Ephemera — Vinga And The Power Of Flight
A story written by Varanis and Berra’s players
Red-haired Vinga was Orlanth’s favourite, but wildest, daughter. She had won a place in his war band, but often felt it necessary to demonstrate her right to be there. One day in the midst of a large feast, he realized that he needed an urgent message sent to Urox. Vinga asked to be the one to carry it, but at first Orlanth said no. The message needed to be carried to a place that was very far and very high up. It was too far for her, no matter how brave she was.
She argued with Orlanth; she was light and quick, she told him. She was sober, unlike most of the rest of the fyrd. She knew the way. She just needed a little boost, perhaps with the help of his power of flight.
Ernalda added to her husband’s worries, so that Orlanth loaded protections on her when he agreed, saying that his wild daughter should not be unaccompanied. Orlanth tried to find a man among the tribe who was not drunk, but all of the warriors who were not out raiding were celebrating. Then, into the Tula came Eurmal, who promised to protect her. Vinga did not think she needed or wanted protection, but if this was the only way she would be allowed to go, then Eurmal could come too. Of course Eurmal knew that Vinga did not need his protection, but he also knew that alone, she would be ripe for tricking – or picking. He had certain hopes.
Orlanth gave Vinga the power of flight and the message to deliver to his brother, Urox. With some reservations, she took Eurmal’s hand, so that she could share the power of flight with him. Together, they leapt into the air and sped towards Prax.
Eurmal tried to creep his hand up her arm, and his other hand up her leg, and his ankle across hers. Vinga was unimpressed with his advances. She kicked his shin with her heel, connecting with a solid sharp blow and threatened to let go. And so Eurmal was kept in order but where his hands could not go, his mind could, and he plotted his revenge.
As they drew closer to Prax, Vinga told Eurmal that she was tired and wanted to stop, so she could wash her face in a stream. Eurmal perked up, because he hoped to see Vinga wash more than her face, and maybe splash water on her clothes. It would splash up if he had anything to do with it. She brought them to earth at the place she had chosen. There was a stream, a cluster of trees, and beyond that, a small village. As their feet touched the ground, she let go of his hand, headed for the water. He stopped to gaze at her long legs as she strode away and because his attention was distracted, it took him too long to realize that she was no longer walking on solid ground. Laughing, she took to the air again and put herself out of reach.
Eurmal cursed, but he swiftly planned his revenge, and once she was gone he hurried to fetch food and drink from the village, ordering a feast, and setting out a table made of logs and moss, laughing as he went because a trick was on his mind.
Vinga flew on to Prax and delivered Orlanth’s message to Urox. While her uncle was pleased to see her and gave her a hero’s welcome, she soon knew it was time to return, for she had her father’s power with her. She decided the Trickster had had time enough to cool down, so she flew back to the place where she had left him.
She arrived to find him waiting with a feast for two. Eurmal apologised for his behaviour, flattering Vinga, and laughing about the trick she played on him, and offering her beer which he would taste himself, and food which he would test himself, and a seat higher than his own that he would sit in himself if she wished, so she could be sure it was not trapped. Vinga was not sure she should trust him, but she was hungry and had not stayed long with Urox. She agreed and sat to feast and drink with Eurmal.
Eurmal kept topping up her beer and his own, but he had drilled a hole in his cup so the beer ran out. When he lifted it to drink, he covered it with his thumb, and so he drank, and his cup needed to be filled, but for every drink Vinga took, he had only a mouthful. Before dinner ended, Vinga knew that she had had far too much to drink and must sleep a while before she could fly anywhere. She eyed Eurmal suspiciously, but he seemed just as drunk and was nodding at the table. She slipped away and found a place to curl up for the night, not noticing Eurmal watching with a sly grin on his face.
When Vinga woke up in the morning, she was alone and Orlanth’s Flight was gone. She had lost her borrowed power, and she was enraged at being tricked by Eurmal. The winds began to whirl around her and she yelled in fury. But that yell also gave her an idea. She remembered that Finovan and some of the others had been planning a raid for that day, and she was sure it was nearby. Using the special yowl Yinkin had taught her, she called for him, hoping he was with the raiding party and would hear her. Three times she called, and three times she listened. At last, she heard Yinkin’s reply.
Not long after that, Yinkin, Finovan, and a small raiding party arrived. Vinga was a little worried to see Orlanth’s grim champion, Humakt, among them. She had been hoping to keep some of this from her father, but Humakt had strong ideas about Truth. She explained what had happened with Eurmal and asked for their help retrieving the power of flight. She needed Yinkin to help her track the Trickster first.
Yinkin, eager to show off his skills of tracking, agreed instantly. Finovan gave a whoop of joy, for the raid had not gone well for him and he was not covered with the honour and glory he had expected, and this would redeem him in his father’s eyes. Humakt, his armour pristine and his face bloodied, looked down at Vinga, with his black eyes narrowed in a scowl. Then he nodded, and went down on one knee, hand on his sword hilt, but saying nothing.
