From the Ashes of War
Merchant of Death
Renali was named after her great grandmother. The crone was by all accounts a leathery, old bat, and thoroughly disagreeable. As it happens, she was also the unchallenged matriarch of the family for half a century. This wouldn’t have mattered to Renali the Younger if not for the shared name, given to honour the then-dying great-grandmother. She remembered very little of it; the flash of dark eyes, a scent of funerary incense, and disapproval. In her quieter moments, Renali reflects on this first memory, and wonders why the disapproval of a woman who died thirty years ago, continues to spark such anger in her.
Like her older siblings, she was educated with an eye towards joining the Mortician’s Order. They were all further ahead than her, a fact that gradually grew her good-natured sibling rivalry into full-blown cutthroat competition. She felt that the time her siblings had been granted over her was an unfair advantage, which she tried to make up for in white-knuckled effort. Over the course of her youth she honed her skill, becoming a match for even her elder brothers. At the same time, she grew distant from her family and friends. During their lessons and in discussions, she demonstrated superior intelligence, more incisive wit, and a singular drive to humiliate and undermine her opponents; it didn’t matter whether they were peers or teachers or even her siblings. She was a woman with few close friends.
In the end, she was passed up for full membership of the Morticians’ Order in favour of her brother Mekot. Her teachers hoped she would learn a measure of humility; instead, she departed her family’s estate in a rage, taking several valuable heirlooms with her on the road. A month or so later, her brother was dead, hanged from a chandelier in his room. Her parents suspected her, and disowned her. Renali Henet was on her own.
Travelling as exiled nobility in the Scavenger Lands did much to calm her anger. In part, the suffocating expectations of her family were finally gone. The Dead couldn’t see and judge her on the road. At the same time, the meritocracy of travel also suited her. She used her stolen heirlooms to buy wares, the very beginnings of her business. She wheeled-and-dealed across Creation, until she found herself arriving in Rokan-Jin. While building a fortune, buying uncut gemstones and selling them to jewellers in other markets, she also began to form a scheme in her mind. Rokan-Jin’s northern allies in Linowa were much like the uncut gems she was trading; valuable but rough. It would take an uncommonly skilled merchant to open that market, indeed, to prepare the country for mercantile trade at all; but Renali knew herself to be equal to the task.
Her life in Rokan-Jin was a high point; she got married twice, first to the owner of a teahouse, and later to a woman called Eight Fox, a Rokanese jeweller. The two drifted apart after Renali travelled north to Linowa, but Renali remained committed to the relationship, at least in the abstract. Eight Fox’s cousin, Yellow Gaoler, a mercenary captain, became one of Renali’s closest friends and confidants.
In Linowa, Renali tried her best to ply the natives with whatever she could. They were only little interested in slaves and gemstones, and would not trade their magical masks. However, she found they were willing to buy weapons, especially those made from exotic materials. Her caravan, repurposed for river travel with raiton prows, came to presage raids and warbands; her weapons found their ways to many battles, and often to both sides in any given conflict.
When the Bull came charging out of the north Renali first tried to profit from the situation. However, the war soon became too heated for her. She left Linowa and escaped to Rokan-Jin, but arrived too late. Carnelian Peak had already been consumed by demons and mad sorcery. Eight Fox was nowhere to be found; she left behind no ghost. Renali salvaged what she could of her fortune, and led her followers in a dour procession to her homeland.
After a fifteen-year absence, her return to Sijan should have felt like a sort of triumph. She was powerful; wealthy and influential, and undeniably a successful merchant. However, instead of confronting her family, she bought a full burial for Eight Fox. At the end of the proceedings, she addressed a small gathering of her closest supporters inside her family tomb, beneath the statue of her great grandmother. She declared her intention to seek revenge for Eight Fox and all those lost to the Bull, and moreover, lay the foundations of a power-base in a civilized Linowa. Her looming namesake, cut in basalt, gave silent approval as Renali took her second breath.
When Renali returned north, a new addition to her caravan was an entire wagon dedicated to the worship of her ancestor. The ghost, who goes by Renali the Elder, has taken on a similar position to the caravan-gods that other Guild caravans take on. Together with Yellow Gaoler, the Elder is Renali Henet’s main advisor.
It is still not clear what plan is taking form, but the Merchant of Death is certainly approaching her goal with a newfound aggression.