The Legend of Tso-Tso - the unbreakable Zem Matriarch

It is said Tso-Tso loved to hear screams of pain from a very young age. As a little one living in the Garden of Graces, she would often look for the jumping Zam-in to pull their legs off and lay back in bliss to listen to their little shrieks as they slowly died.

Few knew Tso-Tso before it was too late. She had a charming smile, a swaying gait that bewitched even the most alert guardians of the senses, and a voice as smooth and alluring as a gurgling rock fountain. Any who came across her thought her a gift of the Authorities—and a verification of the glory of the First People. 

Tso-Tso’s crimes might have perhaps remaining limited to torturing the helpless Zam-in, if it had not been that her couple was Won-yo, the Worthless. 

Won-yo knew little and cared less about the ways that had won his forebears so much for the First People. It is perhaps true that his head was soft, and his belly softer. Won-yo was much given to pleasure, which was the one reason for taking Tso-Tso to dwell with him as his Na-Shizu.

Long did they live and command the First Realm. Tso-Tso appears to have chosen well between who to fight and who to woo. Many are the names said to have fallen, struck down either by her charms or her sword. Once struck, there could be no escape. Tso-Tso saw to it that she got all that she could want, building up the Garden of Graces and adding seasonally to the Zem Palace, no matter the cost or the trouble involved in her designs, when she was not deciding the affairs of State for Won-yo.

Her favourite activity when not already busy was the designing of Realm competitions. She would announce a challenge and then send out for the best to achieve it. Sometimes she sought the swiftest runner, other times the greatest wrestler, or the strongest. Eager for the reward and the glory that was said to accompany such competitions, many came from every corner of the First Realm. 

The competitions were great opportunities for fanfare and celebration. These always eclipsed the original event itself, so that few could even remember who had claimed the glory. 

There was a purpose to this—for Tso-Tso had designed the competition in order to choose a victim, who she kept in her chambers once the celebration ended. It was often assumed that the winner had been given a high position in the Realm, or perhaps sent to pursue and challenge Foroans.

Few were ever seen or heard from again. 

This is because, once in her grasp, Tso-Tso enjoyed designing challenges that her champions could never win.  She once commanded a champion to swim across a lake of boiling oil, fight a pack of starving Hou-en, or break out of a locked cage placed in a fire. Although her challenges could lead directly to death, Tso-Tso is also said to have concocted comparatively simple challenges, including climbing up a greased wall, or hold up a flask of water without dropping it. Failure meant an ignominious death at the hands of one of her loyalists—trained soldiers of the First Realm whose only mission was ever to achieve the will of Tso-Tso.

‘It is not enough to beat someone,’ she is remembered saying. ‘You must show them the depths of their inadequacy. Then they beat themselves.’

None in the First Realm, or the Garden of Graces, found they could resist the logic of Tso-Tso. Any that did so attempt were culled, joining the fate of many a champion.

And so it was that Tso-Tso faced no worthy adversary as long as she lived.

It is true that many who hear of Tso-Tso hope to hear that her reign was cut short by a hero of the First Realm, exceeding in righteousness and valour. Their sense justice demands it. 

But balance and justice do not figure so prominently in the stories of the First Realm. 

Continue reading Stories of the Ancients: The Story of Toth and the Giants