How the Strider Got His Legs
From How the Jakjadu Got Her Horn and Other Vanni Folktales
Collected and translated by the Venerable and Learned Scholar Sajki yub-sar Alkal
Listen, beloved. Long ago when the world was half-made and the Vanni were One-Clan, striders did not have the great big wonderful long legs they have now. They had only their four front legs and nothing at all to hold up their behinds, which were always dragging on the ground and getting dirty.
At the same time, the One-Clan Vanni did not have two legs like you or I do today. In fact, they had four legs, four of the most wonderful long strong legs you can imagine. With these most wonderful legs a Vanni hunter didn’t need to shoot an arrow or sling a stone; she could just run down an antelope and tackle it and bring it home for supper. These first Vanni were even faster than Cheetah, and the One-Clan mablings (mischievous little buggers just like you, beloved) would sneak up on Cheetah and pull her tail and run away over the horizon before she had even stopped yowling in surprise.
So the striders were dragging their behinds in the dirt and the Vanni were running around tackling gazelle, and all in all it was a pretty silly state of affairs. Eventually it got so that the Lion and Shunshi and the other beasts of prey were starving, what with the four-legged One-Clan Vanni catching all the food and leaving nothing for them.
The beasts of prey decided something must be done, and traveled to the edge of the jungle, where lived great Lord Potan-Potuun, Oldest of Oldbeasts and King of All Animals. They prostrated themselves most piteously before him, wailing:
“Lord Potan-Potuun, on top of these Vanni being the most clever and the most cautious, they are also the fastest, and they are eating up all the food on the veld. As a result, our stomachs are hollow as drums” (here, beloved, they all slapped their stomachs, which indeed reverberated like drums). “Please, go to the Clayshaper and tell them of our plight. The mother-and-father-in-one cannot stand imbalance, and will surely rectify the situation.”
Lord Potan-Potuun, sickened by the piteous sight of Lion and Shunshi and the other fierce beasts rolling about and carrying on like snotty-nosed little mablings, shuffled off into the deep deep jungle until he reached the clearing at its heart where the Clayshaper lived in a little house. Inside, he found them hard at work sculpting some brand new creature from red earth mixed with cold clear water from their deep deep well.
The mother-and-father-both listened to Lord Potan-Potunn’s story. When he was done, the Clayshaper came out of the deep deep jungle to assess the situation for themself, and found that the One-Clan four-leg Vanni were indeed running about and tackling gazelle and pulling Cheetah’s tail and generally making an unbalanced mess of things on the veld.
So the Clayshaper retrieved their sharp fettling knife and proceeded to go around the veld, cutting two of the four legs off each Vanni they encountered. If any Vanni became indignant, the Clayshaper offered to take three legs instead, which usually shut them up. They threw the legs in a sack, and when they had trimmed the extra legs off the last little mabling (a mabling just like you, beloved) they brought the sack home and left it just inside the door of their hut. Then they got back to the difficult work of making and remaking the world.
As you can imagine, this was quite a shock to the newly two-leg Vanni, who found they could no longer run fast enough to catch the fleet-footed beasts of the veld. Game became abundant once more, and the stomachs of Lion and Shunshi and the rest were no longer hollow as drums, while the Vanni resorted to eating wild shoots and bugs, growing skinnier and skinnier each day.
A Trickster Arrives
This was the state of affairs when who should show up but that tricky half-god Ibi Snapstring, returning from one of her countless adventures. When she arrived she looked about at the One-Clan two-leg zero-supper Vanni as they rolled about clutching their empty stomachs, and snapped her fingers.
“What’s going on here? Some sort of collective stomach ache? Insufficiently-cooked sweet potatoes, perhaps?”
The people flocked around, pulling at the many broken bowstrings tied around the half-god’s fingers:
“Clever Snapstring, the Clayshaper has taken our legs and we can no longer hunt! Please, go to your mother, Pathshaper Wara, and convince her to intervene. It was she who taught us to hunt, and we have been diligent in offering up the choicest cuts of every kill to her in thanks. Maybe she can talk some sense into the Clayshaper before we all turn to bones.”
Ibi Snapstring, always ready for the next adventure, snapped her fingers and headed off towards the home of her mother, Pathshaper Wara, goddess of the hunt. On the way, she passed a herd of striders, all stumbling along with their behinds dragging in the dirt. She waved to them.
“Hello, there, striders! Lovely hot day today, don’t you think?”
White Strider, the leader of the herd, shambled up to her. “No day is lovely when you’re malformed and half-made like us, Snapstring. The Clayshaper, your grandmother-and-grandfather-both, stopped halfway through sculpting us and went on to work on something else, and now we fear they’ve forgot all about us striders!”
