1. Of Wisespirit and Greyhead the Twin
There was a man called Wisespirit, who taught many young men of the lands around the Place of Honor the arts of war and the knowledge of the old ones, and his son was Greyhead the Twin, who was a warrior and a farmer and married a woman of the Place. His son was also called Wisespirit and he had a son called Wisespirit of the North, who was in later times highly esteemed for his poems about philosophy and the Old Ones. He had two sons. The first, Longruler, did not live up to his name. He became a great warrior and died in brave battle at a young age. The other son, Twin of the North, also became a poet, although of less esteem than his father.
Wisespirit of the North had a brother named Hearthruler, who became a priest of the Old Ones, and in time sailed across the sea to be the leader of all the priests there. His son, also named Hearthruler, was known as a man of great wisdom who journeyed all around the world.
These two were both named after Hearthruler Whitebeard, who was the son of Greyhead the Twin and the uncle of Wisespirit of the North. He was taught by his father the ways of the Warriors and of the Old Ones, and on reaching his adulthood, became a priest, and was given initiation in the Place of Honor. He was called "Whitebeard" because in his later days, his beard was famous for its great size.
2. Of the Place of Honor
At that time the Place of Honor was a great center of learning, healing, religion, and trade. All knew it was a place of great power, for the Old Ones had built a massive earthen rampart around it, in the shape of the storm's lightning, and in the center of the ramparts were many great standing stones with inscriptions of wisdom on them, and more hidden knowledge as well, in places known only to the most powerful of the priests. Within the Place was the Well of the Old Ones, which reached into the depths of the Earth beyond knowing, and was always flowing with clear water. They also had great storehouses of the treasures of the Old Ones. Some had been found the earth of the Place, some had been brought from far away, and some had been brought up from the depths by the water of the well.
Over many generations a town had grown outside the great earthen ramparts of the Place. In Hearthruler Whitehead's time many people came from the country around to live in this town, and the buildings were very crowded. It was also difficult to find pure water to drink, for the land around the Place was too dry to grow crops easily, and it was only the Place and the wisdom of its priests that drew men there. The water in the Well of the Old Ones could only be safely used by the priests who were consecrated to the Place, because it was sacred to the Old Ones, and was known to kill any others who drank of it, as it said in the Great Writing:
Deep in our delving / is the power of our people
Pouring out pain. / A wise one waits.
In the water it rises / death it deals
Do not disturb the water / the ring's rocks
Wreck not, remember / force fails all.
The priests who were consecrated to the Place could drink and use this water, and eat the plants watered by it, but even among the priests their wisdom would at times fail and they would be struck down by the poison in the water, dying of a malady which was called the Old Illness. They would vomit and have cramps of the stomach and be unable to eat any food, and once the vomiting had come, most of those ill would be dead in a moon's turning. Some would also lose their hair or have their skin slough off. This is why only the priests were allowed to enter the Place or drink of the water there.
3. Of The Plague
Around the time that Hearthruler Whitebeard became a priest at the Place, people who had never been inside the Place were first starting to die of the Old Illness. It would come to the town in great plagues where hundreds of people would die, and then for several years would be gone from the town again, before returning with another great dying.
Most of the priests at the Place thought that this was because the people, who were in need of clear water to drink, were stealing the water of the Place, or were drilling their own wells, which also reached to the Old Ones' delvings and the power that lay there. Some of them thought that this was the judgement of the Old Ones on the people. However, the priests felt for the needs of the people for water, and when the Old Illness came they ministered to them as best they could.
Hearthruler Whitebeard spent much of his time among the people of the town. He spoke to them of the wisdom of the Old Ones, sealed them in marriage, blessed new births, shared in their joys and comforted them in their sorrows. When one part of the town that he knew well was heavily afflicted by the Old Illness, with dozens of people falling ill within days and almost no households without a death, he spent much time helping them as he could, although the stricken were among the poorest people in the town.
It is said that he came to a great warrior who lay ill, and the man said to him, "I knew you would come, if I asked for you."
Hearthruler replied, "I will always come, to a man who asks, but I do not know what medicine to offer you," for at that time there was no medicine known that would cure the Old Illness, other than rest, time, and prayer, and that worked only rarely.
"I don't know what medicine to take," the warrior answered, "But I know what to do, and that is to hold fast to the wisdom of the Old Ones, and though they slay me, to trust in them."
So Hearthruler stayed with him and spoke to him of the Old Wisdom, and it is said that the warrior was one of those few who recovered, and lived on to win renown in war.
