Then came the Blood.
The women suddenly isolated her from the boys and the men. They insisted she remain abed and relieved her of her responsibilities and work.
Then, in the night, the girl awakes from feverish and troubled dreams. Surrounding her are spectral female figures, veiled and wrapped in the winding sheets deceased women are interred in. One of them pulls back the veil; she is a grandmother or other elderly female relative that the girl recognizes and has lost. She died and was interred in the depths of the Riddle. "You must come with us," the shadowy figure urges, and holds out her cold hand...
Somehow, the girl must conquer her fear. What qualities does she draw on to master herself? Ask the player. Does she use her Cultural Keyword (I am a Heortling woman, I shall not surrender to fear!) or Community (My people would never abandon me to die like this, there must be a way out!)? Does she draw on the spiritual strength of a newly awakened Rune? Does her Distinguishing Characteristic apply? Whatever the case, use a Simple Contest against a Low Difficulty. If the character wins, she can use her Benefits of Victory bonus in future tests against this specific fear. For example, if she is afraid of spiders and gains a Minor Victory, she now has a +3 bonus the next time she when rolls against her arachnophobia in the future. If she fails, the fear becomes a phobia (or if already a phobia it worsens). She applies the Consequences of Defeat penalty the next time she encounters the fear (if it is a Complete defeat she will automatically flee in terror when that happens, or be paralyzed with horror).
In either case, she begins to make out a dim light ahead in the darkness that leads her forward. It is a flickering light reflecting on the walls. No matter how hard she tries she cannot catch up with it. She begins to realize the Riddle is a spiral, constantly curving right, leading her towards some center. It also spirals down. The light grows brighter. Around a final bend she turns and finds a square doorway in the stone. The dead, veiled Ancestress who first spoke to her is there again, waiting.
Five Souls stir in their sleep inside you, and you must awake each. Five Souls. Five Senses. Five Seasons. Without the gifts these Souls bestow you can never be a True Woman. Along the way you shall meet Five Lords, Five Men. You must conquer each by knowing what they need. It is in knowing that your power as a woman lies.
Stage One: Ernalda Rides Upon the Deep
As she walks, she can feel grass under her feet again. Insects begin to buzz. Birds begin to sing. The air starts to smell and taste like spring. Eventually the tunnel opens into a cavern in which she can she a replica of her home, her village...but it seems much larger than it should be and curiously idealized. All the colors are brighter, more vivid. The air is warmer and more fragrant. Everything is more intense. The cavern fades away and she feels she is actually in her village, under a warm, emerald green sky.
Take as much time to role-play this as you need. The girl runs into her mother, aunts, sisters, grandmothers (even if any of these people are now dead). But there are no men. The women spoil her; she is given sweet honey cakes to eat, sweet green water to drink. She realizes she is voracious, eating a drinking nonstop. Nothing has ever tasted this delicious to her before. Meanwhile, the women play games with her, give her painted dolls made of cloth and wood, sing songs. She feels perfect peace and safety wash over her--so welcome after the ordeal just awhile before. She is tempted to stay here forever.
But the Ancestresses words haunt her. She must press on.
Everything intoxicates her. The tastes, the sensations of the air and warmth on her skin. The feelings are almost erotic, stirring sensations inside her she has not felt before. As she stands pondering what to do she feels a cool rush over her bare feet. A stream of water has rushed down from the hills behind her and now races downhill. She feels the urge to follow. Doing so takes her to the edge of the sea. There is a great mountain beyond this ocean--greater even than mighty Kero Fin. It dominates the horizon. She senses she needs to get to it, but has no idea how to manage this.
Where the stream meets the ocean, a white fountain of water suddenly begins to spring up. It rises taller than she is. After a few moments, a handsome man emerges from the fountain, his golden skin glistening. He is completely naked, with a beard and long braided hair of the deepest sea green. The fountain subsides, but he remains standing there, knee-deep in the waters.
Where are you going, O Woman of the Earth? For you have reached the end of your domain and the boundary of mine.
