The Once-God Rampion

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Digital drawing of a person seen from the back walking away. The person is barefoot and wearing a flowing skirt or dress. Wavy and curling strands of hair in different muted colors flow outward and back from the head, entirely obscuring the top half of the body. One strand on either side is connecting to the tops of trees and appears to be absorbing the trees. A strand on the left is connected to a purple flower with five petals, a rampion bellflower. Hazy foliage frames the image's bottom half.

She was far too kindly, and therefore looked upon with disdain by her fellow gods.  The other gods feared that the balance of power was being tipped too much toward mortal creatures, to whom the kindly god had given many gifts.  The kindly god argued that what she had given the mortal creatures shifted the balance by such an infinitesimal degree that all the gods could give what little she had given to the mortals, or else she could give all her power, and it still would not equal what the gods possessed. 

To teach her a lesson, the other gods diminished the kindly god by half.  

They took half her powers, half her wisdom, half her stature. They even took her name, which alone bore a good portion of her power. They named her Rampion, in mockery, for the flower that she had made to feed both the stomachs and the imaginations of the mortal creatures in whom she delighted, and whose lives and activities she found charming—at first in a somewhat superior way, but soon with sincerity.

They took half her memories, so she remembered being a god, but did not remember how to wield many of the powers she still possessed.  They cast her out of the heavens.  Even with all she lost, the once-god was still a giant when compared to many of the mortal beings who walked in the mortal realm.  She remembered how brutal mortal creatures could be, but she did not remember how kind and loving they could be.

She soon learned.  Rampion came upon a village in a valley near a mountain.  In this village lived wise elders who were as kindly to her as she had once been to mortals.  There were some within the village who were hesitant, out of fear perhaps, for she was a giant.  But most welcomed her.  So Rampion decided to live somewhat apart from them, in a wooden house in the forest just outside of the village.  She had been a nature god, and so despite the gaps in her memory, her talents emerged as she learned from and with the villagers, the talent of how to grow and nurture plants and trees, and the talent to make use of the many healing and fortifying properties of those plants and trees.

Rampion was truthful with the people of the village where she settled.  She told them she was once a god, and that she was struck down for favoring mortal creatures.  Some thought she was only saying so because she was not devout and only wanted to discourage others from being so.  But some believed her, for they or someone they held dear had encountered a god or two.  Such encounters did not often bolster faith.  But they did not believe that a being as kindly as Rampion had proven to be could have ever been a god.  

Rampion became so skilled in plant-craft that a few of the villagers became her apprentices.  These apprentices all came to believe that she was once a god, for she could perform wonders in the making of her potions and poultices that were not possible for mere mortals.  If she was not once a god, they thought, then she must have been descended from one.

“If you are god, perhaps we should be worshipping you,” one of her apprentices said one day.  He was the newest of her apprentices, and he spoke only half in jest. 

“I am no longer a god,” Rampion said.  “And I am not certain that there are any beings in existence who are worthy of worship.”

Concern creased the brow of her oldest apprentice. “Pardons, teacher. I am not particularly devout, but what you have uttered is blasphemy.  Those who possess greater powers than others must at the least be respected, lest they turn those powers against those who defy them.”

“Is that not what has happened to you, teacher?” another asked.

Rampion chuckled, but her laughter was without mirth.  For the words of her students were—alas—wise and true.

They often asked her what it had been like to be a god, to possess powers so great and a life so long and hardy that she need not fret about sickness, injury, hunger, or shelter.  That she need not struggle to learn or do.  That she could possess whatever riches she wished to possess.  They asked her what powers she once wielded that she had lost.  They asked her which among the plants and the animals she had brought into being, besides the flower for which she was named.

But Rampion could not remember.

Or so she told her gentle apprentices.  For some of the memories she could still summon were so profound that they made her head ache and her stomach turn if she tried to recall them.

***

Beside the valley, there stood a mountain known by a name from an ancient tongue that meant “a dragon sleeps within.”  It was thought that the mountain was once the abode of massive creatures called “dragons” with scaled bodies like lizards, membranous wings like bats, and throats that could spit acid or even fire.  The creatures had died out shortly after people began to settle the valley.  But early settlers passed down stories of having to pay tribute to old and dying dragons, who nevertheless were fearsome enough to terrorize the nascent village.

Rampion had never heard of such creatures before, and she wondered what god had created them.

When smoke began drifting from the mountain one day, the villagers noted it and watched with cautious curiosity.  At first, they thought people might be climbing the mountain from the other side, to settle it or to pass into their own land.  They sent scouts to investigate.  Friendly neighbors would be welcome, but they needed to assure there were not a hostile peoples coming through.

But the scouts found no people.  The smoke drifted out of a hollow in the mountain itself, and it was a choking smoke.  One scout reported heat within the mountain, a heat so fierce that it had even melted some of the rock.

Rampion may not have known what dragons were, but she knew of volcanoes.

