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Their joint enterprise complete, the Exiles each go their separate ways to pursue quests of their own...



Vizz found himself surrounded by trees, Ash trees to be precise - a grove he recognised as the Ash Maiden's Grove. All about were strewn the sleeping bodies of the fierce devotees of the Bull, snoring loudly enough to terrify chaos. He was back to the mundane world, the quest was over, chaos vanquished, order restored. What great deeds to boast of to snoring Uroxi! What a chance to wax lyrical of his feats and prowess! But Vizz stepped quietly over the slumbering berserks, his thoughts were of Oshana and the stead, and he was reminded of a prophecy from Dark Season:

"Good thoughts bring forth good fruit Bullshit thoughts rot your meat Think right, and you can fly The kingdom of Orlanth is with kin Free your mind, and your mule will follow"

He had wondered what the "Bullshit" had referred to, now he knew it was a subtle allusion to the chaos cleansing of the mighty Bull. But the Kingdom of Orlanth with kin was what concerned him now.

Long legs carried Vizz quickly through the wilderness in a shambling amble, maintaining a constant speed: no bursts of speed, he did not leap over obstacles, but shrewdly chose a canny path around them. He dealt with mud, trees and cliffs, in a like manner. Vizz marched in silence, the skip of youth and adventure gone from his step, replaced by a sense of purpose. Even as the sun sets his feet remain firmly on the ground, as if clasped by Esnans.

"Hey Honey! I'm home! I am returned from the Quest. I took no great part of it, the others were braver heroes. For my part I am returned more pleased to see you than I could have imagined "

Oshana seemed taken aback by his words.

"Took no part? Others greater? Dearest Vizz, is this you or has some more modest demon possessed your lanky carcass?"

"Nay sweetheart, but I am changed. I realised that there's more to life than adventure. There's dirt, and smoke, and good honest sweat. Once I was willing to accept the hazards of adventure, be it loss of items, wounding, insanity, disease, death, as long as the process was exciting. Now, I realise that actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement. Now I wish the Far Place was somewhere where there wasn't any trouble, beyond the reach of the moon.

Others had gathered to greet the returning hero:

"Oh but anyway, I'm home, and this is my tula, and you're all here and I'm not going to leave here ever ever again, because I love you all, and oh auntie Wilma, there's no place like home!"

"Welcome back" grunted Volle.

"So this is the quest done then?" asks Wilma, seemingly baffled at the arrival of only one of the questees. "And the others? Or you the only one to return?" Turning away from Vizz, she looks down the slope and smiles when she sees the giant flowers drooping, browned petals falling to the ground before her eyes. "Well, that's that then, who can get up a breeze to clear the stench f'rus?"

When one of the men has obliged, she turns to Vizz and Oshana with a grin. "We'll be needin' a feastin' then? Is this what yer tellin' us? And some sacrifices I s'pose too."

"The others will come, but they have quests of their own to complete, while my adventure continues here, with my kin folks. So bring forth the honey cakes, and let's sing....of a land, of a Far Place place

Where the gigantic Giants roam Where the flowers are immense and the rain is intense It's barbaric but - hey - it's home!"

And so began the extravagant tale-telling of Vizz the raconteur, as various foodstuff were gathered together for a communal meal: less of a feast by the normal measures of Vingkotling gluttony but, if measured on a tally stick of community and good spirits, there was plenty for everyone, even while bearing the brunt of some terrible jokes:

"..and Minlinster said:" recounted Vizz, full of ribald japery "Let there be beer! And Orlanth saw that it was good. Then Elmal said: Let there be light! And then Orlanth said: Whoa - too much light!"

As all about him laughed, Vizz's own coutenance darkened as he remembered his fellows still on their Hero Quests, still risking their bodies and souls.

"We must spare grain, and sacrifice a black cockerel for our comrades! By Orlanth's mighty beard!

Such feasting is there that even the arrival of the Uroxi doesn't make it livelier. The giant flowers have all been stamped into dust and several children seem likely to have been conceived by the time Silverquill arrives and draws the children away from the festivities. Vizz grins when he sees the kids spinning the sage about by his cloak and turns his attentions to helping Oshana find the right part of his neck to nuzzle. "When will be the day then, my love?" she asks, getting rather soppier than is entirely comfortable to Vizz.



Vurth and Rika retire to the high meadows of the Storm King's holdings, close to the high cleansing winds that occssionaly touch the earth in the highest spots. There they spend some time in that timeless place. Of what passes between them they seldom speak but Vurth does occasionally reminisce of his times with the Sky Bulls and Sky Rams and coming home to the the tiny vale and tarn beneath the high peaks to where Rika ran their humble cot (with an iron fist) but of the adventures they shared they speak little.

Obviously the two have formed a pairing that is unusually strong and fated. They seldom need to talk to each other to know what the other wishes and in that strange way that time has when spent in the far realms, it surprises none that when next seen in the Exiles' stead they appear in the company of two young teenage children: twins, a boy and a girl.

It's a different Vurth that has returned. Not exactly a kinder and gentler Vurth, but certainly a less explosive Vurth, a Vurth with concerns that for the first time seem to extend beyond corrosive self-meditation.



Silverquill finishes taking notes about the new stitches on the cloak of the goddess. Very interesting indeed. Looking about him, the small duck realises that he has lost track of time again and all of his companions are gone. He still carries the bundle of Ash Maidens, somehow magically shrunk to allow him to carry them all.

He remembers that he promised Vurth to bring the Ash Maidens back safely but this is such a fascinating place! So much to study and learn.

The small duck wanders idly around in the seemingly endless courtyard of the home of the Storm Gods, torn between his promise and his curiosity. After a while, a familiar smell of dung assaults his nostrils and he sees that he has strayed near to the enclosure where the sky bulls have their place. He watches in awe as a massive bull comes in for a awkward landing, the huge wings flapping and the mud churning up in a fine spray as the hooves connect with the ground. Silverquill gives an annoyed squawk as he is covered in dung and mud and he can hear the sky bull roaring with laughter.

"Now here's a fine sight. A small duck with a beard, all muddy and smelly. Poor duckie needs to take a dip in the pond!"

A couple of other sky bulls have wandered over to see what the commotion is about and soon the place is reverberating with the mirth of the bulls. Silverquill's dignity is severely affected and with a stream of durulz expletives he storms off, heading for the nearby small lake.

After a refreshing dip and several applications of his spell to remove mud, he is again clean and dry. He is just strapping on his false beard when a massive shadow blocks Elmal's light. Turning around, he sees the giant sky bull hovering above him. This time, though, the landing is different. There is hardly any ground disturbed as the bull lightly touches down on the grass.

"I just wanted to say sorry, duckie. Didn't mean to embarrass you, but I do love a good joke. Anything I can do to make it up to you?"

"Ah," says Silverquill. "As a matter of fact..."


In the Grove of the Ash Maidens, the exhausted Uroxi are startled to see one of their holy sky bulls suddenly descend towards them. Whooping and hollering, they gather around it, staring in wonder at the cleansed Ash Maidens it has brought them.

Although they inevitably confess their disappointment at Vurth's absence, they calm their complaints when the sky bull approaches Skullcleaver for a word. Bowing before such holiness, the Uroxi feels a tinge of relief that his god's avatar should have chosen him before his bloodbrothers. "Your master sends word," says the beast, with not the slightest hint of irony, and how welcome is this for Skullcleaver, a whole day hearing no end of ribbing for serving a sage, and a diminutive one at that, "he will be gone this season, but rest assured he will return. In the meantime," the skybull surveys the Uroxi before him, "you must complete this task. Each of you will travel alone in this forest, quenching the fires of the Predark. If you should meet and tarry with one another, then know that you are failing us."

And so the holy creature delivers his instructions to his followers. Although these men had been hoping that their time here would soon be over and they could fall back on the Exiles' hospitality, the skybull's words are stern, assuring them that there will be no rest for them for years to come. Above all, he assures them, they must cleanse this forest in readiness for the arrival of two who are blessed. Responding to the perplexed faces, the beast, speaking more eloquently than any of them bar their leader, informs them that one of their number, Vurth, has taken on the holiest duty of all, to bring to the world his sons. "They will face the Crimson Bat," he says, "And not turn their gaze nor block their ears." Casting his eyes about the sorry lot before him, the bull grows angry, "You have grown fat on the hospitality of good folk and on boasts from slaughtering easy prey. Never was it like this for Urox - you have been driven from your home by a gnome among the Predark, a midget, and you bemoan your fate. Well...the time to test your mettle will soon be upon you. Now do as I say and make the Birthing pure!"

With these words, the magnificent beast flits, with but two beats of its wings, gracefully up into the clouds, leaving the astounded Uroxi below. Skullcleaver organizes them to plant the Ash Maidens, the remnants born within wooden skulls, where they once stood proud, then, with a nod from the leader Karli, bids his farewells, as do the rest of the score of warriors.


Silverquill, in the mean time, has been busy looking for a certain Thunder Brother. He has finally found him, on top of Flint Ridge.

"Master Vanganth. I have a favour to ask you..."