White Strider wriggled his feelers in distress. “You’re half-god, Snapstring — can’t you go talk to the Clayshaper and get them to sort this out? We can barely move, and Lion and Cheetah and Shunshi and all the rest pick us off without even trying! All we can do is roll into a ball and hope they don’t get through our shells. It’s an undignified existence, let me tell you.”
Ibi snapped her fingers: “I’ll see what I can do, White Strider. In the meantime, be careful when you roll up — Elephant might mistake you for a football!” And off she went.
An Interrupted Nap
Eventually Ibi Snapstring arrived at the center of the veld, where her mother lived in a great big fat prosperity tree. Ibi found the Pathshaper draped over one of the tree’s broad branches, dozing in the afternoon heat.
“Mother! Wake up! Your most devoted, most adoring daughter is here to see you!”
The Pathshaper’s ear twitched at her daughter’s voice, but otherwise she did not react. Now, every mabling knows that when drawing Pathshaper Wara, you give her with the head of a strider. However – and you might find this dubious, beloved – back when the world was half-made, the Pathshaper had the head of a leopard! I see you frowning in disbelief, beloved, but it is true as the twang of a bowstring, and if you are good I shall someday tell you the story of “How the Pathshaper Got Her Head.”
Undeterred by her mother’s pose of indifference, Ibi launched into a recounting of what had been happening on the veld. When she was done talking, the Pathshaper yawned as only a leopard can yawn. When she spoke, her voice was a rumbling growl.
“My duplicitous, double-dealing daughter: why should I go against the will of my progenitor, the mother-and-father-both, to intervene on behalf of these Vanni?”
“My magnanimous, munificent mother: you taught the Vanni to hunt, and they still honor you with the choicest cuts from every kill. If they all starve, who will be left to honor you in the same way?”
The Pathshaper’s ear flicked. “My craftiest, cleverest child, I taught every creature that hunts their craft, and they honor me with every kill made. Every crushed windpipe and torn tendon, every drop of blood that soaks into the dirt of the veld is an offering to me.”
Finally Pathshaper Wara opened one golden eye, which rolled about in its socket before settling on her daughter. “You are right, though, that the Vanni have been scrupulous in making their sacrifices, and they do always save the choicest cuts for me. Perhaps I could find time to help them. But consider: if I do steal that sack from the Clayshaper and I do give the these Vanni back their legs, what’s to stop the mother-and-father-both from coming around and lopping them off again? What’s more, the Clayshaper might lop off my legs as well, for the trouble I caused them.”
Ibi snapped her fingers. “My merciful, magnificent mother, I’ve considered that, and I have a plan.”
A Feast for a King
Once she’d convinced the Pathshaper to help, Ibi Snapstring set out for the edge of the jungle where Lord Potan-Potuun (Oldest of Oldbeasts and King of All Animals) lived. Before she got there, she disguised herself as Monkey, then stopped to drink an entire lake so that her belly was bulging and sloshing with water. Once she found the great Oldbeast, she threw herself down, and proceeded to groan and clutch at her big belly. Eventually Lord Potan-Potuun took notice, and asked her what was the matter.
“Oh venerable Lord Potan-Potuun, guardian of the jungle’s edge, I’ve just come from Lion’s cave, where I prepared the most wonderful feast of Vanni legs.”
At the mention of a feast, Potan-Potuun’s great ears pricked up, as there was nothing the Oldest of Oldbeasts enjoyed more then a meal.
“Vanni legs, you say?”
Ibi rubbed her belly. “Yes, Vanni legs, prepared every which way you can imagine. Salted, spiced, speared and charred over an open flame, then served with a side of juicy zebramelon chunks. Covered in oil and dredged in arrowroot powder and fried in a skillet with butter with fresh green shoots and wild onions. Roast Vanni leg on a bed of garlic sweetmash potatoes. Lion caught them and I cooked them and now I am fit to burst!” Here, Ibi slapped her bulging belly, which did indeed look like it could split open at any moment.
Ibi went on describing the feast, lingering lovingly on every dish, enumerating the smells and tastes and textures until drool ran like a waterfall from Potan-Potuun’s great mouth.
“Look here, Monkey, I may know where I can get enough Vanni legs to feed nine armies. If I bring them to you, will you cook them up for me like you did for Lion?”
Ibi groaned. “Lord Potan-Potuun, I just cooked my tail off, and I can barely move! I couldn’t possibly make another feast like that!”
The Oldbeast bared his fangs. “Listen, you little rascal, I’m your king, and what’s more, you’ve just made me very hungry with all this feast talk. I’m going to eat something, and if it isn’t Vanni legs, it’s going to be you!”
Ibi cowered. “Of course, Oldest and Beastliest of Oldbeasts! I meant no disrespect! I’d be happy to prepare them for you!”
