Amerakhte's Last Visit to Vhaerun
The map has changed since last I posted. Vhaerun's now in the northwest. I'm just going to write to fit the new geography henceforth, without worrying about whether what I wrote previously fits it. If it works for the comics, I guess we can do it too.
Same goes for the disrupted timeline. If I don't have to explain why something didn't happen when I expected (because I didn't write it because of computer problems), I'll just quietly pretend everything has gone as expected.
Fog had drifted in from the sea in the small hours of the morning; and at grey dawn, Valiska Sei-Varun was hammering spikes into new-driven pilings, at the direction of Uncle Roshand, who was presently acting as chief carpenter.
Valiska struck with such force as made the spike-heads ring -- blow after blow, hour after hour; and her eyes were often fixed on nought that anyone could see.
She was supposed to be helping Aunt Shahann with reports from Blackmoor. But she could not concentrate.
Anchored in the harbor was the silver-grey flagship of the Chieftess Amerakhte, leader of the tribe, and her grandmother.
To Grandmother would board the ship, Grandmother and great aunts and uncles and elder cousins, and a few younger folk whose haunted eyes could again never gaze at peace on mortal shores.
They would sail. They would tarry briefly at the new settlement of Arachan Island. But they would depart again, at the end of Midsummer Day, and sail on strange courses off the edge of the mortal world.
The Drow -- for the best of historical reasons -- were ever wary. Nor Vala nor Maia could be trusted absolutely: had not Mairon presented himself as Annatar, before he was known as Gorthaur?
Grandmother had told Valiska her great-grandmother had sailed away, and had returned again for a time centuries later, with a great-great-great grandfather and other departed kinfolk, that her generation might know that the Dark Maiden spoke truly when she told them of the Uttermost West.
Perhaps someday someone Valiska knew would sail back.
Not Grandmother. Grandmother was planning a deed that would preclude her returning --
-- A plank split beneath the spike Valiska was driving; and the force of the jarring on the hammer-handle numbed her hands. The hammer splashed into the salt-water --
-- It still felt like a coming death.
The harbor was less a visible disaster than it had been when Valiska had first sailed homeward from Silverwind. The Sei-Varun Drow had burned the corpses of the slain, with ceremony or (in the case of the enemy) without. They had demolished the smoking shells of crannochs destroyed by the enemy's drake-fire and the sturdier stone roundhouses smashed apart by their own trebuchets.
Some of the stone houses still stood -- with new wooden roofs, or original tiled roofs that hadn't burned. There weren't enough unwrecked houses for everyone working in the bay: above the high-water mark on the shore stood rows of tents, mostly made of old sailcloth. The tent nearest the breakwater was Valiska's.
They now had one wharf rebuilt, in front of a newly-reconstructed warehouse, so that they might with greater ease unload ships. Valiska was working on another.
Valiska groped about on the bottom till she found the hammer.
When she straightened, she saw Grandmother.
Grandmother had a hammer, too, but she wasn't building docks. She was sitting half in the salt-water, braced on the rocks near the breakwater, with a sculptor's chisel.
Grandmother's memorial to Tritonia IX, the Mer-Queen, had been far enough from shore to escape destruction in the battle. She meant to finish it.
Valiska walked ashore, to a kettle over a fire they were keeping ever-burning, and poured two mugs of steaming pepper-spiced tea. Then she waded out beside the breakwater.
Valiska Sei-Varun, former spy.
Amerakhte Sei-Varun, Valiska's grandmother, Chieftess of the tribe.
Shahann Sei-Varun, daughter of Amerakhte, Valiska's aunt, head of Sei-Varun intelligence.
Unnamed dead of the Sei-Varun, killed in the Battle of Vhaerun Bay.
Unnamed enemy dead, Drow and Orcs.
Unnamed members of the Sei-Varun tribe, most of them elder.
Tritonia IX, the great Queen of Sirenia, now dead.
The Dark Maiden, a Maia of Nessa.
Mairon, Sauron's name before he fell.
Departure of the Innocent; Amerakhte Tells Her Daughters of Her Plan
Wolves, cats, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, more animals of modest size, children, elderly slaves, other servants, warriors wounded in battle, noncombatants: most of them reached Vhaerun Bay on Sei-Varun boats coming downriver; the horses and donkeys arrived by the roads. The Chieftess had offered them free passage to Arachan Island, and even rivals and adversaries of her tribe were taking her up on it: they were well-known for honoring contracts.
Valiska was spending much of her time in the harbor, minding creatures and loading ships; when the flood of refugees finally began to slow, she spent part of her time with the carpenters rebuilding wharfs and piers and cabins.
She spent some time sparring with the warriors: she had not been able to do so in her time in the eastern islands, or in Silverwind. First she started unstiffening, remembering forgotten techniques; then she began to improve again, though she often went to sleep bruised and exhausted.
