Arriving at the Enjossi settlement, Randel and Sandene set about preparing the five corpses they had brought with them for burial. Assisted by the Enjossi priest, Frithowulf, Randel set about the rituals needed to prepare a corpse for burial so that its fetch didn’t lose its way to the Spirit World and cause mischief or worse amongst the living. Although he carried out the rituals according to the strictures of the Ernaldori, it was clear that the Enjossi clan spirits did not approve. Grumbling, Frithowulf stepped in and readied the bodies for their final journey. Eventually, Sandene stepped forward from the edge of the circle that had formed around the bodies, the rest of the heroes looking on. As she called on her Death run, dancing and stamping, a weird, otherwordly sensation began to steal over the observers as the spirit world leaned in closer to that of the living. As they watched, the corpses took on an eerie cast as each acquired a glowing duplicate overlaying the dead flesh. Firstly, Sandene called on the spirits of the famers to depart in peace. Almost with an audible sigh, the spirits of the three fyrdsmen stood up and looked down upon their earthly bodies. As one they turned and began to fade away, a hand raised in sad farewell to Wyard who raised his hand in reply, tears coursing down his cheeks.
The huscarl was likewise bade to go in peace, and without a backward glance the newly-raised fetch turned away and drew an ethereal axe, rushing away to a place only he could see to do battle forever, a silent cry of triumph on his lips. Finally, Hahlgrima’s fetch was summoned. Unlike the others, her spirit still bore the wounds that had led to her death, and motes of blackness swirled through her form. Almost before Sandene banished her, Hahlgrima drew her axe and charged headlong to where Terrastal stood, transfixed. A moment before she would have seemed to make contact, the spirit turned to tumbling smoke and a great wind blew through the onlookers before suddenly falling silent. As all looked at Terrastal in mixed fear and wonder, he returned their stares blankly. After a moment, he hawked and spat over his shoulder: ‘I don’t know what her problem is’ he opined, ‘wasn’t me that killed her’. The tension broken, the companions began to laugh and headed back to the Lake Town, leaving the Enjossi clans to give the corpses to the creatures of the river as was their custom.
The next morning, Bofrost and Randel woke early and sought out Frithowulf. The priest looked drawn and tired, seeming not to have slept the night before. As the two heroes set out their plan to call on Llankor Mhy and Issaries to ask for guidance as to how to help the Enjossi, Frithowulf nodded gratefully and lent whatever aid he could. So it was that as Yrsa, Terrastal and Sandene emerged blinking into the morning sunlight, they saw Bofrost and Randel standing within a sacred circle preparing to call on their respective Gods. Whilst they went through their preparations, Terrastal, Sandene and Yrsa slipped away unnoticed through the crowd, transfixed as they were by the unfamiliar rituals taking place before them. Terrastal was uneasy about how Gods would attempt to solve the petty problems of their worshippers, and in his experience a crowd could easily become a mob that didn’t balk at bloodshed. Grabbing their gear, they set off for Parasarlth’s hut, a plan forming in Terrastal’s mind.
Meanwhile, a shimmering barrier had sprung into existence around the sacred circle as the final syllables of Bofrost and Randel’s shouted exhortations faded away. The forms of those inside the circle seemed to hang in the air for a moment, caught in mid-step as if in amber. The crowd of villagers held their breath momentarily, until suddenly the shining barrier fell away. Bofrost and Randel remained stock-still for a moment then fell heavily to the ground, clearly exhausted by their experience. As they were helped to their feet, Sandene pushed to the front of the crowd, concern etched on her face. Unable as they were to respond immediately to the shouted questions, Frieda bade the crowd move back from Randel and Bofrost. It was no small thing to be in the presence of a God, and the human mind needed time for the horror and ecstasy to fade somewhat into memory. By the time they were ready to speak, the clan chief of the Enjossi arrived with her guard. Haltingly, Randel spoke of a vision of a huge column of water, falling from the sky onto the earth. Within the column, he had seen all manner of creatures and the river’s bounty falling upon children wearing the clan-markings of the Enjossi. But then a small blue figure began to move amongst the Enjossi children, laughing and playing. For a time all was well, but then a great shadow seemed to swim across the column of water, cutting off the Enjossi from Engizi’s bounty. All at once, the children began to fall ill and grow thin. Bofrost cut in at this point, as he likewise had seen a vision of a blue figure, moving through the waters. In his sending, however, he’d seen a great flipper strike the blue figure down, crushing it utterly. Yet this had not been the end of the blue figure; all at once, it had risen into the air, out of reach of the thrashing flipper, glowing brighter than it ever had before.