***

In the weeks that followed, tremors passed through the valley.  Rampion warned the villagers that they must flee.  And she lamented for the other creatures in the forest, those who would not know they should flee until it was too late, for she judged that the volcano would soon erupt.  When it did, it would drown the valley in molten rock, and suffocate all who did not flee far enough with smoke and ash. 

Rampion feared that the people would not believe her.  She feared none would want to leave the beautiful valley and the peaceful and prosperous village.  To her surprise, the leaders of the village heeded her warnings, and they told their people to begin preparations to leave the valley.  They sent scouts to range far and wide to warn any other villages that might be close, and to find refuge in places that would be far enough away.

Rampion set her apprentices to making potions and poultices to help strengthen, bolster, and heal.  But as the days bore on, even as villagers began to leave the valley, Rampion realized that the volcano was close to erupting, and she grasped with growing dread that it would be too late for most to get far enough away to be safe.

As a god, she could have grown large enough to scoop the whole valley up in the palm of her hand and take them all to safety with a swing of her arm.  But though she was still a giant by mortal measures, she was not big enough or strong enough to carry everyone all at once.  And she knew of no spell or trick, no potion that could make it so.  On her own, or bearing only her five apprentices, she could have run out of that valley in a blink.  But she could not leave all others behind.

***

Rampion knew what she must do.  She climbed the volcano, as high as she could with half the strength of a god, and she humbled herself before those whom she had defied and disparaged for so long.

She prayed to the gods and asked them to answer her.

She received no reply, though she glimpsed a glimmering in the heavens above that indicated the gods were watching and listening.

Rampion begged the gods to save the village.  But even as she spoke the words, she realized that she was speaking out of desperation.  She must think as they would think if she wanted to move them to action.  Moving them to save the village was too far a leap.  So she asked for something that she believed they would grant. 

She asked for an audience.  She asked to speak to the gods, to lay her feet upon the firmament of the heavens once again.  So many of the gods never left the heavens.  So many found the thought abhorrent, even frightening.  They could be moved to bring her back if only to relief the anxiety of even contemplating an absence from the heavens.

Still the gods did not answer.

Rampion pulled a knife from her belt. She made a small and shallow cut in the thickest part of her palm. A single drop of blood seeped forth from the wound.  

“I beseech you, by the blood of a god, to grant me an audience before you in the heavens.”

She was at once swept up into the heavenly firmament.

***

Before the gathered gods—ones she recognized and many whom she did not—Rampion lowered herself on bended knee and made her entreaty once more.

Once more, she asked the gods to save the village, the whole valley if they would be so kind.

She was mocked by a few, who pointed out what she already knew, that she could have helped the people herself, if she hadn’t driven her fellow gods to take her powers.

Rampion, whose already cool tempers had only calmed further upon her time among mortal creatures, smiled and allowed that what the mocking gods said was true.  And that if she were granted her powers back, she would happily do the deed herself and trouble the other gods no more.

But even those gods who would be fair—as fair as a god could be—pointed out that Rampion would only give her powers away to the mortals if they were granted back to her.

Rampion parted her lips to utter the lie that she would not do so.  But such a lie would be futile in the presence of those who could see it.  She fell silent, thinking of how she might respond.

But one of the gods spoke first.

“We will return one and only one of your powers to you,” the god said.

“But you’ve taken half my memories as well.  I cannot remember all my powers.”

“Then choose from among those you do remember.”

“There are no powers among those I remember that could help me save the village in time,” Rampion said.

“Then they will perish.”

“Let it not be so!” Rampion cried.

The mocking gods sneered at her.  The fearful gods clutched at their robes and drew back from her.  The pitying gods dropped their eyes.  And the sympathetic gods set their jaws.

Rampion did not have much time to think. Without all of her powers restored, she could not grow big enough and strong enough to carry the village and the forest away in the palm of her hand.  She remembered having the power to grow things just by gazing at them. She had the power to invent new mortal beings—as did all the gods.  She had the power to transform things from one to another.  She had even regained that power in part through some of her potions—one of them could turn a piece of rock into a piece of bread, though it took so long to make and required such rare ingredients that she did not often make it. 

If she could transform everyone and everything in the valley—every person, animal, tree, and blade of grass—then she could make them small enough for her to carry. 

Without another thought, Rampion named the power that she wanted restored.

“It is granted,” an unfamiliar god said.

With that, she was cast back down to the earth, onto the face of the volcano, just in time to tumble off as another tremor struck.

***

Rampion fled down to the base of the mountain.  She tested her newly restored power.  She plucked a blade of grass and transformed it into a rock.  The grass had been light, but as a rock it was heavy.  So she next picked up a rock and transformed it into a blade of grass.  The rock had been heavy, but as grass, it was light. 

Rampion rejoiced.

She already knew what she could transform everyone and everything into so that she could carry all away.  But though the volcano was already beginning to belch out smoke and ash, she would not be reckless.  She further tested her power.  She plucked another blade of grass and transformed it into the smallest of living creatures, smaller than fleas, so small that mortal eyes could not see them.  They were everywhere, floating in waters, drifting through the air, lying in the soil.  Sometimes, they caused illness in larger mortal beings.  Mortals could not see them, but gods easily could.

