Maalira — Remembering Gorovan
1625, just after the Liberation of New Pavis from the Lunar Empire
The Liberation of New Pavis under Argrath Whitebull was a masterpiece of well-used magic. It was also short and notably brutal. On the first day of the assault, the walls were red with blood, and the defenders had the upper hand; by the second day, the defenders had mostly run out of magic, and Argrath deployed things that nibbled down parts of the walls, making breaches. In the end, the actual taking of the city was not terrible – the job had been done on the walls, and by the damage done to it. Still, there was resistance here and there.
Now it is a few days later. The Lunar forces have fled or are in hiding. Some beg at the roadside. The Temple of Chalana Arroy has protected many, and the word of Argrath has protected more, but there are still fresh bodies in the streets. If their robes were not red before, they are now.
The Temple is full to the doors, the cup of compassion upended to help. Now there is another begging for aid, but unwounded. “Please… White Lady. My father…”
Maalira tilts her head at the person begging on the doorstep. “Your father…?” She invites the ending of the sentence.
The man stands straight. Looks over his shoulder. “I am Anren, son of Gorovan,” he says. Which is an odd coincidence. There was a man called Gorovan who used to donate money to the temple of Chalana Arroy, and who was particularly kind to young initiates, in a rather patronising way. It is not a common name, but he disappeared some time ago. Almost directly after donating money to buy robes for Maalira, in fact.
Still, that was some time ago.
“I used to know someone named Gorovan,” Maalira says gently. “It is a good name. Does your father need help?”
“Please.” He relaxes a little bit. “I’ve only just found him.”
“Found him where?” Maalira keeps her tone soothing.
There is anguish in his bearing. “Among the beggars.” Anger, also.1Maalira passes Insight (Human)
Maalira nods. “Will he come here? Or will you take me to him?”
“Please, come.” Again Anren looks around, wary. He is dressed as a warrior, his armour still damaged from battle, but he does not have enough of it – a scale corselet, but no bracers. The helmet tied at his waist has no decorations.
Maalira considers him carefully. For anyone other than a White Lady, this might be some sort of trap, but she doesn’t fear that. The lad – she calls him that although she is unsure of his age – might be pretending to be a soldier but she is sure it is only to get help, not to deceive her in any more sinister way. “Very well, show me the way.”2Maalira fails Intrigue. And also yeets her dice.
Out in the street it is clear to see he is older than her, tired, energetic – held up as so many Orlanthi are right now, but a mixture of exhaustion and elation. In Anren’s case, it might well be he has little elation left. Still, he walks like a proud, boastful man, not giving way in the street, at least until a crowd of Humakti come the other way – everyone is giving way to them.
Maalira swerves around the Humakti in Anren’s wake, hoping she doesn’t lose him in the crowd. “How far?” she calls over the sound of the thronging street.
“Out where they are thrown by the grateful city,” he snarls, which is enough of an answer – they stay outside the Old Gate. It is not far, and for a White Lady probably not dangerous at all.
Maalira grimaces, quickening her pace. Conditions outside the Old Gate are pretty bad, from what she’s heard, and no one out there can be doing particularly well.
At least the season is warm. Sleeping outside is not deadly. However, it is a terrible place to be, and Anren picks his way through people who beg with handless fingers, speak with toothless mouths. “Nothing to give you,” is his brusque answer to most. He is not going along the road, where those who are strongest gather and call out to passers-by, but then again, the road had soldiers lately. The ground here still stinks of blood and burst guts.
Maalira feels pangs of guilt for every person that Anren brushes off, but she can only help one person at once, after all, and they do know where the temples are.
Where he stops, there is evidence of riches – a tent, or at least a scrap of cloth made into one. He claps outside it, rather than calling out like a sensible person, and there is a chuckle from inside. A man crawls out, looks Maalira and Anren up and down, and jerks his thumb behind. “He’s fed today.”
Anren draws on some reserve from himself and says, “Maalira, I present to you my father’s host, Hoppy.”
Hoppy has two legs.
Maalira blinks, completely nonplussed. “Ah, hello…”
Hoppy bows. “At your service. Lord Hoppy, King of Nothing. Chief of all I survey.” He gives a grin with more teeth than most of the people around here put together, and hobbles away.
Anren ducks down to look under the cloth. “He took my father in. One of your people did him a favour once, he says. I think he’s mad.”
“I… yes, I suppose he may well be.” Maalira briefly wonders whether she has caught one of the wound-fevers that sometimes sweep armies after a battle, and is in some sort of delirious dream.
“Hey. Father? There’s someone here who can help you…” Anren speaks loudly, and there is a soft groaning noise in reply.
Maalira clears her throat. “I am a White Lady, Grandfather. May I come in?”
There is a grunt that might be a yes. It seems like a sound of assent.
Maalira raises an eyebrow at Anren.
“Just do,” he says. “Duck under.” He holds the side of the cloth up, so she can crawl in – crawling is all that can be done, although there is a hollowed-out area under the cloth. It has been there for some time, it seems.
Maalira looks down at her robe and wonders, not for the first time, why the ancients decided to put white robes on people who always ended up crawling in dirt and blood. Then she gets down on her knees and crawls into the tent.
The good news is, that these are old wounds, and nobody is going to die of them immediately. The bad news is, she has found Gorovan, or what is left of him. The scars make it hard to be sure – he used to have bright eyes, and those are gone, as are the ears. His hands are broken, badly set, and his feet missing. And, of course, he has not spoken. He does not sound like he can. People don’t make that sort of sound in greeting, when they can say hello.
There is just room for two people within, and the ground where she is has Hoppy’s blanket on it. Warm, and slightly alive.
