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That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth from the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed by that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Wilma seems almost to have dozed off in the early hours of the morning, despite her personal involvement in the events recounted. As the silence extends, she realizes where she is and that she must move things on. The cold of the Sea Season night biting at theirs at their bones, she reminds them of a colder and a more perilous time.

"Dark Season - well wasn’t that fun? Need I say again that the skies were all colourful? No, but by now Heler was back in strength, at least for a while, and so the snow grew deep. The problems started when old Morith, yes him again, was digging up turnips in his field, the one as had been uprooted. Well, digging in the snow, what should he find but a frozen skull, made of ice? It being Dark Season, and with the nature of the tusks on the skull, well, that was enough to keep folks within the walls of the stead. No-one went out for several weeks but a few, and so the arguments and the hunger raged. I’ve never heard so much bickering and I’ve never had to sort out so many arguments. With the Tresdarnii girls’ bellies a-swelling, of course, there was all sorts of talk. Vizz got an earful of course, but the Ginunga Boys was blamed, and talk was all of five-headed births and all, and we know where that led in the end."

"So, there we had this frozen skull, and more was unearthed, and all in a path from the north to the south. So plain it was that something Uz was afoot, and good it wasn’t likely to be. Night before one of them Uz holy days, the skulls took to burning red, and the intrepid sort went out to see what was up. Big nasty trolls it was, but I mean big. We’d dealt with the darkmen before, but not this sort. We saw them walking down this path they’d made, but it wasn’t a normal path, it were some sort of quest they was on. We could see that as half their bodies was underground or in the snow."

"By the time they’d all gone by, the fear was up, and the squabbling was on a new level. Some folks from Uzdeep goes by then, with one o’ them big-breasted Uz. They stopped for a while and said it was a Zorak Zoran heroquest and they’d worked a way to avoid any human sacrifices. Seems it was some sort of rape, again, and they were off to eat the Small Fires, that was how they called them. Of course, some of our boys then had some strange dreams, not sure as I believe them."

"Back they came a few days later, and carrying a big wooden death rune, with one of them Warriors of the Sun pinned to it. Not glowing like before, but we could tell who he was because his guts were all open and those were all grains, just like those sun boys. Taking them to eat, we hoped, and we left them to it. Best not to interfere, of course, but the folks was fearful as anything, and the arguments we had, well, that was what finished us in the end of course, or else that was what kept us from seeing what was going on."


Wilma gesture at Vurth and says "Tell them what you told me."

Vurth starts and collects himself from wherever it was that his thoughts had carried him off to. He seems to suddenly become aware of the knife he's holding, sheaths it and then, with a nod to Wilma, speaks.

"Well, you how it wuz. Once Morith came down all agitated like and screaming about the undead growing up out of his perfectly good fields, I figured I should go take a look-see to see if there weren't some pre-dark arisin from Moriths radish patch. Course the way Morith goes on about every little thing I had no idea what to expect."

"Anyways, I grab Cleaver and tell him we better go check it out so we trots on over and give the place the once over. Sure enough, there's this big ol' white skull stuck out o' the ground, kind a like a big ol' troll that got froze. Cleave and I don't sniff no chaos so we dig it up some to see if the rest of the skeleton was attached but thar warn't nothing but that skull. Did find another skull though and then another so we cam back and told Wilma what we found."

"Wilma was still kind of miffed from whatever happened in earth season, so she tells Cleave and me to go check it out and see where these skulls came from, though plain as day they must a come from them trolls up north."

He glances at Wilma and hoarsely whispers: "I think she just wanted to watch me and Cleave freeze our privates off wandering around in the snow in the middle o' Dark Season but maybe that's just me."

Then, louder: "Anyway, offs we go into the teeth of Valinds breath and hump it north following these skulls. After walking our feet off, them purty blue ones that don't work so well no more, we eventually come to Snell's Stead in UzDeep. Wuz Snell that put us wize to what was going on and since it whar just the Zorani going to put paid to those chicken men we decided to hang around the stead until Snell and his lot whar to head off south following them Trolls."

Did get a chance to hang around with some Zoraki who was keeping an eye on things and while they be a might strange they sure got thar head screwed on right bout others. Got to talking about best way to fight pre-dark, you know the old argument .. should you holler and charge or charge then holler ... swapped stories .. drank Snell's beer which is pretty vile by the way."

Anyways, we come on back with Snell and then spill all this to Wilma who says we best keep out o the way which I though a good idea and the rest you know. Why everyone got so excited I couldn't figure, cept Morith who kept going on bout his damn field and what was going to happen to it next. That man got a real thing 'bout that field."

