• Solo • [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

Wealth Thread Cylus 720

The cities and villages of Melrath are as varied and diverse as they come. The capital of Raelia is the the jewel of this western kingdom, playing host to a merchants, artisans, Aesir priests, as well as a cut throat political landscape dominated by the nobles of Raelia. To the south in the depths of the Myrkvior Forest lies Melrath's second largest, and oldest city, Fensalir. Here people have learned to live alongside spirits and the natural world by maintaining their loyalty to traditions laid down the first Melrathi. To the east lies the small fishing village of Noatun, and to the western mountains rests the Mer city of Verimeer, the brewing town of Alivilda and the alpine village Vormund.
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[Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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All Hail the Hedonist Healer
25 Cylus 720

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21st - 30th of Cylus: “Celebrations of Light”

Following the shared experience of pleasant dreams, Melrathi decides to celebrate the last trials of Cylus. Bonfires are put together, the spirits are worshipped, and there is a ton of drinking. While most Melrath events involve drinking… these trials especially are filled with extreme hedonism that isn’t usually considered acceptable. Stir-crazy due to the cold and dark, many Melrathi walks around the interior of the holds while near-naked (when not bundled under furs together). Extremely loud dancing, drumming, and chanting/singing is common.

For Outlanders new to Melrath though, this is likely startling. Only the adventurous and open-minded find themselves able to make sense of it. Some Outlanders mutter about leaving the nation as soon as the docks reopen to the public and the coastal waters are cleared for safe travel. Others proclaim that they might never leave this wonderful place!

Food and alcohol stores from the cold season are at a bare minimum, if not cleared out during these trials.

The celebrations of Light had gone on for trials and nights, and this was on the evening or the fifth trial. Ashling Grawhawk, a healer from Fensalir, a stranger in Raelia and there for other reasons than work was on her way to The Hold of Namdalen, the main residence of the noble house Namdalen. She walked at a good pace in along the snowy streets of Raelia in Cylus. It was cold, but she was Melrathi and dressed for cold weather.

She didn't know these nobles and they didn't know her. But, a dishevelled and inebriated errand girl had arrived at Ashling's place and said that a healer was needed. All the Raelian healers seemed to either be busy celebrating the light or taking care of the less pleasant consequences of the festivities. Somebody, unclear who, had directed the girl to Ashling, saying she was a kind of forest doctor from the oldfashioned south. So please, please would she come to the rescue of people who had a bit of bad luck.

The girl had rushed back to the hold. But first, Ashling had managed to make the tipsy being give her a description of the way to the hold. It was all she needed to find her way there. While she walked she thought of the celebrations. The common folks very partying, sure, but the orgies in the noble holds were famous (and infamous). They were a recurrent topic of entertaining tales circulating in Melrath. Every arc's celebrations added more to the tales. The excesses of the nobles and their households were a never-ending favourite topic for conversations and gossip.

Now, she would get to see it, with her own eyes ... Ashling had jumped at the opportunity. It was work, yes, it was work, but it was work with an extra bonus.

As a betrothed woman she might have gone there with Tristan if they had been invited as guests. But, she was only invited as a healer. It had seemed to be urgent and Ashling had found it best to just pack the things she might need and be on her way. No need to let injured or ill people wait for her to get an escort. Besides, she was grown up and could cope on her own.
Last edited by Ashling on Mon May 11, 2020 4:40 pm, edited 2 times in total. word count: 567
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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She arrived at Namdalen Hold. It was an impressive piece of Raelian architecture. Buildings of two or three stories framed a rectangular yard in the middle. It spoke volumes about the wealth and social position of the owners. The noble holds were almost like small villages within the city. The nobles could have their own stables, workshops and craftsmen, gardens and gardeners. You name it. There were basements with storage rooms (and prison cells). There were kitchens, attics and lodgings for servants. There were sometimes falcon mews and rooftop cotes for doves. In the warmer seasons, the holds bustled with activity from the ground to the roofs. But, it was Cylus now and they had closed everything down and moved indoors.

On the outside, the hold was silent, but there was light in the windows.

She stood at a gate wide enough to drive through with carriages without any problems. Lanterns lit it up but due to the cold of Cylus, no guards were around. This meant that Ashling had nobody to ask for directions. Walking into the dark and silent yard she could see more small lanterns at doors on all the sides of it.

Looking around she wondered which door to take. How had the people who had sent for her been thinking? That tipsy girl hadn't been particularly informative. Ashling sighed. Clear thinking wasn’t people’s strongest suit during the celebrations. It was probable that everybody in the hold was drunk and had been drunk for trials.

She regretted that she hadn’t made the girl stay with her and show her the way. This was a mess! Opening one door at the time in the hopes of finding the patient seemed to be the only option.

But, as it happened, a man staggered out through a door nearby. His errand was obvious. Nature was calling. It would be bad behaviour to disturb him. But, Ashling felt that she couldn’t afford to be polite. She had a patient waiting for her somewhere in the hold. Duty came first. She called out to the man and half-ran toward him through the snow. It was only a short distance. She arrived at her prey before he had time to open his clothes. He staggered back, holding one hand up in front of him like to ward off an attacker. “Begone!” His voice was the drunken growl you could expect. “Begone, ghost!”

“I’m not a ghost, I’m a ...”

“Don’t try your vile lies on me!” His voice rose to a roar. “Don’t think that I haven’t heard the tales!”

Ashling realized that it would be useless to attempt to make the man listen. He was too drunk. Still, he was the only other person around and she needed help to find the right door. A wild idea struck her. As he had called her a ghost and referred to tales she concluded that gruesome ghost stories would make more sense to him than common sense would do. She felt crazy for doing it, but she tried out this approach ...

“I’m the midwinter huntress of shadows and cold. In the light of the moons, I stalk the empty streets in search of fools who went outdoors in the night of Cylus! Those will be my prey! But, you succeeded to reveal me, mortal man! You impressed me! You aren’t a fool and for this sake, I grant you a chance to save yourself. All you need to do is show me the door to the great hall and let me in. Then I will spare you and never pester you again. But if you refuse I will feast upon you here and now!”

