GURPS: The Known World
Servant of the Beast Lord
Basic speed: ?
Can change into a Bear shape in 5 seconds.
Harlon Thane wields a quarterstaff with some measure of skill.
Harlon Thane is in his mid-thirties.
The Story of Harlon Thane
Harlon was born as the first son of Thane Umglauf of the Bear Clan. His mother died giving birth to him, but that was seen as a sign of good omens in the eyes of the followers of the Beast Lord. A view granted by the idea, that when beings die, they traverse the Spirit-gate, but also when they are born. And so it is believed to be an auspicious sign whenever a child comes into the world, killing his mother. There is furthermore a certain natural logic to the fact that you pay something, to get something. Most Spiritwalkers and the archdruid Spiritcaller were all survivors of such events. All of Ungols druids can master the elements and beasts, some more than others, but not all can spiritwalk or perform the spiritcalling as the Spiritcaller do.
When Harlon was born, the Bear Clan was still very devout followers of the Beast Lord and the old ways. The Thane was the official leader of the tribes, but he had a council of three elders appointed by the elders before them, and all druids guided by Ungol the Beast Lord. Together they ruled the lands of the Bear Tribe, which covered twelve settlements called tofts, that were diferentiated by the name of the ruler, so Harlon lived in Umglauf’s toft. Harlon’s uncle, Hrann, was also chief in the toft he lived, and that was therefore called Hrann’s toft. If hunting got sparse the tofts would move, so the stars and the druids watching them, were indeed important tools for the Bear Clan’s survival. Although the Thane did decide in the end, it was rarely that Thanes survived long if they repeatedly went against the Elders’ judgement. Harlon’s father, Umglauf the Bold, was Thane during the Tribe Wars. He was a devout follower of Ungol and also a major contributor to the Great Peace, that united all the Clans of the North under the Beast Lord’s rule.
The Great Peace lasted seven whole years. Harlon will always remember how his father had returned from the tossing of bones rituals, preceeding the actual peace treaty, to break the good news to Harlon and the young woman Harlon used to call mother, though that was nearly an imposibilty, counting the age between them. There was a huge celebration and all the clans were gathered for a whole week of peacefull contests, various intoxications and for a few even cross-clan breeding. The feast was grand and this was the first time Harlon, at the age of ten, smoked the bulmeurt and danced the spirit dance. This was indeed something Harlon liked, but he was also rattled when he saw a strange apparition in the hazes of his intoxication. That night in his dreams the great bear came to him, and he was not afraid, he didn’t know exactly what he felt, but most of all, it was a sensation of familiarity, he somehow knew that the great bear and the frightening apparition was connected. Later he found out that what had scared him at that time, was the true face of the Beast Lord, which all in alll could be very frightening, for an unprepared boy of the age of ten, to behold. Usually no children were allowed to participate, but this was a very special occation and he was afterall the Thane’s son. Harlon felt very special at that time, a feeling that has somewhat not been diminshed by the tracks of time.