Vurth slowly winds down and his gaze begins to lose focus again. Slowly his hand creeps down to his knife...


Silverquill nods as Vurth tells his story. "Dawk Season, yes - that was intewesting. I was here with you of course, owganizing my notes and writing the first chapters of the 'Silverquill Parchments'. It will suwely turn out to be a most wemarkable book. When the fwozen skull was found, I went out to have a look, but it was no Thanatari howwor. Skullcleaver wanted leave to go with Vurth here and being the generous employer I am, I of course allowed this. When the twolls passed thwough, I went out to talk with them, but they all just gwowled at me, so I decided to leave them alone. They came back later, with one of those dweadful Wawwiors of the Sun - good widdance to him, I say. Otherwise, I found the season to be most twanquil, sitting here by the woasting fire and writing. Did I mention that I cowwesponded with the Dwarf of Dwarf Wun? I did him a small sewvice and he wrote back that he was most gwateful and he owed me a favour!" Silverquill preens his shimmering feathers with his bill and looks very proud of himself.


Entislar smiled, "Uz skull’s made out of ice, didn’t have anything to do with them. The only thing I want with Uz is to smash their skulls, which is not diplomatic and as we have enough enemies as it is I went fishing with Kollos. We had a nice time by the river, A nice hot fire, a slightly singed Alynx, time with my best friend, and the fish were biting. Something went right for once, one beauty was quite three feet long, Kollos swore it was delicious."

At this point Kollos Firefriend hearing his name entered the lean to and stropped himself against Entislar’s leg, then spotting Angor dozing near Garnatha, sneaked up on him and stuck his cold wet nose against the back of Angor’s neck hoping for a game of hiss and tumble.

Entislar chuckled, leant against the support and watched to see what would happen next.


Vizz spoke next.

"The Season of Darkness was propitious for the forthright criticism of contemporary behaviour but there were some practitioners of more formal satire. Myself of course, a wealthy and successful adventurer, and the owner of a cloak of remarkable expense and elaboration, turned to satirical rebukes along with other dilettante pursuits as a harmless recipe for the untroubled life. A man of noble birth who yet finds favour with the stickpickers and honourable cottars for his scathing wit and brave retorts. No time had I for the pleasure of taunting scaly swimmers with a stick, nor dealing with the Unholy Inventor who is an infernal mentor, yes, I mean That Dwarf."

"Now those Tresdarnii girls had a brother, seemed to think himself a hero and, what with tales of my derring do, not to mention my night of balladeering with the fine pair, we all remember when he arrived on our Tula looking for compensation, or explanation, but not, as it turned out what he recieved; humiliation. I shall not bother to repeat those profanities and vile slurs on my good name that this young buck inelegantly breathed hot and foul on my face. As I've said before, I never repeat myself, but my words on this occasion were a fine example to the young and Adventurous. Picture the scene, as I calmly pointed out how unwise he was to threaten me surrounded, as I was, by my kin."

"'Now assuredly,' I said 'I do not think very highly of your wisdom, but by your bravery I am astounded.'"

"Notice how cunning I was to praise the poor boy, at the same time highlighting the imminent threat to his person. He was mercifully free of the ravages of intellect and it was fortunate that I was able to persuade him that I was indeed merely composing fine ballads, a fact that is more true than some might believe. How so, you ask? Well, it is because I can perceive that all women are poets, though the medium they work in is not always ink. His want for vengeance seemed assuaged and I compelled him to leave in peace."

"After this confrontation, I was slightly shaken. Indeed, to celebrate my intellectual victory I drank several large cups, toasting victory until my hands stopped shaking. Now, I admit, that I cannot walk on water, but by Heler, I can stagger on alcohol. Still, time passed slowly in the dark and cold. As I always say, a day without sunshine is like night and who comes in the night by trolls. Truly, we are born naked, wet, and hungry and then things get worse. Still, the cost of living did not seem to affect it's popularity yet I danced a little jig of despair, accustomed as I am to the excitement of the adventurersome life, or at least some more comforts."

"Making entertainment with stories of the gods, as is our custom, I recalled the Great Darkness, the tale I began with the famous line:"

"When the Sun was struck down and Night filled the air, a complete and utter gloom covered the heavens. The absolute darkness struck terror into every person’s soul. Great wailings filled the murky air. Gods and great powers began piercing the absolute darkness as they asserted themselves."

