Denara - The Skald of Heaven
The preeminent religion of the Calid Circle, worship of the Skald of Heaven is largely a sacred storytelling tradition with Denara, the eponymous Skald, as its central figure. Denara’s name is often invoked as a folk blessing within the Calid Circle. The targets of Calid raids often believe Denara to be a wild and violent war deity, although this view falls far short of how adherents view their faith.
The stories and legends surrounding Denara’s deeds and ascension to becoming the Skald of Heaven are many and varied, and sometimes contradict each other, but most tellings say that sie was a non-binary Zeverian from ancient days. Common belief holds that Denara watches all, with the sun as hir eyes, so worship of the Skald is most often held in daylight where it can be witnessed. Communal storytelling is the most typical form of worship, as befits a Skald: the faith holds relatively little regard for navel-gazing and introspective spirituality.
The worship of Denara has spread little beyond the borders of the Calid Circle and so it is considered a minor faith in comparison to the major religions of Dae’Kos, the Imperial Cult, the Sun and Stars, and the Children of Dragons.
There is no real priest class among the faithful of Denara. However, Skalds come the closest to fulfilling that role. They are the storytellers who recite the tales of the great Skald. They also witness and retell the exploits of their fellow faithful.
A Skald is anyone recognized as such by the Circle of Skalds. There are no formal requirements and no set process for evaluating a potential skald. A prospective presents themselves to a circle of Skalds and somehow convinces the circle that the prospective belongs among them. When asked about the process, faithful will often shrug and recite, “A Skald is Known.”
The Triumphs of Denara
It is said that Denara accomplished many great feats. The faithful of the Skald of Heaven venerate the life of their deified Skald and seek to emulate the greatest triumphs of hir life. Although there are endless stories of the life and accomplishments of Denara, the most well known and honored stem from the Skald’s evasion of Death. The most devoted and audacious of the faithful attempt to recreate these feats, at least in scope and purpose if not in precise mirroring.
If a Skald witnesses such a glorious feat, they will bestow a Title of Triumph upon the devotee so that all of the faithful might know of that individual’s glory. While each individual receives their own title, they are all built upon a shared format. Each of the five Triumphs of Denara bestow a specific adjective that communicates the nature of the Triumphant’s success.
To earn a single title of Triumph is considered a rare honor. Very few of the faithful accomplish something that can be recognized as being as great as one of the Skald of Heaven’s own feats. To attempt to earn more than one is rarer still. There are only two faithful currently alive who hold two of these titles. In all of remembered history, there have only ever been four individuals who earned three or more titles of Triumph. Nobody has ever earned all five since Denara first achieved such greatness. Tradition states that if anybody ever did earn all five titles, they would take their place in the Vault of Heaven alongside the Greatest Skald and would earn a title none have yet had the audacity to name.
Triumph #1 - Resilience
The stories differ. Some say that Denara was betrayed by a sibling. Some say that a scorned lover enacted retribution. Others claim that a childhood friend turned rival dispatched the Skald in single combat through treachery and deceit. Whatever the truth, the one thing upon which they agree is that sie died. However, the Skald would not allow such a death to be the close of hir story. Some say that Denara bested Death in a match of wits or a game of skill. Others claim that sie employed stealth and misdirection to steal back the essence of hir life and escape to the mortal realm. Whatever the case, Denara escaped from Death’s clutches and sung the story for all to hear.
Faithful who fulfill the Triumph of Resilience gain the title Awakened. Example members of the Triumphant are The Awakened Bramble, The Awakened Note, and the Awakened Breath.
Triumph #2 - Might
Death was greatly angered by its lost prize and set out to reclaim that which had slipped through its fingers. Death had earned many favors over the years and it called in every chip it was owed. Mercenaries, soldiers, and brigands the world over had been given a second chance on the promise of a favor that could not be refused. And so it was that Death raised an army to go fetch it’s lost soul.