She may explain who she is, where she is going, and perhaps ask him his name. He will tell her he is Magasta. If she explains that she wishes to get across the sea to the mountain, his face lights up with desire.
I can bear you across the waves, Woman of the Earth. I can carry you upon my back for all eternity and never tire. Yet what will you give me for my labors?
It is easy to see from his expression, from the way his eyes devour her, what he most wants. He is shivering with desire for her. This is the awakening of the First Soul, the sensual and erotic powers of her sexuality as a woman. By surrendering to Magasta, she can conquer him. However this is not a choice that should be forced on the candidate; she understand inherently in that moment that sexuality is hers to give, not to be taken. The player character may refuse Magasta, or promise him something else. This however will require a Simple Contest against a Moderate difficulty and should be role-played out. On a victory, she can convince him to ferry her, but he will be petulant and grumble about it the entire way. IF THIS IS THE CHOICE THE CANDIDATE MAKES KEEP TRACK OF IT. In each of these tests she can chose between what Ernalda might have done--aligning herself closely with Ernalda, Esrola, and the Grain Goddesses, or do the opposite...aligning herself with the more sterile, dark Earth goddesses like Ty Kora Tek or Babeester Gor.
If she does decide to seduce him, he will say;
Yes, Daughter of Gata it is you I desire. Come into my arms and lie with me, Beautiful Lady. Lie with me, love me, and I will fill your breasts with milk, your womb with life-giving waters, and in the tides of your blood you will possess the secrets of renewal and rebirth.
In the fine tradition of myths and ancient epics the rest can be handled "off camera" (Each day Satayavati rowed a boat across the Yamuna/ferrying travelers from bank to bank/One morning the great sage Parashara/boarded her boat. As the glided gently/he desired her--/Parashara made his intention known./The girl was horrified. "O blessed one/those rishis standing on the bank can see us!"/The sage summoned a mist to envelop them./He reassured her: her virginity would remain intact/"And furthermore, lovely smiling girl/you my chose a boon."/That same day she gave birth to a son.../ - The Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling). The girl is carried upon the waves, and as she joins with the Lord of the Seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds spring up across the land. She is changed my the crossing. When she steps on to the other shore she is a fully sexual being. Her First Soul is awoken.
Stage Two: Ernalda Spills Her Waters
As she scales the slope and passes away from the sea, the sky changes. That great radiance fills it, and there is a great dry heat in the air. Turning around, it seems the light has done something to her vision; it is sharper, and she can see farther, from one edge of the world to the next. But the heat continues to grow, and she breaks into a sweat as she climbs.
Eventually she comes to a sort of shelf on the mountainside, a wide, flat place where farmers have tilled fields. Unfortunately the soil is baked dry in the heat and dusty. Nothing is growing. Nothing can. Ahead of her, she can make out a lone figure standing in the field. With her enhanced vision, she can see it is a tall, thin young man with flowers in his hair. He carries a bag of seed which he continues to scatter on the earth with no effect.
When he sees her he raises his hand in a salute. He tells her his name is Flamal.
He will ask, as Magasta did, where she is going, but from his expression she can tell he is clearly preoccupied by the problem of the soil. I cast my seed hither and fro but to no avail. The earth is unyielding. Nothing with germinate, take root, and grow. I have no means to irrigate it, and no cattle to offer as sacrifice.
As he speaks, she remembers Magasta's promise to her; that her blood now possesses the power to renew and give life. She understands that like a cup she has now been filled with Life. Will she spill some blood to offer as a sacrifice? Or keep the secret to herself?
Keep track again of her decision. Sacrificing awakens her Second Soul, the innate power of a woman's blood to renew and give life. While men shed the blood of enemies and beasts to the gods, a woman sheds her own blood, periodically, to renew the balance of the world (see below; Notes on Pregnancy and Menstruation). This aligns her more closely with Ernalda, Esrola, and the life-giving goddess. Refusal again aligns her more with the goddesses of the deep earth and death.
