Calling on Ernalda

This week’s post is a short story I wrote to explore what the process of summoning and binding an earth elemental in RuneQuest feels like to the characters. Originally I was planning to set this at the Clearwine Earth Temple, but my fingers put it in Sylthi instead. Hah, oh well!

The story’s RuneQuest mechanics are briefly described afterward.

Yelm’s midday warmth was welcome upon my bare arms against the brisk air of early Sea Season while I climbed Hill Street. Issaries’s mules filled the avenue, a slow, unending caravan lugging grain, textiles, and other goods up the winding way to the River Gate. Pressing myself close to the shopfronts which were built against the cliff, my nose wrinkled at how acrid mule-sweat mingled with the scent of sizzling meat being shoved toward each and every passerby. Still, the nuisance of the vendors was preferable to walking near the ledge-side of the street, and its dizzying view of the Whitefall River forty meters below.

Eventually, the slow lines of foot-traffic reached the River Gate. I passed under the amber eyes of Hrell Polymorphic, his naked marble statue painted bright blue, and entered the city. There the crowds eased somewhat, and I made my way to the Temple of Ernalda Sylthela at a quick pace. House Netha’s guards leaned lazily against the muralled temenos wall, and I couldn’t help but shake my head as I passed into the sacred district. It surely would not be many more years until another House sought to take advantage of the Netha’s arrogant complacency.

Making my way to the Temple, I let a plain-robed acolyte know I wished to speak with Balinara, and was led to a small room with a table and a good window. Folding my legs, I sat on one of the overstuffed brown cushions, and unslung my burden. A simple sack, with a sealed amphora of good wine. The jug’s design was simple enough, something northern, depicting a goddess with two sickles reaping maize. I set the amphora near the room’s small hearth, and snapped my left hand. The fine black lines on the back of my hand itched as I worked Mahome’s magic, and asked the set wood to flame.

Balinara did not make me wait long. “Dear Tessere, it’s good to see you,” she said. “I had not heard that you and your companions returned to Sylthi.” The priestess seated herself with me at the low table. It did my heart good to see my old friend. It felt good to smile from affection, rather than societal obligation.

She was bare-chested, as a priestess of the Earth Mother ought to be while in her temple. Heavy, with the folds of Balinara’s belly resting on her thighs. Dozens of tattoos in black and emerald ink declared Balinara’s long experience with the Mother’s mysteries. Flecks of lime green paint on her upper arms and breasts told me the priestess had not recently been engaged in ceremonial work, and not quite finished cleansing.

“I hope I’ve not interrupted your duties,” I said, as I took the amphora from near the hearth.

Balinara laughed. “How could the Mother fault this child for meeting with the temple’s daughter?” she said. “If she were angered at all, it would be that you’ve not yet become my sister.”

Blushing at Balinara’s gentle teasing, I swept my fingertips along the edge of the table, as if brushing something unseen off the surface. “Perhaps one day,” I conceded, “but I still have not felt the call myself.” Piercing the amphora’s wax seal, I poured a bowl for Balinara, then one for myself. My fingers found a few sticks of cinnamon in a pouch. Breaking one stick in half, I crumbled a half into each bowl.

We drank.

“So,” said Balinara, “What business brings you here?”

“Can’t I simply wish to drink wine with you?”

Balinara gave me a stern, motherly, look. By the ten thousand goddesses, she’s become good at that one. Must be from having two sons.

Without speaking, I reached into the sack, and pulled forth a smooth stone, the color of a weary ruby. Turning it over in my hand, I let the sunlight catch crimson and white flecks, like veins. Then I passed the stone to Balinara. She rubbed it with her thumb, and sipped from her bowl while handing it back.

“Godsblood?” she asked.

I nodded. “Tarkonil called on the Bearded God to be sure.”

“Where did you get it?”

I leaned against the windowsill, pressing my hands against the now-warm ceramic bowl. Closing my eyes, I let images from the last few weeks flicker through my mind. Songs and banter on the road east. Fear in the night, as people screamed outside the inn. Scrabbling claws against stone. Healing Orlmark’s side, shoving my hands into his putrid guts as his face turned cold and ashen, and begging the Mother for help. Hunting the monsters to their lair, and claiming vengeance for ourselves, and the villagers.

Was even a jewel such as this worth such trials? Despite following Orlmark for years, I could not say.

“A story for another time?” asked Balinara quietly.

“Yes,” I said, looking down at the red rock on the table. “It remains too fresh. Let it scar over, first.” Opening my eyes, I hid a wince, to see the moisture in Balinara’s own. I looked out the window. “I came to drink wine with my friend, and to ask her aid in calling one of the Mother’s children to inhabit this stone.”

“Is Yarevarin not sufficient?”

My left hand’s fingers touched the smooth copper bracelet on my right wrist. It was shaped like a serpent, the head looping around the tail to seal the bracelet around my arm. Despite the cool spring air, the metal was warm as my own skin. Within was one of the spirits Ernalda sent to protect me, a gift in gratitude for the many sacrifices I gave her. His steady, quiet presence beside me had long been a comfort.

“Yarevarin serves me well, and yet…” I breathed in deeply. “Orlmark’s ambitions and obligations grow. I will not let down my companions.” Reaching out, I pushed the jewel toward Balinara. “There’s another son of Ernalda I can call, but I have never reached out to him before.” Looking up, I forced myself to meet her dark eyes. The kohl eyeliner was smeared. “Will you help me?”

