At the beginning of Fire season, a group set out for Culbrea lands. At the nymph's pool, Korol recited a love poem, and the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen rose up out of the pool. She said her name was Lortha, goddess of this river, speaking as if from a saga. Korol gave her gifts, and she asked him to join her in the pool. Horselegs thought she was going to drown him, so he and Vargast held Korol back. She kept calling to him as Anastal and Heler.
They continued to King Culbrea's hall. Vargast gave the king 8 marks of silver. Culbrea gave back a lump of Elmal's blood, spilled in the defense of Orlanth's Hill, called Hearthguard. It provided spell resistance.
Vargast reminded everyone of how well Gustand had helped the Varmandi before. Culbrea granted permission to recruit among his tribe. Gardrostan Umatkoringsson and a dozen followers agreed to help. Gardrostan was the brother of Karendra, Vargast's wife.
A new tribe had settled Stagland, to the northeast: the Cinsina. The Torkani had been seen again, and the Culbrea still had a feud with the Aranwyth. A Mostali had been spotted near the nymph's pool.
Vargast gave gifts to his in-laws, who told him in Stormspeech, "Come back to me alive or dead."
Horselegs gave a horse to Umatkoring and talked about becoming a Wind Lord; Baranthos and Vargast both spoke on his behalf.
On the return trip, Korol again made a poem for the nymph, and she called out, "Return, my Heler."
Theya and the women used Kero Fin's Hide Wealth spell to cache 200 bushels of grain and most of the silver. Theya was acclaimed a priestess of Ernalda, and Arndala passed to her the title of clan priestess, and gave her stewardship of the sacred white sow. The pigs were dispersed into the woods, and the sheep sent into the high hills.
Urenstand suggested an Arming of Orlanth on the clan champion, though he didn't know the entire ritual. Korol knew versions where Orlanth was armed by Heler or by his wife, but both involved chainmail, which Vargast didn't wear.
Two weeks later, horns blared at Two Ridge, and a beacon fire illuminated a ritual. The Varmandi women dispersed to the hills with the younger children. Horselegs acted as Heler and began arming Vargast with his equipment, including the crystal Hearthguard. Maniski had his wife arm him, which carried the connotation that he would die heroically. Vargast led the blessing of the Varmandi bear standard.
The Varmandi had 70 fyrdmen, 18 thanes, and the 13 Culbrea. The Malani had over 300, including five clan banners, and were accompanied by storm clouds. Varmand said, "There are enoughof them that we must be concerned about them rushing our sides, so we will guard the narrowest point in the valley," which was just in front of his hall. The Malani advanced, burning the eastern steads. The Varmandi formed up in a line two deep near Apple-Dronlan's orchard, using the terrain to their advantage. Vargast challenged the Malani claimant. Baranwolf replied that he was a true king, and refused to accept an upstart's challenge. Iskalli Orlevsson accepted on his behalf. He listed all the Orlevings who died at Varmandi hands. Iskalli leaped into the air, and Vargast flew up to meet him. Iskalli threw his javelin, and hit Vargast with a huge lightning bolt, which stunned him. Iskalli rushed in with the Eye Spear, but Vargast struck him with Peacebringer. After a momentous battle, Vargast landed another blow past his guard, and Iskalli fell to the ground. Vargast called out a boast, and Baranwolf ordered the attack. Varmand had Baranthos take most of the troops into the fort, and led his housecarls forward, drawing a barrage of thunderbolts, which wounded Korol. Before the lines joined, Varmand pulled back to his fortified hall. Theya healed Korol.
Baranwolf sent the Malani fyrdmen to assault the ramparts, but they were easily beaten back. It began to rain. The Malani regrouped, then sent another attack, including a block of about 50 housecarls. Varmand sent his best troops to meet their boar-snout formation, which was led by Gavaral the Wall. Baranthos used all his thunder magic against them, but the wounded men continued, singing their death song. Vargast then used his thunder, killing three. All of the Varmandi were beset by multiple foes. Korol killed a tribal housecarl, but was grievously wounded by Tarkalor of the Orlevings. Baranthos's wife Uma rushed forward and healed him. Illig took a serious wound from a housecarl. Venharl managed to hold off two warriors. Heorl fought alongside his sylphs, killing three men before he was seriously wounded. Baranthos struck down four. The Culbrea warriors also fought well. Despite their advantage of numbers, the Malani had to pull back to regroup in the face of the fierce Varmandi resistance.
