Pavis back

A private meeting

Godsday, Movement week, Fire season

"Egil, Silence, please, and test it. I don't want anything said in here being heard outside."

With that done, Dori relaxes a little. "Right. First thing, before we even get on to the vital security leak that's several weeks old: I am not allowed to deceive people under my command even by omission, and I've had more than enough of trying to juggle conflicting oaths. I'm sure we don't want me accidentally dropping dead mid-conversation due to an incautious word or two, so let's clear things up. To start with, when I mentioned "existing orders, even the earliest", what Illig and I were referring to was one he gave me about ten years ago, that no-one else has ever known about. It was "if possible, try to keep her alive"."

Kallyr stares at her, apparently as surprised as anyone else. "He told you to do that, way back then? You were what, eighteen? It explains a few things, but he was expecting a lot of you."

Dori smiles wryly. "Making my life easy has never been one of Illig's primary objectives, it has to be said. But if you remember, that was the easy part of the job - only I can't explain further, because I'm oath-bound on the subject. You're not. Would you please explain to everyone else what was going on back then, or at least my part in it? It won't go any further, and the information is sufficiently out of date now that oath-binding on them won't be necessary."

"I suppose not, though there's some aspects will still have to be kept quiet. All right. Ten years back, Dori was hired from the Legion as a caravan guard, working for Efridel. What she was actually doing was using that as a cover to carry messages between the Resistance in Sartar and certain people in Sun County, Vega Goldbreath in particular. The idea was to have synchronised rebellions in both places at once, and it very nearly worked. At this end of the chain, she reported to me and Minaryth, and no-one else, at that end, only to Vega and one of her subordinates. Efridel knew what was going on, Illig knew what the intention was, and that was it. She was oath-bound never to speak of it to anyone who didn't already know about it, in part for her own protection." She looks up at Dori. "I think that covers enough that you can explain the rest to them at your leisure."

"Yes, and thanks. The only part that really does have to stay quiet for now is the extent to which Vega is still on our side. The Lunars think she's on theirs, and they're wrong. Someday, that might be significant." She sits still on the desk. head slightly cocked as if listening. "No, still alive. Looks like that got them inside the limits of the oath."

Egil seems to shrug most of the information off although he is mulling it over in his own way. "Well, orders are orders and you have do what you're told. Fair enough. What concerns me more right now is this leak. Any suggestions of a name we might be able to question in an enthusiastic way? You know what I mean? Let Aelf talk to them for a bit."

"I'm afraid I've got no idea who your leak might be," Kallyr answers soberly. "If it wasn't impossible, I'd say Harthdaran was using her usual magic, but in this case, it can't be done. When I say she's a specialist hunter-killer, what she does is find people the Lunars are interested in by bloodline. In particular, she was the one who tracked down and killed every member of the House of Sartar she could find. We'd assumed Humakti would be immune, since you sever from your bloodline, but possibly not - and if not, there's one very obvious target for her. I'd have thought she'd have spotted him long ago, though, if she could."

"Oh, no," Dori says softly. "As if we weren't unpopular enough with the Lunars already. I think I may have an idea how her magic's working, though - quite recently, we met a vampire who was absolutely sure that being Humakti didn't affect a magical requirement to be of the same bloodline. He never got to test the theory, but if he was right, and if she's somehow got hold of vampiric magic.... well, that second ambush was definitely targetting Illig. She's found out about his father."

Graylor, who has been standing close to the door barring the exit, has been listening with interest but missing a lot of the background. The fact that Illig actually had parents somewhat startled him though. He had the vague image of Illig emerging fully formed and armed directly from the forehead of Humakt, without any need for mortal interference.

"Randella also had vampire magic, a vial that she used to make herself invisible. Could she have also had contact with this Harthdaran? She said something about it being given to her by a friend. It seem wherever we look at the moment we are surrounded by followers of the Empty One. But to the question of finding if Harthdaran is using vampiric magic to learn our secrets, I am sure that my brethren and I can help."

"Vampiric magic? She said it was chaotic... but no, there's no way she'd ever refer to Harthdaran as a friend, she knows all too well how I feel about her. When I say she used to be after the House of Sartar, that includes killing my dad and wiping out the clan as a side-effect. If I'd been there...." she stops, and shrugs. "Then I'd be dead too. But yes. Not happy, and Randella knows it. I thought she'd said she'd got that thing from someone here in Pavis, when she was here a few years back, a master thief who gave her some training. Harthdaran can't have spent any time in Pavis, because the remains of Dorasor's line aren't dead yet, so it's probably coincidence. In fact... that's a thought. If she gets drawn to Pavis hunting Illig, the Garhound line probably will be dead soon afterwards. You'd better think about either protecting them, or moving away."

"Or killing her." They'd almost forgotten Elendala was there, quietly guarding Dori as usual.

"Or killing her, yes. Good luck with that, I've been trying for nearly twenty years, and those scars are the closest I've got."

"But with my permission, madame, you aren't Illig!" states Abul with a lightly fanatical accent.

Egil feels he is running to catch up as the conversation seems to be speeding off away from him. "Wait! Go back a bit. What about his father? Apart from being his father what's so special about him? Is his father Humakt? I know he isn't much followed for his fertility but he is a god so all things are possible."

"And Arkat was known as Humaktsson," Dori comments. "It's a lovely idea, and quite believable, but no, the divine descent is a few generations further back."

"It isn't generally known in the Legion, then?" Kallyr seems quite surprised by that. "This idea of no deception by omission only goes so far?"

Dori's eyes narrow slightly. "Don't push it... you wouldn't want to upset Egil at the moment. As you pointed out earlier, some things are simply irrelevant, and relationships before severing are one of them. Since some outsiders don't understand that, this is both irrelevant, and need-to-know, up till now. What's generally known is that his mother was a minor Tarshite noble, and hence assumed to be a Lunar sympathiser, his father was a one-night friendship. For some reason, no-one asks for any more detail. But now, it becomes relevant, so they get told - and since your information is first-hand and mine is second, go ahead."

Kallyr laughs. "And that's completely true. Nice. Well, I doubt if she was a Lunar sympathiser. His father..." she grins. "His father was Sartarite, and already had four children by his first wife, who had died a few years earlier. Yes, he only paid a brief visit to Tarsh, but he must have kept in touch. Illig was brought up in his mother's clan, but when he became an adult, his father sent for him to come down to Sartar and join his bloodline there: he wasn't all that impressed with his own kids, and wanted to see if Illig was more suitable to take over his position. Unfortunately for him, Illig had initiated to Humakt almost as soon as he became adult, and refused."

Dori sighes patiently. "All very dramatic, and absolutely true. Go on, give them the punchline."

"Dori, you have no idea how to tell a story... all right. If Illig had chosen - if he chose now - to join his father's bloodline, he's the youngest son and chosen heir of Terasarin, last-but-one Prince of Sartar. He'd be head of the bloodline, with a much better claim to the throne than anyone else alive - and, incidentally, my uncle."

"I'm not sure my Lord would take it well if I killed his niece, although the Sword isn't so scary knowing what good I would have done to this world." Egil says without a hint of a smile. "This Harthdaran isn't being all that clever though. It's going to be quite easy to find the heir to Sartar's royal family compared to, say, the family of Egil the Scrote. Mind you, I do like the idea of being part of the King of Sartar's personal guard."

"Prince of Sartar, not King," Kallyr corrects him. "And first of all, you'd have to persuade him to resheath. Go ahead, that's another thing I've been trying to do for a few decades, ever since that first time I met him. That was when it happened, when Terasarin called his eldest son - my dad - a coward for being a healer not a warrior. So, naturally, I grabbed the nearest weapon, which happened to be Illig's dagger, and challenged him. Illig intervened, and made that promise about being my champion, Terasarin backed down."

"You stole a weapon from Illig in order to try to kill someone you saw as an evil ruler?" Dori repeats. "Interesting."

Graylor too raises an eyebrow. Perhaps he wasn't too far wrong with the Lightbringers theme after all.

"I thought you knew the story - Raven? And congratulations on the promotion, by the way."

"Not that detail."