Assuming she agrees, she either begins menstruating right on the spot OR spills he own blood with a knife. It depends on whether you and your players are more comfortable with menstruation or self-mutilation! Regardless, with the sacrifice made the soil suddenly darkens to a deep, ruddy color, and becomes verdant. Flamal is in awe. He kneels and takes the candidate by her hands and swears his loyalty and love to her. O Blessed Life-Giver! Forever I promise the secret of the seed to you, and entrust all seed that you may make it come alive.
With her Sexual and Sacrificial Souls awakened, she is ready to move on. This time Flamal will escort her up the slopes of the mountain to her destination.
If she refuses, she continues the journey alone.
STAGE THREE: Ernalda in the House of Abundance
IF SHE HAS BEEN choosing the paths of the life-giving goddesses, as the candidate and Flamal climb the slopes of the Cosmic Mountain they become covered in green. Grass, trees, and flowers spring up in their wake. If she has been choosing against this, she goes alone, and the soil remains barren and sterile.
Eventually, under an azure sky studded with golden stars, they come to a golden palace, the court of the Bright Emperor, Yelm. The initiate will never quite be able to recall it again in any great detail--it is too large and splendid for her mind to contain--but she will remember it from time to time in dreams and flashes. It is an endless series of rooms in gold and marble, with precious stones set into the walls. She will remember the golden-hooved white horses, the exotic songbirds, proud griffons roaming the halls. She will remember the great throne of Yelm, towering over the main hall, a thing of gold and topaz and amber. She will remember the throne of Empress Dendara beside it.
The guards in the radiant armor lead her before the throne, and Yelm gazes down upon her with burning eyes. His face is so bright she cannot long gaze into it.
Such beauty, the Solar Emperor purrs. You will make a welcome edition to my Halls. I assume you can cook? Weave? That you know the ways of raising children? These tasks are too menial for the hands of my Empress, but I will make you Mistress of the Loom House, the Nursery, and the Kitchens. The others shall know you are my favored concubine and obey your commands.
The House of Abundance is an Extended Contest and the difficulty is moderate. The girl should use an appropriate Keyword like "Heortling" or her Community to demonstrate the skills that any Orlanthi girl would have been trained in. The rolls are all separate tasks--she might one moment be in the Loom house turning wool into thread, another time in the kitchens supervising the preparation of a feast, in the nurseries attending to infant godlings, tending to the injuries of wounded guards, etc. The result of the Contest shows her collective skill in the cultural role assigned to Orlanthi women.
Read the result as a Rising Action consequence. If the girl wins the Contest, her Third Soul--the Earth-based Nurturing Soul--is awoken. She can use the benefits of victory the next time in life any of these skills are tested. Failure means she will suffer the consequences the next time these skills come into play.
In between the rolls of this contest, intersperse the following scenes. It is based on "How Orlanth Met Ernalda";
Ernalda Beholds Orlanth for the First Time: After the first roll is made, drop in this later scene. The girl is there in the throne room with the assembled court when young Orlanth arrives to challenge the Emperor in a contest of Dance. If the player character already has a love interest or a crush, Orlanth will appear to her as that young man. If the player wishes to develop and NPC love interest as a future storyline, have Orlanth appear as that character. Otherwise portray him as a vigorous--if slightly wild--young man. Before the Dance begins, Orlanth sees her. The two lock eyes but do not have a chance to speak. The attraction between them is immediate. While Yelm performs an elegant ballet (I have always imagined it as whirling dervishes), Orlanth shocks the court by doing a boisterous and threatening War Dance. The judges, of course, declare Yelm the winner.
The Second Time: After the second roll, Ernalda is again in the throne room to witness a second contest of Magic. Orlanth sees her again, but is too proud (or shy???) to speak. Does the girl speak first as he strolls past? Role-play it out. Orlanth is then called away for the contest. Yelm displays the magics of existence and being. Orlanth demonstrates the magics of change and becoming. Again, the judges declare Yelm the victor. The girl sees the anger in his face and the storm in his eyes as Orlanth departs the hall...
