As earth season draws to a close the party spends most of it time doing farming duties and training around the stead.
Elsewhere in the gorge the Soderfalls spend a lot of time begging and borrowing off of the other steads as they repair their buildings and make them more defensible after the scorpionman raid.
Sarune has set a date to move to Dracostead, which will be the first day of fire season. Palebeak is in a funk about this as he sees it as a slur on his manly (duckly?) duties.
The last day of the season sees the barn raising, this time at the Burinsons, building a pallisade around their stead.
All of the residents of the gorge like the idea of a fortified stead and each volunteer 1 person per week to help out with its building or to carry out farm duties while the Dracostead member get on with the building work.
Happy to be back home, Petronax bustles about doing little jobs and running repairs on everyone's armour. Petronax is delighted to have the extra labour, he starts immediate work on the wall, bath house and tower for the light shrine. He also draws up plans for another shrine in another tower, ready for arms race of shrines that is sure to follow.
Starhawk spends time alternating between guard duty, searching for signs of movement or scouting in the vicinity and breeding his horses. Bow training for all who would have it is made available. In the quiet of the evenings he spends much of his time with Petronax.
A week after the raiding party was chased off a message arrived from Hazard saying that Lord Renekot was very displeased with the way you handled the raid but he had refused the clan from Bilini any weregeld and as such the Renekoti and the Barachni clans had declared a blood feud between them. He warns you to beware of more raids by more heavily armoured Barachnis.
Petronax diplomatically informs the messenger that as he wasn't there, he couldn't possibly comment on the right or wrong of the actions, and infering that the council shouldn't either.
As you move into fire season and the temperature rises it becomes more difficult and uncomfortable on a daily basis to wander around in full armour (anyone who does so will lose half their FP before combat, if there is any, even starts.) O ne day a small mounted party arrive at the stead led by Berra Thengan. He relates this tale to you.
"Jarry, a moody, melancholy housecarl, is accused of the secret murder of Moreall Treereap. Gossipmongers at the fort knew that Jarry had been visiting Moreall's wife in private. Jarry has disappeared, leaving all his possessions except his weapons and his backcountry gear. The clan has an obligation to the family of the murdered man to capture and bring Jarry in for Justice. Jarry has been asking about the legend of Thunder mountain, where it is said one can speak to Orlanth without intermediary. I have a hunch that Jarry is headed for that peak, perhaps to beg for divine judgement or maybe another reason. Lord Renekot has suggested sending you as you have the special skills required in this task. You are charged with following Jarry to the mountain and bringing him back for justice before the council. When your task is complete your debt to the clan for bringing a blood feud upon us will be cleared."
Starhawk ruminates upon that in silence for several moments, though the glances he darts towards Tabiti would be hard to misinterpret.
"Jarry, I remember him." begins Starhawk laconically. His relaxed diction seemingly meant to keep things slow and cool.
"Well up the mountain it will be cooler at least." he says grinning crookedly, obviously finding humour even in the most onerous duty. He turns to look up at the high mountain range.
"Telmori.." he murmurs, 'good neighbours thus far."
He squints in the sun, the expression making him seem all the harder.
"Just out of interest what was the weregild the Barachni clan were asking for?"
Rastorlanth can be heard grumbling from behind. "Renekot... stupid special skills... debt to clan... better off our own"
Spotting an order couched in a request, Petronax grins and says "why of course we can look for this carl, is he liable to be dangerous? What if he won't return with us? I don't want to have to slay a fellow tribesman, is there anyway to subdue him if he resists?"
Petronax strokes his jaw and looks narrowly at Berra "We already have one bloodfeud at the moment, I don't want Jarry's people after us as well, and I understand that you are unhappy about the Barachni raiders but we must take essential time away from our tasks here for this, could we have some labourers to make up our loss while we do this task?"
Starhawk fiddles with his plate helmet, uncomfortably warm in his hands even though it has entirely inappropriate Prax yellow checkered cloth wrapped around it. He squints towards the high cliffs of the Ngtali Plateau. His expression is one of calculation..
Starhawk rubs his chin...
"You know we haven't had any trouble from the folk that live up there, though rumour says they are Telmori." He peers up at the plateau, his eyes trying to penetrate mist, rock and bark.
"What I know of them, from Sartar at any rate, is that they are usually poor in metal and so are almost always eager to trade for metal items when they can get them."
"Also since they're up there, they can generally see for miles, which would be quite useful for us if they were to warn us of strangers, especially heavily armoured ones heading towards our stead."
"I think the time has come for us to meet the neighbours and see if we can make peace with them. We'll need to anyway if we're going to move through their territory. A few gifts now should grease the wheels of trade and friendship, don't you think?"
"I wonder what they would have to trade, with the nearest stead to their territory. I doubt very much whether other steader would welcome them passing through, and doubtless the Telmori won't want to wander to far into Renekoti lands, for fear of getting speared or having an Uroxi charging at them."
The wheels are definitely turning inside Starhawk's head. He is visibly working through the possibiities, even murmuring to himself as he does so.
Rastorlanth nods but adds "Temlori are not to be trusted. We must be careful when dealing with them."
Starhawk grunts, "Virtually everyone is not to be trusted, especially before you meet them."
Tabiti is just barely following this conversation. "Trust a stranger? Not one of us? Of course not!"
She considers the rest of what was said and gives up on most of it. "What are Telmori? Do they worship powerful spirits?"
Starhawk doesn't respond for a moment, seemingly already planning the journey in his head, and thus half-way up the mountain already.. then with a start he is back with everyone else..
"Yes, wolf spirits. It is said that Telmori folk can change their skins and become wolves. It is said that some are touched by chaos, though this is not true in Sartar, so perhaps that is a lie."
"They betrayed our ancestors in Sartar," Rastorlanth adds with hint of anger in his voice. "They are not to be trusted," he repeats stubbornly.
Really?.., asks Starhawk showing visible surprise, "last I heard they were the guardians of the royal house of Sartar before the fall of that kingdom. Then they fell on one of the tribes that betrayed Sartar by siding with the lunars and virtually wiped them out."
Petronax interrupts before this can get out of hand. "No matter what, they're Dorastorans, they will be harsh and bent on not allowing any to gain the upper hand. If they are of chaos, we can only expect either savagery or treachery. We may get the same if they are not chaos as well, it best that we are cautious."
Petronax leads Berra and his men into the hall, asking him to sit at the bench by the fire. "Berra, I am glad you are here as well." He says with a warm smile, "one of our guests has offered to maintain a shrine here, we have no problems but I thought it best that the council know that we would have a Light shrine here. In time, we may well have altars to Issaries, Orlanth and so on, if others come forth with offers to maintain them." Petronax smiles as his eyes twinkle in his craggy face*.
Petronax looks at his fellow steadmembers, "Jarry gets further away with every moment, we should ready our equipment and head out. If mountains are our goal, we must dress warmly and rule out the use of mounts."
(*Now is definitely time to lay possibly unpleasant news on the council, when they need us.)
Starhawk nods... "How will we know this Jarry? Any identifying marks or scars?"
Tabiti stares at Petronax as if he's gone mad. "No mounts? No horses?? We should ride as far as we can, even if we have to leave the horses eventually. We want to catch this Jarry, yes? How is being slow going to help?"
"Well we could take horses up to the mountains but its rough terrain and we won't be able to get very far with them, since horses cant climb."
"We could take a string of horses as far as they could go, however we'd need a small army to get them back to the stead if we took them up to the plateau, since any idiot, never mind 'dyed in the fur' hunters would be able to close the pass down behind us."
"If you want your horse to become a banquet for wolves then take it up to the mountains. Me, I'm taking mine half way up the pass and having one of my men bring it back."
Berra shrugs. "The details of how you carry out this task I leave to you. As to a description of Jarry, he looks similar to any other Orlanthi you might see out in the wilderness but you should be able to recognise him by his shield. It is bright blue and bears a picture of a severed broo's head upon it. Now I will take my leave and allow you to prepare to make your journey." He stands and makes to leave. "Master Rastorlanth, a word if you please."
He steps outside and waits for Rastorlanth to follow him.
He speaks quietly but there is anger in his voice and undisguised threat. "If you think you are better able to survive here on your own, feel welcome to leave this clan any day, but remember the land you work, the animals you farm and the roof you shelter under are Lord Renekot's and being outside of the clan would deprive of these. Think on Sir!"
