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The Battle of Thunder Valley

Aethilsson wearily trudged through the heavy snow, his breath hanging in the air behind him. As he stumbled through the drifts he wished again that he had made snow shoes, like Mastakos uses, before he had left the stead. A wolf's soul-rending cry drifted by on the wind and was answered by the rest of the pack. Aethilsson prayed again to Issaries for a safe journey and asked Barntar for the endurance to complete it. He cursed Valind under his breath for the snow and the biting wind; his hands had gone numb a league back.

Aethilsson bent his six-foot frame into the biting wind and felt it tear at his streaming eyes and frozen beard. Care had worn deep crevasses into his forehead and the corners of his grey eyes. His cloak kept blowing off of his head leaving his tangled brown hair fluttering in the wind. He flexed his frozen fingers and jammed his callused hands deeper into their mittens, callused from years wielding a sword against his clan's enemies.

Suddenly, the clouds broke and the moon shone through; it was full and blood red. Aethilsson was bathed in the twisted light. "Not yet," he thought, "They can't have found me that quickly." He swung his shield off of his back and loosened his sword in its sheath. He made his way through the thick trees and came out on top of a hillock. A ring of standing stones reached to the air and pointed the way to Orlanth's hall. Planting his battle spear in the snow, Aethilsson began to gather the winds and storms of Orlanth that he wielded so well. The winds shrieked and the clouds rumbled, lightning split the sky and struck his spearhead. Soon he was enervated and could feel the power of his violent god coursing through his body like uz-grog; none to soon either as several shapes began to float down the moonbeam. Soon their laboured progress could be heard on the hill below.

"There will be ten of them," he thought, "there's always ten of them." Aethilsson spoke to the whirvlishes dancing through the stones and threw himself into their dance. As he danced, spinning and twirling among the stones the whirvlishes came to him and danced with him. Soon they became one and a raging whirlwind had formed on the hill. The whirvlishes laughed in ecstasy and flung snow and debris around the hill. Aethilsson smiled when a flight of arrows - ten of them - flew from the trees and sailed off in all directions, scattered like so many bothersome gnats by his screaming winds.

In unison, the ten soldiers stepped from the trees, they locked shields and advanced up the hill. Aethilsson studied them with interest. On their heads they bore golden helms with a silver starburst on the crest, the feathers of a strange bird sprouted from the ornament and danced wildly in the wind as they strode towards him. Glittering golden greaves with silver tracing encased both legs and flashed in the crimson moonlight. Brilliant white linen warded their torsos with - now he recognized it - the Pole-star emblazoned on their chest flanked by other runes he did not know. They bore a short stabbing sword on their right hips and gripped golden thrusting spears in their hands. Their shields were narrow and tall; they held them at an angle across their bodies so that they locked into a shield-wall. When Aethilsson espied the floating ship emblazoned on their shield faces he finally placed the men - Imperial Star Marines.

Moving as one, the golden warriors trod through the heavy snow. Aethilsson and the whirvlishes lunged down the hill at the starmen, crashed into them and rebounded off of the immovable line. Aethilsson retreated up the hill and as the winds died he could hear the warriors chanting to the immovable Pole-star, no wonder he couldn't shift them. "Come to me children," he taunted them, "Your mothers must have been Gorgormans!" The chant changed and they called to Urimaz whom Aethilsson did not know. As one they crouched and then leapt into the air. Aethilsson hurled his spear with the strength of mighty Orlanth and it passed through the shield and on into the torso of one of the marines and he fell down dead; the rest landed in a perfect circle around him and lunged as one. Aethilsson's whirvlishes danced among the warriors disrupting their blows and Aethilsson fell to the ground then rolled from the circle. He stood like lightning and drew his sword before charging the surprised warriors.

Aethilsson clove the nearest one’s shield in twain and tore his throat out with a wicked backhanded blow. He jumped over a spear thrust and turned a second on his shield while backing up the hill. The whirvlishes screamed in fury as the soldiers ignored them and shrugged them aside with their magic. Aethilsson lunged and his target leapt back; his mates struck from the sides and creased Aethilsson’s flanks, he backed further up the hill and put his back to a menhir. “I may be going before Daka Fel shortly,” he said, “but I’m taking you with me!”

A low moan came from the trees and quickly grew to a shattering scream. Aethilsson cringed and the soldiers backed off, looking over their shoulders. Something exploded out of the tree line and dove under the snow. It burrowed through the winter carpet throwing a trail of glittering white twenty feet into the air in a direct line towards Aethilsson. The lunars scattered from its path and Aethilsson dove to one side rolling to his feet a few yards away. In his place stood an ice demon out of his worst nightmares towering ten feet high with snow and ice sparkling in his pelt, the crimson light made it look like droplets of blood. Three horns on his head and cruelly sharp claws allowed no doubt as to his intent. He stomped towards the lunars and screamed again; they fled down the hill in a panic slipping and sliding through the snow. The demon then turned it baleful gaze on Aethilsson and grinned a wicked, tooth-filled grin.

Before Aethilsson could do more than grit his teeth the demon exploded into a cloud of ice crystals with an audible “pop”. Aethilsson stared in shock at the expanding billow of snow before he heard voices drifting over the hill. “Did you see the look on their faces?” one asked. “Did you see the look on HIS face?” another responded. Aethilsson shock his head ruefully and trudged over the hill, “Gremlin! Get over here!” he cried. He heard an exclamation of surprise and spied a small figure bolt upright from the snow, pivot on its heal and run headlong into a boulder. The small man sprawled senseless at the warrior’s feet.

Gremlin was a small man little more than five feet in height and 110 lbs. He wore scraggly, food-encrusted furs and a small avalanche of valuables, probably somebody else’s, poured from a ruptured sack on his belt. He bore a small sword on his left hip, the blade had been broken a hand’s width below the hilt by Aethilsson’s father and a wickedly curved, rusty dagger jutted from his boot top. No one knew how old Gremlin was or where he came from. He first appeared in Aethilsson’s tula when his grandfather was young and he returned periodically richer both in plunder and in tales of his conquests. His oddity was punctuated by the hat that was now perched on his crooked nose; a battered yellow thing that he claimed to have taken from a sun-man in the north. Gremlin looked every inch the trickster he so stridently claimed not to be.

And now Aethilsson was stuck with him.


June 1, 2000

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