Sky and the Five Fingers of Death
Before there were days, there was only Death who made his hut on the earth. When everything was flat and dark and still, Death was walking. He walked and he walked until the soles were gone from his feet. He walked and he walked faster and faster until the earth began to turn under his footsteps. He walked and he walked and he walked until he fell exhausted to his knees and prayed to Sky, “Give me something to do but walk.”
When Sky saw what sorrow and suffering was in her son, she cut open her belly and bled stars for Death. He dipped his finger into the stars of her blood and they made flesh over the bones of his hand. He stared with wonder at his living hand and Sky said, “You now have five living fingers to make yourself playthings. Be a good child and make good things in the world.”
“Yes, Mother,” said Death. When she was gone, he pulled off a first living finger, then pounded and pounded his living palm with it until the finger became a hammer and his palm became the Forge of Infinity. Death pulled off another finger and placed it in the Forge of Infinity. He hammered and hammered and hammered at it, until the finger became a white sword. When Death was done, he hefted the sword, then swung it and swung it and swung it. When Sky saw this, she thought it was such foolishness that she called out, “What are you doing, Death?”
Death was swinging and swinging and swinging, so when he heard her speak, he turned and stabbed the sword into her breast. “What have you done, Death!” said Sky, “You are an evil child to cut your mother’s breast!” She sent him away to his hut for a thousand years and she began to cry. She pulled the sword from her breast and hung it on her wall, still dripping with milk, and it was called the Sword of the Milky Way. Then she cried and she cried and she cried until her tears formed a bright pool above the earth. When she stopped crying, she began wiping away the pool of her tears, wiping and wiping and wiping. In time the puddle was gone, but when she thought of what her son had done, she began to cry and the pool of tears filled again. The pool was called the Pool of the Moon, and each time Sky slowly, slowly wipes it away, she thinks of what Death had done and must wipe and wipe it away again.
Always, in the thousand years when Death was in his hut, and in the darkness before Sky began to cry another pool of moon, she would wonder what to do with her son. When it was almost time to let Death come out of his hut, Sky became angry and decided to curse him with a rival brother. She went to the hut where Death was, and made him sleep for another thousand years. Then she entered and stole his thumb. She washed it in her milk, rubbing and rubbing and rubbing until it became a child. When he was as strong and tall as Death, she said to him, “I will call you, Life. Do not do as your brother, Death. Make good things in the world.” She gave him a smoking pipe and a bladder of her milk, then sent him down to walk the world.
Life walked and he walked and he scattered his mother’s milk, which made all of the trees and green things and wafting long weeds of the world. From each one, Life would take a leaf or a twig, then put it in his pipe and puff out all the clouds of the world. Soon it began to rain so hard that Life thought he would need to do something to keep the world from washing away. It was then that he thought of how he would need his brother, Death.
Life went to the hut of his brother and said, “Death, it is your brother, Life. Let me come in.”
Death awoke and said, “Who are you? I have no brother! Did Mother send you?”
“Yes,” said Life.
“Am I free?” said Death.
“You may walk the world again,” said Life.
Death was delighted and said, “Come in, come in.” He turned his living hand over, as Life entered, and the Forge of Infinity in his palm glowed like a fire between them. “But how are you my brother?” said Death.
Life lit his pipe by his brother’s palm, then said, “I am your living thumb. Mother has taken it as the price of her forgiveness, and made me to be your companion.”
Death saw that his living thumb was gone, but he was grateful to have his mother’s forgiveness and someone to play with. He said, “What is that terrible sound?”
Life passed his pipe, and Death smoked it. “It is the rain on the roof,” said Life.
Death began to feel sleepy and said, “It is a terrible sound. Ask Mother to make it stop.”
Life said, “Mother is busy wiping away the moon, but I can end this sound. I will need your palm for its Forge of Infinity and one finger from your living hand.”
Death said, “Anything, anything, my dear brother, Life.” Then he laid out in his cot and fell asleep.
Life severed the living hand from Death, cut off one of its two remaining fingers and left it beside his brother’s cot. Then he stole Death’s hammer and went to a place high above the world. Life took the finger he had taken from his brother and laid it in his brother’s palm. Life hammered and hammered and hammered until he forged the Shield of the Sun. He hung it on Sky’s wall, opposite the Sword of the Milky Way, and Life’s half the world lit up with blue and all of the colors that would ever be. Life went back down to the world and smoked. The Shield of the Sun made the clouds of his pipe come and go as rain was needed. All of the green things and trees sent up flowers and fruits. The water made seas and the seas made animals which swam and swam around in them. Life was satisfied for a thousand years.
Sky called down to Life and said, “What a beautiful thing you have made of the world, and I will call you the Sunsmith for the good you have done, but I am old and tired from wiping away the Pool of the Moon again and again. I cannot hold up your Sun any longer.”
“This is a great honor, Mother,” said Life, “I will call myself the Sunsmith forever if you like, but not if you take down the Sun.” Life took out a bladder with the last drop of Sky’s milk, which he had kept for so long. He spilled it onto the ground and then spit into it. Up from the ground grew a great tamarind tree. Sky took hold of the tree as if it were a cane and said, “You have done well. You may call yourself the Sunsmith because I will leave the Sun hanging from my wall.”
The Sunsmith thanked his mother. Then, before she left to wipe away more of the Pool of the Moon, she said, “Your brother Death is waking and he will be angry. I cannot help you with him because you were a trickster and stole his hammer from him.”
The Sunsmith remembered his brother and felt terrible. He went to his brother’s hut and said, “Death, it is your brother, Life. Let me come in.”
Death was awake and enraged. He stood up and grasped his last living finger into the bony hand he was left with. He pointed it at his brother and said, “You lied to me. You tricked me. You took my hammer, my finger and the forge of my palm.” Since then, they say that Death has only one living finger. He points at each of us, one at a time, before his bony hand takes hold.
Life stood aside from the door and the light of the Sun blinded Death, who covered his eyes and said, “What did you do!”
“Please, brother, come see,” said the Sunsmith.
Death flew away out the back window of his hut into the dark side of the world. He ran to the wall of Sky and took down the Sword of the Milky Way. Then he went after his brother. The Sunsmith saw Death coming, went to Sky’s wall above the light side of the world, grabbed the Shield of the Sun and began to run. This is how night and day began, as the sons of Sky chase each other around the world, with their mother wiping, wiping away the Pool of the Moon.
Second story of the Tamarind Cycle: Heaven, Daughter of the Tamarind
Third story of the Tamarind Cycle: Kari and the Song of the World
Fourth story of the Tamarind Cycle: Peacock, Dog and the Last Animal
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