From Harlon was ten to he was fifteen, he followed his father travelling through the countryside, keeping up relations and delivering justice where needed, but also trading. There was more and more bargaining and trading with every visit to the tofts. Harlon never really liked haggling, but if it could prevent people from doing bad stuff to each other, then Harlon guessed it would have to be tollerated. Thane Umglauf always told all who would listen that ”Wealth through trade is the way to peace”. Peace was good to the Bear Clan and trade had brought many commodities that the people of the Bear Clan cherished. Mirrors with glass instead of steel, lanterns, wine, jewelry and much more. It turned out, that a very special kind of trout had its breeding grounds near the White Reef, and this Redmouthed trout was very exquisite and when salted, very delicate. Then there was furs, all kinds of furs, the Bear Tribe were all excelent trappers, and a broad variety of fur ranging from silverhaired rodents and foxes to bears and the occational mammoth. This was all exported, both to other tribes as well as more civilized kingdoms. Everybody was happy and very few fights, if any, erupted between tribe-members or the clans in between. It was a time of peace and development. With the development some townsfolk stopped believing in Ungol, the Beast Lord, and instead sought their values and prosperity in development and technology. But as long as the Thane was adamant in his belief, as long, would the old ways endure. Some people left their tofts to go to the big-cities, but the population still increased, because all the sons survived in peace,
At the age of fifteen, Harlon, like all other boys at that age, had to undergo the rite of passage that signified admitance into adulthood. This was called the Bear Walk. On the third full moon of their fifteenth year all Bear Clan juves had to embark on the Bear Walk, and only two boys had been born in the same interval as Harlon. That was ofcourse Harlon himself and the great berserk-warrior Yrkmoor the Bruiser’s only son Rakar. After three days of fasting Rakar and Harlon were brought to the Spiritcallers Hut. A big triangular-shaped tent made of bearfurs strectched on solid redwood, with steam oozing from small starshaped holes in the top. The Spirit walker was chanting and they were situated naked in the hut and it was sealed with only the two boys and the Spiritcaller inside. It was pitch dark and Harlon felt it as a dream, but real, very real. They were offered herbal tea with secret ingredients that made him feel rather dizzy and lightheaded. The Spiritcaller kept filling strange herbs and mushrooms on the burning coals in the center of the teepee. It was sweltering hot and Harlon was tired and thirsty. Then he heard the drum. At first slow, like the heartbeat of a bear about to hibernate, but then the tempo advanced. Faster. With the rhythm of a stag running through the forrest, leaping, landing, leaping, landing. Faster it paced. It all blurred and Harlon felt his body numb and the beat grew wild and irratic, like hails descending in a storm. A roaring gale of power was screaming inside Harlon. Or so it felt at least. Suddenly the beat calmed, and the ocean of his mind was perfectly still. He was in a state of complete absorbtion, where all was perfect harmony and he could hold it all within him. Then it returned slowly. The soft heartbeat of a bear awakening for the summer. He felt a surge of joy rip through his entire being and he suddenly felt like dancing. But he couldn’t move. He wanted to sing his heart out, but he couldn’t even speak. It was too overwhelming. He felt the steady heavy heartbeat of the bear and fell asleep. Harlon woke and found Rakkar still sleeping on his left side and was surprised to see the Spiritcaller only doing one thing. Staring at him. The Spiritcaller didn’t say anything but his eyes were shining with delight or puzzlement, Harlon couldn’t decide. Regardless, this was only first phase. Both boys were tucked in bear furs and given water to drink, then the Spiritcaller left the hut and there was positioned honour guards at the entrance to make sure the boys didn’t leave the hut. They werent allowed to speak, which actually pleased Harlon, as he never really liked Rakar, always trying to live up to his father’s brutality. Rakar was the archtypical bully, not as big or strong as his father but alot more cunning and devious too. Harlon thought that Rakar secretly hated him because of the position Harlon was born to. They had been rivals always, not that Harlon really wanted competetions or to show off, as it usually ended with, but Rakar had a way of getting in your face, and staying there. Blessed silence. Harlon thought of the first day of the great peace and the dream he had had, and then he collapsed and dreamt again. He dreamt of the great bear and Ungol the Beast Lord. It was magnificient, and when he woke next morning, to the sound of the spiritcaller’s chanting, he felt alive and rejuvenated like never before. This was probably for the better, Harlon knew that the hardest part of the rite was yet to come.
