previous index next

Sword Day comes and goes on the stead, Vurth's talk of mustering for Fire Season raids exciting only disparaging glances at his injured leg. Wilma grows tetchy as each day passes and snaps at Silverquill and Otto when she overhears them discussing their texts for the coming Thought Day. Finally, she gathers the Exiles together.

"Well, this is nice, isn't it?" she says to her baffled audience, "Them Ochre Fallow comes here, telling us to get off their land when it isn't even theirs. We goes all nice to them and says we'll join their stinking bunch, sort of, and then not even an invite to their Moot. Well, even if they do do their mooting good and late, we'd a had a invite by now. I 'spect they's fixin' to yak about us, so maybe there's a reason for you. Well, them's up to no good, that's for sure."

Realising she'd getting a bit carried away, Wilma pauses, breathes deeply and is heard by a few to mutter, "Speechify...right...I can do that." She looks around the gathered refugees, picking out some of the more disgruntled-looking for a slight smile, and continues. "Now I's a heard many of you talking abut how you grandaddy slew the big old smelly giant of Alda-Chur, or how you great-aunt rescued the fifteen numpties from the Tangerine Caves of Doom. That's all well and good, and seein' as how we's beset by perils and all that, ants with chewy mandyberls, neighbour's who'd spit on you as soon as lend you a hoe, flippy flappy bat-things, I can understand it. But, if we're half what those ancestors of yours was, we'll be just fine. My old Hurborl used to tell me the story o' Dogbone and how he set this little lot up all them years ago. And my Kocho used to love the stories when he was little, but perhaps he should a listened a bit better, hey?"

"Dogbone, well he was from a long ways off, a funny place where they'd talk to spirits at teatime, eat big fat maggots like them Uz likes, and smack their lips as if they could taste somethin' but grease. But, they was a mixed lot, so they had some proper folk who knew what was what. Now they wasn't a clan yet, no, it was Lanolf who did that later. But Dogbone, well he was something of a character hisself. It's said his mother was a right crone, given to hissing and yeowlin', made young Dogbone and his brother into thralls for a whole cycle, cleaning up nightsoil and all for some old shaman as had a chip on his shoulder about being touched. Anyways, Dogbone's big brother went off to follow some grim warrior type off on some daft quest, had some trouble crawlin' through some dungeon after awks, but Dogbone was a bit better planned and took his chums along when he left. And well, I'm not just wafflin' on for no reason, I reckons as we needs some structure like that. You know I'm not a one for moots, but I guesss you got to have something."

"So, what I reckon is we remember, from the Dogbone story, what there was. And that's not for no reason neither. We've all seen as this place Garnatha's a brought us too is prob'ly where they was all them years ago. It's just like in the stories, and they did all right. So, let's see...."

"Lanolf had his best friend there, by the name of Pup. Pup the Duck Tupper he was called, prob'ly as he was the one as fraternized with the other folk as they met. Reckon it was him as kept Taros sweet all the while. He wasn't just called the Duck Tupper, but also known the First, as it was him the other folk'd meet first."

"Dogbone's daughter Riantha, well she was a Lady of the Wild. Or the Lady, not sure. Said she'd the temper of her gran, Riantha the catwoman. Well, young though she was, she'd a thing or two to say to her dad and when she got hitched to Lanolf, well... She was called the Songstress, 'cos it was her as'd sing to the beasts."

"Then there was the shaman, different shaman this one. He was Wulf and it was him as brung Lanolf up when his folks died. He'd an age-old wisdom, it was said, but an age-old smell to him too. Well, he was known as the Worshipper, 'cos it was him as'd talk to the spirits. It was him as got them safe through the Chalk Man Vale, so I reckon he musta known what he was up to."

"Lanolf's big brother, Oghman, well he was a good bit older than his little brother so he'd a learnt the proper ways, for his was proper folk. He was a smith, just like our Entislar, and he was called Foreman, 'cos when they cut their stead, it was him as told 'em how they should do it."

"When Dogbone's brother pitched up, that was Achyranth, well then there was a right feasting. He'd slain oh so many awks and turned himself into some kind a master with the sword. He was called the Fighter, seeing as how he was not much use in a organised fight, but stick him at the front and the others'd run a mile, so fearsome was he."