4. Of The Assembly
This outbreak of the Old Illness was so severe that before a week had passed, an Assembly was called of all the great and wise men of the district, to discover if there was any way to stop the people from drinking the poisoned water. This had been tried many times, but the Old Illness still came among the people, and there was not a great deal of hope. There had been a great effort in the past years to bring in sweet water from farther away from the Place, and which reached even the neighborhood that was currently stricken. The priesthood of the Place had just built in that very neighborhood a great concrete cistern to hold clear rainwater for the people. And yet the illness still came, because, it was said, the people preferred the cool well-water that they were accustomed to, and found the water in the cisterns bitter, warm, stale and salty.
There were some at the Assembly who believed that the illness was the judgement of the Old Ones and that the people should be left to die, or to leave the town if they wished. There had been no large towns for a long time before this, and the town around the Place of Honor had become one of the largest in the world. There were others at the Assembly who said it was no blame on the people of the town if they were desperate enough to drink the poisoned water rather than die of thirst, and it was the duty of the great men and the priests to help them, and to prevent them from drinking the bad water, though they had to lock them away. There were some who claimed that the people had done nothing wrong, and if the water was poisoned, it was not something they could avoid, for they were following all of the Old Ones laws and still sickened. Others had seen loved ones die, and only wanted a solution, whatever it was. Thus there was a great deal of discord and argument at the assembly.
Hearthruler was not powerful among them, though he attended the assembly. He did not take a side in the argument; though he wanted most of all to keep the people from becoming sick, he did not feel strong enough in his own wisdom to know what was the best way.
To this Assembly there came a man called Snowsgrace. He was a medicine worker. Though he had lived in the town for some years, he was a stranger there, and all of his family and people lived far to the northwest, in the high mountains. When the others had grown tired of argument, he stood up and said, quietly, "You are all wrong. This illness is not the Old Illness, that is a poison in the water. It is carried by a miasma, like an invisible fog in the air."
Hearthruler did not know how the poisoned water had come to the people, but he did know that Snowsgrace must be wrong. All of the Old Ones' writings talked about the danger of the water. Most of the Assembly agreed with him, but there were those who insisted that Snowsgrace be allowed to speak, because he was well-known as a man of medicine.
5. Of Snowsgrace Dreamfinder
Snowsgrace was named "Dreamfinder" because he was most skilled of all the people of that land in using herbs and songs to help those who were in pain find rest in sleep. He had learned the art with the medicine workers of his homeland in the mountains, and when he achieved the limits of their skill, he had come to the Place of Honor to see what more he could learn. He had learned all that he could of the Old Ones' knowledge that was allowed to those who were not priests, and had grown wise in it. When She-Who-Defeats-Enemies was brought to childbed, it was Snowsgrace who was called to attend her. However, he was among those who thought that the Old One's power was of the past only, and that they did not stretch their hands to the people of the current day.
He had been living near the neighborhood that was afflicted by the plague, and had become determined to figure out why the Old Illness had come to them. In order to do this, he had visited every house and asked them how many were sick, and where they got their water. He had marked their answers on a large goatskin, which he spread out for the Assembly to look at. Most of the people who were sick lived near the new cistern and said they went to the cistern to get their water, and that the illness had only started once the cistern was opened. He said it was only the people who went to the cistern to get the water, not all the people who drank the water, who were sick. The worst houses were those directly around the courtyard where the cistern had been built, where people went into the courtyard to do their work. He said that meant the illness must come from a miasma surrounding the cistern itself, and told the Assembly that they must keep people from going to the cistern.
The people of the Assembly did not agree with this, because there were some people who had been to the cistern and were not sick, and some who lived farther away who were. Also, they said it was possible that water in the cistern, although it was supposed to be rainwater and river water, could somehow be contaminated with the poison from the Well.
Hearthruler Whitebeard did not agree with Snowsgrace, because he knew that the Old One's knowledge spoke of poison in the waters. However, he had also been to visit most of those who were sick, and he could not argue with the idea that the sickness was strongest near the cistern.
After much argument, it was agreed that blocking off the courtyard that held the cistern could not do any harm, as the people were already sick, and it did seem to be true that people who spent time near the cistern or drank its water were more likely to be sick.
6. Of The Cistern
Hearthruler was much troubled in his mind by this, because he had heard that Snowsgrace was a man of great wisdom, and he did not like him to deny the knowledge of the ancients. They lived very near each other and were almost of the same age, so after the Assembly was over, Hearthruler spoke to him and they walked to their homes together and spoke of the causes of the illness. In the end they talked throughout much of the night, burning candles in Snowsgrace's home, but neither could convince the other. However, they were both convinced of the other's honor and devotion, so they agreed that together they would seek the evidence necessary to prove that one or the other was correct.
Hearthruler did not think that this would be difficult, because everyone for generations had known about the poison in the water.
