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Sarissa smiles as Gyffun carries Garnatha out of the brush and into the cleared area about the stead. Nodding to the fire she has started, in the open, she smacks Vurth's hand away from her backside as she ties a branch to his leg as a splint. As Gyffun places Garnatha by the fire, Sarissa's eyes widen at the state of her legs. "This'll take something special" she says sadly, and nods Gyffun towards one of the lambs.

The lamb is bleating as it is placed in Sarissa's lap, but a simple gesture across its eyes calms it. Garnatha feels happy looking across the fire into its beautiful eyes and hearing Sarissa's soft chanting to the Earth Mother. Lulled by the chanting, Garnatha's eyes begin to droop, her tiredness having crept up on her.

When she awakes, Garnatha finds herself staring into the blank eyes of the lamb. Behind those, she sees the red of Gyffun cheerfully skinnning the lamb and preparing dinner. Looking down, she sees that her legs are bandaged and bulkier than they were earlier. Sarissa, seeing her wake, smiles down at her.

Exhausted, and feverish from the poisoned bites, Garnatha feels the same sense of trust and security that she had when she was ten years old. Her parents were gone, her home was gone, but her big sister was there. Everything would be all right. Brushing her hand across the Vingan's brow, Sarissa she tells her that yes, it is the lamb's sinew which has replaced hers, that she must be patient for the muscle to grow. Now she must listen, for Vizz has tales to tell...

~oOo~

"Ants you say! Great brothers of thunder! Things that creep and crawl make my skin quiver. I do not believe you made accurate mention of the size of these hell spawn. At first I bethought you spoke of clacking terrors the size of horses with jaws like scythes dripping poison, then as your tale progressed it was clear that more than a couple of such beasts would not swarm but rather just crush ther unfortunate victim. Now I favour a view that they are perhaps the size of small dogs, or perhaps the like that would provide challenge to a fighting cuk. Indeed, it is entirely possible that they are merely the length of my hand outstretched, or my thumb, perhaps a fingernail? By the swollen size of those bites, albeit mud soothed, I am inclined to make a judgement but my knowledge of insect physionomy is woeful in its lack."

"It reminds me of what once befell in ancient Pavis, may Lankhor Mhy spare me if I am not accurate in all particulars, for it was many hundreds of years ago and Time is a powerful goddess. All have heard of the Giant Cradles of long ago and never seen since, where the babes of the Elder Mountains were sent to sea. Now, aboard those wood carved cradles dwelt a weird crew, or so it is said, and the origin of ths crew is still the subject of conjecture amongst learned sages, and it might be agreed that those origins are many and varied. So, one particular voyage was manned by Giant Ants the size, they say, of the Praxian hyena and able to adjust whatever rigging as may be present on a such cradle with ease. The Cradles head out to the ocean and some wonder where they end up, perhaps surely they go to Magasta's Pool and sink thereby to Hell. Now, ants know a route out of hell, for ants were all once large, and lived in Hell, but fleeing from the brightness of the slain sun, suffered a curse from the Mostali, their enemies, so that they shrank as they approached the surface and most emerged small and puny. So, ants know the route from the bowels of Hell, and where the trolls can help them avoid the Mostali curse, they emerge large and unsquashable. For a moment, while Gyffun spoke, I imagined that he had suffered such a curse and was shrinking as he wandered through a field of bluebells. Then I wondered in the ants had shifted their curse and so returned to their original infernal dimensions."

"I am not well inclined to thank those vile Mostali for any particular deed, and it seems to me that despite their intention in this case it perhaps would have been wiser to allow the ants their previous size for then it would have been easier to hunt them down and catch them, rather than them exist in multifarious tiny horror where one may squash a thousand and still be whelmed by one hundred thousand more. On the other hand, perhaps if they had both size and immense number wwe should truly be sorry. Anyhap, I should still not thank contemptible dwarfs, I find them most disagreeable."

Such were the questions and exclamations of the foolish frippery of Vizz that he did not conclude his tale that night, disappointed that others did not see the value of a leathery old dinosaur egg, even if it did whisper a word or two on occasion. The furore also meant that little was made of the map that was in Otto's possession.