Denara stood before the invading warriors alone and armed only with a single blade. Some say there was a single slash from the blade which cut down the entire front line of the army. Others say that the Skald’s words were so fearsome, so full of righteous anger that the army’s courage could not hold and they fled. This Triumph is traditionally mirrored by engaging in an unwinnable battle and somehow coming through it victorious, typically without suffering a single injury.
The title for Might is Unconquered. Examples among the Triumphant are The Unconquered Night and the Unconquered Song.
Triumph #3 - Charm
When the army failed Death, it turned to something that no mortal could hope to defeat. It stoked the anger of a nearby mountain and turned the mountain’s rage outward towards the world. As its fury grew, magma pushed up through the crevices of the deeps and black smoke blocked out the sun. The volcano threatened not just the Skald, but all the people who lived their lives under its long shadow. Denara could not allow hir innocent brethren to be harmed by Death’s relentless pursuit. So sie wove a song so sweet and sad that it calmed the fires of the great mountain and returned it to rest.
The Triumph of Charm bestows the title of Flawless. Examples among the Triumphant are The Flawless Blade, The Flawless Verse, and The Flawless Emerald.
Triumph #4 - Hope
When Death saw that it could not break Denara’s body, it turned instead to hir will. It managed to pull its prey into the Norelkar and there it wove its own tale for the Skald. Death showed Denara that all the people that sie loved would eventually perish. In the end, Denara would be left alone and would despair. Death whispered to hir that sie would eventually seek Death out themselves. But the Reaper would not be so accommodating and would ensure that sie suffered as sie passed. If the Skald welcomed Death now, then sie would pass easily and without pain.
Some claim that Denara hesitated at this. The vision of all of hir loved ones growing old and withering away haunted the Skald and tore at hir will. However, as sie watched an image of hir sibling quietly pass their final breath, the Skald’s vision suddenly drifted to the figures around hir. The tears in hir eyes dried and a smile began to form on hir face. For Denara saw that hir family would go on, and indeed that all Zeverians were hir siblings. Finally, the Skald knew that as long as sie could sing the songs of hir loved ones, those people would never truly be gone.
The Triumph of Hope bestows the title of Unbroken. There is currently one Triumphant of Hope and they are The Unbroken Tide.
The Triumph of Hope is unique among the faithful of Denara in that it is considered bad form to pursue it. The title of Unbroken is rare because it denotes a hero who has overcome deep despair. To invite or seek out despair so that one might overcome it is considered selfish and unworthy of a Title of Triumph. Thus, the title is only given when grief of unfathomable depths finds a hero and they throw off the shackles of sorrow in spectacular fashion.
Triumph #5 - Freedom
The final Triumph is that of Freedom. For the Skald knew that Death would never stop hunting for its lost prey. There was only one place in all of creation where Death could never follow and that was the afterlife, the Vault of Heaven. So Denara set out to find a way to enter the afterlife without giving Death its satisfaction. The stories of how the Skald ascended are many and varied, but the most common tells of the harnessing of the Four Cardinal Winds.
Ancient stories tell of the four winds, each one blowing from one of the cardinal directions. They say that if a hero could catch one of the winds in a bottle, then that individual could travel as far as they wished in the wind’s direction for as long as they could contain the Wind. But the Cardinal Winds are strong and do not take kindly to imprisonment; they thrash and fight to be free.
Denara knew that in order to travel to the Vault of Heaven, all four of the Cardinal Winds would be needed. However, the wisest among the Zeverians had long held that this was impossible. Nobody was strong enough to wrestle four different bottles each filled with one of the Cardinal Winds. However, sie was not just strong and resilient but also clever. It is said that Denara found each wind in turn and breathed it in deep, trapping the wind into hir iron lungs. Sie held hir breath for the entirety of this trial, all the time it took to find and capture all four winds. Some say it took weeks. Others say it took months.
However long it took, when all four winds were captured within the chest of the Skald, a single step was taken and Denara ascended to the Vault of Heaven where Death could not follow.
The Triumph of Freedom bestows the title of Shining. There have only ever been three members of the Triumphant who have earned this title and none currently live: The Shining Chord, The Shining Star, and The Shining River.