She had kept her voice as toneless, ghostly and menacing as she could. The drunk man took a step back and for a moment it looked like he would swoon, but he didn’t. When he answered his voice was thin and unsteady. “I will let you in, you foul being, but only on a condition! You will only take one single victim and it must be Roal!“

All right. The man had the nerve to begin a negotiation with the midwinter huntress of the dark Melrathi tales. It told her that he was even drunker than she had guessed. Many of the tales were about fools who tried to negotiate and so, lost the chance the huntress had granted them. The tales used to end there. Ashling didn’t have that option. But, she decided to stick to the tales nonetheless...a bit. After the man’s latest reply she didn’t feel guilty for fooling him anymore.

“Nobody negotiates with me and survives to tell about it! But, you are special so you may become my only exception. I will take only one single victim in the hall but I have a condition too. Tell me why you want it to be ... Roal. And why have you not dealt with him yourself if you want him dead?”

She had never heard about this Roal and had no intention to seek him out. No doubt he was another drunk goof. She wanted to know more though. It seemed like the superstitious drunkard in front of her was trying to use her to kill an enemy. She didn’t want to get drawn into any dark designs and secret feuds of the nobility. (If they were nobility? Peoples clothing, or lack thereof, during the celebrations made it hard to know.) But, if evil deeds were being planned this evening she would do what she could to stop it.

“I was going to do it, but first I just needed to ... well ... but this is better!” His speech was slurred and he swayed a bit. “The midwinter huntress took him! That’s what I call a tale!”

Ashling persisted, her voice stern and menacing. “What has he done to you? Roal, I mean. Tell me!”

It was silent. The man seemed to think hard. Ashling waited for his answer with a sinking feeling of taking part in an insane farce. When he finally spoke his words confirmed that feeling. “I...it has to be someone, so why not Roal? I’d rather it be him than me!”

Ashling rolled her eyes. “Right.” What more was there to say. “Show me the door to the great hall now, mortal!”

The man pointed at one of the doors of one of the buildings. Ashling walked over to it. As nobody answered her knockings or her shouts she opened the door and entered.
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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Ashling was now in the entrance room between the front door and great hall at Namdalen Hold. She stopped for a moment. She could hear loud music, laughs and singing through door vault leading in the hall itself. Bawls, howls, shouts and high-pitched screams cut through the wall of sounds once in a while. The air smelled of mead, beer and food, burning wood (in the fireplaces) and many beeswax candles.

Judging from the merry dancing the musicians were playing she guessed that people were dancing in the hall. She knew that it might be hard to find anybody in there who could direct her to the patient. None of them would be sober. Even if somebody would not be too drunk the noise might make it hard to speak to them. They might mishear her question or she might mishear their answer. The risk for ending up stumbling around in the merry fray in vain was real.

She couldn’t afford it. Somewhere in this hold, there was a patient waiting for her. She wanted to find that person without any unnecessary detours.

The entrance room, also a quite big room, was quieter, but it wasn’t quiet. This was where people withdrew when they wanted a break from the wild party in the hall - or to dally with each other. Ashling doubted that the couples in the darker corners were spouses. The celebrations had after all gone on for five days. Longtime partying with rivers of mead used to dissolve all ordinary concerns about decency.

A boisterous group of people stood nearby. If they had arrived well dressed they must have dressed down during the course of the party. Some of them were only shirtless, but some had skipped the pants too and wore only underwear. One or two was down to wearing a blanket as provisory “clothing”. Their bodies were muscular and their Embla marks were of designs favoured by men and women who were proud of their skill with weapons. Ashling concluded that they might be military people or hunters, or both. None of them was sober and they all held mead pitchers in their hands.

Somehow she doubted that those would be the best people to disturb and ask for directions. She decided that she needed less intimidating guides. In her thoughts, she cursed the errand girl who had run back to the fun and left Ashling to find the patient on her own. The information had been unclear too. It was urgent, the girl had said, but she had forgotten to tell Ashling the details. But, reasoning like a sober person Ashling had, of course, expected the girl to meet her at the door. Common sense had made her take it for granted. You don’t defy the cold of Cylus to get a healer, then forget it and go dancing instead. Or so she had assumed.

A couple of well-dressed outlanders were on their way out, looking horrified. Ashling heard them rant about the uncouth customs of the Melrathi. They swore that they were going to take the first boat back to the proper parts of Idalos as soon as possible. The Melrathi, they said, didn’t know etiquette was.

The bigot foreign snobs!

But ... would my Tristan feel that way? Good that I didn’t ask him to escort me here!


Ashling walked around a bit, looking for a couple who hadn’t had time to progress “too far” in their dalliance yet. It could seem like a rude inspection, but this wasn’t the time for delicacy. If people would have cared for delicacy they would have found a less public place, wouldn’t they? She tried her best to keep a distance and not be intrusive though.

She stopped when she recognized the girl who had asked her to come to the hold. She hadn’t gone dancing after all. She had gone dallying instead! Ashling felt entitled to step forth and tap her on the shoulder. “I’m here now. Show me the way to my patient, please.”

The now half-dressed girl disentangled herself from the embrace of her company. They were unwilling to let her go and a lot of kisses and attempts to persuade her to stay followed. Finally free, the girl giggled a great deal and promised to soon be back. Ashling had watched this with growing impatience. But, she had held back and not said what she thought as it would only have led to trouble. Messing with inebriated people was never a good idea. She stayed silent and followed the still giggling girl.

They entered the big hall. The noise was worse there and as she had suspected people were dancing all over the place, also on the tables. Many had let all decency go. It was celebration time in Melraht. The partying was chaotic, loud and unashamed. But, Ashling wasn’t daunted by it. Being Melrathi she had made her first experience of Cylus parties long ago. But, she hadn’t seen it at this big scale. It was also the first time she had been sober at a celebration. She had to admit that it came off a bit different when she hadn’t tasted the mead.

