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Faren considers the stead's immediate practical problems (and does his best to suggest some solutions) as the other heroes return from their various missions...


"Uz eat me, one little boy ate HOW MUCH grain?"

Faren's bellows draw knowing looks from the others eating their gruel.

"Let me see this walking stomach!"

With a sad expression on her face, Wilma brings Faren to the lean-to where Odi is popping barley into his mouth.

Seeing Odi's feathered legs, Faren deflates. "Oh," is all he manages to say.

"Oh indeed," replies Wilma. "He is a wee bairn, we cannot turn him out or not feed him. But we cannot keep feeding him for much longer either."

Faren starts to speak a couple of times, then stops again. "I need to think about this," he finally says.

Faren spends the rest of the day leading by example in weeding the fields. He cajoles others with "Be a right shame to figure out this chaos problem, then harvest only nettles."

That evening he says "You know, I saw those men of the sun stripping the seeds right off the stalk in my fields last year. When I laid out some bags of seed for them they went for those instead and got out of the fields. So they like the easy bit of having harvested seeds, stead of having to pull them off. Can't say as I blame them much, never much liked thrashing grain myself."

"Thing is, just because something is easier for us, or nicer, doesn't mean we always get it. Fact when I was little and complained about hard work, Da used to say 'Sure, an it would be easier for me just to whup you now instead of listening to your excuses first to see if you deserve it or not, but I don't see you asking for that.'"

"It seems to me Odi is plenty old enough to pick seed off the stalk. Now I'm sure he likes wheat and barley just fine, but why don't we try him on some wild grasses. Some of them are close to ripe down by the river, not sure if you have other meadows around here. I was thinking I could send out Lonno and the Darrolds with a scythe or two to bring back some hay. Then Odi can play in the hay and eat as much of the seed as he wants, leaving behind straw that we can use anyway."

"For that matter grain is seeds, and all sorts of plants have seeds. Acorns are Oak seeds for instance. Anyone tried him on acorns or other types of seed yet?"

"Course it might not work at easy as that, but I don't see much harm in trying..."


The Exiles are briefly distracted from the newfound sense of purpose that the Faren has brought to the stead by another arrival. A lone figure is seen staggering down from the hills, but he collapses to the ground before he reaches the stead. Two kind souls eventually think to go and help the ailing traveller, and carry him within the palisade. Wheezing and gasping for air, the bedraggled newcomer raises his head and the folk around him are startled to recognise their skald.

They crowd around him and press him with questions, but he seems unable to respond with anything more than a whisper, and his feeble voice is all but lost amidst the general hubbub. The unaccustomed effort of speaking soon leaves him exhausted, with tears of frustration in his eyes. Eventually someone thinks to fetch Lismelda, who solds them for dithering and takes the enfeebled Gyffun away from the curious onlookers.

A strong draught of lavender tea revives him a little, but does nothing for his lost voice. A strange mixture of emotions seem to play over his face as he looks up at his hearth-mother: pain mixed with wonder, fear with elation. Still struggling to breathe, and offering no explanation of his condition, he asks if LosisiOor has returned.

"Wasn't he with you?" Lismelda frowns, but the skald shakes his head, and laboriously explains that he had become separated from the Darjini when clouds descended on the Ridge.

"What happened to you up there, child?" the steadwife asks gently, but Gyffun merely shakes his head.

"Ah, it can wait, then, I suppose," she says. Then, heartily: "You finish up that tea, my lad, and I'll make you some broth. You're chilled to the bone by those clouds, I'll warrant. And you with no coat nor even a cloak on your back. It's no wonder you're ailing. Answers will have to wait until you're well again."

But Gyffun is staring wide-eyed and distractedly at the mug in his hands, and seems not to hear her. She leaves him under the watchful eye of her daughter and quietly goes to seek out Wilma.

When Yizar hears about Gyffun's return he heads over to Lismelda's house to check out his old friend's condition. He's puzzled by his state but curls up next to him to lend him his warmth.


