The Cloudfather’s covenant
Thieves in the night,
A black broken world
The Earth is restored
The Dark Tribe drown
That which was lost is found
The covenant is sealed
Air Day, Movement Week, Earth Season
Orvanlarnste greets Neela, Orvald and Fasulv as if they were old friends. Neela is addressed as ‘Fire Lady’ and Orvald as ‘Wind Brother’. The great congregation seems to assemble itself in a spiral ring about the Thunder Oak. Many of the Blue Starling stead are there, as are Neela’s family. The companions notice many friends amongst the crowd, including Tara, Finn and Swena.
After a few encouraging words from Orvanlarnste, the wind priest turns and begins the ceremony. Barley beer is poured on the ground and a pair of black rams are slaughtered. The clan skald Kalf begins to tap out a slow drumbeat as the Storm Voice begins his invocation.
“I am Orvanlarnste, son of Jornatos of the Orlmarth Clan. I am a Storm Voice of the Speaking God. I am a friend of this camp. I make this prayer to you, Talking God. I call upon you, Lord of Stories, to speak through me, as you told me you would do. Seven Winds I found, and when they spoke together the truth of the tale was revealed to me. I now ask those seven winds to come here and to let their voices be heard through mine.”
A great wind rises and encircles the group. It begins to wrap itself around everyone and pick them up until their feet leave the ground and all are lifted into the sky.
Neela, Orvald and Fastulv realise that they are beginning to transform, slipping on the mantle of gods. Their senses expand to perceive the mythic world as they pass through the veil into the age of the Lesser Darkness. The congregation are also transforming, each becoming a magnificent cloud sheep. The companions suddenly understand the gravity of what they have done: that their clan-kin are now wrapped into the fabric of this story and what happens here may affect those people in the mundane world.
Fasulv notices that one of the steadwives changes into a magnificent ewe with a silver fleece. That woman is Jarstak’s beautiful young wife, Swena Far-Blessed. She is now the jewel of this flock.
As they pass into legend, the fellowship can only hear the voice of Orvanlarnste intoning:
“Everyone knows the Blue Boy. Oh, the tales we tell about him!
“The children laugh at the story of how he saved the flock by riding the Bear God until it was exhausted.
“The fathers laugh at the story of how he charmed the clothes off the goddess Orane, without her noticing.
“The mothers laugh at the story of how he lost his head, and had to change into a woman to gain the good sense to find it again.
“But here is a tale of how the Blue Boy rescued the Silver Fleece from the trolls.
“Blue Boy was as changeable as the clouds and rain and could appear as a great ram, with a blue fleece and brass hooves. He would leap from mountaintop to mountaintop, and upon the goddess Tarena he fathered clouds and a great flock of sky sheep. He protected his flock during the tumult of the Darkness, fighting off raiders, thieves and Chaos.”
It is the time of the Lesser Darkness. The sky has been dark ever since Orlanth slew the Sun with the First Sword, Death, and dispatched him to the Underworld. Although the sky is black, the clouds are radiant, forming a bright pasture of vapour.
Fastulv is now the Blue Boy, shepherd of a great flock of Urothtrorol, or cloud sheep. They have shaggy fleeces of cloud and run on the winds as if they were land. As they gambol, their hooves make a sound like thunder. They graze contentedly on the sky pasture.
“The ever-hungry darkness tribe coveted the flock, particularly a silver ewe the Blue Boy prized above all others. It gave milk that never went sour and its lambs were strong, with pure white fleeces. One day, as the flock grazed amongst the clouds, the trolls attacked, riding great flying monsters.”
Blue Boy hears a great thrumming noise in the distance. In the shape of an Alynx he bounds out into the dark to investigate the noise. He is passed in the blackness by dark presences he cannot see. Changing into an eagle he strikes the clouds with his claws, sending great discharges of lightning into the sky. In the flashes he glimpses a great fleet of giant insects, ridden by trolls. The Uz are headed towards the peacefully grazing flock.
Transforming into a great blue sky ram, Blue Boy rushes at the dark riders, slashing and battering them with his horns. But it is too dark to catch all of them and many of the Dark Tribe slip past on their hideous mounts. In the distance he sees the great insects dive towards his flock and pick them up in their legs before spiriting them away into the dark. Overwhelmed by the attack, he calls for help.
“Blue Boy blew his great horn, Tarunoram, and summoned his companions to him. These were Stepping Blade, who came puffing across the sky, his sword the Killer Rain Gale in hand, and the lady Dolmal, who carried a flaming brand to light the dark.”