Most of the rest of her waking hours she spent assisting Aunt Shahann. Their communications would have been much easier to manage if they had dared give all their agents enchanted assistance therefor; but Aunt Shahann feared that if they employed such devices too often their enemies would learn to look for them, and might discover their making.
They suspected Zarra had a powerful one-way scrying device from ages past, made with forgotten techniques. Their own research had given them enough art to make multi-way communications with divided enchanted objects whose slices remained magically connected; but they had not yet recreated reliably-functioning one-part enchantments, like the ancient palantiri.
On the night of the full moon, Aunt Shahann and Aunt Ashliin had a long conversation with Grandmother; and when the glitter of magical energy finally dispersed through the quartz-sphere section on the table before them, Valiska (at the desk in the next room) saw them staring at each other, faces blanched-grey.
"She has tarried nearly a century since Father was lost at sea," said Aunt Shahann, "and I know she has long desired to depart. She has remained only for us and for the tribe."
Valiska felt the blood fleeing her own countenance.
Aunt Ashliin wept.
Afterward Aunt Ashliin talked to the tribe; and nineteen of the folk who had been toiling in the harbor left their work. They boarded the next ship sailing north.
Valiska turned a questioning face to Aunt Ashliin, who said, "Not all battle-wounds are to the flesh. Nor can all wounds to the soul heal on mortal shores."
Valiska Sei-Varun, daughter of Khimele daughter of Amerakhte, former spy, now in Vhaerun assisting Shahann.
Shahann Sei-Varun, third daughter of Amerakhte, Spymaster of the tribe.
Ashliin Sei-Varun, second daughter, Warlord.
Amerakhte Sei-Varun, Chieftess, communicating by enchantment from Arachan Island.
Liashe Arelikhah, Amerakhte's husband and father of children, lost at sea nearly a century ago.
Zarra, High Priestess of Lloth, enemy involved in the attack on Vhaerun, mentioned but not present.
Unnamed servants, children, other folk, and animals belonging to other here-unnamed drow tribes in Vhaerun.
Unnamed Sei-Varun warriors and artisans at Vhaerun Bay.
Valiska Arrives at Vhaerun Bay
The first thing Valiska did on reaching Vhaerun Bay was to drop the anchor and douse the sails -- not far from Aunt Shahann's ship.
Then she dove into the water. She swam under and around a bit before eventually heading for the shore. She was trying not to land smelling like lobster bait...
...although there wasn't much to be done about her appearance. The logwood and indigo she'd been dyeing her hair with had slowly faded in the sun, while her skin was slowly darkening back to its usual charcoal: the result of both being that she was steel-blue all over.
As she walked ashore from the the water, several small children who were playing at the edge shrieked at the sea-colored apparition and ran ashore.
... Small children?
She saw her aunt Ashliin striding toward the disturbance, hand on her hilt. Then she stopped and stared. "What...?"
"This is what happens when you don't renew two different alterations for nigh three weeks, and sail in the salt and the sun," said Valiska.
"Oh! Valiska!" Aunt Ashliin embraced her, then stepped back. "I'm glad you're back."
"I'm very glad to see you, too, Aunt," said Valiska. "If you don't mind my asking, why do we have--"
She never finished the question. At that point three juvenile wargs tumbled by, playing tug-of-war with a moderately-sized branch. They fell in the water, yipped, and then ran out and shook themselves off, spraying Ashliin with saltwater. Valiska was still dripping, anyway.
Ashliin closed her eyes. Then she opened them again and laughed. "Because, after the Chieftess expressed her opinion of Blackmoor foreign policy by moving across the continent from Blackmoor and then clear off of it, a goodly portion of the rest of Vhaerun decided she might have a point. Consequently we now are now aswarm with children and pets, whose parents are begging us to take them away with us.
"Some of the parents are still here helping us. Mercifully. And we'll be sending them all north on ships as soon as the said ships get here."
Valiska made a round 'oh' with her lips, without actually saying anything.
"And as long as you're here, how would you like to mind some oversized puppies?"
That was how Valiska came to be occupying a large lean-to covered by a tarp on the shore, and sharing it with three often-wet young wargs.
Her parents' house out in the bay was unliveable. It had had a tile roof and the drakes couldn't burn it, but one of the trebuchet rocks had hit one side of the roof, broke the rafters, shattered the wall, and smashed half the structure into the water. The surviving portion stood gaping.
Every so often another piece would splash into the waves.
Now Valiska, Shahann, Ashiin, and Ilsery are in Vhaerun Bay and I have caught up with realtime in this branch. With any luck they'll stay here for a bit.
Valiska Sei-Varun, daughter of Khimele, granddaughter of Amerakhte, returned from Silverwind.
Ashliin, her aunt, warlord, in charge of such rebuilding of the harbor as the tribe intents to carry out.
Shahann, Valiska's aunt, spymaster of the tribe.
Amerakhte, leader of the clan, mentioned but not present.
Three juvenile wargs.
Several small drow children from other clans.
Parents of children from other clans, mentioned but not named.