It was clear that all who heard this held that it communicated truth, although there was no agreement as to what that truth was. As voices rose and anger began to spark across the crowd, Randel raised his clear voice and called upon his Harmony rune: ‘People of the Enjossi, hear me! We have been given a way forward by the Gods! By the leave of your Chief, Griselda, I and my companions will join your priest in calling on Lalalimast to appear, and beg her to intercede with her father!’ Looking to Griselda, Randel was rewarded with a sharp nod of assent, and preparations began to summon Matlinde’s mother to bless the Enjossi once more.
Meanwhile, Terrastal had approached the hut shared by Matlinde with her father. As he emerged out of the scrubby bushes that dotted the shoreline, Matlinde eyed him warily, seeing him coming armed and armoured. Seeing her sudden disquiet, Terrastal loosened his weapon belt and let it drop to the ground, smiling as openly as he could. Realising he meant no harm, he was welcomed into the simple hut and given what hospitality they could spare. Seeing their lack of food, Yrsa and Sandene set off to see what could be foraged from the land. As they hunted, Terrastal sat and talked with the fisherman and his daughter, hoping for some clue as to how to solve the situation. Yet nothing new presented itself by the time his companions had returned. Pickings were meagre, it seemed, and they could offer little to the pot. What was given, however, was received gladly and the meal was warm, though not filling. After some time, Sandene and Yrsa headed back to Lake Town, eager to see what their friends had experienced. Terrastal remained behind, and as soon as his friends were gone began to urge Matlinde and Parasarlth to gather their belongings and head inland for a place of safety. Although he didn’t say so in so many words, he made it clear that he feared for their safety at the hands of the Enjossi. Although neither were convinced, Terrastal played on their fears for each other’s safety such that dusk found all three heading inland. As they went, Terrastal covered their tracks as best as he could, casting frequent glances back towards the town as he did so.
Arriving back at the Enjossi settlement, Yrsa and Sandene were quickly drawn in to the preparations for summoning Lalalimast. As Yelm began to traverse the final quarter of the sky dome, the ceremony begun. Yet from the outset, it was marred by bad omens. Yrsa had selected a fine beast from the clan herd to sacrifice to Engizi. Holding the ox firmly by the horns, she sang a low song that calmed the animal and readied it for death, but as she brought her knife down as she had so many times before the beast suddenly squirmed in her grip. Thus, the cut was shallow and didn’t kill the beast outright; instead it bellowed and struggled, blood spraying, until Yrsa was able to finally put it to rest. So went the rest of the impromptu ceremony. Although the steps of Sandene’s dance were sure, and Randel’s retelling of a God-Time myth was powerful, the planned culmination of the ceremony with Lalalimast appearing with the last of Yelm’s rays did not come to pass. As the shadows lengthened, the clanfolk went back to their homes, dispirited and worried. Exhausted, Yrsa, Sandene, Randel and Bofrost went to their beds, unsure as to how to proceed. Indeed, so tired were they that no-one questioned Terrastal’s absence.
In fact, Terrastal was coming to regret his actions. Both Parasarlth and Matlinde were argumentative, questioning why they had agreed to leave their hut. Although Terrastal was able to appeal to Parasarlth’s fatherly concern for his daughter, Matlinde bridled at Terrastal’s intimation that this was for her own good. Eventually, all three of them subsided into an unhappy silence and drifted into restless sleep.
The next morning, the heroes were roused by the sound of raised voices. Emerging from their hut, they were rewarded by the sight of the whole Enjossi clan gathered around Griselda, who was calling orders to her people. Seeing them emerge, Griselda and Frieda moved towards them. ‘Thank you for your help last evening’ she began, a look of resignation on her face, ‘but I’ve decided that we must accede to Urgnal’s demands and give him Matlinde’. Seeing the anger rising on their faces, Griselda hissed back sharply. ‘And what would you have me do? No-one here wishes Matlinde or Parasarlth ill; by the Gods, our children have gone hungry and some of the elders will not see out the season because we stand by our own! But sometimes the current is too strong, and to swim against it is to perish’. As Frieda gripped her mother’s arm, Griselda turned away. ‘I am truly sorry, but my people have gone to fetch Matlinde even now’. As she walked away, head bowed, a shout went up from the crowd in the direction of Parasarlth’s hut. ‘They are gone! They have fled!’. Turning back to the companions, Griselda sighed. ‘It is done; there is nothing more’. Raising her voice, she shouted hoarsely ‘Find them! Track them down and bring them to me!’. With a roar from the Enjossi, the hunt began.
