Meanwhile, the armies prepared for the approach of the Alkothi. They pressed the city folk into preparing trenches and stakes, which would slow and channel the Alkothi advance. Kuleneth sent a detachment to try to sink the boats, but only managed to distract one group of Alkothi.
Kuleneth positioned his forces in the gap, which is where the Red King attacked. Kuleneth took the Alkothi charge and held, though he took a wound. Wolenath of Thubana fought well, and took an Alkothi captain captive. But Vekka's forces in the city were overwhelmed, and Vekka was killed.
The Alkothi army pulled back, though Kuleneth and Wolenath pressed them for a while. The Orlanthi took over 60 captives all told. The Alkothi army made camp near the city walls, and the armies of Dara-ni pulled back a mile or so and camped.
They interrogated the captives, and learned that the Emperor unleashed Shargash on his foes. Murharzam said that the south was again the war zone, and that Alkothi would be given Dara-ni if they brought him the rebel Murhardavu.
The Alkothi spent a day drumming in Laradana before setting out again. The Orlanthi conducted a fighting retreat, slowing the Alkothi advance to only about three miles a day.
The Alkothi made an assault on Thubana, and were driven back. They camped outside for several days, until the news came that the Sylilans were on the march. About this time, the army of Alkoth picked up and marched north, burning as they went.
The heroquesters made their way to Thubana not much later.
The Alkothi garrisoned Laradana until the end of Fire season, then set up a local ruler.
There was a huge feast in Thubana to celebrate the victory against the Alkothi. Wolenath showed that he too was a wealthy city lord, just like Furlam, and tried to re-establish his city as the most important Dara-ni city. The priests claimed that the questers forced the questers to leave, and the warriors considered it was their force of arms. This had the potential to break out, but cooler heads prevailed.
Kuleneth was lauded as the great hero of the battle and poems told in his honor, including one by a famous Dorastan. The poets competed to see who could make the most memorable poem.
After three days of festivities, the two city lords managed to ship the Lakreni contingent north. Of the 100 Alkothi captives, 30 went with the Ernandeli back to their city. Furlam held a feast for Kuleneth back in Ernandel before he returned to Voranel.
There were several ideas about what to do with the Alkothi. Some wanted them ransomed, some made into thralls, and some proposed feeding them to the trolls. Murhardavu wanted to return a few as a goodwill gesture. He talked to the leaders and wanted to take the message back to the Red King that the reason the Alkothi lost was that Mahzanelm [???]. They would tell him that it was the words of the Raibanthi traitor.
Murhardavu's Lokarnos trader would take the leaders back with the ransom demands.
Elerandra returned with news from the Oslir. Erilindia and the Heortlings were still at war. Erilindia was faster and had more men, but the Heortlings were stronger warriors and had Rastaluf. The Heortlings had the upper hand. The trading was good, but many locals were concerned about the Alkothi were attacking from the north.
Earth season was spent devoted to the fields. Furlam and Murhardavu performed the harvest rites with the Earth Priestesses. It was an average harvest, and Ernandel depended heavily on the tribute of the Orlanteffings. Martog worked in the darkness, improving her spy connection. Verdun looked at breeding Hrothgar's special horses. Hrothgar studied an anti-Alkothi ritual.
News came that the Sylilan king did finally show up with any army of 500 and installed his own garrison in Laradana. He sent messengers to the Dara-ni cities demanding tribute. Neither Ernandel nor Thubana gave any.
Murhardavu fostered one of his sons to Hrothgar, and Verdun considered the offer to have one of his sons marry a daughter of Murhardavu.
Scouts of the Sartarkestings spotted a column of Aldryami leaving Rist and heading for the Erinflarth. Verdun, Murhardavu, Hrothgar, Martog, and Nallindia took a group of twenty to see what happens. They met up with the scouts and were taken to where the thirty Aldryami were slowly walking. Nallindia went up to them, and one of the elders stopped some warriors from killing him. The Aldryami elder called himself "Speaks-To-Meat" and has messages to the leader of Dara-ni. The group escorted the confused tree-people to Ernandel. The presence of Martog and Bad Breath terrified a number of them.
The thirty had twenty warriors armed with deadly bows, three or four elders wearing copper jewelry, and the rest were smaller ones who carried a number of gourds and baskets.
In Ernandel, "Speaks-To-Meat" presented gifts from Taris Sharpthorn to Furlam. The gifts included amber, crystals, herbs, spices and special flowers from the forest. They refused to accept Furlam's gifts, but instead hinted that they would like help. After several hours, it was discovered that the Uz of the Yolp Mountains had launched huge raids in Darkness season and wanted help from council friends. Furlam was inclined to help. Martog suggested that they try to find out why the Trolls were raiding. The Aldryami said that they were outlaw "Eaters."
Hrothgar asked Martog why she would help out the wood-people, and she said that war was bad. War against the Adryami was like hitting a bee hive with a stick before trying to harvest it. Furlam offered to send Martog to try and negotiate peace between the Forest of Rist and the Uz. He offered to help fight if they were outlaws. Speaker-to-Meat wanted direct support for an attack, and felt that was what Furlam offered.
Martog wanted to take Hrothgar's wife, so Hrothgar would go along. Bad Breath and Verdun would be useful too. Nallindia agreed to go. She would also take Bulbuk, an Argan Argar trader who worked for her.
Elerandra came up with an assortment of trade items, mostly foodstuff. They left about the time of the first frost. They were hosted by Aldesh Tarlor, king of the Sardarkestings. Hestenmarl, one of the sept chieftains, said that he heard that Hrothgar Lightning was no more, and the killer of Turumath Broadback died in the Underworld. A few more taunts were exchanged, but cooler heads prevailed, but afterwards, Elerandra was furious with Hrothgar.
The Aldryami acted as guides through the Forest of Rist. They continued until late at night, and Verdun created magical warmth. They continued another day, talking with "Speaks-To-Meat," and arrived at a grove of very large trees. Dozens of Runners were there, and began singing. A woman, dressed in green, approached. "You may call me Mistress of the Grove. Welcome. It has been a long time since the children of Talasta sought shelter here. Is the Darkness coming again?" Furlam reassured her that the Sun had come, and they were here to assure that the Darkness did not return. She said that she still slept, but woke this winter to speak to him. When she slept, she dreamt. In recent decades she had dreamed of disturbing things, of the skies changing again, and a terrible fire from the heavens, of great brightness and then terrible darkness. She said that the Storm would again bring the Darkness.
Murhardavu spoke to her, and the runners began chanting "Yelmalio." She said that he was the Sun come again, which he denied. Murhardavu proved that he wasn't Yelmalio, but she told him what really happened when the Sun went down, since she was there to see it.
The Mistress of the Grove gave them hospitality.
They came to an area which had suffered a forest fire, and the aldryami left them. Ahead was the mountain, which was dark and snow-capped, though not as majestic as Mount Matu, which was in the distance.
Martog knew of two troll cities on the mountain, though Xarkash was closer and was more closely aligned to the Council. She decided to find the leader of the local trolls, rather than skirt around the mountain.
Nallindia nervously guided them past several likely ambush sites, That night, Martog contacted a darkness spirit, which said that the angry king ruled. They decided to return.
They were ambushed by eleven Zorak Zorani, led by a large uz wearing lead armor and a lead mask, a necklace of human and aldryami body parts, and wielding a lead embossed mace. Hrothgar fended off several Uz with the Shield of Arran. Nallindia, Furlam, and Verdun each took down a troll. Murhardavu surprised his opponent with a sunspear. The leader attempted to rush Furlam, but Hrothgar knocked him down with the Shield of Arran. The remaining trolls fell quickly.
Oswind cut their heads off with his iron sword, and stuck them on poles.
Part Twelve | Part Fourteen
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