1626, Storm Season, Movement Week, Clayday
About midday, at the Temple of Uleria. Sometime after Session 2.29 (Back and There Again).
Content warning: PTSD
Xenofos is following Dorasa to a hall opposite the main doors.
The Vingan is led two flights of stairs up, to an airy room with big windows.
The servant girl shows her where she can leave her clothes, where the bathing towel is and beckons her forward.
Varanis shucks her clothing and jewellery quickly and scoops up the towel. Her lean body has numerous tattoos, including the Sartar and Lightbringer tattoos at her wrists that are normally kept well covered. There are a few scars here and there that are testament to the fights she has survived.
In the next room there are wooden benches, a steaming cauldron of boiling water and a stone fountain overflowing with ice cold mountain water coming from a tap. At the far end there is huge wooden tub covered by a linen sheet, steaming and smelling faintly of herbs.
“Aranda will come soon, Varanis,” the servant tells her. “Shall I wash you before you enter the steam room over there, or the tub?” She starts mixing temperate water in one of the wooden pails provided for that.
“Yes, please,” Varanis replies. “And I’d like to soak in the tub, please. It’s been sweat lodges and rivers for so long…”
“Of course. The tub is just the thing to relax and loosen the muscles.” The water is just the right temperature. There is some herb creating foam in it. The servant girl is efficient, using the washcloth firmly, telling Varanis when to turn over. Her touch is relaxing and soothing.
Varanis begins to doze. She’s been relaxed most of the day already and this is enough to almost tip her over the edge into sleep.
“You can sleep if you want to,” the servant murmurs to her. “There are no nightmares in this house.”
Varanis blinks dreamily at her. “Is that why my cousin comes here? He has so many nightmares…”
Her hands rub Varanis shoulders. “Hush, Uleria will not tell your secrets, Varanis, not to anyone.”
The Vingan sighs. “I just worry about him. I want to see him whole again, but he is haunted.”
The servant does not comment. When Varanis slowly drifts towards wakefulness, she rinses her and shows the way towards the tub.
The Vingan allows herself to be led and steps into the hot water with an expression of pure bliss.
A young woman arrives, approaching the tub with graceful steps, like a gazelle on the Esrolian countryside. “I am Aranda. You needed help with your hair, Varanis?” she asks in flowing Esrolian.
The once glorious masses of fiery hair now don’t quite reach the Vingan’s chin. The dampness of the room has caused the unruly mess to go frizzy. “Please,” she says, half courtesy and half pleading.
She stands behind Varanis and starts to feel her hair carefully. The faint scent of violets surrounds her. The Vingan inhales and sighs. Deft fingers start to wash her hair tenderly.
The servant girl arrives again and whispers something to Aranda. She leans over “Your cousin has paid his respects, do you wish him to join us now?”
“If he wishes,” she says with a contented sigh. “I don’t mind.”
She nods. A bit later Xenofos appears and starts getting washed by the servant.
Aranda rinses Varanis’ hair and oils it. “Please lean your head on the edge of the tub,” she asks.
Varanis passively follows instructions, allowing Aranda to guide her. It’s a good thing this is a Temple to Uleria and therefore sacrosanct. It would be very easy to kill the Vingan at the moment.
A small towel is draped around her shoulders and another rolled behind her neck.
Aranda uses a comb and small, razor sharp knife deftly and gently, to trim Varanis’ hair, taking away what was hurt by wind and sun and leaving behind what is vital and has life.
As that is taking place Xenofos has been rinsed and he too takes place in the huge wooden tub.
Varanis opens one eye to peer in his direction. Xenofos looks relaxed and alert, his earlier sleepiness has vanished. “Sorry I took so long. But this is not a bad place to wait, I suppose.”
She gives him a sleepy smile. “Not bad at all. Why didn’t you tell me about this place the last time we were here? Keeping it all to yourself?”
“You were always quite busy at the times we were in Boldhome.” He leans towards the edge of the tub.
There’s a sigh. “Yes, and this time won’t be any different for all that I’ve had most of today to myself. I’m off to the Temple before Yelm sets and don’t know how long I’ll be.”
“Hmmm. That makes escorting a bit hard, ” he muses idly.
Aranda has finished taking care of the Vingan’s hair and starts to open up Xenofos’ beard from the braids he made himself earlier, with small sounds of disapproval at the quality of the work.
Reproach manages to sound like a reproach and invitation at the same time.
“I’ll be in the Temple and therefore safe,” says the Vingan
He manages to nod even as comb and fingers are clearing up his own efforts. “I was thinking about the way to and from the temple, not while you are there. You are a noble, you should have escort.”
“Someone can take me there from the inn. I’ll try to send word when we finish.” She doesn’t sound particularly worried.
“What is up?” the scholar asks lazily. Aranda has washed the scribe’s beard and starts oiling it in preparation for the braids.
“A lovely fresco, from the looks of things,” she says staring up through the steam.
Aranda sets his head level and puts finger on his lips so he will not disturb the delicate process of the braiding.
Softly Varanis murmurs, “Xenofos. You have to listen now and can’t interrupt lest Aranda twist your tongue into the braids. They tell me there are no nightmares in the Temple of Uleria…” She hesitates, then continues, “Cousin of mine. You are dearer to me than my own brothers. I want you guarding my back for as long as you are willing and able to do so. You are… wounded. The dragon wreaked havoc on your soul, much as the Lunar demons did my own.” There’s pain in her voice, but she forges on. “Hear me out. I think you believe there’s something wrong with you. Something shameful. But, was it shameful when Berra and I coughed for days because we took injury? Of course not. Your dreams are not shameful. They are a sign of an injury that needs healing.” She continues, still speaking softly, but she is relentless. “Don’t answer me now. But I want you to consider coming here for healing. Seek not just an easing of the pain, but healing for the wound.”
