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The Ochre Fallow Moot comes to an unsettling climax...

Noticing Gordangorl quitting the moot for a period, Vizz decides to follow him as inconspicuously as possible, to find out more about the man. Outside the longhouse, Gordangorl limps down the slope to the knot of clansfolk, pausing to rest his hand on the head of a grimy child or two, but sees nothing untoward, until, that is, he notices that the man has somehow acquired a fine piece of material which is now slung over his shoulder. It is Vizz's cloak and the Ochre fallow nobleman has plainly gathered it ready for the his uncle, the Chief.

Vizz approaches Gordangorl openly:

"You are Gordangorl who spoke at the moot so well. I am Vizz, I presume you have heard of me!? That is a fine cloak that you bear, but looking closely it seems more tattered than when I had it. A shame, for it is truly ancient. No matter, ('thinks: "for now"). You spoke well in the moot Gordangorl, but it seems strange to us that you deal with the Mistress of Disease. Surely there is a better way? You had been to where we have settled - is there anything you could tell us of your visits over the ridge that might help us?

Vizz finds the Ochre Fallow noble to be uncomfortable at first to have been found bearing the cloak and more so to be addressed concerning Malia. When Vizz drops these subjects and moves on to Hahlgrim and other matters, though, he seems grateful at the visitor's sensitivity and is soon engaged in pleasant conversation. Vizz learns that this fellow is Hahlgrim's older brother and is a twin to Gordangara who first challenged them upon arrival. He speaks affectionately of both, but it is not difficult to discern that there is some friction concerning the younger brother. It remains unclear to Vizz, however, why this fellow should represent the commoners at the moot, but his bearing, although that of a noble, is uncomplicated. Although he seems relaxed when Vizz brings up the Hag's Haunt, his reply is formulaic, limited to the facts that he has been there and it is haunted by witches.

He stares right through Vizz as he says these things, apparently paying little intention, for he wishes to move the conversation on. Gesturing to Vizz to follow, he goes to a windowless and barred hut. Speaking quietly to Vizz, he gestures at the cloak draped over his arm.

"I must go inside and test the worth of the man within. He claims to be no tax collector, but my uncle will not have it. I fear this man's fate depends upon what I report upon my return."

Opening the door, he and Vizz enter the dark building. Within is a slight man, bound and gagged, and clad only in a grimy loincloth, his dark skin twitching in the cold. The whites of his slitted eyes flicker in the gloom as he looks calmly at Vizz and Gordangorl. The noble readies the cloak as if to cast over the captive's shoulders but pauses, looks at Vizz and asks him, slowly and significantly.

"What do you think the cloak will tell us when I place it on this man's shoulders?"


Before the moot draws to a close, Silverquill seeks out his new storytelling friends. "This Hag's Haunt of yours. Can you tell me exactly where it is? If we were to defeat these howwible witches of wotten wepute, what wich weward would the Ochre Fallow gwant us?"

"Reckon it's over Sal's Ridge, near where the ducks live," says a clever so-and-so. "Now, if you defeat these wascals, I weckon our woyalty might wemove you fwom the tax wegister."

Silverquill tries a riposte but is distracted by an intense conversation between Oshana and Gyffun - could sitting by the fire, one glaring at the other be a human mating ritual he's not observed before? He gets out his notepad in readiness...


Gyffun has been staring morosely at Oshana with her ruddy complexion and jolly smile, casting his mind back to when he first met the Snow Queen on Yelmalio's Hill. With growing certainty, he perceives that that woman on the Hill, her pale complexion and ice-blue eyes, these were not a part of the HeroQuest, these she had brought with her, these were her true face. This woman upon whom he has been gazing, beautiful though she may be, is but a poor replica, a simulacrum, a fake. Gyffun calms his growing anger, realising it is not this woman's fault. He looks more closely now and he sees that the bones beneath the skin, the way of smiling, even the sly look, these are the Snow Queen's, but the eyes and the complexion, these are Oshana's alone.

His confidence restored somewhat by Rika's departure, the skald tries to muster enough courage to converse with the object of his study. At last, seeing her sat alone, he cautiously moves to join her.

"My lady," he begins, tentatively. "I hope that you will forgive me for my oafish behavious at our first meeting, and my tongue-tied stammering at our second. My great regard for your beauty was unfeigned, but I must admit that my 'bold looks' and discomfiture had another cause. I hope that you will allow me to explain somewhat."

"In the midst of last Dark season, I was caught up with some others of my kin in what seemed to be a strange and most compelling dream. A Trollish heroquest it transpired, had drawn us in to play some roles unwitting. At a certain point, however, I came to my senses, and found myself entering the Winter Palace of Inora, with all of my will bent upon wooing that chill damsel to be my wife."

"I shall not dwell further upon this experience, but suffice it to say that the face of that icy queen has haunted my dreams ever since. Thus it was with some shock and no little surprise that I encountered that face in the waking world. Your face, my lady."

Oshana at first eyes the skald suspiciously. She had been quite content for a moment of peace beside the fire, before the festivities of the moot began, and was readying a quip to counter this unwelcome intrusion. Until, that is, Gyffun uttered the words, "trollish heroquest", whereupon the quip died on her tongue, her eyes took on a moist gleam. With each word, her face grew paler, her eyes brighter, the flames flickering in the depth of her pupils. Her gaze caused the skald, normally a master of language, to bring his statement to a close as if plodding the last paces up a steep, windblown hill and, now finished, he finds himself unsettled by her palour and the candour in her eyes.

Gyffun can hear the measured breathing of this young woman, so full of life she has been today, so still now. Gathering all of her vitality into a single breath, she forms it into words, words which he knows have a meaning beyond language. "You will be my Vengeance," her voice rings out across the stead, "and my Queen. You will be my Youth and my lost years. You will gorge on my enemies and you will bear me a God."

Looking up at the skald sat beside her, Oshana speaks in a much smaller voice.

"These were the words I heard when the Featherlegs took Yamanja from us, but they were cast in a different tongue, forged in a different fire. You have chosen a chill, bloated damsel indeed, Gyffun. A damsel no longer, though, for she is twice wed. Once to the Man of the Sun, once to the Lord of the Skulls. Each feeds her to the brim with their enemies and each scores her anew with fresh rage. And each calls her Inora, though she is still a child, and now a pawn."

"I have seen her, my sister, in her icy fastness, with the fires of the world below. This love you have conceived is a terrible thing, friend. You may nurse it for four seasons or more, but should it ever come to term, the birthing will be the end of you. You saw her as I saw her, for I too visited her in a dream. But I knew her better than you. I could see behind the reflection, I saw the scars, the lust and the greed. I saw Mark these words well, Gyffun Daggertongue - this fate she chose. Young she was, crazed by grief, enamoured of a beautiful man with a silken voice, but it was her choice."

Gyffun is silent for some time, staring into the fire. At last, with a sigh, he raises his head again to speak.

"No choice had I in this matter, it seems," he says. "And still the wrench of its compulsion smarts like so many hooks in my flesh. But... love? Love may have been the intent that drove me in that night- bound quest, and defined the form of my embassy to that icy Queen, your sister. But you mistake the import of my words if you believe that love still moves me now. Moved I may be, 'tis true, but not by love."

"I took a parting gift from your sister: a glimmer of awareness, a token of recognition. Compelled by this, I vowed to seek her out, and to know her true form. But I guessed then, and know now, that we had both been ill-used by powers beyond our ken. You say that this was her choice, and I am sure that is what you believe. But I tell you this, Oshana: not all choices are what they seem. For all that her choice set her upon this path, I still believe that she is a victim of another's ambition."

"So... I am grateful for your words of warning, but they will not sway me from my course. Be assured, though: I do not seek your sister with thoughts of love in my mind. I feel no ill-will towards her, and I will save her from this fate if I can, but I do not seek to make her my bride."

"I will speak no more of this now, but if you are willing at some later date, I would hear more of your sister, and the circumstances that led her on this path."

Creeping its way between the two, a tendril of smoke dips and disperses into the darkness.


"By all the victories of Vingkot! I never expect that!" exclaims Vizz...


