The Saga of the Gwandorlings - 52
"War is an extension of my sword!"
For the rest of that year the Companions remained at Stone Storm Vale in high esteem.
Sixteen-twenty-five arrived with a heavy snowfall. Valind's winds blew through the pass and carried all before them.
There was a man named Hardbein Thorleiksson. He was a great sagamaster and godyr of Drogarsi. Now Hardbein was from Runegate and had become a travelling poet when that city was destroyed by the Empire. Hardbein belonged to Bronwyn's Boldhome cell and had in the past provided valuable information to the Companions.
In Harmony Week - Sea Season - Hardbein came to Knight Fort with a message for the King. There was somebody from Tarsh that wanted to speak with Argrath and would meet him where Argrath wished.
Argrath sent Bronwyn to make the meeting; Hardbein was sent north to let the Tarshite know that they would meet at Tink. Bronwyn took Katla, Lothar and Sigmund with him. They fared north, through Barbarian Town, passed east of the Six Sisters and then turned west. They made their way through Sartar, past Dragon's Eye and arrived in Tink.
Meanwhile Kallyr sent word to Argrath that she had begun preparations for her quest to open the Storm Gate. She reminded Argrath to be ready when the time came to enact the Virtue Quest.
Now the Virtue Quest was rarely done. There was no method to prepare for it, to ritual, to regalia. The quest tested the quester's virtue - either he had it or he didn't.
It also came to pass that Whitebull led a horde of howling nomads out of the Wastes and stormed Pavis. They broke the walls with powerful magics and slew the entire Imperial garrison. Messengers arrived seeking to gather the rebel forces under Whitelbull's banner to attack the Empire.
At this time Broyan was also on the move. Gettig Kingsvoice arrived at the fort seeking men to aid Broyan in a campaign into Volsaxiland. Argrath politely refused. Gettig asked again, almost begging Argrath. "Sharpsword has three-thousand men but he said no."
Dragonfriend shook his head sadly, "Tell King Broyan that I respect and admire him. I wish that I could help him but I don't have the forces available." Gettig pointed out that if all the rebels gathered, or even sent a few troops each they could free Volsaxiland. Dragonfriend declined again.
"Well, you are an honest and honourable friend. You have always done what you could to help my lord," said Gettig. He went on to say that Sharpsword was as bad as Vadrus and enjoyed taking from his kin as much as he did from his foes.
Argrath thanked Gettig for his words and gave him a gift of iron ore for Broyan.
News also arrived telling how Harrek had disappeared into the west leaving a trail of shattered and burning settlements behind him. Maniskisson was said to be warring with the Esrolians and the Tarshites. He was helping Jandetin the Avenger to plunder the Tarsh plain.
Our saga now turns to Dragon's Eye where Bronwyn awaited word of the Tarshite. The Companions stayed in some huts outside Dragon's Eye that were maintained for visiting merchants. When word came that a party had arrived in Tink, Katla rode into the village to bring them to Bronwyn.
She strode into the inn and approached a group of strangers. Three men sat around the table. Richly equipped, wearing gold torques and armbands. They looked like Tarshites.
"Have any of you read any good books on EWF tactics recently," she asked?
The man in the middle smiled at her, "Why yes we have. Sit down. You're not what I expected."
Katla smiled back at him. "I was sent to lead you to the meeting place." The man stood, he gathered his companions with a glance, and followed Katla back to Dragon's Eye.
In the Factor's hut Bronwyn greeted them visitors. He sat the leader on his right with his thegns below him. Sigmund sat on his left with Lothar and Katla next to the Warlord.
The leader looked at Bronwyn, "You are?"
"I am the Tongue of the Dragon. I speak as Argrath Dragonfriend in this, in speaking to me you speak to him."
"My father sends his regards. I am Onjur Fazzursson. This is Doryl, my Shieldthane and Morden Mitchuinsson." Onjur handed Bronwyn a scroll, sealed with wax, but without a sigil on it. "My father bade me give this to King Argrath. I don' t know what you will do with it, but good luck."
With that Onjur and his thegns rode back to Tarsh. Bronwyn opened the scroll, it had three words scribed upon it. "Clayday, Harmony, Earth." It was the date of Tatius's final ceremony for his temple.