Moving steadily northwards, the fugitives’ misgivings continued to grow. On several occasions, either Matlinde or her father made to return home, but Terrastal’s fears for their safety lent his words power and they held their course. But finally, as Yelm reached higher into the sky, Matlinde overheard Terrastal speaking with her father. Catching only the words ‘it’ for her own good’, Matlinde’s rage boiled over and she struck Terrastal a stinging blow across the face. ‘How dare you make my decisions for me!’. Trying to explain himself only made matters worse. ‘If it were your choice to sacrifice yourself to save your clan, what would you do?’ Seeing his momentary hesitation, Matlinde howled in anger and sprinted back towards the Enjossi town. Terrastal launched himself after her, but missed, swearing loudly. As he did so, he caught sight of figures moving through the scrub, coming from the direction of the river. Realising the danger lent his legs more speed, and he raced over a low rise after Matlinde. As he did so, he was surprised to see the familiar forms of Yrsa and Sandene outpacing the clanfolk, weakened as they were by their reduced rations.
Reaching out, Terrastal managed to grab Matlinde’s arm and they both went down in a tangle of limbs. As they struggled to rise, Terrastal found Sandene and Yrsa standing over them. As yet their weapons were sheathed, although they were clearly ready to defend their brother-in-arms. As the Enjossi formed a silent ring around the small group, Griselda pressed forward and demanded they hand over Matlinde; hearing Griselda’s voice, Matlinde begged to be set free, saying she was ready to die for her people. Instead, Terrastal summoned up all of his powers of persuasion and prepared to face down the whole Enjossi Clan.
Meanwhile back at the Lake Town, Randel and Bofrost were ignorant of the drama unfolding in the hills above the town. Having slept on their disappointment of the night before, both of them were filled with a new resolve to call Lalalimast forth, whether she wished it or no. Perhaps it was the silence of the town that concentrated their minds, or perhaps it was some intimation of the danger facing their friends, but before long they had called a vast spinning vortex of water into being from the lake, towering into the warm air before them. As a stunned Frithowulf looked on, Randel and Bofrost completed their impromptu summoning and a woman’s shape seemed to form within the spinning column. Calling out once more, the Merchant and the Seeker related all that had transpired, and that the Enjossi were suffering for no fault of their own. As they did so, the figure seemed to become agitated, and in a voice like water on stone began to speak haltingly. ‘My daughter? My daughter is here? But Urgnal told me she was no more, and had gone to the Great Ocean...’ Suddenly, the voice boomed out like waves on rock. ‘WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?’. Not waiting for an answer, the column of water rose into the sky and arced through the air towards the north, trailing droplets of water that spread shimmering rainbows in Yelm’s beams...
As Terrastal finished his impassioned plea, Yrsa thought she sensed a shift in the crowd, an unwillingness to turn on one of their own. But their bellies, and their children’s bellies, were empty and so they moved inwards, gripping their spears tightly. Those nearest to Sandene caught her eye and were horrified by what they saw there. As she opened her mouth to begin to sing her death-song, all eyes were drawn to a roiling mass of cloud plummeting down into their midst. All were knocked flat by the impact of the mass of water; as they rose, the stunned onlookers saw Matlinde rise into the air, borne on a shining column of water. A power seemed to fill her and spoke through her with a voice soft as rain, yet harsh as stinging salt spray. ‘I am Lalalimast, daughter of the Sky Titan and this is my daughter. Your clan has sheltered her at great cost, and in return I bless you, and through me, Engizi. You are favoured, and all will be well!’
And thus it was that the heroes found themselves returning to Clearwine in triumph some days later, laden down with gifts. At Matlinde’s urging, the Enjossi fishermen had wasted no time in setting out on the now-calm waters of the river. Fish seemed to throw themselves into their nets, and no elder of the village could remember such a catch. Some of those who had ventured out further than the others swore they had seen a great turtle rise up from distant waves, held firmly in the grip of some immense water leviathan. Again and again it had been dashed into the water, until finally its cries had ceased and the river become peaceful once more.
At the great feast held that night, the companions had been richly rewarded with their pick of Griselda’ finest handiwork, renowned as she was as a worker in bronze. But more valuable still was Griselda’s promise to support Baranthos’ case when it came to his trial. Even sweeter was the time spent at the Konthassos stead on their return journey. On being presented with Hahlgrima’s head, and a promise that his clan would be protected from Kangharl’s wrath, Orendal had promised to give Baranthos a fair hearing without fear or favour. As they knew their chief was innocent of the accusations made by Kangharl, they were content.
Indeed, all was well as they rode through the gates of Randel Stead. Wyard the Thrall was shown his duties by Kareena, the priestess of Orlanth who’d accompanied them from Apple Lane. With a look of gratitude to Sandene, he’d returned to what he knew best; tilling the earth in peace. Yet Kareena had one puzzling piece of news; a warrior had come to visit them some days ago, claiming to be their friend and that a favour was owed to him. As they walked towards the guest quarters they had provided him, a chill ran through them as they heard Kareena’a description: a tall man, dark haired, but with terrible scars around piercingly dark eyes and the air of a zealot...
(To be continued)