He doesn't wait for a response before he mounts his horse and sets off through the gate and back to Hazard.
Starhawk grins, not a little ruefully, as Berra takes Rastorlanth outside. When Berra's horse kicks up mud as the Head Huscarl leaves Starhawk walks outside..
He is shaking his head as he addresses Rastorlanth, a crooked grin upon his tanned face, a glimmer of humour in his amber eyes.
"Wrong words, wrong time to the wrong man, Rast." Putting a companionable arm over Rast's shoulder Starhawk leads him to the southwest wall. Leaning on the parapet Starhawk directs his intent gaze down to the flat land at Hazard Fort.
Rastorlanth nods silently and follows Starhawk with a barely visible smile.
"All this could be yours, one way or another. There's always space at the top for a resourceful man who knows when to talk and when to stay silent. For myself I will never be a part of the clan ring, not that I would want to be."
"Berra is Head Huscarl, a Wind Lord of your God sworn in service to Renekot the Stone, bound by faith to the Storm Voice of these lands. What did you think you could gain by complaining about Renekot's will in his hearing?"
"In lands where I come from," Rastorlanth replies, "Clan Chief is supposed to care about his clan, and all members of the clan are allowed to voice their concern. In my old clan, weaponthanes always patrolled our tula, and carls and cottars always felt at least partially secure knowing that the fyrd can be mustered before enemies can do serious damage. Where are the Renekoti weaponthanes? Protecting their chief probably. It is not right, Starhawk. He only makes demands and does nothing to protect our stead."
"You want to be a priest, dont you?" Starhawk's eyebrows rise questioningly..
Rastorlanth nods seriously. He knows his devotion has become obvious by now.
"How do you think your words will be taken by the Ring Members of the clan, the very people who would train and groom you for great things? Being asked to do this thing is amongst other things a privilege, don't you see? It is true it is a burden also, but carrying a burden for one's lord is an honorable duty, and in doing it well you shall be recognised by your Lord, which is the whole point."
"Renekot must give the nod when you come before the chosen of Orlanth in the temple to be accepted among them. You just insulted Renekot and his windlord. Politically, that was suicide, and for no gain."
"Trust a jealous uncle in this, you'll need to make it up. I'd apologise to Berra personally as and when you can. Sometimes you have to eat dirt before you can conquer the pinnacle."
Rastorlanth nods again. "Berra and I will talk when we meet next. Hopefully, he will be less angry."
"Being a Yelmson I dont eat dirt. I have to kiss ass. It is the way of the world." Starhawk winks playfully at Rastorlanth..
"If you're coming up the mountain you stay close to me.." his expression shifting back to seriousness.
"I'm coming," responds Rastorlanth anxiously. "I've never seen Telmori in my life, and it's better to see them while negotiating then while they are stealing your sheep."
"Nice talking to you, Starhawk, but I must see to the sheep now." Rastorlanth prepares to walk away. "I fear I've neglected the herd in favor of finding out the mysteries of Orlanth."
The party start putting together their expedition equipment and by midday everyone is gathered by the stead gate ready to start.
The weather is still hot and at a best guess will probably get a lot hotter before any rain comes to cool everyone off. The air is still and the little hedge birds that twitter in around trill merrily.
They strike a course north along the base of the gorge before they head west as they approach the Kalf stead and take the steep rocky pass that leads up to the Nangtili plateau.
Hastur welcomed the news of a venture up the mountain. While the work around the stead was satisfying occupied his time, his urge to explore their surroundings had only been intensified by the recent encounters with the chaos creatures. He gladly readied his armour, weapons and some meager supplies and joined the group on foot.
Tabiti and Thunder move out in front on scouting duty, ready come back and report anything they see rather than taking any other action to it.
Starhawk takes two of his men, Polaris and two other horses. All horses and both his men will be heading back to the Stead when they reach the head of the pass.
Starhawk doesn't move far into the Ngtali with a horse.
Parthak packs up his herbs and belongings to accompany the group on foot. Along the way he will keep his eye out for other natural herbs and such and stop to harvest anything he comes across along the way. Of the herbs he knows only Akbutege could be conceivably available in the region. However, he will keep his eye posted for plants that may be wild cousins of the cultivated plants he knows (which are: Anarr, Droph, Kaffa, Marap, Radaz, Ropan, and Trall).
Marching along, the old legionary looks at surprise as Parthak examines herbs on the route. He rests his pick axe, from which his gear bag is slung, on the ground and stretches his shoulders. "What's that herb Parthak? I must admit, I usually pay no mind to all these plants you seem to collect, may I have a look?" Examining the small herb he seems perplexed. "It's a mystery, they all look very much the same to me, but I suppose they're as different as a hammer to a chisel in your eyes. Is there anything special out here to look out for?"
Parthak attempts to describe as best he can how to recognize Akbutege but is not very successfull at it as the result of his halting ability with Tradetalk.
Hastur watches Parthak gathering various plants along the trail. It was a most curious activity but not something that the Orlanthi has any interest in. Still the man had knowledge of the plants that might be useful to them. Hastur tolerates Parthak's occasional breaks from travel to pick the herbs, and watches the man's back as he rustled around in the vegetation.
Petronax is wearing his most robust armour and has his campaign gear with him, once a cheap red but now a purpley-brown from much travelling. He looks about carefully and adjusts the three pila resting on his shoulder, squinting into the shadows under the trees. For this trip he has sheepskin socae wrapping his feet under his sandals, he is not wearing his cloak but it wraps anything breakable in his goatskin bag.
Slinging his load back on his shoulder, he adjusts his weapons and ensures his shield sits comfortably. He looks at the horse riders and shakes his head, bad ground for horses . . .
As the expedition prepares to enter the pass, Rastorlanth carefully looks around for any signs of danger. As Starhawk dismounts and says farewell to his friends, Rastorlanth taps him on the back and says. "Let's do some scouting. This place looks like a good ambush site."
At the beginning of the hike Starhawk was wearing just his cuirass. As they moved higher into the hills, where the wind was more evident and the temperature started to drop he added other pieces. Taking them off Polaris' back and strapping them on.
Looking around at the rough terrain himself, whilst taking the opportunity to strap on his chainmail arm protection, he grins at Petronax's assessment of the ground. On the back of his horse lies more armour to be gradually strapped on, as well as plundered metal blades, for trading.
"I'll leave it to you to try and separate Tabiti from Thunder, and if anyone accidentally falls off the mountain I'm not going down to get you."
"Maybe you should ask Orlfinn to talk to her, because we're going to need to climb at some point. The question is do we just leave a girl and her horse at the bottom of a cliff while the rest of us climb?"
Looking over at the young red haired girl, Petronax says "Tabiti loves Thunder like a brother, she wouldn't take him where he'd get hurt." He cranes his head and looks up at the mist blown crags and steep pine fells. "Ambush country is right Rastorlanth, we'd best move in fighting order."
"Tabiti doesn't know enough about mountains to know when to leave Thunder behind. We'll get up there with a cliff in front of us and she'll ask us what to do about Thunder?"
"I'll protect her when she's doing the right thing, but I have little time for fools who don't listen to good advice."
"Then you tell her," Rastorlanth speaks up. "You know the most about horses here and she is aware of that. Your word would be more important in this case than any other."
Hastur listened to snippets of the conversation between Starhawk and Rastorlsanth. He recognized the look of impatience on the face of the golden one, and wondered at the strange friendship between the two. He thought Rastorlanth would be better off making friends with those that would understand him best. Surely Starhawk was using Rastorlanth to further his own ambitions in the stead. What those ambitions might be he had no idea.
He watches the Pentan girl, who was topic of the conversation. He has decided to stay his distance after the incident that sparked the recent loss of members of their stead. It wasn't the first time that the actions of an unpredictable youth had caused tragedy in his company. It would be better to stay clear until she either matured, or perished in the attempt.
A tightening of Starhawk's gaze is the only sign that Starhawk considers Rastorlanth's opinion of his duty in this regard to be odious, possibly having become tired of Tabiti's behaviour.
With a sigh, he does what is required...
"Tabiti, you'll have to send Thunder down the mountain with Polestar and the other houses, the mountains is no place for a horse. You risk your mount's life if you continue past that point. Thunder almost died once, don't push your luck."
"Take only what you can carry, send everything else back with the returning men and horses."
She's been looking increasingly jittery ever since the trail closed in. "How long till we send them back to a safe place? This is bad. Bad footing, can't see far enough. And we'll see even less on foot."
She looks down at her packs, considering. "No point in going on without weapons and armour. We'll need water, and food, though this place is so wet, maybe not much water. Mother said I should take that sleeping roll, but it's so big..." She shrugs, dismissing the excessive choices as too complex. "I got through Prax without all this stuff, I can get through this."
Hastur gives his head a shake in an attempt to stop his mind from wandering. This was dangerous territory. He sets his mind to concentrating on the trail and any movements around them.
Orlfinn comes jogging up from behind the group on the trail, he stops next to Tabiti & smiles at her as she looks through her packs. "Well daughter you should take your sleeping roll, it will be cold up there." He points up to the mountains. He sighs and looks up "This reminds me of where your mother and I grew up. Though not as windy and much more Chaos around."
She looks around in horror. "You grew up in this? All steep, can't see more than a few yards, and can't get a horse beyond a walk? No wonder you left."
Petronax joins them. "You're a Sartar, are you not Orlfinn? Much like my people in the Aggar, although more civilised. I was on the march through Sartar, the Empire really mucked that up." Petronax shakes his head grimly. "Nice country, good for shepherding, barley and oats, still this could be a good land too. Good timber up here, straight as a pilum and close grained, the dark season must be as cold as a mother-in-law's kiss. How the wolf people survive it is beyond me."
Starhawk shrugs. "It is likely they don't survive it easily. It will be hard on their young and their old. I suspect the old will walk out into the blizzards, or go to attack an enemy so that there's more food, and fewer enemies for the youngsters. It's no way for a folk to live, but they're up there because Orlanth's folk are stronger and have taken the warmer bottom land."
"It must be harder for them, even than this, to live here. For as far as I can tell they don't have a friend in the world."
"We're probably being watched even now. I think we should stop and see if we can encourage them to come and talk with us. We are after all invading their land and they won't like that. Better to lose a little time and meet them all friendly like than waste our days watching for ambush and dreading the night."
Rastorlanth joins the conversation when his homeland is mentioned. "Yes, Sartar is a beautiful place. You have grown in the plains, Tabiti, but highlands have their beauty, too." His tone turns from happy to sad. "I don't know about your father," he says looking at Orlfinn, "but I didn't leave because I didn't like the weather."
The horses are sent back down the vale and the party begins its climb up to the plateau. As the walk a low cloud blows across the plateau wreathing them all in mist and robbing you of vision (visibility is now less than 100m) and the moisture in the air soon drenches all of their clothes making them feel cold and uncomfortable, and making the archers concerned for their bowstrings.
As they struggle on up to the plateau Tabiti draws their attention to some tracks: a heavily shod man has passed this way recently although it is difficult to be precise it is since the last rains some days ago, there are also other tracks of bare-footed men and large dogs.
Once on the top of the vale they find themselves in a forest of conifers with large clearings of low ever green shrubs and weathered grey limestone boulders. As they pass through the trees visibilty drops to 10 or 20m. Tabiti hates it.
They become aware of a rustling up ahead as if something is move fast through the undergrowth towards them.
Tabiti looks up from her study of the ground. "Something coming!".
The arrow already nocked on her bowstring is drawn back as she scans the bushes ahead for a target. She'll hold fire until she can see exactly who or what is approaching, though, just in case it's friendly, or wants to surrender.
Swathed in his hooded cloak, Petronax flings his cloak back over his shoulders and brings his scutum up to cover his mouth, crouching to withstand a charge of some hideous chaos monster. His pushes two pila into his shield grip hand and then hefts the last for hurling. "Carpe! Something thisway comes!"
Tabiti looks back at him, puzzled. "Who's Carpe?"
Watching the brave girl pull her bowstring and stand her ground, the old soldier instinctively uses his 'NCO voice'
"Tabiti! Get behind the shields, quickly!"
She glances back, sees he's only a few yards behind her, and retreats to join him, though keeping the arrow and her eyes directed at the approaching enemy.
Her own shield is still slung over her back.
"All right, I'm here. Now, who's Carpe?"
Petronax tries not to grin. "It's Pelorian for 'Beware', shh!"
Finding it also amusing, though he didn't need to be told, Starhawk readies himself.
The slung shield on its cord comes down onto his arm, the upper edge of it finding its height just below the level of his eyes. He flexes his knees and brings his elbows to his floating ribs, presenting as little of his body to an opponent as possible. The targets being essentially his helmet, his armoured shins, or his gauntleted right hand.
He begins the incantations for a befuddle spell, taking his time adding small appeals to increase his chance of casting the spell successfully.
Parthak, nestled towards the back of the group somewhere, will nonetheless have his Quaterstaff at the ready to fend off anything that might fling itself his way.
Rastorlanth starts loading his crossbow while he keeps a watchful eye on the direction from which the rustling sound is coming.
Orlfinn moves up to stand next to Petronax he brings his shield up and draws his sword. "Daughter, be careful with that arrow. Petronax doesn't need a tail, although it may look good on Starhawk....."
She bristles indignantly. "I'm not that bad a shot!" Her attention stays rigidly on the rustling in the bushes, and the white-knuckled grip of her bowhand shows her tension. A rabbit, or another thirty raiders?
Rastorlanth almost drops the bolt he is trying to load into his crossbow as he tries to suppress a burst of laughter.
Tabiti realises it was meant to be a joke, and relaxes a bit. The bow stops vibrating.
Starhawk smirks.. "Cheap jokes are useful for draining tension from any situation. Orlfinn would doubtless has the making of a good corporal, though he doesn't have the wit to be an officer."
She glares at him. "Father's brighter than you! Lots!" And then turns her attention back to the bushes. A pause follows (can anyone hear the gears turning?)
"What's a corporal?"
Rastorlanth smiles and explains. "It's something that has to do with organized fighting. It's better not to know. When you know what that word means, you have probably spent too much time near Lunars."
Starhawk is rolling his eyes, the general implication that Yelm hasn't given him enough strength to deal with idiot girls.
The rustle in the bushes ends abruptly as a slime deer bursts out from them, seeing the party ahead it darts left back into some more bushes. They've met these before: it's a chaos tainted deer with a bag instead of a head, it drips slime onto vegetation and slurps up the goo. Its meattastes bad but is edible. It needs to be used in richly spiced stews if you want to eat it at all. And this isn't the party's hunting territory, as Starhawk at least is very aware.
"Don't loose your arrows or bolts. Lower your weapons everyone but keep them to hand.."
Tabiti turns back serious, her momentary anger forgotten, and brings her bow down from full draw. Rastorlanth manages to react to Starhawk's words and pull down the crossbow before his finger instinctively triggers it and fires the bolt into the ground. Muttering a vile curse targeted against all Chaos, he bends down to retrieve his bolt.
Starhawk scans the surrounding area thoroughly, and calls out in Trade, then in the local sartarite dialect.
"Men of the Plateau we come in peace seeking only passage and trade. We shall not hunt in your lands without your permission. We seek your assistance in finding a man of the storm and have some metal to barter with. My companions and I are neighbours from the base of your high lands. We hold out the hand of peace to your people."
"You talking to that deer thing?" Rastorlanth asks Starhawk casually in Sartarite.
"No." says Starhawk succinctly, still scanning and thus not looking at Rastorlanth directly..
"I'm talking to whatever might have driven it out."
While the party are looking at the fleeing deer they notice that an enormous wolf has slid stealthily and silently into the clearing, it is looking at them with his hackles raised but doesn't seem to be about to spring.
Petronax's eyes boggle at the the wolf, "Oo-o-o-h no-o-o. Grandfather, stand by us in our time of peril. Grandmother, bring me the power of the hearth . . ."
Whilst muttering this, Petronax transfers the pilum from his right hand to his shield hand and slowly draws his gladius behind his shield. He makes no overt moves of hostility but is ready to start stabbing furiously if it all turns nasty, and that's a wolf . . .
Starhawk seems unsurprised by the wolf's appearance, though surprised by the aise of the wolf. However he does seem genuinely curious
You could not tell this from his voice which is as steady and as level as a table. Only by the way he tilts his head a little, which he often does when he's intrigued by something..
"Steady people, if we start a war here none of us will make it off the plateau alive."