Firmly repressing the shudder she can feel creeping up her spine, Maalira reaches out a hand and gently touches one of Gorovan’s misshapen hands. “Gorovan? It’s Maalira.”
The other hand pats hers, squeezing it between the two. “Ma’ira,” he manages, and gives a smile. That’s perhaps the worst thing of all – it looks almost like he used to.
Maalira feels a flash of anger. Twisting back towards the tent entrance, she uses her free hand to draw the fabric back a bit. “What happened?” she demands.
“Hoppy says that Count Sor-eel caught him. My father was a rebel in this city.” Anren’s expression is taut, with the look of an Orlanthi about to explode outward and make a mess.
Maalira stares at him, wordless. Finally, she lets the fabric slip from her fingers and turns back to Gorovan. “I’m going to fix this,” she says firmly.
“Goo g’l.” Another smile, just a brief one. He sits up to bow his head, showing that he can at least move his legs – his back was not broken. Something of dignity still clings to him.
Maalira looks him over, trying to decide where to start. There’s so much to fix.
There are, of course, magics that can do this. The Hospital has spent all of it, all the internal and spiritual power of the initiates and Priestesses, on healing the battle’s wounded. The greatest of the spells of healing would be needed, although it would be a total restoration. But then, there are so many who need the work of the goddess right now.
Maalira considers her obligations to all of the people outside of the tent, and then her obligation to this man inside the tent, without whose donations she might not be sitting here. Dimly, she becomes aware that she is biting the inside of her own cheek, and forces herself to stop.
Obviously, she should save her strength to help many more people a little, but obviously she is not going to do any such thing.
Gorovan lies back, breathing easily. He has lost a lot of weight, much of it muscle. For all that he was a merchant, he was strong for a man of his age, and perhaps it is that which kept him alive so long.
Maalira determines to ask for help…
… Later, the Temple of Chalana Arroy suggests asking the Spear Regiment. Yelmalio can also use this magic, thanks to the elf-king’s love for his friend. Someone else points out that Ernaldans can’t do it, but Wind Lords can. Ernalda gave up that power of healing to her husband Orlanth. Someone else says that they could probably do it here if only they could wait a little time… In short, there is a talking shop, and no immediate action.
After much consideration, Maalira accepts the offer of the Yelmalio regiment, who seem best-placed to heal Gorovan quickly, although their price is steep, much more than Maalira can afford without pledging to a debt.
Count Belvani himself is involved by the time the matter is settled, and then a young warrior in gilded armour is sent out with an honour guard of spearmen to find Gorovan, who is in a move that cannot be coincidence brought into the city by an honour guard of cheering beggars, all headed up by Hoppy. The beggar-king cackles and dances at the front of them. The young warrior, rather nonplussed, calls on Yelmalio and the healing powers of Aldrya, through friendship, and then Gorovan the Magnificent looks up from his litter at the sun, winces, and flexes his fingers.
The beggars whoop and cheer. The spear guard tries to look dignified despite this. Anren bursts into tears and hugs his father.
“Mmm. A few debts to pay, I am sure,” the old ‘merchant’ says. All of the scars have disappeared. Even the older ones, that spoke of violence in his life, the half-healed ones that happen when people cannot go to a healer, and have run out of magic. He does not look like a killer now, but Maalira has seen the evidence – this man who seemed a follower of Orlanth Thunderous, rain-bringing husband, had the callouses of a warrior when his hand patted hers.3GM asked for an INTx3 at the time, but forgot to tell Maalira this man was obviously more than he seemed.
Maalira shrugs, smiling. “Debts can be paid.”
She gestures to the performance around them. “Besides, it was worth it for all of this absurdity,” she murmurs quietly.
Hoppy winks as he capers past. Gorovan pats his son on the shoulder. “Anren, young one. Welcome back.” He looks around, sees Maalira, and neatly moves Anren aside so that he can stand. “White Lady. Do I owe you my healing?”
The young file captain in the shiny gold, Cafstad, nearly steps forward then does not.
Maalira shakes her head. “There is no debt between us.” She gestures to the shiny young man. “The Yelmalio have done the healing, and the debt is mine.”
“Then…” He looks to Anren. “I think we must call on Argrath, and then we shall see a few things put as they should be. But first I shall rejoice that I live in a free city.” He looks at Hoppy. “And just maybe catch myself a Eurmal.” A trickster.
Hoppy sets off at full speed away from Gorovan, instantly. The mostly-a-merchant smiles. “Or not.”
Maalira stares after Hoppy, tilting her head quizzically. “Who was he?!”
“One known to me,” Gorovan says, looking down in distaste at the ragged, stained tunic he wears. “Once, he was just a beggar, but one of you showed him courtesy, and he’s been after paying that back for a long time.”
The rest of the beggars are still dancing. Some look drunk. Some smell drunk.
Maalira wrinkles her nose at the smell. “If we can find a polite way to leave, we could see about finding you something more fitting to wear,” she suggests, as if it were the garment and not the smell that was her motivation.
“First, a proper farewell.” Gorovan considers the tunic, and then pulls it off, tearing it and wrapping it around his waist as a basic loin-cloth, to go bow to the Yelmalian, and there is a short ceremony of speeches in which Cafstad fails to sound as good as Gorovan does.
After that, the older man departs, and the soldiers turn smartly and walk away, and one of the beggars is sick on a holy statue.
In the next few weeks, Gorovan settles into a house that was once his, and gives modest gifts to the White Ladies, and a larger one – it is rumoured – to Count Belvani himself. Argrath is said to have welcomed the man as a warrior within an enemy city.
Hoppy is given a new suit of clothes, all of linen, embroidered in gold. He spends them within a week, and is back in a noisome blanket.
Maalira is asked for help in healing a lost father