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Gyffun and Garnatha follow an ancient path...

The pair of intrepid explorers soon realize that they have taken on something of a mammoth task. A vague sense of where the path might go does lead them to find several more stones, some in better, some in poorer condition. The most difficult things are the size of the boulders they have to negotiate and the dense vegetation. Although Garnatha is aware that they didn't intend to be away for so long, Gyffun's enthusiasm leads them ever onwards and they find they must camp for the night. The next day, they continue but this time they get separated and, as each tries to retrace their steps, guess where the other might be, they begin to despair of ever finding each other or indeed their way back.


Gyffun, aware that he has lost his companion, finds himself entranced by the beauty of the place, and continually distracted like a small boy once again. Finding one of the small stone heads, he scrapes away the thick layer of moss and finds this one to be the best preserved of all, plainly an Orlanthi carving of a god or daimon. Remembering himself, he begins to trace back to where he thinks he will find Garnatha but stumbles into a lighter area of forest. Here, he is staggered to find uncountable, immense, bluebells, in a carpet across the floor of the forest. He wanders through this carpet, the bluebells brushing his chest and soon finds that he has again tarried. Just as he is coming to terms with how wayward he has been, he walks into an open area, one where the flowers have been decimated, trodden down, chewed up and uprooted, in a broad path stretching off into the trees either way, a path as broad as a longhouse.

Stopping for a moment to find his bearings, Gyffun mentally retraces his steps and tries to figure out which direction he should head. Still unsure, he murmurs an earnest plea to The Lady for guidance, and sits down amidst the crushed flowers to wait for a sign.

He is determined now to find his missing companion and to resist any further lures of the glorious wilds. He is, however, powerfully curious about the creatures that created the path, their origin and that destination. When a small bird lands on a branch nearby and twitters at him, he gives it a small nod of acknowledgement and breathes a prayer of thanks under his breath.

As his guide sets off in a flurry of wings, Gyffun, follows, feeling wary now and increasingly conscious that the path-makers might be enemies. Instinctively, he finds himself tuning in to the quiet song of nature around him, listening for anything out of the ordinary. After walking confidently along the path for several minutes in the direction that the bird indicated, Gyffun suddenly stops and looks about himself.

"Wait a moment," he says to nobody in particular. "This doesn't feel right!"

A quick squint at the sun confirms his suspicions. He's heading northwards - away from their new home, not towards it! Convinced that Garnatha must be heading back by now, the skald turns around and starts to jog back the way he's just come, cursing his feather-brained 'guide' and its lamentable sense of direction.


As evening draws close, Garnatha, thinking she has heard Gyffun, makes her hasty, relieved, way towards a clearing. Ready to greet Gyffun, or scold him even, she halts at the edge of the clearing for she has seen a figure which is most certainly not her companion, for this is plainly a troll, and around him are several of his smaller fellows, breaking up camp for the night.

Garnatha freezes, hoping that she hasn't been heard or seen. Probably a vain hope, she'd been taking no particular precautions against noise, and mentally kicks herself for being so careless.


Gyffun lopes along the path for some time, and eventually sees a clearing up ahead. Breathing hard, he approaches it warily and sees that it is already occupied by a hunter of the dark folk and three of his diminutive kin. Moving cautiously, he moves closer, taking advantage of the undergrowth to hide his appraoach.

With a small buzz of satisfaction he notices that Garnatha is visible on the other side of the clearing. She also seems also trying to conceal herself, but without much success. Then the trollkin draw their leader's attention to the lurking Vingan, and Gyffun's happiness at discovering his companion evaporates.

As the big Uz grins and reaches for his weapon, Gyffun realises that something strange is happening in the clearing: the ground beneath the trolls feet seems to be moving. Wary of this strange phenomenon, but anxious to lend aid to his companion, the skald puts on a burst of speed and reaches for his trusty blade. With any luck, he can catch the trolls by surprise, or at least distract the big hunter if he tries to attack Garnatha.


Garnatha ducks behind the nearest tree as she sees the sling aimed in her direction, and the bullet whizzs past her ear and rattles into the stiff leaves. And off something chitinous. Not a rattle, more of a razzamafrazza and a splat. What's that...? ants! Thousands of **** ants! Big ones, too - well, not that big, but too big.

Climb a tree, quick - she reaches out a paw - no, a hand!, then draws back. They're up the trees! Surrounded! She looks around frantically, leaps from one momentarily ant-free spot to another. How the **** do you fight ants? They just eat anything in their path! Even earth-shakers run and hope!

