For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west,
so will the coming of Argrath be.
You will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars.
See that you are not frightened,
for those things must take place,
but that is not yet the end.
Dark Day, Harmony Week, Dark Season to Dark Day, Death Week
Neela, Orvald and Fastulv return to the Blue Starling Stead. They are blood-spattered and grimy and hurting. Jarstak and Finn want to know where they’ve been; there has been an emergency while the trio were away. All are resolved to say nothing of Kragar the troll, so they tell Finn very little. However, Orvald vouchsafes to Jarstak that they were on a mission for Malta the Hurt. Jarstak understands and does not probe much further.
The stead head tells Orvald that he was keenly missed. There had been a major troll incursion and Orvald was not present for the Night Brothers’ muster. There were skirmishes across clan land two nights ago. It had been one of the largest movements of trolls seen in a long time.
Jarstak is no fool. He sees the bruises and scars on the three companions and it’s clear he suspects they had been somewhere out in that fighting. Changing the subject, Jarstak brings up one more thing: on the morning Orvald and his companions had departed, three Humakti passed by the stead. Most of the steadsmen and women, afraid of the mark that the Living Death carry, hid from them and prayed for deliverance.
Normally Orvald, as one of the clan thanes, would go greet the travellers, but in his absence Jarstak went out and spoke with them. The three Swords of Humakt were led by Heortarl the Swordbrother, who said they were paying their respects at the shrine of First Sword at the foot of Whistling Hill. There they would pray and mortify the flesh before marching on to the Upland Marsh. Grim Heortal went on to tell the old trollhunter that Delecti the Necromancer is raising another army of undead by raiding the nearby tribes. Many bands like Heortarl’s are now travelling to the Upland Marsh to form a battalion against the army of Unlife and Vivamort.
The three warriors departed the stead and Jarstak returned to the Big House to discover that his daughter Jara had fallen down in a fit and was babbling something. Jarstak could not remember what was being said except the word ‘Three’ was repeated a lot. He told Orvald to talk to Tara about it.
Orvald catches Tara later. Finn’s wife confirms Jarstak’s story, that Jara suddenly dropped to the floor and started speaking in tongues. The girl spoke in a sing-song voice, though the words did not rhyme, saying:
Three lights lead the Dark
Three moons hunt for the traitor’s magic
Three dancers fight with empty bellies
Three swords find the staff
Three years the Everlasting Storm will die and
Bury our children deep beneath the snow
Jara came out of the fit with no memory of what had happened. This is something that has never happened before and rumour has gone around the stead that that the simpleton girl has a gift of prophecy. Orvald can tell that Tara and her kinsmen are on edge about this and want answers. Maybe Dorasola Ravenhair, who herself has been known to prophecy, might have some words of comfort.
It will not be easy to find time to speak to the Earth godi. The clan is incredibly busy. Neela has work to catch up on, while for Fastulv the slaughter time has begun, followed immediately by the important shepherds’ ceremony of Sacrifice Day. Very soon it will be Ancestor Day when the ghosts of the clan ancestors rise from the urnfields and come to inspect the living and pass blessings or curses upon them. Already preparations are beginning to ensure halls will be spick and span and a feast prepared.
Neela wakes one morning to discover a small present waiting for her, hung up at the threshold to the smithy. It is a leaf bundle tied with the stalk of a plant. It contains some seeds. Neela wonders if this has anything to do with the bronze leaf-shaped arrowheads she left for the forest people.
Asking around, no-one seems to recognise the seeds, not even those versed in herbal lore. Neela decides to save them for planting in Sea Season, not letting anyone know her suspicions of where the seeds came from. She knows most folk are suspicious of anything to do with the Aldryami. However, she finds a pot of soil to put one of the seeds in, which she keeps in her smithy.
Now that Dark Season is in full swing, the warm redsmith’s forge is a place for communal gathering and gossip. Neela overhears many conversations. Aside from Jara’s moment of prophecy, the other big news is that Swena is pregnant at last. A divination by the stead’s midwife has confirmed her pregnancy. The clanswomen are delighted, however, Jarstak seems unhappy about it. He has been stalking the stead with a face like thunder. His behaviour has been getting stranger. He is sometimes seen walking with Swena in the fields and behaving like some lovestruck young swain. But at home around the hall he is frosty, even hostile towards her. Nobody can understand it.
