When Dornaa was very small, the matron of the orphanage would read her tales and fables. Many of them were about thick-skulled Orcs and clever Draenei, but one storybook, found among the crates and debris, had wild fables of unimaginable creatures. The landscapes were beautiful, and unlike any description of Draenor or of the sulfurous, desolate, and sharp lands she lived in now. Dornaa loved the illustrations and the stories, even if they were completely unreal; there were talking brown and white, or black and white, bears in them, for Velen’s sake!
One story, in particular, stuck with her. It reminded her of Norbundo…
The Tale of Gorespine
Once upon a time, when the Gods of Beasts and Critters were making the animals of the world, one god, Cuowu, who was trying to make a name for himself, created the rodents. He made a basic shape out of mud, the rubbish tins, and odds and ends off of a dark forest floors. First he made the rat, clever and cunning; next came the raccoon, full of shady dealings and good manners. He made a few mistakes with the platypus when a duck fell in love with a beaver, but that’s a story for another time. His masterpiece was the hedgehog. This hedgehog was superfluously cute. It was so cute, so adorable, that whenever anyone saw it, they wanted to squeeze the very life out of it. In order to protect his most cherished creation, Cuowu gave the little darling hundreds, maybe thousands, of stiff little quills, (he got the idea from looking at a hairbrush, the one his mother used to spank him with when he was a tiny god: that thing hurt!) and off the hedgehog went about his happy, adorable life.
The first time Dornaa heard this story, she stopped and asked the matron,“I thought this was about Gorespine?! The drawing is of a big, ugly creature, matron, not something sweet and cute!” The matron would say, “Be patient, wait, I’m not done yet…”
While working passionately, lovingly on the adorable hedgehog, Cuowu put the leftover, ugly, extra sharp, and too-long quills in the back of a mud lump that he didn’t know what to do with. He had already created the rat, the raccoon, and the hedgehog. It seemed enough. This lump of mud and forest floor droppings was the collection of all the leftover bits from his portfolio of critters. What Cuowu didn’t know was that the lump was alive, and every time he put another quill in its back, like it was just a pincushion for a cruel seamstress, it felt a sharp pain. The creature finally shouted, “ENOUGH!” which startled Cuowu so, that he jabbed the rest of the quills in the back of the mud creature and yelled at him to leave his sight, and never enter the realm of the Gods of Beasts and Critters again. With a kiss and a blessing, he sent the hedgehog off into the world, full of grubs and bugs, and other delicious morsels. For the creature, which Cuowu called a ‘porcupine,’ because it was like a pig made of pine cones, he gave him bark and other nasty, bitter food. The porcupine left cursed.
The quills punctured his back, with drops of blood welling in the wounds: he took the name Gorespine.
Gorespine wandered the world, but not in an adventurous way, like the braver lions or the soaring eagles, but in a desperate need to find the next hole, the next tree limb, or the hidden places. If he encountered another of the gods’ creations, they mocked him for his ugliness and, well, for his rudeness. They knew the gods blessed each of them with either strength, or flight, or even webbed feet for faster swimming, but this thing—what was it, anyway? All they knew it wasn’t nearly as cute as a hedgehog. Mostly, they just left it alone. Taunting it only produced the same result: Gorespine insulted them with barbed retorts, and was just the same old, cantankerous creature.
But Gorespine was desperately lonely. He was miserable. It wasn’t his fault Cuowu screwed up, was it? It was all Cuowu’s fault. It was the other animals’ entire fault. He chewed some bitter bark, thinking about how wrong everyone else was, how much everyone else was the cause of his pain and problems. He didn’t see that the hedgehog had quills, too, and was being his cute self. He didn’t see that the raccoon was getting a bad reputation all on his own for thievery (and obsessive hand-washing), and the rat was chased by brooms by the big, booming animals every time he showed a whisker.
Meanwhile, Cuowu felt regret. Well, he wouldn’t have, except that the Gods of Beautiful Birds found out about the banishment, and openly chastised him for not taking more care in his creations. Every animal, beast, bird or fish has a place: from the plain brown wren to the showy peacock, they told him, and he had better set things right, or this outcast would cause great harm.
In his misery, Gorespine thought he would hatch a plan of revenge. Every scenario he would throw his quills like arrows to all of those who hurt him, and blind Cuowu. One day, while shuffling through the forest, he came across a little dung beetle, happily rolling some scat. Gorespine asked him, “What do you have to be so happy about? What did you do to make the gods mad that this is your task?” The dung beetle laughed and said, “Are you joking? Mad? No! The gods blessed me! I have one of the most important jobs of all! I make sure things are kept clean for all of you other creatures…oh, and I’d do it for free! But I’ll say this anyway: You’re welcome.”
Gorespine did not expect that response. He was certain all animals were better off than he was, and if not, then they would certainly be just as miserable or cursed.
He then came upon an ant, toiling with a leaf ten times his size. He also asked the ant if the gods had cursed him, and the ant laughed and said, “Oh no! I am blessed! I get to help my entire family, all 10,988 of them, in our colony, and I live to serve the Queen (whom he thought was the kindest, most intelligent Queen he had ever known in his short ant life), and I am so strong! Just look at me! Now, I am busy, but you have a lovely day! Oh, and your quills are magnificent by the way.”
Gorespine felt his mood lifting. It was uncomfortable, like being un-tethered from the only anchor he had. But he did feel something happening.
Finally he came upon a snake warming itself on a rock in the sun. Gorespine felt the most sympathy for this snake. He asked him, “Snake, are you not afraid an eagle will snatch you up and eat you, and you without feet to run away, or wings to fly?” The snake hissed a laugh and said, “Oh noooo, noooo, not me, ssssseeee! I am fast as a lightning bolt and have all I need in my sssspine to move me and my mouth to eat. You’re lucky you have those quillsssss to protect you though. Sstay with me a while: the ssssun feelssss sssso warm, and it’ssss good to be alive, even for a few momentsss….” And sure enough, an owl swooped down and grabbed the snake for its evening snack. But Gorespine could swear he heard the snake say, “I have no regretssssss!”
The gods were watching Gorespine, waiting to hear his thoughts, and see if he was ready for his gift. Gorespine thought to himself that indeed he could go on as he had, feeling anger toward those he felt to blame, but now he knew he had a terrible thing, worse than quills, worse than ugliness: he had a choice.
Now, he could never completely give up being cantankerous. That was also a gift from the gods. If he did want to be alone, and think his own thoughts, he could. But if he wanted to enjoy others, and enjoy the day, or the night, or the crook of a tree limb, or the big, sharp, quills (the hedgehogs only had puny ones: like pooping hairbrushes! Silly things, thought Gorespine) he had his strength and size.
And no one would mess with him, unless he wanted to be messed with. The gods witnessed his transformation, and Cuowu created a beautiful porcupine mate for him, with the sweetest little pink nose and the sharpest of quills. To this day, you can see descendants of Gorespine rolling, grumbling, and sometimes laughing, on top of the hill far away.