"Now let's see. Well, they had Lanolf a course, and they called him Wulfsfriend, or Uzfriend, there's different stories see. He was still a young thing, 'spect he was a looker if my Hurborl's was anything to go by. Him they called the Defender, for it was him as looked out for the little folk, the ones with the hairy feet and all."

"Finally there was Dogbone, or Danlarn if you like. Here's the odd one. He took with him his mother's ways and so, being the oldest of that bunch, well he was known as the Crone. Him it was as led them to round here and set them up afore he went to talk to the worms."

"Now, I reckon," continues Wilma, barely pausing for breath, "that's more or less us, or some o' us." Looking at Silverquill, Wilma ponders for a moment. "Well, they had 'em no ducks sadly, only the Duck Tupper. But o' course, external observers is always welcome. Maybe we can find you a nice blue hat to signify it like." Looking about, Wilma seeks approval for her plan, "What do you reckon? If them roles was good enough for the ancestors, reckon as they're good enough f'rus. Well, that makes me the Crone, and I reckon I can be quite good at that. And here's what I think..."

"We got ourselves a fine crop gonna come up. Some of us has been hard at work lookin' after things round here. Some of us is lookin' like they needs to earn their keep, if you understand me. We got them Ochre Fallow and, if things is delayed around here too, with the way it's all cold and dark until late, well I reckon they'll be having their moot in a couple of days. We're not invited, but we could always pretend we was like, if you get my driftiness. Stop 'em hatching plans about us for Fire Season any road. Then, reckon as the Tribal Market might be going on soon too. No idea where that'll be at. Perhaps at Alone, 'spect there's something o' that sort goin' on there anyways. And, to be honest, we could do with some more food." With this, she looks quizzically at little Odi, sat happily chomping away at what is probably the last of the grain before continuing...

"Then, we got to understand a few things around here if we's to get on. Like, where does Odi come from. He's a wotsit fer sure, but no predark or Vurth'd have him spread about the fields for fertilizer by now. Where did the flippy flappy things come from, where does that path lead and where's the second fort. If there's any of them elfs, then I'd like to meet 'em, 'cos I've a cutting from that old tree and I'd like somewhere to graft it, like."


Vizz responds first.

"An excellent suggestion, from a fine Crone, if I may be so bold. I am in wholehearted agreement with your earthy wisdom, Wilma the Crone and accept the position of First, and indeed Second if I am to go to the Fallow twice. I fear the esteemed title of Vizz the Duck Tupper does not rhyme some well as Pup the Duck Tupper, but its noble intent is clear for all to see. But you are wrong Wilma when you say there is no place for a scholarly observer in the traditional scheme of things. There are tales of a prodigal follower of the Lord of Wisdom who brought his secret wisdom to those far off people, who recorded their magics, visited their neighbours and had, so it is said, a MOST impressive beard."


"Thank you, fwiend Vizz," says Silverquill. "For wemembering that there was a Sage in the ancient times as well. Even though I am not of the clan, I would be honouwed to take on that wole - and you can of course be assuwed that I will fulfil the wole most bwilliantly."

"I am still wawy about that whole Duck Tupper thing, though.... sounds most diswespectful of durulz to me... I suggest we cweate another honowific instead? Duck Admiwer? Duck Fwiend?"

"Sounds good to me my little friend" Aren smiles as he speaks. "I too will be glad to take the position of Worshipper - who speaks to the gods. Though when it comes to sprits and the ancestors it seems that they have chosen another. And I chose not to argue with what the ancestors want"


Vurth speaks next.

"Well, you all know I’m no good with words like my brother Vizz there (many nods of agreement). I tends to let me klanth do my talking for me (more nods). But what Wilma says make good sense to me. This land seems good to me... mostly... and a little cleansing will fix that (sidelong glances to Morith)... but if we wants to stay then we have to make our place here."

There are some cautious nods of agreement... one never knows where Vurth will end up but bloody pulps all too often play a prominent role.

"So to me, we get to deal somehow with these Ochre fellows. We got to establish like a re-la-shun-ship wit dem. (The audience is suitably impressed that Vurth managed to get a 4 syllable word out) Either they be friends or they be foes, (Vurth is on more familiar ground here) and this be what Vizz or someone got to clear up for me so we don’t have no accidents like. Actually, I think about it, the same goes for them Dark Folks that live round here. Somebody better go find out where they live and find out what we want to do about them."