The Third Time: After the third roll or so, Orlanth seeks out the girl this time and praises her beauty. Yelm plays a divine harp. Orlanth plays the bagpipes. This time it is clear to her that Orlanth is not playing to win, but it playing to mock the Emperor. The entire Court bursts into laughter, much of it at Orlanth's buffoonery...but some laugh with him at Yelm. The girl, despite herself, if one of those who laughs at Yelm. The judges of course rule against Orlanth, but this time before he leaves he stops to speak with her.
Your laugh is like music, Orlanth says, and so pure that I would like to bring it with me. If you will promise to share that music with me again, I would take you anyplace.
My mother taught me, O my Queen, never to face the Enemy head on, and never to look for solutions in the Light. If the Enemy is too great for your strength, lead it into Darkness. Make an ally of the Shadow. Make Deception your cloak. Learn not to see and do what is obvious, but to listen for what is hidden. For the opponent the Enemy can see it can attack; the unseen opponent is unassailable.
Back among her handmaidens they discuss what the Dark Lover said. Kesta, Berlintha, Mahome, Istena, Arnna, and Jera listen and counsel her.
Everything around us is dying, my Queen. What if Nontraya believed you to be dead as well?
Another agrees. You could go to the House of your Dread Aunt. Even Nontraya could not find you in the Hall of Ty Kora Tek.
Plans are made and a funeral is prepared. The candidate is dressed in funerary garb and wrapped in a winding sheet. She is placed upon a bier. A great procession goes out from the Hall of Orlanth, with everyone weeping and wailing.
On the road, the army of Nontraya is met. He manifests as whomever scares the candidate most. He does not believe Ernalda is dead and demands to see the body. They show her to him.
The candidate is tested here. She must go into the Darkness and call upon her Fourth Soul, the Cunning One. This is a Simple Contest but the difficulty should be High or perhaps Very High; with a success, she awakens her Fourth Soul and the next time she practices deception she can use the bonus she earns here. If she fails, Nontraya is too stupid to see through the ruse, but the next time she tries to deceive she will have to apply the penalties of her failure here.
Truly, Nontraya grumbles, she is dead.
Terrifyingly, the candidate now realizes she cannot move. She is paralyzed. It feels as if her breath has stopped and her heart no longer beats. Her limbs feel deathly cold. The procession continues to carry her and she sees now her destination...it is the mouth of the Riddle again, the great black square gate in the cliffside. Suddenly she remembers everything...who she really is, being stripped naked and sent into the Riddle alone...the terror she felt in the dark. It is full circle. She is going into the darkness again.
The handmaidens carry her inside, round and round in the shadows, walking the spiraling halls towards the center. It seems to go on forever. Finally they reach a cavern so black and cold the candidate can no longer hear them, see them, or even feel the bier she lies upon. She had no idea which way is up or down; she cannot tell if she lies or she stands.
Then a voice speaks from the darkness, a voice full of age and cobwebs and grave soil. It pulls the veil from her face.
She sleeps. She is not dead.
Faint corpse lights flicker around her and the girl sees the dead, withered form of the Ancestress again. She is not Ernalda/She is Ernalda. She is in the Riddle still/She is in the Underworld. The figure before her is her Ancestress/She is Ty Kora Tek.
The dead woman touches her, strokes her cheek with an icy, mummified hand. He frigid breath stinks like an open grave. The girl wonders if she has failed.
The Ancestress reads her thoughts. Everyone fails. Everyone dies. This is how initiation must end. The girl that you were is now dead.
In the dark, the candidate feels the Ancestress cover her face again and she knows her worst fears are realized. She is left to lie there among the centuries of corpses interred here in the black catacombs of the Riddle.
STAGE FIVE: Ernalda, Midwife of Time, Mother of Spring
HOW LONG she lays in the darkness she will never know. There is no such thing as Time. After awhile her terror gives way to despair, and finally, acceptance. She releases her life, her warmth, her breath.
Until he comes and gives her new breath.
The shroud is pulled back and Orlanth kisses her on her bier, air filling her lungs again. She coughs, she stirs, her eyelids flutter. The darkness is broken by lights.