Somehow they made their way through the mindless fray. It included brief participation in the dancing until Ashling tore away from the happy dancer who had grabbed her. Her tipsy guide almost danced away though. But, Ashling got hold of her and dragged her away from yet another eager suitor. It was becoming clear to her that the girl was very popular. Her name seemed to be Aase. She was a beautiful being, this Aase. She was curvaceous like an hourglass and her blond hair was golden like ripe rye in the harvest season. Ashling had only noticed it in passing by before. It hadn’t been of importance to her how the messenger looked when there was a patient to take care of.

Aase opened a door in the back of the hall. Ashling followed her through it, into a small side room and then upstairs. Her guide knocked on a door there, using a decorative knocker of carved wood. “Roal? It’s me. Aase. The healer is here!”

A male voice answered: "Let them in!"
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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Aase pulled out a big key from a skirt pocket, put it in the lock and turned it three times. A low clicking sound told them that the door was open now. Aase pulled it up and entered, Ashling following in her wake. To be honest she felt very curious about the person who sat in the very back of the room. Was this the Roal the other man (down in the yard) had wanted The Midwinter Huntress to take as her lone victim in the keep? And why had Aase locked the man in ... because so it seemed to be. While the imprisoned man leapt forward, the girl immediately locked the door again. She pocketed the key.

“Be nice now Roal. I’ve found a healer for you.”

Ashling looked at her patient. He was tall and broad-shouldered. Like many other people who were five trials into the celebration, he had left decency behind. He had thrown the shirt away somewhere. In his case, this was unfortunate, because his well-shaped torso and arms weren’t only hairy. As far as she could see, they were fur-covered. The colour was golden, but a telltale teal tint told her all she needed to know. A stormtouched. For some reason Ashling couldn’t even speculate about, his face dint’s reveal his condition. He could very well have gone undetected during late Vhalar until to-trial.

She noticed that he was bald and beardless though. For a moment she thought of Nathon back in Fensalir and his short, neat haircut and beard of owl feathers. Had Roal shaved away both beard and hair as they had turned into fur?

She met his gaze. His eyes were a light golden brown, a not too unusual eye colour. They told her nothing about what she was facing. The fur might be the only visible trait of something else than human. But, by her experience with other stormtouched, she knew that there could be more to them than met the eye.

“What ails you?” she asked without commenting on his appearance.

“Nothing!” The man spat out the word, his voice a snarl.

“He’s wounded,” said Aase. “They brawled. Over me.” Her tone sounded smug to Ashling. Being tipsy, Aase began to giggle. She seemed to find it great fun that she had made people fight.

“Let me out of here Aase. I’m going to kill that cursed...he stabbed me. He will pay for it.”

At this point, Ashling introduced herself. "I'm Ashling Grayhawk, from Fensalir." Then, she suggested an examination of the wound.

Roal met this with a growl. “From Fensalir, are you? I need no cursed hedge doctor!”

“All the proper healers were busy,” Aase told him. “You are lucky that I found this one.”

Hedge doctor? Cursed Hedge doctor? The proper healers were busy? What the...

“I assure you that I know my job,” Ashling said in the stern voice she used for troublesome patients. The cold voice of a not so lenient doctor who didn’t care about their nonsense could sometimes work wonders. “Now, tell me what happened! How injured are you?”

A short silence followed. Roal and Aase stared at Ashling like a strange animal and turned up in front of them.

Roal leaned forward like he was going to bite back but then he swayed back a bit instead and laughed. “It’s nothing. He stabbed me but he only hit me in the arm. He’s a worthless fighter! It’s only a small wound.” Roal pointed at his left upper arm. Ashling saw that there was blood in the ... fur ... but not a whole lot of it.

Aase giggled again.

Roal continued. “I don’t want any hedge doctor treatments. What I need is mead. More mead! Much mead and good mead! Open the door now Aase, let’s stop this fussing...”

The girl was fast on the reply. “You will get all the mead you can drink if you let the healer take care of the wound and then put on a new shirt.”

The man's face lit up at the mention of mead. In the blink of an eye, he shifted from aloof and unwilling to collaborate to... playful? “Fetch a new pitcher of mead then! Hey, fetch a pitcher for the hedge doctor too. Get a whole barrel of it!” Roal laughed again. He reeled a little bit. “We will drink mead, celebrate and tell stories! A contest of drinking and storytelling! You... what's-your-name... Hedgie, you can patch me up later-”

"Er ... Hedgie will patch you up here and now! Not later. Now! "

“Hedgie”? He seems to have forgotten my name. She too. It’s not important to them. And I'm not going to repeat it!

A debate followed. It sounded like a domestic argument. Ashling was beginning to believe that Aase was Roal’s wife. The brawl might have been with one of the many admirers trying to lead her astray. But, the girl seemed to hold the upper hand in the debate, for reasons Ashling didn’t know. It seemed like she had some kind of power over him. Why else would Roal abstain from using sheer physical force to take the key from Aase and walk out?

Ashling gave the girl a closer look. Down in the hall, Aase had seemed like only a carefree celebration goer. In hindsight, Ashling realized that the girl had acted like she wanted to be desired by everybody, hailed by all. A capricious beauty, looking to hold the position as the fairest in the hold? The kind of woman who seemed to promise the world but would have little to give those who fell for her except whims and superficial endearments?

Ashling didn’t know enough about Aase to come to that conclusion. It was only one possibility. The ongoing argument was also so ...weird. Roal seemed set on his idea to refuse medicinal treatment. He would only take if after the contest of drinking and storytelling...between him and the “hedge doctor”.

He seemed to hold some kind of advantage over Aase as well. And now he revealed it. “I’m not going to let a hedge-doctor dabble with me if she can’t prove herself.” Roal sounded smug. “I’d rather die. Then, where would that put you, Aase, without me, such as I have become? How many of all the men who swarm around you would marry you if our betrothal would end?”