Neela is privately approached by Magana Redspear, who is in a state of deep distress. The Vingan warrior has no one else to turn to for advice. Her father, Willem Outlaw, has confessed to the killing of the Lunar soldier that resulted in the burning of Ashborn Stead in the Elkenvale. Magana tells of how Willem had gotten drunk and after the admission he had got into an argument and hit his wife, Yrsa (herself an Elkenvale woman). He had to be restrained by Magana and Jarmast Big-Laugh until he’d cooled down.
So far the family have kept quiet but Magana is not sure what to do. If she tells Orvald about the murder of the Lunar he would have to report it to the Chieftain and Willem would be sure to be outlawed again. He is not a young man any more and Magana fears for her father.
Neela counsels the spear-maiden not to say anything about it to anyone else. It is more important to keep the clan together than allow a good man to be outlawed. Their allies, the Elkenvale, have suffered greatly from this. They should not compound it further by suffering Willem to outlawry. When Magana says she is not sure whether her mother will hold her tongue, Neela says she will speak with Yrsa.
There is one more thing, Magana says. Magana also asks about the death of Swen. According to Orvanlarnste his soul was snapped in two by the Nightmare Child at the Battle of Castle Blue. Magana worries whether Swen has reached the afterlife. Ostra Many-Sorrows laid the body out, but she is just an ordinary corpse handler who does rote prayers to Ty Kora Tek. Did she properly lead the soul to the Caverns of Silence? Magana is afraid of what will come through the door on Ancestor Day.
Agreeing to help, and to be company for Magana on Ancestor Day, Neela journeys first to Willem’s Hall. The men are out in the pens, slaughtering the sheep, so she finds Yrsa alone. She persuades the steadwife to keep quiet about Willem’s crime and also offers to go to Grandmother Dust and secure the help of the Ty Kora Tek godi in finding out what has happened to Swen’s soul. Yrsa thanks the smith, who rides off to Goodhaven, determined to speak with the god-talkers.
While Neela travels to the Clan Hall, Fastulv is on a mission of his own. He pays a visit to Dancing Asterid up at her cave in the hills. The shaman offers tea while he asks her what the significance of Jara’s prophecy is. Asterid cannot be sure. Jara has long been exorcised of the ghost that possessed her and took her wits, but it is significant that this has happened at a time when the peace with the Greycoats is being negotiated—a peace that would release the ghosts and allow them to go to their rest. Maybe Jara’s words are a premonition, or maybe a way of looking at the world as it currently is. She cannot tell without examining the girl for herself, but Jarstak would never permit that.
At Goodhaven Neela runs in to Vax, the Chief’s doorthane, who takes her aside. He tells her that Olfir has decided to accept the emissary that Minaryth Purple has offered. Vax warns that the Chief and the clan ring are not happy about the idea of accepting an army on clan soil. However, they will at least do the courtesy of entertaining an offer. He asks Neela to contact the rebels and pass the message on.
After paying a brief visit to her family, Neela goes to Grandmother Dust and speaks with her about Swen. The old woman agrees to come to Willem’s Hall on Ancestor Day to deal with whatever comes through the door.
Next, Neela goes to Dorasola Ravenhair, the Ernalda priestess, and asks her about Jara. Dorasola wonders what is meant by some of the words. Could the ‘three swords’ refer to the Humakti? The three lights could refer to lightbringers—Orlanthi—but what dark do they lead? And who or what are the three moons hunting a traitor’s magic? Neela keeps her counsel about Erianda the Red and the obsidian spearhead of Black Arkat that she saw in Jonstown.
Neela has something else to ask. She is troubled by the encounter she had with Little Pu, the Puppet Prophet. All its prophecies have come true and she asks whether the prophet can be trusted. Dorasola has heard of the Puppet Prophet. She warns that it may be some kind of trickster magic. However, she notes that some Eurmal tricksters, for all their treachery, are capable of seeing things with perfect clarity. They understand the cosmic joke and laugh at it. They are often at their most dangerous when they speak the truth.
Dorasola finishes by telling Neela that if she sees the puppet again, she should run for her life.
Later that day, Orvald summons a crow to bear a message to Malta the Hurt. He passes on Olfir’s request to meet an emissary of Minaryth Purple. He will see what army and magic the rebels are prepared to offer the Kendring.