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While the rest of the group gets ready to leave, Silverquill tracks down Skullcleaver (who had been amusing himself by throwing stones at a crow's nest). The small duck gathers up his travelling equipment and then the burly barbarian lifts him up on his left shoulder, where a padded pillow provides comfort for the sage's feathered bottom. The assembled crowd watches on with some amusement, but evil glares from Skullcleaver discourage any loud remarks.

~oOo~

It is a glorious day as Vizz leads Gyffun, Vurth and Silverquill (the latter perched upon Skullcleaver's shoulder) south towards the Ochre Fallow. Vizz has little difficulty finding the path once again and by afternoon they are rising into the hills to ascend Sal's Ridge[1]. Eventually nearing the top, they look back over the land they have claimed as theirs. It all seems very peaceful from this height, but they know the cover of the trees hides many perils and they must find out how to deal with them. Silverquill momentarily thinks he sees a figure striding along the distant Giant's Path, but he soon convinces himself his imagination is playing tricks.

Dominating the far northern skyline, dark, grey and sombre, is a column seemingly made of shadow. As the travellers gaze at it to pick out some feature, it is with a jolt that each of them realizes how close they have made their home to Skyfall Lake. Comprehending the size of what they see, it is as if a whole world were falling out of the sky before them, but they know this to be water falling from the sky, and so much of it as to be beyond comprehension.

Climbing the ridge, the disconcerting column gradually fades into the evening haze and disappears. In the crags atop the ridge, Vizz finds the hut of the Ochre Fallow stickpickers who greeted him on his last trip, but finds it empty. From here, it will be but a few hours to the stead of Umathkar Chief, as he styles himself, but it is too late for the travellers to pick their way down from the heights this evening. The day's sights have unsettled them, and the crags and twisted trees looming above remind them that a God was once ambushed on this Ridge.

~oOo~

Vizz surveys the ridge, the empty hut and proposes that staying in the hut seems sensible. He seems perplexed.

"Well, I proclaim I am in a gowyop." He admits; "I have been here, to this very place, which now is desolate of mankind, yet I am conscious only of a peculiar emotion such as impels a moth to pursue a wandering flame. It is said that where the gods meet the world, there is magic, and this is such a place. A fabulous people are said to have lived, in very ancient times, in profound and perpetual darkness on this, Sal's ridge..."

Then, speaking to himself, he recites a customary warding against the terrors of the dark:

"O grim look'd night! O night with hue so black!
O night, which ever art when day is not
O night! O night! alack, alack, alack!"

Then his demeanour changes, he cheers up and encourages some activity.

"Come, cease gawking at clouds and whatnot, we must be in fine fettle in the morn, Eat, therefore, and take thy repose. We will consider, over our meat, in what manner to act with that jurp Hahlgrim. Some fellow to go on watch while we work a roster. Skull cleaver, put that duck down, he has had a fine ride and now perhaps could do some tasks. There is a stream not far from here, just past yonder log, in which Hahlgrim took his drink a few times. Snork, snork! Icy cold for oen to bath in methinks."

Then, perhap hoping Silverquill doesn't join in he sings a traditional refrain:

"Oh some like the mountains rugged and grim
Where the sleet storms howl and the low clouds skim
and you hang by your toes from a ridge's rim
but i'll warble a rondeau and carol a hymn
To our Place, 'tis the Far Place!"

Gyffun cannot resist singing the next verse:

"Oh our clothes may be damp, but our spirits do soar,
In this green home of ours near the Skyfall's roar,
Some think it a dull land, its features abhor,
But there's really no place that I'd like to be more,
Than our Place, 'tis the Far Place!"

~oOo~

Silverquill, perched comfortably on Skullcleaver's shoulder, has been making a map as they travelled. He went a bit pale around the bill when he thought he saw something on the Giant's Path and his hand automatically crept into his pocket to check that his precious Lightning Globe was still there, but he soon convinced himself his imagination were playing tricks.

Arriving at the outskirts of the Ochre Fallow, he jumps down and shakes his feathers. He could use a quick dip! With Skullcleaver trailing behind, the small duck volunteers to get water for the water skins and approaches the icy cold river. It looks clean and inviting. With a mighty "Qwak!", he leaps into the water and dives down, looking for any tasty insects, snails or seeds in the mud.

After a while, the duo returns to the rest of the group. Silverquill is whistling a happy tune and does indeed join in when Vizz starts to sing:

"And some seek the desert, bawwen and dwy
where the hot sun hangs in a cloudless sky
and your high llama sways and your eyeballs fwy
but I to the land of my birth will hie
to the Far Place, it is our Place!

While some love the Sun Temple of Dwagon Pass
and admire its dome with ohs and ahs
and go to the dwill square to shout huwwahs
but the bonniest land there ever was
My own Place, 'tis the Far Place!"

Silverquill starts on another ditty:

"Oh, it wained and wained and wained
The avewage fall was well maintained
And when the twacks were simple bogs
It started waining cats and dogs.

After a dwought of half-an-hour
We had a most wefreshing shower
And then, most cuwious thing of all
A gentle wain began to fall.