~oOo~

Aren sits up in the dark watching over their new stead. Even though he is no longer a follower of Elmal he still draws more that his share of the star watch. Shifting to find a more comfortable position he remembers with pleasure the action of the previous night. Now that was something. For the first time without long preparation he had managed to ride the Yavor's bolt. Yes he had his balance back properly for the first time since loosing toes to the Ruby Flux. It was a shame of course that he had not managed to stop Vurth from braking his leg. And of course he should have taken more time to aim his Lightning at the batbroo. Ah well maybe next time he would see it better, perhaps he should have tried to peer into its soul. Hmmm...

~oOo~

Next morning, Vurth limps around the stead, grumbling and poking his nose into odd corners convinced that the nefarious broo bat must be holed up somewhere close to the stead in daytime. People stay well out of his way since his always uncertain temper things even more on edge these days (though he's a bit easier to outrun at the moment).

He does pop down to the stream once in a while where Garnatha spends a lot of time covered in mud recovering from bug bites. Ants then... whatever. They've had to put off any exploring but Vurth is trying to make plans for later. He approaches Wilma and wonders if it would be all right for them to take off later even though the crops need tending. Wilma, with long experience in how useful Vurth is during the planting and harvest, quickly gives her blessing.

In his wanderings, Vurth does pass by all the fields that are being prepared for the planting. Morith has picked a nice spot and laboriously cleared the odd vegetation covering it. Unfortunately, when Vurth came by he immediately became very agitated and proclaims the area tainted by the pre-dark. Morith refuses to believe this until Skullcleaver comes down and confirms Vurth's finding. Morith swears up down and sideways but in the end has to move to another spot and start over. It still leaves the proto-clan with a problem though. The pre-dark stain has to be cleansed for their safety or the whole clan might have to move. Somewhere the clan has to get a hold of the services of a Belveren Devotee, which task Wilma (wondering how they will pay for this service) delegates to Vizz.

Vurth waits impatiently for the day that his cast can come off and he can 'get back to business'.

Vizz sits despondent finding some nourishment by chewing on some hard crusts. He ponders in his task: He must find a woman possessed of a fanaticism for chaos cleansing that would lead her to devotee her very life and soul to it. Why, or so it seemed to Vizz, not merely cast the cursed object into the Crack of Doom, or the some other bottomless pit, or limitless ocean, or endless fire, or darkness without shadow, or Ultimate Wind or some other thing that went on and on and on in some monotonous eternity? Still, no means to do that when the cursed object is a field of turnips. But, such a woman would most likely be fearsome. It is said that those of her cult share a rune with Urox, problem enough in peaceful times.

As if summoning such a dangerous beast by mere thought, Vurth then appears. Gruff and dishevelled in a dangerous looking sort of way, as was his usual demeanor, Vizz greets him warmly nevertheless and the grim looking warrior clumps down beside him.

"Ho Vurth! At least you, among all my kith and kin, think me not a fool to recover the Egg. Say that you think the egg a good purchase. I think us two, you and I, are misunderstood. Indeed I feel a kinship with you as I do with my brother Volle, and yet we share few traits. Perhaps our kinship is only an echo of a name from long ago, but to me it is real enough. Even if the egg proves not to be such mettlesome swag then I still feel the abhorrent compilation of vindictive poetry a callous commentary on my honest drudgery."

Vurth merely grunts, only the fraternal tone of his garrulous kinsman seeming to make sense.

"Indeed, I prefer your gruff syntax to the improper twaddle that some dim kindred use to make invidious and slanderous gusts. But even for you Vurth, kinsman and brother, you seem more than usually dour. I think it because your commonplace ferocity can avail you nought 'gainst a plot of prostrate slime. It remains a sundry evil, but you, a rude champion, would prefer a teratogenic foeman; a more vigorous menace, against which to vent your vaporous hate, to make extravagant gore and prove your rawboned obduracy and bovine gumption."

Vurth, probably confused by Vizz's monologue, maybe thinking deeply on some point of logic, sits beside his unlikely comrade with an expression that some might have called 'blank' upon his face.

