Prequel

Ivalla — Prequel

1626, Fire Season


Context

Fire Season at some point. [[[g01:session-1|Session 1]]]

Begins at Blue Tree Tula

Events

It’s early in the morning, a fine clear day. It’s going to be hot later but you’ve been up before dawn out to catch the deer as they come back from the bottomlands. You’re in good cover half way up the hillside alone apart from your grumpy feline companion….

I will scan for prey.1Successful roll.

There are several deep down in the pasturelands. Any moment now, they will be heading back up the hillside. You spotted their trail here a few days back and if Yinkin and Odayla smile on you, some will take this track today.

Your ready your bow and check the fletching of your arrow. It’s still perfect.

The alynx rolls on its back and yawns silently.

I give Uhnta a look. He’s supposed to be helping. But I trust him to know what he’s doing. We’ve hunted together his whole life. He’ll warn me if something changes.

The deer begin to move as the Yelm begins to cast his light into the valley. You’ve chosen your vantage point well and the light is behind you… the wind is still this early. Later the stone will heat and a gentle breeze perhaps. Depending on the local spirits.

Suddenly Uhnta stirs and flips back onto his feet, looking down the valley

I follow his gaze. What’s he looking at?2Scan and listen rolls requested — both pass.

In the distance, movement on the road. The sound of a horn blowing. Flashes of bronze on the rider. They’re in a tearing hurry. ………………….. and they just made the deer bolt.

Fuck. I needed to catch a deer today. Which way are my prey moving and which way is the rider headed? Just the one rider?

Just the one rider. The rider is heading up the valley from the kings road to the village. The deer have bolted and are crashing through the undergrowth rather than trotting up the game trails. You could try to track one of course…

The rider is travelling at full gallop. You see them well now. Lightly armoured, bow and… colours of the Prince of Sartar.

More swearing, but I return my arrow to the quiver and head to the village. That could be trouble. It probably is trouble.

Something important must have happened to warrant a royal messenger, because that looks to be what just road past.

Probably a good thing I didn’t shoot at the messenger.

By the time, you arrive at the village, its chaos. The chieftain is out shouting and swearing, the housecarls and shouting as well and everyone is running around looking frantic and not a little grim and scared.

Right. I’ll try to catch one of the housecarls. There’s Gunnr. I know him. Well, I know all of them, but Gunnr was at Auroch Hills with me.

Gunnr sees you and smiles a grim smile. “The Lunars have moved at last. Out of Tarsh with their false king on a red horse. They’ve taken Alda Chur. The Prince has called in her banners and rides to meet them. Queen Lekia has taken down the Blackspear and called out the fyrds. We march today.”

I’ll grin in return, but this is dark news. “How much time do I have?”

“We march as soon as the fyrd comes in. Starbrow won’t be far behind her messenger. We don’t know if the Lunars are coming our way yet. You have a few hours as we call in those from the outer steads.”

I nod. And then I’m heading to my cottage. It’s little more than a hut just into the woodlands outside the village, but it’s mine. Collect what armour I have, my bedroll, and any other necessities I think of. I have an old pack I use for longer hunting trips and it all gets carefully packed into that. It doesn’t seem like much. I scritch Uhnta’s ears. He looks on edge, but he rubs his head against my hand. “You good to do this again, catling?”

There isn’t time to go to my mother’s cottage. Damn her for living so deeply in the woods.

Uhnta yawns and makes an odd little chirrup, which you are going to assume means, “Sure. Food?”

I’ll go to my brother’s place instead. With his maimed leg, he won’t be marching. I can leave a message for mother there. There’s a clay pot of dried fish on a shelf. I’ll toss one to Uhnta and pack the rest in an oiled skin. Hopefully there will be plenty of game for him, but there were times when there wasn’t and it was hard on the cat. Too many humans makes for poor hunting.

I head to my brother, Vanth’s place. He’s in the village proper. Former fyrdsman, but his leg was too badly damaged for him to march now. I say goodbye — he already knows what’s going on and he’s angry that he’ll have to stay behind, but his wife… she looks relieved. I ask him to say goodbye to our mother for me and he promises to do so and to check in on her regularly. I’m surprised by that, because he hates finding his way to her hut, along paths better suited for animals than humans. But I’m grateful too. She’s so old these days.

You make your preparations quickly. You’re soon back in the thick of it. This fyrd has seen many a fight and although there are a few yearlings looking sick and worried or trying to look brave most of the spear carriers here saw the dragon rise and years of fighting. It’s a grim bunch. More messengers arrive by the hour. The Colymar will gather at the moot stone tomorrow. The Queen is in no mood to be shown up by the Prince’s army.

There are rumours of allies. The Feathered Horse Queen and Argrath’s Praxians have been seen riding up the valley, says one farm hand. Gunnr cuffs him and points out he’s been here all morning so how can he have seen anything?

I look about, trying to see if there is any order to this chaos. Who is in charge? This is ridiculous.

Things are slowly coming to order. Gunnr is making his presence felt. The war leader of the clan is talking to the messenger who soon rides off again. Gunnr comes over. “I’d like you to lead our scouts. The Prince has asked us to scout the woods to the left of the road on the march. The Telmori will take the right. The horse folk will secure the road before and after the army. As it’s our lands we march through, we know the woods. And who better than you?”

I nod. “Not a problem. How many scouts are we able to field?”

