HRT : Peoni : The Death of Maermal

Maermal and Agrik had this day gone for a walk together through the fields, and up into the foothills at the base of the mountains at the borders of Peoni's land. As they rose higher above the gentle slopes of the worked fields, the land became more rugged, sharp and without trace of any hand upon it. Here the two friends came to a great river, rejoicing in its freedom to move as swiftly as it made its way down from the mountains, knowing that the journey would soon become more placid in the lowlands.

Maermal saw the swift current, and said to Agrik that if they were to cross, it were best that Agrik rode upon his back, so as not to be swept away. But Agrik rebuked this offer of help, saying that he was just as capable of crossing unaided as Maermal was. So saying they both entered the river. Maermal's broad body was pushed and swayed by the water, but he did not lose his footing, and cut a straight path to the opposite bank. Agrik did not fare so well, and was cast off balance. He nearly drowned, and would have done so, were it not for Maermal, who re-entered the stream and caught Agrik gently upon one of his long horns, and so lifted him above the tide of the water, and brought him safely to the further shore.

But Agrik was not well pleased with being rescued in this fashion, and said so, claiming that he had simply slipped, and would soon have regained his footing and reached the other side by himself. Maermal laughed, his voice silencing the noise of the river, and said only that if Agrik wished to be put back where he had been, then he was quite happy to put him there. At this a great anger burst forth in Agrik's breast, and he threw himself upon Maermal, striking at him with his fists.

The blows hurt the peaceful one little, but he did not allow Agrik to continue his assault. Rearing up upon his hind legs, he pushed Agrik to the ground, and rested there, his bronze hoof pressed against the breast of his foe. And it is said that the imprint of that hoof has forever remained with Agrik, burned upon his chest.

[Later theologians have seen in this an indication that Agrik was, at this point, fallen from grace, since the touch of one who was pure caused such a mark. On one who had committed no crime it would not.

The question of Maermal's physical make-up has also been raised in connection with this and other passages. The matter hinges on whether it was, at this point in the story, only Maermal's hooves which were of bronze (perhaps, though seemingly unlikely, he was shod in bronze), or whether, as after his ressurrection, he was entirely bronze.]

After making sure that Agrik's lesson was learnt, Maermal walked slowly back to the halls of Peoni alone. Agrik, left lying in the dirt, stayed there a long while, evil and unrepentence growing ever greater in his heart. His thoughts turned towards hatred and revenge, and in his cunning he plotted a great mischief.

The next day Agrik approached Valamin, where he was pruning roses in the garden, and spoke to him with honeyed words and malice hidden in his heart. Dear brother, put aside this work, for I greatly desire to speak with you. For you know that tomorrow is the Feast of the Return of the Blessed, and there will be much exchanging of gifts. Now, I want you give Maermal a gift for me.

Valamin responded, Why do you ask me this? Surely the gift is better come from yourself?

At this Agrik sighed, and made to look as if downcast. My brother, I am grieved, for I treated Maermal badly yesterday. We disagreed, and now I would wish to mend the wrong. But if I went myself to him, you know what he is like, he would not accept my gift, and would forgive me immediately. Yet I must give him some token of my friendship, and so I ask you, brother, to give this gift to him, and to tell him only after he has received it that it comes from me, in response of our disagreement.

And such was the esteem in which Valamin held his brother that he did not question these words, but did just as Agrik had instructed him. He took the gift from Agrik and promised to give it to Maermal the next day.

And so it happened that on the feast day, Valamin came to Maermal with the gift, and placed the bowl, full with the potion Agrik had prepared far from civilisation, before the great beast. And he spoke, saying, Maermal, lord, I bring you this gift, as is the custom on this day, and wish you great joy of it.

Maermal, seeing nothing but kindness in the heart of Valamin, thanked the boy, and bowed his head to drink. As his great tongue lapped up the evil waters, Valamin spoke. I bid you know, lord, that my brother Agrik gave me this gift to give to you, for he is much repentent of the quarrel he had with you. He did not come himself, for he knew you would not, in your graciousness, receive it from him.

Then Maermal, who felt the poison already at work within him, spoke thickly. Young Valamin, you have been caught up in a great evil this day, and I pity your soul for what it will suffer for this unwitting action. And I pity also your brother, who has knowingly erred. He has a dark road before him, until he rejoins us in peace at last. And so saying he fell forwards onto his knees and died.