At that, Potan-Potuun shuffled off into the jungle. Soon he returned, dragging behind him the enormous sack. He dropped it before Ibi, and it toppled over, spilling legs everywhere.
The Oldbeast grinned. “There you are, Monkey. Now get to work — I’m starving!”
Ibi ordered Monkey’s features into their most fearful, obsequious arrangement. “But, my Lord, I must gather the other ingredients! It will be some time before I’ll be able to start.”
Potan-Potuun howled in rage. “You brainless baboon! You should have done that while I was getting the legs! Look, tell me what you need and I’ll go gather it, so you can start preparing things here.”
Ibi rattled off an extensive list of ingredients, and after Potan-Potuun had trundled away into the jungle, she gathered the spilled legs into the sack, slung it over her shoulder, and set off again, back towards her mother’s tree.
The Return of the Missing Legs
On the way, Ibi passed by the strider herd again. White Strider dragged himself up to her.
“What’s in the sack, sneakiest half-god?”
Ibi snapped her fingers. “A solution to all your problems, White Strider! Follow me to my mother’s house and you shall see!” So the striders fell in behind Snapstring on the road to the center of the veld.
When the group arrived at the Pathshaper’s home, Ibi’s mother was still dozing on the branch, and seemed to have barely moved. Her ears twitched at the sound of countless strider rumps dragging towards her, and one yellow eye opened to survey the strange assemblage. Giving another great yawn, the goddess slipped from the branch to the ground.
Ibi and her mother set about attaching the loose Vanni legs onto the striders. No one can sculpt the world like the mother-and-father-in-one, beloved, but the Clayshaper’s first children, the Eleven, help them in their work and know a few tricks. Pathshaper Wara took each wonderful long strong leg and shaped it so that it suited a strider. Then she took some wet red earth and stuck it in the proper place, and sewed the seam up with a needle and thread she had borrowed from her brother, Endshaper Aryuku. Ibi helped by mixing the earth and water, and matching right legs to left legs, and holding things in place while her mother sewed them up, much like you help me in the kitchen or the garden, beloved — when you are feeling so inclined, of course.
When the Pathshaper finished with a strider, it would take the beast some time to get used to his new six-leg form. The new legs would get tangled up with the old, or would move him sideways or back when he was trying to move forward. For a while, the Pathshaper’s yard was filled with striders stumbling about, falling over, and running into each other.
But once they got the hang of it, you should have seen those striders run and jump! No longer were they malformed and half-made, no longer did their behinds drag in the dirt! The whole herd took to racing each other around and around the big fat prosperity tree, eager to test their wonderful new long strong legs.
Ibi Snapstring and Pathshaper Wara worked through the night, and towards morning, Ibi had grown very tired. She started making mistakes when handing her mother the next pair of legs out of the sack, so some of the striders got two right legs or two left legs or legs that were two small or legs that were different sizes. That is why you will sometimes see a strider with mismatched or crooked or weak legs today, and why we don’t let those striders have babies.
Despite these mistakes, most of the striders were very happy with their new legs. White Strider came up to Ibi and her mother, joyously bouncing in place.
“You have made us whole with these marvelous new legs. How can we begin to pay this debt?”
Ibi snapped her fingers. “I’m glad you asked! Please, would you give my mother and I a ride?” And they set off towards where the One-Clan Vanni lived, with Ibi riding behind her mother on White Strider’s back.
When they arrived, the gaunt, listless Vanni were so amazed by the herd of six-legged striders, with the fearsome leopard-headed goddess riding in the lead (they could not see mischievous smirking Ibi sitting behind her), that they ran and hid or prostrated themselves in fear, thinking Wara was come to take the rest of their legs on behalf of the Clayshaper.
Ibi jumped from White Strider’s back and pulled up the nearest One-Clan Vanni, who was grinding his face in the dirt. “Get up, get up! Is this how you celebrate the return of your missing legs?”
At this, the Vanni understood, and the entire clan leapt up with a shout and ran into the herd of striders to find their missing legs. And when a Vanni found the strider with her legs, she promised to care for the strider as she would for her own flesh, and the strider promised to follow the will of the Vanni as if it were her own body.
A Final Trick
And that, my beloved, is how the striders got their legs, and how they came to be the most loyal companions of the once-One-Clan-now-many-clan Vanni. And while that story already so perfect you could wrap it in an elephant-ear leaf, tie it with a string, and deliver it to your grandmother, there is a little more to tell, for that sneaky half-god Ibi Snapstring could never pass up an opportunity for a good trick.
There was an impromptu festival on the day the striders arrived at the town of the One-Clan Vanni. During the revelry, Snapstring grabbed the empty sack that had held the legs and slipped away, journeying east across the veld to the foothills where Lion lived. There she found him outside his cave, gnawing a rib bone.
“How now, Lion? Reduced to gnawing bones to sate your hunger? Why not go out and hunt for your dinner, you lazy cat?”