Silverquill bobs contentedly on Skullcleavers pillowed shoulder, trailing a lethal plume of smoke behind him. He looks around and once again admires the fierce scenery of the Far Place. Ahead of him, the other Exiles are chatting amicably, eager to be reunited with their kin. The fully-ladened pack mule that Skullcleaver is leading along brays a protest as a sharp thorn scratches its side. The cargo it carries includes generous gifts for the leaders of the Exiles, toys for the children and spare supplies and bric-a-brac that might conceivably come in handy.

Silverquill thinks back to the last couple of eventful days - the chaos in the market square, the exploration of the temple and the encounter with the bull men.

A quackish chortle escapes him as he thinks back to the dragon. Who'd have thought that dragons were so allergic to cigar smoke?

The expedition to the temple had been a mixed success. True, they did find that important bit of information but then again, they barely escaped with their lives. And Vurth... well, that was a story all to itself. Their hurried departure from Alda-Chur and the nerve-wrecking negotiations with Karli further frayed tempers and it was only during the last couple of hours that the group had returned to a more normal mood.

Ahead, the welcome sight of the stead on the hill...


Faren calls Wilma outside to look at the sun-set. "You chose a good spot for the stead, nice view from here, and it's a rare cloudless evening."

Reluctantly Wilma comes out and sits on a stump, and Faren settles himself on the ground nearby. The sunset is not especially spectacular, but it is at least pretty. Slowly the light fades on the silent pair. When Faren finally stretches and flexes his hands, the sparks cut the dusk and the silence.

"I've been thinking," Faren begins. Despite Wilma's grunt of skepticism, he continues: "There are a lot of problems you face, I mean we face, at making a go of it. But they are a lot of smaller problems, not one great big one. And while climbing up and down a bunch of hills is tough, it is a sight easier than climbing one big mountain. If we all remember that these are hills, and no bigger than the hills our ancestors have climbed, I think we can do OK."

"The first hill to climb is this chaos taint. This might be the worst hill of all, the one we don't know if we can climb. If we can't get rid of it, we have to move, no question of it. That is, I don't want to find out what happens to people who live too long in chaos taint was bad enough living next to The Hollow."

"I'll get back to that in a bit. While we figure out how to climb that hill though, we've got to keep the chaos from ruining us first. Mostly I'm worried about the animals. Seems to me we need to get most of them to safer pastures. If nothing else we could drive them down to the river, but I'd hate to send enough folk to really watch over them that far away. Sides, they say the Uz travel that river sometimes, and I'd hate for them to see our herds a-grazing there peacefully!. How about up towards Sal's ridge? Is it clear of the taint there? On the lower parts of the ridge where the soil is shallow, are there safe meadows we could use? I guess I've got to spend a couple of days roaming around, seeing the land farther off than the fields. But for sure we should take action to keep our herds healthy for now. Also the hunters, we should make sure they are not hit with those cursed acorns."

"So back to the taint. We got to get rid of it. Now I'm no storm bull and just thinking about dealing with chaos makes me feel, well, scared I guess is the word. But then I think about I-fought-we-won. If we run away one by one, we lose. But if all of us work together, maybe we win. Gyffun is doing a bit better his hearth-mother was saying, and they were telling me how he was chasing this new hermit who might know a thing or two. And the good Vizz and some other heroes you all have been telling me about were trying to find some help too, and surely they will be back soon. And you have that chaos- healer guesting at the hearth. Like I said, I'm no storm-bull, and I have no idea how we fight this thing, but it seems to me you are all taking the right steps, and one of these folks will have some ideas. Then we all just have to be brave and go do that thing."

"We just have to assume we win. If we don't, well I guess whoever survives runs far and fast and takes care of themselves, but that doesn't take much planning. So somehow we beat it, what then? I don't know if that will save the crops or not. I'm thinking we should get some sort of crop, but I wouldn't count on it being a very good one. So the next hill is how we all get through Dark season."

