The Cradle - On to the Praxian Plains

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Elf-Woods and Troll-Towns

Without further incident the Cradle drifts out of the lake, and by mid-afternoon is sailing through the Redwood Forest. Within the hour Aelfwyrd, from his practise ground at the bow, is aware the Cradle is being observed. There are eyes in the foliage, and silent, barely perceptible movement. Finally the Aldryami show themselves, and stand watching impassively amongst the brush on the river bank. Aelfwyrd can tell these elves are old as their skin has become bark-like, and their arms resemble branches. The ancient ones watch the Cradle pass by before fading back into the trees, silently.

Throughout the night the heroes sail on through forests and several small lakes, and at the first hints of dawn the Cradle slips on to another lake. Jones, who has stood this watch, is momentarily alarmed, for many shadowy figures line the lake’s banks. Yet keener eyes than his see the shadows are hundreds of Aldryami, gathered to see the wonder pass by. Even more wondrous are the beautiful, shimmering-sailed elf-craft that sail to greet them. Forming a flotilla, their crews cast garlands of flowers and great clouds of petals around and before the Cradle. With their escort apparently content to tack lazily back and forth around them, the heroes sail thus to the lake’s far end. Jamal, who has only just emerged from the Cradle's bowels, drinks in the scene with the bliss of a man who has, the previous night, visited paradise yet has returned to find the world almost equally glorious. Once Aelfwyrd thinks he glimpses an Elven female he knew many years ago, far away. But he cannot be sure, and before long the Cradle passes out of the lake and on to the next section of river. The elf ships do not accompany it further.

As day breaks, the heroes see they have left the main forest behind, although the river follows its final spur for a while. The rest of the day is spent travelling through foothills, which look inhospitable, rocky and barren, and difficult to cross by foot. After a couple of hours there is an uncomfortable incident when the Cradle shoots some substantial rapids. Then, shortly after noon, an enormous skull is spotted, partially buried within a steep hillside on the north bank. Vern carefully looks at the skull, the size of a large cottage, before pronouncing it to be Trollish. The thought of a troll with so large a head chills the thoughts of even the sturdiest warrior. Vern insists it must be a relic of the Great Darkness. Nonetheless, Dorinda insists on posting a double guard. Shortly after, an even larger group of rapids are encountered, and the river daimons struggle to steer the Cradle away from grief on the submerged rocks.

The next event of any note happens shortly after night falls. Once again, it is a bright, star-lit night, and as the Cradle rounds yet another bend in the river the heroes find themselves sailing alongside a troll village. Uz stand outside piles of rock covered with odd scraps of animal hide, stretching and yawning blearily, for it is early morning to them. More than one rubs his eyes as the Cradle glides past and scampers after it, calling in wonder. They cannot run fast enough, however, and are soon left behind.

A Blond-Haired Warrior

The Cradle emerges from the foothills shortly before daybreak. No longer is the view constrained by cliffs and hills, the world lies flat for miles around. The heroes, the Cradle Riders, are floating across the Praxian plains on the first Cradle in seven and half centuries!

Then Hrolf, standing on forward watch, sees something up ahead. At first he dismisses it as a stand of trees, but it soon becomes apparent the perspective has fooled him. A group of around sixty warriors stand on the riverbank near several dozen small boats. These warriors are a motley crew, not even all of them are human, for Hrolf spies several newtlings amongst them. Some of the humans wear Heortling dress, others the garb of plains nomads. Others are stranger still. One warrior stands out in particular. He is tall, golden-haired, iron-bearing, and surrounded by weaponthanes. When these people spot the Cradle orders are shouted, and several humans and newtlings wade into the water and begin casting magic, gesticulating wildly. This all happens out of range of the heroes magics and missiles, and for the moment all they can do is wait. Then they hear the worrying sound of Pinchining slowing down, and finally toppling over.

At this, the shimmering wall surrounding the Cradle can be briefly seen collapsing, and a murmur of awe can be heard from the assembled warriors. The golden-haired warrior shouts commands, stirring them to action. Newtlings carrying ropes swim out towards the Cradle, and warriors assemble in boats. The Cradle is about to be boarded.

Jamal jogs to the bulwark and peers over at the band below; Hrolf quickly follows him. They look like irregulars, not imperial troops, that may be a good sign. Jamal evokes the wyter Recognise Preparation for Attack, to try and establish their motives. Jamal then calls to Swift Tail, "Swift Tail come, there are your compatriots here. Are they for the Cradle or agin' it?"

Hrolf has his bow ready, and will yell out: "Identify yourselves, or taste our iron!"

Aelfwyrd feels fear well up from the pit of his stomach, then the adrenaline begins to surge. Senses snap sharply into overdrive and he is alert and feeling strangely reassured; it is time to honour Kargan. "Measure twice, cut once" Aelfwyrd breaths to himself keeping control.

Calmly moving to a point of observation Aelfwyrd takes a moment to evaluate the unfolding scene before committing to any action.

Once in position Aelfwyrd uses Warband Tactics and See Opponent's Weakness to try and analyse the formations, their strengths, weakness, deployment, and likely tactics - including any obvious chain of command. Aelfwyrd pays particular attention to the golden-haired man who appears to be the leader; an early fatality would render the chain of command severed and perhaps halt this attack with minimum of casualties.

"Please, don't draw your weapons yet." Enfrew calls out to his companions. "Maybe they can be reasoned with, maybe we could even recruit them to help defend the Cradle."

The heroes quickly ready themselves, judging the situation and making preparations to best suit the Cradle’s defence. The air begins to hum with prepared magics. The men approaching seem intent on boarding, but are apparently not expecting any resistance. In response to Jamal’s question, Swift Tail takes a quick look over the bulwarks.

"These must be the reinforcements from Pavis. The Priests had told me they would send word, but I didn’t know they would find so many volunteers.”

In response to Hrolf’s challenge many of the men start and fumble for their weapons, but the golden-haired man in the lead boat stands to answer.

“We are free men of Pavis, Prax and elsewhere, come to defend this Cradle from those who would plunder it.” His voice booms and resonates like thunder. “If you there on board have harmed the child or its protectors, or ravaged the Cradle’s treasures then Orlanth himself will punish you. Our steel is strong, our magics are mighty, we will tear you into shreds as the hurricane devours cobwebs. My name is Garrath Sharpsword and alone I am a match for any ten men. When I call on my powers the winds lift me up, lightning is my sword and no mortal can harm me. My thane here is Jarang Bladesong, and tales of his deeds are reported to the Red Emperor himself, who roars his fury.”

As Garrath recounts his strengths, and those of his comrades, his men grow in confidence and cheer loudly.

“If, on the other hand,” says Garrath, “you also stand there in defence of the giant child, then I commend your deeds, welcome you as brothers, and incite you to stand firm alongside us, for down river the Lunars await us with great battle and furious reward.”

Jamal rankles slightly at the obvious arrogance of this Garrath and steps up to bulwark to reply for the band. "We are the swords of the Legion of Death, righteous followers of Hereward Truewind, led by our ten thane Dorinda and faithful defenders of this craft and the Child it bears. As you come as friends and defenders of the Cradle we welcome you as brothers, at look forward to fighting side by side against the spawn of the Red-Deceiver." "I am Jamal bin Jaran al'Awara and may Idovanus bless us in this endeavour". Jamal genuflects.

Aelfwyrd is silent but not unmoved as he listens to the Orlanthi. As Jamal declares the Legion and their oath he scrutinises Garrath, attempting to understand his truth. Aelfwyrd is torn, suspicious of one so bold yet eager to battle Shepelkirt with men such as these. Yet Hereward believed his liege Arkat and so he was betrayed. Silently Aelfwyrd falls to one knee and whispers a prayer to Hereward for guidance.

As the boast progresses, a wry smile forms on Hrolf's lips, and he shakes his head.

"Well, well, flying Orlanthi. Those boys just can't sit still."

Then he turns to Blackbeak: "Make sure no one is approaching us from the other sides of the Cradle: set guards!" Then he turns his attention back to the men on shore, ears alert for lies.

As Jamal declares his name and that of his company there is mixed reaction from the warriors below. From some Jamal's foreign name elicits suspicious glares and snarls. Others cheer generally, as it is clear the heroes are allies, even if their names mean nothing to them. One or two, and Garrath is amongst them, appear surprised to hear the name of Hereward.

"Well met, warriors and heroes of the Truthful Wind," he cries. Garrath then turns to face his company.

"Let no man be under false impressions, these are our heroic allies good and true, for Hereward's name is one much loved by the vengeful storm that waits!" Another cheer goes up from those assembled. All the while Hrolf and Aelfwyrd have listened carefully to Garrath's words and tones. It is clear to them both that Garrath is a man with a powerful, honeyed voice, capable of inspiring men to superhuman efforts and loyalty. There is no deceit in his words, only a ringing sincerity and an urge to heroic battle against his foes.

"The river priests told me they had found warriors to attempt an earlier boarding. Had I known these warriors were of Hereward's company then I would have been expecting survivors. As it is you took me by surprise!" At this jest his men laugh loudly.

"A mighty battle faces us ahead, so perhaps on the journey you would set our courage in iron by retelling your exploits on the cradle thus far? Lords of war!" Garrath's sense of this being a heroic occasion is obviously leading him to wilder hyperbole in his rhetoric. "Lords of war, have we you permission to board?"

Jamal grins at the effect his name has on the crowd, his fierce Carmanian pride enjoys the reaction his 'otherness' provokes in these lands. He calls back to Garrath , "Board, friend Garrath, and we will greet you and your company as honest and loyal compatriots in this business. The journey of the Cradle has been eventful thus far, and we will gladly share the tale with you"

As Garrath's company moved to board, Jamal talks quietly to the rest of the group. "They seem to be with us, which is good, and I would gladly share the tale of our journey so far. Is there anything which you feel we should not share ?"

"Also all of you " he indicates Vern as well "this is not my land so do any of you know of this Garrath Sharpsword and his reputation ?"

But it seems only Fynn has heard of Garrath, and all he knows is some rumoured exploits in the Big Rubble, and that the man is recognised Sword Master. He has even taught at the Pavis Humakt temple, although he himself is Orlanthi.

Many Boasts - Herewardi to the Van

With Jamal's permission Garrath's men swarm onboard the Cradle. Many appear close up to be of a rough crowd. The heroes know well how many men, banished from their lands by the Lunars have descended to brigandage and petty mercenary work to survive. They are not professional soldiers in the sense of the Legionnaires, and they have the wild barbarian's sense of duty and discipline. Yet these are the same men who would stand for their kin, clan and gods in war if they were back home. Now, exiled, their kin are their sword brothers, their clan are the company of the Cradle, and they prepare to lock themselves in struggle in service to their Gods.

All this Garrath tells the heroes, matter-of-factly. It is notable that the weaponthanes surrounding him are of a different mettle. No common adventurers these. They are men of iron and will, noble in gesture and temperament. They attend to Garrath as tribal huscarls would attend their King. These, indeed, are warriors worthy of honour.

With quick words Garrath divides up his company, appointing some of his thanes officers over small knots of warriors. He orders a group of priests and Orlanthi devotees to over see the preparation of magical wardings, and all men spring to action at his command.

He turns to the Herewardi. "The defence of this Cradle has been placed in my hands by the Zola Fel priests, and I intend to fulfil my command. Here we have many brave warriors, skilled in magics and war, all who have agreed to my command. With you at our side we shall fight stronger together than apart, so I ask you also to submit to my orders for the duration of our struggle together. I vow not to abuse my command, nor to ask you to break geas or strictures of your cult nor clan. Nor will I sacrifice you on the field of battle for the lives of my kin nor I. Instead I shall offer my life for yours, should the time come."

He looks around him, surveying the deck. "It is clear this Cradle has already seen battle, and your company bears much honour I would not wish to be seen depriving you of. It is clear you have won the right to stand in the foremost position and bear the trophies of honour in battle. I offer you command of the vanguard, if you wish it," he says, indicating the prow of the vessel.

Aelfwyrd spirits soar as he hears the Orlanthi talk with such belief of the vengeful storm and bloody battle against the deceiver. He has travelled far from Tarsh but the conflict still burns deep within his heart. Aelfwyrd finds his own truth in these words and understands precisely why these assorted thanes follow such a leader. He is silent for a moment, his mind back with the Exiles and their fight for freedom in the foothills of Tarsh.

"With great gladness I would fight alongside this warrior and his thanes against the slurry that awaits us. For I sense no deceit in his words - just desire for honest battle and that is truth enough for me" says Aelfwyrd speaking from the heart for once.

"Our tale is of the Legion and how it fought with strength and honour to defend the child and its cradle. Garrath has spoken his truth and now comes to die by our side in defence of the child. I say we speak our truth" say Aelfwyrd bluntly.

"Yet I am a weaponthane of the Legion marching under Hereward's banner and oath-bound to protect this cradle. I will follow my command and defer to those wiser in Herewardi lore on this matter" says Aelfwyrd with finality then returns to his usual silent and watchful demeanour.

Garrath's weaponthanes stand behind him as he parleys with the heroes. Jamal's strange accent makes him barely understandable to them, and as Garrath nods and makes to shake Jamal's hand there is a confused muttering. But then Aelfwyrd speaks, and the thanes feel his defiant tone fails the standards of respect their lord is due, and they roar disapproval at his words. They beat their weapons on their shields, and several step forward to jeer at the Herewardi. "You are not men enough to hold the vanguard!", "Insult our Lord and you insult us all, striplings!", and "Oath yourselves to Garrath's protection, as we have done!" they cry.

Garrath withdraws his hand without shaking Jamal's, his face troubled.

Aelfwyrd is shocked at this response yet regains his composure. Looking around at the gathered faces he speaks from the heart with obvious pride and honesty. Aelfwyrd is no civilised fop but an Orlanthi from the back of beyond in the foothills of Tarsh. He knows what is to be free under the stars but also what it is to be under lunar rule. speaking to the gathered thanes he says,

“I am sired from Tovtaros stock, born in Far Point on the foothills of Tarsh. For generations my tribe has defied the Red Whore and her crawling filth. With dwindling numbers we have kept the faith with proud worship of Earth and Storm. I know the virtues of Orlanth: courage, wisdom, generosity, justice, honour, and piety. I too have heard how cold the wind is over Sartar but the days are just as desperate in my homeland of Tarsh.”

“So I serve my tribe the best I know how by severing my bloodline. No longer Orlanth, it is Humakt his fell brother, the North Wind, who is my lord now.” “All that you see before you are Hereward's Legion. They are from many lands and many tribes but all servants of death. It is the same Legion that has fought since the Dawn Age, since the Gbaji Wars, against Nysalor and all his incarnations.”

Turning to Garrath he says, “Yet it is the teachings of Hereward that guides our sword with his truth and with his honour. It is under his command the Legion takes the fight to the blasphemous whore. It is with his teachings that we will cleave the great deceiver from the sky. “

Turning back to the gathered thanes he says, “Perhaps then my tribe, all our tribes, may prosper once more.” “We are commanded by Hereward himself yet our battle is the same. His Legion will stand beside you all, ready to die on this cradle as sword brothers against the deceiver.”

Jamal is slightly taken aback by the reactions of Garrath's thanes, there has been no slight, only honest dealing here. Garrath should show some iron and control his rebellious thanes, no Carmanian commander would let his vassals speak and influence his actions thus. Jamal bites on the urge to let his pride take hold and respond to the hostility in kind. Obviously he is missing many cultural references here...

He lets Aelfwyrd finish his speech, trying to pick out what might impress these Orlanthi. He then adds his voice to Aelfwyrd's, evenly and without rancour.

"If it would help demonstrate our mettle, I will share with you what not even my comrade legionnaires know. I am of the House of al'Kathoum, in far Worion of the Western Reaches. For centuries we have fought to undermine the baleful influence of the Red Deceiver, spawn of Ganesatarus, who has weakened the Carmanian spirit and softened the iron in the Carmanian soul"

"The House of al'Kathoum was destroyed in one night by the Sultan of Worion and his pet viziers, and I am the sole survivor, a marked man. I would avenge the slaughter of my house and its vassals, I would bloody the nose of the empire, I would continue to defend the child. Take this as you will, I share a bond of trust by sharing this with you. May Humakt curse me and divine Idovanus flay the flesh from my bones and Ganesatarus torture my soul for eternity if this is not the truth. The Legion is honoured to fight with you, I trust you will respect that"

Aelfwyrd struggles to make himself heard over the weaponthanes' growls, but Garrath holds up his hands for silence. They listen grudgingly, to Jamal and Hrolf also, but they listen. Aelfwyrd is not used to public speaking, yet despite the warriors' hostility, it is clear his oration has moved them.

Aelfwyrd manages to spit out the last of his oration to the growling weaponthanes. Looking into their faces he feels that things are going downhill quickly. Staring blankly back at Garrath he is at a loss, holding his breath Aelfwyrd waits for the inevitable challenge and bloodshed. Strange. Had Aelfwyrd met this man in his youth then perhaps he would be among these assembled thanes himself ready to cut down this young upstart daring to dishonour their leader. Yet that is not his fate, he is a Herewardi and he journey's with the Legion, his walks Hereward's path now; honour is the goal.

One stands forth. "I am Urgi Snakespear, son of Rhodri the Bald, son of Tostig Hairybreeks, son of Hradar Ironshirt, who led the Tovtaros at the Battle of Grizzly Peak. Hradar's cousin Elin was the Earth Woman of the Blue Dancer Clan when Sartar fell, and her daughter Nalda knew this man Aelfwyrd when he was alive. She married my brother Braggi after Aelfwyrd went away, and told us many stories of his youthful deeds." Urgi turns and faces his comrades. "The Humakti are dead and have no kin, but I for one would be proud to call this man brother. Let us save our swords for the Moon-Harlot's lovers, for their blood is sweeter to the taste."

Urgi is apparently a man whose word carries some weight, for Garrath looks relieved and the weaponthanes thoughtful. They agree that perhaps they acted hastily and mistook Aelfwyrd's pride for an insult. There is muttering from some, but most are willing to let matters drop. Garrath reaches out again and shakes hands with Hrolf, Jamal and Aelfwyrd, sealing the matter. The Herewardi will take the van.

Aelfwyrd drifts out of this reverie as the grizzled thane speaks out. He is taken by surprise by the words of this warrior he has never met. No demand for honour this but word of support. Aelfwyrd recalls a young woman called Nalda, proud and strong. Distant memories are these, of his past he thought behind him now. Perhaps even Humakt himself cannot truly sever Aelfwyrd from his bloodline...

Aelfwyrd listens to Urgi and then to Garrath as they speak. Then feeling the shake of Garrath's hand he remembers to breathe trying hard to conceal his obvious relief at the turn of events. He looks around at the massed weaponthanes as his shakes Garrath's hand. Before release his grip he says to Garrath in a low voice "You honour the name of Hereward and his Legion, I for one will not forget this day”

Aelfwyrd then walks between the weaponthanes to Urgi who he greets as a fyrd brother, asking of news of Braggi, Nalda and Far Point.

Jamal permits his demeanour to soften, slightly. This is a better outcome. A commander should listen to his vassals, but in the end the commander should show the iron to take charge of the situation. He slaps Aelfwyrd and Hrolf friendly blows as they pass, he even smiles (slightly).

He then turns to Garrath, "This is good, so to business. Set your men and show us the van we will hold, and we will prepare the ground for a righteous slaughter. We have access to a Warding which will help in the defence"

"We also have other information that may bring a successful outcome, a map of the decks below, and we have met the denizens of this place, including the nymph who commands the tenders of the child, and Pinchining who protects this craft"

"Also, friend Vern, a Grey Sage has some scroll of lore about cradles past that may aid us" "Idovanus blesses this good start for good and honourable men, we will have success in this endeavour"

Garrath is pleased by Jamal's report, and wishes to meet Pinchining as soon as possible. In the meantime he is discussing the best tactics for defence with Jarang Bladesong and several other thanes. He asks the Herewardi to erect their own warding in the prow, which will free the magics of his own followers to defend other areas.

His plan appears to be have several groups scattered around the deck in key locations, holding a reserve force of the best and most powerful warriors in the centre. Urgi and Aelfwyrd, who have been engaging in Far Point talk, join the conversation. It becomes clear that Urgi will lead the group to the Herewardi's left side.

Trolls On Board!

Enfrew, who has finally managed to make himself heard, points out the strange lurking things coming aboard. Garrath nods quickly. "Yes, our allies in this adventure, and there is no choice in the matter so there is no gain in gainsaying it. They are Uz, bloody warriors sworn to defend the cradle, as we are."

*** [description of cloaked creatures missing earlier]

Whilst the warriors are talking, the trolls come onboard. Ignoring the humans they immediately head for the forward hatch and climb down into the Cradle. An Orlanthi warrior calls Garrath, explaining that the trolls wish to speak to him, and the warleader disappears after them.

Moments later loud argument can be heard from the Trolls. Garrath's men start, but relax when they hear their leader talking calmly across the shouting voices.

When Garrath emerges from the hatch he approaches the Herewardi. Behind him is a huge Uzko, almost completely encased in plates of lead. "Friends, I have a favour to ask of you. I cannot force it from you, but I hope you will give it freely. Amongst the trolls there is one the others refuse to fight alongside, for their cults are ancient enemies. Geran is a follower of Eraktog the Humaktfriend, and I thought that given the friendliness of your cults you may accept him within your own number."

