1626, Storm Season, Death Week, Clayday
Varanis wakes. She doesn’t recall sleeping, but here she is, in her corner of the temple, wrapped in a bison hide. Sitting up, she tries to smooth her hair back from her face. The combination of oil and ash make her wrinkle her nose. She breathes, stretches, then reaches for the cup that waits for her. It is not water, but she knows what is needed and drinks it down.
All around there are other forms, asleep or barely stirring. They fade as she sits up. Perhaps they were never there.
She rises, tests her balance, and smiles. All is well. Then she pauses. Oh. There was a lot to drink at the feast. She makes for the door to step outside.
The next few hours are not a great problem, but something is not right with the world. Her vision is dimmed somehow, her eyes making out little.
This is strange, but probably nothing to worry about too much. She drinks with her war band and talks of going hunting.
Hunting is a fine idea. A dozen great names and fine companions jostle for the honour and the privilege and the glory. It will be a fine day!
Varanis proposes they hunt Zorak Zoran. Or failing that, perhaps a boar hunt. She just wants to be active.
An initiate in the trapping of snakes and squares, wearing sacred bracelets, approaches Varanis. “My lord and love,” he says, his deep voice husky, “I am glad you go hunting, for these strange new night folk have eaten much of my grain. Let it be so, that you bring back food to eat, and songs to sing.”
“Of course.” She smiles warmly at him. “Anything for you, my love.” She kisses him playfully.
He giggles. “Hero,” he whispers. “Go bring us back food.”1B: And, I think, a Survival roll? Unless you have other ideas. V: Survival buffed with Movement. Pass Movement. Fail survival.
The group dances itself out into the courtyard with whoops and cries. Hunting will be fun! They will be successful! Varanis shouts with joy. Movement is wonderful. She dances the hunting dance, knowing it will bring them success. The sounds and shouting have been very successful, although the sky above is still dark. It is cold outside, but of course the Middle Air can be cold sometimes, when Valind comes to visit.
Varanis doesn’t mind the cold. She carries Ernalda’s warmth within. It is time to hunt, no need to worry about anything else.
Hunting is… bad. There is nothing out there.
That’s not right. She danced the dance. She is Orlanth. The hunting is supposed to be good.
Bad. It continues to be bad. The other gods complain.
Who is to blame for this? Clearly, their moaning and groaning has chased away the prey.
“Come on Orlanth, ” they say. “You’re the dancer and the singer. The loud voice and the Air. Call the things to come and be eaten.”
She launches into the dance again, singing the song to call her prey to her.2Failed the sing and dance rolls, so rolled again out of curiosity. Took three attempts to pass. Frustration rises in her and her dance lacks grace. Fury rises in her and she forgets the words to the songs. She begins again, doggedly. And again. And again. By the time her feet find the right steps and her throat shapes the right sounds, she is nearly incandescent with rage.
The cold burns off her, kept away by her anger, but the darkness does not burn away. No animals are summoned, for all her skill. She will have to return to Ernalda empty-handed.
Empty-handed, and as she gets back someone asks, “Where is Berra the warrior?”
She blinks. Why do they need Berra? They have her. But… where is Berra. Where has her brother gone? She calls for him… her… to attend her.
Gone. Nowhere. “He was on the hunt with us,” someone says. “No, that was his friend,” says another. “He has been gone some time.”
She sends messengers to find him. To summon her. She is his brother. He belongs here.
No answer. And Ernalda wants to know if her husband has been successful.
Impatient and abrupt, he tells her no. Someone drove the prey away. And Humakt… Berra… is missing. The hunt will be successful tomorrow. Ernalda must make do with what they have now.
Ernalda kisses him on the cheek. “Of course. But no feast.” Dimly, Varanis is aware this is only a spirit caressing her. Still, she is curvy and dark-haired and green. Varanis tries to catch her for a proper kiss.
Time becomes eternal once more. But in the morning, “Lord? Hinuver didn’t come in from the patrol.”