Yinkin set to work immediately and found Eurmal’s trail. Vinga, Finovan, Humakt, and the rest of the raiding party followed. The route seemed winding and convoluted, like the working of Eurmal’s mind. Eventually, even Yinkin was surprised by the paths the Trickster had taken. But Yinkin could smell beer and eventually vomit and he told the others that Eurmal was drunk. He didn’t want to follow this path anymore.
Finovan spoke to Yinkin, saying, “If we go on there will be glory for us all, in raiding, and besides, we should not return now or we will be dishonoured.” In his heart he worried for his sister, who had lost the Flight of Orlanth. Vinga added her encouragement to Finovan’s, but Humakt just scowled silently. Yinkin finally agreed and continued to lead them along the path, grumbling about the stench.
They moved on, and finally Eurmal’s trail went through a river and came out cleaner than before, and Yinkin followed faster, dancing as an Alynx does on the hunt, his tail twitching. Then, out of the forest in front of them came a hail of arrows, for Eurmal had blundered through Aldryami territory, and of course on his way he had offended them terribly, and they were on the lookout for more of his Tribe. Finovan and Humakt both stepped forwards. They exchanged a look, and looked to Vinga to decide who would lead. Vinga, who loved her brother all the more for speaking to Yinkin in her support, said, “You are all capable warriors and some are great leaders, but Finovan’s voice is loud in battle, and he will lead.”
Finovan, who had indeed been loud in the raid, when it came to fighting, swiftly arranged a charge into the forest, but Vinga noticed that Humakt was hanging back, and teasingly called, “Come on, old man,” and away they ran. It was only when Vinga plunged into the forest that she understood Humakt was guarding her back, not lagging, for the Aldryami closed in on all sides.
Finovan’s war cries and the skill of the war band soon saw off the tree creatures. Vinga looked at Humakt who was cleaning his sword, but whose hands were covered in the sticky blood of those he had killed, and wondered, for of all the warriors here, he had killed every being he cut, and done so in silence.
Yinkin soon picked up the trail again, smelling out Eurmal and beer and sap, and they hurried onwards, until they came to a great hill, that held a famous fort of the Fire Tribe, and at the foot of it they stopped. “He has gone up here,” said Yinkin after turning a circuit of the hill, “And he came down sober and bleeding, but he did not smell of flight but of fear.” So they knew that the stolen power of Fight was there. From the great palisade there was brilliant light, and the sounds of feasting.
Humakt, who had visited the fort before, pointed the way to a cave, his voice still silent. “Does it lead upward?” asked Finovan. Humakt raised his chin in a nod, and Finovan rolled his eyes. Behind them, Vinga could see that the warriors were nervous, for the sound of feasting was loud, and the whole Tribe must be present.
Finovan ordered two warriors into the cave, and some minutes later they came tumbling back with faces of fear. Humakt and Finovan both stepped forwards, to see into the cave, and both looked at each other and then at Vinga. This time, Humakt pointed to himself with his thumb. Behind Vinga, the warriors babbled about a great beast with many legs and many eyes, a thing they could not name and dared not face.
Vinga did not hesitate. She looked into the cave, looked at the warriors cowering behind Finovan, and nodded at he who had been her uncle. “Finovan, get your warriors in order. Humakt, it is Orlanth’s Champion I require now.”
Humakt bowed instead of kneeling, and walked into the cave. He gestured to be followed, but did not look back to see he was. Outside, Finovan saw the signal, and knew he would be dishonoured if he did not go in, but when he looked at his men he knew they were in no fit state to follow, for they were exhausted by the Raid and the trail and the battle, and now facing one of the old Great Beasts, and so he ordered them quickly. “Stay behind, where it is warm. Guard the entrance, and keep it for us. I will go with the old Death God, and be sure he does not come to harm. Vinga, follow if you dare!” And in he plunged after Humakt, who was walking steadily uphill in the darkness.
With Vinga and Finovan just behind him, Humakt walked upward, and Vinga was surprised to find how she could only hear two sets of footsteps. Behind her, Finovan’s boots were loud, and her own fine sandals whispered against the rock, but ahead the Champion made no sound.
Further behind, Yinkin crept, his fur flattened and his tail down. But, for all his fear, he moved onward. The darkness was complete, and Finovan complained until Humakt drew his sword, which glowed with a deep blue light from a Truth Rune on each side. No shadows were cast by the Rune Light, but all was illuminated within the cave. Up ahead, they saw the huge bulk of a Great Beast, with dozens of legs and a score of eyes set over sharp mandibles. It seemed to be sleeping. For a moment Vinga and Finovan relaxed, until Humakt knocked with his shield on the wall of the cave, to be sure he did not attack without warning, and then its eyes began to glitter, white and gold and red, like the colours of the Fire Tribe, for this was the guardian they had set here.
Finovan gave a whoop and Vinga shouted in praise of the Champion, and Humakt stepped forward, face grim. The beast, as tall as he was and thrice as long, reared up on its many back legs, and tried to fall on him. He stepped, and cut, and stepped and cut again, until parts of the enemy lay in its own ichor, and half of its eyes were put out. As he moved for a final blow, it fell down before him, begging for life as a vanquished foe. Humakt pointed to a crevice in the wall, and it hauled itself that way, bleeding and reduced, eight legged now and with a strange pattern of eyes, and since that day all such beasts are eight-legged, in honour of Arachne Solar, and the fight with Humakt. Once it had been put into that form, it would never leave it again, for fear of insulting the great Web Weaver.
Vinga looked at Humakt, who was wiping down the metal parts of his shield, and whose clothing was torn on his shield arm where sharp legs had almost struck him, and decided not to ask him why he had given mercy.
At the top of the cave, the lights of the Fire Tribe made it easy to see the palisade before them. It was high and tall, and they were close enough that they could see spear-tops, but were under the very walls themselves, and the spearmen looking out from the brightness into the darkness could not see the four companions, so close were they to the wall. Yinkin behind them was dancing quietly, overjoyed at having survived the making of the first Spider.
Vinga looked at the height of the wall and frowned. To make that leap, she would need a running start, but there was not enough room. She searched the wall for handholds, but there were none within reach. “Let me stand on your shoulder,” she demanded of her brother, in an urgent whisper. Finovan refused. He did not want footprints on his armour and besides there was no glory in being another’s footstool. She turned to Yinkin, but he was too short although he looked willing. She would never reach the handhold she needed. Finally, she turned to the God of Death. “Champion, will you help me? I must return the Power of Flight to Orlanth.”
Humakt answered without words. He drew out all of the cloths he had used to clean his armour, his sword, and his shield, and placed them onto his right shoulder, seat of his swordarm, and knelt by the wall so that Vinga could creep onto his knee and his shoulder. He did not bend his knee towards the Fire Tribe, but away from their fort. As Vinga rose onto his shoulder he stood, and he was tall enough that she could do what was needed, and reach a tiny ledge just in her grasp. Nimbly, she went up and over the wall then, disappearing into the dark spaces between the guards who were oblivious to what was happening beneath their watch.
The courtyard was bright and full of the gods of the Fire Tribe. Jagrekriand and Elmal were arguing about how to make the Power of Flight work, while the Bright Emperor watched with glittering eyes. An idea came to Vinga, and she leaned over the palisade to wave Humakt and the others away, back into the cave. Then she turned and boldly leapt into the midst of the Fire Tribe, red hair and white teeth gleaming in the light. “I can show you,” she offered with a grin.
Jagrekriand howled when he saw her and lunged, but she danced out of reach. She leapt and dodged and twirled gracefully, slipping between the fingers of the gods who tried to catch her until the Bright Emperor roared “Enough!” Everyone froze in place, including Vinga.
“Why would you teach this?” the God demanded. “Because I can,” was her laughing reply. “And it will make you more fun to fight later.” The ways of the Storm Tribe were mysterious, but they were always eager for battle, so this made sense to the Fire Tribe. “Then show us,” the Emperor demanded. Vinga gathered Orlanth’s Flight to herself, smiled broadly at those around her, and then took off, straight up into the sky, leaving only the echo of her laughter. She did not land until she had flown over the cave and found the place where the raiding band waited.
The raiders cheered at her success, but Humakt scowled, and Finovan called them to silence, saying they still had to return safely. Off they set at a run, with the Fire Tribe searching behind them, until Finovan asked, “Why can we not fly home now?” Grim-faced Humakt ignored him and kept running, but the warriors clamoured to be allowed to share in the gift of Flight and leave their enemies behind.
“This gift is not a toy to be played with,” came Vinga’s firm reply. “There’s been enough misuse of it already. Run!” She ran with them, swift and sure, even as they grumbled. Her feet churned up a wind that eased their run, even as it sent debris into the faces of their pursuers. Before long, they had made their escape and were on the path home. They passed the place where Eurmal had washed himself clean, and the place where he had made himself filthy, and the place where he had made Vinga drunk, and came to where she had found the war band. There, they rested, and Finovan told Vinga she was a warrior among warriors, but then Humakt stood, and spoke.
“Now that we are back where we began, I release my tongue from the prison of my teeth, for had I spoken before it would have been to warn our foes. Theft is not raiding, and had I not known that you were brave I would not have come at all, Red Vinga. Know this now, that should you ask such a thing of me again, I will refuse, for from this day forth I swear I will take no part in theft, even for a good end. Now, let us return, and tell your father what has transpired, and tell him swiftly to share this gift with many others who are of the Storm Tribe, that it can never again be stolen from one person.” Then he turned from her, and began to clean his face and hands, and the wooden parts of his shield.
Vinga was shamed by Humakt’s words. When they returned to Orlanth’s stead, she returned the Power of Flight to her father and told him the whole truth. Orlanth was angry at first, but listened to Humakt’s wisdom, and shared the Power of Flight with the others of his Tribe. From that day on, Vinga knew that Humakt’s Honour was uncompromising and she did her best to always be truthful and honourable in her dealings with him.