...but Orlanth is gone. Was he ever there? She can still feel his kiss on her lips.
The girl rises, able to move again. Breath and warmth and life flow through her again. She sees she is within a great cavern. Countless corpses, all in their winding sheets, are laid across the wide, smooth floor. Others are piled in carved alcoves, like shelves, in the walls. She fights free of hers and stumbles towards the source of the golden light. It is another square gateway carved into the wall.
It leads into vast, empty space. The ceiling is domed, the floor smooth as glass. It is black but flecked with white stones that give the impression of stars. The light is pouring forth from Yelm...now just the golden Sun. It hangs suspended in midair in the center of the great cavern. Beside it is the constellation she recognizes as Orlanth's Ring...a green star and seven orange ones. These lights all do nothing...they just wait.
Beneath them, in the center of the room, the Great Goddess Ernalda sits at her Loom.
She is there with her six handmaidens, indescribably beautiful, bare-breasted and jeweled. He skin is the pale green of spring. White strands of silk or thread are coming from the darkness, and Ernalda and her handmaidens are gathering them up and weaving furiously. She turns her eyes in the candidate's direction. We could use another pair of hands.
As the girl approaches, she sees that just beyond Ernalda is a shadow, a shape so massive it eclipses the false stars in one who half side of the cave. Getting closer, she sees in horror the outline of a monstrous spider, immense. The silk Ernalda is spinning issues forth from the spider's spinnerets.
We give birth to Time, daughter. Come and claim your birthright.
As she approaches the Goddess and her handmaidens, she feels a pain her her own womb. Looking down, she sees herself very pregnant, on the very threshold of birth. Her waters break--the very waters Magasta filled her with way back at the beginning now released in a rush of creative powers. The pain of childbirth begins.
The deities keep at their weaving, leaving the candidate to birth her child alone.
This is the Fifth and Final Soul, daughter, the Soul of Life. It is the greatest of your powers.
The pain is immense. The character will now need to win a Contest--whether Simple or Extended is up the GM's sense of dramatic rhythm at this point. The candidate is waking her Final Soul and giving birth to herself. The girl she was is dead. She is birthing the woman she will be.
From the Spider's Silk and the Five Ages of the Gods we wove the pattern that now binds the cosmos. As it took Five Ages to birth Time, Five Ages to birth the first Sunrise and Five Ages to birth the first Spring, it now takes Five Seasons to birth a new child. For just as mortal kind inherited the cosmos from the gods, each generation inherits the world from the last. You, as we did, create the future.
The birthing continues, the Goddess continues her weaving. They are making a great net of spider-silk filled with a bewildering array of shapes and patterns...the candidate can see plant and animal life, humanity, the patterns of the seasons and the stars all in the weave.
You came here to die, but your immortality lies in your power to weave the threads of Life. You are the Loom in which eternity is reborn.
You are a woman now.
(Once again, keep track of the contest results. These will be saved and applied if and when the candidate gives birth in the future.)
At the climax of the birth the candidate collapses, spent. She closes her eyes...
...and opens them moments later. She is lying naked on the cold, hard floor of a cavern. It is black again and the Goddess and her handmaidens are gone. The tunnel around her is nowhere near as grand and vast as it had seemed moments before.
She struggles to her feet, when she sees another shape in the light now slowly growing around her. In shock, she recognizes herself. It is her own dead body lying on the floor, lying in a puddle of birth water. She feels her own body, her own face. Her hands still look like her hands.
That is The Girl That Was, a voice behind her explains. She died giving birth to The Woman That Is.
The candidate--now a woman--turns. It is the Ancestress again. She reaches up and pulls away her veil. She is not--as the player character had thought before her deceased aunt, or great-aunt, or grandmother. It is a proud, strongly built woman with noble features and braided hair of the richest red-gold. I am Ivarne Jerrestenisdotr, she introduces herself. Mother of Gollanth. Mother of Desaventus. Wife of Heort. I am your Mother, and the Mother of all Heortling women. I welcome you to your People.
