The spirits cry
A throng of sorrows
Widespread woe for wise men all
No light thing that,
The sin that was done here
Forced of fate
Men’s eyes turn to another way,
From Air to Earth
To the peace rug,
To brotherly words
And an end of War
Clay Day, Death Week, Earth Season
That morning Orvald is approached by Jonrik, one of Darrold’s sons. Jonrik is a nasty piece of work, a notoriously violent brute who carries the nickname ‘Backfist’. He has been waiting for a moment to corner Orvald alone and when he finds him he launches into a tirade at the weaponthane, demanding to know why he didn’t bring the fyrd down to Darrold’s Hall to drive the trolls away.
Orvald tries to calm the man down and explain why he couldn’t put the stead at risk with the Three Tin Ton waiting in the night, but Jonrik is clearly spoiling for a fight and starts to taunt Orvald, accusing him of cowardice. He repeats what he has been told by others who saw the thane that night, that Orvald ‘froze’ at the moment of decision. This just angers the young thane, who blames Darrold’s family for refusing to come up to First Safety at the big house. But ‘blaming the victims’ just makes Jonrik explode and he pops Orvald a sharp strike with his forearm.
The two men begin to pound seven shades of shyte out of each other. Orvald is small but surprisingly strong and Jonrik soon finds he has his hands full with the furious warrior, who is working out the previous night’s frustration on him. The rest of the stead can hear the donnybrook and it draws Neela out of her smithy with balled fists. It takes her only a moment to size things up. She runs up to the brawl and gives Jonrik a clout from behind, knocking him off balance. This gives Orvald enough space to give the bigger man a kick that breaks a leg with a satisfying crack.
Jonrik is down and out of the fight and as Tara Redbraid rushes out to tend to him, he shouts insults at Orvald’s retreating back. He accuses Orvald of picking on the Laronil families, and of needing women to help him fight. As Tara passes Orvald she tells him not to listen and that Jonrik had this coming to him for a long time. Orvald and Neela stride away from the screaming shepherd.
Orvald has other things on his mind than Darrold’s accusations. He is concerned that Goodhaven might not be aware of the dangers of bringing two priestesses to the stead that evening with the Three Ton Ton still around. So he arranges for a messenger to go to Goodhaven to warn them.
The other business of the day is for he and Neela to go and pay a visit to Asterid the shaman. Both Fastulv and Magana agree to accompany them as protection in the wilds.
They find the Serdrodosing shaman as they did before, chanting and dancing outside her tiny cave in the dark woods near the Bright Water stead. She has been expecting them. Some tea gently brews over a fire as she dances.
Once everyone is seated and takes tea, Neela asks if Asterid has finished the spirit fetishes. These were the charms the shaman offered to help protect against the spirits that inhabit Neela and Orvald. The mystic replies that she had not yet completed the ritual binding and that they must wait another day.
When Orvald mentions they had a visit from the Three Tin Ton, Asterid says that her fetch, Blue Eye, has reported this to her. She then tells them that the trolls have left the Kendring land. They had a camp in the Brambleberries, but now they are gone.
The group are surprised and perplexed by this. Is she sure? Why did they leave? Asterid cannot be sure of the reason, as she only knows what she has seen or been told, though she suspects the trolls have completed their task. They do not appear to have taken anyone.
Orvald probes further. The visits of the Three Tin Ton do not follow a regular pattern. Is there any clue as to how they operate or why?
Asterid states that this attack seems to be ‘a tap of the drum’ and ‘part of a greater dance’. It may be an act in some great quest or ceremony. The spirits tell her that a powerful magic is being woven. It has taken decades to create so far. The spirits cannot see far into the future but fear some great danger that is coming in just a few years. The trolls will be back. Asterid does not know when.
She offers again to help arm one of the group against the trolls, but Orvald turns her down. If the immediate danger has passed he has no need of that magic just yet. However, he asks about Jarstak. The head of the stead has told them to have nothing to do with the shaman, that she is nothing but trouble.
Strangely, Asterid seems to agree with this. It is not wise to trust her, she says. Her magic failed Jarstak twelve years ago when the Three Tin Ton turned the tables on his ambush. And she failed to save Jarstak’s wife Theya from a disease spirit a few years ago. She understands why the headman distrusts her so.
Orvald is curious: why did Asterid’s magic fail against the Three Tin Ton attack? The shaman replies that something unexpected happened. The trolls had their own spirit magic that had overwhelmed hers. However, she says that she is now prepared and that it will not happen again.
The group say their goodbyes, but don’t head back directly to the Blue Starling stead. Instead they trek off towards the Brambleberries, a well-known landmark in the woods. This is a specially dense thicket of brambles, with a number of rat-runs in and out. It is a good hiding-place.
The group creeps into the deepest and darkest part of the woods. They move cautiously, alert to any danger. Fastulv, who is an experienced tracker, picks up a trail of something large headed westward towards the Brambleberries. Eventually they come across a bowl-like dip in the ground, a natural crater edged by trees inside of which a great thicket sits.
The party creeps forward to the edge of the thorny mass, finding signs that someone recently travelled through there. Magana, spear in hand, leads them carefully into one of the brambly tunnels into the centre of the thicket.
