Baranthos's younger brother Fistivos claimed that Erdran Urenstadsson was sleeping with his wife. Marlesta said that Baranthos had bullied Fistivos into the accusation.
Korol proposed anulling the marriage as the least damaging course of action. Baranthos agreed. Theya tried to explain it to Marlesta, who blamed it all on Baranthos. She was perfectly happy with Fistivos. Baranthos and Theya hauled her before Varmand, who performed the ritual. Heorl pointed out that the clans were prohibited from marrying, citing a previously ignored taboo from the Storm Age. Korol and Vargast then brought her back to her family. Korol composed the tragic poem, "The Strands Unravelled."
The clan council decided to send more gifts to Erland. When the delegation arrived at Two Ridge Fort, Baranwulf Kulbrastsson told the "tribute-givers" to wait. In return, Korol complimented him to Erland for giving the herd enough time to breed before it was presented. Erland gave Varmand a painted pot from the north. It depicted the Lightbringers on one side, and on the other Vinga protecting a goddess against the Vadrudi. Erland said he and his men were returning to Arim in a week, and offered hospitality to the Varmandi. Fistivos learned that Erland was only bringing his housecarls and elite warriors, and was eager for battle.
During Fire season, the Hyalorings tried raiding the western steads, where much of the cattle was being grazed. Varmand hastily mustered some warriors and rode out. He faced about 100 men under Ulanin the Red, chief of the Lonisi clan. Varmand maneuvered skillfully, keeping the Lonisi from forming properly. Baranthos called down bolts from the thunderclouds, knocking seven Hyalorings (including Ulanin) from their horses, and it began to rain. Gorolf chopped down Heorl with his axe, then Korol and Baranthos rushed up and slew him. The Lonisi housecarls recovered Ulanin, then retreated. The Varmandi rushed forward, but the Lonisi still managed to get away with 16 cattle. However, the Varmandi had captured 3 nobles and 12 horses.
Varmand replaced the lost cattle, and sacrificed a horse to the Thunderer. He felt insulted that the Lonisi had attacked -- he thought that he'd dealt with them years ago. He kept the captives as hostages.
The Orlevings kept trying to provoke the Varmandi, but nothing came of it.
The Malani returned from Tarsh. They had fought at the Battle of Falling Hills. Arim had gathered a mighty host, even including Aldryami and Uz, much like the Unity Battle. He then rode out, and calling on the powers of the goddess, dropped hills on the Lunar army, thoroughly defeating it. Afterwards, the Red Moon was dimmer in the sky, and Arim was acclaimed High King by everyone in Dragon Pass. However, many heroes had died in the battle, including Erland Malansson and most of his companions.
A short time later, Maniski returned, demanding to be recognized as a thane of Arim. He was mounted on a fine horse and wearing splendid armor. He gave war booty to his father, and to Baranthos a young Seredae mare. He'd become a war companion of King Arim, and was recruited as a hall warrior. He said Arim had assembled his ring at the site of Heort's Hall. Arim had gathered all the Heortlings to fight against the troops allied with Emperor Yelm.
A Hyaloring thane came, demanding return of the hostages. Varmand insisted on 30 marks in silver, and expected their answer by Sea season. He railed at the emissary, then sent him packing. Afterwards, he asked the Ring to get friendship with the Colymar.
They agreed to give gifts to Korlmar and see which way the wind was blowing. Varmand gave Korol the Talking Stick, and a group set out during Dark season with horses and wealth. Korol gave the greeting to Dangmar Hiordsson at the Hiording boundary.
Angarold's hospitality was much like the weather. Heorl, Theya, and Horselegs responded proudly whenever Angarold goaded the Varmandi. They did learn that the Hiordings were on good terms with the Hyalorings. The Hiordings were clearly wealthier than the Varmandi.
They continued to the Ernaldori lands, where they were warmly greeted by the chief, Yorsar Kagradusson. The Ernaldori were the wealthiest clan in the Colymar, and were defended by the proud warrior Korlmhy. There was talk of Kentvent Blackbrow, a carl who had a faction of the Angry Young Men, who didn't respect their elders or the nobles. At the tribal moot, Kentvent drew a weapon and struck someone, demanding a right to more of the king's booty. He had to pay compensation for the loss of an eye. Apparently, with the return of the institution of sacred king, power was concentrated in a smaller group. The clans had gotten larger, reducing the chance for young men to become housecarls or ring members. But Korlmar was a masterful king, and none of the Angry Young Men could fault him personally. Yorsar too had nothing but respect for him.