She calls for a search party. It’s like hunting, only with the hopes of bringing the quarry in alive and well.
The party assembles with cheers and happy sounds. Hinuver might be lying down cold, of course, and then he will get up and be laughed at by his companions and join in with the merriment because these are good times despite the odd darkness.
She leads them out, heading for the direction his patrol should have taken him. She is nearly as boisterous as the others.3B: Track roll? If you can’t do it, there will be someone in your group who can, but let’s find out if YOU can. V: Yeah, nope.
The sand of Prax scrunches underfoot, even in an oasis. The crumbly crust of snow gives way. This is like when Valind comes to visit, only without his shouting. It is Finuval who finds the tracks, and leads the way, and stops. “I’ve found… part of him? That’s odd.”
Part of him? She strides forward to look.
It’s got Hinuver’s face, and body, and half of an arm, but it looks like the rest of him has gone. He is frozen solid in the snow. The painted face on the padded model of half a person grins into eternity.
She orders them to free him from the snow. He has to be brought back to the steading.
“He’ll get up soon, won’t he?” asks someone, uncertain, but Orlanth has seen Death before, and can tell as he sees Hinuver is not getting better. This man has met Death. His spirit has left his body.
She shakes her head. “He won’t get up again.” The words are as bitter as Valind’s biting wind.
“What? Why?” Questions are asked. People want to know.
“He is Dead,” she says simply.
There is a lot of staring, and confusion, and then for the first time, Orlanth sees fear in the Storm Tribe. They look at the body, and at him, and at the sword he carries, and they do not move.
“Come,” she commands. “We will not leave him here.” She bends her own back to the work of freeing him.
There is only half a body to free, and the snow is cold but has not frozen in place. He is easy to bring back, where the wailing of his widow is like the sounds Orlanth heard in the spike. Grieving is new to the world.
Ernalda looks at the corpse and says nothing, but some people look at her like the suddenly see the price of having her here.
Varanis/Orlanth commands a pyre to be built. She strips off one of her arm-rings to give to the corpse and calls for weapons and other things, that he might be supplied with what he needs in the afterlife. She knows that he will have company before long.
The first cremation of a Thunder brother takes place, and people watch. Some cheer him on into Yelm’s company, others curse him for leaving them, and betraying their brotherhood to go to the Fire Tribe.
She raises her cup in a toast to the dead. She is solemn, neither celebrating nor angry. “No one truly dies if we remember them.” She tells a brief story of a hunt where Hinuver had brought down a boar with a particularly excellent throw of his spear.
The next day, Venlar is there, wending his way through worried people. He reports, “Lord of Storm. The Darkness creatures have set a trap for people in the woods.”
The grieving mood has given way to nervousness. The Storm Tribe wants to know what to do. And, of course, there are store-rooms nearly empty.
“We have to deal with the trap and the Darkness creatures. They can’t be allowed to cause harm to people. Protecting them comes before filling our bellies. We are the Storm Tribe. We won’t be brought low by missing a few meals.” She calls for her war band. Today they hunt Uz.
The war band assemble with whoops. Venlar is among them, easily able to keep up now. And then there are a band of huge creatures far on the other side of the courtyard. The mask of one of the ‘trolls’ slips a bit, and the lay member underneath looks rather embarrassed. They haven’t done all of this since the last time they had Orlanth Rex visiting, which was never.4Rolled on Air to make sure that V knows this isn’t real. 21. She’s going to fight, but without intent to actually kill the people wearing the masks. Make sense? B: Yep. Tomorrow’s Sunday, so… is this the last scene when things get worse? And Orlanth realises that Death isn’t so good? Up to you what this means, I think. V: Going to do a battle roll and 3 broadsword rolls, if that suits you? To get a sense of how this will play out. B: Also good, but what do you think the timing of this is? I think it is Darkness Creatures Rule. V: If things go badly, we know for sure. I admit, I’m curious as to what the dice tell us. My battle is only 42 and broadsword only 43, so the odds are not in my favour anyway. And a fumble could be interesting. Battle 49; Broadsword 16, 77, 95.
