Apen and The Snow Child
Once there was a tribe of outcasts, a pale-skinned people in a dark-skinned world. It is said their skin, eyes, and hair were the colour of gold. They could see things others could not, hear things others could not, and do things others could not.
Their leader, Apen, was a mighty singer with a unique ability. He could travel the land in giant steps made possible by the power of his voice. But for all his strength he could not sing love into the hearts of strangers. Instead, he sang his people away when trouble arose.
Despite their uncertain lives, the tribe prospered and children were born, golden like themselves. Apen smiled at their good fortune, but without a wife and child of his own, on the inside he was sad.
One day he cried out to Bemay, the God of his people, “Bemay, my people flourish. I see their love for each other and the children born to bless them, and I am happy … but I am alone and I can bear it no longer. What can I do?”
Bemay answered, “Apen, is that not enough that you are a good leader for your people?”
“I love my people,” Apen replied, “and they love me. But when the day is done, my loneliness hurts me even so.”
“I hear you Apen,” said Bemay. “Because you are good inside and honest in your heart, I will help you. You must take your tribe northward. If you go north as far as Far North is, you will find a child and that child will become your wife.”
“A child, Bemay? Surely not. It is not right for a grown man to take a child to wife!”
“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay. “Take your tribe north.”
So Apen gathered his people and walked and walked under the sun, always heading north. Sometimes they lingered in a particularly pleasant place, but before they could become too settled Apen would sing them away with giant steps, always further north until they reached the northernmost edge of the land and there was nothing before them but water.
“Bemay!” Apen cried. “I have done as you asked. I have reached far north, but there is no child.”
“You have not gone far enough,” Bemay replied. “There is still a long way to go.”
Apen looked out over the waves. “But how can we cross the sea?”
“You must make boats,” Bemay said.
“Boats? On the ocean? Where will we go? There is no land. My people will drown!”
“Your people will not drown,” Bemay assured him. “If you listen, I will teach you the song of the waves. My breath will push you across the waters and you will be safe.”
Apen bowed his head. “But I am afraid. What if we get lost? What if we are swallowed by the sea?”
“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay. “Take your tribe north.”
So Apen listened, and Bemay taught him the song of the waves. His people built boats and wove sails to catch the wind of Bemay’s breath, and across the ocean they went. By day they fished and swam, by night they were guided by the distant stars. There were furious storms and mighty currents and many times Apen was sorely afraid, but Bemay kept them safe as promised.
Then one day white breakers and a long beach appeared on the horizon and Apen’s people rejoiced to know their days at sea had come to an end … but when they were on dry land again they missed the roll of the waves and the freedom of the endless horizon.
In the new country they met many new peoples, some friendly and some not, but Apen never lingered. He wanted to find the child, the wife that Bemay had promised him.
On and on they walked, always heading north, until at last they came to a sea of sand that stretched on as if forever.
“Oh Bemay!” Apen cried. “What should we do now? We can go no further, and there is no child.”
Bemay’s answer came whispered on the scorching wind, “You must cross the desert, Apen.”
“I cannot cross the desert,” Apen cried. “It is hot as flame. There is no water. My people will die.”
“If you listen,” said Bemay, “I will teach you the song of the desert and your people will cross in safety.”
“It worked for the sea,” Apen replied, “but that desert looks mighty hot and there is nothing to eat!”
“Do you want my help or not?” Bemay asked.
So Apen listened, and Bemay taught him the song of the desert.
They set off across the dunes, traveling only at night and hiding from the day. New songs enhanced their special senses so they could find food and water where it seemed there was none. Their skin darkened. Their hair bleached. They learned to cover themselves with cloth and leave only their eyes exposed, and at night the stars blazed in glory from horizon to horizon, showing them the way.
Then one day they saw open water and trees and life and they knew they had crossed the desert in safety as Bemay had promised. Their eyes basked in gentle green, and water was no longer hard to find, but as they crossed this new and temperate land they missed the desert’s silence and the night’s wide dark vault of stars.
The going was easy and Apen was happy, but he did not linger. Even more than before, he wanted to find the child Bemay had promised.
He led north again, through lonely wilderness and vast windy plains. Wild animals hunted them, but their sharpened senses kept them safe. After a time, mountains grew out of the plains and the people started to climb. Onward and upward they travelled, through wind and fog and snow, but each peak they crossed led to another higher and taller until at last Apen was faced by alps he could not climb nor sing his way around.
“Oh Bemay!” he cried. “These mountains are such as we have never seen before – pinnacles like teeth of stone. I can go no further without your help, but since there is no child, I know that somehow we must.”