Orvald manifests as Stepping Blade. He is at the mead bench in Orlanth’s great hall at Karulinoram when he hears the horn. The hall is gloomy and there are many empty seats where Orlanth’s companions have been killed by the Chaos encroaching upon the world. But Stepping Blade does not hesitate and rises from his bench to rush to Blue Boy’s aid. The hero is accompanied by his five companions: his Swordthane; Shieldthane; Spearthane; Backboy and Archer.
Neela manifests as clear-eyed, strong-limbed Dolmal. She rises from her place in Rigsdal’s camp where she holds back the darkness. Glowing with that low fire that comforts watchmen and thanes, she strides off to aid her friend Blue Boy.
Dolmal arrives first, her light searing the trolls’ eyes so that they shy from her radiance. Then by the light of the goddess’s fire Stepping Blade, the fighting storm, comes howling across the sky, jabbing and stabbing with his weapons, laying about him right and left to dismount the trolls and hurl them to their deaths below. Together, the companions scatter the troll rearguard, but it is too late. The entire flock has been stolen, including the beloved silver ewe.
“Blue Boy was inconsolable at the loss and in his despair he wept a great deluge that flooded the lands below. How could he find his flock again in the great dark? Dolmal comforted the god and said she would light the way. Stepping Blade offered his sword and made an oath to Blue Boy that could only end with victory or death.
“In the great darkness the trolls held mastery of the surface and Underworld. With Dolmal’s small light keeping back the oppressive dark, the companions could follow the trail of the flock down to the Trembling Shore.”
The companions descend from the radiant cloud pasture to the world below, following the trail of the trolls and the lost flock. What they find fills them with sadness. The land below was once rich pasture but is now being destroyed or corrupted by the Gods’ War.
The Earth is dying. The fertility goddess Esrola, who once fed everyone, has been snatched away by demons and nothing now grows. Now a huge glacier, sent by the winter god Valind, is advancing across the world, covering all in inert ice. The ancient lands of Brolia and Scylila are laid waste by snow.
Blue Boy and Stepping Blade stride towards the surface, led by Dolmal and her flaming brand that pushes back the dark. They see great snakes slither across the landscape, crushing mountains in their coils. The serpents snap at the gods as they go past.
Then Stepping Blade, the great wind thane, sees a small patch of green below. It is a verdant valley seemingly untouched by the corruption and there are three women standing in it. They appear to be Earth goddesses: Esra Barley Mother, full-figured and dressed in green with her keys at her belt, alongside the child Voria Spring Maiden, who wears flowers in her hair. Standing in front of both is Votenevra Earth Healer, who knows the secrets for repairing the blasted land and who sings the plants and daimones to sleep until the Darkness is over.
Stepping Blade, whose other name is Helamakt, walks up to the goddess Votenevra and declaims:
“Sweet green woman, look at me!
I am come, the Conqueror!
None can stand before me.
I am yours, what Dark shall I fight!”
Gently, the radiant deity asks for the storm god’s aid. She tells him that one of her sisters, Suchara, goddess of Rye grain, lies broken beyond the edge of the valley, being devoured by Chaos. She seeks a champion to defeat the monsters and save her sister. In return she will direct the gods to the Underworld, where the trolls have hidden.
Orvald, inhabiting the god Stepping Blade, agrees to the quest and persuades his companions to help.
They fly across the sweet grass and trees of the valley. Beyond the threshold of this sacred place is a lifeless land, withered and scoured of all life. And there on the ground, as Votenevra had told them, is the figure of the goddess Suchara, her broken body lying on the dead Earth. Her face is beautiful, but her body is withered, poisoned and diseased. A seething mass of black Chaos worms feast on her body, drawing on the power of her Fertility rune to swell and multiply.
The goddess cries out to be saved. Stepping Blade storms in, sweeping away many of the foul worms. But they have grown fat and powerful on Suchara’s powers of fertility and use it to multiply their numbers faster than the god can kill them. Dolmal rises and burns away many worms, but others swarm her and begin to devour the power of her Fire rune, becoming immune to her attacks. Blue Boy becomes a ram and charges, using his lightning to sear many of the worms. But he is also swarmed by worms that quickly draw on his powers and become resistant to his magic.
Realising that their enemy is beginning to overwhelm them, the gods devise a clever scheme to defeat the Chaos.
Neela, in the shape of Dolmal, draws on her waning fire powers and uses them not against the worms but against Suchara. Her flames engulf the grain goddess, who is swiftly consumed and crumbles to ash. Then Orvald, as Stepping Blade, creates a wind that gathers the smoke and ash of Suchara’s burned body and transports it to the green valley yonder. There Fastulv, as Blue Boy, creates a gentle rain that drenches the ash and carries it to the earth.
Denied the power of Suchara’s abundant fertility, the Chaos worms can no longer multiply. Now Dolmal turns her fire on those worms that have swarmed Blue Boy, where they are absorbing his Water rune. The fire makes them explode off him as the water turns to steam. Freed from the worms, Blue Boy turns to Dolmal and directs his water powers at the worms that cling to her. The worms have eaten some of the goddess’s Fire Rune but fizzle out of existence when doused with primal water. Then both gods train their magics at Stepping Blade, who is being overwhelmed by the worms that are consuming his powers of the Air. They blast them into non-existence until none remain.
Freed from the worms they travel back to the three Earth goddesses, who stand around the ashes of Suchara, conducting a powerful magical ceremony. Raising their arms they resurrect Suchara from the Earth. She appears, restored and whole, a glorious woman in green holding a bushel of rye. The four goddesses thank the gods for their help and Votenevra, as promised, directs them to the gates to the Underworld where the trolls have spirited away Blue Boy’s flock.
As they take their leave Orvald, in Stepping Blade’s form, senses that these goddesses may not quite be what they seem. A flicker in the myth suggests they are priestesses of the Earth on a quest of their own to save a goddess from Chaos.
Again the gods trudge across the dark landscape, Dolmal appearing as a plain, strong-limbed woman carrying a torch to light the way. Stepping Blade manifests as a tempest, thundering across the world, while Blue Boy turns into an owl, a silent predator gliding through the night.
“There, at the Howling Hollow, Blue Boy, Stepping Blade and the Fire Woman found they could not pursue the trolls past the Gates of Life into the Underworld. Only by tricking the Guardian of the Threshold could they follow the dark men down to the halls of the dead.”
The gods stand in the shadow of Dagori Inkarth, the lands of Gore and Gash, in front of the great doors of lead that go down to the Underworld. The Howling Hollow is a storm-torn blackened hellplace at the edge of the Dogwood, from where black-faced hunters occasionally fire arrows tipped with poison.
The Guardian of the Threshold is a colossus with burning eyes, wearing armour of impervious truestone and bearing an unadorned sword that is Death’s closest cousin. It would take an army of gods to fight their way past this entity. It tells them that only the dead may pass. No amount of pleading or reasoning will make the impassive Guardian change its mind.
The gods cannot die to get past the monster. But maybe if a part of them dies that will be sufficient for it. Each of the gods makes a sacrifice of some portion of their own nature. Blue Boy loses the ability to change into predatory beasts. The Lady Dolmal loses her ability to comfort men with her light. Finally, Stepping Blade loses one of his boon companions, the Arrowthane.
Having taken a portion of death upon them they ask again to cross the threshold. The Guardian is tricked into opening the gates, and allows them into the Underworld.
The Inverted Mountain beneath the Castle of Lead is a dark place full of hideous monsters. There is no Chaos there, as it is inimical even to the Dark Tribe, but other things lurk in the black silence.
Dolmal takes the lead, stern-faced, her sturdy arms holding aloft a lonely light in the dark. She brings the gods to a vast cavern where a great army of Uz are assembled and preparing to feast on Blue Boy’s flock. The cloud sheep are being readied for the slaughter, led one-by-one towards a phalanx of troll butchers. With a great cry, the companions leap into battle.
Dolmal, goddess of the watchfire, blinds the trolls with her light and begins to burn them, creating a great circle of embers across the cavern. Helamakt-Stepping Blade boils across the cave as an angry storm, his thanes before, beside and behind him, lashing out and carving limbs off the trolls. Only the Zorak Zorani trolls are unaffected by the searing light of Dolmal’s flames and counterattack; great waves of berserks hurling themselves onto fire and sword.
In the confusion, Blue Boy becomes a great ram again and bounds to the far side of the cavern where he begins to shepherd his flock to safety. He collects every cloud sheep and has them follow him into a giant pool where, protected by the Water rune, they hide, safe from harm.
The troll army realises they have been tricked. Their general is the Black Eater, which cannot be seen but is the devouring emptiness in the belly of every troll. It drives them to destroy and devour. Attacked by Dolmal and Stepping Blade and deprived of their meal, the howling trolls begin to pursue Blue Boy, still in his ram-shape, around the cavern. The berserks scream that they will pick his bones. The ram leads them a merry dance, skipping across heads and from wall to wall.
Soon the entire army is chasing the great ram, egged on by the Black Eater. At the last moment Blue Boy dives into the pool. The army of Uz follow and are all drowned. Thousands of trolls are swallowed by the chilly waters. His army gone, the Black Eater is weakened and the demon flees into the dark.