So saying Starhawk passes his spear slowly to Petronax, unties a bag from his belt and holding this in his weapon hand moves forward about twenty paces..
"We are friendly. We come in peace. We shall not hunt here except with your permission. We have metal to trade, for passage and for assistance. Will you speak with me?"
You hear a stifled laugh and a man dressed in furs steps from the bushes "He may but only you if you can talk in the tongue of my wolf brother. I am Gartan of the Telmori, who gave you permission to walk on our lands?"
Starhawk smiles obviously relieved he wont have to carry on a conversation with a wolf, especially a great big one like the one near him..
"I am hoping it will be you, Gartan of the Telmori. We did not know who to contact to ask for permission but assumed we would be trailed and challenged quickly enough. Sadly I do not speak wolf, perhaps you could teach me when we are better acquainted, for I am a neighbour from just down the hill a ways.."
Starhawk grins again, and takes off his helmet to cool his the sweat on his head.
"I am Starhawk of the Sunwolf clan of Sun Dome."
Starhawk looks appreciatively over at the wolf..
"I've never seen a wolf as big as that one. I'm hoping you won't say he's but a pup."
"I am not chief to give such permission," Gartan replies, "and by our laws we must stop such as yourselves taking our food but you say you want none so I will let you go unharmed at present. You say you are a Sunwolf, what is that? Are they strong and fast in the hunt? Can they take down an elk alone? My brother is ten summers old and quite an old man now but he can outrun any other in the pack and his teeth are still sharp and never miss a bite."
"Legends tell us that my clan is descended from those who ran and rode with the sons of the Sun, hunters in ages past. Now my clan hunts broo, scorpion men and the like and defends others of our people from those who would injure us or take what is ours. Many of my people till the soil, but the sunwolf clan holds true to the old ways of man and horse, and thus we are the spear and bow of our people."
"Few of my people have ever seen an elk, but I have taken down many a chaos creature with my arrows of light arcing and my spear of the Sun's blessing."
Starhawk grins, a little shyly.. "On the other hand I wouldn't know a good track if I tripped over it."
Gartan ignores most of this. "Well, our quarry has escaped us so we will guide you. Why do you wish to cross our lands anyway?"
"We have been commanded by Renekot the Stone to chase a murderer, capture him and bring him back to the tribe's reckoning. He has fled from Renekoti lands into yours so we 'must' follow him."
Starhawk shrugs, to show that duty is duty whichever way you cut it, and fiddles with his helmet straps.
"My companions are nervous about chasing anyone across your lands. Though I personally do not believe it, some say that the Telmori of these parts are touched by chaos. What I know of Telmori history tells me that they were guardians of the House of Sartar, chaos hating Orlanthi all, and so I find it hard to believe."
"For my part I would like to see the folk of my stead trading with your people. I call no man my enemy who does not make me so by his actions."
Tabiti snorts derisively at this, but says nothing.
Starhawk looks back that, before looking back to the Telmori with a grin...
"I did say man, didn't I?"
The man beckons to you as the huge wolf follows the trail.
"Come quickly, we must get to the edge of our lands before we meet any of the tainted ones, they will kill you whether or not I am here."
With that he sets off at a fast walk following his wolf brother.
Starhawk waves the others up and takes his spear back from Petronax.
"I have little experience of Orlanthi culture," he says, then looking back at Petronax and Tabiti pointedly adds, "however I am the very soul of discretion."
Having looked at them long enough he grimaces and adds... "Makes you wonder why we're the object of a bloodfeud doesn't it?"
Then around at the others, "We follow Gartan, we have to be well away from here before the tainted ones come. So let's move like we have a purpose."
Scowling, Petronax says "If he leads us into an ambush, I will say 'I told you so' before we die, you have my word on that!"
Scowling back, Starhawk answers, "He seems wholesome enough, if he's not at least we can keep an eye on him. We have little choice in these lands. We're going to walk into an ambush if we continue on alone."
"Also, I believe if he was leading us into an ambush he would not have mentioned the tainted ones. You know I wish our chaos sniffers hadn't gotten themselves killed."
Starhawk walks along beside Petronax, visibly scanning the area with his light almost amber eyes..
"It seems our callow youth feels that I was not entirely honest with my assessment of myself. Now as much as I do not feel the need to justify myself to those who have less experience than myself, still I will say that my philosophy in dealing with people is one that has been passed down to me by better men."
"It is this, 'the sum of virtue is to be sociable with those that will be sociable and formidable to those that will not'."
"In my experience trolls see the world and everything in it as things to be eaten, indeed they even eat each other. I cannot make friends with beings who see me as a walking banquet waiting to be served. With regards followers of Zorak Zoran, their very reason for living is to further violence, and predation. That they are also the enemy of my enemy does not make them my friend, nor the friend of the wind followers."
"As to Gartan, the man walking before us.." Starhawk's gaze turns to take in the back of the Telmori.
"I would sooner trust a man to be my friend, than make an enemy of one who was not so in the beginning. The world is full of those who would wish for our blood, let us not add to their number. Especially here, were we are friendless."
"I think it is likely that there are two groups up here, one we can work with and one who will try to end us. I believe I have already averted conflict with the former. However only time shall tell.."
"Having said all this it should be clear why I fail to see why my actions thus far have earned me nothing save a scowl and a snort of derision. I find it particularly ironic that derision comes from a quarter that was involved, as a guest I do not ask how deeply, in events that lead us to having a bloodfeud called upon us."
"Indeed I would go further and state that it is baffling that one whom I personally saved from death would think so little of me that she would act to undermine me before a stranger."
"The world is a strange place that has such people in it. Youth does not excuse such behaviour, it merely helps to explain it. Whilst the truth that leadership is a lonely pursuit is brought home to me once again by those who would have no talent for it themselves."
Starhawk, obviously annoyed, flexes his shoulders and attempts to find his centre once more, while his eyes scan the land around.
Starhawk still far from his usual relaxed and confident self, calls Tabiti.
She'd been staying at the edge of the group, looking nervously into the surrounding undergrowth, and ignoring the background noise of long words and incomprehensible philosophy, but pricks her ears up at the sound of her name and comes over.
"It's time you showed your skills, you're obviously a better tracker than me, so get up the front and watch Gartan. If you see things he doesn't mention then come back and tell Petronax here, or your dad."
"While you're at it, ask him about these tainted ones. What they are. Where they wander. Ways to survive a meeting with them."
"I'm relying on you to be nice to this man as he may be the only thing standing between us and certain death. I'm also relying on you to keep your eyes open and your wits about you. If you feel we're being led into an ambush, then turn around and scratch your nose."
Her initial glow at having her skills acknowledged lasts only seconds. "But last time... I missed thirty whole warriors. Right on top of us. I didn't stop their scout in time, I didn't see them, or hear them, or smell them. And there's all these bushes, and we're not even mounted, and I can't see! I'll try, but what if I get it all wrong again? I never saw that wolf coming, either, so if any more come, I won't see them until it's too late, and then we'll all be dead like Groom and Bane and it'll all be my fault!"
She isn't quite in tears, but not far off it. And fortunately she did have the control to keep her voice quiet.
Starhawk's eyebrows rise, but his self deprecating grin is curiously absent. It generally makes an appearance when Tabiti is, to his mind at least, moaning. It might not surprise Tabiti but it might surprise the more acute mind.
If he'd known her longer they might have risen even higher. This is only the second time since she left her home a year ago that she's trusted anyone enough to admit to a lack of confidence or competence. Usually she'd literally rather die than display any vulnerability at all.
Starhawk places a companionable hand on Tabiti's shoulder and speaks to her, really speaks to her, his awareness seemingly blanking out everything but her face..
"All we can ask of you is that you do your best and fulfill your duty to your companions."
"You have no power over the actions of our enemies, all you can do is control 'your' actions."
"Just do your best and you'll not be judged badly by me, whatever happens. I don't care whether you acted correctly in the woods or not. When people fight people die, its not something you can change. You didn't kill Broom or Bane. War did. Their actions did. The enemy did."
"Even when you do everything right your friends can die."
He smiles faintly, his amber eyes sparking with sudden humour. "Now get up front and do your duty."
She gulps back something that isn't quite a sob and nods seriously. "Not good enough, but still the best we've got. All right. I'll try." She draws a deep breath, squares her shoulders. "Scratch my nose if I get suspicious, and be nice to him. Right." She grins back, her confidence restored for the moment. "I'm always nice. Aren't I?"
And she trots off to the front of the party, not waiting for his answer.
"Expertise comes with experience." Starhawk whispers to her receding back. "Judgement improves with every dead companion, you're learning that girl." Starhawk grimaces and shares a knowing glance with Petronax, another military man.
"There's his tracks." She points out the booted feet she's been following. "Are we going that way, or does that take us towards these 'tainted ones'? What are they, anyway: like chaos?"
She's doing her best to look innocent and trusting. A year and a half ago this might have come naturally, but she's barely started re-learning either concept, and no doubt it shows.
Gartna seems to be in a mood to answer questions. "We'll follow his tracks as that is where you need to go, I can't tell you whether we may find tainted ones or not. They are free to hunt this plateau as am I although they have their own clans, hearths and packs and as a rule we do not mix.
The tainted ones are of chaos, that is where their power comes from. As far as I know it their story is they were made promises by Nysalor about how they could be part man and part wolf but when Arkat came he exposed him as the deceiver Gbaji and his deceit of the tainted ones was revealed. The source of their powers is the pit of chaos and so the slavering Uroxi that come up here can find them but not the pure ones as I am. If we meet any they will likely attack without warning, I will tell you if I see any. If you have magic to enhance your spear you should use it, you cannot hurt them when they take their wolf brother form otherwise."
The journey across the plateau is a lot easier although as Tabiti pointed out to Starhawk visibility is poor and progress is fairly slow, between 3 and 5 kph, for many hours you trudge through the woods until Kargzant dips his sleepy head below the mountains.
Gartan stops. "We should rest after dark or we may be set upon by tainted ones. Also light no fires as they act as a signal lamp to hunting packs."
Parthak has stopped several times on the hike as he has found most of the herbs he wanted at various intervals.
Gartan answers any questions Tabiti may have to the best of his ability but his knowledge of Nysalor, Gbaji and Arkat is very limited other more worldly members of the party are likely to be a better source of information there.
Starhawk takes his helmet off and runs his hand through his short red- blonde hair. "I will take the middle watch unless another wishes it, though I do think that double watches with two people watching would be better."
Most of the time, Petronax tries to preserve an independance of Starhawk's orders, but many times he feels himself to be in such a similiar position to his old Auxillia days that he almost immediately feels himself to be Starhawk's optio and sets of on his duties.
"Uhh yes, watches, let's get the camp sorted and we'll look to getting people on watch." He says, suddenly gritting his teeth as he realises he's his own man now and needn't rush about organising things. "Damn! Anyway, we should do this together, who do we have here?" He looks at each of the group in turn. "Orlfinn, take the first watch with Tabiti. Starhawk, you watch with Rastorlanth. I'll watch with Parthak for the dawn turn. If everyone sleeps in their armour padding you'll be warmer and readier if anything goes amiss, stack your bows by your side and swords unsheathed. If you awake to an attack, put on your helmet but trust to your shield to protect you, time wasted armouring up is time enough to be pulled down and savaged on the ground. The dawn watch makes the dinner and the dusk watch will prepare breakfast." Petronax has hardly drawn breath yet. "Don't walk out of sight of your watch mate, relieve yourselves before it's dark, the first watch starts now and the last watch ends when we move out in the morning." He looks about at everyone and breaks into a sheepish smile. "Umm, although if you have better ways I'll certainly listen to them."
The rather quiet Hastur halts his camp readying activities to listen to the assignment of the night's watch. Its beginning to sound like he'll be getting a nice long uninterrupted sleep.
The Templar nods, seemingly fairly satisfied with the arrangements thus far. Then staring at Petronax for a long moment, seemingly expecting something more, he turns his gaze towards the Telmori and his wolf companion.
Looking back at Starhawk impassively, the older man shrugs and says simply "Not of my clan."
"Gartan, we are readying ourselves for the night ahead, where shall you be during the night?"Starhawk asks.
Hastur hesitates before reluctantly adding, "If Gartan is staying in camp then I would gladly take a watch with him and his... companion."
He then continues to lay out his equipment as instructed by Petronax near a flat spot on the ground.
Nodding his thanks with a smile, Petronax claps Hastur's shoulder and says "Must be getting old, the mind is the first to go they say." "Well, I suppose I'd best get started with making camp then." Petronax decides to cut thorn bushes to make a laager, intertwining any he can find to make a circle of stout thorns and forcing enemies to attack from only two approaches, preferably with a large rock or something similiar to their rear. Frowning at the lack of a fire, but ackowledging the logic behind it, he sweeps rocks and branches out of the way in case a fight erupts and they should cause the defenders to stumble.
(If Petronax is able, he tries to find an area that will allow the best defensive capabilities, channelling attackers and allowing the defenders to fight with superior numbers. He avoids areas with attack routes through the rear, he prefers places with more than one entrance but not on opposite sides. The best would be a space in large boulders with thorn bushes jamming some entrances.)
"As a suggestion, if we are attacked we should fight with our heads as well as our arms. Fight alongside your watchmate, even if it is not your watch. If they go down, you protect them until they rise. Do not go off without them to another part of the fight, watch each other's back, in the dark you may find a wolf on your back before you know what is happening. Listen to Gartan, if he or his wolf-brother feel anxious we should all rise and prepare for battle, it's better to lose a little sleep than sleep forever. Remember, the foe may try and drag off wounded during the battle, this you must not allow, they may start their feast even before the battle is over and I have seen the chaots eat a man alive before." Petronax looks extraordanarily grim. "We have a great advantage, most of the 'Tainted Ones' will not suspect brave Gartan's presence, we may well be ready and combative when they expect a lone watchman and sleeping foes. If we fight, our ancestors will watch over us and shield us, feel your family around you and know you have proven sword arms beside you."
It is obvious Petronax suspects you will be attacked tonight, he looks up at the moon to try and gauge what sort of light you will have. "Starhawk, I exepct that you will probably summon the light of Yelm the moment we are attacked, you should try and backlight our foes if you can, any support will be blinded."
Starhawk lays his hoplite shield down partly on a boulder, it seems he means to sleep under it. Doubtless it will make a good windbreak.
When he is on guard Starhawk wears his full armour, more than happy to put it on and take it off again in the night.
Tabiti, on first watch, will of course continue wearing her armour. The nice new heavy armour Petronax made her. But it's still only leather, so she'll try to sleep in it as well. Yes, she is feeling paranoid.
As the sun retreats behind the plateau, Petronax dumps his farcina and rummages around inside.
"Ahh, what do we have for dinner!? Cheese . . . stinky, that means good! Umm, unleavened bread, thank our forebears for the cheese. Dried apples, that's dessert. Sour wine, perfect!
Settling his cloak down as a bed, Petronax lays his shield down and sighs. "Ahh, if we cannot have a fire I suppose we still have the stars, it's nights like this where you look up into the heavens and think of the long trail behind us, out of Prax and into Dorastor. I never thought when I turned the corner of that trail on the Zola Fel's banks I'd be here a year later, looking up at the snowy peaks and within two days march from my original homeland."
Starhawk kneels facing the setting sun and quietly recites his prayers, asking for the Sun's blessing in the night ahead. As the sun slips below the horizon Starhawk touches his head to the ground, before lifting his eyes to the fiery horizon and asking the same of Yelmalio, the light in the darkness. The prayers are an unusual mix of submission to divine authority and an offering of bravery and martial prowess. Unsurprisingly he is not at all self conscious.
Walking back to a munching Petronax Starhawk remarks, apparently on Petronax's idle musings.
"The mistress of the web guides our destiny down strange paths, that is true enough."
"It is often a wonder to me why evil men glance towards the falling blade in time to twist away from it, to die many years later while good men see it not and fall to death while young. It is something I have seen too often to not grieve at it anew each time it happens."
"Which man knows what fate has in store for him? I call that man accursed."
"I shall fight and toil with words and blade till Humakt finds me. My fault is pride, in myself, in my family name, in what I represent in the world, even in my youth. This alone drives me to meet my fate blade in hand. Even were I to know my death was rushing to meet me I would not flinch from it."
"My only hope is that I shall die well and that the day will be a good day to die. By Yelm's side there is a place for me, a place where I shall be reunited with all light sons of merit."
Starhawk grins broadly and rubs his smooth chin in momentary contemplation. "I do waffle on, don't I Petronax?" he says suddenly, beginning to chuckle softly.
