While this was originally composed as a Saalisan fairytale, I feel justified in categorizing it as I have, chiefly because nowhere in the actual story are any recognizable characters mentioned.
Once in the far-off past, when queer things happened and sorcerers were feared, the wife of the snake-god T’Xann bore her husband a son. Because T’Xann was a god, and his wife merely a common desert pit-viper, the child was mortal.
But oh, he was a handsome lad. Full six-foot, slender, strong, and graceful of movement, with liquid dark eyes, fine teeth, and shimmering golden scales. T’Xann loved his son, and gave him a precious gift: the power to change his form. As long as he was at liberty, the son of T’Xann could shape-shift from a beautiful golden serpent to a beautiful golden-haired youth, and back, as often as he pleased.
However, even the snake-god himself could not give his son the gift of immortality.
One day, the son of T’Xann was out alone, roaming the turquoise forests that clothe the lower slopes of the great mountains to the south, when his sensitive nose detected the scent of honey-cakes. Slithering forwards, eager to devour the treat, he did not, perhaps, pay as close attention as he ought to his surroundings.
Snap came the bars of a cage-trap about him, and the son of T’Xann was a prisoner.
In vain did he whisper the word that would change him to a man – he was not at liberty, and so his power failed him in the hour of his greatest need.
Fate smiled on the golden serpent that day. The hunter into whose snare he had wandered, on that day of all days, was having an immense argument with his wife, and could not come to check his traps. In his place came his daughter, a lovely girl, by no means the least of whose attractions was a magical golden bracelet. She had been given the bracelet by her godmother, and from it had gained a reputation for being a powerful warlock.
Her brother accompanied her on this expedition, for many fearsome creatures and strange wanderers were said to be in the forest, not least among them the dangerous wizards called, in that place, the Gehdyii. Besides, it was late at night, and dark, and everybody thought in those days that the sunset freed the spirits from trees and springs, to wander and do mischief until dawn.
When the hunter’s daughter saw the snake, she laughed with joy and told her young brother to run and fetch their father. A serpent with scales of gold – that would bring a fine price, the girl mused. Imagine her astonishment when the creature spoke!
“Please,” he begged, “let me go: I am the son of T’Xann, and my father will reward you for your generosity.”
Although the girl was surprised to hear a snake speak like one of the sons of men, she soon realized that if he was telling the truth, it would be worse than foolish not to acquiesce to his request. After all, he had asked very prettily.
“Very well,” the girl agreed. And opening the door of the cage, she allowed the snake to slither out onto the grass.
As soon as he was free, the son of T’Xann whispered the magic word, and instantly stood before his deliverer in the form of a handsome young man.
At that moment, though, the hunter and his son rushed into the glade, stopping short in bewilderment when they saw the cage open, the beautiful serpent fled, and their daughter and sister standing unafraid with a perfect stranger. It took only a very little time to explain what had happened, but the hunter was not satisfied.
“How, o son of a god,” he demanded, “shall my wife and children live? For we had counted on that golden snake to bring us the money we needed to pay off our landlord and avoid being brought before the king as debtors.”
At this the young man’s face grew solemn. “I cannot carry money with me,” he replied uncomfortably, “and I did not realize how valuable I might be. I will agree to change back into a snake and be sold, if it will ensure the security of your lovely daughter.”
“Stop!” cried the girl. “I won’t have it. Father, I – I love him.” Tearing her magical bracelet from her arm, she flung it to the ground at his feet. “Sell this instead.”
When the hunter and his son had gone away, to sell the precious bracelet, the son of T’Xann looked hard at the daughter of the hunter. “You have saved me, o maiden,” he said at last, “and for that I will reward you myself.”
Reaching to pluck down the nearest star from the violet sky above them, he formed from the silver of the star an ear-ring, in the form of a coiled serpent, and fastened it upon the ear of the hunter’s daughter. (There was only silver enough for one: have you seen how small stars are?)
“Keep this,” he said, “as the favor-mark of T’Xann. Give it to your daughter and have her give it to hers. So long as a woman of your line wears this, she may call upon T’Xann for help and he will answer her. But I must leave you now.”
“Please,” whispered the daughter of the hunter, “don’t go away. I love you.”
“Love a man who may become a snake with no warning? Love the mortal son of a god? O maiden, you are braver and more foolish than many. Tell me this, lovely girl: if I were to return your love, and we were to marry, what form would you have our children take? Snake – or man?”
Bowing her head, the girl replied, “Whichever form most pleased their father, sir.”
“It is well said,” smiled the son of T’Xann. “Know, o maiden and my love, that the father of these children yet unborn so loves their mother as to let her choose not only their forms, but his. What would you have me be?”
“I would have you take whatever form you are most comfortable in – if only you allow me to share it.”
The son of T’Xann was pleased with this answer, and T’Xann was pleased, and they were married directly.
Over the years, the couple had two children, a girl and a boy, and although they were cunning as serpents and had their father’s golden hair, they were as lovely a pair of human children as one could wish to see. The daughter was, in due course, given the ear-ring of star silver, the favor of T’Xann, and the son was so famous for his wisdom that he and his heirs have ever afterwards been the kings of that place.
When the hunter’s daughter and the son of T’Xann died, the snake god flung their images into the sky as stars, that all might remember the story and respect their king as they should.