The Book of Kendring

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.

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