Aelfwyrd suddenly stops mid sentence of a conversation with Urgi as soon as he hears the Uz arguing amongst them selves. His stance tenses, eyes narrow. "What's this?" his snaps accusingly as if greatly wronged. He looks for an answer in the faces of Urgi and the other weaponthanes. Not waiting for a reply he strides over to the Herewardi making sure to catch Dorinda's eye. Aelfwyrd takes a breath in an attempt to calm himself before questioning again, this time with a more even tone,

"What is happening here?" No sooner has he asked than Garrath emerges from the hatch with the lead clad Uz. Aelfwyrd stares from Garrath to the UZ with a look bordering on disbelief. As Garrath says his words to the Legion he looks up at the Uz with naked aggression. When Garrath has finished Aelfwyrd stands out.

"It maybe a part of some underground Humaktfriend cult but it's no friend of mine. THEY ARE ANIMALS OF THE WORSE KIND! Have you not heard what they eat?" says Aelfwyrd dumbfounded that Garrath of all people would parley with trolls let alone have them in his number. "I'd rather fight alongside Dragonnewts and take my chances than stand with one of these. I'll not be a part of this lunacy" says Aelfwyrd with a rising passion in his voice, pointing accusingly at the Uz while addressing the assembled Herewardi.

The coming of the Uz, piques Jamal's interest somewhat, trolls are somewhat of a rarity in the empire, he is aware of an Uz community in the Yolp Mountains bordering Darjin, and the unusual illuminated trolls of the Blue Moon Plateau, but until he reached Nochet he had never met one in person.

He is aware of Dorinda's solar prejudice against the men of darkness, but as Carmanos taught Idovanus' lore, to follow only the way of light or dark is to unbalance the soul. True one-ness with the divine can only be found by balancing the light and the dark, provided it is untainted by the deceit of Ganesatarus. As such Garrath's suggestion provokes only an acknowledging nod and tacit agreement. However, Aelfwyrd's outburst makes him roll resigned eyes to the heavens and mutter to Idovanus to give him strength.

After Aelfwyrd he adds, "If the dark man is a being of honour then surely Humakt will give us a sign. A friendly sword is a friendly sword, and in these times we need as many as we can get." he addresses the Humakti and Geran.

"Perhaps if Geran would join the Humakti in and oath of power or some other ritual of honour, this may resolve the issue"

Malan calmly addresses Aelfwyrd: "If we fall to fighting each other, we will not be able to fulfil our duty of guarding the Cradle."

Aelfwyrd listens to Jamal's words, scowling when honour and oaths are mentioned: as if any Uz would understand the meaning. Although the Carmanian is talking sense Aelfwyrd remains unmoved, he does not trust any Uz as far as he could throw him. Aelfwyrd remains vexed by the mere presence of the Uz and looks resolutely opposed to these offers of conciliation. Then a familiar voice speaks out, it is Malan, surely he must council against taking this beast on board. Yet he speaks of their duty and the oath to protect the cradle and its child. Aelfwyrd listens to his friend, the Kargan devotee, with a troubled look on his face.

"You speak a simple truth Malan, we are all under oath” He weighs these words for many moments until his expression changes, becoming focused and resolute.

“I will not bring shame on Hereward and his Legion over this matter and I will honour our oath or die trying”, says Aelfwyrd solemnly looking from the Herewardi, to Garrath and finally to Geran.

“Yet this is sits ill with me and I will have nothing to do with the beast” says Aelfwyrd ending the conversation looking at the Uz. Aelfwyrd turns and walks from the group in silence only nodding to his students who are watching the scene unfold. With the two in tow he takes a weapons from his collection, walks to the prow and begins to train with unconcealed fury.

Garrath looks pleased at the Herewardi's decision, and follows Aelfwyrd for a moment. "Your discipline and forbearance does honour to yourself, your legion and to me," he says to the warrior. "I think this is a virtue, for in order to defeat the empire we will need to fight alongside those we would not usually be calling friend."


A large troll, well, all trolls seem large, but this troll is really big for an Uzko. When he first came up from the hatch, the humans mistook him for an Uzdo (Great Troll) but one of the hulking figures that towers over him is clearly one of these. He is outfitted in thick lead plate and light dims as the dark warrior approaches. Darkness seems to ooze from one of the maces hooked at his belt. There are several other large trolls with him and a gang of trollkin, most with spears or slings, huddles behind them. They all wear floppy, wide-brimmed hats over their helmets and some sort of paste glistens on their skin.

"Much food and good hunting to you. I am Geran of the First Tribe of Dagori Inkarth, Warband Leader of the Farwalk Gnashers, and Devotee of Eraktog Humaktsfriend. I am giant-friend and all agents of chaos tremble when I approach!" he bellows, grins hugely, and gives Dori a big hug, "Much joy comes to me in finding Humakti friends here. The Red Moon will dim and break under our weapons! These are my companions."

He motions towards another Uzko, dressed in feathers and bronze, he carries a sword and large shield. "This is Hakteg Stormchaser, an Orlanthi warrior." Next, he motions to the huge Uzdo, "This is Dask Chaosbiter. He can eat anything." He motions towards a Uzko with no weapons. The trollkin seem to hover around him like a hurricane around an eye of the storm. "This is Kogad. Xiola Umbar healer and caretaker of my trollkin." Then there are two other warriors dressed similarly to Geran and look enough alike to as to be nearly identical. "These good warriors are Orkeg and Dornag who share the same mother. They are also followers of Eraktog."

He notices the looks of confusion and downright disgust on the face of some of the Humakti and shakes his head, "You don't remember? Your empty god, Humakt came long ago to depths of Wonderhome in the Before Time, seeking his place and answers. He hadn't realised his nature yet. Eraktog met him and they travelled together for a time. Humakt stole Death from Dame Darkness, for she did not know it was only in her keeping for his arrival. Eraktog did meet and aid Humakt in escaping from Hell and the Dame's wrath. They had great adventures together. They shared much knowledge in the Dark and Humakt taught Eraktog how to fight his enemy Zorak Zoran and his abominations. The story is long, perhaps I will tell you of it one day."

Hrolf tenses slightly as he sees the trolls approach, but otherwise he maintains a calm demeanour. He's seen a few strange things in his time with the Durulz - only usually they were not so ... large.

When he hears Geran tell the story of Eraktog, Hrolf's eyes widen in shock - and finally recognition. "Eurmal's Balls! What he says is true!"

Quickly, he tries to regain his composure. "Ah, welcome, dark friend. Much food and um happy hunting to you. Any honourable warrior and friend of Humakt is a friend of mine."

Hrolf moves to introduce his comrades. "This is my Tenthane," he pauses in shock as Dorinda gets hugged, then searches frantically for another Legionnaire to introduce. "And ah Ael--I mean Jamal! Yes, Jamal is a mighty warrior from Carmania." By this time Hrolf is sweating heavily.

Aelfwyrd looks on with suspicion as the huge plate clad Uz appears from the hatch with his band. He eyes the other Uz with unconcealed contempt which quickly changes to disgust when catching sight of the trollkin.

Aelfwyrd tenses as Geran hugs his Ten Thane and listens to his speech with growing annoyance. Glancing up and up and up until he meets Geran’s gaze he says with anger rising in his voice, "I will listen to this Trollish blasphemy no more” and with without a hint of humour, “Uz with honour, what next, Uroxi basket weavers or broo midwives perhaps?”

Aelfwyrd turns to Dori and the Legionnaires saying "It is a sorry day for the Legion when we fight alongside Uz" and walks away in silence.

Jamal looks the new arrival up and down, he appears to be one of the taller, stronger breed of Dark Men. He adds; "I know little of the lore of the dark men, but I know enough to know that for you to follow the way of Humakt in any of his forms is very unusual. I'm sure that there are a great many tales to tell about this but for now let this suffice," he glances up at Dori and Aelfwyrd "If you are steadfast in truth and honour in the way of death, and valorous in combat, this will be a useful association. As Carmanos taught Idovanus' lore, to follow only the way of light or dark is to unbalance the soul. True one-ness with the divine can only be found by balancing the light and the dark provided it is untainted by the deceit of Ganesatarus."

Once released from the hug, Dori backs off, a little breathless and disconcerted. An quiet but eerie wail starts to come from her scabbard, and her sword appears to be starting to glow and unsheathe itself. She pushes it firmly back, moving away from the trolls as the trollkin scatter in panic, and both the glow and the noise die down.

Her sword (and expression) now back under control, Dori nods in partial recognition of the tale. "That is True. I, too, have heard tales of how Humakt was aided against the foul darkness of Zorak Zoran by his friend Eraktog. Those tales did not say that Eraktog was a troll: but they did not say he was human, either. And they should not, for it does not matter. To the Great Divider, there is only Truth and Untruth, Honour and Dishonour, Death and Undeath. If a warrior is honourable, his shape and race do not matter to Humakt: and therefore, they should not matter to us, hard though it is at times to remember this."

"Geran, you are as welcome here as any other honourable and mighty warrior. However, not all of this group" (she glances at Aelfwyrd) "find it easy to emulate Humakt's impartiality, and I would ask that you do not make this any harder for them."

After an hour or so of swordplay on the prow Aelfwyrd's blood begins to cool. The training drops to a more even and regular rhythm. Aelfwyrd plays over the events of this day; particularly Garrath’s parting words, " order to defeat the empire we will need to fight alongside those we would not usually be calling friend.." Strange. Since birth Aelfwyrd's life has been dominated by this bloody war against the red whore and her empire. But in his minds eye the battle line was clearly drawn; Shepelkirt and her crawling filth one side, Orlanth and the storm tribe on the other. Yet there is truth in Garrath’s words. Aelfwyrd's thoughts are taken back to the many bladed sword that would cut the great deceiver from the sky. Perhaps one of these blades would be fashioned from lead.. As Aelfwyrd ripostes yet again from Korol's poorly timed stroke he muses over the truth in Garrath’s words. Then a fleeting glimpse of that nightmare; the death lord and his pack consuming the Aldryami scout. Aelfwyrd misses the next parry and is stuck a hard blow. Uttering a curse out loud in Aldryami he looks back to Jamal as he talks with the Uz. A cold demeanour settles on Aelfwyrd as he finishes training then wanders over to listen to Jamal's battle plans.

Aelfwyrd is eager to confer with the Carmanian and the rest of the Legion about the battle formation and try to make some (rather basic) contributions himself - But as soon as Jamal begins to talk with the Uz Aelfwyrd eye's narrow. As Jamal glances his way mentioning honour and valour in relation to Geran Aelfwyrd turns away. Giving Jamal and Dorinda an icy "I'll have nothing to do with this" stare he leaves the conversation. Walking silently from the group he goes to the prow to review his position then confers at length with Urgi and his men on their formation.

Preparations and Introductions

Soon Garrath's warriors have finished loading up, and the newtling boatmen cast off and fall behind the Cradle's wake. Several god-talkers begin working magic, and there is a shimmer and glare as the Cradle's defensive magics rise once more.

The warriors on the cradle have split up into their fighting groups. At the prow are the Herewardi, and to their left a bunch of Far Walker Orlanthi, led by Urgi. To the right side are a motley crew who appear a roughly even split between Orlanthi and Humakti warriors. They sport a wild assemblage of tattoos and armour, and already appear to be getting drunk. The next group, at the right rear, are a crew of quiet patient types with axes that Dorinda recognises as being Pavic warriors.

The rear group are another rough crew of adventurers that include a dwarf and a Morocanth! Everyone else on board shuns them, and asks why Garrath has allowed them to board. Between them and the Far Walkers stand a gang of Uroxi, who eye the Morocanth thoughtfully. Each of these six groups has their own magically warded area to defend.

At the centre are two further defensive areas, and the largest muster stands there; thirty warriors. Vingans, Orlanthi, Babeester Gori, even a Yelmalian, three bold Humakti, a Basmoli Lion-Man, and Garrath and his weaponthanes.

And of course, below decks there are the Uz, ready to burst through the hatches when required.

Whilst being involved in organising the legions battle lines, Jamal takes Abul and Maniskus to one side to explain the coming battle plans and to broach the subject of Abul working as a runner between the Legion and Garrath's reserves. Abul is delighted by the prospect of a proper battle, and even more delighted his master has a role for him in it.

"I can already see the our comrades victorious," exclaims the boy. "We shall crush the enemy likes flies!" Jamal feels more than a little pride, the frightened boy of before is growing into a man.

Jamal confers with the group about a few ideas he has had... "Oddus will be setting the warding, which is good, and I will add the Shield of Bisos to his magics to strengthen it, does anyone else want to add any other magics to this ? Also, should we need to beat a retreat, we have seen the power that the Horn of Slops holds, we can use this to cover our retreat into the Cradle, and injure some lunar scum into the bargain. Finally, I have noticed that at the far deck there is a Mostali who defends the cradle; unless friend Vern has worked out how to use the thunderstick, we could lend this to the dwarf to train on our enemies."

After discussion with the group, Jamal repairs to the area where Garrath holds central command to talk to the healers. He asks them (and to some extents warns them) if any have the ability to calm the berserk (indicating the Uroxi and himself) in case this may be required. He also informs Garrath and Jarang of his intention to use Abul as runner for messages between the Legion and the reserve. The Bevarans admit that no, calming Uroxi is not something they have much luck with before. "But," says one brightly, "I think they will have enough enemies to fight today... they will not run out."

Finally he hales the Basmoli, "Hail friend, the follows of the Lion where well respected by the great Lion Shahs. This augers well for the Cradle has followers of the Lion and the Bull, true light and dark defending the child. Idovanus will be pleased.” When Jamal hails the Basmoli the lion-man turns in bewilderment. It snarls at him before loping back to his comrades, eyeing the Carmanian in confusion.

Aelfwyrd and The Far Walkers

Once the Legions battle formation discussions have been exhausted Aelfwyrd wanders over to Urgi and the Far Walkers. Initial conversation with Urgi is that of tactics for the coming conflict. He then takes time to introduce the Herewardi and tells a brief history of the Legion. Once the formalities are over he settle down with the Bluefoot warriors and anyone else from the Legion who is interested to drink and be merry and to swap stories not heard for many seasons.

The Far Walkers are a hard lot, not disquieted by a dead man in their presence. To outsiders the Bluefoot Orlanthi are a hidden song, and their ways are not natural ways. The soft Sartarites, fat on their green hills and sheep, cannot understand the fierce-heart drumming of the gors. Aelfwyrd, for the first time in a long while, sits amongst warriors of his own kind. These Tresdarni may not be Humakti, yet they already know his mind and soul more intimately than his Swordbrothers and sisters of the legion.

Whilst he is talking with them preparations for battle are afoot. Garrath is drilling several of the warriors, and Jarang Bladesong is passing around pieces of black cloth to all those on board. "These have been blessed in the waters of Zola Fel," he says. "Wear them to hide your faces, and the Lunars will not be able to identify you." All those aboard follow his advice, tying the cloths around their heads. All know the penalty facing them should they be caught fighting the Lunars.

The Far Walkers make a grimace of distaste, but put on the face-cloths anyway.

Enfrew looks at Jarang. "And what if they identify me?"

Aelfwyrd reminds himself of how hostile and barren a place is Prax, this cradle worse still, a death trap it seems. Aelfwyrd longs for the wild and elemental lands he calls home; Lagerwater and his own Tresdarni stead. He talks late into the night; how fares the Tresdarni, how goes the hunting, what filth from Snakepipe Hollow, news from the clan ring etc.

This news of his clan and his homeland brings distant and forgotten memory's flooding back. It has been a long haul through Prax yet this short time spend with kin, however distant has fanned the fire that had burnt low in his heart.

Aelfwyrd sleeps well, no nightmares of Trollish butchers this night. Talk of clan and stead with Urgi and the Far Walkers takes him back to a time long gone, he dreams he was still Ingard Mannison and of the time he became Humakti. But a youth of Tresdarni clan, the Twin Birch bloodline ran strong within my veins. I had lived Orlanth's life to the full in wilds of Lagerwater during my youth but must become a man sooner than many. I was just nine years old but had heard whisper of the Righteous Wind and how it would strike down the Lunars and their madness. Many thanes especially the Vingan women went to fight for that rebellion in 1611, yet at Gamla’s Leap they were slain, only a handful returned. Then at eleven in 1613 it was Starbrow's rebellion that took those still able to fight. We are weak, then kinstrife begins, our king and his fawning solar godi scheme to bring the clan under heel. Only the young and infirm seem to be left now, the thanes are younger each year that take up the defence of the clan. So it was with a heavy heart that father agreed to the training with Clapsaddle, a gnarled and scary Tresdarni weaponthane. A Humakti veteran of the rebellions, Braggi was nobodies fool and wise in more than just the sword. Many seasons pass in Braggi's training with other young Tresdarni; long days full of toil under his scowling gaze and harsh words; war and death was a serious matter and you better not forget it. Then the relentless training and spoken word was suddenly at an end; it is time. We travel through the foothills, towards Alda Chur! Many other weaponthanes are met along the trail, some laugh and others are cold and grim as death itself, yet Braggi knows them all and they talk of what may come to pass. Then at dusk we walk down into the walled city of Alda Chur making haste to the War Temple, the dark and foreboding halls of death. That very night, with blood and iron, Death is revealed in all his majesty, my initiation is made; I am dead now, I am Humakti. With the first revelations of Humakt burning my mind I stand outside the War Temple in the frosty dark of early morning. Trying to control my shivering I stand alongside my new brothers and sisters, we are servants of death now, Humakti one and all. Ravens gather on the roof of the War Temple as we stand motionless under fluttering standards and banners. Then the silence is broken, I hear the Dawn Muster for the first time;

Lord of the Long Road, Humakt, Name-Quester
Cut short my days, destroy me.
Master of Silence, Bronze-Dyer, Illusion Render
Betray my hope, destroy me.
Wielder of the Truth that cuts
The pain that frees
Destroy me once, destroy me twice
Till only you remain.

Great Ironbreaker of corpses,
Straight-Will, Terrible Secret
I do not claim to judge you
To proclaim, ‚this is just or
This is evil for you alone know Truth.

I know only to obey
Surrender to your sharp command
That I may walk the long road,
Hear the silence and free myself from life.

All I have is death, and company of swords
To lift the weight of falsehood from my soul.
May fierce fates frenzy dye our blades blood red
That we, enduring, suffer into truth.

A Rousing Tale

The Cradle is now off and sailing, and Garrath is apparently expecting a Lunar attack soon. The heroes are aware of the tension building up on deck. Garrath has forbidden access to the underdecks, so all (except the trolls) are cramped up top, restless and tense.

It soon becomes clear that managing the diversity of allies is almost as challenging for Garrath as facing the enemies will be. The Uroxi snarl at the Far-Walkers, the Humakti appear to seething about something and several times voices are raised in anger. The drunken raggle-taggle are leering at the Vingans, and the Babeester Gori regard the deck with looks of disdainful homicide. Everyone appears to hate the odd crew of adventurers at the rear, and regard Jamal and Vern with suspicion for talking to them.

The Pavisites are in the middle of a beef with the Humakti when Aelfwyrd turns up, and it doesn't take him long to realise that a sparring session may go quickly awry.

At this point Garrath calls on Hrolf to tell his story and inspire the Cradle Riders on to Heroism. The pious Humakti's account is accurate and truthful, and told with an eye towards relevant detail. It is also somewhat lacking in humour.

Blackbeak on the other hand rolls his eyes during the telling of the Horn of Slops, wiggles his tail feathers satirically at the account of the Dances with Fools, and snickers as the appearance of the Nemolayope is described. He even starts to make a few rude gestures before Hrolf "accidentally" knocks him over in an over-enthusiastic oratory flourish.

Hrolf, however, remains deadpan sincere. It is clear that the memory of the Horn of Slops, and his impotent attempts to stop the Blam-Dwarf still pain him. Ultimately, however, these are relatively unimportant details in his account; he focuses everyone's attention on the tactical aspects of the mission and the glory of fighting for duty.

The warrior's oration is rousing, and the listeners find themselves transported away to realms of brave deeds and great victories. The battle against the Mostali raises cheers and stomping of feet, and the death of Herric elicits respectful silence. By the time he has finished, Hrolf has somehow quelled some of the tension, and helped Garrath unite the warriors behind some common purpose.

As he finished Garrath congratulates him. "That was well told, Hrolf, well told. You and your comrades have my thanks and respect."

Blackbeak is at first incensed that the crowd is ignoring him in favour of his boring, goody-two-boots boss. But as the Durulz listens, Hrolf's earnest sincerity begins to make an impact on him. The glare in his beady little eyes glazes over, and his gaze turns inward. For the last half of Hrolf's telling, Blackbeak becomes strangely quiet.

Hrolf, meanwhile, appears slightly dazed and pensive. He accepts Garrath's thanks distractedly, if gratefully. As he wanders back to the bow of the Cradle, his thoughts appear to coalesce, and a new determination shows on his features.

An Uneven Trade

Jamal (before going to see the healers) indicates to Vern to follow him, and they go to the far desk to talk to the Mostali. "Hail friend dwarf, from the tales of comrade Hrolf, you know that we have come across the Mostali before, but they were not friends of the Cradle. However, your intentions seem to be honourable and we can offer you something we cannot use, the thunderstick we retrieved from the Mostali's body. Is this something you could make use of ?"

The Mostali takes the piece gingerly from Vern and turns it over in its hands. "Universal Model Incendiary Nine Micro-Miles Calibre, three shot automatic," he says with toneless reverence.

"Wow," says one of the humans, goggle-eyed. "That's an UMI 9mm?"

The Mostali hoists the weapon and points it up at the clouds, apparently taking aim. "Good ordnance, quality mechanism. Fits current user profile and will upgrade existing capabilities. Accept."

The dwarf shoves the weapon in its belt and then opens up a pouch, shoving four stones into Vern's out-stretched hand. Vern stands open-mouthed. "That was worth several years research pay," he mutters to Jamal, "and we just traded it for some pebbles."