"Shadowvale owes me some grain after the harvest. Not enough to feed everyone, and in fact we might need to save it to seed the new crops in Sea Season. Still, it helps a bit. These woods be a perilous place at times, and maybe there will still be chaos beasties around even if we get rid of the source, but they are still full of food. Like I said once before, acorns aren't my favorite food, but they help. And there will be berries, and maybe some wild apples. The hunting should be good, at least anywhere the chaos taint hasn't driven the game away. I'm no hunter, but it's a mighty poor farmer who can't snare an occasional rabbit and we should be able to bring down more game than that. But we probably need Yizar to start working with our hunters, training them to follow his lead. It will be a strange sort of hunt, men helping the alynx instead of the other way around, but if it puts venison or duck on the table I don't think anyone will complain."

I still don't know if that will be enough. We'll have to see how the harvest is and how the hunting starts off. But it wouldn't hurt to start thinking of who might do us the favor of a sledge or two full of grain. Nobody will expect us to survive long enough to take a regular favor in return. But maybe there is some deed we could do to earn the favor? Maybe Vizz would know, he normally seems up on that sort of gossip. Or maybe Gyffun could travel Jaskorvale and keep his ears open, if he recovers? Or I'm told the scholar Silver-Quill was here before, if he comes back maybe he'd know of something. Failing all else, perhaps at the fall cattle fair at Iron Spike we could hear of something. After all, when all the normal means fail, it is time for heroes."

"As for fodder for the animals, we'll see. I hope we can harvest the river banks enough, although it is a longer haul to bring it back here than I would prefer. We'll also need a goodly amount of wood for the winter. The trail I blazed to the river should help, some of those trees were partially burned, and fell or dropped branches. Gathering that should give a quick start to our winter wood pile, and make up a little for how much else we still have to do."

"We need to get in winter rye too, so we have some crop in the spring. If we burn out the trees in Yavor's way, we should get a good first crop off the fields, which I'm sure will be welcome come spring."

"Again, we have to assume we succeed, and don't become beggars around the gates of Alda-Chur, or frozen corpses left for the Uz to eat. So we survive the winter, even with belts cinched tighter. Then what? I think the next hill to climb is plowing our fields for the spring. We'll need to look at how much land we need to get under seed, and do we have enough oxen for it? One thing I'm thinking is if we need to, we could trade at the cattle fair for some young oxen, not yet trained, and break them to the yoke over the winter, and blend them in with the existing teams. I'm not a bad trainer, and I'm sure there are others here who can help. In fact, we should look carefully, maybe we could afford to trade off a few fully trained oxen for some young ones, and see if we can't get Harst's portion out of the deal."

"So all of that let's us survive for the next year maybe. But in the long run we need bigger herds. Everyone knows that. Neither raiding or trading will be easy from our position. But just because it isn't easy doesn't mean we can't do it. There are others who know these things better than me, but again it seems when the normal way isn't enough, it is time for heroics. I'm told the profits of those who survive trading in Crab Town can be rich, or again great deeds may earn rich rewards, and of course there are wealthy strangers who don't guard their wealth as well as they should. For a certainty we need to get those with skills at crafting, or trading, or adventuring, or raiding, thinking about what we can do to address this hill."

Faren finally pauses. Then adds, "Well, I've spoken my bit. I'll say it again in front of anyone you want, but I wanted to say it to you first. If we stand together and say it, I think people will listen. So, what do you say?

Wilma struggles upright, then says: "I think these bones are too old to be sitting on a damp stump in the evening's chill, and I think I'm going to find myself some sleep. I even think you look cute when you get all focused on the farming and stuff. Beyond that, I don't know what to think yet."


Vurth looks back upon Jenna's Hill and reflects on what just happened. Given that Karli (and his gang) had at the last agreed to accompany them he supposed it could be said to be 'mission completed' but it had only been by holding forth the 'red-eye frenzy' which had induced Karli to give up his current schemes and agree to accompany the Exiles back to the stead. Even so he had said that he and Wilma would have to have a real set-down to sort it all out. Chaotic dirt... what next?

The rest of the exiles seemed much happier to be heading back and a cheer went up as the stead was sighted and even the bullies seemed a bit happier at the prospect of hot food, a bit of beer and a bit of flat ground to sleep on.