Harlon and Rakar were stripped of all possesions and given a blindfold each, they were kneeling at the center Bear Totem pole and all of the toft was gathered for this grand occasion. Both Harlon and Rakar was positioned with knees in the ground and their foreheads pressed into the rocky ground. The Spiritcaller started dancing around the pole and the two exhausted young men. He started singing in the special way, that only the Spiritcaller could, then picked up two fowls and the sacrificial dagger A very deep pitched resonating nasal sound erupted from within the Spiritcaller, and then he started flailing his arms wildly over the two initiates, while spraying warm animal blood on their backs. He danced around them while the sound grew in volume. It must have been magic or Ungol’s blessing because the volume of the Spiritcaller’s voice was overwhelmingly loud when the ritual entered the last phase. All the attendees of the Bear Clan were dancing wildly, swinging their knees high and stretching their arms towards the sky while praising Ungol. The two young men, Harlon and Rakar were covered in warm blood. Harlon felt the blood run slowly and warmly down his back, neck and thighs, just ever so slowly. It tickled and felt good in a strange way, but everything was kinda hard to enjoy, when the only thing he could think of was food. Harlon was hungry like never before. The singing and chanting stopped suddenly. All was quiet once more, then the Spiritcaller told them to rise. The blindfolds were removed and they stood up, no longer kneeling. There was a small pause while all the women gathered in a bunch, some had got mixed up in the dancing seconds earlier. When all the females were gathered they simultanous started weeping, crying for the children about to be lost. It was a horrible sound, some of the old crones had trained this and some just had a knack for revolting sounds. The wailing was almost unbearable and Harlon will never forget the sound of forty lamenting females. Stuttering, coughing, howling, sobbing, the sound had all thinkable layers, and Harlon now understood why his father always carried two small balls of beeswax in his pocket. The Spiritcaller raised his arms in the air lifting a big animal heart in his leathery hands. He then locked his intense gaze on the two youths and spoke with a loud and clear voice.”The blood of the fowl will direct hungry beasts your way” he said, then stepped closer and lowered his arms so the heart was in face-height of the two young men. ”This will give You the strength to defeat them.” He then ripped the heart in two and gave a half to each. ”Go forth and make your weapons, bring nothing but this waterskin, and your hunting knife.” The Spiritcaller reached out and gave both a plain waterskin. ”Bring back the biggest beast You can slay before the next halfmoon, and you shall be known for Your worth. Do not return if you are not bringing anything, the Beast Lord do not need old children. May Ungol watch over You and guide You when You need it.” The Spiritcaller didn’t say anything else, he just stood still. Then he made a soft gesture opening his palm towards the woods. Harlon knew that this was the goodbye that was left unsaid, because a man knew what had to be done, only children are told what to do. He knew he had to go away, he looked over at his father who was beaming with pride. Umglauf had misty eyes, compared to the other ravagers, he sure was sentimental. But probably also drunk. Harlon turned his back not even wawing goodbye and he could hear Rakar doing the same behind him. The clansmen were silent, the wind was silent and even the birds were silent. It all felt very unreal and almost exhaulted when Harlon took the firm steps of his departure from childhood.
Harlon and Rakar were supossed to go alone and so they did, but Harlon had the feeling that Rakar was following him, probably because he was not half as good as Harlon at finding beasts. Harlon found a massive Redwood log and crafted a solid fighting staff, with the staff he slew a deer and made some clothing. The blood on his body was starting to crack into flakes and fall of, it haden’t really lured any hungry predators to him, so he had eaten mushrooms, herbs and berries the first two days alone in the wild. On the third day he came across a clearing in the deep forrest where he saw a young bear, not cub not grown up, but like himself in transission. The bear was angry and had a wild look in its eyes, it look crazed by bloodlust. Before Harlon could react it turned its big round head, roared and then charged towards him in frenzy. Harlon managed to raise his staff in time to deflect the head enough to not get bitten. The bear came at him again, this time flailing its paws wildly in all directions, he tried to parry, but the sheer force of the blows snapped the staff in two, as if it was a small twig. The bear then raised itself on two legs and lunged foreward, with enormous strength it descended upon Harlon. He buckled and fell with the bear on top of him. Growling and snarling with gleaming eyes. The bear looked possesed, it was absolutely crazed and saliva was frothing around its mouth dripping down on Harlon. He was not afraid. He just looked into the big crazed eyes of the beast and locked gazes. The bear seemed to stop up a second, and that was all he needed. Harlon drove his two half staves into the skull through the ears on both sides at the same time. The bear roared ferociously and started trashing, swinging frontpaws wildly hitting Harlon on the temple and then it collapsed on top of him. Blood trailing down from its eyes and ears the big bear died. Harlon was dizzy and couldnt get up, he was too tired and needed to rest. He closed his eyes.
