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Would you cast dreams against my greater force?
Hurl Elmal's fire against my juggernaut?
Ah, soon, comes my reward for nights denied;
for all the days I circled your dwelling,
outcast while others consumed your beauty;
for those half-loved because some hint of you
haunted an eye or a cheekbone, revenge,
my calm last gift for your squandered passion.
I cough a cloud and let it blot the moon
so that no distant star may hear and mock
the oath that is sworn in forbidden copse.
Here! now even fireflies are dimming out,
now ravens avert their ebony orbs,
now sputter and die, ye will o' the wisp!,
Not even a random thought can penetrate
this furry arbor of my wretchedness

Wilma starts suddenly, snorts and opens her eyes. "Well, that was the Uz come a-visiting, and fortunate we was they took none of our number. Cooped up and scared, the folk were bickering, and for the last time youíd call it that. Has to be said, our Morith", and here her voice drops to a whisper, "Well, he was the worst, stirring things up right and proper. Heís changed some since he put down his sword, that one."

"So, Storm Season was when it all started to crumble for good. Heler was back good and proper, so we thought, all his little ewes a-following. The winds got up and that was right, but now we learned at last what was up with the glowing to the west. Each morning, it was a new colour, until finally it went this horrible yellow, like that pee colour you get in a storm. Then the winds started coming from the west, right out of Ginijji. Then they start floating in, them great big gloopy yellow things in the sky."

"Then the arguing stopped of course. Even Berrance got himself together, he took to the skies himself, never seen that before, he was slashing at those tentacles, even chopped a few off. Bright things those, all the colours weíd been seeing before, but flashing and sparking like they was some form of lightning. Some of them floated low and the boys and girls got their spears out and we prodded at them and even downed a couple. But them some of us got caught up in those tentacles and was roasted good and proper. The smell was awful, and after it was a terrible thing to deal with those as had died. Worst thing though was what these things did to the clouds. That was the real battle, and we were just watching, for all our struggles. Them tentacles was catching the clouds and burning them, steam and lightning and all sorts. Some of the clouds just popped straight, or dissolved. Good thing the thunder rams came."

~oOo~

Keeping a wary eye on Wilma, Silverquill climbs up on a chair and makes himself comfortable. Despite muttered curses and protestations, he then fishes out another cigar and lights it by nonchalantly flicking his thumb to produce a flame. Puffing happily, he is once again surrounded by dense, evil-smelling smoke.

"The Cloud Wams... Kwak! Sure, it was a gweat thing that they awwived in the nick of time - but such unwuly beasties they were. Never have my fine feathers been so chewed! I had been to Alda-chur to stock up on supplies and awwived back just when those yellow things came floating down fwom above. More howwible cweatures! These ones weminded me of the jelly fish my uncle Wedweed told me about. Of course Skullcleaver was there, swinging his axe left, wight and center. He got quite a few of them, but that scar on his leg has yet to heal. Out of cuwiosity, I twied using the lightning globe on the monsters and it actually worked. A bolt of dwead lightning winged one of the things and it floated to the gwound. Skullcleaver hacked it to pieces, needless to say. But befowe it dissolved into yellow goo, I took some notes about it and made some dwawings, which I will submit to the libwawy. I was howwified to hear how many people were killed in that battle..." Silverquill pauses for a moment, reflecting on the good friends he lost that day. "But at least, the skies were cleared, if only for a while. Once again, Law defeats Chaos. But at a tewwible pwice..."

~oOo~

Garnatha fingers an almost-healed burn mark on her arm thoughtfully.

"Like Wilma says, when these things came down to the ground - or rather, when she Grounded them! - we took our spears to them. And axes. But she didn't manage to do that to many of them, the main battle was up in the skies, and dammit, we had another fight where we couldn't do anything! Well, some of us could, Elgane was blowing them all over with her winds, and some of the Orlanthi were helping her a bit. And Berrance was doing something useful for once. But the rest of us - well, I threw a javelin or two at them, but it didn't do a lot to the body, and you've got to be really good to hit a tentacle at that range."