"No Starhawk, it's not *all* waffle!" Petronax says with a twinkle in his eye, handing up some food to the younger man. "I think it's a stupid man who doesn't think on such things, when the Black Creature tears us from this world we have only ourselves to answer for if we can look back on a life lived as a lie. It is a trooper's fault's that make's them a member of the troop, otherwise such perfect creatures would have no need of their friends and family." Petronax casts a wary eye about the area, still not relaxed, you'd swear he's going to be disappointed if nothing attacks you tonight. He lies on his cloak munching, his grimy face tired but oddly happy, it may occur to some that Petronax is usually happier when 'on the march'.
"I just look at us now; you, me, Tabiti, Rastorlanth, Orlfinn, Parthak, Hastur and Gartan. When I think on it, you and Tabiti know most of my story, but I hardly know *anything* about what brought Hastur here, why Parthak is away from his Plains or why Orlfinn wants to live on the edge of Dorastor."
Orlfinn looks across at Petronax, "Why I moved here, these" He holds his hands up then forms a fist. "I was drunk and got into an argument with Gorath Truesilver of the Windspear clan, we are of the Penentelli tribe. Well it was a mighty fight and he a worthy opponent but it seems in my rage I struck him once to often and he died. My father paid his blood price and it should have ended there." Orlfinn stops and looks into the night's sky.
"However Gorath was a friend of our King's son and he turned his father against me. So before I was outlawed or killed we decided on exile. I gathered my family and belongings and we headed out here to the lands of the Renekoti." He points down at the valley towards the stead. "Whilst I was working in Sartar I had been escorting a group of missionaries, they had been telling the Sartari that they could be free here. So I thought I would move here, it has been more dangerous than I thought."
"I had hoped that I could settle down and farm but it seems the winds have other plans for me. Perhaps it is time once again to take the warrior' path."
Starhawk looks askance at Orlfinn. "Indeed it is dangerous, and being that we have only experienced sea season and fire season thus far I wonder what we will have to fight off next?"
"Unless I miss my guess Storm Season and Dark Season will be the hard times in these lands, for many creatures fight better in the half light and the mud than we do. Polaris handles neither conditions well, so I will be less mobile than is my wont."
"I only hope that we don't have swarms of things scaling the walls. Whatever happens I think the choice will be taken from you child of the wind. It will be the warrior path or surrender your life."
Starhawk unarmoured apart from greaves and vambraces and soft leather, is snoozing behind his propped up shield, his back to boulder. Were something to happen he could open his eyes, slot his arm into the shield loops, pick up his spear and be ready to cry havoc. As it is his chin is butting into his chest.
Parthak is sitting cross-legged and tending to the herbs gathered through the day. "Grow far away," he mutters with his eyes focussed on a frond he holds in his fingers. "When need have none," he adds. Parthak's brow is furrowed. His eyes remain focussed. "Must go far to get. Not good."
Meanwhile far far away, an Issaries trader is bored. He kicks a stone and goes back to talking to the mule.
The mule considers kicking him, then decides it's too much effort. It takes an experimental bite out of a nearby bush.
The trader allows the mule to take a single bite from the bush to savour "the bush experience" then offers the whole bush to the mule on very reasonable "Eat now / Pay later" terms.
The mule stops to consider pricing options, the value of its labour considering the current competition and available workforce, and the flavour of the bush. Trader ain't goin' nowhere.
Meanwhile, trees rustle, branches move, but not with the wind, and the grass swirls about his feet. The local spirit of the woodland appears, and points out that the bush wasn't actually his to sell. She's pissed off. Did you know that grass can have thorns? You do now :)
The trsder, unperturbed, politely explains to both the mule and the spirit of the land that, under the terms of the Gloranthan Trade Organisation, attempts to prevent his participation in said trade can have severe repercussions and as such politely asks them to cease and desist from such harrassment.
Privately he hopes that at least one of them has heard of the GTO.
Well, the mule, being an Issaries beast (with a higher Bargain skill than his) undoubtedly has, and will be delighted to trade labour for bush once a suitable price has been negotiated. (Without this distraction it would probably have just kept plodding onwards anyway, for lack of anything better to do, but if you want to stop and bargain: yeah, go for it! It'll play!)
The spirit, however, hasn't heard of the GTO, and is unimpressed. At this point the mule intervenes, applying its "Big Teeth" skill, augmented by "Tough Hide" and "Eat all known plant life". The spirit flees.
Recognising the sterling qualities of the Mule - the trader immediately takes it on as a junior (supportive) partner.
The world (& Issaries) is happy. And we return to the plot....
It is approaching midnight, Tabiti is on watch with her father and is reaching the end of her endurance, her eyes droop as she longs for her bedroll.
Suddenly a shadow flits across the corner of her vision and she moves her head to follow it, all her senses straining to detect anything that may be out there. A twig snaps in front of her but she is blinded by the darkness and cannot see what has caused the noise, maybe it is just a fox out hunting.
She tenses, every sense alert, irritated by the lingering sluggishness of her own reactions. Something close: bigger than rabbit from the sound of it. If it was a fox, she should be able to smell it. She sniffs the air: which way is the wind, anyway? All these trees closing them in make it hard to tell.
Orlfinn seems oblivious to this and it might have seemed to Tabiti that he may had dozed off, had she been capable of thinking such a thing of her heroic father-by-adoption.
She reaches out, touches his arm, leans in to whispering range. "What was that? Something close, in front."
Surely the horses would have raised the alarm, if.... drat, why did they have to leave them behind? This whole place is so unnatural!
With a snort and a grunt Orlfinn yawns. "Keep watch daughter" he whispers, then says in a normal tone of voice "Time to wake those the next watch daughter." as he rises to his feet and moves to where Starhawk sleeps.
She looks puzzled for a moment, then catches on. Once he is on his feet, she, too, rises, bow of course in hand, checking her quiver. She listens intently in the direction the sound and movement had come from, trying to ignore the rustles of wakening warriors behind her.
Orlfinn nudges the Yelmalian softly with his foot "Starhawk wake up it's your watch." Orlfinn goes down on one knee next to Starhawk and shakes him lightly "Come jealous uncle it is time to wake from your bed."
As Starhawk begins to wake Orlfinn says softly "Tabiti saw something, I'll wake Petronax."
Starhawk is sleeping on with blade close by and it becomes apparent as he wakes. His eyes open and the words Orlfinn is saying penetrates as well as the soft and slow manner in which he is saying it. He nods..
"Damn..", he mutters, "..that dream was getting interesting."
Starhawk gets up from within the shadow of his propped fire door of a shield, yawns softly, pops his plate helm on his head halfway and starts putting his muscled plate cuirass on. His spear is next to him, right where he left it.
"Damn rocky ground near broke some ribs.." he mutters. However secretly he is straining every sense to ascertain what the situation is..
Normally, at the stead, Petronax wakes up like a grumpy old man. Early and bad tempered. Here he does the same, except there's no grumbling or crashing about, waking everyone up. When Orlfinn shakes him with a hiss, his eyes snap open and he grabs his shield. As he's sitting up, his other arm snakes out and he shrugs the baldric of his gladius on, then snatches one of the pila off the ground next to his sleeping roll. Given time, he'll put his helmet on and begin armouring up, limbs first. (In a harsh whisper) "By the seven hells Orlfinn! What is it!?"
"Tabiti saw something we don't know what though." Orlfinn whispers back.
He stops and looks out at the direction Tabiti saw the movement and points at the sky above. "Seems a nice night, been quiet," he says in a normal tone.
Awoken by the chatter and sound of armouring, Parthak quietly emerges from his bedroll and joins the others. Rastorlanth snores loudly, oblivious to the danger.
As Starhawk wakes and sits up he recognises a smell in the air, darkmen are lurking nearby and if he knows anything about trolls they're probably looking for dinner.
"The Hazard Inn whose host I could not countenance has many admirers this night, for kin will ever call to kin. Hungry are they for success of their own."
Starhawk proceeds to armour up..
Looking over, somewhat surprised to see Parthak awake.. Starhawk jests..
"I did not know that herbs there were that only blossom in moonlight?"
Bewildered by the complexities of Starhawk's language Parthak shrugs and replies in a quiet voice, "Light sleeper... What is wrong?"