Aase snorted. “You will not end it because no other woman would want you ... such as you have become.” She sounded as smug as Roal. “For you, I am the only one. Forever.”

“But, I might die.” Roal shrugged like he didn’t care. “Or I might dissolve the engagement regardless and not care that you’ll out me. I’m not sure if having been engaged to me will reflect so well on you...” He laughed, but it wasn’t a real laugh. “It would be a stupid woman’s revenge to tell the world that she was betrothed to a stormtouched but kept it secret out of greed, as long as it served her.”

“You did this on purpose!” Aase lashed out, taking a new approach. “You attacked him because you knew how easy it is to enrage him when he’s drunk! You did it just so you would get wounded and be able to threaten to die on me!” Aase’s tone was melodramatic now. “This is all only about being mean to me!”

Ashling thought of how she had found the girl in the entrance room. Aase had been dallying on the verge of more advanced interaction, in one of the room’s obscure corners. When she had left to show Ashling the way to Roal, she had promised to come back. Now, seeing how self-centred Aase seemed to be, Ashling suspected that the girl had already forgotten that promise. She didn’t seem to care about other people. Even the risk for Roal dying (though that didn’t seem to be a big risk) seemed to be something Aase only saw as a threat to herself.

Roal shrugged again. “Mead or death!”

If it hadn’t been a job and they hadn’t been her customers Ashling would have rolled her eyes. It was a stupid empty threat Roal had delivered. He and Aase were both too drunk to see how dumb it was though. To them the risk was real. But, Ashling knew that Roal wouldn’t drop down dead here and now. If she left without treating him, nothing would happen.

By all means ... if the wound, small as it was, would remain untreated there was a risk for an infection that could lead to sepsis.

Stay and deal with this or leave and take the consequences or get out?

Not only may he fall ill (and even die of sepsis later, in the worst case). Aase may also blame it on me, to save her own skin. And this is Namdalen Hold.

Who are these two dishevelled drunks? Servants or nobility? Who can tell?”


Ashling had made up her mind. Despite how troublesome the situation had become, the “hedge doctor” wasn’t going to leave without doing her job. If this meant that she would first have to take part in a contest of drinking and storytelling, so be it!

Besides, here was a new stormtouched now, one who had avoided abduction. He was one more subject for her to study (and help). Ashling didn’t want to miss out this chance.

“Challenge accepted,” she said, interrupting the argument the other two continued as if they had forgotten her. “Fetch the mead!”

Roal laughed and gave her a happy growl. “Rawr!”

Aase tossed her head and sashayed out from the room. Ashling heard the key turn in the lock, three times. She cursed under her breath. Would Aase come back with the mead? Or would the girl forget it and instead head to a dark corner with the first man who tried to grab her? How long time would Ashling be stuck in this room with the “stormie” Roal? How would their contest turn out? Would she ever get to do her job? And ... what kind of strange traits would the man turn out to have?

He smiled at her. “I love games and fun. I’m a hunter, but it’s Cylus so in lack of hunting ...Let’s play! ”

Ashling’s spiritual side was rising in her mind. The hawk-shaped familiar Kyrie had one of its one-word messages to give her.

Lynx!
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Ashling was locked in with a stormtouched with lynx traits who loved hunting, games and fun. She felt that it was important to be the first mover in this new situation. Her advantage was that she was sober, but Roal was quite drunk and so, the slower thinker. In the blink of an eye, she decided that it was better to try to take lead than leave it up to Roal to get ideas.

“We will play when Aase comes back with the mead. Then we’ll play your game of telling stories. But, while we wait for the drink...I have another game we can play.” Ashling didn’t have a game. She only wanted to take control. But, she would do her best to come up with something...

“Another game? What is it?”

“A hunting game!” She hoped that would appeal to him. He had, after all, said that his main interest was hunting.

Roal began to laugh and his eyes gleamed. “What will we hunt then, Hedgie? There’s only the two of us here. One for being the prey and one for being the hunter! And you are a healer, not a hunter, right?” A new laugh shook him.

He took a step forward but Ashling didn’t take a step back. Instead, she locked eyes with him. “Back in Ymiden last year I helped the Ragnari catch outlanders who were up to no good. In Fensalir. I’m afraid I attacked them with poison to save myself when they tried to “hunt” me. One died.”

Roal didn’t take a step back but he didn’t step closer either. Tilting his head a little bit to the side, he gave her a wide smile. “Poison? But you are a healer. Healer’s don’t kill people! You are kidding me!” There was a streak of triumph in his voice and he laughed again.

Ashling saw her chance. “But I’m not a healer but a hedge doctor! We hedge doctors deal with poison as well as with medicine. I deal with death as well as with life.”

Roal seemed to forget her. He turned his attention to his arm and the wound and began to brush the fur around with his fingertips. It looked clean to Ashling, but Roal acted like there was invisible dust only he could see and which demanded cleaning. She waited for him to answer. Roal didn’t. Instead, when he looked at her again, he ignored her latest line like he hadn’t heard it.

“What’s your game?” he said instead. He spoke in a soft voice but there was a hint of something else in his tone.

“It’s named...the Midwinter Huntress!” Ashling hadn’t had time to come up with something else or better. So, now she was recycling the rubbish from the encounter with the man she had met in the yard.

“Like in the tales?” Roal chuckled. “The huntress of Myrkvior, the dark mother’s feral man-eating envoy?”

“Like in the tales.” Ashling fumbled for something more to say. “Like, I’m the midwinter huntress and you are my prey. You are even my only prey this evening because I made a pact with a man out on the yard. He let me in on condition that I would spare him and all others and only take one...Roal. That would be you.”

A moment of total silence followed. Then...