"Gyffun, of course thought he had a better tale and sought to interrupt me. I said to him, a memorable quip, but one I regret: 'You are, Gyffun, a palterer; and your life, apart from that fine song you made about me, is sheer waste'."

"Our squabbles continued. There are few situations in life that cannot be resolved promptly, and to the satisfaction of all concerned, by either suicide, a bag of gold, or thrusting a despised antagonist over a precipice on a dark night. Since none of these seemed forthcoming in the near future I resolved to try to overcome our rivalry and shared with Gyffun one of our older tales, which only those of my illustrious bloodline know well:"

"Orlanth the Storm God gathered his minions and led them howling through the Night, driving their Stygian foes before them so that the air was driven around in shifting patches of dark and not-dark. Annilla rose in the sky from the east. She had been born in the desperate struggle between the Emperor and the Darkness. Each god wounded the other, and where their blood mingled was born a fabulous glowing force which hovered over the enraged battle. When the forces of darkness fled before the God of the Dead and the Dead God, the new glowing force went with them. The glow contained the shattered remnants of the conflict: paradoxes of dead and not-dead, of eternal dying, and unattained rebirth. Those things that travelled within the protective glow called her Annilla."

"This was after those trolls had gone past with their chicken dinner. I remember thinking that it was OK for trolls to be ugly, but these ones were overdoing it. This aside it seemed to me that Uz are unjust, and so are we. The Uz are avaricious, and so are we. The Uz are unfaithful, and so are we. The Uz are greedy, and so are we. The Uz are lewd, and so are we. The Uz have all manner of wickedness and impurities, and so do we...perhaps we could seek help from these men of darkness to defeat our birdmen foes. That night I dreamt a dream of strange power:"

Every thought felt as true
Or allowed to be accepted as true by your conscious mind
Takes root in your subconscious
Blossoms sooner or later into an act
And bears its own fruit
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


"I too was troubled by a strange dream when the Dark Folk came," said Gyffun. "But this was no ordinary night-vision."

"At first it had all the qualities of a dream. It had a strong sense of narrative purpose, even though it lacked a clear narrative progression. I bore witness to events, or participated directly in them, but frequently felt detached, or felt certain of their outcome without really knowing why. The images and themes that dominated in this whirl of purposeful confusion were of a a pale queen on a snowy hill, and four suitors who sought her favour. I seemed to be one of the latter."

"There came a point, however, when the dream-like sensations fell away, and all became as clear as day. I found myself atop the snowy peak at the gates of an icy palace. I recalled the heady excitement of an earlier battle, in which I had ambushed a bright warrior, besting him easily and taking his spear and armour as a prize. I recalled also, my purpose in being here: I sought to bring my suit to the queen of the Winter Palace, and to take her as my wife."

"At this point, I recognised some of the elements of this story into which I had fallen, a story told by many different folk in many versions. I made a connection with the Dark Folk and their quest, and concluded that I had been unwittingly drafted into their endeavour. I had been given the role of the King of the Gods, and the lady I sought to woo was the Winter Queen, my own half-sister. My rivals were the Emperor's Son, who I had earlier bested and whose arms I bore, the Dark Destroyer, who I had yet to face, and the Unnameable Evil, with whom I was also destined to fight. Still drawn onward by the ineluctable force of the story, I entered the palace and prepared to make my overtures to the white queen."

"In the versions of the story that I know, the Great God seeks to impress the Ice Lady with his might, but I felt woefully unprepared for this particular approach and naturally fell back upon my instincts. I wove instead an intricate web of words about the object of my affectations in an attempt to ensnare her heart. Emboldened by the apparent success of this novel tactic, I gifted her with the sun god's brilliant armour, and gathered her up in an ardent embrace. She remained cold towards me, however, and I felt my beard freeze at the touch of her pale skin."

Gyffun strokes self-consciously at his beard, and many of those in the audience notice for the first time the white streaks therein. These are quite at odds with his otherwise youthful appearance.

"Suddenly fearful and ashamed of my ardour," he continues. "I made an apology and withdrew, but as I stepped back and glanced towards her I saw a curious glimmer of recognition in the Snow Queen's eyes. If I was conscious of myself in this role, I thought, could it be possible that some other unwitting dreamer had been drafted in to play the Queen's role? And had she, too, come to the same awareness?"

"Now her icy reserve seemed to melt a little, and we exchanged a look of mutual understanding. Still drawn onwards by the flow of the narrative, we exchanged words of parting, but these now carried overtones of amity, instead of cold rejection. I left with a bright spark of curiosity and inexplicable gladness in my heart."

