the Son and the Daughter bickering, as even grown children will, about which of them was responsible. Once it became clear that the Mother’s warmth would not assuage them, the Father used his authority to ask -- though not in words as we know them -- to ask that whatever caused these irregularities should show itself. There’s a reason the Father is a God of hidden prophecy.

With that, the Bastard bounced among them, fully grown, or at least fully himself, from the very beginning. When asked about the snow bounding spring and summer, he cheerfully admitted to tickling the Father’s feet. The trees with fruit and flowers were his doing, as were winter roses and larks singing in autumn.

The Bastard standing -- or sitting, or lying down, one never knows with the Gods -- in the midst of them started off more argument. If he wasn’t the Daughter’s, then he must be the Mother’s and yet the Daughter was still virgin and the Mother still faithful. (It is true that some say the Bastard is the Mother’s child by a demon, but that defies all logic. Are we to believe that she was raped and the Father took no revenge? Or that the Lady Mother was tricked, and couldn’t tell a demon from her husband? No, the Bastard is what he’s always been a thing out of season and out of our understanding.) While these -- rather vocal -- discussions went on, the Bastard looked and followed the doings of humanity, Three times, the Bastard tried to interrupt the Four, and each time he was rebuffed and went back to watching the troubled lands.

Why do I say the lands were troubled? Well, with the Four so focused on their discussion, they forgot to perform their offices in steady order. Some mountains shot fountains of fire or dark grey clouds into the air and the land beneath was fallow for a whole year. There was no sowing in the Daughter’s time, no warmth for growing in the Mother’s, and the fodder was so scarce that not even the game the Son provides could be found to feed the people. In the Father’s time, provinces fought each other for their food stores because the people were hungry and afraid. After the fourth attempt to distract the Four, the Bastard himself came down.

He saw hunger, so he showed people how to preserve duck and goose with fat and fish with salt. Now, I think people had already worked those out, but preserves? What could be more out of season than the rich flavor of strawberry on the darkest nights of the Father’s winter? He asked the crows the best way to see humanity and they helped him peer into windows and learn secrets, for crows are clever birds with secrets of their own. The Bastard showed people how to force bulbs, so the Daughter could be worshiped with bright colors and sweet scents, for though we don’t admit it at her festival, those, too, are things out of season.

Finally the tears and prayers of humanity broke through to the Four, and they asked the Bastard what he’d seen and done. At the end there was an accounting. The Bastard had seen an intelligence try to understand, so he’d helped it into a passing stag and watched it take over its body.

The Father asked if the Bastard knew he’d helped a demon. The Bastard said no, but took responsibility, not just for that demon but for all demons. And since demons were in his purview, those who can cast them out, must also be under his aegis.

The Mother asked him why he’d taught the people how to distill. The Bastard answered that distilled herbs could help heal the sick. The Mother showed him people making brandywine from grapes and apples, showed him the drunkards he’d helped create, and the Bastard took responsibility for them and for the mad, because it’s sometimes difficult to tell drunkenness from madness.

A question was asked about loose women -- and what Son wants to admit to that vice in front of his Mother? Once again, the Bastard took responsibility. He took everything that came outside the season, the ones who lay with both men and women, the ones who wished to lay with neither. All that was outside the purviews of the Four came within his.

And this is why we say the Quadrene are heretics. Not because they don’t worship the Bastard. He is a thing outside his season, too, and for that he’d shrug and give a quiet smile. The heresy is that they say he brings chaos, when what he does is create order from those people who have been rejected.

The Bastard is compassion. The babe who came out of the womb too soon to take a breath won’t go to the Mother, but to the Bastard. Those who are widowed young or live longer than their wits stay with them, find help and kindness from the Bastard’s dedicats. We all will have an hour in our lives where despair or elation is so great that we belong to him for that hour. There is nothing human he can’t understand. And this may be why the most renowned scholars are under his protection.

So when we see the small miracles, like roses in the wintertime, we place them on the Bastard’s altar to honor him as he honors us.

And that, my dears, is the tale of the Bastard.