“Hahaha!” The roaring laugh made Roal reel and lose his foothold. For a moment it looked like he was going to fall, but after a series of amazing acrobatics, he was back on his feet. “So, it’s a game of who can freak who out the best, is it? Poison! The Midwinter Huntress! Not bad, I’ll give you that! But, now it’s my turn to freak you out, isn’t it? Hmm?”

Ashling could swear that she had heard him purr.

Now, Roal had defined her game for her and it wasn’t a game she felt like playing. She was on the verge of saying that it wasn’t his turn yet because she wasn’t done yet, but she didn’t get time to open her mouth. Despite being drunk Roal moved fast. Before she even understood what was happening she felt the claws of the stormtouched on the skin of her left shoulder. He hadn’t done more but tips of his claws had cut through the cloth of her shirt. It felt like a collection of sharp knives ready to shred cloth and flesh alike. A smile played on Roal’s lips but it didn’t reach his eyes. He stared at her, his grin expectant and something else...

Ashling stood still.

Wolfsbane! Hannyban! The most poisonous herbs she knew came to her mind...

But she had only brought beneficial herbs.

Psychology? Roal seemed eager to beat her and win the “game” he believed they were playing...

“You win!” She had a feeling that it was best to mimic his style and laugh in the face of danger. It wasn’t hard for her to laugh. She was feeling so nervous that she even had to laugh to keep herself from screaming.

Her laugh had seemed to surprise Roal. Ashling was desperate and decided to take a chance. She would reveal her errand in Raelia to him. Speaking at a fast pace to not be interrupted, she gave him a long speech. “But, Roal, I have something else to tell you, something that can be of great importance to you. I’m in Raelia because I have stormtouched people to help. Like you, they are after all people, not freaks and not animals. They aren't mindless victims to their condition. They aren't the monsters some other people tell them they are. But, they are living in the deep forest now, like hunted animals, in the midwinter.”

A silence followed. Roal shook his head like he was trying to sober up. After some trills, he let go of her shoulder. He was about to say something, but at this moment they heard the key turn in the lock. Aase kicked up the door and entered. She was carrying a tankard of mead in each hand and she looked even more dishevelled than before. “I’m back! “she announced in a tone like she was telling them that the important person in their trio had returned. “Drink your mead and tell me your entertaining stories now. I will pick the winner!” With this she handed to contestants their mead.

Roal and Ashling looked at each other over the rims of the tankards.

“I will begin ...” Roal lifted his tankard high, but Aase’s capricious giggle interrupted him.

“The hedge doctor first,” said Aase. “It would be bad manners of you to begin before the guest. Try to behave like you were a human being Roal. Even if she is ... sort of ... grey. ” Her tone was somewhat reproachful and her smile was smug. Two people put down in one strike!

Roal and Ashling looked at each other again. Like on a silent signal, at the same time, they both drank of their mead. They stopped drinking like on a new silent signal and both of them nodded. “You first,” said Roal. “I’m after all a human being, not a freak and not an animal. I don't lack good manners! ”

Aase giggled.

Ashling was no storyteller, but she still had a story to tell, artless and plain as it would be. It didn't matter. She didn’t count on winning the contest. All she aimed for was to carry out her part of this madness in the hope of getting to do her job and go home.
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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“I will tell you a dark story. A dark and haunting story about hunting.” Ashling took one more swig of her mead. It was strong and good and of the high quality, you could expect in a noble hold during the celebrations of light.

Nodding, his eyes gleaming, Roal followed her example. “That’s my favourite kind of story.” He smiled at her like a cat waiting for cream.

Ashling began her tale. She wasn’t going to make up something on the spot. Her story was only what she had experienced herself, a true story. “Once upon a time on a dark winter’s night in Raelia a woman made her way towards a hold of a family in Raelia. She walked along the dark streets in the snow and the cold. Only the moonlight and a few street lanterns made it possible to see. The darkness of Cylus was that dark. Many would have lost their way. But the woman knew how to find her way because she was a woman of the wilds. She used to navigate in Our Mother of Darkness, Myrkvior, Great Mother, Dark Mother.”

She wasn’t much of a storyteller, but she knew how fairy tales used to sound. Throwing in religious references felt right. In her experience, it was always a good idea to hail Myrkvior at troublesome occasions. She believed that saying the name of the Induk might make the spirit pay attention to her. She had managed to weave in a shout out to Myrkvior! It could seem like the chance to gain induk support was very small. But, as a true believer, she didn’t hesitate to hope for it.

Ashling took a new swig on the mead before she continued. Roal drank more mead too. He didn’t try to interrupt her or rush her. Patient like a cat waiting outside a rat’s hole he watched her in silence.

“When the woman arrived at the hold she found the big gate unguarded. She walked right into the yard inside. It was a big courtyard, framed by buildings on all sides. The woman saw many doors but she didn’t know where to step in. As she stood there looking around one door opened and a man stumbled out. He was drunk, very drunk, and his gait was unsteady. His errand was easy to guess when he began to open his clothes. You know what the proverb says. What goes in comes out.”

Roal laughed and almost spat out the mead he had been about to drink. He put the goblet down. Ashling took a new swig of the brew but Roal abstained. She smiled at him. “Nature was calling. But, before the man had the time to do what he was there for the woman approached him to ask for the right way into the hold. She didn’t want to come to the wrong place you see. Now, the man felt horrified. He decided that she must be The Midwinter Huntress, preying on drunk men like him in the darkness of Cylus. Desperate, he begged her to spare his life. He would pay the price she asked of him.” Ashling made a short pause. “He was aesir-drunk.”

Again, she took a swig of the mead, locking eyes with Roal. The man hesitated for a fraction of a trill, but then he lifted his goblet and drank with her. Ashling though to herself that Roal seemed to be a man who knew how to handle his liquor. He didn’t seem sober, but he was far from aesir-drunk.