"This is very interesting." Graylor interrupts. "But, how is this going to solve the problem of Kallyr being executed at sunset? Since I presume that this meeting is supposed to have that effect."

Graylor looks thoughtful for a while. "I'm having another one of those flights of fancy that you though so amusing earlier. Dori, you have standing orders to protect Kallyr, and duel as proposed by Seledd would stand instead of a decision by the warleader, right?"

Dori nods. "That is correct."

"If any of us were to propose the same duel, then Illig is honour-bound to fight for Kallyr as her champion. Thus making the outcome inevitable. Kallyr would be exonerated by right of trial by combat. All we have to do is couch the the terms of the duel into a form that means Illig is honour-bound not to use his sword, which means that the challenger stands a good chance of only losing by first blood and not by dying. Is that any use or are there more revelations that make my mad scheme redundant?"

"That's a good idea, and a useful fall-back plan if we need it. The slight hitch is that both duellists are obliged to do their best to win, and in Illig's case that does mean using that Sword. Duellists are forbidden to use the Secret, but there's no such limit on what their weapons do, so it depends on what mood the Sword's in: the challenger may well end up dead. That doesn't stop me doing it, but it would be a slight disadvantage, and in any case I'd rather not put Illig in that position if I can help it."

"But, I think I may have a better idea, and you're quite right that that's the main reason I wanted us in a much smaller group and inside a Silence. It rather depends on whether the deductions you and Abul came up with earlier, and the additions I thought of, are anywhere near correct."

She turns back to Kallyr. "We're inside a Silence here, and no-one outside can hear anything said inside. That includes Illig. I'm guessing that that makes a difference to what you're willing to say."

The answer is an explosive sigh of relief. "Yes. Yes, it certainly does, but do you understand why?"

"What Abul realised earlier was that you're on a heroquest, right now, and in the role of Orlanth, not Vinga or Rigsdal. Orlanth comes to Humakt, and asks forgiveness for stealing and misusing a weapon - it all fits, and now we know you've been tied to Illig as Humakt for years, and even have almost the right relationship - niece, not younger brother, but close enough. We can't work out which quest it is, but that station exists on a lot. You're using the idea that to make a quest as strong as possible, it should match the mundane as closely as possible, so Illig has to react as if the betrayal and apology are real. If he realises this is a station on a heroquest, he's more likely to simply obey the plot rather than making a real, meaningful decision: that's why you didn't want discussion of that point earlier. Are we right so far?"

Kallyr looks from one to another of the group with a touch of incredulity. "This was your new team of very junior Raven's Eyes who worked this out? Yes, you're right - right enough that I start to wonder if you can read minds. But if you can see what's going on, how in the world is Illig missing it?"

Dori exchanges glances with Graylor. "Illig is missing it because he's in too much pain to notice anything beyond the very obvious black and white. That is entirely your fault, and not something I'll forgive any time soon. What I'd like to do about it is forbidden by Illig's orders - my next preference is forbidden by Humakt even if I had the three weeks or so it would take. Failing that, what I propose to do is to try to help you get through this stage of the heroquest, with your apology accepted, and possibly even forgiveness granted. If I'm right about what the problem is, then that is also, by a happy coincidence, the worst thing I could possibly do to you. If the strength of your heroquest requires that the pain must be real, then that works for both sides."

Egil's voice is almost a snarl when he next talks, "So miss queen, do you like to think you're brave? Like to think you can fight the good fight against the red horde? Any fool can stand in battle and swing a blade or thrust a spear, dumb luck mostly accounts for getting through that. To be really brave means not deceiving people you want to trust you. To tell them the truth and let them make their own choices on it. Sending warriors who were geased not to to join in an ambush was the ultimate betrayal and the act of an utter coward. They would have likely gone to that fight in any case and glady gone to Hu's Halls but they could have found a way for it not to be an ambush and kept their word to our god."

He pushes his magic against her, determined to shame her for her cowardice, and feels more resistance than he's used to - oh, iron armour! That's slowing him down.

On these words, Abul makes a step behind Egil and give him a silent support with an accusing glance on Kallyr. Her words, if any, will be listened to cautiously.

“Make the pain real. Hmmm..” Graylor muses. “You know Kallyr, one of the things that mark you out from the crowd, apart from that gem in your forehead is your loyalty to your friends. Loyalty that those legionaries shared before they were called to Humakt's halls for oath breaking. I wonder how you would feel if your loyal companions were stripped from you? What about Insterid and Offir outside? No I’m not talking of killing them, although there would be some justification for that. I’m talking about severing your relationship with them. Of course you would be lucky, they would still be around for you to form a new relationship, but it won’t be the same and only you would know why. How about your champion? What has it been like knowing he is in pain for what you have done? It would make his life easier to be rid of you, and at the moment severing that relationship would have a particularly strong mythic resonance. It might even tip you over into your very own lightbringers quest. I’m sure if we pack the room with other resonant figures we could force the issue. We don’t have a trickster but Elusu should enjoy the ride.”

"Graylor, you mean something like the barbarian god Orlanth is said to have suffered after his futile murder on the Sun God when he saw his own devastation on the world: the bare earth, the evil winter around, the victorious darkness... and all his followers passing away?" asks Abul.

(GM note: congratulations to the players, without looking at her character sheet, they managed to trigger about five of her multi-mastery flaws, fears, and bits of background they don't know about, then get some excellent dice rolls. Just about everything she's terrified of, in one short paragraph.)

"No!" It isn't quite a scream of panic, but it would like to be. "Not that, you don't know what..."
That's when Egil feels his magic break through, and she stops, draws a deep shuddering breath. "All right. If that's what it takes to get through this, that's what it'll have to be. It's not fair on them, but... but just them, not Elusu as well? He's only a kid, he'd never understand, he'd never survive it. And not.... no, you don't want to push this into a, a, a Lightbringers. Not now, not unprepared, not dragging other people in as well. We'd all die, not just me, there's no point." The last sentence was probably supposed to be a reasoned, logical argument, but it sounds a lot more like a plea for mercy.

"Graylor." Dori, in comparison, is very quiet and controlled. "That's another excellent idea, but I'm not doing that to Illig without warning. If he wanted to be severed from her, he's perfectly capable of doing it himself. The other slight problem is that it still leaves her being executed at sunset, the only change is that she'd probably welcome it. What we need here is genuine remorse, understanding that what she did was wrong, not understanding that what she did brings punishment."

"Kallyr, were you really as careless as it is said from this God in the Orlanthi stories..?" Abul's glance oscillates between severity and incredulity.

More or less consciously, he tries to practice his poor Heroquest Vision on the Kheldon Queen, wondering if there is anything to see. The sense of two worlds existing at once is still with him to some extent, still with the feeling that there is a choice to be made, that paths lead in different directions - and that when Illig agreed that Kallyr could not be forgiven, you left the main path. It's still in sight, you could still get back there with an effort, but you're no longer on it, and you have no idea where the current path leads other than a feeling of impending doom.

"You are right as always Dori." Graylor responds meekly, before once again addressing Kallyr. "I see that you don't understand honour as the Legion do. Honour is not something you pick up and use on special occasions, like a pretty gown for a ball, or your dress sword, used for parades. It is your working sword, the one you always turn to. It is the skin you wear, never to be removed. Sure it can be attacked by others but it is what others first see of you and how you show yourself to the world. Dori's honour is such that she feels that it is necessary to follow all of Humakt's geases, despite not actually having them."

"By the way did you ever resolve the 'drink no alcohol' with the 'always drink mead before a battle' conflict?" Graylor asks Dori who nods quietly in response.

"Would you like to know what your lack of honour has done to Illig, your champion? You seem to think honour is something you can manipulate. 'Look, I sound this gong called honour and my champion appears to defend me.' Have you no thought as to what that does to him? Today I have briefly seen into his mind and know you are tearing him apart and this will kill him. I'm sure that Dori knows this much better than I do."

She nods again.

