The night was sweet and tasted of winter berries. Songbirds had long since tucked their heads beneath their wings, but the soft chorus of hunting owls and cricket violins gave music to the dancing of the stars. Clouds swept past in a stately waltz; the moon rose slow and dignified to her zenith throne. For most, this was one hour of dreamy tranquility among many more. For most, but not for all.
You see, one morning a long, long time before, the great dame Aruna gave birth to her son. Aruna was the foremost among the aurochs; she carried the blood of their very First, the immortal Erasmos, in her hearty veins. Some say she stood as many as forty hands high, and was the color of the sun in deep summer; others will tell you she was black as the night. All agree, however, that Aruna was the proudest of the aurochs, and had the famed slow temper of her ancestor. Once ignited, they say, it would itch at her mind, growing in fever until her fury would raze the offender from the earth, and all their kindred, too.
But the day that Aruna’s son was born, anger was the farthest thing from her mind. She loved her boy and, though the custom of the aurochs was not to name a newborn before three summers’ time, she gave him a secret name, and would stride with him proudly at her side. Aruna’s joy was not to last; in the autumn of his second year, the aurochs were driven into a terrible stampede while dragons flew upon their flanks. Aruna’s calf was one of many to fall that dreadful day.
Numbed by grief, Aruna could not comfort her own, and wandered deep into the forests of the land. Though she was alone and careless, her great size frightened off many who would hunt her, and she traveled further than any of her kind before. She saw many things but was blind to their strangeness or their beauty; Aruna was a ghost, driven only by a need to eat of tasteless food, or drink of tepid water. But then, on a night much like this one, with the taste of winter berries strong upon the breeze, Aruna looked inside herself and found anger.
Her anger made her strong and sharp. The auroch dame, descendant of Erasmos the First, looked around her world and saw death as ruthless, random, and cruel. She, who had wandered furthest of her kind, knew then that she would find the one responsible for her great pain and make them answer for it, and so Aruna bulled through the land and cried a single name:
And so on a night that tasted sweet as winter berries, when owls cooed and crickets chirped, Aruna’s thunderous hooves beat a path through the great woods where L’zayn was said to slumber. And it was true; the goddess’ sacred grove of golden trees soon rose before the fire-eyed dame, revealing to Aruna a waterfall whose cacophonous rush, muted by the forest’s leaves, grew suddenly deafening. Aruna would not be denied. “L’zayn!” she bellowed. “L’zayn!”
From the bottom of the waterfall’s pool, a great light began to shine, pulsing brighter at the sound of Aruna’s voice. It grew so blinding as it neared the surface that Aruna was forced to bow her head. Then, as the light unfolded into a beautiful creature, the goddess spoke:
“Aruna, why have you come?”
The auroch looked upon the creator of her kind was was, for a moment, speechless. But she reminded herself that she was Aruna, descendant of Erasmos the First, and her son had been prey to death. The anger, stymied, flared once more. “You killed my son!”
“I?” L’zayn’s doelike head tilted to one side. “How have I done that, dear one?”
“You made us to be killed.” As she spoke, the auroch dame drew back her head and stamped her great feet. “You made us beasts who are hunted! Beasts that can only run! But I can love, L’zayn, and you took my love from me!”
The goddess’ eyes filled with tears as she approached Aruna, each dainty paw making ripples in the water. “You are no beast, Aruna, daughter of Erasmos. Your kind was made from the thunder of the waterfall and the crashing of the storm, when Death was a shadow we gods fled from in our youth. You are strength, Aruna, and strength cannot go untested. We who are strong are like metal, forged and reforged into a tool unmatched; we are a forest razed by fire only to learn that it burned away the weak.”
Aruna could not look at L’zayn’s grief. She pawed the ground as the anger grew hotter in her still. “My son was not weak! He was a child!”
“No,” L’zayn agreed. “But you are strong.”
A cry of rage and sadness tore from the auroch dame. “Then give me strength!” she shouted bitterly, and rushed the goddess with thunderous hooves and sharpened horn. The warm light rising from the goddess’ body vanished, and Aruna was left alone, wet up to her knees in the waterfall’s pool.
“You are a fool, Aruna,” L’yzan whispered in her ear. Aruna had the impression of great wings closing around her, then nothing more; the auroch dame, now kneeling, had fallen into slumber.
And so had every auroch across the Realms.
L’zayn watched the rise and fall of Aruna’s breast and wept. Where her golden tears splashed against the auroch’s body it began to turn to stone; and soon the dame, descendant of Erasmos the First, was a statue frozen by L’zayn’s pool. The goddess rose on silent wings and that night, tasting as it did of winter berries, was the night that every sleeping auroch was embraced by the earth.
Now you who were afraid of death will never know its touch.