The following Saalisan fairytale owes a great deal to Wilfred Owen for his ghoulish but beautiful poem The Kind Ghosts.
An early Baral Favain story, now mended and ready for use – this one is not for Grace! Somewhat atypical of the Shendi Prince, but this one is told from the Saalisan point of view, and the Saalisans have gotten somewhat the wrong idea about Baral Favain. Please note that this is a fairytale. I do not take it at all seriously and neither should you.
Once upon a time – do stop wriggling and listen, Nahari – once upon a time, I say, the marauding nomadic people the Shendi had a law, that any who contravened the harsh customs of their tribe should be cast away and banished to live among the taji-ik, the dwellers-in-one-place, in one place or another, for the rest of his life.
Now, one who suffered such a fate was Baral Favain, the son of their chief. Although the transgression of Baral Favain the Shendi prince has never been publicly told, the prince himself once whispered secretly to a friend that he was cast out for doing a small kindness to a prisoner marked for death. Because of this, he was banished to Saalis, banished here, children, but among our people he soon found favor, for although he was a Shendi, they were not hated then, and besides, he was a powerful magician – and a good man.
Baral Favain settled in the foothills of the Wall of Spears mountains to the south of the great city, and built himself a humble little house in the forest there, some miles from the nearest village. He led a quiet life, and through the skill of his own hands in making strong tools, better than those the men of that place could make, and the skill of his mind in teaching the children to read and write, he lived well.
Also, he used his influence with the gods and spirits to help his neighbors in their problems, their sicknesses and poor crops. Eventually, it became the way that a peasant woman whose son was ill with the harvest fever that kills, instead of weeping and despairing of his life, would send at once to Baral Favain and plead for his aid. He never failed to come, and rarely failed to ease the sickness. In doing these things he found favor with the people.
In that place Baral Favain had one friend, the son of a farmer. One day this friend married, to a beautiful girl, his third-cousin from beyond the mountains. (Then, of course, it was allowed for the common people to marry a relative closer than a fifth-cousin: now this privilege is reserved for the aristocrats.) Although his wife was so lovely, he did not abandon his friend, Baral Favain.
It happened that the great and noble god T’Harexto, may-he-be-ever-honored, he who is called in other places by the name Death, looked with favor upon the wife of Baral Favain’s friend, and wished to take her to himself. The friend fled at once to the little house of the Shendi prince, and pleaded with him to save his wife.
“There is little I can do,” warned Baral Favain, “unless I greatly offend the customs of your people. I can make a safe hiding place where Death will not find your wife, but it will be hard to build.”
“I will do anything,” promised the friend.
And so Baral Favain bade his friend meet him in the city of the tombs late that night.
In those days, as now, the bones of the dead were kept in necropolii, gatherings of stone mausoleums, often beautifully carven with the name of the family whose ancestors were there. All night, the two friends worked, creating in the tomb-city a wall impassable by T’Harexto, until, some hours before dawn, Baral Favain became solemn.
“You must leave now. There are words that must be said that would blast the ears of the hearers. Go fetch your wife, tell her Baral Favain has created her a haven.”
“How will she be safe in a pile of bones?” demanded the friend angrily.
“Among the Dead, Death will not perceive the Living… she is safe with them. They dare not harm her, for the Lord of the Dead is T’Narxai my master.” When the wife came, Baral Favain escorted her into her haven, but remained there with her some minutes to instruct her.
Late in the day, T’Harexto came to the necropolis. His coming was as icy as the knife-edged breeze over a swamp in the night, when the drowned light their candles to entrap travelers, and as clammy as the belly of a toad was the air in the coming of Death. “I have searched everywhere for this girl,” he hissed, “and I know that only the foreigner Baral Favain could have hidden her from me. Exiled son of a nomad’s concubine, forever cursed, where is she?”
“Safe,” said Baral Favain shortly. “From you. She is the wife of my greatest friend, and while your master T’Narxai the king of all gods is my friend, you will not have her.” Standing before the door of the haven, with his cloak swirling in the evening wind from the mountains, and the shroud of mist from the ground rising to ennoble his form, Baral Favain himself seemed almost godlike, and was utterly unafraid of He Whom All Fear.
“Then I take her husband,” retorted T’Harexto.
A cry startled them. “Not so!” And from the haven of the Dead, among the bones clinging and snagging in every bead and embroidery of her tunic and every curl of her hair, past the palls made curtains, through the loving brushes of dead fingers on her fresh cheeks, came the wife. “You shall have me if you desire me, but leave him.” For this was what Baral Favain had bidden her say and do when T’Harexto came.
“Ahhh…” breathed T’Harexto, and his sigh was like the whisper of the wind in a funeral sepris tree, “most brave of women, and most clever of princes, between you you have won.” Turning on the friend of Baral Favain an aspect so dreadful the poor man quailed, T’Harexto continued, “You have married a courageous wife. It would be shame and dishonor to me to take her from you before you have fully enjoyed her. So, friend of T’Narxai, I grant you your wife and an undisturbed existence for one thousand thousand years – unless you grow weary of life and seek me out yourself.”
And so Baral Favain saved the wife of his friend from Death, and was held in ever higher honor and regard among the people of Saalis.