As editor of Toli’s Tall Tales, it’s my custom to tag any comment or reference to the back of the tale. Yet here I add it as a preface.
Toli claims he had this story off the Witch Lady Hegrea (with whom he met on several occasions at the castle of Count Alan le Rousel); and I believe that he did. Clearly this Tale Of The Ten Suns is akin to the traditional Chinese myth of Yi The Archer. Yet this seems older, more anciently set, as if it originates from a time when man’s concern was first for the yield of his fields. This would fit well with Hegrea. Born at a time when the cultivation of wheat and barley, newly arrived from the east, was the latest technology, Hegrea travelled far through the lands of Europe and Asia.
I shall say no more, but allow Toli to tell you the tale.
The Tale Of The Ten Suns
Hey! Toli Tall Tales here, with a tale as far fetched as it’s tall. See, it was fetched from the far distant east. Far-fetched, see, fetched-from-afar. And I was to say I fetched it myself, but Crimson says I have to be honest. So the honest word is, I had this tale from the Witch Lady Hegrea. So, you fetch up a cushion, and place your butt on it. You wrap your arms around your younglings. And your hearken to this . . .
Now, there’ll likely be swadlings you’re holding who’ll ask what this tale’s about. So you tell them, see, it’s about ten suns. And you tell them only by listening will they find out the more.
Once, a long time ago, in the time of the Ancients, there lived a Ruler and this Ruler was big. See, he wasn’t only the ruler of a region – not like that Duke Alan Fergant of overseas Brittany. Nor was he only the ruler of one country – not like our King William is here. No, this Ruler was much, much bigger than that. He was the Ruler of all the people of all the lands from east to west and north to south – as once the Caesars of Rome had been, as still Rome’s popes try to be.
Now, that wide-wide land that the Ruler ruled hadn’t its heels washed by the western waters of the Western Sea, as have we. Ney, it was far beyond here. It lay with its toes dipped into the eastern waters of the far Eastern Sea. And in that far land, they had ten suns.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and jiffling your butts upon your pillows just itching to say. That there’s only one sun. Well ay, I’ll agree with you. Now there is only the one. But in the time of the Ancients, when this Ruler ruled, there were fully ten suns.
See, it worked like this. On the first day Sun One would arise, climb the sky, weary and slip down, to hide out its time behind the mounts in the west. On the second day, Sun Two would arise, climb the sky, weary and again slip down. On the third day, Sun Three would arise. On the fourth day, Sun Four. And so on and so forth until, on the tenth day, Sun Ten had its time in the sky. Then it would be the turn again of Sun One.
And so it was, and so it went, and so it seemed it always would be – until one morning the Ruler was awoken by a great commotion happening right outside his very own castle.
Well, he hopped out of bed and put on his boots and his cloak and took up his staff and, curious to see, he went outside to see what all this noise was about.
And what did he see?
I ought here to allow you to think up some answers – that’s what the Witch Lady Hegrea did. She waited till we were all straining against the seats of our brecks before she would tell us. But I’m kinder than she. (Oops! Didn’t mean that, Lady, if you happen to be listening.)
So, what did this Big Ruler see? I’ll tell you what he saw. He saw all ten suns.
Ay. There weren’t the one sun up in the sky. And there wasn’t the two. Neither three nor four nor five . . . Ney, there were a full ten suns up there in the sky, altogether and crowding each other.
And, as you can imagine, these ten suns were creating a great searing heat. They were creating a bright blinding light. And the earth was parched by it all, and cracked. The grass was browned by it all, and drying. Fast. And even as the Ruler stood gawping, there started some fires. Before he’d yet scratched his head and his beard, those fires already were raging. Ay, raging all over his land, east to west, north to south, consuming all in their path. Well, as you can imagine, neither animal nor people had water to drink, nor food to eat. Many of his people and beasts already had died, and many more followed. Such a great heat did these ten suns create, it burnt every shred of their skin. It called forth big blisters that covered their bodies. Oh, sore were those bodies, as you can imagine; parched were their mouths. It was cryingly woeful to see.
And now you’re to ask what the Big Ruler did to right this dire situation. How could he save his many people?
Well, firstly the Ruler asked counsel from his wise councillors, his earls and his barons and the like. But his councillors scratched their heads; they didn’t know what to do. It was the cook who answered the Ruler rightly.
“You must go see the Lady of the West.” For, as everyone knew, this Lady of the West was said to be the Mother of the Sun.
