Torendra walked away from Dalla Tyrl. Disappointed but unsurprised that her erstwhile companions had forgotten her already. She held up the man-hating sword in the early evening, looking at its beauty. Remembering that to go armed in the empire was a crime for her kind, she quickly put it under the folds of her cloak. Intrigued now about the Wild Maiden, she set out to find out what she could about faith in pre-apocalypse Hepmonaland. The faith of her people.
Night really had fallen and despite having lived in this city for four years or so, she really didn’t know where to go. The disdain with which she had been treated meant that she was not inclined to return to the castle. And there was no chance of her avoiding something unpleasant at the waterfront dives where she’d spent her childhood. Dalla Tyrl had been, she could see now, just a lesson in humiliation. She had worked hard and received a fair wage, but it was a pay off; a way of keeping her and all the other Edium servants in their place. Well, that might still be acceptable for some of them, but not for Torendra. Not any longer.
Keeping the harbour on her left, she wandered westwards along the Gottesweg. She snorted. A foreign name. Like Kamveluna, the name of the city itself. So much here had been overtaken by the invaders. She passed the garrison barracks. Before, she’d had friends in the Ríannanloch. Now she recognized them for what they really were, instruments of oppression. She’d heard Haermond telling the ilin that soldiers were being deployed across the city to catch werewolves. Most likely it was just a ploy to keep martial law in the city.
She felt helpless, angry. It was as if there was nothing that she could do, alone to correct the injustices of the situation.
She found herself at the main doorway to the temple of the Suel God Thunder. One of the gods of her people. Not that she’d ever paid that much notice to religion before. But this was her religion. She remembered other people, ilin and serving classes describing it as more of a social club than a place of worship. An establishment where the trappings of ritual helped small men feel bigger. She knew now that such talk, such idle gossip, was largely the result of a jealous fear of the Suel Pantheon. Strong gods who were not afraid to take what they needed. Who were not afraid to take back what was theirs.
She ducked into the funduq that was the heart of the commercial district. At night it was quiet, the huge square with its colonnaded shop and office fronts looking like so many empty eyes in the gloom. Like empty mouths, she corrected herself, bigger. Empty mouths of the Empire and its millions of greedy people, hungrily consuming the sweat and breath of the Eduim who worked so hard in this place.
She slung her cloak back over her shoulders, man-hating sword still firmly in her grasp and with head held high, entered the temple of Thunder. The strongest bastion of institutionalised misogyny in the known world. There were four men inside. All wearing bearskins and short leather kilts. Each had a hand axe thrust through belt, held in place by a huge golden buckle showing a bearded face.
The altar bore shackles at the corners. Human sacrifice, that is, the slaying of a human for religious purposes, was not allowed in the empire, but there were other ways of appeasing the gods. Thunder is a god of male virility. He cares nothing for those upon whom his lust is visited, even by proxy. Rape is a crime within the empire, but apparently a religious rite amongst the Northern Suel. Any fool woman who walked into this place on her own in the middle of the night obviously knew what was likely to happen.
She walked through the temple, stepping over pools of urine and dried vomit from the rites that had concluded a few hours previously. Two of the under priests shadowed her as she advanced, subtly closing in on her. One large fellow stood in her way, blocking her from advancing on the high priest, his long white beard and golden circlet marking him apart from the others.
Torendra stopped, flicking her hair back with a careless toss of the head. Drawing up to her full height, she announced in a loud voice: “I am looking for the Gods.” It seemed as good a place as any to begin. The high priest glanced at the altar, he didn’t care at all what she’d come here for. His prayers had been answered, there hadn’t been a woman on the altar for two months. Not many volunteers, these days. “Our gods are here, child.” He answered with a dramatic sweep of his arm. “And they have obviously sent you to us for a purpose.” He could already feel his erection beginning to stir. She was young, strong and beautiful. His gaze feasted upon her womanly beauty. He looked forward to making her cry out loud, he imagined the long hours it would take to break her spirit. This was the best thing about being the chief priest of Thunder.
At a nod from the high priest, the two men behind her stepped forward to apprehend her. She brought the sword up and swung back to the one on her right flank. Surprisingly fast for such a large man, the priest in front of her stepped forward and brought his fist down on her arm. She dropped the sword. The high priest cackled with glee. “Thank you, oh Thunder, for your generous gift to your faithful.” Torendra swung punches and drew blood but she could not fight off three strong men. She was bundled around until the man mountain had her arms pinned and he brought her towards the altar.
