Ne’er heard I of host in haughtier throng
more graciously gathered round giver-of-rings!
Bowed then to bench those bearers-of-glory,
fain of the feasting. Featly received
many a mead-cup the mighty-in-spirit
Air Day, Movement Week, Earth Season to Clay Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season
The immediate aftermath of the heroquest is a confused, joyful time. Those who participated in the ceremony witnessed miracles and wonders. Fastulv, Neela and Orvald are feted by all who were present and stories spread far and wide. “Were you there? Did you see?”
The Silver Pelt is presented to Chief Olfir. In turn he hands it to Grandmother Dust to hide in the secret treasuries of Asrelia, Goddess of Wealth. He congratulates the companions and asks them if they will bear the pelt into the clan moot. They cheerfully agree.
A feast of honour is held for the trio at Olfir’s great hall in Goodhaven. Many important members of the clan come to see the companions and hear their boasts at the mead bench. The skald has written an epic poem of their feat. As folks gather for the feast, a great cloud descends on the fort, shrouding the hill in a miserable storm. But inside the palisade there is no rain or mist; just brisk, refreshing breezes. Then Orvanlarnste the Storm Voice appears, driving his ox-cart through the gates. He has conjured the great cloud so he can slip into Goodhaven, right under the noses of the Lunar camp outside!
In Olfir’s hall the venerated storm priest sits at the Chieftain’s table, to be served by Olfir himself. Just below the high table in the places of honour sit Neela, Fastulv and Orvald. From the chief they receive wealthy gifts of rings and armbands in gold and silver. Olfir does them so much honour with his gift-giving that the assembled nobles and Carls remark on his generosity, which is one of the greatest virtues of Orlanth. By this deed he basks in the honour of the three companions and sends a message that he is now their patron.
The assembled clanspeople hear Orvald’s and Neela’s boasts of what they achieved. Neela tells of how they rescued the grain goddess and helped heal the world, spinning a tale of unity and cooperation. Orvald tells of how they defeated chaos. Together, they talk of the battle in the underworld against the armies of the trolls. Fastulv says few words but describes how his cunning saved the Silver Ewe from being devoured by the Dark Tribe.
Orvanlarnste raises his mead cup to the heroes and calls them his friends. The Night Brothers, the fellowship of the clan’s troll-killers, stand as one and invite the three into their company.
Orvanlarnste will not stay long at Goodhaven. He is strong in the Movement rune and will not linger in any place. But before he leaves the great hall he tells Orvald and Neela that he cannot repair the holy stone at Big Flint. However, he vows to reconsecrate the site and remove all trace of the Shepelkirt’s chaotic taint. He will return in Storm Season on the most auspicious day to perform the ceremony.
In the days following the feast of honour the three companions return to their daily tasks. In the smithy Neela can still feel the injuries she has taken in recent weeks: the livid red scar from the wound she received at the Battle of Big Flint and the scar from the knife injury Bundris Blacktooth inflicted on her in the fight on the slopes of Dwarf Ridge.
She notices that she has changed since she returned from the Other Place. She lost a piece of herself on passing the Guardian of the Threshold, but cannot yet tell what the absence is. But she senses she has gained some new power too, though its nature eludes her.
Orvald also notices a change. As Helamakt-Stepping Blade he lost his Arrowthane before the Underworld. On return to the mundane world he discovers he has lost all skill with a bow. However, Heler-Blue Boy granted him a boon: the Movement rune power to be able to come swiftly to the aid of a friend.
Fastulv knows he has lost a portion of himself at the Gates of Life but like Neela does not yet comprehend what it is. However, he discovers he has taken on a magical aspect of the god Heler. He is now able to change his appearance at will. For now he keeps this ability secret from everyone but Neela and Orvald.
Days pass and life at the Blue Starling Stead returns to some semblance of normality.
Swena Far-Blessed complains of soreness and pain. The wound she received at Big Flint has not yet finished healing. But there is some good news about the young steadwife. The stead women are a-twitter with the tidings that Swena, who had not been on good terms with her husband Jarstak, actually slept with him for the first time in months. In the halls intimacies are impossible to conceal and nothing is private. It seems that Swena acquired some powerful fertility magics from the Earth priestesses and used them to seduce her own husband. The power of the magics is such that a child is expected. Maybe this is the turning point in her marriage with the head of the stead.
Other news filters in from the wider world. The Lunars have burned the Ashborne stead in the Elkenvale. Word is that someone murdered a Lunar officer on Elkenvale Clan land. Hill bandits are suspected but the Lunars are said to be angry that the peaceful Elkenvale have done so little to stop banditry in their area. The red men suspected the Elkenvale may be in league with the bandits and launched a reprisal for the killing. Since the burning of the stead the Elkenvale clan have begun more vigorous bandit patrols.
The winds grow stronger and days begin to shorten as the end of Earth Season approaches.
Orvald regularly patrols the borders of the stead. One grey blustery day, near the stones that mark the divide with the Greycoat lands, he sees three figures on horseback. He recognises one of them: a slender woman flanked by two other thanes. Cautiously, Leika Bundrisdotter of the flashing eyes walks her horse to the border and regards Orvald carefully from the saddle.
Orvald gestures to the warrior woman as if to invite her to join him on Kendring land. Leika dismounts but does not step across the boundary. Politely, she thanks him for the invitation but declines it this time. However, she has a question to ask. It seems the thanes who patrol either side of the clan borders have been gossiping and exchanging boasts. News has come to her ears that Orvald and his companions recovered the Silver Pelt. She asks if that is true.
Orvald is cagey, not answering her question directly. ‘What if it were true?’ he asks her.
The Vingan warrior replies: ‘Then you have gone where my people cannot go and done what we cannot. I honour that act.’ She reaches for her spear and raises it in salute. As she mounts her horse Orvald returns the salute. Flashing the young thane one last look, Leika rides off to rejoin her companions.
On a visit to her family in Goodhaven, Neela finds herself in private conversation with her adoptive father, Farnan. The old master craftsman gently asks his daughter if she intends to forge the peace. She says that she does, and that it is vital for the clans to put aside their differences if they are to unite against the Lunar occupiers.
With a trembling voice, Farnan says that he is no longer sure he is behind the peace. If a treaty is made the ghosts of Eoric’s Stead will disappear. His brother Borman and sister-in-law Insterid—Neela’s birth parents—will fade away. It will be as if they died all over again. He is not sure if he can face the pain of that. He says he knows it sounds foolish but he sometimes visits Eoric’s Stead to talk to Borman and Insterid. He stands at the border stones, listens for the spirits’ whispers and speaks to the air.
Neela is horrified and berates her father for his selfishness. Her mother and father have already been taken from them once. How could he put his own interests before theirs and keep them as trapped, tortured spirits? Surely better to lay them to rest.
Looking a little broken, Farnan agrees with Neela’s cold, feminine logic. He was being a fool. He will, of course, support the peace. He does not speak of the matter again.
With harvest finally over the Tribal Market takes place. This year it is held not at Red Cow Fort, but on Frithan land, close to Jonstown. People from all over the Cinsina lands congregate to buy, to sell, to eat, drink and share news. The market is full of drovers and sheepmen and farmers. Every kind of produce can be bought and bulls and rams are sold. Queen Ivartha of the Cinsina is there, and can be seen holding court.
Even people from other tribes and clans come to the market. It is an opportunity to meet with friends and relatives from allied clans, such as the Frithans, Elkenvale and Underwillow. It is also a chance to exchange cold nods of acknowledgement with enemies, such as the Greenhaft.
Neela has wares to sell, but she and Orvald are there to sell another idea. They take time to mingle with their tribesmen and spread a message of Heortling unity. There are some listeners for what they have to say.
A week after the Tribal Market, on Wild Day of Illusion Week, the clan moot takes place in the hill fort at Goodhaven. Many of the clan are there, or have appointed spakemen to be their voice. There will be a wapentake, where men bring their armaments. They will clash weapons against shields when a vote is taken to signal their agreement. Even women can take part and bring pots and utensils to bash together.
The godi are present, in their finest robes and regalia. Even the shaman Dancing Asterid comes, with her gambling sticks.
But before the moot begins there is music, food and entertainments. Horsemen from the Frithan clan set up a ring and the trainers run horse fights, accompanied by heavy betting. Neela and Orvald get to watch a bout between two fine stallions that bite and rear and stamp at each other. The bay horse named Prince wins out over a grey beast named Wind Rider.
In addition to the horses there are puppet shows that make the children laugh and have smutty jokes for the grown-ups to enjoy. Fastulv finds himself watching the story of Orlanth wooing Ernalda, with all the naughty bits and double-entendres.
ERNALDA: “Ooh! You fair put the wind up me!”
ORLANTH: “That’s not the only thing I’ll put up you!”
Then the puppeteers tell the story of Eurmal and Granny Horse. Eurmal the trickster does some fairly disgusting things, including murdering Granny Horse’s husband. But after beating the trickster in a contest of gluttony, eating sausages made from her husband, Granny Horse has him caught and hung by the neck.
With the entertainments done, the clan gather as best they can inside Olfir’s great hall. Those who can’t fit inside listen from without the great, open doors.
The first part of the moot involves Fastulv, Neela and Orvald. They bear the Silver Pelt as a trophy into the hall, to gasps from the clanspeople. It glows with a silvery, magical lustre. The pelt is placed at Chief Olfir’s feet. Then the three publicly make their boasts and give their account of the quest to great cheers of approval.
The introductions over with, the clan reeve, Pennypride Ursula, comes forward to read the tallies of the clan wealth. She lists the produce, the bushels of wheat, the heads of cattle and sheep held in odal by the clan.
Londra Grand-Hands, the midwife, steps forward to read the tally of those born to the clan that year.
Finally, Grandmother Dust, the godi of Ty Kora Tek, reads the tally of the dead.
Before any further business, a case of adultery is judged by Olfir before the clan. The couple are from the Stone Crow stead, near the Boranini River. The cuckold is Biturian Olavsson, a half-Carl farmer of the Drunil bloodline. Beside him stands a two year-old son, Janar. The woman is Esrania Wide-eyed, a young steadwife. The man who slept with her is Ellisif Berensson, a handsome, lusty cottar of the Baltaring bloodline and proven trollfighter. They stand, shaking, before the Chief.
The husband, Biturian, declares a divorce on grounds of adultery. Witnesses declare what they saw of the infidelity. On Olfir’s order, the woman is made to return to the Frithan clan from whence she came. Her child stays with the clan. The man Ellisif is given a punishment of lesser outlawry. He will be exiled and made clanless for three years. He has until sundown to quit the clan lands or his life will be forfeit and he can be killed on sight.
There will be a lawsuit to agree a division of property. The woman’s clan will have to pay a fine.
As an indignant Ellisif and Esrania are escorted, shouting, from the hall, Neela notices Swena looking ill. She is pale as a sheet and sweating a little. Neela does not say anything to the young wife.
Olfir now brings an important decision before the clan: the choice to go to war with the Greycoats or make a peace with them, or maybe take the path of doing nothing. At this there is a hush. Everyone leans in and listens intently.
Neela takes the floor and begins an impassioned speech. Identifying herself as one of the Children of the Burning, she makes a plea to release the ghosts of Eoric’s Stead from their torment. Forging a peace with the Greycoats will allow the tortured spirits to go to their rest. If the clan does not do this the Imperial priests will come and exorcize the ghosts to a Lunar Hell. At this, many clansmen and women look at each other. No one wishes the ancestors to be condemned.
But then voices strike up on the right hand and left, making the case for war. These are the voices of the Tok and Frithara bloodlines, who desire war. They are the voices of the Biting Storm faction, who want to avenge old slights.
One man decries the Greycoats’ aggression. He says that with many Greycoat youngsters coming of age they are recovering their strength and are testing for a full-scale war. It is time for a pre-emptive strike before they grow too strong.
Another Carl shouts that taxes will be heavy this year. All the more reason to beat the Greycoats and exact a tribute that will stave off hardship.
A lean, loud-mouthed young man stands to say that the young cottars are hungry for land of their own. The Brambleberry Hills are infested with trolls and elves and monsters. There’s little room for expansion to the south. It will be far easier to push East into Greycoat land and take their border steads.
Another man points to the Silver Pelt and bellows that the clan now has something to taunt the Greycoats with, to show them the Kendring’s superiority and demoralise them.
Then the old godi Hahlgrim Twinspear growls that the Culbrea Tribe are weak. Their King, Ranulf Turn-Tail, was appointed by the Lunars. Hahlgrim tells the assembly that the Greycoats are ruled by a servile traitor and do not deserve peace.
These sentiments stir the crowd and murmurs circulate the great hall. Then Orvald stands and raises his voice to silence the chatter. Then he says some words of his own.
Orvald tells the clansmen that they are faced with their hardest test since the clan arrived in Dragon Pass. The Lunars occupy the land and are keen to crush the Heortlings and their religion. They have placed a fool and a traitor on the throne of Sartar. Only unity of purpose amongst the tribes can overcome the Red Moon’s army. The Dundealos, an entire tribe, could not stand against the Lunars. The day is coming when it will take all the tribes to cast the Lunars out. And in the meantime the clans and tribes must unite, put aside enmities and come together for the greater cause. This is why he stands for peace.
Neela chimes in, claiming that the costs of war will outweigh any bounty or land gained. Better to make peace and reclaim Eoric’s Stead than risk all on the fortunes of war.
At this point Orvald stares at Jarstak, catching his eye. The thane knows that no-one has yet spoken of the events that provoked the Burning of Eoric’s Stead. Old crimes need to be brought to light and if Olfir will not say it out loud, then maybe Jarstak will.
The Arynwar spakeman acknowledges Orvald’s look with a nod. Grudgingly, and then with a voice that gradually grows stronger, he is moved to speak. He says that Eoric’s Stead was lost because of a crime committed by many still living. The ghosts are trapped in the mundane world by a sin perpetrated by Kendring men and women at the White Tusk Stead. Maybe it is time for those who did bad deeds to come forward and admit what they have done. Then the clans can have peace and the ghosts be laid to rest.
As Jarstak finishes there is a babble of voices around the hall. Then Olfir asks for a vote of the clan. And as the men and women bash their weapons and tools together, it is clear that the clan, normally so ready to clutch the spear, this time assents to the peace rug. As the clamour subsides Olfir declares that heralds be sent and peace overtures be made.
Soon after, another vote is taken and the clan’s agreement secured: if the peace is forged and the ghosts laid to rest, an attempt at resettling Eoric’s Stead will be made. It might bring the clan into conflict with the Lunars, but the clan will cross that bridge when they come to it.
With that, Chief Olfir brings a final big decision before the clan: will they accept the refugees from the Dundealos into their company?
The leader of the refugees, Glendar Bladesmile, is the remaining spakeman of the Verenii bloodline. Of those Dundealos that survived the war with the Lunars without being killed or enslaved, most have gone West to join the Pol Joni horsemen. He has instead come East to the Quivin mountains with his wife and family. Glendar was loyal to the true King Vandolan of the Dundealos. He fought the Lunars at Black Fort and Sandtop and suffered defeat. He now spits on the ‘Monkey Tribe’ of the Enstalos, the turn-coats and carpetbaggers that have stolen the Dundealos land. Glendar leads the families of two bloodlines. Almost forty men, women and children in all, the equivalent of half a stead. They have nothing but the rags on their backs and the weapons in their hands. But given tools and aid they can contribute to the clan.
There is much discussion amongst the clansmen. Can they afford to feed so many mouths? It will take another year at least before newcomers would be productive. And where they will settle? They could be distributed amongst the steads, but space and land is limited. They would have to serve as tenant cottars and some families may have to be broken up.
If the newcomers want land of their own, they would have to carve it out of the forest in the Brambleberry Hills. It will take time to make such land productive. They will need clan resources. And it might bring the clan into wars with the inhabitants of the forests: the troll clans, the elves and the bandits.
Pennypride Ursula’s view is sought. Would supporting the refugees bring the clan to disaster over the winter? Particularly as the Lunars are expected to raise taxes again? Ursula considers and says it will bring great hardship, but the clan might be able to scrape by without wholesale starvation. It would be a lean winter for all, however.
Some don’t like the sound of that, but others like the idea of some extra swords to help the clan, and a chance to carve more land out of the forest. Some of the landless cottars may be brave enough to join the newcomers. With another thundering vote it is agreed that the refugees will be initiated into the clan. They will owe fealty to the Kendring Chief and become members of the Cinsina tribe. Arrangements for the appropriate ceremonies begin.
With this final piece of business the moot is over. Fastulv, Neela and Orvald hug each other. They have taken the first steps towards a peace!
Earth Season finally turns and Dark Season blows in, raw and chilly. Leaves are reddening and soon it will be the slaughter time for the flocks. The Lunars beneath the hill at Goodhaven pack up and march off the clan lands.
One misty morning the Vingan rebel, Malta the Hurt, slips into the Blue Starling stead to speak with Fastulv, Neela and Orvald. She has heard news of what happened with the heroquest and congratulates them. What they did has even come to the ears of Minaryth Purple and she tells them that he approves of the attempts to make peace with the neighbouring clan.
She tells the heroes that whatever resources they need to help the peace along, they should ask Malta and she will see what she can do. The companions are now associated with the rebels of Sartar’s Pen.
To help the trio, Malta gives Orvald the secret of summoning a crow to send a message to her. It will help them stay in touch.
Finally, Malta admits she has come to beg the friends’ help. She needs to escort a herald from the South across the Elkenvale, Kendring and Frithan lands to the city of Jonstown. As the clans are allies and the heroes know the ways, it should be easy for them, though they will need to avoid imperial entanglements.
There is a catch, however. The herald is a troll.
At this, everyone tenses. Neela, who does not trust Malta, exclaims that they cannot do this. Orvald cries that he will not let a filthy troll onto Kendring land. Fastulv simply shakes his head.
Malta explains that the troll needs to be in Jonstown with all haste. All other routes will add days to the journey. This herald is being hunted by the Lunars and the troll clans. The three heroes are her best hope. Orvald cannot believe what he is saying but demands assurances for the troll. Malta simply says that the escort was requested by Minaryth Purple. The sage needs to speak with the troll for some reason she does not know. As troll hunters they are the best equipped to handle the herald though she concedes that they can kill it if it does anything untoward.
It is Neela who, in disgust, agrees to accept the escort and ‘get it over with’. But warns that if the troll tries anything funny she will kill it. Orvald agrees. He will help Minaryth Purple but also warns that his patience will be thin with the troll.
The trio accept the mission.