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The Exiles consider their plans.


As preparations begin for Rika's ritual, Gordangorl helps Gyffun back to his hearth-mother's hut. They are accompanied by several of the other Exiles, who are surprised to discover the wild-looking man from the Ochre Fallow in their midst, and curious to hear what he has to say.

"I must apologize," says Gordangorl. "That I didn't come sooner, but you will understand that by doing so I am turning my back on something precious to me, to do what is right." Pausing to look at Gyffun with, it seems, admiration, he concludes: "As did you."

"My uncle Umathkar is a proud man. He has his qualities, he refuses to take orders from those who would tax us or recruit us for their schemes, but his pride borders on foolhardiness and stupidity. This outlawry of the open worship of Orlanth, while it affects us little up here, he takes as a sign of things to come. Ever since we came from Tarsh, we knew this region was a source of power for Yavor Lightning, hidden away as the god was in Orlanth's Hall, but there, waiting to be used in times of darkness. This is why he sent us, my brother, myself and the other warriors, to the...the Hag's Haunt we now call it, but then it was known as the Ash Maiden's Grove, a sacred place. There we came across five magnificent tree spirits and their daughters, and we had heard of the dryads offering up their daughters to make lightning spears. Imagine that, a hundred spears of lightning could be made from that one grove alone. An army could be equipped."

"So, my brother Hahlgrim, who has much of his uncle about him, called the dryads out, swearing he would protect them for ever in return for the pollards. Well, with the Uz nearby, they agreed and so we prepared for the ritual. But that just went all wrong and that was the start of the business. The lightning came down all right, but instead of striking off the pollards, it struck one of our men. That was it. Terrible oaths had been sworn in that grove and before the end of the day, broken. Hahlgrim lost his mind and he has never been the same since. He performed some terrible deeds that day and that'd be the cause of your strife, I reckon. In return, the dryads only let the two of us escape - I think they did that on purpose so we'd tell others to avoid the place. I don't know what it was that went wrong, but I think it may have been the god himself, or something akin to a god, that took offence at us."

Vurth, who has been avoiding going anywhere near the pigpen construction site while still keeping an eye on whatever Burkl gets up to, has been listening in on Gordangorl's discussion. He asks Gordangol:

"Hoy! You said that Hahlgrim swore to protect the dryads from the Uz but that 'oaths were broken by the end of the day'. Do you mean that the Uz came upon you in the grove or was it something else?"

"No Uz, no", says Gordangorl, turning to the grimly scarred warrior. "But...", he pauses, for Vurth has asked a question for which the answer is difficult. "Hahlgrim would tell you, if you could get him to speak of it, that it was the dryads who broke the pact. But I think he knows that it was we who were not worthy. We failed a God's test. For one who would be chief, this is a hard burden. I myself have wrestled with this and I have sought my God through a different path. But Hahlgrim is a warrior and has been trained not to doubt, but to decide swiftly and act, for a warrior who hesitates is dead. So he has cast such doubts from his mind and blames others."

"In truth, we sought the lightning spears, and such a treasure can cloud a man's mind. I do not recall the exact words, but I believe that the oaths which we swore were false, for we were blinded by thoughts of power. And when we were found wanting, well..." now the tears are coursing down the man's cheek into his beard, "we blamed the innocent and took our vengeance upon them. Such acts as we performed in that grove are as a horn, calling to all that is evil in the world, giving birth to Chaos. You who are sworn to fight Chaos, I am your prey, for I have brought it into the world. I repent now, but if you must judge me, then I will not resist."

Gordangorl looks the dirt now, still. Waiting for Vurth to act as judge and, if need be, executioner.

Aren just shakes his head.

"Now, now," he chides. "We all know that in slaying the Evil Emperor Orlanth himself opened the way for Chaos to come into the world, but he did not fall on his sword or put his head on the block for Humakt. He strove and suffered and fixed what he could. So provoke the bull if you must, but it is the easy path you are seeking."

Gordangorl hangs his head in shame, and soon his body is shaking with muffled sobs. Then he feels a hand clasping his shoulder, and looks up into the skald's sad green eyes.

"You have made a... hard choice," Gyffun tells him. "But a... brave one. Dry your... tears, my friend. With... your help, I am... sure, we shall... make things right... again."

Vurth, who had started forward with a look like thunder of his face with his club beginning to arc into a crescendo of doom, falters at these words from Aren and Gyffun and comes to a stop in front of Gordangorl. With a hard stare and voice like steel he speaks.

