The Story of the First
Written by: Floor Coert
How it all began…
Once upon a time, a long time ago there lived a brother and a sister and they were twins. Back in those days life was simple. People slept at night and worked during the day. In the spring and the summer they worked the land and in the autumn they harvested what they had sown. In the winter they went out to hunt, kept warm by large fires, and told each other stories.
The twins were the children of the leader of their tribe and when their mother fell ill and died he married anew. His wife was young and soon she was with child. The twins were happy when their baby brother was born.
The three children grew up and life was good to them. No war or ruined harvests put a shadow over their young lives. But even though they knew nothing but prosperity, the younger brother always saw reason to be envious of the twins. When the twins got new clothes he thought his own were less warm and fine than theirs. When they were served their food he thought the twins were given a better cut of the meat he was. And thus he grew bitter towards his siblings.
One day the leader of tribe was wounded during the hunt and he was bound to bed. As time passed it became clear that he would not recover from his wounds and tradition dictated that the eldest son would become the leader in his stead. Again, the youngest boy was envious, he took up his spear and knife, and overcome by rage he went out into the wild.
Soon he saw a bear so big as he had never seen before. Silently, he stalked closer to the giant beast, his spear in hand. As he approached, the creature turned and it spoke, “Child, put down your spear. I wish to make a deal with you. Spare my life and I will help you.”
Still overtaken by anger and resentment the boy answered, “I’m not a child smelly old bear, you speak too boldly for one whose life is at another’s mercy.”
At that the great bear bowed its head low and said, “Forgive me, for one as ancient as myself sometimes it seems that I am surrounded by babes and younglings. But I see by your deeds that you must be wiser than your smooth, unwrinkled skin and radiant eyes suggest. Please spare my life.”
Flattered by the bears kind words the boy lowered his spear and said, “What do you propose, bear?”
“I know of a temple hidden deep in the forest. When I was a cub it belonged to a mighty tribe that worshiped there every day, but now the tribe is gone and the temple lies abandoned. Inside the temple great riches can be found, but I realise of course, that one as wise as you is not tempted by mere baubles. The true treasure is a simple wooden totem that stands atop the altar in the central room. Whomever holds it will be recognized by others as a true leader. I will tell you where to find the temple if you spare my life.”
Once the boy had heard the bears’ offer he accepted eagerly and set off towards the temple. He travelled for three days and three nights before he reached it. The massive stones were old and marked by time and the building had been overgrown by trees and plants. It was hard to create a path, but with the help of his spear the boy made his way past tangled vines and thorn-riddled bushes, until finally he stood in the large central room.
The room was filled up by a magnificent tree that, with time, had dug its roots deep in between the stones and pierced the roof with mighty branches. Amongst the roots, strewn on the ground like worthless junk, lay more gold and precious stones than the boy had ever seen. The altar was balanced precariously on two of the roots that had intertwined underneath it, but on top of it, as clear as day, stood the wooden totem. The boy took the totem and as much of the treasure as he could carry.
Back in his village, the boy found out quickly that the bear had spoken truthfully. When his tribe saw him they were overjoyed that he had returned safely, his brother and sister most of all. Everyone gathered and admired the riches the boy had brought back with him. A great feast was held in the boy’s honour and at the end of it his father called him to his hut. He was close to death and his eyes had sunk deep into dark sockets.
With a soft voice he started to speak, “My son, I am so happy you returned to me before my passing to show me the error of my ways. I thought your older brother was more fit to lead, but seeing you return tonight with great riches for our tribe, I know that you should become the tribe’s new leader. I will call in your brother and tell him my decision.“
And so it happened that the tribe broke with their tradition and the youngest child became the leader instead of the eldest. But what the younger boy did not know, was that the bear had deceived him after all. The totem was indeed magical, but the temple was far from abandoned, it belonged to a strong and cruel tribe that worshiped only at night. The tree was sacred to them, as was all of nature, and they let it grow unchecked inside their place of worship. A sentry had seen what the boy took and followed him back to his home. Now the tribe of the temple marched for war, to take back what was theirs, and to slay those who had ransacked their temple and stolen the offerings to their gods.
The youngest son found leadership to be a heavy burden and now that his tribe was at war he started to despair. He hid in his hut and refused to speak to his advisors or give orders to his men. The twins tried to help their brother, but when he saw them he seemed to become even more bitter and depressed. They did not know that they were only reminding him of how all their tribe’s troubles were his fault. The more they tried to help, the angrier the youngest brother got until he threatened to have them cast out if they came to him again.
The twins realised that it was useless to convince their brother and that it would fall to them to save the tribe, if only they knew how. They decided to go into the forest to pick healing herbs for the wounded men. When they stepped into a clearing they were suddenly faced by the largest bear they had ever seen. To their surprise it started speaking.
“Younglings, step closer. I will not harm you. You look troubled, like a heavy burden is stacked upon your shoulders. Tell me what distresses you so?”
“Oh bear,” the twins exclaimed, “our tribe is at war and our brother will lead us all to our deaths! He is a good man but unfit to be a leader. We have offered him our help, but he refuses it and now we are at our wits end.”
The bear scratched his chin as if thinking very hard and then said, “Well, I think I can help you. You seem worthy of the gift. I have the ability to bless those that are worthy with great power if they give me something of themselves in return.”
The twins looked at each other and then the girl asked, “Would this power help us save our tribe? And what do we give you in return?”
The bear nodded, “The power I can grant you will certainly be enough to save your tribe, not only that, you can help your people thrive, and protect them from harm for as long as you live. As for the price, all I ask for is a small piece of you. It is something you do not even know you have, so how can you miss it? My kind call it the soul and to us it is valuable, but your kind does not even know it’s there. It’s frustrating sometimes, but I think it’s unfair to take something, even if the owner is unaware they have it, so that is why I want to offer you a trade.”
The boy said, “Bear, we will take your offer. Take our souls for it seems they will serve you better than they do us and please grant us your gifts so we can help our people.
And so it was done.
The twins soon discovered that they had been given power so great that they could easily drive back their enemy or even an army ten times the size. With their power also came new insight. They understood that what they had given away was more valuable than anything mankind possesses. When the younger brother saw the great power that his siblings were given he was envious and he begged them to share it with him. But the twins knew they were not blessed, but damned and they refused him.
Not many people know the story of the twins and their brother and how envy and greed can bring great suffering to those who are undeserving of it, a great flood washed all but a trace of it. So consider yourself lucky to have heard it.