Vizz continues his unbidden exposition, to explain his plan "I must go on a toilsome trek, with an avaricous pretext to avoid any suspicion of dangerous revelations, in order to seek a tight alliance with a Belveren Rune Priestess. I know not where to start. I favour a return to the Yellow Ochre, for mayhap Oshana knows of one. I know Bullthrash would be keen to return for he took a liking to a young lass there; not a good match for he is a tactile brute and she seemed gloomy and cold, although she was certainly a beauty. On leaving he made a rash salutation to her and she passed some minimum retaliatory nicety, an acrid platitude dismissing the young goof on his way. I fear theirs would be an infelicitous union"

~oOo~

As he listens to Vizz's tale and the subsequent discussions about ancestry and the like, Gyffun's mind wanders, and he finds himself thinking back over the events of the last few days.

Remembering their eventful first encounter with the folk of the Ochre Fallow, he marvels once again at the subtle potency of the Song of Reconciliation. Every time he used it, it seemed, he discovered new depths to its deceptively simple message. And using it like that, singing it with purpose rather than simply reciting it, seemed to tap into a deeper resonance within him, teaching him valuable lessons about his own gifts, and their unexpected uses. For all its power, though, his shame-inducing song seems to have won him a new enemy in Hahlgrim Thane.

Thinking about his more recent exploration of the Stonehead Path with Garnatha, he reflects on both the excitement and the peril that his enthusiasm had brought them. At least he was starting to form a more complete picture of their immediate locality now. His delight at the wild beauty he'd found on his travels had given him the chance to reconnect with his childhood, and to recapture a sense of his wildling heritage. He cherishes this, and is determined to spend more time in this pursuit.

His pleasant and peaceful recollections of the wilds are offset by memories of their perilous brush with the Uz and Garnatha's near-deadly encounter with their insect servants. The memory of his battle with the troll and his diminutive kin brings him a moment of pride. The heady excitement of sword-fighting, and the trance-like qualities of his battle-dance could so easily prove addictive, he realises.

Recalling his words to the fallen hunter upon victory, he wonders on what terms they might meet him again: as potential friend or bitter foe? Did his words to the troll even carry the meaning that he'd hoped? His grasp of Darktongue was limited, but he was confident of the rudiments at least, and hoped that his more subtle meanings had been conveyed by his actions, and his demeanour.

He is also conscious of a new closeness with Garnatha, forged by their adventures and most especially by his 'rescue'. He feels slightly guilty about the latter, conscious that his recklessness was at least partly responsible for placing her in peril in the first place. At the same time he is glad to have this bond with his cousin, and feels that with her, and to a lesser extent the other Exiles, he is at last starting to find warmth, comradeship and acceptance...

~oOo~

Vizz wonders if he should have saved Hahlgrim's life by acting as a broker for peace when he clonked Vurth with his spear butt. Perhaps the path of a true hero lies in a bloody swath cut through numerous foemen, a path that someone would surely have been followed by more than one, if Vurth had hacked Hahlgrim Thane into bloody gobbets. Natheless, he had chosen to walk and talk on the path of Issaries, even if Issaries did not choose him. A curse on those Goldentongues and their Godlearner cult! Daga take Hahlgrim and his rancorous demeanour. Pah!

At least he had the Egg Whisperer, it had seemed a fair swap for his cloak at the time, but with hindsight maybe the cloak was too precious a thing to trade - he planned to get it back. But the Egg...he sensed something about it, being a Godi it was one of his talents, something irresistable and magic. Perhaps his ancestors would know? Perhaps, when the gods were in the correct parts of the sky and the winds were blowing the right way, he might perform a ceremony in the ancient ruins. Then, maybe, he would have an answer.

His acquaintance with Oshana seems now more serious, and he feels pleased; she had told him a few useful facts about the Ochre Fallow after their more strenous negotiations[4] although nothing about the treachery that befell two years gone involving Hahlgrim and Gordangorl Peg Pole except that a man by the name of Ders Finbarson knew some secret. Vizz planned to seek out this Ochre Fallow Thane and get some meaning out of mystery.

There seemed to be a curious fate that compelled Vizz to take special note of his kinsman Vurth. Whether he was part of a greater scheme or some terrifying doom, Vizz could not tell, but somehow the fate of the crazed berserker mattered to Vizz.

