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As the reunited Exiles prepare for a cleansing ritual, they are faced with an unexpected additional challenge

Our intrepid emissaries return to find the stead abuzz with a new sense of purpose, as preparations are made for the harvest a season hence. The flag leaves are emerging on the barley and little Odi is eying them hungrily. His former playmate Angor has left with his aunt Garnatha, to follow some bear tracks in search of his father, so little Odi, who has now taken to calling himself Lodi, spends his hours clambering all over the passive and half-blind Sabriel, whispering things into her ear and giggling.

The exiles take great care of Sabriel, treating her with an unusual honour, for she is now the vessel of their ancestor. Riantha is not often at the stead, but when she is Sabriel takes on a new liveliness, often asking herself many questions or taking off on a hunt. Each of the Exiles pays their respects their Ancestor in their own way, some by looking after Sabriel, some by spending an evening getting drunk with Riantha and telling her stories. This unification of the Exiles behind a single figurehead is what has given them a sense of purpose and, despite the horrific wounds, a warm but silent smile from Sabriel or a coarse joke from Riantha is enough to keep a smile on most of their faces. despite the good mood, Wilma seems a little saddened by this whole affair, whether by the earlier suffering of the young girl or by a feeling that her place has been usurped is a matter for idle speculation.

The alynx Yizar and the two young women, Oshana and Rika, soon make themselves acquainted with the rest of the Exiles. Yizar and Kollos have a quick spat but soon have their respective ends of the tula marked out. Oshana at first gazes in fear when she sees the little featherlegged boy, making a sign to ward off evil spirits, but Vizz's good humour is infectious and she takes to merely averting her gaze from the boy.

Rika is the busiest, readying herself to hunt out the Predark, enlisting in spite of some protestation Skullcleaver, Vurth and Silverquill. Guided by the latter, she carefully bosses the Uroxi about and into odd positions in fields, up trees and the like, positions which only make sense to her and the durulz. Skullcleaver is quite obedient, calling out what he perceives when requested, but is soon unable to distinguish between the aches from his initiation scars and the pains of standing still for hours. Vurth, meanwhile, begins to suspect that this infuriating woman is doing all of this just to annoy him and it is not long before he stomps off in a fury and refuses to speak either to her or to Silverquill. The durulz sage, however, is fascinated by this whole process and is delighted to be mapping the stead in such an unusual way. He weaves the positions of freshly uncovered earth - identified by the spectral hands, the reports of the Uroxi and the senses of the Belveren healer Rika - into complex designs on his sheets of parchment, drawing arrows, even resorting to folding the parchment into odd shapes at one point as he chases after an idea...


Vurth is extremely happy to reach the old (new) homestead. Three days of being harassed by that Rika woman were enough to drive any man to drink... or murder... or maybe both. Both would be definitely best, thinks Vurth, though he feels distinctly uneasy about ever actually confronting the woman. What was it about this Belveren that annoys him so? Perhaps the fact that at last he has found a problem he can't kill? He shakes himself and then goes to Wilma to ask for permission to leave the stead (and that woman) for a good long exploring trip.

Much to his chagrin, permission is denied. Apparently 'that woman' had requested his assistance in mapping out the immediately nearby pre-dark taints (Morith’s field wasn't the only one) and this is considered more urgent. So off he goes with ‘Cleaver and that duck... wandering around in the bushes, checking out each gor and galt - especially the muddy bug infested bits since "the pre-dark likes to lurk in such places" or so that woman says. Then there is the business about standing on one leg and sniffing for chaos, with one arm outstretched and the other holding his helm. She definitely favors 'Cleaver, she does. All the deepest darkest muddiest bits are definitely saved for him. And that duck - no help at all. Just asking his question like "What does it mean when Vurth falls down on his head like that?"

Well... at last it seems they have checked out the locality and Vurth can take off into the bush where he only has to deal with murderous dark trolls and crazed broobats. Anything is to be preferred to that woman! But it only gets worse when Rika asks Vurth to begin identifying spots of flowers in bloom and blossoms which can be collected for the cleansing, suggesting his helm might be a suitable vessel for him to bring her specimens for inspection.


Vizz seeks to amuse and inform Riantha with a fine selection of his best anecdotes. Ostensibly, this is to update her with some interesting news about her descendants, but mostly it is a chance for Vizz to use the brimming cornucopia of his immense and highly irregular vocabulary. If at times it seemed that Sabriel had passed into a semi-conscious trance, then surely that had more to do with mystical concerns than with the florid effervescence of Vizz's tales.

Vizz's many topics include:


Gyffun is wary of Riantha at first, and disconcerted by the unsettling effects of her guardianship upon Sabriel. Their ancestor's exuberant inquisitiveness and her earthly vessel's stoic acceptance soon win him over, however, and he spends several evenings regaling her, in both guises, with songs and stories.

Riantha is particularly curious about the skald's connection with The Lady, and he is persuaded to repeat his tale of the Harp of Thorns. Her intensity and voracious appetite for sensual experience show no sign of diminishing, and Gyffun sees in them an echo of the wild and rapturous music that he had experienced on that quest.

He is reluctant to surrender himself once more to that Dance, but he does give Riantha and the rest the Exiles a small taste of it one night when he unwraps his harp and favours them with a series of savage and beautiful melodies. Before long, most of the stead is up and dancing, with their delighted ancestor whirling amongst them. Only when the breathy voice of a flute joins the sound of plucked strings does anyone realise that the harp has started to play itself, and Gyffun is accompanying it. When at last the music and the dancing stop, the skald sinks to the floor and sleeps where he falls, cradling the sighing harp in his arms.

On the following day, Gyffun, now looking drawn and pale, asks Riantha to accompany him on one of his regular forays into the gors. He takes the harp along with him, wrapped carefully against the elements, and warns his comrades not to expect them back before nightfall. When they eventually return, two days later, their clothes mist-drenched, mud-spattered and bramble-torn, both are flushed and radiating vital energy.

Most of the Exiles assume that this merely reflects the satisfaction of Riantha's increasingly-familiar appetite for the dance of the blankets, but others observe the darker stains on their clothes, and on the wrapping of the harp, and wonder at the true nature of their expedition. The ways of The Lady and the strangeness of the wildling skald are not unknown to them, however, and they are, for the most part, unconcerned.