Varanis/Orlanth/Vinga bellows a wordless war cry and leaps to the attack, without waiting for her warriors. They will catch up or not.
The warriors run after her, first of all across the traps that the trolls have laid – ropes stretched under the snow, and horrible foot-long spike. Venlar falls over a rope that is under a billow of pale linen. Finuval puts his foot on a cone of mud being used to hold up a wooden stake, and falls dramatically. The greatest of trolls meets Orlanth in battle, at first not slowing him.5Zorak Zoran’s rolls with his club were three passes.
She howls her fury and joy as she engages with Zorak Zoran, coming in with a vicious sword cut meant to slide under his arms and cleave him in two, vengeance for Hinuver.
His club comes down on her arm at the same time. Both blows bounce off armour, doing little.6Both blows are pulled. Orlanth, up front and unsupported, got lucky. The man playing Zorak Zoran makes eye contact, checking that all is well as he starts to move in for the next attack.
She winks at him before she launches her next attack. She’s too close and can’t get enough room to use her sword effectively. She attempts to dance backwards, making space for her sword arm, but in doing so, leaves her left side completely exposed. She’s forgotten she doesn’t have a shield.
He brings around his great big club, a huge lump of wood wrapped around with lead bands, far more than it is a stick of ratan with runed leather wrapped around it. The blow comes in on her left side with a hefty thwack – the sound of it hitting is huge in her ears.
The man behind the troll pauses to shout his rage at the world, giving Varanis a moment to work out what to do next.
Her eyes widen, then narrow. She falls back a couple of paces to give herself the space to see what has happened to her warriors. Seeing some of them on the ground and others engaged in losing battles with the Uz, she throws technique to the winds. She charges in, sword held low, intending to drive it home into Zorak Zoran’s great belly. She is out of position when she hits, the blade sliding off his armour harmlessly.
And he brings his knee up and his club down, and bounces her off both. A helping hand from the man behind the mask lowers her to the ground gently, only a littly bruised.
Then the troll drags away Horoff.
When the trolls have dispersed, she pulls herself to her feet and collects her warriors. She pauses to check if there are any real injuries among them.7Failed first aid, but she’d have asked as well.
Everyone gets to their feet. Venlar has scraped his arm so it is suitably bloody, but he manages to heal it before reporting he is fine. His fine clothes are going to need heavy-duty cleaning again.
“The world isn’t right. I need to help my people, but I have failed.” She looks troubled. “How do I fix this?”
“We don’t know,” they say, and, “Can you put Death back?” From the longhouse come the wails of hungry children.
“Eurmal started it. Maybe I should make him put Death back,” she muses. “It’s his fault.”
“Yes, he’s often to blame,” they agree. “Make him do it.”
“Eurmal” shrugs. “No can do, Chief. It’s out in the world now, and free, innit. There’s a path now for others to follow to the Underworld.”
“You brought the Darkness by releasing Death. You have to fix that. Make the Darkness go away, Eurmal.” The tone of her demand would leave few men room for argument.
“Yes! take it back!” Nobody seems to understand they are asking the impossible.
He shifts slightly, “Sure, I could doooooo that.” A beat, “Or, you know… you could decide who desperately, absolutely, would be improved by being dead.”
“Zorak Zoran,” mutters someone. “All the trolls?” says another.
Eurmal gets a speculative look. She might be wondering if he’d be improved by Death.
“In other news, I hear there’s always room at the top. And have you SEEN the fine green handmaiden the Emperor’s got?”
“You mean the one who is waiting for me back at the steading? The one who has reminded me that our food stores are empty? The one who I have to return to with news of having lost another of my warriors? That handmaiden?” She scowls. She has no patience for Eurmal’s games. Her people are in trouble. And maybe, just maybe, it’s her fault. Perhaps she shouldn’t have killed Yelm, even though she knew Ernalda had to be hers.