Except... there was something they didn't eat. She climbs up a nearby rock, giving herself a few seconds to think before the ant swarm follows her. Something that sage had said, when she'd been guiding him into the gallt to look for rare birds. Or something...

"They do everything by scent" he'd said. "They talk by scent, they find where to go by scent. And the only tree they won't eat is the one with the smell that says "not food, go away". The Anfwytadwy, it's called." She'd laughed incredulously and he'd looked almost hurt. "Don't blame me, I didn't name it. You'll see a path cut through the forest, and this one tree left behind, sort of purplish leaves and creamy white flowers."

"And its just the smell? They comunicate by smell? There are times when I wish I could do that."

"Oh, your scent doesn't tell anyone to go away", he'd said, smiling. And then... yes, well, that didn't matter now. Though he had been very good to look at, and to sniff, with blonde hair curling over his chest in the sun... no, concentrate!

A purplish tree, with white flowers. Right. I should be so... I don't believe it. Like this one right next to this rock, say? The one the ants aren't climbing?

She jumps. Up. Up to safety.

So far, so good. She could stay up here 'til the ants passed, if they weren't guided. But they are. Where's that troll? Hmm. No clear shot from here. He's not that stupid. And ants are too small to aim at. If only I could sweep them away, or blow them away... maybe I can?

She draws her javelin, remembers just how Elgane had enchanted it, how the winds blow with it in flight, guiding it to the target and back to her hand. The actual target didn't matter at the moment, it was the path there and back. Something soft. That leaf, that'll do fine.... She throws, murmuring the prayer that calls Vinga's wind to guide it. The javelin sweeps up, glinting in the last remaining sunlight at the top of the arc, then down, into the leaves. And through. Down. Arcing along the ground, skimming the grass, and back to her hand. The winds that howl with it blow the leaves aside - and, yes! The ants are blown, too. Not for long, they'll be back, but she can make herself a path to get out.


Propelling himself across the clearing with supernatural haste, Gyffun crashes into the trollkin before they are even aware of his presence. The first scything swing of his sword sweeps the first one from its feet and sends it crashing to the ground in a broken tangle of limbs. The second manages a gasp of shock before Gyffun's return swing catches it a glancing blow on the side of the head, stunning it and eliciting a squeal of pain.

The third trollkin, alerted by its fellow's cry, turns in time to see the sword-wielding newcomer turn gracefully on his heel to deliver a second, deadly blow to its unfortunate fellow. Its yelp of fear draws the altogether more disconcerting attention of the Uz hunter, who bellows in surprise to the skald advancing towards it with an expression of grim determination on his face.

Even with the element of surprise on his side, Gyffun seems completely outmatched by the towering Uz and its diminutive cohort. As the enraged enlo launches itself in his direction, however, he sidesteps it calmly and with a flourish of his blade sends it sprawling onto its face in the mud. Its hulking master is cautious now, but he advances on the skald anyway, determined to pound this puny human into the ground.

Encouraged, if puzzled, by a glimpse of Garnatha leaping up into the trees, Gyffun does not hesitate. He rushes to meet the big Uz, and finds himself singing under his breath as he starts to lose himself once more in the intoxicating rhythm of swordplay. He executes a series of swift steps around his foe, landing a flurry of sting blows on the hulking creatures thick hide. The troll is bewildered and enraged by the small man's strange behaviour, trying in vain to strike at his dancing opponent.

Now singing out loud, the skald whirls tirelessly around the hunter, punctuating every stressed syllable of his song with feint or a blow. Finally, with a leaping overhead blow, timed to the climax of his battle hymn, he sends the troll crashing dizzily to the ground. Levelling his sword at its throat, Gyffun holds its glowering gaze for a few moments, breathing hard.

"I shall leave you with your life on this occasion, Dark Hunter, and with a choice. When next we meet, it may once again be as enemies, if you choose. But if you come instead in honour, seeking parley or trade, you may yet find us willing to remember the example of our ancestor, Lanolf Uzfriend."

And without waiting to find out if the troll is truly defeated, or merely dizzy, the skald dashes away once again to find out what has become of his companion, and what strange enemy she has been trying to elude in the treetops...


From her safe perch in the tree, Garnatha applauds his swordsmanship; then as he dashes towards her, calls a warning. "Gyffun, stop! Ants!"

The skald stops immediately, becoming properly aware of the insects for the first time, and then backs away cautiously. He gestures urgently for her to come down and join him, glancing nervously back at the clearing.

At least now the ants aren't actively chasing her at the behest of their trollish masters, Garnatha has a breathing space. Gyffun, further away, is safe. She just has to figure out how to get out herself.

