Such was their wyrd
That an evil fell upon them
Unrepented sins haunted the hall
Men who fell away from Orlanth’s grace rued this time,
But kept their counsel as their kin suffered
And the haughty Moon Men looked enviously at the hills
Freeze Day, Death Week, Earth Season to Water Day, Death Week
The Blue Starling Stead prepares to batten down for the night, in fear that the Three Tin Ton will strike. From each of the outlying cottages, ragged files of children, mothers and men with weapons stream into the big house. It’s a chittering, chaotic mess with harassed steadwives trying to find places for everyone to sleep. Food is prepared and shared around. Watches and duties for the men are agreed.
The fyrd is short-handed as some of the shepherds remain up on the hills. They prefer it there, believing the stead is a magnet for the troll raiders. Darrold’s family has yet to come up to ‘First Safety’, as the Big House is known in times of crisis. With the fyrdsman Swen in tow, Orvald troops down to the foot of Whistling Hill to try and talk to Darrold, the wealthy sheep herder. The Laronil headman is in good spirits. Two of his three sons are setting out lights to deter the trolls, while readying weapons and barring all entry points to his hall. Darrold seems intent on staying where he is and politely declines the request to come up to First Safety.
Back up in the house on the hill, Neela banks the fires of her forge and has a boy sweep the smithy so that she, Orvald and Fastulv can spend the night there. She is afraid of what might happen in the night, of what the spirit possessing her might do. She talks to Orvald and they agree that Fastulv should keep an eye on them in case they try to kill the Greycoat prisoners in their sleep. Orvald trusts a Vingan fyrdswoman, Magana Redspear to guard the prisoners. They are being kept separate from everyone else in a byre.
Before the sun sets Fastulv carries out instructions given to him by the head of the stead, Jarstak Trollspear. He takes a sick ewe from those he had penned down by Maniski’s Hall and slings it across his shoulders. Then with his alynx padding beside him he carries it, bleating and coughing, out to the Hungry Stone. Sometimes an offering here keeps the troll raiders at bay. Jarstak is desperate enough to give it a try. Fastulv ties up the sheep to the lichen-covered idol and makes it back inside the palisade of the Big House before the sun sets.
All is prepared for the night and an expectant hush comes over the stead. Even the children fall silent. The only sounds heard are the occasional honks of the Mighty Goose and the howls of the prisoner Fastulv had spitted in the gut earlier that day. Tara Redbraid tells Fastulv that she’s done what she can with her skills and magics but the Greycoat may still be bleeding inside. The wounded man will need more powerful magical healing than hers if he is not to die.
The small hours are spent in tense anticipation of an attack, but Night passes without the alarm being raised. At first light the families all troop back to their homes to check for signs of damage. All seems well. Even Darrold’s Hall reports a quiet night.
Fasulv goes out at first light to check on the ewe he’d left by the Hungry Stone. What he finds is a bloody mess. The sheep has its head squashed almost flat and the carcass ripped apart. Haunches had been torn off and show signs of bite marks and chewing. There are no tracks but this is certainly not the work of a normal predator like a wolf. When Fastulv reports back to Jarstak at the stead, the old troll-fighter confirms this sounds like the Dark Tribe, though he hopes they are a normal party of raiders and not the Three Tin Ton.
Neela and Orvald ask Fastulv to join them in a trip out towards the Brightwater Stead, where they want to talk to the shaman Dancing Asterid. It is an easy journey and soon they wend their way between the broad-leaved elms up to Asterid’s cave, past the wooden totems that guard the approaching path. The cave itself is little more than a shallow crack in the rock, with a shelter roof propped over the front. Asterid is outside dancing, tapping her drum and chanting, while a pot gently steams over a small fire nearby.
Respectfully, the three approach and place an offering of food in front of the shaman. They wait until the dancing stops and Asterid sits down to face them. They cannot see her whole face beneath the cowl of an elaborately embroidered robe. From her lips and the tattooed line of her jaw, they can see she is not old, but not young either. Asterid has been around for enough time that they all remember her from their childhoods.
Asterid addresses Neela and Orvald and tells them her fetch, Blue Eye, saw them coming. She knows they carry ‘passengers’. Orvald plucks up the courage to talk to the shaman. he is aware that the spirits that possess them are those of their own bloodline. He does not wish to harm them. Can Asterid remove the spirits? Or failing that can she placate them so that they cannot interfere with them again?
Asterid calmly explains that she can exorcise the ghosts from Neela and Orvald, but that the spirits have wound themselves around some vital part of each of their souls. The spirit of Minaryth Spithorn, a young fyrdsman who turned and ran at the Burning, has in his shame latched on to Orvald’s courage. If forced out he might take some of that bravery with him. The spirit of Kerelyne Far-Places, a mother who saw her husband and children slaughtered, has wrapped herself around Neela’s passion and fury. The ghost might rip it out of Neela should she be exorcised.
Neela and Orvald refuse the exorcism and ask if there is another way. Asterid suggests they ask the ghosts what they want and helps the two Heortlings commune with the shades of Kerelyne and Minaryth. The ghosts’ message is simple.
“BURN THE GREYCOAT STEAD. SPARE NO ONE.”
The smith and the weaponthane are horrified. They know their clan cannot afford a war with the wolf-skinners. They ask if there is any other way the spirits can be persuaded to leave. Asterid suggests they talk to a priest with some experience of spirits. In the meantime the best she can do if offer them some fetishes that may help placate the ghosts and help Orvald and Neela maintain mastery of themselves. They should return in a few days when she has the charms made.
Asterid is not done with the party. She tells them that her fetch has seen the Three Tin Ton on the clan tula. They have been scouting out the Blue Starling Stead. When Orvald expresses concerns for the shaman’s safety, she explains that she is safe in her cave. She knows how to defend herself and that the trolls fear her.
Orvald asks if she can help he and his kinsmen defend against the trolls. Asterid tells him that she can help them fight the trolls. However, there would be a price to be paid for her assistance. She could aid one of them to fight in the dark. However, she does not explain any more at this time.
Finally, she turns to Fastulv and tells him that he will experience a great sorrow soon. But she refuses to say any more.
The three return to the stead, unhappy at the options offered them. They glumly report the news to Jarstak. He suggests they go talk to Dorasola Ravenhair, the Ernalda Priestess at Goodhaven. She leads the annual ceremony to placate the ghosts of Eoric’s Stead at the Cinder Pits. She might have an idea what to do.
When he hears of Asterid’s offer to help them fight the Three Tin Ton, Jarstak Trollspear explodes in fury. He shouts at them not to have anything to do with the ‘witch’ and not to fight the trolls. He has lost too many family to the Burning and to the raiders, and he is not prepared to see them die trying to chase after these monsters. Neela barely contains herself in her reply, telling the Spakeman that she is a survivor of Eoric’s Stead and that she knows what is at stake. The three young Heortlings take leave of Jarstak. Neela leads them back to her smithy, fuming at her encounter with the headman.
Orvald’s agitation over his possession is growing. Both he and Neela agree to go and see Dorasola Ravenhair straight away. She lives up at Goodhaven, just under two hours away along the King’s Road. They ask Fastulv to join them.
They are about to head out of the gate when they meet Finn the Heavy. He tells them he is riding out to Goodhaven to collect Estava Smoke-Eyes, the devotee of the healing goddess, Chalana Arroy. The wounded Greycoat is now in a serious condition and needs the urgent attention of the clan healer. Finn has space for an extra person on his horse. Neela asks if she can ride on ahead with him so that she can see her adoptive father, Farnan Hammerhand. As Neela rides off the two young men follow on foot.
Goodhaven is the hub of the clan, a fort atop a spiral hill containing many halls and bloodlines. The Chieftain’s hall is here, as is the Ernalda Shrine and the Master Smithy. Neela was brought up here after The Burning and knows the place well.
She sees her step-brother Broddi Hothand working in the smithy and after a hearty greeting he thumbs her towards the back room where their father works. Farnan is old and suffers from bad sight, which was enough for him to hand the smithy and the title of Master Smith to his son. Despite his short-sightedness he can still do fine work with wire and so he keeps a small workshop attached to the forge, where he makes torcs, necklaces and other jewellery. As Neela enters he greets her warmly and asks after her.
Neela comes to the point and asks about the piece of armour captured from the Three Tin Ton by the Night Brothers. Farnan seems reluctant to talk and asks where she’d heard about that. When Neela explains that Maniski told her about it, Farnan complains that the scarred shepherd talks too much. He tries to persuade her not to pursue this line of questioning, fearing that his step-daughter will go off and try to fight the trolls. Stubbornly, father and daughter argue the point until Neela gives her solemn word not to pursue the Three Tin Ton. She wants to learn about the metal only so she can defend herself. At that, Farnan relents and reaches into the rafters of the low workshop to pull down a small piece of metal.
It is a thin sliver of tinplate, somewhat beaten and with a bluish tinge. It has holes in it that may have once attached it to other pieces of armour. Farnan asks Neela to beat it with her hammer and she tries. However, she barely makes a mark on the stuff. Farnan picks up his hammer and, beginning to glow with his hero light and seemingly become more powerful, brings the weapon down on the metal. A dent appears, but no more.
Farnan tells his daughter that he beat the armour off one of the Three Tin Ton with just such a blow in a fight twelve years ago. He might have hit a weak point, such as the links connecting the plate to the rest of the armour. However, Jarstak and the rest of the Night Brothers were unable to capitalise on it. Four men died in that raid.
Neela asks how to make a blow like that. Can Farnan teach her? The old redsmith says he cannot teach this ability. She must learn it for herself. She must cross to the Other Side, to the world of myth, and quest for it herself. It will be a difficult and dangerous journey. She might not return from it. It is clear he is reluctant for her to take the quest.
Neela bids her adoptive father goodbye and goes out to meet Fastulv and Orvald. Together they go to look for Dorasola. Neela finds the tall, striking priestess in the Loom House where the women meet. After exchanging greetings the women go outside, greet the men and go to the square structure that is the Ernalda shrine, with its icons of earth, fertility and harvest.
Inside, Orvald and Neela explain what has happened to them and ask if Dorasola can exorcise the possession. The priestess says she can, but it is risky. An exorcism might leave no lasting effect or it could take something vital from the possessed. Dorasola explains how, at Jarstak’s insistence, she exorcised his daughter Jara many years ago. The ceremony left Jara with the mind of a child.
As in their conversation with Asterid, Orvald and Neela do not relish the thought of exorcism and so ask if there are any other options. Dorasola says she will think on it. There may be someone who can help, but she has to talk to them first. She will send word in a couple of days.
Still lacking any comfort, and afraid of what the spirits might make them do, Neela and Orvald begin to head back to the Blue Starling Stead with Fastulv. At the gates of Goodhaven they meet Finn again. He is accompanied by the healer Estava Smoke-Eyes, in her Chalana Arroy robes of white with the white sash.
Orvald notices that Finn looks unusually pale and drawn. He asks and Finn says he has bad news. However, he does not let on any more and says he has to speak to Jarstak first. He rides off with the healer.
It takes a while to get back to the Blue Starling Stead. On arrival the trio quickly notice something is wrong. A few of the steadwomen stand worriedly outside Jarstak’s Hall and there are sounds of crashes and thumps from inside.
Finn intercepts the party before they go much further and recommends they go nowhere near Jarstak. When they ask why, he tells them he just gave the Arynwar spakeman some bad news. While up at Goodhaven, Finn was asked by Vax, the chief’s doorthane, to pass on a summons to a meeting of the clan ring.
When asked what the meeting is about, Finn tells them what little he’d learned from Vax. The Lunars visited a few days ago and spoke to Olfir, the Chieftain of the clan. Apparently the Red Men have noticed that the Cinder Pits are uninhabited. They are claiming the land for their own and intend to settle a Carmanian knight on the site of Eoric’s Stead. If necessary they will employ some kind of Lunar magic to exorcise the land of the clan ghosts.
As Neela spits out oaths at the Lunars and Orvald stands in stunned silence, the crashes and thuds from the steadhouse continue…