Finally, Rika is ready to call upon Ernalda to exorcise the Chaos spirits which have haunted this land. Having mapped out the focal points, she has strewn them with the last of the dulu blossoms and the first of the stroople flowers, collected by her Uroxi assistants, willing or unwilling. Riantha has been absent for several days now, Sabriel sitting in her hut by the Ancestors' holy ground or tending the gorse hedge which she is sculpting about the stead. Wilma gathers all of the Exiles together one morning to inform them that the Cleansing will be that evening. Looking sternly at Vurth and Skullcleaver, she reminds them that this is a matter for the Earth Goddess, and that they must swear not to interfere. She informs everyone that from dusk until dawn, they must remain within their huts and lean-to's.

Everyone busies themselves as usual during the day. Some help Rika with the final arrangements of flowers around the dug-up patches of soil, some tend their crops, some quietly observe the strange creatures such as Lodi and Yizar which seem to be accumulating on the stead, shake their heads and tut gravely.

The flowers arranged, a scowling Vurth stomps off into the bushes muttering something about guarding the stead. Gyffun catches up with him and silently accompanies him, not saying anything due to the warrior's black mood, but glad to be striking off into the wild, if only for a few hours. He is not surprised when he turns back at a sudden noise and sees the sentient alynx, Yizar, stalking the two of them as if hunting a mouse. Grinning, Gyffun doesn't inform his companion of the cat's presence.

Vurth has become sick of dug-up earth so he walks straight past the freshly overturned patch of soil. Gyffun, though, crouches down over it and soon spots some large cloven-hooved tracks.

After examining the tracks carefully, the skald frowns. "Vurth," he calls out warily. "I think you might want to come back here and give these a good sniff."

Bending down for another look as he waits for Vurth, Gyffun traces the back of the prints with his finger. Finding that the cloven hooves connect at the back, with little indentations to either side, he convinces himself that these tracks are more porcine than ovine... He's chewed on enough trotters in his time to know their basic structure, even if he's no expert at tracking.

Vurth casts a wary eye about and then bends down to give the tracks a good sniff. Wild boar? Tuskers? Or broo even? Further action awaits upon what his nose informs him, which is unfortunately not obvious. Plainly this is one of the spots where a skeletal hand came out of the earth: the dried and flaky runner, part bone, part plant, goes deep underground as with the others which Vurth has been strewing with flowers. This one has since been chewed upon and still has a faint whiff of the Predark, but not what he would expect had it been a full-blown monstrosity such as a goatman which had done the chewing. Indeed, a few petals remain and Vurth can vaguely recall having been in this spot before, preparing it for the evening's cleansing.

Yizar watches the two humans from a little way off. He can't quite understand what would possess these twolegs to hang around a place with such a rank stench of boar and unwashed Uz. Fighting the strong flee urge that Vurth always gives him, the alynx is finally overcome with curiousity.

"Can he really track by scent?" he asks Gyffun. "I wouldn't have thought human's noses were that good considering the stinks you always surround yourself with."

Feigning disinterest he then goes back to grooming himself.

"Vurth's no tracker," Gyffun tells him. "But he does have a very keen nose for the stench of Chaos. My first thought on seeing these tracks was "Broo", but I see now that they are boar tracks. Hmmmm... Boar tracks."

The skald pauses, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I wonder." Then, noticing a quizzical look from his feline companion. "Sorry, Yizar - the boar was the totem of our ancestors' clan. I'm thinking that there's perhaps more to this than meets the eye. Well, Vurth? What does your nose tell you?"

Vurth listens with half an ear to his companions chatter as he ponders what his nose and eyes tell him. There's pigs and then there's pigs. He stands and turns to the others.

"Well, whatever it was has walked through a pre-dark stain either on purpose or by accident. We better check it out as the ladies - and I use that term loosely - will be coming this way later to cleanse the area. Gyffun, why don't you and I walk about this place in circles? Yizar, why don't you keep an eye out and see what we can scare up?"

With that, and without waiting to see if the other's are following his words, Vurths draws his klanth and precedes to walk about the area in a slowly expanding circle. It is not long at all before Vurth finds a whole set of large porcine tracks and spoor all over the place, somewhere between thirty calm animals and one incredibly frenzied, dancing animal. He can tell they aren't there now, but can't for the life of him work out which way they've come or gone. His nose reveals very little until he approaches the spoor, unsure how close to sniff.


Having ensured that there is no immediate threat to the cleansing ritual, Vurth has returned to the stead to assist as he is required (hoping that the funny helmet phase is no longer needed). He passes the word around about the pigs, as they can be both dangerous and a boon for hunters and alerts them to the presence of the peculiar 'dancing' pig. He also asks Wilma and the others if there is anything in the clan lore about this dancing pig.

Morith sidles over as Vurth relates his tales of giant dancing pigs. His heckling turns to scoffing which, as he gets carried away, turns to snorting like a pig. He manages to persuade most of the Exiles that Vurth has been rooting around for groundberries* and with his undiscerning nose has picked up a broostool, turning his mind to pig jelly.

Wilma is very concerned however. She shakes her head at the suggestion of ancestral dancing pigs, reminding Vurth that she grew up with different, and altogether more terrible, tales of pigs dancing on their enemies' bodies. Realizing she may have said more than her general audience would have wished to hear, she calls everyone in earlier than the nightfall curfew which Rika had oh-so-sweetly requested and points out to all and sundry how poorly defended the Exiles are on their hilltop. Ordering Vurth to look to the defences, her animation at taking charge once again comes across as a little petty. Her resentment of Rika ordering people about has been obvious. She does, though, remind Vurth and Skullcleaver that it is Ernalda's embrace which will tonight smother the taint of Predark and that they must on no account interfere.


Meanwhile, atop the hill, by Sabriel's little shack, Silverquill has been watching Lodi clamber over the young woman, furiously taking notes. Perhaps he has been inspired by a new theory of the relationship of inverted humans, or in this case Featherlegs, with the cosmos and is seeking signs in the little boy's clambering which might reveal his nature. He is therefore not paying due attention when Sabriel speaks with Riantha's voice. Her face seems calm but she speaks in an urgent whisper. Rising and waddling over to hear what she is saying, he can barely hear her. He only catches the quiet words of frustration, "Bloody useless duck" before she goes silent once again and Sabriel's blank stare once again takes over.