Vanganth hovers comfortably before the panting Silverquill, for the sage has climbed far higher, on his own feet, that he can ever recall having done. Silverquill explains, the God tolerant of his quacking and squawking, that he would recover the power of flight denied him, and the God, as ever, looks upon the mortal benignly.

"Before you ask this boon, friend, know where you stand. Then either ask it and be done, or take it back and begone"

Silverquill looks down at the rock upon which he is perched. Just the shift of weight from moving his head causes the rock to crumble beneath his feet, the jagged edge cutting into his feet. The rock disintegrating beneath him is forming into three sheer faces, the blood from his feet trickling down each of them equally, as he sees his last opportunity to leap off this rock which will take him one way or another...

Silverquill gulps as he looks down... So high up! Then he recalls the incredible feeling he had as the chariot went flying and he knew for a brief, glorious moment how his winged ancestors would have felt, soaring high above the ground.

Looking the God straight in the eyes, the duck sage nods. "I am weady!"

"So be it!" comes the rock-shattering boom, casting away the remaining purchase which the durulz sage had left, leaving him teetering on a the sharpest point which he can feel creeping steadily through the flesh of his foot. "Behold, your choice..."

Below Silverquill, each of the three faces is now sheer, each leading down to a scree slope upon which he would surely perish.

"You wish the power of flight?" asks Vanganth with scorn. "Well, you may steal it from the Storm", he gestures below to a valley with a dozen skybulls cavorting with unbelievable grace in the airs. "And take the Bull as your mortal enemy. You may," he says, gesturing to a valley of darkness and a thousand small gods fighting on the slopes. "Revoke the curse which befell your ancestors, if you are so mighty. You may also..." Here he gestures to the valley below him, a beautiful green place, sheep grazing the hillside below the scree, the updraughts visible and practically calling to the sage. "You may also renounce your path and fly with me, never to walk or swim again. Nor to consult the tomes of your beloved god, dry old Lhankor Mhy"

A large grin cutting across the beard of the naked God, Vanganth looks into Silverquill's eyes, the slightest wink in mockery of the mortal's predicament.

"Quick now", he says, as the sage teeters on the slightest bit of bloody flint.

Silverquill nimbly balances on it, thanking Lhankhor Mhy that he's a durulz and thus cannot feel any pain in his webbed, bloodless flippers.

"I would not steal fwom the Storm," is his reply. "And neither would I dweam of wenouncing my wise Lord. I will twy to wevoke my ancestors cuwse".

With this statement, the small duck leaps headfirst straight down towards the dark valley and the fighting gods...


As if diving into a pool from a great height, the impact of hurtling headfirst into the Gods Wars nearly snaps the duck's neck, a massive pain knifing through his brain and eliciting a scream of agony. Barely capable of opening his eyes, he can tell that he has been enveloped by Darkness but little else. No ground below him, he hurtles downwards, buffeted by magics which hurl him from side to side as he falls, scorched by unholy screams which rip into his open mouth, burning his throat and stomach before rising through his skin and escaping through his eyes.

Only after a dozen of these foul Predark spirits have coursed through him and left him a limp mass of falling feathers does one take purchase in his skin and impart its strength to him. Although falling is still one of the foremost fears which are scrambling his brain, the spirit flows into his arms and a pair of membranous wings flap out from the skin. Instantly, he is able to glide and finally control a little his descent.

With an agonizing squawk, the duck sage feels his arms changing and watches as the strange-looking wings emerge from his arm feathers.He can feel his mad descent slowing and he finds that just by flexing his arms in different ways, he can actually decide which way to fly.

He tries to flap his new wings in order to gain altitude but he is still too shocked and hurt to do more than to transform his fall into a clumsy and very painful landing.

After lying stunned on the ground for a good while, Silverquill finally gets up, his small legs shaky underneath him. He looks around to see where he is. The unnatural clarity and reality of the area tells him that he is still on the Hero Plane. Up there is Thunder Ridge and so this must be the valley where the gods fought. There is no sign of any gods now, though. It's just a grassy plain with small boulders and the lilt of a small stream nearby. A bird sings in the distance and a bumblebee slowly buzzes past.

The duck sage looks at his arms. There is no sign of the wings at the moment. Perhaps they somehow retracted into his arms? Or are they made of some shadowy god-stuff that only materializes when he needs to fly?

He starts to run along the ground, flapping his arms madly up and down. No wings. He leaps, as high as he can and meets the ground again, his bill crunching painfully against a rough boulder.

A stream of duckish curses disturbs the quiet valley.

Silverquill shakes his feathers and heads towards the stream to dip his bruised bill in it. As he leans forward towards the water, he reels back in horror. Reflected in the waters of the stream, he can see his eyes, normally a clear brown colour, swirling with angry red spots.

The fastidious duck fumbles nervously in his many pockets and finally produces a small piece of reflecting glass he found in an old ruin. He peers cautiously into the mirror and nearly drops it as the duck reflected there smirks back at him!

"Thank you for the lend of your body, durulz. It is a strange shape but I am sure I can mold it to a more suitable form soon...."

Silverquill quacks angrily. "Kwak! Get out of my body, slime! This is not what I wanted!"

The sage starts to chant the words of the song to crush skull-guardians, but the image in mirror cuts him short. "Spare me your song, little one. I am not one of Thanatar's minions. Do you really think a song would destroy me? Or maybe one of your ridiculous poems? 'Foul slime, curse of existence indeed'. Now, move over and let me take control..."


Back at the stead, a chorus of small children's voices. "Silverquill is back! Featherbum! Yay!"

The crowd of children flock around the small duck and he pats them on their heads, a soft smile on his bill....

"It's good to be back."

By the time the children have spun Silverquill around for the thirtieth time by his wings, he is ready to collapse into a heap. The familiar stomping of his companion Skullcleaver draws his attention though, and he unsteadily turns to face his friend with a queasy smile. The batlike wings snapping, of their own volition, to fold close to his back almost knock him over but he is able to right himself for long enough to see, by the bloodshot eyes and the weaving walk, that his bodyguard is the worse for drink. "Good you're back!" the hulking form just about manages to blurt out. "Gah, this headache, though, and my joints. Oooh..." he says as he sinks on to his backside staring blankly at his master.

Silverquill's relief is shortlived, however, for one of the children bounds up to Skullcleaver and shouts out excitedly, "Have you seen Featherbum's wings? Just like a bat!" Skullcleaver's eyes open wide in shock as he tries to focus on Silverquill and shakes his head blearily.

Silverquill laughs and adjusts his robe, hiding the wings in the grey cloak.

"Fear not, Skullcleaver. I have not grown bat wings. It is merely a sample of the wings of the Desmodus Rotundus, a species of wind child found in the Storm age. They are a fascinating species and well worth researching... er, I mean wesearching. The ambiortus of the wing (from Dara Happan. ambiguus "vacillating, uncertain" plus . ortus "origin, beginning") alluding to its uncertain placement in avian evolution, with a complex mosaic of archaic traits (a third phalange on the major digit of the wing) and modern features all indicate..."

The small duck drones on and on, his voice carrying hypnotic overtones which threaten to send the stupefied barbarian into a deep coma...


Vurth smacks Rika on the rump and shouts at the twins to make sure none of the cows wander off when the lead them to the river pasture. Rika playfully pummels the side of his skull and the twins reward him with a pair of those timeless expressions that only teenagers regarding a particularly demented parent can bestow.

Vurth growls at them but has no heart for more than that and turns and heads towards the village. Seems to be something going on there … he peers … could it be? Is the duck back? As he approaches it becomes apparent that yes, the good sage is back. Speaking strangely though and hmm … wonder if it was going to rain? His bones only ached like that when a storm was coming or when...

Vurth fingers his klanth and picks up his pace.

"Not to worry", says Skullcleaver, getting up from his seated position and fingering his axe defensively as he weaves into an upright position before the duck to confront Vurth. "I feel it too, but ish jush them flowersh shtill. Shiverkill her shaysh it'll be like that for shome monthsh to come an' we'll have to get ushed tit." Gazing blearily at Vurth, he smiles, making it as clear as can be that he'd not welcome another pace forwards.

Vurth gives a non-commital grunt and say "We’ll see about that."

He sniffs about to see what he can sniff. Maybe its just them flowers but maybe not.

Seems it is just them flowers, for the reek is such. Although Vurth's nose would have to be baffled by the drink, his having evaded his wife's new rules with no small success, he knows there's something amiss, but then Skullcleaver'd not be standing there fingering his axe if Vurth were entirely welcome here.

Silverquill gives a wry smile and moves past the two glaring Storm Bulls. "Thank you, Skullcleaver. I will make sure you get your just reward for your services".

The small duck pauses before entering the stead and gathers the assembled children around him. He appears to be telling them a story and all the children quickly fall quiet and listen to him intently. There is the occasional giggle and gasp of awe from the younger ones but some of the older children are frowning.

As Silverquill keeps on talking, even the older kids fall quiet and seem totally engrossed in his tale. There are nods of agreement and small titters and giggles as the duck finishes and stands up again. He waddles towards the stead now, leaving a huddle of whispering children.

Wilma's face lights up in a big smile as Silverquill draws into view. "Silvahquill! Well, fry mah hide! It's fine t'see yo' agin. How did th' quest go fo' yo'? Come an' set wif us by th' fire an' tell us of yer adventures!"