~oOo~

Time passes slowly on the stead, making sure the turnips and the grains have established seeming to be the principal preoccupation. Discarding crutches and hobbling around a bit more energetically, Vurth begins a vigorous regime of physical exercises to regain his form. Soon the stead has more than enough chopped wood to outlast any foreseeable need in the immediate future (though occasionally he gets a bit excited and produces excessive amounts of kindling).

He also begins to take short forays into the neighbourhood, both to build up strength and knowledge of the new clan lands. He comes across the occasional Chaos spore but all of it quite dated.

By the end of Sea Season he decides he is fit enough to make a major exploration trip into the new lands about the clan, which might actually take him away from the stead for a week or so at a time (many sighs of relief). It is his intention to ensure that there are no Ďthreatsí close enough to make any kind of surprise foray against the clan (plus build up knowledge about the local terrain).

He approaches Garnatha to see if should wants to accompany him and in general asks if anyone else is interested in joining, but Vizz is once again expounding on the virtues of his mysterious leathery egg..

~oOo~

Wilma's eyes finally unglaze when she hears Vizz mention his newly acquired treasure for the umpteenth time. Leaping to her feet to the best of her ability, she waves her hand in Vizz's direction. The box in his hand slams shut and falls to the ground. Wilma smiles her warm reassuring smile and all relax. "Vizz, Vizz, Vizz, that's not a 'Whisperer', it's a 'Whistler'. A wind spirit trapped inside," she peers over at the closed box, "a thunderlizard egg was it?" Stomping over to the box, she places it under a blanket and, placing her ear next to it, opens it gently. Moments pass, Wilma's smile growing broader. "Strenuous negotiations with Oshana indeed, Vizz."

Wilma stands erect and addressing all who have been watching her, "This is a treasure indeed, Vizz.Danlarn had one of these at the battle for Alda-Chur. The story is that he used it to discover the half-beasts' plans." Looking sternly at Vizz, she continues, "Best as few people as possible know we have this..."

"Now, one thing concerns me, my friends. What are we to do with the boy Odi? He is plainly no normal boy. I sense that he may not even be a mortal." She gestures athe fire, where Odi is to be seen sat in amongst the flames, rolling about and giggling as if having the greatest tickle of his short life...

"That's not normal behaviour for even the most awkward child," Garnatha agrees. "But he is a child. A child of the Warriors of the Sun, from the look of him. He's no threat, he may well someday be a great asset to us, and he's a child. I say we take him in, bring him up as one of us - well, in so far as we can! - and see what happens."

Seeing the doubtful faces, she adds, "And if his people come looking for him, do we really want them as enemies?"

"No, Angor, don't you try that." She grabs her nephew before he can join his playmate in the fire. "You won't like it."

Vurth merely grunts at all this and adds, "Hope the dark fold donít find out about this. They seem to have a passing interest in those flaming chicken people."

Volle of the Thunder speaks with his Storm Voice, "The wind speaks of an Uz Lord of Death named only "The Colonel"! That is all."

Garnatha looks concerned at Vurth's remark. "You're right, and the Dark folk are taking too close an interest in us already for my liking." She looks down at her bandaged feet ruefully. "As long as the boy stays close to the stead, he should be safe enough, but yes, let's keep him away from any visitors. We don't want word getting to the wrong ears."

"'The Colonel', eh? An odd name for an Uz. We'll have to find out more about him. An Uz with a secret, perhaps?"

~oOo~

Vizz, seeing that he has lost his fellowsí attention, stands and declaims, "My kindred! gather about for I needs must visit again those of the Ochre Fallow who would be able to supply us some of our wants, for I see that the stead requires more than a little in the way of comforts and the necessities that make life liveable and take us over those fell days where the hours drag and each man is a counter of minutes. But, alas, for we have nothing to trade but promises of the future, and unless there is an eclipse of that big red moon that disrupt our airwaves, I see a hard future ahead. But not without hope. My professional opinion is that the lands of the Ochre Fallow are less blessed by the juicy fruit of the lady of the wild than these lands. I speak of strappleberry, bloopleberry, strawberry, wild berry, wild mint, winterfresh pines. We do not have lemon or refreshing orange, or the white fruits of Peloria, but when Earth Season comes and the fruits ripen about us in such a hubba bubba that we cannot eat them all ourselves, and the bushes coated in extra abundance, then I propose to have already made a deal with the Ochre Fallow for some of that sugary crop."