The dwarf then presses a couple more stones into Vern's hand before changing its mind and taking one of them back. Vern is left holding six smooth, rounded light-grey rocks he's not quite sure what to do with. The sage is not happy.

Enfrew smiles, remembering his own encounter with the Mostali and their strange speech. "At least he knows how to use the weapon, which will certainly help against those Lunars. I am sure that we can use those stones better than that Mostali weapon."

Jamal laughs at the sage's distress. "I suspect that some of us may be losing much more than an item of weaponry in the venture, however exotic. Relax friend Vern, should we survive this, we'll be able to live off the story for years"

The Battle of Bullford Begins

It is now around noon, and the Cradle is approaching a cluster of small buildings that stand a few hundred metres from the river. No inhabitants are visible, only a few emaciated herd beasts that graze listlessly. One of the Far Walkers announces that this is a place named Bullford, where the river runs shallow and wide. The last hour has been edgy and nervous. Lookouts have been observing the regiment of Lunar Antelope Lancers that have paced the Cradle’s progress along the bank. This force, numbering around three hundred, has been reinforced several times by the arrival of sable riders and mounted mercenary adventurers. Garrath has insisted that those aboard wait, watch, and refrain from missile or magical attacks. “It would be a waste,” he insists.

Approaching Bullford, lookouts cry out. They see a massed body of men on the right bank, they call. Foot troops and cavalry signal each other with mirrors, and divine companions in the form of birds flittering amongst them. As the Cradle advances into the shallower waters, the infantry advance into the water as a solid shield wall, ten lines deep. Priests remain on the banks conducting rituals and invoking the gods, protected by guards. The priests’ divine companions can be seen casting magics at the Cradle, and sections of the bulwarks begin to glow and crackle. The noise and lights increase in intensity, indicating the use of more and more powerful magics as the attackers try to break through the Cradle’s defences.

The motley gang of Lunar-paid mercenaries hold their line dead ahead of the Cradle, standing on a visible depression in the river. In a co-ordinated movement the front rank begin casting magics, performing feats that attack the turbulent water surrounding the Cradle. The deck lurches to starboard and rocks violently, lookouts clinging to the bulwarks. Then the Cradle’s surviving undines rise as a wall of water and storm the shield-wall, smashing through several lines until hacked to droplets. Then the mercenaries move forward to assault the Cradle. The first men to touch it fall screaming, their hands burned away. Weapons, ladders – everything that touches the cradle is incinerated. Lunar magics continue to bombard the vessel’s defences. There is a small explosion accompanied by a wail of pain, and the carved head nearest Jamal suddenly darkens from heat, swirling into a single wisp of flame as it crumbles to dust. A siege ladder touches the bulwark there, held in place by sorcery.

There is a piercing cry that appears to deafen the attacking warriors. They clutch their ears and writhe in pain, yet inside the defences of the Cradle the sound appears muffled. A beam of red light shines from a cradle face’s bronze eye, probing through the enemy ranks, burning men and turning water to steam. Climbing men place their hands and feet upon carved faces only to have them bitten off. A rune on the side of the cradle begins to smoke, and then vomits needle-like shards of ice upon the mercenaries amidst a cloud of steam. The scream subsides. The mercenaries no longer stand in the magical depression, but rather thrash in deep water. Corpses float, blood reddens the river, and warriors struggle free of their armour. The Cradle wallows onwards.

The Cradle Is Boarded

Ahead are more men, uniformed this time. They bear long spears and axes, and amongst them walk priests blessing them with powerful magics. As well as ladders they carry grappling irons and rope. All are armoured, unafraid of drowning, for now they stand upon a sheet of thick ice than spans the river. The Cradle smashes into the ice; shards fly, the ice cracks as the vessel surges through. Many warriors are knocked down, some are swept below the ice to drown, yet their ranks are unbroken – at least two hundred remain. Already large areas of the Cradle’s magical shield are aglow with the incoming magics. The time for the sword-frenzy is close.

The Herewardi have long since prepared, and now gaze in appreciation at the actions of their new comrade. With a bark of Geran's command in Dark Tongue, the trollkin form in lines and pull out their slings. Then Geran begins to weave his mace in a pattern that dims the light around the Uz. Their visages begin to blur as they are surrounded by darkness that seems almost solid. Then the darkness seems to congeal itself around the Darkmen and they begin to appear as something terrible and nameless. They are the thing that men fear in the dark. Darkness seeps from the group like fog and drifts around the deck in tendrils as if alive. Near the edge, awaiting any boarders, is the huge hulking figure of Dask. The Great Troll wields a huge 2-H Maul and drools with expectation of knocking chaos loving warriors off the boat. With a mighty toss of his dark mace, Geran roars defiantly in an attempt to bludgeon away the magics and ladder that cling to the side of the hull. Meanwhile, his Uzlo concentrate their lead bolgs on first one enemy then another raining slingshot on them. The other Eraktog throw and recall their maces at any nearby enemy. Hakteg Stormchaser begins to sing horribly in heavily accented Tradetalk, the Orlanthi songs he knows and waits to fill any hole that may appear in the defence of the Cradle. He stands next to Geran who more or less has the same plan.

The air before the heroes now glows with a pale red tint, then with a bright, furiously red cloud which stabs at them with crimson spears. It expands rapidly to form a large sphere, which then explodes, leaving the heroes stunned and blinded.

Aelfwyrd is the first to recover. As he staggers to his feet the first of the attacking warriors jumps down from the bulwarks, screaming as he passes through the Raven warding. Dazed as he is, Aelfwyrd easily turns the warrior’s axe on his Seven Dragon Blade and with a whiplash counter-strike sends him crashing against the wall, blood flowing from a small gash on his thigh. Meanwhile another warrior has climbed to the decks, and together the two descend on Aelfwyrd with a flurry of blows. The first he easily bests, and the man loses a finger as Aelfwyrd parries with the sharp side of his blade. The second fights him to a standstill, wielding his great axe in flickering, dazzling arcs. Magic crackles along his blade, and he sings horribly whilst he fights.

Hrolf recovers his sight and leaps to join Aelfwyrd in the attack, but even with two against two they cannot find an advantage. Another warrior, this one with red hair, forces his way through the warding to the deck, and now it is two against three. Aelfwyrd spins his Dragon Blade – his first blow decapitates the warrior with lost fingers, but Red-Hair cuts him deeply on the arm. Hrolf stands against two men with his two swords and his Durulz allies rush to aid him. Magic Axe roars with anger as he slips on the deck that is now slick with blood. Blackbeak quickly sinks his sword into the man’s chest, though a heavy mail shirt stops most of the blow. A quick exchange of blows leaves Red-Hair panting and cut-faced, and Hrolf feeling calmed and ready for battle.

Atop the bulwarks two more warriors are trying to penetrate the Raven warding. They mutter spells and throw themselves at it, yet with little success. Magic Axe rolls awkwardly to kneel and barely manages to parry Aelfwyrd’s blow, the force of which knocks him flat on his back, struggling to regain his feet. Hrolf and Three-Lung Hughie press the attack against Red-Hair, but a sudden feint to one side followed through by a wicked backhand cut leaves the pair in great peril….

Just then one of the warriors atop the bulwark manages to force his way through the warding. Two more warriors can be seen climbing atop the bulwark as well, and somehow a second siege ladder is being attached…

The Second Round

Aelfwyrd snarls at Magic Axe, but the enemy warrior's Noble Fury is more than a match for the Humakti's feat. The two trade blows equally for a while, and even when Enfrew joins the fray Magic Axe holds his own. The mailed warrior is drenched in his own blood, yet still manages to wound Enfrew. He appears to judge the Sartarite as the lesser danger, and focuses his attention on parrying Aelfwyrd's vicious blade. Yet this is a mistake, for Enfrew's sword decapitates him in two blows.

Nearby Jamal and Malan are steadily wearing down the new arrival on decks. He has jumped from the bulwarks, but is feeling the pressure for both warriors have landed telling blows upon him.

With the bulwarks clear Hrolf has started clearing one of the ladders. However, the magic holding it there is stronger than he expected. He can see two more warriors climbing above, and frantically tries to cut the ladder free, but although three blows weaken it, it still holds strong. His last blow causes the ladder to twist, slowing the climber, but the other warrior reaches the bulwark and prepares to face Hrolf. Meanwhile arrows whistle all around, but apparently the Cradle's defences still offer some protection, for none come close to the defenders.

On the other side of the deck, Dorinda and Geran have rushed to Fynn's aid. The warrior they face is strong and skilful, and at first he holds well. Dorinda takes a blow to her right side, but then Geran lands a succession of blows that leave the man reeling before crushing his skull. Leaving him to it, Dorinda turns to the ladder. Like Hrolf she finds it magically secured, and is unable to loosen it. She looks up to see another man above her.

There is now one man on deck facing Malan and Jamal, and another atop the bulwarks on their side facing up with Hrolf. There is another above Dorinda.

There are three ladders still, secured by frustratingly persistent Lunar magics. Hrolf has weakened his, but axe-men still come up the ladders at a dangerous rate.

The Third Round

With satisfaction Aelfwyrd watches Magic Axe’s head hit the deck and roll off into a corner. Pausing to take in the situation he grins and meets Enfrew’s gaze, saying, “To fight like sword brothers until the end - it is how our lord meant it! This is a great day is it not, Enfrew?” Moving across to the nearest ladder he says joking, “So it is one to you brother, pray I live long enough to return the favour”

"Hope I will, too," Enfrew retorts and starts cutting the ladder. He ducks as low as possible, taking shelter from the enemy magic, and tries to hack the ladders away.

Spotting Hrolf in a sticky situation Aelfwyrd sprints over to the bulwark and aims to crash a great blow onto the warrior above Hrolf and dislodge him from the bulwarks.

Malan struggles to his feet , recovering his breath. His magic having failed, he attempts a more mundane approach to the problem and swings his axe at the boarder. *** missing effect

"Herric, we miss you now," Hrolf mutters under his breath as he hacks away at the ladder's magic. Then he notices the warrior approaching, and turns to face him. "Incoming!" he yells: the agreed-upon signal to Blackbeak. Hrolf lunges at his enemy's eyes, hoping to attract his attention high, while the Durulz points his blade straight up and at the enemy's groin. An evil grin begins to spread across Blackbeak's face ... Blackbeak is crouched right next to the bulwark, hoping to stab straight up into the enemy warrior on the bulwark as the enemy leans forward to get at Hrolf.

The next several minutes are hectic. As enemy warriors swarm up ladders and onto the decks the heroes desperately try to cut loose the ladders and stem the tide. But the ladders are secured by strong magics and are made of tough stuff, and although Enfrew cuts one free with a single blow, Hrolf and Geran are having a tougher time making progress.

Meanwhile the other warriors try to defend their comrades, as more axe men make the deck. Dorinda is hard pressed for a while until she sees off her opponent, and both Jamal and Malan are hurt trying to hold the deck. Blackbeak's attempt to surprise a boarder almost comes to a tragic end as the man leaps down, but the steely Durulz skips to one side before slipping his bronze in the man's belly. Finally Geran and Hrolf cut free the two remaining ladders, and for a moment their parts of the deck is clear. Realising that this has cut off reinforcements the axe men left attempt to leap overboard rather than face an onslaught and certain death.

Elsewhere on the Cradle warriors struggle still. The Far Walkers are doing well, driving off the last attacker from their section, and the weird crowd of adventurers at the back are already preparing for the next combat. But several others have fared less well, and amongst the bodies on deck are several defenders. It is not long, however, until the decks are clear.

The Longspear Slayers Are Broken

There is now time for a breather, and on the shore Lunars can be seen preparing fresh magics. Now several hundred Tarshite warriors bearing Longspears approach the riverbank, preparing to board. Garrath sends the healers amongst the injured, and for the moment they are too busy to tend to the hurts of the heroes, who have suffered less than most.

Dorinda has time for little more than a superficial dressing of wounds before there is once more the drumming of feet. Again ladders appear glued to the bulwarks, and again enemy warriors begin an assault.

Warriors carrying spears being to mount the bulwarks, and they use their long weapons to try and create a safe distance from the implacable Humakti opposing them, and to drive them away from the boarding ladders. Yet these warriors do not seem made of the hard metal the axe men were. They seem uneasy fighting in open melee, and it is easy for the heroes to separate them and pick them off. However, whilst the ladders are fixed the spear men keep coming, and it is still a tough fight. Dorinda and Malan are both bloodied, and as the last spear man is slain Aelfwyrd and Jamal are clearly dazed.

Fynn collapses, panting. He has been helping Geran and Hrolf clear the boarding ladders. "They are fixed with powerful magics," he says. "So long as they stand the enemy can reach us. I think the next assault will be more ferocious still. We must concentrate on the ladders!"

A Lull in the Battle

Aelfwyrd breathes hard looking around at the Herewardi and tries to take stock of the situation. Seeing that his Lord had not chosen to take any of the Legion just yet a grin begins to spread across his face. Wiping the gore and blood from himself he eyes the lunar formations in the distance. He smiles saying out loud to nobody in particular,

"This is a great day and one that shall not be forgotten." Looking about at the wounded Herewardi and the carnage left in their wake he proudly repeats a well-known liturgy: "For all I have is death and a company of swords"

Taking a moment to study his comrades he sees blood flowing freely for a number of nasty looking wounds. Aelfwyrd looks about the deck behind the prow trying to locate Indala, the war healer who stanched his wounds earlier. Once she is spotted Aelfwyrd marches over, "There are a number of the Legion with grievous wounds. Without your blessing the Herewardi may not have strength to defend the vanguard. Follow me."

The healer looks up at the imperious warrior, irked. "You are still standing, friend, yet there are many fallen." She looks back to her task, but realising Aelfwyrd still stands there says "Go! I'll be with you as soon as I am able."

Blackbeak walks up to the warrior he gutted earlier, grumbling under his breath as he sees his sword missed its mark. He kneels down and lifts up the mail skirt protecting the warrior's midsection. "If at first you don't succeed, cut, cut again," he sighs, drawing his hunting knife.

Then he catches Hrolf's eye and his knife pauses. "Oh. Yeah, no trophies." Contritely, he re-sheathes the knife.

Enfrew approaches Garrath. "Wind-brother, our band has been greatly wounded in these attack. Being Humakti, we lack the healing magic. Can we expect any magical help from your healers?"

Garrath turns from a quick conference with Jarang Bladesong and one or two others of his thanes. "Aye, if you have wounded the healers will see to them - but there are many in need of their help, and I judge it will not be long before the Lunars and their dupes attack once more."

Jamal orders Abul to report the current state of the Legion to Garrath's central command, and get the status of the other sections being defended.

He then contributes to the discussion about healing. "Those worst hurt should be helped first. Those who do not wish to be helped by the Trollish mistress should go centrally now. I will stay and be healed by Geran's healer, as my wounds are not great"

Dori calls together those who are not otherwise occupied, while they have a moment's peace: the lull before the storm. "We're doing well. Very well, considering both the opposition and the competition. But we're going to have to do better. Fynn's right, these ladders are our main problem. Enfrew, you seem to be removing them faster than the rest of us: how are you doing it? And Geran: do you have any special powers for this, besides being strong?"

Malan disregards the general revulsion for the Uz and interjects: "I and others of the Herewardi have need of healing. Can your servant give it?"

Dori continues her strategizing. "Really, I'd like to prevent the ladders being attached in the first place, if we could do it without being shot off the bulwarks ourselves: anyone got any suggestions on that?"

Enfrew looks thoughtful after Dorinda's orders, and replies, "My sword is the gift from Mostali. They said that it is one of those Eurmal made to cheat them. I discovered that it has some severing powers, but I thought that it was limited to severing soul from body. Maybe it works with magic, or maybe it was just luck." Enfrew shrugs, hoping that he will not need much luck.

Aelfwyrd listens to Dori as his eyes wander over the mound of corpses. Wandering over he picks up the large 2 handed axe used by the axe men Enfrew recently beheaded. Sheathing is dragon blade he whirls this axe around with unconcealed expertise. Turning to the Herewardi he says enthusiastically "With the blessing of Kargan this axe will cleave any boarding ladder, I would be glad to make use of the axe over the sword should it be needed."

Dori nods appreciatively. "That should certainly make short work of any ladder, and any enemy. Keep it with you. But at present you may well be the best fighter we've got, so I'd prefer to keep you for foes that fight back with more skill than the average ladder possesses."

With a 'you're the boss' expression he drives the blade of the axe into the decking with a 'thunk' near to where he will make his stand against the next attack. Eyeing the lunar formations once more he smiles with obvious anticipation.

Taking out and cleaning the Dragon Blade he recalls the teachings of the sensai he met in Pavis. Taking a deep breath he controls his breathing then focuses his thoughts on the seven wyrms engraved along the blade, calming himself for coming conflict.

As the heroes make preparations for the next assault their followers lie about, recovering their breath. Lacking the heroic qualities of their leaders they have felt the gory trial more keenly.

Three-Lung Hughie is propped up against the mast, white-faced and clutching his arm. The healers say the Durulz will see no more action today. Kristen is using the blood from several of her wounds to paint her face and matt back her hair. Her eyes are glazed. Aelfwyrd's students Korol and Yrsga have covered themselves with glory, for this is the first large battle they have seen. Both have acquitted themselves well, but now appear weak with blood-loss. Maniskus has lost two fingers to an awkward parry, but grins determinedly and vows to carry on. Even a couple of Geran's Uz walk with limps and drip black blood.

Elsewhere on deck others look no better. Only the reserve look still fresh, others call for the healers or tend their own.

The healer Aelfwyrd called now approaches the hero-company, clutching her back of herbs, drums and flutes can be heard from the river banks. Realising her time is limited the woman quickly begins tending to Enfrew. She slaps on herbs and beings to chant over the wounds, which quickly bind - blood stops it's flow and flesh knits, whilst a comforting, numbing warmth obviates the pain. She then turns to Malan and repeats the process.

Too soon the noise of the next assault rises to a fever pitch, and it is clear that this time the Lunars are throwing all their resources into the fight....

Third Wave: The Axe Brothers Broken

There are a series of loud, dull noises as ladders strike the bulwarks and are anchored there by sorcery. Again the air is filled with the sound of magics battering at the Cradle's defences and the screams of attacking men succumbing to them.

Immediately the heroes scramble to action. Hrolf, Enfrew, Geran, Jamal and their followers begin trying to clear the ladders, whilst the others stand by ready to defend.

Soon after the first enemy warriors land on the decks. These are the fierce axe men that attacked before and they howl in fury, desperate to regain the honour lost in their first assault. Three jump down in the prow, and Aelfwyrd, Dorinda and Malan each take one and all begin to press their foe hard.

But those clearing the ladders find it tougher work - the enchantments seem to be stronger this time, and little headway is being made. Before long another three warriors have joined the enemy on deck and try to prevent the heroes from freeing the ladders. They immediately press forward, and Hrolf is left fending off two attackers at once. Aelfwyrd spins and dances forward to attack two foes at once, wounding both. Blackbeak steps up to defend Hrolf and draws blood from another, whilst Geran is protected by his own mob. Malan trades blows shedding blood and letting some of his own.

Dorinda, meanwhile, is flagging. Already hurt, she finds her reflexes slowed, and even with Kristen to aid her it is difficult making progress. Lunging, she almost impales her opponent, but her recovery is not fast enough, and the second man is swinging hard enough to bisect Kristen and still hurt Dorinda badly.

Jamal glances up from his task, he sees his comrades struggle and fall and his entire being screams to leap to their defence. But he takes a grip on his feelings. This task is for the greater good and he redoubles his efforts to loosen the ladder, telling Maniskus to cover his back while he works. He also yells at Abul to check the status of the central command.

Aelfwyrd strides towards these new opponents with unconcealed relish. There is a honest truth in these fleeting moments of conflict. Offering a silent prayer to Kargan he weighs the Seven Dragon Blade in his grip. Aelfwyrd casts a critical eye over the axe-wielding mercenaries as they once again surge over the bulwarks. He grins; their technique and style a well told story to him now. Fury surges through his frame; his blade arcs this way and that cleaving flesh and bone. Kargan is in his heart once more; there will be only one outcome this day.

The struggle to hold the Cradle intensifies as the heroes find themselves hard-pressed by the attackers. Dorinda is tired and bloodied, but she reaches inside herself to find the last vestiges of determination and bravely struggles on. Hers is a brave opponent who will fight manfully to the end, when all his comrades have fallen beneath the defenders' weapons.

Enfrew quickly sees to the end of the ladder, but not before another man has climbed it. With two other comrades they leap to the decks and attack. One heads straight for Hrolf, who has already dispatched his foe; the others strike at Geran and Jamal, who is defended by Maniskus. Geran quickly dispels the sorcery binding the ladder, and turns to face his opponents. One of them dies quickly, the other takes longer.

Enfrew leaps to help Aelfwyrd, who is struggling against a hard pairing of axe men. The Kargan warrior is left combating a master of the axe, and the two leap and glow with battle-magics. Finally there is a mighty crash as they collide in mid-air, and both fall to lie still on the deck.

The struggle continues for some while, and several more foes make the deck before Jamal manages to free his ladder. Hrolf fights like a man inspired - two more drop before his swords. Another warrior slips on blood and goes down under Malan's axe.

There is a brief moment of stillness, punctuated only by Dorinda seeing off her opponent. All of the heroes are wounded, and many of their followers are injured.

Elsewhere on the Cradle Garrath's forces are in disarray, and all of his reserves have been committed. It seems that at last, after a terrible fight, the Lunar attack has been repelled. Bodies of Lunar mercenaries and Orlanthi lie jumbled around. Dimly the heroes become aware that the Cradle is moving once more, having broken through the securing ice. Once more, the Cradle heads towards Pavis.