When Harlon woke again he was sitting naked on the ground tied to a tree. He slowly regained consciousness and could see what was going on. In front of him Rakar had severed the bear head from the body and was skinning the rest of the body. The head and four paws were stacked in a pile as trophies. Rakar looked up as he heard Harlon. ”So it seems I finnally bested you, oh great thane-son”. He said mockingly, while beaming with devious pride. ” I will soon be done here and leave you with the carcass, and ofcourse the mother who is probably worried sick about her poor offspring.” Rakar laughed and resumed skinning. Harlon twisted in his grasp, but the roots that he was bound with were very strong. Rakar laughed again. ”Try again all you like, the roots are mildly poisonous, the more you rub them against your skin, the sooner you fall asleep again. Haha”. Rakar seemed very satisfied with himself. Harlon was dumbfounded. ”But these deepwater roots doesn’t grow anywhere near here, how did you get them? ” Haha, Stupid Thane-son, some of my friends have burried caches of goodies for me. All i had to do was dig em up”. Rakar took a mirror from his belt pouch. Harlon now saw that Rakar had real clothes on and belt and many other things. Rakar saw Harlon’s expression and looked happily into the mirror. ” I’ll change into the bear furs in a minute and then i’ll hide my things before going back. Don’t worry, I won’t be caught cheating, but thanks for your concern. Besides cheating at an adulthood test only proves that I’m allready an adult”. Rakar was done skinning and gathered all his many belongings while humming an old victory hymn. Harlon watched the scene in quiet disbelief. He then remembered the Spiritcallers words and closed his eyes and prayed to the great father of all life the master of nature itself, Ungol the Beast Lord. Rakar started laughing again. ”Haha Beast Lord my bare arse, I can do more for you” At that Rakar took a juicy thigh of the bear carcass and started cutiing it over Harlon. The blood spilled all over him, and he was covered in blood, bear blood. Rakar took his knife and cut out the heart of the bear”Yoinks.. I’ll take that.” He proclaimed proudly. ”Wonder how much the spiritcaller will find me worth when I come home with all this. Haha. With No Thane-son, I might even one day be Thane of the Bear Clan. Haha. Speaking of bear, I’ll better be going now.” Rakar turned around and jogged away as a huge female bear entered the clearing. She let out a powerful roar so loud, that Harlon couldn’t hear the last mockings of Rakar. The huge bear advanced slowly on Harlon baring her upper teethrow while snarling reluctantly. Harlon didn’t know what to do. Here he sat covered in blood from her child, he knew things didn’t look good. But then again, even if he knew what to say, it wouldn’t have helped as he couln’t speak with animal at that time. Harlon just closed his eyes and prayed to Ungol. He felt the bear slowly getting closer, he could smells it’s warm fishy breath. It growled softly almost cheerfully then lashed out. Harlon heard a crash and thought it was over, but he didn’t feel any pain. He opened his eyes and saw the bear had cuts his chains in one blow. The roots were torn and snapped and he was free to stand up. The bear grabbed him and growled softly, he looked directly into it’s magnificient brown eyes and saw.. something familiar. He felt the warmth from her big eyes and the calmness of her being. She enveloped him in a soft bearhug and he felt the soft warm fur as a sanctuary from the world. Harlon closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Harlon survived the cold winter living with the big bear in her cave. How all this happened is hard to explain but Harlon saw it as a blessing from Ungol. Why didn’t the bear kill him? At first she might have thought that Harlon was her cub because he was covered in it’s smell, but then she would have to be blind. In the start Harlon thought alot about it, but in the ind he agreed that nature works in mysterious ways and credit it to the Beast Lord. How long had he slept? What was even stranger was that he during the end of winter he learned to understand the big bear. Harlon discovered that he could talk to animals. Talk to them, like they were people. He wasent really sure at start and was actually very worried for a while, but then when spring came he put his new skills to the test. With help from talking to animals he tracked down a Mammoth and lured it into a canyon where he had placed a carcass as bait, when the Mammoth was at the right spot he released all the stakes holding back big rocks and the big mammoth was crushed by big rolling rocks. He cut of the long tusks, this was the ultimate prize, and headed home to the cave. He took his departure with the old, big, female bear that had been more mother for him in their five months of companionship, than anyone else ever had. The bear was misty eyed when he left and Harlon self also felt something stuck in his throath, but he was afterall a man, and not a bear.