Vurth idly wondered how Rika and Karli would 'hit it off'.


Faren surges ahead of most of the welcoming party, and when he sees the duck riding on Skullcleaver he makes a direct line to them.

"Silverquill! When they told me you'd been here, I hoped you'd be back, although I knew that hope was selfish. You probably don't remember me, but when last you were in Shadow Deep I was the young man pestering you with questions about the Uz. I hope at some point I'll be able to share a fire with you and discuss them more. Although I have to admit there are more urgent things to discuss first. Have you heard about the exploding acorns? And I still have a couple of batbroo corpses on a stick, although they are getting rather ripe, but still I thought they might be worth looking at. Did you learn anything in Alda-Chur about all of this?"

The rest of the exiles look on in amazement, as Faren chatters on like a six year old, quite unlike his usual serious self. As the three of them climb the final hill, Faren is gesticulating to show how large an explosion chaos acorns make, his face lit up by excitement and the sparks arcing around his hands.

Silverquill's face lights up as he recognizes the human approaching him.

"Ah yes, Fewen, is it? No... hang on... Fawen. Yes, that's it. Of couwse I wemember you. What a happy coincidence. I was hoping to speak to a wesident of Shadow Deep and there you are."

The small duck jumps nimbly down from the lofty heights of Skullcleaver's shoulder and starts to chat amicably with Faren. Noticing the farmer's sparking hands, the sage whips out his notebook and is soon scribbling away, taking down the details of their origin.

The two are deep in conversation when a screaming mob of children spots the durulz. "Silverquill is back! Yay for Featherbum! What did you bring us?"

Silverquill laughs and with Skullcleaver's help start to unload the mule, tossing balls, wooden dolls, long sticks and other lethal-looking implements to the kids.

"You must excuse me, Fawen. We will cewtainly talk at length vewy soon. I just have to pay my wespects to Wilma and the others as well."

Silverquill waddles up to Wilma and presents her with a beautiful golden torc of finest Alda-Chur craftsmanship. He also generously gifts the other senior members of the Exiles.


Entislar grins ruefully as he watches and participates in the welcome home ceremonies, wondering why it feels so good to return to this raggedy settlement with its strange beasties and weird vegetation. He heads for his forge, stopping outside to watch Kollos refreshing his markers and touching noses with his favorites. Kollos too, it seems, is glad to be home.

Entislar enters his forge, noting with irritation that the door - admittedly flimsy to start with - has partially collapsed, forcing him to lift it clear and to his surprise revealing a pig rooting around in one of the scrap piles. After chasing out the unexpected visitor, Entislar sets about starting his forge fire, the sound of which fetches Kollos in just like a magnet.

Once the fire was drawing properly he set some bronze to melting then he opened one of his book chests and after a short search emerged from his forge and settled down to reading "A Arte da Guerra" or "The Art of War" by Vinyartu the Valiant looking for something he had remembered seeing regarding anti-cavalry tactics, caltrops that was it, he soon became absorbed by the text until reminded of the real world by Kollos' cold wet nose.

He closed his book, scratched Kollos behind the ears and returned to his forge to make caltrops.


Faren converses with Silverquill.

"Some of the boys and I have been doing some work on hauling in the trees from that path I blazed down to the river," he says. "A few of them are nice silver birch, from around a boggy bit. I was looking at how the soot marked the bark, and recalled how in the naming of the first tribes, Lankhor My was called the leader of the "Marks on Bark" tribe. Is it true that you can use birch bark instead of paper? If so, want us to split some off for you, seeing as how paper is hard to get at out here?"

"Oh, and one of the bulls was laughing about how you gave an earful of quacking to the men of the sun back in Alda-Chur. I'd sure love to hear that story some day soon too. And is it true you snuck into the temple there after that? I can tell you I wouldn't have wanted to be doing that!"

"That would be appweciated, Master Fawen. I can always use more witing paper. If time pewmits, I might even teach a class on weading and witing. I notice that this clan does not have many litewate members - a gweat shame."