When word reaches Silverquill of the one huge piggy or the twenty intermediate piggies which Vurth saw after eating a broostool (this is indeed how the story reaches Silverquill, such is the wagging of tongues), he immediately goes to inquire further the details. Hearing of the possibility of a large dancing animal of a porcine nature, he consults one of the earlier pages of his notebook, now a little the worse for the wear. Fortunately, he has recorded in some detail the tale he once heard of a ravenously bloodthirsty spirit, called Tuskache, which the Tusk Riders would summon when in dire straits.

Tuskache was noted for one of his tusks being split down to the root, suppurating and leaking blood. The pain caused by this lent the spirit a terrible anger which was made manifest by his tendency to trample victims into the ground, sometimes spending the night dancing on their corpses until there was only a bloody pulp remaining.

The victims of Tusk Rider raids recalled how this spirit would lead the charge, breaking down the strongest wooden palisades. His followers would then herd their victims toward the giant boar to allow him to appease his anger on their bodies.

"What was that, honouwed Wiantha? Could you wepeat it? I am weady to listen."

Silverquill plops himself down in front of Sabriel, intrigued by this new event. His notebook at the ready, he waits patiently for a reply. When nothing is forthcoming, he decides to try a Kralorean technique he has heard of. He sits cross-legged in front of Sabriel, his fingertips pressed together, humming the word 'Om' under his breath. This is to clear his mind and make him more receptive.

A vision of Sabriel mouthing Riantha's words comes to the Sage's mind. Doing his best to lipread (these human mouths are so expressive), he can make out the words, "darkness" and "seeking"...

Silverquill says "Wait wight here. I shall weturn shortly" and runs off to find Aren - the human he thinks has the closest connection to Sabriel/Riantha.

Aren can feel someone tugging at his leg. When he looks down, he sees the small duck looking up at him, with an anxious look on his face. "Master Awen, please come with me. This might be weally impowtant". Silverquill leads Aren over to Sabriel and asks him if he can get Riantha to respond.


Yizar has decided to head back to the stead, as there's a female there he needs to service bfore one of the other cats gets to her. He takes great care to move unobserved and keep all his sense open to potential danger. He arrives in time to see the stead building towards uproar...

Gyffun notices his feline friend slinking off, but does not immediately turn to follow him. He is very curious about Vurth's mention of a 'dancing' pig and lingers in the vicinity of the tracks, hoping to catach a glimpse of this curiosity. Only when the light begins to fade does he finally recollect Rika's stern insistence on a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and begins to make his way back to the stead.

With a growing sense of unease, Gyffun draws nearer to the stead. His senses are alert and straining for any sign of danger; his body is tensed and ready for fight or flight. Alerted by his newly-forged bond with Riantha, he is oppressively aware of the presence of malign spirits at the stead, and belatedly realises that this must be a part of the Cleansing Ritual. He has a fleeting impression of an additional threat, however, and this makes him doubly wary.


Silverquill looks somewhat pale around the beak. He clambers up on a high chair and starts to quack loudly until he has everyone's attention.

"My fwiends, listen up! I have something to tell you which might not be good news. As you know, I have twaveled widely in this awea and I have just now checked my notes wegarding these twacks that Vuwth saw.

There is a tale I once heard of a wavenously bloodthirsty spiwit, called Tuskache, which the Tusk Widers would summon when in diwe stwaits. Tuskache was noted for one of his tusks being split down to the woot, suppurating and leaking blood. The pain caused by this lent the spiwit a tewwible anger which was made manifest by his tendency to twample victims into the gwound, sometimes spending the night dancing on their cowpses until there was only a bloody pulp wemaining. The victims of Tusk Wider waids wecalled how this spirit would lead the charge, bweaking down the stwongest wooden palisades. His followers would then herd their victims toward the giant boar to allow him to appease his anger on their bodies!"

Silverquill looks up from reading his notes and tries to gauge the reaction of the crowd


Vurth casually clouts Morith one in the head in passing, and then with Silverquill’s warning to consider, decides to see about improving the defenses of the hilltop. Essentially this means placing obstacles (fallen trees, brambles, etc.) across the easier approaches and basically trying to set things up so that an attack would have to be channeled through a few narrow points as opposed to coming from any directions. He makes full use of his abundant 'people management' skills (intimidatation, known to kill people who disagree with him, violent temper, etc, etc) to properly motivate people.

He also stays well out of Rika’s way other than to take a moment to alert him to his plans.

Once Silverquill has made his concerns about Tusk Riders abundantly clear, leaving elements of his beautiful plumage strewn about the stead, Vurth tops it off by enlisting several of the men with a meaningful glare. Supplementing the gorse which Sabriel has spent some time tending and weaving into some form of defensive hedge, they create a funnel which any attacker would, they hope, be forced to follow into an open area on the slope. Wilma observes this with a critical eye, making a helpful suggestion or two.

Meanwhile, Aren has consulted with Riantha. It took him a fair bit of goading to persuade her to impart her warning once again, learning that she has indeed detected a hostile spirit hereabouts. Its hostility, though, seems to more directed at the universe at large than at anyone in particular, and she has sensed that it is aware off her and the Exiles.

The evening is drawing in and Rika is growing increasingly tetchy. She stalks down the hill, carefully skirting the many holes she has ordered dug up and filled in with blossoms, and scolds Vurth and his companions, reminding them that this rite must take precedence for there is no greater evil than the Predark and that she has ordered (this is indeed the word she uses) the warriors and fyrdmen to leave well alone. One of the men, trying to reason with her, only ends up with a bright red face as she breaks and screams a torrent of abuse at him. Her ill ease reassures no-one and Wilma is forced to take her away to inspect the holes in the ground.

When the sun finally begins to set behind a bank of clouds, everyone is torn between manning the hastily erected barriers and seeking refuge away from the holes. Bending close to these, one of them swears that he can hear a hissing sound, while Vurth begins to sense a familiar stench on the hill, mixed in with the heavy scent of the flowers which is creeping up in the still air.