"Thank you, Wilma. It is most kind of you. But I am very tired from my journeys and would like a good nights sleep. If you don't mind, we can meet tomorrow. I have such wonderful things to show you..."

With that, the small duck bows politely and heads towards the small guest hut where he normally sleeps.



As his quest companions watch Aren strides out over the plains they realise that for once he is not limping but standing tall and proud in the after glow of their recent achievement. Soon the haze swallows him as he head towards the sounds of almost continuous lightning coming from top of a distant hill.

Aren though as the mists grow thicker around him he suddenly realises he is longer alone as a scared Alynx joins his step silently. It says nothing beyond its initial soft mew to get his attention but acts like it has been expecting him. With no further attempt at communication it carries on towards the hills. Aren shakes his head then follows his new companion hoping its sharper sense can pierce the thickening cloud and mist.

The alynx leads Aren for a way, but then the path disappears and the two of them must forge on blind for another while. Only the glow of the ground seems to offer them light, the play of lightning in the clouds more a hindrance than a help. Eventually, the alynx, its orange fur reminding Aren of Yizar, its blue eyes of his wife Shelara, turns and, surprising Aren despite himself, speaks:

"If I am to be your guide, you must give me a name," it purrs. "I have been summonsed by your God to be your guide. But this bores me."

Pausing to lick a paw, Yinkin, for it is he, continues. "You may call me one of four things. Call me Yinkin and I will watch and follow, perhaps I will drag you out of trouble by the scruff of your neck. Call me Love," says the Alynx, its eyes glowing the blue of Aren's Helering wife. "Or Friend," it adds, its fur glowing a warm orange. "Or God," it continues, its claws crackling with lightning sparks. "And I will act accordingly, but you may never..." the alynx pauses for the word to sink in. "You may never use those words again."

Licking the paw, scraping it now over its head contendedly, it finishes its speech. "And you too must thenceforth act accordingly."

Aren considers the cats request carefully finding his knowledge of myth offers him no clue as to where this is leading. But instead he trusts to his instincts and wisdom, such as it is.

"Well my companion I already have a God and a Love and you can't change your coat and stop being Yinkin. And so I will name you what a wise man treasures most and call you Friend".

"But this is where you underestimate me, my Friend," says the alynx, sparks playing down its spine and licking its cloak into flame.

The cat leaps off the rock upon which it is sat, revealing the engraved form of a decapitated, delimbed and folded up God. It bounds off through the undergowth and there is little which Aren can do but follow the path on all fours, after a little while finding the alynx sat aflame upon another rock.

"And you may call no other friend," it says as it bounds off again.

Eventually, exhausted, Aren comes out of the undergrowth, knees and palms bloody, blood leaking from a bramble scratch which only just missed his eye and can raise himself to his feet. The alynx, his back to his new friend, is looking across a shallow river. Still aflame, it turns its head to Aren.

"Now you must show the strength of your friendship and bear me across this water."


Aren looks around hopefully for a tree that he could topple over the river, but considering where he is that could be a risky proposition. Not seeing anything bigger that a bush he decides it must just come down to what he can do himself.

Bracing Blazer his spear across his back Aren calls on the power of his god to protect him from the flames.

"Well climb on my spear and we will cross the water. And if I slip in the water I will throw you the rest of the way". Aren grimaces in pain as the feline climbs up his back and drapes himself over the spear. The heat from the flame beats at Aren's head and he can smell his hair starting to burn. So whistles up a wind to blow some of the heat away. Determinedly he sets out over the water.

It is tricky going, for this is no housecat to be borne with impunity, but the river is low, more of an obstacle to an aquaphobe alynx than to a Bluefoot such as Aren. The alynx dims its flame a little, whether in fear of the water or in consideration for its new friend, so Aren is able to bear it across with ease. Nearing the far bank, the cat leaps off on to dry land, unbalancing Aren who falls sideways, placing his hand beneath the water to steady himself. The rock which upon which his hand lands does more than steady him, a shock rushing through his body and leaving him invigorated and even excited.

Looking down, Aren spies the figure of Yavor Lightning smiling up at him from an engraving on the rock and counts himself blessed to be following his god's path. The alynx seems pleased with its companion's efforts and now, as they follow the trail, walks only a short way before Aren rather than dashing off into the undergrowth, taking care to find a path which will accommodate the human.

And so pass several days, though there is no dawn to mark their beginning nor dusk their end. At the third camp, Aren finds he is able to rest his head on the alynx's flank in spite of the flames and soon finds his dreams taking on a wholly mythological perspective. So it s that, when he sees the walled stead nestled in a valley before him, he knows it well and it is as if he is coming home, for in his dreams he has spent a week's night's feasting in its Hall.

This is the Lighning Stead which Aren has been seeking, at least in this world. For here in the past nights has he feasted with his Ancestors - with Varosh and his sons Varanor and Vinin. Vinin called him grandson, or great-great-grandson it matters little, and Aren even held his great-great aunt, who was stillborn in the real world but here is the happiest baby ever born, bouncing upon his knee. But those were dreams and this, if it is truly the Lighning Stead, is real. Or as real as anything here in this time and place.

"Have I not guided you well?" enquires the alynx, breaking into Aren's euphoric reverie. "Is this not the service of a Friend, to bring you to what you most desire?" Aren can only nod and smile foolishly at the cat before it concludes with one final point, "I do not know what you will find there, but you now know the path to the place your heart desires. In return, you must take me home to sit at your hearth in the real world. Will you do this for me?"

"Yes Friend, you are right: it is wrong to tarry here too long lest we forget ourselves," Aren replies to his feline companion.

"We began this quest with one talking cat, may the Wind guide him." Aren pauses to sketch the blessing in the air to their missing companion. "So I dare say we could leave with another. But, my dry Friend, I must warn you that the land of our hearth is the Far Place, which is beloved of Heler and his kin, and its streams are uncounted. You would need to get used to getting your feet wet. Of course, I could continue to carry you, but I would need a stronger back and I suspect you would soon tire of such a position. But, that said, you would be more than welcome to join me on my return to the real world if that is what you desire."

"Indeed this is what I desire," says the alynx. "If you can take me. But for now, if you wish to go to the human's hall, I will wait here."

Aren sighs "No, I'd best not - though enjoying myself I was not accomplishing much. And I could only find a few clues as to how to find this place directly from the real world. So I think we had best head for home. Lead on, Friend. I dare say the others in our band have made it back before me."

With that Aren, with only a single regretful glance behind him, sets off back the way he came.



Gyffun's return to the land of the Dozaki had been longer and slower than the outward journey, the route devious and obscured by rolling banks of cloud. Mastakos, concentrating on driving the chariot, had paid his passenger scant attention. Thus the skald had been afforded plenty of time to contemplate his ongoing purpose in the realm of myth.

He had felt a momentary surge of relief when the newly-purified Ash Maidens sprang forth from the floor of the chariot, believing that the time had come at last for him to return to the Mortal World. Their quest had seemed disproportionately long and he was anxious to feel earth beneath his feet and good clean rain on his face. Almost immediately, however, he had become aware of a further compulsion, an intangible sense of lingering purpose that urged him to remain.

Steadfastly resigned to this fate, he had surmised that it had something to do with the ice enlo. He had recalled the Uz hunter's words upon delivering this gift: "Still alive Uz quest. Fourleg wrong right, so good. Back to forest, yes, you have Norag enlo food present. Orlanth quest luck." From what little he could understand from this, he has guessed that the sculpture is connected to the Hill of Gold heroquest that he had been inadvertently drawn into once before.

It is for this reason that he has decided to return to the trolls and to ask them the way to Norag's palace. Having arrived in their dark lands, however, he is no longer so sure of his purpose. The first group of Uz that he encounters seem surprised rather than hostile, regarding the sculpture that he carries with evident reverence, but when he explains his purpose to them in halting Darktongue they merely shake their heads. "That not your quest," they tell him and will say no more.

After receiving the same reaction from the next group, and the next, Gyffun cannot resist voicing his frustration. "Why can't you just tell me the way?" he asks angrily. The huge male Uz that he is addressing regards him coldly. "That not your quest," he repeats. "If you not know way there already, you not ready to go. But..." He glances at the statue. "Have enlo food gift, so perhaps know something. Hmmmph. Seek Norag on mountain." He points at a distant, snow-shrouded peak.

Thanking him, Gyffun returns to Mastakos and indicates his new destination. The charioteer shakes his head. "The Uz are right: this is not your quest. If you really want to go there you'll have to find your own way." The skald protests, but he cannot persuade his companion otherwise and eventually they go their separate ways, Mastakos racing off towards one horizon and Gyffun trudging wearily towards the other.

His journey through the frozen wasteland seems interminable, so slow is his progress and so stubbornly remote his objective. Maybe they were right, he thinks to himself. Maybe this isn't my quest. Gradually, however, the massive bulk of the mountain swells to fill his field of vision and he begins to grasp the enormity of the task ahead of him. This is no tame hill, he realises, that might be conquered through mere exertion and perseverance. It is a towering pinnacle of rock and ice to be scaled with courage and skill, a fierce and unforgiving opponent against which an unprepared mortal might easily dash himself to pieces. Well, I've come this far, he thinks. So I must at least try. Surely there is some way to scale this thing?