“Yes, the man was aesir-drunk and set on his opinion. And so, the woman told him that she was The Midwinter Huntress but if he would help her to step into the right door of the hold she would spare him. The man was eager to take her up on this offer. Very eager. Not only did he want to save his own skin, but he also saw an opportunity to get rid of an enemy or rival. He didn’t want all in the hold to perish in the claws of The Midwinter Huntress, oh no. He would let her in if she would promise to only pick one single victim that night.”

Ashling heard Aase gasp the way people use to gasp in excitement when a story seems to get down to the blood. She didn’t look at the girl but focused her attention on the man. He was leaning forward like he didn’t want to miss a word. “The woman agreed to the deal. The man let her in and told her the name of the one he wanted her to take. It was Roal.”

At this Roal spilt a bit of his mead and Aase began laughing out loud. “All hail The Midwinter Huntress!” she shouted, cheering Ashling on. “What happened next? Did she hunt Roal and kill him?”

“She found him. But, the man was shrewd enough to stall for time by challenging her to a story contest he didn’t aim to let her win. He hoped to get her aesir-drunk and avoid her dark designs. It was like Roal here is trying to avoid my hedge doctor treatments. So ... if they haven’t stopped rambling yet, they are still going on.”

A proper end? Ashling hoped so. “That was my story,” she told Roal. “It’s your turn.”

Roal leaned back in his chair, his eyes narrow, his gaze trailed on her. “Not bad.” He paused a bit and then he asked: “And that man in the yard...he who made a deal with The Midwinter Huntress and lived to tell about it, what was his name again, I forgot ...”

“I don’t know. But, as the story said, he lived to tell the tale the next trial, but that's another story.” One more swig of mead gave her an excuse for changing the topic. “Do you have a story to tell me or were you only stalling for time? Will you let me tend to that knife wound now? You are bleeding...Roal. You aren’t scared of doctors, are you? ”

An expression she couldn’t interpret passed over his face.

“I’m not scared of anybody or anything, barring the manipulations of false and unfaithful women.” He spoke like in jest but under the playful tone, there was a streak of something else.

Aase laughed like he had said something very fun. But, Ashling didn’t know the man so it was hard for her to know if he was joking or not. She found it best to shut up and drink her mead. Roal looked at her. She looked back and shrugged. “Tell me a good tale now, if you can, or surrender and let me do my job.”

“Do as the hedge doctor says and give up Roal. You know you can’t win.” Aase’s tone vas was openly scornful now. ”Don’t be such a coward. Real men don’t shy away from getting stitched.”

Roal ignored Aase and smiled at Ashling. “I will tell you a dark story. A dark and haunting story about hunting! Didn’t I tell you that it’s my favourite kind of story?”

Ashling nodded and sipped on her mead. The less she would say the shorter time this mess would take.

Now, to her surprise, the so-far moderate drinker Roal tilted his head back and drank all the mead left in it. Then, he put the goblet down with a bang. "Aase! Go and get me more mead! But, it must be the dark mead this time, the strongest mead, the mead for real men!"

Aase snorted. "If you say so. But if they haven't brought up new barrels yet I'll have to go all the way down to the basement."

"The dark mead or nothing! I'm not going to take any hedge doctor medicine if I don't get real mead!"

The girl got to her feet and left the room.'t Again, Ashling heard the key turn in the lock three times. She still had more than half a goblet left and she already felt a little bit tipsy. Why hadn't the first round of mead been strong enough for Roal? When she asked him he shrugged. "If I know her right it will take Aase a long time to fetch more mead. She will be out of the way for a while..."

It was true that the man was bleeding a little bit, but he wasn't bloodied. The fur on his arm was clean...and even as she thought o that, she saw Roal bend his head and lick the blood away. Ashling had felt very tired of Aase. But, now she wanted the girl to come back as soon as possible so Roal could tell his story ...

But, Roal had other plans. "I'm not going to wait for *Aase to return. " And so, the lynx-man began telling his story.
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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It was summer and nature was flourishing. A hunter was out in the forest - Our Mother Myrkvior, Great Mother Dark Mother. He followed the tracks of his intended prey down along a stream. The trees stood leafy and green and the sunlight glittered in the water. But, time passed and the weather began to shift. At first, the change was subtle. The air became a little bit colder and the wind became a little bit stronger. I seemed like nothing else than a common fluctuation in the temperature and wind. It didn’t bother the man. He continued the hunt.

Later in the day, in the afternoon, it was not small fluctuation anymore. A storm was incoming. He saw it in the sky. Dark clouds were moving closer at an amazing and unnatural speed. Then came the odd violet flashes and he knew that something worse than a storm was happening. He had never heard about anything like what the odd storm brought. Being a true believer in Myrkvior - may her name be hailed - he prayed to the great spirit to help him. Meanwhile, he ran as fast as he could toward a cave he thought he had seen nearby.

Rain fell. It was a strange rain, deep blue, like cobalt. If not for Myrkvior it might have soaked him. But, he managed to run straight to that cave. He jumped into the shelter and watched the dramatic storm from there. It became night but the storm did not abate. He couldn’t see them fall, but through the thunder and the rain, he heard the sound of huge old treads hitting the ground.

Another sound made him look over his shoulder. A pair of glowing predator eyes in the darkness farther into the cave told him that he wasn’t alone. An animal was hiding there. It wasn’t a wolf or a bear. He knew enough about those animals to be sure that it was not them. A bear didn’t bide its time and a wolf didn’t wait to attack. Some kind of feline predator was more probable. The hunter crouched, making his knives ready because if it would come to a fight it would be a fight by claws and knives. If the animal would try an pounce on him, he was ready to pounce first or at least attempt to do so.

Noting came out of this. Every time the thunder rumbled and the flashes crossed the sky outside the animal hissed and withdrew, too scared to come closer. There acrid smell in the air might also have contributed to scaring it. The animal bided its time and so did the hunter. Eventually, the storm seemed to die down. It was morning. Had he been himself, the hunter should have been extra vary now. But, instead, he yawned, laid down on the floor of the cave, stretching a bit to get rid of the stiff feeling in his muscles. Then he closed his eyes but only almost, resting but awake. He was dry and warm and comfortable. Oddly, he didn’t react when the animal left the inner part of the cave and came closer. It sniffed on him. He squinted and saw his companion. It was a lynx, not one of the biggest cats but still a danger to count with.