She shakes her head. "Standing there letting Berrance get all the glory - ridiculous! Then those Thunder Rams arrived. Now, they were good. I've no idea where they came from, or why, Miran might but he's not telling. But they were up there with these jellyfish things, and they were fighting. Sending those sparkly lightning bolts back at them, butting them, you name it. But they were getting hurt, too, and while they were up there, we couldn't help them. One of them got burnt, came down next to Sarissa, she healed it and it was right back in the fight - that takes guts! We got a good look at it then, size of a horse and those big horns curling back."

"So then I got an idea.... Yes, all right, it probably was a daft idea, but it worked. And Miran helped, and he isn't daft. Next one came down to Sarissa. Miran knows sheep, he knows rams, he tells a ram to stand still, it does, if only for a second. So when this one was healed, he Told it, and it stood there. And I got up on its back, no harness of course, just hanging on to its horn with one hand and my spear with the other. And up we went."

"The ram bucked a bit, but it got the idea when the next tentacle came for it and I chopped it off with my spear. And then we went for them - that beastie can fly! In and out, just into range to stab, and out again before the tentacles hit. I couldn't exactly steer it, but I could sort of hint, and we went over to where Berrance was still flying and covered his back for a bit. All on his own, he was getting surrounded, and he may be a prize prat, but he's still our clan."

"Anyway, we got some of them, and drove the rest off. Not fast enough, too many people got hurt or killed, and the clouds were gone, but they went. And the Ram stayed." She looks outside at where a large white shape can be seen basking in the rain. "I dunno why, whether it thinks it owes me a favour, or I owe it. Bit of both, maybe. Miran's always hanging around it, of course. I'm sure he knows stuff I don't, but he isn't telling."

~oOo~

"Shaper had no problems in handling those things, unfortunately most were well out of reach, Ďbout the only time I was happy to see sheep. Anyway Shaper gave me something to work with, let me show you." Entislar ducked out of the lean-to and collected a long steaming leather wrapped box from his brother and apprentice Enothan Saronilsson, he stepped back in and opened it revealing a glowing yellow sword, lacking a hilt, the tang bare and covered with small flickering blue flames. "My gift to the tribe, dunno what good itíll be except for starting fires but it seems appropriate, a fire sword for the fire tribe, used up two of the things to make this and itís all yours, ours, whatever." Entislar grins, closes the box and drops it near the fire.

"Anyway, while all the furore was going on I received a letter from my friend Otto regarding a small infestation near Clearwine, Cleonides, a motherless cur Iíd been hunting for some time and his Malia loving band had been spotted there. I had a word with Vurth as he and his friends are the best Chaos stamping medicine around, we took a few days off and collared the lot except for the Broo Xarides, Cleonides acolyte who unfortunately either wasnít there or managed to escape."

Entislar looks at Vurth and shakes his head slowly, "Ah Vurth my friend, I havenít forgotten the incident with the women but when it comes to a fight thereís nobody Iíd rather have at my back than you."

~oOo~

As Silverquill pulled out his fabled stogie and began to emit potent blue clouds of exhaust, Vurth pauses in his self-absorbed self-mutilation, stands up and drags his stump directly beside the duck where he can sit and better appreciate the pungent fumes. While Garnatha recalls her tale of cloud combat, Vurth leans back, takes a deep breath and relaxes to the point where he sheaths his knife and sits with a beatific expression of satisfaction on his face. Entislarís tale of battling broos also seems to spark some happy memories in Vurth. Those assembled shake their heads in wonder, awe or disbelief at this very un-Vurthlike behaviour. Well, actually all but one of the assembled do so. One appears to have other matters on his mind.

Morith strides up to Wilmaís lean-to and asked for permission to speak from the west entry (What a lean-to that guy made! The envy of all).

