Boarding the Cradle

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Chomoro, ten days later

In Chomoro the beer is thin, and does not satisfy the thirst of the desert traveler.

The Zola Fel valley is dry this year. Farms are like dustbowls. The caravan, wagon wheels rolling, has passed settlements gaunt with famine. People so thin they appear almost hollow have stared with empty eyes at the merchants, settlers and guards from the west. The sight leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, and the settlers have grown quiet and worried.

The Storm Bulls, Impala riders and Kara's Zebra folk refused to follow the caravan into Sun County, and well they might. Animal nomads are not much welcome in these lands. Efridel was not sorry to see them go, either, as in the few days and nights caravan entertained three tribes of nomads, disputes and fights were a common occurrence. Kara held Fynn in loving embrace and refused to accompany him past Horn Gate: "That is not my - wyrd, is your word, no? My destiny leads me east this season. Look for me at Zebra Fort in Pavis this Earth Season. Beware the folk of Sun County, my love - in these drought years strangers face peril in their lands."

Dorinda seems none too keen to enter Sun County herself. Uncomfortable with command, uneasy to be approaching the homelands of her people, the Ten-Thane (Acting) has become irritable and edgy in the last few days. She has not yet stopped wishing that Brenna had rejoined the guard. Unreconciled to her commander's apostasy, Dorinda is feeling doubt - a state of mind she is unused to.

Kara had proved a formidable healer, despite the prejudices of some. The wounds and illnesses of all were well treated, and when the caravan reached Horn Gate the White Healers had done little other than nod with satisfaction. (Nonetheless, Efridel insisted on gifting them well.) Brenna had greeted them, apparently completely healed of her hurts - yet it was a few moments before her weaponthanes had realized what had changed most about her.

Their Ten-Thane wore the white and grey garments of a healer's servant.

She watched for their reactions, placidly. "Lying in blood-sleep, a vision came to me and I learned a great secret. When I awoke in this place the Gods had put a mark on me - Humakt refused my soul that night in Caravan Alley, when the broo swarmed over me and Ernaldata healed me. So I find myself here, and the sisters have offered me a life of quiet servitude to the White Goddess." She shrugged, seemingly at peace. As nothing seemed to be capable of changing her mind, eventually the Humakti had taken their leave, glad to be away from the Sanctuary of Life.

And now, Chomoro, a town of undisguised hostility. Efridel has declared that he will rest here for two nights before heading north, the final stage of the journey to Sun Dome Temple. No-one looks pleased by the announcement, but Efridel apparently has business here.

The Legionnaires are holed up in a river-side tavern when Hrolf and Blackbeak excitedly hurry in. They have spent the afternoon trying to arrange things for Brightfeather, who whilst well will never fight again. A brief investigation has led them to a riverside shrine of Zola Fell, where the priests have promised to hide Brightfeather away with a clan of ducks south of Sun County. Here, so the priests say, the Durulz are generally safe from persecution by the Lunars. The priests have other things to say as well, once they have heard Hrolf's account of the discovery of Elmeh Saif...

"Lithen, lithen," quacks Blackbeak. "Dowinda, we have been told a gweat thtowy." He lowers his voice, looking around the bar with suspicion. "A gweat tweasuwe ith ouwth if we aid the Wiveh Folk." Hrolf nods confirmation, and tells the story.

The river priests are in a flap, for it appears a Big Thing is afoot. Zola Fel, as everyone knows, is also known as the River of Cradles. Hundred's of years ago the young of Giant Folk would be floated down the river in great cradles, by which means they reached the sea. These Giant children would be accompanied by great treasures of gems and magic, and many folk would try to storm and rob the cradles for their riches. Yet too many raids were successful, and the cradles stopped coming.

But now, say the river priests, they have received word from the god itself that the side of a mountain in the Rockwoods has opened, and giants have dragged another cradle out to the river! This is the first time that such a thing has happened since the Second Age, and obviously many people - especially the Lunars - are going to try and get their hands on the cradle treasures.

The Zola Fel Priests are sworn to defend the cradle child, yet have few warriors in their cult, says Hrolf. They urgently need good warriors to help them. In return they offer the life-friendship of their cult, and an arm-load of treasure each. The downside, says Hrolf with a grin, is that Priests think the journey may be dangerous.

"They seem to trust us, as they have heard already how we defended the caravan against broo and undead. Our discovery of Elmeh Saif seems to have convinced them that we are the ones to help us. I suggest that we convince Efridel to free us from a - let's face it - boring journey through a boring, pacified and dusty land, and let us seek adventure instead. Dorinda, Jamal, Enfrew - what say you? Does this not sound like a fine opportunity?"

Enfrew smiles."Of course I agree. It is a welcome chance to send some Lunars to Humakt for judgement."

"This sounds a great oppurtunity for glory and honor. I will go, so long as Efridel agrees," says Malan.

Herrics brow knots, "I believe, my recent Visions, that this course would please Humakt. However, I am loathe to abandon my duty to the caravan. I will not press Efridel should he be wary of releasing us. But both may be served. The cradle will be coming down the Zola Fel river and we will need to be on board well north of Pavis. For surely it is there that the Lunars will make their move... or perhaps at Corflu... or even both. On the journey we may be able to discharge our duties to Efridel. We should speak to the Zola Fel priests in any event to get a better idea of what and where they are intending us to aid them."

Jamal listens to Herric's council and nods "I too am loathe to leave our obligation to the caraven, and yet...." his voice trails off in thought.

"Idovanus, in his divine wisdom, will often throw tests into our path to allow the devout to prove themselves worthy. And this event seems to be so unique as to require us to test our metal against the swords of the empire. I am resolved to aid in this enterprise, should Efridel agree to release us from our contract."

"I know little of the geography of this region, if Pavis it the metropolis unstream, then indeed the Lunars (spit) may attempt to assilt the craft there, but theye will certainly need to apprehend it before it rreaches the sea. Tell, do the priests of the river know of the Cradles progress, and where the best place to join the craft may be"

Blackbeak shakes his head, "No... it theemed they had only jutht heard of itth exithtence whitht we wah thewe. They theemed awed and confthued, for their god had thpoken to them. The chief pwiest thaid only to huwwy."

Dorinda listens thoughtfully. "A fine opportunity for wealth, yes, if that appeals to you." She shrugs dismissively, as one can when wealth is something one already possesses. "It says much that they trust us, who are for the most part strangers to this land, and enhancing the reputation of the Legion can only be for the good. And our chance encounter, if chance it was, with Elmeh Saif, perhaps shows that our wyrd is tied to that of the river here."

"But yet.... in what way does this quest have Truth as its goal? Can we truly ask Efridel to free us from a solemn Oath because this new quest looks like more fun? I would be delighted to be persuaded that we could, but I fear that if we abandon the caravan, we abandon our honour also."

"If we can find some way of carrying out both duties, that would be ideal: let us find out more about the possible interception of this Cradle, since we have two days to spare here. And let us also pray for guidance. If Herric's visions say we should aid this Cradle, then we should see if this is truly Humakt's will for all of us."

"Well said, Ten-Thane." Hrolf scratches his head. "I don't know what came over me. Humakt teaches that 'When officers care only for worldly riches they will cherish life at all costs.'" He shudders in horror. "Of course our oaths and our duty always come first. Still, I can't help feeling that by travelling with the caravan through peaceful lands and foregoing the opportunity for a battle of historic proportions, we diminish our Legion. Grimbeak taught me that truth is found only through struggle, and what struggle worthy of a warrior is there in trudging from town to stinking town in this sun-bleached land?" A look of disgust crosses his face. "Ah, I have said too much already. We are bound by our oath. Let us find what Efridel has to say."

Herric nods at Dorinda's words, "I agree. My visions may have no connection to the Zola Fel priests. There are other parties that will be interested in aiding the infant, perhaps we are to join in the child's defense thru another avenue? Again, I must reiterate that I will not stain my Honor by abandoning an Oath made in good faith to Efridel or twisting Truth to serve a personal purpose. I am not a member of your company but I can see the eyes that light when mere coin is mentioned. I hope that this is not the measure of your mores. My wealth is measured by the Humakt's approval and the pursuit of a worthy Death in his service."

He stands and gets a servers attention, "Bring wine this time, your ale would turn a trolls stomach!" Sitting back down, Herric's eyes water, "I am saddened by Brenna's loss. She may find her own path but I can't forgive her failure to Humakt. Life and Death serve each other and she seems to have forgotten this. Does not a farmer slay his crops to provide food for the table? Hurmph! I am ashamed to have even known her."

Dorinda shakes her head. "You have not known her as long as I have. She was a good leader and a good friend: I owe her a great deal. I cannot believe she would have abandoned her faith willingly." She hesitates, sipping her water. "Young Ernaldata said something about the risk of life magic and death magic becoming mixed, how one could harm the other. And Brenna was very badly injured, she would have needed a great deal of life magic to save her. Could that have harmed her soul, drawing her away from her devotion to Death?"

Aelfwyrd listens to the Ten thane nodding, "Dorinda is right, I would not wish to dishonour myself by asking to be freed from an oath unless it was a matter of life or death."

A slight flicker of annoyance crosses Jamals face at Herric's mention of baser motives, but his visage quickly regains it's composure. "An oath has been made and should be fulfilled, that is taken. But surely it is also a matter of honour to protect the innocent from the depridations of the depraved. The coin is of no interest, the protection of this babe is, and also the chance give the empire a bloody nose. The journey of the Cradle has just begun. It may be that we can work with Efridel on this, perhaps complete the escort to Sun County and join the Cradle after. But as Efridel is Lightbringer he may also have an interest in this matter"

Says Malan, "Nothing was said of breaking our oath. If Efridel still desires our protection, then we should still follow him. Yet I believe the caravan is really out of danger now, and he may be willing to let us go. After all, many a caravan has passed unharmed to Pavis, but no Cradle has passed to the sea in living memory!"

Herric raises his eyebrow, "I'll say again that we should speak to these Zola Fel priests and find out what they intend. As a Lightbringer, I'm sure that Efridel could be convinced to release us. The more important question is whether we should try. I agree with Dorinda that ultimately our question must be posed to Humakt himself that he guide us in his service."

Hrolf has already spoken with the River Priests, asking for more details of their proposals. In response to Hrolf's question the priest calmed down slightly. The man had been hopping about in quite a state of excitation, and the Humakti's cool demeanour helped bring the god-talker to earth.

"Of course," he said. "I would not ask you to embark on anything so important without a thorough understanding of the task. We will send you through the body of the God to the Boathouse itself, high in the headwaters of Zola Fel. There you will find the Cradle. The Cradles of old were protected by immense magics, but because of the friendships between the giantfolk and Zola Fel, we know magics that will unlock these defenses for just long enough for you to board."

"We need you to defend the Cradle against all interlopers for as long as you can hold out. Zola Fel runs through the lands of trolls, dwarves and elves, and any or all of these may assault it. We will try to arrange a relief force to meet you near Pavis, should you hold out so long."

"The most important thing is that the cradle is able to continue its journey to the sea, and that the child is unharmed. Above Pavis the way will be dangerous, but from Pavis to the sea it will be deadly, for certainly the Lunars wil try everything they can to take the cradle. We ask only that you guard it so far as you can. In return there are treasure's aboard that you might avail yourself of - although giant's treasures are said to make double-edged gifts."

The priests expect the warriors to exercise their own judgement honourably and wisely. It has been centuries since a cradle last came down the river, but legends speak of them being defended by terrible magics and powers... enough to deter simple thieves. Part of that wisdom that they hope for is the recognition that many giant treasures are dangerous in the hands of mortals. They do mention that the old legends speak of the cradels being laden with gold to reward their protectors.

Prayers for Guidance

The group are reluctant to plunge headlong into such an adventure without guidance. Devoid of their old Ten-Thane, cut off from their legion, it is only natural that they look to omens and prayer to determine the will of Humakt.

Chomoro is too insignificant to warrant a temple to Death. Instead the warriors go down to the riverside, purchasing a black lamb on their way. At the river they find a hidden place, kneel before their swords and begin the ceremonies of prayer. As the chanting and invocations reach their climax, Dorinda sacrifices the lamb with a clean blow and releases it to stagger on the sand. The warriors observe its movements carefully, for in its death-throws the animal is one with Humakt.

It stumbles forwards to its knees, picks itself up for a few more paces, and then collapses again in the river. Its fresh blood mixes with the pure running waters of Zola Fel.

There is no difficulty interpreting this divination. Humakt does not command it, yet neither does he forbid it. There will be glorious struggle, bloodshed, and death for many, and it would not be dishonourable to be there for that. Humakt desires only that you are true to your vows, your honour and your wyrd, and that you pay bloody tribute to the battle-raven. The god to his feasting-hall will welcome any who fall in this struggle.

Herric watches the sheep with a small grin on his face, "So, we are back where we started... I think we should approach Efridel. I will offer to approach him. Not with brilliant oratory or tricky words, but as Humakt would... with Truth."

Jamal nods "I agree, Efridel has been fair with us,and we should se only the truth with him. Besides, words are a traders business, and any war usinn them we will surely loose"

Aelfwyrd remains silent, pondering the meaning of this.

Blackbeak, not squeamish about showing his ambitions for financial advancement (all for the good of the Legion, of course!), doesn't bother to hide his disgust. "Itth a cwappy deal, bothth. They'we bathically telling uth we can take whatevew we can take. Thit, we can do that anyway, and then get off the boat quickly. Why thould we withk ouw liveth fow thith?"

Hrolf's eyes widen at Blackbeak's outburst, and he takes the duck aside for a few words on the concept of honor. These lectures have been distressingly frequent, as Blackbeak's acquisitiveness and desire for inflicting mayhem (only on Humakti foes, thank the God), have several times gotten the better of him.

Jamal grins in apparent good humour, "And of course, anyone trying such a dis-honourable trick will run into this.." He smiles feeling the edge of Bull Spike.

"I say we defense of the Cradle fulfills honour in two ways, Idovanus blesses those who protect the innocent. Also, if the empire wants what is on this cradle so much, then surely we should stop them getting it. This must be a good thing. Come are we agreed that we shall approach Efridel about this matter?"

"Quite". Dorinda looks in some distaste at the little duck, hoping that that was some form of feathery humour. "One of the reasons the water-priests have asked us to undertake this task is that they know no Humakti would consider such a trick. We will take sufficient treasure, in whatever form it may take, as will constitute fair pay for the tasks we do. And they know they can trust us to judge that fairly. Other defenders of the Cradle may take other attitudes, but that is between them and their honour."

"Still, there are less sordid matters to consider. Hrolf, as I understand it, this whole subject was broached as a matter of soome confidentiality. How much can we say to Efridel concerning the details? It may well be, as you say, that he would aid the Cradle for his own reasons, but the decision to tell him of it should be the water-priests', not ours. Had you perhaps already asked them about this? If possible, I would like to tell him the simple truth. He may well have useful advice, as he knows these lands well."

Hrolf replies that the Water Priests left this issue to their discretion, and it depends entirely on how much trust they feel for Efridel.

"I have no qualms about telling Efridel... he is a Lightbringer and a man of honor," says Herric, "I think we should tell him the Truth."

Jamal adds "I concur. Deceit breeds more deceit and obscures the light of Idonvanus' truth. It is best we start as we mean to go on."

"If the water-priests are willing to trust our judgement in the matter, and we all agree that Efridel is a man of honour, then I agree. There is no question of telling him Untruth, nor ever was, merely of how much Truth was ours to release.

"Let us put the matter to him, tell him what we have been asked to do, and point out that we cannot both aid the Cradle and guard his caravan. He may well see the Cradle as having greater priority, but it will have to be his decision."

Still unsure of the meaning of the oracle Aelfwyrd looks uneasy. Turning to Dorinda he moves to stand at her side. "Efridel's choice will be our sign then. If the water-priests are willing to trust our judgement in the matter, and we all agree that Efridel is a man of honour, then I agree. There is no question of telling him Untruth, nor ever was, merely of how much Truth was ours to release. Let us put the matter to him, tell him what we have been asked to do, and point out that we cannot both aid the Cradle and guard his caravan. He may well see the Cradle as having greater priority, but it will have to be his decision."

"The defense of the Cradle seems a worthy and honorable cause, and Humakt has not forbidden our participation. And by His ravens, I itch to wet my swords on the blood of Lunar pillagers," says Hrolf.

"Nevertheless, we would do well to think about the terms of our agreement with the River People. First, there appears to be no unified command of the Cradle. This is bad. Second, they appear to be offering defenders of the Cradle the opportunity to loot the Cradle! While we do not need to worry about other Humakti taking more than their share - or abandoning their duties - it is not inconceivable that we could end up fighting other defenders, or looters masquerading as defenders. From a military point of view, it sounds like a disastrous plan."

Asking Efridel

The party find Efridel back at the caravan, where he is supervising the unloading of several large wooden cases from one of the wagons. Agreeing to their request for confidentiality, Efridel leads the warriors to his tent, where he bids everyone be seated. He sends one of his apprentices to fetch drinks and sweets, and then asks:

"So why is that my guards wish to see me now? We are nearly at the end of our journey and I think there will not be great danger between here and the Sun Dome."

Herric stands and states, "As in ancient times, a Giant cradle comes down the Zola Fel. The Lunar vultures will fall on the child unless there are guardians to fend them away. The Humakti here have been approached to serve as such guardians. Should you find no further need for our protection on this last leg of your journey, then we would ask that you release us that we may answer this call. If you feel that there is still danger and need the strength of our arms, then so speak and we will serve gladly as Honor and Oath demand."

Jamal adds "By my honour, and under Idovanus' omnipresent gaze, my compatriot speaks the truth. Without aid, the Cradle will be pillaged of it's contents, and the innocents slaughtered.

But our honour first binds us to you, and we will fulfill our contract with you, should you require this of us."

Efridel, who initially appeared impassive, comes alive during Herric's speech. It seems that he must have been expecting a very different topic of conversation - perhaps about increased danger pay or some other demands. He is about to speak when Jamal says his piece, and quietens to listen to the Carmanian warrior. His face flushes with excitement, and it is clear that Efridel the canny merchant is overtaken by Efridel, Issaries man and Lightbringer.

"But of course you must go! This is an event worthy of heroes that will be sung about and told in sagas for the next ten Ages! I'll not have my name remembered as that of some itinerant merchant who handicapped Storm against Moon!"

Efridel claps his hands to summon a servant. "Worry not about the caravan, you have done a great a service to me and I thank Issaries for the day I met Yodi and entrusted our defence to Humakt. Here in the lands of Sun County there is little to fear, and I can easily find a few guards for the rest of the journey. After we reach the Sun Dome I sojourn to Pavis and make sacrifice there to Issaries and Humakt in thanks for the success of this journey, and ask them to watch over you on this Giant's Cradle."

The servant, a robust young man with fine features and delicate dress, enters the tent and is summoned to Efridel's side. The merchant whispers in his ear, and the young man gracefully stands and slips out of the tent once more.

"Allow me to repay your service. From what you tell me I can see that you must travel light. Allow me to deliver to Humakt's temple in Pavis your mounts, the payment due for your service to me, and what goods you will not take with you. I will be going there anyway, and you know that there these things will be safe - either for you or for Yodi to retrieve."

The young servant re-enters the tent at this point. He carries a small bundle, perhaps a foot long and a hand's breadth wide, which he hands to his master.

"Second, I would like to offer you the loan of this treasure. In this bag are the warding posts used by the great Issaries hero Arnkell Raven. Raven spent many years venturing in the Hero World, exploring and clearing the paths to Humakt's Hall at a time when they were threatened by Chaos. Chaos had tangled the Path of the Dead such that souls of the recent dead could not reach Hell and became lost to the void. Raven straightened the Path and banished Chaos, and thereby won the blessing of Humakt. The Grim God gave him four swords that would guard his camp on the other side, and it is these swords that I present to you now."

"Their use is a secret that I will teach any one of you that will show me the secret of the Sense Ambush feat. This will be done under the Issaries rite of Spell Trading."

Jamal relaxes, but still one thought troubles him. "Alas my Lord Bisos does not allow such a feat, perhaps the Humakti may make you such an offer. However, I would ask one thing of you. I will be talking to my charges Maniskus and Abul about this coming action. The path of the Hero is hard and dangerous, annd not for all."

"For Maniskus, I worry not, as he is a strong man and accomplished warrior. My ward Abul is a different matter. If the boy elects not to accompany me onto the Cradle, can I ask you to escort him to Pavis, and trust him to the care of the temple of Humakt. There, by Idovanus' good graces " he genuflects "should we be sucessful I will find him again"

Herric grasps Efridels hands, "Your generosity is welcome for our task will be great. Though I suspect that word of this cradle will spread like wildfire in Fire Season, you should still relate the tale to any Lightbringers and the Humakt temple when you get closer to Pavis. I hold Honor as dear to me but for the sake of the child I will gladly trade with you."

Efridel takes Heric's hand readily. "Agreed, then. Indeed, you do me a favour for I believe that treachery awaits me in Pavis."

The Spell Trading rite is short. Efridel, still grasping Herric's hands, invokes the name of Issaries, and draws runes of equal exchange and protection on the ground. Then, after chanting recognition of the God's powers, he tells Herric the story of how Arnkell Raven Issariesson, guide of the dead, was blessed by Humakt and recieved a treasure to guard his charges on their path in the Other World.

As Efridel tells the story, Herric can see the events in his mind's eye, and as the merchant describes the use of the wards, Herric understands that he knows this secret, as though he is remembering it after many years.

When Efridel is done, Herric tells the tale of how Humakt learnt to see treachery and dishonourable intent in the hearts of men, and how that awareness became a source of protection against hidden violence. As he tells this story, Herric suddenly finds that he no longer knows how it begins, and as it comes to an end, he finds that he can't remember it all.

The rite complete, Efridel tells the warriors to bring to him all the goods they wish taken to the Humakt temple in Pavis, and gives them his blessing.

Down by the Riverside

With equipment, goods and letters commended to Efridel, the warriors take their leave of him and begin their final preparations. Jamal and Dorinda give their followers the choice to accompany Efridel to Pavis, or otherwise leave their service, but there are no takers. Kristen actually looks offended at being asked.

Abul's eyes go wide as Jamal explains the situation ahead - he is plainly frightened, yet shakes his head fiercely when asked if he would rather journey to Pavis. "Oh, Lord - what choice is this? To venture into the jaws of doom aboard a giant's cradle, or be cut adrift in lawless Pavis? Either is a dangerous fate, so I will follow you, where at least the swords are sharpest." He follows this by much moaning and complaining, and declarations that all is come to a bad end, and why couldn't he be back home looking after stable donkeys in Worion.

By contrast Maniskus displays little concern, and even smiles a little at Abul's antics. "You forget, Jamal, what I said to you when we met," says the warrior calmly. "The pact between weaponthane and supporter is one of mutual respect, loyalty and trust. Makla Mann teaches that better than any other, and I have taken your silver. Now show me the Devil."

Jamal claps Maniskus on the shoulder: "I suspect that we will see a good many devils in our comming expoits".

Abul groans loudly, as Jamal and Maniskus laugh

Aelfwyrd's students, Korol and Yrsga, pre-empt their master asking the same question. Korol comments that this is a sign from Humakt, for the god has given him a chance to prove himself before his initiation. Yrsga grins wildly and says that she would not be able to offer herself to Humakt if she had shirked such a challenge.

With Oddus and Elnor, Herric does not even need to ask. These two doughty warriors seem willing to follow where-ever he will lead.

Hrolf leads the band to the riverside, and then away from the town along a winding path into a thick area of reed-beds. Here the river flows broad and sluggish, and the warriors almost stumble over an odd-looking creature idly fly-fishing in the shallows. He is about the size of a six year old human child, but with a tail and scales. Large, soft eyes surmount a broad, lizardish face, and what appear to be gills line the side of his neck. Quickly rolling off his perch - an old flotsam log - and discarding his line, the newtling jumps up and gabbers excitedly at Hrolf and Blackbeak.

"Hrar! Goodness, onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteen - sixteen warriors for Zola Fel!" The newtling appears unable to decide whether Abul is a warrior or not. Then he spys something behind the warriors, and says in a satisified voice, "Seventeen."

From the direction of Chmoro Vern can be seen scampering along the river bank towards the group, frantically clutching scraps of parchment, his sword, a hat, several pouches and a cooking pot. He arrives at the group gasping for breath.

"I..can't believe... you.. going without me! Ungrateful wretches! The chance to study ... first one for seven hundred years! Bastards!"

Jamal yells out to Vern in infectious good humour. "Good to see you friend Vern, your sword will be welcome but I think you will have a job keeping your parchment dry "

Vern slowly recovers his breath, and as he does so continues to spit out a stream of invectives. "... and if it weren't for Efridel I probably wouldn't have made it! You'd have regretted that, and you'll regret it if these parchments get damp too." He doesn't elaborate on this point, but evenutally manages to stand up straight and motions that he is ready to continue.

The newtling leads the group further into the rushes, along a damp earthen path that twists and turns in a confusing manner. Fynn mentions, in a low voice, that Sun County people consider newtling tail a great delicacy, which goes some way to explaining the obscure nature of the trail. Eventually the group is brought to a small group of huts that rise on stilts above the mud and river. Many other newtlings are present, as are several piratical-looking ducks.

From the crowd, Brightfeather welcomes the warriors. He appears better than anyone has seen him since he was attacked by the vampire, although he walks with a limp to his waddle.

One newtling stands before the rest, dressed in robes that rather look as though they have been made up from cloth recovered from the river and stiched together. Dorinda is sure that part of the robe is made up of women's undergarments. She wrinkles her nose prudishly.

"Great warriors," says the newtling. "It is not many days since followers of Humakt celebrate the day of his victory over the Sea Tribe. Yet you must know that afterwards he offered his protection to those he had defeated. It is good, therefore, that you now are here to take up your swords in our hour of need. For Zola Fel must protect this giant-child, yet many enemies have waited centuries for another opportunity to loot another cradle."

"Although the cradle will not be defenseless, others have been looted before, and certainly the lunars at Pavis will amass a great force to do so again. Our bretheren will assemble a force to aid you at Pavis, but there is a need to place a guard on the cradle before then. You shall have the honour of being the vanguard. Latest word down the river is that cradle is almost about to be launched, so we must hurry. Stiff-Tail will accompany you, for he knows the secrets to unlock the cradle's defences, allowing you to board."

Jamal pipes up "Pray tell, how do you intend to transport us so quickly to the head of the River? Also, what else do you know of the Child, and the reception we will get from the Cradles defenses?"

The newtling priest nods in Jamal's direction. "For your first question, the God will take you. For your second, nothing, other than what is told in the old tales - the young of giant folk are large, and like the babies of humans do little other than sleep, eat, and.." the newtling deftly catches a look in Dorinda's eye "..unmentionable things."

"As for you third question, Stiff-Tail will be able to show you when you arrive at the Boathouse Ruins. The cradle will most likely have it's own guardians and magical defenses, and Stiff-Tail will be able to unlock them."

Only those with the keenest ears are able to hear the priest mutter "we hope" at the end of his last sentence.

Brightfeather waddles forwards as the newtling priest finishes. "Hey, bothth," he says to Hrolf. "I wanna intwoduth you to Three Lung Hughie." A stout, muscualr Durulz steps forward. "We knew each other back home. He wan with the mob for a while, doing jobth for the Don, ath he liked to be called. Anyway, they call Hughie 'Three Lung' cauth he can hold hith bweath longer than anyone elth... had to, they kept thetting hith feet in rock and thwowing him into the mauth ha ha ha."

Hughie doesn't smile. "Er, anyway," recovers Brightfeather, "all thath behind him now - heth gone thtwaight, fighting the Lunawth and doing good honetht twade in wabble-waouthing webellion. But he'th looking for a job, bothth, and I thought you might be looking for a bit of muthel. Whaddya thay?"

Hrolf looks at Hughie appraisingly, "A rabble rousing rebel, huh? Maybe he's met the righteous rapscallion Roger, who was almost released by the Lunar tribune, only to be passed over for a man named Brian?"

"No matter. Three Lung Hughie, if you're as tough as you look and willing to follow Humakt's path of honor, it would be my privilege to be your warleader. Know, though, that Dorinda is my Ten Thane, and I follow her orders." He motions towards Dorinda.

Three Lung Hughie looks momentarily confused... one can almost see mental gears churning as he tries to remember anyone called Roger. His brow furrows.

Yet he recovers, and, rippling his muscles, acknowledges Dorinda's command. "Thath fine with me bothth - Bwightfeatha thath youth a dethent guy, tho I'm game. Jutht tell me where to thtart."

Dorinda's face had stayed carefully blank during the explanation of Hughie's past. "Any warrior of honour is welcome to join us: and a worshipper of Humakt is always a warrior of honour. His past has been Separated and is not our concern." She grins happily. "And a warrior who can swim, and swim well, is doubly welcome at present!"

Then four other durulz step forward, all armed to some extent. They look tough but a bit ragged around the edges. Their leader steps forward and says, "M'name'th Joneth, and we'll go with you - pwoud Humakti all."

"I'm not," says one of the shorter two.

"No, thath twue," admits Jones. "Gawfy followth Owlanth - but mostly pwoud Humakti."

The newtlings, meanwhile, are flying about as though the world is due to come an end any moment now. It is clear that they want to be on with things.

Jamal speaks to the Durulz, "Any aid at a time such as this is greatfully received. I greet you all as comrades"

He looks up at the agitated river-folk. "It looks like our guides are getting skittish, I think it best we start this thing. Let us away to the Cradle"

Hrolf makes two suggestions to the Zola Fel priest before setting out for the Cradle: "The Lunars are likely to attack the Cradle using magical rituals. It may well be that they are vulnerable while performing these rituals, or that their military support groups in general are vulnerable. I suggest therefore that you take the battle to them, rather than simply waiting for them to attack the Cradle. My second suggestion is that you free Elmeh Saif as soon as possible. His aid could be crucial to Zola Fel in these times of drought, especially since the Lunars do not expect him. Perhaps Herric can advise you on how to break Elmeh Saif's bonds."

The priest thanks Hrolf for his advice. "Our brethren in Pavis are making preparations, and we will pass on your advice to them. As for this godling you speak of, we thank you for the news but other matters press our attention at present."

To the Boathouse

Anxious to be underway the newtlings shepherd everyone to the rivers edge. Here several humans are waiting, holding various bits of what might be ceremonial regalia. The Zola Fel folk begin preparations, whilst Jones and the other Durulz help the party securely lash all their possessions to themselves, placing any objects susceptible to damp into waterproof pouches.

The priests begin a ritual, which is long and incomprehensible. As the party stand around waiting to be given instructions, Enfrew is suddenly aware that in addition to the newtlings, ducks and humans involved in the ceremony, there also seem to be several score of large fish hovering just under the surface of the river waters. Unfamiliar to river ways, he is confused by their apparent participation in the chanting - fish can't talk, can they?

After quite some time, the Humakti, Vern and Jones's warriors are asked to step into the water up to their waists. With them is the newtling Stiff Tail. The grand old priest has already told them that Stiff Tail will be their advisor, and will help them to deal with any situations that follow. The chanting that surrounds them reaches a crescendo, Stiff Tail calls out "Hold your breath", and all of a sudden a great current pulls them down below the surface of the water and drags them along the river bed.

Fynn - driven by endless curiosity - is only one who manages to open his eyes during the immersion, but all he is able to make out are blurred underwater shapes rushing past at a phenomenal speed. The experience is over almost as soon as it began, and the warriors are suddenly spluttering to the surface of a small lake.

At one end of this small lake, the edges of which they now wade, is a ruined town of giant-sized proportions. More amazing even than these structures is the huge wooden boat drifting out into the lake away from these ruins. Dusk is rapidly approaching, and Malan and Dorinda quickly espy several hulking, giant figures moving through the town away from the boat.

Jamal drips rather forlornly in to the lake. "This is no way for a man to travel," he says. He then spots hulking shape of the Cradle in the distance. "A-ha, there is our ride back again. Hopefully it will be slower, more eventful and less wet that the ride up here", he shakes some of the water from his clothing.

He turns to Stiff Tail, "Yon is the cradle I assume, do we have a boat, or is there more swimming to do. If we have time, it may be worth finding some kindling for a fire. I find I do not fight my best soaked to the skin"

Stiff Tail regards Jamal briefly, before turning back to the lake. "Be no time - watch careful! What you make fire in wooden boat for anyway? Land people stupid. Plus fire not friend of Zola Fel." The little creature seems completely impervious to the fact he has just mildly insulted a warrior about four times his size, and instead settles down to watch across the lake at the ruined town.

The cradle is drifting in the lake, apparently aimlessly. Its scale is such that it is very difficult to judge distance. The town appears quite normal sized, for example, making it seem quite close... but the giants striding through it reach the side of a mountain, which slides sideways with a horrible distortion of size and distance. Several seconds later there is an enourmous sound of stone scraping on stone, but by then the giants are stepping beyond the doorway and have disappeared.

Stiff Tail emits a quietly excited meep. "Now!" he exclaims. The newtling pulls a blue stone from his satchel, polishes it briefly with his palm and mumbles a few words over it. Immediatley waters start to bubble up around the little group as a water daemon forms. Stiff Tail babbles to it quickly in a tongue that Fynn half-recognises, and the daemon begins to gather strength, lifting the party out of the water and moving towards the cradle at a steadily increasing pace. The cradle becomes a source of wonder and awe, for with each moment it appears larger, and Vern gulps when he realises how far away, and how large, it truly is. Combined with the swift motion of the water daemon, the moment is exhilarating.

From a distance the vessel looks like a toy boat, carved from a single piece of wood. The bulwark seems knobbed, with projections at the bow and stern. On closer view many wooden faces, some with large ears, some with large noses, some with large eyes or mouths or teeth or tongues, carved along the side. Not all are humanoid, although most appear to be some combination of human and animal. Some have pieces of rock or metal imbedded to replace eyes or teeth, or other features.

Runes, visible and clear to see, are also carved in the side - raised in some places, embedded in others. The cradle glows all about with a soft white light that harmonises beautifuly with the falling dusk. The stern and forward posts can be seen now as two huge dragon heads with long necks and glowing eyes.

Even closer, a foaming froth can be seen all around the cradle for several metres from the hull. Stiff Tail grins happily, pointing, "the God's children drive the boat downriver!"

The cradle appears to be about 70 metres long, and the bulwarks rise 7 metres above the water. Several amongst the party gasp at the grandeur of it.

Quickly the party is brought alongside toward the stern of the titanic vessel, and Stiff Tail holds aloft another blue stone, much larger than the first. After more rubbing and chanting, a beam of blue magic leaps from the stone a strikes the Cradle's side, revealing a protective barrier made visible as it fades away. The stone in Stiff Tail's hand has turned a dull brown. Once more he speaks with the daemon, which begins to rise in the water, lifting the whole party slowly up along side of the cradle.

Then it is a simple matter to hop down onto the deck of the cradle, 3 metres below the edge of the bulwarks. All are aboard.

The water daemon retreats rapidly back to lake, and submerges, gone. Almost as quickly the protective warding around the cradle reasserts itself, becoming visible for a moment as an iridescent sheen as it reforms.

Stiff Tails turns to the others and says, "Until we are relieved, if you leave the cradle now you will not be able to get on board again. The warding will prevent physical things from crossing it. So no swimming," he jokes to the ducks.

The bulwarks rise 3m above the deck, so it is not really possible to see out of the boat. A single deck covers the whole cradle, 18 metres wide. Bow and stern are open to the sky, but a large tarpaulin covers the midsection of the boat. Draped over a ridgepole, itself supported by two vertical poles, the cover is firmly battened down to port and starboard sides. Under the cover, the deck appears to be made of some material other than wood, for it glistens slightly. Eighteen large, wooden statues hop about erratically on that portion of the deck.

Nearby a ladder descends through a hatch to a lower deck.

The party is cold, tired and hungry.

Jones turns around to the others and says bluntly, "Well, what now comwadth?"

"Well, let's find out what we've got to work with, first." says Hrolf. "Stifftail, do you know the guardian or guardians of the Cradle, and does it know about us? Maybe we should give it a proper Humakti greeting first of all. After that, I suggest we do some reconaissance, and see where the Cradle's vulnerabilities are, who are allies are, and if there are any entrances or exits we don't know about."

He looks at the other Humakti: "Comrades, what say you?"

Stiff Tail shrugs once more. "Apart from the means to lower the cradle's warding I know nothing. Remember, it has been an age since the last cradle came, and mostly my folk recall only fragments of stories."

Jamal, obvious still slightly irked at being drenched, also adds his two-pennuth.. "Also how long until we reach the first settlement, that will lets us know how long we have to prepare. I don't think, Sir Herric, we should set Efridel's warding until we know what we face and where. A reconaissance would be a fine idea, just to gain as much tactical advantage as possible about the geography of the Cradle before we have to defend it. We could start by looking at the creatures under the tarpulin, and then sending an expedition below decks. Friend Vern, do you have anything of the lore of such Cradles in your parchements ?"

Aelfwyrd silently dries himself off as best he can before checking his weapon collection and armour, when he has done this he makes sure his students are okay and that have checked their equipment.

Jamal turns to Aelfwyrd, "Tell me compatriot Aelfwyrd, what is your take on this ?"

Aelfwyrd says to Jamal with a wry smile. "It will be wet, and probably dangerous."

Vern is carefully examining the papers he has brought with him. "That," he observes, "is the most useful secret good Lhankhor Mhy has shown me, as shown by many mishaps on many journeys, and the still preserved state of my library."

At last he produces a parchment with a flourish. "Ahh... here it is. Copied from a scroll I found in the Jonstown library three seasons ago. I could, of course, recite it verbatim, but I wouldn't want you thinking I had made anything up."

He scans the writing quickly, before translating it. The vast majority of those present can't read, and so all crowd round to hear Vern recite.

"Hmmm, original tongue Old Pavic, provenance unknown, found amongst a collection of documents on mysteries of Pavis, probably circa 680 S.T." Vern clears his throat.

"'The craft was 200m long, carved in exquisite detail. Carnor says he can carve as well, but not as big. Its forward and after decks were covered over and I did not enter them like the others. The centre was open to the sky, like an immense hold, and within it lay the infant.'

'From head to heels the baby was 10m long. It was a boy, as have been all of the infants captured on this river. Carnor says are no female giants of this type, and that they are made like the Jolanti, only flesh blood and instead of stone. He calls them the Elder Giants and says they are a dying breed, without women. So they make these boats and send their constructs away, into the womb of the world to grow up and learn to be great giants.'

'The child put up quite a struggle on his own. He seemed docile at first, but I think he was angered when his friends were broken and his giant nanny-goat nursemaid was killed. Anyone whom he slapped was killed, or nearly so, and though the pathetic creature wailed when the spears struck him, he did not cease struggling until dead.'

'At the moment the baby uttered his last shuddering breath, cries of alarm and consternation rose all about, both within and upon and outside of the craft where the plundering had begun. The clamour grew and turned to anger, for all of the silver aboard the vessel had turned to dust and common rock, as illusions do when they dissolve.'

'Carnor says that the Elder Giants have an empathy with the natural world which all other mortal races today lack, except for the dragons. This baby's power was obviously over silver. I wondered if the things which were killed might have made similar treasures dissappear with their short lives, but Carnor said he did not think so.'

'Ihad hoped for only one thing, one of the carved wooden statues which have been found aboard all the cradles. I chose one, and had it all Glued, tied and labeled, ready to take it away when my turn at the crane came. But the superstitious warriors, Pharshtor take their wits, chopped them all up without even asking. I am sure I could control it, but never got the chance. I could have collected five thousand silver pieces for it, even unlearned and in a killing mood. If I could have mastered it, I would have been set for life. CArnor agrees with me, and says that the statues now visible in Robcradle are proof they don't always attack.'

'I wanted compensation, but so many people claimed it for the loss of their silver that I have little real chance to collect. The prefect's justice doesn't reach down to my class, and now I have no finances to gain his attention.'"

Vern looks up, squinting in the dusky gloom. "That's all there is, and a good thing too. My eyes hurt. I have a diagram from the same bundle of documents, somewhere. I will try to dig it out."

Malan strips down to his loincloth and lays his leather armor and clothes out in the sun to dry. He says "Is there any food on the boat? I think it would be good if we found something to eat. We cannot defend the cradle from the Lunars if we starve to death before the fight!"

Having stepped out of his wet things, Malan poses manfully for a moment before realising how cold he is. Yelm, now barely a glimmer on the horizon, sheds no warmth, and the Sea Season evening winds are cold.

The proud warrior shivers.

Aelfwyrd and his students will begin a pattern of gentle exercises designed to raise the metabolic rate slightly and thus ward off the cold to some extent. Jones steps forward. "We brought enough food for most of the trips with us, we think - shouldn't be more than a couple of days. We can see to that for now." The burly duck quickly bullies his team into preparing grub for the rest.

Jamal suggests "A small group of us should head down to hatch to find the wytr of this place, any of the Humakti should be able to do this, although some will need to stay up top to see if anything is happening. I will go, and I think Malan is keen, we should take Vern and Swift-Tail as guides. Watches should be set topside, with the rest of the group resting below the hatch (if it is safe). We will have much fighting to do, and the better shape we are in before it starts the better. Swift-Tail, where will the flow of the river take us next, and when do you think we will meet opposition ?"

Stiff Tail thinks hard for a moment. "This place is called the Boathouse ruins, and from here the God flows through mountains before reaching Elfwood. River folk say that trolls are often in these parts, but I do not know. I think that attack may come from any quarter at any time, and that we should act as though such were the case."

"What I do know is that the God makes many leaps as he passes through the mountains, before settling down on the plains. That may be quite exciting."

Jamal's brow furrows, "If we are going to navigate rapids or worse falls, I suggest that either we head below decks, or find some way of lashing ourselves down to the deck !!"

Malan points towards the hatch and asks Stiff Tail "Is it permitted of us to enter the Cradle?"

Stiff Tail shrugs. "I don't know whether the beings that guard the cradle will permit it, but I certainly have no problem with trying to get out of this wind."

Malan goes to the hatch and peers down below. In the dim twilight he can see a little way into the room below, which appears to be empty.

Now he and the students are warm and supple again Aelfwyrd approaches Dorinda, "Ten-Thane, each warrior is making his own plan, we are like grains of sand, what would you have us do?"

First Explorations

Dorinda has studied the visible parts of the Cradle thoughtfully, listening to Vern's reading and nodding in places. "Food will be appreciated by all of us, I'm sure: thanks, Jones. But in the meantime, there are things we should investigate immediately. First quick scout, because they're hopping about erratically right next to us, has to be the statues. I believe the scroll said something about "they don't always attack", and a potential ally or enemy needs investigating. The scroll description said that the centre of the Cradle was open to the sky: this one is covered. So we shouldn't trust it too much. And while we still have enough daylight to see by, a quick investigation of look-out points would seem to be in order. At present we have no way of seeing an attack coming, and this is not a state of affairs I want to continue."

"We might as well divide our efforts here: Jamal and Malan seem keen to investigate below, and I agree that Vern's knowledge will be of most use with them. Do not go too far without reporting back to us, though! The rest of us should, I think, first approach the wooden creatures and check that they are not about to turn hostile, and then find if there is a way of seeing out and, indeed, ahead along the River. Can anyone think of anything else that needs to be done immediately?"

Herric listens to all the various actions whilst peeling off his wet clothes with Elnor and Oddus. They dress in fresh clothing, armor, and weapons, kept dry by the oil cloth in which they were wrapped.

Wrapping his cloak tight to fend of the chill air, Herric moves to stand by Dorinda. "As ten-thane of your mercenaries, I will defer to your will in our actions for now. Perhaps those who are eager to explore the mysteries of this place would do well to remember their places. This map may be accurate. The covering may be a large tarp to protect the child from the elements. We will be able to the discern the Truth of such when we approach the wooden creatures. Let up hope that there is some intelligent entity that takes care of the giant child and will let us know how best we may aid it's defense."

"We are deep in Uz lands and our first foes may be the sons of Darkness. There will be as much danger from below as above, or not. I have found that Uz are a strangely motivated folk and may number friends as well as foe."

With a party organized to head below decks, Hrolf starts unpacking his belongings so that they can dry. He goes ahead and dons his chain shirt, although the leathers underneath are still wet. Then he and the durulz prepare to perform a series of drills similar to, but curiously different from, Aelfwyrd's. When these are completed he and the deathdrakes set out to explore the top deck.

Dori has listened to Vern, and to Stiff-tail's answers to Hrolf and Jamal's questions without taking her eyes off the cavorting wooden warriors for more than a few seconds: long enough to check that her sword and dagger still draw free of the damp scabbards easily and that her healing kit has come to no harm, but no more.

She has put forward her summary of what needs to be done, and invited additions, when Vern finds his drawing. Perhaps lulled by not being attacked in that time, she studies the plan of the Cradle more carefully, comparing it with the description in the scroll, and looks up only to answer Herric.

"The map may well be accurate to some extent, no doubt: but it differs from the description given in the scroll in many ways, as does that differ from what we can already see. The wooden warriors are not confined to a lower chamber, but dance on a solid floor that in the scroll was open to the air. We can use these writings as a guide, but should not trust them over-much."

"I think you and Stiff-tail are right to warn of Trolls: I remember being told as a child that the mountains to the north of Pavis were full of the servants of the Dark. No troll will ever be a friend of mine...." and she strokes the hilt of her sword. "So, we need to be ready to repel outside attackers before it gets fully dark." And at that she looks up and realises what the rest are up to.

But the general picture isn't wildly impressive. And the sight of naked men has never filled Dori with great joy.

"What the hell do you mob think you're doing? Where d'you imagine you are, your home temple, or your favourite tavern? This is enemy territory! We're here to defend it from attack, not do the laundry! I don't care if your mummies did tell you to wear a wooly vest and keep your socks dry, we secure the area first: this is supposed to be an elite Humakti Legion, and by the North Wind himself, it had better start acting like it!"

She looks around for the least equipped and least dressed person: almost certainly Fynn. "You: you can't face the enemy like that. You're the lookout. Find a way up that bulwark, get high enough to see out, give a warning if there's anything approaching on either bank."

(Yes, she is fully aware that this makes him about as exposed to the wind as it's possible to get.)

"Jamal, Vern, take two others and take a look round below: cautious, mind! See if you can find a room in the bow or stern that we could use as a base: somewhere with only one approach, easy to defend. Get the Darkness Illuminated down there if you can, and if there's nothing to be disturbed by it: if not, I'll do it when I catch up with you."

"The rest of us: there's eighteen wooden warriors over there, and we don't know how they'll react to us yet. I'm going to approach them, with Fynn since he's good at languages and Stiff-tail because he's our guide, and we'll see what happens. The rest of you stand by in case they turn out hostile. "Once that's sorted one way or the other, we can investigate further."

She turns to Herric again. "I appreciate your trust in me, sir, but at present, I would appreciate your expertise even more. Once we are sure these wooden warriors are not about to plunge us into combat, would you please take a look around this upper deck? I find it hard to imagine how any attacking force would choose to approach a problem of this nature, and if they get beyond the magical barrier at all, even harder to imagine how we could best defend the bulwarks: we do not have enough warriors to man them as if they were a regular wall. See if there are weak points, obvious angles of attack, anything that will let us plan our defence."

Hrolf speaks up: "If I am not needed on deck, I will join you below." His eyes meet the Ten Thane's, and he follows her orders. Meanwhile, Blackbeak and Hughie dry out the Legion's supplies.

Aelfwyrd mutters a couple of orders to his students and they quickly fan out. The students towards the edges of any possible combat zone with the wooden warriors while Aelfwyrd remains wherever he can best cover Dorinda.

Looking out over the boat and the moutains in the distance, Herric turns to Dorinda, "We won't be alone here. Remember that. There will certainly be Storm worshipers and Lightbringers on board before long. They will not miss the chance to keep this prize from Lunar hands." He waves Oddus and Elnor over and moves to take a flanking position towards the bow as Dorinda approaches the wooden warriors. He will also take the opportunity to study the top deck and bow areas.

Jamal acknowledges Dorinda's orders.

"Aye Waleesha, First we make safe and get a base of operation, then we prepare to defend. We will check below, the first floor only and check that there are no dangers below us. Besides a little excercise may help warm cold muscles. Who else will help? " With that, sword drawn, he evokes the wyrd to Illumnate darkness below, and prepares with Malan(?), Vern and Maniskus to drop below.....

On Deck, Below Deck

Under the tarpaulin, which hangs like the roof of great tent across the centre of the deck, are eighteen figures. They hop about uncertainly on top of a strange, miraculous surface.

For here the wooden deck gives way to a substance that, although apparently hard and strong, is both transparent and smooth. By the cradle's dim light, a huge vaulted room can be seen through it below. One would need to get closer in order to see down into this hall propoerly.

The statues appear to be made of wood, and although each individual looks different there appear to be four types. The smallest are the most numerous; there are eight of these. They have a base, around half a metre wide, that tapers to pedestal supporting a couple of flanges and knobs, topped off by either a head or a crown. They are around 2 and half metres tall.

Then there are four statues with crudely carved horses heads, a little larger. These bound in great leaps on their back legs, where-as all the other statues seem to glide more smoothly across the deck. These leapers are about the same size as four odd-shaped figures that look like mushrooms, only with a sharp spike that projects horizontally from one end.

Finally there are two large statues, each almost a metre in girth and four in height. These have a flattened base which blends into a very squat, human-like face. Above the face is colossal, gnarled hand. The hand itself is twice the size of the rest of the statue. The fingers clench and unclench rhythmically.

Herric studies the statues intently for a while, but can detect no pattern at all in their movements. Meanwhile, above, Fynn reports only that it is very cold, and can he get down soon please?

Dorinda steps tentatively forward onto the transparent surface, cautious of both the weird magics it may support, and the wooden statues it certainly does. The statues bob and sway around her, adjusting their movements so as to move around her.

Looking down Dorinda can see a deep hold, with the floor far below her. The floor is strewn with what might be straw. Directly below Dorinda lies a huge child that fills much of the hold. Again, perspective is a problem, but the baby must be at least 10m tall. An immense pig lies near the babies head. Both are fast asleep.

A walkway lies beneath the top deck, along the sides of the central chamber, overlooking the baby.

Herric surveys the rest of the bow but finds little of interest. He's confused by the odd behavior of what he assumes are the craft servants (the wooden statues). "There should be some sort of caretaker for the child, but I don't see one here for us to communicate with. Perhaps the others will encounter the caretaker below. I think we should set up some sort of defensive position, perhaps in a room below where access can be more easily controlled. Also, I think that Fynn has suffered enough, Dorinda. It would be unwise to allow illness in a warrior whose hand in battle will surely be tested soon. Also, before the others return we should decide on watches, get something to eat, and pace out the basics of the ritual of the Warding Posts of Arnkell Raven that we may establish the ritual quickly when the time comes."

Dori looks round speculatively. "We can't possibly guard the bulwark with so few: we'll have to rely on the wards, both those built into the Cradle and those of Arnkell Raven. Hmm.. two on watch at any one time, one above, one below, spelling each other as required? They should be able to wake the rest of us fast enough if needed. That's about an hour on watch each, so we'll all get plenty of rest."

"Do you think we should use the Raven wards to start with? Or save them to defend some inner area later? Running through the ritual in advance is a good idea, in any case."

Below there is a distant rumble and thud, followed by several screams.

As soon as Jamal calls forth the wyter's power, a bright radiance surrounds him. As he looks through the hatch into the room below he can clearly see two doors facing forwards, and large piles of silver laying about on the floor. Otherwise the room appears empty.

Ignoring the Silver, Jamal drops down into the room, with Maniskus, Malan, Hrolf and Vern. Bull Spike drawn and ready. He then motions Malan and Vern to either side of the door to the right. Then, with Maniskus and Hrolf behind him, he knocks open the door...

The door opens easily, with no surprises, to a room about 5 metres by 10. It is almost entirely filled by a single tremendous horn... it would look like a ram's horn if it wasn't so gigantic. Precariously balanced, the broad end of the horn points upwards.

A large door is in the opposite wall, and there is a ladder down to the next deck. There is also a depression in the floor near the wide end of the horn, and there are several large holes in that depression that might lead to some kind of drainage system.

Vern is twitching excitedly, and carefully inspects the horn's broad lip. Dunking his hand inside he draws it back, covered in some sort of goopy sludge. He sniffs it, then hesitantly tastes it, after muttering an imprecation to Lhankhor Mhy.

"Hmm. A sort of tasteless porridge."

There is a short conversation, then the heroes turn to the large door facing them. It appears well sealed. Jamal invokes Bisos, roars like a bull, and pushes against the door.

The door doesn't budge.

Jamal redoubles his effort - his eyes stand out as though on stalks, his muscles bulge - those with him stare in amazement. But yet the door still doesn't move

And then disaster happens. The Carmanian hero is pushing so hard against the door that with one final, muscular spasm he loses his footing on the floor and sprawls backwards. In the cramped chamber there is little room for a man of his stature to fall and not be noticed, and the warrior careens into the delicately balanced giant horn, unsettling it.

The enormous vessel topples sideways, discharging a prodigious quantity of gunk as a wave that threatens to knock everyone in the room off their feet, and quite possibly drown them...

Hrolf was alert and watchful, but he was not expecting hostilities and he did not have his swords drawn. He was just stepping forward to help Jamal push the door when Jamal slipped. Seeing the horn tip over, he responds instinctively with the Walk Between Raindrops ability that Grimbeak taught him. His quickness helps him, but he is somewhat hampered by his size.

Malan, not having any such magical response, simply turns and tries to flee back towards the Silver Room.

The tidal wave of gunk engulfs the room, cascading across the floor and rising in a huge deluge of spray. Only Vern manages to spring clear, displaying hereforto unsuspected talent for leaping several feet straight up in the air and clinging grimly to exposed roof beams.

Both Malan and Jamal turn and try to run back into the other chamber, Jamal heroicaly trying to leap clear of the horn lying as an obstacle to his path of escape. He manages that hurdle, but gets caught by the backwash - pulled off his feet he is swept across the floor. Malan, a few steps ahead, is almost at the door when he is knocked sideways by the wave, and slammed painfully against the wall. The wind goes out of him, and about a pint of gunk goes in.

Hrolf also finds difficulties, discovering certain fundamental differences between rainstorms and tidal waves of porridge. He slides easily amongst the spray, before he too is knocked to the floor and pounded against the wall.

As for Maniskus, well, that's just brutal. As the gunk settles, leaving the heroes akimbo on the floor (and Vern clinging to the ceiling), there is a low moan from one corner of the room. Maniskus is crumpled there, apparently having broken his arm and almost drowned on the gloop.

Gunk continues to run out of the horn, although in a steady stream now, rather than a torrent.

Hrolf sputters out: "Ahem, well, I guess we'd better try to right the horn before we all drown in giant food. By Eurmal's balls, I'm glad we didn't enter the latrine first."

Then he notices Maniskus, and his face turns from embarrassed to grim. He makes his way to the wounded man with sloppy but practiced strokes, and attempts to bring him to the door.

Maniskus is injured but concious. He rises stoicaly and, swallowing his pain, makes a bad pun about the accident. Then he swears.

Vern lets go his grip on the beams and squelches down into the gloop. Evryone is now wading through the porridge, some of which has flowed into the previous room, but which is mostly running down the hatch to the floor below.

Those coming down the hatch from above can see clearly the scene of sticky devastation. The battered (literally!) heroes, the wounded Maniskus, the over-turned horn, and the pool of slops.

Dori looks down and shakes her head despairingly. She doesn't say "Men!", but you can see her thinking it. She drops down the ladder, trying to avoid the worst of the glop.

"Jamal, Malan, Hrolf: you're not badly hurt? Get that horn righted before the lake gets any deeper."

Then she turns to Maniskus: I believe after HPs had been used, he's the only one seriously hurt? "The Arroin teachers never mentioned porridge, for some reason... let's see what's broken." She starts by checking just what's wrong: by the time she's ready to start putting things right, the Horn should be stabilised, and those who want to be Down should have had time to get there.

Jamal looks rather sheepish as he is healed by Dorinda, his pride obviously rather bruised by the entire incident.

He still evokes the power of his God to Endure the injury and help healing, if rather quieter that usual. He then help the others to right the Horn, and turns to Dorinda, "What say you, should we all continue this expedition, or call it off for a bad lot?"

The horn lies on the ground, a steady stream of gloop flowing out on to the floor and down the hatch. The heroes regard it somberely - it seems the task of clearing it up might be more than they can manage!

Below a tremendous squeal is heard, followed by some thunderously contented grunting. Vern claps his hands over his ears at the sound. "Was that a pig?" he asks in amazement.

Dori glances up from Maniskus. "Yes, there's a giant pig down there with the baby, we saw it through that transparent floor. I'd guess this slop is how it gets fed. But there may be a limit to how fast it can eat, so righting the Horn would still be a good idea."

Jamal speaks to Dorinda while waiting to be tended to: "Should we continue with the reccie of this Deck. The Silver room may make a useful base, expecially of there is choppy water ahead it may be that we should now rest and post watches for the night. Ready for the next day. What say you all?"

Malan says "I vote that we stop and rest. I've had enough excitement for one day!"

Dori says, "I appreciate your willingness to continue while still hurt, Jamal, but I think perhaps we should deal with the trouble we already have before creating more. If you could guarantee to only find empty, harmless, rooms, that would be very welcome, but it seems unlikely. Let us use the silver room as a base for now."

The heroes retire to the silver room, with the intention of setting up camp there. Maniskus gingerly lowers himself down on the floor, his face an apology for his injury. From above waft delicious smells, and Jones' voice can clearly be heard as he waddles across the deck, giving instructions to his crew. He come below to announce that dinner is served on deck. His words and the scent remind everyone how hungry they are.

Hrolf gathers Maniskus, Jamal, and Malan to the Silver Room. "Come: our task now is to rest. Maniskus, take heart! Remember even Our Lord himself was often injured to the point of breaking. Or have you already forgotten the teachings of Kargan Tor?" Hrolf winks.

"Ten-Thane, if I may suggest you organize a party to right the horn, so that we can close the door leading to it and prevent further spillage? There's no telling what the consequences of this leak might be." He points at the stream of porridge pouring down the hatchway, his face a curious mixture of shame and wistful hunger. "I would council that we explore our surroundings first, but we are short of resources, tired, and hungry. Not normally obstacles for Humakti, I admit, but since we have boarded this vessel as guards, I think it unlikely there are already enemies here with us. I believe our first priority must be to rest and prepare ourselves for battles ahead. And of course if there is a guiding spirit or guardian of this place, we must greet it and let it know we will fight and die for it."

Jamal makes a suggestion. "Perhaps we should angle the horn to face towards the Silver Room. For I things go badly, and we have to make an escape into the depths of the Cradle, it would make an excellent way to wrong foot any persuers"

Aelfwyrd organises himself and his students for an attempt at righting the horn, he calls out, "Is anybody else going to have a go at this?"

Aelfwyrd and his students begin to organise themselves around the horn, trying to best judge how to lift the huge vessel. Jamal joins them, ready to use his famous strength despite his hurts. Fynn, who has also come below, gets very excited about the horn raising, and dashes about encouraging everyone - he even manages to convince Vern to join in.

The heros strain at the horn several times, only able to lift it a few inches. They are wondering what to do when Three-Lung Hughie clambers down below deck with his grub. The stout durulz takes one look at them standing around the horn, and walks over, flexing his muscles. "One maw time, eh ladth?" he says, and with that extra muscle, and much grunting and groaning, the horn is righted.

There is still plenty of porridge on the floor, gradually dribbling through the hatch to the decks below, but at least the source has been stopped.

After a little rest Malan begins arranging the camp, concentrating on making sure there are some defensive positions within the Silver Room. Jamal tries offer helpful suggestions, but the Carmanian warrior must have taken a bit of a knock. Malan finds himself rearranging things Jamal has done, and eventually asks his comrade to go and do something else for a while. Eventually Malan has things looking shipshape.

The warriors setle down to provision themselves from Jones' grub. As the warriors are sharing their evening meal, Hrolf takes the other Devotees of Humakt aside, and tells them a story of Humakt and the Torturer

First Watch

Whilst food is being eaten, camps are being made and horns are being righted, Herric and his followers remain on deck keeping watch.

From their vantage points they can see the Cradle passing by rocky hills, sometime with hazardous slopes. Elnor gets much pleasure from peering over the side of the Cradle and watching the River Children leaping about joyfully as they propel the craft downstream. They maintain a steady pace, occaisionally straining as they raise the Cradle over submerged obstacles.

On the valley slopes and on sand islands are stands of fir trees; otherwise there is nothing of note. Many stars overhead make visibility reasonable, and the air is fresh and cool.

As Jamal is rested, he will head above deck to relieve Herric and co from Watch duty. He will take Abul with him, as he has a keen pair of eyes. As he sticks his through the hatch he calls to Herric, "Come, friend Herric, eat and rest, we will relieve you for this watch"

Herric, Elnor, and Oddus thank Jamal for the relief and go down to see what may be left for them to eat. After reporting a lack of anything to report to Dorinda, Herric finds a spot on the floor, kneels in prayer to Humakt for a while, and curls up to sleep.

After the initial flurry of activity the warriors settle down for a while. As Three-Lung Hughie points out, it's not as though anyone is really tired yet, but you never know what may happen next, so sleep when you can. With the base established in the Silver Room and food available, the warriors enjoy some well-needed rest. Stiff Tail has built himself a little nest and seems quite content, thank you very much.

On deck a few restless souls are still active. Jamal and Abul keep a formal watch, having taken over from Herric, but several others are joining them in the night air. The Durulz, collectively, are congregated on the tarpaulin peering out at the river. They sigh over the clear waters and debate how good the fishing is. None have ever been this far up Zola Fel before. Vern, too, has been keeping company with Abul, telling the young man stories to keep him awake.

It is gone midnight, about four hours after the Cradle was first boarded. All is calm and peaceful as the Cradle sails round a bend in the river, overlooked by a prominent hill.

"What," squawks Blackbeak, "ith that?!

The duck is pointing at a huddled group of short, stout humanoids that stand patiently watching the river. Behind them, in the dim starlight, can be seen a small square building next to which is a huge cairn. The dwarves - for surely that is what they are - stare at the Cradle in apparent confusion.

Jamal interrupts Vern and points out the dwarves: "Yon are dwarves are they not ? I know little of the followers of Mostal. What do you know of the dwarves of this region, are they likely to be a friend of the Cradle or not? For from what little I know, Mostali technology is something to be feared"

The Mostali, initially dumbfounded by the Cradle's appearance, start to confer amongst themselves. There is some scratching of heads, and one retreats to the blockhouse in hurry. The others continue to stare at the cradle. When they spot the warriors leaning over the side that causes more conversation.

"I had a chance to 'befriend' some Mostali, if you can apply that word to them," says Enfrew. "I have no idea if they even have a word for friendship in their language. All I know is that they seem very strange."

Vern scratches his head in agreement. "Mostali? All I know of them is what anyone knows - they are strange and do strange things for no reason."

The dwarf reappears in the blockhouse doorway clutching a large, metal bound tome. The Dwarves huddle around the him and flick through the pages with much interest. One keeps pointing clearly at the book and then at the cradle, but others seem to be indicating other parts of the book.

Below decks Dorinda and Herric are awoken by little more than the vague feeling that not all is well. Muttering can be heard above, and the two warriors - veterans of many nights where mutterings immediately precede violent encounters - are instantly alert. Malan, Fynn and Hrolf remain asleep.

Dori's eyes snap open and she pauses for a moment, checking just what had woken her. Then she grabs her sword and rolls to her feet. Her eyes meet Herric's. "Something's up: doesn't sound urgent, but something's wrong." She glances at the sleeping figures, then leaves them alone. "I'll see what's happening."

Jamal explains what he has seen to Dorinda. "Well, Waleesha shall I wake the others, we may now have some proper work to do ?"

She nods. "Go ahead: Stifftail first. Those people cerainly have some intentions towards the Cradle, and Stifftail may know whether they are allies or enemies."

As Jamal brings the newtling on deck the dwarves appear to come to some decision. There is much nodding of heads as one reads out something from the book. Stiff Tail blearily rubs his eyes before shrugging his shoulders. "Who knows?" he says. Neither does Enfrew have any idea what this might mean.

As the cradle begins to drift away the dwarves can be seen running to blockhouse, from which they bring various pieces of equipment. These appear to metal and cylindrical, for the most part. The dwarves do their task with meticulous efficiency and exactitude. There is another bend in the river approaching, and the cradle will reach it in a few, perhaps ten, minutes.

Herric shakes his head, "I've only known what they refer to as heretical dwarves. Those that have turned away from the ways of the Mostali and their World Machine. I suggest that we have some axes and rope ready when they finish that contraption. We may need to cut some line. Stifftail, I'd inform the undine and other creatures that propel the cradle that they may need to be ready to resist the dwarves attempts to drive the craft into the bank."

Jamal concurs. "It looks like the Mostali are preparing some sort of grapple, and will probaby try to use it as we round yonder curve. Dorinda, I think we should prepare to repel boarders."

Dori nods. "I've only met the so-called "heretical" dwarves myself, but what about those that call them heretical for dealing with humans, the one's they're supposed to be at war with? These could be them".

She studies the gadget being built with a complete lack of comprehension but considerable distrust. "When dwarves start putting machines together, it's a good idea to leave, even if they're on your side. If that thing's a missile weapon: something like the Harpoon: then it could have quite a range. Let's hope we're round the next bend and out of their line of sight before they get it built."

"The axes are a good idea, though we may need something with magical Severing capabilities if they use more than rope. I wonder..." she grins thoughtfully. "If that's a weapon: it can be Destroyed. I've never tried doing it at range before, but I'm sure we can come up with something between us".

Dorinda focusses on her wyter blessing, searching for the strategy with which the dwarves may attack the boat. By now the mostali have erected a thin metal dish on top of a tall device, yet they continue to tinker with it. The dish faces at an angle away from the cradle, somewhere downriver.

Using the wyter's magic is always a shock, its intensity can be confusing. Dorinda isn't clear what she sees - the dish is not a direct threat, yet there is an implicit threat in the dwarves actions. This is the first step in something much larger, and hidden.

Jamal has a small flash of inspiration, he is reminded of something he saw on a trip to Glamour .... "It's a mirror, they're signalling downstream !!!! We need to knock it out as quickly as possible to stop them sending any messages "

Dori stares at him, stunned. "Dwarves, underground creatures, using light? How could...? but you're right. That must be it. How dare they... well, two can play at that game. If it's set up to work with very little light, dazzling it should be possible."

Malan says "Are we sure that they intend us harm? It was Lunars we were told to beware of, and I don't think we should go making any more enemies than we have to."

"There's a threat of some sort from that thing," replies Dorinda. "The wyter's sure of it. It may not be a direct attack, but yes, it intends harm to us all right. Some sort of ambush, no doubt, or some such flithy trick.

"I agree with Dorinda that no good can come of they signalling downstream. I think we should try to destroy it," says Herric.

Jamal nods. "Agreed, we are travelling downstream in the hugest of honey-pots, into which many will want to dip. Unless this until they are proved to be friends, we must assume they are enemies. Besides, once our presence in known, our path is obivious. The fewer of those downstream know we are coming the better"

Aelfwyrd agrees, "whatever we do should be convincing and final, let us not hesitate to make our intentions clear at this point." he is thoughtful, "but if we try and fail to prevent it, whatever it is they are doing and it is a signal, won't those who receive it be forewarned, and may we not be wiser to underplay our hand now in order to have surprise later?"

Vern picks a coin from his pocket and hurls it towards the shore. there is a small *zing* sound as it passes through the Cradle's defenses, but otherwise seems unaffected. The penny splashes down some distance from land. "It seems that arrows and so forth may well work," says Vern. "But your magic should also be potent. We have not long - what is it to be?"

Aelfwyrd nods and grabs his javelin, he prepares a careful run up and then focusses on the device seeking some point of weakness. Fixing his mind on that target he will run and hurl his javelin with all of his force before lending his aid to the illumination of darkness. He scans the odd construction, trying to pick out a point of weakness. Being unfamiliar with machinery, it seems to him obvious that the best thing to do is strike the base; then the thing should fall over.

He takes a bit of a run up to hurl his javelin, muttering all the time. Aelfwyrd remembers the story of how Kargan threw a spear through a mountain and a ring, all in one throw, and stamps the ground as he runs. But the warrior slips slightly on the deck, and the javelin loses a little power in its flight. Still, it flies true and hits the little tower with an almighty thump and a shower of sparks. The dwarves run about, hurrying with their task.

"Good shot!" cries Jamal.

Aelfwyrd turns back with a disgruntled look on his face, "Thanks Jamal but I am sure I could do better!"

The other heros prepare their feats, combining different powers to craft the wyrd they seek.

Jamal invokes the name of Hereward, and a biting wind envelops the dwarves, driving them away from their machine and making it difficult for them to manipulate it. Herric tries hard to concentrate on the contraption, yet cannot identify it with any weapon he knows; the warrior remains confused and cannot help his allies with their magic. Dorinda curses the blasphmeous mostali for their degradation of Light, and the Sun's rays dance and dazzle from her sword, reflected from the river surface and shining all around. With a great shout the legionaires together invoke the power of Hereward's wyter, and the air around the Mostali contraption erupts into a pure bright light that radiates through the night, probably for miles around.

The mostali, dazed, scamper about in confusion and panic.

Vern sticks his head up from below to watch the light show. "Well," he says. "If that thing was a heliograph, then I think you certainly swamped its signal."

Dori lowers her glowing sword and congratulates the rest of the team on their combined efforts.

Jamal nods with satisfaction. "'Tis good work and maybe buy us a few hours breathing space. We should rest and prepare, for the next job will not be so easy" With that he indicates that another should take the watch, and heads wil Abul below decks

Hrolf looks thoughtfully at the Mostali. "Hmm, I wonder how long it will be before they try their magic again. Also, I am troubled that we cannot be sure whether they were friend or enemy. Vern, do you know any giant lore? Who are their traditional friends and enemies, for example?"

The dwarves disappear as the Cradle passes around the next bend in the river. As the river passes in to a steep ravine a long shadow is thrown over the vessel, and a fierce glow lights the cliffs from behind.

Vern is finding it difficult to sleep and challenges Jamal to a game of Ravenkaaz. He now has a passion for the game, and has developed a subtle, fluid game that Jamal finds intruiging and beautiful. Still, the Carmanian manages a win most of the time, simply out of long experience.

"Of Course, I accept your challenge, Ravenkaaz is a most gentle and noble pastime." He sets out the board. "Let us play"

Vern begins the game with a series of predictable moves. Jamal responds with a traditional strategy that secures the centre of the board whilst leaving the flanks free for skirmishers. Vern's infantry occupy the front ranks, the phalanx is set and advances slowly. Jamal's heavy cavalry waits impatiently for the charge.

Throughout the game Vern talks quietly, but never using that conversation in a gamesmanlike manner. He is respectfully silent when Jamal makes his moves, and talks throughout his own. His subject of conversation, as it so often is, is the subject of tradition, and of the superficial and deeper truths contained within each culture. The game is played, the pieces advanced.

Suddenly the key is turned, the pattern is complete. Vern's infantry stumble in their advance - their ranks are broken! Instantly Jamal sends his cavalry rampaging towards the helpless footmen, sensing victory.

Yet a strange thing happens. As each cavalry piece reaches its designated target, the footman somehow evades, dancing complex steps from square to square. All Vern's pieces somehow escape the slaughter, pinwheeling away to new positions. Try as he might Jamal cannot stop them, nor can he find any evidence that Vern is not actually playing by the rules, even though something seems terribly wrong. He may be playing within the rules - at least Jamal thinks he is - but Vern is certainly not playing within the tradition.

The Infantry ought to get stomped by the Cavalry.

Within a few moves it is all over. Jamal has suffered a crushing defeat. Vern's pieces reform within Jamal's own lines and wreak havoc, sending their opposition flying. At one point Vern even seems to be using one of Jamal's own Mages.

The Carmanian sits back, stunned. Vern, a new comer to the game just a few weeks back, has pulled off one of the most erudite plays Jamal has ever heard of.

The Esrolian sits back and grins at his friend. "So you see my friend, there are rules, and then there are rules, and then there are rules within rules."

Jamal sits stunned, as he regains his composure he says..

"By Idovanus' great firely ersoon how did you do that! It is the way of life that the pupil will eventually become the master, but so quickly !!!

Come show me again, I would learn your tactics"

Vern grins widely, and quotes: "'For surely it is a sign of wisdom that He is open to new things.' When one has played this game all one's life, as you have, it can be difficult to see past habit. There are the rules of the game, the ways in which the game is usually played, and then there are ways in which the game might be played. When one has spent much time seeing what is there it is difficult to see what could be there instead."

With that he begins to retrace the game, explaining the moves at each point. What Jamal notices is that Vern saw a completely different game to the one that Jamal saw. He did not see it in terms of infantry, knights, mages and kings - Vern's battle appears to have been cerebral, betweens ideas or principles.

Jamal thanks Vern for the game and instruction. "The wise also know when to rest and when to play. Many thanks for the game, I think I will get some sleep before our next encounter"

Second Watch

Three hours later Hrolf is trying to stay awake in the brisk night air. He stands atop the tarpaulin, peering out at the eerie twillight. The pitter patter of Durulz feet can be heard patrolling the decks. All is at rest.

It is a little while before he notices the lights. The cradle is passing through another section of the river where it is flanked by steep cliffs. Suddenly he is aware of luminous things that bob up and down on the clifftops ahead. There are quite a few of them.

Hrolf quietly calls Blackbeak and Aelfwyrd over, and confers with them. "No need to wake the Tenthane or the other Legionaires yet; they will need their sleep. In the mean time, let me see if I can get a look at what those lights are. Blackbeak, warn the other Durulz - quietly, remember sound carries on the river! - and keep someone on standby to raise a general alarm if necessary. Aelfwyrd, can you see what those lights are, or do you have any idea what they might be?"

Hrolf peers at and around the lights, hoping to discern their source and nature from their movement and other features. He will also listen carefully, hoping that the water and the canyons carry sounds to him.

Aelfwyrd nods to Hrolf and scans the scene with great care, at the same time he relives his life in his mind trying to see if he has any point of reference for these lights and this place...

As Blackbeak slips off to wake the other Durulz, Hrolf surveys the clifftops ahead, perplexed. They range a few metres above the cradle, if he is any judge. Atop them he sees many tens of lights - perhaps a hundred - swaying back and forth and bobbing up and down - not by any great distance, but gently. It is as though a hundred fireflies had alight on grass in a soft breeze, or villagers were carying torches in a procession.

He stretches out with his hearing, yet above the river all he can hear is the whistle of the wind... yet above that he can hear murmers of some not quite human tongue.

Neither can Aelfwyrd make anything out. The two warriors see nothing but the lights, and can see no cause for or purpose to them.

The cradle ploughs on. It will be underneath the lights in just a minute or two.

"Blackbeak, quick!" calls Hrolf. "Get Dorinda and Vern up here!"

Blackbeak throws himself down into the hold quacking out the alarm: "wouse youthelvth, wake up, alewt, quacckkk!"

Hrolf covers his face with his hands. Aelfwyrd moves to find cover.

Having finished expressing his dismay at Blackbeak's sloppy interpretation of his orders, Hrolf limbers his bow and keeps an eye out for Dorinda so that he can brief her. When the Legionnaires start to appear on deck, he cautions them to remain reasonably quiet.

As the legionnaires rush to the decks there is whine, like the screaching dive of a vrok hawk - high-pitched and keening. Just after, the sound is joined by several more. Bare seconds afterwards there is a flash of green and red light several yards off the port bow. Then several more.

The noises and flashes continue for about a minute, and then all falls quiet. The heroes peer out at the cliffs, but the lights have dazzled any nightvision they may have had, and nothing can be seen.

Hrolf lies down on the tarpaulin, and yells out to the assembling Legionaires, "There were lights on the cliffs - don't know if they are hostile." He crawls to the edge of the tarpaulin to see if he can see or hear anything in the water. He can see ropes trailing back towards the cliffs, sinking rapidly.

"The Cradle's defenses protect us from their missiles," shouts Stiff Tail.

Jamal tops the ladder and tries to appraise the situation. "Incoming missles, are they magical or physical? Can we tell ? I presume that they come from the mostali. At the moment they don't seem to be able to breach the Cradles defenses, but we are probably best to keep behind the bulwarks till we know for sure. Waleesha, what deployment shall we take ?"

"Hrolf, did you say something about ropes?" Dori climbs up to where she can see for herself. "Could be something under the water to stop the Cradle, could be an attempt at boarding: if this is more Mostali work, who knows? Stifftail, could some of the water-dwellers who guide this craft find out more? We're safe from their missiles, it seems, but perhaps not from whatever they have planned next. Get some axes ready to cut any ropes, and stay on deck and alert, everyone. Herric, did you come up with any plans for defending this deck, should we have to? I know you looked round earlier: are there weak points they will choose to attack?"

And in the meantime, Dori will try to use the Wyter function to Recognise Preparation for Attack, concentrating on those ropes in particular.

Herric shakes his head, "The deck is pretty much wide open with two access points to the truly vital areas that are below deck at the fore and aft. We don't have nearly enough men to repel any serious boarding attempt but that attempt would first have to defeat the cradles defenses and bypass the Zola Fel defenders or stop or ground the cradle. I don't believe that the magical defenses can be defeated by any local force other than the Lunar garrison at Pavis and Corflu. Well, the Sun County folk might pull something together but I'm not confident that they will. We'll be needed if and when the cradle defenses are down. I'll have the ward up before then... tomorrow we can begin to set it up but I'd rather not finish the ward until it's needed so that there's no chance of it being detected or it interfering with the cradles defenses. If boarders do come on via repelling or flight, then our best chance at repelling them would be to make a stand at the rooms where the ladders are. If we don't get some more warriors before we reach Pavis, I don't see much chance of any of us walking away."

He shrugs matter-of-factly, "That's the way I see it. This," he gestures at the lights, "is just a light show unless they drop onto the deck."

Dori nods. "That was what I thought: I hoped you'd see something I'd missed. Still, we can explore deeper into the Cradle later on, when we're all rested. There may be more weapons down there: and we have no idea how well those wooden warriors can fight."

After his eyes get used to the light again, Aelfwyrd is able to several many mostali lining the cliffs. Some seem to be carrying things, others just stand around patiently. As he watches, several fiery trails launch themselves from the starboard cliff and blaze into nothingness against the Cradle's magical barrier. Aelfwyrd can see that the lights appeared to be followed by ropes, which then fall into the water and begin to sink.

A disappointed Malan grumbles "Mostali! We were told that we were going to fight Lunars." Nevertheless, he dons his Black Horse leather armor and remains to watch, as he is worried that they might breach the defenses with some strange Dwarf magic.

Looking at the water's surface, Dorinda realises that the ropes are sinking fast, as though pulled to the bottom. When the next volley results in more sinking ropes, she understands the strategy.

The mostali are firing some kind of missile to fix mooring lines to the cradle.

By now the cradle is passing directly underneath the dwarves lining the clifftops. Volley after volley of the sorcerous missiles rain down on the cradle's defences. All are obliterated, leaving only a dazzle of coloured light.

Vern lies on his back upon the tarpaulin, and begins to fill his pipe. "If you relax, you'll find it's a great show," he says.

Herric is clearly right - these dwarvish toys do not threaten the cradle's defense. Jamal squints at the lights, then yawns "Dorinda, Should we stand down?"

Aelfwyrd points all of that out to his students and then tells them to watch carefully to see if any of the devices do get through and if they do then to cut the ropes and tell him. Then he will just watch carefully looking for any signs of another attack.

Hrolf looks for targets of opportunity to harass with his bow. Targets are ample. He casually nocks an arrow and lets fly at a group of Dwarvish warriors who are standing atop the nearest part of the cliff. The arrow springs upwards towards them, aiming for the throat of their leader. It seems he is a dead dwarf.

Yet there is a sudden blur as the dwarf holds up a hand, palm facing outward. The arrow halts middair, and flips around to face Hrolf. The arrow quickly begins to swell and grow until it is the size of a fair-sized harpoon, the point always pointing at Hrolf.

With another pass of his hand the dwarf causes the arrow to shimmer and apparently fragement, multiplying itself into seven or eight new missiles, all as large and deadly as the original harpoon.

The huge arrows launch themselves with terrifying speed at the humakti warriors on the tarpaulin. Stiff Tail squeaks and dives for cover as they, too, explode harmlessly on the cradle's magical barrier.

"Lets not do that again" Jamal remarks drily

Hrolf smiles wrily at Jamal, then addresses the Tenthane. "Well, they've got strong magic. What next? Should we collectively try to bring a Howling Doomwind upon them?"

Dorinda shakes her head. "It's tempting, but we know they can't breach the Cradle's defences with the weapons they have, and that they can turn our own weapons back on us. Who knows what a reversed Howling Doomwind might do? If by some remote chance one of those ropes manages to get through, we'll need to act, so we should stay alert until we're out of their range. But taking the fight to them: sorry, it's just not worth it."

Jamal asks Dori "Shall some of us stand down, or wait till the dwarvish attack has passed"

"Wait till it's passed: or rather, until we've passed it. That shouldn't take long."

After one last volley the dwarves appear to give up, as the Cradle has passed them without slowing down. Aelfwyrd can see the Mostali grimly peering out from the shadows for a moment, but then they too are left behind.

The cradle sails on down the river, the undines making good speed. Vern looks at Dorinda and asks, "What next? Shall we put our faith in the cradle or stand watch together?"

"I'm not putting my faith in anything beyond Humakt: and he expects us to take care of problems ourselves. By all means, let us stand watch together. The rest of you may as well get some sleep until the next alarm."

Dori retrieves the rest of her armour and weapons from below.

Third Watch

The cradle continues to pull away from the mostali, and for a short while all is quite. Some of the warriors on board manage to get back to sleep, others stand awatch, brooding at the river.

The respite lasts but for only around a half hour. Then the Cradle approaches another cliff close to the river, and those awake can see several score more dwarves racing about, clambering around a large machine. This device is as big as a stead and consists of a main body and a huge nozzle, pointing at the river. A long tail, as wide as a barrel, snakes down into the river itself. There is a trail smashed through the trees along which it has obviously been recently dragged.

"Now that looks nasty," exclaims Dorinda. "Someone rouse the others, we may need all our magic for this one."

Aelfwyrd send the students to wake everybody up again. Once again he will remain in cover and observe for the moment. When Korol and Yrsga have returned from waking everybody up Aelfwyrd tells them to get axes and any other tools or weapons that they can find and to be ready to cut ropes, unhook/break hooks and chains.

Herric rises again and looks over the weapon, "Damnation, it looks like they've some devotees of the Cannon Cult. I've seen these things work in past Dragon Pass campaigns. Rather loud and terrifying. It's unlikely that they'd want to sink the cradle, so my guess is that they'll harpoon it and try to bring it ashore. I'd suggest getting axes and rope ready to try and remove the thing if it takes hold. Maybe hammer and bars if we have them, in case they use a chain."

Enfrew looks at the thing for some time and then turns to his companions. "If we can judge by the looks of it, we are soon going to be very wet."

As those warriors awake confer amongst themselves, others rouse themselves and make for the decks. Fynn takes a quick head count, and all are soon present and accounted for. The heroes and their followers account for seventeen warriors, plus Abul. Then there are Jones and his four durulz warriors, and Stiff Tail. Vern is the twenty fifth person on deck, and he is worriedly watching the dwarvish machine.

"I don't know whether to agree with Enfrew or Herric," he says. "The pipe into the water does suggest a machine that uses water, but whether it projects that water I could not say. I have heard that the Cannon Cult once used an enormous weapon that required water to cool it and prevent it from exploding."

"Either way - we have seen how the Cradle protects us from missiles. Yet so have the dwarves. What can they be planning?"

The contraption is someway away, it will take the cradle a few minutes to reach it.

Korol and Yrsga have gathered together whatever tools they can find, mostly axes. These consist of lesser parts of Aelfwyrd's weapon collection, as the warband doesn't seem to carry much around in the way of basic tools and supplies. Jones is the only one who seems to carry proper tools around with him, but he treats his hammer carefully and refuses to let anyone else touch it. (The hammer is shaped like a Death rune, and this regalia marks him as a Devotee of Inginew Redsmith).

Jamal looks at the machine with some alarm. "By Idonavus' Great Firey Ersoon thats an impressive thing. It may be a weapon it's true, but another though occurs. Maybe they will drench us " he grimmance at the prospect of another wetting, "maybe they will lob another projectile at us, but perchance their plan is more subtle. If they can drain enough water with that thing perhaps they cause the Cradle to stall and run aground"

Herric looks at Jamal and then begins to chuckle and laugh, "Now that's a thought! Who do you think they are? God learners? Able to drain a god thru a machine? That's a good one, Jamal!" He wipes tears from his eyes and continues to watch as the Cradle approaches the Mostali.

Dorinda looks about. "Stifftail, could the undines take a look at the end of that pipe under the water and see if they can figure out what it's for? Or damage or block it in some way? Of course, the Mostali don't necessarily know what happened further up-stream. Their method of communication got a bit dazzled, remember? Still, we'd beter assume the worst. In case we do need to counterattack this time: what magic do we have between us that seems suitable? A joint Howling Doomwind would be good, and Weapon Destroyer seems appropriate: more so than last time."

Once more Aelfwyrd studies the dwarves and their contraption, he seeks any sign of weakness and considers another shot. He tries to see if there is any one mostali that is working the thing or in charge

Jamal too attempts to see if he can deduce the functioning of the machine from it's appearance, how the mostali appear to be working it, and his prior experience travelling in the empire. However he is completely bewildered by the machine. He has never seen anything like it. Jamal states, "This in baffling. I think we should try to knock it out before it becomes a danger"

The wyter's magic makes the dwarves' evil machine no easier to understand - the wyter's awareness seems to have trouble even approaching the thing. Dorinda is left no wiser.

Stiff Tail purses his lips doubtfully. "The god's children are not mine to command, but I will ask." The newtling goes to the bow and hoists himself up onto the bulwark, then leans over and speaks in a babbling, fluid tongue to the river below. After a while he fumbles in a pouch and throws something into the waters below. Soon after a ripple of water can be seen making a bee-line for the snake-like thing in the water.

Hrolf looks at the device, mystified. "I don't know anything about Canon Cults, but if it's a weapon maybe our Weapon Destroyer magic might work. Of course, the wyter's magic is more powerful. Since the Cradle itself seems to have very powerful magic, it would be nice if we could add our magic to the Cradle's, but I have no idea how that would work. Stifftail?"

Stiff Tail shrugs in response to Hrolf's question, "I know not how the cradle defences work. To unlock them is the secret Zola Fel's god-talkers tell me, but their working.... I know not."

As he speaks the Cradle is drawing closer and closer to the machine, and the dwarves are now shouting commands at each other. The machine starts groaning and huffing, before roaring into action. A few seconds later a powerful, steady jet of water bursts out of the contraption's nozzle. Its stream shoots past the starboard deck by several yards, but with more shouted commands the dwarves begin to turn the jet toward the cradle's prow....

Jamal yells "It looks like there trying to jet us off the deck and into the water. Either lash yourself down or get below"

Aelfwyrd takes aim at an important looking, book-wielding dwarf. His javelin flies improbably far, well beyond the normal range, and strikes home. It actually skewers the dwarf's book to hs chest. The creature goes down as though poleaxed and other dwarves scramble around him, trying to prise the book away from his chest and work out what to do next. Pleased with his throw Aelfwyrd grunts before heeding Jamal and looking for someway to lash himself down, he will tell the students to get below.

Hrolf rapidly fires several arrows, and although none strike home it does make it difficult for the Dwarves to concetrate on what they are doing. Beside him Malan uses Kargan's magic to wrest the book from the hands of an important looking dwarf. But the stumpy bearded one knows some strong magic of his own - Malan's eyes bulge and sweat streams down his face as he wrestles with the Mostali sorcerer. Finally he loses his grip, unable to overcome the other's defences. The warrior is dazed for a moment by his exhertions.

Hrolf ducks under the siding of the vessel, and replies to Jamal: "This is a strangely non-lethal attack; do you think they have something else in store for us?"

"I think they have reasoned that if the river is the cradle friend, the only think tha can get through the defenses is water," the Carmanian replies. Jamal also looks for a mast and some rope to lash himself in place.

"You may well be right there: we'll know very shortly," says Dorinda. "We have a few moments, though: let's see if our Howling Doomwind can affect it. Anyone else who knows the feat, or anything we can merge with it, join me: but hold on while you do it! The rest of you, brace yourselves."

The torrent of water is guided by the dwarvish engineers operating the machine. It sweeps up along the starboard bow, spraying magnificiently against the Cradle's defences, until it hits the prow square on. There it rains down upon the defensive barrier, and the force of the water actually appears to be slowing the Cradle.

More dwarves are appearing along the banks. They carry ladders and strange looking magical artifacts - long thin sticks that are thick at one end and hollow at the other. They are armoured, and look grim and dangerous.

Hrolf mutters something, and Jamal states "I agree with Hrolf, knock out the accursed machine first. But Vern, Herric, Malan you know something of the Mostali ways, what are those stick they carry, I assume they are weapons of some description"

Herric's eyes widen and he turns quickly on Stiff Tail, "Quickly, have the Undine and riverfolk prevent water from entering that pipe! Block it or prevent water from entering it! Quickly! We have to keep moving, it is our best defense!" He calls Elnor and Oddus to him and calls them to support him in prayer to Humakt as he will use his Sunder Magics to disrupt the cannons water pumping magic. He settles himself into a trance recalling Humakt's actions in his vision and calls upon the his god's power.

Stiff Tail waves his hands frantically from the front of the Cradle. "The River Children insist that they must push the Cradle, and I lack the power to force them against the cannon."

As Dorinda begins summoning Hereward's Howling Doomwind, Jamal, Hrolf, Enfrew and Aelfwyrd rush to her aid with their followers. The power they bring forth is charged, and the hair of all those on deck stands on end. As it is unleashed, the black wind strips the deck clean as it hurtles the bulwarks, before spinning across the river and creating a small waterspout.

It hits the machine square on. Leaves and dwarves blow in all directions as the wind scours the sorcerous contraption. The jet of water is skewed to oneside, but still strikes the Cradle's prow with force. The undines are pushing and harder, but the dwarves on the water cannon fumble with the gears until the water pressure matches and then exceeds the river children's power. The Cradle begins to slow.

Beside Dorinda, Jones has marshalled his Durulz forces, and they perform the Weapon Destroyer feat, their faces strained with the effort of overcoming the machine's magics. Herric himself feels this, for he with Oddus and Elnor can feel the Power of that sorcery. They struggle to disperse the evil spells, but he suddenly collapses, exhausted unable to continue with the struggle. Herric lies panting on the deck.

The cradle is now making strange creaking sounds, and has slowed to a standstill. As the undines push from behind and the cannon pushes from the font, the Cradle starts to skew across the river. On either bank dwarves are continuing to assemble, as though for a boarding party.

The dwarves machine is now making strange noises itself. It seems to be struggling against the magical assault of the Humakti, yet it's own magics are strong. Dorinda is beginning to feel tired, and the ability to control Hereward's wind is starting to slip through her fingers...

To her side Dorinda feels Aelfwyrd's strength return like a roaring fire. Together they retain their grip on the Doomwind to send it screaming once more against the machine.

The dwarvish engine is totally obscured by dust, leaves and darkness, and the wind can be heard stripping parts from the machine. The torrent of water begins to falter, and the cradle once more begins to move slightly.

Bare seconds later there is a terrible explosion that reaches out and engulfs the area around the cradle. Out of the dust storm, the body of a dwarf hurtles towards the Cradle only to be deflected by the magical barrier and splash into the river. The air is filled with the whine of white-hot metal that fizzes and sizzles and makes for an interesting light show on deck. Not a dwarf is left standing on either side of the river for 60 yards.

Those on board are left untouched.

The cradle continues its merry way downriver, gradually picking up speed. On the banks dwarves can be seen, picking themselves up and groaning.

Jamal gasps after the effort "That was too close for my liking", he runs to the forward bulwark and watches to see if there are any other mostali ahead. He can see no more Mostali. The Cradle continues to sail through hilly terrain, but apart from a few bats gently chirping, nothing can be see or heard.

Herric groans and stands up, "No, I don't think we'll be seeing any more Mostali. That was quite an investment of power and resources. Obviously, they had alternative ways to communicate the coming Cradle but we were able to fend it off. Well done, Aelfwyrd! Humakt's glory shone in you when the wind took out the construct."

Aelfwyrd sits cradling his head in his hands. "owwww!" he says before looking up with a grim smile on his face. "Why do I feel it isn't going to get easier?"

Herric smiles grimly at Aelfwyrd, "It isn't. Why do you think I've not yet placed the sword wards."

Hrolf quickly picks up his bow to shower Humakt's blessings on the now-bedraggled Mostali as the cradle passes them. "Death is strong in you today, Aelfwyrd! You inspire us!"

Aelfwyrd grins at Hrolf, "it's my companions that inspire me!" Then he sets to improvising a spear.

Fifteen Minutes Later

The cradle sails on, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is to be little respite. Vern has just lain down when there is an anxious squawk from Blackbeak up at the prow.

As the cradle rounds the next bend in the river a huge and menacing shape stands before it. The behemoth is almost as tall as the Cradle, which is as high as a dozen men standing on each other's shoulders. It is a squat and very bulky, with extremely thick legs and arms. The chest is a large cylinder, and the entire thing looks as though it were made of metal, for it glints in the cradle's twilight.

The arms of the metal man hold a huge trunk obviously sawn from a Redwood tree. From time to time, the metal man shrieks and emits great clouds of steam.

As the Cradle nears the metal man, several huge boulders sprout legs, and waddle to the river, jumping into the water ahead of the Cradle, partly blocking the river. At this point the metal man surges forward wielding the tree trunk like a lance.

Jamal yells his curse "By the foul decayed teeth of the Deceiver, what is that thing? Quick Dori, let us try another Howling Doomwind. Herric and the Humakti, a Weapon Breaker against the tree trunk may help"

Aelfwyrd looks at the thing and hefts a javelin, "With help I may be able to make the tree trunk fall!"

Herric gathers as many of the Humakti that aren't involved with other rituals and explains his idea, "Let us all join together in the Weapon Destroyer ritual of Death. The construct in front of us is as much a weapon in the hands of the Mostali as the tree it wields so let that be our target. Join with me NOW!"

Herric enters the trance that sends his consciousness half into the Hero realms as he relives Humakt's mighty Weapon Destroying ritual. In his vision he places the fast approaching construct and gathers unto himself the support of the other Humakti focusing it in a mighty effort. His arm rises up an insubstantial sword of immense proportions following his arm. He chops down, all focus on destoying the weapon in front of him.

Now it is possible to see that the whole thing is another giant machine. Cogs and sprockets abound on its joints, and several pipes and black ropes seem to connect the different parts of it's body. Where the head should be is a short platform with a seat and many levers. A dwarf sits in the chair, frantically pulling the levers. A metal mesh around the platform protects him.

As the giant metal man charges the cradle, the tree trunk held out like a lance before it, Alefwyrd hurls his javelin at the monster's weapon...

The gargantuan machine strikes the front of the cradle with its treetrunk. As the 'lance' thuds into the prow the machine leans forward, using all its strength, and the cradle judders and comes to a halt in the middle of the river. Because of the mobile boulders holding it in place, this time the cradle does not skew to one side, but remains fixed firmly in place.

The cradle's defences snap and hiss at the treetrunk, and charges of energy crackle up its length. Already it is visibly smoking, but it is clear that it will be some time before the treetrunk is destroyed. Dwarves begin to emerge along the river bank, clutching ladders and the strange sticks - it is clear that this time the heroes do not have.

Herric swings a mighty blow down on the Mostali construct

Aelfwyrd sets his face and keeps to the plan, he snarls as he makes the throw, envisaging the now weakened treetrunk being sundered by his righteous javelin he hurls...

Aelfwyrd's heroically hurled javelin strikes the machine's lance so hard that the dwarf controller has to churn levers and gears frantically to retain his grip on the treetrunk. Aelfwyrd feels inspired by the gods of war - he can feel a chill north wind upon his face, and those nearby can see the black nimbus that surrounds him.

At the same time, Herric's mystic sword, which is falling on the treetrunk as though to cut it in half, strikes the machine's sorcerous defences. There is a terrible grating noise as the air above the log turns black and then flashes red. Herric feels his arms grow tired, and the sword grow heavy. Elnor staggers from his side whilst two of the Durulz fall flat on the deck, motionless.

Several of the mostali now along the river bank are consulting tomes and grimoires. Their sorcerers begin to probe the cradle's defences with spells and energy beams - tentatively at first, but rapidly growing in strength.

As the cutting beams of the dwarven sorcerers grow more intense, the cradle's defences begin to whine and shriek. It is unclear how much longer they can hold out. The wooden statue warriors on deck begin to move around in agitatedly.

Other dwarves on shore are referring to plans and written orders, ordering others into position and overseeing the deployment of the troops that continue to arrive at the scene. They appear to be following a well-designed strategy.

The dwarven machine leans further on its long pole, driving it against the cradle's prow. The cradle's undines strain and struggle to lift above the boudlers that hold it in place, but to no avail. For the moment the cradle is stuck fast.

Once more Aelfwyrd hurls a javelin at the machine. At his side Jamal gives a victory shout so loud it distracts the dwarf pilot, who loses his grip slightly on the treetrunk. Herric chops down once more with his sword, weakening this grip still further. The pilot is struggling to maintain its control on the treetrunk, and the cradle feels as though it could break free. Dwarves with the weapons that Vern calls 'muskets' are now prowling the banks, scowling and glaring menacingly at the heroes.

Under the ferocious magics of the dwarves that try to overcome the cradle's defences, Aelfwyrd's cast goes awry. It misses the dwarven machine entirely and instead skewers an interested goat observing from the far bank. This considerably deflates Aelfwyrd's heroic aura, leaving him with a far more normal appearance.

Herric, however, utters a great shout and brings down his sword once more. It cleaves through the dwarven sorcery, and through the treetrunk, severing it entirely. A shock of power rejuvenates Herric and his allies.

As the treetrunk fragments into splinters, the cradle's undines strain once more, and lift the vessel over the rocks that restrain it. Free to move under its own momentum, the cradle bears down upon the hapless dwarf machine. It's pilot can be seen for one frantic second, trying to unbuckle himself and flee, before his contraption is crushed beneath the cradle's bulk.

Along the shore dwarves stop their work and look confused. The leaders hastily consult their papers and documents, apparently looking for the paragraph that tells them what to do next. But that paragraph doesn't seem to exist, and there is nothing to be done but watch, futilely, as the cradle floats free and disappears around the next bend in the river...

Aelfwyrd sits on the deck of the cradle exhausted, "I like goat meat!" He laughs

Hrolf looks around, elated. "Well done, all! Blackbeak and Hughie, see if there are any wounded; I'll keep an eye out for what's around the next bend." He yells as he runs to the gunwhales and picks up his bow.

Elnor and two of Jones' durulz warriors lie dazed and stupified on the deck. Blackbeak and Hughie aren't exactly White Healers, but they reckon that all they need is a bit of rest.

So far the river ahead looks quiet. After the next bend Hrolf can see that the cradle has almost passed out of the hilly country. The river passes a few foothills before passing into a Redwood forest.

Herric slumps to the deck, exhausted by the strain of the ritual. But his eyes shine with triumph, "That was well done, everyone. We'll not be seeing Humakt's Halls this day." He rouses himself and passes among all those who took part in the ritual, making sure that they are okay and thanking them for their part.

Jamal sits back again. The combined exertions of the water cannon and the metal man have drained him. "Idovanus blesses us this day, but these little men are nothing if not persistant. I say we all stay on deck until we are sure that they have nothing else to throw at us" As they start to pass into the forest he asks, "What are the denizens of this place? Will we have more boarders to repel?"

But no-one can answer his question.

* * * * *

The river passes by and the dwarves are now well out of earshot. It is perhaps two or three o'clock in the morning, and the cradle moves through a dark landscape.

Jamal's call for all to remain awake is met by some grumbling from the durulz. It is clear that everyone is exhausted - so far it has been a long day and night interspersed with several events of heroic proportions.

The ducks want a nap.

From below decks there is a cry of suprise. Vern, who has gone below to check on Maniskus, popped into the Horn Room to get some porridge and: "It's all been cleared up!" he says. "All that porridge, all over the floor, remember? It's all gone, spick and span, bright as new."

Herric feels himself nodding off and growls, "This is silly. I'm not going to be any use to anyone if I don't get some sleep. I'm heading down to the room with Elnor and Oddus. Don't wake me unless there is a real threat to the Cradle." He looks around foully at the Redwood Forest rising up around the Zola Fel. "Damn elves and runners. Sigh. Hopefully they'll hold off till tomorrow."

Jamal grunts "Ok I suppose we should stand down, I'll stay above deck for a while. The rest of you get some rest"

Hrolf looks at Jamal. "Yes, I think we will have to maintain watch shifts continuously - day and night - since there is not predicting when enemies will attack the cradle. I think we'd better schedule some time for exploration, too. We really do need to learn the layout of the ship, and meet any potential allies on board as well. I'm particularly keen that we meet the main protective spirit, god, or whatever it is the maintains the cradle."

He thinks for a moment, "In fact, if no one objects, I'll take Vern, Hughie and Stifftail and explore belowdecks some more. Blackbeak, can you keep Jamal company?"

Blacbeak scowls horribly, "Yeah, thure bothth. We Duwulth neva thleep." Still, he takes his place besides the Carmanian.

Vern is more eager about venturing below decks. "Absolutely Hrolf, you are right. This is perfect time for scholastic research... er, identifying and contacting potential allies." He hurries off to fetch some parchment.

Jamal settles down for a watch, he sets out his Ravenkaaz set to keep himself amused and awake. "Come friend Blackbeak can I interest you in a game ?".

Many of the other warriors suddenly realise how tired they are. Dorinda, yawning, agrees that it is better that all should rest, save those on watch. Soon, only Malan, Jamal and Blackbeak are left on deck. Blackbeak declines to game with Jamal, saying the only games fit for adults are Ball Kicking and Hunt the Fish.


Below decks, the heroes bed down gratefully and drift into a deep, comfortable sleep. The river waters bubbling nearby seem to carry them away to some different place, far from the humdrum world of being Humakti Swords.

Hrolf's mind kept returning to the bats he had seen earlier, nesting in the trees around the Dwarvish constructions. "Bats? Bats in trees? Chirping bats? Surely these are a sign of chaotic influences," he mumbled to himself. But before he even realized he was tired, Hrolf had drifted into a deep, trance-like sleep.

They dream of ancient caverns, lakes of crystal and palaces of ice. Happy things, shaped like jewelled eggs, become their friends and teach them new languages, and how to shape the world by using the correct words. They see the gods, shining like stars, come down to the world to dance and make it anew. They see the wide open ocean, and a whirlpool within it that reaches to the bottom of the cosmos.

They see a child bumbling happily through each scene, playfully serious and innocently sincere. And each warrior, pure with the touch of death, feels for just a moment that they are child again, revelling in a beauty that is not Humakt's, but is Glorantha's.

At this point the child turns to them and asks, "why do you journey with me? What do you seek?"

The dream was unexpected, and filled Hrolf with wonder - a feeling long forgotten. Could this really be the giant child's playground, and was it really speaking to him? He hoped so; Hrolf had long wanted to announce the Legion's allegiance to the Cradlechild. “We are Hereward’s Legion; the Zola Fel folk hired us to protect you. We are few, but we are honorable and true to our word. We will defend your life with our own."

"As for me, I follow Humakt’s path. In pursuing Death, I seek Truth and forge Honor. I will do all I can to protect you on your journey, and if necessary will die to do so." Hrolf pauses, his face softening, "But I also love the folk of river and marsh. If you are their friend, I want to see you live, grow and prosper. Know this: though his way is grim, and I hesitate to speak his name to a child, you could have few better friends in your life than Humakt. May his blessings be with you, child."

Unable to find the answer to this question, Aelfwyrd simply looks at the child enquiringly, maybe the child can answer the question?

Herric bows to the child, "We are Humakt, friend to the Cradle... enemy to your enemies. You seek to journey to your ancestors to learn and grow as was done in times ancient. We serve Death, our intimacy with it only heightens our appreciation for life in all its forms. Your friend, the Zola Fel has called for aid and in turn has called to us to do what we can to see that you safely make your way to the sea and beyond. If you would have us, our swords will ward you. If you would know why we are so willing to place ourselves in service, then I tell in Truth that the Red Moon would bar your journey and fall on you as a wolf on a lamb. The greedy moon is my enemy and the enemy of many that journey with me."

Herric pauses, sensing more in the child's question than he's answered, "For myself? I seek Truth. The Truth of my past, my company, my wyter. I am Herric, Rider of the Sword Breath Brotherhood if such can still be said to exist and the pain of this is with me always."

Dori pauses in thought, taken back to memories of her own childhood. "We seek to protect you. To let you learn what you must learn in order to be your full self. To stop those who seek to limit you, even to harm you. We want to allow you to seek Truth in your own way, for you are unique, and so the Truth you find will be unique, and precious."

The child listens to the heroes' replies with a tender smile. It regards Aelfwyrd with a quizzical expression and is about to say something, when she suddenly frowns urgently and looks away.

The world shakes and twists, and the dream buckles and fragments. The heroes feel themselves falling back to their mortal bodies, and their hearts are filled with sadness at the passing of such beauty.

They awake to a thunderclap and the sound of running and shouting up on deck....

The Terminator

Up on deck Jamal is playing out a series of Ravenkaaz problems whilst Malan stands atop the tarpaulin, keeping watch. The night is clear and bright, though still a little cold, and Malan can see clearly into the forest to either side. For half an hour all has been quiet.

He thinks to himself how lucky the cradle was to escape from the dwarves, who certainly seemed persistent, and turns to regard the mountains, dwindling in the background. As he watches there is a flash of blue light on a hilltop a few miles behind.

Almost immediately a violent hissing noise starts on the rear deck . Alarmed, Malan rushes back to watch as a translucent glowing magical sphere appears from a spot in the air; it expands to the height of a small human in diameter. As it reaches deck level, the sphere chews into the wood, and then vanishes in a flash. Left behind, kneeling in the resulting small depression that smokes slightly, is a squat metal man who bristles with weapons and strange objects.

Malan raises the alarm and then says "You there! Friend or Foe?"

Jamal barks at Blackbeak, "Intruder on deck, rouse the others." He then grabs Bull Spike and rushes to investigate the intruder.

As Jamal rushes forward he sees the metal dwarf carries a stubby metal cylindrical object in his left hand and a crossbow of peculiar design in his right hand. Strapped to his side is a battleaxe. Wrapped around his upper torso is a narrow chain, which must be of considerable length, and this is joined to an anchor almost as big as he is that is strapped onto his back. Strapped to each upper thigh is also a small barrel.

With slow, mechanical movements the dwarf points the crossbow at Malan and the short metal tube at Jamal. Both warriors - blessed by Hereward's wyter - instinctively recognise the preparation for attack and raise their shields defensively. There is a thunderclap. From the tube comes a small cloud of smoke, a hole in Jamal's shield, and a lot of blood. In his other hand, the crossbow fires three bolts that also leave Malan staggering.

Blackbeak is already scampering towards the rear hatch, but the dwarf stands in his way. He turns to run along the starboard bulwark, and the dwarf turns to train the crossbow on him. The tube he keeps trained in the direction of Malan and Jamal as he backs towards the stern.

Jamal prepares his dieties evokations for speed and protection. "OK" he yells to Malan and Blackbeak "All together on three ........ THREE!!"

Jamal roars, his shield held before him, and invokes the Charge feat of Bisos the Berserker. He stamps his feet and leaps down from the tarpaulin, but lands badly. Slowed, he continues to advance, but he has lost the initial impetus.

Malan sprints past him, axe ready to strike, but there is another roar of thunder. The warrior feels his shoulder wrenched back and a cascade of warm blood flood down onto his belly.

Blackbeak, rather than charging, has continued to race to the rear hatch. The dwarf, still walking steadily backwards, holds his crossbow out to his side and fires. Again, three bolts leap forth but the Durulz's size saves him and leaves only a tailfeather pinned to the bulwarks. Blackbeak disappears down the hatch in a flurry of feathers, squawking loudly enough to raise the dead.

Jamal roars once more and feels Bisos lift him. His charge is so swift that he reaches the dwarf in two strides and and swings his sword wildly. The metal warrior smoothly brings his crossbow to bear on Jamal's chest and fires at point blank range. Jamal simultaneously feels the shock of his sword biting into the dwarf, and the crossbow bolts thudding into his chest.

Malan strikes too, but his blow mostly bounces off the dwarf's iron armor. Realising the danger almost too late he twists away from the dwarvish tube-weapon that is still pointed at him. There is a thunderclap and Malan feels more pain.

The Dwarf drops the tube weapon to the deck and draws his axe, but still holds the crossbow.

Below decks the warriors slowly awaken, but are obviously still transfixed by the vivid dream they have shared. Above them there is another thunderclap, a scream and some shouting, and more sounds of running.

With a flurry of feathers Blackbeak plummets into the Silver Room from the hatch above, squawking frantically. "THEWE"TH A DAMN GWEAT METAL DWAWF UP THEWE THOOTING UTH TO BITH!! WHAT THE THEVEN HELLTH AWE YOU FOLKTH DOING?"

Dorinda, closely followed by Valens & Kristen, climbs the ladder - this is the perogative of Humakti leadership: first into the field, last to leave.

She sees Malan and Jamal struggling desperately against some sort of mechanised dwarf just a few yards from the hatch. The dwarf holds a crossbow in one hand, the other is drawing a battle-axe. A long length of chain is wrapped around the dwarf's upper body, and a large anchor is stuck its back. A keg is strapped to either leg, and the rest of its body is covered with weapons and dwarvish items. The dwarf is moving backwards towards the stern, fighting off the warriors as it retreats.

Both Malan and Jamal appear badly hurt, and are obviously moving in pain. The Dwarf is about to to strike Malan with the battleaxe, whilst the crossbow is pointed straight at Jamal's chest.

Dorinda charges into the fray, baying a direct challenge to the Mostali in an attempt to draw attention away from Malan and Jamal.

It works. The dwarf slides his arm smoothly left to aim the crossbow at Dorinda and pulls the trigger. Three bolts fly from the barrel, yet incredibly they all fail to strike home - one sticks in Valens' shield and quivers there.

Dorinda and her followers crash into the melee, yet the dwarf knocks the warrior woman's strike aside. Her sword is forced into Valen's way (the man goes down in trying to avoid it), and Dorinda is left over-balanced.

Immediately Malan and Jamal strike. Malan's blow is misplaced and easily turned by the dwarvish blade, and he has to withdraw quickly in order to keep his weapon. Jamal thrusts hard through the dwarvish armor, and although blood spurts forth it does not seem to slow the mostali fighter.

The dwarf leans back and pivots on his backheel, bringing his axe down cleanly towards Dorinda's skull. She is barely able to parry, and the blow's force drives her hard onto her knees. The monster's speed and power leaves her breathless and amazed.

Jamal screams a filthy oath and redoubles his efforts against the dwarf attempting to drive him away from he injured comrades and towards the hatch, where fresh swords await him...

Hrolf arrives on deck and hand-signals Blackbeak and Three-Lung Hughie. The deathlight sparks from their blades, Grimbeak's battle cry roars from their throats, and a veritable thresher of blades converges on the Dwarf.

The dwarf holsters the crossbow and, turning to face Hrolf and his durulz followers, begins an Unstoppable Advance towards the hatch. He batters Hrolf's blows to one side, driving the warrior backwards. Hughie loses his footing and falls back through the hatch, almost disloding Aelfwyrd who is climbing up the ladder. Hrolf is forced into an almost impossible position by the dwarf's defense, which is in fact a counter attack.

Berserk, Jamal staggers along behind the dwarf, raining blows upon its neck and shoulders. Despite their ferocity, the dwarf merely shrugs them off and continues his advance, leaving Jamal out of breath. Malan, too, is ignored, and his axe misses the dwarf to land and stick fast in the deck.

The dwarf strikes out with his axe, catching Hrolf on the hop. The devastating blow nearly decapitates the warrior, who can only parry desperately. The dwarf then cuts with a vicious backhanded cut behind him that thuds into Jamal's chest, lifting him off the ground with its force.

The dwarf is practically at the hatch way, and looks down into the Silver Room at the amassed warriors.

Ignored so far by the dwarf's advance, Dorinda looks up from her kneeling position. A cold light of acceptance in her eyes, the warrior lunges forth. With no attempt to defend herself Dorinda aims her sword in to the dwarf's flank and screams a blessing: "I dedicate this death to Humakt!". The attack is so desperate it is clear that Dorinda intends to either kill or be killed.

Her blade sinks deep into the dwarf's side, up to the hilt. The dwarf drops its axe, swaying to and fro above the hatchway before toppling forwards and plummeting through the hole, carrying Dorinda's blade with it. As the dwarf falls it slams into Aelfwyrd, who loses his grip on the ladder's rungs.

Jamal screams in frustration and heads towards the last place he saw his foe, unable to recognise any figure as the dwarf he starts hunting around he hatch for the nears non-prostrate body

Dorinda is reaching out to her sword, invoking the wyter's defense of it, when Jamal rabidly charges her. She turns just in time, ducking his blow. Rather than fight him she manages to keep her voice low and calming, as she has seen White Healers do. Her remonstrations appear to be having some effect, as Jamal's blows become less frenzied and a puzzled look comes to eye.

Just then Kristen steps out from behind Dorinda and batters Jamal over the head with the flat of her axe. He goes down like a sack of potatoes.

Below. the Dwarf lands with a thud on the lower deck, and lies still for the briefest moment. It looks up at the assembled warriors around it, and then begins to mutter something in a harsh, ancient language.

Herric has waited patiently with Oddus and Elnor, preparing themselves for the conflict and wrapping themselves in Humakt's power and glory. They chant together bringing the power of Death and Truth closer. Their own identities seem to dim as they often do when in the throes of seeking to emulate their terrible diety.

Then the iron foe falls thru the hatch to their feat. As it begins to chant, Herric, Oddus, and Elnor strike as one, "IN HUMAKT'S NAME!"

The dwarf finishes muttering as Herric strikes, and attempts, weakly, to ward off the blows barehanded. Herric's sword cleaves through the dwarven armor, severing an arm. Simultaneously Enfrew and Aelfwyrd spring. The dwarf almost manages to parry Enfrew's blow, which knocks off its helm, stunning it. The dwarf is left completely exposed to Aelfwyrd's strike from above. The warrior's Seven Dragon Blade impales the dwarf, which stiffens and then sags, the gift of death granted.

It is then that the warriors notice the two kegs, one strapped to each of the dwarf's legs, that have started to spit fire and hiss.

Herric's eyes widen at the kegs, "If the flame reaches the fire spirit dirt within those kegs, we'll be blown to pieces! Like a deadly candle, we must remove the wick to stop the sparkling flame!"

The heroes stare at the burning kegs in desperation, and then Herric and Aelfwyrd act.

Abul half carries, half drags Maniskus towards the Horn Room, and the fleeing Durulz give him a hand. Vern climbs the ladder as though he had spent his life in practise, and Fynn is not far behind him.

Aelfwyrd and Herric both face a keg, and both attempt to deal with it in their own way. Herric uses his Humakti insight to try and sunder the keg's magics - yet the Mostali wizardry is strong and strange. He can feel the web of sorcery strain against and finally elude his Severing.

Aelfwyrd also is having difficulties. The fuse mechanism is more complicated than he would have thought, and tougher. The cunning artifices of the dwarves have made the fuse so difficult to cut that he risks damaging the keg underneath.

Both stare at each other, aghast at their failure.

What to do now?

"Damn it!" growls Herric and he pulls his sword and utters his Great Blow and Truesword Stroke to hew the keg from the leg of the Mostali, "Humakt! Guide my sword!"

Oblivious to the brewing Thunder Fire below him, Hrolf scans the deck for damage and danger. Are there any more Dwarves around? What are the funny-looking wooden statues doing? Was anything damaged by the Dwarf's boarding of the Cradle? Did he leave behind any grappling irons or boarding hooks?

There are no more dwarves on deck, that Hrolf can see anyway. There are some crossbow bolts stuck into the starboard bulwark, and there is some other minor combat damage, but nothing else.

About half way between the mast and the stern a smooth indentation has been burned into the deck.

The wooden statues have disappeared.

Hrolf and wonders at the scorched planks and absent wooden warriors. The deck looks cleared of enemies for now, but Malan and Jamal are badly mangled. What to do: to scan the river beyond the gunwhales or tend to his comrades? As he considers his options, loud cursing erupts from the room below him.

Below, Herric's sword effortlessly sweeps through the straps binding the keg to the dwarf's legs, and it rolls a little way across the floor.

Dorinda, who has practically flown down the ladder, frantically empties her waterbottle over the fuse trying to dowse it. She almost succeeds, but a tiny flicker of flame remains. Aelfwyrd's Seven Dragon Blade hacks through the keg, releasing a great spray of the grey Fire Spirit Dirt. Simultaneously both kegs explode, and Humakt arrives in a great fiery column that fills the room with an enormous sound.

The fire sweeps through the room, and bursts through the upwards hatch and through the adjoining doors in to the Horn Room and Unexplored Room as a fireball.

Insinctively Dorinda withdraws her soul to the wyter. She suddenly has a vision of herself as Hereward striding forth through flame. In her hands she holds her sword - the legion. The legionnaires can feel her will reach out to envelop them, and at that moment the Hereward cultists are surrounded by a nimbus of black light.

Something tugs at Hrolf's mind, urging him to move, *run* towards Malan, placing his body between his wounded comrade and the hatch. Time slows; Hrolf takes one step. Then, a tremendous explosion. The white heat of Mostali sorcery sears his body, and his mind lashes out with wounded honor. "No! Our oaths are not fullfilled; the Legion must not die here." Then he feels Dorinda’s will, sharp and hard as Arkat’s Unbreakable Sword, call out to the Wyter. "By Makla Mann we will not fail!" Hrolf snarls.

Herric's eyes widen with recognition... he knew this time would come and he'd long been prepared to face it. At the periphery of his attention, he could sense the spirits of his companions and followers and could tell that they were not as close to Humakt as was he. His mind wailed at the thought that they might not join him in Humakt's Halls and his prayer went out, "Oh greatest of gods, Humakt. Listen to my plea. I embrace you willingly and with glad heart for I have tried to serve you Honorably. Grant me a last desire, Humakt. Come into me and take into me all the Death that this roaring flame invokes. Let me be the vessel that takes you on and passes by my sworn charge and companions. Let them continue to serve you that they may come to the Cliffs of Shadow in the fullness of time but not now. Let them continue to honor the oath to protect the child."

The God hears Herric's prayer and accepts it. The proud warrior feels the god envelop him, and feels joy in his soul.

The blast lifts Aelfwyrd, Herric and Dorinda from their feet and throws them violently against the walls. The wooden floor buckles and sends sharp splinters penetrating through armor and flesh. Then the fireball fills the room, burning skin and hair and eyes.

In the Silver Room the firestorm erupts through the doorway, levelling those sheltered inside. The Horn of Slops sways slightly, and for a moment Enfrew thinks it will spill and drown any survivors. On deck those near the hatch are thrown back by the force of the blast, hair burnt, faces blackened.

The devastation takes only a moment.

Herric lies on his back, breathing raggedly. His breath will soon mingle with the wind. The god has claimed him. he grey pallor of Death is heavy on Herric and his body is broken but his eye's shine with an inner light. In a ragged whisper, he says, "I have been heard... *cough*... Humakt smiles on us, on me and I go to him soon." He pauses, wracked by a wet cough that leaves a smear of blood on the back of his hand. Dorinda moves over to provide First Aid and Herric smiles weakly up at her. She stares through him, still dazed by the effort of focusing the wyter's protection. Her own purely physical injuries are, as yet, un-noticed.

"Worry not, my passing is in answer to a call from our god. I die that you may live and the bargain pleased both Humakt and myself... *cough*... Soon, I will be with my brother's of the Sword Breath who passed to Humakt before me..."

She draws a ragged breath and tries to focus. "I know. I know, but... dammit, not yet!. We need you..." Her eyes are wet with... no, it must be the smoke. Mustn't it?

He turns his head and coughs again. He blinks up at Dorinda, "I'm... oh... sorry 'bout that. *cough* Lass, keep up the good work."

Strength spent for the moment, he seems to sag back into himself and Dori lies him gently on the floor. His injuries are far greater than anything she ever tended before.

She goes even more pale as she sees the extent of the damage. Then she kneels down beside him: or, possibly, her knees buckle and she lands on the floor. It's a bit hard to tell....

"Can't give up now. Doesn't matter how bad it is, can't give up. Never surrender till you're dead, and you're not dead yet. And nor am I, so I'm not giving up..."

Jamal sprints over to the hole and peers into the smokey devistation. Hears sounds of groaning and pain,and Dorinda working feverishly over the body of a prostrate Herric. It looks bad.

Quickly Jamal drops into the Silver Room (wincing as he hits the floor). Helps the walking wounded to their feet, and goes to (in a state of worried agitation) to check on the condition of Abul and Maniskus.

Dori looks up as he drops in. "Jamal: how bad is it on deck? Anyone badly hurt? THere aren't any more Mostali, are there?" She looks back down at Herric. "He's so weak.... I can't leave him yet, not for a bit. Take over on deck, would you?"

Jamal appraises the tenthane "Hrolf and Fynn are on deck, neither are too badly hurt. We'll sit watch to see if we have more work too to" he grins, then winces again. "Kristen and some ducks are above deck, they are not too bad. Malan is quite badly hurt though" With that Jamal (after checking on Abul and Maniskus) heads above deck to organise the watch. Almost unconsciously he drops into command mode "Hrolf, Fynn join me up top we need to see if the Mostali will follow up on this. The rest we need to clear up here"

Hrolf shakes himself out of his blast-induced reverie - Herric's invocation of Humakt had left a deep impression - and picks himself up. "Right! I'll have a look over the gunwhales then." On the way he inspects himself for damage.

Dorinda frantically applies Sweet-Moss and Arroy Root to Herric's burns. She works with tireless determination, doing everything she can to help her comrade. At more than one point it seems he will pass, for Herric's breathing slows and almost stills.

Eventually, though, the unconcious warrior appears to have reached some kind of stability. There is nothing more Dorinda can do for him, anyway, and she reluctantly gives up her vigil.

The night will tell.

Hrolf hoists himself up onto the stern bulwarks and peers over, alert for any sign of further Mostali activity.

About thirty metres behind, they are there: four large boats trailing the cradle. Each carries three Iron Dwarves of the type that just caused so much havoc, and for a moment Hrolf almost despairs. Each boat is powered by twin treadmills, each mill carrying five dwarves, stripped to the waist and scampering along with determination.

Yet the chase appears to have been a long one, and even dwarves are not tireless. Hrolf watches for a while as the cradle leaves the skiffs slowly behind. Finally one of the Iron Dwarves calls the runners to a halt and they collapse, panting on the deck. Soon after that they are left to the night's darkness.

Apart from that the river seems calm and clear. Fynn and Vern join Hrolf on the watch, and the three sit in silence regarding the river for a while.

Below, Jamal and Aelfwyrd have checked on their followers. All are injured, for the blast in the Silver Room was powerful and they were unprotected by Dorinda's magics. Maniskus praises Abul's bravery, for the boy practically dragged him to safety, at the risk of his own life.

And Dorinda is kept busy. Having ensured Herric's condition, she turns to treating herself, and then the others in order of their needs. Whilst there is nothing much that can be done for the injured, her herbs and mosses are more than enough to cope with minor burns and cuts, and something can be done for most people's Hurts.

She also revives most of those unconcious, although there is nothing that will stir Enfrew. Dorinda sits back worriedly, but then decides that the night will make all the difference.


Xenophon: "From the beginning the gods did not reveal all things to us, yet through searching we may learn and know things better. But as for certain Truth, no man has known it, nor shall he know it, neither of the Gods nor yet of all the things of which I speak. For even if by chance he were to utter the Final Truth he himself would not know it, for all is but a woven web of guesses."

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