“Very good, Apen. At least you have learned this much. If you listen, I will help you again. I will teach you the song of the mountains, and you will pass.”
“Will it be as hard as the desert?” he asked. “My people did not like the desert.”
“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay.
So Apen learned the song of the mountains and led his tribe through hidden passes and deep green valleys. They crossed great canyons by the strength of Apen’s song and heard the endless roar of rivers as they crashed down steep cliffs. Huge eagles soared on winds high above and the people wished they could fly with them and touch the sky.
Then came a day when Apen stood on a high plateau and saw a vast green plain before them. When they reached that plain, the people rejoiced that there was no more climbing, but they missed the grandeur of the mountains and the majesty of the eagles’ flight.
As they walked the lonely plains, great herds of beasts roamed the grasslands with them. The people were stronger now than they had ever been, their senses sharper and their minds more alert. The children born to them were sturdy and tall; good singers who learned quickly and well, and Apen’s heart swelled with pride. But although life on the plains was good, the desire for the child of Bemay burned in his heart and he did not linger.
Further northward the air grew colder and the days grew shorter. Snow fell thick. Food became scarce. The tribe weakened, but Apen trusted Bemay and his people trusted him, and so they struggled on. Ribs began to show. Babies no longer thrived. Then the oldest of the tribe began to die, and Apen’s grief was inconsolable.
That day, there was no sun in the sky. Apen shivered with his people beneath their blankets. Tears froze on their faces and he did not know what to do. All that long night Apen’s tribe sang of waves and deserts, of mountains and eagles and stars, and when the sun finally rose – a mere finger’s width above the horizon, they had survived. But Apen knew they could travel no further.
“Bemay!” he cried. “Oh Bemay, I trusted you, yet my people suffer and die! You said we would be safe, but we can go neither forward nor back. We are trapped and I don’t know what to do.”
The voice of Bemay came to him, falling in the crystal silence of the snow, “Apen, listen and I will teach you the song of frost. There is not much further to go. I will be with you even if you cannot see me, and my warmth will protect you.”
“But Bemay, what if it is all for nothing? What if the child is gone, or never was? What if your voice is only in my imagination? What if my beloved people die?”
This time Bemay did not answer, but when a lonely bird cried out from the north, Apen dried his tears and prepared himself to listen.
Having learned the song of frost he led his people on. Throughout the dark of the longest night the new songs kept them warm and no more died. They hunted for seals and fish beneath the ice and made shelters from skins and bones. The song of the waves helped them cross the icy seas, the song of the desert to find food, and the song of the mountains to endure. The golden rays of Bemay made a path northward and Apen followed until at last he came to a place that was as far as Far North was.
There, he heard a new song – faint, but so sweet to the ears that he longed to hear it better. Bemay’s words wove through it, telling him to on alone.
“It is not much further, now,” said Bemay. “Your tribe must wait here until you return.”
“I cannot leave my people,” Apen said. “Who will sing for them? Who will keep them from harm?”
Bemay smiled. “Others have learned. You have taught them how to survive all adversity. You have been the best leader they could have, and now you must trust them to care for themselves.”
Still he hesitated, but Bemay grew impatient. “Do you want my help or not?”
Apen looked and saw Bemay’s words were true. He had taught his people so well that they no longer needed him, so he turned and followed the song alone.
Louder it grew and louder until it filled his mind. He began to sing with it and the harmonies he made shone and glimmered with colour. When the song grew yet stronger, he sang even louder. Pattern upon pattern formed and flowed, and at the centre of them all he found a girl-child as white as the snow, with eyes as blue as the sky and a voice the colour of rainbows.
The music they made together swept them up in an intricate dance of voices. The child grew as they sang and when at last it was finished, Apen beheld a female grown, and distilled from their song came the sound of her name.
“Annan,” he whispered.
Annan came to him and took his hands, and Apen learned at last the song of love.
Bemay smiled. “My daughter, Annan, has taught you well,” he said. “But there is more.”
“What must I do?” Apen asked.
“You and Annan must combine all the songs into one. This world is in danger and you and your people must leave. The one great song will carry you far away. Like the small steps you used to take across the country, these large steps will carry you across the stars. Return with Annan to your tribe and I will help you as I always have.”
“Thank you, Bemay,” said Apen.
Bemay smiled again. “You have known me as Bemay, but now you may call me El,” he said. “And for as long as my Breath blows, just as these people are yours, you are mine.”
… And that was the beginning of the annangi, the people of El, the children of Annan and Apen. Through ages untold they continued to travel, but now, with the aid of the navigators who mastered Apen’s song, they journeyed in giant steps from star to star. At last they came to a fair blue planet they called Giahn and they made her their home – but that is a story for another time.