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Humakt's Oath

By Guy Jobbins

I am Uljar Breaknose, I bear the standard of this legion. I stand at the right side of the warleader in the shieldwall, and I am the honour and tradition of our company. It is to me you make your initiation vows, through me you enter our Wyter, with me you make oaths of obedience and reciprocal respect.

This story that I tell you is the most important one I know. Only those who have grasped the profound mysteries of Our Lord are ready to receive it, and it is not for profane ears. Now you have committed yourself more deeply to the God you are ready to hear its wisdom. This story starts with a question that we have all meditated upon – What is it to say that Humakti are honourable warriors, and that Humakt is a honourable god?

Why do we say Humakt is honourable? If you ask a farmer, he will say Humakt is honourable because he never takes more than his due. If you ask a Lawspeaker, he will tell you the God is honourable because he is impartial and fair in his judgment. A king will say his honour comes from loyalty and faithfulness. A priest will say it is because he wields Death wisely and cautiously. A weaponthane will say that honour is the path of the true warrior, for on its path a terrible power can serve the good of the community.

Our stories say that Humakt is honourable because when Eurmal took Death and spread it in the world, Humakt tracked it down and tamed it. Then he severed his kinship, so that he would never be able to wield this power with partiality. In this way he took responsibility for his actions, for Humakt unleashed Death and he recognised that he should take up its burden. Later Orlanth recognised the same thing, and that is when he went on the Lightbringer Quest.

In many ways this is true, but it is not the whole truth.

Do you think Humakt was always this way? Do you thank the gods it was Humakt who found Death, rather than Vadrus or Gargath, or even Urox? Listen.

When Humakt was a youth he had one interest. Fighting. He was wild and intemperate, and would raid with his brothers, squabble over trifles and feast lustily long into the night. Like others of the Storm Kin, he desired recognition, followers and power. We all know these things mean that no one can make you do anything. Whilst the Bright Emperor ruled all the Storm Kin longed for freedom, but what would happen after none knew. Like others of the Storm Kin, Humakt thought that perhaps he could be king.

He was not as strong as Urox, as cunning as Orlanth, as wild as Gargath, or as fierce as Vadrus, but he was determined. In order to best them he practised his swordplay constantly, for skill gave him advantage over the enthusiasm of others. In that way he was different, but he was still vicious and selfish.

Then Eurmal Lie-smith came with his story of a hidden secret. He taunted Humakt until the brash young god swore to seek it out. Eurmal told Humakt because he was scared to take it for himself, and Humakt agreed to find it because he was proud and wanted power.

We know what happened next. Eurmal showed Humakt where the secret was kept, and the God took it. Then he tried it out on Grandfather Mortal and discovered that the secret was Death. Eurmal the Thief stole Death and gave it to Orlanth who killed the Emperor, and then stole it again and gave it to everyone in the world.

Humakt was beyond angry – his secret, his power had been stolen from him. Worse, his own brother had taken it, and theft between kin is forbidden. Humakt felt betrayed by Orlanth, with whom he had always had rivalry. He wanted revenge, but knew that if theft amongst kin were evil, then killing would be worse. He used his secret to cut the ties that bound him to his kin, so determined was he to revenge himself on his brother.

But while Orlanth too wielded Death, Humakt was not certain of victory. Certainly he was the better fighter, but Orlanth was cunning and lucky in war, and had skills of his own. Humakt decided to gather together all the pieces of Death he could find, so that when he finally faced Orlanth his Death would be stronger.

He set off on his quest immediately. It was longer and harder than he expected, because for the first time he had to do everything by himself. He had no kin to call on for support, and he faced many problems he did not know how to solve, like when seven stars spoke to him in a dream he couldn't interpret. He realised for the first time that whilst violence was always an option, it didn't always help. Yet he always used his skill to best advantage in collecting Death together.

First he found Grandfather Mortal and said to him, "yours was the first Death, so you belong to me." The soul couldn't resist, but as Humakt carried him the God felt Grandfather Mortal's horror and sadness at what had happened to him. Humakt was grim after that.