"I did cause a bit of a wuckus in Alda-Chur, that is twue, but it was only to distwact the Uwoxi fwom their wedneck wampage. As to the temple, I have asked Wilma to awwange a moot this evening, where I will tell the clan what I leawned in the libwary and the temple of the Sun. I think it would be a good idea to have all of us gathewed, so we can all shawe ideas and suggestions."

Faren's jaw drops at this prospect. "Well," he finally opines "wouldn't that be something. Something indeed. Learning to read."

Vizz, who had been listening to the exchange, opines:

"Writing is not, in my valuable opinion, a praiseworthy function. Indeed, it is a most peculiar form of communication that I thank the sacred cult of Lhankor Mhy for keeping secret. To be fair, the understanding of letters and words may have some limited uses, but the capricious curse of careless punctuation makes it too dangerous for important discourse. Consider this written statement:


The men might think: "Ernalda, WITHOUT HER ORLANTH, is nothing."

The women would think: "ERNALDA!! WITHOUT HER, Orlanth is nothing!"

Faren hears none of this, however, and soon he is seen working out the best way to strip off birchbark, and occasionally, furtively, taking burned branches and practicing making markes with them on the bark.


"You wanted to see me?"

Beckoning Faren closer, the skald smiles weakly and gestures at his throat.

"Otherwise you won't be able to hear me," he explains ruefully, in a barely audible whisper. Drawing a laboured breath, Gyffun begins to tell the burly farmer what's on his mind, pausing every few words to gasp for air.

"Wilma told me... about your... fine speech the... other night." He catches Faren's eye with a wry grin. "Seems you... impressed her." Then, seeing the other's evident sceptism: "No really! Don't let her... 'tough old biddy'... act fool you. Anyway..." He pauses for a few moments. "She said... what you said... about how we can... manage to... get through... Dark Season." Another pause. "I think maybe... I can help."

His look of triumph upon completing the sentence is pitiful to behold. Faren's sceptical expression is even more pronounced this time, and the skald grins broadly when he sees it.

"Trust me," he whispers. "I may be... no farmer, but... when it comes to... sniffing out... nuts and berries... I know what I'm... talking about."

Just then, Gyffun feels a strong hand on his shoulder and hears his name spoken in a thick Tarshite accent. Turning, he is shocked to see a wild tangle of hair masking a sunburnt face and catches the foul exhalation of uncared-for teeth. The deep brown eyes within the mess of hair look deep within his, though, asking a question which it seems impossible to put into words.

"You have shown me what I must do," says Gordangorl. "Thank you."

Recovering quickly from his surprise, Gyffun, bows his head courteously to the wild-looking new arrival, prompting a certain amount of bemusement from Faren and the skald's watchful cousin Aransa.

"I must... apologise, Gordangorl....for my abrupt... departure. . when last... we met. I hope that our... intrusion... did not cause you... too much trouble. I'm afraid that... I was compelled... to leave before... I could ask you... the questions... that I came.. to ask. But I think... perhaps you know... what they were."

Gyffun sags back, clearly exhausted by this speech. Faren is taken aback by the wild looking Gordangorl, but made even more uncomfortable by Gyffuns's malady. He realizes that this can't be any more complicated than greeting a talking alynx in the middle of the woods, so gives his best go of being polite while getting out of the building.

"Gordangorl is it? Well, Gyffun seems to think well enough of you, ummmm, would you like a drink? I think those Storm Bulls that arrived yesterday drank all the beer already, but water we can give. If you would talk more with Gyffun, I think you'd best wait a bit."

"Come, I'm sure there some bread or porridge somewhere. Well, probably best to clear it with Wilma first, but it sounded like the Bulls were starting to wrestle out there, so we should probably find her anyway. Come, we'll get you something to eat and you can let us know what it is you were looking to do."

Faren steps out of the building, hoping Gordangorl will follow him. Glancing around, he sees the fury of Uroxi tamely crouched on their heels. He turns back into the building.

"Gyffun, come, let me give you a shoulder to lean on. I think you'll want to see this!"