"This time you have pushed him into a corner where there is no way out. As head of the Legion he is honour-bound to inflict punishment on you for what you did. However, you have rung that Honour bell again and he is duty-bound to protect you at all costs. How can he get out of this without dishonouring himself. He can't ignore the dishonour to the Legion if he lets you live nor can he ignore the oath to protect you. Either way, he will probably decide he can not live following today. And, correct me if I am wrong Dori, he will put his soul in eternal torment because he will not be able to face Hereward and say "I am true to your way". Honour is the way and not the goal. He would forgive us. Hereward would forgive him. But he would never forgive himself."

"But the challenge was dropped!" Kallyr protests. "He's under no obligation to protect me from execution."

"Actually, he is," Dori corrects her. "But that's a separate promise, a weaker one than his obligations to the Legion, and I know you didn't know about it, so that wasn't deliberate, just careless. What you did know about, or should have, is the conflict between his Humakti obligations and his human side. He's going to have to execute you. He's known you since you were six years old - did you honestly think this is something he'd enjoy? He'll do it, if he has to, but yes, it'll effectively kill him. We'll be left with a very efficient and dedicated Disciple of Humakt, with everything that makes him human dead, because he won't be able to live with himself any other way.

"It's almost ironic, in a way, when you consider why he joined the Legion in the first place. Though maybe you didn't know about that, either? He only told me last night, and that was halfway down the second bottle of brandy."

[I'm assuming someone will express a certain amount of shock at yet more evidence of Being Human]

"Oh yes, he's been trying alcohol as an escape, and since he's immune to poison, it takes quite a lot. And talking to me - well, he knows I've been there, done that, and survived after a fashion. But yes - the reason he joined the Legion in the first place was you. He didn't say when it was, but apparently you'd been captured, imprisoned, held somewhere very hard to get out of indeed. The assessment was that rescue would have to be an inside job, because doing it from the outside would take a small army. Being Illig, his response was to find a suitable small army, join it, and make himself Warlord. By the time he was ready to act, the inside job had already happened, but that's why he joined the Legion - as a means to an end, to rescue you. Since then of course, it's become an end in itself."

"He could have told me that that ancient order no longer applied, you know," Dori adds. "He trusts me - trusts us - to get him out of this, somehow."

Kallyr's barely listening to that last sentence. "I never knew... never knew it would hurt him this much, I'd never have done it if I'd known. Well, maybe, I still have to... somehow. There'd have been another way, must have been."

Dori watches her almost clinically. "Kristen? Any improvement, or is this just more good acting?"

It's quite unusual to be able to forget you're sharing a small room with a war-painted devotee of Babeester Gor until she speaks, but the group have managed it, somehow. "It's acting. She's feeling a lot worse about it than she's letting on."

Kallyr looks up with an effort at a smile. "Thank you so much.... oh, and that reminds me. Kristen, I owe you an apology. I implied earlier that you'd got things wrong. You hadn't, but I could hardly admit it at the time."

Dori nods. "I just thought of something. Kallyr, you said you first met Illig when you were six. What did you think of him, then?"

"What do you think? He'd just forced the most powerful warlord in the world into retreat, for me. World's greatest hero, invincible warrior straight out of legend."

"And when did you realise that this was, shall we say, a slight exaggeration?"

"Oh, once I was an adult warrior myself, and even hiring him, and giving him orders - well, requests, that is. Naturally reality took over then."

"Really? I don't think that is the case is it?" Graylor asks innocently. "You may want to believe that but it isn't true."

Dori glances at him. "Like that, is it? I wondered. I only realised about a week ago that it was possible for Illig to make mistakes. I'd have thought that Kallyr of all people would have known that just because someone looks like an invincible hero doesn't mean they're not human, but maybe not. Illig does do a remarkably good imitation of god-like perfection, after all."

Kallyr looks from one to the other, apparently already recovered from her earlier near-panic. "You've gone a lot further than standard truth detection, haven't you? Shall we move on? Yes, using a promise Illig made at sixteen was unfair, I agree. Yes, I agree that he won't enjoy doing the execution - not that I expect to find it much fun, either. But that's only a problem because you're insisting on execution as the only possible answer to my getting some of your troops killed unnecessarily. I've offered you something that should be worth far more than their weregild, but no, it seems no payment is good enough. I can't believe you take this approach to every hire, you'd have no employers left. Yes, I'm sorry I got them killed, but in battles, people die, and it wasn't completely for nothing, if this works."

"Killed unnecessarily," Dori repeats. "That's all it means to you, isn't it? Not something you usually do, either, that's one thing that struck me as so odd at the time. Yes, you make mistakes, but that isn't usually one of them, and if you do, the apology isn't a year late. You set that up purely so as to have something to apologise for now, didn't you?"

"Well - yes. It had to be reasonably big to work. Do I gather I over-did it?"

Egil stands, anger blazing in his eyes. "So, you killed them on purpose? Well then the answer to all this is obvious. I kill you now, then Illig executes me at dusk. His honour is entirely spared as is mine and you languish in hell. Sure, he'll be sad for a while but he'll get over it. And whatever your ever so clever heroquest is fails unless you need to die at this station."

"Wrong," Dori says sharply. "My orders are to keep her alive, and since you begged and pleaded to be allowed to join my ten, so are yours. You attempt flagrant disobedience on that scale, and it won't be Illig doing the execution, and I won't bother waiting till dusk."

Egil scowls but makes no move. The he bows slightly to Dori "Yes, of course ma'am. Please excuse me but she gets my goat a bit and I tend to get all unnecessary when I'm near her. That said we're a bit stuck then. She only wanted to come here to apologise so she can complete the next part of her quest. In her stupidity and poor judgement she thought that saying the words were the same as actually being sorry or might pass as such. The fact she thought she could pass off this deception with several hundred people who are expert at detecting lies, and one or two who are probably the most skilled in Genertela, just shows her for an idiot. Unless she actually repents for what she did her quest will fail here and now whether she lives or dies but our warleader most likely will be irrevocably broken. If she can live with that, then fine, but she may find followers harder to come by when this tale of woe spreads. Who would follow a deceiver, except those who wish to be deceived or have dishonourable intentions." He turns a stern gaze on Kallyr. "I don't know if you ever had any ideas of recruiting Praxians to your cause but I should give that idea up today. The Zebras will spread the word that you are not to be trusted and would see your allies dead if it gives you a moment's advantage, even if you are too foolish to use it correctly."

"I think I might have some sort of solution." Graylor ventures. "But, it requires a lot of cooperation between us. Dori you know when we share our magic to combine the best of our individual abilities. We could do the same here but include Kallyr as well. In the role of Orlanth she too has wind magic. We can merge our winds to provide something that will allow Kallyr herself to discover the truth within."

"This is no easy option that I offer you Kallyr. Both Dori and I have faced those self deceptions that we build up in ourselves and have broken them down and emerged on the other side. By the time it is through you may well wish that you accepted execution. I suspect that there is some event or events in your past that have caused you to see this situation as normal and not worthy of remorse. If we can find the event then we may be able to help you regain normal feelings."

"That's another very interesting idea," Dori says slowly. "Thinking about how we merge magic, though - it usually only works because we trust each other, we think the same way. Remember when Illig was setting up who took what role in that big ritual to help Santhis? He teamed people up by who work well together - and that's when everyone taking part is a member of the Legion! I'm not at all sure any of us could merge with her at the moment - the trust just isn't there."

Kallyr doesn't quite wince at that. "It used to be. Still, the past is past. Looking forward, I can tell you that if you kill me, your chances of persuading Natalina to help you find the Third are zero. So there was, or wasn't, an ambush - so what? It's a technical difference anyway, no-one ever agrees who ambushed who. A Humakti friend of a friend once did a lovely ambush: stood in the middle of the road, all alone, faced the Lunar commander marching down it, gave her name, and said "you're ambushed." Once she'd said it, he'd been warned and it wasn't one, so all the Orlanthi hidden in the trees shot him."

"You're giving up something that I know some of you at least want very much for an ideal, an abstraction. Why? It makes no sense."

Dori raises an eyebrow. "You've never given anything up for, say, the Rebellion?"

"Apart from "everything", you mean? But that's real, that's people, not some abstract concept that even theologians can't agree on. People matter."