"So, we have someone who called upon he-knew-not-what for his own gain, and here we have the source of all our woes. Truly, it is said that the predark is at its worst when it is its most insidious. Worming inside us, making use of our weaknesses... turning us to its own benefit... and we... never suspecting... not knowing... welcome it... or fail to fight until too late..."

As Vurth stands there, his face is fierce to behold. Veins stand out, his breath coming in great gasps and he seems to be both staring into Gordangorl and beyond him as well. His club slips from his hands, apparently forgotten. As the audience gasps, he smashes Gordangorl to the ground with a tremendous blow and then stalks off into the nearby trees, drawing his knife as he goes. He is heard to say from the distance: "We must talk you and I."

None seem to care to follow.


"Vizz!" says Faren, grinning broadly. "I've been hoping to find a moment to talk with you. It looks like you have nothing to do at the moment, come help me with finishing this pen for the pigs. Here, just hold this stick upright for me while I swing a large sledge at it, there's a good fellow."


Vizz has just taken a stroll to stretch his limbs. The healer had advised bed rest to recover, despite Vizz insisting that he had only suffered from a nasty cough. Which was in point of fact, entirely true, even if said cough were not entirely Vizz's, even if it had been entirely nasty.

"I was delighted to hear you were amongst the exiles. I've been looking around and have some ideas where clear thinking and hard work can help us get us through the lean times ahead, if this quest everyone is talking about works out that is."

"Yes, yes, yes clear th..." THUNK! "...Youch!" Vizz yelps.

"Whoa man! Hold steady, letting go of the stick just before I smack it leads to it veering off oddly, like that one that smacked you in the chest did. Steady on the next one."

Vizz did not mind the physical activity, he was not some dainty Sartarite fresh out of the Pharoah's Country, but a man whose anccestors came from the rugged hills of Peloria. Faren's actions and words implied to Vizz that Faren thought him to be some sort of idler.

"Where was I again? Ah yes, survival. Well, it seems to me that some clever trading, favor making and taking, and perhaps even an unlikely scheme or two would help our prospects. When first I arrived and mentioned such, all I heard was 'You'll be wanting to talk to Vizz then, he's off in Alda-Chur taking care of such-like already.'"

Vizz should really know better than to try to interrupt Faren on one of his long monologues on subjects as diverse as farming, hard work, farming, mud, pigs, cows and farming. Not because the extensive tales of crops and cattle were the stuff of derring do and exciting adventure, but because Faren took time with his thoughts, and they were not bad thoughts, they brewed in his brain for many a long furrow, and once began they had to be completed or else he would begin them again, at the beginning, the very beginning, right from the start of saying "good morning" to you. Vizz might have known better, but since when did knowing anything stop a pious Orlanthi doing something he knew he shouldn't?

"Why indeed, and let me..." he tries to interject.

"That's right, nice and steady there, see?" the farmer observes, undeterred. "The stake drives in nicely, well yes it spatters a bit of mud of course. You do not know the 'lay off my blue plaid trews charm'? Ah, useuful it is around the farm. But say, that stoop of yours is useful, holding the stake down here does make it less likely I'll hit your hands, you are entirely right."

"Oh for Storm gods sakes let me get a word in..."

"Uz eat these flies!" Faren continues, oblivious." So, as I was saying, I've a few thoughts of the sort of thing we might need, just to get those fine thoughts of yours turning, but in truth I'd love to hear of your successes in Alda-Chur first!"

"...edgeways." Vizz finishes, pointlessly.

Silence from Faren. He waits silently for Vizz's exciting tale.

"Alda Chur you say?" Vizz begins. "Well let me tell you how magnificent I was how we escaped, albeit bruised, battered, and feeling like snot, from the crystaline dungeons of cerulean doom....."


The evening draws close and the last members of the Exiles are called to gather around the large bonfire. Wilma, proudly wearing her new golden torc, clears her throat and the idle chatter quickly stops.

"Dear friends", she begins. "Silverquill has asked me to call this moot, so that we may all share our new-found knowledge and ideas. We welcome to the clan Faren and his friends - and we greet Gordangorl as an honoured guest. We will tell our stories and insights and this might help us find solutions to the problems we face. I would ask our dear friend Silverquill to tell us first what he learned in Alda-Chur."

Silverquill, dressed in his finest clothing and sporting a new, fashionable false beard, steps up on the large box he requested for this purpose. He clears his throat and consults his notebook before speaking. Summarizing what he learned in the library[1] and the events in the square, he ends with the following:

"What we later found in that temple is that is the the intent of the Man of the Sun to reclaim Yavor Lightning as a weapon for the Fiwe Twibe! He has pwomised his wawwiors that they will have deadly lightning speaws. Luckily for us, he has yet to find out where this hidden power lies, but he suspects that the Danlawni, the ancient enemies of the Fiwe Twibe, hold the key. I suspect that the cuwwent location of this stead might well be a secwet wowth pwesewving if at all possible. Thank you for listening."

The small sage quenches his thirst with a goblet of water and flicks his thumb to light a cigar, signaling that his speech is finished.

Aren pipes up " I do hope that note book of yours that you left behind does not mention our current location or that of the ash madens ?"

"Still it does look like we need to keep a low profile for one or more reasons: so be it. The spears are still there for the taking, though perhaps not in their current state. Though if they do seek to steal the lightning spear back for themselves, then perhaps they plan to raid the Lightning hall itself. So it becomes more important that we find the hall ourselves first and ward it from their tainted hands."

The hubbub that Silverquill's announcement raises goes on for some time, while Faren sits quietly, looking at the sparks around his hands.

Finally he stands up to say his bit. "Wilma, you have taken me in, given me food and water, blanket and fire, and best of all work to do. I've given you what I can of my thoughts and my sweat. I think you all know I already considered my fate twined up with yours. But, well, I'd not gotten around to pledging myeself to your wyter."

Faren squirms and cracks his knuckles in a shower of sparks. "Truth is ever since the Ruby Flux I've had a hard time dealing with those who aren't fully hale. Those images, they stick with you. But it seems that this stead is not just trying to survive, it is fated to take on great deeds, and a half-way commitment is no real commitment at all. So I'd pledge myself fully to your stead, through your wyter, if you'll have me."

"Now there's a good idea," Wilma says, smiling at Faren. "Ye'd need to be speakin' with her as is on the hill, for it's a matter fer her an' I'm not so sure as she takes kindly to farmers, bein' the wild one she is. So, ye'd best do as the others, though not all the others for some are not so committed as I reckon you is. That is, ye'd best see some way as ye can do some services fer her. Either her that'd be, Sabriel or Riantha, an' I reckon as ye'd be more equipped for the first o' em. Reckon if ye've a deal te be struck, an' ye takes with ye one o' them as 'as been tellin' her stories, she'd be willin' enough."

Now Lismelda stands up, staring about her uncomfortably, for she is not accustomed to addressing so many people at once.

"Well now," she begins. "Here's the thing: my lad Gyffun had something he wanted heard, and he thought he'd better tell it me and have me repeat it, on account of the trouble he's havin' with his voice an' all. He said that this gentleman here" - she indicates Gordangorl - "Has brought important news that some have heard already, and all should hear now. And he said to remind you that... now what was it again? Ah yes: the Taint that has cursed our land shall not be cleansed unless we find and he-lim-in-ate its source. Was that right dear?"

Gyffun nods, but gestures for her to continue.

"Oh! Oh yes. And he says that the... the... hen-ter-prise that Miss Rika proposes must take account of this too. Was that everything?"

The skald nods again, and gives her a warm smile. His hearth-mother starts to sit down, then bobs up again with a flustered expression to say :"Oh, begging your pardon - that's all I had to say," before returning gratefully to her seat.


At one point during the moot Vurth hesitantly rumbles:

"You know, having had a chance to sit and think about things a bit I recall a story about the Bull that might be important to what we speak of, seeing that Ash Maidens be involved. This is the story of how Dancing Saved the Bull."

And without waiting to see if anyone actually wanted to hear this tale Vurth begins, and as he tells the tale Karli and his gang of bulls assemble and join in the telling.


There was a time long long ago when the Bull came upon a problem that sore vexed him. It was something he couldn't kill or strike or run to or from or behold or ignore. Eventually the baffled Bull remembered an earlier lesson and said to himself Their must be another way.' So, the Bull began to ponder this unponderable but soon grew frustrated. Pondering was never the Bull's forte and he began to wonder if there was another way' to do another way'. At the last he recollected a story he had heard from Mastakos (one of those in his endless series of you know this interesting thing happened to me on my last travels' stories) who told him how he had visited some sisters who had shown him how to dream, and in the dream came answers. This idea the Bull found appealing! Ponder whilst asleep!! And he especially remembered how the comely sisters had exhausted Mastakos to aid him to enter the world of dreams. [Chortlings from assembled Bulls].

