The Tale of the Grass People

It began in the East, the tales of the Grass People begin, where all things begin. The sun rises every day, travels through the sky, and sinks beneath the earth at night. Along the way, he watches the whole world continually changing. Transformation, shape-shifting, constant flux as everything forges new relationships with everything else. Catastrophes happen, and the earth heals. Terrible storms or crashing floods, they all heal. First come the grasses. They move in quickly, spring up quickly, hold down the soil, and provide cover. Then brush and small trees move in. The old field becomes a young forest, and after many human lifetimes, the full majesty of an old-growth forest returns.

Look at your own flesh when you suffer a wound, and you'll see a similar process: how the blood clots to keep you from bleeding, how the pus and the scab stop it up, and then, slowly, the flesh heals, perhaps a scar forms, and the wound disappears.

At the beginning of the last world, the earth saw many changes, as every turning of the world does. The weather changed, the climate shifted, and many floods occurred as the earth tested her children's resiliency and adaptability. Well, in the east there lived a people along the banks of a river that began to flood regularly, and every year the grasses would spring up. They ate the grasses and harvested them and cooked them and stored them away. Their numbers swelled, for though grass may not make good food for humans, it at least provides plentiful food. No, they did not grow very tall or very strong, and many diseases beset them constantly, but they did become many. So many, in fact, that they found that the grasses could not feed them.

Eating grasses all the time, they transformed the grass into their own bodies and became Grass. They could hear the Grass song and fell under its spell. The Grasses grow in the midst of catastrophe, and so they sang to the Grass People, “Create for us a catastrophe, and we will surely grow to feed you all!” And so the people invented a machine they used just for creating catastrophes, like a great knife that they used to dig into the ground. Their knives cut into the flesh of the earth, so that the Grass People could plow the scab open and harvest the pus to live. And the grass grew and the Grass People multiplied.

The Grass People did not know of the ancient enmity between grass and tree. They did not know the history between them, their eons-long feud, and the endless war they wage upon one another for the sun's favor. Beyond that river where the Grass People lived stretched a mighty forest, ancient and powerful, filled with giant trees that knit their boughs together into a canopy so tight that the sun's light never reached the ground. This majestic forest provided homes to many people, human and otherwise, but the Grass People saw that those mighty trees stood in the way of the grass. The old gods warned them as they looked on the forest, saying, “You stand before our own forest. Do not touch it, or our wrath shall fall upon you. Death shall flood from the skies, and the plains will turn to ash." But the strongest of the Grass People, he who saw deep, stood forth against the gods and challenged them, and began to cut down the great forest. They cleared it away, cut the ground with their knives, and scattered the grass seed that it might grow.

Many people had lived in the forest that the Grass People now began to cut down, and they challenged the Grass People, becoming angry with them and telling them to stop. “Friends!" the king of the Grass People said. “Look at this beautiful grass! It feeds us well and provides for us. Come, join us; plant grass of your own, and we will become as brothers, children of the grass."

But the others looked at what the Grass People had become: short, weak, and diseased, the destroyers of paradise. “You act like you have eaten from the gods' own tree of knowledge," they answered, “as if you know right and wrong for the whole world! But we do not think you actually possess that knowledge. We think you act only from hubris. We will not join you. We will live as we have always lived, since the beginning of the world. Do not enter our lands or tear down any more of the forest, or we will have war."

The gods' warning did not go unfulfilled. In time, they found that the grass would no longer grow as it once had. The good soil filled with salt, the land died, and where once the great forest had stood, now they could see only desert and wasteland. The Grass People had to move on and expand into new lands, but all around them, their neighbors had refused to see the glory that grass gave them. The Grass People looked at the forest with fear and loathing. It harbored the vermin and weeds that infested their fields, and it went to waste, so much good soil supporting trees and plants and animals instead of grass. The king finally realized that their neighbors had not simply disagreed. They lived as savages. They did not know the proper way to live, as children of the grass, and they let their lands go to waste. And so, the king said, the children of the grass must take their lands and teach them to live properly, even by force if necessary. And so the Grass People readied themselves for war.

Yes, they stood stunted and weak and sickly, but their numbers could overwhelm any force. They swept over their neighbors like a tide and cut down the whole forest, turning it all into a great field of grass. But then that, too, failed, and turned to desert, and they had to expand again. On and on, again and again, down through the ages, the Grass People took up a race against their own shadow, and the harder they ran, the harder their shadow ran to catch up. They swept across the land, always moving west, wiping out all the ‘savages’ they encountered, turning every forest into desert. Under the spell of grass, they spread like a catastrophe across the whole world, until every inch of earth that they could turn up, they had turned up, and they could find not one last plot remaining. Then, they looked about them and saw nothing but desolation, deserts as far as the eye could see. Only then did they stop and ask, “What have we done?”

But that should seem obvious: they had become grass, they served grass and acted like grass, and they entwined their fate with grass's fate. Remember, grass heals catastrophe. It springs up in enormous numbers, only to hold for the succession of the next stage that can take healing further. The Grass People created a terrible catastrophe under grass's spell, and then became the grain of a morbid harvest, cut down in the end like so many blades of grass. Some of the “savages” resisted and survived to the very end, and outlived the Grass People. Some of the Grass People even shook off grass's spell, and found other people to ally themselves with. These all became the peoples of the Fifth World, the heirs of the Grass People's succession, and so to us falls the task of finishing what the Grass People unwittingly began: healing the world.

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