"Fruit is not cows, but one must wriggle whichever way one can to earn a crust. Even so far as to make a contract, howsover temporary it may be. Now, good people, make haste to supply me with a bill of material things that we lack, be it weathered timber, or heavy canvas, Esrolian pottery or Praxian leathers. Nay Jorush, do not list dragon's teeth, or flowers to which one must sing, or other such fripperies."

Vurth scratches his head as he deciphers Vizzís cryptic comments (not that Vurth actually thinks of it that way). He puts in his two bits, "We got nothing to trade? Why donít we raid somebody then? Iíll take a couple of lads and with Garnatha to lead us there and back Iím sure we can find someone who has too much of something."

"Well, it would be fun", Garnatha agrees. "Trouble is, the people we want to trade with are the Ochre Fallow. And the only people around here to raid are... the Ochre Fallow. I don't think even Vizz could handle the negotiation in trading them their own goods back."

~oOo~

Vizz expresses his concerns about the ants.

"So my fair friends, beseems it that between the time I set of to the Ochre Fallow and then returned, this formic menace came. This swarming horde that devours all, chewing it's anty swath through the trees and scrubbage. Black chitened, jaws like scythes, to tread the planted fields of our cottars beneath their anty feet. We know the darkmen have sorcery aplenty to command these beasts but not to conjure from nothing. I have a suspicion they live naturally within the loamy soil of the local hereabouts. Perhaps in incognizably twisted undeground warrens, where foul bloated queens lay egg upon egg. This would be all well and good if we were not fervent agriculturalists with a keen interest in preserving whatever crop we may be able to grow. It seems the real menace of the ant infestation, horrible and dangerous though that certainly is, is the threat to our farms and foodstuffs. What is to do?"

Volle spoke in a suave rumble:

"Ants eat predark."

Vizz assented with alacrity: "By Storm Bulls anty pants! In sooth, what an idea! I misdoubt I can use it in it's present form but something might be made of it. I must wander awhile and ponder on it."

And so saying he began a stroll, twirling and twiddling his moustachios.

Silverquill pipes up: "A good question, fwiend Vizz. I wecall fwom my studies in Alda-Chur that one of the wules obeyed by ants is that each blind fowager instinctively turns away fwom other ants appwoaching it in the opposite diwection. So, if you could somehow owganize to ally another twibe of ants, they could dwive away your foes."

"Another intewesting fact that comes to mind is that elf fawmers often plant a certain plant amongst their cwops. This plant has the ability to confuse the encwoaching ants and causes them to change their diwection. Hence, another solution could be to open twade with the Aldwyami - there should be some nearby here, if my souwces are not wong."

"I value your counsel fwiend Silverquill," Vizz said, straight-faced. "I fear, however, that an alliance with one tribe of ants poses as many picklements as a war with another. Yet the misanthropic botany is also a menace, and indeed an alliance there may embroil us in the eternal war twixt elf and those who would make salad of them, by which I mean trolls."

~oOo~

Feren, Sarissa's youngest, has been listening with eyes wide in fascinated horror. "Were your ants great big ones, Auntie Garnatha?"

"No, it's all right. Just ordinary little ones, but a lot of them and with a nastier bite."

"Aww..." The child seems almost disappointed. "But they et your legs all up?"

"No, you know that. They're still right there, look. The ants just nibbled a few bits off, and then your mum fixed them."

"Cor." Feren is still impressed, in a ghoulish sort of way. "Bet that really hurt. Like when that bee stung me."

"A bit like that, yes, and you shouldn't have been trying to get the honey on your own."

"Does it hurt if I sit on it?"

She grabs him before he tries the experiment, pulls him to sit next to her. "Probably, but let's not find out, shall we?"

"Oh." He settles down, happy to have won prize position in the childrens' on-going competition for attention. "That was a good story about the big ants. Tell me another story?"