Varmand asked his priests to arm Maniski, and to turn their backs on him, casting him in the role of Humakt. Varmand then asked who would die with him. Korol, Baranthos, Venharl, Fistivos, and several others agreed. Varmand gave Vargast the battle banner, and told him and Heorl to lead everyone into the hills. He asked Theya to tell his wife Eonislara how to perform the Maran Gor cursing rites.
Most of Varmand's group left everything but their swords to their sons, fighting their last battle in nothing but woad. Korol left his chainmail "Battle-Goer" and bow "Elm" to his family, but kept his sword "Overcomer" and shield "Clamorer."
He then declaimed "Korol's Farewell:"
One last time I drink of Orlanth's mead [inspiration];
Soon I'll raise a cup with Maran Gor [drinker of blood].
I will not do this without brother,
and our ring-giver [chief] will give himself
so our slender heart-saplings [children] may grow.
Men die, swords break, but my word is good.
I'll remain my valor-wrapped chief's shield.
Boar's successor may summon raindrops,
But the valiant bear makes spear-weather.
Vingkot [=Varmand] exacts from dwarf-sword-bearer [King Baranwolf]
Tribute bound for Ty Kora Tek's care [corpses]
Battle-boar [helm] will not stay my blood-jewel [sword];
I'll send many helm-wearers [warriors] ahead,
My heralds to wind-master's mead-hall [Orlanth's Hall = the afterlife],
On a footpath that I have chosen [a reference to the Death Song].
My corpse-fire [sword] will burn
<Part of the poem is lost, but other references suggest that Korol promised to save his clan, and remembering his wife Onelisin and his children.>
O gentle, Ring-bonded [married] hearth-mistress [=wife],
Keep my embers in your passion-hearth [heart].
Eonislara sacrificed the Hyaloring hostages, and laid a curse on her brother Baranwolf. She announced that she was Maran Gor, and that Baranwolf's line was cursed by the kinslaying he would perform.
Baranwolf called for one more charge. But Maniski, as Humakt, was ready. Meanwhile,the others broke out of the fort, carrying as much as they could. Vargast called on Orlanth for a concealing fog, and escaped unscathed.
Each of Korol's sword blows struck home. The press of battle separated him from Varmand, but he continued to fight after his sword broke in a man's chest, using the hilt to smash in another man's face. He was finally surrounded by Humakti housecarls Alebard, Bardi, and Donar, all of them Orlevings, who killed him from behind and cut off his head and quartered him, because they were afraid he would stand up again.
Baranthos was part of the group which stayed with Varmand and Maniski, and fought fiercely. Someone asked if Baranthos had fallen, and Baranthos threw a javelin through him as answer. He was finally killed by Kalaban.
Maniski clove Gavaral the Wall in twain, but was killed by Endanarl, another Humakti.
Venharl called on Orlanth for strength, and pushed over part of the stockade, crushing many attackers. He was later found dead with no wounds.
Varmand was the last of his clan still standing, laughing at his wounds. He pushed himself through the Malani shield wall, stood before Baranwolf, and said, "This his how a real man dies," before he was cut down by Baranwolf's housecarls.
In all, about sixty Malani fell in their final assault, and the two dozen defenders. The Malani burned them with all honors. The Malani's total losses were about 100, and the Varmandi forces lost 40, including all the housecarls save Vargast.
The Malani burned Varmand's hall, plundered the steads, uprooted the boundary stones and threw them in the stream. They found little of value, and Alebard commented that the Varmandi were poor indeed.
The rest of the Varmandi had fled to the Oakland Back. Looking back at the burning steads, Theya said, "Soon the Cursed King will pray for his own death, and it will come from his own people. Such is the wyrd of every king that goes to war in Ormsthane Vale."
Part 20 | Part 22
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