Mopping Up

It goes black and Aelfwyrd is lost to the world once more - perhaps his Lord calls him this day? Yet his senses come alive again as he returns to land of living. Rising to his feet pain wracks his body, bloods flows freely from his head. He looks about amongst the carnage of bloody corpses for his comrades.

Aelfwyrd’s spirits soar as he spots each Herewardi in turn: although some are seriously wounded they all live this day. With a large grin on his face Aelfwyrd walks between his comrades celebrating this victory out loud, with much back slapping and praising of Humakt and Kargan. Upon reaching Enfrew he eyes the corpse of the last axe men and says with obvious mirth in his voice, "So I owe you twice over now my friend" and wiping the blood from his face adds with a wink "Some weapon master am I!"

Enfrew smiles as he helps Aelfwyrd stand up, "Isn't that how it was meant to be? We will forget how many lives we owe to each other when this is all over. To be Humakt's weapon, we must fight as one."

As her opponent falls to the deck, Dorinda steps back, her exhaustion hitting her again as the heady rush of battle subsides. Something's missing... she looks round, expecting to see Kristen approaching the body as usual. But Kristen is slumped against the bulwark, clutching her leg, with Valens standing guard over her. Vaguely, Dori tries to sort out the implications of that arrangement, but she's too tired.

The rest of her warband? Her Legion? She looks round, counting heads. They're all still alive? Hard to believe... Tired, though. Another wave like that would be too much, now. But we're alive..! .. she grins round at the rest of them. "Well done! We made it! That was well fought, Humakt should be pleased with the work done in his name today."

Looking round the rest of the Cradle, it seems that the other groups are just as badly off, if not worse, but at least no attacks threaten us for now. No external help, then: well, not from them. Dori rubs her hand across her forehead, trying to take stock. Carry on... we're not dead yet, so carry on.

"Right, we need rest, and we need healing. But there may be another attack to come, so we can't just take it easy." She looks round, weighing up their remaining strength. "Enfrew, Malan, you're the least hurt. One of you stand guard for a bit: if another attack comes, we don't want to be taken by surprise.. The other, see if the Nemolayope is willing to help heal people now the battle's over. You may have to take them to her rather than expecting her to come on deck. Geran, you said one of your followers is a healer? Can he help some of our group?"

"Everyone else, take a break: get healed if you can, get some rest."

She walks slowly back to the centre, where she'd left her pack of bandages and herbs, automatically cleaning her sword as she goes, and sits down, sorting through the remains of her supplies. Bandages. White, clean, go round things. Yeah... tricky to tie with fingers that don't work, though.

Hrolf looks around at the survivors, scattered around the prow of the Cradle, and beams with pride and satisfaction. “Well fought, comrades!” He picks up the severed head of one of the mercenaries, “And these axe-men: fierce and honourable warriors they were – even if their cause was misguided.” Here Hrolf kneels for a moment in reverence to the War God. “Oh Great Reaper! We thank you for making us the instruments of your will!” he shouts, foam flicking from his beard.

Then he turns to listen to the Ten-Thane’s orders, snapping to attention. “I will ask the other Humakti on board if they have means to heal you, Tenthane. Blackbeak, can you look after Hughie? Take him to the Nemolayope if you can.” And with that Hrolf sets out across the deck, looking for the Humakti who boarded with Garrath.

Dori's eyes widen slightly as this new idea occurs to her. "If you think they're reliable: they were drinking, before, but... yes, good idea. And.... thanks."

Jamal gasps at the effort of removing the remnants of the last ladder, and he looks up to survey the devastation on the deck of the cradle. Some are hurt, Dori badly, he marvels that she is still moving. He stands up, stretching at his wounds, and acknowledges Maniskus as he rests below the bulwark, tending to his wounds.

"Well my friend, here we are again. At least I wasn't the direct cause of your injuries this time" and he winks.

Jamal then calls to Abul, and orders him to get an assessment of everyone's injuries to report to Garrath. He then helps Maniskus to his feet, ready to go below to see if we can get any aid from Nemolayope He calls to Dori, "I'll head below to see the nymph, send Abul if we aren't here the next time the accursed Lunars attack"

Enfrew stands up, remembering the wounds he survived, and how they went away under the healing magics. "I will stand guard. And may I suggest that Geran goes to Nemolayope? The decks below are occupied by Trolls, and I wouldn't like to even think about what could happen if someone else went."

Geran growls impatiently at Kogad, the Xiola Umbar healer standing dejectedly by his side. The Enlo milling about shriek and whimper when he stands up, and try to hide behind Kogad, but Geran ignores the food and closes his eyes. His head swings back and forth a moment before he sets off towards the human female. He waves the Enlo away and they quickly disperse, some try to pilfer stuff from the executed prisoners, some try to take a bite out of any unconscious defenders or dead attackers but cease at another menacing growl from Geran. With his personal bodyguard in tow he reaches Dori. He sniffs the air in her direction and his stomach rumbles.

Once more, as Geran approaches, Dori's sword starts to glow and hum, and she forces it (and her expression) back under control.

"Yo da mother of dese" he states and with a gesture includes the heroes. "Uz help, Geran help, yo help Geran now. My healer worthless, better as food, you help now. Then we eat." He looks over at the dead prisoners and points. The other Uzko beside him whoop and shout at this. He shows the deep gash where an axe took him in the side.

"Yes, you fought well beside us," Dori admits. (A little grudgingly, perhaps?). "I know little of the healing of trolls, but you deserve what help I can give, there is no question of that."

She glances over at the pile of bodies and gibbering trollkin, not even trying to hide her distaste. "Eating the bodies, though... while Humakt has no interest in a body once the spirit has left it, others here would, I think, take great offence at such a thing. Fighting the Lunars will be hard enough: we do not need to be fighting each other as well, and that might well be the result if you and your.... creatures... did such a thing."

She pulls out her bandages, needles, thread, and so on: looks at the herbs, then shakes her head and leaves them. Let surgery commence.

On Past Bullford

The Cradle is now bobbing merrily down river. Sable Riders keep pace along the banks, and behind them the Lunar Infantry is marching hard. Dorinda attends to her own wounds with shaking hands, and it is some time before she applies the last dressing. She then begins to attend to Kristen, but clearly there is little Arroin's skills can do for her.

As the Ten-thane is kneeling by her follower Hrolf appears with a compact Humakti initiate he introduces as Elendala. "I was of the White Quartz clan," she says shortly, "and the women of my folk have some healing touch." However, when she sees the extent of Kristen's wounds Elendala frowns. The Kheldon woman kneels and begins treating the tear in Kristen's side, but after a little while she shakes her head. "This is beyond my skill. In Truth I would be hastening her trip to Our Lord, which is not generally the purpose of healing."

Following Hrolf's orders, Blackbeak makes his way over to Three-Lung Hughie, who was injured and taken out of the fight in the earlier battle. He finds that the healers have stanched the worst of the tough ex-bandit's wounds, but did not have time or resources to do more. Hughie insists on making his way belowdecks without Blackbeak's help, and limps away stoically, leaning on his spear.

As he nears the Uz, Hughie stops and salutes, addressing the creatures in pidgin Tradetalk, "You, twill-Humakti Guano. Legs too big, but fight good!" It seems Hughie thinks trolls incapable of intelligent speech. "Me Thwee-Lung Hughie. I-" he thumps his fist on his breastplate, then points at the Uz, "you wespect. Humakt pwoud you. We fight, beak and tusk togethew!"

Meanwhile, Blackbeak has wandered over to Kristin, who was also injured. Valens is standing guard over her, but now that the battle is over he is unsure what to do. The Heortling healers, too, see the runes of Babeester Gor on Kristin, and are afraid to touch her. The Durulz hesitates for a moment, then holds out his spear. "Hewe. Lean on this. I'll cawy youwe geawe." He picks up her axe and shield, and waits for Kristin to get up. As they make their way slowly to the hatchway, he confides to her: "I was going to get you anotha um, twophy, but Humakt doesn't like that sowt of thing. So I got you this." Blackbeak reaches behind his back and pulls out the large, double bladed axe from the warrior he cut down. "I disembowelled the guy myself" the Durulz says proudly.

Aelfwyrd and Enfrew have both been seen to by the war healers and have joined the Far Walkers, along with Korol and Yrsga. Both students are proud to have finally been blooded in battle against the Lunars, and Aelfwyrd is proud of them also. He realises that both are now ready for initiation, and soon will be his students no longer but fully blooded warriors. He accepts the prospect with satisfaction.

Urgi and the Far Walkers pay tribute to the heroism of their opponents, and talk them up until they are fifty feet tall, fire-breathing, and wield tree trunks for axes. In this way the deeds of the Far Walkers are increased - there is, however, a wry humour to the manner in which they do this. They also politely belittle the deeds of Aelfwyrd, and insist that if he fought two warriors at once then each of them held back five - but that is such a trifling deed you don't hear them discuss it, do you?

No Quarter!

Hrolf helps oversee the clearing of the decks and the tending of the dead; asking Enfrew to help him, he intones a blessing over each corpse before its disposal. “Our attackers fought fiercely, with bravery and honour. We will remember them in our tales and songs. They may travel to Humakt’s Halls with dignity – and the Cradle Warders may celebrate today’s victory with pride!”

Then he approaches Garrath to ask that the prisoners be put to death with full funerary honours. “This is no battle for giving quarter: the Cradle Robbers seek to steal from a child. We will execute them swiftly, with all the dignity and glory that these brave warriors have earned.”

Garrath is holding a council with his thanes and leaders of the various factions on board, and they bid Hrolf and the other Herewardi a respectful welcome.

"Well fought, sword brothers, that was well done. By the gods, honour has been earned on your swords this day. I am Karrath Sing-and-Die, and I was of the Blue Owl clan of the Locaem tribe before I died." The man that speaks is a Humakti from the gang that stood to the legion's right side. Despite their drinking beforehand they fought well, but suffered several injuries.

Garrath concurs, and as the discussion progresses it is clear why. Many of those who fought were sorely pressed, and many wounded lie on the decks. At several points the line almost broke, and only the commitments of Garrath's reserves preserved the Cradle-Riders. The Uroxi appear to have suffered particularly badly, and their leader Korfstan blames the adventurer band that stood by them.

"The cowardly shits barely fought! Throwing arrows about isn't going to help anyone - what are you, a pack of Yinkini? Chuck 'em over board and let 'em swim back." Several placatory voices are heard, but Korfstan only gets angrier. "What scabby whores whelped you lot then? Bring me a cauldron, we have need of glue and sheeps' bones make the best - then they'll be more use, making sure we don't slip on this deck awash with the blood of heroes."

The Dwarf in the party appears puzzled. "Not logical, not factual. Human component broken in the perceptory unit, plus rational. Need repair."

He is drowned out by another in the band, a muscular giant with skin of shining black and a shaven scalp. He clutches his spear aggressively and prods the butt towards Korfstan. "Bluster little man - you not hold you side you fault. We fought, we won."

Korfstan is about the reply, possibly with his axe for he hoists it meaningfully, but Garrath angrily intervenes. "You are all oath-sworn to me and shall not argue amongst yourselves. Save your fighting for the Lunars." It is clear he is frustrated by the difficulty of holding together such a shambolic alliance, and he willingly turns to listen to Hrolf's request.

As Hrolf finishes speaking one of Garrath's thanes speaks up. She is a Vingan woman, and she is shaking her head emphatically. "Lord," she says, "these warriors are not Lunars, but mercenaries - working men fighting for a cause not their own. Many of us have been in such a place. It is true the defeated may not always expect magnanimity from the victors, and it is true we are sorely pressed. Yet these are warriors who may one day fight alongside us, and their swordbrothers may one day hold our lives in their hands. I say we throw them overboard and let them swim ashore, or else hold them for ransom as is custom."

When she is done talking the Uroxi spit derisively. "Kill the fuckers!" shouts Korfstan. Others on the cradle acclaim one or the other point of view.

Hrolf listens respectfully to the Vingan before replying. "With strong sword arm and generous heart you defend life well, Redwoman. But the Cradle War is no raid or quarrel arising out of misunderstanding. Nor is it simply a way to fight and eat another day. There are great magics and great lives at work here, and those who commit themselves to the wrong side or fight for the wrong reasons have more than their lives at stake."

"Humakt asks for the death of the prisoners because they fought bravely. They are no children, to be beaten and sent home crying: it is almost an insult to spare them. If we face them in the future I hope they pay me the same honour."

"For me, there is another reason to slay our prisoners, honourable or not. This battle is too great to grant quarter. On another day, in another place Hereward's Legion may show mercy, but let all know that if they face us here they die."

Enfrew stands proudly beside Hrolf, giving him words of support. "Long before Elmal became the defender of the Storm Tribe, Humakt was the only voice of reason. When Orlanth, full of jealousy, lead his warriors against the Fire Tribe, Humakt stayed behind to defend the tula. Many were those who tried to plunder the tula while Orlanth was away, but Humakt defeated them all. In a battle against the Dark Tribe, Humakt took many trollkin as prisoners. Pondering about what to do with them, he decided to execute them all in a ritual which would strengthen Storm Tribe's magic and help him fend off the attackers next time the tula was attacked."

Enfrew pauses and takes a deep breath, then continues. "Just when he was ready to execute his prisoners, Orlanth returned from his raid with the warriors, and Issaries and Lankhor Mhy returned from some long journey. All were shocked with Humakt's intentions, and Issaries tried to talk him out of it, saying that it would be more profitable to ransom them. But Humakt replied that those of Dark Tribe he captured lost in battle, and it was the right thing to sacrifice them. They were not granted the honourable death in combat, he said, but they will have it now. Letting them go crawling back to their tula would be dishonourable for both them and us."

"And so Humakt killed the captured trollkin, and all agreed that he made a wise decision."

In the face of Hrolf's argument and Enfrew's support, Theri the Vingan frowns. "It is true that there are times when this is the right thing to do, but we are here on a Cradle of Life, and on this vessel the rites of Death should not be consecrated..." her words may stand forthright but her tone reveals her defeated even in her own eyes.

One of the Babeester Gori stands and spits her disagreement. "Those wise of the Gor know blood spilt brings life. This is the power of the Gor - blood means fertility, blood means life, blood feeds the fields of Tarsh," she says in reference to the dark practices of Maran. "I will stand beside this Humakti man, and in a swift axe-blow Death shall serve Life."

And with that proclamation Garrath nods his head and gives leave for the executions, although the Vingan hangs her head and several of the other warriors gathered look displeased.


Hrolf prepares the prisoners: they are relieved of their weapons and armour, and washed. He explains how the ceremony will proceed, and each prisoner is given the chance to say a few parting words, and the choice of suicide, or a Humakti or Babeesti executioner. Each prisoner's opponent speaks a few words of praise for the prisoner's prowess in the last battle.

Then Hrolf speaks the Parting Words: "Warriors of Holburn's Axe Brothers and the Longspear Slayers, you have fought hard and bravely in your last battle. Know that Humakt has seen your last deeds, and judged them virtuous. He will proclaim your virtue himself before your gods, that they may judge you in the full light of Truth. Warriors, we honour you and wish you speed your safe passage to Humakt's Halls!"

And with that, the executions proceed. Enfrew's sword, and the Babeesti axes, make a quick and merciful killing. Most of the enemy are resigned to their fate and meet their deaths well. Some recite their genealogies and deeds, others urge their dead comrades to meet them as they cross the Sword Bridge, and several spit out defiant curses. Others die less well, pleading for their lives, offering gold and other ransoms. The axe-women sneer at them and do not trouble themselves to make the ends of these men swift.

Garrath watches the proceedings with an ill-concealed air of distaste. Two of the condemned have bent to him, kissed his ring-finger and sworn oaths of allegiance on Hrolf's sword. Several others have been willing also, but too badly wounded to fight: they have been put to the Sword. After the last man has been executed, Garrath sighs and turns away to speak to the assembled warriors, his arms grandly outstretched.

"Free folk of Prax, blood has been spilled here in the Gods' honour, and they look favourably on us. Orlanth is our spear, Humakt is our sword, Gustbran is our mail. Already we have won a warrior's battle, the first blood is ours! The Gods are with us! Here we fight and kill and die!" At this the assembled warriors cheer and stamp their spear-butts on the deck.

"Today we fight the Empire, today the Storm's Spears will shatter the Moon's Shields! The winds shall gather and raise us up, and each sword strike is a blow for freedom, a wound to a chaos-loving, Eurmal-tongued, Malia-birthed Empire. We strike, and the winds blow. We strike, and the thunderhead builds. We strike, and the Storm brews. We strike, and we foretell the coming of the hurricane! Like leaves they shall be driven before us. They shall run like snow under a full summer sun. This is what we herald!"

On deck the warriors are cheering and crying, for Garrath's words speak to their heart's desire. His gaunt face is shining; his eyes gleam with youthful belief. His manner is radiant, and there is ample time to reflect that this is a born leader of men. Like the strongest wind he picks them up from the valleys and deposits them on mountain-tops. He builds their courage, their determination.

"But. This is what we foretell. The river ahead brings danger, death and perhaps defeat. Today, though we fight for our homelands, our Gods, our freedom, we fight also for a Giant's child. To seek victory in that battle we must break the Lunar shield wall from Pavis to Corflu, and that is a hard, long task we have just begun. They will attack again before Pavis, be sure of it. Captains, tend to your wounded. Then see me, for we must prepare ourselves. The rest of you, remember," he pauses, earnestly, pleading. "If we break through to Corflu, our names will be sung by the skalds even into the time of your distant descendants. We fight to save a Giant's child, yes. We even fight for gold, yes. But today we fight to show all Glorantha what a Death-Sworn band can do against the Tyrant's Empire. Win here, and a victory horn will sound in every clan hall from Pavis to Wintertop, from Alone to Heortland. Win here, raise thunder! Win here, raise storm! Win here! Win!"

And the warriors lap it up like an Alynx in a lake of cream. Who cares if the words make no sense? Who cares if the rhetoric is confused? Who notices? For Garrath's words lift all away, to a battle-field vision where the Lunar lines are ragged and broken, and red-cloaked warriors flee death wielded by the vengeful. That is what these warriors fight for now. Not gold, not oaths, not honour.


A Shadow Belowdecks

Meanwhile Jamal and Maniskus have ventured below decks to find the Nemolayope. They pass through the rooms occupied by Geran's followers heading aft, where they become aware of being watched. Standing at the end of the corridor are a gang of three large trolls bearing fearsome weapons and encased in lead armour. Their chops slather as they see the wounded Maniskus.

"Lunch!" they chortle in bad Tradetalk. "Munch softbug up. Yummm!" The Uz laugh at their wit, and then one - the largest - stops to examine Jamal more closely. "You have the whiff of enemy about you," he says, sniffing hard in the Carmanian's direction. There is a long tense silence as the other trolls eagerly await their leader's permission to attack. Maniskus clutches Jamal's arm and loosens his sword, even injured as he is.

"No," says the Uz finally, "not you. And lucky for you, 'cos Kzgran Barefang is itching to kill and always hungry. Go now, or maybe I change my mind."

Jamal tenses as the trolls approach, and his hand moves to his iron sword "Bull Spike". As the large troll speaks, lumping him with the Lunar scum, he opens his mouth, about to say something. But the weight of Maniskus pulls him back. Pride may have been offended - the name Kzgran Barefang will be remembered, but there is more pressing work at hand. Jamal hoists Maniskus up and continues on to find the nymph in silence.

The trolls snicker and jeer as Jamal aids Maniskus down into the hold. There they soon find the Nemolayope, surrounded by many of the piglings who shiver nervously at the scent of blood on the warriors. The Nymph immediately begins to tend the warriors' wounds with great care and compassion. Jamal's hurts are banished with a sweet, simple song, but Maniskus' injuries prove more stubborn. She shakes her head, and turns to Jamal. "I am tired and must rest, as must he. There is no cure for his wounds other than time."

Jamal returns to the deck carrying Maniskus. Carefully he sets his vassal down and calls the rest of the Legion together. "We are many still injured, and there will soon, like as not, be another assault from the empire. I suggest that we help the injured below decks, perhaps to the Silver Room or the Horn of Slops room. Here they may be able to help us cover our retreat, should we need to regroup to the hold of the Cradle itself."

"If you do go below, be careful, there are surly Dark Men down there, who even though they aid the Cradle, appear hungry. Their leader goes by the name of Kzgran." After he says this Jamal looks up and beckons to Elnor. "I see that you fight well, but your companion Oddus fights with Dorinda. My vassal Maniskus is also injured. Come and fight with me so that we may make a success of this enterprise."

Dori looks up from applying yet another bandage. "Not Kzgran Barefang? Oh..... dear. That's going to make things interesting. And they aid the Cradle, do they?" She looks over to where Aelf is Boasting, well out of earshot.

"For now, don't tell Aelfwyrd. And keep him out of there: I expect he'll avoid trolls in any case. That's a sworn enemy of his. They can fight it out when we're off the Cradle. I'll even help him, but as long as we're all sworn to the Cradle's defence, we can't have them meeting."

She considers this a bit further. "From what I've heard of Kzgran, I'm not too happy about having our wounded down there with him. Which bit of the area below were the Trolls guarding, Jamal? Could we take the wounded below and still keep them away from Trollish appetites?"

Jamal Grunts "They should be safe enough in the Silver room or Horn of Slops room. Kzgarn's warriors seemed to be further into the depths of the Cradle"

"Fine. In that case, let's move them to the Silver Room, since we already set that up to be defensible. And we don't really want them accidentally drowning in slops. Check with Geran first: he'll be guarding them, and his healer may be able to tend them. And come to think of it, some of his ...people" (she pronounces the word with some hesitation) "look strong: they could be useful in getting the injured down the ladder without dropping them."