Meanwhile Tabiti is still straining every sense to find what she thought she had heard. Nothing. No more movement. No scent. No sound. Maybe it's being masked by all the chatter behind her. Maybe whatever it was has been scared off by all the noise.
Her fingers tighten on the bow, then deliberately relax again: strangling the bow spoils your aim.
Surely if there was really anything there it would have attacked by now? She was tired. Maybe she'd imagined it? Dreamt it? They're all getting up... if they knew she'd imagined it, woken them for nothing, they were going to be so upset with her. Failed, again. She should turn round, tell them there's nothing there. If she dared. Because there isn't, obviously. But what would they say, when they knew they'd been woken for nothing?
Then the quiet urgency of the camp preparing themselves for battle is disturbed by a horrifying roar as a group of trollkins led by two large dark trolls charge out of the darkness swinging war mauls.
Tabiti almost sobs with relief. It was real, it was real! She wasn't going to be in trouble! Then she realises her own danger, and looses the arrow she has nocked at the oncoming horde, but a combination of the darkness and wanting to get back into the defensive line means it flies off into the night not finding a target.
A few of the trollkin are flinging slingshots around while running but these shots are very inaccurate and no harm is done.
There will be no more time for further shooting: she glances over her shoulder, and backs off towards the rest of the group, shouldering her bow and swinging her shield round to defend herself. Her spear is leaning beside her: she grabs it as she retreats, remembering the enchanted runes in the precious metal head.
Gartan meanwhile is writhing on the ground, he appears to be moaning in pain but it is too dark to see what is happening to him. His wolf companion is nowhere to be seen until he bursts through some bushes seizing a trollkin by the arm and dragging it down.
Starhawk, aware of what was going on, casts his spell, 'lantern', so that everyone will have enough light to see by.
He does this on his shield while he is still kneeling with it resting on the ground, since he knows carrying the fire-door makes it harder to do almost anything.
It's not lightwall, presumably because he didn't want to turn on the dinner light for every werewolf in Dorastor. It shines off the front of his shield and illuminates the darkness, throwing its light onto the ground ahead of the party.
He grins then, presumably excited by the idea of fighting trolls and their stunted brethren, and comes smoothly to his feet, lifting the shield.
"All praise Yelm!" he cries, giving voice to his defiance. "Come and get it." he murmurs a moment later..
Starhawk has on his plate Cuirass and his plate helm, with leather everywhere else. The iron tipped spear in his right hand should come in useful.
Having just clapped his helm to his head, and having shrugged his lorica onto his torso, Petronax swear sulphurously and runs his hoplite shield over to where Starhawk is muttering his part of the lantern-litany. Taking up position on his offside, Petronax strokes the bronze ring holding the focii against his lips and starts whispering
"Grandfather, lend me your ancient strength, Give me your wrathful arms, your crushing feet, G randmother, bless me with immortal brawn, Aid your son, when armies meet." He feels his muscles swell in response.
That done, Petronax barks out in his stentorian NCO voice "Form up! Behind the shields! Don't get separated!"
Shifting the grip on his pilum and holding his scutum so he can just see over the rim, Petronax glares out at the mass of trolls and his face sets in a frown, he stroke the metal ring again and prepares to call on the tame sword spirit his grandmother subdued before time. He desperately wishes to have the old standard planted behind him again, making this a battleground to die on and not just some backwoods skirmish.
"Javelin, useful in these situations I'd wager." murmurs Starhawk,(looking to get his bladesharp off before contact).
"Orlfinn, Petro, we take the big bastards, everyone else concentrate on the troll runts."
There's light behind Tabiti now, and Petro's shouting something. She backs hastily to the new shield wall, wishing desperately that she was on horseback instead of trapped on foot.
Hasturs's dream of rollicking good times in some roadside inn is rudely disturbed by the roar of the troll. Un-warned and unprepared he is completely caught off guard. He rubs his eyes and tries to make out his companions aided by the light of someone's spell.
He sees the others, weapons in hand, joining up in some formation or over, while someone is barking out orders. He sees Rastorlanth also scrambling from his bedroll on the ground. "Well at least I'm not the only one left to fend for myself," he swears to himself. W ith no time to do much, Hastur grabs his sword and shield from the ground beside him, crouches, and tries to get to the others. "Come on Rastorlanth before you become some troll's dinner!" he yells out.
"These trolls will not live to have another dinner." Rastorlanth shouts back to Hastur, although he is aware that their position isn't great.
The party forms up their defensive line as the trolls reach melee range. They can see the two trolls and 6 trollkin charging another 4 trollkin have stalled as the unexpected light of Starhawk's spell lights the area.
Tabiti is a lot happier now she can see, even if what's revealed is unpleasant. She shuffles next to her father, and grips her shield tightly. Time to see if all those things Ellarhan had been teaching her work for real. That rune in the metal spear-point, for instance. She concentrates, chanting the rhyme she has been taught, but nothing seems to happen to her spear, she didn't feel the thrill as power transferred from her to the blade.
Rastorlanth staggers to his feet, he chants his protect spell, the air about him thickens. He wishes he had been able to keep his crossbow loaded, but that might have damaged it over time.
Starhawk hefts his spear as the leading trolls charges the line, he takes a small step back then a larger one forward while thrusting with all his strength. The charging troll swings its mace to deflect the spear but misses it. The spear tip hits the leather armour covering the troll's guts then pierces it, tearing through hide and vitals (impale to abdomen with iron spear). The troll falls and rolls away pulling the spear out of Starhawk's grip. The troll is screaming (with apologies to Gollum) "Ach, it burns, it bites, its freezes!"
There's a whoop of delight from Tabiti. "Yes!! That'll show him!"
Starhawk, draws his secondary weapon with obvious reluctance, when his spear is taken from his grip. The rather nice broadsword leaves its scabbard in one well greased motion.
Petronax rams his spear at the second onrushing troll, it swings its maul in a possible defensive manoeuvre but the maul is so far from spear its difficult to tell. Then the spear is in, tearing through the armour on the troll's arm, ripping muscle and breaking sinew. Its unfeeling hand releases the maul.
Orlfinn belows out "Orlanth!" and begins to pound his shield with the flat of his blade as falls in to Starhawk's right. He prepares himself for the oncoming foe by concentrating on the focus tattoo on his arm. He has no immediate foe, so with a prayer to the wind spirits he begins to cast a disruption spell at the nearest trollkin. The cast is successful but he fails to overcome the little troll's resistance.
The disarmed troll swings a fist at Petronax but the old warrior deftly deflects the blow with his great shield.
Grunting with the effort of driving in the pilum's point, Petronax releases the haft and raises his shield to block any other attacks the troll may make. Cross-drawing his gladius, he steps backwards and to the side to conceal the weapon's movement behind the scutum before driving it into the troll's body again, following the dark man's retreat if needs be. Sweat beads on his face and every movement is accompanied by a loud shout of "Kill!" as he stabs at the raider.
The trollkin were not as fast as the trolls and as yet haven't reached the melee, seeing their leaders taken care off so neatly they stop. They flee in panic when a now very fluffy version of Gartan rises in the middle of them, snaps his powerful jaws and disembowels one on the spot.
There is much bellowing and yelling in the darkness as the trollkins have evidently run into more trolls but it seems to be moving into the distance. Gartan and his wolf brother set off into the night to secure their lands.
The trolls remain, one downed and one literally disarmed. Tabiti moves in to finish off the nearest victim, not bothering this time about giving him an "honourable" (i.e. slow and painful) death.
"I'm going to get my spear back." Starhawk glances at Tabiti and her bloodlust with obvious satisfaction, even as he advances on the downed troll. "Trolls see us as game to be hunted in the darkness. Let's see if we can persuade them to give up their habits."
"Is it me?" I wonder..
Tabiti halts her attack as she realises that almost everyone around her is frozen. This could be the perfect opportunity to kill an immobile troll, but if it can't feel it, where's the fun in that?
She looks around. Starhawk still moves: the rest are like statues. She remembers something Badow had shown her, the last time she was at Hazard Fort... Petro keeps chalk in one of his pouches, doesn't he? She shfts her spear to her shield-hand, and goes rummaging. He still doesn't move. Fine... retrieving the chalk, she looks for a suitable surface. The troll's naked stomach seem quite appropriate. She draws four lines on it. Two horizontal, two vertical, crossing. She draws a circle in the central space of the grid. She tosses the chalk to Starhawk...
