The Paternity of Heironeous and Hextor
Date: Fri, August 31, 2012
Topic: Myths & Legends
The story of how Heironeous and Hextor were fathered, at last.
This intro is as long as it is due to the fact that I have to acknowledge the sources that inspired it. I read “The Troll Witch,” Mike Mignola’s adaptation of a Norwegian folktale for his Hellboy comic series not too soon before a thread came up on Canonfire! in which the paternity of Heironeous and Hextor was raised. In that discussion Rasgon brilliantly said, “Their father doesn't have to be a god or even a person; it could be a matter of ‘Alia swallowed a bolt of lightning and became pregnant with Heironeous; next she swallowed an iron nail and became pregnant with his half-brother Hextor.’ ” This story has been rattling around in my head since then. So thanks, anonymous ancient Norse (wo)man, Mike Mignola and Rasgon.
Long, long ago the Oeridian people lived in the Far West, in seven kingdoms, almost all of whose names have been lost to us by the passage of time, though that of the kingdom in which Stern Alia was born a mortal survives, in the name of Tdon (1).
Now it happened that in Tdon there was a king, none of whose sons had survived to adulthood. He had married a succession of the daughters of his chiefs and liegemen, hoping each might be fertile enough to bear him a son strong enough to pass his crown to, but alas, none did. Finally in the winter of his years he took his last wife, the young daughter of a minor chief. She bore him only a girl child, a daughter who they named Alia. Citing his greatly advanced years, and other signs that followed, some say that the king was not Alia’s true father, but that a god, most likely Velnius (2), had come to her mother wearing the king’s form and got her with child. Whether this is true or not, the king loved his daughter, and the lack of a son gave him no cause for shame, for Alia was special. Unlike the king’s other daughters she scorned the dress and games of girls, playing with swords and spears rather than dolls. Where her older sisters laughed, played and gossiped, she was dour and serious, earning her the nickname of “Stern” before she was even a maid.
By the age of fourteen she was well the equal of any man in the kingdom in the arts of the hunt and war. In that year, when a neighboring king boasted of the strength and ferocity of his prize red and white bull, Alia went to his pasture, grabbed the bull by his long horns, and wrestled the beast to the ground. Humbled, the bull's owner gave it to her as a gift. Two years later a great wolf, a worg of demon-tainted blood came into the land. It preyed on the herds of the people of the kingdom, and even on her father’s own herd. It killed the shepherds who defended the flocks and then it killed the knights of the king who were sent against it. So, putting on her armor, and taking up her bow and quiver, Alia tracked the monster to the wood where it laired. She emerged three days later, wearing its pelt. And these are only some of her great deeds that the tales speak of her doing.
But even though his daughter brought him honor and glory, in time the king despaired that his line would die with her, for she had sworn an oath on the cusp of her maidenhood. Scorning the entreaties of her numerous suitors she had sworn by the gods that only the man who could defeat her in combat could win her hand, and alas for her father and the suitors, her skill at arms remained unmatched. Her father’s wishes did not leave Alia unmoved, but an oath sworn before the gods is not taken lightly. Still, she sought a means to get herself with child to please her father. In the mountains nearby was said to live a crone who was wise in the way of the worlds both seen and unseen, so Alia made her way to the cave where this witch lived. Some tales say that this witch was the goddess Cegilune, diminished in her form since men had turned away from her worship in days long past (3); others say that it was but one of her many daughters of the race of hags. Some say it was the Baba Yaga, named the Mother of Witches. Regardless, Alia called upon the witch’s cave and was hailed by the crone with honorable names after her great deeds. In turn she praised the fabled wisdom of the witch and laid gifts at her feet, including the skin of the great demon worg she had slain, to keep her warm on cold nights. Glady the crone received these things and bade Alia state her purpose.
“Grandmother, I am torn between honoring oath and love for my father,” said the heroine, giving the tale of her oath and how her father longed for grandchildren to dote on and carry on his name. “How am I to escape my weird?”
The crone thought awhile and then without a word began to dig among the myriad pots and chests that surrounded her, until exclaiming her delight, held one up and tipping it cupped two small stones in her hand, one black, the other white.
“Little granddaughter,” said she, “Swallow but one of these stones, the white by the night of the fullest moon; the black by when not the merest sliver of light does She cast, and your womb will quicken with a child.” So saying she handed them to Alia.
“Which should I choose,” asked Alia.
“The choice is yours,” answered the witch, “but remember, only one must you use thus.”