Lion regarded Ibi with some mistrust. “I am well-fed and satiated, trickster, thank you very much. I was just trying to get at a little of the sweet marrow in these bones, for my dessert. I must be careful not to chip a tooth, however; a lion is only as good as his teeth, as they say.”
Ibi snapped her fingers. “I can get that marrow for you right quick, Lion! Give it here.”
Ibi took the rib bone and placed it on a flat rock. She then found another rock, suitably sharp and perfectly weighted. With a great swing she brought it down on the bone, which cracked in half with a harsh sound that echoed through the foothills.
Lion grabbed the pieces and began noisily sucking the marrow out. When he was done, he burped and tossed them away.
“Delicious! See here, trickster: I have a pile of bones in the back of my cave, and I’d like you to crack open couple more for me. Now that I’ve got a taste of the stuff, I must have more! There should be some big thigh bones that will serve nicely.”
Ibi bowed. “Certainly, Lion! However, I have heard from my uncle Endshaper Aryuku that the marrow in the legs is bitter and unfit for eating. It’s apparently due to blood circulation — all very scientific, you understand.”
Lion grunted officiously. “Ah, yes, of course I knew that; must have slipped my mind. Rib and arm bones only then, if you would.”
Ibi went back into Lion’s cave, where she indeed found a great pile of bones of every sort. She rooted through it, throwing all the leg bones she could find into her sack and selecting a few ribs and arms for Lion.
Shen she came back out, her sack was bulging with bones, making a sound something like a giant seed-filled rattle. She broke the rib and arm bones open and threw them to Lion, who began sucking them down noisily.
“I’ll take these bitter-marrow bones away, Lion; my uncle Aryuku may have some use for them, you know how he’s always conducting strange medical experiments. I’ll be sure to tell him who they’re from.”
Lion grunted in response, not looking up from his meal. Ibi hefted her rattling sack of bones and headed south, towards the edge of the jungle.
When she reached the edge of the jungle the sun was just breaking over the horizon. She found Lord Potan-Potuun asleep, his empty stomach rumbling even as he slumbered, his expression fierce; no doubt he was dreaming of tearing that mischievous Monkey limb-from-limb for stealing all his Vanni legs. Ibi carefully and quietly scattered the bones all around the sleeping giant, threw the empty sack near his head, then headed into the deep deep jungle.
When she arrived at the Clayshaper’s house, she stuck her head in the door, shouting: “grandmother-and-grandfather-in-one, your most loyal and loving granddaughter has come to pay you a visit.”
The Clayshaper welcomed Ibi in, and put some tea on to brew. Ibi wandered the house, staring at all the wondrous half-finished things the Clayshaper was in the process of sculpting.
“My, grandmother-and-grandfather-in-one, you’re busy as always. Tell me, do you ever worry of running out of material?”
The Clayshaper handed Ibi a steaming cup, their hand leaving traces of red clay on its side: “No, granddaughter, there will always be more clay. What’s more, you know I’m very frugal. I never waste, and I find a use for everything. Why, just the other day I collected a whole sack of Vanni legs, and I’ve already got an idea for how I’ll use them.”
Ibi’s eyes widened. “A whole sack of Vanni legs? Now, that’s something I’d like to see!”
The Clayshaper set about looking for the sack, but of course couldn’t find it. With their many arms the First-and-Last scratched their head, rubbed their chin, and slapped their side, which was their usual activity when thinking hard.
“I know I left it just inside the door, and now it’s gone. What could have happened to it?”
Ibi’s eyes went wider still. “Progenitor-of-my-progenitor, I would never dream of making accusations against the King of All Animals, but on my way in I passed Lord Potan-Potuun, sleeping in the midst of a scattering of leg bones – a veritable graveyard’s worth!”
At this, the Clayshaper flew into a rage and rushed out of the house. They stormed through the jungle to its edge, where they found Lord Potan-Potuun, who was indeed sleeping amidst a veritable graveyard’s worth of leg bones. What’s more, there was the Clayshaper’s sack, right by his head!
As you can imagine, Potan-Potuun was quite startled waking up to an angry deity accusing him of thievery. He stammered that he had no idea where these bones had come from and it was actually Monkey who had stolen the sack of legs, but the animals were always blaming Monkey for everything and the Clayshaper was having none of it. The mother-and-father-in-one thrashed Lord Potan-Potuun until his howls shook every tree in the jungle, then stalked back to their hut to continue sculpting the half-made world.
And Ibi Snapstring, having completed another adventure, disguised herself as a little ticklenose mole and dug herself a cozy little home in the warm earth where she could get some rest.
And that, beloved, is the entire story, and if I’ve told one lie, let the Endshaper steal my fingerbones to use as a rump-scratchers.