Balinara held my gaze for a long moment, then placed her fingers atop me, receiving the jewel. “Of course, dear.” She sighed.

The courtyard to the east of the temple was in a state of uncultivated beauty, covered in grass and wildflowers. It was forbidden to walk there unless barefoot, so that you could better feel the presence of the Great Goddess. The long grasses felt soft beneath me, and familiar as my mother’s house. Balinara and I stood at opposite sides of the courtyard. She was painted again, her brown, tattooed skin concealed by a heavy layer of lime paint declaring her to be the Mother’s actress in the Middle World. I did not speak to her. Balinara had spent the last hour practicing meditative songs in the Mother’s Tongue, and I feared to break her concentration.

Lifting my right foot, I stepped forward, pressing my heel into the earth. Eyes closed, breathing out, and reaching inward. Some people describe calling upon their god as a reaching, a grasping, a striving for power and blessings which lie outside them. I never understood that. Ernalda lives, and has always lived, ever since I first knew myself to be a woman, within my body.

My sacred soul reached down into my heart, and pulled forth the Mother’s power. Shifting my weight to the ball of my right foot, I began to trace the square shape of the Earth Rune in the grass. Warmth flooded my toes and fingertips, as my pulse quickened. She was coming. He was coming. I hoped Balinara and I were ready. As my body twisted in place, completing the square around where I stood, I felt the elemental’s mind. It was similar to Yarevarin, but far more stubborn, and indignant that he was being pulled from the Otherworld.

When I finished the square, the courtyard trembled. The son of Ernalda filled the dirt, shifting and moving, exploring his new senses. I was left breathless and glowing, the skin of my hands turned green without paint, from the effort of calling upon much of my connection with the Goddess. As always, the way her presence receded after calling upon her magic left an aching hole in my chest.

Balinara’s voice filled the courtyard, and she began to dance. I watched, envious, as Ernalda’s blessings filled her. The paint became skin, and her hair grew long, unbound, flourished by the dance. Amber and emerald light gathered at Balinara’s throat. Thrusting her left hand forward, the priestess presented the godsblood stone, and demanded that her son come out of the land, and enter into it.

For a moment, all was still.

Then the earth churned. He clearly did not wish this, but who would dare say no to their mother? The elemental spirit was drawn forth from the ground like an arrow out of a wound, leaving a scar upon the courtyard. His spirit flowed like a river of grey pebbles into the red rock. When the last fragment slipped into the stone, Ernalda receded from the world. Balinara seemed to shrink, her hair shorter. She became a painted woman again.

I walked over, and embraced her fiercely. “Thank you,” I whispered in her ear. “I shan’t forget this aid.”

Balinara laughed, and stroked my back. “You’ve given generously to the temple. Even if we weren’t friends, how could I have ever refused to help? Think little of it.” She released me, then winked. “But do visit more often. It is always a pleasure to drink wine with you.”

Laughing with Balinara, I slid the godsblood into a pouch hanging from my waist-sash. Fingers stroking it, seeking to reassure my new guardian that this was clearly the will of Ernalda. “I will, dear,” I said. After all, who would dare say no to the Mother?


The adventurer Tessere is an initiate of Ernalda. During an adventure, she gained a new POW Storing crystal. Tessere’s player already has a 3-point Binding Enchantment in her bracelet of enchanted copper, which holds a medium earth elemental (with a user condition that only those loyal to the Temple of Ernalda Sylthela may use it). She has access to large elementals, but wants to bind one because that will be a more efficient use of Rune points (since Summon + Command totals 5 Rune points).

Between adventures, Tessere goes to her local Earth temple and asks for a priestess to cast Command Earth Elemental to bind an elemental Tessere summons into her POW Storing crystal. This would normally cost 40 L in gifts, sacrifices, etc., because casting Rune magic costs 20 L per point in the rules. She makes a Loyalty (temple) or a Loyalty (Balinara) roll, and the gamemaster figures that’s good enough because Tessere is in good standing at the temple, and has given generously in the past. Plus, being a personal friend of the priestess has its perks.

Balinara does an hour of ritual preparations to get +35% to her POW versus POW roll on the resistance table. After all, large elementals have POW 4D6+6, and even a Rune Priestess is gonna need help with that. The gamemaster rules Balinara has POW 18, the standard POW required for a Rune Master. Tessere summons her elemental, and Balinara casts Command Cult Spirit to bind it into the POW Storing crystal. Tessere’s player rolls POW 21 for the elemental. Normally this would be a 35% chance to overcome POW, but with the ritual practice that increases to 70%. Balinara’s spell casts successfully, and the gamemaster rolls under 70, binding the elemental.

Tessere now can summon and return the elemental just by using Command Cult Spirit. She also has an extra store of magic points, should she need them. A bound large elemental is a powerful boon! However, since he’s bound into a POW Storing crystal, anyone with magical perception (like Soul Sight) can see the spirit, and use their own Command to turn the tables on Tessere if they cast first. It’s a good tool, but a slightly dangerous one until Tessere is able to acquire a proper Binding Enchantment with some enchantment conditions restricting access.

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