In those days, there were many gods ruling over many realms. Some realms were ruled by just and jolly gods. Some by stern and distant gods. The southern realm was ruled by callous and petty gods.
The people of the southern realm were gods-fearing people, who prayed and tithed and always and ever gave the gods what the gods were due. Among these was a husband and wife who were both weavers. One day, the weaver-woman died, leaving a grieving husband behind.
The weaver-man learned that his wife had committed a grave sin against the gods. She had seen a neighbor with a newborn at the market and had proclaimed that the newborn boy was more beautiful than the god of the morning. The god of the morning heard. He must have, for both the weaver-woman and the baby boy died before noon that same day.
The next evening, the weaver-man stood before a pyre upon which lay his wife’s body in many wrappings. She had not been ill. She was not killed by mortal man or woman or beast. She fell in the midst of a bustling marketplace, struck down by the gods. And so had that hapless and innocent child been struck down. Because the child’s death was blamed upon the reckless words of the weaver-woman, the weaver-man was driven out of the village.
When the weaver-man found a temple by the wayside, he entered and prayed to his southern gods for mercy. He prayed and lamented for many hours. At last, he dared to ask why. Why had his beloved wife been struck down? The man declared that he loved his wife and was bound to her and only her for all eternity. The gods themselves had bound them and witnessed their union. Why would the gods then rend them apart?
“What the gods unite, they can sunder,” a voice said.
The weaver-man looked up from his prayers.
The god of the flame appeared to the weaver within the flickering fire of the many candles that burned. The god told him that his wife was struck down for speaking against the gods. It was the first time a god had ever revealed himself to the weaver. The flame god’s face was golden and his eyes were black coals that glowed a bright and steady red. They held no pity or mercy or any emotion. The weaver begged the flame god to understand that his wife had not meant to defy the gods, only to be kind to a child and his mother.
“What do the gods have to fear from a little babe?” the weaver asked.
“The gods fear nothing” was the reply.
The weaver started, for he saw an emotion in the flame god’s eyes at last. Fear. And so he learned that gods could lie and that they could indeed feel fear.
“I have always been faithful to the gods,” the weaver said.
The flame god, his glowing-coal eyes steady once again, replied that the weaver had indeed been faithful and that was why the gods would reward him.
“After your grieving is done,” the flame god said. “Come to the highest hill beyond the great forest. There you will find the reward for your faithfulness.”
It was well known in stories that such an invitation meant that the gods would sweep one up into the heavens. The weaver should have rejoiced at such a reward. But as he grieved for the wife he had loved so well, as he grieved for the babe who had died for the fear of the gods, the weaver grew disturbed. He had kept his faith, as had his wife. He had paid his debts. The gods had not paid theirs. Grief gave way to fury. For the first time, the weaver believed that he owed nothing to the gods and wanted nothing from them. Save for one thing.
The weaver came to the highest hill beyond the great forest. He waited there so long that he fell asleep. When he woke, he was no longer on the hill.
He was in a great hall of gilded marble. The light was golden. There were people there, beings, richly garbed and beautiful. And the weaver knew he was in the heavens, in the presence of the gods.
Some were solemn. They sat at their chairs and seemed to be contemplating or listening. The god of the flame and the god of the fountains. Every so often, they would vanish, and the weaver thought they must be answering prayers.
But most of the gods were idle. They lay upon cushions drinking from golden goblets. Or chased each other about the columns of the heavenly palace. They left platters of food—offerings from the faithful—half-eaten with morsels strewn on the floor. There were a few cup-bearers and attendants who quickly swept away the messes. The idle gods consumed many different kinds of food. The attentive gods ate sparingly.
There was one food, however, that all the gods ate. It seemed a simple food, a golden biscuit in the shape of a disc. The weaver approached and bowed before the flame god. The god told him that he was in the heavenly realm and that he could remain there and serve the gods or return to his mortal life.
The weaver chose to stay and to serve. He had seen in his few moments in the heavenly realm how he would attain the vengeance he sought. For he had been faithful and knew well the lore of the gods. He knew that the biscuit the gods ate was the cake of immortality.
The weaver was given mead to drink and a disc of the cake that would make him immortal, unable to die, unable to feel pain. He ate the cake, marveling at the exquisite food. He doubted the richest man on earth had ever eaten anything finer. But he only pretended to drink the mead, for it was the mead of memory. If he drank, he would be drained of all his memories of his mortal life, his memory of his wife, of his loss, and of his purpose.
The gods were at play and did not heed him or notice when he poured the mead into a bed of ethereal roses. He watched and saw that knowledge would be his weapon against the great powers of the gods. For much did they have of knowledge, but little did they value it.
So he served in heaven. He was a cup-bearer. He was an attendant. He watched how the petty and reckless gods ruined the realm and failed the mortals whom they were meant to shepherd. He was a weaver in his mortal life. But he became a baker in his heavenly life, for he learned to bake the most heavenly biscuits. They looked just like the cakes of immortality, but his biscuits had not the enchantments upon them that granted the gods and their servants an eternal life free of sickness and suffering.
The weaver then wove a scheme. He chose the god of the morning and began to replace that god’s cakes of immortality with his own biscuits. Soon the god grew ill and retired to his chambers. Some of the other gods visited him. They began to speak of how haggardly he looked, as if he were an aged mortal. They resolved to bring him more cakes of immortality and following along the god he served, the weaver learned where the cakes came from and how they were made. All the servants were often made to drink the mead of memory to forget what they had seen. The gods were trusting of their servants for they were arrogant and felt secure in their rule. But their king had decreed they must assure the security of their precious powers, most especially the power of immortality.
Being immortal and insensitive to pain, the weaver had cut a hole in his stomach so that whenever he drank the mead it could flow back out again into a skin he kept under his tunic. Then he would pour the mead into a barrel he had hidden away from the sight of the gods.
The weaver baked his false biscuits and exchanged them for the tray of cakes that was meant to restore the god of the morning, who had grown gray and frail.
The other gods unknowingly fed their brother the false biscuits. They congratulated themselves that he would be healed and hale again.
But the weaver watched and he counted the days. And on the sixteenth day after the god of the morning had stopped eating the true cake of immortality, he closed his eyes and fell from the heavens to the earth. There he woke as a mortal. No more was he gray and frail. He had recovered his youth in his mortality, but when he realized he was a mortal upon the earth, he began to rail and lament and scream.
The weaver looked down and watched with satisfaction until the king of the gods descended to earth and fed the mead of memory to the once-god of the morning, who became just a man after that.
There was an uproar in the heavens then as the gods argued over what had happened to their brother and whether or not it could happen to them.
The weaver stood at his god-master’s side and watched with satisfaction until the king of the gods brought the assembly to order.
The gods could be foolish at times, but they were not stupid. Their first suspicion was upon the cakes of immortality. But when the cakes were brought before the assembly and examined, no fault was found with them. And the god of the crossroads pointed out that no other god had been affected. And the god of the flame suggested that their brother’s fate might have been a punishment from a power that was higher than they were, the Maker of All.
The weaver saw that the gods were uneasy, but eager to find a reason that their brother’s affliction was only for him and not something the rest of the gods need worry over.
So for many a moon, the weaver waited and watched. Some of the gods changed their behavior, having decided that the god of the morning was punished for something he did. The Maker had warned the gods to be gentle and kind to the mortals under their care. And the southern gods knew they had not always been so. But after a while, when their fear had faded, the gods relapsed into their idle ways.
And the weaver began again.
The weaver had chosen the god of the morning because it was he who had struck down the weaver’s wife, and that god now begged through the streets of a village much like the one where the weaver and his wife had lived.
This time, the weaver chose the most indolent of the gods, the god of the grain fields. She did nothing to inspire the farmers of the mortal realm to plow and reap their crops. She never left the heavens, not even to walk the earth for pleasure. She had the most attendants of all the gods, more even than the queen and king. For she was their daughter.
The god-princess was already a spoiled corpse in the weaver’s eyes. He exchanged only some of her cakes of immortality so that she grew gradually ill. This time, the king of the gods assembled his court and checked the cakes right away. But no fault was found in the cakes. The king of the gods demanded that each cake meant for the god of the grain fields be inspected before she consumed it.
But the weaver found a way to thwart the king’s plan. For he knew where the cakes were made, and he broke up pieces of his own false biscuits and placed them in a batch of batter. Hidden within the true cakes, the bits of false biscuit should not be detectable. And they weren’t. The god-princess would not become mortal, but she would remain ill if she ate only those mingled cakes. And so she did.
And the weaver watched with satisfaction until the king of the gods assembled his court and declared that he would seek mercy from the Maker, for it was clear to him that the Maker was punishing them for some trespass that the god-king could not fathom.
So the god-king left and set his god-queen to watch their realm until his return. All the cakes of immortality were examined now. But the clever weaver wove another scheme. He made a batch of the true cakes of immortality, but he added the mead of memory from the barrel he had hidden. He tested a cake on his fellow servant, who forgot where she was and who he was.
The weaver brought forth the cakes. They were examined to assure they were true. And then, they were eaten.
In the time that the gods were forgetful, the weaver withheld the cakes from the god-princess. And when it was time for her to close her eyes and fall to the earth as a mortal, he gave her some mead, and he woke the gods by giving them pure cakes of immortality. Their forgetfulness faded, and they saw their princess fall.
The weaver stood before the gathered court and addressed them. He waited and watched their panic and was satisfied. He told them the truth of what he had done. And they grew angry and commanded him to submit to them.
“You must obey us,” the god of the fountains said. “We are you masters.”
The weaver glowered. “What makes your kind any better than my kind?”
“We have great powers,” the gods proclaimed.
“As do I.”
Then the gods attempted to use their powers upon him, to burn him in flame, to drown him in waters, to strike him with lightning, or cast him down to earth, but they found they could not harm him. For while they were forgetful, the weaver had compelled them to take oaths, unbreakable holy oaths, not to harm him or any whom he named.
“When our king returns,” the god-queen said, “he will see to you.”
The weaver kept his gaze upon the god-queen. He stepped toward a lounge on which an unnoticed figure was sleeping and tossed aside the covers. He heard the gasps and mutterings of the gods and he was satisfied.
“This king?” he said. The figure was gray-haired and quivering. The golden crown upon his head and the golden rings upon his fingers slipped from the shrunken form of the god-king.
Then the god-queen began to offer the weaver various gifts. Riches and kingdoms on earth. The weaver refused. She offered him a place in their pantheon as a godling. The weaver refused. Finally, she offered him kingship of their heavenly realm.
The weaver thought it strange that they did not offer him the one thing he would accept. The gods were vain and petty and had lived so long that life meant nothing to them. They had debased themselves so much that they could not even love themselves much less love another. For all their many gifts, their knowledge of past and present and future, they could not find the answer to the riddle of his heart. They had only to offer him his wife back and leave his family and his people in peace to live long lives, failing and triumphing on their own merits, suffering and rejoicing without the interference of the gods.
They had only to offer him that and swear holy oaths that even they could not break, and he would have relented and left the heavens.
“Keep your throne and keep your riches, for I have a greater gift than any you can offer,” the weaver said.
“I have the power to make the gods fear.”
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.