Ivarne bears a lantern of some sort, which illuminates the walls of the Riddle even though no fire can burn here. She gestures for the candidate to follow, and turns walking up the tunnel.
Like the Age of the Gods every child is all potential. But every child dies and is born an adult. As the Goddess wove the Pattern of Life and Time, your choices have woven the Woman you now are.
You now have the powers of your Five Awakened Souls. In awakening them, you have learned how to rule men by being the source of what they need. Magasta needed your Passion, and you awoke your Sensuality by giving it to him. Flamal needed a field in which to plant and grow his seed; you awoke your Sacrificial powers to give him his desire. Yelm needed someone to run his Household, and you awoke your Nurturing self to fulfill this. Argan Argar--like all the sons of Darkness--needed a Mistress to rule him. You gave him this and in return awoke your Cunning. And Orlanth needed a Partner to help him change the world and create the future. You awoke your Birthing self and helped him accomplish this. Sensuality. Sacrifice. Nurturing. Cunning. Creation. These are the Five Souls and the Five Powers of Women. Now they are yours.
As they walk--this time curving to the left as they leave the spiral of the Riddle--Ivarne fades like mist burning away in the morning sun. Her light remains...but the candidate realizes it is actually the light of Dawn falling through the open entrance of the Riddle before her.
From darkness and death walked the Dawn and walked Spring. Now you walk forth as the Woman You Are To Be.
The player character emerges from the Riddle into a waiting crowd of her fellow women--her mother, aunts, cousins, friends, etc. She will be washed and dressed and fed. Later she will be tattooed and her instruction will begin.
Notes on Pregnancy and Menstruation
I HAVE NEVER thought it was a coincidence that the Gloranthan year is 280 days long. 280 days is the length of the average pregnancy, and Sacred Time is when--after five seasons, the new year is born (yes, 294 days if you include Sacred Time; I don't. I see it as the gap between one year and the next). This is reflected I think in Myth, as Myth is reflected in the Gloranthan calendar. Sea Season is the Green Age, Fire Season the early Golden Age, Earth Season the late Golden Age in which Orlanth arrives and begins his contests with Yelm, Dark Season is the Storm Age or Lesser Darkness, and Storm Season is the Gods War proper. After this ages Time is born and Voria is born. The Age of the Gods ends in birth. Thus a year ends in birth. It makes sense for Gloranthan pregnancies to last just as long as they do in our world.
But menstruation? We run into trouble right away.
I started my academic career as a mythologist but fell in love with linguistics, so I always come back to etymology. "Menstruation" comes from the Latin word for "month," which of course is related to "moon." There are no "months" in Glorantha, and the cycle of the moon is seven days, not 28 (and if you suggested Heortling women menstruate because of the Moon you will end up with a sword in your gut!). Ernaldan menstruation has to be separated from this conceptual source.
I came up with two answers to my college girlfriend's riddle. I leave both to you.
1. Ernaldan women menstruate five times a year; once every season on Clayday of Fertility Week--Ernalda's holy day. Because "Sacrifice" is one the Powers of women, menstruation is when women shed blood to Ernalda in sacrifice for the immense creative power the goddess bestows on them. They cease to bleed while pregnant, for the pregnancy is itself a great sacrifice to the Mother of Life. Women separate from the men on the 24th of every Season and offer their sacrifices together to the goddess. It is a holy time, sacred and sacrosanct. This is my preferred way to run things these days. I like my Gloranthan humans weird and mythic (I made it clear in Rites of Passage, for example, that uninitiated boys are incapable of procreation--nor can they plant a seed in a field and make it flower--until their Runes are awoken). But if you like your Gloranthans a bit more like us...
2. Ernaldan women still bleed in sacrifice to Ernalda it is still a holy and sacred time, it is still connected to their deep creative powers. But this time it is called a tithe, which means of course a "tenth part." Why? Because the sacrifice is offered ten times a year, every 28 days (28 days being a tenth of the 280-day Gloranthan year). This keeps a mythic origin and nature, but keeps things a bit closer to life in our own mundane world.