He should have felt scared but he didn’t. The lynx should have attacked or run away, but it didn’t. It sat beside him, close to his arm. When the hunter opened his eyes to have a closer look at the lynx he saw a sight he would never forget. He couldn’t see any border between the body of the lynx and his own lower arm. Both were covered by the same golden fur. In a state of terrified unbelief, the hunter sat up and opened his shirt. More fur. If he hadn’t been a Melrathi man he would have screamed when he touched his face ...


For a moment, Roal seemed to stop, but there was more.

The hunter went home. Where else could he go? He would find a healer, he thought. It must be possible to do something about the weird changes he had undergone. Or they might disappear again. But, as time passed by, the changes didn’t go away and he found no cure. To complicate his situation more, he wasn’t the only monstrosity. He was a member of a new group in Melrath, the changed ones, the people they called the stormtouched. It worried him. He was familiar with how predators in nature tend to single out the prey that deviates from the flock. They take the very young or the very old, the very weak and the very bold, and often those of an unusual colour. The hunter was no stranger to how people often act the same way, not being as different from the animal as they want to believe. He decided to disguise himself to avoid potential troubles.

This was possible because ever since he had returned he had been hiding in his room. He was pretending to be wounded and in such a foul mood that the only one who could visit him was his betrothed. She was a fair Melrathi girl of a merchant family, an outstanding beauty. In the beginning, she was loyal to the hunter and kept his secret. She too was hoping that the changes would go away and everything would become as it had been before.

When it didn’t, the girl began showing her true colours. Disdain and hard words were all she had for the man she had claimed to love. Now, she called him a freak and an inhuman monstrosity. Yet she stuck with him, in self-interest. Of merchant family, brought up to be greedy she thought of the profit. The marriage would be profitable for her and her kin. A broken engagement might mean losses of business opportunities, reputation and more. The mass-abduction of a lot of stormtouched had already happened, you see. She feared accusation of treason if they found out that she had been engaged to a stormtouched and conspired to hide him from the Aesir and the Ragnari. So, she helped the hunter to disguise himself. She shaved his head and his face clean and said that his hair and beard had fallen off due to poison. In public, he wore clothes that covered him from the chin to the toes and hid his hands in gloves.

At the end of Cylus that arc, in the time of the celebrations of light, they were still a couple. But, by now, they were bound by lies and growing hate and mutual disdain instead of love, or the pretence thereof. Disdain...her disdain for his condition...his disdain for her now when he saw her as she was. The girl was a man-eater, hunting every handsome man she got her eyes on an some of the ugly lads too. She no longer cared to be discreet. The hunter still kept her as he had no other options.

This could have been the end of the story, but stories are not always that simple. Another man decided that he wanted to get rid of the hunter and win the girl for himself. Drunk and dumb, he drew his knife and attacked as soon as the two of them were alone for a few trills. He attacked like a bear or a wolf, rushing forth to do the deed. But, the hunter, agile as a cat, dodged and got away with a cut in his arm. He withdrew to his room to think and sent for his unfaithful betrothed. She, in turn, insisted on him getting the wound treated by a doctor, despite the risk of being revealed. After all, she had done to protect her investment she didn’t want to lose it you see. That other man was only a toy to her like all of them were. She locked the door, turning the key three times as the hunter had taught her to do and went out to find a healer.


Roal could have stopped, but there was more.

A strange and unexpected healer arrived. The hunter's betrothed unlocked the door and let the healer in. The hunter suspected the worst. His betrothed had lied to him before and this could be a new lie in the long row of lies he had been given. What if that other man was not a toy but something more?What if she was trying to make poison disguised as medicine do what the knife hadn’t accomplished?

The hunter was not one to rush forth like a bear or a wolf. He watched his visitor and stalled for time. Instead of letting himself be treated by an unknown person he gave them mead to drink and bade them tell him a story. Few people are able to keep up a false façade when they drink. The stories they choose to tell can also speak volumes about them. And so, he listened to the healer's story about men and monsters, and monsters who were still men, not freaks or distorted animals. Appraising, them, he found that some great spirit might finally have sent him the turn of a friendly card.”


Roal stopped there. He looked at her. Ashling looked back.

“If you were that hunter,” said Roal. “What would you do?”
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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"My first advice would be that he must let the healer take care of the knife wound. Even a small injury can cause a severe infection if it gets infected. Then do what he does best. He ought to bide his time, play games with people and tell stories until Ashan begins. Then he can turn to the forest - Myrkvior, our mother - and go hunting for a man named Owl."

"Owl? What kind of name is that? I can understand why he would want to take to the forest. But, why would the hunter want to find a stranger named after a bird?"

"His name wasn't always Owl. The other stormtouched in the group he is a member of call him so. The Ydalir called him Nathon. He was once a ranger but after the storm in Ymiden last year he was one of the people who changed. I don't know more and Owl has lost his memory due to a head wound he got during that storm. He was working, saving people ... but then he turned up in the healing house, bleeding and confused. I treated him afterwards, but it was hard, we had no cure...and then he went to live in the wilds."

As she spoke, an expression she was unable to read moved over Roal's face. "Where?" he said, his tone light and neutral.

"In the forest." She dropped the pretence. "You are a hunter. You will find him. Or he and the others will find you."

Roal was silent for a moment before he told her she had won the story contest and told her to take care of his wound. Ashling began working at once, worried that her patient would change his mind. She took a small knife from the healing kit and shaved away the fur around the injury. Then she inspected the cut. It wasn't a very big or deep cut, but it needed thorough cleansing, disinfection, a few stitches and a clean bandage.