The injured are moved below without mishap. The Silver Room lies below the area guarded by the Morocanth and the other adventurers. As the Herewardi move their injured below the Uroxi cry - "I'd not leave them there, unsafe in the protection of those fools!"

Jamal looks up and gives his Bull-brothers a quizzical look. He knows nothing of Morocanth (or indeed anything Praxian).

In reply to Jamal's puzzlement the Uroxi begin flinging curses at the adventuring band that guard the Cradle's rear.

"They can't fight for shit and they winge like girls in the blood-letting! And that walking beast there," they cry, pointing at the Morocanth, "he'll eat your wounded. Store 'em elsewhere if you want them safe."

The tall black man grimaces angrily at their words and curses the Uroxi roundly in misshapen Sartarite. The Mostali merely ignores them whilst continuing to fiddle with his sorcerous machines. Two others, both Orlanthi warriors, look increasingly angry at such abuse and start boasting about the number of foes they have defeated with their comrades, belittling the Bull Men's achievements. The Morocanth simply regards the Uroxi coldly, and toys with a fetish at his belt.

Jamal smiles "Come we are Cradle-brothers are we not, at least for now..."

He approaches the Uroxi in an attempt to divert them, "We both seem to follow the way of the Bull. I am not from these parts and my Lord Bisos is not known here. I have met some other Bull-brothers here in the plains, but they seem rather different from yourselves. Come, tell me your way...."

The Pavis Humakti

Once Dori has got the injured sorted, and made sure Geran and his mob are guarding them, she seeks out the other Humakti on board. Partly this is just to get to know them, but also to find any information they may have on the Pavis temple. Since they boarded near Pavis, it's a fair bet that they have visited the temple there recently. She also passes on a warning about the vampire met further south, in case any of them are going that way in the future.

Karrath Sing-and-Die cheerfully makes time to talk with Dorinda. His men loll about, either sharpening their weapons or drinking heavily. He sniffs. "Trouble with Prax is you can't get the mead - beer's no good to fight on, doesn't get the blood going right."

After passing on professional respect at the Herewardi's battle prowess, Karrath is eager to hear what news Dorinda bears. He frowns at her reports of the goings at Whitewall, and touches his sword to avert evil when she delivers her assessment - Orlanth's stronghold will fall.

In return he talks freely of the Pavis Temple, of which he is a member. "It's solid enough, though not large. Not all are Heortlings, either, for three seasons ago Lunar worshippers arrived also." He spits with derision. "I didn't know the God permitted such to light his bale-fires, but they were sworn servants and who am I to gainsay Humakt's desires? They've made little enough trouble yet, but the Temple is no longer a place to speak freely, that's for sure."

He talks on, and Dorinda begins to build a picture of the strengths of the temple, its principle warriors and forces. As for vampires, Karrath snorts. "Your warning is well-meant, Tenthane, but useless. Vampires in the south don't bother us - undead in the Rubble do, Chaos in the wastes is enough. Let the Vivamorti drink Yelmalian blood - then there'll be less spears to bring against us!"

Drinking and Wenching For Humakt

Having completed the executions, Hrolf wanders over to the Pavis Humakti with Karrath Sing-and-Die, enquiring about their practice of drinking heavily before battle. "I have never seen this before; is it a a ritual unique to Pavis, or does it have other origins? And why is mead better than beer?" he asks with all the sincerity of a committed drinker.

Karrath looks at Hrolf with puzzlement. "Why, men have been drinking before battle since the Darkness, for it takes courage for some men to fight. But my men and I do it for the God has geased me, and when drunk he fills me with Power. And mead tastes better than the swilish beer out here and gets you drunk faster - although your head is worse in the morning."

Realization slowly dawns on Hrolf's face - and a good humored version of envy. "Aaah, by Orlanth's beard. That was not one of Grimbeak's teachings. Durulz and mead don't mix all that well," he explains.

Dorinda stares at him, amazed. "Truly I learn something new of the ways of the Separator each day. Many times have I heard of him demanding of his worshippers that they touch no alcohol, but never before that he should demand the opposite. And the effects of the Power he gives you are clear for all to see." She shakes her head, baffled. "I thought I understood the geases he gives, but I can see I still have much to learn. Perhaps with time and meditation all will become clear, but I doubt the Lunars will allow us that luxury today. Still, I thank you for the insight."

"Touch no alcohol?" Karrath stares at her in disbelief, a look of absolute horror crossing his face. "What perversion is that? Is not mead needed for the rites of the Death Song? Does ale not flow at the Wavekiller Feast, and beer on Death Day? And are Humakt's rites of Dark Death Day not incomplete without a barrel of his daughter's blood beer? All right-thinking people know these things."

Dori looks more and more amazed as the list goes on. "Well, in any temple I've been in: and that's a lot of temples! the answer to any of those questions would be no. Possibly quite a violent "no". And the idea of Humakt having a daughter would be laughable at best. But, strange though your words are, clearly you do speak Truth as you know it, for your sword still obeys you, and the Separator does not allow his name to be mocked. There is much to think on here: how can the Truth he gives to one and the Truth he gives to another be opposite?"

She shakes her head, baffled. "Such deep philosophy is beyond me for now. But I would suggest you do not mention that daughter with the blood beer to my friend Kristen, or any of her sisters. She might feel that her goddess required an axe in human hands to deal with what she would see as blasphemy, and we have enough Lunars to fight without fighting each other."

Karrath doesn't like the insinuation that he is not a good Humakti. "I don't know where you were initiated, woman," he says darkly, "but a warriors' god that forbids drinking and wenching may as well forbid war. What's the point of fighting if not to get drunk and get laid? Eurmal! Anyone would think you're a Yelmalion. Their spears don't work properly, and no wonder."

Just as Dorinda is about to retort, Jarang plucks at her elbow. "Garrath would like a word with you, captain."

Angus Redfeather

After the battle, Hrolf seeks out Jones and his Durulz Humakti. "Well fought, comrades!" he exclaims. "You have proved your prowess in battle many times over on this journey. Hereward's Legion has need of beaks such as yours," he says, using the traditional Durulz form. "And there may be other goals we share as well ..." Here Hrolf launches into a description of his years of tutelage under Grimbeak Deathblade, and his plans for the liberation of Durulz nests. If we defeat the impostor air deity Shepelkirt, maybe we can even regain the ability to fly!

Jones and his warriors are battered and bloody, but grin sturdily at Hrolf's praise. "Ouw Mummuth didn't hatth no foolth," says Jones cheerfully. "When big boyth come at you like that, thwike under their thiedth - that'th the way."

Jones nods thoughtfully. "I've heawd of Gwimbeak, but not of Hewewawd 'til I met you. What is it that Hewewawd offews the Duwulth? You thpeak of libewating Sawtaw, and we all long fow ouw nethtland," he says indicating his followers. "But thewe awe many who offew thith pwomithe - why awe you diffewent?"

This brings Hrolf up short. "You are right," he says thoughtfully, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. "I'm sure you have been promised many things by those who need your skills and your courage. And most of all by those who care least about the Empty Nests."

"I'll tell you about Hereward, but I'll give up on recruiting you for his Legion until I've had a chance to prove my sincerity to you. Hereward is the True Wind, who followed Arkat loyally until his leader deceived him with apostasy. One of his most important teachings is never to lead others falsely. I cannot promise you I can liberate the nests - not for a long time yet. But my hope is sincere, and I will prove it to you eventually."

Here Hrolf launches into the myth of Hereward Truewind (the parts suitable for lay persons). He will answer any questions when finished, but otherwise leaves Jones and his troops in peace.

When Hrolf is done talking, Jones scratches his beak for a moment before replying. "I've theen you fight and I've heawd you talk, and I think you awe a man who thtandth on hith wowd." The durulz motions forward one his followers, a ruddy young warrior called Angus, and places both hands on his shoulders. "Thith ith my thon, Anguth Redfeather. I think he could leawn well fwom you fow a little while, fow I thee both Hughie and Blackbeak awe both stwong wawwiowth undew yaw guidanth - ath wath Bwightfeathew. Teatth Anguth yaw Hewewawdwi wayth, and we will thee what it bwingth hith kin."

Yrsga and Korol Learn Wolf and Raven Fighting

Later, once talk has slowed Aelfwyrd finds some space on the prow or somewhere else quiet and once again begins his daily worship. To outsiders this time spent in weapon practice seem just that; practice. But to catch the look in his eyes they would understand that to this Kargan Devotee it is something more spiritual all together.

Meanwhile, Geran has been swilling from a sheepskin full of beer and discovering that he has chewed a bit on the skin itself, crunch it up and stuff it all into his maw. His enlo are tired and have retreated with Kogad for some rest, but are unable relax, obviously unused to sleep as night falls. The other uzko are not to be seen, except for Domag who sits by his boss.

Domag watches lazily for a while then seems to say something to Geran who looks up and growls something in what must be Darktongue, sounding surprised. Geran shouts something to one of his enlo who instantly rushes away with a frightened yelp. In a few moments he returns with the other uzko who join Geran and Domag. Together they watch the practice session and talk quietly.

Breathing deeply Aelfwyrd recalls time spent in Pavis and the words of his wizened old sensai; “Harmonising yourself in action” and “wield a sword: not to control the enemy, but to control yourself” and “combat becomes all out attack; simple and direct”

Concentrating on posture and movement, grip and swing Aelfwyrd focuses whirling the glittering oriental blade against single and then multiple imaginary foes.

After an hour or so he pauses and seeks out his students; Yrsga and Korol, “You both have fought well beyond expectations against the lunar filth this day. This gladens me greatly."

Aelfwyrd recalls constant scowl and blunt words spoken by Clapsaddle, his own Humakti weaponthane mentor during such work outs. Seeing the pleased looks on the students faces he demeanor becomes as hard as old Braggi’s

“You survived the first wave and gain reputation because of it. War and death is a serious matter, never forget this” he snaps and then continuing in a more even tone, “The battle for this cradle will become fierce before it is ended. There is still so much for you to learn and always too little time"

Spying Hrolf and the death drake’s a little way away he strides over in their direction. Eying the druluz with some suspicion, particularly Blackbeak, he greets Hrolf warmly

“Your mastery of the twin blade style is well known” then turning to his two students “I would have my charges learn as much as possible before they face Death in Pavis.”

Aelfwyrd alludes to his students pending initiation, perhaps in Pavis, something which until this point he has not mentioned to either of them

“This style is not my preference yet it will fit well with Yrsga if not Korol. Ask what you will of me in return” offers Aelfwyrd by means of a fair trade.

Hrolf regards the Kargan devotee thoughtfully; Aelfwyrd's way is so full of pride and death, as fell as his greatsword - and as dangerous to the wielder. Hrolf came to Humakt throught the austerity of the path of Honor, and still isn't completely comfortable around those overflowing with Death. No doubt Aelfwyrd's presence in the Legion is one of the his Lord's tests.

Hrolf's eyes regain their focus as he hears his comrade's words, and a grin spreads across his face. "Mastery? You mock me, Aelfwyrd - or Issaries's silken flattery was rent on the sharp blade of your greatsword. My skills are still paltry."

He glances at the Korol and Yrsga. "But I will gladly teach what I know, Sword Brother. My time is the Legion's, and the Legion welcomes those who follow in Humakt's footsteps."

Hrolf's gaze returns to Aelfwyrd, looking for the kinship of the blade he had just voiced. What is truly Humakti in this deadly man, and what is only mayhem? Perhaps ... only time - and battle - will tell. For now, Hrolf has obedience to the Legion to think about. "You owe me nothing, Aelfwyrd. Your loyalty to the Legion is payment enough."

Aelfwyrd is a boastful and often unknowingly arrogant young man yet he looks taken a back at Hrolf’s talk of mockery.

“Mock you? Kargan sever my hands and leave me with bloody stumps!” the Karganite says implying that having no hands is a pretty bad fate for a weaponthane. “Mastery of arms is no joking matter. Each weapon has its own wyrd and truly blessed by Kargan are those who can unlock its secrets” he says solemnly.

Once Hrolf has agreed to train his students Aelfwyrd says with gladness “You honour me and my charges, it will be repaid in kind.”

On catching Hrolf’s thoughtful gaze he slaps him on the back. Making a joke that the largely uneducated Aelfwyrd finds most amusing he says “you think too much brother, you’ll be growing a long beard and reading books next.”

This Hrolf can relate to. "Humakt forbid!" he laughs. "By the way, where is Vern? I haven't heard his dusty voice lately."

Now in a jovial mood Aelfwyrd laughs and give Hrolf a nudge "Vern? No doubt crawling around sketching pictures of that nymph." Thinking back to his days in Nochet he continues "I was bodyguard to an old book worm in Nochet a few seasons back. Didn't even have a proper beard, just a false one tied under his chin with twine." says Aelfwyrd pretending to tie an imaginary bow around his neck. Continuing he says,” “Scared as a babe in the woods about a Thanatari heresy; his life’s work down the river or some such. Babbling on endlessly about uncovering lost lore, it was near enough to make any man’s ears bleed,” says Aelfwyrd waving his hand dismissively. “Still this Vern seems well enough” he says shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe he put himself to some use and scry the truth of this Raven Foot cohort, for it is well beyond me my friend.”

Aelfwyrd and Enfrew: Whispers Of Doubt

Later, Enfrew seeks out Aelfwyrd, expressing some doubts about the leadership. [***missing quote from Enfrew] Aelfwyrd replies to Enfrew in low a voice so (hopefully) others will not hear, "I left Far Point but a boy so never spoke to such yet Garrath reminds me as if a noble tribal thane, a Rex; he listens, reasons and commands, he is a leader. I see truth in his deeds and hear it clear in his words," Aelfwyrd adds matter-of-factly.

"But we measure in days how long we have known him so I caution you. He is not Humakti nor Tresdarni stock so he is nothing to me. But you must make your own decisions,” cautions Aelfwyrd. Recalling distant memories of betrayal in Far Point he adds bitterly, ”I say to you, there have been many leaders of warriors and kings at the head of tribal rings. What good have they brought? I trust nobody who takes this role with open hands."

Turning to look back in Garrath’s direction he continues, "Yet Garrath commands warriors of strength and honour, such is obvious and his clan fight the moon with unconcealed fury." Turning back to Enfrew Aelfwyrd says, "Yet something troubles me and I cannot place it.”

"Yes," replies Enfrew in an equally low voice. "Garrath does seem a little too eager to lead, but no one is perfect. We Humakti are few, and it is not our place to lead. We know the Truth and it helps us guide our own actions, but the others have never listened to the Truth, and I don't expect that to change."

He takes a short look at Garrath, and then turns back to Aelfwyrd. "Our people will need a leader when the time is right, and we must help them choose a right person, or we may have yet another Philosopher-King with useless words and little courage."

Aelfwyrd snorts in agreement "Philosopher King! Some fancy that riddles along with the Sheplekirt filth! We need a leader forged in battle and wrought of iron, not some bearded debater.” Then adding with a hint of sadness, "The weak bow to the moon while the strong are killed by their kin. What chance one great leader lives long enough to unite the tribes?"

Then Aelfwyrd confides his own thoughts on Garrath, "This defence will become a blood bath before the Cradle reaches the sea, I sense it. We will see Garrath's colours and know his truth by the end.”

The Far Walkers: Aelfwyrd Enraged!

At some point after the battle of Bullford, Aelfwyrd seeks out his former kin. Urgi and the Far Walkers pay tribute to the heroism of their opponents, and talk them up until they are fifty feet tall, fire-breathing, and wield tree trunks for axes. In this way the deeds of the Far Walkers are increased - there is, however, a wry humour to the manner in which they do this. They also politely belittle the deeds of Aelfwyrd, and insist that if he fought two warriors at once then each of them held back five - but that is such a trifling deed you don't hear them discuss it, do you?

Aelfywrd accepts this humourous exchange with a broad grin feigning shock at the larger of whoppers being told. He adds a little of his own boasting describing how the crawling Lunar filth crashed against an iron wall that was the Herewardi and how the sword arms of the Legion are surely some of Humakt's best and bravest. The boasting is in humourous manner of these exchanges so far - Alefwyrd is happy to be with his own people and enjoying time with Far Point folks.

Aelfwyrd continues to exchange boasts with the Far Walkers on the prow of the cradle. His banter halts mid sentence as he spots the boss once again in conversation with Geran and his motley crew. Aelfwyrd’s antipathy grows as he watches the enlo scuttle around Geran and then as the cheer goes up directed towards the corpses of those killed in battle. Feeling his blood begin to rise he utters a curse at Geran and reaches for his blade. Catching sight of Dori and the other Herewardi he recalls his oath made to protect the cradle as of Garrath’s words; fighting alongside those you would not normally. Shaking his head Aelfwyrd curses his foul luck at being trapped on this boat with these beasts. Turning back to Urgi and the Far Walkers he picks up the boasting once more his demeanour now cold and humourless.

The Far Walkers note Aelfwyrd's reaction to the trolls and smile grimly. "It is good to see your thoughts on that matter," says Urgi quietly. "We do not think such filth can be trusted. Better to kill them now than have them stab us in the backs at the height of the next Lunar assault, do you not agree cousin Aelfwyrd?"

Aelfwyrd looks about the cradle to ensue it is only Urgi and the Far Walkers who are in ear shot.

Then turning to Urgi he says, “There is truth in your words; the Uz cannot be trusted. I would gladly slaughter a thousand if it meant an end to our troubles, Cousin.”

“We have fought for generations on the gors and gallts against the watchers from the shadows. It is hard to say which beast is the worse; these? The newts? Or the crawling filth from Snakepipe?” Aelfwyrd says looking over at Geran and his mob.

“But hear me Urgi. What of the kinstrife that eats away at us like some cancer? Ironfist and his Gagarthi scum hunt like a wolves amongst our tribe. What does Brightshield do about it?”

“I have listened to Garrath’s words; without the aid of those we would call enemy’s we will not win out against the moon.” says Aelfwyrd repeating Garrath’s words.

“It is a powerful truth he speaks, I sense it.”

“Cousin, our fight is with the moon, at least until the cradle is out of danger" says Aelfwyrd with a conspiratorial wink

Aelfwyrd chooses not to mention his oath nor the nagging doubts he has about Garrath and looks expectantly at Urgi.

Urgi shakes his head unhappily. "I think you are smarter than that Aelfwyrd. I think the trolls threaten the cradle itself, and therefore we should defend it from them."

Aelfwyrd mulls over Garraths association with these creatures of darkness. For some reason his mind is drawn back to the dark paths that Arkat walked while he decivere then finally betrayed Hereward.

Whispering with some urgency back to Urgi, "It is you that should be cautious cousin Urgi. I know this stinks, these Uz trouble me as much as you. But they, like all aboard, are oathed in some way to Garrath or the defence of the Cradle. If you were to strike out chaos would ensue and the defence of the Cradle lost."

"You have honoured me by speaking out to Garrath and for that I am in your debt. But I will not be a part of this until the cradle is safely to sea. I am oathed." says Aelfwyrd revealing the corner he has painted himself into.

Urgi grimaces. "Ay, well, like I say, that oath should be no hindrance for you. I say the trolls are a threat. So they are oathed to Garrath? Since when has a troll been bound by oaths? Especially their leader - he is a renowned butcher, a slaughterer - a fiend! Why does Garrath trust him?"

Slightly confused Aelfwyrd looks over towards Geran and his gang reappraising again them quickly “This Uz leads a gang but of no great size, five or so useful warriors by my count” and continues “as for slaughter and butchery, its a beast and a big one at that" then finishing with a wry smile implying Urgi is over stating the issue "trust me cousin, it's no Zorak Zorani, I've hunted such before.”

The Far Walkers mutter deprecatingly at the Karganite's words, yet Urgi silences them sternly. "That one I know little of, and care little about" he says. "It is the other mob that occupies me, below the aft deck. I wager that you would find fine hunting there this day, for their leader is a renowned Death Lord - Kzgarn Barefang."

Aelfwyrd’s wry smile instantly disappears and is replaced by a growing expression of shock and disbelief.

Taking a breath Aelfwyrd try to control his rising anger and reaches out grabbing Urgi’s arm “Kzgarn Barefang, the Death Lord? Here on this cradle?”

Then thinking Urgi is perhaps pulling is particulars Aelfwyrd lets go his arm and try’s to force a smile, “This is not the time for jokes and story telling cousin”

Urgi shakes his head. "This is not a matter for jesting," he says. "You also have heard of this butcher, then?" he asks. "Now I think you see my concern."

Aelfwyrd looks into Urgi’s eyes for signs of falsehood. He finds none. Like the small tremors before a volcano explodes Aelfwyrd begins to shake ever so slightly.

He repeats, more to himself than Urgi and the Far Walkers, what he has just learned, “So Kzgarn Barefang, the Death Lord, and his mob are below the aft deck”.

Wide eyed, with anger plain in his voice Aelfwyrd questions Urgi “So Garrath brought it to the cradle and hides the beast and its mob below deck where they will not be found?"

Urgi shrugs. "I know not his reasons nor his tactics, other than he has been duped by the Uz."

Shaking his head in disagreement Aelfwyrd replies “I cannot believe Garrath has been duped by a mob of Zorani butchers. Their colours cannot be mistaken, they are plain and worn openly; Zorak Zoran is the worst kind of filth”.

Turning away from Urgi to scan the deck for Garrath he adds coldly “and he knows it.” Seething with anger Aelfwyrd marches away from the Far Walkers and past the Herewardi without saying a word heading straight for for where he last saw Garrath.

War Council With Garrath

Garrath is holding a council of war under the tarpaulin, surrounded by his chief thanes. He is looking down through the clear deck and regarding the child below. As the Herewardi approach he looks up and smiles warmly.

"Captain," he greets Dorinda. "I have already thanked you for holding the bow and inflicting such casualities on our foes. Now I would seek your advice." Looking around those that stand with him, faces are taut and strained. Garrath gestures at the other warriors on deck. The Pavisite axemen are once more arguing with the Uroxi, and the Bluefoot Orlanthi are complaining loudly about the trolls on board.

Geran stands to one side, his enlo under relative control at present. A few of them are fighting over some scrap of meat they've found, but quiet when it is snatched away by one of the dark trolls. At Garrath's words, he looks at the humans around him and makes a face of contemptous disdain anyone can understand.

"You are all stoopid, like enlo. Fight each other when the bad moon laughs. Uz fight uz often, but never when someone else fight uz. You be a little like uz, listen to your boss." He sneers a little and straightens his back, drawing up to his full, considerable, height seeming very confident and relaxed under the tarpaulin, away from the harsh light of Death. The other uzko however crouch into a battle ready stance, hands near their maces.

"We need to unite this warband, Dorinda. They fight for me, yes, but they do not trust each other to stand shoulder to shoulder in the shield wall. Perhaps the Lunars have cursed us, turning shieldmate against shieldmate, perhaps it was a mistake to bring such a range of folk on board. Some hate each other even more than they hate the Lunars. I'm sure when the time comes they will stand together, but I worry that a weakly forged shield-wall will crumble and break too easy. These warriors must fight together as one, not seperate bands." He glances down through the deck again.

"You Herewardi fight in a way these folk are not used to. You fight in columns, your cohorts are your Warleader's weapons. If you can, help me to forge these wariors into a sword and a shield for the cradle. If you have rites or god-feats, or failing that then merely wise words in advice, then I urge you to share them with me."

Dori nods seriously. "A difficult question, but an important one. There are many reasons why the Herewardi can fight as they do, but I am unsure whether any can be used to sway the assorted warriors you have here.

"Firstly, we all have the same goal. One of our mottoes is "Honour is the goal", and we take that seriously. At present, we took an oath to defend the Cradle and the child it bears, so that is our primary goal, far beyond such trivia as gold, or our own survival. I do not know what motivates all these warriors, nor how you convinced them to fight for you, but some common ground will need to be found if they are to be united. Hatred of the Lunars, perhaps?"

"Secondly, the Herewardi fight as if we were a single sword in Humakt's hand, because that is, in the deeper sense, precisely what we, and any other Huamkti Legion, are. We die, and give our lives to our god, to do with as He wills. If you could forge these warriors together in such a manner, behind one god, or even one hero, you would have achieved your goal, but I have no idea how to persuade them, in the short time we have, that this would be desirable, nor what entity they might rally behind.

"Finally, I can only suggest that when a weakness cannot be avoided, it must be accepted, and then turned into a strength. If there is no way to stop these groups from quarrelling, can that be used to form competition between them? To make it a matter of pride amongst them to kill more Lunars than any other group?

Malan says "Reminding them of a common enemy might help. Perhaps Fynn could sing to them of the fight against the Lunars, and give everyone their due so that all remember that we defeated them together. He could also tell them the tale of our earlier fight with the Stone Tribe, for I have heard the Trolls hate them even more than the Heortlings do. "

But before Garrath can react there is a great clatter behind him. With the look of someone grievously wronged Aelfwyrd strides over to Garrath bringing the conversation with the Herewardi and his thanes to a halt.

Jamal spots Aelf as he approaches the group - by his demenour he has another bee in his helmet, and at a guess it must be about Dark men. It is ever thus with Aelf. And at another guess, it is about Dark men Jamal met in the bowels of the Cradle. Jamal turns to face the oncoming warrior, and moves to place his armoured bulk between Aelf and Garrath as Aelf launches into his tirade. He regards the Kargani evenly ... directly in the eye....

For a split second as the Carmanian blocks his path there is a look of a mad dog in Aelfwyrd’s eyes. As if Aelfwyrd means to wrestle his sword brother aside and settle this deception with Garrath the traditional way.

"Speak your grievance man - and be careful, this is not the time or the place to talk of treachery" says Jamal to Aelfwyrd.

Hearing the Carmanian’s words Aelfwyrd stares at his sword brother with a look of complete disbelief. Wide-eyed and visibly shaking with anger Aelfwyrd looks from Jamal to meet the gaze of each Herewardi in turn. Then, turning back to stare intently at Garrath, he gestures to the aft deck accusingly: "Why in Humakt’s name is a Death Lord and his filthy gang hiding down below?" Then finishing through clenched teeth "and of all the butchers, Kzgarn Barefang!"

Dorinda's face goes cold and dangerously pale as she regards the Orlanthi leader. "I assume you didn't know about Humakti religious obligations or," her clipped words slow their pace, "as an honourable man, you would not have put us in this position."

"There are some requirements on Humakti that are expected behaviour rather than obligations, unless geased or oath-bound: ambushes, poisons, and so on. And there are some obligations that are absolute. When it comes to Zorak Zorani, the expected behaviour is to kill them on sight. And the absolute obligation is never to fight alongside them in battle. So, at present, we cannot fight alongside this one, and we cannot abandon the Cradle. Either he leaves, or we kill him. We have no other choices."

Garrath frowns at Aelfwyrd's and Dorinda's words. "The Uz here did not come under my command. They were sent by Javis Gan, a troll from the Rubble. They came, as did we all, to fight for the giant child and kill Lunars. Geran had his own problems with them and has therefore come up on deck, but even he fights alongside you Herewardi instead of under my command."

He speaks persuasively, almost as though he is pleading, yet his tone is serious and iron-strong. "I did not put you in this position, captain, the Gods have. I brought neither you nor the Uz here. But you are right - though I know Humakt and Zorak Zoran are foes, I did not think this enmity was insurmountable or an obligation. I cannot stop you from attacking him, but neither can I ask Barefang to leave. He would resist, and too many of my own warriors would fall, warriors that will be needed later in the day."

Hrolf thinks Garrath is speaking the truth, and certainly wants to believe him. It seems like a difficult problem from all sides.

Dorinda looks doubtful at first, but glancing at Hrolf and Jamal softens a little. "Well... remember what I was saying about turning weaknesses into strengths? There is a Humakti myth that tells how Humakti united many warriors against one enemy, and then presented Orlanth with the combined warband. That enemy was the Dark tribe. To reenact the myth and use it as a ritual to strengthen the Cradle Defenders, we would need a representative of the Dark Tribe." A fierce grin breaks out on her face, "And I think we just found one!"

Garrath looks at his thanes. "We are agreed that we must unite our warriors. We have asked the Herewardi for their advice, and this is their suggestion. This sounds like a risky venture, for a heroquest between battles with so little support is difficult and dangerous, even more so when Barefang will be an opponent in the rite."

Jamal listens to Garraths discourse; he seems pleased that the Legion's opinion will carry such weight. When there is a lull in the conversation he adds his piece. "My traditions my differ somewhat from yours. The mercenary will fight for gold, that is universal. There is enough of that here to buy anyone's loyalty. But in my lands men of honour are tied by honour oaths to their liege lord. And the liege lord is bound by honour to respect the lives and honour of their vassels. Unless of course they are Pelandans or Spolites," he grins, but notices that this probably means nothing to his audience. He recomposes his face, "It may be that the rites of Lord Humakt can guide us here"

"The Lunars are the enemy today." Says Geran. He is more than happy to see the rather unpleasant fellow down below spend an eternity in the presence of Yelm, and suggests as much. He also says that the Zorak Zorani and his band are not likely to take this very kindly, and when prompted provides details on what even Uz would find a bit extreme but Kzgarn finds midly amusing. The red-robed butcher is a tough bastard and will put up a fight. Geran also suspects that his mother and the elders back home would approve of anything unpleasant that happened to Kzgarn.

Listening to the polite tones of the unfolding discussion Aelfwyrd’s expression becomes grim and begins to set as if made of granite. He follows every word looking from face to face until at last Garrath has finished addressing his thanes. With a look of iron determination Aelfwyrd meets the gaze of his Ten Thane and then Garrath and attempts to explain.

"Humakt is my witness; I am sworn to slay Kzgarn Barefang for the atrocities he has committed against the Aldryami. I am no oath breaker. Barefang dies on this cradle, ritual or not"

As Aelf appears to have calmed down a bit, Jamal steps to one side. "The forming of this ritual may help form the raw iron of the cradle defenders into a formidable weapon. It seems that many may hold other issues with their erstwhile Cradle Brothers, and even the Legion suffers from this " he says flicking his eyes towards Aelf. "But a ritual may help to provide a cathartic effect, of only for the duration of the defense"

He turns to Aelf, "I will never stand between a man and a his blood-sworn oath, but if acting rashly puts our comrades in unrequired danger, then this will have to be prevented."

Dorinda has spoken forthrightly and with passion, and her comrades have forcefully supported her. It is obvious that many amongst Garrath's thanes favour her arguments. Particularly the Humakti and Vingans. Garrath looks around, judging the mood, and with some apparent relief agrees to her suggestion.

"Then we are decided. Defending this cradle is a heroic venture, and therefore not without risks. Let us embrace them and draw strength from our courage. Herewardi, prepare your rites. We will support you totally."

Geran's Reaction

Geran listens to Dorinda's explanation of the heroquest with a slow barely audible growl. He closes his eyes and "looks" straight at her, his head moving slightly from side to side. He remains silent for a few moments. crouched in an aggressive stance. Before he can do anything, Kogad comes up to him and says something in their own strange tongue and the fight seems to go out of him. She pulls him away to their temporary camp on deck and talks to him for a while. The unruly enlo scatter as Geran approaches, making sure Kogad is between them and their boss.

As the Uz take an aggressive stance, Enfrew prepares to draw his sword in defence of his comrades. Aelfwyrd, too, is watching. Seeing Geran shift to an aggressive stance Aelfwyrd watches on, a slight smile appearing at the edge of his mouth; the Uz is finally showing his hand. Once the Herewardi see the beast for what it is there will be an end to this foolishness. Then as Kogad goes to town on Geran Aelfwyrd watches with mild disbelief. The Karganite has taken many good beatings in his time, but none so ferocious from a healer. "Or perhaps she is its leader as well," Aelfwyrd speculates to himself.

The Uz warrior is clearly unhappy and produces an amazing range of howls and growls. Kogad finally loses her patience and hits him hard on the chin (the braver enlo titter) and in the stomach with a well-practised combination. Geran grunts and doubles up but doesn't even raise his hands in defence. He remains semi-prostrate as he bears what must be one of the most impressive tongue-lashings the warriors you have heard - sadly it's all incomprehensible. Kogad takes a breath as if to prepare for a second round, but seems to relent and shouts at the other Uz warriors who have tried to make themselves scarce.

Domag joins them, obviously very reluctantly and listens to some instructions from the healer. He shrugs and walks over to the packs and produces a large black drum, inscribed with strange signs and runes and brings it to Geran who accepts it silently. Geran then returns to Dorinda meekly and shows her the drum. "Uz will help, Domag will drum, I will go with you on quest. Kill Zorak Zorani."

"Thank you, Geran", she says to his retreating back. Geran doesn't turn but mumbles something inaudible. It almost sounds like "You're welcome".

"And thank you, Kogad", say Dori, inclining her head with genuine respect as she turns to the healer-troll. Kogad faces the Humakti leader and nods briefly in reply and in broken Tradetalk says. "Young, need lesson." By her side the brutish form of Dask hovers, a constant reminder of fierce violence. He is treated like a pet by her, but the other uzko seem more wary, especially when she is not holding on to his leash.

When Domag produces a drum, Enfrew realises that the trolls mean no harm and relaxes, still carefully watching the Uz. Aelfwyrd's expression turns cold as Geran passes over the large black drum and offers his help in the coming ritual. Scowling, he strides off to the Far Walkers to talk of Barefang and the pact to put him down.

Without another word Geran returns to the others and heads for the enlo. They try to flee but he easily catches one of the food-trollkin and kills it. The other Uz join him for the snack but back off at his growl.

Dori looks away at that point. There are some things she just doesn't want to know about. As Geran starts his bloody meal, Enfrew too turns away, not wanting to watch his comrade in arms do such a gruesome thing. At least he didn't eat an Orlanthi, he thinks and starts considering the coming heroquest.

Geran eats messily for a while, then burps loudly and prepares to take a nap before the quest commences. Surprisingly one of the enlo curls up beside him and snuggles close, while the others look on in frightened confusion. Geran sighs loudly and begins to snore. A few of the other enlo pluck up their courage and soon a tangle of enlo and uzko are snoozing contentedly. Hakteg and Orkeg stand guard.

Rallying the Far Walkers and Gathering Supplies

The moment agreement is reached Aelfwyrd’s demeanour changes to that of determined action. Before walking away he looks back at Garrath's and his thanes, nodding his appreciation to those supporting this new course of action.

Aelfwyrd strides over to the Far Walkers. Speaking in a low voice and only to Urgi he says, "It is done. There will be a ritual. When the time is ripe Barefang will be slain." He pauses to look about before continuing, "Be vigilant cousin and keep this between ourselves”.

As he begins to walk away Aelfwyrd turns back to Urgi, "We have need of a War Banner for the Ritual, do you have such as thing?" Aelfwyrd boasts about the Far Walkers' deeds to date, then goes on to describe the ritual. The he boasts about the ritual being critical to the defence of the Cradle. The forging of the war ring is the central theme of the ritual and its focus is a war banner. Boasting again he adds that great prestige and powerful magics will be gained in the Far Walker name if they provide their War Banner, if by chance they posses such a thing...

Aelfwyrd mentions that he is asking his kin first so they can take the honour due them, implying that he doesn't want the Pavis Humakti or the Uroxi to muscle in on the action of his cousin.

A wide grin breaks across Urgi's face. "Indeed we have," he says. "We were going to unfurl it as we sail through Pavis, but if it can be useful before that then all the better." He goes to the pile of gear the Far Walkers carry with them and pulls out a sack. From that he produces a bear's skull, black with dried blood, that he fastens on the point of a Longspear. Underneath the skull is attached a windsock, which flutters lightly in the breeze. "Orlanth and Odayla watch and protect us," says Urgi, and hands it over.

"With protection such as this we cannot fail - my thanks cousin." Aelfwyrd replies gratefully and wanders towards the drunken Humakti from Pavis. He recalls spending just one night in the Pavis Humakt temple before seeking out a weapon master who lived in the city. Aelfwyrd means to find the man Dori was animatedly speaking to previously.

Once he spots the leader Aelfwyrd strides over, his expression business-like "My name is Aelfwyrd, I have spent but one night in the Pavis temple yet I ask your assistance. The Cradle's defenders are at each others throats, this much is clear." he says, looking about the deck. Then continuing "There will be a ritual, one of blood and iron that recounts Humakt's glory; the forging of the War Ring." Finishing solemnly "I ask for your support."

Preparing for a Heroquest

Jamal goes to visit the Nemolayope, and she agrees that the Cradle denizens will play some role in the ritual. Blorn will also bring up the obsidian statues of Yelm and Lodril and the barrels of Air, Fire and Darkness, as well as other supplies and magical items from the hold to strengthen the ritual.

Later, Jamal muses on the Myths of Lord Bisos and on how he protected his people when the great winter came and the Marching Scourge of the Incompletes ravaged the land before they fell on themselves. He remembers how Bisos defeated IvinZoraRu, or YarGan the cannibal god of the Blue People of Orinin. How tricked in single combat, he leaped up from death to slay the oppressor, and free his slaves to join the Bisosae. He also remembers the coming of the Prophet Carmanos, and how the Bisosae raised Lord Bisos to oppose the newcomer and how the Prophet defeated Bisos with the divine light of Idovanus. He finally comes across a myth that may apply to the Humakti heroquest.

When the Prophet Carmanos was first defeated by the Spolite Empire of Gloom, the Prophet enacted the "Dethronement of the Unjust" rites against the Empire's dark gods. This was the "Rite of Bisos and the Blue God" which Lord Bisos had used to defeat YarGan. This was successful only because Bisos had first performed it. Empowered by the Prophet of Idovanus, Bisos rose and went to Carmanos who saw that even the Highest God relied on other gods to do his work. At this Idovanus ranked Bisos among the blessed, showing that even those who appear to be enemies, if inspired by the divine truth of Idovanus, can work together to defeat the unjust.

The Heroquest Begins

As the heroes have been preparing for the heroquest, Garrath has been moving amongst the defenders rallying their support for the enterprise. He has to tell them that the Herewardi are to bring back a fearful magic that will make the Cradle Riders almost unstoppable before they agree to take part. The Far Walkers agree almost immediately, as do the Humakti, for they know a successful ritual will vanquish the Zorak Zorani below decks.

When the heroes' preparations are complete, the rites begin. Garrath plays the role of Orlanth; leaders of the smaller gangs play various chiefs. The Nemolayope is present, and with her are the large wooden statues that sat on deck when the Herewardi first boarded the Cradle. The heroes and their followers play the role of Humakt's warband.

Aelfwyrd, decorated with terrible war-paint, plays the part of Humakt. His eyes stare impassively. He wields a sword named Death, and bears his ritual arms of spear, byrnie, shield and javelin. He wears a blooded shirt and leads warriors wounded in defence of their people. His war band bears a standard, and they carry a deafening drum.

Domag drums out a slow, heavy beat as the ritual begins. Prayers are said, invocations made. Feet stamp with the rhythm of the drum.

Orlanth asks Humakt to lead his warriors in defence of the tula, and hands him torc signifying his command. Humakt boasts that none shall pass him, and recounts his victories against enemies of the Storm Tribe. His followers add their voices to his. They tell how Humakt's name is known and feared by evil from the far West to the Dark lands of the Uz.

The celebrants feel their spirits soar. The Other Side is close.

Dorinda, Humakt's standard bearer, calls on the power of the wyter. From far away its reply is feeble, and the heroes are suddenly aware that they venture to the Other Place without its protection. Their resolve wavers, for this is a fearful undertaking, yet the drum beats on. Vision twists and blurs, the Cradle shimmers.

The heroes find themselves on a ragged hilltop, surrounded by the fallen and badly wounded sword-brothers. In the distance, difficult to see in the darkness, the remnants of a defeated army can be seen fleeing. All is grim and shadow, the only sounds the limp fluttering of the war band's banner and the cries of the wounded.

As they stand tending the wounded and sharpening their weapons, a herald from the Sweet Green clan arrives. She has beautiful eyes, flowing green hair, and is so beautiful men weep at her approach. She implores the warriors to impress upon Orlanth to stop making so much trouble, as his enemies also attack her clan when they come to make war. After sending the herald away, the heroes stop and consider what must be done.

Aelfwyrd/Humakt thinks proposes a journey to the Sweet Green clan and a fight against their enemies. In return he hopes to get their martial support times of need.

Jamal nods. "This is a good plan"

"Humakt is the God of Death," says Enfrew to his companions. "But he is not the god of reckless Death that our enemies impose on us and the Sweet Green. I see that Sweet Green value Life above all, and they should not be made to embrace Death unless it is their time to do so. This is what I see as Truth." Enfrew advises Aelfwyrd." It is True that we should aid the other clans, but I feel that we should make this known to Orlanth first."

Humakt Forges The War Ring: The Grand Stead Clan

Humakt and his warband remember how Humakt united and bound Death, and they set off to visit the neighbouring clans. The journey takes the warband away from Orlanth's tula, into lands fouled by events of the Darkness. The sun hangs weakly in the sky, no brighter than a pale moon. Trees whisper maliciously and rustle their branches with hunger. Half starved herd beasts search listlessly for food.

The first they come to is the Grand Stead clan, who protect themselves by living behind high walls. Here there are many proud warriors who carry large axes. They listen carefully to the warriors' words, but say that if they send warriors to defend Orlanth's tula they will be leaving their stead undefended against the Fury Bull folk. The warriors of the Great Stead clan say that the Fury Bull clan are lead by their Rage Chieftain, Urox, the unruly brother of Orlanth and formerly of Humakt too.

The warriors take a moment to confer. Geran walks up to Humakt. "Warleader, will Cowering-Behind-Walls come to Orlanth's stead if Fury Bull agrees not to attack?" He smiles, "One clan at a time."

Humakt replies that he will do what is needed to ensure the Fury Bull folk to not attack the Grand Stead clan. In return he plans to ask the Grand Stead clan to send its warriors to defend the Tula when he calls for them. Humakt says finally that Orlanth's clans should be preparing for war; it is folly to fight each other when great enemies stalk the darkness.

"I am sure that Fury Bulls will prefer fighting Orlanth's greater enemies than fighting Grand Stead," says Enfrew. "Let's promise the Grand Stead that we will settle this and go persuade the Fury Bulls to leave Grand Stead alone and join Orlanth."

Aelfwyrd recalls a time when he was still known as Ingard Mannison. He sits on a stump next to a campfire burning low on a blustery winter night. Braggi is here, his old Tresdarni mentor, recounting how Humakt brought together the many clans and forged the war ring. Thinking back Aelfwyrd tries to remember every detail of the story, but much is lost to him. It is clear that Humakt must unite the clans as he united the fragments of Death. He also recalls Braggi saying that the clans would not be united through blood and iron alone. Returning from his reverie he listens intently to the assembled warriors as they put their arguments forward. Aelfwyrd hears his own truth and a consensus of sorts.

Resolved, Humakt bellows up at the walls of the Great Stead clan "I will stop the Fury Bull clan from attacking your stead. In return I ask you to send your weaponthanes when I call upon you. Your enemies are my enemies; we should fight together."

Jamal adds his voice to Aelfwyrd's. "Idovanus blesses those how fight with honour against the common foe of the corruption of the Deceiver. Humakt fights with honour, and his word is true. Trust in Humakt's honour in this case, and our common path will be blessed." Elnor joins in with her new master, "The way of Humakt is honour, my master speaks the truth."

Humakt is confused for a moment, unsure if or when he was Ingard Mannison.

The Great Stead axe men listen to his words, but they detect a note of uncertainty in them. They confer amongst themselves for a moment, before calling down from their walls. "We do not think you will be able to tell the Fury Bull clan anything, for they are bull-headed. We do not think this idea of yours will work."

"However," they continue, "you are known to be honourable, Humakt, and we have nothing to lose. If you can bring the Fury Bulls to your moot instead of raiding us, then we will join your War Ring."

Humakt Forges The War Ring: The Fury Bull Clan

Setting off in search of the Wrath Bull clan, the heroes descend into once-fertile pastures, now wracked by drought. The warriors there say they are too busy fighting Daga and raiding their neighbours for food to send any warriors to aid Orlanth. As they are talking, a terrible cloud of dust approaches, scouring and burning everything in its path. The bull warriors let out a mighty howl and charge towards the whirlwind, aiming to keep it away from their cows.

With a grim smile Humakt unsheathes Death and roars a terrifying war cry, leading his warband directly at the whirlwind. Following Humakt's lead, Enfrew's projection on the Godplane charges at the cloud. Jamal screams the Roar of the Bull, and charges the whirlwind headlong.

It is a hard fight, and the whirlwind is cunning, treacherous and mean. The struggle takes three days and nights, and the combatants are buffeted this way and that, left bloody and torn. Finally Humakt's warriors' swords cut the scouring wind to zephyrs, and Geran clubs the zephyrs into puffs. Daga slips away, much diminished.

The Fury Bulls fought well too, but it is clear that without the extra warriors they would have been hard-pressed to survive. They say that you fight well, and that as Daga will not be back for a while they will be at this moot - so long as there are plenty of pretty women to flirt with.

Humakt Forges The War Ring: The Sweet Green Clan

A rabbit says that everyone knows the most beautiful women can be found in the Green Vale, and leads you there. Soon you are at the Sweet Green Clan. They are protected by fierce magic and warriors carved from tree trunks, and their women know powerful medicine. They are not sure about the wisdom of a War Ring, for they like peace, and they also aren't much taken with the idea of flirting with the Fury Bull clan. However, if this Ring is formed of honourable warriors and will defend all its members then they may join.

Humakt stands out and speaks solemnly "I will forge this War Ring; have no doubt, the honour of its warriors are beyond question. I ask only that you speak a while with the Fury Bull folk. The War Ring will soon have great need of Sweet Green medicines and the ferocious strength of the Fury Bull clan. The clans will be stronger if we fight together."

"Carmanos taught that those who outwardly appear different can all be vessels of the pure light in Idovanus, and can put aside their differences to oppose the corruption of the Deceiver. Humakt fights with honour, and his word is true. The Truewind of Hereward shall guide us on the common path of honour."

Elnor again chimes in "The way of Humakt is honour, he would never lead his vassals down a dishonourable path."

The Sweet Green women listen to Humakt's words and shake their heads sadly. "We do not like war, but your words are wise. We must remember that Death ultimately serves Life, just as Life serves Death. We will come to your moot, and even talk with the Fury Bulls if necessary."

They give Humakt tokens of their support - wooden medallions carved to show a baby sleeping in a cradle. They say that these will remind all the warriors of Humakt's Ring that they fight in defence of their kin and the helpless, not for bloodlust.

Humakt Forges The War Ring: The Fire Tribe Attacks

Humakt and his warband visit many more clans, and they are weary and footsore when Raven appears and says the Fire Tribe approach. Humakt summons all the clans together and prepares to face the enemy. The warriors Humakt has brought together straggle out over the hillside in all directions. They are a multitude.

The foe comes in a glittering wave of spearmen, their burnished shields dazzling the defenders' eyes.

Hrolf surveys the ranks of the defenders as news of the Fire Tribe's approach is announced. He can see that they are still disorderly and unwilling to listen to his Lord's commands. He can see too that Humakt shares his opinion.

"Comrades!" he says to his fellow Humakti. "The other tribes do not yet fully understand the seriousness of their situation. They do not submit to Humakt's leadership, and will defend poorly. We must make up for their weakness, and set an example of unity, prowess and honour. Gird yourselves, for this day we prove Humakt warleader of the Storm Tribe!"

Shaking his head Humakt looks out at the myriad of warriors strewn across the hillside. Turning to his implacable weaponthanes he issues commands for battle with a grim determination.

"The defence of the tula is in our hands alone. This hillside will not fall under my command!" Gesturing at the clan warriors he continues "There is little time to talk of tactics, but support them where you can. For victory this day we must stand together and fight as one." Striding to the summit of the tula Humakt scrutinises the advancing Fire Tribe. Instinctively he knows the course of this battle and how it must be fought. Humakt calls for his warriors to stand by him and hold their formation at the centre of the battle. As it begins Humakt holds Death aloft and roars a terrifying challenge to all before him.

Enfrew moves to the most scared-looking of the defenders and raises his sword over his head. "I am Enfrew, loyal follower of great Humakt! I have come to help you fight off the defenders! Stand with me, and no enemy will be able to break your defence!" Finishing his speech, Enfrew starts organising the warriors to stands against the powerful enemy.

Geran howls in fury as the ancient enemy of Darkness approaches, and beats his shield with his mace Sun Shatter. Shaking with passion he submits to Humakt's will and takes his place in the ranks.

The phalanx of the Fire Tribe is drawn up before the ragged lines of Humakt's allies. Their shields dazzle like the sun itself, and their spear points burn with fierce red flames. As one their ranks move forward like a red tide, beautiful and terrifying to behold.

The Fury Bulls and the Great Stead axe men, the skirmishers of the Cat Clan, the tempestuous swords of the Red Daughters - they fight heroic single combats and fall quickly before the relentless orchestrated manoeuvres of the Fire Tribe. Soon Humakt's warriors are struggling alone on the hilltop, encircled by a red shield wall. They spin, fight, deal Death and finally fall as is their wyrd. It is a glorious day. Blood runs thick on the ground as ravens spiral, waiting for their feast.

Humakt's followers fall stubbornly - they take too long about their dying for the Fire Tribe's liking. Slowly the spearmen begin to drift west, and the darkness grows with their retreat. As the last stragglers fall before Humakt's swords there is only the glimmer of twilight left as illumination. Orlanth's tula is trampled and torn, but Humakt's stout defence has prevented looting or defilement. His remaining warriors stand, breathing hard and binding wounds.

Humakt Forges The War Ring: Darkness Comes - And Mutiny

With the growing darkness, the clans emerge from their hiding places in the woods. They are angry, for Humakt's plan did not work as he had said. Fighting together had not helped them, and instead they had been much hurt in this battle that did not concern them.

"We are going home now," say the Fury Bulls. "For this is a stupid idea." The others agree mutinously.

With blazing eyes Humakt looks upon mutinous clans. "I bid you heed my call for aid, yet you hide like babes in the wood. I say that you must fight together to be victorious, yet you attack the Fire Tribe alone. How long do you think you can survive on our own against these enemies?" Humakt gestures at his bloodied warriors and booms "Did you watch these warriors from your hiding place? Did you see these few stand against the massed Fire Tribe spears? These are fell warriors, fearless and proud, but that alone is not the reason this day is won. They have learnt a simple lesson: they fight as one; co-ordinated and unified they cannot be beaten. Have no doubt: war is coming. The shadows grow long; we fight together, or we die!"

Not waiting for dissension, Humakt’s voice booms across the Tula, "When we fight together I will be the warrior and you shall be my weapons. You will do my bidding and we will be victorious." Then he turns to each Clan and intones, "The Wise Clan can stand with me to offer their advice. The Fury Bull Clan will stand at my right, you will be my javelin to unleash my rage. The Great Stead Clan will stand before me, you will be my shield. The Shadow Cat Clan will be my spear so that I may strike from distance. The Silent Stalking Clan will be my eyes and ears so that I may see my enemy. The Red Daughter Clan will stand at my left and lead the assault. The Sweet Green Clan will stand at the rear and tend to the injured and fallen." Humakt continues until he has named all the clans and told of their positions. Then he offers each a wooden token carved from the tree stump on Orlanth’s Tula. Each token has a symbol indicating their place in battle and their place on his War-Ring.

Enfrew stands proudly beside his leader, Humakt, radiating with honour and pride. Malan, too, stands firm. "Would you let your anger rule you, and toss away victory? Listen to Humakt!"

The assembled warbands listen to the words of Humakt and his warriors, but shake their heads doubtfully. "This is a new thing, and new things are usually bad" says one. Another says, "no-one can make you do anything - why should we listen to you?"

They get ready to leave, for they do not believe that this is a good thing. Yet as they turn, the warriors' eyes all fall on Enfrew, one of Humakt's warriors. He stands atop the gore-hill, surrounded by the fallen he and his sword-brothers and -sisters have slain. Although covered with the blood of his enemies and his own veins, Enfrew radiates the pride and honour of his company. In the east he has seen the Night Tribe on the warpath and he is prepared to stand and fight and die alone if necessary.

The Night Tribe are so numerous as to be a tide of shadows.

The warriors of the other warbands are reluctant to be called cowards, and they urge their leaders to remain and fight. Quickly, all the warriors on the plain assemble themselves in the places appointed by Humakt and await battle.

Humakt Forges The War Ring: In the Jaws of the Dark Hater

Jamal advises Humakt to see each participant in the battle by its relative worth, "Sacrifice where necessary, but protect what is most important." As the Night Tribe approach Humakt calls his captains before him, with one mind they form a strategy for the battle ahead.

Geran shuffles up beside Humakt and in the gathering darkness tries to sense how the Darkness tribe are deploying their forces. He scans the milling mass of shadows and tells Humakt what he sees with his special sense. He feels confident under the darkened sky, on the hill beside Humakt, the glowing blood of the Fire Tribe still streaming down the steep slopes in flickering rivulets as it slowly dies too. "Lord, they gather in the hollows and the dells, they creep behind the rocks and the fallen trees and they storm over the hilltops and plains. They see to their sides and below; they know what is behind, but not what is before and above. I know how they fight."

The Night Tribe attack in a ravaging horde, threatening to overwhelm the defenders simply in numbers. The shadow line extends from horizon to horizon - everywhere is darkness.

Humakt attempts to wield the warriors around him like weapons, but they are unused to such order in battle. The Fury Bulls wish to run at the Night Tribe regardless, and it takes much effort to restrain them. Yet despite these problems the Night Tribe advance directly into the trap Humakt has laid for them. The defenders now hold the high ground: the enemy is cornered in the hollow below.

Their leader can be seen, a terrifying dark warlord who chomps and snarls orders at his baying warriors. They advance with gnashing teeth, wailing for slaughter. Whilst most of the host face the assembled clans, the warleader and his gang march straight for Humakt's warband.

Humakt watches impassively as the trap is sprung upon the advancing horde. Bellowing his final orders across line he draws death from its sheath and stands imperious, high on the Tula. With blazing eyes he looks down upon the advancing warlord and his slavering pack. Waiting motionless until the last, Humakt roars a terrifying war cry and leads his captains to battle.

Jamal, calling Elnor to his side, winks at her and says "Now for a real fight". Jamal stands with the legion at Humakt's bidding, hacking and butting away opponents until the advance on the leader of the Dark men.

Like a huge immovable rock Humakt stands amidst a tide of swarming Uz. At one with War he instinctively knows this is just a beginning, an opening move to soften his defences. At once Humakt marshals his captains to meet the assault as a single body of warriors. As it begins Humakt supports his captains and their defensive line where needed, ever alert to a shift in enemy tactics.

Enfrew swings his sword around him, sowing death on all sides.

As the black tide begins to approach the hill Humakt defends, Geran begins to sing in a bone-grinding, teeth-gnashing way. Strange shadows seem to flow around him like age old blood, promising eternal torment and terror at the hands of underworld demons too much part of the original Dark to have names of their own. He raises his mace, dripping black ichor from the power of his gods and raises his dull shield in the defence of the hill. He crouches in readiness for the onslaught.

As the warriors of the Night Tribe clash against the heroes' lines, the enemy general and his bodyguard can be seen rampaging through the ranks of Humakt's warriors. Encased in lead armour so enchanted it gleams with Darkness, this berserk fiend disdains the use of normal weapons. Instead his claws are used merely to grasp his prey, who are then devoured whole. His blood-drenched teeth - monstrous fangs of sharpened lead - are carved with symbols of Disorder, Darkness and Death. Seasoned warriors flee in terror before him, for he is the Dark Hater - Zorak Zoran himself.

Zorak Zoran leads his warriors in a frenzied charge straight at Humakt's lonely band. His attack is pulverising, brutal and horrifying. Humakt is sent staggering to the ground with one blow, yet manages to twist away and somehow strike back. Dorinda, his standard bearer, is quick to her Lord's aid and strikes with her shield to force Zorak Zoran back, yet her counter attack goes awry as the monster simply bites at her sword. Geran hurls himself at his hated foe, but is tossed aside like an enlo. Zorak Zoran now comes face to face with Jamal, grabs and lifts him from the ground. Clutching the brave Bull warrior in one clawed hand, the Dark Hater eviscerates him with the other before starting to stuff the rest of the warrior into his cavernous mouth. Hrolf and Enfrew rush to their comrade's aid, and with a quick combination of sword blows force the Darkness god to drop his prize and retreat a little. Jamal's body lies still, and begins to fade into the background of littered corpses.

Humakt's warband struggle to press Zorak Zoran back further, but the enemy is ferocious in his fury, jaws snapping the lives of many brave warriors. Hrolf, Enfrew and Malan move to defend Jamal's body, but Zorak Zoran ravages them with heedless fury. Arms blur, blood erupts in clouds of red mist in this fierce fighting, yet it is difficult to tell how badly they are hurt. The Dark Hater presses down on Humakt with one clawed foot, and Dorinda is forced to redouble her efforts in protecting her Lord. She fends with her shield and smites with her Blade of Light; blood sprays, and the Dark God howls. Humakt is able to regain his feet. With a mighty war cry he rallies his warriors - and then draws blood, further enraging Zorak Zoran. Inspired, Geran withstands Dark Hater's onslaught, and lands a mighty blow that sends the god staggering.

Humakt stands fearless in the face of his murderous foe, the Dark Hater. Bloodied but resolute he barks a fresh command to his captains, "Surround the beast; draw its rage as one unit." Seeing this Geran roars encouragement and steps up beside Humakt, preparing to be his shield. Knowing he will soon meet his ancestors, he smashes his dark mace with a ferocious blow at the berserk god.

As the Dark God is forced back it is clear that Malan and Enfrew have inflicted bloody wounds on him. Although the heroes are weary, they now have the edge over their foe. Zorak Zoran roars his anger, and a stinking breath engulfs Humakt's warband. With grim determination Humakt strides over to his fallen captain, Jamal. Whirling his glittering blade one-handed Humakt roars "Death before dishonour" and begins hauling the Carmanian to his feet.

Dorinda meanwhile presses the advantage over Zorak Zoran and his minions, yet the Hating God's teeth snap at her driving her back. He continues to attack her, forcing her back in desperation. Zorak Zoran is now biting out to his left and right, yet Humakt leads his heroes to close ranks and deflect his jaws. He is at first unable to penetrate their shields. Then Geran, unused to fighting in this way, slips and falls, creating a hole in the shield wall. Zorak Zoran pounces on him, and although the brave Uz warrior attempts to fend off the god with fierce blows of his mace, Dark Hater is impervious. He begins to gnaw through the warrior's belly armour, intent on the tasty morsel within.

Malan and Hrolf break from the ranks to protect their comrade, but it appears Zorak Zoran was merely baiting them, for he spins round, teeth dully gleaming and bloody. Malan is sent flying aside with a pat from one claw, and then the Dark God snatches Hrolf, struggling helplessly, up in his jaws and lifts him from the ground. Brave Enfrew now stands forth and with a whirr of sword play makes Zorak Zoran retreat, yet he does not give up his prize.

Jamal stands and brandishes the Iron Sword Bull Spike, seeking to return the favour to vicious Dark man

With iron discipline Humakt controls his fury as the Dark Hater tears and rends his captains. Swiftly assessing the battle he concludes that the butcher is weak yet will fight to the death regardless. His captains are cleaved and bloodied; they will not stand for much longer. So it must be. Bellowing for his captains to surround and close once more he adds "On my command, as one!"

Once his captains have fought their way into position Humakt roars a direct challenge to the Dark Hater. Breaking formation he launches himself in an all out assault whirling Death itself before him. At the very last moment, just before contact, he roars “Strike!”

Heeding his Warleader's call, Enfrew rises his sword high above his head, aiming to bring it down on the Uz beast with terrible force, not caring about parrying the enemy attacks.

Now the warriors rally and charge, sensing victory within their grasp. Zorak Zoran rears and drops Hrolf's body, before throwing himself to the ground. Using only his teeth the Hating God begins to burrow his way through the earth, away from the blows Humakt's warriors now rain down upon him. With renewed energy the warband pummel away at his hide, and although they are unable to prevent his escape they certainly add urgency to it. Before long the assembled warbands Humakt has brought together are alone on the field of battle. The Night Tribe has fled.

There is jubilation amongst the warbands, and the people of the Trading God have brought meat and mead for a huge victory feast. Warriors boast of their prowess, and bards sing of the day's fighting. The Fury Bulls flirt boldly with the Sweet Green women, who are magnanimous with their attentions. All agree that Humakt was wise in suggesting the clans fight together, and the clans accept tokens reminding them of this day and swear an oath to forge a War Ring.

Orlanth and Ernalda arrive halfway through the feast, and come to sit by Humakt. The Storm God celebrates the Night Tribe's defeat and drinks and boasts with the best of them, even though he wasn't at the fighting. Ernalda, however, broods a little before saying to Humakt, "This was an indeed a good idea. I shall have to talk to my husband about this later."

At length the clans begin to disperse. Humakt and his warriors remain alone within his hall, feasting and indulging in sword play. Aelfwyrd and his comrades see a door that they remember, and they take it.

Back to Reality

On the Cradle decks all is confusion. Warriors run about, ducked to as if to avoid arrow shot. Human and troll bodies lie scattered near the rear-deck. Garrath is yelling hoarsely, ordering everyone to fall back to the warded areas. The warbands obey briskly, ready for the fight, and report their readiness promptly. Several of the Uroxi now stand with the Morokanth, for many of its companions appear to have fallen. Arrows and javelins periodically slam in to the deck and stand quivering.

As the heroes are adjusting to their return, Abul is shepherding them to their forward area. "Into the warding please, the warding," he says anxiously, ushering the warriors forward with outstretched arms. "Thanks to the Gods you are unharmed - so much has happened, so quickly." As the warriors check their number - undiminished - and their arms - ready for war - they realise something that has unnerved them. The warding of the Cradle has fallen. The magical shielding of the Cradle no longer protects them.

Abul begins to explain. About two hours after the heroes began their heroquest the Lunars assaulted once more. The warriors on board were not prepared for the attack, which came suddenly, and they were unable to hold the deck. Garrath fought like a man possessed and led his reserve weaponthanes with a fury, but it was the Herewardi who saved the cradle. Shining in their hero light they scattered the Yanafali before them like chaff. When the attack had been repelled those left standing had argued amongst themselves with bitter recrimination. The Uroxi had drawn their swords on the Pavisites and the Morokanth, and dispute threatened to overwhelm the defenders. Then Kzgran Barefang's trolls burst from the rear hatch and had attacked the Morocanth's party, killing the dwarf and two others. Once again the Herewardi fought like heroes, this time leading all the defenders. The Uz had been killed or suddenly vanished.

Shortly after, as the Cradle Riders were celebrating (for by now they knew the heroquest must have been successful), the Lunars attacked once more. Showers of arrows fell to the deck, magically-aided missiles aimed at any one foolhardy enough to try peeking over the bulwarks. Then the massed ranks of Lunar priests wrought a great magic and a line of red light fell across the Cradle. It passed through the Cradle's bulk, and as it did so Pinchining ceased to spin, and finally fell over. The Cradle is no longer protected.

Whilst Abul has been relaying this news, the heroes have made it to the forward area, all the time under a constant shower of arrows. Garrath is still yelling orders. He catches sight of the heroes' and grins happily - everyone is obeying him now.

A Blizzard of Arrows

Disorientated and bloodied by missile fire Aelfwyrd makes haste to the vanguard and then the prow. Trying to pick up a shield along the way he carefully approaches the bulwark and takes a number of quick scans at what is ahead of the cradle. Bellowing over his shoulder to his Ten Thane he relays what he sees.

Enfrew, clutching his arrow-pierced shoulder, limps to Aelfwyrd, "Aelf, we have been wounded and can't help much with the fight. Do you think the two of us could help Pinchining? With the wards back in place, the others will defeat the Lunars easily."

While dodging the incoming missile barrage Aelf turns to Enfrew yelling, "Come, let us find out the state of battle from the prow while the wardings are made good. Then we'll go to Pinchining. Where is that bookworm Vern? He might be useful."


Arriving back on the cradle, Geran is at first confused - the blessed Darkness gone and the hated Death is in the sky again. Still, he feels stronger, more full of power than ever before. The enlo cringe in uncommon silence and his sister, Kogad rewards him with an approving nod while his other companions gather round him. Then the gravity of the situation hits home: the air is full of arrows and shouts of alarm and pain can be heard all around him. He raises his shield above him and scans around with his darksense in an attempt to asses the situation while Dorinda decides what to do. He feels a certain companionship to the Humakti band now and knows he will fight at their side while defending the cradle. His senses suddenly alert him to a possibility: one of the barrels...


Jamal feel disoriented and dazed as he returns from the Hero Plane. He turns to check on his comrades: all seem well, though Elnor seems hurt. He smiles at her and helps her to her feet. He glances up and sees Geran yawning, which sends a small shiver of terror down his spine. Quickly he forces his face to its usual grim Carmanian visage. He sees the familiar of Abul, and on receiving the report he hugs the lad warmly in greeting. He wasn't sure if he would seem him again. Quickly he assesses the situation, calling on his lord Bisos to protect him and his followers from the incoming arrows. Then he joins the others in the defence of the cradle.


Hrolf is confused at first. "Raining," he thinks, "and arrows and javelins, too. Probably more of those irresponsible Finovani. Dori had better have a word with them." Then he sees Aelfwyrd run by - hey, where is Humakt?! - followed closely by Enfrew.

"Stay down, Aelfwyrd!" he cries. "You'll have all the sharpshooters in Prax taking aim at you. Anyway it's clear enough what they're up to; they want to keep us down so we can't detach their ladders as they board. Let's set up the Raven Warding and then prepare our magic. Humakt will test us hard today!"

Hrolf turns to Angus and Blackbeak, grinning proudly. "Well done, boys! Blackbeak, you'd better join Hughie belowdecks. Ask Geran if you should take the trollkin and his healer, too. This deck is no place for them. And be careful; Barefang may still be around, somewhere. Angus, come with me - and keep your shield up!"


Aelfwyrd quickly tries to sneak a peek at what the Lunars are up to, but the moment his head goes above the bulwarks several archers loose arrows at him. Their arrows glow fiercely and are unnaturally fast, and the warrior stumbles back o the deck clutching his face. A little blood runs from between his fingers, and he shakes his head ruefully - he was unable to see anything. Meanwhile the others are beginning to realise that a major assault is about to begin. Geran's sensitive ears can hear orders being shouted, and the sounds of many heavily armed troops taking up position. He examines the barrel briefly, and can see within a large Xenthi, a daemon of darkness, coiled and relaxed.

Aelfwyrd curses out loud and quickly ducks back behind the bulwarks holding a hand to his bloodied head. Yelling back to his Ten Thane he shouts, "Bowmen everywhere, they mean to pin us down while the assault force advance."

For a moment Aelfwyrd recalls a conversation one late evening with his sensai. Talk of force and timing, their place in conflict. "The rush of torrential waters tossing boulders illustrates force. The strike of a bird of prey breaking the body of its target illustrates timing. Therefore, the force of those skilled in warfare is overwhelming, and their timing precise. Their force is like a drawn crossbow and their timing is like the release of the trigger. Even in the midst of the turbulence of battle, the fighting seemingly chaotic, they are not confused. Even in the midst of the turmoil of battle, the troops seemingly going around in circles, they cannot be defeated. Disorder came from order, fear came from courage, weakness came from strength."

Returning from his reverie as if some great insight has been found Aelfwyrd begins to murmur his prayers of battle: those dedicated to Kargan, the great Humakti hero. Slowly opening his eyes Aelfwyrd demeanour is once more bold and resolute. Turning the many bladed Kralorelan weapon over in his hands Aelfwyrd looks across at Enfrew and then to the other Herewardi and laughs out loud. "It is good day to die, is it not?"

Jamal grins back at Aelf "Or indeed to die again". "I must admit that after Zorak even the Imperial Guard or a detachment of Bashkars would be a blessed relief." With that he turns to helping Dori prepare the legion for another assault.


Reluctantly Geran turns away from the barrel with the Xenthi. "This is not the time," he thinks. In the distance he hears Hrolf mention his name and he quickly motions for the Trollkin to take up position and guard the way down belowdecks, where they can also support with missile fire. Kogan goes with them and down to the child, while his other followers remain at his side. This is taken care of quickly. "Mothe... Dorinda, your command?" He faces Dori.

Aelfwyrd listens appreciatively, the sound of imminent battle like some sweet Aldryami song. His final prayer brings Kargan closer still; shrouded with death Aelfwyrd smiles with unconcealed anticipation. Aelfwyrd's reverie is broken by the towering mountain of lead barking out orders to those scuttling vermin; how he hates these Uz and their kin. But the scowl never forms nor does hatred fill his eyes. "Death before dishonour" he murmurs to himself. Moments earlier Geran shielded Humakt as he protected his captain from Dark Hater. Now he fights at the vanguard alongside the Legion to protect the cradle.

Turning away Aelfwyrd examines one of the glittering blades that protrude from his ornate Kralorelan weapon. Like some sinister trident-cum-sword its seven blades twist and bifurcate into many razor sharp points, both front and rear. Engraved on its length are seven dragons locked in ferocious conflict that gives the weapon its auspicious name. Glancing up into Geran's helm he catches his gaze "We shall see" and spits dismissively awaiting orders from his Ten Thane...

The sharp clang of metal on metal, the sharp thud of arrows as they hiss through the air and strike the wooden deck of the cradle create a steady background noise. The cries of pain and anger of men and women penetrate through this, a familiar situation to he huge Uz and his compatriots. This time however, it is not they who are the cause of the human turmoil, this time is different. He longs to rush forward, to crush, to bite, to rend - the power swells in him as his god answers his call for aid.

The mace in his hand grows heavier and darker, his armour seems duller and somehow harder to see, the edges seem fuzzy, blurred. He is barely aware of the little human with his odd-looking sword by his side, and senses more than he hears the bitter comment, but doesn't really understand it. The moment passes and he raises his voice singing the dark demons of Dehore against the crimson light. They come.


Adjusting to the mundane takes time, but by the time they reach their post in the prow of the Cradle, Dori knows where she is again. Where, but not perhaps when: are they still in the fight at Bullford? That fight had seemed endless then....

No, it's not quite the same. Almost, but not quite. Only their own Warding protects them, not that of the Cradle. And Fynn is below, out of harm's way where before he was a weak point. She looks round at the group, assessing how to change formation to allow for the new situation.

"Shields up! Stay close to the bulwarks, in cover. Are there enough of us? Yes, looks like it. Shield wall, and be ready for them. Same positions as before, but I'll take Fynn's place. Geran on one flank, Aelfwyrd on the other."

She pauses as they get into place. "When they come over the bulwark, start with ranged attacks: javelins, winds, whatever you've got. We won't have long, so make the most of it. "When they close, the arrows will stop, I expect. They won't shoot their own troops. When that happens, we might be able to climb up and dislodge a ladder or two. Geran, Enfrew, you had most success last time, you try again if you get the chance. Get your followers to cover you with their shields, and the rest of us will deal with anyone in melee range." "Any questions? Suggestions?"

She smiles round at all of them - even at Geran - happy, confident, relaxed. "You're right, it's a very good day to die. And I can't think of better company to go in. Let's see how many Lunars we can take with us!"

As the large dark woman moves away from Maniskus, Jamal helps him to his feet and clasps him warmly, and introduces Elnor as his new follower. "It looks like a defining battle will come to pass, I am glad that you are able to join it, my friend"

A Friend or a Meal?

Hrolf figures that the best face for Angus is next to a big warrior who can discourage Lunars from trying to exploit the gap created by the little duck. He also figures Geran is comfortable fighting around very small creatures, because of the many trollkin that seem to follow him around. Although he has heard Geran talk in perfectly good Tradetalk, Hrolf’s prejudices still don’t allow him to believe trolls can carry on a normal conversation. Nothing that big can be as intelligent as a human!

Hrolf approaches Geran to consult him on fighting in the shieldwall. “Ho! Troll-Geran”, Hrolf flops his right arm up in a nervous gesture of greeting, mistakenly assuming this is the proper Uz form of address. “We stand next you in shield wall – OK? Angus,” Hrolf points at his red-feathered follower, “small and nimble. You big and strong and you used to small trollkin so OK. Safe. OK?”

Geran looks at Hrolf thinking that while he is a good fighter, perhaps he is just a bit dense. Still, that's no excuse for not being on the receiving end of some Uz-fun. "Durulz, fight like enlo?" He glances at the feathered fellow and licks his chops, but then winks at Angus, hoping he gets the joke. "Hoo, hum. You stand before me, then charge the enemy. When they are weak, I come and finish them." With a barely concealed grin (which probably could be misunderstood by someone who only sees all the sharp teeth), he thanks Hrolf. "You ok, hooman, I give you enlo to eat."

Hrolf looks confused and alarmed, and struggles to maintain his composure. "Ahh ... you know fight shield wall?" He starts to gesticulate, then changes his mind, drawing a dagger and carving pictures into the deck. "See? Square. All fight together: one row. Not put Angus in front you." Hrolf looks up at the troll to see if he understands. "Also, Angus not food - you not eat." Sweat is beading on his temples.

"Haa, fight shield wall in Sartar. They fall like leaves in Dark season." Geran smiles again, in fond memory of some adventure in the Pass. "We send Enlo, then burrowers, then Uz. Good eating that night."

"Not food? Everything food! You save... for making... soft pillow?" The Uz warrior is now starting to talk in a funny way, almost as if he was out of breath. His companions who have been listening to the conversation with some interest are struggling, and failing miserably, to keep their cool, and are now making loud strange noises and practically rolling on the deck holding their stomachs, or they would if not for the stinging rain of arrows. "Enlo not good for pillow" he manages wistfully not paying much attention to Hrolf's attempts at teaching basic Heortling tactics.

"Pillows??" Hrolf stares at Geran and his dangerously unruly followers in bewilderment, until slowly - very slowly - a light begins to dawn behind his eyes. "Oh," he says with dropping jaw, "You're ... joking. You - troll - joke!" Then, as the second coin drops, a blush of embarrassment spreads across Hrolf's face. "I see ... Alright. Good one. Good joke. You fooled me; alright. OK." Slowly, still digesting the new information, Hrolf turns away from the Uz towering over him.

"Don't worry about Geran," Hrolf says to Angus with a wry grin, "you'll be fine with him."

The Uz warrior laughs so hard he can barely breath, clapping Hrolf on the back with an enormous hand. After a few moments of this he manages to calm down enough to say "Friends? Ok!" But he'll have to wait for the answer as at the same instant the assault begins and he directs Angus to stay by his side as he takes his place in the shield wall. Unusual for a troll, he knows how fight in formation.


As the heroes are making their final preparations the Cradle suddenly lurches to halt, causing everyone to fall forwards. There is a loud shouted command then six loud explosions followed by screaming roars. The arrow shower ceases to fall. Looking up the heroes can see six streams of fire arcing above, three from either bank.

"Dwarf assault ladders!" shouts Garrath. Veterans of the Heortland wars have seen the Lunars use these in sieges and dread them, for assault troops can stream across them without hindrance. "Chop them up!" The Herewardi leap forward to remove the ladder before them, but its magic is strong and they make little impression upon it. They are forced to fall back before the hoplites of the Marble Phalanx that storm towards them. As they advance, every hoplite's spear simultaneously bursts into flame.

At the top of the ladder one of the two front rankers fights with a flaming sword, champion of the Marble Phalanx. He is supported by the other front ranker and the second rankers behind him, who use long spears to harry defenders. Aelfwyrd leaps forward to drive off this champion, but the spearmen prevent others from coming to his aid. After a short, intense fight the Kargan warrior is driven back. The Lunar champion is a mighty warrior, and also has the advantage of height. Having created space on the decks the Lunar soldiers board in earnest, and the battle proper begins.

The soldiers of the phalanx are brave, skilled and disciplined. They fight well and are long in their dying. Dorinda arrays her warriors well inside the warding, and takes advantage of the hoplites inability to form a good shield wall. This slight edge serves the Herewardi well, and in the initial frenzy of the battle they are able to hold their position. Hoplites begin to fall before their swords like barley. Their champion grinds away at the Herewardi shields, the enlo flee in terror before the fire of his sword and Maniskus falls to it. Again Aelfwyrd tries to drive off the Marble Warrior but is repelled, and it is Dorinda who challenges him to the Heroes Battle and takes his head.

Yet even when this defeat is coupled with Malan killing their officer, the hoplites do not falter but press on. More hoplites find the deck, and other warriors too. Light peltasts have now scaled boarding ladders and hurl down javelins upon the defenders' ranks. More fearsome, monstrous Dragonnewts slither over the bulwarks and charge the Herewardi. Who knows what bargains the Lunars struck to secure their services? Unlike the human attackers, the Dragonnewts ignore the Raven Warding and charge straight through it. The battle begins to turn against the Herewardi, and they are forced to retreat to the centre deck.

As they fall back the Herewardi see the mayhem that consumes the cradle. The Lunars are everywhere. Everywhere the defenders are failing. Hrolf spots Count Anthippus just a few metres away, shouts a challenge and tries to reach him, but the tide of battle sweeps him away from the bemused soldier, unable to recognise the Herewardi for the black masks they wear.

Battered, bruised and bleeding, the defenders prepare to make a last stand. The dead and dying litter the deck, which runs red with blood. The Lunar forces gather and strengthen, whilst those of the defenders diminish. Even Garrath's force of reserves is spent and outfought.

It is clear the defenders are losing the battle. Badly. Within a few minutes it will all be over.

Through the mass of fighting burst two men fighting side by side, red cloaks flashing, scattering all before them as though it is a thing of no consequence. One has a missing hand covered with a hook, and a hideously scarred and disfigured appearance. The other is beautiful. They attack Garrath and his thanes directly.

The fighting is awesome. Garrath spins and leaps with Orlanth's feats, but is immediately on the defensive. One by one his companions fall and although the Lunar heroes are slightly wounded, Garrath is quickly fighting alone. The good-looking Lunar strikes hard and fast at Garrath's neck, almost severing his head. He falls, blood spurting on the deck, drenching those nearby. There is a clap of thunder, and a bolt of lightning totally vaporises Garrath's body. All the Lunars and their allies are thrown back by the blast, and left staggering and bewildered as though blinded.

Jarang Bladesong instantly orders all the defenders to abandon ship and vaults the rail. Those left standing are quick to do so, and plummet from the side of the cradle into the waters below. Abul can be seen jumping after them.

Dorinda hesitates only a moment: "You heard Jarang: abandon ship! Dying here won't help anyone. We'll be back!" Silently, she vows to be the last Herewardi to leave.

Hrolf looks aghast at Dorinda's orders. As he heads for the railing in obedience to her orders, he yells: "Tenthane, what about the hold?! We can go belowdecks!"

Shouting furiously and swinging his mace in a lethal arc, Geran retreats as orderly as he is able to, trying to protect Dorinda. "Go! I will join my ancestors here, not in the water"

Jamal hears Dori's and Jarang's call and ignores it for an instant. Fighting and covering the legions fallback he marks each lunar he sees. Anthippus, the champion of the Marble Phalanx, the red clothed ones, fixing each face in his mind. Each he curses in the name of divine Idovanus. For a moment he considers losing himself in the blood rage of the Bull, but he fights back the urge.

Maniskus dead, the boy Abul presumably so after diving into what may be a hail of arrows. The Lunars here will pay for this, in blood, slowly and painfully. Revenge will be taken, icy cold, and not now. But it will be taken.....

He shakes out of his mono-mania, and yells to Dori "The water or the Hold, the Legion should not be split asunder"

Aelfwyrd is struck by the sheer power of the assaulting Marble Phalanx as it sweeps onto the cradle and engages the defenders. This is first time that this Kargani has fought such large numbers of Lunar regulars; he is taken aback by their magical prowess and strength of arms.

In a split second the moment of wonder is gone and the battle is begun. As the seven blades of his fell weapon cleave flesh from bone Aelfwyrd feels the presence of Kargan draw closer and caught up within his blinding fury.

Everything a blur, the fighting is ferocious as the Herewardi are forced back. Cursing each step backwards he cleaves this way and that but no headway is to be found. Then the Dragonnewts surge into view. Aelfwyrd has listened to many tales of these strange beasts, but to see them in battle is to witness something else entirely. With grim determination the Kargani fights with strength and honour but they are near unstoppable.

As the call to abandon ship is heard his heart sinks. Aelfwyrd looks about the deck to see the defenders broken and beaten, gore painted crimson across the decks. For a moment he is taken back to Furthest, its terrible arena and the endless days of slaughter and dishonour.

That was surely a test of his will by Kargan; perhaps this is another?

Snapping out of his reverie Aelfwyrd fights a furious rearguard for his life until he joins the legionnaires. Scanning about deck once more he sees that the call to abandon is correct, the situation is hopeless. Bellowing for Korol and Yrsga to jump he looks about to ensure than none of the fallen Herewardi are left behind.

Spotting Geran making what can only be a hopeless stand defending his ten thane Aelfwyrd curses under his breath. Indecision plain on his face Aelfwyrd looks to the river then back to the Uz. Finally kicking the bulwark and cursing hatefully he fights his way back over to Dorinda.

Without stopping he yells at Geran "Legion rules.. the Ten Thane leaves last" and tries to tackle him over the bulwark into the river.

Geran barely turns as he hears the Kargan warrior shout, but growls a reply "I'm not in the legion" as he barely manages to avoid a fiery slash to his arm by a Lunar. Cursing he shoves his shield straight into the face of the soldier before he crushes his arm with the mace. In the sudden lull something explodes into his side, taking him unprepared.

As Jamal's calls fall flat in the general melee, he spots Aelf trying to man-handle the large bulk of the dark man over the bulwark. Biting back his fear of the warriors sharp teeth, he thinks "The Legion must stay together", he calls to Elnor to follow him into the water, and joins Aelf in trying to get Geran over the bulwark.

Enfrew thinks for a moment. He is not part of the Legion yet so he doesn't have to obey Dorinda. But his heart burns for the revenge against enemy that has beaten them so badly this day, and he won't accomplish that by dying here in vain. With shame and grim determination, he strikes the last blow against the closest enemy soldier and jumps of the Cradle.

Hrolf watches Dorinda for her decision, his sword and shield still holding the enemy at bay. He sees her hesitate, his other comrades also in confusion as they struggle to move Geran to the bulwarks. His mind races, searching for the right course of action. Which way to Truth and Honour? Finally, he grits his teeth: this day pride and glory must die for truth and honour to survive. “Humakt! We are not done here! I will take this Cradle and its child back or die trying.” Then, in Durulz: “Blackbeak, I will be back!”

Tears of frustration running down his face, he races to the melee around Geran, dropping his shield and now waving both his swords around him in a furious whirlwind of whistling iron. Several Lunars back away from the knot of Herewardi warriors, granting them a brief respite in which Hrolf hopes they can make their escape. “Angus - over the side!” he snarls. “And help Geran with his armour! Geran! We will not leave you! Go now or we all die here!”

Aelfwyrd and Jamal hit Geran in a combined tackle that sends the huge troll staggering through a gaping hole left in the Cradle's bulwarks. Locked together the three heroes tumble towards the water, arrows flicking around them, and hit with a mighty splash.

Geran immediately begins to sink swiftly. Saddened by this ignominious death he resigns himself, and begins the Warrior's Lament - something he thought he'd never have to do. Water burbles around his lips as he speaks the pain of warrior dying a peaceful death. He sees that Enfrew, Aelfwyrd, Jamal are sinking too, and knows that it is good to die in company. And here are the others - Hrolf, Malan and finally Dorinda have followed Kogad, Dask and the others into the river, along with the little feathered Angus-thing. Geran wishes that he had had a proper last meal.

Yet now he notices others. Small fish-things and frog-things that swim around him excitedly. He sees human warriors resting on the river bottom mud, soundlessly laughing and grinning up at the falling heroes. The Far Point Orlanthi wave and, guided by some of the fish things, begin ponderously to walk downstream along the river bed.

Geran finds he can breathe.


Seeing his comrades spill over the side of the Cradle, Hrolf dives after them, losing his helmet but gripping his iron swords tightly. Once underwater, he sheathes his swords and looks around for Geran and Angus. No point taking off the hauberk yet; he needs to get to the bottom of the river as quickly as possible.

But what is this? There are fish and newtling everywhere, and the glow of magic surrounds them. Hrolf spots Geran just below him, but the troll looks strangely comfortable in the water - no, he's breathing! A newtling touches Hrolf on the mouth and suddenly he is breathing, too. So this was Dori's plan ... good thing he followed orders.

With the aid of the fish and the newtlings, Hrolf quickly orients himself and divines that the plan is to walk down river. He pats Geran on the arm and points his own hand in that direction, attempting to pull the troll along with him.


As she sinks into the Zola Fel, unbidden thoughts come to Dorinda's mind. "Mother" Why did that damn troll keep calling her that? Stupid creature.... but she knew how they operated, she'd heard enough about it in Nochet, the thing was only trying to be respectful. So why was it so upsetting? She wasn't anyone's mother, much less some dark beast.... good warrior, though. Nearly as good as some of her Legion. Her Legion. A glow of pride in them warmed her. They'd done so well, even if she had nearly got them killed a few times. And why did that bother her so much? They're Humakti, they're meant to die in battle. She should accept it. Cold, like a sword. No attachments. Attachments are weakness. Waste of warriors was bad, but anyone hurting her Legion was... no, it was different, somehow. MINE. No-one hurts my.... hang on. My what? Why am I trying to protect them as if they were children? MY childr... Oh. No. No, she couldn't think about that. That should go away, in the box at the back of her mind, along with her last duel in Nochet, and her father, and.... No, think about something else. Lock the box. And concentrate on getting her dau... on getting Kristen off the Cradle.


Struggling through the water, Enfrew finally reaches the dry ground. He sits there, looking back at the Cradle with sorrow and anger. He remembers his vision about the Legion and his ultimate goal to become part of one of strongest Humakt's weapons. The Legion will be back, and he will be with them. Lunar blood shall colour the river in red and the Cradle shall move onwards in victory. Either that, or he shall die.


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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