So off the Bull went to the forest that the sisters called their home. He soon found them and they were indeed comely as Mastakos had said. Each lived in a splendid ash tree and was surrounded by young daughters who showed promise to be as comely as their mothers. And when the Storm Bull revealed the reason for his visit the Ash Maidens announced that they would be please to assist him. The Ash Maidens informed him the Bull that he would have to lie down amidst them, with ashen leaves for a pillow and once he entered the world of dreams he would experience things that might help him solve his problem. The Storm professed himself to be please with this idea but mentioned that he was not very tired at the moment and it might be some time before he slept. Did the maidens perhaps also have a remedy for this? With shy sly smiles they allowed as that they might. [more chortlings] Some time later an exhausted Bull passed into slumber as the maidens departed to plant all the seeds they had so recently been blessed with. Strong straight sapling would grow from these, but wilder than the others and tied to the storms of their sire.

Vurth pauses here and says "What the Bull dreamt is not so important for us but he did indeed solve his problem. It's what happened next that might be of concern to us."

As the Bull slept and dreamt the dreams he did, it so happened that Yg the devourer of Dreams became aware that Storm Bull had left one realm and entered another. A moment of weakness perhaps? Yg immediately dispatched some of his followers in the hope that they would be able to come upon the Bull in his somnolent state and thus destroy him. These stains of the pre-dark came upon the Bull in his slumbers and the first things they did was to take his arms and armor that the Bull had cast aside and with that they cast a net upon the Bull and tied him tight. The Bull awoke and roared and thrashed but he was still partly in the dream world and still somewhat exhausted from his previous exertions. The net held tight.

Seeing this Yg's followers began to taunt the Bull and made elaborate boasts on how they would feed on the Bull's carcass, and then devour the maidens and children they had found with him. The Bull roared of course but it came to naught for the net was well and truly made.

It was then that Bull's new daughters stepped forward and they pleaded with the pre-dark for one chance to honour their father with a dance before they were all devoured. In return, the saplings promised that they would grow larger as they danced and thus would be more filling once devoured. Well, the insatiable followers of Yg thought this a fine deal. Floor show and a meal! And gathered to watch the dance, all the while throwing cruel taunts at the Bull.

The daughters danced and as they danced they grew. And grew and grew! They danced in a circle around the Bull and as they grew so did their circle, until it included all of Yg's followers within it as well as their father. And still they grew.

At first, the pre-dark chortled at the size of the feast that they were gaining. Look how big they grow they crowed! Towards the end they must have realized what was happening but by then it was too late. By now gigantic, the daughters fell upon Yg's followers and destroyed them all.

Soon the Bull was freed and arms and armor regained. He turned to his daughters and their mothers and allowed as he was surprised at how effective dancing was in overcoming the pre-dark and promised that if they, or any of their sisters or cousins or offspring ever needed it, the Bull would come to dance for them.

He also asked that they not spread the story around but of course somehow Mastakos got wind of it and it became another of his silly stories but that's another matter.


Vurth stops his taletelling here, and with a glance at Karli states "I think the time has come for us to dance for the maidens."


"Well folks", says Wilma, "it's lookin' like it's fixin' to rain some, so we'd best sort this out good an' quick. Rika's to lead this henterprise, as Lismelda calls it, and to help her out, we can mebbe take inspiration' from Gyffun's story and those as wants to go can give 'emselves the roles o' some o' her faculties. I sees ye've begun wi' the bedeckin' o' Faren's wagon fer Entislar to ride an' its comin' up nice is what I say."

"Now you all knows as I'm not one fer these fancy ceremonies and pomperosities, sio i reckon as we can welcome Master Silverquill back wi' his new information. We can welcome Karli an' hope that by rightin' one wrong we can get the balance back to rights wi' another. We can welcome Pegpole as he's a spot o' information too as might help us some, and we can welcome Faren as has cast his stone wi' us, so's to speak. All that information we can mebbe sort out at some stage and see what we reckon. I've a feelin' the turn o' the season might be a good time, as no doubt Silverquill'll be wantin' to spend his holy day reflectin' on all that's gone on an' he might have a suitable subject for his progression into High Beardiness."

"So, wi' all that done, I reckon as Vizz an' Oshana has somethin' to tell us, or am I mistaken?"

