Varmand's mother, Penene, died over the winter, at the age of 73, resulting in some turmoil in Varmand's household.
The Ring decided to visit the Culbrea tribe to hire mercenaries to help fight the Malani.
On the way, they were met by Skeggi Long-chin of the Tree Brothers, who gave only the most cursory of greetings. However, Korol sweet-talked him into letting them cross his lands. Later, five clanless bandits tried to steal the horses. Baranthos was on watch; he killed one and wounded another, and the others fled.
They were welcomed to Culbrea's hall. Heorl spoke of all the gifts before Korol could explain what they were for. Bile Two-True, Culbrea's trickster, debated Illig with clever but vulgar kennings, and turned away everyone's request for help. Theya spoke plainly of the pilgrimage to Kero Fin, and asked for allies. Korol then presented Culbrea with the magic spear and crystal from the horse lord.
Uma's parents hemmed and hawed, and delayed a decision on their daughter's marriage to Baranthos for another season.
The Varmandi delegation stayed in Fox Hollow for several days. Korol made friends with Elgane Brighteye, a woman of Culbrea's household. He also gained the ear of Umatkoring, one of the leading thanes, who suggested that Gustrand Hendangarsson would be the best warrior to hire. Umatkoring also had a beautiful daughter Karendra, who took to Vargast Varmandsson.
Culbrea and his ring decided not to send any warriors, but allowed Gustrand and his followers to join the fight. He was promised any shares from Gulik's and Theya's steads.
Meanwhile, the Malani raiders had been driving people away from Ura's Mound. The clan decided to muster there two days before Ernalda's holiday, and Varmand raised the entire fyrd. A small group of warriors rode up the mound, finding it abandoned. Korol and Heorl rode back to Varmand. Heorl counseled caution, but Korol stirred Varmand to battle with a few well-chosen verses, rather than waste the opportunity of the Culbrea warriors and Malan's unpreparedness. The Varmandi raided Orleving lands, bypassing Orlev's newly-fortified stead, but burning three others. Scouts then reported a group of about a hundred warriors of the Orleving and Isolting clans, led by Orlev the Tall and Erland Malansson.
Erland had been a difficult youth, known for his cruelty and willingness to blame others for his misdeeds. He hoped to defeat Varmand and thereby secure kingship of the Malani.
As the two sides drew up for battle, Baranthos taunted Orlev so bitingly that he and his housecarls broke ranks and charged. Heorl was disemboweled by an axe blow, but called on Orlanth, and leaped back into the fight, glowing with magic. Baranthos and Orlev gave each other tremendous wounds, and both fell as if dead. This enraged Korol, and he fought his way to his brother-in-law's side. Erland nearly killed Vargast, but Theya healed him.
The two sides withdrew, exhausted. An Orleving woman parleyed with Theya. Varmand, still hale but feeling old age stealing up on him, rested. Meanwhile, Heorl switched to Korol's opinion, exhorted, "We must finish what we started," and charged for the Malani, Korol riding at his side. The war-weary fyrd was slow to follow. Korol killed his first opponent, then engaged Erland. Both men fought skillfully for nearly half an hour, before Erland finally cut through Korol's shield and dealt him a mortal wound. Worn out by the duel, Erland fled rather than take on a new opponent, the remains of the Malani force following him.
Varmand exulted that they retained the field on Orleving lands, led hasty rituals to Orlanth and Ernalda, and burned the dead.
Theya's healing gifts were able to save both Korol and Baranthos, and the clan returned to their own lands with loot and prisoners. Although Korol's wound healed, it troubled him to the end of his days. He composed this poem:
Malan's son planted his battle-leek in my garden of thought;
That battle-rooting dirt-treader will guest at my bronze-harvest.
Part 6 | Part 8
Info Plaza David Dunham Page | Glorantha Page | Taming of Dragon Pass