Abul listens closely to Egil and feels that his respect for the angry young barbarian is growing. Listening the debate also suddenly illustrates the wisdom of Lady Jakkanna's teachings: in the past, Karmanos had defined one single visionary Order for the Carmanian society, where every faction got a precise function under the clear directions of the Idovanian viziers. Effectively barbarian societies were characterized by this lack of directions and, by Abul's addition, the Lunar Empire was characterized by the cynical evilness of their rulers.

At the light of the current situation and revising what he was told by Lady Jakkanna and Daine, Abul begins to understand that the lack of strict links between Kallyr the Karmanoi and Illig the Hazar was the reason of the tragedy... Could Abul be of any help there?

The role of the followers of Herw'Ard the Prophet was to detect the attempts of the Enemy to break the world's order. It was the role Abul had chosen recently for his life. By Karmanos' will, to be in his role, he just has to concentrate on his weak powers to detect lies in Kallyr...

Graylor nods his approval for Egil's words. "The point here is that yes people matter, but you are dealing with Humakti and to them oaths matter, more than people and more than their own lives. Humakt is not a kindly god and he is not forgiving of oath breaking, he doesn't offer a trial or mitigating circumstances. Put it this way an oath matters to you because of the person you have given it to. Right?"

"Yes, I would give an oath because I didn't want to let that person down. But they would understand if I tried and failed." Kallyr replies.

"To a Humakti, an oath is a holy thing it doesn't matter who it is sworn to. By swearing an oath we are honouring our god, and there is no try only succeed or fail. Everyone knows the penalty for failure. These people you condemned we executed by you. Sure in battle commanders make hard choices, but for the individual he has joined the army and knows the risks and faces them bravely. You tricked those people, the ones who matter, into breaking their oaths. That wasn't what they joined the Legion for, they joined to be with leaders who respected their honour, respected their devotion to their god and the oaths they had made to their god and they trusted their leaders not to put them in a position where they must violate their oaths. You gave them no opportunity to do as your friend did and change the circumstances so that she didn't violate her oath. You wouldn't send your Vingans to slaughter women and children, because that would violate your sacred duty as Vingans. But you think it is fine to use Humakti in an ambush despite many of them having a sacred duty not to participate."

"But..." She doesn't get a chance to get a word in.

"But that's alright Humakti aren't people, so it doesn't matter. Only Vingans are people, only friends are people, they matter. Everyone else is not people, so they don't matter. Illig is a god, so he isn't people, he's Humakt and so doesn't have feelings at least not ones that matter, only silly stuff like honour."
Graylor half turns away in disgust, before turning back and finishing his diatribe.
"Only now you need Illig so now you have to pretend he is people and that his pretend honour means something to you. Let's bang the honour gong again and summon Illig. He'll get me out of the situation I am in. What do you really want to get out of this? The quest as Orlanth to Illig's Humakt. In many myths Orlanth binds Humakt to him as his war leader. Is that what you want from Illig, your own personal Humakti warband?"

Abul, pondering the comments, adds almost to himself. "Aren't these the diffuse and difficult concepts which motivate people and differentiate them from animals? Freedom, Honour, Duty, Justice... Wouldn't a wise leader be the one who also pays great attention to these concepts? Isn't the leader's mission a little bit more than providing peace and food? It seems to me that ruling isn't just like cattle breeding... or than why are you in rebellion against the Empire? I can testify that most of the inhabitants of the Lunar Empire are better fed than any of the peasants in the Kheldon tribe. If you just care about people, Queen Kallyr, stop your own war and join the Empire, because innocent people die in war. They better be at peace with their greater enemy, unless you and them fight for something greater? Something abstract like the values coming from your gods themselves?"

"Hold on, hold on." Dori waves them into silence. "You're all making good points, but all at once, and not following them through. Lousy tactics. Kristen, if you're facing six enemies at once, do you scratch each one slightly, or what?"

"Don't be daft. Flank 'em, take out the first one and take him out hard, then keep moving so you can do 'em one at a time."

"Exactly. Let's go back to the first opponent who isn't dead yet. Kallyr, Graylor compared Humakti oaths to Vingan ones, and you said "but". But what?"

"But.... oh, yes. It's not the same. Vingan oaths are about things the cult takes seriously, that everyone agrees on. Not harming children, or healers, we all agree on that, Vingans just concentrate on it more than others. Well, Lunars seem to disagree.... and," turning to Abul, "that answers your question about why the war, I hope. But Humakti geases, you don't even take them seriously yourselves! Not everyone has them, and they contradict each other. I'd never heard of the mead one, but there's enough others. How can you expect anyone else to take them seriously when your god doesn't?"

"Ah." Dori looks almost amused rather than offended. "Since most of the Humakti I know don't understand it either, I suppose that's a fair point. Graylor, you asked earlier if I'd worked out the mead one - did you want to know the answer?"

On Kallyr's remark, Abul grumbles without afterthought: "No, not everyone agrees on not harming children... I can testify it's untrue."

"So can I," Dori says softly. "But for the majority - yes, she's right there."

Visibly restraining himself from giving a sharp retort to Kallyr, Graylor replies to Dori. "Yes, I would love to hear it."

"OK... now, bear in mind this is only what I've worked out, there may be exceptions, I may be wrong, there is more than one path to the Truth. Every geas I've seen, certainly every one I've got, is personal, and is something to do with a weakness that needs correcting to make that person more like Humakt. I've got no idea why... well, the person with that geas... has the one about having to drink mead, but the reason I got forbidden any alcohol at all was because I was doing my best to use it to forget what I was having to do, and preferably to kill myself while I was at it. Never refusing a duel challenge - I was a scared little girl with no self-confidence at all, so I got forced to get out there in the open and show what I could do. And the gift that goes with it is usually to help you survive the geas. Duelling - Humakt gave me the confidence to cope. Alcohol... well, let's just say that if Humakt doesn't give you the endurance to survive it, going cold turkey off serious alcohol addiction is an extremely painful way to die. Which, at the time, was what I wanted.... But if I'm right, that's why people don't talk about their geases. It's not just that it's too easy to kill someone if you know them, it's because it's telling someone about the things you're bad at, your very own hidden weaknesses and sins. You don't get much more personal than that. So we don't even talk about the reasons, even inside the cult, and so most Humakti don't understand it explicitly either. Deep down, I think we all do, but it's something we don't admit even to ourselves. It's the truth, but the truth has sharp edges, and hurts."

Kallyr stares at her. "But if that's true, then... oh ye gods, that's even worse... is it?" She looks round at the rest. "Is that really how it works?"

"That sounds like the best explanation that I have heard." Graylor replies enthusiastically. "I did not see it before but, yes, my gifts and geases work in that way. My biggest failing is that I have refused to see the plain truth in front of me. I denied Humakt for many years. In fact it was the failure of the Righteous Wind Rebellion that finally lead to my coming to Humakt. He geased me to speak only the truth so that I might recognise it better and accept it. I still persisted in my bullheaded ways and Hereward, who is more subtle about the truth geased me to never boast or exaggerate he also gifted me the ability to see through those insidious lies one tells oneself so often that they become the truth. Now I am forced to confront my weakness. I only deal with the plain truth and am more able to accept it."

Oddus nods slowly. "That fits, where I know enough to say. Can't say whether it applies to all, but who really knows another man's secrets?"

Elendala is giving Dori a slightly quizzical look. "Fits rather neatly with my new one, wouldn't you say? You said at the time, Hereward has an interesting sense of humour."

"True - and yes, I hadn't forgotten, there's a promise I made you that I'd better keep fairly soon."

Santhis snorts. "Yeah Hereward has a sense of humour alright. His geas for me, the man who fell for a stranger's lies and blandishments, is to mistrust strangers! It will certainly stop a repeat occurrence."

"Egil? Yenda? Anything to add?"

Egil shakes his head. "My geases make sense, to me at least. To my mind it is Hu's way of helping us sever by putting the things of our past behind us. It has worked for me."

"I think you are right, but I have nothing useful to add, we could all probably, with hindsight justify our geases. When they are fresh it is hard adapting to them, it can mean your whole life taking an unexpected turn," Yenda replies.

"So, does that make it clearer? There's no such thing as a geas binding on all Humakti, because we're all different - all people, with different flaws and problems. Orlanthi take individual oaths too, don't they? Vowing to make good a failure, that sort of thing?"

"Yes - yes, we do." She looks up at Dori with mute appeal. "I swear to you, I had no idea of any of this - how could I? I knew Humakti didn't like doing ambushes, but they did them, often enough. Yes, I knew it would be an insult, but no more - not like this. If I'd known - well, there must have been another way."

"Mmm. Those personal oaths Vingans take - I'm only guessing, but would there be one about protecting healers? Not all Vingans are quite so emphatic on that subject."

"Could be." That's not so much neutral as defensive.

"Something to do with a failure in the past, perhaps?"

"Maybe - oh, come on Dori, that's no guess! You know perfectly well I've been defending my dad since I was old enough to walk, and you know how he died."

"Yes... so perhaps also something to do with defending kin? Clan?"

"If there were any left to defend, yes."

Dori nods. "Let's see, what else might you think of as a really abysmal failure? The Righteous Wind, perhaps? Putting Harvar on the throne of Tarsh wasn't the best bit of strategy ever, was it? And I've heard you say a few negative things about your own rebellion in Sartar, too."

"What, like the fact that I probably killed more Sartarites than the Lunars did, only with incompetence rather than scimitars?" There's a depth of bitterness there that might surprise those who had previously only known the totally confident and inspiring general who had led them against impossible odds in the past. "I made myself a promise after that, yes - no more unnecessary deaths. Looks like I've broken it - again." The half-mocking grin contains no humour at all. "You may notice I'm still alive."

Dori nods. "And it's the fact of having broken it that's upsetting, isn't it, not whether or not you survived it yourself. Same with us. Now, suppose that fact that some of your troops had been killed for no good reason was someone else's fault, not yours."

"If I'm the commander, it's my fault... but yes, I know what you mean. If it's an honest mistake, if I've put them in command of something they weren't ready to cope with, definitely my fault. If not.... Hindal Thin-spear has to be the worst ever. I told him to take three warbands and hold off the heavy infantry that were coming down the valley at us.. He decided that specialist bands rather than the standard clan style should not exist, and had no right to exist, took three scout groups to do the job, and got the whole lot killed, sadly not including himself."

"And so you accepted his apology and gave him another command...?"

"That bloody idiot? No, I...." she stops, visibly restraining her reaction. "Let's just say that he died rather faster than I'd have preferred. I got halfway through telling him what I thought of him, and he jumped off the Plateau rather than hear the rest."

Dori glances sideways at Graylor. "Yes, that parallel seems to fit quite well. The only problem is that we really can't have you jumping off anything, since Illig wants you kept alive."

"But..."

"No, no buts. That's what you did. They'd taken oaths not to do an ambush ever again, for reasons that were at least as important to them as your vow about unnecessary deaths was to you. You tricked them into breaking those oaths. You tricked Illig into betraying his troops - and you know how he feels about loyalty to his Legion! If your reaction is to want to kill the guy very very slowly, why should we feel any different about something on perhaps twenty times the scale? And if this Hindal had offered you weregild...?"

"He did. I told him to eat it, to start with, then we got imaginative from there."

Graylor sighs as he touches an almost invisible motif embossed on his armour, a pair of crossed swords.

"I would have helped, if I had known who he was. One of those warbands was mine and I lost every man but one. It was because of that that I joined Humakt, that was after I had recovered from the madness. I was lost in dreams of revenge on you Kallyr. Humakt put me straight and forced me to recognise the truth. Hindal was acting with your authority and even if I wasn't scouting the enemy, I wouldn't have been able to counter his order to march."

"My authority," she repeats bitterly. "Yes, my fault, all the way. That's something he should never have had."

"Funny thing is that I still feel guilty about not being there to protect the boys against Hindal's madness." Graylor comments.

"Not funny at all, that's what I'd expect from any half-way comptetent leader. And you could have protected them, you know, could easily have countered what you thought were my orders. Just ignore them - everyone else was."

"You said you lost every man but one - who was the one?"

"Irnar was the other survivor."

"Irnar - oh, the Yinkini Randella was so impressed by? Right, I owe him as well, then."

"Yes, it's nasty when you trust someone, and they let you down, isn't it?" Dori agrees. "I wonder how imaginative we could get with that banner? No, maybe not. Well, to start with, you might want to think through whatever it was you said to Hindal that made him want to jump off a cliff rather than hear any more, and say it to yourself. But let's take this a stage further. I'd guess you didn't know him all that well?"

"No - I'd been told he was competent. If I'd known... I should have found out."

"So, suppose it hadn't been someone you barely knew. Suppose you'd given the job to someone you knew and trusted, and they'd made the same mess. Say Insterid had done that to you?"

"That's ridiculous! She'd never do that!"

"Funny you should say that. That's a phrase I heard a lot, and used a lot, just after you betrayed us."

"From the turmoil in Illig's head, he still can't believe that you betrayed him." Graylor adds.

Abul comments quietly: "We say in Carmania that the Enemy can instill Treason only where the Good God placed Confidence... because so is the mediocrity of Enemy, who can only diminish what was great, spoil what was appropriate and destroy what was beneficial... Kallyr, somehow you have been the toy of the Evil One, you need to have a critical eye on your own ways... If you wish some success for your future enterprises."

Dori nods in agreement. "'Treason only where there is confidence...', yes, that's a good way of putting it. Betrayal by someone you barely know is bad enough, betrayal by someone you trust is far worse. All right - Kallyr, never mind repeating what you said to Hindal, and saying it to yourself. Imagine it had been Insterid, and what you'd have said to her. I don't have your gift for persuading people to jump off cliffs rather than hearing any more, and I'm not going to try."

"I've got no idea what I'd have said, because she wouldn't have done it!"

"So you'll just have to get your head round the idea of the impossible having happened - we did. Go on - going to tell me you can't?"

Kallyr opens her mouth to give what was probably going to be a sharp response, closes it again. "I thought we'd said using people's vows and weaknesses against them was unfair?"

"Totally unfair," Dori agrees. "I'm just asking if you intend to break that particular one, not tricking you into doing so. Although... no, maybe I am being unfair. Graylor, you said Illig still can't believe it? The extent to which he's tied to the Truth rune, and even he can't manage it? Though for him, that may not so much be because it's impossible, as because if he accepts that it's real, he has to cope with the pain, and he can't face it..."

She turns back to Kallyr. "You did that to him. I'd never have dreamt there was anything Illig didn't have the courage to do, but you found it."
There is absolutely no response to that - total blankness.

"Ah - Dori." They'd forgotten Kristen was there again. "You did want me to keep monitoring, right? You might want to stop about now."

"I don't think so. There's quite a bit more to discuss yet."

"Maybe, but.... look, I know where you got that figure of three weeks from earlier. That's for the purely physical, chopping bits off and so on. As your local expert in how much you can hurt someone while still keeping them alive and sane enough to be useful, I'd say you're getting quite close to the limit."

Egil starts to move across the room to stand near Kallyr, his visage of fear just rippling across his face. "Raven, I'm not sure what you are about to do but I must warn you that now my orders are given I am duty and honour bound not to let you kill her. Death magic is not the most appropriate thing here unless you intend to kill the ghosts of her past."

"Oh, don't worry. I'm in no danger of killing her."

"You're not?" Kristen looks from her to Egil, recognising his greater sensitivity to a magic that's similar to her own, but not the same. "You're using that trick again, aren't you? The one Illig said was too dangerous. Turning Death magic inwards?"

"Separation, not Death, and it's necessary. A very handy way of ensuring decisions are being made by justice, not vengeance, and I believe that's what you want."

Kristen looks at her uncertainly, sniffs. "But you're not...."

"Leave it!" There's an icy fury in her voice that's most unlike the way Dori usually addresses her subordinates.

Graylor's head snaps round to regard Dori intently. Although outwardly there is little sign of Dori's distress he has seen that look in her eyes before, he has seen that set of her jaw only once and that was in the tunnels where she had released her father from his suffering. Was that only two weeks ago. In that encounter she hated causing her father pain, despite what he did to her. She killed him not through vengeance or even justice in the end it was love, offering her father a way out of his pain at the expense of hers. The effort of that stunned her into inaction even in the face of a collapsing tunnel.

Yenda is struck by just how cold, hard, and ruthless Dori's looking and acting - almost inhumanly so. "Dori, I think you are becoming less yourself and more someone else. I suspect that Illig is becoming more of himself. You need to back off, now!" Yenda speaks firmly and clearly. "You will spoil everything if you go too far."

"Someone else is what's needed here," Dori says remotely, all passion gone from her voice. "Humakt's justice, not that of a biased and fallible human." She studies Kallyr clinically. "She needs to be able to function, yes, at least enough to say two words coherently. Sanity is optional. Also, I think you're underestimating her, and that's a very dangerous thing to do."

"You are." Kallyr's voice isn't all that steady, but it is at least coherent. "I can cope with this: I've got to. "Can't" is not an option: failure is not an option."

"Isn't it? That brings us on to the next opponent, then, the question Graylor asked earlier. What are you expecting to get out of this? What quest are you on that's so important, to be worth doing this to the Legion?"

"It's not worth it. I know that now, all too well. But it's been done, we might as well carry on and get the rewards. As for having Illig as my own private warband, I should be so lucky. Not that he's ever..." Her voice breaks on that. "Doesn't matter. Not relevant. It's a pretty obscure quest unless you're familiar with Vingkot's myths. This particular station says "He went to Humakt and made amends, as was required" - that's it. No binding either way, but an implication that they were friends and allies thereafter."

"Vingkot the King?" Graylor asks. "Don't remember Humakt being part of his story."

"Yes he was but only in passing. " Yenda corrects. "I had a scroll with the myth in my hand the other day." She pauses and closes her eyes, entering the meditative state that would help her recall. Moments pass when suddenly her eyes fly open. "I remember now. Excuse me." She calls as she dashes out of the chamber and to the library.

"Here," she says somewhat breathlessly as she opens a scroll and scans it before she starts to read.

"After Orlanth’s time of exile was over, Vingkot sacrificed and called him back. Orlanth returned with his Four Storms. He returned Urox to the tribe by wrestling him. He went to Kolat and forged old bonds anew, for the Storm Tribe had cast Kolat out when Orlanth left. He went to Humakt and made amends, as was required. And of course, Yinkin came, for he had helped Orlanth during his exile."

"But this doesn't end well. Orlanth has victories, but ultimately the ice takes over and all the gods die. Ernalda goes to sleep permanently and Orlanth decides to fix things by starting the Lightbringers' quest." Yenda looks shrewdly at Kallyr and asks "How goes the siege at Whitewall?"

"Very badl - that is to say, exactly according to plan." Then, seeing the obvious reaction to these apparently contradictory statements, she adds: "no, really. Go on, truth-test me. Yes, we do have a plan, this is part of it. If it works, we'll be able to hold out till Dark Season. Broyan as Vinkgot summons Orlanth back, and that will strengthen his magic enough that we can hold the city for as long as we need to. That's the immediate aim. After that... well, yes. There are plans, but since they depend on Illig for a critical part, I'm going to discuss them with him before going any further." She laughs - well, almost, there's still a touch of hysteria there. "Uljar and his "last hope to stop the world ending" - if only it was that easy and trivial."

Yenda gives Kallyr a piercing look but decides to hold her peace.

Having paid less attention to Kallyr and Yenda than he should and rather more attention to Dori Graylor comes to a decision. There is nothing he can do to alleviate the pain she is suffering. But he has an idea, "Braveheart" he calls silently to the Seventh's wyter. "Dori needs your help. She is being torn apart by the horrors she has had to inflict on Kallyr. Can you support her through this?" Braveheart as ever doesn't speak but that feeling of surety and confidence that he always inspires leaves Graylor. He sees a slight widening of Dori's eyes the only indicator that Braveheart is with her. He prays that it helps she has had a lot to put up with in a short time.

"Have we anything further to add?" He addresses the group, taking over from Dori. He looks round the group and sees Elendala looking indecisive. She looks like she is bursting to say something but isn't sure if this is the right moment to do so. "If you want to speak Elendala then now is the time. We'll go straight back to the Warleader from here and I suspect that what you have to say will then never be said."

Dori nods. "I promised her the chance to introduce herself, and that's easier when the person you want to talk to is alive. Since that won't be a certainty from now on, better to do it while we still can."

Kallyr's definitely calming down again with the change of subject - she recovers fast. "Elendala - used to be with Karrath's warband, joined Dori mostly so as to learn some healing, right? And Humakti never talk about anything pre-severing, so what am I missing?"

Egil stands next to Kallyr and ponders how he came to be in this situation, this woman he hates more than any other is now his ward. His senior officer has told him to keep her alive, for a moment it seemed as though he may have had to fight with Raven for this to happen but luckily that was not the case. Dori seems as though she is using a dangerous Death magic on herself but after his encounter with Ashar he is most definitely unwilling to interfere with the affairs of the officers above him.

"We never talk about it, except when we do," Elendala replies. "We still have the memories, they can be relevant, and sometimes other people will find it relevant, as we were saying earlier. In this case, it's both." She looks at Dori almost questioningly.

"Entirely up to you, but I agree that some of what we learnt earlier makes this rather more important than we'd thought."

"It does, doesn't it? All right." She turns back to Kallyr. "Before I died, was was brought up in the Enjossi clan of the Colymar by my mother's sister and her husband. She'd married into it, so I had no other kin there, and always felt - separate, I suppose. Aunt Torvalla had taken me in because she felt obliged to, no more. Severing from them was almost a formality. But before she took me there as a small child, before my mother died and my father with her, I was Elendala Harvarnosdottir, of the White Quartz of the Kheldon."

After all the unhappiness of the last few minutes, the stunned, incredulous joy on Kallyr's face is quite a shock. "You're White Quartz? But they died, I looked, everyone who was there died, how did you...? Harvarnosdottir? Harvarnos Gristeldsson, the man we used to call Horse-thief because he only had to look at a horse for it to follow him. You've got his hair. Your mum's build... Belkari, that was it, came to learn healing, met him and stayed. I remember they had a little girl... but you're alive! Oh, that's wonderful!"

Elendala just watches her, with no attempt to match the enthusiasm. "No, I'm dead, remember?"

Egil comes out of his reverie, catching the last part of the conversation. It seems to him as if Elendala may have just become a threat to Kallyr. He reaches for Barzaad's Tooth and loosens it in its sheath. His face assumes the Visage of Fear but he remains silent and watchful.

Graylor listens and almost breaks out into a smile at the reunion until he notices Elendala's face. This doesn't bode well for Kallyr. He now feels genuine sympathy for Kallyr. Another body blow like the ones before would surely drive her to her knees. Dori surviving by becoming emotionless, Kallyr reeling from being faced with her responsibilities and then back to Illig. What state would he be in, and how much worse will it be when they drag Kallyr back in this state? Everything could yet implode without the need of executions.

As the discussion evolves, Abul get the impression that Kallyr has less and less to hide, her nature stripped by the testimonies of the older fellows of the Legion.

"Truth is a terrible weapon, probably as much as Death itself," he thinks and suddenly his mind flies back to the last conversation he had with Daine, the first blade of Duke Raus, when he asked him about the greatest quality of the Carmanian Hazar: was it Courage, Compassion, Loyalty or Humility? First Daine made a poetic answer about these qualities blending in one powerful alloy, but when Abul insisted on a straight answer, the Hum'Akti answered: "Truth. That's it. When a man lies, he murders some part of the world."

Now looking at Elendala, Abul understands these words fully: Kallyr's self-indulgences killed a lot... Abul wishes to never lie, even to himself.

Somehow, somewhere in him, some old but well hidden emotion stirs up without letting him know what it was about... Terror? Despair? Loss?

Feeling suddenly oppressed, with a foul rancid taste in his mouth, he puts his right hand on his slow breathing breast, looking unconsciously for the reassuring presence of his medallion, but he can't get rid of the taste in his mouth... the new secret taste of himself.