Blue Boy has saved his flock but not the Silver Ewe. Together the companions go off to search for her. They find her in another cavern, being served as a tasty meal to the ravenous Troll Queen, surrounded by her monstrous guard of berserks. The Queen is about to pick up the Ewe and gobble her whole when the companions burst in.
As Dolmal burns out the eyes of the berserks and Stepping Blade slays on the right hand and left, Blue Boy bounds towards the Silver Ewe. Before it can be snatched up he changes the Ewe to rain and she falls to the ground as water, which seeps down through the rocks, out of the grasp of the Troll Queen.
Blue Boy becomes water too and follows the Ewe down to the underground pools. There he picks her up and folds her into his pocket, where she is safe from harm. Then sounding a retreat on his great horn he gathers the flock and shepherds them back up the path to the surface world. Dolmal, as ever, lights the way while Stepping Blade and his thanes form a rearguard.
The Troll Queen, in a rage at the Blue Boy’s audacity, raises a army of howling demons and pursues the party to the surface. Helamakt and his thanes do their best to hold the demons at bay but take many wounds.
Eventually, the party bursts out through the Gates of Life and onto the Trembling Shore, by the Obsidian Sea. A great tidal wave of Uz demons threaten to overwhelm them when Blue Boy again does something clever. Across the sterile landscape he sees the bodies of dead gods. So he takes their bones and straps them to his feet. Dolmal and Stepping Blade do likewise and, bearing the flock with them, they skate away to safety across the sea of black glass, leaving the army of trolls to snarl and hurl impotent threats from behind them.
As they escape, they can hear Orvanlarnste’s words finish the story:
“The Blue Boy restored his flock to their pastures in the clouds. As he did so the silver ewe revealed herself not only as the greatest of the Blue Boy’s children, but as the spirit of his people, ever true to him and keeping faith even in the direst peril. She slipped off her precious fleece and gave it to him as a gift. She said that he had gone into Hell to save his people. The fleece was a symbol of the unseverable bonds of loyalty between he and his tribe.
“At this, the Blue Boy wept tears of joy, a gentle rain that made the sterile world beneath grow florid like a garden and created a new land in the darkness for his people to live.
“For their help, their courage and companionship, Blue Boy gifted Stepping Blade and Dolmal each a great boon; powers of change with which they could shape the world against the dark. They gave him great honour as their captain and pledged to help protect his people.”
With these words, Neela, Fastulv and Orvald shed their godhood and return to the mundane world. The flock are no longer cloud sheep but restored to human form. The winds surrounding them die and the congregation gently returns to the ground.
In Fastulv’s hands is a silver pelt of wolf fur; his prize from the quest. He holds it aloft and everyone cheers…
Notes on the Quest
- This is an attempt to achieve a goal through the means of a complimentary myth. Here, the aim was to achieve the Silver Pelt through the means of the Silver Fleece myth.
- The Blue Boy is an aspect of the rain god Heler. He is worshipped by a few Kendring, but more often appears in clan tales as a hero, a refugee from the Water Tribe who pledged loyalty to Orlanth. He may be a syncretic amalgam of several aspects of Heler, such as Uroth the Blue Ram and Young Heler the Backboy. Although a shapeshifter, in this new myth he seems to lose some of his shapechanging powers at the Gates of Life and is no longer able to change into predatory beasts.
- Heler, as befits a changeable water deity, is an androgynous shapeshifter who often changes sex. The goddess Tarena, mother of clouds, is treated by the Kendring as a separate deity, though some Helerings, particularly in other clans, worship her as the feminine aspect of Heler.
- Stepping Blade is another name for Helamakt, the warrior wind of Orlanth, who has four storms who fight for him: the Swordthane Killer Gale Rain; the Shieldthane Blinding Shadow; the Spearthane Searing Bolt and the Backboy Falling Wind. In this retelling of the myth he had a fifth thane, an archer, who was lost at the Gates of Life.
- Dolmal is a lesser-known fire goddess who receives little or no worship. She is one of the lowfires, often identified as Rigsdal the Watchman’s camp fire. She illuminates the dark and warns away enemies. In the Blue Boy stories of the Quivini, she manifests as the protector of camp and stead. Elmali claim that Dolmal’s lineage descends from the fire god Elmal. Paradoxically she also seems to be another face of the Earth goddess Enferalda, the strength and support of Orlanth. Most war women of the Earth Tribe claim she is, indeed, Enferalda. In this new myth she seems to lose her power to comfort the men of the watch, which may explain why she is little-worshipped today.