Starhawk draws his cross top and centre, basically to suit his social and political aspirations.
_|X|_ _|O|_ | |
Oh ye gods, the mythical and social symbolism of noughts & crosses :)
Tabiti's feeling quite friendly towards him at the moment. She'll put her circle next to his cross, top left.
O|X|_ _|O|_ | |
Starhawk frowns, not liking placing his mark at the bottom of anything, but steels himself and marks his x in the bottom right.
"At least its royalist and right wing." he murmurs.
O|X|_ _|O|_ | |X
Tabiti tries to consider the various options available to her, but has never mastered the ability to predict more than one move ahead. Eventually she decides to keep all her Os together where they can't get flanked. Middle left.
O|X|_ O|O|_ | |X
Starhawk's eyes bulge a little, though he tries to hide it. He smiles somewhat twistedly..
"Well done," his voice takes on a decidedly darker undertones.. "..my young apprentice.."
Tabiti looks at him, puzzled, then back at the troll and the game. Her lips move silently, as do her fingers. "I've not got three yet. Only two. Your turn."
But then the others wake up, and they realise that this had all been a dream....
The troll Starhawk stabbed is barely concious and is easily dispatched by his broadsword The iron tipped spear can now be easily recovered.
There seem to be no further targets in the vicinity and the only noise is of trollkin crashing through the undergrowth somewhere in the night.
(Don't know where this fits?)
Orlfinn moves to intecept the Troll standing in front of Petronax. "Do we try to take him alive for ransom?" he asks, knowing what Starhawk's likely response will be.
"Any body hurt?" asks Parthak.
Watching the troll thunder off into the night, Petronax shakes his head and says "Peculiar."
Planting his foot on the dead troll's chest Starhawk works the spear loose. The hole he makes getting it out is rather larger than it needs to be.
He smiles broadly at Petronax. "Peculiar indeed, and a big 'un as well."
Looking down at the dead troll, he remarks..
"Civilised folk may rest a little easier now. Yelmalio be praised"
Looking around at the others, Starhawk still grinning broadly..
"Staying here is not really an option. This clamour will bring all sorts of unwelcome attention down on us. Happily they will find something to eat when they get here. But not us."
"Everyone get your stuff together we have to move some distance before setting camp again."
Starhawk looks off in the direction Gartan and his wolf took, then begins preparing himself for the march.
Rastorlanth nods in acknowledgement rubbing his eyes with both hands. Getting woken up by a troll's battlecry wasn't his idea of good rest. Still, it's better than nothing, he thinks as he approches one of the dead trolls to take a closer look. Playing a great hero in combat against a vile beast, he cheerfully jabs the corpse with the tip of his sword and then returns to his backpack to prepare for the journey ahead.
The party packs up as quickly as they can and moves out. They have not travelled more than 200m when groaning is heard in some nearby bushes.
Starhawk puts down everything he is carrying except weapons. He ponders whether it sounds like a troll or trollkin. He looks around to see where everyone is. Shield in place and spear in hand now he looks towards the sound..
"It could be a trap." Starhawk says. "Anyone want to be point man?", glances at Tabiti then grins, "or point woman?"
She shrugs. "I'm scout." Drops her own backpack, and takes spear and shield in hand. Starts to move towards the sound, then looks back. "It's dark, though."
"Hold up little sister, I'll help," says Petronax. Leaving his furca behind he walks up with Tabiti, shield raised and pilum ready.
Rastorlanth quickly loads his crossbow and gets ready to shoot at anything that looks dangerous. While Tabiti and Petronax scout in the direction of the sounds, he looks in other directions, wary of a trap.
Starhawk nods, playing the part of military commander with an accustomed ease. He gestures towards the other members of the group, pointing to where they should be.
"In cover, or next to it."
Starhawk is squatting behind his shield already, waiting to see what the scouting party will uncover. His back is set against brush and other cover, however he makes a space behind him for Rastorlanth, whom he gestures over.
"Rastorlanth, kneel here." Starhawk gives Rastorlanth's crossbow his customary look of disbelief, as if he cant figure out why anyone would make such a thing.
"If you are going to use that contraption you'd best pair up with a shieldman. If you don't some broo peltast will have you on a thrown skewer."
Hastur watches Starhawk gesturing for him to get into position. It would be a bit irritating to be taking orders from the Domer, except Hastur is happy that he is at least going to be prepared for a possible encounter instead of being caught sleeping.
He places his bag on the ground near him and holds his sword and shield at the ready. Where did that guide of their's get to anyway he wonders to himself, as he glances around taking in the positons of the others.
He watches with concern as the girl and Petronax begin to scout ahead. The group seems to put a lot of trust in the Pentan. Wasn't she the one who got the others involved in that rather nasty encounter where lives were needlessly lost. He hadn't paid that much attention to the story, so maybe he was remembering it wrong. He mainly remebered being sent on a fruitless horseback ride to the nearest stead for help.
Starhawk meets Hastur's gaze for a moment, seemingly satisfied with what he sees. Inwardly however he has been somewhat disappointed with the new arrival to the stead. The proactive approach he had when Starhawk first met him seems to have been uncharacteristic.
He turns back to the direction that Tabiti and Petronax took. He figured she would learn or she would get herself killed. The fight with the raiders was still with him and while Starhawk was delighted that he had managed to get so many out alive he still wondered if saving the lives of one who endangers her comrades was a worthwhile investment.
Of those around him Starhawk trusted Orlfinn the most. His handling of the incoming troll attack had been in Starhawk's opinion both tactically wise and insightful. It had, until that point, been Starhawk's view that traditional orlanthi were as a rule impetuous and given to suicidal tactics as a matter of course. Orlfinn was a surprise.
Starhawk pondered that in the darkness.
Starhawk was worried however, the plateau was not an easy place to get out of, the potential enemies knew the terrain better and would in any case be faster over the ground. It was a trap in every sense he would rather not think about. His party being metal rich would be an attractive target for anything up here.
He turns and glances at Rastorlanth, grinning broadly in the darkness. "Bet you never thought when you left your home that you'd be squatting in werewolf central with a golden boy sundomer."
Rastorlanth smiles in return. "I guess you are right. I hope to find a more Orlanthi place to be my home, and here I am in a place where we all live together despite our differences. Maybe that's because of the dangers that surround us? Maybe if there was less Chaos in Dorastor we'd be at each other's throats?"
Starhawk's grin subsides leaving in its place a smile..
"I think you are right, my missile impaired friend. The path of the sun and cloud, light and darkness, moon and storm, death and spirit doubtless means there shall never be harmony amongst even good men. The things we believe in are too different and two men will see the same thing in different fashions."
Tabiti and Petronax warily push through the undergrowth. They have not gone more than 10m when they see a man propped up against a small tree. On closer inspection his arms and legs look to be bound and he is gagged. Scattered around him are several packs.
Tabiti stops, looks. "And who did that, then?" she says to herself aloud, but quietly. Then to Petro: "You talk, I'll track."
She starts checking out the tracks around the area. What happened here? Who did it, how long ago, and are they still around? She'll leave Petronax to ungag the prisoner.
After a search she finds the tracks she was looking for. They were made by trolls and trollkin within the last 6 hours. A closer inspection of the packs reveal some of them to be trollish in nature.
Scanning round to check that it's not a trap or ambush of some kind Petronax eventually moves over to the man and pulls the gag away from his mouth. "Ave friend, what's going on here? Who tied you and where are they?"
"Looks like trolls" says Tabiti. "There's tracks all over, all recent, and troll packs. They must have left it all behind when they ran. I'll tell the rest."
Taking it for granted that Petro can handle one man, as long as he's tied up, and that if there'd been any further danger, she'd have spotted it, she makes her way back to the rest.
"No danger: the trolls left their packs, and a prisoner. He doesn't seem to understand Petro, though. Anyone else want to come and try talking to him?"
Meanwhile back at the prisoner:
The man splutters when his gag is removed before he spits on the floor. "Thank you friend." he says to Petronax "My comrades and I were unfortunately captured by trolls and they have been eating us one by one, I am now the sole survivor. My name is Delras Pythia and I thank you for coming to my aid but we should get away from here before the dratted trolls come back to feed."
"Here, let me sit you up." Petronax hoists the man up so he can undo his lashings, "what brings you to Nangtali Plateau? There must be no more perilous place in all Dorastor!"
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