Kallyr of course doesn't notice the various thoughts going on around her and about her. "Yes, but that can be altered."
She stands, reaching out to her newly found kinswoman. "You come back, with two of us we can reawaken the tula, adopt a few more in, bring the place back to life - we can go home!"

Elendala must be the only person present not to find that happiness infectious. She steps back a pace, out of reach." Why would I want to do that, now?"

Kallyr pauses, realising for the first time that this dream come true isn't going quite as she expects. "How could you possibly want anything else? It's home. Where our parents were, where the local spirits know us, where the lambing pens were by the stream, and you'd play hide and seek there in the spring, and fall in, and the primroses up in the woods, and the big meadow where the horses grazed, and Harv took me up on his pony that first time and jumped the fence, and the great hall where Mum sat, and the loom house, and Gran's herb beds and trying to keep the chickens out, and.... I know you were that bit younger, but surely you remember? Home."

Again, Elendala is apparently the only person present immune to the raw longing in that little speech. She's still watching Kallyr with the detached curiousity of a scholar counting the legs on a bug. "You know, if you'd come to me a few years ago - even a season ago - with that suggestion, I might have given it serious consideration. Ten years back, almost certainly. If this is so wonderful, why didn't you ask me then? No, I don't remember those things. What I remember is being three years old, and trapped in a place I hated, with people I didn't know, who didn't like me, having seen everyone I knew killed while I watched, and not understanding why. Where were you then - off playing hero?"

Kallyr stops dead, the enthusiasm replaced by sick despair. The outstretched hands drop, and she sits back down - or possibly, the stool happens to be behind her as her knees fold. "Yes," she says dully. "Off playing hero, and not even playing particularly well. So that would be a no, then."

"Of course. Clan or no clan, even if that was something I wanted, why would I want to change a leader I respect and trust for one I don't, and can't?"

"You wouldn't." Kallyr's face is no longer visible, buried in her hands. "No-one would. Another life I've screwed up, then, without even knowing about it."

"Elendala, what are you trying to achieve here?" Dori's voice is just as remote and detacted as before - or is it? There's a touch of ice there now.

"I wanted to see what she's like."

"Well, you've seen. Examining something to the point of destruction isn't necessarily a good idea, though: Truth and Death don't have to be the same."

Elendala simply shrugs without speaking.

"She isn't under trial for the events of the invasion, but under the circumstances I'd say she has the right to defend herself."

There's no response from Kallyr, not even movement, and Dori goes on. "So, what was it you were doing that you describe as "playing hero", after you got home from the fight at Boldhome and found all your family dead?"

"Does it matter?" That isn't just dullness, now, there's pain there as well.

"Yes, it does. Truth always matters. What did you do?"

"Played hero. I found who'd done it, found she was in Boldhome, flew in and tried to kill her."

"So you attacked Boldhome, which was an impregnable city and full of the newly-occupying Lunar army, alone, aged what - about sixteen or so?"

"Yes. Like I say, not playing hero particularly well."

"And you survived?"

"Just. Woke up in a Lunar healing temple, then transferred to a Lunar prison, of sorts. Got out about two years later."

"So that was a couple of years, barely out of childhood, trapped in a place you hated, with people you didn't know, who really didn't like you at all, having lost two battles and had your entire family killed?"

Elendala draws in her breath sharply, but doesn't comment. Kallyr does. "Yes - but I was sixteen, not three, and it was due to my own stupidity. Not the same."

"Sixteen year olds have been known to make mistakes. We can let you off that one."

Dori turns back to Elendala. "I think that explains why Kallyr didn't come and rescue you when you might have preferred? Acquitted of those charges, in fact."

"Lunar prison of sorts? The Lunars aren't renowned for keeping prisoners. The crucify you, sell you to slavery, trap you in hell, but they don't tend to want to look after you in any way. Why were you kept prisoner?" Yenda asks sympathetically. Suddenly her eyes open wide as a thought strikes her. "Did they discover your lineage? If so I guess they were hoping to turn you into what Termatain is now."

"Tax hostage. They found out the king of the Kheldon was my uncle. They were collecting us, one kid from each tribe, part hostage, part potential convert to the glories of the Lunar Way." The sarcastic edge to that last phrase suggests that the conversion attempt had not been a success. "They didn't find out about the House of Sartar side of things till much later, and then - yes. Complicated."

Abul listens intently, but because people around him are speaking about old events from a foreign land, he doesn't feel personally involved, a situation which gives him the opportunity to think about the way the conversation evolved: after having seen Kallyr's pride at the highest point, he now sees her down, falling into depression. He nearly feels the waves of Despair, Anger, Disappointment and Hate emitted by Elendala, Dori and Egil, aimed at the Kheldon Queen and hurting her with a just but harsh precision. "The Enemy is playing with us again," he thinks. "After having flattered our hubris, he is now trying to break our souls. Very soon, someone, if not all, will pay him tribute and annihilation will be on us again..." These thoughts turn for a while in his mind as he remebers also the moral teachings of Jamal and Lady Jakkanna: never should a good Carmanian forget about his duty to fight the Evil One!

Taking advantage of the heavy silence which has fallen as everyone tries - or tries not - to imagine what might be involved in that word "complicated", Abul starts a speech with his deep bass voice and his thick Carmanian accent which immediately draws everyone's attention.
"Friends, obviously, real wrongs have been inflicted, thus Anger raises and calls for Revenge, Revenge leads to Violence and Violence unseals the way to Destruction. When Destruction is here, Annihilation is near and in the past the Gods themselves showed us what was Annihilation... This is the Way of Evil! When our worst instincts are pleased: the Cosmos is in danger... In my land, our first Shah, Karmanos the Wise, taught us that Dutiful Discipline, Mind Clarity and Respectful Humility was the Correct Way and it is said that Herw'Ard the Prophet was the one who taught him this lesson... It is explained as the only way to lead out of Conflict, because it can bring Kind Forgiveness, a decision creating bonds between peers and making them stronger in the face of difficult situations..."

The young man, with a odd maturity and somehow a noble assurance, looks at the small assembly in front of him. He doesn't feel superior himself, but for this exact moment, he is fully convinced that the strict united values of the Carmanian nation have a superiority over the various divisions of the southern barbarians.
"Kallyr was sixteen and of noble lineage when war devastated her life. Everywhere in the world, this situation would means a duty, and any respectable person would try to achieve this duty, most probably by followiing the example of others around them. Being sixteen myself, I can only remind you all, how difficult it is to understand the deep meaning of duty. I have been told, when I entered Herw'Ard's cult, that a lifetime was not enough to master it... This fact obliges me to a Respectful Humility toward my superiors even when they stumble on their way: would I have done better myself is always the question. At least I have the chance to have better people around me, haven't I?" Abul looks around making direct eye contact with his companions. "Was it the case of the young Kallyr? No, she was surrounded by the insidious Lunar way, with only the old glorious songs and tales of her own childhood for reference... You all know too well the difference between Legends and Reality to not understand how inexperience can be misguiding..."

Abul pauses there to let everyone ponder his words.

"If we force ourselves to humility, we may be able to see our limitations and understand other points of view: by the way, this is an exercise that you requested more or less consciously from me everyday of my time among you since my arrival in the Legion with my Father Jamal and I'm just beginning to understand that this capacity to understand without judging is what's Carmanos calls Mind Clarity. I see that Queen Kallyr made mistakes, created wrongs and must improve... But should we take revenge? Destroying a very strong will and skilled competence? Wouldn't be this a sin against the Cosmos itself? I think that Kallyr has still her duty and mission to achieve... but now with an increased responsibility. This is her Duty. She took the decision to lead others, she understands now she also have the obligation to pay attention to her acts... You told me about a disgusted Hereward in front of a self-centred Arkat, is it what she is learning now? Are you doing your sacred religious duty: improving leadership, not destroying it?"

