The Book of Kendring

The Biting Storm
Verse 22. Confronting the warmongers

In the great hall,
Fists crash on shields,
Thunder and wind, shouting:
“Violence is always an option!”
But the mouse voice says:
“There is another way.”

Dark Day, Movement Week, Dark Season to Fire Day, Movement Week

The snows have finally arrived. The sheep have been penned or huddle together for shelter in the hills in the lee of rocks and folds of ground. This is a bad time for the shepherds. The hardiest have magics that allow them to sit or sleep safe in the snow without dying, and they are up on the hills, protecting their sheep against the winter monsters.

The solstice is coming, the shortest, coldest day of the year. The clanwomen are preparing for Protection Day when all good Orlanthi go onto the hills and sing to the storm, hearing Orlanth thunder his way across the kingdom. The tribal market day is also coming, though few merchants and farmers from the clan will be trudging their way through these snows to Red Cow Fort.

At the Blue Starling stead, Mighty Goose is in a bad mood because of the snow and cold. He keeps trying to muscle his way into Finn’s Hall to share the warmth, making messes on the floor and hissing at anyone who gets too close.

Since the snows began the smithy has become more crowded than usual. The clansmen ignore Neela’s peevish attempts to shoo them away from the warmth. She has to put up with the yammering of the men as she works.

As she hammers a sword into shape, Neela hears Maniski Half-Man gossip about Jonrik Backfist. The bully-boy of the stead has been complaining that something strange is going on. Jonrik says he was seen at Twenty Ewe stead, supposedly talking to Magnus Tree-Hunter of the Biting Storm faction, but doesn’t remember doing this. Maniski ribbed him for being drunk again but Jonrik insists something odd is up. He swears he’s been on troll patrol or with the sheep these past weeks. He hasn’t even had a moment to get drunk.

At that, Orlgard Crookstick, the old man of the Laronil bloodline, has a tale of his own. He says he was chatting with Jarstak one day, bid him good day, then walked around the corner of the hall and bumped into Jarstak again, though dressed a little differently. Maniski laughs this one off as Orlgard growing old and having a lapse of memory, but something nags at the back of Neela’s mind.

*

Having found out from Fastulv’s deception that Magnus Tree-Hunter is holding a meeting of like-minded folk, all of whom are against the peace, Neela is determined to forestall trouble by crashing the meeting. She has already persuaded the Ernalda priestess Dorasola to come as a witness. When Jarstak hears about this he looks worried. Neela is not as cold and rational as other women. She has a temper like a man’s and a tongue that might get out of control and escalate feelings. The smith assures him she will not cause trouble, but the stead head decides to go with her all the same.

So it is that Dorasola Ravenhair and Jarstak Trollspear accompany Neela, Fastulv and Orvald through the snow to the Twenty Ewe stead. Magnus is the head of his stead and spakeman of the Frithara bloodline, so has a magnificent hall that can accommodate many people. It is dark when the party arrive and when they enter the warm hall they find it is packed with a good fifty people, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder around the walls. Neela leads the way in, muscling her way past the men and women at the back and clearing a path for Dorasola. Orvald stays by the door as the others push their way to the centre.

The visit was unexpected, and as the attendees realise they have been invaded a bubble of silence spreads out across the room. Neela and Fastulv can see many cottars and stickpickers crowded into the hall. Many of these are the young and those with little property. Neela suspects that Magnus has been selling them a dream of land and glory. They are the men and women who are hungriest for wealth and soil of their own to till. They are resentful of any peace that might snatch that away.

Just the other side of the hearth are the ring-leaders of the Biting Storm faction. There’s Magnus Tree-Hunter who once felled an oak with a bowshot in some mighty fit of pique. There’s Alebard the Shadow-Trail, the canniest raider in the clan, who has grown wealthy on cows and sheep stolen from the clan’s enemies. Kornos Ever-On is a hothead filled with nervous energy, ready to pick a fight with anything. Then there is Harmast Twin-Shield, a former thane known for his upright bravery and skill in the fyrd’s battle.

Finally, there’s Gara the Witch. Many clansmen, even those of the Biting Storm, give Gara a wide berth, because she sympathises with the goddess Ana Gor. Even in the Orlanthi religion, where human sacrifice is viewed as evil and chaotic, there is a niche for the goddess Ana Gor, who in extremis will use sacrifice to weave powerful magics. But all good Heortlings treat the practice with distaste, and such events are rare.

As the visitors make their way to the centre of the hall, Magnus recognises Dorasola and Jarstak; two important clan members who demand respect. Stiffly, he greets them and asks their business.

Dorasola, now speaking to a hushed crowd, gives a speech that reminds all present of why the clan must make peace with the Greycoats at a time when they are beset on all sides by a troll war and the Lunar occupiers. Neela picks up the priestess’s thread and with cold, feminine logic speaks of how a war clan like the Kendring must focus its strength against one enemy at a time. She tells them of the harm that would come should they war with their neighbour; that the clan cannot afford a fight on three fronts.

The onlookers, who were respectfully quiet during Dorasola’s speech, grow restless and mutter during Neela’s. The mood turns positively ugly when Orvald decides to blow in, all wind and passion and recklessness, to shout about how all that matters is the trolls and Lunars. In the midst of his boast he dashes a necklace of troll teeth and tusks to the floor.

Now voices are being raised, almost drowning out Fastulv’s attempts to be heard. Magnus shouts down Neela, telling her that there is no peace yet. This negotiation is clearly a ruse by the Greycoats to catch the clan with its guard down. While showing his respect to Dorasola, he points a finger at Neela and calls her stupid for believing these Greycoat lies.

“No peace can change a Wolf’s coat.” he bellows. “They are killers through and through. Will it take their teeth at your throat to realise you cannot make peace with them?”

Neela bites back her anger. She wants to rant at Magnus about the death and loss that would result from a ruinous war with the Greycoats, but she remembers Jarstak’s words and keeps her counsel, even when Kornos shouts that they should attack the wolf men. She responds with reminding the impetuous man what had been agreed by the clan at the moot. Dare he go against the clan’s decision?

But now there is trouble brewing at the back of the hall. Orvald overhears one man telling another that the Greycoats wear wolf pelts. Who knows what taint they have picked up from communing with wolves?

Then another clansman, slyly looking towards the young thane, whispers that Orvald is a traitor for wanting to marry some bony chit of a girl. He has been bewitched by the wolf-woman. He needs some sense to be slapped into him.

At this Orvald flies into a rage and pins the man against the wall, screaming at him. Hands reach out and try to prise the young thane away from the cottar whose feet are dangling in air. In the centre of the hall, Harmast is whispering in Magnus’s ear, trying to stop him from saying more that would escalate the situation. Jarstak lays hands on Neela’s shoulders to pull her back from the confrontation.

Harmast seems to bring Magnus to his senses. Magnus thanks Dorasola for her kind words and firmly suggests she and her companions leave. Jarstak is only too eager to get out and soon is bundling Dorasola, Neela and their companions out of the door into the cold and snow outside. Inside, voices are raised in a clamour.

“That could have gone better,” Dorasola sighs. But as the party trudge away from the Twenty Ewe stead, the priestess reckons that the intervention went as well as could be expected. She thinks if nothing else it would have given the plotters pause and may have split some of the waverers away from them.

*

News of what happened at Twenty Ewe stead soon makes its way around the clan, being embellished in the process. By the time it reaches Orvald’s ears, it sounds like he was involved in a full-on brawl with twenty cottars and Neela had made a fierce denunciation of Magnus. All Heortlings subscribe to the belief that the feminine is rational and the masculine emotional and in this argument both Neela and Magnus played their roles, with good sense getting the upper hand.

In other news, the thanes promised by the rebels have begun to assemble at Goodhaven. Many of them are being distributed amongst the steads to spread the hospitality.

Orvald finds there are concerns amongst the weaponthanes about security. Some of these guests are well known to the Lunars and a few have bounties on their heads. Harvand the Hoof, the warband leader, hopes that the winter snows will keep the Lunars from coming up into the highlands and searching for them. He tells Orvald that there was there was a sighting of Erianda the Red on Elkenvale land, at what little is left of the Ashborne Stead. But there is no current information on where she is or where she has gone.

Amongst those assembling are men of renown such as Gernu the Mask and his Alynx, Dernu. There is also Aski Flash, an associate of Elmalandti Bluespruce, and Butaros Painmad, the Uroxi Chaos fighter who no-one wants in their halls but ends up at the Great Cow stead. These heroes are being initiated into the Night Brothers to gain the benefit of Pole Star’s night-vision magic.

At the Blue Starling Stead, two thanes come to stay as guests of Jarstak and Darrold. Into Jarstak’s hall comes Pola Scarmaker, an initiate of Barantaros, the Hidden Wind. Pola is said to be one of Gyffur Ulfsson’s men, part of the ‘Hidden Gale’ guerrilla band. He is fiercely anti-Lunar and Orvald contemplates asking him not to create trouble with the Lunars while at the stead. To Darrold’s hall comes Olav Three-Leap. Olav once leapt over a sheep, then a house, then a mountain. He carries a spear that he can throw then jump on. One day he says he will leap over the great mountain Kero Fin.

