The Book of Kendring

The Moon Witch

Verse 17. The battle beneath Drum Top

Brandishing battle-gear, weapons unmatched,
No monster can bear their stroke.
The hammer’s fall and proven edge,
Bone-rings breaking, piercing war head.
They slay, then face the red and the blue,
The moon wraith and her fell companions.
Face the foemen,
And leap!

Fire Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season

Neela charges towards the pursuing trolls, hammer poised and balanced in her hand. There is no lack of courage in the battle-smith. She is near-blind, save for the tiny glow of the lowfire in her hand that casts a soft glow around the forms of the monsters ahead. In her wake Orvald follows, the veteran fighter instinctively sweeping out to cover his companion’s flank.

With the aid of his spirit eye only Fastulv has a clear view of the fight. He cannot make out Kragar, concealed by some strange darkness magic, but he detects five troll figures advancing on them with sure steps. Three are almost on them: two in front of Neela and one more to the flank. Two are further away but will be upon them soon. Fastulv draws his bow to shoot the flanker while warning Neela of the pair ahead of her.

Neela hears the shout and with a cry to the others to close their eyes she allows the magic of her lowfire to flare for a second, trying to blind the figures up ahead. As the pair of trolls screech in distress, she swings into the shadows ahead and connects with a glancing blow to something’s head.

Fastulv looses his bow and puts an arrow through the flanking troll’s side. He notices the trailing pair of trolls begin to conceal themselves behind some kind of magical darkness and shouts out a warning. Neela calls on Kragar for his help.

The troll in front of Fastulv charges. The shepherd drops his bow and sets his spear to receive the onrushing monster. Then he prays to the Darkstep spirit to conceal him from the troll. As he is cloaked from the monster’s senses for a moment he is able to spit it on his spear and it falls in agony to the floor.

Orvald finds it hard to help while stumbling in the dark. But Neela at least is connecting with every swing of her battle-hammer and there are yelps from the trolls in front. Orvald prays to the god of storm and a great rush of wind bowls the night monsters backward out of sight. The pressure on the Kendring warriors seems to subside.

Then one more troll appears. It seems to be from the following pair and it steps out of shadow to blindside Neela. The smith reacts in a flash and with her mighty strength catches the creature a savage blow. It reels away and Fastulv can now see trollish figures withdraw into the night.

There is no sign of the remaining troll, but Kragar steps out of shadow and grunts that it has been dealt with.

With the rest of the Following Dark clan somewhere in pursuit, there’s no time to pause. Fastulv collects his bow, Kragar grabs his pack and everyone begins to strike out northwards, taking the shortest path to the Frithan lands.

They stay in open country on the moon-side of Dwarf Ridge, navigating by the baleful glow of the Red Moon. They are skirting the land of the Tenth Ram stead; men of the lower hills who border the Frithan people. Beneath the great mass of Drum Top the party slows, in need of rest. Even the great Kragar is flagging. Fastulv knows a shepherd’s shelter nearby on Kendring soil and suggests they try to get a few hours of rest. Orvald agrees and prays to the wyter of the Kendring to protect them and warn them of any hostile approach.

Huddled in a tiny stone space, with barely room to stretch, they are able to rest a while. Then Orvald is woken by a snap of wind on his face. Valenstor, the wyter of the clan tula, warns him of a threat nearby.

The party wake and tumble out from the tiny shed. It its now the pre-dawn twilight. The sky has lightened but the earth is a mass of inky black where and there is no sense of depth in the world. Then the companions hear a voice, somewhere to the north and west of them. It is a light voice, though it is hard to tell whether it is that of a man or a woman. It calls out, asking for them to surrender the troll. Neela cries a roar of defiance and Orvald barks a curse into the still grey air.

Neela asks Kragar if he knows if these are Lunars. Is this the Lunar witch the puppet warned them about? The troll grunts that he does not know, but seems to think the Lunars might well want to stop him. The party, with Kragar at the centre, decides to run. They rush as one towards the border with the Frithans.

Again, the owl spirit Ghost Mask gives Fastulv a view of the oncoming battle. He sees just one distant figure, the graceful form of a woman, moving from left to right to try and intercept them. He readies an arrow to shoot at the figure when he sees it gesture. A strange red light lances out of the twilit dark and Fastulv collapses in pain, his leg made lame by a curse.

Neela can make out the figure now in the dim light and begins to rush the witch. Calling onthe Movement Rune to aid her she bounds like a gazelle, darting from side to side. She calls on Orvald and Kragar to follow and they do, Kragar seemingly able to fade into shadow once again.

Fastulv, still in pain, pushes himself upright onto one knee. He can see the misty figure of the witch try to ready another gesture to curse Neela. He nocks and looses an arrow to distract her. It does the job, the witch seeming to pluck the arrow out of the air as Neela Battle-Smith bears down on her. But Fastulv now sees another figure, that of some burly warrior, running to intercept from the right.

Neela leaps at the witch, trying to swing low to strike her at the knees and upend her. The witch tries to fire off a curse, but Fastulv’s Alynx bounds up at her from out of the dark, surprising her. Orvald contributes with a thrust of his spear. Neela swings and misses, but this close she can see that the witch is a young woman with her left side coloured red and the other half a light blue. Whether this is thanks to body paint or a tattoo is not clear, but the woman looks quite alien in the dim light. The witch is armoured in bronze and carries a pair of cruelly-curved scimitars. Neela realises that another of the puppet’s prophecies have come true.

The witch rolls to avoid the attacks and is quickly out of position, exposing herself. But a warning shout from Fastulv draws Orvald away to face the man rushing from behind. Quickly, the fight breaks down to a series of individual combats.

Orvald finds himself facing a man dressed in strange armour. He does not identify it as gladiatorial armour from Peloria, but recognises the wearer as being tactically canny. His foe wields a sword and shield and takes a defensive stance, as if looking for an opening. Their first exchange of blows are a series of feints which only give Orvald a slight advantage.

Meanwhile, Neela brings down her hammer on the witch with the power of the fire rune. Sparks shower but the witch seems to twist out of the way of the blow without taking much damage.

Then Fastulv realizes that there is a third figure creeping up on him, appearing suddenly out of the darkness. It is the slender figure of a woman, lightly armoured, with a helmet with no eye-holes completely covering her face. She advances on the fallen shepherd, sword poised to strike.

Muttering a prayer to Umak Redshot, who struck down the demon Jagrekriand with a single shot, Fastulv raises his bow and lets fly an arrow at close range. Though it lacks the power of a full draw, the arrow leaps from the bow like an eager salmon and spears the girl somewhere in the torso. She spins and staggers away for a moment, giving Fasulv a chance to call for help.

Orvald is focussed on the gladiator and sees Kragar appear out of the dark and try to ambush the enemy. Orvald hurls his spear and seems to catch the big man a great blow.

Just then the thane hears Fastulv’s cry. The helmeted girl has thrust her blade between his ribs—a shallow strike but a fell blow all the same that leaves him weakened and defenceless on the ground. Calling upon the great feat he learned from Blue Boy, to come swiftly to the aid of his friends, Orvald becomes a blur, and a moment later is swinging his sword furiously at the girl, bellowing defiance with his life’s breath. The shout stuns the girl, who turns to face the onslaught. A great battle ensures.

Neela weaves and swings, looking for an opening, but finds it hard to get past the guard of the twin scimitars. In her frustration, Neela eschews the tricky subtleties of magic in favour of her strength with the hammer and tongs. Again and again she tries to go for the knees, knowing that the fight will soon be over if only she can get the witch on the floor, but she cannot get in a solid blow and the witch, anticipating each repeated attack, is slowly getting back into the fight. The blue and red woman yells yet another foul curse and Neela falls back in pain, feeling as if something had grabbed and squeezed her heart. But she throws herself back in to the fight and manages finally to parry one scimitar and get through the witch’s defence, connecting with a leg.

The witch falls then rolls upright, hurt and wobbly, realising that she cannot continue. Snarling at Neela in a foreign language she leaps backwards and disappears into the dark. Neela curses that she has gotten away and turns wearily to see what the others are doing.

Orvald boils across the battleground like Helamakt, the fighting storm. His blade cuts like the wind as he strikes again and again at the swordswoman in the mask. He has taken a deep jab to his shoulder but shrugs it off. Calling on the fighting wind, Orvald launches one final great gust and the girl flies backward into the dark where she seems to magically disappear. From his vantage point on the ground Fastulv’s spirit eye cuts through the girl’s magic concealment and makes out her misty form in the twilight, running away.

This leaves Kragar fighting the gladiator. He is now disarmed and seems to be in a berserk rage, fighting the troll with his fists, landing grievous blows with his hands. Now Orvald and Neela can pile in and very soon the man is at bay, unable to escape. But even disadvantaged and flanked, he manages to land a solid strike on Neela’s off-arm, weakening it. His hands are like stone. But quickly he succumbs, with Kragar managing to wrestle him from behind while Orvald and Neela beat him down.

They have a captive.

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