and the White Lion
In the days of knights, when the dumb could not speak, an old king ruled over the Valley of the White Lion. Called in its native tongue Zarumba, the valley sat at the foot of the Great Pachukay Mountains. West of the valley stood a tall dense forest where the White Lion lived and ruled, and where he prophesied to the mute sage Ajar-Harani in the dark hours of the night.
Beyond the forest lay the land ruled by Otturo, the tyrant king whose armies had made frequent attacks against Zarumba in order to acquire its fertile soil and abundant woods. It was only King Oturro’s greed that prevented Zarumba from falling into his hands, and the White Lion’s magic which had always protected the people of that happy valley.
It came to pass that the king of Zarumba died with no heir to his throne. The people were saddened by the good king’s death, but frightened, too. Surely, they thought, King Oturro would invade again, to capture the villagers and make slaves of them. For, whose army could stop him this time?
Several days after the Zarumban king’s death, the people begged of Ajar-Harani to speak to the White Lion so that he may protect them and send them a king. Because he loved the people, Ajar-Harani entered the dark forest that very night.
“Ohalu!” the sage called out. “Ohalu of the great white coat, I come on behalf of your people. Ohalu, they are frightened and seek your wisdom.”
As the old man was not able to speak with words, Ajar-Harani spoke with his hands and the black dirt of the forest floor. Like a drum, he struck the ground – pom pom, pa pom pom pom – and in time the great beast appeared before him, an image of radiant beauty, his clean white coat shining like a candle in the darkness.
“White Lion,” Ajar-Harani drummed, “we seek your protection from King Oturro’s army, who are sure to invade our small valley. We seek, too, a new king who will rule over and guide us.”
Ohalu stared into the eyes of Ajar-Harani, and to anyone who did not know the heart of that lion would see only a mark of death. But Ohalu’s heart was full of compassion for the good people and in Ajar-Harani's eyes he could see them locked in their homes, frightened, waiting for his words of comfort. His great head nodded and the lion roared, and the old man folded his hands in gratitude. Then the lion arose and walked around Ajar-Harani. His front paw clawed the ground before him and he bowed down low. Ohalu continued to move about and make other gestures, which Ajar-Harani interpreted. When the great lion left him, he knew the valley’s future, and his heart was rapt with fear.
At dawn he returned, and the villagers flocked around him. Through hand gestures and movements of his arms and legs, Ajar-Harani told the people what Ohalu had foretold:
“The Great Lion predicts the coming of King Otturo’s army before the end of harvest. While all his previous attempts to take our land has been met with failure, he shall now succeed and shall rule for 12 years before being cast out by the beast who breathes fire. A new ruler will emerge from our midst and upon a white horse destroy the beast, bringing peace and prosperity once more to our beloved Zarumba.”
Upon completing his last words, Ajar-Harani collapsed with exhaustion, for he was very, very old and his limbs weakened with each gesture. Two men carried him to his cottage and lay him down, until the sage was rested enough to rise for evening meal.
On the other side of the valley, that part nearest the tall mountains, another yarn was unraveling. A man and woman had just borne an infant who would become their only child. The man, who was of strong build and dark skin, had hoped for a boy but was greatly disappointed to learn otherwise.
“How will a girl help me till the soil? Who will take over this land when I am gone? It is not a woman’s work. What good is a girl to me? And with the coming of Otturo’s army, I will surely be called to fight. From where will come your food?” he asked, looking to his wife, who held the child tightly to her breast. “She will be nothing but a burden. Better she had not been born at all.”
“You are wrong Johann, she is not a burden, but a blessing, a princess,” the wife said.
“A princess lives in a castle, my love, not in a small cottage below the mountain. Better to call her Vishnia Rena,” which means, in that language, queen of misfortune.
“If she be a queen, then let her be a queen of hope,” the woman, whose name was Suva, answered. “She is that for me and will provide comfort when you are away, and so I shall name her Asana. You will see, Johann, someday you will come to know the blessings of your daughter and be grateful for her.”
And so the child was named (Asana, which means Hope in Zarumban) and brought before the village elders and blessings were poured upon her. In her third month, as predicted, Johann was called to fight against the soldiers of King Oturro. They had been seen marching about two days’ journey from the edge of the forest. As a knight in the king’s court, Johann joined the other leaders and proceeded to the other side of the forest. For it was thought best to keep the fighting as far from the villagers as possible. And that is where the soldiers of Zarumba fought and where many of them died, including Johann, whose armor Suva placed carefully in a deep trunk where it would not emerge for many years to come.
Upon the battles end, the soldiers of Oturro pillaged the homes of every villager, taking with them jewels and robes and treasures of every sort. In time the soldiers settled there and many of them made the people to become servants in their own homes, cooking and drawing baths for the wicked men and their families. Some of the villagers moved into the forest and, in consequence, tore down many trees and branches to build shelter for themselves. While the warriors were gorging on fine meats and fruit, the villagers had to fight birds and squirrels for nuts and berries. In time, the creatures abandoned their homes and the villagers were left without even the sweet melodies of the songbirds to comfort them.
In this environment did Asana grow into a young girl. As she did not live in the village but at the valley’s edge, she was often taunted by the other children for her rough and simple ways. Unlike the other knights, Adana's father preferred the quiet countryside and clean mountain air to the crowds and noise of the village. And Asana, too, preferred the company of nature to children her own age, the games of flower and fauna to those of girls and boys. So she gained for herself the name “Mountain Girl.” But when Otturo overtook Zarumba, the children’s games ended. There was more work to do and little time for play. Even when there was time, the children were too saddened to do so.
