The Saga of the Gwandorlings - 43
Our tale takes up again in Stone-Storm Keep where Bronwyn spake to Argrath of tales he had gathered.
Bronwyn told of Harvar Iron-Fist and Artimesh of Spol parting ways. Some tales spake of Artimesh slaying several of Harvar’s generals for incompetence.
Bronwyn then spoke of Triolf the Fist and large amounts of silver arriving by caravan in Alone. Triolf was also hiring large numbers of sell-swords .
In Refuge, Bronwyn spake, the assassin’s guilds had declared a bounty on those who had slain the five leaders. The Talar of the Ageless Ones  had declared that the attempted assassination of Argrath was unlicensed and thus illegal; he supported the efforts of any who would bring the perpetrators to justice or force them to buy a business license.
Word had also reached Bronwyn from Karse where the red-men’s fleet was cowering in harbour. The teller related that they had lost 1 of every three ships to the Wolf Pirates and been recalled to the fortified harbour. Other tales spake of the fleet being recalled for maintenance and that the Pirates had nothing to do with it.
According to Jiinial Far-Walker, an acquaintance of Bronwyn’s, King Temertain had been censured by Tatius. It seemed that the Queen had thrown Tatius out of the palace after he had insulted the King. Tatius retaliated by revealing Temertain’s use of the military budget to purchase iron Britini statuary. Jiinial also mentioned that the Empire was building new barracks and housing in Boldhome for all of the troops and visitors expected for the consecration of the Reaching Moon Temple.
Drath the Grim, Baron of Redwater Vale had sent word that a large horde of chaos monsters was ravaging the land around Jansholm and the Stone Wood. It seemed that the Empire was only protecting people who were loyal to them and every place that had aided Broyan was being ransacked.
Bronwyn had also learned that the Empire was having trouble with deserting Sable auxiliaries. Many of their patrols were disappearing into the wastes and any attached soldiers were discovered buried upside-down in the ground with their feet chopped off. This was a well-known sign of contempt by the Praxian nomads.
Argrath told Gudny and Kamoar to make their way over the mountains and determine the size of the chaos horde, what it was and if it could be fought. He wished to see them return forthwith.
Seizing their arms and armour the two champions leapt atop their skybulls and passed over the mountains.
They spied many burnt out villages and steads and Kamoar determined that some had been destroyed up to four weeks in the past. He cast about around one stead reading sign. What he learned chilled him.
Me must first tell of the Hendriki steads in the area of the Stone Wood. The Wood constantly plagues the region with chaos monsters. In response the typical stead is a three tiered stone tower; cattle and other livestock is kept in the first tier, the stores are kept in the second and the residents live in the third. Villages in the area are fortified with tall stone walls and wide ditches.
The stead Kamoar examined had been defended by at least 30 fighting men, Kamoar found their well-chewed bones. He found that the wall had been breached by magic, portions of it had been reduced to sludge, there were acid burns throughout, and the doors had been wrenched out of their frames. Kamoar found that there had been at least 400 scorpion men in the attacking horde and something that had left a large trail of slime. He also found the tracks of 30 prisoners being led off into the Wood.
Next, the Companions passed into a village. They were greeted by the elder, Gurd by name, who bade them welcome and was greatly impressed with their bulls, their iron arms and their heavy golden armbands. Gudny bade them well and greeted them in the name of Argrath the Dragonfriend, King of the Marches.
Gurd said that there was no King of the Marches and Gudny replied that there was now. Gudny told how he had been sent by his King to find a way of helping the people in their contest with the evil hordes from the Wood. Gurd spake of his lord, Korlaman Highbrow of the Orshanti, Lord of the Stone Wood March. It seemed that Korlaman, an Aeolian knight, was hiding in the Troll Wood. He had been declared outlaw by the Empire for his support of Broyan.
Through talking further with the man, Gudny leanred that Korlaman had no real love of Broyan, who was a foreigner, and wished to sit on the throne of Heortland himself. Korlaman, it was said, was a direct descendant of the last king of Heortland, before the coming of Richard the Rokari. It was also said that Korlaman harboured a burning hatred for all things Rokari.
