Why the Ground Quakes
A Leptic Myth
© 2011 Marvin E. Fuller
"Don't be afraid, child. Come closer. Come and give your grandmother some comfort in this uncertain time.
"Why, you ask? Why does the land shiver as if the Earth Mother is shaking off a fly? Why does she punish us? What have we done wrong?
"Haha! You listen too much to that fool uncle of yours. He would jump at his own shadow and accuse it of trying to stab him in the back if he could. No, my dear child, we are not being punished.
"Do you know the tree that smashed our neighbors' home during the tremors? Tell me, do you think the tree was being punished for being a tree? What wrong could a tree possibly have done? Silly, isn't it?
"So why does the ground shudder? I don't know, child. I don't believe anyone knows. Oh, we guess and tell stories about it, but know? Whatever causes these quakes has never been seen alive by mortal eyes. As for immortal eyes, ahh, they tell us only through stories handed down from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, just as I have to you. Are they true? In a very real way, they are. But are they what really happen? Perhaps, perhaps not. Until we find out, the stories will have to do.
"Now then, why does the ground shiver and shake like a child in the throes of fever? I have heard many tales, child. The inland barbarians think one of their god-heroes battle Death's carahawk in the Afterworld. 1 2 The sea traders claim a great fish is chained under one of the many islands dotting the Middle Sea and that its thrashing to escape causes the ground to shake and the waters to rush over the land. I'm sure there are many, many other stories told by graying grandmothers to their grandchildren the world over.
"Our stories are not so grandiose. We need no heroines to make great deeds, to fight carahawks or tie down fish. What good would that do? The Earth Mother continues on her way without nary a glance at the fleas on her back. We might make her itch a little, but that's it.
"As above, so below. The land mirrors the sea and mirrors the air. Just as the red-backed thuma fish swim up the streams every year to spawn, so too do the birds chase the Sun as he travels south for the winter and back north for the summer, and so too the fat hwaffis wander through the forests as the berries and fruits they eat come into season. 3 Why not under the land, child? Why not creatures deep below our feet migrating and fighting for mates?
"Did you you know there are lands untouched by the heaving of the land? People who know of quakes only through stories of travelers and distant legend? Why should some lands live in fear and others not?
"Trails, my dear child. Just as the thuma must follow the streams and the hwaffis the forest trails they have trampled, so too do the great graaheeli'ka thunder through deep caverns farther than any of us surface-dwellers can dig to. 4 They live down there in the dark depths, mating, fighting, feeding, and when they get riled, we feel the land above them shake. They think nothing of us, child, not because we are nothing to them, but because they don't know we are here. Would the thuma know of us if we didn't wade into their streams?
"Ah! Does it sound silly? How can any beast dig down there where the stones are harder than metal? Come now. Have you not seen the little rodents digging into the ground? Have you not tasted the earthworms plucked from soil disturbed by spades? 5 That's only the top layer, child, the part we interact with. What of deeper down, where no leptic can go? What of the size of earthworms down there?
"Those are the graaheeli'ka. Great earthworms made not of tender flesh but of rocks harder than anything we can imagine. Oh, don't fret, child. They won't dig up and disturb us in our sleep. The ground is too thin for them up here. Just as mountain air grows thinner and harder to breathe the higher up you go, so too is the ground. The graaheeli'ka would suffocate and die before they reached us.
"Haha! Until you grow old enough to see the world yourself, you'll have to take my word for it. Perhaps you'll find the same broken carcass of a long-dead graaheeli'ka jutting out of a cliffside as I did in my youth. 6 Don't worry. You'll get there soon enough.
"Now, help me up. My eyes may be fading, but I can still hear your father calling your mother in for supper. I suppose your sister will bring that handsome boy she thinks we don't notice she's interested in. 'Because his home is wrecked', my whiskers! Come, let us do our family duty by embarrassing her. I know! You ask her those uncomfortable questions you do so well, and I'll flirt with him. Your father won't appreciate that, either. Say! We can drive both your sister and your father up a tree!"
1 Technically, that should be "goddess-heroines" as leptics are primarily matriarchal.
2 On our Earth, terror birds were large flightless predatory birds that lasted for millions of years and came in primitive forms during the real leptictidiums' time to relatively recent prehistory. The carahawk was a monstrous-sized version of early terror birds like Gastornis, but only existed as a mythical monster to thrill listeners around the campfire. In reality, no leptic culture ever equated these monster birds with their version of Death, although that didn't stop grandmothers from other cultures from getting it wrong. The confusion may have arisen from stories about dead carahawks being used in the Afterworld, or Land of the Dead, as guard or hunting "dogs" against demons and other such legendary creatures.
3 hwaffi – An early horse akin to propaleotherum. They were small browsers, barely more than two feet high, pudgy, and had four toes on each front feet, three on each hind foot.
4 graaheeli'ka – Literally, "quake worm".
5 Leptics love earthworms. "Tastes like chicken" would translate as "tastes like earthworm".
6 More likely just some odd-looking rock formation that the narrator's imagination turned into a quake worm.