Many of the boys retreated to the mountainside to plot revenge on Oturro and his army in secret. There they befriended Asana, who was unlike the other girls of the village. Asana was strong and agile, able to climb trees and catch small creatures as well as any of the boys. And when the boys played out their revenge, Asana engaged in the theatrics, using sticks as swords to cut the feet of the soldiers.
At this time a great rain lasting three weeks turned the land around Asana’s small cottage into a swamp and flooded the garden as well. To the once green earth there came many creatures, including snakes, frogs and turtles. Asana befriended them all and also the bats in the mountain caves. When Suva sent her daughter out for turtles or frogs eggs, the compassionate girl came back with berries and nuts from the forest, and even of these she took but few, leaving the rest for larger families and those with babies to feed.
It was in the girl’s 11th year that the worst of all the Lion's prophecies came to pass. It was a great exodus of bats that alerted Asana and the older boys that something was amiss. For the winged creatures swarmed overhead, blackening out the blue sky in such a great hurry that it was clear they had been cast out of their homes as surely as the Zarumbans had been cast out of their own so many years before. And, like the Zarumbans, only a truly wicked force would warrant such an escape. That force was the dragon who came to be known as Nuzavay al Sabot which means “tongue of fire” in Zarumban.
When Oturro heard about Nuzavay, he immediately sent out orders to his soldiers to catch and kill the dragon. Upon hearing this, many cowardly soldiers fled. Others, more brave but equally stupid, lost their lives to the creature. Still others, the most intelligent and brave of all Oturro’s army, made many attempts to kill Nuzavay, but to no avail.
When the King heard what had become of his army, he became enraged. But as there was nothing he could do, he abandoned the people of Zarumba, leaving them with the frightful dragon and a ruined village.
The Zarumbans lived in fear of the dragon and could not even make themselves to rebuild the village. With no ruler, they lived much the same as they had become accustomed to when Oturro’s soldiers dwelt there. The only difference was they did not go out at night, fearing the dragon’s fire.
It was upon one of these still and dreary nights that Asana came to the forest to gather nuts and berries. When she had gathered enough to fill her sack, she heard her name whispered above her, and when she lifted her head Asana saw the White Lion lying atop the branch of a tree, his eyes glaring down at her.
“Are you the great white lion of which the old people speak?” she asked, for Asana had no fear of him.
“I am” he answered.
“How do you know me?”
“I have always know you, even before your own father knew you.”
“How is it that you can speak to me? I heard it said that you speak without words.”
“Although Ajar-Harani has left our world, I have remained here in the forest, hidden from the eyes of the Zarumbans. When they moved into the forest, I was able to listen to them and learn their language. But how you come to understand me and I you, I cannot tell you, for the forest keeps its mysteries from everyone, even from me.”
At this Asana laid down her sack and sat upon the ground of the forest. Ohalu, too, climbed down from the tree and sat next to her.
“You know you are the chosen one, Asana.” He said.
“No, I do not know that.”
“You are to kill Nuzavay and rule Zarumba as its Queen. From now on you will be known indeed as Asana Rena.”
“I am but a child still. How can I slay a dragon? I cannot fly. And he hears every movement made in his lair. I cannot sneak up on him.”
“You need only the tools I give you and you will be safe. I foretold of your victory at the hour of your birth and my prophesies always come to pass.”
Ohalu then looked up to the tree branch above and motioned for Asana to take it.
“This branch will be your sword and it’s largest leaf your shield. Go home now and place them under your bed. Take out your father’s armor and place it there, too. In the morning, you will find them transformed and a white horse awaiting you at your door. Go now, the hour is near and you will need much rest.”
With these words the white lion left Asana, and the girl did as she was directed for she believed every word he told her.
In the morning when she awoke, Asana found the branch indeed transformed into a sword and its largest leaf into a shield. Though her father Johann was much bigger than she, his armor fit her perfectly, to the astonishment of her mother, who was awakened by the clanking of the suit.
“What are you doing, girl!” Suva admonished. “Have you no respect for your father? You shall put that armor where it belongs. It is no toy, you know.”
Asana told Suva of her meeting with Ohalu in the forest and all that he had told her. Suva, who was full of faith, believed her daughter and with a great swelling in her heart, kissed Asana on both cheeks and bid her safe return.
Outside, the white horse awaited its young rider and she climbed upon its back and rode into the mountains, where in his cave Nuzavay lay sleeping still. Asana positioned her horse above the cave and gave a great cry. When the dragon awoke, he blew a great fire from his nostrils and poked his head outside the cave. Immediately Asana pulled on the reins of the white horse and the two rushed before the dragon, who gave chase.
Together, they lured him into the forest.
Nuzavay stood before the forest and breathed a great fire, burning many trees out of his way. When the fire died out, there he saw Asana and began to run toward her. At this the girl took out her sword and with one great swipe, cut a tree in two. The top of it fell upon the dragon’s head and immediately the beast turned into ash.
A great crowd of villagers had gathered in front of their homes when they heard the galloping of the white horse’s feet and, as they knew of no such beast, came out to investigate. Many of them witnessed what had happened and many of the elders’ memories recalled Ajar-Harani’s tale of the white lion’s prophesy and remembered that a full 12 years had passed.
When Asana emerged from the forest, she dismounted the horse. Before their very eyes, the beast turned into the White Lion, the great prophet Ohalu who said only: “Here is your Queen.”
Ohalu bowed to Queen Asana, who in turned bowed back, her metal armor clanking. Above the clamor the voice of Suva rang out and Asana turned away from Ohalu. Embracing her mother, Asana watched the White Lion fade away, and wondered what mysteries the forest would reveal the next time they should meet.