East of the Sun and West of the Moon, ( a very common place in tales such as this,) there lies the land of Y’kwala, a lush and temperate land set within a ring of mountains that sparkle with diamond blue glaciers. And in Y’kwala there still live the first race of people, who are shapeshifters, and from which all life on earth can trace its form and ancestry.
Being shapeshifters, they live in great harmony with the land, since they can become whatever they need to be, so that if strength is required, they can become horses, or oxen, and nothing can travel so fast or far as a bird or cross the water so well as a dolphin. Some, grown wise with age, can become elemental things, like wind and rain, sunlight and ice, and in these forms have carved great houses from the very bones of of the Earth, with great wide doors and vaulting rooms, and filled with furniture of all shapes and size, which is as it must be in Y’kwala for one never knows what form one’s guests will take.
Now, in Y’kwala there lived two women…
I know, it doesn’t seem sensible to talk about shapeshifters as having a sex, so maybe they didn’t, or maybe it was whatever they chose, or maybe they were all women (which I like best), but anyway the story says they’re women.
The first was named Amneth, who had lived for many years as a great she-bear, for everyone said she had a very strong and somber soul and everyone agreed that this was the very best shape for her and got very upset if she showed up as anything else. So Amneth lived as a she-bear, which she had to admit was quite handy sometimes, because she hated conflict and when people got to quarelling, well…
(I’m sorry, did I lead you to believe these people were perfect? Well, they’re not, but that’s something that’ll become obvious as we go along.)
Anyway, she could stand up and wave her arms and let out a great roar which would stop everyone in their tracks. It was kind of nice to command that kind of respect, and to have people listen to what she said, but mostly she felt big and clumsy and wished more than anything else that she could be a gazelle.
Just as people said Amneth was meant to be a great she-bear, everyone agreed that Elia was the perfect gazelle, for her soul was strong and light, and it leant her body such grace and speed that people swore they had seen her run between raindrops. In the forest, she could duck around a tree with such agility that it almost seemed as if she had passed through it.
Now whether Amneth wanted to be a gazelle because she loved Elia, or loved Elia because she wanted to be a gazelle, was a question Amneth could never quite answer. Every time she found the courage to try being a gazelle people would laugh at her awkwardness and tell her to just be what she was obviously meant to be.
You have to understand that laughter in Y’kwala is a very strange and overpowering thing. It’s bad enough when it’s well meant, what with all the honking, braying, squeeking, quacking and what have you, but at times it can be mean-spirited and the sheer incongruity of all those different voices can make it sound like all of creation is laughing at you. So, when the urge to be a gazelle came upon her, Amneth usually went high up into the mountain valleys, which was very lonely, but also a place of great truth. For, you see, shape-shifters don’t really die, they simply pass beyond the physical, beyond even the elemental, and become spirits which live in lofty places like mountain tops and high valleys and each becomes some truth that they have learned in life and so that’s why mountains are a place of great truth in Y’kwala.
In any event, at least there was no one to laugh at Amneth as she stumbled around in her gazelle-shape. Until Elia showed up. Elia had followed Amneth up from town, because, (something it took her a while to confess to,) she too was in love. Amneth’s bearish charms had always made her heart beat faster, both with love and envy. But Amneth was spending so much time up in the mountains that Elia had started to miss her dreadfully and had finally reached the point of desperation. Sprinting from one hiding place to another, she had followed Amneth’s footsteps until they had reached this high and private place, with absolutely no idea of what she was going to do when Amneth got wherever she was going.
Suddenly they were face to face. Now something you may have guessed about Y’kwala is that it can be very hard to know exactly who you’re talking to, what with all that shape-shifting going on, so the customary greeting is to say one’s name. Names are, in fact, of great importance in Y’kwala and that is why the naming of children is taken so seriously. But this time there was no need for that, for each had recognized the other instantly. So after a brief moment of embarassment (on both sides,) both of them realized what their meeting implied and started to dance about.
Amneth, still clumsy in her gazelle form, tripped over a rock and fell. Now Elia wanted to laugh, but she remembered how she had felt those times she had tried on a bear shape (which, as you can imagine, looked a lot like Amneth’s,) and so, instead, she transformed as well and stumbled around bumping into things because the great bear-shape couldn’t change direction as fast as she was used to. And soon, both of them were laughing so hard that they cried.
After that, Amneth and Elia spent many months high up in the mountains, practicing each other’s shapes and making love. Sometimes they loved as gazelles, sometimes as great roaring she-bears, and sometimes…
Exactly. Now the people of Y’kwala are pretty open minded, what with all that shape-shifting going on and all, but there’s something about a bear and a gazelle together that, well…
Anyway, they were happy. And whenever they went back down into town, they always split up before they got there and then pretended to meet as the casual friends they’d always been and no one ever noticed that they always seemed to disappear at the same time.
Now you’d think that was the end of the story. That they lived happily ever after, which is true in its own way, because from then on they paid no attention to what other people thought and went about in whatever shape happened to please them at the time. But this did not set well with the people of Y’kwala, especially their freinds, who were never sure quite who they were speaking to.
For you see, Amneth and Elia had, as lovers often do, shared everything, (including some things they maybe shouldn’t have,) because other poeple, not knowing they were lovers, had told Amneth things they thought Elia shouldn’t know, and vice versa. After a while, they both started to forgot what they were supposed to know and what they weren’t and sometimes got to speaking too knowingly to the other’s friends until people began to think that each was, sometimes at least, using the other’s name.
As I said, names are taken very seriously in Y’kwala, I mean if you don’t know who you’re talking to, the whole fabric of society starts to fall apart. So one day Amneth and Elia were tried and found guilty of using false names and sentenced to banishment beyond the mountains of Y’kwala.
Now the nice thing about justice in Y’kwala is that there are very few rules and they are usually about really hideous things (like using a false name) and the sentence is always banishment beyond the mountains. When the people of Y’kwala took Amneth and Elia up into the mountain pass out of Y’kwala, the spirits, (being all about truth and such,) would not let them pass. And, when the people of Y’kwala saw this, they apologized to Amneth and Elia and brought them home again.
The people of Y’kwala, however, where still never quite sure which was which, (each, by now, being so very good at the other’s form,) but, being very pragmatic, they solved the problem by always referring to them together, (Amnethelia is now a common Y’kwalan name,) and by treating them as if they were one person, which like true lovers they sort of were.
And in the fullness of their time together, they passed on and became, in fact, a single spirit living in the high mountain valley they had spent so much time in. And in all the time since, no Y’kwalan has ever told another who to love, or what shape to wear.
© 2014 LeeW