He tries to speak out at several times, but it seems Aranda is in league with the Vingan, covering his lips with her finger and keeping him down in embrace of her arms, leaving the scholar speechless and unable to move as if bound by a spell or soft chains. In the end he does not say anything but rests his head against the Ulerian initiate, eyes closed.
Varanis peers through her lashes, trying to gauge his reaction.1Ha! Passed insight with a special.
The scholar is leaning against Aranda with eyes closed and face like bronze mask. The Ulerian is whispering something to his ear and holding him still. Slowly his face relaxes and tears start to fall from his closed eyes.
“Shhhh. Let the Goddess help you. You are safe. You are so loved. Be easy. Trust in Her.”
If Varanis hears the words the priestess whispers, she gives no sign. “Oh, Xeno. It hurts me to cause you pain. Do you trust me to be truthful with you?”
That was probably a nod. It is hard to tell with him being held.
“Then you already know that you have my love. But I should also have told you that you have my respect and admiration. You are an honourable man, with deep inner strength. A weak man would have stayed in comfort in Nochet. A weak man would not have gone to Hell with me. A weak man would not have faced the horrors we’ve faced, in spite of his fear.” Though still softly spoken, her words gain intensity and conviction. “I don’t keep you with me because you are my cousin. Not even because you swore an oath to me. I keep you with me because I believe in your strength, courage, and wisdom.”
Tears continue to flow, swept away by Aranda’s hands. After a pause of some time he speaks up. Quietly, as if not trusting his voice. “Love or pity do not change it, I am…” His words are cut short by the Ulerian who again closes his lips with a gesture of her graceful finger.
“You are strong. Xeno, I don’t pity you. I respect how hard you are fighting this dragon. I’m proud of you for fighting it. But you are not alone, no matter how hard you try to push me away.” Varanis is persistent.
Aranda continues to soothe. Her golden skin against his is soft. Her touch is gentle. “You are safe. You are loved.” She speaks for him alone, the words in the achingly familiar Esrolian dialect.
“That doesn’t change the truth, I…” Again the scholar is hushed, his protests weaker than before.
“The truth is that you are courageous. You are strong.” She speaks with relentless sincerity. “You have magic that lets you read the Truth. Read it in me. You are not a coward.” All of her sleepiness and her gentleness has been swept away by her determination to make him see.
Aranda turns her gaze on Varanis and the Vingan subsides back into the water. Aranda’s attention returns to Xenofos. She continues to murmur quietly to him as her softly rounded limbs help to hold him together.
He shakes his head. “I’ve… lost it.. Just honour and truth keeping the form. Propping up a hollow shell…”
It does look like the Ulerian is holding him up, vine-like, softly tangled around him.
“You need to heal, Xeno. Won’t you consider letting Uleria help you? Give yourself into the care of the Goddess for a time. Sleep without nightmares. Speak without fear of judgement.” Varanis’ eyes are glassy with unshed tears. “I promise not to leave without you. I’ll even promise to avoid unnecessary risks in town.”
“Why do you lay my fear and shame bare Ranie, like tearing open a wound that had closed?” Xenofos can’t bear to look at the Vingan. His words come in hoarse, uncontrolled bursts.
“Because the wound hasn’t closed, love. It’s festering and destroying you. Think of this as the blade that lances it. Then let Uleria and her priestesses help you heal.” Her own voice is hoarse now too. The tears she was resisting slide unchecked down her cheeks.
Aranda murmurs, “You are so loved. Let Her ease your pain. You are safe. Let Her take your tears.”
“You have both exposed me, how can I hold my head up anymore? ” He laments.
Aranda looks at Varanis. “Let Uleria do her work now, Vingan. You have drawn blood. We shall pick up the pieces.” There’s no judgement in her words, but it is clearly a dismissal. Reluctantly, Varanis climbs out of the bath and wraps herself in the waiting towel.
“Nothing will shake my faith in you,” she tells her cousin. “I…” Another look from Aranda and Varanis falls silent. She heads for the door as the Ulerian begins to murmur to Xenofos again.
“Ranie…” The scribe’s voice may or may not carry to Vingan.
Varanis hesitates on the threshold.2 pass listen She turns back instantly. “Yes, Xeno?”
” I… ” Xenofos’s voice falters. “I love you too, cousin,” comes the continuation amidst tears, like it was helped out by the soothing hands of Ulerian on his cheek.
She swallows a sob. “I’m glad. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for hurting you this way.” And then she’s gone, vanishing through the door in nothing but the towel.((Follow Varanis: Varanis, Where are your clothes?))
Aranda holds Xenofos closely. Her quiet murmurs encourage him to cry, giving his pain to the goddess.
“To you Holy Uleria, I shall give free vent to my tears, like sweet wine.” His words come between violent sobs. “Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent light, righteous woman clothed in radiance.”
The tears are as a sacrifice to the goddess. “She hears your words and accepts your offering,” Aranda tells him gently.
When he has emptied himself of tears for the moment and is left feeling like a wrung out shell of a man, Aranda praises him. “Good. Give Her everything.” She winds herself around him, placing her palm on his chest. They can both feel the beating of his heart. She kisses the tears from his cheeks. The knot of pain around his chest eases, just a little. “Now, come. You need sleep and sleeping in the bath is a bad idea.”
Meekly, the scribe follows, forgetting his armour, forgetting his rapier and writing kit. Naked as on the day he came to this world.
The room she brings him to is surprisingly light and airy. She urges him to lie down on the bed and slides in beside him. He falls into a deep, dreamless sleep, almost before he finishes lying down.
- 1Ha! Passed insight with a special.
- 2pass listen