Next day but one was fairly dwy
Save for one deluge fwom the sky
Which wetted the party to the skin
And then, at last - the wain set in."

~oOo~

"Well folks," says Vurth. "Iím all for spending the night here but in the morning I think it might be better if we separate once we get close to Umathkarís stead. I doubt Hahlgrim will be in a better temper if he sees me so I donít know if we should rub his face in the total failure of a man that he is."

He turns to Vizz.

"If you think it wise, Iíll just skulk about at earshot and hang about for your shout should you have need of me and my tongue." He flourishes his klanth.

"Other than that, Iíll just poke around here for a bit to get the lie of the land before we turn. Think Iíll stand the first watch. Might want to be careful until we are sure of our welcome"

Gyffun nods his agreement.

"Yes, it is certainly best that we stop here for the night, and consider carefully our approach for the morrow. Perhaps Vurth and I could perform a small reconaissance now, while the rest of you prepare some food from our meagre provisions? Then later we can discuss our plans - and perhaps join together once more in song?"

~oOo~

Silverquill's main purpose in coming along, he tells his companions, is to find out how much the Ochre Fellows know of the surrounding area - and what dangers the exiles might expect to encounter, especially from the Uz. If he can find the Ochre Fallow lawspeaker, he muses, he'd like a quiet chat with him. He also encourages Gyffun to seek out their bard, if such a fellow exists.

"A fine plan from our fine feathered friend," Vizz declares. "Make notes, take stock, share wisdom, collect anecdotes and data, maps, cartography, geography, all sorts of -graphy, well, except, that one - we must have facts, nothing but facts. Root out all else and get as many facts as you can fine duck."

"Vurth too has a cunning strategy. To avoid conflict by avoiding contact. I commend it in its entirety. Gyffun, our noble skald should do as suggested unless he has some alternative plan. If we can manage it perhaps a fine song would put us in the peoples favour, maybe even the chief. We expect these folks to be at moot. It seems this hut we have so easily wandered into is not so much deserted as left empty for a night or two - I am guessing the inhabitants are at this Ochre Moot. I know our customs as well as any man, and know the sorts of things that go on. Perrhaps Umathkar shall get the boot at this moot?"

"For myself I shall present myself as the first of our small band, which I shall endeavour to refer to as if we were a clan, and a warlike one too. I shall be marked with a dignity that serves to triumph over the ravages of mortal sorrow and illness. The speech shall be the usual amass of cliches, and some tales I have will not be shrunk in the telling, told in a style althogether extravagant; I shall relate stories at which I shall laugh immoderately, and pour forth extemporaneous verses that would have been thought bad but for the stranges grimaces with which they will be uttered. In a word, my loquacity was equal to that of an hundred astrologers; I shall eat as much as I am offered and carouse in proportion. My purpose is to present to these Yellow Fellows of the Ochre Fallow in such a way as they think us a worthy threat, powerful warriors, heroes and magicians, blessed by the gods and in cahoots with powerful spirits, with mighty appetites and thews to match. I have a hunch that Umathkar and his Hahlgrim Thane are not popular leaders. From the rag tag of fyrdmen that approached us before I am surmising that they are short of warriors, short of clansmen. Their chief is unpopular, the women will be calling for him to stand down. Their ring will be in disarray - they have a mere slip of a young woman as their trader as merely one example. My ultimate purpose is to provide a viable alternative that the adopted Fallowsmen might consider. A clan they could join - or even a bloodline that they could elect as chiefs over them. But I think I am hasty, carried away by great schemes - let us get a firm footing first."

"Further, I should add, part of my plan is to keep well in with my sweetheart and business partner. I'll not be able, after long abstinence, to calmly dismiss unplumbed a fair lass who crawls into bed with me begging that I pleasure her. If such should occur, I trust young Gyffun can keep the Ochre Thanes entertained with his warbles."

"Now let me just check our gorgulous giftings and make sure we have gauged their value so a profitable exchange may be made....""

And so he begins rummaging through some of the items that he has.

Silverquill is very impressed with Vizz's oratory, thinking that he would have made a furiously fine follower of Lhankor Mhy. He makes note of the word 'gorgulous', intending to use it to impress his fellow scholars back in Alda Chur.

~oOo~

As Vizz busies himself with his wares, Gyffun responds to his companions various suggestions and observations.

"Silverquill, my friend, I shall certainly follow your suggestion and seek amongst the folk of the Ochre Fallow for a fellow skald.I am confident that such an individual would be in a strong position to furnish us with all manner of interesting tales and tidbits of information. I am not sure how long these people have been dwelling here, however, and fear that their knowledge of the surrounding area might not be as comprehensive as we would like."

"As to Hahlgrim, Vurth, you would indeed be wise to avoid that disagreeable fellow. In fact, I think that we would all do well to steer clear of him, were it possible, for we did little to win his affections in our last encounter. However unpopular he may be with his fellows, he might nevertheless be a thorn in our sides if he persuades any of them to share in his low opinion of us."