They continued to Clearwine. They gave gifts to Korlmar Jonrikson, but he insisted on counter-gifts. At his feast, he asked Korol for a poem, and he made poems for Maniski and Korlmhy. Eonistaran the Storyteller told the saga of the Esrolian Grandmothers, who seized power for their own protection, and founded the Esrolvuli. He had heard in far-off Nochet further tales of how the Esrolvuli had gained friendship with Argan Argar. Heorl spoke with Harshax the Lawspeaker, and learned that the Angry Young Men had been threatening violence, especially against the Arnoring, Ernaldori, and Konthasos clans. Harshax drunkenly boasted about the king's stratagem, to continue to appease the Angry Young Men while at the same time making sure there was no real challenge to the old, established families. Korlmar circulated, making sure to speak to everyone.
The Varmandi had another audience. Korol and Heorl gave more gifts, asked for help. Korlmar said he didn't dare to compete with Kagradus and Colymar and extract the Orlkar tribute. He was willing to arbitrate. He pointed out that his sympathies lay with the Angry Young Men.
Korol spoke with Eonistaran, who told him a Goodvoice had to know the secrets of his people.
Theya spoke with the Orendanae. They wondered when Theya would become priestess of her clan, and offered their support. Theya asked how they could keep Ura happy while still being a war clan for survival. They explained that Ernalda provided agriculture, but Ura provided the actual harvest. Ernalda could be worshipped by a war clan, but Ura had no place in one. The Orendanae offered to established a shrine in Ormsthane Vale.
The Varmandi headed to the Starfire ridges to visit Barntadus of the Orlmath clan. Their borders were marked by their woodpecker totems, and their cleared lands were small, compact, and secluded. Rastorlanth the Javelin, a rune lord and the Orlmath champion, brought them to Barntadus, the new chief. Barntadus gave good hospitality. He exchanged stories, telling a detailed version of the Battle of Falling Hills. Arim formed a Ring of Kings just like in the sagas of Heort. He left the people devastated by the Red Empire, travelled to the edge of the world, and returned with secrets to defeat his enemy. It was like the Dawn all over. His second story was about his own trading trip to Karse, then north to lands which are now part of Arim's kingdom, called Mirin's Cross. He even traded with Dara Happans.
Korol discussed Issaries and Orlanth Goodvoice with Barntadus. There were Issaries shrines in just about every city, and even Runegate.
Barntadus said that in times of peace and plenty, many found it harder to cooperate. After the sons of Vingkot had conquered the world, they quarreled among themselves. He viewed the Angry Young Men in much the same way. He found it troublesome when blood was spilled at a moot.
The next night they camped in the cold. Korol heard a trollkin. Vargast's alynx pounced on it and killed it. A while later, a figure with a spear came charging into the camp. Vargast cast a Thunderbolt at it. A big booming voice called out, "you thunder my slave!" and asked for recompense. Heorl pointed out that in fact no payment was owed. After some negotiation, he agreed to let the Varmandi go if they taught him the Greeting and fed him. He wanted more food. Korol calmed him with a story, but when it was over, insisted on more food. Theya decided to give him a horse, using the Appeasing the Dark Hag ritual. Then Korol asked him for a story, and he told how Argan Argar is the king of the world. Humans are dumb, because when the Bright Burner was driven into Wonderhome, they didn't know the world was a better place, and feared the darkness. But Argan Argar was a god who didn't fear that the world was a better place, and welcomed the trolls to the surface. Argan Argar knew the value of friends, even weak friends like Orlanth and Ernalda. Everyone was Argan Argar's friends, and he told everyone how to survive.
Korol suggested that the trolls could attack the Orlevings. The troll said his people couldn't fight that many, but the Angry Ones could. They could be found in Dagori Inkarth. He pushed over a tree, and said to tie food to it if they wanted to talk to him again.
They were met at the Hiording lands by Penterest Hiordsson. Hiord offered limited hospitality until Korol presented him with a mark of silver. At the feast, the story of Hiord and Sofeela was told. Hiord spotted Sofeela bathing in the Swan River, and stole her robe. She stayed with him for seven years and gave him seven sons, and at the end of seven years, took back her magical robe and left, never to be seen again. One of the brothers got drunk, and boasted how their father had gotten control of the Swan River guaranteed by the Hyalorings. Thus they had large holdings, and the Karandoli were unwilling to attack.
Varmand received the report.
The winter was bitterly cold. Korol's daughter Elgane almost died, but Vargast's wife Karendra tended to her.
Part 18 | Part 20
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