Gurd agreed to send word to Korlaman and bade the Companions return in two weeks. Gudny gifted him with a golden armband for his aid and then they returned to Stone-Storm Keep.
While they were gone, Sota Lamplighter had fared from Sun County to call on Argrath. The king guested the priest at Knight Fort and feasted him royally. “It is good to see you Argrath,” spake Sota, “well, not really but one must be polite.” Argrath smiled at this and agreed. Sota tossed a small bag to Argrath and said that the Dragonfriend would find the contents pleasant. When Argrath opened it he found an ear within. “That is Ogunjar’s right ear, I burned it off of him last winter.” Argrath was indeed happy to see it and thanked Sota before inquiring as to the purpose of his visit.
Sota spake of new times for Sun County and the people of Yelmalio. He told how they needed more stringent guidelines and a return to the Light. To this end Sota had returned Sun County to the rule of the Council of Priests with Sota in the High Seat.
Sota then spake of the need for support. He told of his plans to bring the Praxian temple under the control of the Council and then to stamp out the traitors that follow Ogunjar. After that, he said, he would have to deal with the Sairdites.
Whitebull, Sota said, had promised not to hamper Sota’s efforts in Prax. Sota then expressed his belief that he and Dragonfriend could come to an understanding. Sota told how the population of Sun County was growing and they needed land. He thanked Argrath for the land he had granted them but said it was not enough to support a new temple. Sota pointed out that with Sun County under his control he had over 1,000 spearmen to support his goals and those of his friends. With three temples, Beast Valley, Prax and a new one somewhere, he would have over 3,000 spearmen that he would be more than happy to lend to those who had helped him.
Argrath agreed that he would all he could to help Sota and gave him a rich gift of gold on his departure.
It was not long after Sota’s entourage left that Erdhar No-Horse came to Knight Keep. He also bore a sack, though larger than Sota’s, that he gave to Argrath. Within were the heads of three men. The first, said Erdhar, belonged to the leader of a company of Aggari highlands who were billeted in Swenstown. The second head was the leader of a band of Antelope Lancers from the Reaching Moon Temple guard. The last head was a chief from the Enstalos tribe.
We needs tell of the Enstalos. When the Empire destroyed the Dundaelos there were wide swaths of good land left un-tilled. The Empire gathered enough loyal Sartari to form a new tribe and gave them those lands. This tribe was called Enstalos after their first king. The Enstalos’ lands were just north of Barbarian town on the eastern side of the Storm Walk Mountains.
It seemed that Erdhar had been leading raids from the Firebull into Enstalos lands. He had been harrying all of the clans in the tribe and over the last season has taken 300 cows and 100 thralls from them. Seeing how the tribe only had 3,000 people these losses were terrible. “They will have a hard winter” spake Erdhar. “After I had raided them for a while the Empire sent an army of retribution, I smashed it” he stated nonchalantly, “and sent their penises to Tatius in a bag.”
Argrath was beside himself. One of his lords had been raiding the Empire and had destroyed an entire expeditionary force! The Empire was sure to send a larger force to smash the Firebull. “I though that you might by annoyed,” spake Erdhar. “So I brought you two-score riding horses for your new cavalry as a gift.” Argrath calmed down a little when he found out that Erdhar had sold half of the cows to the Pol Joni and that any large Imperial forces would have to pass through that tribe’s lands. “The Pol Joni won’t stand for that,” said Erdhar grimly. Suddenly he grinned, “Some of those Enstalos women are mighty fine and there men are not men.” He told how he had raided the King’s Hall and had the man on his knees pleading for mercy. “I don’t like killing women so I let him be,” Erdhar sneered.
Argrath guested Erdhar in the Keep that night and feasted him like the champion he was. Erdhar related news he had heard from Prax. It seemed that Whitebull had melded all of the tribes into a confederation and had even lured some of the Sable tribe away from the Empire.