As they stand about gazing up the hill at Rika, whose feet can almost be heard tapping impatiently, and down towards the woods beyond the fields, red pinpricks of light begin to emerge from the trees. Before long, a host of shadows take form and Silverquill's fears are confirmed, for the shadows are tusk riders and their mounts, the pinpricks are the tiny, furiously glowing beads of eyes of the giasnt boarlike creatures. One of these rides up alone and riderless to the foot of the hill and lifts its nose to snuffle at the Exiles. It feels like an age before it has got the information it needs, whereupon it turns back to its companions. The humans on the hill feel a moment of relief, but this is soon broken by the rustling sounds emerging from the flowers in the holes...


Vizz is terrified, although he admits it to no one. The misanthropic zest of the hideous tusk riders combioned with the dangerous and clamourous spirits excited by the pre-dark cleansing ritual. Not contemplating too closely the possibility that the arrival of the Aramites and the ritual are linked, Vizz prepares for battle. He dons his corselet of bronze, he hefts his spear and feels its weight. He buckles his sword to his belt and takes the weight of his round shield on his left arm. Without a helmet so that he make see and speak unhindered, his nostrils sense the abhorrent whiff of giant tusker. Simultaneously, he thinks he senses deities and demi-gods on the winds and emerging from the earth.

He speaks (relatively) briefly, reminding the hastily gathered men at arms of Andrins Words and Heortling Custom:-

"Gather quickly kinsmen and allies, forget your dinner, corpses will have no appetite. Grab your weapons and put on your hard hats." "We know three rules of fightiing - Barntar's first, his way is brawling. Orlanth's is next - the raiding and rivalry without destroying one another. Humakt is third - the Way of War. We follow Humakt's law against outsiders - we may make false oaths, use poison, send diseases against them, or betray them without fear of reprisals from our gods. They will do the same to us. They are outsiders and that is the way of the world. Aramites: half human, half pig, half troll, and one hundred and fifty parts per hundred monsterrific! Out for blood euphoria and piggish revelry. This is the Third Way my kinsmen, prepare to whet your spears and make fresh black pudding from our foemen"

This will be a sacred and terrible task, for these brutes know only bellicose hate. War starts with sacrifice so the gods of death and destruction can empower us. We do not war as people, but as vehicles of the terrible gods. When we have saved our home we can be purified of all the taint and power of war.

I propose we take the following positions, as the tradition of Vongkot dictates:

The Sword, fast and strong, ready to hit the enemy, to sally forth when the chance arises - I suggest Vurth.

The Shield, that takes the brunt of the attack, steady warriors with cool heads - Aren, Entislar - I suggest for this role.

I shall wear the Byrnie, and bear that danger, as Varosh would have done in such circumstances, as Viturian Thunder did!

For the Spear we hope to rely on those whose location is not known to us, those hidden in woods, or wandering gors and gallt - to return in the nick of time, Gyffun, Yizar, Darvor, Garnatha, and others.

The Back Boys shall be our priestesses, performing the ritual in the midst of porcine slaughter.

Be steady boys, and we shall break our fast on bacon, black pudding and pork cracking, as they shall spike themselves on our spear hafts, ready for roasting!


Entislar is feeling irritated as he sneers down at the tuskers, idly swinging Shaper. He checks to see where Kollos and Angtyr are, grinning at the sight of Kollos sitting quietly besides him with his elegant tail wrapped round his paws.

He resumes his examination of the tusker by-blows and tries to work out which one is their leader feeling slightly annoyed at the suggestion that he - a follower of Mastakos Mover - should be relegated to the static role of Shield.


The evening draws closer in, the itch of suspense becoming real for the Exiles as they stand and wait, imagining midges suficient for a legion of itches . They see before them the Tuskers making the occasional ritual dance or coming up close to sniff at the air, but launching no attacks.Apart from a very few, the find themselves fearing attack.

Grateful at least to have a battle formation, some wonder that it should be thus, the loudest and brashest to call the formation, but none argue. Vizz has set the front, crowded in within Vurth's funnel, behind the pallisade, and it is at least a plan. Though the formation is crude, the basics are there and everyone knows that the only way to fight this enemy off is to hold firm.

Several hours later, nothing has happened and many are starting to scoff at Vizz, with his ideas of formations and so on....


When Yizar saw the tuskers and tusk riders gathering he left his mounting business for the time being and quickly gathered as many of the local alynx as possible. Now, having led them outside the hedge and stationed them behind the gathered tuskers, he is carefully monitoring the situation.

Vurth notes the movements of the Alynxes but pays scant heed to Vizz. He's well aware of tuskriders and their practices. He moves to place himself in the centre of whatever gap is the most obvious to approach the stead. His klanth swings idly from his hand as he prepares his battle magics.

He mutters an aside to Vizz 'to ask what their business is here'. Not the Vurth has objections to a good battle but best not to interrupt the ritual. For sure that Rika would have more than words with him. He also asks someone to tell Yizar to scout about to let them know where all the tuskers are to make sure that none are sneaking about while others distract from the front.


The tuskriders' sudden charge takes even the most seasoned warriors by surprise. The beasts have been quiet at the foot of the hill, the main sound the unsettling rustling from beneath the flowers in the holes. The waiting has been dull but heavy with uneasy suspense, so it is almost with relief that the fyrd raises its spears in the gloom and presents a single wall of some ten shields before the Aramites.

Vurth and Aren find themselves in the shieldwall. Vizz's earlier stirring words were quickly put into practice by the more accomplished warriors among the Exiles and Entislar has taken charge of four other men in the Sword, placed behind a convenient gap in the gorse palisade. The charge is made ethereal by the silence of the tuskriders while their mounts' hooves make barely a sound in the soft earth. Their intent is clear though, and the giant pigs' eyes glow furiously as they gather pace up the slope toward the Exiles.


The thundering sound of the charging tuskers gathering pace is almost overcome by the sound of a dozen odd alynxes letting out an unearthly howling. Unfortunately this seems to have little effect and hardly anyone notices a streak of motion as an alynx dashes out of the bushes lightnings crawling along its claws as it leaps onto the back of one of the tuskers. It looks like it almost slips off but with an effort it scrambles back on and digs all of its claws and teeth into the mighty pig. The half-troll rider turns in his place and thrusts his spear butt at the alynx, but his twisting and the tusker's pain as the alynx's claws sink sizzling into the pig's flank throw the pair of them off balance. As they tumble into the mud, Yizar leaps off to avoid being crushed.


Gyffun has been waiting and observing the Aramites from a place of concealment, having crept as close to the stead as he could through the dense and thorny undergrowth. When their charge begins he calmly unbaffles his harp and emerges from hiding. The instrument leaps unhesitatingly into the air with a ringing glissando, and the skald's strong voice joins with the clear chords of his living accompanist in a stirring song of battle. Praying for a wind to carry their song to his waiting kinsmen, Gyffun unsheathes his sword and prepares to do battle.

The skald's unexpected musical intervention helps to steady the nerve of the warriors in the shield wall, and the sweet sound of the harp melts the chill of fear in their hearts. They face the snarling foe with renewed courage, as Gyffun continues his song and begins advancing towards them...


Vurth snarls at himself in contempt, caught somewhat off guard by the sudden charge. He shouts "Prepare yourselves" and casts his battle magics.

Vurth takes a stride forward and stand one pace in front of the fyrd and shouts his last order while he retains a semblance of self-control. With that he calls forth a dust storm and commands the wild Umbroli to create confusion in the tuskers ranks and shouts:

"Kill the pigs first! Stay out of my way!! CHARGE!!!"

At roughly the same time the Alynxes led by Yizar come charging out of the bush, shortly after to be joining by the stirring chords of Gyffun's battle song.

The umbroli come in response to Vurths summoning cries. Vast stormy clouds, swirling with dust and debris, faces assembling and disappearing with each passing moment. Mocking faces this time. "We saw you Vurth, picking the pretty flowers! You think such as you is fit to command such as we?" They laugh and swirl about Vurth.

Vurth turn an alarming shade of purple. The nearby shield wall edges back. Vurth cries out in rage and cuts down one of the umbroli where it ‘stands’. "There!" he shouts. "Wild enough for you? I’ve no time to listen to your feeble japes get your windy asses down there and make yourselves useful. This I command in the name of the bull!"

Somewhat taken aback by this turn of events the Umbroli reluctantly turn about and head down the hill, first slowly and then more enthusiastically as their wild nature directs them to the task at hand.


"Swines! I am the mighty Vizz Vollesbrother and...."

Vizz's speech is cut short as the squealing mass of tusk and bacon swarms forward in a barbarous tumult.

"Well, just what I was expecting, a surprise attack!" he mutters to himself, shrewd enought to know that he is trying to fool himself.

He persuades his knot of friends that he knows what he is doing, and his confident braggado instills in them some confidence. All the while Vizz tries to maintain a calm outlook in the face of the thundering tusky menace and keeps his bristling godi senses fine tuned to the perfidious dynamics of the Otherside and the sundry evil spirits of the predark that may spawn forth at any moment.

"Steady boys, wait 'til you can see the pinks of their little eyes. Steady... I know what I'm doing! I'm an expert tacticianer. Remember, the Ivory Plinth was abandoned a long time ago. Why? Because it was dumb, just like these monsters. We stand firm, we are obstinate, they are pig headed fools."

Seeing Yizar's attack, Vizz's attention turns back to the belligerent hog riders.

"Great gods of Thunder! Look! A shadow cat comes to our aid! If they bleed we can kill them. Death to those in front of us!"


By the time the tuskers started their attack Entislar was furious, these damn illegitimate swine loving half-trolls had caused him to waste an incredible amount of time and not provided any entertainment to boot, the fish had been biting and it had been a nice day.

Entislar concentrated and called on his gods powers, he sensed resistance that seemed to come from the dark pits, as he started to move tendrils of darkness seemed to reach out to grab him but they were severed by a flickering blue light as Mastakos aided his follower. Entislar arrived beside the tusk rider his hammer Shaper whistling down on the tusk-rider.

Entislar changed his mind and he leapt up onto the the back of the tusker and dancing and jumping from one beast to another wielded Shaper in a series of vicious arks that left trails of gore and blood, all the while cursing them as "Illegitemate diseased midget offspring of incestuous mother loving trolls and chaos loving swine".


Aren has been attempting to arrange for suitable weather for the battle that seems inevitable now. The gods of cloud and wind seemed reluctant to do his bidding today, however; something appears to have annoyed them. Still, there is no time to chastise them now: the pigs are charging. He will just have to us what he has to hand.

The lack of heavy clouds for once had left the air nice and dry, and a smile slowly spreads over Aren's face as he figures the size of charge he could hold in these condition.

"Give me a bit more elbow room, boys: this will be a big one," he says.

Aren's hair and beard stand out straight from him as he loads his javelin with a mighty charge before loosing it at the charging tuskers. With a crackle the glowing jailing streaks through the air and blast one of the pigs which falls, then somersaults its full length when its tusks dig into the earth. Its helpless rider is thrown from its back and sails through the air and land with bone splitting crunch in front of the charging boar.

"YES!" Aren cheers. "Hope you like you bacon crispy boys!"


As a flurry of blossoms flies down at the tuskriders, their mounts are visibly buffeted and the massive front of pigflesh is broken up. The squeals of agony from those wounded makes some slow their ascent of the slope and it is only at the two flanks, with the weaker wind and the protection of the palisade, where the charge reaches the shieldwall. Even these few are pulled back from being spitted on the spears as their riders sharply turn them about to fly back down the slope, Entislar being cheered on by the shieldwall as he makes a mockery of the fearsome beasts, hopping from one to another with seeming ease.

Vurth, placed in front of the shield wall, sees what remains of the charge part before him. Unable to reach the Aramites, he finds himself reeling from a foul malodour emerging from a pit where the flowers have been scattered in all directions by his umbroli. The sharp pains from his ritual scars immediately send him into a furious rage and in an instant he is joined by Skullcleaver heaving his axe as he races down the slope beside the tuskriders.

Emboldened by the magics which have heated their blood and the sight of their foes fleeing, the Shield begins to break up as the men seek a moment of glory and begin to advance down the slope. The three heroes on the slope each feels satisfied by their heroics but each is now equally dismayed to see the massive half-trolls lowering their spears as they mount a charge back down the slope. They are only dimly aware of a massive crash which rolls down the hill like a clap of thunder from behind the shieldwall. Higher on the slope, this sudden noise is the sorest test of the resolve of the shieldwall so far, for this comes from the region of the women and children in the Backboy. An unearthly screaming rides atop the wave of sound - Vizz and Silverquill had begun to suspect something like this, the braggardly godi's mustachioes quivering wildly atop his lip.

"STEADY LADS," Aren bellows. "Stand fast and rain javelins on them. This is just a ruse to draw us into the open so they can trample us. Silverquill go find what that crash was, call for help if needed ".

Turning back to the warriors of the Shield, he starts bellowing again.

"Why you Bull-brained bunch of glory hunters - get back to you positions NOW!"

Diverting his energies from the attack, Aren sends a slow moving globe of Ball Lightning weaving about in front of the advancing shield wall. With curses and threats of painful shocks, he herds the would-be heroes back to their defensive position.

"What would your mother going to say, leaving the stead undefended indeed! No rush - still plenty of time for heroics. Now, Javelins at the ready..."


Gyffun is on the slope as the tuskers wheel around and charge back down towards him. He smothers his momentary dismay, defiantly singing on in the face of his enemies, and draws courage from the harp's unwavering accompaniment. As a slavering tusk rider bears down upon him, he stands his ground and crouches down low. Then, summoning all of the strength and magic that he can muster, he launches himself into the air, intending to strike a flying, overhead blow with his sword.

His timing is ill-judged, however, and his foe eager to spit this conveniently airborne target on his spear. Realising his error at the last moment, the skald executes a startling mid-air maneouvre, swinging his sword around in an apparently aimless arc that miraculously alters his trajectory and sends him spinning away form his original course. Narrowly avoiding impalement, and eliciting a grunt of disappointment from the tusker, Gyffun falls back to earth in a tangle of limbs, and struggles to recover the tattered remnants of his dignity.


Silverquill, located with the Backboys, has been quacking maniacally, sending blast after blast of searing lightning bolts at the ranks of the tusk riders. "Eat hot photons, awamite scum!", he laughs riotously.

At the sound of the crash, he ducks down and lands flat on the ground, his false beard grinding into the dirt. Quickly standing up again, he looks all around him to sense where this newest threat is coming from. The menace is clear: a giant boar spirit, just like from the stories. Wilma is presently facing up to it.

Straightening his false beard and adjusting his robe, the small duck looks up at the giant, slavering tusker which is menacing Wilma. "Get away fwom her, you bastard!" he shouts, now fully in the grip of hero fever.

Gripping his Grasshopper's Leg in one hand and the Lightning Globe in the other, Silverquill leaps about three meters up in the air and lands gracefully on the hairy, stinky back of the giant boar. If this is indeed Tuskache as he suspects, he is going to give it something to ache about...

Clambering onto the massive head of the boar, the wild-eyed duck grips onto the split tusk for support and then proceeds to send a bolt of lightning directly into the raw nerve of the suppurating tusk.


Vurth is gripped by the fury of the berserkergang and only dimly aware of the other events going on about him. He is the Sword and his job is to seek and smash and so he shall. Tuskers laying a trap? Well let it close on steel! Charge!!

He crashes into the Aramites joining the Umbroli and the raining javelins in cheerful slaughtery.


Yizar, emboldened by his minor victory over the one tusker decides to launch an all out attack on another one. Taking advantage of his small size and position behind the tusker line he races forward, claws all sparkly, rushing between between their legs to attacks the genitalia of the nearest tusker. That'll learn 'em not to mess with an alynx.

Yizar dashes under the nearest boar and launches himself at the boars testes. He digs in with all four feet and teeth and hangs on for dear life as the boar starts bucking and squealing in pain. Somehow he hangs on to the underside of the giant pig and looks for his target. Ah, he thinks, there in that clump of rank, stinky hair. Trying to raise his voice loud enough for the tusker and rider to hear him, he speaks.

"Now where is it? Oh, there it is! Funny I'd have thought it'd have been bigger."

Then he digs in at his target.


Vizz is reminded that normal tusk rider war parties are formed by a column of tuskers - giant pigs - rising from deep within the stinking forest, pig-filth covered all over, and hardened in crusty layers down their flanks. This forms the familiar pig smelling malignance we associate with tusk rider war parties.

He sees that Aren is taking good control of the shield and thinks he needs to deploy the Byrnie in a bid to save Wilma from the monster tusker that Silverquill is leaping upon like a quacking prince of the woodland realm.

"I'm drunk on valour and high on foolhardiness - the duck distracts it, come on kinsmen, CHARGE! - before the swine eats feathers"

Vizz has come face to face with the rest of the tuskriders, following in the wake of a massive fierce boar spirit that his duck firned is about to pounce upon. Muttering under his breath ("Swine to the left of me, swine to the right, onward marched the four kinsmen") Vizz comes bristly pork chops to gristly pork snouts: nose to snout with a hulking beast.

No time for windy metaphor, or improper syntax now. Vizz is silent as he deflects the lance with a SWISH of his sword then THWACKS! the beast straight on the snout with his shield. The blow seems to have no effect on the tuskers thick hide, but the monstrous steed squeals and slavers even more as it lumbers forward. The wicked tusks lash out as pink eyes roll in fury. Vizz is knocked over, falling backwards with a slashed leg. His sword arm is still free and he is able to thrust it upwards just behind the tuskers belly, a soft spot. The tusker momentum keeps it moving forward but with one leg now hindered by the sword impaled in its loin, it careens and swivels around, before skidding over.

Vizz remains on the floor, bleeding from the leg.

"That was my favourite leg!"


The hasty deployment of the Byrnie to the rear, led by Vizz but following in the wake of the diminuitive durulz sage, just about contains the new attack by the tuskriders...

The gorse defences have been broken through easily by the shadowy form of a gigantic tusker. Its stench is overwhelming, its squealing drowning out the screams of the women and children. Wilma is the only one who stands her ground. With her arms raised high above her bulky body, she is still dwarfed by the monstrosity, but, just as it is bearing down upon her, she brings her arms slowly down, palms to the ground. The beast's snout is deformed as the downwards pressure lowers it to the ground, the beast's momentum causing it to plough a furrow in the mud and halting it just short of the priestess. The tuskriders accompanying it carry on their charge, crashing into the few men accompanying Vizz in the Bryrnie. All of the men disappear beneath hooves but several of the others set their spears just in time to catch the tuskers full in the chests. The crash of bodies into shields and the screams of the giant pigs contribute to the din, mud and blood flying up and covering all about with a dark slick. Vizz, the first to emerge, leads by example and soon the men have got to their feet, albeit dazed and in disarray.

The scene is still for a moment as the combatants face eachother and regather their weapons or jump back on to their mounts. All eyes, though, are drawn to the three nearby flower pits, out of each of which is growing a single giant flower stalk, the closed head pointing about as it grows, as if looking about.

Back at the shieldwall, Aren has persuaded the men to hold their positions, and they face down the slope, only a few heads straining backwards towards the ungodly din behind. The Aramite's charge back down the slope was not as organised as they would have liked, the scattered heroes giving them no single target. They are soon regrouped at the foot of the slope, though, a little way off Gyffun, the boars' hooves scraping at the ground as they ready themselves to charge once again. The slope no longer presents an open field, however, for as soon as Vurth chopped at the giant stalk emerging from the bared flower pit, a dozen more of the pits erupted into life, blossoms floating into the air. Out of each one now sprouts a giant monstrous flower, at once beautiful and terrible in the half light. The beserk Skullcleaver jumped into the first pit, heaving his axe, and has now disappeared from view.

The first flower to open releases a sickly sweet smell with floods across the slope, quickly reaching the noses of the shieldwall and the snuffling boar below. The smell takes a hold of Vurth, maddening him even beyond his normal rage, but even he is dimly aware that these flowers are not Predark alone, for their beauty is taken from the earth and within each, a struggle is raging.


Vizz is concerned that he really does not know what is going on and takes a few seconds to take in all of the events, to quickly assess whether the Aramites are about to flee or rally, whether the flowers are grown from predark seeds or some other source. Sensing the struggle within the plants, he orders his closest comrades to set their spears, hold their positions, and pray loudly to the gods of storm to send a helping wind to lend power to the lawful plant spirits...


Silverquill can feel the heavy oppression of the Earth magics pushing the snout of Tuskache down. An evil grin plays on his bill as he unleashes a blinding bolt of lightning directly at the center of the giant tusk.

The huge boar squeals in pain and shakes its massive head wildly from side to side, the small mad piggy eyes rolling about in their eye-sockets. Silverquill hangs on for dear life and starts a triumphant quacking. This maddens the boar even further, and with a final shake of the head, Silverquill is thrown like a rag doll several feet in the air. He executes a startling somersault before landing lightly on the ground, right in front of one of the giant flower stalks.

Tuskache narrows his eyes and focuses on the small duck. He is going to dance on this one for at least two days! Scraping the ground with his trotter and sending jets of scalding hot steam out of his nostrils, he prepares to charge.

Silverquill dances around in front of the tusker, quacking madly. "Come and get me, you weeking wump-fed piece of lard", he taunts. Tuskache roars and charges!

At the last moment, the nimble duck sage steps aside and the huge boar blunders into the flower pit, snorting with pain and confusion...


Aren orders the Shieldwall to throw javelins at their now stationary foe. Aren joins in with another Lightning Javelin into the middle of the group. The strain of throwing such potent, plasma-encased missiles is now starting to show on Aren, as with a great shout he launches another blast at the tuskers.

Those nearest him catch the faint whiff of scorched flesh as Aren puts a part of his soul into his latest cast. His effort is not wasted, however, and another Tusker goes down in an heap and sprawls twitching on the ground, with its rider struggling to get out from under its bulk. The other Tusk riders now have to struggle with their mounts as they all try to edge away from their fallen comrade, who is still convulsing with a small plume of smoke rising from where the javelin struck.

Aren taunts them ("Here Piggy Piggy!") trying to goad them into a disordered charge onto the points of shieldwall's waiting spears...


Gingerly picking himself up from the ground, Gyffun counts himself lucky that his dignity was the only thing harmed by his abortive acrobatics. The skald rarely finds failure discouraging, however, and immediately recognises the advantages presented by his new position, and the distracting effect of the strange flora. Loping down-slope towards the tuskers, he selects a suitable opponent and prepares to launch himself into the air for a second, and perhaps more carefully considered, attempt at aerial combat.

The air is filled with the cloying perfume of the flowers, which combines with the scent of freshly spilt blood to make a heady cocktail. The harp's dauntless diapason takes on a new tone as its sanguinary senses are piqued by the smell of wolf-wine, and the effect of this change upon Gyffun is profound. All notion of a calmly calculated assault are lost in the frenzied feelings of savage sensation that now engulf him.

Fuelled by frantic energy and powered up by the motive magicks of his dynamic divinity, he hurtles downhill and leaps sword-first towards the foe. As his feet leave the ground he unleashes a musical battle-cry that pierces through the thick air like a knife, inspiring a glimmer of hope in the hearts of his comrades and provoking a murmur of answering tredipation in the hearts of their enemies.

Squinting in the half-light and screwing his nose up at the floral odour, the porcine target of Gyffun's headlong dive almost completely fails to notice his opponent arrowing through the air towards him.At the last moment, however, the tusk-rider's feeble faculties finally focus upon the human missile bearing down upon him, and he throws himself sideways to avoid being impaled upon the skald's outstretched sword.

This desperate act saves the Aramite from immediate doom, but incurs a cost nevertheless, causing him to tumble awkwardly from his mount and land face-first in the mud. Gyffun, on the other hand, completes his maneouvre with an effortlessly graceful somersault, and lands confidently on his feet. He whirls round immediately to face his fallen foe, his eyes blazing with savage emotion...


It seemed that each man had a tale to tell that night, that each had felled a tusker, though there were but three bodies. Gifted with stories to tell for a year, the Exiles finally felt some pride restored after their year of troubles. Many were the retellings as they feasted on the giant forest boar, its spirit fled, bearing a howling Aramite away to the Otherworld on its bloody tusks. By the time the light of dawn kissed the summit of the hill and began to spread its warm golden blanket down the torn slope, it was as if the Storm Tribe itself had fought.

It was Orlanth who had laughed in the face of the feeble attempt at trickery, leapt into the air to dodge the lances and danced on the tuskers' backs in mockery. It was he who had summoned Urox to blow a mighty gale, Yavor to hurl Lightning and Yinkin to unman the Aramites' steeds. It was Ernalda who had held the Wind Lord safe in her womb and whispered to him when to launch his ambush. Even the Grey Sage had used his knowledge of Lightning to save the Backboy.

In more sobre moments, some of the Exiles reflect on how close they had been to disaster. If the shieldwall had not held, if they had not been prevented from charging down the slope, then all might have been lost. When the Aramites had chosen to beat an orderly retreat, some had wanted to set off after them, but most were content still to be alive.

It was a little while before Silverquill got down off the shoulders of the men and away from the kisses of the women, and went to look for Skullcleaver. Informed that he had disappeared down a hole on the slope, he had to jump down the hole himself as the Uroxi in his rage had begun to hack himself a tunnel once he had hacked the giant plant to pieces. Calm now, the warrior informs the durulz that he had woken from his rage to find himself wrapped in a thick serpent's coil. He had struggled against it but once he had finally calmed down, the darkness had slithered away.

Unfortunately for her, Rika is not the most popular person on the stead, and is only discovered in the early morning. Battered and bruised, she is lying in her blankets with the most tremendous scowl. Her only response to questions is to show one of her arms which has been crushed useless as if from a tremendous weight, and her side which sports a dozen tremendous, livid weals as if she has been struck with a blunted sword or axe.

Aside from the two flowers which had been chopped or crushed, the remainder stand tall in many a flower-strewn pit. Wilma orders that none go near, especially the Uroxi. As Voria kisses each one, it turns towards the sun, opening proudly and obscenely, to release its tremendous sweet smell which soon cloaks the hill and turns many a stomach.


Wilma, however, is furious...

Not known for her healing powers, nor for her tenderness towards those with strong opinions, the priestess ministers to Rika with a matter-of-fact brusqueness which excites howls of pain from the younger woman, enough to incite feelings of mercy even from Vurth's hard bosom. Gathering several of the Exiles about Rika's sick-bed, she splints the young healer's arm with enough sidelong stares at Vurth, Skullcleaver and Silverquill that they know she holds these three responsible. "Now, I'm not one fer issuin' curfews, orders, or eedjicts, but when a respeckted healer," she tightens a strap on the splint until she gets the desired curses, "when a respeckted healer from a respeckted, neighbourin' clan comes to sort our problems out, if she says don't go out out after dark, for fear we'll upset her rituals, I don't care if it's the whole Ivory Plinth as is sat atop us, we at least treads careful."

"We don't," she says, holding up the splinted arm, ignoring the sound of cracking as she does so, "send pigs, which 'as already been dealt with by Ernalda's grace, flying in atop 'a powerful magicks which is underway. We don't," she says, dropping the arm and turning her fierce glare from Silverquill to Vurth, "chop away at friendly plants as is here to help us." Turning the ashen Rika on to her side, Wilma bares the woman's thigh and takes a damp cloth to pad ineffectually at a great red weal. "We don't, above all," she says, glaring now at Skullcleaver, who, aware of his checkered history, wilts before her, "hack away fer two hours pretending we's Mostal or some other underground bein' as is given to minin'."

"Now," she draws a deep breath and smiles a warm smile, "it was good it fell on Gustbran's Forge Day, for I reckon as there's a new sense o' oneness as 'as been forged. The folks are pleased an' that's good. But that's as maybe. I for one want to know what in the Uzmother's seventh breast is going on here." Shushing her patient's groans with a less than tender word, she reminds those present of the tenuous nature of their existence, "We's but recent got outta kinstrife by exilin' ourselves. Beset by troubles we are an' no mistake. Trouble above troubles is that them plants is sat in our fields, an' don't look like movin' soon. And if we don't move 'em, we'll have no harvest, for I'd not set foot in one o' them fields, an' it's all the fields as has a plant. It's plain there's some wrong done by someone to mess this land up so, fer it wan't like this in that Riantha's time, I'll bet."

Remembering to inspecting Rika, Wilma seems reassured that the woman is now unconscious. "Then there's the little boy, Lodi as he calls himself now. Well he's involved, obviously, fer it was his type as set this whole mess up. But I'm loath to set him out on 'is own fer fear it'd bring worse troubles upon us."

Scratching momentarily in the dirt, clearly working out how to say something she'd rather not, Wilma lifts her face in a grimace, her face for once not entirely under control, "Reckon as it's now or never. There's more goin' on than we knows about, an' we've to find out about it or we's in a mess bigger than we was before. Reckon as we need to sort out this business with the flowers or we'll have nothing to eat fer the year an' we'll have to go runnning back, tail between our legs, beggin' mercy an' all."

"Vurth." She hesitates as she looks at the warrior, aware, as are all, that there is much going on his mind which is unclear, but resolving to make things plain. "You was told not to interfere but you did, you chopped at that plant when things was bein' sorted out. That was wrong. To make amends, ye've to sort out this pretty mess, ye've to find the source o' this evil which is prettyin' up our fields, an' ye've to come back an' tell me all about it before ye strides in like ye do."

Plainly taking the easiest tasks first, the priestess moves shakily on to one much more difficult. "We count you as a friend now, Silverquill." Pausing to look the durulz full in the beak, she continues with a firmer voice, "Yer ways is different, but we've no problem with that. Ye've shown us some things as have helped, ye've travelled to this place with us when we was cast out an' ye've stood with the fyrd when we was in danger. But, we're not seekin' warriors, we's enough o' them as ye can see. Here we're in need o' knowledge, fer it seems as the perils is more than we reckoned with. I reckon as it was your man there, Skullcleaver, as set us into this situation now, followin' on from yon Vurth, an' it'd be best he went with you. We've one unruly head to worry about, an' I've set a task fer him, so I reckon as two's too many fer now. If it was possible fer you to go back to yer sources of information an' find out about this little boy, or about this Man o' the Sun, I'd appreciate it. We'd welcome ye back, with yer man, and give ye a right feast, an' then ye'd have stories to tell, fer then we might be able to survive in this place. What de ye say?"

Silverquill hangs his bill in shame as Wilma berates the group in general and nods in understanding as she addresses him.

"I am glad to be counted as a fwiend to this twibe. I also consider you all as my fwiends. You have give me so much matewial for my book that it will take me a vewy long time to catalogue it. I would actually welcome a chance to get back to my tower and do a bit mowe weseawch on this whole situation. Twust me, I will weturn with valuable wisdom and sage advice. Skullcleaver and I will leave at dawn tomowwow. If any of you would like to accompany us, you would be more than welcome. Just know that I will be going to Alda-Chur and likely will wemain there for a good while."