More cautious nods of agreement, everyone still wondering when the bloody pulps will put in an appearance.

"Now I would be right proud to take up the post of Fighter … if not quite so keen on the dying part though willing to face up to the poss-i-bil-ty (uncertain laughter from the audience... did Vurth mean that as a joke?) and it be a right honour to walk in the footsteps of Achyranth. He was a good man who stood up for his clan and knew how to deal with the pre-dark when it showed its ugly puss in the neighbourhood."

"Sooo..." Vurth pauses to recollect where he was going with all this. "Whut I think I should do then is scout out the land hereabouts. Make sure there’s no unpleasant surprises, and make sure we know where them dark folk is at, maybe git a bit of hunting in as well. Course I could go with Vizz if he thinks me ‘talking’ will help them thar Ochre Fellows understand where we stand. Got a hankering to have and jaw session with that Hahlgrim fellow anyway."

The audience sits back satisfied and exchanges nods with each other. Now that the bloody pulping option is on the table they wait to see how Vizz and the others will respond. Is it the time for spears or time for tongues?


"Tongues" says Vizz, inexplicibly curt. He continues in more normal fashion.

"I am a pacific soul, and it seem to me that it behooves you to appease him, at least for the nonce. He was, by his actions, by no means scrupulous, and we shall return his 'favour' in good time but meanwhiles they think us weak; they are thus indulged in delusive conjecture for we have strengths they cannot percieve. Let them think what they will and we shall give cause for them to suffer the symptoms of wonder when we reveal our powers. One knows not what may betide, and we know that for those as mighty as Vurth violent evils seem to require violent remedies."

"Come with me Vurth if you wish it, or do otherwise to explore the environs, the decision is not mine good friend."


Silverquill has been taking notes as people speak and was cheerfully nibbling away on a loaf of soggy bread until Wilma mentioned food. He then surreptiously slips the bread into a waterproof pocket for later scoffing.

He nods at Vurths oration and looks quite impressed at the berserkers use of 'big' words. If only Skullcleaver was half as eloquent - it could be quite vexing to keep up a conversation with a monosyllabic Storm Bull out in the wilderness.

"I would be honouwed to take on the wole of Observer - but am a bit wowwied about this Duck Tupper. What does a Duck Topper do exactly? Is it the same as a Cow Tipper?"

"Anyway, I think the wisest thing to do is to first send a delegation to the Ochre Fallow Moot. We must know what they know and see what they see. They must have been here for a long time and surely their twibesmen can tell many wibald tales of the suwwounding lands - including infowmation about the ants, the twolls and other as-yet unknown thweaths. Perhaps Master Gyffun could have a talk with their bard?"

"I'm sure we have some things they need wight here for twade. For example, did they have duckboards? I know the charm to wepel wain and dirt and could teach it to them. Did we finish that list of the twibal inventory?"

"As for little Odi here, I plan to weturn to my tower in Alda-Chur at some later stage and do a little weseawch. I seem to wemember some scwolls that could pertain to this enigma but I will need some time to find these. A divination might tell me more as well."

The small duck finishes his speech and lights up a cigar. The tiny wind daimon that Aren summoned especially for this purpose whirls into action and directs the cloud of smoke towards the extra-large smoke hole.

Vurth moves to position himself between the duck and the 'extra-large smoke hole' and then takes deep satisified breaths.


Gyffun listens intently during Wilma's tale of their ancestors, and nods enthusiastically at her suggestion regarding the Clan Roles. After hearing the responses of Vurth, Silverquill and Vizz, he takes his turn to speak.

"I shall be glad take the part of the Songstress in Wilma's scheme, if all are satisfied of my fitness for this responsibility. It would be a great honour to tread in the footsteps of the ancient Riantha, and I feel that I am doubly qualified for the role."

"Long have I been torn between two callings, feeling compelled to dance to two different tunes. This was my conflict: should I listen only to the artful music of Donandar and Drogarsi, or hearken solely to the wild song of the Lady? Although in the end I chose to follow Drogarsi's path, I did so in the knowledge that the Lady would ever hold some sway over me."

"The harp that I bear is a symbol of this dual allegiance, a covenant if you will, and a token of the long and arduous road that I travelled to discover a way to marry these two halves of my being. The full tale of the Harp of Thorns, and how I came to win it, must wait for another occasion, I fear, but I mention it now to show you how deeply I feel drawn to the role of the Songstress."

There are a few moments of silence, as Gyffun glances around at his companions, powerful emotions writ large upon his face. He looks in particular to his hearth-mother, Lismelda, for reassurance, and to those others amongst the Exiles that he has grown close to over the last few seasons, for acceptance. Then, gathering himself with a visible effort of will, the skald continues.

"As to the Ochre Fallow, I would be happy accompany Vizz on his next mission of diplomacy, and to seek out a skald amongst them, if such exists, as Silverquill suggests. I also have a hankering to explore our the area hereabouts, however, and I have a certain talent for sniffing out food in the wilds that might prove helpful."

"Vurth also spoke of the Dark Folk, and I agree with his assessment: we would do well to seek them out and find out whether they would be our friends or our foes. In this task too, I would offer my assistance, although in truth I do not know whether I would be an asset or a hindrance in light of my recent encounter with one of their hunters."

"But I realise that I have now proposed myself for three different tasks, and should probably stop before I think of more."


"Talk huh?" says Vurth. "While my tongue and I (flourishes Klanth) shall converse about here, with those dark folk perhaps as opposed to with these Ochre johnnies. Just let them know that I’d be happy to ‘talk’ to them any time they get the idea this would be fun."

"As for you Gyffun, you’d be welcome to come. Handy fellow in a tight spot or so Garnatha says (smirks slightly). Course, also handy to have someone go with Vizz to help explain what he says. Too bad Garnatha aint here. She’d be right useful on a trip like this. Pity about her feet... Guess we can wish her luck on her quest."

"Yes," interjects Aren. "And I am sure I can count on your support when I help Garnatha cross over to the other side tomorrow. After that all we can send with her is our love and our hopes"

"Anyway," Vurth continues. "Who’s agoing to the Ochre Fallow and who’s acoming with me?"

Vurth takes a deep breath of a passing cloud of cigar smoke and waits for responses.

Silverquill sticks his bill out out the cloud of smoke; "Skullcleaver and I will be pleased to twavel along to the Ochwe Fallow. I am cuwious to learn what they know of the suwwounding aweas."

"I will also wish Gawnatha luck on her quest - may she always find the wight and twue path."

"So," the durulz continues. "I think the genewal consensus is that we first go to meet the Ochwe Fallow - is that cowwect? And then, awmed with whatever knowledge we gain fwom them, we can explore this tula and possibly contact the twolls to see if they are fwiendly. I would be more than happy to go along to the Ochwe Fallow Moot and offer my sage advice. Quack!

"A good plan," says Aren. "Though perhaps it would be wise for some to remain on the stead to guard it. As I have a holy day to prepare for coming up then that task would seem to fall to me."

"It seems to me that Vizz Duck Fwiend, Vuwth and Gyffun are eager to twavel as well," says Silverquill. "Wilma the Cwone (respectful bow) - how does that sound?"

"Yes, our Crone of Wisdom - but may she keep her vitality as well" says Aren. He nods and smiles in Wilma's direction

"Gwand! So, shall we head off then? No time like the pwesent. Fiewy Yelm is out and the wain has stopped for now. Where is that dwatted Skullcleaver?"

"Not so fast, my fine-feathered friend!", interrupted Gyffun. "We can ready ourselves for this proposed expedition of yours on the morrow. For now, I believe that there are many things that we still have to discuss..."

"Like what?" says Wilma, momentarily confused. "Ah yes, well, I reckon as this trip'll be up to you lads, for I'd like ye's back afore Fire Season so I'd best stay here, hey? I'd be wantin' yous to give 'em Ochre johnnies what for, especially you Vizz." Giving Vizz a meaningful look, she continues, "I reckon as it'd be good to gets some grain off 'em if we can, and not just for little Odi. Reckon as goin' to talk them and sort some things out like, that'd be best as ye says. Luckily we've not had them batbroo back. As fer the Uz, p'raps the Ochre fellows can tell us somethin'. P'raps Aren, Entislar and me can set things up here for a sacrifice once the rest o' ye's back."