Meanwhile, Sigmund was successfully recruiting more knights for Argrath’s army. Most of his recruits were Aeolian refuges from Heortland. He heard that there was a new Baron in Volsaxi land, Sanuel by name, who had been from Alda-Chur but was now a Rokari knight. Sanuel was also recruiting knights.
Our tale now turns to the town of Alone. The population was now a mere 500 people, compared to the 3,000 that called it home before the coming of Triolf the Fist. There were 500 newly recruited spearmen, the Alone Spear regiment. The Companions had learned of a group called the Servants of the Cleansing who served Triolf. There were also the five-score thanes in Triolf’s personal warband and the ten priest of the Bigger Storm that served the temple. They had also heard that Triolf’s main weapon was a great spirit called the “Manifested Storm of Bigger Wind”. This spirit was said to be the spiritual manifestation of slain Bigger Wind warriors.
The Manifested Storm had fought and defeated the Alone City spirit. The City spirit’s priests had been killed or harried into exile – several had found refuge with the Orgovalti – and the spirit crushed by the Storm.
As the Argrath wished to slay Triolf, he decided to visit the city priests with the Orgovalti and learn what he could of the city and the spirit.
Argrath summoned the powers of Mastakos to him. He placed his left foot atop Iron Giant Mountain, hopped to the top of Stormwalk Mountain, placed his right foot on Vingkot’s Knoll in Sambari Pass and jumped to Orlanth’s Hill in Torkani land. From there he stepped to the Chalk Man and then stepped into Orgovalt’s hall.
The Hall was empty and the clamour of battle rang loud without. Argrath rushed outside and found the entire fyrd battling ferociously on the stockade. Orgovalt glanced at him, “Oh, Lord Argrath!” Argrath peered around the battleground and Orgovalt told him of the attack. The clan had been besieged for three days by a force of Tusk-riders and other bandits. He told how the attacks were not bad except for the shamans and their spirits. “I sent you messages, did you not hear them?” he asked Argrath. Argrath replied that he had not. Can you hold for a few more hours the king asked. Orgovalt assured him that they could hold a few more days if they knew that relief was on its way. Argrath assured Orgovalt that it was and retraced his steps back to Stone-Storm Keep.
Once there he summoned the Companions and issued his orders. His flying warbanders were to accompany Bronwyn and fly north to the Orgovalti. They would leave immediately and were expected to arrive within three days. Sigmund and Gudny would be guided to the Orgovalti along Mastakos’ path.
Agrath traveled Mastakos’ path twice more, once to guide Sigmund and once to guide Gudny.
When Sigmund stepped up beside Orgovalt he had the chief point out the attacking shamans. They stood on a small knoll just beyond arrow’s reach. Orgovalt pointed to a furiously dancing figure on the crest, covered in red paint and ash. “He is the most powerful. He has sent seven spirit sendings at us and slain three of my hearth-thanes.”
Sigmund nodded and summoned forth the blessings of Hedkoranth. With a mighty heave he sent Little Weighty screaming through the air. The Shaman was slammed to the ground by the impact but had struggled to his feet when Sigmund looked again. His eyes locked with the shaman and Sigmund grinned before hurling the stone again. The shaman summoned his spirits to defend him. Little Weighty’s passage hurled several warriors from their feet and all could see it smash through the shaman’s spirits before it decapitated the man and returned to Sigmund’s hand. The Hurler was still smashing shamans and priests when Gudny and Argrath arrived on the walls.
Gudny immediately opened his Sky Bear bag and set Black Cloud on a Tuskrider camp near the village gates. He and Argrath then turn on another band of riders and hurled their magics at them. Lighting bolts leap from their hands, tornadoes hurled warriors through the air and Mastakos’s chariot raced across the battle site lifting men high into the air and dropping them screaming into the swamp.
At this sudden onslaught the besiegers broke and fled into the forests. Orgovalt had to beat people with his shield to keep them from pursuing the riders, “That is their land and they know it better than you,” he told them. All told the clan had lost 10 men to Daka Fel’s halls and had a further 40 in the hands of the healers. They had lost many of their herds and some of their boats.