But Orvald has business other than the new guests to attend to. The clan matchmaker, Griselda Thrice-Married, all but commands him to begin courting the Greycoat woman, Leika. She tells him he should be at the White Tusk stead on Fire Day, to attend a feast there arranged by the Greycoats’ matchmaker.

Griselda tells Orvald to move fast, for there are other suitors competing for Leika’s hand. She is a woman of rank and a highly desirable match. Ultimately, the decision of who to marry is hers to make. “No one can make you do anything,” the proverb runs. Though Griselda wryly adds, “Your family can make your life miserable if you don’t make the right choice.” The other suitors may have been at the White Tusk stead for a while, long enough to stake a claim. Though Orvald has the clan’s backing, that doesn’t guarantee success. He must impress young Leika and seal the marriage.

Griselda worries that Orvald does not appear sufficiently prosperous. Though he has his arm rings awarded by his Chief, he lacks the wealth to be able to give the jewellery, animals and goods that would impress a prospective bride. His father is clearly uninterested in supporting the marriage match, so Griselda urges him to find patrons willing to gift him wealth and back his quest for marriage. So this Orvald does, seeking help from Olfir himself, from Dorasola and Jarald the Edge. Aileena the Proud, one of the Clanweavers, gently suggests her son Darrold sponsor the thane. Surprisingly, although Darrold’s sons include members of the Biting Storm, the wealthy shepherd spies an opportunity and seems pleased to back the young thane.

This backing does not come free. Orvald finds himself bound to these patrons for favours, to be called in at a future time. A lot of people are betting that Orvald will be someone important one day and are prepared to invest some treasure in him.

So it is that the day after Protection Day, with thunder still rumbling through the overcast, Orvald trudges through the snow toward Greycoat land, accompanied by Neela and Fastulv. The weaponthane has decided to be generous with gifts and leads a handsome pony laden with goods. Alongside him, Fastulv drives a small flock of sheep, to be offered as a gift to Orvald’s prospective in-laws. Neela bears a sword, a fine weapon of her own manufacture. Recalling her battles against Leika, and remembering the way in which the young woman fought, Neela has made a weapon of perfect size and balance, decorated on the hilt with symbols of a wolf’s head and a starling. It is a thing of power and beauty, one of the best pieces she has made and she loves it.

At the border stones the party wait in the cold for their escort from the Greycoats to arrive. Out of the winter mist a pair of thanes come, who offer The Greeting in a rather gruff fashion. They are now under the protection of their enemies, while promising to behave honourably. With their escort in front they walk along the old raiders’ route to the White Tusk stead, which sits nestled beneath the hills where just ten weeks before they had skirmished with their hosts.

Visitors and escort walk up through the entrance to the palisade where much of the stead has turned out to watch their arrival. Some Greycoats are wrapped in fine furs to greet the newcomers and many of the men wear dapple-grey wolf pelts across their shoulders. Orvald, Neela and Fastulv walk between two rows of clanspeople, aware they are under close scrutiny. Fastulv notices Torkal, the man he speared in the fight with Leika’s band, staring back with a face like thunder. Wiry Dafith, whom the shepherd defeated, stands next to Torkal. Orvald sees Hengist, the boy he beat down, give a flicker of recognition to which Orvald returns a nod. Then there is doughty little Hardra, the last of the raiders to fall, who had required both Neela’s and Orvald’s efforts to defeat.

Two other familiar figures can be seen. One is Bundris Blacktooth, nemesis of Eoric’s Stead, standing tall and proud in bronze armour and furs, a great wolf’s pelt wrapping his shoulders. Beside him is his pretty daughter, Leika.

And she looks wretched.

Imagine if you will a thoroughbred killing machine, a lithe assassin bundled rudely into a dress. It has berry juice smeared on its lips and rubbed into its cheeks to give them life. Arm-rings and necklaces adorn it. Orvald cannot help smile. It is an ill-advised attempt by some clan mothers to make this pocket warrior look like a demure clangirl. It’s plain that Leika doesn’t know how to play this role. The dress hangs off her shapelessly as if she cannot find the right way to carry herself. Here is a woman more comfortable in breeks and armour, on a horse or with a weapon in her hands. In a gown she looks thoroughly miserable and her eyes dart about as if looking for something to kill.

Orvald approaches with his companions flanking him. Bundris welcomes the trio, extending the hospitality of his hearth to the young swain and his friends. Orvald responds with gratitude and, expresses his pleasure at meeting Leika again. Their previous encounters were in battle, where Bundris’s daughter acquitted herself with honour. At this, the young Vingan woman looks up, curiously. Orvald turns to Neela, who hands him the fine sword, sheathed and hanging from a belt of fine workmanship. Eyes burning with emotion, he gifts it to Leika.

Eyes wide, Leika takes the sword, unsheathes it, and is almost instantly transformed. Her carriage changes to adopt a weapon stance, and as she does this the gown no longer looks shapeless but drapes her figure perfectly. She tests the balance and heft of the weapon, then in the clear space nearby tries a couple of evolutions: a guard and a thrust. No longer stiff and awkward, she is all fluid grace, in tune with her new blade. With one smooth move she resheathes the weapon.

She smiles at the thane, thanking him for the majestic gift, and they go into Bundris’s hall together.

View
Storm Clouds Gather
Verse 21. Taking control of one's destiny

The dark men assemble
War hides beat
A flame is lit
Three heroes pull at the strands
And watch them gather

Gods Day, Fertility Week, Dark Season to Wild Day, Stasis Week

Across the clan tula troll activity is declining. No one is certain whether the trolls have dispersed or regrouped, but the number of alarms have reduced. The hall heads, the powerful sheep men of the clan, begin to discuss sending their flocks back to the upper pastures before the lower pastures are grazed clean.

Though attacks on the flocks have reduced there is at least one troll gang still out there, preying on the flocks. They are a small band of Dark Trolls who can conjure a fast-moving mist to conceal themselves by day. This mist rolls in off the hills, allowing the trolls plenty of time to attack and make their getaway.

Orvald and Neela’s hall head, Finn, suggests setting a daytime ambush for the trolls. As the Night Brothers are stretched, despite the reduction in the troll menace, he puts together a small group comprising himself, his healer wife Tara, and the trio of Orvald, Neela and Fastulv. Fastulv’s troll-killing spear seems to thrum and thirst for troll blood, so it’s unsurprising that the young shepherd suggests their strategy. He will take a small flock into the hills as bait, while most of the group hide in one of the nearby sheilings—the small summer shepherd huts that dot the hills. They will ambush the trolls if the dark men dare to make an attack.

Before the party set off Jarstak, the head of the stead, gathers the three companions to speak with them. He is concerned that the clan is being pulled into a war that maybe they should sit out. He would be content to allow the troll clans to annihilate each other, but now Chief Olfir has decided to accept an expensive offer from the rebellion of thanes to help fight the Following Dark. These warriors will be arriving soon and the stead head worries about the burden on the clan. Jarstak is suspicious of Queen Pika’s herald, Kragar. The appearance of this silver-tongued troll seems to have dragged the Clan Chief into the war. ‘Who benefits from this?’ he asks.

Neela speaks for the companions. She says that she also does not entirely trust Kragar, but believes his claims about the Following Dark clan allying with the Lunars. Was the red fire seen at the last battle not proof that the heretic trolls have new magics? And the claim that the Lunars have promised the Kendring land to the trolls seems too real and present a danger to dismiss. Neela has no illusions that Kragar is manipulating the clan into an arrangement that would benefit Queen Pika and the Blood Shadows. However, she also believes they have little choice at the moment. This is the prudent, cautious path.

Jarstak has no answer to this and grunts an agreement. Then he warns the three of another threat. With the troll threat declining he has heard that the hotheads of the Biting Storm faction might soon lead a raid on the Greycoat clan to sabotage the peace and forestall Orvald’s marriage to Leika Bundrisdotter. Jarstak has little more information than this. He has been identified as a peace supporter, so what he hears is often second or third hand. He warns Orvald to be careful.

After Jarstak leaves, Orvald wonders what to do. Should he warn the Greycoats? If necessary, he thinks he should do just that. But he knows that stopping a raid would not be enough. To be stopped for good the raiders would need to be humiliated. He’s not quite ready to do that to his own clansmen.

Neela suggests another way. Maybe they should call the men and women of the Biting Storm out for their recklessness? Their likely ringleader is Magnus Tree Hunter, the spakeman of the Fritharan bloodline. What if they were to confront him and let him know they were on to him?

The companions have no more time to thinkon this as Finn musters them and they march out to the pasture where they will lie in wait for the trolls.

*

It is a wan, chilly morning up on the high pasture. The low, cold sun can barely be made out through the grey cloud. The stiff stone fingers of the Seven Men Standing rise above the ground mist to the south. Fastulv, his alynx and his small flock stand, seemingly isolated, some hundred paces from one of the low sheilings. Inside the stone hut Orvald, Neela, Finn and Tara lie in wait, barely breathing, ready to explode out of the door.

Fastulv’s keen eyes see the magical mist first: a low grey thing speeding across the ground across his line of vision. He goads his sheep into making a great frightened blarting noise and Fastulv notices how the mist appears to change direction and head towards him. Inside the mist his owl’s eye can see three large spirits and two smaller ones, sweeping out in a line that would encircle him and his animals. In accordance with his plan Fastulv begins to herd his sheep away from the mist, back towards the sheiling. But the magical mist just bears down, moving faster than the shepherd can.

Fastulv is just twenty paces from the hut when he shouts out for help. Suddenly Neela leaps out of the door, her motion magic propelling her in a blur of speed. Just behind her, with immaculate timing, Orvald gives a mighty bellow and bursts out into the open, an arm whirling as he shouts a prayer to the mighty storm. A great wind instantly rises and blows the mist away, revealing the Uz, who blink uncertainly in the pale light. Then Neela descends from the heavens, landing firm-footed on the earth, and begins to lay about her, cracking one troll’s skull open with her hammer before it can respond.

There are three trolls, with two trollkin at their flanks. These trollkin are not quite the normal cowards but seem alert and ready for battle. They begin to swing their slings to hurl lead shot at the attackers. But they are peppered by arrows from Fastulv’s bow.

Now Neela dances in towards another troll who makes signs with his free hand. A black energy starts to form around the troll’s club, but before the dark man can defend itself the blacksmith lunges with her tongs and pierces the troll’s hide. She follows up with a mortal blow from her hammer and the troll ragdolls to the ground. As Orvald swings his sword to slash at the final troll, Fastulv rushes one of the trollkin, braving slingshot to gut it with his ravenous spear. The spear’s spirit, The Killing Word, has been guiding every arm and blow in this fight, and it commands Fastulv to pull it from the trollkin’s body and hurl it at the remaining enlo, who keels over.

The fight is over, save for Orvald delivering the mortal blow to his downed foe. As the trio stand triumphant, panting and recovering their breath and looking about for trophies, they notice Finn and Tara behind them. The husband and wife stand open-mouthed at what they have just seen: the troll gang demolished in a few violent seconds before Finn can enter the fray. Tara’s services are unneeded, there is not a scratch on any of the heroes. The companions’ reputation will be only enhanced in the long nights ahead with each telling at the mead bench.

*

In the following days Fastulv and Neela discuss what they can do to stop a raid on the Greycoats. Neela travels to the spiral fort at Goodhaven to visit Dorasola Ravenhair, the Earth priestess. The redsmith asks if Dorasola will help her confront Magnus Tree Hunter. Dorasola agrees to help but tells the young woman that it will be difficult to keep the hotheads in check. The Kendring are stronger in war than peace. Success at the clan moot was a rare victory for the Clanweaver faction. More than harsh words may be needed to maintain the peace.

As Neela talks with the Ernalda priestess, Fastulv travels to the Twenty Ewe stead where Magnus Tree Hunter lives. He has changed his appearance to resemble Jonrik Backfist, Darrold’s wayward son and a known Biting Storm sympathiser. His shapechanging magic makes him a perfect double of Jonrik, and he blows into the Twenty Ewe stead, trying to behave like the blustering thug. He finds Magnus in his hall, working. The two men greet each other, with Magnus seemingly unable to penetrate Fastulv’s disguise. Fastulv pretends that Jonrik is bored now that the troll alert has diminished and aches for some more action, particularly against the clan enemies. Slyly, Magnus suggests Jonrik return in a couple of days when he promises a meeting of like-minded people.

Fastulv realises that Magnus is looking at him strangely. Maybe his act is not as good as he thought it was. When the older man asks if anything is wrong, Fastulv/Jonrik decides to beat a retreat and takes his leave. He reports back to Neela that there is a meeting of the Biting Storm in two days time.

*

As Wild Day dawns, Orvald, Neela, and Fasulv are halfway to the mountains, herding a handful of sheep as payment to the trolls. They have an appointment with the troll Word Eater, who promised them news of Kragar. At the borders of Captain Slice’s camp they stop to make themselves known to the sentries, then continue up to the caves where the bandits live.

They discover the bandits hurriedly gathering possession and dismantling their camp. The bandit leader known as Captain Slice is there, directing the operation with his bodyman Hengist beside him. He can only give the heroes a few moments, but tells them that a Lunar woman had come to the camp a little while earlier. She is blue on one half and red on the other. She was accompanied by a man in gladiator gear and a woman with a featureless helmet. The companions immediately identify her as Erianda the Red, the Lunar witch they had run into beneath Drum Top four weeks ago.

Captain Slice tells them that Erianda tried to get the bandits to betray the Blood Shadows trolls and show them the secret ways to the troll caverns. Slice reluctantly agreed, sending the Lunars off into the mountains with his lieutenant Ploa as a guide. He knows that Ploa will lose them somewhere in the mountains while he gathers his band and makes for some new hiding place. Ploa has powerful magic that allows her to fly and he is sure she will be safe from the Lunars. He is sorry he cannot help the companions more, but tells them that he will stay in touch with Malta and that they should speak with her should they need to contact him.

With that, Slice gets back to organising the bandits’ retreat while Neela, Orvald and Fastulv head up the path towards the troll caves, where they are due to meet Word Eater. They move swiftly, hoping they don’t run into Erianda again.

They arrive at the crack in the mountain where they met Word Eater the last time. No-one is there so they wait for the troll to turn up, while the sheep look increasingly nervous. Eventually, a figure appears blinking into the daylight. It is Word Eater, squeezing through the cave crack and out into the world.

Orvald offers the troll his payment. The Dark Troll lopes over to the frightened sheep and in a couple of deft swings of his arms clubs two of them to death. Then he picks up another up and dashes it against a cliff face. With a throaty chuckle he begins to drag the carcasses back into his cave.

The heroes watch on silently, wondering whether they have been robbed of their sheep. After a short while a second figure appears, clad in a robe. It slides out of the crack and limps towards them. The figure is clearly a troll with darkness and communication runes on its robes similar to those that Kragar wore. But it has its hood up, covering its snout in shadow. It halts before the heroes and hails them, identifying itself as Kragar, herald of Queen Pika.

The heroes have come to set a time and a place to meet and discuss some kind of parley with the clan. Once this is settled Kragar has other business to discuss with them.

Neela asks about the fire they’d seen in the great battle, Kragar tells them that the war against the Following Dark has not gone well. Not all of the Following Dark clan have gone over to the Lunar heresy but Queen Uddag, the nobles and many warriors have adopted the new religion and they have gained new fire magics that seem to come from the Red Moon.

Kragar feels that this religion is so new and alien to the trolls that its magics, though powerful, are brittle. If the magic could be defeated the Queen and her circle would be vulnerable to being overthrown from within. Kragar does not reveal how he got this information but the heroes suspect he has agents within the Following Dark.

To attack this magic Kragar and Minaryth Purple quested to find an old artifact: the Ashen Spark that Arkat the Destroyer used to destroy the land of Dorastor more than a thousand years before. By guile they travelled through the mythic realm and stole the Ashen Spark from the Army of Truth.

Now Kragar, after gathering a band of troll heroes together, took a new quest path. He intended to travel to Arkat’s assault on Nysalor at the Tower of Justice in the City of Miracles; a event that took place almost 1200 years ago. He hoped to find the secret that would crack the Red Moon’s power just as it had the devil Nysalor’s. But instead his hero band found themselves at the Battle of Night and Day where the Army of Defence (comprising the Heortlings, Uz and Unity Council) fought the Great Army of Restraint (Lokomo’s Storm Army, the Dorastran and Dara Happan Armies). This was the terrible battle where the troll goddess Kyger Litor was wounded and the trollkin curse inflicted by Nysalor. Here the questers were hurt and had to escape before the end of the battle.

At this Kragar pulls back his hood and reveals his face, which is half-burned on one side as if by fire. He says that he has tried to find ways to crack the puzzle through troll myths but has not yet succeeded.

Then Orvald remembers that Arkat, before he become a troll, had been a human, a Humakti. He ponders whether there might be another path to get at the magic to defeat the Lunar power…

View
Blood Shadows
Verse 20. Captain Slice's Band

Slack and shiftless
Thievish men of the hills
No credit earned amongst them
Except in the secret halls of heroes
Where their true names are honoured
These foes of the red cloak

Winds Day, Death Week, Dark Season to Wild Day, Fertility Week

There is a mixed reaction in the stead to the news that Orvald has been matched for marriage with the sword maiden Leika Bundrisdotter of the Greycoat clan. Many of the women are delighted at the news; some because of the strife it would end while others because there would be a new steadwife to break in. A few are hopeful that a woman of such rank will bring a rich dowry to the stead at a time of scarcity. But some of the men are unhappy, mindful that just a season ago this young woman, this new-fledged thane, was raiding their stead and trying to make a name for herself in battle. Amidst the squeals of delight there are angry mutterings.

Orvald is in a state of shock. But both Fastulv and Neela, like many of his kinsmen, pressure him to marry the girl and help make the peace. The matter is sealed a few days later when Varmand Cut-in-Twain, Orvald’s father, blows into the stead full of wind and bluster. He is like the spirit of Helamakt, the Fighting Storm, full of fury at the news that his son will marry a filthy Greycoat. He launches a barrage of invective at the clan enemies.

“She smells of wolf, that girl,” Varmand sneers just as he makes to ride off. “I forbid you from marrying her. Our family’s blood will not mingle with theirs.”

Orvald’s response is electric and he bellows at his father’s retreating back that he will defy his sire and marry the woman, and nothing will stop him.

*

The days following the battle in the Brambleberry Hills is a busy time as the clan is on constant alert as. It seems the defeated troll army has disintegrated, but there are still many roving bands of Uz and enlo on the Kendring tula. They have holed up wherever they can and emerge to raid steads and outlying halls for food. Some are even desperate enough to attack during the day and the fyrdsmen muster often to hunt and kill them. It worries Orvald that there’s no way to distinguish between the Following Dark trolls and those who might be the Kendring’s allies against them.

In the meantime Neela is becoming increasingly agitated. Recent weeks have had her concealing secrets from her kinsmen and she is reaching the point where she can hold them in no longer. She persuades Orvald and Fastulv that they must tell Jarstak everything.

It is always hard to find privacy in a tight-knit community like the Blue Starling Stead, but they are able to find enough time alone to unburden themselves to Jarstak, telling him of their mission to help the troll Kragar to Jonstown and their commission from Chief Olfir to make contact with the herald again. The old trollhunter listens, interjecting rarely. It’s clear he appreciates the news but at the same time is angry at being kept in the dark. Keeping his temper bottled he asks them never to keep such things from him again. It’s a stern telling-off but the trio agree to the hall head’s request.

*

Neela is keen to find Kragar. She seems curiously respectful of the troll herald and eager to see him again. So she summons a messenger crow and sends it to Malta the Hurt, the rebel representative, with a request to meet her in Jonstown in a couple of days.

Fastulv and Orvald escort Neela to Jonstown but decide to avoid ‘Imperial entanglements’ and wait outside the walls as the redsmith goes in through the main gate. Neela is back again in the alien noise and smell of the big city and leaves her blanket roll at the Cinsina House, with its statue of the Fat Ragged Cow. She meets the guard Jarstak of Pavis at the house, but does not see One-legged Viturian, the steward who is said to never let the house run out of Honey.

Malta is not at the House, so Neela treks down the hill to the New City and the great ‘Y’ of the Jonstown Library, in the shape of the Truth rune. The line of supplicants and truth-seekers at the main gate is too long, so Neela finds the tradesmen’s entrance and bluffs her way in, requesting to see the sage Yend. Yend is summoned and is somewhat taken aback to encounter the redsmith, but he recovers smoothly and takes her off to a private cell to ask her business.

Neela asks to see Kragar but Yend cannot help her. The troll returned with Minaryth from a quest and then went south, to the Quivin mountains and the Blood Shadow troll clan. He can tell her no more than that. When Neela asks to see Minaryth, Yend admits that the great sage is not there either. He left a few days ago under Lunar escort. He believes he has gone to see the Lunar Governor, Fazzur Wideread, though for what reason he cannot say.

Neela bids Yend farewell and returns to the safety of the Cinsina House to wait for Malta the Hurt. The Red Cow woman arrives, somewhat crabby about having to infiltrate the Lunar-held city and wondering what urgency required her there. When Neela explains her need to find Kargar to arrange some kind of understanding in the war with the Following Dark, Malta simply nods and offers to do all she can to help.

Malta appears eager to take this opportunity to forge a temporary truce between the troll hunters and the trolls. Such connections, she says, were why she and Brena were in the Brambleberry Hills, trying to contact the troll clans. Though her capture was the first hint that the Following Dark had become aligned with the Lunars.

The two women leave the city. They brazenly walk out the main gate unmolested, though Malta is careful to cover her tattoos lest she be recognised by the Lunar guards. The Lunars ignore her, preferring to deal with the long queues wishing to enter at the gate. Outside of town the pair meet Fastulv and Orvald and together the four return to the Blue Starling Stead.

“How do we find Kragar?” Neela asks Malta. The rebel woman admits she does not have a direct means of contact, but suggests they talk to the Blood Shadows troll clan, who are allied with Queen Pika of Tarpit. The best way to contact the trolls will be through an intermediary. When Neela asks who the intermediary is, Malta admits it is the notorious bandit, Captain Slice.

*

The four Heortlings return to the stead in time for Ancestor Day. Jarstak admits Malta to his hall for the day as an honoured guest. Neela travels to Willem’s Hall where she meets Magana and Grandmother Dust.

Willem’s Hall has been prepared for the great day. Everything is clean, the children have been smartened up and the hall’s best animals have been tied to the door of the stead. The families have fasted for a day, but a feast has been prepared and Willem’s and Jarmast’s families are prepared to dine well with their guests. But there is a nervousness there. Everyone is on edge and none more so than Willem, his wife Yrsa and his daughter Magana. Grandmother Dust has searched the Caverns of Silence, Ty Kora Tek’s sacred place, but says there is no sign of Swen Willemsson’s soul there. It seems the young man never passed on to the Courts of Silence and his final judgement.

As night falls the ancestors rise from the urnfields, translucent but visible in their divine glory. They appear as they are remembered in their greatness: thanes and mothers, stout carls and industrious cottars. They come to inspect the stead and give it a blessing or a curse.

Across the clan the day passes without remark, with many blessings and a few curses for the slovenly and ill-deserving. But at Willem’s Hall a different drama unfolds. As the ancestors enter the hall, looking resplendent, a new and horrible spirit is with them. It is like a transparent cord, hanging in the air, that vibrates and shrieks a terrible sound that sets the teeth on edge.

The first amongst the ancestors, some ancient thane that speaks for the bloodline, speaks sternly to the families. He says that this is the ghost of half a man, whose soul was severed in the Battle of Castle Blue. The spirit threatens to curse the hall for leaving the rest of Swen’s soul writhing in a Lunar Hell.

But then Grandmother Dust raises a bony hand and, pulling back her hood, reveals a visage like that of a skull. In her hero light she resembles the goddess of the dead places, Ty Kora Tek, who escorts the dead to the afterlife. In a terrifying voice she demands the chance for the family to set things right.

Faced with the words from the goddess herself, the ancestors relent a little. They will give the family until Sea Season to right the wrong that has been done. Grandmother Dust agrees to this concession and allows the spirits to depart. Grandmother Dust says she must consult with the Earth priestesses as to what should be done next. A subdued feast follows in Willem’s Hall.

*

The morning after Ancestor Day, Neela, Fastulv and Orvald slip off with Malta into the Quivin mountins, heading further up into the forest of firs that skirts Hordros Mountain. These are dangerous forests full of roaming troll bands and other monsters. At least once, the group stops to let a troll column wander past. Then they continue their climb up towards the crags and rocks between the patches of firs.

Malta tells the group to be careful around the bandits. These are the dispossessed and the outlawed, living a miserable existence in caverns rented from the trolls. Orvald could lawfully kill them on sight. And yet the bandits have worked for the rebels from time to time, harassing the Lunars when asked. So notorious were they that the Lunar College of Magic once blew the top off the mountain in response. Malta asks the three companions not to provoke the bandits.

Orvald wonders why the bandits have not troubled the Kendring for a while. Malta admits it’s because many of the heads of the steads, including Jarstak, have been paying off the bandits with food. It’s an arrangement that has been going on for a long time.

Nearing the bandit camp, Malta asks the group to hang back and let her present herself to the bandits. She is a trusted face to them. Malta leaves, but returns soon with a stern, toughg-looking woman named Ploa. The bandit leads the group up to the camp.

The sight that greets them is of a makeshift encampment outside a series of caverns. The caves turn out not to be damp, uninhabitable holes, but dry, liveable spaces crafted by the trolls. A later exploration reveals not wide caverns but narrow cracks in the rock which it would be hard to fight in. The weapons of choice here would be short thrusting blades such as knives.

In the camp there are maybe twenty or thirty men and women who look as if they could bear arms, and a large number of camp followers and children amongst the bandits. Most look lean, hungry, ragged and filthy. On the way to see Captain Slice Orvald sees a familiar face: that of Ellisif Berensson, who was last seen being outlawed from the clan for adultery. The Underwillow girl Esrania is there with her lover. Although they were expelled from the clan only weeks ago, they already have the hollow, hungry look of the other bandits.

Captain Slice is a vigorous, charismatic man, surrounded by a guard of dangerous-looking men and women. The biggest if them is the bandit leader’s body man, named Hengist Neversleep. However, Slice is gruffly courteous to the visitors; it seems that Malta has vouched for their bona fides. He hears Neela’s request and then tells the companions that he does not know how to contact Kragar but can set up a meeting with the Blood Shadows clan. They would know how to find the troll. However, there would be payment required: food for the coming winter to help supplement their rations. Food in the form of meat will also be needed to buy the trolls’ assistance. The three Kendring agree to this.

Days later they will return with some sheep, taken from their bloodlines’ wealth. Again, Malta leads them up to the bandit hideout to ensure their safety. On the way the Red Cow woman tells them a little more about Slice, which is not his real name. He used to be a weaponthane of the Culbrea tribe, one of Hofstaring Treeleaper’s own men who served with the king during Starbrow’s Rebellion. When King Hofstaring was dragged into hell by the Lunars, he found himself serving the Lunar puppet, Ranulf Turn-Tail. When Lunar missionaries appeared in the Culbrea to convert the court and clansmen, Slice went berserk. He violated then killed the Sarassi the Eye, the head of the Lunar Provincial Mission. The he fled to the hills, declared an outlaw by his new king. For all his courtesy to the companions, he is a dangerous man, who despoiled and murdered a woman.

Fastulv and his alynx shepherd the sheep into the hands of the grateful-looking bandits, who shortly afterwards begin a slaughter of the beasts. Slice is thankful and upholds his part of the bargain. The three are led to a distant place, a crack in the mountain said to be an entrance to one of the Blood Shadow cavern complexes. Like many of the troll caves, this is a narrow crack in the rock face, and yet soon they see a troll in lead armour squeeze cat-like through the narrow place. It’s clear to the friends that any fighting in such a place would be near impossible against the trolls.

Malta tosses some of the freshly cut mutton out to the troll, who greedily gorges on the meat. When it is done, Neela identifies herself and asks its name. The troll introduces itself as Word Eater and impatiently asks her business. When Neela asks to contact the herald Kragar, Word Eater thinks and asks them to return in a week.

View
Red Fire
Verse 19b. The Road to War

Not lightly do we go to war
blood-fierce our minds
bright blades burnished,
we call a host to us
to set upon the dark men

Dark Day, Death Week, Dark Season to Winds Day, Death Week

The clan steads and mead halls are heavy with rumours of war with the trolls. Orvald’s indiscretions inflame the rumours further. He lets Finn know that Lunars have infiltrated the Following Dark and very soon stories linking the trolls to Lunar magic have spread like wildfire from hall to hall. Tension rises amongst the clansmen. There is a deep unease everywhere.

Orvald decides to take Jarstak into his confidence and without mentioning his dealings with the troll herald Kragar, tells him what he knows of the civil war between Queen Uddaga of the Following Dark Clan and Queen Pika of Tarpit. He tells the clan head of the heresy that has driven many of the Following Dark into the hands of Lunar missionaries. Who knows what Moon magics the trolls now have?

Jarstak nods grimly and thanks Orvald. The Night Brothers will be prepared against this threat.

*

On a bitterly cold evening Neela, Orvald and Fastulv gather with the Night Brothers to be initiated into the mysteries of the troll fighting band. The ceremony is brief, climaxing with the sacrifice of a sheep. Then they are bathed in the light of the band’s spirit, known as Pole Star, and they learn the war band’s secret. Pole Star gives the troll warriors the ability to see in darkness. The night vision does not extend far but is good enough for close fighting. It strips the trolls of the cloak of darkness.

Armed with this magic, Jarstak leads the group into the Brambleberry Hills. Valenstor, the spirit of the clan tula, warns that the trolls are massing in the hills. Jarstak’s plan is to scout forward and set an ambush for the Dark Men.

The trio of initiates stay with the main body while a few scouts head forward. They advance up the vale towards the forest hills and as they crest a rise they see the strangest sight. There is a distant fire in the forest which makes many of the clansmen wonder what caused it. Jarstak resolves not to get close to the source of the fire but find a place to set a trap for any trolls who come towards the stead. Fastulv volunteers to go forward with a couple of the scouts and see what is out there.

Fastulv sneaks further into the forest until, with his spirit-eye, he can make out masses of figures advancing across his line of vision. Behind them, red flames crackle and roar. Then he hears the beginning of a great battle, with the thud of weapons and armour. Curiously there are no cries. This is a war fought almost in silence, which adds to Fastulv’s sense of unease. The shepherd sees another Night Brother scout and tries to move over towards him, but accidentally gives his position away. He catches the familiar sound of yipping and suddenly sees some distant figures starting to sweep out towards him, attracted by the noise he’s made. Fastulv starts to shift out of the line of the troll advance, using his spirit magic to conceal himself. He sees the silhouettes of a number of small and large figures, as well as what, in the baleful fire light, looks like the bulk of giant centipedes.

Just then there are a series of distant explosions. A red light is seen flaring between the trees. The noise of fighting seems to drop its tempo for a moment and then Fastulv detects what sounds like the mass movement of an army in the distance. Another bang, and it becomes apparent what is happening. There has been a reverse in the battle and many trolls and trollkin are fleeing in a rout.

As the scout near him turns tail, Fastulv decides to run for safety, breaking cover and pelting back towards the ambush to warn the others. As he comes up on where Neela, Orvald and the rest of the Night Brothers are laid up, there seems to be a mass of trolls and giant insects rushing in panic behind him. Suddenly there is another great explosion just behind Fastulv, a hot, red flare that hurls a great beetle high into the air before crashing to the ground. The great insect tumbles through the ambush site, cartwheeling through the stunned defenders.

Neela presses Jarstak to withdraw. He does not hesitate and swiftly orders the rest of his clansmen back. But with gouts of red fire going off all around the retreat rapidly turns into pell-mell flight, every man for himself. Discipline breaks and the Night Brothers scatter. The companions stay near to Jarstak, helped by their night vision, but find themselves running alongside panicking trolls and enlo. Several times Orvald has to hack at some fleeing creature that gets too close. Neela swings her hammer to clear the way, while Fastulv prods his troll spear at trollkin that get under their feet.

Eventually, the group slows long enough to gather their wits. By now most of the trolls and trollkin have dispersed, and those few they see appear to be fleeing southwards. Jarstak orders those around him to fall back to the Blue Starling stead where hopefully the rest of the stragglers have also gone.

They arrive at the stead in the pre-dawn light, feeling weary and frustrated. Others have already begin to trickle in but it’s not until the sun comes up that the last three arrive. They bear wounds from skirmishes in the escape from the red explosions, and Tara hurries out from Finn’s fine hall to splint and bind them. Jarstak wonders what that magic fire was, and what they can do about it. Clearly, there was some kind of battle between Queen Uddaga’s Following Dark trolls and opponents, presumably under Queen Pika’s banner. It looks as if some kind of Lunar magic turned the battle and routed the opposition. Orvald tells the hall head that he will report what he has seen to Chief Olfir.

At Goodhaven Orvald is received by the chief. He reports on all that happened in the Brambleberry Hills. Olfir listens and tells the young thane that Minaryth Purple’s emissary has already arrived at his hall. Minaryth’s man is an impressive lawthane named Borman Holvirson, a godi of Jarani Lawmaker. Borman has offered a host of forty thanes, drawn from supporters of the storm beholden to Minaryth Purple.

This enormous force will double the thanes of the clan, but it will take weeks to muster. It will also cost the clan dear to extend hospitality to such a host. Pennypride Ursula, the clan reeve, says it will eat heavily into the clan’s food reserves. This assumes the Lunar taxes do not increase too heavily this year. The tax assessors will be coming to the stead in the coming weeks to take their toll.

Hearing this, Orvald decides to confide in his chief and tells him all that happened on his mission to escort Kragar to Jonstown. Olfir listens to the tale but does not chide the young man. The young thane continues, suggesting that a war of extermination against the Following Dark may be necessary. He asks the Chief to accept the emissary’s offer, but the addition of another forty swords might still not be enough. It would be better that they ally with the enemy of their enemy and make contact with the opposing troll faction.

Olfir considers then and then gives a command to his thane. He charges Orvald with finding Kragar, the Argan Argar herald, and asks him to secretly set up a meeting on some kind of neutral ground. Orvald eagerly grasps the nettle and leaves to prepare for his mission.

*

That evening in Finn’s Hall there are four important visitors. They are members of the Clanweaver faction, come to talk to Orvald. The visitors are Jarald the Edge, the Lawthane and negotiator; Dorasola Ravenhair, the Ernalda priestess; Griselda Thrice-Married, the matchmaker and Aileena the Proud, Darrold’s mother. At the mead bench the peacemakers talk openly with Orvald, surrounded by onlookers.

Jarald speaks first, saying that the negotiations for the peace with the Greycoats are at a delicate point. They need Orvald’s help. He says, “It is a question of issue.” When Orvald asks what ‘issue’ he means, Jarald replies, “By issue I mean children. A child to bind the clans together by blood.”

At this point Griselda speaks: “We have found a nice girl for you. A good match. She’s very pretty, and spirited too. Her name is Leika.”

The many onlookers in the hall give a rousing cheer at the prospect of a marriage.

Orvald, only just beginning to comprehend who the match is, simply looks stunned.

View
Bad Omens
Verse 19a. Days of prophecy

For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west,
so will the coming of Argrath be.
You will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars.
See that you are not frightened,
for those things must take place,
but that is not yet the end.

Dark Day, Harmony Week, Dark Season to Dark Day, Death Week

Neela, Orvald and Fastulv return to the Blue Starling Stead. They are blood-spattered and grimy and hurting. Jarstak and Finn want to know where they’ve been; there has been an emergency while the trio were away. All are resolved to say nothing of Kragar the troll, so they tell Finn very little. However, Orvald vouchsafes to Jarstak that they were on a mission for Malta the Hurt. Jarstak understands and does not probe much further.

The stead head tells Orvald that he was keenly missed. There had been a major troll incursion and Orvald was not present for the Night Brothers’ muster. There were skirmishes across clan land two nights ago. It had been one of the largest movements of trolls seen in a long time.

Jarstak is no fool. He sees the bruises and scars on the three companions and it’s clear he suspects they had been somewhere out in that fighting. Changing the subject, Jarstak brings up one more thing: on the morning Orvald and his companions had departed, three Humakti passed by the stead. Most of the steadsmen and women, afraid of the mark that the Living Death carry, hid from them and prayed for deliverance.

Normally Orvald, as one of the clan thanes, would go greet the travellers, but in his absence Jarstak went out and spoke with them. The three Swords of Humakt were led by Heortarl the Swordbrother, who said they were paying their respects at the shrine of First Sword at the foot of Whistling Hill. There they would pray and mortify the flesh before marching on to the Upland Marsh. Grim Heortal went on to tell the old trollhunter that Delecti the Necromancer is raising another army of undead by raiding the nearby tribes. Many bands like Heortarl’s are now travelling to the Upland Marsh to form a battalion against the army of Unlife and Vivamort.

The three warriors departed the stead and Jarstak returned to the Big House to discover that his daughter Jara had fallen down in a fit and was babbling something. Jarstak could not remember what was being said except the word ‘Three’ was repeated a lot. He told Orvald to talk to Tara about it.

Orvald catches Tara later. Finn’s wife confirms Jarstak’s story, that Jara suddenly dropped to the floor and started speaking in tongues. The girl spoke in a sing-song voice, though the words did not rhyme, saying:

Three lights lead the Dark
Three moons hunt for the traitor’s magic
Three dancers fight with empty bellies
Three swords find the staff
Three years the Everlasting Storm will die and
Bury our children deep beneath the snow

Jara came out of the fit with no memory of what had happened. This is something that has never happened before and rumour has gone around the stead that that the simpleton girl has a gift of prophecy. Orvald can tell that Tara and her kinsmen are on edge about this and want answers. Maybe Dorasola Ravenhair, who herself has been known to prophecy, might have some words of comfort.

It will not be easy to find time to speak to the Earth godi. The clan is incredibly busy. Neela has work to catch up on, while for Fastulv the slaughter time has begun, followed immediately by the important shepherds’ ceremony of Sacrifice Day. Very soon it will be Ancestor Day when the ghosts of the clan ancestors rise from the urnfields and come to inspect the living and pass blessings or curses upon them. Already preparations are beginning to ensure halls will be spick and span and a feast prepared.

*

Neela wakes one morning to discover a small present waiting for her, hung up at the threshold to the smithy. It is a leaf bundle tied with the stalk of a plant. It contains some seeds. Neela wonders if this has anything to do with the bronze leaf-shaped arrowheads she left for the forest people.

Asking around, no-one seems to recognise the seeds, not even those versed in herbal lore. Neela decides to save them for planting in Sea Season, not letting anyone know her suspicions of where the seeds came from. She knows most folk are suspicious of anything to do with the Aldryami. However, she finds a pot of soil to put one of the seeds in, which she keeps in her smithy.

Now that Dark Season is in full swing, the warm redsmith’s forge is a place for communal gathering and gossip. Neela overhears many conversations. Aside from Jara’s moment of prophecy, the other big news is that Swena is pregnant at last. A divination by the stead’s midwife has confirmed her pregnancy. The clanswomen are delighted, however, Jarstak seems unhappy about it. He has been stalking the stead with a face like thunder. His behaviour has been getting stranger. He is sometimes seen walking with Swena in the fields and behaving like some lovestruck young swain. But at home around the hall he is frosty, even hostile towards her. Nobody can understand it.

*

Neela is privately approached by Magana Redspear, who is in a state of deep distress. The Vingan warrior has no one else to turn to for advice. Her father, Willem Outlaw, has confessed to the killing of the Lunar soldier that resulted in the burning of Ashborn Stead in the Elkenvale. Magana tells of how Willem had gotten drunk and after the admission he had got into an argument and hit his wife, Yrsa (herself an Elkenvale woman). He had to be restrained by Magana and Jarmast Big-Laugh until he’d cooled down.

So far the family have kept quiet but Magana is not sure what to do. If she tells Orvald about the murder of the Lunar he would have to report it to the Chieftain and Willem would be sure to be outlawed again. He is not a young man any more and Magana fears for her father.

Neela counsels the spear-maiden not to say anything about it to anyone else. It is more important to keep the clan together than allow a good man to be outlawed. Their allies, the Elkenvale, have suffered greatly from this. They should not compound it further by suffering Willem to outlawry. When Magana says she is not sure whether her mother will hold her tongue, Neela says she will speak with Yrsa.

There is one more thing, Magana says. Magana also asks about the death of Swen. According to Orvanlarnste his soul was snapped in two by the Nightmare Child at the Battle of Castle Blue. Magana worries whether Swen has reached the afterlife. Ostra Many-Sorrows laid the body out, but she is just an ordinary corpse handler who does rote prayers to Ty Kora Tek. Did she properly lead the soul to the Caverns of Silence? Magana is afraid of what will come through the door on Ancestor Day.

Agreeing to help, and to be company for Magana on Ancestor Day, Neela journeys first to Willem’s Hall. The men are out in the pens, slaughtering the sheep, so she finds Yrsa alone. She persuades the steadwife to keep quiet about Willem’s crime and also offers to go to Grandmother Dust and secure the help of the Ty Kora Tek godi in finding out what has happened to Swen’s soul. Yrsa thanks the smith, who rides off to Goodhaven, determined to speak with the god-talkers.

*

While Neela travels to the Clan Hall, Fastulv is on a mission of his own. He pays a visit to Dancing Asterid up at her cave in the hills. The shaman offers tea while he asks her what the significance of Jara’s prophecy is. Asterid cannot be sure. Jara has long been exorcised of the ghost that possessed her and took her wits, but it is significant that this has happened at a time when the peace with the Greycoats is being negotiated—a peace that would release the ghosts and allow them to go to their rest. Maybe Jara’s words are a premonition, or maybe a way of looking at the world as it currently is. She cannot tell without examining the girl for herself, but Jarstak would never permit that.

*

At Goodhaven Neela runs in to Vax, the Chief’s doorthane, who takes her aside. He tells her that Olfir has decided to accept the emissary that Minaryth Purple has offered. Vax warns that the Chief and the clan ring are not happy about the idea of accepting an army on clan soil. However, they will at least do the courtesy of entertaining an offer. He asks Neela to contact the rebels and pass the message on.

After paying a brief visit to her family, Neela goes to Grandmother Dust and speaks with her about Swen. The old woman agrees to come to Willem’s Hall on Ancestor Day to deal with whatever comes through the door.

Next, Neela goes to Dorasola Ravenhair, the Ernalda priestess, and asks her about Jara. Dorasola wonders what is meant by some of the words. Could the ‘three swords’ refer to the Humakti? The three lights could refer to lightbringers—Orlanthi—but what dark do they lead? And who or what are the three moons hunting a traitor’s magic? Neela keeps her counsel about Erianda the Red and the obsidian spearhead of Black Arkat that she saw in Jonstown.

Neela has something else to ask. She is troubled by the encounter she had with Little Pu, the Puppet Prophet. All its prophecies have come true and she asks whether the prophet can be trusted. Dorasola has heard of the Puppet Prophet. She warns that it may be some kind of trickster magic. However, she notes that some Eurmal tricksters, for all their treachery, are capable of seeing things with perfect clarity. They understand the cosmic joke and laugh at it. They are often at their most dangerous when they speak the truth.

Dorasola finishes by telling Neela that if she sees the puppet again, she should run for her life.

*

Later that day, Orvald summons a crow to bear a message to Malta the Hurt. He passes on Olfir’s request to meet an emissary of Minaryth Purple. He will see what army and magic the rebels are prepared to offer the Kendring.

View
Rumours 2
Stories Overheard in the Mead Hall

Dark Season 1618

  • Magnus Treehunter is agitating against the peace and he has a lot of the landless cottars with him. Everyone knows that some of the hotheads are going to raid the Greycoats before the season is out and try to sabotage the negotiations. “Who listens to that blowhard, Magnus? Everyone knows he was given that name because he can’t loose an arrow straight.”
  • Jistin, the Issaries herald, has come back from a journey to Furthest and he says the Maize Priestesses of Tarsh are so beautiful they make men’s minds melt before they are sacrificed to the fields.
  • The refugees who have just joined our clan from the Dundealos have Elmali sun magicians amongst them. “What are horsemen doing up here in our hills? Why did we take them in?”
  • Captain Slice’s bandit band has been quiet for a while. Has he been raiding to the South?
  • The dark folk will be abroad this season again. Which means trouble with the forest spirits. Keep the children away from the woods and forests at least until the forest men have all fallen asleep for the winter.
  • The Puppet Prophet told Ilda’s brother in Elkenvale that a war is coming with the trolls. They have learned moon magic that can strike a man down with red fire.
View
The Grey Sages
Verse 18. Jonstown

To the walls they came,
A bright-built burg, Hauberk-held,
Such a spirit protected this place,
Its treasures and spoil, eternal.
But now it is the captive of the Red Men,
Bound and boiling with plots.

Fire Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season to Gods Day, Disorder Week

The prisoner struggles but Kragar and Orvald have him firmly held. Neela suggests they kill him outright.

Orvald agrees and draws his knife. “Unless anyone can give me good reason to spare him we should kill him.”

“I can give you a reason,” spits the prisoner in heavily-accented Theyalan. “If you value your clan you will let me go.”

Drawing breath, the captive continues. “You have won this day. I doubt my mistress Erianda the Red will do much to punish you for it. To call in favours with the Lunar Provincial Governor and turn out a Regiment for a punitive expedition is more than this defeat is worth. However,” the Lunar goes on, “if one of her fellowship is killed or maimed you can be sure that the Army will march, your steads will be burned and your clansmen sold into slavery. Is that a good enough reason for you, Barbarian?”

The companions are silent a moment. Neela asks Kragar if what the prisoner says is true. The troll shrugs and says that it could well be.

Reluctantly, the three Kendring agree to spare the prisoner’s life, to tie him up and leave as fast as they can. Dawn is approaching and they want to be quit of this pace, so they quickly subdue and bind the man and leave him lying on the frosty grass.

Fastulv is still limping from the curse the red-and-blue witch put upon him and the sword-wound he received is bleeding. Neela bandages her friend as best he can and Kragar, shedding much of his cargo, agrees to carry the shepherd. The party sets off across the Tenth Ram steadland towards the border with the lowland Frithan Clan.

Neela cajoles the weary companions along, afraid of the Moon witch and the trolls of the Following Dark that are chasing them. Keeping a steady pace they reach the border with the Frithans and make a prayer to the clan wyter that they mean no harm and wish to pass unhindered. Then they dive into one of the lowland woods, hoping to travel the Frithan lands unseen.

As dawn rises they move through the forest, untroubled by witches or troll pursuit. Passing close to the treeline they hear a commotion and Orvald goes to investigate. He sees a herd of cows in distress, some stampeding. A couple of animals rush towards him in the woods. Then he sees the cause of the commotion. It is a Thunder Lizard, a great Triceratops lumbering across the Frithan pastures. It is surrounded by Frithan men, some with spears, trying to goad the great beast away from the herd it disturbed. Grateful for the distraction the monster provides, Orvald leads the party away through the woods towards Jonstown. They are now weary from the hike but they agree to push on to the city.

It takes much of the morning to travel across Frithan land, avoiding the King’s Road, but soon they are approaching Jonstown, one of the great cities of Sartar, founded by Hauberk Jon, a great Hero of the Orlanthi.

The city unites several Orlanthi tribes in a confederation. The Cinsina, Culbrea, Malani and Torkani all maintain tribal houses there. The city is built on three hills with the old city built on the highest hill, overlooking the new city that encompasses the other two hills. The city has a stone wall, indicating that the magic of princes was used to found it. Towers guard sections of the wall.

Hooded and robed, Kragar leads the group to the Main Gate where Lunar soldiers guard the entrance. As the troll no longer carries him, Fastulv has to limp alongside. Orvald and Neela are nervous, expecting trouble, but they are waved through. Kragar explains he has paid the guard a ‘merchant tax’ to enter.

The three Kendring walk into the main square of Jonstown. Neela has been here before but for Orvald and Fastulv this is an alien experience, full of noise and sound and bustle. The first thing they notice is the overpowering smell—the city is like an open sewer. Then there is the press of strangers, none of whom appear to give the traditional greeting, but pass on by, giving the open-mouthed newcomers funny looks.

There are non-humans amongst the city throng. The group see Dwarfs, Centaurs and a minotaur amongst the crowd. There’s even a troll there, barging through the crowd with a gaggle of trollkin in tow. There seem to be a lot of Lunar soldiers about too, including many who are off-duty. Strangely, they seem to ignore the group.

“We are hiding in a crowd,” Kragar tells a nervous Orvald.

As the crowds part before them, they encounter the Cattle Market. This is something they understand and Fastulv in particular takes time to gawp at the fine beasts. There are sheep there too, including some breeds the shepherd hasn’t seen before. In front of the cattle pens a line of butchers stand, waiting to be hired, their tools laid out in front of them. Slaughter Day is coming and soon they will be busy.

Kragar has to drag the group away from the animal pens, leading them into the Merchant’s Quarter and towards the Gilded Beard Inn, though narrow streets lined with houses, some with more than one story. There are many people around, and feral Alynxes too, padding the streets on the hunt for food.

There are few or no inns in the countryside. In the Orlanthi communities hospitality is more likely to be in the homes of people who like to hear news from strangers. But here in the city there are real inns offering food and sleeping space to travellers. The Gilded Beard Inn is a three story tallhouse with a brewery in the basement. The main room is low roofed and dark and a far door is open near the cooking area. A lot of people stand outside eating and drinking, as if the place has overflowed. Inside, people can barely hear themselves above the babble. Following Kragar’s example, Orvald and Fastulv make use of the weapon rack by the door for anything longer than a sword or knife.

Kragar goes to talk to the landlord and ask for a messenger to be sent to the temple. Then the foursome sit at a communal bench where they are served stew and small beer by serving boys. They are elbow to elbow with locals, including an Orlanthi who is telling anyone who listens about his fights with the Broo. Neela strikes up conversation with an inkmaker serving the Jonstown Library but she tries to avoid talking with the Lunarite in civilian clothes who breaks bread just across from her.

Kragar leans over to Orvald to tell him they are being watched but asks him not to be alarmed.

Soon a sage comes, in a crisp woollen robe. He has a trimmed beard in the style of the Lankhor Mhy sages. The sage’s name is Yend. He leads them up some narrow stairs to a small private room containing a bench, a couple of chairs and a table. The Kendring sit on the floor for the conversation that follows.

Yend introduces himself as one of the Free Sages of the Jonstown Library. He asks Kragar if he brought proof of his identity. Kragar nods and from his robes brings out a pouch, from which he extracts an obsidian spear head, pitted and embossed with runes, including the darkness rune. Though it doesn’t glow or show any obvious magic, it has a strange dark gravity to it. Yend is clearly surprised and asks if it really is the head of Black Arkat’s Spear? The three Kendring are impressed. Arkat may be hated in the clan mythology as a human who traitorously became a troll, but he is acknowledged as an implacable fighter of chaos who defeated the Devil Gbaji. Kragar tells Neela, Orvald and Fastulv that if they are captured and tortured by Lunars or the Following Dark trolls, they should make sure to tell their captors that they saw this holy relic.

Yend says he will take Kragar to meet Minaryth Purple. When Fastulv asks if they could meet the sage, Yend politely declines. He tells the companions to go to the Cinsina House on the high hill of the old city. It is just up the slope from the Lunar garrison. They will be looked after there. Then he tells them to return the following day and meet him at the inn close to noon.

Following directions that take them up to the Old City, Neela, Orvald and Fasulv wearily climb the hill to the Cinsina Tribal house. They are met by a guard armed with a stave who gives his name as Jarstak of Pavis. Jarstak offers the Greeting and a blanket for them to sleep on the floor. As Fastulv is still lame from his encounter with Erianda the Red, and bleeding from his wound, Jarstak recommends he goes and sees the Sisters at the House of Peace. They should be able to heal him. Neela bears a cut from Erianda’s scimitar and agrees to go with the shepherd. At the Chalana Arroy temple they are dealt with by crisp-robed, stern-voiced Sisters of the Order, who begin the healing process. As Neela and Fastulv are fussed over, Orvald takes the opportunity to get some well-earned sleep.

Next day, healed and rested, the trio head back into the new city. Neela is desperate to see the Craftsman’s Quarter and takes them to find the smithy of Kilbrand the Bent, one of the notable smiths of the city. Kulbrand finds a little time to meet the out-of-town smith. He takes a look at some of her work, in particular the spear Trollbone she made for Fastulv, and declares that she shows promise. He will be taking on apprentices in Sea Season and offers her an apprenticeship should she want it. Neela says she’ll think on the offer.

Leaving Kulbrand’s smithy the three companions make their way to the Gilded Beard Inn to meet Yend. They find themselves in the same small private room as the previous day. Kragar is not there. Yend tells them that Kragar and Minaryth have departed on a quest. He cannot say where. Then he gives them this message:

“Minaryth Purple, bearer of the two-headed lawstaff, asks Bold Oflir Six-Fingered, Chief of the Kendring, if he would lend aid to the rebel cause. Queen Uddag of the Following Dark has been turned by Lunar agents and has eyes on the Kendring land. The Queen and her counsellors have embraced a troll heresy and pit themselves against orthodox trolls. A great war is coming between the Dark Men, and the Kendring Clan will not be able to avoid being drawn in. They will need to defeat the Following Dark. Ask whether your chief would be prepared to receive an emissary to discuss strategy. The rebellion is prepared to send aid to the Kendring people—magic and an Army.”

Neela, Orvald and Fastulv bear the message back home beneath a red moon that is starting to wane. They stop in Goodhaven for an audience with Olfir the Chief in his curtained-off quarters. Olfir listens carefully but seems suspicious of the offer. What is this magic and what is the Army offered by the rebels? He must talk with the clan ring before he’ll agree to accept an emissary. He says he’ll send for Orvald when he has made a decision.

View
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.

View
The Herald
Verse 16. Pursued by The Following Dark

My companion enemy
Stands in the gathering shadows,
I draw my weapon
And sing of Death

Windsday Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season to Fireday, Disorder Week

It is difficult to find any privacy in the Blue Starling stead, but Fastulv, Neela and Orvald manage to get some moments together to talk secretly about the mission Malta has given them.

They are all unhappy about the task before them, to escort a troll herald across Elkenvale, Kendring and Frithan lands to Jonstown. They are instructed to deliver him to the Gilded Beard Inn in the city where he will be met by a representative from the Grey Sages.

Fastulv, Neela and Orvald resolve not to let this mission be known by the clan for fear it will jeopardise their standing with the clansmen and in particular the Night Brothers.

The troll herald will be waiting for them on Elkenvale land near Geo’s Ridge Inn. He will arrive in the next day or two, if he’s not already there. The meeting point is an old stone circle called Sixfinger not far from the King’s Road. Fastulv knows the place. It has a reputation for being haunted, so few people go there. However, if players make the warding sign against spirits, they should not be disturbed.

The following morning the friends rise early in the cold, clear dawn. The face of the Red Moon can be seen hanging low in the sky to the northwest. Carrying light packs they make their way to the south and east, towards the meeting spot. They decide to travel across country rather than take the King’s Road, but just as they march away from the road they see three figures, clearly armed and armoured, marching along it. Even from this distance the party can see they are all Humakti warriors. Suddenly they feel nervous.

They say that Humakti embody the Death rune. Their role is to separate the living from the dead. Many people hide from them. To look upon a Humakti brings death to a community. Babies miscarry and the old die and plants wilt in their presence. These worshipper of Humakt wear bronze splint armour and carry sacred swords. Their faces are chalked with white to make visages of skulls.

As the Humakti turn towards the Blue Starling stead, Neela wonders what has brought them there. Are they mercenaries in the pay of the Lunars? Are they searching for them? Or merely visiting the Humakt shrine at First Sword? Whatever the Living Death are up to, the party cannot go back now.

Crossing into Elkenvale land, Fastulv leads them along the safe ways. The Elkenvale clan are not strong in war and their patrols can be avoided easily. If found, Orvald’s face is familiar to the Elk men’s thanes and he would be allowed passage.

*

There is a curious encounter along the route to Geo’s Ridge Inn. The group see a gaily-painted wagon halted away from the road. The traces are empty and there is a camp beside it. The players recognise the wagon as that of the puppeteers who were at the clan moot. The back of the wagon had formed the puppet stage.

In the camp a group of figures sit around a fire. Even from this distance Fastulv can smell cooking. Then one of the figures seems to see the group and picks itself up and begins to scurry towards them. It is a middle-aged woman with a prominent illusion rune tattooed on her face. In one arm she cradles a puppet, a little man made of painted wood with a huge head and leering red-rimmed mouth with a tongue made of felt. He has staring eyes, red dots for cheeks and is very ugly.

Nevana 72dpiThe woman approaches Orvald and introduces herself as Huba. Her head seems a little unsteady on her shoulders, as if she was a doll herself. She tells Orvald that her puppet, Little Pu, wants to talk to them. Orvald tries to disengage from the conversation but the woman seems very insistent.

Then the puppet speaks. The group is unsure if the puppet is actually speaking or the woman is throwing her voice, but the effect is very creepy.

“I have words for each of you,” it says. “If you’re smart you’ll listen.”

Orvald is not sure he wants to listen, and asks why he should care.

“Because I’m the Puppet Prophet,” Little Pu sneers. “I’ll tell your fortune.”

Before the thane can respond that he doesn’t want to hear his fortune, the puppet continues: “You are going to meet the Shadow Broker. He is a wily one. I wouldn’t trust his mistress. But the survival of your loved ones rests on his mission. There is a Lunar Witch on the hunt for him. Watch for the red and the blue. She is very strong. Be careful not to kill her. She is a favourite of a most powerful magician.”

Orvald doesn’t believe any of this. He tries to disengage from the mad puppeteer woman by telling the leering marionette that he’ll keep an eye out for trouble. Fastulv joins in with something dismissive, but this only seems to make the puppet round on him.

“The dancing woman told you something important!” the puppet tells the shepherd. “But she’s a daft old brush who cannot read the tea leaves. She sees days or weeks instead of months or years. Cherish what you have while you can still hold it. You have more than a year, but not much more, and then it will be gone. And it will be your fault.”

Fastulv shuts up at this. Huba apologises for Little Pu’s behaviour and at this begins to take leave of the group. As they part they hear the puppet shout again:

“This is the first time you’ve spoken to me. The third time you see me the sky will fall!”

Orvald wonders what that was all about. Neela dismisses the puppeteer woman as being highly strung, but then again, Little Pu had said that stuff about the ‘Shadow Broker’ and the Lunar Witch. The group wonder if there is any truth to the puppet’s words.

*

Before reaching the Ridge Inn, the group peel off towards the old stone circle where they were due to meet the Troll herald. Neela, as spokesperson for the party, approaches the circle with the others behind. She can seem someone sitting there, a massive figure dressed in dark-coloured but rich robes. The tip of a troll snout seems to project from the hood.

Neela gives her name and asks if it is the herald. The figure replies that it is, and that it accepts her ‘open-handed and unarmed’. The troll’s voice is deep and throaty but not unfriendly. He gives his name as Kragar.

Relaxing her guard a little, Neela asks if Kragar knows the name ‘The Shadow Broker’. Kragar thinks a moment and says that it is one of his many names. He also goes by the title ‘Speaker to Light’, as he is a priest of Argan Argar, the troll god of communications and trade. However, he would prefer to be called Kragar.

The troll is ready to travel if the party are. But first he asks if they will permit him to bring along his slaves as bearers for his things. He indicates two pitiful-looking trollkin nearby: they are introduced with the names Noser and Beater. Kragar offers to eat them if they are a burden. Slightly shocked, Neela agrees that it would be fine to bring them so long as they keep up and do not cause trouble. Kragar agrees to this.

The troll notes that if they run into any danger he has a weapon, a club named ‘Smiler’. Neela suggests the troll hide it if he can, and so he slips the great club into his robes, where it disappears.

With that the group sets off, with Fastulv in the vanguard, leading them along the safe paths, while Orvald brings up the rear. It is left to Neela to walk with the troll and although she is has no intention of making friends with the clan’s ancient enemy, her curiosity overcomes her disgust and she manages to strike up a conversation with him.

She asks Kragar what the mission is about. The troll carefully admits that he is the herald of the great Queen Pika of Tarpit, who controls the path to the Underworld on the Shadow Plateau. He travels with an offer to ally with Minaryth Purple and the Sartar rebels.

As Neela digs deeper she discovers a frightening plot. Kragar tell her that the Following Dark clan that live near the Curled Horn are being seduced by the Lunars. Missionaries have penetrated the Curled Horn community and preach a new way: troll deities who seem to resemble some gods of the Lunar pantheon.

The missionaries have been preaching that the red goddess can heal the troll curse that spawns mainly trollkin, and allow the Uz to give birth to true trolls. Apparently a miracle was performed that proved this was possible and it gained the cults many converts, particularly amongst the troll nobles.

Neela wonders whether this was why the Curled Horn trolls rejected Malta and Brena’s overtures from the rebels. Kragar suspects that is true. It seems that Uddaga, the Queen of the Following Dark clan, denies charges of consorting with Chaos, but nevertheless she ate half the troll emissaries sent to treat with her.

Kragar tells Neela that Uddaga seems intent on extending the forests down from the Brambleberry Hills into the Kendring Lands and beyond; something the Lunars appear to assent to. The intention of his mistress, Queen Pika, is to exterminate the Chaos heresy spreading amongst the Quivin trolls. She will ally with the rebels to achieve this. This is why he travels to Jonstown to speak with Minaryth Purple.

So Kragar must move fast, and avoid attempts by the Following Dark trolls to kill him. When Neela asks about the Lunar Witch that Little Pu prophesied about, Kragar says he is unsurprised. The Lunars have every reason to stop him too.

Avoiding the Elkenvale patrols, the group soon make it back to Kendring Land. Orvald makes the prayer to the wyter that allows them to escort an enemy across friendly land without raising the alarm. At a rest stop in the cover of the woods, Neela explains Kragar’s story to Orvald and Fastulv. They are impressed and they resolve to complete the mission even if it means consorting with a troll enemy. It’s clear that the threat of the Following Dark clan is now too great to be ignored.

As night falls the group tries to get some rest. But as they bed down they are awoken by yipping sounds from the dark. Orvald asks Kragar what the sounds is and the troll replies that it is an Uz warband out hunting them. He recommends they run.

It is dark and the group tries to rush through the woods. With his spirit eye Fastulv can see well enough to set a good pace, but Orvald cannot see well and stumbles in the dark or careens off trees. Neela makes a magic light, a low glow that helps illuminate the way, but she is aware of the unwelcome attention the light will bring.

What’s more the two trollkin slaves are slowing the group down. The yips appear to be getting nearer and Fastulv can make out the eerie spirit light of distant figures in the trees. Kragar agrees that his slaves are a hindrance and simply slaughters them on the spot with a sweep of his club. Shouldering his pack the troll continues forward, away from the pursuit. Astonished, the others follow.

Now the group are crashing through the night. Neela’s light is just adequate enough for her and Orvald to keep their footing. But now the pack of pursuers is gathering behind and on either side. Fasulv can see a dozen or so—too many to fight. Orvald draws on the power of the Movement run and they lose some of the pursuit. The group tries to use their magic to deflect or draw away some of the chasers and each time one or two go, but still four or five figures keep pace with them.

Neela, Fastulv, Orvald and Kragar break from the forest. They are in more open country now, unhindered by trees and undergrowth, but they are starting to tire and it’s clear that they can no longer lose all the pursuers. The group stops and ready themselves for battle. Amazingly, Kragar seems to disappear, concealing himself in the darknesss. Then Neela turns to face the oncoming enemies of the Following Dark and yells: “Charge!”

View
The Clan Moot
Verse 15. The road to peace

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.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.