"Now, as for our roles here as leaders, I'm grateful that ye've taken' 'em on mostly. It's a responsibility ye know, and once ye've heard what Vizz has been up to, you'll really see the importance. Reckon as a Sage'll be useful, and that I wasn't aware of, like, so thanks for that Vizz. And you Silverquill." She smiles at the diminutive duck who is adjusting his pillow on Skullcleaver's shoulder. "Reckon as we gots to act accordingly like too, so maybe I'm on that downhill path at last. Defender? Well, we'll have to see how Garnatha fares a' course."


This is Vizz's reponse to the end of Wilma's speechifying.

"Wilma Twosmile, we are blessed. I should relate what was befell in the ruins where I spoke with the spirits. As I made respectful sacrifice to those that had come before the dripping of the rain and sough and moan of the wind resolved themselves to a dread mutter of half articulate voices that plotted against my chants and whispered invocations. Trying to give no apparent heed to the awful sounds, frightful and divergent, soon I could no longer ignore the manifold clamour and tumult. These were surely not ancestors but howling spirits. With unheroic celerity I sought to end the ceremony. Then, in a moment of soul congealing noxiousness, a spirit appeared. Clad in the ghostly remnants of sakkar skin, and making obscene mouthings and fingering he was somehow familiar his voice, peculiar and melancholy spoke these words, giving freely of his hoarded wisdom: uttering many profound and pertinent maxims:"

"'I am one who has come before. I shall fill you with my power and speak to you and tell you how I came to this place. I thank you for you respect, for we are the memory of experience! I am Danlarn, who came and died in this place. I am no soul to dwell in anonymous but for my memory for no gods rule me, but a spirit and so I keep my identity. The great spirit Kolat is my master, and I am a secret breeze that blows where other winds do not.'"

"'It is the duty of elder to speak wisdom, as our Great Chief showed us, as Old Man Yorsar taught us, as common sense would suggest. Take heed of what a crone says, even if she is not a crone. Her wisdom is great but she will forget one who would also help, one who should be respected for his endeavours, to give him a place of honour and allow him to assist our elders with his Knowing. Do not kill him and take his kindling, but let him discover the hidden secrets of the Oath of Kintel, and the Oath that is Unspeakable. The Lady of the Wild Greatness is your destiny but knows that, as with the trees, the route to greatness is never a straight one. The secret is to talk to the spirits for they are the roots, the chief is the trunk, the elders are the branches, the hunters and the hearth mothers are the twigs and the children are the leaves and flowers.'"

"'Remember too, Vizz, that you are not the Duck Tupper you are the Duck Tupper's son. Learn well the rest of that rhyme and one day you shall find the great tree atop a great boulder the roots will be alive under your feet, your gaze drawn up the tree to a branch, sideways along this and then through the filigree of twigs until you will come to a leaf or bud on the other side of the tree. You will find yourself exhausted and know you have learned something fundamental about life, though you will not interpret the lesson for it is not a human one.'"

"'The worlds pull apart, I cannot stay longer, return again O Vizz, when the souls of men and the spirits of the dead may again talk.'"


Wilma listens calmly to Vizz as he recounts his meeting with Danlarn, while several of those assembled turn quite pale. In wonder, she says quietly, "Well, we're on the ancestors' patch fer sure then. This must be where they cut their stead then. And Danlarn hisself, well who'd a thought it?.

"As for them messages, I reckon as I've just done me forgettin', so that's a relief." She looks quizzically at Silverquill, "Kindling? What's that mean I wonder? Well, it looks like ye've some Oaths to uncover. As fer you Vizz, never thought I'd hear misself say this, but ye'd better be learnin' some rhymes."

"As for the Lady o' the Wild, well looks like ye didn't catch that bit quite right, Vizz, but maybe me and Aren can try and talk to him some more while you lot's away..."

Vurth, while well aware of the importance of spirits and their realm, shrugs his shoulders at all this talk. Action, not thinking, is where he excels. He leaves it to the Godi to handle all that sort of stuff. He always knew that that was some reason he listened to Vizz and now at last he recalled what.

Vurth humms and haws and then allows that it might be useful if he went along to the Ochre Fallow as well - just in case talking needs to be done with something other than a tongue.