There was a man named Iolf the Elder. His son, Iolf the Younger, had been crucified by Triolf when he took the city of Alone. Iolf the Elder was the son of Bjoryn the Gay who had fought and fallen at Boldhome. Bjoryn was the son of Norsi Fleet-foot, the Sagamaster of King Waelstulf of the Amad who had tamed the Silver Mist Cat and married the Dawn Maiden. Iolf was a priest of the Alone City Spirit, Grothmunswyrd.
Argrath spake with Iolf about Alone and Grothmunswyrd. Iolf told him of the founding of Alone and how Grothmunswyrd had mainly been formed by refugees from Grizzly Peak. Grothmunswyrd was mindful of its past and hated the Lunars. Triolf had to crush it to rule the city as it knew of Harvar’s connections with the Empire. Iolf agreed to help Argrath contact the spirit and to gain its support of Argrath’s attack when the time came.
With that Argrath fared south through the Quivinilands and arrived at Old Wind with his Companions. There he spoke with Norolf Four-hundred-fighter; Utguard was not present. Norolf listened to Argrath’s plan to assail Alone and he agreed to bring 50 of his warriors to aid the assault. Norolf gave Argrath an intricately carved horn and told him to sound it when he needed Norolf. “I will appear within a day with my warband,” he promised. Argrath thanked him and departed.
Argrath had sent Gudny to arrange a meeting with the Kings of Alone and get their support for his assault on Alone. They were leering about launching the assault in the winter and bade Argrath conduct his attack in Fire Season. Argrath, more used to his warband than to the fyrds the Kings would have to use, agreed to postpone his foray.
Flying back to Cliffhome, Argrath visited the Fire Witch. Cragspider pledged a small troll army to aid Argrath. Five-score great trolls and 1000 dark trolls and trollkin; for precisely one week from the time he called them. She reminded Argrath of the terms of their arrangement and that this would result in a favour owed. Argrath acknowledged that and thanked Cragspider for her aid.
Storm Season the highlands and lowlands of Sartar lashed by a heavy winter storm. The Companions were happy to be travelling in Prax to the Pol Joni Conclave at the Good Place. Argrath was greeted by Joban Standsaddle and shown to a great tent where they were bade rest for the night. Joban told them that the conclave would begin in the morn and that the guest of honour, Whitebull, would address the Council of Elders. Whitebull visited Dragonfriend in his tent and greeted him well. He told Argrath that he had called the meeting but that the Pol Joni had invited Dragonfriend themselves and he was happy they had. He wished Dragonfriend luck in Esrolia and quietly hinted that the Empire would not hold Prax much longer either.
Come morning the Elders gathered. Dragonfriend presented each of them with the sword from an Imperial Champion and with a slave girl of radiant beauty. They were impressed with his gifts and offered him a seat of honour at the head of the tent.
Whitebull then spake of his actions and plans. He told them that he had made peace between all of the tribes of Prax and that the only task left was to make peace between them and the Bastard Tribes, the Horse-riders. He related the tale of Jaldon Tooth-taker and how he would return to lead the nomads in war if they all united. The Pol Joni agreed to make peace with the other tribes and Whitebull summoned leaders of all of the other tribes into the tent.
When the Companions returned to the Marches they learned that Artimesh had been sent to Boldhome to bolster the defences there leaving Harvar with no Imperial garrisons. They heard that Lord Korlaman would meet with Argrath at the end of Storm Season. They also heard that Maniskisson had engineered the overthrow of the Luminous Stallion King, a Lunar sympathiser. He had helped place a new an on the Golden Saddle who hated the Empire. The new king immediately stated that the Empire had no hold over his people and punctuated that by executing all 14 Imperial tax collectors in his land. He sent their heads to the Provincial Overseer in Furthest.
 Mastakos’ Chariot. Levitation magics used by Argrath.
 The halls of the dead.
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