He went to the Dwarves, who had trapped Death in ensorcelled machines, and demanded it back. They refused. So he challenged them to a contest with his personality and Death as the prizes. The dwarves tried to cheat, of course, and when Humakt won the contest fair and square they refused to part with Death. The god had beaten them so thoroughly, though, that he just took it as his rightful prize. Yet after that Humakt was somehow less than he had been before – more single-minded.

He went to the Aldryami, who had started to grow Death in plants. They too were loath to surrender the power because it helped them in their wars with the Uz, but Death did not seem to grow very well and made plants sicken. Aldrya herself spoke with Humakt, and arranged a compromise. Humakt gave up his fertility to her, and agreed to protect the Death of the Aldryami. That is why the God is known amongst them to this day, and was how Humakt found out that Death can pollute Life and vice-versa. He was more powerful after that.

He went to the Uz, where Zorak Zoran delighted in his new toy. He would use it on people and then make them walk around afterwards like puppets by using magic. He thought this was very funny. Humakt challenged him too, for it was clear he wouldn't give it up. They fought long and hard, and although both survived it was a near thing. Humakt took Death back from the Slaughterer, but afterwards his hair and eyes and armour had turned black, and were so ever after. The loss of his toy made the Uz god so angry that he uses his foul magics to raise undead just to spite Humakt. They have been bitter enemies ever since.

Humakt went to many other places and struggled with many other gods. Mostly he had to fight, but sometimes he recovered Death by other means. Humakt has many secret connections from this time. He was always successful, but each victory had cost him something.

Eventually he had only one piece left to find before he would go to challenge Orlanth. The river gods had taken Death and used it to drown their enemies, and their mother, the mighty dark Styx, wielded the power.

Weary from his quest, Humakt stood before the deepest river and spoke Her name. He was no longer the same as he had been. Dressed in black, his fertility, his humour, and his kin were no more. Everything had been sacrificed to his goal, until nothing but Death remained. The River Mother regarded him silently, and even she, Queen Styx, feared him.

"River Mother, Darkest Styx, I have come for what is mine."

"It does not seem a burden that fits you well, my Lord," she replied. "For you are much changed since last I saw you." She said this for Humakt had already defeated her when he took Death in the company of Eurmal, for the Styx had been one of Death's guardians.

"It is heavier than I realised," he admitted. "But it is still mine. Will you give it up to me, or shall we fight again?"

Styx thought for a while before replying. "Last time we fought, Death was an unnamed secret I had sworn to protect. Now it has been loosed in the world by my weakness, Vivamort's faithlessness, Eurmal's mischief and your pride. It cannot be unlearned, for that is the way of secrets – that which looses the purity of Darkness can never be made whole again."

"Yet it would be better to have it as whole as it may be, so long as its guardian were strong and noble. You have shown your strength. If you can show me your nobility, then I will help you. In that way perhaps I can make amends for not stopping you before."

Humakt stood in the silent darkness, the Goddess flowing around his feet. He thought of the world he had seen on his quest, and of the Deaths he had collected. Dimly he remembered his thirst for vengeance, and more dimly still his reasons for following Eurmal.

"Foolish and proud, I was," said the God, finally. "This thing has let a great evil into the world. Better I had not listened to Eurmal, for people see this thing as a Power, not as the Mystery it truly is. Their petty ambitions, foolish, weak lusts corrupt its purity and lead to Chaos – they do not comprehend it. Now these Deaths lie on my shoulders like the weight of the world, and I am weary of it. Yet if I do not support it, what may happen? If Chaos overcomes, may not even Death die? I swear this on your own waters, I must hold this thing so long as I am able."

The goddess rippled outwards, creating an island. "Three gifts I shall give you, Humakt; Death, a hall, and friendship."

Thus it was that Humakt built his hall in a place bounded by the Styx, who thereby enacted her old vow to protect Death. As he built his hall it was filled by the Deaths he had collected, and ever after the dead have made their way there.

In filling the hall enough of the burden was lifted from Humakt's shoulders that he felt strong enough to continue. Now, however, he quested not for vengeance, but from duty. He returned to the surface world and tracked down his brother. How they confronted one another, and how Humakt sent Orlanth to Hell to take responsibility for his actions is well known, but is not the point of this story.

This story is called Humakt's Oath, and it tells how Humakt became himself, and how he learned from Styx that Severance and Binding are two faces of the same mystery."

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