"Well as you all know Iím a reasonable sort of fellow," Morith begins, provoking assorted choking sounds from the audience. "But sometimes a fellow can get pushed too far. It war one thing when Vurth tore up my radish fields fighting that danged fire man but this past Storm Season was past all acceptable behaviour. Wilma - I want compensation for whut he done!"

At the mention of compensation, Silverquill takes out his notebook and prepares to take notes. The Orlanthi system of fines and compensation is a fascinating source of material for the library. Puffing away on his dwead cigar, he hums happily as he takes down the details of Morith's complaint.

Morith gathers himself and prepare to make his case for compensation.

"You all know Vurth. Worst sort of layabout there ever was."

Some people begin to edge away at this comment and cast hasty glances at Vurth to see if he was taking exception to any of this but Vurth just seems to be oblivious to all while seated inside the clouds that surround Silverquill.

"I mean, taint normal what he be doing, always a whittling away at himself. I mean, he warn't so bad when he was a kid, just always avoiding honest work while runnin' in the wilds. Mark my words, didnít I always say that heíd come to no good and was I right or was I right?"

Several caustic comments are made about some of the other predictions Morith has made throughout his life. Morith glares at the kibitizers.

"Anyway, at least he didnít trouble no one then but since hes gone to hanging about with them Uroxi down at the gap heís gone plumb loco. I mean, we all know that Uroxi are a bit touched but Vurth goes leaps and bounds beyond touched."

There are some nods in agreement to this last statement. Even some Uroxi avoid Vurth when his moods came upon him. Morith, encouraged by this, continues.

"Well, we all know what happened last Storm Season. Them big jelly fish clouds came afloating out of Snake Pipe Hollow and started a tearing apart all of Helerís kin. We all tried to stop them and did what we could. Why if I still a-had my sword maybe I could of helped out even more!"

Several sarcastic agreements to this are uttered, which Morith manfully ignores and continues.

"Well, anyway, everyone was a-choppin and a-spearin away when what does that lame-brain Vurth do but run amok? Such a frenzy. Once he chopped everything with reach he takes to climbing roofs and trees and trying to leap up into the sky which war fine with me, if only he had brained himself with one of those leaps my life would ha' be a lot simpler."

"Anyway, he runs up my hill to try and get closer to those jelly clouds and has no better luck there and then .. darnation! He climbs atop my hut and makes the whole thing cave in. I mean the gall of it and that ain't the worst as you all know. He stands up in the ruins of my hut just a-screamin' and a-rantin' away. Anyone anyplace close took to finding jelly clouds at a great distance I tells you and I donít blame a one of them."

"So those clouds donít oblige him by coming down, being somewhat busy with Helers lot and then them Thunder Rams showed up and that made them even busier so what does he do but take to grabbing bits of my hut and heaving it at those clouds! My whole dang hut scattered all over the tula!"

"Where am I supposed to live?! He done tore up my field first and then my hut. Whatís next I ask you? And thatís why I want compensation - for my field and hut which Vurth done tore up for no reason .. no sane reason anyway."

"Yeah yeah Ö we all saw what happened next. How he was standing there a-screamin' in what was aleft of my hut and then he all of a sudden disappeared and then next thing we all know heís a flying up there in a big cloud of whirling dust, right into them jellies, a-glowing and a-slicing away in total frenzy. Wonder he didnít kill Garnatha there and the rest of whoever was up there. Yeah yeah .. he knocked down lots of them thar clouds... but what about my hut! And my turnip patch!! He got no call to do what he done to them."

Morith pauses, calms somewhat and then faces Wilma.

"Wilma, I want justice! I wants what's a-comin' to me!"

~oOo~

As the sound of Wilma's gentle snoring becomes audible to everyone, Gyffun rises to his feet and responds to Morith's demands on her behalf.

