We fly to them
And shake our spears
We roar our breath in defiance,
As Orlanth did to the Devil
As the sky defies the moon
When dawning comes,
They ken our raid
They are loath and angered,
Their spirit wavers
We disappear like smoke
Our laughter carried on the wild air
Wild Day, Death Week, Earth Season to Water Day, Fertility Week
The aftermath of the fight is a wreck of men and sheep. Bundris and his daughter are now out of bowshot. Half of the Greycoat raiding column have made good their escape, either climbing over the grassy ridge or losing themselves in the overgrown woods to the south.
This leaves six Greycoats lying in or beside the defile. Some are badly cut or speared. Others are less hurt, but had begged for quarter to be given from the onslaught of the furious Orvald and his fyrdsmen. No Kendring men have been lost and though there are plenty of cuts and bruises no one is seriously hurt. Neela is cut up badly enough by Bundris’s knife to need some attention, though.
As Tara Redbraid bandages the injured and some of the fyrd round up the black-faced ewes littered across half the ridge, Orvald’s thoughts turns to the stead. What had happened there? Gathering what men he can spare, he hurries back towards home.
In the days that follow, long after the sheep are gathered and the prisoners interned, witnesses piece together the story of what had happened at the stead. All agree that after Orvald’s column had left to intercept the raiders a couple more fyrdsmen trickled back to the Big House, drawn by the call of the wyter. They were Sigmund Forkbeard and Willem Outlaw and they joined the injured Jonrik in the defence of the stead.
When the three fyrdsmen heard the hoofbeats of approaching horses they ensured the gate was barred. But the raiders did not try to force the entrance. Instead, two well-armed thanes, their hero light shimmering across the wolf pelts they wore like cloaks, were seen to fly over the palisade wall and begin to hunt out their kinsmen.
As the women of the stead ran for the safety of the longhouses and barred themselves behind doors, Jonrik Backfist, in spite of his broken and strapped leg, charged at the invaders. Sigmund and Willem followed, screaming defiance. Jonrik fought like a bear, bellowing and thrusting with his great spear, but in his injured state he could not stand against the Greycoat thanes. Cut and pierced, Jonrik fell and had to be pulled to safety by Sigmund, while Willem held one of the thanes off. However, this only gave time for the taller of the two thanes, Bundris Blacktooth in person, to find and release the young prisoners. Bunrdris and his daughter Leika, with the rest of the youths in tow, unbarred the gate and soon were mounted on the horses waiting outside. Then they were spurring them towards the east and home.
For Orvald, it is a shame that Bundris was able to so easily spirit his daughter away. But the community sees things more clearly. For them, the day was a great victory. Aside from Jonrik no one was badly hurt in the attack on the stead, and they exchanged one group of prisoners for a slightly larger one.
Better still, Orvald and his companions have twice defeated Greycoat raids. The young thane has shown boldness in battle. He is a fighter and is now a proven winner. This sits well with most of his clansmen, including Jarstak. The Arynwar spakeman arrives from the high pastures too late to aid the defenders but he appreciates the bravery of all who fought and gives Orvald a hearty thump on the back. The young man will have a great mead-hall boast to make at future clan moots.
Orvald boasts manfully that the Blue Starling stead has shown the Greycoats the quality of the Kendring. The thane promises that if the wolf-killers come again they will be met in strength. This gets a rousing response from his kinsmen whenever he says it. They like their bold commander. They also notice his magnanimity in victory. Mindful of the peace that the Clanweavers wish to make, Orvald is keen not to incite hatred against the Greycoats. So he publicly acknowledges Bundris’s honourable behaviour in the raid, bringing attention to the fact that the great thane did not attempt to harm the women or children or burn the stead, when he had every opportunity to do so.
Only Jonrik and his brothers seem less appreciative of Orvald’s rising star. Soon, mutterings get back to the young man’s ears. Jonrik has been accusing him of recklessness, of leaving the sons of Darrold to defend the women while he goes off elsewhere. Though some listen to this and cast suspicious glances at Orvald, it’s clear that most of the stead, particularly those of the Arynwar bloodline, side with the thane. Orvald lets Jonrik’s harsh words pass and makes a point of being the bigger man and praising the Laronil man’s bravery that day. Jonrik accepts the praise with bad grace.
That afternoon Orvald, Fastulv and Magana discuss what to do next. Orvald is furious that the Greycoats think they can raid without reprisal and considers whether or not to petition the Chieftain for the right to raise a band to launch a cattle raid on the clan’s enemy. In the meantime he suggests a foray, just the three of them, to go to White Tusk stead and check the lie of the land. Both Fastulv and Magana are eager to join him. They will set off next morning.
God’s Day dawns with low skies that mask the Red Moon. Cold mists hug the ground. Orvald, Fastulv and Magana set out across the grey hills, trying to keep off the main routes and skirt through the woods so as to avoid detection. They cross the boundary stones into Greycoat land, hoping the wolf-killers’ wyter will not detect such a small group; particularly one only intent on scouting.
Here, in the shadow of Dwarf Ridge, a shelf of high rolling ground dominates the end of the lush and peaceful Elkenvale before it joins up with Cherry Ridge, where the Greycoats live. These hills are covered in light woods, copses and great patches of heather and gorse. Fastulv, who has scouted these hills many times, knows the safe ways through and leads the party onto a rise overlooking the White Tusk stead.
The White Tusk is a traditional Orlanthi stead: a huddle of longhouses, storehouses and byres within a stoutly-built palisade. It sits on a small patch of high ground overlooking the brook and meadow below. The main gate is open and a small herd of milk cows is grazing down near the water. Beyond the stead the hills of Cherry Ridge rise up, dotted with the fleeces of the distinctive black-faced sheep of the Orlanthi.
Initially the stead seems almost deserted. Then Fastulv points to his left, at three figures rushing out from behind the palisade. They run in a low crouch, as if trying not to be seen. The figures are clearly carrying spears. Soon the runners are out of sight, hidden by the spur of the hill. But they look as if they were trying to rush into the woods on Fastulv’s flank.
Orvald signals that it’s time to retire back to Kendring land. Slowly, the group withdraw, Fastulv leading the way. Rather than try to dodge into the safety of the woods, the shepherd takes the shortest, most direct route, straight through the gorse. At this point he notices sounds from behind, as the runners crash through the woods. He also detects a larger group of figures to his left, picking their way through the scrub on an intercept course. If they don’t move fast the Greycoats will catch them in a pincer!
Fastulv tries to hurry everyone along, but Orvald is dragging behind, as is Magana. The trap looks as if it is closing. In desperation Magana calls upon the power of the air, asking for Orlanth’s breath to aid them. At this sign of devotion a great wind rises, scouring the gorse and almost bowling the party forward. The enemies, still hardly visible, seem to have trouble keeping up with the group.
Now Magana halts briefly again and beseeches Orlanth, the storm god, to help her, as a Vingan calling on her father’s aid. With one arm raised she grasps lightning out of the air and hurls it down upon a tree in the path of the Greycoats’ left pincer. The tree explodes and flame spreads everywhere, scattering the wolf-killer band in confusion.
Orvald is in fine spirits at this display and his hearty laughs lift the party as they sprint for safety. They are almost out of reach. But at this moment Orvald’s overconfidence almost undoes the escape. He turns to bellow defiance at the Greycoats, while Magana swivels and stares down the men trying to chase them. Fastulv peppers the Greycoats in the gorse with arrows while his alynx bounds out of cover to surprise the chasing group. But the grim-faced Greycoats ignore all attempts to cow them. Another alynx leaps out of the gorse at Fastulv’s companion and begins a furious cat-fight. The pause is enough to let the pursuers catch up a little and the Kendring clansmen are forced to turn and take to their heels again.
Orvald has time for one last try to throw the enemy off the chase. Raising his hand, he calls upon Orlanth to unleash a gale to help them. Then he sweeps his arm towards the tree that Magana had burned, and whips up a wind that blows smoke from the fire into the faces of his foes. The Greycoats stumble about in the smokescreen, losing their bearings long enough to let Orvald, Fastulv and Magana make good their getaway. Fastulv’s alynx, now disengaged from its battle with the enemy’s shadowcat, bounds alongside them.
Back at the safety of the Blue Starling stead, the trio are feted for their exploit. Orvald and his small band have tweaked the noses of the Greycoats and shown them that the Kendring can come and go on their lands at will. Jarstak is pleased and embraces Orvald for his efforts. Many believe that Magana is favoured by the gods for her exploits, while even the normally taciturn Fastulv is recognised for his steadfast and reliable support.
Three times in the past week the Kendring have won an encounter with the clan’s enemy. The steadsmen and women are cheered by the news. The frightening raid by the Three Tin Ton is at least partly forgotten.
After the many thanks and backslaps given to them Fastulv, Magana and Orvald find some time alone to talk about what to do next. Orvald is pleased at the results of their scouting mission. He hopes it gives the Greycoats some pause for thought and would make them more amenable to a peace. The clan moot to decide whether to pursue a peace is still some way off, and Orvald feels it will only help their cause if they can bolster their reputation within the clan.
Fastulv agrees. He suggests they join the Night Brothers and gain renown by killing the clan’s ancient troll enemies. Orvald agrees, but how? Do they join one of the Night Brothers’ hunts and learn their trade from the experts? Having sounded out Finn, he knows an invite to a hunt will be no problem. Or do they take the faster, riskier route of launching their own private hunt, possibly with the help of Neela?
After some thought, Fastulv favours the latter course. The risks are greater but so are the rewards. After a few moments of doubt, Orvald agrees. But he thinks that they should ask Dancing Asterid for help.
A couple of days later the trio are at Asterid’s cave, asking the shaman how she can help. Asterid says she can help arm one of them with three powerful spirits she knows. The price they ask will be high, but they will gift the recipient great power in return. The shaman goes on to say that they should arm just one person because the spirit magics will complement each other.
One of the spirits will give the ability to see into the spirit realm and see the spirits of the trolls, even in the darkness.
The second spirit must be bound into a great weapon. It will contain the killing word that will slay a troll.
The third spirit will allow the recipient to conceal their presence from the Uz.
These spirits will not possess the user. They will be bound to their service. But they will demand something in return: a small piece of that person for each of them.
The party goes away to think about who will take on the burden of these three spirits. Neither Orvald nor Neela wish to do so, leaving the shield-maiden Magana and the wanderer Fastulv to decide amongst themselves.