Greatly distressed, Valamin thought on Maermal's words, even as he called for his mistress and sought his brother. When at last all were assembled around the body of the slain ox, there was much lamentation, and through her tears Peoni asked of Valamin what had happened. He explained, and looked wretchedly at his brother, who stood proud and dark over the corpse. Then Peoni turned his sad eyes on Agrik, and saw that he was guilty of the crime, since evil had taken root in his heart.

You who were once my servant, Agrik, do you repent of the shedding of blood in my domain, even of one of my most beloved servants? For there is no crime so great that I cannot forgive it, if that is but requested of me by the one who repents.

But Agrik cursed her grace and gentleness, and mocked her, saying, You were ever too soft of heart, Peoni, willing to embrace anyone who first swore only admit their lack of greatness, their inferior station, so that you might be head of a household of cowed sycophants. This will not be my fate, I, who am destined for greatness, compromising nothing and allowing no one to overcome me. My court shall be great and terrible, where the strong shall serve the strongest of all. Then you shall tremble here in your airy halls and sunny fields, when you hear the iron might of my armies marching to war.

So he spoke, and Peoni's daughter was outraged, and was about to burst forth, when her mother restrained her with a hand. Agrik, you are the first to be expelled from Valon, for you alone of all those who commit wrongdoing do not wish to turn your heart away from anger. May your exile prove to calm your heart and lead to greater understanding. And should it do so, though it take until the stars set for the final time, you will once more be welcome here in your home.

Deeply disturbed, Agrik fled from that place into the wilderness, his remorse becoming a burning anger within him. And Valamin wept bitter tears, for he loved his brother.

Then Peoni brought forward a great bowl, which she placed beneath Maermal, so as to collect his blood. Avarkiel, its blade bright and keen, cut through the throat of the ox, and the goddess with a single blow separated that mighty head from its broad shoulders. The blood ran freely, thick and black, until the dish overflowed with its bounty. Then did Larani unstrap Hyvrik from her arm, and turning it she collected the majority of the blood in its curve. Now, at the last, the great body crashed forward to the ground, and the sound was of a boulder rolling and falling down a steep mountainside.

Larani held high her shield and swore this oath: By the blood of the strongest among us, I swear that the vengeance owing to the one who brought evil to Valon shall forever be mine, a duty to be carried out until winter comes for the last time to the sacred fields. Never shall I rest while my enemy lives, though my body grow weary and my garments are torn and stained. This I swear upon the body of my fallen comrade and brother, and may the mother of us all hear my pledge and remember it always.

And upon swearing this powerful oath, the White Goddess tilted the shield toward her, and drank the blood that was contained therein, until not a single drop remained upon its shining surface. And now Peoni gave a cry of lamentation, for she knew what her daughter had done. Now she went to her and spoke: Daughter, you are proud and strong-willed, but today you have sealed a fate which may not be revoked. The blood that you drank, and the words that came from your heart bind you in this matter, that you may never again live in Valon, though it be your greatest wish. For just as evil has no place here, and has been expelled, so too may not the vengeance be tolerated in this land, nor its instrument.

Larani was dismayed at this pronouncement, but saw that there was nothing to be done. Taking up her weapon she took her leave of her mother and the people of Valon, and left her mother's land forever, homeless and alone. But where she walked the light that shone from her mantle lit her way, and her courage was undaunted.

From the massive head of the slain Maermal the horns were cut, though it grieved Peoni that her servant should be disfigured so, even in death. From them were made two drinking vessels, of the greatest workmanship, immeasurably beautiful though unadorned by any jewel. One Peoni gave to Valamin, a reminder of his part in the deed, and it held enough drink to slake the thirst of the most exhausted labourer. The other she kept for herself, to be used in the great feasts of her table, and it was bottomless. But few there were who dared drink from it, who knew its origin.

The great bull's head was hung above the doors of the stables in which all the flocks of Valon were kept, that house of thousands. With its sightless eyes it stared east of the fields and to the mountains which rose high in the distance. And each evening, after all his tasks were done, Valamin came to sit before the head which bore no horns, and remained there in lamentation til the morning.

A certain day, when dawn came softly upon the dark land, Valamin was disturbed from his vigil by a great tremor of the earth which shook the trees and cast him on his face. The shuddering did not diminish, grew yet more vigorous, and through his terror Valamin heard the sound of mighty hooves striking the earth. Above him the stables broke asunder and collapsed upon itself. And so it was that Maermal reborn found his young friend, prostrate upon the earth amidst the wreckage that signalled the beast's passing, and their meeting was of joy and awe, that such things should happen.

HRT : Peoni
Author: Jamie Norrish
Last updated: 27 February 2001 by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell