The Cradle - Leaping Place Lake and On

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The Next Morning

The cradle sails on through the neight, its passage uninterrupted. As dawn breaks the cradle slips onto a broad, open plain of water bordered by verdant forests.

The humans on board begin to stir themselves. Most bear the mark of some injury, and the cold spring air revitalises them slightly. Enfrew has finally awoken, although he is still in some pain. His left arm and several ribs have been broken by the blast, though Dorinda has bound them well.

Herric sleeps fitfully, and the others are not convinced he is for life. Burns scar his face and chest, whilst his left hand was almost fragmented by the blam kegs.

In the Silver Room the scene of carnage is still apparent. Scraps of iron and dwarf litter the floor and walls. It does not smell good. Much of the legion's supplies have been consumed by the explosion, including most of the food. Silently Vern helps Abul prepare a breakfast of porridge for the awakening warriors.

Later Vern goes to find Dorinda, and reports that supplies of water are very low. At the same time there is a squawk from Blackbeak on the upper deck. Near the stern hatch he has found an artifact dropped by the dwarf - Jamal and Malan recognise it as the metal Thunder-Tube that spat fire at them.

Blackbeak is eyeing the artifact with suspicion - a state of mind that seems to come to mind quite naturally to him. He is prodding it gently with his sword as the others arrive at his side.

The Thunder-Tube is a short barrel of what appears to be iron, attached to a plain wooden handle. A few parts of a metal mechanism are exposed. It seems quite obvious that one is supposed to grip the handle, and point the tube in the direction of the enemy.

Blackbeak isn't convinced this is a good idea. Nor is Vern. "I know little," he admits, "other than through their sorcery the Mostali are able to use these tubes to fire balls of metal. The Fire Spirit Dirt, as Herric called it, is an ingredient in this magic - apparently some preparation rather than a true spirit."

"If we can preserve it, the weapon would be a valuable object of study. I could place it in a sack, perhaps, to be kept away from harm until we leave the cradle."

The deck of the cradle is quite stable, as the lake's waters are smooth and placid. However, no-one is comfortable with the idea of the weapon being on the loose. "Thwow it ovewboawd," says Jones roughly.

Jamal grimmaces a the thought of being on the receiving end of another blast. "I am uncomfortable being anywhere near that thing. Throw it overboard if we can, but if you want to study it friend Vern, do it a long way from me!!!"

"I say we destroy it!" Says Enfrew, frowning with pain in his arm."No fire spirits on board if you ask me!"

"But, I can keep it safe" Vern nods vigourously. "No problem, I can keep it safe." When Dorinda expresses some scepticism about this Vern explains that using the magic of Lhankhor Mhy he can stabilise the weapon and preventing it from wreaking any damage. He seems quite defensive, and eventually the ten-thane acquieses.

Malan limps up, still stiff from his wounds. He says "Lets try to find our way to the sow. It may have a water source, and even if it doesn't we can try to milk it."

Jamal nods ant Malans suggestion " Seeing our previous bas has been wrecked, we should look below for other assistance. I'm in as are you Malan, who will stay above deck to guard the cradle ?"

"I think that the more hurt ones should go below to look for assistance or weapons. There is probably nothing dangerous down there," says Enfrew and continues, joking about his sad state. "Well, if you agree with me, I would be the one to lead the expedition."

Jamal grins "Agreed, we arrange with the Waleesha for a watch up top, then you, me, Hrolf and Malan head below" He leads the group down to the Horm of Slops room flips open the trap door. He then evokes the wyter Illumate Darkness and peers into the level below.....

Exploring Again

Jamal peers through the hatch, the legion's blessing radiating light. A ladder leads down to a small alcove in a walkway. The walkway leads to the starboard side in one direction, and to port in the other. There is also another hatch, with a ladder that leads down.

Malan suggests going down again.

Jamal nods and says. "OK on 3 .....3" He vaults down the ladder and lands on the lower deck on a crouched position. He quickly reccies the situation and motions the others to follow..."

The walkways in either direction look clear. The only sound is the thunderously content grunting of the pig and a loud wet sucking noise. Peering down the next hatch, Jamal can see the room below is full of ingots of precious metals. There must be several tonnes of gold, silver, lead, bronze... and others that he doesn't recognise.

Jamal wait for the others to arrive then asks "Shall we clear this deck first, or just see what of further down yonder?"

Malan tries to estimate if they're on the same level as the pig. It sounds as though the pig is right next to the heroes, but then it was a pretty big pig - so maybe it is lying on the deck below them, but its head is level with them now. Malan suggests circling the walkways and looking for doors.

Jamal nods at Malans suggestion then motions the others to follow as he heads down the right hand passage way fo'ard.

The outward wall of the passage way is carved with an finely crafted scene, inlaid with coloured stones. It shows a scene of cradles coming down a river, there is a city, and many humans are lined up on the banks outside its walls. Malan stops to appreciate the artistry, and in so doing has a bit of a surprise.

The humans outside the walls are fighting with one another. One side is heavily outnumbered, surrounded in three directions. To their backs is a cradle, which they appear to be defending. As Malan watches, the scene animates slightly - he can see the crush of the shieldwall, hear the screams of the injured and dying. The ground shakes with the tremor of approaching giants, come to aid their babes.

The side outnumbered is formed as a Death Rune, and its company fights with discipline. Yet the greatest surprise is the song they sing, for it is a battle chant of Hereward! Malan does not recognise the banner they fly and knows that he is seeing one of the lost companies, whose deeds and colours are secrets known only to the War Ring of the legion. Tears build in his eyes as he sees them overwhelmed by their foes. The shield wall is broken, but they do not flee. The Herewardi stand, fight and die to the last man, a berserk tower of storm and death who wreaks havoc in the enemy.

And they do not die in vain, for they hold off the army long enough for the giants to come. They stamp and pulverise the enemy, and then crush the city totally. The dying Herewardi captain is lifted gently, as a gnat in the hands of a giant, and is borne off towards the mountains.

Meanwhile, Jamal has found a series of windows cut into the inward wall of the passageway. Peering through he can see down to the deck below, where the giant child suckles noisily at the teats of a great sow. Several small, ridiculous creatures scurry about performing various menial tasks.

At the end of the passageway it turns, and there is another alcove. Ladders lead through hatches up and down, and there are two forward facing doors.

Jamal calls to Malan "I think the baby is down a level, lets crack on" He heads over to the ladder by, flips open the hatch and evokes the wytr Illuminte darkness to show what is below. There is a large empty room.

Jamal vaults down into a beautiful room, lemon-scented and filled with the most profound music. Gently lights flicker and wave, and Jamal is carried away into an almost estatic state. He cannot help himself, but to dance.

Hrolf and Malan watch as Jamal vaults into the room below. He lands easily, and then stands to stare around him in wonderment. His right foot begins to tap, and his ample hips begin to wobble and gyrate with the rhythms of his homeland.

Malan says "What are you doing?"

Jamal appears unable to hear his comrade's concerned enquiry. Instead he seems to feel the murky rhytmic vibe of his homeland thrub through his body, and he struts his stuff with wild abandon. It's been a long time since he felt this good - he's really getting it on!


Damn that feels good! Yeah!

"Woah!" he chortles. "Yow!"

Whilst Malan finds the whole scene pretty disturbing, he is impressed despite himself. Jamal really can dance. He tries to appeal to Jamal's Relationship to Warband ability by saying "Jamal! Remember why were went here! The warband needs supplies!" but Malan's entreaties appear to go completely unobserved.

"Woo-ee!" exclaims the shakin' Carmanian. "My, my my."

Malan now tries to appeal to Jamal's Loyalty to Leader "Jamal! We have orders from Dorinda to find food and water!"

It seems that Jamal simply can't hear his comrade. At least, he pays him little attention. Malan realises that he'll have to try something more physical, such as going down there and bodily pulling the dancing warrior out.

Malan swears "We're screwed by Broos! If we go down, the curse will fall on us as well! Know you any magic that might get him to stop, Hrolf? If not, one of us should stand guard while the other returns to the others for help. Maybe that Skald knows something that will help. Whichever goes should take the same route back that we took down, so as to avoid any more cursed rooms."

Hrolf thinks hard before replying. "We are forearmed, Jamal was not. We might attempt a rescue, so long as we hold to our purpose. If you were to hold to your Honour, and I were to support you by praying to Humakt, that may protect us against this warding."

Malan disagrees, pointing out that he is badly wounded and finding it difficult to concentrate. Hrolf thinks for a moment and stuffs some cloth in his ears. Having prepared himself, he leaps into the hatchway, chanting to cover up the sound of the music.

Holy Humakt
Slayer of gods
Pray for us now
And in the hour of our Death
Hrolf leaps down into a lemon scented room filled with delightful music. He can feel the temptation to forget his mission and languish in appreciation of his senses, but the warrior concentrates hard on his purpose and throws off the enchantment.

Looking around him Hrolf can see a map of the Sky Dome traced on the ceiling, with all the stars and planets. Aside from that there is a large heavy door in the rear wall, and the gyrating frenzy that is Jamal.

Malan watches Hrolf drop into the room below. Thankfully he appears to be ok.

At this point Jones and his durulz waddle hurriedly down the corridor. "A twoll veththel hath been thighted," says Jones. "Not lawge, but thothe on deck awe pwepawing themthelveth. Whath up with you guyth?"

Malan tells Jones "There's a curth-I mean, there's a curse in the room below that causes all who enter to start dancing. Hrolf is trying to get Jamal out now." He then shouts down the hatch "Hrolf! There are trolls approaching the cradle in a boat! Try finding your way back to the deck as soon as possible!" He turns back to Jones and says "Let's go!"

A Sail!

Whilst Jamal and Malan are below, Dori and the others have been up on deck making everything ship-shape. A nice pile of iron has been collected, Vern is off in one corner making the Mostali weapon safe, and everything else has been thrown overboard.

Dorinda has been thinking hard about something all morning, and when the duties are finished she posts Fynn and Vern and the initiates as guards, and then summons Hrolf, Jones and Aelfwyrd to join them.

"This river travelling has been making me think of a story I was told at my devotion ritual," she says. "It was told me by the Standard Bearer. These were his words to me."

With that she tells the story of Humakt's Oath

The cradle has spent a couple of hours drifting into the middle of the lake, whilst the clean up and explorations have been underway.

As Dorinda finishes her myth, keen-eyed Vern sees a sailing boat pulling out from the shore. Because the wind is low, its sails are furled, and drumming can be heard as a good pace is set for the oarsmen.

Vern mutters something and squints his eye in a certain way, and takes a good hard look at the approaching vessel. "Trolls," he says. "Eight of them."

Aelfwyrd looks up from his tasks. "Trolls? Excellent!"

Dori still looks tired and bruised, but this news seems to cheer her up a lot.

"That'll be more fun than fighting sorcerors! Assuming they can get past the Cradle's defences, of course..." she strokes the hilt of her sword, looking rather disappointed at the thought. "Vern, can you tell any more about them? Are they wearing black, or red, are they marked with death runes?"

Vern turns and sniffs at the Kargan devotee's bravado. "I'd forgotten that one of the problems of travelling with Humakti is that they look forward joyfully to their death. I hear that in Pavis there is a Puzzle Canal that would relieve you of much curiosity, for those who enter discover the nature of their own end."

Aelfwyrd treats the slight with all the respect it deserves, he ignores it.

Dori nods absently, her eyes on the approaching trolls. "Yes, a Sage I met in Nochet told me about that one. She'd been having fun trying to map it: it keeps changing, apparently. And the hints it gives are so cryptic as to be useless, she said."

She shrugs. "Anyway, we'd better get a welcoming committee ready for that boat. Someone get down and tell the explorers there's trouble ahead: they won't want to miss this!"

Aelfwyrd's face contorts with many feelings before his mouth opens and a sound emits, low at first but raising to a bloodcurdling roar as he shouts,"KZGARN BAREFANG!!! KZGARN BAREFANG!!" He voices the name of his sworn foe.

Dori looks a little startled, but only a little. "You can recognise him at this distance? All right, if we can catch him, he's yours."

Vern squints off into the distance for a while. "I see no sigils of Zorak Zoran - the Slaughterer does not sail, I think. Six oar-trolls and a drummer I see, and a steersman who might be the captain. Doubtless they are brave folk to put to water in light of the Sun."

The troll boat draws nearer. Powered by six robust trolls, it easily outstrips the slow progress of the cradle that dawdles across the lake. Jones gets to his feet and waddles towards the rear hatch. "I'll get down and wawn the othewth, Dowinda." With the that the piratical durulz summons his followers and slips below.

The troll vessel draws closer and closer. Soon it is within a long bowshot, and Vern reports that the boat's drummer has stood up and appears to be casting some kind of magics. There is a sudden whine as this shaman unleashes a spirit that flies straight at the cradle before being destroyed in a blaze of white light that makes the trolls wince and blink. The shaman then casts several other spells that dance around the edges of the cradle, before he stops chanting and reports back to the boat's captain.

Dori greets all this with a contented smile. They're enemies, they're failing to get through our defences, and once we figure out how to get at them we can enjoy ourselves killing them...

There a few moments of discussion, and then the trolls approach within hailing distance.

"Hullo!" shouts the captain in Tradetalk. "Anybody there?"

Dori's face falls. "Drat. Talking, not fighting. Still, we have to let them know we're here before we kill them: honour applies even to trolls." She climbs up onto the bulwark, where she can be seen, and shouts back. "Yes, there is someone here. This Cradle is defended by Humakt: attack again at your peril!"

The trolls look suprised to see Dorinda standing atop the bulwark. "Hey, little hooman!" calls one of the oar trolls, and the others laugh and rub their bellies. The captain speaks with the shaman for a moment, and then turns back to the cradle. "Hey, we not fight. Real giant cradle - very good. We like giant babies. Want to trade for fish?"

"Aelfwyrd is here, is there any among you who feels inclined to react to that name?" Aelfwyrd's tone is supercilious.

The trolls scratch their heads and look at each other in puzzlement. "Does he want to buy some fish?"

Getting no response to their invitations to trade, the trolls try another track. They decide to offer helpful advice about how to defend the cradle. "You all gonna die! Plenty Lunars at Pavis, we reckon, gonna be pretty interested in this cradle. Plenty Lunars.... eh, Borgot, you count - how many Lunars at Pavis?"

The shaman thinks for a moment and picks his nose. He appears to be doing strenuous mathematics. "Lots," he decides finally. "More than the legs on Granma Korgeb's centipede."

"So!" says the captain happily. "No way you gonna make it. My advice, fight really hard - fight like Uz, not hoomanz."

By now Malan has rejoined the crew on deck, and he says, "I say that if they're telling the truth we should accept their aid. If we can get them aboard somehow, that is."

"Of course, you missed the first bit, didn't you? They started by attacking us. And they haven't offered us aid, just a trade of the baby for fish: food for food, they seem to think. Aid from trolls...." Dori shakes her head. "Even if they could get aboard, I think not."

"Shame" says Aelfwyrd, "I would like to get them on board and then kill them." He places himself in a place where they can see him and shouts a few aldyrami anti-troll slogans.

Malan says "Hold! We shouldn't lower our guard, of course, but neither should we try to make enemies where there are none."

Most of the Uz look confused at Aelfwyrd's ranting, scratch their heads and shrug. "Ho ho," says the captain. "He's a live one. He will die bravely, no doubt."

At this point Yelm comes out from behind a cloud, and the Uz wince and tremble in the sunlight. They have erected a canopy over the centre of the boat, and the captain pulls down his visor to protect his eyes further. "Hey," he says. "Not fun out here - better than where you are goin' - but still not fun. You want fish or not?"

Malan's argument subdues the warriors somewhat, but they remain uneasy about the idea of dealing with trolls. Whilst this discussion is ongoing the Uz apparently get fed up of waiting in the sun-light, and turn their boat around to face the shore. They begin rowing back, calling encouragement over their shoulders. "May you die bravely, after killing many Lunars." That kind of thing.

Slowly they recede into the distance, until they are nothing but specks on the beautifully placid surface of the lake.

Dori watches the boat disappearing into the distance with a certain sense of relief. Trolls acting friendly, and making encouraging comments, are a worrying concept. She looks round, checking everything else is in order. "Where's Jamal? I'd have thought he'd have been up here for a potential fight. Malan? You didn't get into trouble down there, did you?"

Malan explains the situation in the dancing room. "I tried calling him out, but apparantly he either couldn't hear me or didn't care. Hrolf went down to get him, he was planning to exit through a door towrd the stern."

As Malan is relaying this news, Oddus appears in the rear hatch looking sombre.


Down below Hrolf hears Malan and Jones move away. He forces open the large door by leaning hard against it. In the next room are a whole bundle of various supplies, but there doesn't appear to be anything moving.

So he returns to Jamal, grabs one of his arms and starts dragging him into the next room. Jamal is a bit put out by this intrusion, and tries to dance away. Hrolf grabs hold of his other arm, and pulls him physically from the room, despite the struggling. It seems that Jamal is too pacified by the room's magic to put up much resistance.

Once pulled from the Music and Dancing Room, Jamal can no longer hear the music and recollects himself. However, he is left with a deep sadness at having lost the tune. This regret will stay with him for some time.

Now the two heroes appear to be in a major storage area containing giant-sized tools. There are three huge whetstones, a knife the size of a greatsword, an 8m long wooden log, and heads for a shovel, pick and axe.

Apart from that there are further exits in the port and starboard walls, and a hatch that heads down. There is also a vertical door in the upper half of the rear facing wall - the one that faces the baby's chamber.

Jamal glances whistfully back at the dancing room, then catches himself and forces his face into it's usual grim Carmanian visage. He turns to Hrolf "What is occuring, wasn't Malan with us? Should we continue on or see where Malan has gone?"

"Malan is in the hatchway above that room we just left. I'd rather not go through there again; we'll have to explore this deck further and find another hatchway to the top. But, yes, we should rejoin with Malan as quickly as possible." Hrolf tries to open the vertical door where the baby should be, and the door opens into a long tunnel that runs down the centre of the cradle towards the stern.

Jamal, pushing any reservations to one side, leaps the barrier and starts movng cautiously into the belly of the cradle. The tunnel runs the entire length of the baby's chamber, and ends in a door similar to the one entered by. Along the tunnel's walls are large carvings of runes. All the well-known runes are represented (except for Chaos), as well as some that are unfamiliar to the explorers. Jamal quickly picks out the runes of Death, Communication, Truth, Life, Illusion, Water and Movement, just some of those nearest him. Above, the sounds of sucking and gurgling are loud enough to tell them that the baby is directly overhead.

Hrolf joins Jamal in studying the runes for a few moments, then suddenly comments. "Say, there's a baby above us, right? What happens when the baby, uh, has to uh you know, take a dump? Is this tunnel really the right place to be when that happens?"

Jamal looks up slightly concerned, "That friend Hrolf , I had not considered, perhaps we should make haste" The heroes hurry down the corridor, and near the end their ears tell them that they are now passing underneath the huge pig.

The door at the other end of the corridor swings open to reveal another large room filled with giant tools and curiosities. The floor is covered with shavings, and there are two large lenses made of a magical transparent material Jamal identifies as glass. There are also two stone statues about 4m long, easily recognised as the gods Yelm and Lodril by their symbols. Yelm is made of flint, whilst Lodril is hewed from obsidan.

There are doors to the port and starboard walls, and one in the wall facing the heroes. There is also a hatch with a ladder leading down. Jamal indicates the door in front on them and moves to open it. The door swings open to reveal a room filled with ingots of precious metals. The only other exit is a hatch going up, and Jamal realises he has already viewed this room from above. A simmering tension at doorway crackles and bursts as the door opens, indicating a Protective Warding over the room. It is clear that Jamal and Hrolf will have to overcome this if they wish to enter.

Jamal prays to Bisos for his aid in letting him through the Warding, and still reciting the words of his prayer, attempts to pass thought the warding. As Jamal passes through the doorway it as the though the air itself were trying to keep him out. He pushes against it firmly for a moment, and can feel the magic buckle and yield to him. There is a snapping sound, a bright light, and a sudden sharp pain in his shoulder as he slips though the warding and into the room. Jamal turns an beckons Hrolf on.

Hrolf looks skeptically at the magical barrier across the entryway to the room of ingots, and Jamal's new wounds. "I'd rather take my chances with the music room," he says, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder. "Meet me at the top of the hatchway there." And he trots off the way he came. Hrolf hurries back through the corridor, the First Tool Room and the Music and Dancing Room and meets Jamal on the deck above.

The ladder up to B deck emerges into another large storage room. In the rear wall there is a large door, hinged along the floor so that it opens down and out into the cradle. Scattered on the floor are several piles of gold, eight large sealed barrels, and 19 marbles, 1m each in diameter, made of various substances. Jamal spots gold, pearl, bronze, glass amongst them. There are also four large - very large - scrolls. It would take three or four people to unroll and read them.

The next room contains nothing more than a ladder up, and three sets of 8 wooden disks, 1m in diameter each. Each of the 3 piles is a different colour - there is one red, one white, one black.

The ladder up emerges on to the main deck, where Oddus stands with Dorinda, Aelfwyrd, Malan and Enfrew, apparently delivering serious news.

Death in the Family

Oddus climbed up the ladder and all immediately noticed that he was quite distressed. His face was streaked with tears and he walked woodenly up to Dorinda.

"Thank you for all that you did for to save Herric..." his voice failed for a moment, then he continued, "He... he's gone to Humakt. I went to check on him and... and he was smiling. I thought that perhaps he was getting better. I reached down and he grasped my arm in a vicelike grip. I don't know how he found the strength. He stared into my eyes and in a rasping voice said, 'The knowledge must pass to you!' His eyes... his eyes glowed. They were terrible to see but I couldn't draw away from them! So terrible."

He faltered then, staggering, and Elnor stepped forward to help support him. He nodded to her and continued, "I couldn't look away and words... and motion filled my mind. The story of Arnkell Raven became clear and imprinted there. The light faded from his eyes and Herric slumped back to the floor. He sighed and he was... was gone." Again his voice cracked and fresh tears streamed down his face.

Reverence lit face and filled his voice, he turned to Elnor, "Even in Death, he sought to aid us. May we live up to his example." Elnor nodded tears in her eyes as well.

Dori nodded seriously. "An example indeed. I should have known better than to try to hold him back when his call to join the god came." She sighed, and for a moment her frustration and grief showed through. "But dammit, no-one kills my people without an argument, not even Humakt himself!" She looked almost shocked at that, hearing what she had just said. "I suppose at least I gave him time to pass on his wisdom to you. There's that. Even in his last moments, he was still teaching the rest of us how to be Humakti. Maybe we can learn enough from him..." her voice trailed off. "Maybe.." she said softly, almost to herself. "Maybe I can learn enough not to get my people killed next time."

As Oddus is relaying this sad news, Jamal and Hrolf emerge onto the main deck through the forward hatch. Jamal trots over to the group to see what is occurring. Jamal catches the distraught look on Oddus' faces and he looks at the others: "What occurs here ? Herric ?" Then Jamal picks up on the gravity of the situation. "Idovanus has gathered a great man to Solace today. Oddus, Elnor we all feel your loss. Waleesha, we should make Herric's passing in a way that is appropriate"

"Happy is the warrior claimed by Humakt," Hrolf intones solemnly. "Herric's heroism will be remembered and honoured in the chronicles of our Legion."

Enfrew joins the others in praising Herric. "I didn't know him well or for a long time, but all I saw makes me wish I knew him better."

Aelfwyrd and his students take time to meditate on the great hero and warrior that Herric was. He then speaks. "He fought and died like a hero, he has achieved what he set out to achieve, he was our companion and he made our company richer with his presence, he will be missed.." Aelfwyrd sings a Kralorelan funeral dirge.

Vern and Jones approach the heroes and offer their praises to the fallen warrior. Fynn speaks for those on board who are not Humakti when he says, "Back in the clans it is our way for Humakti to be buried by those who follow Orlanth. There is nowhere to bury Herric here, but Vern, Girt and I will attend him if you others feel this is appropriate. Herric was not of the legion, and we know not what rites he held to, but I will sing a praise of him that will ensure his welcome in Humakt's Hall, for even in the short time I knew the man his deeds were noble, glorious and many."

Oddus nods his head thankfully to the others. "Your words hearten me." At that moment there is a loud rumbling sound from his midsection and he reddens a bit, "Well, my stomach seems to remember that I've not eaten even if I do not. Elnor will you not join me for some repast?" The two move to get some food.

While the group considers an appropriate send off for Sir Herric, Jamal goes off to look for Stiff Tail. The Cradle seems to have been travelling a while, and he is getting somewhat concerned about the Leaping Place Falls that was mentioned earlier in the trip.

6 - Raven Foot and the Ninth Cohort

Jamal finds Stiff Tail standing by the bow. "Tell me, what do you know of the approaching course of the River? Do you know how far the Leaping Place Falls is from our current location. Perhaps you could ask the undines that guide us?"

Stiff Tail scratches his head. "Well, Leaping Place Falls lies between Bullford and the joining of Zola Fell and the Nine Giant Stream, way beyond that range there." With that he points to a range of mountains that looms south beyond the redwood forest. "It must be at least two days from here. But I have heard of other falls that lie between here and there, if this is any help to you."

Jamal reports this to Dori. "It looks like we may need to get some ropes to lash ourselves down, and set a watch to check for water falls. Friend Hrolf and I didn't find any usable rope in our explorations, but we can check elsewhere if needed"

Dori frowns thoughtfully. "Surely the giants must have planned for this when they built the Cradle? I can't imagine them allowing the child to be hurt. But yes, we'd better be prepared: and find some means of stopping that Horn from spilling, too! Time for more exploration, I think. We're all rested, if not fit: so, who's feeling energetic and bored?”

“I’m ready to head below docks again if anyone will join me, Waleesha. Hrolf ?"

“I would like to accompany you, if you don't mind," says Enfrew.

Dori raises an eyebrow. "Unless you plan to move Herric's body on to the upper deck, we will also need someone on watch." "So far you, Hrolf, Enfrew and myself have expressed an interest. Should this make up our exploration party?"

"Some of us should stay as an honour guard for Sir Herric, some should head below. Waleesha this is your call, I am happy in either role."

Oddus, Elnor, the Durulz and Aelfwyrd and his followers keep watch on deck.

From the trap door in the Horn of Slops Room, a ladder leads down to a small alcove in a walkway. The walkway leads to the starboard side in one direction, and to port in the other. There is also another hatch, with a ladder that leads down.

The walkways in either direction look clear. The only sound is the thunderously content grunting of the pig and a loud wet sucking noise. Through the hatch, Dorinda sees the room below is full of ingots of precious metals. There must be several tonnes of gold, silver, lead, bronze... and others that can't be identified. The group turns right and heads to the port passage way.

The outward wall of the passage way is finely crafted and inlaid with coloured stones. It shows a scene of cradles coming down a river. There are some city walls near the river, and many humans are lined up on the banks outside its walls, which Dorinda has a strong hunch are those of Robcradle. The humans outside the walls are fighting with one another. One side is heavily outnumbered, surrounded in three directions. To their backs is a cradle, which they appear to be defending. As Dorinda watches, the scene animates slightly - she can see the crush of the shieldwall, hear the screams of the injured and dying. The ground shakes with the tremor of approaching giants, come to aid their babes.

The side outnumbered is formed as a Death Rune, and its company fights with discipline. Yet the greatest surprise is the song they sing, for it is a battle chant of Hereward! The banner they fly is unknown, and it is clear this is one of the lost companies, whose deeds and colours are secrets known only to the War Ring of the Legion. The scene continues as the warriors are overwhelmed by their foes. The shield wall is broken, but they do not flee. The Herewardi stand, fight and die to the last man, a berserk tower of storm and death that wreaks havoc in the enemy. And they do not die in vain, for they hold off the army long enough for the giants to come. They stamp and pulverise the enemy, and then crush the city totally. The dying Herewardi captain is lifted gently, as a gnat in the hands of a giant, and is borne off towards the mountains.

Dorinda examines the scene more closely, trying to recall the history of her Legion. To her surprise, the mountains actually look like huge brooding men, observing from the far background. She doesn't know the sigils or banner of the cohort, nor does she know the story of what happened here. However, she does know that during the second age two cohorts of the legion were wiped out in Prax, and this was the first of many disasters that eventually led to the legion's current weakness.

One of those cohorts was lost in the wastes. The other, the Ninth Cohort, led by the Hundred Thane Raven Foot, was in service to the City of Pavis. [is this right or has it been changed to Robcradle?] Legion history is a little fuzzy about what happened next, for the other cohorts were stationed elsewhere. The stories say that the city commanders ordered the cohort to attack women and children, and that Raven Foot, outraged, withdrew his men from service and rebelled. In the ensuing fight they were cut to pieces, and the cohort regalia was lost.

Jamal also considers the picture again, "Does this mean anything to you friend Vern or Waleesha ?" Both shake their heads in puzzlement.

Venturing round to the corridor on the opposite bow, the heroes are met by another carved and illustrated wall. As in the first corridor, the inner wall is marked by several peepholes that look in on the central part of the cradle, and the giant baby can be seen sleeping deeply. The carving in this corridor shows a great market in a mountain pass. There are elves, Dwarves, trolls and giants, all apparently associating peacefully with one another.

Jamal remarks to Vern. "Tell me friend Vern, do you know of any such market, even in legend, round these mountains?"

Vern scratches his head. "No, it would seem to me a legend from the God Time or even the First Age - it has been a long time since Dwarf, elf and troll met peaceably."

Jamal concurs "Aye, it must be before the coming of the Deceiver shattered the first council." Then to the others "Unless anyone has any other ideas, I suggest we try the other rooms on this deck"

Dorinda studies the picture, but doesn't recognise anything. "Such a peaceful scene", she remarks. "Do you suppose it's meant to be symbolic?" As she speaks, she points Jamal in the direction of the door at C1. He leads the group there and readiness himself to open the door.

The door opens inwards as Jamal strains against it. Standing in the passageway and looking in, the heroes can see a bare room. The floor is littered with bones and the corpses of several giant rats. There is an aura of malevolence in the room apparent to all except Jamal and Vern. The wyter's blessing does not penetrate completely through the room, and shadows and patches of darkness still lurk there.

Jamal peers inside "I think that little can be gained, and much could be lost by going in this room"

Enfrew focuses on the shadows in the room, trying to detect any signs of Undeath.

Dori, about to enter, checks as she feels the aura. "Hold it: something's wrong here." She glances round at the rest of the group, seeing who can feel it and who can't. "See the way the Darkness isn't being Illuminated? Our magic is losing power here." She studies the room, trying to determine what's possibly original and what's more recent. How long have those rats been dead? "I find it hard to believe that the giants would have deliberately let Undeath in here, or anything else that could harm the child... and we're on running water, too. Enfrew? Any ideas?"

"I'm searching...." Enfrew replies absently. He can sense no signs nor odours of Undeath. Indeed, quite the opposite. There appears to be an abundance of Death. After a while, he says. "No undead here. Death and decay everywhere, though. I suggest we be careful with this place."

Jamal listens to Enfrew's report and says "I think, unless you want to join Herric in Humakt's Halls, this room might be good to avoid. It might be a good trap to set if any of the Lunar scum make it into the Cradle." He grins "We could put up a sign saying 'This way to the silver' or something"

Enfrew's face remains calm, but his eyes seem to be smiling. "Good idea."

Jamal becomes serious and turns to Dori. "I think we should leave this room, for the time being and try the next one."

She nods in agreement. "We should learn more of this at some point, but exploring the rest of the Cradle must come first. When we do return, I would like to know what magic it is that is so steeped in Death and yet so hostile to our own."

This is all a bit beyond Jamal, and he looks quizzically at Dori. "Shall we go in or go on ?" He peers into the room again and attempts to "Perceive Truth".

Hrolf finally speaks up. "Enfrew your Death magic is strongest. Ten-Thane, shall we join our magic to his and see what stalks this room?"

Dori hesitates for a moment, looking round at her battered and bruised companions. "As long as all we're trying to do is find out about it, not fight it. None of us are in any shape to start fights at present. Enfrew, are you feeling up to this?"

Enfrew meditates on the nature of Death, for by immersing himself in Humakt's Truth he may more easily discern differences with other kinds of Death. This is similar to what he does when sensing Undeath. Beside him Hrolf stands witness to his inquiry, whilst Jamal and Dorinda scour the room with the breath of their Truthwind. As the Truewind permeates the room shadows flicker and roam, as though swept aside by the breeze. One corner remains dark, however, and neither the wind, nor the wyter's light blessing, nor Enfrew's meditation can penetrate it. Darkness and mystery are its protection, Fear and Death its qualities. Although Enfrew cannot penetrate the presence, its character is clear enough to him.

The warrior breaks off. "Trollish magic," he says shortly. "A powerful Shade resides here, inimical to life."

Jamal grunts "Mmm Trolls, probably best to avoid then." He then winks at Dori "Unless of course you feel like declaring a fatwah against it."

Dori's hand had gone to her sword at the first mention of the word "trolls", but she had stopped before drawing it. "Tempting.... but I think I was right before. We're in no shape to start fights, we'll have enough problems with the necessary ones. The Shade can wait, it won't be going anywhere. Let's see what the next room has in store for us, shall we?"

Jamal nods, and assuming standard door opening tactics, moves to kick open the next door (the door to room C2). The door swings open in to storage room, empty save for five sealed barrels and a rug. Each of the barrels is marked by a large element rune - one each for Earth, Darkness, Air, Water and Fire - but they are otherwise unremarkable. The rug is large, red and square, and lies open in the centre of the floor.

Jamal enters cautiously to take a closer look at the carpet, then each of the barrels in turn. He knocks each one speculatively with the butt of his sword. As Jamal strikes the barrels, each makes a different noise. The Water barrel sloshes, Air sounds like a drum, Fire roars, Earth hums deeply, and from Darkness there is nothing but silence.

"Not bad," remarks Enfrew. "I didn't know you are such a talented musician, Jamal."

Jamal ignores him and calls, "Looks like there may be elemental daimons in here, and they should probably be kept there"

"A teaching aid for the child, perhaps?" Dori suggests. "Anything else of interest, or shall we continue?"

"Could they be used as weapons?" asks Enfrew?

Jamal looks thoughtful. "I suppose we could, but I don't want to try anything yet. Even if they are children's toys, they are powerful children's toys"

Dori agrees: "It's a good idea, but we have no means of controlling them. Let's keep that for a last resort."

Jamal dusts his hands and leaves the room. "Waleesha, that seems to clear this deck, shall we head up yon ladder and check the rooms in the deck above?"

7 - Blackbeak Expresses Concern

As the Legionnaires explored the Cradle's passages, Blackbeak's brow was furrowed in concentration. He drifted towards the end of the group, where Vern walked.

Finally, the Durulz tugged on Vern's sleeve and spoke up. "Thay, I've been thinking about that Mothtali fiwe-exthplodew-thootew you've got in youwe boxth. It'th thtill dangewouth, wight?"

"I wath thinking maybe we could keep it wet - you know; watew beatth fiwe, wight? I know we don't have enough watew wight now but I thought maybe I could help you out." The Durulz held his hands in front of him, as if holding an incongruously large heavy, cylindrical object projecting from his waist. "You know?"

Vern, for his part, has been walking around with an expression of fierce curiosity and awe. The whole time he has been sketching on a series of parchments and taking notes, and expressing a wish to examine everything in detail.

When Blackbeak approaches him the scholar is gazing earnestly at the baby below, and it is a moment before the Durulz can get his attention. He thinks hard about Blackbeak's offer for a moment and says seriously, "I'd like to keep the artefact intact, if possible, and I have heard that Durulz excrescence is corrosive to metals. So thank you, but no."

Hearing Vern's reply, the flinty glint in Blackbeak's eye fades. His jaw drops, showing the sharp little teeth he files so assiduously. But by the time he has collected his thoughts and come up with an answer, Vern has moved on.

8 – Pinchining

Dorinda nods curtly at Jamal and leads the heroes up the ladder to the storage room that contains the barrels, metal marbles and giant scrolls. From here there are two exits, the one to the entry way that leads up to the forward hatch. The other is a large door like the one Jamal tried to open in the Horn room. Hinged at the bottom, it appears to open outwards into the cradle's interior. Remembering the last attempt at opening one of these doors, Jamal hesitates and takes a considered approach. Working together the heroes take up strain, and give a concerted push. There is a moment of resistance before the whole door falls inwards. A huge area is revealed inside, with an open deck around the edges of large cavity.

Nearest the heroes the deck is covered with plants - grasses, saplings and bushes - apparently growing wild. None of the plants look familiar, and Vern is taken aback for a moment with fingering and feeling them. This interest is quickly replaced, however, as the heroes notice movement on the far side of the deck (Area B7). There a large humanoid toils with several large buckets and some rope near the set of large doors. Around him swarm a number of frivolously squeaking humanoid beasts with the features of pigs. As the heroes enter they squeak and rush around with ever greater intensity.

The heroes pause, taken aback. Finally, Jamal approaches the large figure with the rest of the group and asks "Are you the one who runs this cradle ?"

Hrolf remains silent, but he is unable to restrain his curiosity and enthusiasm, and steps forward next to his comrade. He is careful to keep his hands away from his weapons, and to maintain an unthreatening posture. Dori follows them cautiously, taking note of any other exits, what may be down the gap in the middle (a Baby?), the existence or otherwise of handrails on the walkways, and just what this large being was doing with his ropes.

The walkways surround a large empty space that descends two or so decks. At the bottom lies the baby. Near her head, separated by a stall, is the mammoth pig. There are no handrails around the well, and it looks a long way to fall. It looks as though Blorn was simply coiling the ropes, and cleaning the buckets & tools.

As the heroes approach the piglings quieten down and watch them with unintelligent and slightly nervous curiosity. Their little tails flicker back and forth, and their snouts quiver anxiously. At closer inspection the larger figure seems to be made from an assortment of golden-brown stones and pebbles, roughly crafted with simple features. He moves smoothly but slightly ponderously as he lays down his buckets and tools. He seems to think hard about Jamal's question before responding. "Blorn do the heavy work," he says, apparently satisfied with this answer. "What do you do?"

"Protect the Cradle," Enfrew whispers to Jamal, hoping that the creature called Blorn won't see them hesitating to answer this question. It wouldn't be good to fight something that does heavy work.

Despite Enfrew's sotto voce it appears Blorn overhears him, for he stops moving for a moment, apparently processing this information. "Good," he finally rumbles. Blorn is about to return to his work, but stops again. There is another pause. "Protect the cradle from what?"

Hearing Blorn's reply, Hrolf's face changes from curious to sombre, and he replies, "From those, like the Mostali who have attacked in the last few days, who wish to kill and plunder."

Blorn considers this slowly for a while. If he could he would frown. The piglings tremble and clutch at one another - they may not understand what is being said, but they do understand the tone of voice Hrolf has used. Finally Blorn comes to a decision. "You should say this to the Nemolayope," he says. "Feed baby later. Follow." With this he turns and heads to a nearby hatch and starts to climb down.

As Blorn begins to descend, a slow humming noise that has been barely perceptible becomes louder. As the heroes watch in amazement a spinning golden wheel glides around the outer walkway closest to them (B5), disappearing behind a wall (B8) as quickly as it appeared. It spins quickly, and the light reflecting from it sparkles such that it is difficult to tell how wide the ring is or its exact features. What is clear is the sense of power that it emanates. It glows, similar to the way a mighty hero does in his Hero Light.

Whilst the heroes are descending the ladder in turn, those left on deck see it reappear along the other corridor (B6) and spin down towards the forward deck area (B4). Several times during this journey it momentarily disappears, flickering in and out of sight. Finally it spins into a passageway heading forward (B3).

Hrolf nods his head in acknowledgement of his Ten-Thane's orders, claps Jamal on the shoulder and steps into the hatch. Then he sees the wheel. "What's that?" he says. "Oh. And who's the Nemolayope?"

Blorn follows Hrolf's gaze and says "Pinchining. He's the boss. Maybe you should talk to him." He stops moving towards the hatch and next time the spinning wheel comes by, Blorn talks to it. "Pinchining," he says. "These folk say the baby is in danger, and they are here to protect it."

As it race around the deck, Pinchining begins to sing and warble merrily in some unknown tongue. Blorn listens stoically and then turns to the heroes. "He says he knows, and that you are welcome and there is no reason to fear." At this the piglings quieten down and begin to look happier. "I am to show you to water and the Nemolayope, if you wish."

Jamal wrinkles his nose and grimaces at the thought of eating the slops. Yet another assault to his fine Carmanian taste buds.

"Thank you, Blorn." Hrolf replies. "We would be privileged to see the Nemolayope. But I think" here Hrolf looks over his shoulder to Dorinda, waiting for her nod, "we should give Pinchining a formal greeting first. We are oath-bound to serve you, but it appears our connection may be deeper than just our current oath. Perhaps Pinchining can shed some light on this."

Malan interjects, "First the essentials. Lets find that water he mentioned before we do anything else."

In reply Pinchining begins to sing again, and after a while Blorn translates. "He say that before on this journey, some humans have helped and others have hurt the cradles. This is because humans are hurt inside and are at odds with themselves."

"Good observation." Says Enfrew. "Ask it about help against Lunars. We are bound to be attacked by them sooner or later." He tells this to the others, not willing to speak in the name of the band he is not member of.

Hrolf straightens himself up, re-arranges his armour so that the bandages don’t show too much, and addresses the glowing wheel. “Pinchining, Master of the Cradle, we salute you. Some of us are with Hereward's Legion, and some are not, but we are all here on a mission to protect the Cradle from murderers, looters, and all who would harm it and its inhabitants. We of the Legion will defend you and the Cradle child to the death. Herric, former Sword of Tourney Altar, has already given his life in your service, to his eternal glory.”

“There are many things we do not know about this structure. There appear to be parts where we were not meant to go. We do not wish to intrude or offend, but as soldiers we must know the area that we defend, so we have been exploring. Please forgive us if we have caused offence. We will gladly follow your strictures whenever possible. We would also be glad to give you our military advice.”

“Though we only ever fight on the side of honour, we are also mercenaries. The Zola Fel people hired us to defend the Cradle for a part of its voyage, and said that after we were relieved we could take an armload of gold each as our payment, and that we should avoid taking anything else. We would know if you agree to these terms, for you are the Cradle’s master more than the Zola Fel priest. We will agree to any terms that you are willing to offer us, and that are mutually fair.”

Pinchining sings again, and once more Blorn relays his words: "Pinchining says he makes the magic wall of the cradle, but if the wall be broken your help is welcome. In times past Pinchining has made this journey before, and humans have helped him in this way. You are free to move as you wish through the cradle, only not to disturb the child and ware of the places of danger, which I am to tell you of." "As for gold and silver, that you may take, for the giants put it here for that purpose. The other things are tools the child will use in later life and should be respected - use them if you must but do not damage them, and leave them behind you."

"We will do as you say," Hrolf replies. "We felt the terms of our agreement with the Zola Fel people were fair, but since you are the master of the Cradle, your wishes are primary to our agreement," he says to the glowing coin. "I have a few more questions for you, and perhaps others in my party do as well. May we be permitted to speak with you longer?"

"First, is there any way we can help you maintain the magic wall of the Cradle? Is there any other area of defence that Pinchining is especially concerned about?"

"Can the magic wall be lowered temporarily in case we need supplies or reinforcements?" Malan suggests.

"Second, you must be extremely old if you were on previous Cradles. My fellow Hereward devotees and I would like to ask you about our legion's history, if that is alright."

"Third," Hrolf looks over his shoulder for the sage, "Vern may have some questions he would like to ask."

"Fourth, many of us are wounded. Can you help us heal, or do he know of a way we can heal ourselves quickly?"

Pinchining responds, via Blorn, that as he has complete control over the cradle's defences he can lower them if he wishes. However, he is loath to do this because in the past attacks have been launched both by surprise and treachery, not that he suspects the heroes of such a thing of course. Some of the 'human folk' know the secrets of talking to his kind by magic, which is how the party came to board the cradle in the first place. Others may know these secrets and be allowed to board also.

In response to Hrolf's questions, Blorn translates the following answers.

If there needs to be healing, then the Nemolayope may be of use. There may be a way to assist Pinchining magically, but it is not clear what that might be. His magics are so different in nature to the party's god-gifts that such a feat might prove to be in the realm of heroes.

As for his knowledge of previous voyages, it is difficult to understand Blorn's translation, and he himself seems confused by Pinchining's answers. It seems that although Pinchining has made this journey before, he was not the same Pinchining then. He knows the journey was made, but cannot remember the details. All he remembers is of his present life, which has not been long.

Jamal, who has been tagging along with the group, nods along with Hrolf's questions then perks up.

"A few questions spring to mind, what are you Pinchining and where do you come from ? And why a Giant child now, after all this time? Is this an omen of things to come?"

In response to these questions Pinchining warbles long and loud. Blorn is confused by some of the answer, and his translation is incomplete and fragmented:

"Pinchining laughs, he says is that which was, and is, but which shall not be. Great wheels in .. sky... a golden torque ... a dragon never resting but always eating itself ... through darkness and tumult the garden is cropped... but giants still survive yet. The cradle is a dream of the Green Age .. a seed to nourish the growth of this child.

"Only now because a single soul foolishly worshipped what all thought was lost ... a dream-walk ventured to Giant lands. Through that dream came Pinchining .... to guide a last cradle ... last hope for the Green...

"All things are omens if seen from the right place ... the cradle is large enough to be seen even from Dara Happa. But is an omen of what, hmmm? Last cradle, so world changing ... Mighty heroes flood to defend or attack, re-awaken oaths with giants and dragons. Pinchining's last voyage, so death of the Golden Wheel Dancers... Many omens - but which is true?"

With that Pinchining spins out along the side of the cradle, and refuses to answer any more questions for the time being...

Hrolf looks increasingly confused as Blorn's translation progresses. He turns to Jamal. "I hope that was clearer to you than it was to me."

Vern is visibly excited by Pinchining's words, yet the mysterious creature serenely ignores him as it spins around the room. "Blorn, what is this dream-time Pinchining speaks of? What was the thing all thought was lost? What is..." But Blorn has ambled over to the hatch that lies in the centre of the deck, and is beginning to swing himself on to the ladder. Blorn impassively guides the heroes down through a huge chamber, the deck below a distant prospect. Vern grips the ladder tightly and mumbles to himself. A huge door lies halfway down the inward facing wall, far out of reach for any mortal-sized being.

Quietly Vern tells the others, "as the child grows it will easily reach this door, and thereby the contents of this room, as a human child would play with one of the doll's houses that so were popular amongst the Notchet maidens of my day." As he says this several of the heroes peer down, and they can see the contents he speaks of. Jamal and Hrolf have already visited this room (D8), and recognise the giant tools and sorcerous objects that lie on the deck.

9 - The Nemolayope

Once the heroes have reached the deck, Blorn bids them wait whilst he goes to find the Nemolayope, and he disappears down another hatch. Besides the tools the heroes feel dwarfed. Jamal points out glass, in the shape of two huge lenses, and several heroes gasp for they have never seen this magical substance before and find it beautiful.

Apart from the hatch down, there are exits in all four walls - one leads to room D9, which Jamal and Hrolf know to be guarded by magic. The exit in the forward-facing wall leads to the rune-covered passageway and thereby to room D2.

After waiting for some time, the heroes find themselves becoming a little sleepy. The hurts and turmoil of the last few days seem to ease from their bodies, a warm glow can be felt in their bellies and genitals, and their spirits feel lighter and relaxed. Armour feels too heavy, weapons an unnecessary burden. The Humakti become dimly aware of a desire to remove clothes and curl up next to the living bodies of their comrades.

Dori starts to relax, then jerks alert. "There's another enchantment here, like that dancing room! Everyone on the alert: we can't have Humakti warriors on duty falling for that sort of licentiousness!"

Jamal also starts to relax and feels the warm waves of pleasure drift over him; his mind drifts and settles on the last feeling he had like this, in the music room. This pulls him up short. Jamal curses under his breath: he's not falling for this again. Quietly he evokes the Stoicism of Lord Bisos to endure the magics.

After a few minutes of waiting for Blorn to return Aelfwyrd sits on the floor. With his back resting against the wall he faces the exit Blorn left by. Propping his sword against the wall still sheathed he stares in space, seemingly awake. Moments later he drifts away into a dream. ... ... ... Until the roar of the Zorani in his dream coincides with the shout from Dori in the waking world. Snapping out of it, Aelfwyrd grabs his sheath, draws the blade and leaps to his feet in one movement. Breathing hard as if from a long combat, his face is flushed, clothes drenched in sweat.

"Are we ambushed?" he snaps, taking on an aggressive stance while scanning the room and its exits for 'trouble'.

A soft breeze flows up in to the room, enveloping the heroes with the sweet scent of flowers in spring time. A beautiful feminine figure, willow-slender and with barley-gold hair arises through the hatch and glides into the room. Butterflies dance around her, flowers and soft grasses bloom where she has trod.

She regards the heroes warmly. Her eyes have no pupils.

Enfrew and Malan are not yet conscious of her presence, but Dorinda, Hrolf and Jamal already struggle to maintain their composure. Aelfwyrd is surveying her intently, alert for any danger. To his wyter-heightened awareness she is like sweet honey, cloying and slowing his blade - the warrior collects himself immediately.

Dorinda and Hrolf react with discipline, and whilst touched by the nymph's goodness and tranquility she does not sway them.

Jamal, however, feels overcome. He remembers how the Bull mounted the Cow Mother and fathered the Great Herds. He remembers the hills and trees of his native country. He remembers a certain barmaid .... but no, for he sees the Nemolayope's face.

The nymph comes to a rest before them and smiles before speaking. Her smile is like the dawn breaking, and her voice is the earth's song. "My friends, welcome. Blorn tells me you have want of healing, and a message." Her eyes meet Jamal's, and twinkle like stars.

Jamal prays to his Lord Bisos to give him the strength of character which he showed when tending to his people in the great Darkness, but his mind wanders to the Caram back at Worion and some of the more attractive younger wives there. Hazars are forbidden to take a wife, but who knows he may join the Karmanoi at some point.....

Jamal may feel completely bewitched, but he does not forget his impeccable Carmanian manners.

He approaches the nymph, and greets her with the appropriate level of Etiquette..

"Greetings my lady" Jamal purrs (somewhat gruffly) "from we humble defenders of the child and this great craft"

"What sorcery is this?" Aelfwyrd spits, eyes tracking every inch of the distance between him and the nymph. "How can we defend this lunatic craft without knowing friend from foe?" he demands for nobody in particular.

Given that this does not appear to be a typical armed ambush Aelfwyrd takes a moment to evaluate the situation further. With a smile he recalls his long dead uncle, an honest but not so clever Orlanthi warrior and the advice he gave Aelfwyrd on dealing with creatures strong with magic. Offering a silent prayer to Kargan he slowly shifts the weight of the Seven Dragon Blade in preparation for a decapitating blow.

Relaxing his posture slightly to feign non-aggression Aelfwyrd begins to draw forth Kargan's power into his blade: Seven Dragon Blade Help and Great Blow. Aelfwyrd is sure that experienced legionnaires will spot his approach and provide a decent enough distraction for him to get a clean blow.

Dori's eyes flick round to him, acknowledging his readiness for combat with some relief: at least one of the group obviously isn't going to fall for this.

"I don't think it's an ambush as such, no. This Nemolayope is supposed to provide healing, they say: the enchantment we can feel may be her work, and may be intended to help us. She's obviously no warrior!"

And having seen her, Dori is even more convinced that she was right.

"My lady, we appreciate your kindness, and it is indeed true that some of our number are in need of healing, but we will not be able to do our duty in defending this craft if you enchant us all into relaxation and slumber! Could you withdraw your powers at least a little, please?"

As stated previously, Oddus and Elnor remain on guard on the deck of the Cradle. Unless the nymph's considerable influence effects those people now, they won't feel her magic.

The nymph appears unconcerned by Aelfwyrd’s martial pose, but flatters him with a smile. “My lord Aldryami-Friend, it is not I that means thee ill.” Her pose and demeanour suggest this is so, yet still the warrior’s senses are alerted to danger. His wyter-given awareness feels her aura filling the room, surrounding the majesty of pure death. This may not be an intentioned attack, but Aelfwyrd realises the danger of pollution.

Meanwhile the Nemolayope has acknowledged Dorinda’s request with a gracious smile. “It may be that Life and Death are allies, but sometimes they must be shielded from one another – I will try to restrain myself from expressing too much joy.”

And with that she giggles and glides to Jamal’s side. “Oh my,” she says, stroking the great warrior’s biceps. “Oooooo.” Then she espies Jamal’s hurts, and her hands run down over his chest and back, pulling him close to her body. A great warmth floods through him as pain fades away. “Sweet child,” she says. “Sweet child.”

Malan, meanwhile has awoken to the Nemolayope’s presence. Thankfully his custom of invoking Humakt upon rising from sleep grants him enough protection against the forces of Life that are spilling throughout the room. The nymph sees him stand and sees his hurts also. “These wounds you have all suffered in our cause. I would relieve you of their burden if you don not fear my gift.”

Malan says "I will accept your gift, for I will be unfit to fulfill my oath and guard the child if I do not."

Aelfwyrd is very dubious about the whole situation, particularly as the proximity of Jamal to the nymph has considerably lowered his chances of clean neck blow.

Studying the creature before him in more detail he recalls tales told by his friends the Aldryami of beautiful and beguiling creatures such as these. From dim memory the story went that they lived deep in the heart of the forest and were fey children of nature: Aldyra's very own. Aelfwyrd had not seen these nymphs himself and looking upon this creature and feeling her sorcery he would not choose to do so.

"This bodes ill with Humakt. When needed I will take curing with the white women for their motive is true" says Aelfwyrd solemnly. He remains alert for signs of claw or fang growth.

Dorinda: "I do not fear your gift, my lady, but it is forbidden to me." She steps back, out of reach. "Others here, however have different commands from our god, and may well welcome your help. For myself, I am grateful for the offer, but it is one I cannot accept."

Hrolf feels Aelfwyrd’s call to the wyter, and his comrade’s suspicion puzzles him. But as he observes the nymph and feels the effects of her presence, he begins to understand. She is a connection to the pure innocence and vitality of the Green Age, before the coming of Death or even conflict. Where everything is one, there can be no Separator. He could accept no union with such an entity. Merging into the joyful bounty of the Green Age, however curative, would mean that Humakt had laid down the Sword Death, allowing it to be taken up by others and used without honor and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Grimbeak, his mentor, sometimes spoke of The Division Which Was Also Unity, calling this truth “transcendent but actually radically imminent.” Hrolf had only learned the first parable of this teaching, which was the Sword of Life. He knew there were more advanced lessons, and the path to mastery was difficult. Perhaps he could accept this creature’s healing, but he would have to do so as a warrior, keeping his mind and identity clear and separate from hers.

Hrolf addresses the Nemolayope: “I am Humakt’s. I am already dead. But because I have given myself to death, true life has been given to me.” The words flow out; his mind hears the paradox, but his spirit feels the presence of the Lord in their truth. Despite his limited mind, he has learned a new teaching! A tear flows from his eye; he kneels in gratitude to Humakt, feeling the sublime agony of separation even in the full beneficence of the healing embrace. Overwhelmed, he is unable to speak for several minutes.

The Nemolayope accepts Aelfwyrd & Dorinda’s refusals with sweet grace, and moves to embrace those who wish it. In her embrace their wounds’ pain ebbs and fades. “It will be some hours before you feel fully vibrant, but no more than that,” she says. Meanwhile Jamal’s head rings with silent adoration.

10 - The Mistress - and Visions of the Future

When done, the nymph suggests the warriors meet the child they guard. “After all,” she says, “you run great danger for a babe you know not.” Blorn stands back from the wall, revealing a hidden doorway now opened. Guiding the heroes into the central chamber, the Nemolayope whispers to them that the child is sleeping. Looking up at its vast bulk, several are thankful. The girl-child fills the space, perhaps ten metres long, gurgling slightly in her rest. Piglings quietly caper about her, snuffling and singing soothing songs. The Nemolayope sighs quietly with happiness, and the look of a proud mother on her face.

“It was not thought another giant-child should be borne to the sea in this world. I, and all those aboard, are greatly honoured to be accompanying her on this journey. I do not know if you see what I see. I see a seed from which might sprout a new forest, a new world even, yet she will be the last of her kind. So she is our last hope.

“Why you brave warriors accompany us I know not, but I am grateful. There are rumours, and prophecies and omens abound – the Age’s end, the Hero Wars approach! The mighty shall wield their powers to forge the world anew, to heal the follies and injustices of the last age, and the ages before. Enemies and allies will stand apart and together in the ranks of the God’s Wars. Each wishes to renew the world in their own image.”

The Nemolayope’s eyes, pupil-less, glint darkly with her prophet’s vision. “Those who sired this child, we who serve it – we say that the world may be ending, but this is like winter in a garden – a time for pruning, re-shaping, replanting, re-invigoration and a return to the beginning of the cycle. This child is our seed. What is your vision?”

Aelfwyrd at once recalls his youthful naivety: he would be brave and honourable, wielding death to those deserving, a precise instrument directed by Humakt himself. In severing his bloodline he would become like Orlanth's fell brother; a fearful and just wielder of death and a protector of the storm tribe. He would right the wrongs committed upon his family, his clan, his tribe and his beloved homeland of Tarsh.

Aelfwyrd smiles; how simple it all sounded back then. He is drawn back to Far Point in his youth, a time when he still answered to the name of Ingard Mannison. He is thirteen and sitting with his father looking out over the valley. They watch smoke rise from the chimney of the family stead. It is dusk.

"It is important that you know what it is to be a man, my son. To know what you stand for."

"I stand for our family, our clan, the tribe and for Orlanth - as we all do, Father."

"This is so, but listen to your heart and at all times follow your own path. This is important my son: freedom, it is Orlanth’s greatest gift." Returning from his reverie Aelfwyrd can find no answer to the nymph's simple question. He remains silent and keeps his own council on this matter.

Hrolf: “I’m not really sure that we have a vision of a new world yet: only a promise to seek the Truth. When I initiated to Humakt, it was in search of a life not governed by petty politics and dishonorable betrayals,” he says, his eyes glazing over as he recalls his life in the Herani clan. “Since then, the road has been hard: I lost the kin I loved, and have seen many friends die in battle. But it has been a meaningful struggle; my will is stronger, sharper. With it I have sometimes been able to improve things. And I am closer to Humakt, who one day will cleave away the sins of the world.”

“I cannot honestly say that we chose to defend your child because we knew she was good. We only knew that she had evil enemies, and that in defending her we follow Hereward’s path to truth through battle. I hope that she--” Hrolf pauses: “May we know her name? I hope that she grows up to be honorable, so that we have defended someone that the world needs. I hope … perhaps our actions here will guide her, support her as she matures? To defend the innocent, to die to save one’s friends, to perform honorable duty despite cold, wounds, weakness, or fear – these are not bad lessons, even if grim.”

“We have learned through the pictures above decks that Hereward’s Legion has defended giant children before. The full story of Raven Foot’s cohort is lost to us, so we do not know what motivated him. But I pray that our connection is more than accidental, and that one day we may again stand together in victory – final victory,” he intones with unusual ardour, “over our foes.”

A flicker of jealousy passes across Jamal's face as Nemolayope tends to Hrolf and Malan. He quickly composes himself. "To me the way of Hereward leads to the rejection of deceit and lies, and a protection of the innocent, but I would defer to our Ten Thane in matters of legion theology," he says indicating Dorinda. "This ties well with the teachings of my own homeland, which emphasise the rejection of the Deceiver, and the obligation on the believer to achieve a balance in between the true light and dark, both in themselves and in the world. Only in this way do you fulfill the path laid by great Idovanus." He genuflects. "My lady, on another subject, you have yet to meet all of our group, some of which are in the room with the Horn of Slops. Some of who, including one of my charges, have been injured during our earlier misadventures." He flushes slightly with embarrassment at the memory of the incident with the Horn.

Aelfwyrd senses his own truth in Jamal words.

Humakt has many strengths, for he is divine, great amongst the Gods. Hereward had learnt much from death; of his truth and of his honour. The Legion, like Truewind, are champions of truth and honour.

Aelfwyrd muses; Hereward and the Legion are one. The stronger the Legion, the more committed their belief, the more powerful Hereward and his teaching become.

Will Truewind and the Legion alone be enough? It will surely take a many bladed weapon to cleave the great Deceiver from the sky.

Aelfwyrd remains silent as always, expression a blank mask, the face of a solider.

The Nemolayope listens to Hrolf with serene concentration. “Your words imply a world different to mine, warrior. If I understand you, you believe in the virtue of struggle, for through struggle one discovers oneself. Thus, for you, the Hero Wars will be a bounteous time. What will you make of the peace thereafter, I wonder?"

"I believe in peace, and the virtue of contentment, not struggle. For me, the Hero Wars are a struggle to obtain that peace. Yet it seems that for now our interests coincide, and I am grateful you struggle on the Cradle’s decks. I hope you find what you seek.”

“As for the child’s name, well that is unknown, even to us, but we call her Mistress as respects her dignity and station.” The Nemolayope turns and guides the heroes away from the slumbering child, whose shadow falls over them. Back in the tool room she bids the heroes farewell, for now.

“I shall attend your wounded as you wish. Bring them to me, in this room, and they shall be well. If you have any needs then inform Blorn or the piglings, who will be reassured regarding your presence.” The heroes return to the above decks, except for Jamal, who is twigged by the nymph before climbing the ladder. “For you,” she says slyly, “I have another gift.”

Aelfwyrd withdraws into himself that evening as he mulls over the encounter with the Nemolayope. For long hours he stares out from the bow but is unable to find his own truth within the nymph’s words. Finally Aelfwyrd take his blade, nods to the students and wanders to the prow. He begins to practice sword, repeating the same routines, again and again and again. Aelfwyrd's expression remains the same impassive mask as always. Beneath this blank exterior his spirits soar. There are no questions now, only answers, each parry or repost its own simple truth. Aelfwyrd continues long after night falls and the students have been dismissed. This daily ritual brings satisfaction, his mind and body focused, prepared for conflict.


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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