They emerge into a clear space at the centre of the mass of vegetation. No one is there but they find the messy remains of a crude camp. There’s no fire, but pieces of animal flesh can be found all about. Gnawed shanks and bones lie about the place. Trolls have been here, but not in the past few hours, so far as Fastulv can make out.
Not a little relieved, the group picks its way out of the thicket and begins to make its way back to the safety of the Blue Starling stead.
That evening, as the sun begins to set, Orvald and Neela, accompanied by Fastulv and Magana, make their way down to the edge of the Cinder Pits, where they were due to meet Dorasola Ravenhair, priestess of Ernalda, and Grandmother Dust, priestess of Ty Kora Tek. There they find a good-sized group, recently arrived from Goodhaven. The two priestesses have an escort of thanes, including Jordarn Stepping-Blade, the clan champion. Jarald the Edge, the urbane clan lawthane is also there with them.
Dorasola thanks Neela and Orvald for coming, and is grateful that Fastulv is there too. She says that she appreciates the danger from the Three Tin Ton but it was necessary to perform a ceremony here before the Clan Ring meets to discuss the Lunar demand to settle the land. Clay Day of Death week was a particularly auspicious day to perform this ceremony, when the Lunar magics are weakest and the dead closest to the living.
With that she steps up to the boundary stone and performs her ceremony, chanting to her goddess and spilling a dish of barley beer on the ground as a sacrifice. As she finishes ghostly figures begin to appear in front of her in the twilight. A horde of spirits stands there now. They make whispering sound in the gloom. Neela and Fasulv eagerly stare at the figures, hoping to see a familiar face, but the ghosts’ features seem to flicker and change and it is hard to make anyone out.
Now Grandmother Dust steps forward to address the gathered apparitions, muttering to them in a low voice that no one can make out. When she turns around and speaks to the living, she tells them in an ancient voice that she has asked the ghosts what they desire. They told her that they want justice.
Dorasola is very pleased at this. They have asked for justice rather than vengeance, which means that she and the Clanweaver faction can attempt to resolve this by peaceful means. They can release the ghosts from their torment by use of the Peace-rug rather than the spear.
She asks Neela and Fastulv for their help. The Carmanian knight, whom the Lunars insist will settle the lands of Eoric’s Stead, is not coming until Sea Season. That gives them the best part of three seasons to negotiate a peace with the Greycoats. Time is tight but the task is not impossible.
The ghosts will not be able to refuse a legally binding peace treaty. If a peace cannot be found then Lunar sorcerers will use their Chaos-tainted magic to exorcise the spirits, probably condemning them to a Lunar hell.
The Ernalda priestess asks Neela and Orvald for their assistance. She needs to persuade the Chieftain Olfir to take the path to peace with the Greycoats. As ‘Children of the Fire’ their word will carry some weight. Will they help?
As they ponder this, Grandmother Dust says that she wishes to talk with the spirits of Kerelyne and Minaryth inside Neela and Orvald. There is a moment of silent communion and then the Ty Kora Tek priestess speaks again.
Grandmother Dust says that the spirits of Kerelyne and Minaryth are reluctant to leave their hosts. However, they will do so if Neela and Orvald achieve a quest. What the spirits both demand is revenge on Bundris Blacktooth, the Greycoat thane who burned the stead. But they wish to make the man suffer before he dies, to know the pain of loss. So they want Neela and Orvald to first kill the person most precious to him, his daughter Leika. With a shock of recognition, the smith and thane realise that this Leika is the same one they have imprisoned up at the stead!
But Grandmother Dust has not finished with them. She says there is yet another way to rid them of the spirits of the burning. If they were to die then Kerelyne and Minaryth would have no alternative but to leave. However, the difficult part would be bringing Neela and Orvald back from the halls of the dead to the land of the living.
That evening, dining in Finn’s Hall, there is much to talk over. The two priestesses and the clan champion are being feted up in Jarstak’s Hall, which leaves Jarald the lawthane as the guest of Finn. Magana and Fastulv join Neela and Orvald for this meal.
Neela feels strongly that she and Fastulv should try and help Dorasola and make a peace with the Greycoats. It is the correct conduct for an Orlanthi. Orvald seems inclined to agree but also wants to pursue a vendetta against Bundris and his daughter as he is keen for the spirit of Minaryth to vacate him.
When asked, Jarald seems to think the negotiation for the release of the Greycoat prisoners should not take much time. Leika and her confederates should be able to be exchanged for a ransom soon. Orvald asks about killing the girl. Jarald says that after she has been returned to her own people she is fair game.
Magana thinks that any talk of killing Bundris is madness. The peace cannot succeed if Neela and Orvald pursue their vendetta. She cautions them not to try this. The smith and thane seem unconvinced. They want peace for their ancestors and also to rid themselves of the two ghosts. When it comes to Orlanthi honour these are separate issues. But to do either will need the support of their stead, which means they must talk to Jarstak. Jarstak’s approval is key to any solution of this problem.
A plan begins to form in Neela’s mind. She wants to confront Jarstak over whatever happened in the past. She wants the truth from him about the events that led to the burning of Eoric’s Stead. She also wants his support to help forge a peace.
With that she gets up and heads off to Jarstak’s Hall. It is time for a talk with the headman…