About this time Argrath learned of a disastrous battle in Prax. It seemed that a horde of Praxians, led by the incarnated hero Jaldon, had met an army of red-men at the village of Moonbroth and been smashed on the pikes of the imperial phalanx and ridden down by the cursed red cavalry. Whitebull had not participated and was still in Pavis, consolidating his hold over the city.
Gettig also returned to Knight Fort at this time. He bore ill news to Argrath. "King Broyan is dead," he said. Gettig told how Broyan had taken the city of Smithstone from the Empire, without a fight. The next night assassins came through the walls and slew the king as he slept. On Clayday, the night of the full moon, a massive imperial assault struck Broyan's army and scattered it.
Some of Broyan's men had withdrawn into Hendrikiland following King Korlaman of the Orshanti - now claiming to be King of Heortland. Other warriors had gone west and joined Sharpsword. Gettig had ten-score warriors with him and wished to enter Argrath's service.
Argrath welcomed the lawspeaker into his service and gifted he and his men richly.
Bronwyn's informants brought more news about Heortland. It seemed that Sharpsword had led his army out of Karse and taken Smithstone from the retreated imperials.
So now it was time for the Companions to embark on their Virtue Quest. If all went properly, Kallyr would complete her quest to open the Storm Gate through which the Companions would burst into Tatius's ceremony and disrupt the proceedings.
Argrath gathered his Companions. Bronwyn, Gudny, Lothar, Katla, Kamoar and Sigmund. They all brought several attendants, Bronwyn brought Iggo the Freak, a trickster.
Gudny led the ceremony to cross into the Storm Realm. The Companions sang and danced and became one with the winds. They flew into the air over Stone Storm Vale and flew off to Storm Top Mountain where they passed over to the God's Plane in the Storm Tribe Age.
They arrived at Orlanth's Hall where they drank and sang at the High Table.
A flickering silver messenger arrived and addressed the Storm King. "Orlanth, your deeds have been noticed by the Old Gods and they require your immediate presence at the Celestial Court." Orlanth-Argrath agreed to attend the Old Gods and gathered a band to journey with him. He donned his accoutrements and took up a wyrm-skin sack in which he kept Aroka's head. Under the sack hid Eurmal who had been trying to take the head - again. "Begone trickster!" he cried and then beat the fool.
And so Orlanth and his companions passed out of the Storm Realm and fared onto the Plains of Durita. In the distance they could see rising clouds of dust. Yinkin-Kamoar sniffed the air. "Bad smell," he said. "Like Fulgar-beasts."
Now a Fulgar-beast was a creature so terrifying to look at that it was said they could kill themselves by looking in a mirror.
Humakt-Lothar stepped forth. "Stand back," he said. A herd of fulgar's ran over the plain shaking the very earth below their feet. Humakt-Lothar crossed his arms and stared at the beasts with a look of complete disdain. The beasts pounded and slid to a stop before Humakt-Lothar. He drew Death from its sheath and rested it upon the earth. The beasts recoiled from his fearless visage. The plain's grasses shrivelled and died for five ells around the point touched by Death. With a snort of fear the beasts reared and raced back the way they had come.
It should be told that Lothar knew the myth of Humakt and the Fulgar. Humakt banished the beasts to the underworld by scaring them with his fearlessness.
The band passed on into the Forest of Gloom. Vinga-Katla tried to raise their spirits by singing an Abba song. The pervasive shadows and stillness in the air defeated her intentions and the party settled into despair.
In the centre of the forest they found a large campfire. There was a miserable-looking fellow sitting in the firelight. He offered Orlanth-Argrath and his band hospitality. Their host looked so sad that Eurmal-Iggo bounced and rolled across the clearing. He told every joke he knew but nothing could produce so much as a twitch on that grim mein.
Issaries-Fillian asked the man his name. "Korsal the Dour" was the response. "Why were you awaiting us here?" he asked.
"I came to this place to test the generosity of Orlanth," Korsal grumbled.
"Well you succeeded in your test. Does that make you happy?"
"Why yes it does," Korsal replied and smiled.
"I think that doth conclude our business," sad Issaries-Fillian with a grin.