The treetops? No. The next tree along has a huge nest in. Eyeing her. The ground route... Even using her javelin to blow them aside, it's going to be risky. Perhaps if she just waits for them to leave?

Ants are noisy, she discovers. The munching sounds are most disconcerting, from the point of view of their next meal. The effects vary, even, depending on what's getting munched. The original razzamafrazza had been the sound of a sling-stone being devoured. Leaves and other soft material just hissed. A weird complex sound, comiendounabutaca, as the swarm sweeps over some object lying in the undergrowth, reducing it to nothing in seconds. She wonders what noise they make when eating people...

She's getting bored. Gyffun will be getting bored. Her nerves are, of course, not fraying at all.

She climbs down, as low as feels safe. Time to blow a path to run along. Towards Gyffun, but not too close. That leaf there. It's tricky to throw from half-way up a tree, but she lanches it... Up, down, hits exactly the right leaf, back towards her blowing the ants aside, she reaches out to catch it and.... Ouch! Squirrels, with their four feet, do not catch javelins. Human Vingans need their hands to hold on. Mixing the two... She sways wildly, then falls, hitting the ground in a much less controlled manner than she'd planned. Something's biting her knee.

Up. Fast. Run while there's still a path there. She brushes at her knee, feels the same something bite her fingers. Ouch. Ignore it. Keep running. The path's closing in, they're coming back, and she's only part-way. Over the next rock, avoid the treeroot - the path's gone.

Something's hurting her toes. The knee - she's been trying not to think about it, but it hurts, and it won't work properly, her leg keeps going at the wrong angle. Ignore it. Run. That acid smell's stinging her eyes, and she brings a hand up to rub them. The hand that hurts... and she screams as the ants pour from hand to face.

Keep running. Only she can't see... Gyffun must be over there, she can hear him calling. Her feet don't work properly either, the toes don't seem to be supporting her. Keep going. Stumbling now, not running. Into something - stagger sideways, keep going, something falls on her. Heavy. Biting, oh no it's a nest of them. It hurts, it hurts.... And then her feet are on grass. And that hurts, too. Hurts her hands where she's fallen. It's got dark fast... There's a voice somewhere above her.

Saying something. Can she stop running now?


As he staggers along, supporting the swooning Garnatha with some difficulty, Gyffun glances in horror at the gnawed ruin of her legs. He shudders at the memory of the chittering horde of insects, and grimaces at the sting of his own bites. He was lucky enough to escape with a mere handful, but Garnatha was completely covered with the vile creatures at one point, and has suffered terrible consequences.

He's sure that Lismelda will know what to do to deal with the bites and the burning acid; his hearth-mother's knowledge of the healing herbs was legendary. Dealing with the more serious damage will take time and powerful magic, though. But how far way are they from the others? And how much longer can he keep carrying his ailing companion?

"Need to do something now," he mutters. "Needs healing..."

He hears her murmuring something, and stops for a moment, bending closer to hear her words.

"Mud," she says. "Need mud."

Perplexed, he frowns and wonders if he has misheard her. Then understanding dawns and he begins to look all about him. When the distant sound of running water reaches him, it is sweet music to his ears.

"Hold on Garnatha," he tells her. "We'll find some..."

The gentle trickling sound leads him to a stream and - happy chance! - a silty, water-logged pool. The mud is thick and cold, but it doesn't smell as badly as he expected, and brings instant relief to his few bites. Stripping away Garnatha's ruined clothes, he plasters her with mud, taking extra care with her legs, which he now sees - feeling his gorge rise - have been eaten away almost to the bone in places. After an anxious wait, he hears her starting to murmur again. This time, he can make little sense of her chanted, barely audible words, but their beneficial effect is clear.

Calmer now, and satisfied that Garnatha will survive her ordeal, he settles back into the cool mud and starts to sing softly to himself:

A bold durulz youngster was standing one day,
On the banks of the cool Cholanti.
He gazed at the bottom-as it peacefully lay,
By the light of the evening star.

Away on a hilltop sat preening herself,
His fair and fine-feathered maid.
This young boat-swimmer, he was no pond-skimmer,
And sang her this sweet serenade:

Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow,
Down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud.

The fair durulz-maiden he aimed to entice,
From her seat on that hilltop above.
As she hadn't got-a-ma to give her advice,
Came tip-toeing down to her love.

Like thunder the forest re-echoed the sound,
Of the song that they sang as they met.
His inamorata adjusted her garter,
And lifted her voice in duet:

Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow,
Down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud.