previous index next

Yizar and his paramours unwittingly embark upon an adventure of their own...

Yizar has been busy ensuring his genetic dominance of the stead's alynixes. He goes about this task with a degree of concentration that would be admirable were it not so misdirected.

But he simply cannot escape the feeling that he is being watched.

It's not the watching which concerns Yizar, it's the number and size of the eyes - definitely not human. Following the scent for a while, he is led up and down trees, through glades and even has to go for the odd treetop leap. After a while, a chilly fog closes in, holding the scent fixed and allowing him to work out its base of this smell. Beneath the overtones, the base scent is, essentially, the nutty squirrel smell he knows so well. Mostly male squirrels as well. And they seem to have been moving their caches of nuts like an ant colony moves home. Satisfied at having worked at least that one out, Yizar realizes he is utterly lost.

The mighty warrior was aghast. Led astray by chittering foes? By creatures no better than varmints? This shall not stand he vowed and prepared himself to wage full war on his red foemen. He turned to his followers.

"Let us lift claw and teeth and destroy these foes for their temerity in tricking such as us. Let us go among them like, err well alynx among squirrels and destroy them "

His followers looked blankly at him and mewed enquiringly. The warrior shrugged his mighty shoulders and sighed.

"Never mind," he muttered to himself. "Best to lead by example."

Saying this, he bared his mighty mangs and wicked claws and leapt at his foemen. After a second's hesitation his allies joined in. Longtime the three did assail their squirrelly foes. Red ran the branches and woods that day and many a squirrel fell in battle. All the squirrels had on their side were numbers, size and agility as they tried their hardest to flee the bloodlusty cats. But their tactics availed them naught and many of the foes fell to claw and teeth and no few were blasted out of holes or from treetops by the warrior's lightning claws. Finally the forest glade fell silent and the cats stopped their war. All was quiet and the females sat quietly cleaning their paws and muzzles while the mighty warrior fell silent.

"Shit," he thought. "Now what?"


All is peace as night softly lays her blanket across the boughs, and the three alynxes turn their minds to curling up into a big ball to await the dawn. They think contentedly that they have rarely had such a hunt as this! But the rank taste of the blood, more elderly sheep, if anything, than young sprightly squirrel, sets an unpleasant aftertaste to the proceedings. The fog refuses to lift and the unfamiliar forest begins to close in on the three. As shapes flit threateningly against the moonlit sky, the thought occurs to Yizar that squirrels do not usually chitter. He is unprepared for the second rush of foes, this time of an altogether more menacing, and an altogether more familiar nature...

Yizar tries to roll onto his back so as to fend off his airborne foes. It quickly becomes apparent that swarms of batbroos are on their way and this tactic proves next to useless. Unhindered by the fog the swarms of batbroo start swooping in low and the warrior who had been so brave versus the squirrels is very quick to lead the retreat. He races, ears held low and tail metaphorically between his legs looking for some woody fortress to keep his hideous foes at bay. He does control his fear enough to make sure his ladies are following.

Finding a hollow oak in which to take refuge, he ushers them in and sits guarding the entrance. Feeling a little smug at his cleverness, he listens to the batbroo flying past, screeching and meeping, but gradually he begins to perceive the smells, once again, of old mutton and of nuts. Sniffing at the ground, for it is as dark as the wings of the bats he has seen, he senses that he is sat upon a bed of nuts, a cache of immense size.

When the first explodes, he is surprised. When this sets some more off, he is terrified. When the next round goes, it is as if the world is ended. Yizar attempts to leap out of the oak and away from the explosions...


... And when he comes to, shortly after, his fur is, once again, a mess, his head bloody and bruised. Only one of his harem is there, licking his head. The other, Caterwaul, he can hear outside, screaming as only a cat can - a horrible, spine-clenching sound.

Yizar rises unsteadily to his feet and sneaks over to see what's going on.

Caterwaul has quite lost her looks and, it seems, her smells, for she has come off the worse for meeting the batbroo and hangs limply off a branch. One of the larger batbroo has her in his claws and is flapping furiously to achieve lift- off. Suddenly, it swings around off the branch and, plummeting toward the ground, makes a couple of rapid flaps, just clearing the ground and dragging Caterwaul through the undergrowth as it flees...

"Oh no you don't," mutters Yizar to himself. "Nobody drags my girlfriends off into the bush but me!"

Hoping the batbroo thinks him dead Yizar races silently to the attack, but finds only a couple of squirrels have stayed as a vanguard. Polishing these off, he realizes he'll have to move faster to keep up with the bats.

Yizar shakes his heads in a vain effort to clear.the foul taste of chaos squirrel from his mouth. (And attempt to clear his mind a bit). He nods at his remaining girlfriend and then sets off in pursuit. He relies on his keen hearing, cat's vision and scent to track the batbroo in the darkness. He grimaces hopefully Caterwaul will stay alive long enough for her cries to lead them to her.

It is so easy to follow these beasts that, carrying prey or no, he wonders how they survive. Stopping as they do, every once in a while, to swap over carrying duties, Yizar almost catches up a number of times. But each time they flap away just in the nick of time and he is left with the soft, pained mewling echoing in his ears. When he does lose the scent once, he tracks back to find the batbroo too had doubled back.

Yizar and Mittens follow carefully. In fact suspecting a trap Yizar stops to see if the batbroo come back for him. Sure enough they flitter back and then stop as if embarassed to see the pair waiting and then retreat back the way they had come. Yizar and Mittens follow cautiously keeping their senses alert for chaos squirrels and batbroo.

The forest is alive with these beasts, all over, left, right, above, even below, or so it seems to Yizar. Caterwaul has grown silent and Mittens sadly sniffs at the drops of blood as she trails behind Yizar. Now that movement is slower, the batbroo set to squabbling over the rag of fur they carry when they have the opportunity. Eventually, as the skies begin to lighten, they leave her a way ahead of Yizar and flit up to roost in the trees above.

Yizar is angered almost beyond imagining by these events. He sits on his hanuches and glares at the sad remains of Caterwaul. He thirsts for vengeance but how? He and Mittens are sadly outnumbered and at a severe disadvantage against the batbroo. Mittens nuzzles his neck sadly but he ignores her pain lost in his own.

An idea starts niggling at him. One his cat nature recoils from in horror, but his new sentience grasps with glee. He starts circling the clearing where the batbroo circle and scratching together piles of leaves. Mittens is confused by these strange actions, but she slowly starts helping him. The batbroo chitter and flit from tree to tree confused by this strange behaviour. They wait impatiently for Yizar to enter the clearing so the final battle can begin. Finally as Elmal makes his steady passage across the sky, almost reaching the top of the skydome, he finishes his preparations. It's not as dry as it will be nearer the end of Fire Season but Yizar is sure that it's dry enough. Praying to Yavor Forest Slayer for his aid he, starts running around the piles of leaves snapping his lightning claws at the piles.

The piles start to burn...


"Mist! Mud! Uz eat them both" Thought Faren. Thing had gone smoothly so far, no problems along the Giant's Trail, and their first day going down the Cholanthi River valley had been predictably slow, but they'd made fair progress all things considered.

But during the night a thick fog had rolled in. They'd tried to get going this morning anyway, but while Faren thought they'd gone straight, they'd encountered marshy ground, and now no matter which way they struggled they seemed to find more of the same. It had gotten so that even the family of murning's they'd brought with them had given up exploring and were perched on the backs of the oxen. The only ones who seemed happy were the pigs, who were fighting for the best mud and tastiest plants.

Had they veered toward the river? Or did it curve this way? Or did it have a bay off to this side? Or a tributary stream? They could deal with any of these things, if they could just see far enough to figure out what the problem was and which way to go to get out of it.

One of Miarra's brothers almost cut the arm off another of them with a sickle they were using to try and clear a path past some brambles. Faren sighed, he wasn't even sure any more that was the right direction. Pasting a cheerful smile on his face and drawing on all his patience he called to them softy "Stop. This just isn't going to work in this mist. You lot take a rest, and we'll let the oxen graze for a bit, while I think."

The problem was he hadn't thought of this before hand. He'd thought about what to do if rain raised the river, or Uz were traveling the river, or a host of other problems. .But he'd not thought about fog. The previous day he'd had glimpses that he thought must be Sal's ridge, and it was probably close to time to strike away from the river, but he'd been planning on finding a better view this morning, and now there was no view at all.

He could get over the marshy terrain without much trouble by himself, and maybe the rest of the humans could make it, but the oxen would have less success. How could he tell which way led to dryer ground? "Aha, that was the way to think about it. Invoking the walk on mud and see through rain feats, for what little bit they helped, he pushed his way through the bush as far as he could see in each direction, then poked Ash-not-plow into the soil.

The first three times sparks crawled over his hands and arms, then the spears voice seemed to come up through his hands "Ground is water- logged, terrible for planting and would drown the roots of barley." But in the fourth direction the report was better "Ground is too wet to plough properly, but any seed you could get in there would probably be happy." Faren went another dozen paces in that direction, using the butt of Ash-not-plow to mark the ground as he went, then tried one more time "Soil is pretty wet, it will be hard plowing. And it is full of gravel, not good for grain at all." Faren grinned more easily as he returned to the sodden group. "That way seems to take us to dryer ground. Let's get up there, then we'll wait for the mist to clear up a bit.

By late morning mist still covered the river, but it had mostly burned off a little higher up. Neela suddenly piped up "The way Turnip-Toes is trotting that way and back an that way again, she must be sniffing acorns. Nothing else gets her that excited, well, outside of breeding season leasaways." Myarra and Farren say at the same time "Oak like dry ground!"

Within minutes they are following Turnip-Toes the sow up the hill side. Faren is so busy persuading the oxen that they really do have to climb the hill that he doesn't smell the smoke until he notices the oxen reacting. He glances around at the forest, it is not so dry, it shouldn't burn too easily, but with fire you never know&. "All of you, turn back around, lets get the oxen and pigs back down by the river. Neela, that is if you can keep the pigs from just scattering to avoid the smoke.

"No worries, Turnip-Toes and Cabbage-Head will follow me, `n da rest will come to them, seeing as how those two always know where the best grub is."

"Good. I'm going to go just a little farther forward to see if I can tell where the smoke is coming from, could just be folk burning out trees for a new field. In fact that would be the best thing of all. I won't go far or be gone long."

Faren gather his shield, clutching a couple of javelins in that same hand, and makes sure he has a good hold on Ash-not-plow. He mutters "Not much point in trying to sneak up, what with a polished copper shield and a sparking spear." And strides up the hill to try and determine the nature of the fire.

Following his nose, the mist and smoke intermingled, he is suddenly assailed by the stench of burning flesh. A squealing from down the hill alerts him to possible danger an his senses are afire. A light breeze clears the path momentarily before him, and he spots a pair of alynxes dancing about as they try to escape some peril beneath them, a red glow behind silhouetting the ancient forest. The pop and crackle of burning wood becomes a wave of explosions, from the ground, from boles in the trees, from the canopy, rushing towards him in as one sets off another and each licks up into a small fire. The two alynxes are surrounded by fire, one of them plainly panicking.

Faren shakes away the fleeting thought "So this is why you roast chestnuts, and not acorns" and focusses on the situation at hand.

Later, having had a chance to think about it, Faren explains that clearly the fire and explosions were not be the fault of the alynx, so someone had to somehow be attacking the alynx, attacking a farm's animals is attacking the farm, and his instinctive loyalties lie with protecting farms.

At the time it was more of a gut emotional response: save the animals! Battling aside the wave of green peace that thought calls up, he calls on the magic of the feather hanging on a thong around his neck. He breathes deeply, then calls upon Ash-not-plow to help cut-straight-through, then screams, releasing the wind-ram from his lungs. It charges a straight path through the fire, blowing it aside, going right beside the alynx.


Yizar is appalled by the holocaust he's unleashed, admittedly with the inadvertent aid of the chaos squirrels. Some sad part of him had been revelling in the destruction he'd unleashed though, especially when he saw the batbroos flitting from tree to tree meeping in confusion and panic as the fire spread. Even more so when they started flying into trees in their panic or had flown too close to a particularily large cache of exploding acorns. At first the sparks had only started small fires in the piles of dry leaves he had scattered and these didn't seem to have much effect. But then the fires starting finding the acorns the chaos squirrels had hidden to trap him with and as they started exploding the fires started spreading as burning leaves and twigs were thrown about the forest. The flying sticks and embers had been equally effective at spreading the fire and knocking batbroos from the air alike.

Yizar had leapt and danced in his joy. When the fires had started Mittens had cowered in terror at Yizar's feet. Fire was something that should only be in hearths as far as she was concerned. She felt none of his joy. Yizar's glee was shortlived as he saw how the conflagration was spreading. He was even less impressed when he saw that the pair of them had been cut off by the fire! It looked bad for them but then a blast of wind came clearing an escape route, even if only for a moment. Pausing only to cuff Mittens upside the head to get her attention Yizar raced down the alley only pausing to blurt out a thanks to the stranger (just in case he wasn't attacking them for setting the forest fire) as he and Mittens raced to get away from the fire. Spotting a shallow creek the pair of alynxes jumped in and rolled around in order to put out any remaining sparks. After thoroughly soaking themselves the pair creep out of the water on the side away from the fire to observe the progress the fire is making. Faren though for an instant he was under attack, so swifty did the two alynx came dashing out of the fire It was as well that he was not, as shocked by their speed and still winded from expelling the wind ram, he would have been easy prey. One of them paused and yowled something that almost sounded like human speech, then they were off again in a flash.

Faren was not about to gamble that his position was not about to be engulfed in flame or explosions, so he turned and also fled. Trying to regain his breath he choked on the smoke, then realized he'd lost the rough path he'd made on his way up. He calls on Ash-not-plow to help him cut straight through the bushes, and ends up sliding down a muddy embankment, finding himself back down in the river valley.

It doesn't take him long from there to follow the grunting of the pigs and Myarra's brothers and regain his band. Eagerly he starts telling them what happened, but then start tailing off.

"I think that alynx did speak tarshite! With all the noise I didn't catch what it said but....well, it must be some sort of daimone."

He cleans up a bit, the draws surprise from the ladies, guffaws from the brothers, and indifference from the pigs when he announces "I'm going to go back up and see if I can spot that alynx. When you see an alynx daimone it usually means something, and when one talks to you, you should listen. Our far walking ancestors never regretted listening to such animal guides. But I don't know what it said!"

The others try to convince him of the folly of hunting an alynx, but he stubbornly insists on doing so. In the end Myarra at least convinces him to follow a stream bed so that he'll be close to water. He tells the others that they might as well set up camp and start boiling up some porridge, and off he clambers, getting more thoroughly begrimed by the minute. He has his shield slung over his back, and is carrying his spear reversed.

The alynx seems to appear from nowhere, looking down at him from a tree limb. Faren thinks that it is the same one he saw before. "Oh most gracious sir, or uh, madame?" he babbles, suddenly realizing he should have thought out what to say ahead of time. Since he didn't, he falls into the contrite tones the old headman always used with Harvar's tax collectors "Was that you back at the fire? I'm sure your magnificence would have escaped without my aid, but I hope I gave some small help. I appreciate that you stopped to bestow some wisdom upon me, but with my merely human hearing I didn't quite catch what you said. I hope you will graciously deign to repeat what you said?"

Faren trails off, thinking he'll feel a damn fool if this turns out to be a normal alynx. And if it is a daimone he might be a fool to have come and bothered it.

Faren waits.

The alynx blinks.

Then Faren hears a noise from behind him...


Yizar is amused by this bumpkin's attempts to talk to Mittens. Hiding beneath a nearby bush he had watched the man approach. He didn't seem threatening and he's not sure what this person is up to but he did save them and he's certainly being respectful. Besides this person seems to be strangely attractive to him. Must be the almost palpable heat he can feel rising off him. Yizar clears his throat and squeezes out from under the bush. Then he represses a laugh at the expression on the man's face as he spins around.

"You can talk all day to Mittens," he says. "But despite her loyalty, bravery and worthiness as a mate she won't answer back. She's just a dumb cat in every sense of the word."

Yizar pauses and licks one of his torn and singed paws trying (and failing miserably) to look almost regal. No cat so torn and battered as he is could succeed at that.

"I, on the other paw am not dumb." He pauses and a frown flits across his feet. Did he mutter something like: "Except where fire is concerned that is"? He shakes his head and collects himself. "I again offer our thanks for saving us. Err, I'm not a daimone, by the way, but merely an intelligent alynx. Perhaps an unique beast. Only one I know of anyway."

Suddenly he remembers his manners.

"Oh you've already met Mittens. My name is Yizar."

Faren is red as a beet under the mud. Worse, he's not quite sure how the greeting applies to meeting a talking alynx in the woods.

"I thank you for your kindness," he begins. "Do you know if there is more danger from the fire? Do you know how the fire started for that matter?"

"Oh, but I'm forgetting my manners. Ummm, that is, errr, are these your woods? I would not trample where I don't have permission! I have five human companions and some animals, dumb animals, that is, actually for the most part they are very intelligent, that is well trained and sensible animals, but not intelligent like yourself, I mean...."

Faren stops. Finally it comes to him: he has more of a 'house' than this alynx does.

"Good alynx, would you come and visit my companions and myself? The water is not ours, but you are welcome to share it. If you come as a peaceful visitor and not a hunter of us or our beasts we will gladly share our food, although it may not be to your taste unless you like porridge or bacon. If you would sit and talk as a friend you would be welcome to a dry blanket to rest upon. If you would tell us of this area and help us find our way, you would be welcome to share our fire and any healing we may be able to provide for your burns."

There, Faren thinks. It isn't exactly Orlanth's greeting of Elmal, but it could be worse. Now I just hope that talking alynx know the greeting...

"Bacon!?!" Yizar's ears perk up. "Um, err, of course we'd be thrilled to join you. We promise not to kill any animals you may have. As to ownership of these woods, I'm not sure. They were infested with chaos squirrels and batbroo but I suspect the fire has dealt with or at least driven them off for now."

Yizar looks abashed but then steels himself.

"As to the cause of the fire," he continues. "I must, like Orlanth, admit ownership of my mistakes." Then, muttering: "Though I'm not sure what if anything I can do to make amends here." Aloud, he continues: "I, err started the fire, though the exploding acorns that the predark squirrels had set as a trap for me contributed to the destruction."

He starts and looks around.

"Actually, I don't know whether the fire is even out or what danger we may be in," he admits.


"Broobats? Chaos tainted land?" says Faren. "Sounds like a bit of telling to get it all. I'm eager enough to hear it, as I've led my handful of folk here in hopes of joining a band that came this way previously. But I think this fire needs thinking about first. It's a might bigger than anything I could do anything about. Are there folk nearby that need warning? If so, how should we go about it? If not, this stream will lead us to bacon and campfire. Good alynx Yizzar, what is your opinion?

Faren pauses for a moment, then adds "Whether we seek to give warning or seek our lunch, you may want some thinking upon the telling of your story, to emphasize the smallness of the fires you made to smoke out the broobat, and how it was their tricky chaotic tricks that led to the major fire. Indeed, it seems to me that if they had set off the explosions themselves it would equally have led to a fire."

The fire, though, seems to have done its worst, setting off the exploding nuts in many spots but, away from the heart of the fire, few leading to new conflagrations. As the two get acquainted, Yizar has an idea he hears the faintest of yeowls from where he left Caterwaul, but only an idea.

When Yizar hears the yowls, be they ever so faint, he races off to investigate. He doesn't wait for either Mittens or Faren to follow but does make some attempt at stealth when he gets closer.

Faren looks at the departing Alynx, then back to Mittens.

"Err, right," he says. "You are the one who can't talk, no use asking you what is going on then."

Mittens mews blankly in reply and then takes off after Yizar. She, of course, has no interest whatsoever in this stranger and tracks Yizar using her nose.

After a moment of consideration, Faren decides that the alynx must be responding to something urgent, and that he might as well try to help it. Hoisting spear and shield in the ready position, and keeping a prayer to Yavor on his lips, he starts following as best he can. But he can hear little over the noise of crunching branches and rustling leaves as he walks, and sudden sweat dripping into his eyes does nothing to help him spot anything. Then he comes across Yizar and Mittens on the bank of a stream, sniffing in vain at a trail of alynx prints, a trail which emerges from the fire and across the mud, each indentation getting lighter, each with a flicker of flame in it which grows weaker as the trail fades away from the fire into nothing.

"Well uz eat me," Faren mutters. "Strangest thing I've seen in, well, actually only about a season. Leastways this time there are no tentacles."

More clearly, he then addresses Yizar: "Do you understand these tracks at all? You look like you were expecting something, but not this?"

Yizar shakes his head sadly in his puzzlement. He mutters, just loudly enough for Faren to hear:

"When I heard the yowl I thought that maybe, beyond belief, Caterwaul had survived. But what is the explanation for these paw tracks and why do they smell like, and yet unlike, Caterwaul?"

Mittens is both more silent and more eloquent as she tilts her head back and yowls her loss at the heavens.

Yizar turns to Faren.

"I thought that maybe my friend Caterwaul, who had been seized by the broos and sorely treated, had yet survived. But I see no sign of her body, nor can I explain these strange tracks."

He sits on his haunches and his ears droop in his sadness. All in all, in his battered condition, he is a sad-looking specimen of an alynx.

"I just want to go home," he half-sobs, looking at Faren. "But I don't even know where that is!"


Faren is a bit perturbed, as crying women and almost-crying men are not his specialty. Still, he feels that there is little that a good attitude and hard work can't fix.

"Master Yizar, be not distressed!" he declares. "Yes, your friend is missing, and your sorrow for that I can understand. Indeed, when I dare think about the death of my own wife last year, it weighs heavily upon me. But the past is the soil in which the future grows; we must focus not on what is gone, but on what is to come. No matter how the sorrow burns now, I assure you that in time it will become more bearable."

"As for home - why I'm without one of those myself at the moment. But as my Far Walker ancestors said: 'Where you have companions who welcome you in sorrow as well as in cheer, there you have a home'. My invitation to my fire still stands - now in your sorrow, more than ever - and maybe soon we'll be true companions, eh?"

Ever practical, he turns his attention to their surroundings.

"But first, there is work to be done! I would know more about this fire, in case we ever have to deal with the like again. Let's see if there are signs of anything else leaving this fire, or well, anything else interesting. For starters, should the ground have held her tracks?"

Faren looks around a bit, thinking of what he can get the alynxes to do. Yizar suddenly shudders, then shivers all over and feels his hair stand up. He quickly smoothes his fur back down and stretches as far as he can digging his claws into the dirt. He then licks his paws clean and starts sniffing around at the ground to see what he can determine, but not before muttering: "Emotions, ugh."

His human companion is oblivious to this extreme emotional reaction.

"Hmmm, you'd be a good toss better than me at figuring out if anything else left the fire," he observes. "Could you do that? Look for tracks, see if you smell anything? All around the outside of the burned area. Maybe it was all the broobats, but if they were luring you here, maybe there was something else to it, never heard of bats so cooperative like before. As for me, I'm going to see if it is cool enough to look through the remains of the fire."

Faren nods to himself, happy to have found work to keep Yizar's mind off of his loss, and to keep his own mind off of just how strange all of this is. Then he starts pacing off the size of the burned area, and looks at how badly burned things are. Will the trees survive? If dead are they fallen or just charred? How big a crater in the dirt did individual acorns make (comparing to the effects of lightning). He cuts a pole, and uses it to poke around, looking for anything out of the ordinary, impaling a broobat corpse or two onto the pole while he is at it, to show to those more knowledgeable later.

Once things have cooled down a bit more, he makes his way to where the broobats had laid their ambush, and sticks Ash-not-plow into the ground, and asks it to to tell him if there is anything special about this spot.

Eventually, covered with ashes, he says: "Hunh, well why don't we go get patched up cleaned up, then we can talk about what we found. My folk are back that way, and they should have a good fire and some food ready by now, though I guess you don't want your bacon cooked?"


Faren and Yizar treck back down into the river valley to re-join Faren's group. They arrive to find a fire burning, water hot, and one of the men being bandaged by one of the women. Looking around, Faren sees that his murnings have disappeared before Yizar even arrived.

Faren bellows greetings to his band, and introduces Yizar. "This fine alynx is Master Yizar. He is at least as well thinking and well spoken as any of us here, and I've invited him to our fire as our honored guest. Please treat him appropriately. Oh, and someone find him and his companion some raw bacon, I promised him raw bacon."

Faren waves "These are the good folk who came with me seeking exilestead. They can introduce themselves better than I can, and anyway after that smoke and soot I'd sooner drink than talk."

A small and weathered woman, of some indeterminate age between mid-20s and mid-40s, looks up. "Aye, I'm Neela," she says. "And these pigs'll listen to me most of the time, thanks to Entra, but they might be skittery round you all the same, so be careful. I'm here, well, cause neither the pigs nor I liked the way things were going back at Shadowdeep, and since my man died in the flux, wasn't a lot keeping me there."

A younger woman with a maiden's unbound hair speaks up less eagerly. "I'm Myarra, and," - waving at three young men behind her - "There just wasn't much place for my brothers back at Shadowdeep, and someone has to keep an eye on them. They were all trying to marry me off, but Votevra never married and I'm not sure if I want to either."

Myarra turns and looks at her three brothers, who stand there looking back at her. "Introduce yourselves!" she hisses at them. The middle of them says "Oh, right," and shuffles forward a bit. "Uuuum, I'm Laro, and this," - he points to his right - "Is my brother Darrold, and this," - pointing to his left now - "Is my other brother Darrold."

Faren steps forward again, pointing to the oxen. "And this is my plow team, trained most of them myself, and they are a good crew, wouldn't have wanted to leave them behind. We had some murnings with us who were fond of sleeping on the oxen, not sure where they got to, not sure either if the oxen would want someone as big as you leaping on them. Finally, my spear here goes by the name Ash-not-plow, but if you want to talk to him you'll have to lay a paw on him. Be warned, though - he can bite a bit in his own way."

Faren and Yizar spent the evening talking about where they were and where they wanted to be. Come morning, the humans breakfasted on cold porridge, the alynx on cold bacon. Some time during the night the Murnings had crept back, but are warily keeping their distance from Yizar.

With much shouting, the oxen finally start climbing the river bank, clearly thinking "Yesterday you sent us up and back down, why should we go back up again?" Finally they get to the top of the bank, and a cursing Faren encourages them to head through the woods in the right general direction.

Taking a moment to catch his breath, Faren looks for Yizar, but can't see him amongst the trees. He shrugs, figuring the alynx will make himself known if he has anything to say, and carries on, mostly focussed on getting his animals through the woods without getting turned around.

It doesn't take long for him to realise, however, that this is going to be no small undertaking. After a couple of explosions, near-misses in fact, have lost him an hour or so of calming animals down, he sees that this forest is absolutely bestrewn with cached explosive nuts...


Chaos. Chaos and the theft of good woodland. Faren doesn't get mad quickly, but these two things drive him to a simmering fury like he's seldom felt. The forest is dead to them as it is. He'd rather have a healthy forest, but better no forest than this perversion. Any damage done to it at this point is just a step in the right direction.

Faren curtly orders the others to backtrack a ways with the animals. They look at the way the drizzle is literally steaming off of his face, and comply without question. Faren goes to the front of where they had been and, brandishing Ash-not-plow, he prays.

"Yavor hear my plight:
Chaos is here,
Chaos is lurking all about me,
Chaos is hiding under innocent guises!

Yavor hear my thoughts:
You have burned Chaos,
The lurking Too-Faced Horde[1] you burned,
Innocent mask and hidden chaos alike you destroyed!

Yavor hear my plea:
Gather my lightning,
Let me throw your holy fire,
Let me burn what is tainted to leave what is pure!"

The sparks around his hands and running between him and Ash-not-plow intensify, until the blue-white light is impossible to look at. Faren takes two strides and makes a stabbing gesture at the base of the next tree.

"Burn the pre-dark!!"

The drizzle stops, and the sun even burns through the clouds without Faren noticing. Eventually though he finds only fields in front of him. For a moment he stands there, lightning still sizzling in his hands, then finally he realizes that it is done. With a whispered prayer of thanks to Yavor he lets the lightning fade. With bemusement he notices that the sleeves of his tunic are charred off at the elbow.

He turns and re-traces his steps. Easy to do, really. The scorched trail inspires only grim satisfaction from him, he is surprised that he doesn't feel stronger regrets for it.

He hikes along swiftly, hoping to make it back to his party before night falls. Fortunately he finds them after only a couple of miles, they'd been following his trail on their own. They'd stopped because one of the pigs hadn't wanted to stay on the charred trail, and had wandered off and eaten the wrong acorn. "Hunh," Grunts Faren, "Guess the rest of it will make a good gift, let's spit it on a pole and bring it along.

The oxen didn't like following fire's path already, and now following fire's path with a freshly scorched and bleeding corpse makes them even more testy. So it is in evening shadows that Faren and his group finally approach the fields around exile-stead, wondering what awaits them, and where Yizar has been through all this.


Yizar, absolutely exhausted by his exploits has used his uncanny ability to sleep anywhere to curl up on the back of one of the oxen. Mittens is curled up next to him. One eye opened when he heard Yavor's storm, but all he said, according to one of the Darrolds who may have misheard was: "Hey, keep it down I'm trying to sleep here."

Now, ratherly sleepily and somewhat crabbily, he offers them directions to the Exiles' stead. Other than that he hasn't stirred much.

The familiar smells of his territory arouse Yizar from his slumber. His one opened eye takes in the fields which to him are starting to look a bit healthier and the tangle of gorse growing together in a barricade at the foot of the hill. Faren though is a little shocked with the weeds growing in the wheat, questing above the sward and weighing down the canopy as they grow across the tops of the heads.

More alarming than this, however, is the raggedy mob of farmers, forming a shieldwall to face the new arrivals, and the half-blind madwoman at their front pointing feverishly in their direction.

Faren eyes the shield-wall and the mad-woman somewhat dubiously.

"Hey, Yizar, are these really your people?"

Faren scans the shield-wall again, seeking to recognize someone in it. Finally he calls out "Ho, that must be Baren, who else would have painted clouds on his shield! So next to you with his shield and spear in their wrong hands, must be your cousin Kentvent. I hope your wife Jerena is around somewhere, because I've heard good things about her ale and I've about a hog's head of ashes to wash out of my throat."

"On a more serious note, in case you didn't know it already, there are some real problems with your forest. I'd not venture far off the path that I've blazed if you have to venture out. But there should be a goodly amount of wood to be harvested along the path, so shouldn't be so much need to wander far."

"For those who don't recognize me yet, I'm Faren, formerly of Shadowdeep." He waves back over his shoulder "This lot and I have come as friends, looking to join you. We've got a dead pig here that needs cooking, if you'd have us at your hearth tonight. We've got a passel of live ones as well, and my plow team and a fair amount of seed with me, and the promise of some more from Shadowdeep after the harvest if you'll let us join you here in exilestead. And those of you who do know me will know that I know one end of a plow from the other, so I don't think I boast too much by saying I bring my own hands as one more benefit to your stead, if you'd only give me some work to do."

Faren falls silent, smiling warmly, but the gathering crowd only stare back at him uneasily.

Yizar stirs from his nap on the ox's back. He stretches langourously and works all the kinks out before speaking. He shakes his head in disgust before speaking.

"I may only be an alynx recently blessed, or cursed, with intelligence and rather clumsy at human customs, but isn't there supposed to be a whole bunch of rigamarole you two-legs go through upon meeting someone? Orlanth's greeting or something like that?"

He licks his paws and waits for the Greeting to be exchanged.

Once Morith, stood at the head of the fyrd beside Riantha, has exchanged reluctant greetings with Faren, Yizar struts back and forth on the ox's back as he speaks the following:

"Mittens and I have destroyed a whole nest of batbroos and chaos squirrels! We are conquering heroes and this man helped us to escape the terrible fire the squirrel's exploding acorns. I suggest that he and his followers, especially the pigs, be allowed to join us as they have important skills, and bacon to offer us."

He waits for the accolades, but is greeted instead by stares.

"And now I suggest we all get acquainted. Let the pig be roasted and break out the cream for the returning heroes!"

He bows his head in sadness.

"And let us drink to the memory of the one who failed to return: Caterwaul."

No one is sure what to make of all this and everyone mills around waiting to take Riantha's lead. She is gazing beyond Yizar, beyond Faren's little band, and into the trees, but then suddenly turns and stumps off back up the hill to her little hut. To mutterings of "false alarm" and "stupid witch", the farmers take their spears and shields back within the palisade but with little enthusiasm, for they have little farming they can usefully do. Baren's glum chatting to Faren reflects the mood of the whole stead, though the rumblings of stomachs and the eyes greedily resting on the hog show that Faren is not entirely unwelcome.

Once they have mounted the slope, Wilma steps out to greet them, her hands covered in cooking flour. She, too, does not seem best pleased by Faren's arrival.

"Well yer face is welcome, cuz," she begins disingenuously. "But there'd be no way as I'd allow ye to stay. Some of us is fixin' to up sticks anyways, and whatever grain and so on ye've with ye, ye'd best be taking elsewhere for a new start. Ye can stay a few days and clean up if ye like, but then ye'd best be off, and mebbe as ye can travel with those as is clearin' off."

As she turns back towards her hut, her shoulders are more slumped, and her mood lower, than Faren has ever seen.


Faren hurries after Wilma and puts a hand to her shoulder.

"Wait mistress!", he insists, kindly. "I did not leave my home and burn my way through the forest just to leave again! I certainly intend to celebrate tonight having arrived safely, and that pig should be excuse enough for others to be merry too!"

"Why should anyone leave this fine location?" he asks. "It looks like the fields need more work, aye, and there is something odd about the bats and the acorns in the forest back yonder, but are we not all Danlarni? Did not our forefathers travel farther, with less, into more hostile conditions? How is that we should up-sticks so soon?"

"Look at this forest around us: most of it must surely not be so tainted? In which case there are acorns, and while I'll never bite into acorn bread with glee, it keeps the walls of your stomach apart, it does. And that path you can see outlined in soot that I came up, it leads you nigh to the banks of the Cholanti, or maybe one of its tributaries; well, anyway a river, with a good flood plain rich with grass that we could be harvesting for hay soon, which will mean we can keep what animals you have and I have alive for the winter. And we get started soon we could burn out some new fields for planting the winter wheat in, so we'll have some sort of crop early in the new year. And it should all get better from there."

"Now, I don't see as much cattle around as you'd like to see around a stead, but that can come. Is not Jaskor vale one of the best cattle lands that there is? The fall cattle market at Iron-Spike is famous for good reason! I was told that Vizz was here, are you telling me that let loose at that market he could not end up with a fat amount of cattle, no matter how little he started with? And failing that, there is the way of the sword, the herds are fat in Jaskor vale, what clan would track their cattle far in this direction? Are there no warriors bold in your group?"

"Those batbroo seem nasty - and speaking of which I've got a couple of charred ones with me, in case you've got the right sort of god-talker around to tell more about them. But you can't fail to remember the Uroxi from the Gap, surely they could be called, if not someone else expert in dealing with the pre-dark?"

"I'm sure there are good reasons to feel down, but in short I can't believe that there is call to be as gloomy as you seem."

Farren finally pauses, then adds: "Errr, sorry about any shocks I may have given you from my touch; haven't quite figured out how to control that yet."


Yizar is pissed.

He stomps his feet angrily (okay, not exactly awe-inspiring), but then gets more impressive. He leaps easily from the ox's back and lands next to Wilma. He waits impatiently for Faren's speech to end and then speaks. First he puffs up all his fur to make himself look bigger and lightnings crawl along his claws.

"What's going on here?" he demands. "Why is everyone so down in the mouth so suddenly, and more importantly why isn't anyone interested in my great deeds? Not only have I slain a forestful of batbroos and chaos squirrels almost singlehandedly, but I have brought this worthy fellow and his worthy followers here! And now no one is paying any attention to me! Are you all suddenly cowards to tuck your tails between your legs and flee?"

Here he stops and an almost human look of pain crosses his face at his inadvertent self-reminder of his loss. With a shake and a twitch of his stumpy tail though he continues.

"What's gotten into you all? I turn my back on you and you fall to pieces! Where's Gyffun? Where's the duck? Where's the sick one? Has everyone competent buggered off? Pull yourselves together people! Remember what Ernalda said: There's always another way. Remember how Yinkin caught the Godsquirrel! That's how we should be."

Wilma is looking sadly at Faren and shaking her head, until Yizar's outburst takes her by surprise. She has never seen the alynx seem to care so much about anything which doesn't have four legs and a tail, and eventually it is the Godsquirrel reference which brings a warm smile to her face. "All right," she says to Faren, who is now basking in her radiance. "But don't say's I di'n warn ye."

Soon Faren is reintroduced to the Exiles and the hog is being warmed up over an open fire. He finds his new companions much changed, generally glum and disconsolate, but once they get to retell how they drove off the Tuskriders, he has been given a rich vein of stories to draw out and so lightens the mood.

As the evening draws on and Faren learns of all their exploits, the Exiles extract a promise that he will sort out their crops. This puts Morith into a foul mood, but few take much heed. What is disconcerting, however, is his reacquaintance with Sabriel, once one of the comeliest maidens of the Clan. Her new, scarred visage he can grow accustomed to, and she seems happy enough, in a distracted way. Her babbling about evil spirits though, that which had put spears in the farmers' hands earlier in the day, is worrying to all who hear her.


[1] See the entry in the Dragon Pass gazeteer for the Two-Face Hills.