"Oh, all right. What about?"

"'Bout monsters!"

"Monsters with big teef!" adds his friend Iskalli, plopping down in Attention Spot 2 on her other side. "Look, I've got a toof. It wobbles." He demonstrates this.

"A story about big monsters with teeth that aren't wobbly at all. How about Scathach and the trolls?"

"Yeah! An' the teef."

"Sit down, then. Once upon a time there was a girl called Scathach who had two older sisters, Halda Peaceweaver and Janara Hears-all."

"Like Garaystara? She's a pest."

"No, not like Garaystara. These were nice older sisters, and she loved them lots, and there'll be no story if you keep interrupting. Both her sisters were married, and had lots of beautiful children who didn't pull people's hair, and stop that!

"There was a war going on at the time, so all the men were away fighting the Lunars.

"One night trolls came to Halda's stead. A big troll with big sharp teeth, and lots of little trollkin with little sharp teeth."

"Little like me?"

"Yes, little like you, but their teeth didnít wobble, they were sharp and very pointed, and their eyes gleamed in the dark and their stomachs growled because they were always hungry. The big troll said that her cousin had killed his cousin, so they were going to kill her and eat her all up. All the children were very scared when they heard that, so Halda threw her best peace blanket over the troll to make it stop. But blankets don't work on trolls and he just ate it all up, mouthful by mouthful, and then he reached out and grabbed her. And the big troll ate Halda, and each of the little trollkin ate one of the children."

"Ooh!" Feren shivers in fascinated horror. "Then what?"

"The next night, the trolls came to Janara's stead. She heard them coming, and she told the children to run and hide. One of them hid on the roof, and one hid in the woodstack, and one hid in the outhouse."

"Yuck!"

"Yes, but he thought it was better than being eaten. Trouble is, it didnít work. Trolls have big noses for sniffing with, and big ears for hearing with, even better than Janaraís. They heard footsteps on the roof, they smelt the child in the woodstack, and they heard splashing in the outhouse. And the big troll said to Janara, Ďyour cousin killed my cousin, so Iím going to kill you and all your children, and eat you all up.í And he ate Janara, and each of the little trollkin ate one of the children. But Janara had one more child than Halda, so there was one left over. One little boy with a wobbly tooth who ran all the way away before he hid, and found Scathach.

"When she heard what had happened to her sisters and their children, Scathach took down her grandfather's javelin from the roof-beams where he had left it, and dyed her hair red. She gave her apron and cooking pots to her mother Yenda to look after, and she went looking for the trolls.

First she found one of the little trollkin. And it looked at her, and it was hungry, so it said that because her cousin had eaten his cousin, it would eat her all up. But it was smaller than her, and she hit it with her grandfatherís javelin, and killed it. And then she went back into the woods, and watched the dead trollkin to see what would happen next."

"But it was dead!"

"Yes, I know. But trolls arenít like us, and she knew that. The next trollkin came out of hiding, and it saw the body of its brother. And it was a very hungry trollkin, and it had very sharp teeth, and it didnít know the right way to treat a brother. So it ate him. It crunched his bones and sucked out his marrow. And while it was doing that, Scathach hit it with her grandfatherís javelin, and that one died, too.

"The third trollkin saw this, and decided that it wasnít going to try to eat her or anything else, it would rather run away. And it had a giant bee to ride on, so it thought it could get away from Scathach if it flew high enough and fast enough. But Scathach could run faster. And she knew about giant bees from her great-grandmother, and she ran after the bee and waited for it to land in the Vale of Flowers and suck nectar. And when it did, she threw her grandfatherís javelin at that trollkin too, and it died.

"Now, the big troll was a lot tougher than the little trollkin. And it had much bigger teeth, and it was a lot smarter. It was very annoyed that Scathach had killed its trollkin. So it crept up on her at night, because trolls can see at night as well as we can in daylight. Even so, it was being careful. It crept to the top of a cliff above Scathach, and it threw a huge rock at her. Scathach heard the rock coming, and dodged to one side just as it landed. Then she looked for the troll, but it was too dark to see it. But she knew it must be somewhere high. So she threw her grandfatherís javelin high into the air, and it rode the lightning to the top of the cliff and beyond, lighting up the sky, just like Aren did when the bat-broo came. And the troll screamed, because the light hurt its eyes. Then Scathach could hear it, and she could see it. And she caught the javelin, and threw it again, and It whistled through the air, far above the cliff, and came down again with a great flash and a bang. And it pinned the troll to a tree, and blasted the tree with lightining so that it died. And that was the end of the troll."