The next morning Hearthruler and Snowsgrace met at the courtyard where the new cistern was. There were people there closing off the gates, but they knew Hearthruler and Snowsgrace and let them by. The cistern was in the center of the courtyard, shaded in the morning by the walls of the surrounding buildings, and dug ten feet into the ground. It was about fifteen feet in diameter, and the rim was four feet above the ground, with a bench around it. The outside was covered in white plaster, and there was a mosaic design on one side, that was the trefoil emblem of the Place done with its sacred black glass and copper. This was to show that the cistern was a gift from the priests of the Place to the people.
They both inspected the cistern very carefully, and they saw that the construction had not been well done. The concrete of the cistern had not set properly, and the mortar that held the mosaic was so crumbly that some of the pieces of black glass had already come out and were missing.
"Do you see?" Hearthruler said. "It would be easy enough for contamination to rise into the cistern from the water below. We would better use our time improving construction of the Temple's cisterns than pretending that is not the problem."
"That certainly wouldn't hurt," said Snowsgrace. "But there were still many people who drank the water who did not get sick." He was looking very carefully at the ground below where the mosaic was in the cistern.
"It is always the Old Ones' choice who dies and who does not," Hearthruler said. "Besides, it's easy to forget who drank what water on any day."
"It is also easy to believe things that aren't true," Snowgrace said, and held up a small tessera of black glass he had found. "Is this the black glass of the Well?"
"Yes, probably," Hearthruler said. He looked at it more closely. The black glass was the most common of the gifts of the Old Ones to rise with the water in the Well. The priests often used small pieces of it in the things they made, as a mark of the Old Ones' favor.
"If you want contamination from the Well to be the cause of the illness, look there, not underground," Snowsgrace told him.
Hearthruler frowned. "You think the glass is carrying the contamination of the water in the Well, and tainting the cistern?"
"I think it's a miasma rising from this cistern," Snowsgrace said. "But it's connected with the things of the Place somehow. And the black glass and copper are the only things here from the Place."
7. Of the Black Glass
Over the next weeks, Snowsgrace and Hearthruler both spent much of their time speaking to the people who lived around the cistern. After the courtyard with the cistern was closed off, new sicknesses stopped appearing as quickly, but the people who already had the Old Illness sometimes took months to die. They also found that in a few of the houses, more people became sick even after the cistern was closed off. They had each chosen a certain number of households to talk to, because they could cover twice as many houses, and they trusted each other to be truthful and impartial about what they found.
In the first house where there was new sickness, it was the unmarried daughter of the house who had gotten sick. Snowsgrace asked everyone in the house if there was any way the miasma from the cistern could have been carried into the house, and finally the daughter admitted she had been given a gift of a piece of black glass that had fallen from the mosaic, and was keeping it near her bed.
Snowsgrace gave it to Hearthruler, who returned it to the Place, and after that no new sickness came to that house. However, there was less new sickness anywhere, so Hearthruler was not convinced it was the black glass.
When a new sickness came into one of the households he was watching, Hearthruler was very careful to ask them about the black glass, and he found that the sick person had also taken to carrying a piece of the black glass that had come from the cistern, one that had belonged to a brother who had already died.
After that they went back to the cistern and checked the mosiac very carefully and found that there were four more pieces of black glass missing of those that had fallen, and one of copper. They searched all of the houses around the cistern, and found three of the pieces of glass, and the copper. Most of them were from the houses where the most people had died, although one of them was from a house where there had been only mild sickness.
"Is that the Old Ones' judgement as well?" Hearthruler asked Snowsgrace.
"Perhaps some of the black glass has less of the miasma," Snowsgrace said. "Or maybe you're right! Maybe it's the Old Ones' favor." He had been trying to find a way to measure the miasma even though it was invisible and could not be felt or smelled, but it was difficult, because Hearthruler insisted that all of the black glass be returned to the Place immediately.
Hearthruler was nearly convinced that Snowsgrace was right. Not only was there new sickness only in houses where the black glass had been taken, but one of them was very far away from the cistern. There were also people who lived right over the courtyard who were certain they had not had any water from the cistern, but had still had the sickness. However, no person had sickness who had not been near the cistern or the pieces of glass.
After that they also removed the rest of the mosaic from the cistern and returned it to the Place, although the cistern remained closed for many years.
8. Of the Great Storeroom
There was a great treasure-house in the Place, with walls of very thick stone, and doors of ancient lead. All of the treasures of the Old Ones that rose up in the waters of the Well were stored there. There were centuries worth of black glass fragments, pieces of copper, and other odds and ends inside. The only ones who could enter were the Priests, and only if they wore the ceremonial vestmests embroidered heavily in metal. Even then, they could only enter to add new treasures that had been given by the Waters, or to take out very small amounts to use in making such things as amulets or mosaics that carried the Old Ones' blessings. No priest could enter the storehouse more than twice in a year.
When Hearthruler began to suspect that Snowsgrace was right, he asked for access to the treasure house so he could study the black glass. However, the chief priests were still convinced that the Old Illness was carried by the water, and denied him permission. It was only when he brought back the rest of the mosaic from the cistern that that clerk of the treasure-house gave him permission, because all of the usual people had entered too recently to be allowed. So he donned the special vestments and went in.
It was dark inside, and the torch he carried sparkled off of baskets full of black glass and tumbled piles of other precious things. He placed the rest of the mosaic there. He knew that if Snowsgrace was correct, the storehouse would have the strongest miasma of all. However, he knew that priests had been entering it for generations, and while sometimes they died of the Old Illness, as long as they obeyed the traditions they were no more likely to become ill than any others in the place. So he felt that the protections of the Old Ones were still with him.
However he still did not want too linger among the black glass, or carry any with him.
Also in the storehouse were many of the small ceramic disks that were found all throughout the earth of the Place, as well as being brought by the waters. They all had inscriptions, but they were in the oldest of the Seven Great Tongues, the one that was the most difficult to translate. Because they nearly all said the same things, and the Priests of the place had long ago declared that they held only the Outer Knowledge, not the Great Truths that were inscribed in the inner sanctuaries in all of the Tongues, many of them had not even been translated. They were very common and the translation was difficult and brought no new knowledge.
Hearthruler looked through them until he found one that carried a word he was looking for, which was the word for "miasma" in the Great Tongue that Snowsgrace had found in his research. He found a disk with this word quickly, because very many of them carried it, and they all had the same inscription. He had not expected this, because the Great Truths did not speak of miasmas, and neither did the teachings of the priests. It was a thing of the Outer Knowledge, which was why Snowsgrace had been able to find it.
He took two of the small disks with him, and he and Snowsgrace spent many months after this trying to translate the verses they carried, while they continued watching and nursing the people who were sick.
9. Of the Verses of the Emanation
Finally, they managed to translate the verses on the disc completely, and this is what they said:
There is a danger.
The danger is in a place.
The place is here.
The place has a center.
The center is the place of danger.
The danger is still there.
The danger is to the body.
The danger will kill the body.
The danger is a miasma.
On the back there was even a picture of a sick person next to a rock that had wavy lines coming from it.
When they had translated that, Hearthruler knew that Snowsgrace was right. Everything he had seen told him that the Old Illness had come from a miasma carried by the black glass of the Place, and now the Old Ones had said so as well. From then on Hearthruler and Snowsgrace were fast friends, and they told everyone they met that the Old Illness was not carried by the water of the Well, but by a miasma that rose from the black glass in the Well.
10. Of the end of the Old Illness
Many people did not want to listen to Hearthruler and Snowsgrace, especially among the priests and other leading men, who had spent so much time telling people the danger was in the water. Also, a verse from the Outer Knowledge was not considered as important as the inner traditions, even if the priests agreed that the Old Ones would not have written something that was wrong, even on the disks. For a long time they had to work very hard to convince people.
However, over time more and more people came to see that the black glass made a better answer than the water. The next outbreak of the Old Illness was much less severe than the one about the cistern. It occurred after a priest who had gone to live in the city among the people died of the Illness. Many of the people who had prepared his body for drying also became ill, and so did some of those who visited the body often as it was drying. A friend of the dead man who also knew Hearthruler remembered that the dead man had been given a black glass amulet of blessing before he left the Place. After the amulet was removed from his wrappings, the sickness stopped spreading.
After this happened, more and more of the priests began to agree with Snowsgrace and Hearthruler and avoid the black glass and the copper. The chief priest, however, refused to admit that he had been wrong, and so for some time the black glass was still used to decorate gifts and the Old Illness still sometimes came to the city. After he died, however, the new leader of the Place agreed with them, and the black glass no longer was allowed to leave the Place itself. When this was done, the miasma was kept from the town and the Old Illness stopped appearing among the people.
11. Of the Death of Snowsgrace Dreamfinder
Many years before this happened, Snowsgrace died of the illness that is called claws-in-the-bones, which is still common among the people of the town below the Place. Hearthruler arranged for his body to be given the richest of embalming, and for many years after it was kept in the Place of Honor. In later years Snowsgrace Dreamfinder was remembered as Snowsgrace Mapmaker, because of the map he had drawn on the goatskin of the places where people died around the cistern. Hearthruler told the story of how Snowsgrace had ended the Old Illness whenever he could, even after he left the Place, married, and grew old. He was known both as Hearthruler Whitebeard and as Hearthruler Longspeaker, because he was once invited to speak before a feasting, and he spent so long telling the story of Snowsgrace that the meat grew cold and the drink dried up. It is still said that this was the longest speech ever given at such a feast.
Before he died of the claws-in-the-bones Hearthruler Longspeaker had this saga written so that even as far in the future as the Old Ones are in the past, the miasma carried by the black glass will be remembered, and the people of the Place will not forget. Copy it and tell it and remember it.