Harlon’s return was not as heroic as he had hoped. Actually it was very bad. Rakar had returned as a hero and he had told everybody that Harlon had been slain by a bear. When Harlon returned all of the villagers viewed him with distrust. Noone could survive a winter alone, was what they said, and noone could kill a mammoth alone. Harlon had not been in the toft more than an hour before townsfolk threw things after him, calling him names and calling him demon or demonspawn. The old Spiritcaller had died during the winter while Harlon was gone and no new Spiritcaller had been elected. Harlon had nowhere to go: The Thane had taken to drinking heavily and had remarried to a young girl who apparently kept him sedated. Umglauf’s new wife refused to let Harlon in, as also she thought him to be possesed by demons. Harlon had no where to go, and the Mammoth teeth were taken by the druids, but not recognized since Harlon had been gone too long to recieve the end of his adulthood rite, the Bear Walk. In some way, one might argue that Harlon completed his own Bear Walk out in the wilderness.Harlon was chased out of the toft after they had ripped him of all possesions. Rakar stood at the very front of the mob and flashed his teeth in that remarkable annoying laugh. Harlon fled the toft, crying dumbfounded as ever but with building rage in his swelling chest.
The next two years Harlon lived as hermit in the cave with his bear ”mother”. He practiced talking to animals and meditating with focus on the Beast Lord. He found himself able to do small tricks and perform minor rituals. He even discovered at some point that a bear spirit was residing inside him, or something, for apparently Harlon was able to shapechange into a bear. He had heard of soletakens and transformers in the myths, but never really thought he would meet one, let alone be one himself. Harlon was happy, life was sweet in the forrest, enough meat, honey, fish, herbs and berries. Then one day he talked to some vultures coming from east, talking of food in barbarian lands. Harlon investigated and discovered that his father had died, and that Rakar had usurped his spot by marrying Umglauf’s young wife. Soon after taking the role of Thane had Rakar, with the help of his father and the warlords, declared the Great Peace over. They raided defenceless tofts of all other clans and quickly all out war between all clans and tribes had broken loose. Harlon felt sorry for them all, but then he remembered how they had treated him and decided with himself that this was not his business. Harlon didn’t want to join any stupid war and so he left the territory of the clans.
Harlon took up the role of a wandering hermit and moved from forrest to forrest. He met an old druid of Ungol who taught him some tricks and rituals. Harlon kept his unatural natural abilities for himself mostly and shunned big cities for long. His dislike of merchants increased the more he met them and all cities were virtually build on merchants, which was Harlon’s main objection to big-cities. That and the lack of space, the lack of freedom. He lived of the land for many years untill it was time for him to heed the call of Ungol the Beast Lord. When Harlon was thirtysix summers old he had a dream, in which the Beast Lord spoke to him, he was told to meet a group of people in Clearwater. No more, but that was enough. Harlon had always been devout in his faith and so there was no doubt that Clearwater was his next stop even though it was a city, and as such probably full of beggars, hagglers and merchants…
Here begins the adventures of Harlon Thane.