The high priest ran a knuckle down the side of her face. She winced and spat at him. He struck her backhand across the face, splitting her lip. Forcing his other hand between her legs, he grabbed her throat and brought his face down to hers. “You think to come in to the house of Thunder, dressed as a Chooser, and demand to know of the Gods? What did you think would happen? Did you imagine that because that Aerdy witch invaded the sanctity of this place that any girl who thought she might dress as a Chooser could stroll into here and make fun of the faithful?”
At this point one of the men who had grabbed her earlier stooped to pick up her sword. “Let. Me. Go.” She said. “Or what, Chooser?” sneered the high priest. Having recovered Torendra’s sword, the first man brought it up in a reverse grip, being the only person facing him, Torendra could see the confusion turn to pain on his face as he stabbed himself clean through the calf. He yelled out and fell, clutching at his leg. The largest man was quickest to react, releasing Torendra and lunging for the sword, to draw it from his friend’s leg. He in turn struck himself two blows, the first to his legs and the next to his shoulder, before running himself through, spilling his entrails over the already wounded man laying on the ground.
In the confusion, Torendra snatched the old man’s hand-axe. His hands fastened over hers. There was a mad look in his eyes as he fought with her; he was obviously enjoying the tussle. He might be old, but he had still been a warrior to be reckoned with in his youth. Torendra could feel that she wasn’t going to win. She released her grip with one hand and slid it down. It bumped against his manhood, straining at the weight of his leather kilt. Unable to reach his gonads she grabbed his phallus, as hard as she could and twisted. He issued a soundless cry, and the look on his face could have been mistaken for pleasure. Maintaining her twisting grip, she wrenched the hand-axe from his grasp and smashed it into his forehead. It stuck there. She wondered momentarily why he didn’t fall, having taken such a grievous wound. She let go. He fell.
The last priest stood poised for flight. He’d seen the woman’s sword slay the others. He knew the legends. Too late, he’d recognised the scanty remains of the champions armour. He’d not recognised it earlier as he’d only known it with the chain mail sections in place. He spread his palms towards her and stepped backwards. “I know thee.” His voice shook slightly.
Torendra was still pulling herself together. She picked up the man-hating sword and casually decapitated the one wounded man. The remaining priest made no reaction, almost as if it was what he expected. She brandished it in his direction. He wished she wouldn’t, he knew more about it than she did.
“What Aerdy witch?” Torendra demanded. “Tell me and I shall spare you.” She had no intention of so doing, of course. He would easily identify her to the authorities and she would be hunted down like a dog.
“There was an Aerdy, whose style was Ardneró. She came here a month past, accompanied by a quaj-fighter and two Frunze berserkers. She was a priestess of your goddess.” Still the man tried to keep his distance from that sword.
“My goddess?” She shook her hair and lowered her sword. Slightly. “Yes,” he answered, “the Wild Maiden, the Queen of the Choosers of the Slain, the temptress, the eternal virgin.” He was now backed up against a pillar. She had him cornered.
“Temptress?” She asked. He glanced down at her body. He licked his lips, an involuntary response, perhaps. She continued to advance, careful to keep the sword point away from him. She walked forwards until they were nose to nose. He shuddered and hit the back of his head on the pillar, wincing. She stood with her legs slightly apart and gently thrust her hips forward. It was only when she began to rhythmically grind against him that she got the response she sought. She almost laughed. Men had so little control, he was helpless and he knew it. This was so easy. He was sweating now. “Yes, temptress.” she conceded.
“Eternal virgin?” She sounded incredulous. He didn’t answer, trying to look away. She reached with her free hand for the clasp holding the armoured plates over her breasts. She leant back. The threat of her exposed breast was enough to make him answer. “Yes. Until Armageddon begins, when there will be no more need to choose from amongst the valiant dead and the gods will visit her before the battle.” Torendra stepped backwards, away from the doomed priest. “Visit her?” The man's eyes glanced to the altar. The altar where women were ritually raped. Although not with as much regularity as the cult would have liked.
She stabbed him through the heart and left the city.
It was easy enough to wrap the sword in some rags to disguise it from the casual glance. She took some money she’d recovered from the temple of Thunder and spent it wisely; staying at Eduim owned and run guest houses on her way north. Rumours abounded in these uncertain times. The Eduim mercantile classes were clamouring for representation in government. About time too. Torendra would rather have seen a popular uprising against their foreign monarchist oppressors, but felt confident that it would come in time.
She detoured around the area where her Mura relatives had their village. She did not want to go there again. Inagas the weaver, her husband, the man who had sold her daughter, may be dead and long buried, but the sense of loss for the infant Inameal was too sharp still, even after seven years. She still longed for her daughter, still mourned for her mother and aunts. She had been mistreated by her life’s only father figure, deserted by her brothers, betrayed by her husband. She had been the merest of servants to the old king, and forsaken by her erstwhile companions. She could learn to hate a little more.
She found her way to Takalik Abaj, the remains of one of the ancient Moche cities that had existed before the downfall of their civilisation. There were a number of scholars there, mostly from the empire, but including a sizable minority of Eduim. They were led by a Perrenic woman. A knowledgeable and strong leader, someone of whom Torendra grudgingly approved. Torendra stayed at the ancient site for a month, soaking up the ambience and whatever knowledge she could find in equal measure. At least she now knew what she was looking for.
Shar (SHAHR) was the name by which the Moche worshipped the Wild Maiden. During their flight from the Eastern Flanaess and change from strongly misogynistic to matriarchal society, she advanced from minor goddess to the only official deity of the Moche city states.
The Proto-Moche who lived in the Flanaess alongside the Aerdy shared their tri-numerate war gods (The Old Chief, The Valiant Retainer and Thunder) but did not have their interpretation of the Wild Maiden as the chooser of the slain. For them, she was ‘just’ an expression of the female psyche.
During this transitional period, Shar was worshipped by those who wished to trick or control others through illusions, lies, betrayal, treachery, seduction, or threat of murder; being in control of a situation or being the one pulling everyone else’s strings was very important to Sharrans. She was also worshipped by many who favoured dark surroundings or who undertook deeds or did business in darkness, such as thieves. She was venerated by those who were bitter or were grieving over a loss and wished to find peace (especially through vengeance) and by individuals who wanted to forget. Those who knew their wits had been harmed and wanted to find peace or those who had been mentally harmed and wanted to remember fully or be restored in their minds also placated her. Many of the Moche feared nightfall, the casting of the cloak of Shar, because of the dangers that lurked in its folds.
At the birth of the matriarchal city-states that spread across the plateau and later beyond, their goddess, who had guided them thus far, began to be less fitted to being the patron deity of these states. Hatred and loss were the nature of Shar. She was a deeply twisted and perverse being of ineffable evil and endless petty hatred and jealousy. She ruled over pains hidden but not forgotten, bitterness carefully nurtured away from the light and from others, and quiet revenge for any slight, no matter how old. She had dominion over treachery, lies, illusions, thievery, and seduction. In her philosophy, the ends always justified the means. She revelled in the concealed, in that which is hidden, never to be revealed. She could always clearly perceive every being, object, and act performed within darkness.
Which was all very well, but the Queens of the Moche City States were beginning to fight wars with each other and launch campaigns of conquest. Sharrans began to rediscover their goddess as chooser of the slain. When, as an expression of this faith, choosers began to appear above the battlefields, the balance began to shift from subterfuge to martial prowess. Shar became a goddess of war and conquest.
In temples, representations of the goddess were either a huge female eye of solid purple with a large black pupil or paintings of a beautiful human with pale skin and long, blonde hair wearing a cowled cloak that merges into any shadows or darkness present. She smiled coldly and her large eyes had black pupils and were otherwise solid purple. Later depictions invariably had her wielding a sword and frequently winged.
The higher-ranking inner circle of her clergy remembered the old ways and revelled in secrecy. Illusions of all sorts were said to be hers to command at a whim. Legends tell that her singing voice was said to make those who heard it stand lost in hopelessness or willingly do whatever she instructed. Her eyes could spit forth magics that harmed or healed, and her touch could bring brief forgetfulness and solace or total loss of memory. She created darkness with a thought, and always moved in carefully sculpted shadows. Her kiss brought instant death or lifelong servitude to her cause.
The lower circles of the Moche priesthood stood ever girded for combat. Their weapon was the sword and their costume was made in imitation of the choosers. The very best of the champions were themselves the prime targets for sacrifice. Those who managed to fall in between the sacrifice of the very best and the disposal of the inferior stood a reasonable chance of making it to the inner circle.
Rites had always involved human sacrifice (usually abducted enemies). Although widely known about, these were conducted in secret, as befitted Shar’s idiom. As the city-states warred, prisoners became more available and eventually mass butcherings of prisoners, criminals and to please the goddess, martial champions from amongst her faithful became normal. The drinking of fresh blood and the eating of hearts by the priestesses became feeding Shar by proxy. She became carnally hungry and required ever more appeasement. Where wars had once provided human sacrifices as a by-product, now wars were fought expressly to gain prisoners to sacrifice.
When the Bugbears were also driven from the Flanaess and arrived amongst the northern city-states, it became evident that the only way for the Moche to defeat this new threat and survive was to become one power block and use their vast military resource as one. So the stronger of the city-states set about conquering their neighbours and building themselves into large empires. Of course, whilst they were doing this, the bugbears were picking off their cities one by one as the Moche fought each other. By the time the remaining city-states came to realise their folly, the bugbears were already stronger than the accumulation of remaining states.
The feral survivors of the Moche, the Mura, practice crude animism and have forgotten their Goddess. The worship of Shar quite possibly went with the Moche into slavery. If it survives therein, it is doubtless as different again as it was between the revenge/secret/murder goddess of the Flanaess and the war/blood goddess of the city-states.
So now she knew all about the worship of the Goddess in pre-apocalypse Moche society. It was not enough for Torendra. She had accepted the goddess’ gifts. She had slain in her name. Torendra went north, to the Shesh, a Mura tribe whose range included the very northern edge of Alcant. The Shesh are a fun, party loving tribe. Their animistic practices Torendra found to be an anachronism, a faith suited to their stone aged hunter gatherer lifestyle. She had seen the cities of the Moche and thought them to be far grander than Kamveluna. Hers was a world where women ruled and everything made sense.
The Shesh, however, made no sense to her. They traded with the empire, accepting its protection. But they lived still, for the most part, beyond its borders. They existed largely as their forbears had. They were the most relaxed people Torendra had ever met. Certainly the most relaxed Mura tribe. Nothing was urgent with them and yet it was not as if they were lazy or lacked energy; it all went into their drum parties. The whole lot of them would dance through the night, mesmerised by the hypnotic beat of their own drums, drunk on fermented jungle fruits and high on narcotic nuts from the mountains. But she was a guest, and made a great effort to join in. It was only when she put aside the sword and armour for that one evening that she was able to really enjoy herself.
The one thing the Shesh did give her was new hope. Ancient stories of tribes formed entirely of women, who hunted men either for food, sport or to reproduce, were a staple of legend across Teddin. Here within the boundaries of the rainforest, where the central plateau shed its water through the limestone border lands, the Shesh believed them to be fact. She made her preparations and girded herself for a long journey, before she just started walking north.
Despite having begun her adventuring career as a guide, she wasn’t really that experienced in the ways of the jungle. Two months after leaving Kamveluna, she was lost in the rainforest and close to starvation. She was found by two women who took her back to their village. Like many other Mura settlements on the plateau, it was a temporary encampment, the population moving around to where the food was and to avoid the Hurgilin.
It was on the third day when she noticed that there were no men in this village and that all of the women bore some kind weapon. Many were old, broken, worn down swords, the like of which she had seen littering battlefields in Tir Nan Og. Only these ones had once belonged to ilin and jalee. They were now kept serviceable by rubbing them on boulders in the streams. Blow pipes and bows were their weapons of choice, all poisoned, like any those of any other Mura tribe who wanted to survive.
She learned that the tribe had three tiers, maidens (those before their first oestrus), sisters and crones (those after their last oestrus). The passage from maiden to sister involves the girl leaving the tribe and slaying a man from another tribe. This rite of passage, known as ‘becoming’, Torendra later voluntarily undertook herself, having observed it first.
The maiden would trail out in to the jungle, along game trails and past watering holes, until she’d identified suitable prey. This, ideally, is a male of her own age. She is observed by some of the tribe’s sisters. If he is protected, accompanied by some of his tribe’s hunters, then they might assist the maiden by engaging them in combat whilst she tackles her quarry.
Having slain him in hand to hand combat, she returns to the village, going directly to their central shrine, an ancient and very worn statue within a circular enclosure. She enters from the east, where the statue’s ‘maiden’ face is and, holding her blooded weapon above her head, walks slowly sun-wise around the statue, chanting:
By the blood of this man, I pledge that none shall own my sisters or myself. By the blood of this man, I pledge that no man shall I put before my sisters or myself. By the blood of this man, I pledge to follow the footsteps of the goddess until I join her in the divine heavens of her garden.
After the maiden has completed a full circuit and recited her oath, she leaves the circular enclosure via the northern, adult, entrance and is now a full sister. Torendra asked about children. When the moons conjoined, the tribe would go out and capture a few select, strong, beautiful men. These they would keep for a lunar month, each sister taking him in turn. This process, due to a deeply ingrained hatred of men, took on a religious significance. It was done for duty, not for pleasure. Any pleasure derived from the act was assumed to be a reward from the Goddess, rather than the result of sexual congress with a man.
At the end of the month he was eaten. Any male children were thrown over a nearby precipice, any female children were sacrosanct. Thinking of her own circumstances, it struck Torendra as just. Telling her tale brought her a little closer to the tribe. That was when they invited her to undertake the ‘becoming’.