His first attempt, taking a direct approach to the precipitous crags before him, is a dismal failure. Accustomed to the rough but infinitely more forgiving peaks of the Far Place, he finds the near-vertical slabs of rock that loom before him now a daunting prospect. He is not one to shirk a challenge, though, and has no difficulty in finding the hand- and footholds required. After spending a depressingly long period of time laboriously hauling himself up the face of the cliff, however, he is overcome with vertigo and is forced to make an even slower descent.

Frustrated but still undaunted, he seeks another route and at length finds a fractured gulley that climbs up into the mists like a winding stair. Heartened, he begins his ascent anew, making swift progress and sternly mastering his fear. As he climbs higher, however, he is assailed by icy blasts of wind that howl down the gulley like demons, buffeting him mercilessly and lashing at his exposed skin. Once more he is compelled to abandon his ascent and returns to earth, his face and hands raw and stinging as the numbness subsides.

Determined to make one last attempt, he makes his way further around the foot of the mountain, climbing slowly but steadily over a series of lesser crags and gradually gaining height. Once again his passage is blocked, however, this time by the increasing quantities of ice and snow that he encounters, which sap his strength and warmth even as he battles against them. Soaked, frozen and thoroughly miserable, he descends once more and sets about building a fire to fight the deathly chill that now creeps over him.

As he sits shivering beside the feebly flickering flames, he wonders glumly what he should do next. The pitiful blaze emits little warmth and even less light, but it will save him from freezing to death, he thinks. Glancing resentfully at the ice sculpture that he has brought him to this depressing place, he is minded to toss the thing into the fire, but then he remembers that it was a gift, and well-meant he is sure. Evidently he has misunderstood its purpose.

"Indeed you have," says a soft voice beside him. "This is, after all, not your quest - and never was it yours."

Startled, Gyffun looks up to find a shadowy figure seated on the other side of the fire. Peering through gloom, he cannot clearly make out the stranger's face, but he sees the small harp that it carries and has an instant shock of recognition. "B... but..." he stammers. "The snow queen... and the troll's gift..."

"You were drawn into another's quest, a hapless observer, and learnt something to your advantage, but it was never your quest. Now you have been given a gift that seems to be connected to it, but it is still not your quest. In fact, now more than ever. Need I remind you that you no longer serve the same master?"

The skald glimpses the impression of a smile on the figure's face and blushes. "I had not forgotten that," he murmurs. Then, more distinctly: "But what should I do mast... err, my... um..." He breaks off, unsure how to address an androgynous divinity. "That is to say: I feel that I still have a purpose to pursue before I return to the Mortal Realm. If that purpose is not to undertake this quest, then why am I here?"

"You have all but answered your own question," the figure tells him with another smile. "You seek a purpose, a new course for your life. That is your quest and that is why you linger in this realm."

"But my life has already taken a new course," the skald insists. "I made my choice and selected my path."

"No, child," the figure tells him patiently. "You left one path and have yet to take up a new one. Your choice, such as it was, consisted of not choosing. Pride informed your decision, but fear ruled it. You were not afraid to unchoose, which does you credit, yet you remain fearful of taking a new path."

"But I chose to follow you!" the skald insists. "I chose you over all of the masks that you wear. Is that not a choice?"

A smile once more. "But who and what am I?"

"I don't understand. You are the truth behind the masks. You are the meaning behind it all, the guiding principle of my existence."

"Your reverence is touching, but misguided. Do you claim to know my true face, then? Have you pierced all of these so-called masks and perceived the truth that they conceal? Proud you may be, but you are not witless. Think! You may have turned away from one master, but another immortal yet holds your allegiance."

Gyffun's eyes widen. "The Lady? Another of your masks? But..."

"Cease this talk of masks; it is a foolish conceit. Those who share in my dominion also share their dominion with me. They are more, much more, than mere masks. I am not them, nor are they me, and yet we are indivisible. Mortals come to me through them, and to them through me. And you are no different, for all of your precocious pride."

The skald hangs his head, his cheeks burning once again. "Please forgive me," he says humbly. "I sought only to honour you with the choice that I made, but I begin now to see my error. Did I presume too much, then, to think to worship you directly?"

The figure shakes its head. "No, no: you misunderstand me, child. Your error was not one of presumption, but rather self-deception. And this is not the first time that you have practised this deceit. You first came to know me as a child, treading a little-known path that marked you as an outsider even as it granted you the sense of purpose that you craved. When you were grown, however, you began to see this wild path through others' eyes and sought to follow a more acceptable calling: that of the Storm Skald. This was the first time that you deceived yourself."

"Now, having recognised that his way is not your way after all, you look for another. And once again you try to deceive yourself, try to ignore that path that stands ever ready beneath your feet. Has it not swept you away once already, granting you both a gift and a glimpse of your own beginning? You do not have to take this path, of course. You are free to choose it or not, as you please. But mark my words, child: until you come to understand why you fear it, and why you have attempted to hide it from yourself, you shall never find peace."

Silence hangs between them. Slowly digesting the import of what he has been told, Gyffun finds his mind racing. Staring into the fire he sees a series of visions dancing before his eyes: of his mother, dying in a bramble patch even as she gives him life; of the dryad who witnessed her ending, and granted him a vision of it; of his father, his face twisted with anger and scorn; of Orvan Truevoice, smiling benevolently, his eyes shining with pride; of Erynni, at first joyful and then with her face streaked with tears; and finally of Gordangorl, soberly praising him for doing 'what is right', even if that meant giving up something precious.

He has been shown many of these images before, he realises, but only now does their significance begin to become clear. Feeling significantly more cheerful and unexpectedly resolved, he raises his eyes from the flames and starts to speak, but his companion is gone.


The Forest is a fearsome place, even to one who feels perfectly at home in the depths of its mortal counterparts. Gyffun has been here before, but that does not in any way diminish the powerful and daunting aura of the place. The path that has brought him here, for all of its obstacles, had felt safe and familiar until now. In the face of this endless, trackless wilderness, however, the increasingly faint trail's meagre guidance seems woefully inadequate.

At the threshold he stands, trying in vain to summon up the courage to continue. The sharp taste of fear in his mouth has a familiar tang, but he is no longer confident of its origins and it is this uncertainty that gives him pause. What is he afraid of? He has walked under the watchful eye of the Lady all of his life and bears a tangible token of her abiding affections with him even now. Why should he fear to take this path when he has already walked the first few steps along it?

The words of his companion by the fire and the visions that followed them return to him now. He had always been conscious that a deep need for some kind of approval, for a sense of belonging, had contributed to his decision to take Orvan's advice and follow in the martial footsteps of Drogarsi. Now he reflects upon the feelings of alienation that had created this need, dwelling upon the actions of his father in particular. The Lady's Wildling Path, which he had so cheerfully followed as a child, had then seemed to be the cause of his woes. In leaving home, it had seemed, he was as much seeking an escape from this ill-favoured calling as he was respite from his father's careless scorn.

In his own mind, he realises, the perceived object of this disapprobation is the wild side of his nature, and the burden of others' ill-will is compounded by his own conflicted fears of this feral aspect. When he thinks about it, he cannot help but imagine it as a tethered beast within him, which he carefully keeps in check and only unleashes in time of need. Although its savage unpredictability can be terrifying, it is at the same time a wellspring of creativity and a source of enormous strength. What frightens him about it, however, is the idea of losing control, of surrendering his fate to the indiscriminate passions that rule this other self.

In truth, this prospect is as seductive as it is scary, but he is all too aware of the inadvertant harm that he might inflict in this state. He thinks now of Erynni, of the cruel hurts that his careless words had inflicted upon her, and of their terrible consequences. He also remembers the ecstasy that he has experienced in battle when he is caught up in its bloodthirsty music, and of the panic he has felt upon ending that Dance, uncertain whether he has slain friend as well as foe in the frenzy of blood-letting.

These fears, it seems, hold the key to his present dilemma. Like it or not, he must confront these feelings of alienation - both from that untamed aspect of his self and from those whose approval and regard he craves - and find some way to overcome or resolve them. Gazing warily at the potent primeval Forest that looms before him, Gyffun is certain that this confrontation will involve more than mere soul-searching...


Taking a deep breath, Gyffun composes himself and then strides boldly into the Forest. The path rapidly becomes indistinct and then disappears altogether, leaving him no choice but to navigate by instinct alone. Surprisingly, after a only few minutes forging into the unknown, a sense of calm descends upon him and the knot in his stomach begins to untie itself. Some time later, however, it returns with a vengeance, as he becomes aware of a soft pattern of sounds from behind him.

Footsteps. Someone - or something - is following him.

Fighting a rising sense of alarm, he slows his pace and then stops. The pattern of footsteps - faint, but unquestionably close - mimics his actions. For a few moments he simply stands there, taking calming breaths and trying to clear his mind. Then, slowly, cautiously, he turns to glance behind him.

A young woman regards him with open-eyed candour, her expression child-like and entirely guileless. She stands, unabashedly naked, no more than a dozen paces away from him, her confident stance showing no sign of fear or even wariness. Her hair, nut-brown and tangled, cascades about her shoulders and down to her waist in gloriously unkempt profusion. Her eyes, staring unflinchingly into his, are an intense green. Something about her face is achingly familiar, but he cannot place it.

This first sight of her almost takes his breath away, but when her face lights up with a beatific smile, his heart melts completely. Only when her eyes leave his, glancing down with evident curiosity at the involuntary physiological response that her appearance has provoked, does he realise that he is also unclothed. His first reaction - embarrassment - is quickly replaced by panic. Not only have his clothes vanished, but so have all of his possessions! His pack, his borrowed sword, even the twisted bronze bracelet from his wrist - all gone.

Laughter, rich and musical, bursts spontaneously from her throat like sunlight breaking through clouds. It seems to bubble up from deep within her and then cascades over him like an icy stream dancing down the mountainside. He shivers involuntarily at this delicious sound, once again experiencing a sense of haunting familiarity. Who is this delightful creature? Is it the Lady herself in another guise? Or some elemental being sent to challenge his resolve and probe his weaknesses?

Warily, Gyffun returns the young woman's smile and is heartened to see her expression of simple pleasure growing ever deeper. Still feeling exposed and uncertain what to do next, however, he shifts his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot and waits for her to speak. She merely continues to watch him with apparently delighted curiosity, beaming all of the time.

"I'm sorry," he says eventually. "I feel that I should know who you are, but I remain at a loss. What is your name, fair lady?"

This question - or perhaps his mode of address - provokes another loud peal of laughter, which makes Gyffun start in surprise and then stare at her in mute incomprehension.

"Um... what is it that you want with me?" he ventures, bracing himself for further mirth. "And why were you following me?"

She responds with a smile and an incomprehensible gesture, one hand held out flat before her with fingers splayed wide. Bemused, the skald glances about himself with a furrowed brow, searching desperately for some tangible explanation for her presence. Finding nothing to aid him, he resorts to staring at the ground for a few minutes.

"Very well," he says, at length. "Follow me if you will."

With that, he turns upon his heel and resumes his journey into the depths of the Forest. Although resisting the temptation to glance over his shoulder, he cannot help but hear that she is following him. After a while, the sound of her soft padding steps becomes almost reassuring, effectively neutralising his earlier fears. At first he struggles to focus upon his quest again, but before long he feels the ineffable pull of compulsion that brought him here in the first place. Whatever fate it is guiding him to, he is now anxious to meet it.

Thus he finds himself entering once more into a familiar grove, this time accompanied by an enigmatic companion. With all of the dignity that he can muster in his present state of dishabille, he crosses the small, sunlit clearing and approaches the slender figure in the shadows on the far side. The voice that greets him is also familiar, as is the palpable hint of danger in its tone.

"I know you Harp-bearer," it purrs. "Though I scent a change in you, a hunger that was not there before. Have you come to deliver something more substantial than the all-too-chaste promise of our last dance together? Or did you plan to make the Walking Journey with your sister here, to find the Gifting Way together? Does she have what it takes to dance the Three Element Dance with you, I wonder?"

Gyffun opens his mouth to speak, but words fail him. He turns in shock to his silent companion and takes in her wide-eyed expression of joyful trust with a new awareness. Suddenly the strange sense of familiarity that she evokes is a mystery no more - she is, after all, his twin and he has at least a passing acquaintance with his own appearance. But is this truly his sister? Or is it merely some cruel trick of fate?

A throaty chuckle with an edge of menace disturbs his reverie. "Ah, but I think know you too, my little one. Don't I? You may be clothed in a new shape, but my senses are sharp and your taste is familiar. Did you tire of being your brother's play-thing, then? Were his caresses too tame or too rough? Did he neglect to feed you properly, perhaps?"

A giggle of sheer delight escapes from the young woman's throat. Only now grasping the import of this latest revelation, Gyffun finds himself thinking, rather stupidly 'Well at least I haven't lost my harp, then' before shaking himself and trying to gather his wits.

"I come seeking a new path," he announces hastily. "Or a new song, if you will. Or perhaps a new dance," he adds, feeling foolish now.

"Which is it to be?" comes the reply, sounding amused. "Or do you mean to seek all three of these?"

"In truth," he admits, with a sigh. "I do not know. But I can tell you this: when I am lost, I find a path that brings me here; when I am silent, my heart sings the Song that you placed there; and when I am still, my soul dances the Dance that you shared with me. I come to you now, as Odayla did before me, to seek a mother's wisdom."

He glances now at his companion.

"And I stand before you with my sister," he continues. "Or one who was meant to be my sister. Lost and naked, are we, even as Gylanth and Ky Lyrna were before us. They, too, trusted in your wisdom to guide them. Will you not guide us now, Lady?"

"Your incessant quest after this path of yours is like a beaver gnawing away at a tree, but the beaver destroys in order to build a home. You seem to gnaw away at this, as is typical of Man, with no purpose but to feel a tree and see what is left. Already you have sworn yourself to one God and then left him, why should I listen to you?"

"When a beast in the forest asks for a path, it is a path home and I show it the path. When a tree is in peril, I fortify its roots. So all I can say to you is look to your den, to your roots. Look to your pack and find yourself a mate. Bear some pups else you will be but food for the worms."

"And as for your sister - she is pleased now to be released but she has no true body in the world. Must you keep her always muffled so she cannot tell you what she perceives? Must you leave her as rootless as yourself? This is as much the forest of her ancestors as of yours but she can hear it speak and can tell you what she hears. Think on this and take some time to look at this forest and to speak with her and with the others."

With this, the Lady disappears into the trees, leaving Gyffun and his sister alone, naked in the forest, the only sound a soft singing floating from a glade a little way off.


At first, the skald is stung by this dismissive response to his plea, for the Lady's words strike a chord that rings painfully true. He is disappointed too. He had hoped to find a new sense of purpose here and a new faith to fill the space left by his former deity: a new mistress to guide his destiny. Then, as he considers her plain words of advice, his hope starts to rekindle and he prepares to give more thought to their import. Even as he does so, however, he recognises this instinct as the very object of the deity's casual contempt: the insidious temptation to wallow in self-analysis instead of simply acting.

"No," he says suddenly, speaking out loud. "No more thinking and worrying and searching for meaning. Henceforth I shall follow my heart only and seek no more for paths. Unless it be the path home, of course. Or the path..."

A giggle interrupts his earnest speech. He turns to see the young woman - his sister, he recalls with a start - and realises that he is the cause of her mirth. As he watches she points at him and then makes a gesture with her hand, holding it upright, wrist bent, and moving her fingers and thumb in a clear imitation of a ceaselessly chattering head. Not for the first time, Gyffun blushes, understanding her meaning and realising how readily he has slipped back into pompous self-absorption, even as he was attempting to disavow it.

He inclines his head towards her in grateful acknowledgment and manages a sheepish grin at his own foolishness. She returns his smile warmly, and holds out her hands towards him. He takes hold of them without thinking and feels an electric thrill at the contact. This is my sister, he thinks, staring wonderingly at her. The sister I never dreamt that I had. That I never knew existed!

"Well, I'm here now, brother, so why not try talking to me?"

Gyffun starts in surprise. The words have a strange yet familiar quality, with the same musical resonance as her laughter. Stranger still, they seem to have been spoken directly into his ear. He stares in bewilderment at the young woman before him, but she merely continues to smile. Her lips do not move as he hears the voice again.

"What? Did you think me mute? Shame on you! Have you not heard my voice a thousand times before? Have we not sung together, danced together, fought together?"

"Aye," he acknowledges cautiously. "But I knew you only as my harp, not my sister. Though I believed that some part of my sister lived on and had passed into the instrument, I dared not - indeed I was warned not to hope for more than that. Tell me, are you truly her?"

"All that remains of your sister, I am," she replies. "But this," she gestures at her naked body. "This is not a part of that. This form might have been mine, had our mother lived, or had our aunt rescued me and taken me in - as she took you in." She pauses, her face now serious. "But, yes: I am you sister."

"How...?" Gyffun begins.

"You know how my life was preserved," she says, curtly. "And you can guess something of how I have lived it thus far. But though I shall never wear a body like this in the Mortal World, I have been granted a taste of my birthright here and now, if only for a little while. And I shall not squander that precious gift. Perhaps now, seeing me for what I am at last, you might learn to treat me more like your sister and less like an... object."

The bitterness in her voice is unmistakable, and Gyffun burns with shame to hear it. Suddenly he cannot bear to look at her face, but as he begins to turn away, she tugs violently at his hands and he sees her expression soften and tears brim in her eyes.

"Nay! Do not look away from me, please," she says, sounding desperate. "I did not mean to scold you, for you have given me more life than I ever hoped for. I have been angry and frustrated, I cannot deny it, but we have the chance of a new beginning now. Promise me but one thing, I beg you, and all is forgiven, all is forgotten."

"Anything," he answers eagerly. "Name it."

She does not respond immediately, but when she does her tone is more measured. "Very well, then. Promise me this: that you will seek out the truth about our mother's death and seek out the man who was responsible so that we may repay him in kind. That, upon finding him, you will slit his murderous throat and watch him die!"

Her voice grows more and more impassioned and she moves closer to him, until her face, twisted with hatred and eyes flashing with anger, is no more than a hand span away from his own. Dismayed, Gyffun tries to shrink away, but she clasps his hands hard and will not let him move.

"Swear it!" she cries. "Swear that you will do this for me!"

"B... b... but what do you mean?" he stammers. "I thought that she was... that it... that a wild animal..."

"Ha!" she spits. "Wild animals don't use arrows."

"Arrow? But Lismelda said she was..."

"Mauled? Savaged? And so she was. Perhaps even by the wolf that the clan's hunters claim they slew in vengeance. But that foe she faced and bested, for the Lady had ever watched over her daughter and did not desert her in her time of need. No, the wound that ended her, that condemned me to this half-life, was dealt by a man and inflicted by an arrow. And the hand that loosed that arrow took her life."

Shaken and disbelieving, Gyffun simply stares her.

"Well?" she says, frowning.

"You know this to be true?" he asks in a voice choked with emotion.

"I do. I have seen the wound and the arrow, albeit through another's eyes. As you did..."

"But even if it is true, how can I find out who...?"

"He knows," she says, with heavy emphasis on the first word.

"Who knows?"

"Haran Hawkeye."

"M... my father? That is, our father?" Gyffun says questioningly, but she says nothing. "He knows about his? How? Surely he would have..."

"Ask him," she snaps. "Ask him to tell you the truth."

"But how can you be so sure?" he asks. "Why are you so certain that this... that it happened as you say it did? And that he knows something about it?"

She does not hesitate. "Do you doubt that I am your sister?" she asks.

"Well, no," he says carefully, "But..."

"Do you doubt it?" she demands.

He does not answer immediately, but stares deep into her eyes for many heartbeats, as if searching her very soul.

"No," he says eventually. "I do not doubt that you are my sister."

"And how can you be so sure," she says.

"I just know," he admits, with a sigh. "I just know...."


Hand-in-hand, the skald and his sister walk towards the sound of singing in a nearby glade. Gyffun no longer has a sense of immediate danger from the dense forest around them, but its unrestrained vitality grows more oppressive as they move further into its verdant depths. He begins to hear the faint echo of another Song, its now-familiar murmur flowing into him from the soft hand clasped in his own.

Entering the glade, they see that the singer is not alone. Seated on the ground in the middle of a substantial glade, she is surrounded by a circle of animals, creatures of many different species, both predator and prey. As the siblings approach, passing cautiously between deer and wolf, fox and rabbit, squirrel and bear, they see two curious beasts seated on either side of the singer. The first is a huge cat, with great dagger-like teeth; the second, a small, yellow-coloured dog.

The singer is a plain middle-aged woman, dressed in a simple cloth garment and with a calm smile on her tanned, weather-worn face. Gyffun notes the crow's feet around the woman's eyes and what seem to be three seeds embedded in her left cheek. As he watches, she reaches for a small feather hanging from a necklace at her throat, as if idly seeking comfort from this curious token.

"You one of mine?" asks the woman, bending her neck with an almost audible creak to look at Gyffun. "Well, if you are, then come and show you face, sit here with your sister and do it like a man, not like some humble subject of a misbegotten bastard king!"

"Let's have a look at you," she says as Gyffun timidly enters the glade. "Well," she eyes Gyffun for a moment, "Aren't we a mess? I hate to say it but Kuruk was right, we should never have left home. What a mess you are!" She smiles at Gyffun and his sister. "So, it looks like you are one of mine, the both of you, twins hey? And from the feel of you you don't know whether you're coming or going."

"Well?" she enquires, "What have you got to say for yourself?"

Comprehension dawns slowly on the skald's face as, recalling both the Lady's reference to ancestors and the founding myths of his clan, he belatedly identifies the woman before him. Although mindful of her admonitions regarding humbleness, his tone when he responds is deeply respectful.

"Mother Riantha, we are indeed your son's descendants, and twins, as you have perceived - although our lives until this point have run very different courses. As to my not knowing whether I'm coming or going... I cannot deny that I am feeling lost. I came here seeking a new sense of purpose, but I am beginning to understand that this is not something I can find, or be given, but something that I must choose for myself."

The woman smiles, but says nothing.

"I know now the choice that I wish to make, but I do not yet see how to make it. Perhaps all that I lack is the courage. The Lady told me to look to my roots, to my pack, so I should really ask your advice not for myself, but for my clan. But perhaps I can do both..."

He hesitates only for a moment, then continues with more confidence.

"Many tales are told of you, Riantha of the Tree, and your deeds are still honoured by my clan. We look to your son's example, and the sacred roles that he and his companions took when first the Danlarni were formed. My intended role is that of the Songstress, an office that was first filled by your daughter and namesake, and inspired, I believe, by your example. I come to you now, and ask you to help me fulfil this role."

"The Lady's Song is already in my heart, but if I am to dedicate myself to Her, and serve my clan well, then I must conquer the fear that accompanies it. Can you teach me to sing that Song without quavering?"

"That's more like it," says Riantha, with a smile. "I'm not one to sing you songs or improve your singing, you'd best look elsewhere for that. I might suggest, though, that you take that cutting of the Tree of Consequence and plant it. I don't know that that Wilma's the one to be looking after it. She's no blood of mine after all. If you get that plant established again and pay it some mind, I expect that'll sort out the tremor."

"Two things about the tree you'd best know, though. First off, you'll have to think where to plant it. Wilma stuck it in that hedge but that's no good. Second off, for it to take, you're going to have to get rid of the original. I doubt it ever did well over by the Hollow, so it'd be best to kill that one off, d'you hear?"

"That's about all I've to say to you. I wonder, though, that you might do well to take a wife. I hear it can be a steadying influence, not that I've ever had one myself."

Riantha scratches a fox under the chin, squishing the odd flea under a grimy nail as she smiles at Gyffun.


As he dutifully thanks his ancestor for her advice, Gyffun is uncertain what he should do next. Why does he still feel so aimless? After all, he now has two tasks to accomplish in the Mortal World, so he can scarcely continue to claim that he lacks a sense of purpose. Twice he has asked for advice and twice he has been answered, but the words of the Lady and the words of the Hearth Mother - although doubtless well-intended - have found no purchase in his soul.

Both had spoken of things - putting down roots, making a home, taking a wife - that are as alien to the skald as any of his recent experiences in the Otherworlds. If anything, this fact probably testifies to the wisdom of their advice, but Gyffun feels like a mole who has just emerged blinking into the light, only to be told that it is high time he learnt to fly. Sensing his mood, his sister takes him by the hand and begins to lead him deeper into the Forest.

"Come," she tells him wordlessly. "The old woman means well, but as she said - she knows nothing of songs or singing. She is not the only denizen of this place, though. Let us speak to some of the older inhabitants..."

Thus begins a strange and revealing journey, as the skald is introduced to the many and ancient clans of the Tree Tribe by his enthusiastic sibling. He has always felt and instinctive wonder and respect for these great, slow-living beings, but until now he has never had the chance to converse with any but their Aldryami cousins. Granted the means to do so by his sister's unique affinity, he finds much to admire in their timeless and unhurried Songs and even more to ponder.

The Alder sings a watery ballad, a tale of growth and regeneration. From the Apple, he hears a slow song of love that has nothing to do with his own adolescent notions of romance. It is a healing song, like the soothing lullaby of a mother calming her child, or the balm-song that a healer sings to her patient. The voice of the Ash is tinged with bitterness, but still he hears the enduring strength in its plain song. It sings of cleansing, of calming the troubled waters of internecine strife. The Birch clan sing the song of the shield wall, the stout defenders who shall not be broken.

And so their journey continues. Elder murmurs an interminable refrain of endings and beginnings, of new endeavours born from the ashes of old dreams. Hazel whispers a prophetic song, a song of marriage and inspiration. Holly intones a hymn of determination, of obstacles conquered through unity and perseverance. Oak's voice is rich and strong, its song full of wisdom and enduring majesty. The Rowan's song is a meditation, a gathering of resources to resist an encroaching menace. Willow sings of grief and loss, but its song is not a lament, rather a message of strength and hope in the face of sorrow.

Even after this musical feast, Gyffun is hungry for more. He is beginning to understand the roots of his dissatisfaction and the purpose of his quest. Music has long been the axis of his life, a thread that ran through his being from childhood. Until now, though, he had not truly grasped the essential contradiction of the mystery at its heart.

Drawn to its otherness, to the strange and beautiful symmetry that set it apart from the world, he had failed to understand its power to bridge that very gap. Music is not an abstract thing set apart from the world, but a spontaneous and natural expression of the harmony at its heart, the very language of the universe. To consider its intricacies in isolation, divorced from the infinitely more complex patterns that they reflect, is to miss the point of it all; celebrating music for its own sake is like praising the sun's reflection in place of the fiery orb in the sky.

Of one thing, Gyffun is now certain: the music of the Wild speaks the language of his own, troubled soul. Only by embracing the source of that sweet and savage music can he come to terms with his own nature. The Trees have given him a taste of this, but now he craves more. If only his sister could speak the language of the other denizens of this great Forest, he muses...

"Ahem ahem..."

Glancing up at the sound of someone theatrically clearing their throat, the skald is startled to see a large black bird perched upon a branch above him. From its appearance, he takes it to be some sort of crow or raven, but he has before never heard such a curious call.

"Well, seems it's a guide for the Animal Tribes ye'll be wantin'," the bird observes in a clear but heavily-accented voice. "Or p'raps a trans- lator. An' I'm the feller fo' ye. If a body speaks, I speaks to it."

Gyffun stares at the bird for a while, not quite trusting what he sees. "And you are...?" he manages eventually.

"Ah, right ye are," the bird says. "Where a' me manners? Name's Fechín - at y'service, don't ye know? And you'll be Gyffun, I'm t'inkin'? Who's this pretty lass, then? Y'sister, is it? Got a name, flower?"

Already disconcerted by the talking bird, Gyffun is even more disturbed by the realisation that he has never asked his sister's name. How could he have been so thoughtless? Glancing at her now, he sees tears starting from her eyes and her lower lip trembling. Feeling his eyes upon her, her nostrils flair with distress and she looks away. He begins to frame a question, but she just shakes her head.

"Di'n't quite catch that," the raven interjects. "Come again?"

She shakes her head more determinedly now and Gyffun hears her emotion-choked voice in his head. "Don't have one. Don't have a name."

The raven makes an indecipherable exclamation and bristles its feathers in evident distress. "Ah, me an' me big... Now, don't be payin' me no mind, missy. And don't you be worryin' none. I'm sure your brother here'll be helpin' you t'find y'name just as soon as he's done with... Now, what was it ye were doin' again?"

Gyffun ignores the bird, intent upon his sister. "But surely... I mean... how can you have no name?" he asks.

"No-one named me," she says simply. "Hence I am nameless."

"Nay, nay," the raven puts in. "Not nameless, lass. Never that. Ye'll have a name, and no mistakin'. Ye just need to find it is all. Who can we ask, now? Did ye ask the trees? P'raps..."

"I asked," she says abruptly. "They don't know."

"Is that right, now? Then I guess we'll just have to ask the other folk, eh? Your brother here was wantin' a word anyways, so..."

She looks at Gyffun now. "Can we? Do you think...?"

He frowns. "I must admit I'm confused. Why can you not name yourself, or ask someone to choose a name for you?"

"Oh, I could choose a name," she says glumly. "But that would not make it mine. The bird is right: I already have a name somewhere - on this the trees were all agreed. I simply do not know how to find it. I... I was afraid to ask you before, when I have already asked you for one boon, but... will you help me?"

Gyffun nods. "Of course. And if you think that it will help, then we shall not rest until we have asked every creature in the Forest. And if they cannot help, then we must seek for your name in the Mortal World too, or..." He hesitates before completing his sentence. "Or in the realm of the dead. For if there is one that certainly knows your name, then that is surely where we she dwells."

He turns to the raven. "Very well, Fechín. You have already offered to be our guide and our translator, I believe. I am minded to accept, for now it seems that there will be two purposes in our embassy to the Animal Tribes. Before we begin, though, tell me this: why did you offer to help us?"

"Aha!" the raven exclaims cheerfully. "'Tis a simple question, an' a simple enough answer. A certain Lady of your acquaintance, well she asked me to look after ye. T'oughtful like that, so she is..."

The second part of their journey through the Forest is longer than the first and tempered with occasional peril. Curiously, Gyffun finds the musical lore of the Animal Tribes less engaging than the strange but vivid Songs of the Trees, perhaps because it is more familiar and hence less startling in its revelations. Amongst the masses of the banal, however, he is delighted to find numerous hidden gems, which serve to pique his interest and keep him ever hungry for more.

The many Frog clans entertain with a weird and wonderful songs of seemingly infinite variety, their carefree chorus a familiar signal of safety for a bog-dweller. The Wolf's mournful song sends a shiver down his spine, but its unexpected eloquence brings the skald a new hint of sympathy for this traditional enemy of his folk. The Nightingale's song is always a revelation, but many of its cousins are equally gifted, and Gyffun hears them all.

The animal kingdom is gifted with more than song, however. Stoat, and his cousin Weasel, tell of the madcap dance that they perform, which engages the curiosity of their prey and draws them perilously closer to the wily predators. The industrious Honeybee dances in a figure of eight, or a circle, or a sickle shape, depending upon the distance of the food source that it is describing to its fellows. Even the humble Hare, wary and reclusive, is wont to engage in dance when the joys of Spring take it.

Some share their stories too, most notably Fox, who proves to be something of a raconteur. His tales of clever tricks and the pomposity of other animals reveal an unexpected gift for satire. Others, such as Rabbit and Spider, tell similar tales of their clever triumphs over other animals, and a few, such as the Turtle, are just as happy to satirise their own kind.

In some cases, he finds unexpected mysteries in the familiar too. The Blackbird's song brings on a trance that might guide the listener into the Otherworlds, or perhaps take him home. The Swan, silent and graceful, has an unvoiced music all of its own, an exquisite air of deep mystical wisdom. Even the humble Wren, favoured messenger of the gods, startles the questing skald, revealing its laudable gift for harmony, improvisation and invention.

Of his sister's name, however, the birds and the beasts can tell them nothing. Gyffun is not really surprised, but he can feel his sibling's growing despair at each new disappointment and wishes fervently for at least some clue. Only the Owls can offer any words of advice. "If that which you seek may be found in the realm of the dead," they observe. "Then you perhaps should ask your Grandmother."

Fechín is a tireless and enthusiastic guide, true to his self-proclaimed vocation as translator. When those that they seek are more inclined to eat them than talk, he leads the siblings to safety and returns to ask their questions where he can. The Hawks and their kin prove difficult to approach, for they are too anxious to slay the guide. Many others are too fierce even to approach, or simply unwilling to share their music or answer questions.

When the bird announces that their journey has run its course, Gyffun is filled with a mixture of relief and regret. Relief, because he is at last feeling ready to return to the place he can truthfully call home now, and regret because he still has so much to learn. Regret too, that he cannot bring his newfound sister home with him - at least not in the form that she wears in this realm - and that they are still no closer to finding her name.

"Hush, brother," she tells him, when he voices his disquiet. "I shall be with you still and together we shall find my name. But do not forget your other tasks. I have done with out a name for all off my life thus far, so I can certainly do so a while longer."

His parting from the inimitable Fechín is another source of regret, for the bird has become a dear friend on their journey. "Not at all, not at all," the raven comments dismissively as Gyffun clumsily expresses his thanks. "And don't think that ye're rid of me forever, neither. If ye ever help again, I'm the bird for ye. Here," he says, extending a wing. "Take one o' me feathers. Ouch! That smarts! No, no, never mind me, I'll get over it. But keep that feather close and if ye ever need a guide, ye can use it to call me."

Thus Gyffun ends his peripatetic quest: a little wiser and lot more focussed than he began it, with a new friend, a rediscovered sister and three tasks to accomplish. The last part of his journey - the journey home - ends with the skald in a deep forest not unlike the greater Forest that he has departed. Relieved to find that his clothes and possessions have been restored, he tenderly cradles his precious harp and murmurs:

"Now we go home."



Faren felt that he had been following this trail forever. "Why do I follow this trail? Somehow it calls to me."

`Me' that was an interesting concept. Who was he? It seemed that maybe once he'd been a farmer, but then why did he have a spear twisting and sparking in his hands? Sparks, was that normal that he shed sparks? They helped to light the gloom at any rate. Was he the Road Builder, the one who prepared the tracks left by the scouts to be traveled by more civilized company? If he was, why did he have no crew, no tools?

The ground shook. It had done that before, but not so strong. Ah, maybe that was why he was here. Farmer or Road-Builder, either way he needed the ground to lie still and stay in its place. Maybe he was coming to fix the ground? But if so, whose trail was he following?

Something moved in the gloom! He spun towards it, lightning suddenly arcing around his arms and spear, its flickering lighting the devastation around him. Nothing there now. But lightning answered his call? Maybe that was why he sparked? A name came to him suddenly: "Yavor." Yavor, lord of lightning, god of incineration…..but more than that. Yavor did more than destroy everything. That's right, Yavor promised that in his wake there was room for the new. A perilous gift, the destruction of the old to seed the new. But was this not what a farmer did, clearing forest and field to make crop land? Is this not what a road-builder did, replacing the wild land with a tamed path?

He looked at his spear again, he looked at his sparks again. He smiled, and rumbled two words "My tools."

Ahead his path seemed to lead towards a cave. Maybe he was where he was going? That would be good, there were things to be done, things to be fixed. He strode forward, not swiftly but steadily, relentlessly, confidently.

And so, the realisation coming to him, bit by bit, that if he is to follow this urge then he should best cast doubt from his mind, Faren steps bravely into Maran Gor's Underworld Palace.

With his customary fortitude, Faren blocks out the sight and the stench of a dozen heads hanging from the cave walls, filthy ichor dripping from the rotten flesh off the beards to form a puddle on the floor. Beneath the twinned axes mounted upon the walls, the flaming torch, the only welcome sign, is easily removed and with a deep intake of breath, the farmer throws this through the hole in the cave wall, taking care not to snag upon the stalactites and stalagmites which create a fearsome maw at the tunnel entrance, follows.