"I have heard stories about your Wind God realizing fully the impact of his assault on the Good God. It was his redemption and the reason for his continued existence in the Great Compromise. He understood his duty and changed his ways... and now, everyday, in a lot of nations that I have visited in my exile, people celebrate his wisdom and responsibility. Orlanatus? Responsible? This is an impossible notion in my country, should I judge this fact or stay humble in front of the Gods? If the Good God forgave him and gave the right to still exist, who I am to have an opinion on that?"

Abul then turns on the accusing party. "Elendala, I understand your suffering so much because I also grieve for my own parents." At this point, everyone notices Abul's unconscious habit of putting his right hand on his chest, "and I can understand how living with fear or anger or hate could become a personal burden. You have cut yourself from the old bonds, you should be able to reach Mind Clarity and use Respectable Humility and your Dutiful Discipline to access Kind Forgiveness. Don't judge a misguided past but try to correctly guide the future... if Kallyr faces her increased responsibilities, now, she will become the Leader she wished to be... at sixteen. If not... then apply the rule."

Yenda smiles at Abul. "Nicely put Abul. But all this planning for the future is irrelevant if we can't convince the warleader of Kallyr's true remorse."

"Exactly. You two will have to work out your relationships later. Now we go to Illig," Graylor tells the group. "Kallyr is ready.." and quietly in his head he adds: "And I hope he is up to the task!" It comes as a huge shock to him that he might ever have thought that about Illig!

"Well, almost ready," Dori says, her matter-of-fact tone a contrast to Abul's semi-mysticism. "If it was simply Kallyr talking to Illig, I'd agree with you, but it's also Orlanth talking to Humakt, and the King of the Gods does not arrive in Humakt's Halls trembling and tear-streaked."

She reaches behind her desk and brings out a couple of damp cloths and a comb. "Yenda, sort that, would you? There's a bottle that might be useful, too, if Illig left some. I'll go and talk to him now, see if he's willing to give her a second chance."

She looks round the group. "I take it no-one's in any doubt that this time we have genuine remorse?"

"Doubt? They'd bloody better not be." Kristen's axe has somehow shifted to be rather more obvious than it had been earlier. "You tell him what's what, we'll sort her out."

"Fair enough." Dori's quick smile at her is back to the human level they're more used to. She slides off the desk. "By the way, Abul, very nice analysis, but you got one thing wrong. Kallyr's never had any trouble recognising that she's got responsibilities, even when she hasn't. It's implementation and proritisation that she makes mistakes with."

Kristen watches her go through the Circle marking Egil's Silence before snorting. "Where'd those long words come from? Anyone'd think she's an officer, using crap like that."

"She is though, and rising." Graylor replies dryly. "She is actually a hundredthane now. I know she refused to take up the position until Siggyr gets his promotion. As far as the way Illig is treating her she is the new hundredthane. You can't imagine that having evenings closeted with Illig is going to have no effect on her. Yes, that was to talk over his trouble, but you can also bet that he is using that time to subtly train her in leadership and the way he wants things to be."

"Hmm, maybe you are right. But it still doesn't sound like her." Kristen responds. "I suppose I had just better get used to it."

She turns to Kallyr. "Now then lady, lets get you all sorted out. If you would sit here and hold your head back. Some cold water will calm down your eyes."

"Yenda there should be a bowl of cold water behind the desk."

Smoothly Kristen takes control. She is remarkably calm and gentle with Kallyr. It is the first time that many have seen the Earth Priestess side of Kristen, normally they see only the Earth Avenger. In moments Yenda and Vindana are helping Kristen "tidy up" Kallyr. Only Elendala, for obvious reasons, is the only female not pampering Kallyr.

"I think we should stay clear of this one." Graylor comments to Egil and Abul. "Kristen seems to have things under control. I would suggest going for a walk and leaving them to it, but I think technically we are still Kallyr's guard duty."

"Did I do well?" Ask Abul to Graylor, trusting his kind clear-sightedness. "I didn't wanted to appear insolent and to give lessons to my betters but I had to speak up. More and more I see people driven by their emotions and their customs and since my initiation it's even worse..." He hesitates but doesn't speak about his own case. "Sometime I suspect that they accept this situation to avoid questioning their reactions in from of the facts... at a certain point, it even becomes a lie."

"Sorry Abul, you did really well." Graylor clasps the young man on the shoulder. It is sometimes hard to remember that Abul is still very young, despite his voice change from his initiation. "You make some really good points. I'm sure Kallyr and Elendala will come to see the wisdom of your words. However, one is under a death sentence and the other has a large number of years of resentment built up. It will take time and greater clarity of mind than these circumstances will allow, to allow your arguments to take hold. But, since you are in Dori's ten with Elendala, perhaps you can help steer her on the right path. Gently though, don't force her. Remember Hereward teaches that we must all find our own way to the truth. Though that doesn't mean that others can't help when times are difficult."

"As to your second point. Yes everyone is influenced by their emotions. Even Humakt, who cleaved away his own emotions, found that life is not worth living without them though. By the way you must hear Grimbeak tell that myth properly. The point is that we should be influenced by our emotions, but not ruled by them. They should guide you but not control you. You should be able to come back from the brink, like Illig and at times suppress them like Dori to keep an objective head." Graylor looks at the earnest young man. "Today is a very difficult day. Don't think that the levels of emotion you see today are normal. A man could live an entire lifetime without seeing so much concentrated emotion. Perhaps we should sit with Dori, after everything is over and review the day."

Abul listens careful Graylor and once again seems to hesitate. "...we must all find our own way to the truth..." he repeats.

"Could it happen that we are so deep in the Lie, that we can't see anymore where is Truth?" He asks and the question seems to have for him a bigger interest than just for pure formal philosophical debate.

Graylor ponders his reply carefully. Seeing the anxiety in Abul's face.

"No, that could never happen. Now you are initiated to Hereward, if you open your heart to him he will show you the way. You'll feel his wind coursing through your body, cleansing it and making it new again."

"If you are woried about anything and don't want to go to your normal mentors then you can always come to me or Yenda. We will help where we can, and we won't judge you on your past. We all have things that we are ashamed of. Today should have shown you that. But if we are sincere in atoning for our miss adventures then there is a good chance everything can be fixed. The stories of our Wind god should tell you that. Hopefully, the next few minutes should reinforce that too."

"Yes, I understand that this day is exceptionally tense, full of learning for new initiate like me. Even if my... mentors, as you call them, would call it 'youngster disobedience', I'm determined to learn as much as I can by myself, also outside the Carmanian way... (he sighs). If there is any real Carmanian way... if I look on the discrepancies between the lessons given by the exiled and the official doctrine from the current Carmanian empire..."

With these last words, even said on a very seriously tone, Graylor has a sudden glimpse on why the young man is so often seen as undisciplined and insolent by senior Carmanians, but Abul continues:

"I really thanks you for your offer and I greatly appreciate that you taught Yenda so well, she is also a great support to me... But I don't think that I have in my past any shameful act requesting a confession... No really I have nothing to hide..."

Here, exactly on the last sentence, Abul has a short disgusted pout, as if he had bitten in some unripe bitter fruit. A sensation that leaves him more disoriented than amazed.

Graylor laughs affectionately. "You are in the wrong company to try that sort of deception Abul. There is something you are hiding. At some point you will have to face it. Just know that need not face it alone. You have friends and companions who have your back. By the way I wasn't talking about confession. I was talking about doing something about it. Often things that are left to fester are made worse, and look worse than they really are. Take Elendala as an example of what happens if you leave something a long time before seeking redress."

Visibly perturbed, Abul simply nods and recomposes slowly the stern and emotionless mask on his face, typical of the carmanian individual who does not wish to commit more... visibly for Abul, as for anyone, giving lessons is easier than accepting ones.

Egil's face drops its Visage of Fear but remains impassive. He has yet to conquer all the demons of his past but in the present company feels disinclined to even raise the subject, maybe Dori and Yodi will be a place for him to start that process. For now he nods to Graylor "I need to stay, I have to keep the silence until Raven tells me to release it but I'm sure that the avenging earth will provide all the protection needed if you want to go back to the Warlord."

"I have no desire to abandon my post. I just feel redundant while the ladies attend to Kallyr. It seems somehow impertinent to stand here watching." Graylor responds.

A second chance?
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