So off went the Ruler. He had far to travel through his sun-tortured land. For, see, as this Lady’s title suggests, she dwelt far to the west. Ay, even beyond the Western Mounts where, even as he traversed the passes, the glaciers were melting and steaming creating thick clammy mist. How long it took him we cannot say for, with all ten suns in the sky, there was no counting the days. Yet eventually he approached the Golden Palace where the Lady of the West dwelt with her courtiers. He disturbed them at play, playing ‘Catch As Catch Can’.
The Lady of the West, displeased at the Big-Ruler’s unannounced interruption, demanded to know what was his most urgent business. At which, after much bowing and forgiveness-begging, he explained of the suns and the destruction wrought to his land..
“Humph,” she said, yet more displeased. “You best had seek out my son, Yi the Archer. And when you find him, you tell him, he is to go with you to sort out these suns.”
So off set the Ruler. But where he would find this Yi the Archer, the Golden Lady’s single son? The Ruler, not having a notion, asked of all he met. He asked off the worm in the ground. He asked off the carp that swam around. He asked off the hare that followed the moon, and now with perpetual day was shrouded in gloom. He asked off the deer that hid in the trees. He even asked off the hedgehog’s fleas. He asked off the sparrow, and the sparrow said to ask off the eagle instead.
The eagle answered, “Follow me.”
“What wants you?” asked Yi the Archer, disgruntled at missing his shot at the said Ruler’s unannounced appearance.
“Your mother, the Lady of the West, sends me to you.” And again the Ruler explained of the suns and the destruction they wrought to his land. “And I’m to relay, from your mother, that you’re to come with me to sort out these suns.”
“Ay,” said the Archer, well pleased at this mission. “Those suns I shall sort in short order.” And Archer and Ruler set off for the fire-ravaged, sun destroyed eastern-set land.
Now, as you can imagine, while the Ruler was away seeking the Lady of the West and her son the Archer much damage had been done by the unruly ten suns. Ay, the Ruler was full saddened to see how small was the land now left to him. I tell you, no more than one third of the land remained untouched by fire. No more than one third of the crops remained unburned. No more than one third of the animals remained alive. No more than one third of the people had survived. And still – up in the sky – the ten suns fiercely shone.
At once Yi the Archer set to the sorting. He took an arrow from out his quiver. Set it to nock against his bowstring. Pulled back, and back, till his elbow was out like a cocked pigeon’s tail, his fingers, fletched feathers and bowstring close by his ear. And sighting the while, he let said arrow fly.
Ping, zung and whoosh! The arrow thudded into Sun One. But as Sun One began to fall from the sky, so it changed to a black crow, and the crow flew away.
Again, Yi the Archer took arrow from quiver, nocked against bowstring, pulled back, and back . . . and sighting the while, he let said arrow fly.
Ping, zung and whoosh! Said arrow thudded into Sun Two. And as Sun Two began to fall from the sky, so that sun too changed to a black crow, and the crow flew away.
Now, this happened again. Ping, zung and whoosh! Sun Three began to fall from the sky, but changed to a black crow that flew away. So too with Suns Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight – till only two suns were left in the sky.
Yi the Archer reached for the next arrow, to discover this was his last. He nocked said arrow against his bowstring, pulled back, and back, and sighting the while, he let this last arrow fly. The ninth sun fell from the sky. And as it fell it, too, changed into a black crow, and the black crow flew away. Now there was only one sun left in the sky, which is as it should be.
Now the Big Ruler thanked Yi the Archer for saving his land and his crops and his herds and his people from the unruly suns. “So tell me, what gift will you have off me in return?”
Yi the Archer didn’t immediately answer. He looked about him at the suns’ devastation. What had the Ruler left to offer him?
“Have you a daughter?” Yi asked.
The Ruler said ay, that he had the one, and that she was the Moon.
“Then the Moon shall be my reward. I will have her as wife.”
And so the Moon became the wife of Yi the Archer, to dwell forever in his far distant land that only the eagle knows how to find. And from that day to this there has only been the one sun up in the sky.
Now at story’s end, you’ll ask (as I did off the Witch Lady Hegrea), why the suns turned into crows as they fell from the sky. And I’ll give you her answer.
See, those nine suns were the Lady of the West’s very own daughters – for, remember, she was also known as the Mother of the Sun. And if the suns were the Lady’s daughters, then they must be sisters to Yi the Archer. And in that long ago, far-set land, Yi was another name for the crow.
The Witch Lady Hegrea said of that Lady, the Mother of the Sun, that she has other birds, too, as her spirit-daughters. And she has daughters, too, who are cats and sows and mares, and some say even hares though everyone knows that hares belong to the Moon. So you might ponder upon this as you chomp on your bread and sup at your beer, and be glad, in England, today, these spirits remain.