He has crawled a little way into the tunnel on his hands and knees, taking care to keep the torch away from from his face when, wiping his face with a hand already bleeding from the sharp rocks which litter the floor, he perceives that this entrance to the Palace is deliberate, a ploy to humiliate him. Comforted to have worked at least that out, he is much more perturbed when a small voice speaks to him from beside his ear. "So, Man," it squeaks, almost causing Faren to bash his head on the low ceiling. "Why oh why do you wish an audience with the Shaker? You are only a mortal, you know."

Holding the torch towards the origin of the voice, Faren sees a tiny humanoid figure come into view, a spindly thing made of rock, clinging to the tunnel wall with long fingers and toes, blinking inquisitively at the man. Looking at this strange creature, Faren finds it hard to discern its limbs from the ropey, intertwined formation of the rock about it and then, with a start, realises that the entire tunnel is made up of these creatures! He is surrounded by them, above and below, a thousand small rock creatures which have shaped the tunnel about him and are looking at him with cold eyes.


Faren takes his time. A rock has addressed him. A rock with limbs, and implied mobility. Moving forward, moving at all, without answering does not seem wise. Still, no great hurry he feels.

After a bit, he decides that he is content. Rocks he understands. Rocks he has pulled out of fields and placed in roads. Of course normally he can't see the rocks move, but come spring there are always new rocks in the fields and displaced rocks in roads (how he could be ploughing fields and building roads both in spring is a question he leaves aside for now), so he knows full well that they have moved.

Better yet, if he can outwit anyone, surely it can be a rock!

At last he is ready to speak. Have the rocks moved closer to him while he thought? No matter, there is still no rush.

"Is it a mortal I am? Have you seen my first soul, which has been an ancestor and will be again? Do you see these sparks coming from my hands, from my lightning soul? Do you see my wind soul, which has feasted in Orlanth's hall, ridden in Mastako's chariot, and been carried on the flood of Ernalda's tears?"

"Should I dismiss you as a rock, nothing but inert dross? Well I know that your kind can move, they come up in my fields and leave my roads. Barely turn your back and they seem to come out from the fences it seems. Here your mobility shows more openly. Should I call you 'rock' and think you can't move?"

Faren chuckles, then continues "I will call you 'rock' but I will never say you have no business moving. You may call me mortal, so long as you don't say I have no business in the god's realm."

Without seeming to move, or perhaps just moving so smoothly that their motion seems like stillness, the rock creatures tighten closer around Faren. One of the speaks, or perhaps all of them speak, in the close and echoing confines it is hard to tell.

"Oh yes, you have a place in the gods' plane, you can stay right here with us forevermore....." As the words echo down the tunnel Faren can see how this very logic is firming the stones against him.

Faren mutters "Should know to leave the fine words to the fancy folk."

With a grunt he manages to get Ash-Not-Plow in front of him. He feels the rock trying to trap his legs, but forestalls that with a muttered feat. In the small space he has managed to keep, he proclaims: "Barntar showed us all that rock is really just dirt that doesn't like moving. My lord Yavor later showed that rock which moves is really dirt. You move, you like to move, so maybe you really are just dirt, and I know all about ploughing through dirt!"

Faren feels for the trail he had been following, then with a shower of sparks passes the thought to Ash-Not-Plow of the area to strike. Ash-Not-Plow suddenly wedges its tip into a gap where none was apparent. Then Faren puts his weight behind it, while yelling "You like to move about do you? Then let's see if Yavor can make you dance!" The sparks around Faren's hands and about Ash-Not-Plow start arcing out to the stones, followed by growing flickers of lightning stabbing into the wall around Ash-Not-Ploughs point.

The wall holds, obdurate, as Faren re-doubles his efforts, mutting "Uz eat me if I'll let mere rocks be more stubborn than me! Like you said yourself, we have forevermore, you can't hold me back for that long." Drawing on his preturnatural vigor he adds "Any farmer knows how to out work rocks, and I've resources beyond just any farmer."

Ash-Not-Plow senses weakness and instantly passes to Faren that NOW is the moment, and the young farmer throws everything he has into cutting through.

Faren finds again the state in which he cleared the road through the acorn-bombs. The lightning flares all the stronger, a constant arc dancing around the rocks in front of him. Faren feels the sizzle of triumph from Ash-not-Plow before he even notices the rocks start to yield. The light from the lightning shows the rock creatures around the spear coming apart into even smaller rock creatures, and those coming apart even more, into fractal dirt. Ash-Not-Plow, despite his name, easily plows through the dirt, with Faren hunching along behind it.

Soon, though, the quantity of earth before him is so great, the dust in the air so suffocating, that Faren finds it hard, with the exertion, to breathe. The flame of the torch sputters in the little air available, threatening to die out, the light growing very dim, the walls of the tunnel oppressive.

This task is not going to be easy, Faren realizes. Then again, what in life ever is? Plowing a field in the spring isn't easy, and harvesting in the fall isn't easy. Sacred time isn't easy, and initiation wasn't easy. Honor isn't easy, and standing firm in the face of a screaming Uz wasn't easy. Maybe some day he'd drop dead behind the plow, perhaps he would not come back from the god's world, maybe he'd die trying to hold off an Uz some day. But that was no reason not to go on trying! As his Da used to say, quoting his grand- da and generations of Darlini before, "The best way to fail is not to try."

Thinking back, Faren recalls that Da would usually continue "The second best way is to try and get too clever about it all." Despite the situation he laughs, wasn't that exactly what he'd try to do, talking his way past the stones? He finds enough moisture in his mouth to spit out some of the dust, and say: "Don't worry Da, our clan crossed the Death-Line, I won't let them down by letting a little dirt stop me."

So he can't see for the dust and lack of light? What of it, he can feel what is in front of him, and with his broad hands there was little risk he'd miss feeling what was there. So air was getting short, it hadn't stopped him yet, and his preturnatural vigor still burned inside. So the walls were closing in on him? Maybe they'd trap him at some point, but they hadn't yet.

He pulls out his knife, and carefully slices a long band off the bottom of his tunic, then holding it just right urinates on it, soaking it thoroughly. With a slight shudder then he binds it around his face. The smell is strong, but he's smelled worse in the stables, and the wet clothe keeps the dust out of his mouth, letting him better breath whatever little stale air is left.

Stubbornly, he gropes ahead of himself, trying to keep moving forward. Maybe Faren should have felt scared, entombed in dirt. However he'd spent his whole life making dirt bend to his will, and the more that the dirt closed in around him the better his leverage got. To his surprise suddenly his hands encountered empty air. Tentatively he opened his eyes, and saw light after a fashion. Laughing he pulled himself forward, until he was lying on a mound of dirt.

"Rock," he says lightly. "I have one more lesson for you still."

The floor beneath him responds to his words, glowing with the many colours which light the surface of this age. Pulsing red flashes fly across the walls of a passageway with an angry rhythm which cannot fail to speed Faren's heart. At the end of the passageway, an immense set of doors bar the way to what must be the throne room.


Looking around, Faren gives up his hopes of planting barley in the dirt, to try and move its dedication over to Esra. Instead, he ties up his cloak to make a broad sling, and scoops as much dirt as he can into it. Then he proceeds down the corridor, casting the dirt from his broad hands like he would seed at sowing time.

He calls upon Orlanth to lend force to his words, then says as he sows: "Rock, I told you not to say I had no place here. And I told you I would not say you couldn't move. Look at you move now! As you meet new pieces of floor and wall, tell them of your experience, let them feel what it is be broken free and fly on your own!"

"After all rock," he continued. "Why should you be a solid, unmoving barrier? Is not your queen the mistress of moving earth? So go and teach your other selves to move, that you may better defend your mistress, and all of the earth and storm tribes. By marriage you are related to the Storm Tribe, so are my cousins. I say to you as a relative: call upon the powers of movement. Where the strength of earth fails, the strength of earth combined with the movement of the storm may better succeed. You have failed at being a passive barrier, so take this and make something better from it."

As Faren casts the dust, the walls and even the floor begin to slowly change in nature. At first it is barely apparent, but as the change sits in more deeply it becomes apparent that although there are clearly walls, and a floor, the components of the those walls and floors are now all in violent motion, whirling and bouncing and colliding.

Indeed, as Faren proceeds down the corridor certain branches start growing from floor and walls, and he notices his feet starting to sink into the floor. For a moment he thinks he has made a grievous error and simply re-trapped himself. Then he flings the final handful of dirt at the mighty doors blocking the way. For a long moment, as Faren hops from foot to foot trying not to sink too deeply, no affect is seen. Then with a curious, almost liquid, grace, the doors start flowing and changing.

Without waiting Faren trudges forward, feeling rather like he is in a bog, and squeezes through the doors as soon as there is a gap between them. As he steps through the doors however, he realizes that they are not disolving, but changing shape. Looking again he realizes that the the rocky piles have taken roughly humanoid form. While he stands there, stunned for a moment, they appear to nod their craggy heads at him.

Emboldened by this mark of respect, Faren steps forward, past the guardian figures, and looks around.