The skald pauses, staring at the floor.

"Of what followed, I shall not speak, for it was a fearful experience and I did nothing worthy of honour or glory. When I emerged from this 'dream', however, I knew two things: first, that the followers of the Dark Destroyer had achieved some measure of success in their quest, and second, that somewhere, perhaps closer than I dared to hope, another unwilling participant in their strange enterprise now had reason to wonder about my identity, even as I wondered about hers."


"The snow didn't keep me in, of course," Garnatha says cheerfully. "I went out for a look at where those skulls led, and as soon as it was clear they were on a path, well, we didn't want anything like that around here, did we? So I came back home, as apart from anything else, Aunt Elgane wanted all us Vingans back for Defence Day, now the first storms were with us."

She looks across to her aunt, but gets only a snort in response. Garnatha shrugs and carries on with the story.

"Now, that gave her an idea. The Defender Wind melts ice and snow. Even ice and snow that looks like skulls. The rest of us were all for going out there and smashing these skulls up, but she had more sense than that, as usual. Having trolls come through here would be bad enough, but trolls annoyed by having their magic smashed would be even worse. So she got all clever. I never knew it, but there's a trick she's got with the Defender Wind that's all her own. You can use the Wind to shape the snow, and the ice, blow it into the shape you want. Usually it's for clearing doorways, but this time she figured out we could use it to move those skulls, move the path of them. Even create new ones where we needed a few extras, so whatever came down the path missed us, and even missed Morith's turnips."

"It took a bit of doing, I have to say. That's not easy magic, even when you know the Wind as well as she does. And of course for the ones away from the stead, well she couldn't really get that far, not these days. So she taught me...."

She falls silent, thoughtful for a moment, reliving the night on the Other Side when she had experienced the power of the Defender Wind for herself.

"Anyway, we did that, and the trolls never came anywhere near anything important. And since then I've been playing a bit.." she looks sideways at Elgane a little nervously, "... that is, I've been practising using Vinga's own holy Wind, right? You can shape all sorts of things with it! Forts, and sheep, and pretend trolls, and then you can have great fun knocking them down again!" She glances at Elgane again.

"It's good javelin practise for the children, having a troll-shaped target to aim at," she adds with an attempt at gravity.


After a long pause, Aren gets to his feet looking at the floor and definitely not looking at his wife.

"Aye I got well and truly caught up in that one as well. Though I was not on the side lines like Gyffun".

His decision to carry on made Aren straightens up.

"Yes lad it was no dream you were in but on you were dragged to the edge of the Quest the trolls were performing. Though I was glad to say the quest appeared to stay mainly on the mortal world for otherwise things would have faired badly for me had in been in the mist of the Hero Wars instead."

"I fond my self at a holy hill with a wind by my side waiting for me to mount it. By the brightness of my spear and the dullness of my cloths I quickly realised I had been drawn into a quest of sort. I had my full arming panoply and it seamed I had been cast in the roll of the Great wind which at least I am used to in small part. Not been one to shirk such obvious challenge I mounted the wind that waited by my side and it quickly took me to a snow clad hill baring an ice palace. The wind set me down on the hills slopes below the palace."

"Then I spied a bright warrior boldly striding towards the palace. I waited in the bushes for him and realised it was haughty Yelmalio. Remembering how some of them have treated us in the past I ambushed him and soon had him pleading for his life. So I left the cur his life and his modesty they so cherish and took his weapons and armour and cloak."

"Remounting my wind I headed to the palace of ice. By now the myth I was in was clear to me and I now expected to try and gain an other wife. But I was ill prepared for this quest and I could not put thoughts of my dear wife behind me. So I quickly gifted her Yelmalio's bright armour. And was glad when she refused my advances, so I commanded her to stay away from my lands and I left quickly"

"Still angry at myself, I wandered into the snow. There I saw a burnt dark man howling in pain about to slay Yelmalio. I distracted him with my bellow of a challenge and we both charged into combat. The dark man fought well till I blasted him away with a wind but not before he had broken my new spear."

"So I climbed to the top to see where the dark man landed and found instead the predark lurking there squabbling over some golden trinkets. Much as I dislike the Yelmalio sun boys in general I would not want to see them fall pray to the Predark. I should have left him something to defend himself. But there was no sign of him so I unleashed my wind and storm on them and they flea the hill before I could slay them all."

"Aye for everything we do there are consequences which I was now left to contemplate while wrapped in my new bright cloak to keep out the chill. Still here the quest seemed to end and I had naught to do but find my way home once Elmal had returned to the skies."