A soft, steady drum beat brings the stickpickers, cottars and the carls to their feet. By the time the Clan Ring has arrived at the fire, it is blazing once again. Hahlgrim leads the way, his faced plastered with fresh yellow silt, antlers atop his head and fallow pelt across his shoulder. His uncle, Umathkar Blackbrow, follows, Ketti Strongbone on his arm. Gordangara the Unmatched strides purposely along, her brother Gordangorl Pegpole stumping along beside her. The Warleader, the Householder and the Godi are close behind, the entire ring seeming as one family, so close are the resemblances, so similar the bearing.

Taking their places on straw cushions along one side of the fire, they are offered cuts of the fallow deer which has been roasting, still dripping with blood as it is, not fully roasted after the earlier disturbances to the fire. In their wake follow Mollen Pizrak, Vizz, becalmed but offering a serene wink to his companions, the dwarf looking quite miserable as it shuffles along, and several thanes, clad in their military gear and bearing a huge wicker frame.

Pieces of meat, boar and fowl, are brought to the Exiles who are sat with Oshana, Rika with her and now apparently a little tipsy, and Silverquill's little yarn club. Torkal is sat at one of the other fires, surrounded by alynxes, and the smell of roast meat and a herb and barley stew wafts in different tones from each of the fires. The beer is plentiful, causing the travellers to wish they had the surplus of grain of this clan, for the little boy back at the stead, Odi, has made a serious dent in their stores, and the harvest will be a while yet. The volume of the chatter rises as each new log is placed on the fire, soon the mood is as merry as the Exiles remember from over a year past.

Some of the younger men, seeking to show their bravery it would seem, step over to the wicker cage with canes cut from a willow, and thrust the young budding branches through and in, jeering at the figure seated on his haunches at the far side. Near naked, his tan skin reflecting only in spots the fire, the shadowy figure stands to an unimpressive height, but with muscles ripling on his forearms, his hands tied before him, and his thighs above his bound feet. Although gagged, his cold stare at his tormentors is far more dignified than their antics, and they soon feel uncomfortable in their actions, stomping off with the odd insult to another fire. The man looks calmly at the fire, his bearing that of a warrior facing death. Vizz, looking at this man, turns to his companions and once again gives a confident wink.

"The business of the moot is done", declares Umathkar, rising unsteadily to his feet, his presence commanding nonetheless. "With Orlanth's blessing, we can set our minds to the pleasure of the moot. With the new year come new enemies."

The shouts from the Ochre Fallow, now mostly painted afresh with their ochre silt, their spiked hair in the dim evening light seeming more sinister than before, are accompanied by crashes of cups against bowls. Silverquill is disturbed to see his recent storytelling companions with a bloodthirsty look to them. Oshana and Rika are staring at the ground. Umathkar speaks on.

"And now I have the means to tell if our enemies are worthy foes, bold in deed and noble in intent, but misled and misguided, or if they have deceit in their hearts. This man," he gestures at the wicker cage with one arm, waving Vizz's cloak in his other. "Has failed the test".

Hoots and hollers from around and about the Exiles unsettle them further, and Umathkar continues. "Sent by these worshippers of Shepelkirt, this minion of Chaos seeks to steal our wealth, and cites the Law as his guide."

Umathkar Blackbrow strikes a rich vein, his words rousing the crowd about him to a fury the Exiles have rarely seen. Sweat glistens on the dark stranger within the cage as he is lifted toward the fire, maintaining himself just about on his feet.


Yizar watches from a safe perch where he can glare occassionally at Torkal, but stay safe from both him and the scary human his new friends have with them. He was unaware (like he is of so much) that humans cook their own kind and is prepared to follow the lead of his new friends in this.

Silverquill is outraged that a follower of Law should be harmed in any way, even if he should happen to be a Lunar. But he has also seen Vizz's wink and trusts that the tautological tactician has some wild card up his elaborate sleeve. Still, the small duck tenses, ready for action.

Gyffun watches the scene before him unfold, growing steadily more uncomfortable. He nurtures a powerful hatred of the Lunars and all that they stand for, but the direction that this spectacle seems to be taking is equally repulsive. Fear and revulsion hold him fast, unsure of what is about to happen, and unsure what he could do to stop it even if he wished to...