"I suggest, therefore, that we make our embassies in the first instance to Umathkar, and to Umathkar alone. We have yet to discern clearly what manner of chief this fellow might be, but he is, if nothing else, the acclaimed leader hereabouts and hence worthy of our attention, and some courtesy. Vizz has told us that we may expect some kind of welcome froom this dignitary, but whether Umathkar's avowal of friendship was the false amity of the recently-gifted, or the true word of a potential ally, remains to be seen."

"Later, when the extent of our welcome is plain, we might seek for other friends amongst the Ochre Fallow folk. Vizz already has a firm friend in Oshala, I believe, and Silverquill and I might hope to find fellow members of our professions. We should try to dicover if there are others amongst them who might be worthy of attention."

Gyffun's expression changes, growing darker.

"But I am also troubled, Vizz, by the thought of your fine cloak residing in the hands of this chief, however worthy a fellow he may prove to be. For surely, you do not look yourself in the absence of you customarily fine attire. Do I correctly recall that this item - which surely you clearly gifted upon Umathkar in a fit of excessive enthusiasm - was handed down to you by your forefathers? Oh unhappy mischance! Would that we could concoct some ruse or other whereby we might persuade him to part with it..."

"I miss it more than expected," Vizz admits. "I must agree with you wise, grey bearded Gyffun. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable being, for it enables one to think up a plausible reason for whatever one wishes to do. My ancestor had famously instructed the seamstresses of Jonstown with the terse instruction "Make it! Sew!" which they were obliged to do for he had performed some minor heroism to save their hides. I don't lie, cheat or steal... unnecessarily. In this case I am open to suggestions of skullduggery and trickery. No one but the pure in heart may wear the golden cloak, and Umathkar is no such a one."

"Hmmm..." responds Gyffun, rubbing his silver-streaked beard thoughtfully. "If what you say is indeed true, then perhaps I might be able to conceive of a ruse after all. And perhaps your ill-judged gift may yet be turned to our advantage."

Vurth pricks up his ears at this turn in the conversation.

"Skullduggery... yeah," he observes. "Like wot I done to Hahlgrims skull. We bash him in the skull and take the cloak back. Howís that for a plan?!"

"A masterful plan that makes up in simplicity what it lacks in subtlety," comments Vizz. "I think perhaps we should reserve this plan as a viable alternative - Silverquill will need to help out with the order of letters in which ever script is in vogue in the Libraries of Wisdom, but we should assign it to the second letter. Not to rule out as a possibility but maybe delaying and postponing it until such time as we are in a better position to deal with it's more dangerous consequences."

Now Gyffun's eyes are sparkling and his face is aglow with mischief.

"Let us say, for example, that I were to compose a ditty on the topic of your cloak, telling, in the evocative language of the skalds, of its wondrous properties and noble heritage. And say, for the sake of this discussion, that this composition included some reference to the cloak's ability to signify a true and noble leader of men. While not necessarily, in the strictest sense, a true and accurate reflection of the cloak's properties, this assertion might charitably be regarded as falling outside the realms of actual falsehood."

"Might we not then persuade the unsuspecting and surmisedly impure-of-heart Umathkar to wear said accoutrement as a sign of authority, only to find that it has the opposite effect when his deduced-impurity is confirmed? Thereby using the testimony of your dazzling cape to both discredit him and relieve him of this ill-deserved treasure? Or am I, perhaps, approaching your assertions about this item in an altogether too literal fashion, friend Vizz?"

"A bwilliant idea - and one worthy of myself, if I might add," says Silverquill. "Listen 'till I tell you... I have heard tales of a twibe in distant Walios who possess a wondwous thwone of stone. Only their twue king can seat his woyal behind on the thwone - if a pwetender twies to sit, the stone will gwumble and moan at the outwage."

"Perhaps we can use this to our gain? Somehow devise a twick where upon the cloak will perform some magic trick if Umathkar Chief twies to wear it - or indeed, if he is alweady weawing it, make it cwy out in wecognition of its twue master?"

"Many things do not happen as they ought," declares Vizz. "Most things do not happen at all. It is for the conscientious skald to correct these defects in history. There are two ways of constructing a crafty plan. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. I fear that so thin a plan impresses me not as perdurable, nevertheless, I am a monstrous clever fellow and I am sure we can work it some way. To summarise, we say that the cloak is fit for noble heroes, and Chief Umathkar wear it, then we demonstrate that he is not a noble hero and therefore, by the iron laws of logic, he should not wear it and since he is not wearing it, he cannot either be chief. Is that the nub of it?"

"Aye, friend Vizz," concurs Gyffun. "You have expostulated the very essence of my proposition, and with admirable alacrity. And in doing so, I not with some pleasure but more trepidation, you have exposed its meagre merits to the harrowing scrutiny of weightier intellects than mine own."

Vurth contends that his plan has the virtue of simplicity to support it and has yet detected no flaw in its logic.

~oOo~

[1] Sal's Ridge is to the south, running SW-NE, so the Ochre Fallow are southish from the site of the new stead. Dar sat in judgement here, until he was ambushed by the four Angry Gods.

~oOo~