The Year of the War Clan

by Pam Carlson

Here's a story generated by our last session of Jeff Richard's Taming of Dragon Pass campaign. (Yes, the one where we're all farmers.) It illustrates a lot of points:

  1. Orlanthi/Ernaldan women are a helluva lot scarier than the men.
  2. How a bunch of peaceful, well meaning farmers started on the road to becoming one of Sartar's most feared clans.
  3. Just how comfy the "freedom" of traditional Orlanthi politics and life really is.

Cast of characters:

Ormsthane Vale; Varmandi clan lands. Winter 1350

The snow fell deep and silent around Theyastead. (Theya Two Mothers was the only one who still called the stead after her father, Jarang). Theya sat with her brothers' wives and children. Shadows leapt and and staggered along the mud walls as they pounded hides by the weak light of the small fire. Svar was hunting, as usual. The rest of the men had been gone for days, patrolling their border with the Orleving clan. All of them.

"Where is Da?", asked little Jaran, bored with hides.

"He's out... hunting", replied Tamara, his mother.

"Don't lie to the child", insisted Theya. "He is Varmandi, too." To Jaran: "Your father is down near Uncle Gulik's stead, waiting for Mad Blood Malan and his warriors. There will be a terrible fight this year. We must be ready."

"How come?" asked Jaran. With the same breath: "Can I go?"

"Not this year", replied Theya. "You can go when Orlanth hears you. But you should know why Malan feuds with us."

Theya rested her hide-stone. "Malan is a thane who follows Humakt Deathmaster. He scorns the Great Mother. His clan is a war clan every year! (1) They can only live by demanding tribute from others. Our thane, Varmand, is the last free thane in these parts. Two years ago Malan swore that he would collect tribute from us too -- or that he would slay us all trying.

"Malan commands several clans -- we are only one. We need allies. Varmand already paid tribute to King Kagradus of the Colymar -- he figured he should get something for it. So Varmand went with us to the cattlefair in Clearwine. He exchanged great gifts with King Kagradus, and with his son, Borngold the Ring Giver. They talked of the Varmandi clan joining the Colymar tribe. This was a very difficult thing for Varmand -- he loves to follow his own wyrd. In that way, he and us Jarangings are much alike.

"Kagradus was old, and the Goddess was tiring of her worn-out husband. Crops were poor and calves were getting rarer. That winter, the Lady of the Wild was particularly bold. She came right into this stead and took my poor daughter, Kaelis! The priestesses of the Great Mother in Clearwine -- the Orendanae -- demanded that a new king slay the old to appease the goddess. I joined the Orendanae that year. I learned to hold these wild spirits at bay, so I can keep you all safe! But after that could feel the Goddess' displeasure with Kagradus. I would have slain him myself, because his weakness killed my daughter! But that wasn't the proper way.

"Borngold was the eldest son of Kagradus. I can tell you, Orlanth the Husband ran strong in him. Borngold sought to take his father's place, as his father Kagradus had slain his grandfather, Colymar, years before. But Borngold had a rival in the Colymar tribe -- a thane called Barngradus.

"Now, your Uncle Heorl is well known for his wisdom, and his respect for the Laws of Heort. At this cattle fair, Heorl was asked to settle a lawsuit between your Aunt Arene and her former husband, Hrut. Hrut was from the Konthasos clan, and Bargradus was his kinsman. Heorl showed everyone the right of your aunt to the return of her dowry. This angered the Konthasos greatly, for it was a great price. Hrut's brother, Hoskuld, refused the ruling, and challenged Heorl to a duel! Heorl sent a champion -- your foster cousin, Korol. Now, you all know that Korol's first love is poetry, and he aspires to be a Goodvoice.

"Korol make funny poems!" shouted Ulanna, who was only four. "Everyone laugh!"

"Well, yes", said Theya. "Though he doesn't try to make them funny. But that day Korol slipped, and he killed Hoskuld. That's why he's now called Korol the Killer. What a name for a Goodvoice!

"Anyway, the lawsuit and the killing created a rift of sorts in the Colymar tribe. The Konthasos clan wanted Barngradus as the next king. The Ernaldori, the clan of Borngold and your Aunt Arene, had the support of the Orendanae. Because Heorl won the lawsuit for the Ernaldori, the wyrd was set for us Varmandi. Varmand agreed to back Borngold, if Borngold would send an army to help us fight Mad Blood Malan.

"Now, you know that every year on Orlanth's Day in Storm Season, we Varmandi preform Orlanth's Rescue of the Light and the Life. But last year we had to fight Mad Blood Malan and his Humakti. So we chose the Trial of the Orlanth and the Emperor. We cheered as Varmand proved the Rights of Orlanth and slew the Evil Emperor. Then we voted the clan ring full of warriors -- not one priestess of the Goddess. With those acts, we Varmandi became a War Clan.

"Varmand led many of the men in the severe and secret rights of Orlanth the Warrior. Even on the Goddess' Day, I prayed only for the strength to heal the wounds of our warriors. The crops would be worse than ever, and the winter would go terrible hard. But if we didn't win our fight with Malan, we would be dead anyway.