He grins, “Oh yeah. We ALREADY had this conversation, didn’t we. When you BEGGED me to steal Death for you. Look, you’re the boss. You got what you WANTED.”
She takes a half-step towards him, hand on the hilt of Death.
Eurmal takes a half step back, rapidly wondering allowed, “What do lawspeakers say of Kings who punish their followers for doing what was requested? I mean, what would honourable Humakt say about how you’ve behaved?”
She stops her advance and glowers at him. “We return to the Steading. I need to decide what to do,” she announces, ignoring Eurmal’s questions. She leads the warband back to the Steading/temple, where Ernalda waits.
“Ernalda, my love,” she says to the green-skinned goddess, “when I took you from Yelm and introduced him to Death, I brought Darkness into the world. The only way to be worthy of you and my people, is to right that wrong. I have to leave you here for a time.”
Eurmal from just behind says, “But it’s okay, love. I’ll leave heroic Eurmal here to protect you.”
She whirls on him. “I think not! Elmal shall guard the Stead and guide my people. Eurmal, you may be bound to me, but do not try my patience!”
“Wot, me, Chief?” He replies, “I just give you exactly what you ask for. Reliable, that’s me!”
“I think I would be wise for you to go on a journey while I am gone. Go find yourself somewhere else to get into trouble for a while.”
She goes in search of Elmal. “Elmal!” Varanis/Orlanth’s voice booms through the temple/Steading as she searches for the warrior. When she finds him, she gives him instructions to care for the Steading and its people. She is going to make things right.
The words said, Varanis, who is Orlanth and Vinga both, begins the Lightbringers dance. It is not an enactment of the quest, but rather an abbreviated summary used for initiations. As such, the dance can be completed over the course of one full day and night. It is a test of endurance, faith, and determination. Other dancers come and go through the course of the day, but as the initiate, Varanis must complete it.8Pass dance roll. Pass con * 5. Con * 4. Not quite on con * 3.
She dances through the afternoon, feet flying, light and quick. She dances through the evening, feet pounding, drawing strength from Ernalda. She dances through the night, feet aching, beginning to stumble, but doggedly determined. She calls on the magic within her to keep herself going when her body signals its weakness. And thus, she is still dancing as Yelm rises and banishes the Darkness. She salutes Yelm and collapses into a heap, triumphant and exhausted.
- 1B: And, I think, a Survival roll? Unless you have other ideas. V: Survival buffed with Movement. Pass Movement. Fail survival.
- 2Failed the sing and dance rolls, so rolled again out of curiosity. Took three attempts to pass.
- 3B: Track roll? If you can’t do it, there will be someone in your group who can, but let’s find out if YOU can. V: Yeah, nope.
- 4Rolled on Air to make sure that V knows this isn’t real. 21. She’s going to fight, but without intent to actually kill the people wearing the masks. Make sense? B: Yep. Tomorrow’s Sunday, so… is this the last scene when things get worse? And Orlanth realises that Death isn’t so good? Up to you what this means, I think. V: Going to do a battle roll and 3 broadsword rolls, if that suits you? To get a sense of how this will play out. B: Also good, but what do you think the timing of this is? I think it is Darkness Creatures Rule. V: If things go badly, we know for sure. I admit, I’m curious as to what the dice tell us. My battle is only 42 and broadsword only 43, so the odds are not in my favour anyway. And a fumble could be interesting. Battle 49; Broadsword 16, 77, 95.
- 5Zorak Zoran’s rolls with his club were three passes.
- 6Both blows are pulled. Orlanth, up front and unsupported, got lucky. The man playing Zorak Zoran makes eye contact, checking that all is well as he starts to move in for the next attack.
- 7Failed first aid, but she’d have asked as well.
- 8Pass dance roll. Pass con * 5. Con * 4. Not quite on con * 3.