Azkal´s Three Gifts

Back before my great-grandfather´s time, men did not live as they do today. Life was hard and brutal, and men died early. Man grew food from the earth with his own sweat and muscle. He did not know the ways of metal, and his tools were crude things of wood, stone, or bone. In vain did he store the fruits of his harvest-- damp and vermin destroyed half what he had worked so hard to get.
One day, Azkal was gazing down upon the men working in the fields below. His heart was troubled by their struggles, and he spoke to his twin, saying: "I have seen the way that men live. It is not good; their struggle beats them down, dimming the fire in their souls. They lack the energy even to contemplate us in the heavens. Something must be done."
Estereal hid a smile, wondering that his stern brother should concern himself with mortal suffering. "Perhaps. Yet I do suspect you would be happy if their struggle was in warring, not in farming."
"It is true that their situation prevents battle and conquest-- these starving wretches might scuffle for a bit of moldy bread, but no true warrior could possibly emerge from them. But for your part, no great ruler or worthy judge shall either; nor will any of the kindness or charity so dear to our sister´s soul. They may," Azkal said with a grim laugh, " even be too hungry to steal from one another."
"In truth, none of us on high are being honored", he concluded, with a dark frown.
Estereal paused in thought: "You have thought long on this matter, and convinced me that it is an issue touching us all."
"I´m surprised I had to call this to your attention-- I thought that the welfare of man was ever your special concern", Azkal said stiffly.
"And so it is," said Estereal, turning back to some tablets he had been working on, "I believe that since you have the greatest comprehension of the situation, you should be the one to take action first."
Azkal could only open and close his mouth, lifting his finger as if on the verge of speaking. But nothing came out. "It is customary ", said Estereal, not looking back up, " to offer a gift to a mortal whom you find particularly worthy. It is the way these things are done."
Azkal, irritated at being so easily manipulated, stalked out of the room with a swirl of his dark cloak.
Azkal looked below for a mortal that struck his fancy; a mortal who would make the most of the divine gifts he was about to bestow. And so his eye fell upon the farmer, Avram, toiling mightily against the stubborn earth.
"Avram!" bellowed Azkal as he appeared before the startled mortal, "It is I, the god Azkal!"
Avram fell, trembling, to the earth, too awestruck to even cry out.
Azkal sighed in irritation. These mortals were tough to deal with, indeed! He went on, a bit more gently, this time "I have seen your struggle, and have heard your prayers. I have come to give you a gift!"
"W-what does my lord Azkal want of his humble servant?", said the cowering Avram.
"Go you, over that hill" said Azkal, pointing with a mighty arm, "and I will provide you with an animal servant suitable for plodding. Tie your hoe to it, and it will lighten your load."
And he disappeared in a gout of flame.
Avram did as he was bade. He went over the hill, and beheld an ox, broad of shoulder, wide of horn. He caught the animal, and fastened his hoe to it, so that the ox could draw the hoe through the field with him walking behind. He then altered the hoe, so that he could press down on the wooden blade as the ox pulled, and for a time he was plowing the field faster and easier than ever before. But the strength of the ox was so much greater than the tool and he soon found himself pausing for repairs every couple of yards. Not wanting to wind up with nothing but broken hoes, he finished the day´s work by himself.
Azkal saw this, and was troubled. Things seemed to be more complicated than he had first assumed.
Azkal appeared before Avram again.
"Yes, my lord Azkal!" said Avram, prostrating himself.
"Why are you not using the gift I gave you?"
"Well, " said Avram, "it´s like this. Your gift is too strong for my tools." And he pointed at his broken hoes.
"Hmmm." rumbled Azkal. "It seems I must give you another gift, for it is not your fault your tools are too weak. Go then, two days journey up the river. Fill two large sacks with the colored earth you will find there, next to the lightning-struck pine on the rock. Burn the earth in a hot flame, and you will have something more suitable to make tools out of." And he disappeared.
Avram went home. He packed what meager food there was in the house, kissed the woman he lived with (for they did not have marriage in those times), Lydia, goodbye, and set off. He found the colored earth where the god had told him to look, and filled his sacks. He took a bit of the clay riverbank around the earth for good measure, then set off on the long trip back.
He arrived home, hungry and footsore, worried about the four days of plowing he had missed. It might mean the difference between a hard winter and a deadly one.
He burned the earth, as Azkal had told him, and saw the first metal, golden in the fire. Soon he discovered how to pound it into shape, and was able to make a crude version of the wooden hoe blade he had been using, that would fit onto a wooden shaft and not break under the force of the ox´s pull.
With this first plow, and the ox to draw it, he was able to make up the time he had missed and more before the time came to plant.
Now, Lydia was quite curious about what Avram was doing. Burn earth? She marveled at the metal she saw taking shape. She also noticed that some of the earth did not turn to metal, but hardened like stone in the fire. She asked Avram about it. He said that maybe some of the river clay had got into his sack.
Lydia thought about this for a time, and went off by herself to gather some river clay. While Avram used the new plow, she made shapes of the clay and baked them. She saw the clay could be proof against damp, and vermin. If this new plow could increase their harvest, this hardened clay could keep it from the mold and rats.
The harvest was greater than any man had yet seen. Avram and Lydia worked day and night to bring it in from the fields and into the clay jars before bird, beast, and rain could take it. It was the first winter in memory that they did not suffer hunger. During the cold months, Avram practiced smithing-- hotter, fires, different earths. Lydia worked with the clay.
They shared their discoveries with their neighbors, in return for a portion of the harvest. He spent most of his time smithing, improving his methods, making the metal tools everyone wanted. Lydia kept busy making storage jars, clay ovens, bowls, mugs, urns.
Over the years, the new way of doing things spread from neighbor to neighbor. Men no longer spent every waking moment in the struggle to eat. Carpentry, made easier because of the metal tools and nails, boomed. Houses replaced hovels. People had extra, they looked for beauty, they traveled. And, dear to the heart of Azkal, they struggled with the humanoids they encountered, and one another. The warrior was born.
Azkal saw all this from above, and he was very pleased with himself. Estereal was also impressed with the job his brother had done. He turned to his twin.
"Azkal, you are to be congratulated. Your gifts have greatly helped man."
"Mhph," Azkal grunted. "I saw what needed to be done, and did it."
"Such insight! The ox to pull the plow, the metal to make it, and the clay jars to store the harvest-- they all go together like feathers and birds. I shall never underestimate you again." And with that, Estereal walked off.
"Clay jars?" mumbled Azkal.