"Then Scathach went home, and put the javelin back in the roof beams, washed the red out of her hair, and claimed her apron and pots back from her mother. No trolls ever came near their stead again. When the men came back from the war, they had heard how she had dealt with the trolls, and were very impressed. And she could choose whichever husband she wanted. Later on they had a son who she called Garstall. And you know who he was, donít you?"

"My granddad!"

"No, my grand-dad. Your great-grand-dad. And thereís lots of stories about him, too."

"My daddy went to fight the Lunars, didn't he?"

"Yes, love, he did." So much was not being said there. I came back, and he didn't, and you never knew him, and how your mother forgave me for that I'll never know.

"If the trolls come and eat me and mummy, will you kill them all with your javelin?"

"Wouldn't you rather I stopped them eating you in the first place?"

He considers this. "Yeah. Sípose so. Would that be a story, too?"

"If someone told about it afterwards, then yes. But itís someone elseís turn to tell a story now."

~oOo~

Gyffun: How are those legs, pet?

Garnatha: I dunno. They don't hurt much any more, but Sarissa looks funny whenever I ask what she did. She says they'll be all right, but its like she's trying to convince herself, if you know what I mean?

Gyffun: Typical big sis. She's just treating you like a kid out of habit.

Garnatha: And if I can't walk again, I'll end up like Elgane. All bitter and twisted and convinced I'm useless.

Gyffun: Nah, you're a fighter I reckon. 'Sides, Elgane didn't have mud-pies to help her out, now did she?

Garnatha: Well, she did. But she got hit by that Lunar magic, not just ants. Don't tell her I've been riding, all right? I just had to get out, and I can get on and off, sort of... Can't use the stirrups, of course.

Gyffun: Aye, I'll keep your little secret. She'll know what you've been up to, mind. There's no pulling the wool over her eyes!

Garnatha: And she was a fighter. She was warleader for years. Only now... I don't want to go like that.

Gyffun: What you've got going for you, petal, is this whole splendid new enterprise of ours. She thought it was all over, but for us, it's just beginning!

Garnatha: That's what I thought until this happened. Vurth asked me to go exploring with him - how can I, when I can't even walk? I should be cutting that path down to the river. Or training that so-called fyrd. Or something!

Gyffun: You wait and see. Your Sarissa's a canny lass - she'll have you up and gambolling around before you know it.

Garnatha: I hope so. But she's hiding something, I'm sure of it.

Gyffun: Aye, maybe. But sometimes things stay hidden from us until we are ready to accept them. And sometimes we do the hiding ourselves.

Garnatha: She used a bit of a sheep.. I'm sure that's not right. Did you see the look Kareena gave her?

Gyffun: Sheep's not a conventional method of healing, I'll grant you. But desperate straits calls for desperate measures. And I reckon it'll do you no harm with that woolly new friend of yours.

Garnatha: That's an idea. That ram.... that *is* an idea. But... we should go and find which way those ants went, as soon as we can. If they're headed for the stead, they'd wreck the crops. But I can't get there!

Gyffun: You pay attention to your real task: getting well. There's time enough for you to heal, and time enough for us to worry about the ants.

Garnatha: There isn't time, that's the trouble, there's so much to do. We've got no idea what's out there, we need food, we need buildings, we need everything, and I'm just sitting here!

Gyffun: Even if you were well, you can't fight ants with javelins!

Garnatha: But I did! Didn't you see? The wind off the javelin swept them away for a bit. I don't know how you'd really fight ants, though - maybe with fire?

Gyffun: Fire may hold 'em off, but I don't think we need to fight them. They only hurt you 'cause someone poked a stick in their nest. Deal with the stick-poker, and you don't have a problem with the ants...

~oOo~