Rampion could walk through the valley, transforming everyone and everything, and gathering them upon her own body.  And they would weigh almost nothing to her.

So she transformed the blade of grass, and as it shrank, she watched until she reached the limits of her vision.

And her eyes strained and then they widened in panic, for she could not see the thing.

She tried again with another blade of grass, and still, she could not see. 

Among the godly powers she had retained, she had continued to see far and to see deep.  Just that morning, she had seen the infection swarming in the blood of a child who’d fallen ill with a fever.  And she had treated him with the correct potion to counteract that particular infection.

She raised her head to the horizon and tried to see as far as she could.  Just that morning, she could have seen for leagues.  But now, she saw only as far as mortal eyes could see.  And mortal eyes could not see far.

She gazed up at the heavens.  The gods had cheated.  They had not given her one of her powers back. They had exchanged it with another that she no longer possessed.

Rampion had no time to rail against the gods now.

She tested the limits of her vision.  She would have to transform everyone and everything into something she could see.  She decided upon blades of grass.  She could run through the valley, collecting them all in a large sack.  The sack would be light enough for her to bear.

But even as she planned this, she discovered another limit to her power.  She had once been able to transform with a look.  But when she gazed at several rocks, and tried to transform them into blades of grass, she failed.  When she lay her hands upon the rocks, they transformed.

She could only transform what she could touch.  

***

Rampion ran home and explained all to her apprentices, hoping they might have some ideas. 

Already there was so much smoke in the valley that it seared their lungs.  Rampion judged that the valley would be gone by the time night fell. 

The apprentices asked Rampion if she could transform herself. For if she could, she could transform into a great bird or beast who could carry all.  She tried and found that she could.  But it would be too late by the time everyone left in the village could climb atop her, and there were those who would need help, and there were those who had already fled the village but had not reached far enough away to be safe.  As well, she felt that her strength measured the same even when she was transformed. 

They asked if she could transform into some small flying creature who would be fast enough to touch and transform everyone in the village. 

But Rampion did not just need to transform everyone and everything.  She had to gather them all. 

Her apprentices asked if she could grow her fingers and her toes to reach, but that would only transform ten at a time. It would be too late by the time she had transformed and gathered everyone. 

Her apprentices asked her if she could grow more limbs.  She tried, but she could not.  Thus she found another limit to her power.  She could only transform what limbs and appendages she already had.

Rampion bowed her head, both out of sorrow and thought.  As she did, a lock of her hair came loose from its bindings and fell before her eyes.  Dozens of strands flowed and whipped in the hot winds.  And upon her head there were thousands more, tens of thousands more, hundreds of thousands more.  She had more hairs upon her head than a mortal did.

Rampion raised her head, for an idea had sparked within it.

She grew five strands of her hair and reached with them toward her apprentices.  The strands obeyed and when they touched the five apprentices, she was able to transform them.  To assure she could carry them, that they would not float away or run away, she transformed the apprentices into strands of hair, even as she transformed her strands of hair into specks of dust.

Upon her head she felt no extra burden, but she sensed the presence of her apprentices, of their sleeping minds waiting to wake after she brought them to safety.

She did not hesitate. 

Rampion extended every strand of her hair as she turned and walked toward the village.  She reached for the villagers, for the beasts and the birds, for the trees, and the flowers, and the blades of grass. 

As each strand touched the being or the thing for which it reach it transformed into a speck of dust, even as the being or the thing transformed into a strand of hair on the head of the once-god known as Rampion.

She marched through the valley and into the village.  She marched through the village and out of valley.  She marched upon the road, and as she came upon fleeing villagers, she reached for them and their wagons and their wares.  For she had room upon her head for all.

As the first glowing river of lava began to flow into the valley, it found nothing upon which to flow but empty earth.

***

Rampion was no longer a god, but she was still was a giant, and her strides, even when she was not running, carried her far and carried her quickly.  And with her, they carried all that she carried upon her head.  She was many leagues away when the valley that was once her home became covered in molten scorching earth.  Many leagues away from the suffocating smoke and ash that poured into the valley and drifted away from the volcano.

Though she carried a multitude upon her head, though she was aware of the sleeping minds of those who had minds, her breaths were free and easy.

She could rest now when she had need of rest.  Her next aim would be to find a new place to settle.  She would soon transform the elders back into their true forms, so they could decide upon a new home for their people.

As she thought of transforming the elders, Rampion realized that once she transformed everyone and everything back, she would have no hairs upon her head.  Her own hair would grow back in time, but the thought made her pause beside a river, and gaze down at her face so she might picture what she would look like without hair.

Rampion gazed at her rippling reflection, for it was a welcome worry.  To fret over such a vain concern as her own hair. But she smiled too at the beauty of the enchanted hairs that now sprung from her head.  They were a multitude, a precious multitude.  And she would keep them safe.

With that thought, the once-god known as Rampion smiled and lifted her profound head. 

Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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