"I'm sure that I speak for all of us when I say that one day, Morith, I am quite confident that you will get what's coming to you."

The indignant Morith starts to splutter a protest, but, seeing Gyffun's stern expression and hearing the muffled sniggers from the rest of the audience, his face turns red and he stomps back to his seat, muttering. The skald ignores him and speaks about his own recollections of Storm Season.

"Like many of you, I felt almost powerless against those be-tentacled monstrosities. Unable to take to the skies myself, I contributed to the heroic swooping of our airborne warriors and the valiant efforts of the Thunder Rams the only way that I could: with a stirring battle paean."

"When one of the yellow things floated within reach of our brave warriors on the ground, I put down my harp, took up my sword and ran to join them. I narrowly avoided being caught up by those terrible tendrils on a number of occasions, but they were no match for my blade. Then I saw one of my comrades-in-arms gathered up in their dreadful embrace, and my courage nearly failed."

"Then I heard the unmistakable sound of my harp, it's strings being plucked by expert fingers. My first thought was indignation: who would dare to lay their hands upon my hard-won treasure? Then the subtle power of the melody took hold of me and I no longer cared, and no longer felt the paralysing fear that had gripped me only moments before. Within a few moments, I had managed to free poor Jistin from the monster's grasp, and then I lost myself for a time in the whirling dance of battle."

"When calm at last descended, I stood gasping amidst the loathsome remains of our foes. Looking round at the harrowed faces and lifeless bodies of my companions, I turned at last to see who it was that had played the music of war, and who now played a mournful song of loss. It was then that I realised my mistake, and learned one of the powers of my wondrous instrument: for there it hung, suspended in the air, its strings sounding of their own accord."

"I approached it in wonder and cautiously reached out to touch it. Then the music came to an end, with a chord like a plaintive sigh, and the harp came to rest in my shaking hands."

~oOo~

Gyffun relates the tales of his heroics:

"Then I heard the unmistakable sound of my harp, it's strings being plucked by expert fingers."

...and Vizz thinks to himself that it could obviously not be Gyffun playing the harp even had he not been otherwise preoccupied. Then he chides himself for his spiteful thoughts and remembers with shame his actions when the yellow medusas came. No proud boast for Vizz tonight, no extravagent tale of derring do. No cunning plans, or shrewd quick thinking. No swagger or ribald remark, no bold brag or waggish retort. Vizz remains silent and ashamed and reflects on his ancestors.

What would Old Vizz have done? What Varosh? - surely he would not have cowered in a farmers hut. Varanor fought on against all odds, and lost, but bravely. Chief Kartyrus would have been at the front of any fight with chaos, leaping up with a berserker on the foul breath of the Storm Bull to meet any foe. Kentvent, well, perhaps, but still, perhaps not. Kentventos was known to have been up to his elbows in blood and feared no mere monster. Vizz's own father...if only anyone knew. It was Vizz and Volle's tragedy that they were known as Brothers, rather than Sons, from the curse on their father.

~oOo~

Shelara sobs while the story of the clouds being destroyed is told. Aren then hugs her while the others tell their stories.

Once the others have had their say, Aren squeezes her hand and stands. His clear voice easy carries to all corners of the shelter. "We know little of what happened on the ground for neither Shelara nor myself could stand by and watch Heler's children being slaughtered." He looks down at his wife and smiles "So together, after a quick prayer to Heller and Orlanth for support, we rode Yavor's javelin to the cloud tops and joined the battle. There Shelara changed the clouds to thunder tops and then I kindled the thunderstorm within so they could protect themselves. Fortunately the creatures below us did not realise what was happening till it was to late for them to stop us. And to top it off the thunderstorms had attracted the Thunder Rams, though a flock that size must have been sent by Heller himself. And with them directing the Lighting and sending their own bolts back at them they stood little chance".

"Heller must have smiled on us after that as for the first time since the drought of our failed ritual in fire season our waters ran free"