As she finished her vow, Torendra was seized by convulsions. Obviously some spirit had taken hold of her. When the fit subsided, she knew that she had been visited by whatever spirit it was that now manifests itself to these women. The splinter aspect of ancient Shar that remained here for this tribe, this last outpost of Moche culture, had recognised her. Torendra was once again able to perform the rituals of the Goddess that had been taught to her in Tir Nan Og. Osdann’s witches had taught her their rites and now the impoverished aspect of the goddess who remained here had renewed that power.
She set about teaching the rituals to the crones. The sisters continued to practice their sword play. All of them are taught from their earliest days that men are inherently evil and must not be spared for any reason once they have performed their sole task – procreation. They reserved their greatest disgust for the subservient female. A man cannot help what he is and cannot reasonably be expected to change, but every woman is a living embodiment of the Goddess, capable of bringing life into the world. And woman who allows herself to be ruled by a man has turned her back on the Goddess and is thus beneath their contempt.
Having restored (spell casting) to the tribe who she now earnestly believed to be the inheritors of the Moche, she knew that she still had not found her answer. Accepting that to leave the central plateau would place her beyond Shar’s reach and thus unable to call upon her power, Torendra resolved to go to Aerdy, where this other woman had come from, to seek answers there.
The three months of spiritual exploration has given Torendra the following (42 DP package):
Profession change Chooser of the Slain (Paladin/holy warrior of the Suel Goddess known as ‘the Wild Maiden’)
She has also had her spell casting ability (as conferred to her by Danu in Tir Nan Og) restored for as long as she remains within the Teddin primary rainforest.
Returning to the Empire
Torendra travelled south once more. To reach Aerdy would mean taking a ship, which would mean leaving via one of the Empire’s ports. This was no great hardship, although it would mean estrangement from Shar once she left the jungle. But then, the chance was, whatever form the Wild Maiden took in Aerdy would also entail leaving Shar behind. Torendra did not view this as abandoning her patron Goddess, rather that she would embrace her patron Goddess, in her myriad forms, in the local fashion wherever she was to be found. She could always return to Shar later.
Whilst she travelled it became apparent that the old king of Alcant had died (It was said that he had been slain by werewolves, but that was most likely a device of the ruling classes to perpetuate martial law). His son, the elf-man who had not even noticed Torendra when she lived in Dalla Tyrl, was only a caretaker ruler. Alcant was to be given away (as if it was some prize or bauble) to one of their Clan’s oldest and most faithful allies. Torendra thought on this. It was true that this was a perpetuation of the old regime. However, the new ruler was to be Pernostir, not a full bloodied elf; thus the monarchy was on a swift road to equality with it’s vastly human subjects. This was a good thing. It would hasten the revolution and the eventual, inevitable, return of Teddin to the rule of the Moche.
This also meant that her former comrades would most likely be looking to leave Teddin as well. Torendra knew that most of them had strong links to the Flanaess, so it seemed likely. Logically, that meant that they would be travelling near, through or past Aerdy, as it was between Teddin and the Flanaess. She may have been born into the oppressed underclass, but she was nobody’s fool. If she could find them again, then that should prove to be a route to where she wanted to be.
As she continued her long journey south, she contemplated being reunited with them. Her only real friend, as she saw it, was Kamilata. He had a good, strong Edium name. He carried a locally made tin whistle that he described as a family heirloom. He suffered much less in the heat than the others. And yet his Eduim was patchy at best and heavily accented, as if he was really a native Flanne speaker. Still, as Jalee, he was as much a servant as she had been. It had been Kamilata who had given her the only formal sword fighting training that she’d ever had (hence her use of a style that is supposed to rely on a large shield and heavy armour for protection).
The others were all ilin class. The ruling class. The oppressors. They taxed, they dictated policy, they were the only ones allowed to bear arms, the only ones with horses, the only ones who lived in fortified agadirs. But wait, she was getting carried away, she returned to remembering specifically her former companions. There was Tûd, who had strange ideas and wanted to collect skulls. He’s a distasteful weirdo. There is Thranduil, who is some kind of warrior monk. He’s an elven prig. He thinks he’s so good looking.
And then there’s the high and mighty princess. Forgileill. Youngest daughter of the old (dead) king. When Torendra had first started at Dalla Tyrl, she and the princess had got on fine. It was only after Torendra volunteered to translate for them, to put her life on the line to help, that she found out that the princess is a deceitful, treacherous little minx who cares nothing for any body.
Torendra would definitely have to work on Kamilata, he’d come round soon enough, once she began pointing out to him all the faults with the others.