The children had been fidgeting during the talk of dowries and calves, but Theya had their attention now.

"Fireseason finally came. I returned from Clearwine with the Orendanae. They brought Borngold and all his Ernaldori warriors. Borngold had easily won his fight with the old king, and slain him in the Holy Glade. But now he had to win his "Crown Test" -- to prove that he could be King of the People, as Orlanth is King of the Gods. He had set for himself the task of collecting the Orlkar tribute. That is a tribute that Malan swore to pay the Colymar for settling on their lands, but Malan the Honorless never pays it!

"Borngold brought four hundred warriors. With our hundred Varmandi, we had five hundred warriors in all -- as many as Malan had! But we had the Orendanae, too. They called upon the Taking Mother to feed on the blood of the warriors who fell that day, in return for victory!

"Malan's scouts had seen us. He and his thanes roared out to meet us. Borngold attacked the center. Varmand, a clever old fighter, led us around the flank. The Orendanae stayed behind Borngold, to shame his warriors lest they find fear. Because nothing is as dear to me as the folk in this stead, I followed my brothers -- your fathers -- around to their fight. Inspired by Orlanth the Warrior, our men were fearsome! Varmand called down a sylph to carry him directly to Orlev, his old enemy. Orlev's women failed him, and allowed him run in fear! Varmand took his banner. The Orlevings learned to hate and fear us Varmandi that day.

"Borngold fared less well. He lost too many warriors. The Malani finally fled to their fort, but Borngold was too spent to persue. So we stirred up a viper's nest, but failed to crush it.

"Borngold and his warriors licked their wounds here in Ormsthane Vale for two weeks. Then came the news that the Colymar Storm Voices had given the Black Spear of Colymar to Barngradus, and now called him king! Having failed his first, Borngold was to have a second Crown Test. Reluctantly, we Varmandi voted to stand by our honor and continue to support Borngold. We marched to the Nymie Vale.

"Barngradus' army of fresh Konthasos warriors was waiting in the Vale. The Orendanae summoned the Great Mother, and promised that she would feed on another king this day! (2) Barngradus' Storm Voices summoned the Winds of Orlanth.

Borngold's men lost heart. Our Vamandi men fought like fiends! (3) But that day the Wind was stronger than Borngold, and Barngradus took his head.

"Varmand led us all to a stout hilltop, and we faced down the whole Colymar tribe on its own lands. But even the King of the Colymar feared to fight Varmand that day! Barngradus sent his haralds, and Killer Korol went out to speak for Varmand. The agreement was not a good one. The Varmandi could leave Colymar lands without a fight, but next spring we have to pay tribute to King Barngradus, all because we had supported Borngold the Usurper. Worse, Barngradus called us bandits and thieves! He refused to accept us into the Colymar. He has left us to face Mad Blood Malan alone.

"Although we have not lost many warriors dead, most are wounded. Some of Borngold's more loyal followers were outlawed by the Colymar, and have joined us in shame. We have not the food to survive the winter and still pay Barngradus, so last Earth Season we raided the Orlevings, just after the Goddess' Day.

"Raid on the Goddess' Day?" asked Jaran. "Isn't there Always Another Way?"

"Not when you're a War Clan, dear", replied Theya. "Orlev's land was healthy and produced a great harvest, because of all the warriors' blood the Orendanae gave to the Goddess there. We just took it back.

"But now the Orlevings are crying for a feud, and Mad Blood Malan is happy to help his clients. Fireseason is the time for war, but Malan is given over to Death, and this is the season of it. That's why our men are all down valley, waiting."

The children were silent as Theya Two Mothers picked up her stone and resumed pounding. One by one, the other women of the stead followed her lead.

(1) Most Orlanthi clans divide their physical and magical energies between agriculture and war. A clan becomes a "war clan" when it decides to devote the greater part of its energies to war. This makes their warriors superior fighters for the year, but greatly decreases the clan's fertility. Few clans can afford to be a war clan for more than a year at a time.

(2) There is a lot of politicking going on here between the Orendanae and the Storm Voices that Theya, as an Orendanae inititate, would never reveal. During the reigns of Colymar and Kagradus, the Orendanae directed the Colymar tribe to a great extent -- a secret power behind the King. (Colymar's Orendanae wife, the original high priestess of the vale, had been from Esrolia). Though the Orendanae claimed they cared not which king won the contest, Borngold's mother was a high priestess of the Orendanae. By supporting Barngradus, the Storm Voices of Orlanth hoped to install a king who would listen to them before the Orendanae. When Barngradus took the field with Colymar's Black Spear and the Storm Voices, the Orindanae lost heart as much as Borngold. When they promised another king sacrifice to the Goddess, they were desperately trying to retain a hold on whichever claimant survived.

(3) The Varmandi were the only war clan present at the Battle of Nymie Vale.

Last updated 16 Jul 96 drd

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