by Bart Verdeyen
Gather around, my fellow Dreamchildren , for tonight , the rain softly tickles the leaves and their laughter can be heard throughout the village. I am Aegir Fhomair and , as you all might know , I am an Eshu.
Forget the chilly touch of Fall and look beyond the Veil of the Mundane. I am old these days and I soon will be gnawed upon by Winter and one day I might not return to this warm and colourful Balefire. Do not mourn me, but remember me and remember me with this Tale I shall weave…
This is the tale of a Folk far away. A folk that lives in the dense jungles of Africa. You may call that Folk Feline, you may call them Cats, you can call them many names but you will not see them unless they want you to.
I had already journeyed through the forests for many moons and I had almost reached the edge. So I walked further underneath the trees when all of a sudden, I heard something break beneath my feet. It happened lightning fast and even I was too late to react. And there I hung, 5 meters above the African soil, trapped in a roughly woven net, dangling about. I tried to reach for my dagger to cut my way into freedom when I saw two persons coming out of the vegetation. I had never seen anything like them before in my life, they walked up like men and they had even some faint feature of humans, but their body was covered with fur and their sharp paws told me these were cat-people. They looked at me, their first catch of the day probably, and they were seemingly disappointed. Perhaps they hoped I was a boar or something else they could eat. They cut me loose and with a smack, I fell back on the ground. One of them, who looked much like a tiger, poked me in the ribs rather painfully and spoke to me in a tongue I had never heard before. I looked up and told them who I was, using a native African speech I had learned on my travels.
The first said something to his companion and I was picked up from the ground. The blindfolded me and hung me on a large bar, so they could carry me to their village. Once I was there, I saw what was probably their Chief. He was a huge tiger with fiery stripes all on his fur. He spoke to me in the African tongue.
"You are spy, you have seen village, now you die!" he said to me and he nodded to the guards who raised their spears. "Wait!" I called out, " I am no spy, I am of your people." The Chief laughed and his guards joined him. "You? One of us?" He continued to laugh. But since this seemed my only rescue, I continued.
"I am not only of your Folk ", I said, " I am even better then all of your Champions."
The Chief frowned and raised his hand again to give the guards the sign to kill me.
" I am braver than the Lion, faster than the Cheetah and smarter than the Tiger." I called out in despair.
"Are you willing to enter contests with my Champions then?" the Chief asked me and I nodded heavily, for it was the delay of my death.
And so, I was carried back to the savannah to prove myself in the first contest, the courage of a Lion. I opened my eyes again and covered them, for the sun burned hard that day on the plains and I heard a low voice laugh before me. "And you are to be more courageous than ME?" I tried to open my eyes again and I saw an enormous lion before me. It was a huge beast with great manes and his fur shining in the sun.
He jumped up to me and pinned me down with one paw and I was unable to move. He lifted his head and roared dangerously. If I had been able to move at that time, I had probably ran away, but now I had to find something else. And so I weaved my magic, altering the Lion's senses to hear my voice as a thundering roar. I saw the amazement in the Beast's eyes when he first heard my voice. He lifted his paw and I jumped back onto my feet. And I spoke to him again. His eyes got wide in terror and he backed off. And since that day, I have never seen a lion run harder than that one.
And so I passed the first contest, to be braver than a lion, but I was not yet free.
The second contest was to be set at dawn the next day, the run with the Cheetah. That night, they had locked me up in a wooden cage and every cat came to see the strange prisoner who was more courageous than a lion. And also the Cheetah came to see me and she laughed at me. "He can run faster than me?" she asked as she toyed with her many beads she was wearing. She apparently loved beads very much and once again, I saw an opportunity to win the second contest. That night, I worked all night on my plan. The next morning, the run began. Cheetah was already there and she spoke to me. "Run, feeble child, run, I will catch up with you soon enough."
And I started running, faster than a speeding phoenix using my ancient arts , but indeed , soon enough I saw the Cheetah running next to me. It was time for my plan…
When the Cheetah ran next to me, I dropped a bead that I had carved that night. She stopped and picked it up, for she liked them. And she ran again. And I dropped another bead, and another bead, and another one and every time she stopped to pick them up. And so it was that I had run faster than the Cheetah that day and they locked me up again, to face the intelligence of the Tiger the next day.
The next morning they brought me back into the forests and there was the Tiger Chief himself, standing before two ingeniously knotted wooden cages that both contained a silver dagger. The one would who get to the dagger first, would be able to kill his opponent easily. And the contest began and the Chief started to unravel the knots fast and for a moment, I saw my life lost. But once again, I found a solution. I quickly retrieved my lighter from my pocket and set fire to the wooden cage, burning it down quickly and I grabbed the dagger. The Chief saw he had lost and offered me his chest to plunge the dagger in, which I refused. I stayed with the Cats for a while, for they now treated me no longer as a prisoner. After a few months, I journeyed on and the only thing I still carry from that adventure is this dagger. * pats the silver dagger *
And that is the tale of the Bastet of the jungle and of Aegir Fhomair of the noble Eshu who did not prove that he was braver than the lion, nor that he was faster than the Cheetah or smarter than the tiger, he only proved that his wits were far sharper than any of those Cats.