The man in the cage looks quite calm and focused as he is lifted on to the fire. As the cage crunches down on the centre of the burning logs, the heart of the fire crashes down with the weight, the cage leaning to one side. The man stands erect, having a few moments before the flames recover and set to tickling his feet. Gazing at Umathkar his tormentor, he seems quite calm, arrogant even. Flashing a quick look to the heavens, he crouches down, bending his bound wrists to the floor of the cage.

The pulse in his extended arm is quite visible, his muscles defined by a deep black tattoo, twitching in a coil down his arm to his hand. As the fire takes to the young canes of the cage, a hissing and a popping are clearly audible, but the hissing takes on a deeper, more sombre tone.

Suddenly standing tall, the right arm shoots out of the top of the cage, the free wrist doubled back, fingers pointing forward and searching about. The skin of the arm, reddened by the binding and the fire, soon turns black, swallowing light as the night. The fingertips flicker and the arm flies forward in a scaly coil, flying as a cast row in an instant, to take hold of the Chieftain's throat and wrap itself about his body.

The thick black coil swells at the arm, glistening with darkness as it strains against the canes, stretching them until they snap, the cage falling like a badly made basket into the fire. The man steps out of the cage, delicately tipping with his toe a bowl of the Ochre silt on to his reddened feet, stooping down to grab a handful with his left hand to plaster it on his black arm and stepping, still gagged, towards Umathkar.

"Wait a minute now!"

Silverquill jumps to his feet and gestures to Skullcleaver to pick him up. Standing on the barbarians palm, the furious duck glares at the bloodthirsty assembly. Momentarily delighted to have grabbed their attention and halt their chanting and bashing of cups against bowls, the diminuitive sage turns to face the clan ring, his eyes opening wide at the scene which has unfolded in the blink of an eye. Realizing that the moment's silence is his opportunity, he continues.

"Are you all savages and bloodthirsty fools? Has this man even had a twial? Heort's Law demands that he is given a fair heawing and I, as the most worthy initate of Law here, have seen no such thing. Were you to burn him now, you'd be no better than bwoos!"

His words cause the stranger to pause. A swelling against the gag rips it open, and the coil is visible running from his lip down his neck on to his shoulder, thence to the chieftain's neck.

"It is marshdwellers who must teach these windblowers the Law," he says in clear but sibilant Sartarite. "My crime is to seek hospitality. My trial was a test by clothing. My execution a farce." Pausing for a moment to look at Silverquill, he steps up to Umathkar whose wide eyes are focused on the black head of a snake, its tongue flickering against his nose. He bends to pick up a shield, a spear and some darts from Gordangara's feet.

"Next time we meet, brave chieftain, I pray it is near some water. Then will I show you how we Darjini conduct our executions. I will sing you my song to send you on in peace to your gods." He stands stock still as a cloud of tiny flies pours out of his eyes and swarm around the chieftain and his family.

Once the cries of anger, pain and frustration have died down from the Clan Ring and the cloud of midges has dispersed, the stranger has gone. Fury on his face, Umathkar gestures at his nephew and niece. Hahlgrim and Gordangara turn about, Hahlgrim discarding his antlers, and depart with the weaponthanes to hunt down the stranger, trying their best not to scratch at their necks too visibly.

Looking at his remaining nephew, Umathkar has but one word for Gordangorl. "Enough", he says, causing him to bend his head and limp slowly away. Stepping Vizz's bright cloak into the mud, he makes his way to the fire and takes his seat. He glares at the Exiles until he is sure they have quite understood him, and make moves, in their turn, to quit the stead and return home.

Silverquill glares back at the chieftain and hops down from Skullcleaver's hand. He picks up the soiled cloak and quacks a short spell. The mud and dirt slides off the cloak and it is once again restored to its former glory.

"Chief Umathkar, it has been an... intewesting moot. I shall cewtainly document how the Ochre Fallow conduct their wituals. Soon all of Sartar will know of your... wisdom."

The duck sage bows and exits left.