Taking the stones, Alia returned to her father’s palace and pondered her choice. Yet she could not make up her mind, so it came to be that the moon would next be full before it was dark again, so she let that be her decision and on the night when Luna was at her fullest she swallowed the white stone. As the witch had said she felt the child quicken in her belly. Shortly, when her father had noticed her state, she told him how this had come to pass, leaving only the admonition of the crone to choose but one stone. And in half the allotted time she bore a son, auburn haired and amber eyed, healthy and strong. To say that his grandfather, the king, was pleased diminishes that word. The old man was filled with joy and on the boy’s naming day held a feast so rich that even one among the gods attended, though he did so in disguise. The legend says this was Bleredd (4) who gifted Alia with a magical salve, which he called “meersalm,” that would protect whoever was annointed with it. Alia was much pleased with this gift, and the boy, who she named Heironeous, grew quickly. When he was a year old she covered him with the meersalm, which stained his skin the color of copper, but as the god had promised it was hard as adamantium and would turn the blade of a sword.
Then did the king do the thing which he would not live to regret, but the worlds and heavens themselves would. Now the king was a good man in his way, and a good ruler too, and though he loved his daughter and his people well, no one could ever accuse him of being overly wise. As his delight with his grandson grew he thought,
“How my joy might be doubled if Alia were to bear me another grandson.” (5)
So his mind began to dwell upon the existence of the black stone. He waited until Alia was going away to hunt, and making some excuse bade her promise to return by the dark of Luna. Then he went among her rooms and searching, found the black stoe and hid it among his robes. And when that time drew near for his daughter's return, he had his wife prepare a hearty stew, thick and full of meat. When Alia came home, tired from the hunt, he ladled out a bowl himself and taking it to meet his daughter on the steps of his hall bade her drink it. But before he came there he dropped in the black stone. When he handed Alia the bowl she was famished and drank the stew down in several long gulps, not taking a breath. And when Luna was full again she knew she was with child. Looking where she had left the black stone she did not find it, and with her suspicions arising went to her father on his throne and said to him,
“Oh foolish man, what have you done?”
Then the king admitted his deed, but soothed Alia with honeyed words, and the promises of his priests, who proclaimed that the gods protected her from any witchcraft. So most of her fears were allayed, and further driven off by the rigors of birth and the joys of new motherhood, and when she saw that her new son was beautifully formed, though dark of hair and eyes, she lost all doubt. On his naming day she called him Hextor. And like his brother, on his naming day, a god came as guest, but this one sent the gaurds scurrying from the gate, for it was Kurell in his form as a great black wolf. But the god wolf gave no gift, only looking long at the child and then turning to lope from the hall. At that some of Alia’s fears returned, but like his brother, Hextor grew swiftly, and if anything was even mightier in strength. Again her fears were allayed for the most part. But whenever she brushed his night black hair and he gazed up at her with his jet eyes, she remembered the Black Wolf in the throne hall and was troubled. (6)
And that is the tale of how the war brothers where born of different, but no fathers.
End notes –
1) There has been much debate as to the true meaning of Tdon. Whether it was a place name or the name of the order of “dervish high priests” to which Arndt belonged, or something else is unknown. Obviously from this tale I go with the first explanation. As far as the reference to the Oeridians having originally dwelt in the western Oerik see Blood of Heroes, Living Greyhawk Journal #3, p. 11 and Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, p. 22. The reference to there being seven kingdoms is conflated from the chapter on Johydee’s Mask in the Book of Artifacts, p. 49.
2) I chose Velnius due to the lighting powers of Heironeous, which I have here being inherited from his grandfather through his mother. As far as a god having been Stern Alia’s father, she was pretty exceptional for a mortal, although D&D embraces mortals working their way up to god-like powers and even becoming gods. Besides that it’s a pretty common theme in folktales and mythology that I like. See pretty much every story about that Zeus guy. I’m also seeing her in my mind as sort of a female Hercules with a bit of Atalanta thrown in. She doesn’t get to be Athena until later.
3) I'd swear I got this detail about Cegilune from one of the “Ecology of…” articles on one of the hag types, but for the life of me I can’t find it now. Anyway, in a story like this there always has to be a witch, and in the story of the Troll Witch, which directly inspired this, there is obviously one.
4) Also in stories like this, there is usually some supernatural being who gives some sort of birth-gift, prophecy, etc… to the child. I chose Bleredd just as a way of working the meersalm into the story. He seemed the obvious choice to me as far as Oeridian gods go.
5) There's always some dummy who screws up a good thing and breaks the taboo in these kinds of stories. Usually it's some poor woman who does it, so I thought maybe I could do things a little differently this time. Score one point for the ladies.
6) Kurell is known as The Black Wolf of the North among the Wolf Nomads and Rovers of the Barrens. He seemed the obvious choice to be the harbinger of bad mojo in this story, plus I just liked the imagery.