She told Roal this. He shrugged. "Well, get it done."

aAshling had brought with her a flask of water she had boiled before bottling it. "I want to be sure that the water I use is clean and safe," she explained. "I can't know the quality of the water in the patient's place. So, I always keep a few flasks of cleansed water at ready, in case of emergency calls."

"So. Carry on." Roal didn't sound like he wished to learn more about the details of her job.

"This is going to sting, but try to sit still." As a doctor Ashling was direct. In her experience, honesty was the best. Roal seemed to not have anything to say about it so she rinsed the wound with the clean water. Then she cleansed the having knife and put it back in its place in the kit together with the flask of water.

"It's time for the disinfection. I use a herbal tincture based on plants with useful properties and clean alcohol. It's strong and it will sting worse than the water did. Be prepared!"

"Do you think I'm a coward?"

"No. It's only my routine. I always tell the patients in advance about the things I do so I don't surprise them. Are you ready?"

"Bring it on."

Ashling poured a generous amount of the tincture over the would and saw Roal grit his teeth, the jaw going tense. Not a sound escaped him. Being from Melrath she had to admire that. She appreciated when people were hardy.

She put the cork back in the flask of tincture and returned it to the healing kit. When it was possible she always strived to keep each thing clean and in its right place.

"I'll have to sew it too," she told Roal. The man laughed out loud in a manner that told her that he was set on enduring what would come. She didn't tell him that it would be painful. Instead, she pointed at his almost full goblet of mead. "You might want to drink that first. Being a bit drunk use to make it easier."

"No. I need my sobriety. Don't fuss over me. Do your job."

It sounded like an order. Ashling nodded. She took the needled and the surgery tread and drew a deep breath. Surgery wasn't her forte. She was a herbalist, not a "bone-saw". But, sometimes she had to do a bit of surgery when there was nobody else to do it. "I'm not the best at this but the good thing is that you only need a few stitches. "

Roal rolled his eyes.

Ashling began making the stitches. She worked at a slow pace and did her best to not make mistakes. Despite this, she still happened to put the needle a bit wrong more than one time. Making only one stitch at the time she got them in place. Phew! She cleaned the needle and put it away, not looking at Roal. It felt like she was lucky that there wasn't a single stitch left to do.

"You need a sewing course," said Roal. There was a hint of a pissed off cat in his voice. He tapped his uninjured hand against the table.

"I'm a herbalist, not a tailor." Ashling took a roll of cloth bandage from the healing kit, looked up and met his gaze. "This is the last step. I will dress the wound with a clean bandage. Let it stay on for a ten-trial so the wound gets a chance to heal without complications."

Roal relaxed again. He nodded. Ashling bandaged his arm, closed the healing kit and told him she had done all she could. She handed him his shirt and he put it on. His stormtouched condition wasn't visible anymore. Now, they only had to wait for Aase to come back and let her out. How long time did he think it would take?

Roal smirked. "Did I forget to mention that there's more than one key to the lock of this door? I said that I'm not going to wait for her to return. I will guide you out from the hold now."

He got to his feet, walked to the door and opened it with a key he pulled out from a pocket in his pants. "Let's go."

Ashling had expected to go back out the same way she had entered but they took another route down to the entrance. She didn't question it. Roal stopped in the shadows near the door. "Turn to the right and walk along the wall until you come out on the street."

"I will. But, what are you going to tell Aase ..."

Roal laughed. "I will tell her that I made a deal with the midwinter huntress and got away with it! More than one can make that deal! But, Hedgie, what was your name? I know you told us but I forgot. That Owl and his friends may want references."

But, Ashling wasn't going to take unnecessary risks. If Roal and his terrible betrothed hadn't cared to remember her name, it was a good thing. "Owl knows who I am. Tell him the story I told you. He will know."

The celebrations rolled on around them. The unfaithful Aase passed by. She had forgotten to fetch more mead, or not cared to do it yet. A true midwinter huntress, she was at it again. Her drunk and dazed partner for the moment followed her in mindless desire. He would be her victim this evening, one of many. Roal was the only safe man in the hold.

A short silence followed. Then the lynx-man nodded at Ashling and opened the door.

“Myrkvior,” said Roal, holding up his hand. The sharp claws of a lynx shot out from his fingertips and a grin passed over his face. Then he withdrew the claws again.

“Great Mother, Dark Mother, Shelter us against all evil.” Ashling recited one of the traditional answers.

Roal added the final line. “Hailed be thy name.”

Somewhat tipsy, Ashling left Namdalen Hold. The midwinter night was grim and cold. The moonlight shone on the snow-covered rooftops...Ashling walked home on the street alone, the lantern glowing in her gloved hand.
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Re: [Raelia] All Hail the Hedonist Healer

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Ashling:

Knowledge:
Medicine x2
Psychology x2
Storytelling x2

Loot: -
Wealth: -
Injuries: -
Renown: 10, for dealing with all those complications, being the midwinter huntress – and doing your job!
Magic XP: -
Skill Review: Appropriate to level.
Points: 10
- - -
Comments: The link in your review request didn’t work, but I found the thread without problems.

You also forgot to list which skills you used. I checked your CS, but please remember to take care of that aspect of the review request next time.

Now on to the review!

I appreciated that you added the description of the calendar event in a spoiler. I was rather amused by the fact that Ashling jumped at the opportunity to see the excesses of the nobles with her own eyes. Who would have thought that she would be interested in that?

I like how much background information you wove into your posts, about Raelia and the nobles, for example. This makes the thread easily understandable, even for someone who does not know anything about Melrath.

Your posts in general were very detailed.

There always seems to be a bit of humor in them which is great in my opinion. Some of the complications that Ashling encountered while trying to do her job were in fact hilarious!

I liked the scene with the drunk man who was on his way to answer nature’s call and thought Ashling was a ghost, for example. The way that she reacted to that was quite interesting!

And the patient … oh my. You managed to tell quite an interesting story!

I enjoyed Roal’s tale, by the way!

Enjoy your rewards!
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