Vinga’s sword (1618-22) – a story from Varanis’ youth
Grandfather delivered me into the service of the Vingan High Priestess, but really it was Jareen who ran my life for the next few years. She was an Initiate, in charge of the new apprentices and she was fierce. Liberal use of camphire kept her short-cropped hair bright red. She wore her runes in woad and her clothing in the style of the Sartarites. Her temper was quick, but rarely cruel or unfair. She drove us hard, and in doing so, bound us together.
Suddenly, I was not alone, surrounded by other women who looked like me, who fought like me, and who seemed just as determined to take on the world as I was. There were only a few of us who stayed at the temple full time and I was the youngest by a couple of years, but I felt like I belonged. Nerestina was short, wiry, and always angry. Her dark hair tended to resist colour, which was a great frustration for her. Hulda used to suggest that it was a sign that she should join Humakt instead. Hulda, on the other hand, was tall, lithe, and full of mischief. We made an odd group of friends – Stina had grown up around Whippost, one of the poorer areas of Nochet, Hulda came from a client branch of House Merele, and me… well, we know that already. Other women came and went, some moved on to other temples in other cities, but the temple in Nochet became my home for those first few years and Hulda and Stina were my family.
For a long time, I wasn’t permitted further south than Broad Street. I lived, worshipped, and trained in the Vingan dormitories just outside the Stormwall. I was kept back from joining my sisters in visits to the markets, guard shifts along the walls, and other usual activities. I was told that one of the conditions of my movement into the care of the Vingans was that Grandmother Saiciae maintained some control over my education, so during these times tutors from the House continued my lessons in oration, diplomacy, and other valuable skills, much to my chagrin. It was nearly three years, after I was initiated into Vinga’s keeping, before the restrictions eased and I was finally allowed to walk freely along the streets and jump the rooftops outside of the narrow precincts of Stormbelly and the Loop.
It happened in the later evening of the first day of Dark Season, in 1622. I was training with the others, near House Norinel. It was a good place to climb, because the buildings were tall and the family was out of favour with the new Queen, which meant that complaints were generally ignored. We were practicing climbing at speed, and to make things more challenging, we’d blindfolded ourselves. It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but it nearly proved the end of me. I was always the fastest to reach the roof, generally having a minute or more alone to enjoy my success.
This time, I wasn’t alone on the roof. I heard the movement, but by the time I’d pulled my blindfold off and drawn my dagger, I was surrounded on three sides with the open air to my back. They attacked in concert, clearly used to working together. I barely avoided a strike to my throat; the deflected blade cut deeply across my cheek instead. I dodged a second blade, aimed at my chest, but felt the third bite deeply into the space between my ribs, exposed when I parried the first. My sisters were yelling as they came over the edge of the building. In the face of their drawn blades and their combined fury, the assassins vanished into the night.
I woke again in the Great Hospital. Jareen was there, but more terrifyingly, Grandmother Saiciae and High Priestess Leika were too. Grandmother and the Vingan High Priestess were arguing, as so often seems to happen where I am concerned. Incredibly, Jareen shooed them out of the room, hushing them sharply while waving in the direction of the door. Even more incredibly, they left. She made me tell her everything as I lay in the white linen sheets of the hospital. I felt distant from the words as I described the night to her, as though it had all happened to someone else. I felt no fear, nor any pain, just a deep exhaustion. When I was done, she told me that I had nearly died. Indeed, if Hulda had not reached the dormitory as soon as she did, I would have died on that roof. Jareen had stabilised me as best she could and had me brought to the hospital for healing. She had healed the cut on my face herself, and later I was to learn that she deliberately left it partially healed, so that I would always remember what I should already know. Never leave them an opening.
I spent the Dark Season, Storm Season, and Fire Season in intense training and always under the watchful eyes of Jareen. The plan was to send me to the Vingan Temple at Tarthcaer at the beginning of Fire Season. But, plans change, especially when Lunar armies settle outside the gates of Nochet.