"Not entirely mistaken, only slightly inaccurate, Wilma. For it is I who wish to speak, and pray that Oshana, my sweet Green Woman, will listen to my pledge, and to respond. Ahem..Ahem"

He clears his throat. Twice. Better to clear his own throat than that of something else.

"Ever thine, in the peace of your arms, in the love of your bosom and the comfort of your womb I rest when I can, sweet Green Woman, between battles for justice and peace, between fear and the dying of love for the earth, which is my curse and my blessing and the way of my life."

"Two are better than one, life is short, time is long, Life flees before us - make us better than gods."

And with that he falls silent, staring intently at Oshana.

"Is it a deal?"

Silverquill bursts out in copious tears on hearing this. "It's so... so... womantic," he sobs, blowing his bill with a silk hankie.

"I wi...", says Oshana, a tear coming to her eye. "I mean yes it is... a..." she looks a little upset at Vizz's choice of language on this, one of the most important occasions of her life, "...a deal." She looks crestfallen, as if she had expected a gift, flowers perhaps, or a cigar even, but no, it was not to be.

Oshana has her back to the sobbing duck, so she does not see him rummage around in his pockets and extract a beautiful golden ring he bought on a whim in the Alda-Chur market. He holds it up for Vizz to see and can throw it to the tall human if he so wishes.

Yizar sniffs. "Seems like an awful lot of fuss just for a chance to mate."

Aren hugs his wife and they smile at each other, some private message seems to pass between them. Then their attention goes back to the happy couple.

Faren stares at the ground in hopes of hiding his tears, his large hands squeezed so tightly not even sparks escape. For some long time he is lost in memories of how short indeed his life with Kagrada was, and how it never approached the romance Vizz has already shown to Oshana.

"Life is short, time is long." The words echo through his thoughts for a long time to come.

Gyffun beams happily at this turn of events and hastily begins to unwrap his harp, intent upon serenading the newly-betrothed. Soon he is strumming the first few chords of a well-known romantic lay, and opening his mouth to sing the first line. The only sound that emerges, however, is a hoarse gasp, as the skald's unfortunate affliction quashes his enthusiasm.


After the moot, Faren talks to some of the farmers about Sabriel, then goes off looking pensive. He finds Yizar baking himself in front of a fire and talks to him briefly, then asks a few questions of SilverQuill before he settles with some branches and a whittling knife.

The next morning he shocks several people by leaving the work on the pig pens, and instead puts a yoke on one of his oxen, hanging a couple of baskets from the yoke, and heads off down the burnt path. He finally returns mid-afternoon, sacking wrapped bundles dripping in the baskets.

After taking care of the ox, he hoists the yoke himself, and heads up the hill. He hesitates at the door of the hut, finally clearing his throat and saying "Err M'am, ah that is Miss, I think. Uhhh, Sabriel? Miss Sabriel, that sounds proper."

Getting no response from the pale form within, he swings the yoke down and picks up the baskets, then carries them in. "They told me how you used to be a potter. Are a potter, not used to be: can't take that away. The hands remember things, I know."

He pauses and looks longingly at the doorway, then carries on.

"I've been touched by magic too, you know. Yavor's own lightning came down and kissed me, changed everything it did. I have memories in my head of things I never learned, can't stop my hands from sparking, and I have this... this... energy, I guess you could say, inside me. I know there are new things I have to do. But I'm still a farmer. If I let that go, it would be like I was floating with no idea of up or down no more."

Receiving only a bland stare from Sabriel's one good eye, Faren impatiently pulls back the sacking from one bundle.

"Look, clay!" he says. "I don't know if it is good clay, I'm no potter. But it seems to me a potter should have clay to work with. And I couldn't make you a wheel, but I made you some paddles and cutters out of wood, see?"

Faren lays the crude tools beside her, to no response. He grabs the clay, and places her hands on it, pushing her fingers into the cool damp mass. Briefly a smile seems to twitch her lips, her hands to form the clay themselves, but then she slouches, as if exhausted.

"You are still a potter!" Faren fumes. "You cannot, CANNOT, have stopped being a potter just because you're sharing your body. Your whole body know it. Your hands know it, I could see that! You smiled, you were happy! I don't believe you don't know it. You think you are too tired to do this? Fine, here!"

Faren grabs Sabriel's hands and pushes some of his preternatural warmth and energy into the young woman's body.

Suddenly her fingers are clenched onto his, and he can feel her pulling at the energy. Her one good eye focusses on him, and with a lascivious smile she purrs: "Oh, this I liiiike."


[1] See Silverquill Amongst The Yelmalions.