The Tale of the Two Fisherwomen and the Unlung

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The tribals tell a story that may be of edification for the children of the empire. The story goes that on a lesser island that has long since been swallowed up by the ages and the sea's foam, there lived two fisherwomen. Their names were Lumang and Kunang. Kunang was short and boisterous and let her hair, which should have been quite beautiful, turn to knots, while Lumang was tall, soft-spoken, and sad eyed. She kept her hair oiled and tied neatly. From childhood they fished together, they built their huts next to one another, and even married a pair of brothers so that they would not be apart when living every third moon with their in-laws, as was the custom of this island. They lived a simple but happy life. The reefs around the island were blessed with bountiful fish, and for many generations hunger was unknown to its people. But all this changed one year when Lumang and Kunang were young women—an exceptionally long Sa came to pass, ripping the clouds from the sky as one sweeps away cobwebs. For many moons the reefs were always plunged in light, and the fish were driven mad by the constant trailing on of their own shadows, and too frightened in the clear water of predators to even eat. So the fish deserted the reefs, and the people began to starve.

At this point it should be said that she was lazy and her chi weak, Kunang was a clever young woman. There was a spring on the island—a sacred spring from which the islanders derived the greatest share of their drinking water. The spring was guarded by a spirit called an Unlung, a creature not quite of Kios but also not quite of The Dark Realm, born instead in one of the deep wells that exist on the edge of The Dark Realm . The Unlung was a dangerous but fair creature, allowing the islanders to take water from her spring provided they paid the proper respects, only taking as much water as they needed in specially-blessed sea-shells and never touching the water with anything else, or the Unlung would eat their Chi and leave the husks as warnings to others. But even knowing this, Kunang suggested that she and Lumang fish from the spring.

"This is foolishness, sister-mine," Lumang said. "Everyone knows that the Unlung guards that spring and will not allow anything but a shell to enter it. If we were to put our hooks down—"

"I have already thought of that," Kunang said, "It is said that the Unlung will only allow us to dip our shells in the water to take that which we need to sustain us. I see no reason why we cannot take fish as well as water, for that is what we need to sustain us now."

"But how will we take fish from the spring with a shell?" Lumang asked.

Kunang explained her plan, which Lumang accepted, for Lumang was too hungry to argue with her friend's cleverness. First they found the widest, deepest shell they could in one of the reefs and then had it blessed by the island's priestesses. Once this was accomplished, Kunang weaved a line from the reef-spider webs—a strong material, but so thin that is almost invisible, thus the Unlung would not notice it—and with the shell and the webbing made a tool something like a bucket-and-rope in a poor farm's well.

"So we have this contraption—but the fish will not bother with it without bait, and we cannot put bait into the water without angering the Unlung," said Lumang.

But even here Kunang had a plan. She waited by the spring for the salamanders to come onto the banks to sun themselves and recharge the fire in their throats, and once they were on the banks she captured several of them and chopped off their tails, tying the tails to the shell with more spider line so that they would not drift away when put in the water.

"These salamanders and their chi are native to the spring—the Unlung will not notice the difference," she explained.

Now came the last part of the plan: Lumang's part. Lumang, tall and strong in body and chi, operated the shell and line, dropping it into the spring, waiting for the fish to smell the salamander tails and then, once the fish had started to nibble, pulling it up with such force and speed that the fish would be dragged out of the water and thrown to the shore. The plan worked. Thanks to Kunang's cleverness and Lumang's strength, the pair caught no less than ten fish in an hour, each one longer and heavier than the last.

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