Beyond the forest the band passed onto another plain. This plain was covered in an odd patchwork of different types of very short, coarse grasses. Lhankor Mhy-Gettig looked down at the ground they had been walking over.
"These are not patches of grass. They are fields. Those low bushes are forests." He pointed at Orlanth-Argrath, "You are standing on a village. We must have killed thousands as we strode across the fields."
A blinding light stabbed won from the sky. A golden man flew down on white wings; he held a golden staff in his hand. "Orlanth!" His voice boomed. "You are a criminal. Are you prepared to be judged for your crimes?"
Lhankor Mhy-Gettig looked at Antirius, for surely that is who had confronted them, and said that Orlanth had not intended to cause any harm but that that he would pay restitution to those he had harmed and their families.
Antirius looked askance at him. "Restitution?" he asked. "Justice is absolute, you have committed crimes, there are no excuses and you will suffer the consequences."
Lhankor Mhy-Gettig frowned. "Justice is relative. Not absolute. A man's intentions and willingness to make good on his deeds must be considered."
They argued for sometime until Lhankor Mhy-Gettig convinced the sky god to allow Orlanth to pay weregeld.
The band continued on and entered the foothills to the Spike. They came upon a man working on a handsome stead; they recognised him as Gestrik, a cousin of Orlanth's. Gestrik was known as a wastrel.
"Orlanth," he called. "Would you stand by your kin in tough times?" "Of course," replied Orlanth-Argrath. "Well then cousin, you'll help me move into my new home?" Orlanth-Argrath agreed to help him. "My old home is next to Vadrus's camp.
Now we needs remind our readers that the Spike is the centre of the world and that Vadrus's camp is located at the northernmost edge of the world.
Orlanth-Argrath assured Gestrik that he would help him, as soon as he returned from the Celestial Court. Gestrik refused. "You said that you help me. I need your help, now."
Mastakos-Argrath smiled at Gestrik. "I'll do it," the Runner said. He hopped to Bear Mountain, placed his right foot onto the edge of the Suverian Marsh and then his left next to Umath's urn. He jumped once more and landed next to Gestrik's old stead. He picked up all that he could carry and retraced his path back to Gestrik's new stead. Mastakos-Argrath repeated the trip thrice more and all of Gestrik's belongings were moved. Gestrik looked glum.
The band continued up the mountain. At the gates to the Cosmic Palace the Dishthane greeted them. "Thou art late. Hurry. Dinner begins and they await no zone."
Beside the gates was Umath's resting place. Orlanth-Argrath turned aside to pay his respects to his father. "Hurry!" exclaimed the Dishthane. "The Council can wait," said Orlanth-Argrath.
When he was finished, Orlanth-Argrath and his companions followed the Dishthane into the palace and went before the Council. The Old Gods sat on their high seats and frowned down upon the band.
"Orlanth," they intoned. "We have watched you travel to our presence. We have seen you demonstrate your courage, generosity, justice, honour and piety. However there were no examples of your wisdom. Without that you will always be a petty god."
Orlanth-Argrath smiled at the Council. "I surround myself with the best gods in Glorantha. Wisdom is choosing those gods and using their skills properly."
The council muttered among themselves and then admitted the wisdom in that. They granted Orlanth his place in the world and invited the band to join them in their meal.
When the dinner finished the band gathered their weapons and passed down the Dark Stair into the deepest reaches of the Spike. At the bottom of the Stair they found Kaldur's Gate, an entrance to the Underworld.
Standing next to Kaldur is his wife, Sinuta; she sported nine arms and eight legs.
Eurmal-Iggo grinned. He winked at Orlanth-Argrath, tore off his pants and sauntered over to Sinuta. The giantess gaped at Eurmal-Iggo's endowments and eagerly responded to his whispered suggestions.
Kaldur started as his wife followed Eurmal in a shadow. He glared at the band as they approached. "What do you seek here Orlanth?" he asked.
"We seek to pass through the Gate and into the Underworld."
"None shall pass," was the response. Kaldur's eight arms drew eight flaming swords and barred the pathway. Humakt-Lothar drew Death and leapt to the attack. His blades flashed as he beat aside Kaldur's flaming defences and clove the giant in twain. The band passed through the gate and entered the Underworld.
The Companions appeared in the Sky of the Underworld as the Virtue Stars.
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