Orien: Avren’s Tale

My country is far off, I’m not quite sure how far.
We call it Tarvenis, and the moon is our queen,
the same moon that runs swift, the small blue one right there,
now half-hidden by cloud, between the other two.
I was her meek servant, ’til I went voyaging.
We were at sea long days, twelve hundred forty-six,
and twelve hundred forty we had no sight of land.
Our one guide was a bird, a single red osprey
who had feather markings unknown to my people,
red bands on his feathers and yellow on his wings.
You know this osprey well, who nests here on Alba,
and shelters in the cliffs. Anyway, he led us,
I guess as a favor, for I saved him from death
back in my own country after an awful storm.

Let me start where I should; I move too far ahead,
dance with words like a Jade, keeping truth from my tongue.
My story goes like this: believe it if you like,
or call me a liar but do it quietly.
In distant Tarvenis, I served the moon-goddess,
queen of the whole night sky. She was kindly to me;
I served her reverently, and built her a temple
where she would dance phases, and show her eclipses,
give notice of her plans. My state held some honor:
I held the sparrow-rank, neither lowly nor high,
a man of some promise, but not yet fully grown.
One day in her temple, the queen of the heavens,
I saw a storm coming. I huddled in safety
out of the worst of it while the rain pounded down
and the lightning trembled both the earth and sky.

The trees of the grove quaked, the temple stones shuddered,
the leaves and branches fell, and the low ground flooded.
In all my thirty years no storm surpassed that one
in strength or endurance. May I not see its like!
When the storm passed us by, I swept the moon’s precincts,
and set all in order, for the sake of her grace.
I burned fallen branches from her sacred alders,
and gathered up the leaves, to enrich her gardens.
During that sad labor, I found the strange osprey,
seized by the hurricane, unable to fly free.
I thought her dead for sure, done in by the fierce wind.
Who could blame my thinking? She lay trapped by a branch
close to a rain puddle that almost made her drown.
But no, she was alive, though with one broken wing,
she lay in dire need. And so I gave her aid.

Ospreys are hard patients. She would bite me at first,
and I had to bind her, and keep her hooded up.
Her beak was awful sharp, and her talons cut deep.
Setting her wing pained her, and she lashed out at me,
who caused her agony, and kept her from the sky.
But her wing healed slowly, and she came to trust me,
and let me minister to all her hurts and aches.
I looked her markings up in a book that I had,
and found she did not match any other osprey
anywhere in my land. I consulted masters,
men of learning and skill, but they did not know her;
She was no known creature, a beast not seen before.
They offered me money to give her to the king,
for his menagerie; but they would clip her wings.
I could not prison her, and so I set her free.

But she would not depart! She stayed in the Moon’s House,
and fed in the ocean or the nearby marshes,
and she still took tuna direct from my fingers,
or bits of fresh salmon while sitting on my hand.
She never injured me but gave me due honor,
her healer and warder, her guardian and friend.
In the due course of time, she came to the notice
of my master Curlal, who held much higher rank.
He came to visit me in my seaside precinct;
in state and great honor, he went to visit her,
the Osprey of the Moon, as the locals called her.
“Remarkable,” he said, and many other things;
yet more than anything, he kept reverent silence
for many long hours, staring up at her nest.
He extended his hand, encased in leather glove.

And she flew down to him, and they walked in the grove.
What passed between them then, I never discovered.
Yet he passed the whole day in her silent presence,
until the moon rose up, orange and round and full.
We bowed to her greatness, for she should have been new,
dark and invisible, at that time of the month.
That night, she crossed the sky, stately and powerful,
and Curlal the master walked still with my osprey,
strange and mysterious beneath that awesome moon,
a man and a strange bird, a divine messenger,
whose purpose I knew not, and could never discern.
At the dawn, she left him, and flew off to her nest,
and Curlal came to me, and I knelt before him,
doing him much honor, even as my own shrank,
for not seeing the bird as the Moon’s own herald.

But Curlal raised me up, and gave me two kisses,
one on each of my cheeks, and greeted me kindly,
as heron to heron, and master to master.
“Hail, Avren, loved of moon, keeper of her precinct,
and now her messenger! Her osprey came to you
in a time of great need, and you did her kindness.
She takes you for her own, and sends you on her work,
on a journey of fate to a land of legend.
Go, says the bright goddess, the ever changing one:
build yourself a boat and take nine companions,
and set out on Ocean. Go to far Orien,
the islands in the sea, and do mighty deeds there,
for the sake of my name and your own destiny.”
Could any man refuse? And so I built my boat,
and chose nine companions, and set sail in the spring.

I built my vessel well, in the way of my land,
with a strong keel of oak and frame of alder,
the which I harvested from the moon’s sacred grove
as Curlal commanded at the Moon’s own order.
Over this sturdy frame a hull of leather hide,
well tanned with chips of oak, I stretched and sewed with flax,
twined into linen thread. I fitted her with brass
and good rope of linen, and set up two good masts
to carry two square sails. Sixty spans long, she was,
with little space for us, her nine sturdy crewmen,
and me, her new captain, unused to such command.
We conducted trials before the springtime dawned
at the sun’s equinox, the day of balanced time.
My ship was judged worthy by all the district sailors,
and Curlal blessed the hull, and then we voyaged out.

My osprey the herald, she led me oversea,
staying always in sight, or nesting on the mast
for the whole long voyage from my home Tarvenis
until I reached this land. Twelve hundred forty days
my crew never saw land, nor any gull nor hawk.
Fish we saw in plenty, and caught them for our food,
and we distilled water from the briny Ocean
to keep our thirst sated. The sun beat down on us,
but the moon was our friend, and osprey guided us
along the silver light she shed on the waters.
It was our road to you, across all of Ocean.
How can I describe them, those lonely days at sea,
the awful solitude and the ten thousand stars!
No man can speak it, that dreadful lonliness,
but a man’s eye shows it, and some of you have seen.

You have seen the dolphins, who dance before your prow,
lured by the thrumming hull. You have seen the great whales
like vast moving islands, or huge reefs of smooth rock
that throw up spouts of spray, or display their broad tails
all scarred and barnacled, and enormous flippers.
Have you seem them breaching, lifting their bodies free
of the Ocean’s embrace, to bask in the cold air?
You have: I can see it, there is light in your eyes.
And schools of red salmon, that make the sea like land,
seeming almost solid, so many fish there were.
And too, the flying fish, that leap with tiny wings
between the sea and air, at home in both places.
I can not speak it all: even in solitude,
the silence of the sea, there was much to describe,
yet too many wonders, too many mysteries.

Twelve hundred forty days, adrift on Ocean’s sway,
living by the sea’s grace, we saw a massive cloud.
It might have been quite small, and very near to us,
or enormous yet far, not one of us could tell.
It lay just to the north, and our master sailor
wanted to go that way, for he thought it was land.
But when the nightfall came, Moon displayed her own road,
and the osprey led us, west of the great cloud stack,
away from temptation. More clouds a day later,
and then the real islands, when two more days had passed.
The sight we had wished for, and dreamed of in our sleep,
now was completely real. Yet we could not believe,
and the current caught us, and swept us by two lands,
one a single mountain, arising from the sea,
and then a doubled peak, girded with fine beaches.

The tide pulled us along, now between two green lands,
with one lying northward, guarded by massive cliffs,
yet rich with sheep and wool, and many small pastures
each enclosed with stone walls. To the south, another,
a broad and fertile place, dotted with farms and towns,
coves and excellent ports, and many fine harbors.
Yet Osprey led us on, and the current held us.
We could not escape them, but followed where they led.
Could we have pulled away? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
All of us together could not push the tiller,
and all the time the wind kept us on a straight course;
like a compass needle, we only pointed true;
no other course would do, nor could we have set it.
Somehow we reached this shore, despite a screaming gale,
and memory fails me, til I woke in this house.

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