“A dozen more or less. We’ll have the fryd to back you up if you find trouble. We will force march to Danger Ford and see how the land lies then.”

I nod again. “I’ll round the scouts up now.” Unless he stops me or adds any further information, I’ll go looking for the people I expect to be part of my unit.

You round up the usual suspects and before long order had descended the fyrd prepares to march. There are songs and much talk of finally showing the Lunars they can’t keep trying this.

This is OUR land

When Aldrya blooms in the darkness
Her blossoms swing light from each tree
When Dragon awakes and spreads fire
It’s then that our land will be free .

I wander her hills and her valleys
And still through my sorrow I see
A land that has never known freedom
And only her rivers run free.

I drink to her sons and her daughters
Those ones who would rather have died
Than to live in the cold chains of bondage
To bring back the rites we’re denied.

Where are you know that we need you,
What thunders where storm used to be?
All gone, like the rains of last season
And only our rivers run free.

How sweet is life but we’re crying
How mellow the mead but we’re dry
How fragrant the grape but its dying
How gentle the wind but its ice.

What good is a youth when its aging
What joy is an eye that can’t see
When there’s sorrow in stormwind and shower
And still only our rivers run free.3Copyright © 1995 by John Hughes
Cold Wind Over Sartar
First published in A Rough Guide to Boldhome (2nd printing, 1995)
Lyrics adapted from “Only Our Rivers” by Michael MacConnell


I feel tears sting my eyes and anger in my chest. I bury it all deeply and lead the scouts into the woods. I’ll take point. I have them fan out at the appropriate distances. We’re working in pairs so if we spot something worrisome one can stay to watch, while the other can carry warning.

As you reach the King’s high road, you meet up with scouts from the main army of Sartar. The ploughboy had something right as there are Grazelanders in the forefront of the cavalry. Their bright feathers and banners stream in the wind and their horses are swift. They handle their bows well and again look an experienced bunch. They are followed by lancers and then the Prince’s own guard. The meeting of Kallyr and Queen Leika is brief and professional. Leika greets the Blue Tree troops and gives the passwords for the scouts. As she rides past you, she stops and wheels her roan horse.

I stand to face her and bow with the appropriate respect due to my Queen.

She nods at you. “You and that old cat still alive? Good. We shall need your eyes and noses. Your claws seem a little short though. Someone give that woman a sword.” A heavily armoured housecarl rides by and draws a sword and presents it to you (it was his spare, on his horse).4Broadsword, complete with bladesharp matrix.

I’m surprised, but I’m good at not showing it. I bow to her again. “Thank you, my queen.” I thank the housecarl too. And I try really hard not to look around to see who is watching. I hate being watched.

The entire fyrd is, I am afraid, watching and cheering.

In my head, I’m wondering why the Queen remembers me and if I should worry about that. And I feel my cheeks burning at the cheering. I smile at the fyrd and hope it doesn’t look too much like a scowl. I undo my belt and slide the sword and scabbard into place at my hip.

Gunnr winks at you and then the commands to march start being bellowed. It’s a sizeable force here on the move. Several tribes have already answered to call. The entire Royal household has mustered by the look of it.

Now I lead my scouts into the bush to fan out. I assume we’ve been sent to the front of the other scouts, because we are on Blue Tree land still?

Yes. At least on your side of the valley. On the valley’s floor, you can see the formidable Grazelander light cavalry providing a screen. Across the far side, you catch the odd flash of woad-clad skin and grey fur of the Telmori. You have to move fast to keep up with them.

My people are good and our hunting cats are too. We can do our jobs.5I just rolled a crit on scan, a fail on listen, and a special on track – was hoping that might be useful to tell me if I spot any tracks that look like they really don’t belong.

When we are stopped for the night, I’ll set snares away from the army. See if we can keep myself and Uhnta fed that way. The other Blue Tree hunters are doing it too. We are used to self-reliance and our snares provide fresh meat for us and several others of the fyrd.

The next two days are nerve-wracking but in hindsight peaceful. The army halts in the ridges above Dangerford. The Grazelanders send cavalry out across the fords. You’ve seen not a sign of the Lunars yet which is good. You were dreading the ford would be held against you.

Out across the river you see a lone rider racing to meet the Grazelanders. You see two of the Grazelanders turn back and escort the rider back towards the ford. The rest move off at high speed fanning out into the countryside beyond the river

Did the rider look Grazelander or Sartarite?

You hear the Grazelanders blowing a horn call. It’s the one pre arranged for the Scouts to meet. He was a Sartarite. You think from one of the clans out Alda Chur way by his colours but you couldn’t spot the one.

I’ll make sure my scouts are moving in the right direction. When the last one is accounted for, then I’ll follow them in.

There is a hasty meeting. A hard-eyed Grazelander with a death rune on his forehead and many scars gives you a quick summary in rough trade tongue. “The Lunars come quick. They are not knowing we are here. We see how far off. Maybe a trap here? Good place to drown many red scum.” He spits on the ground and smiles a fierce smile.

I’ll nod. I need to relay that to my Queen, unless that’s already taken care of. Then I need to find out if our commanders have a plan for the scouts or if they expect me to do so.

You can see riders heading back down the trail. The plan quickly forms. Scout the ridges right of the road, lead the troops into concealment and wait for the signal. If we can catch the Lunars on the crossing…

Battle is not a strength, so I would rather expect someone else to have the plan. But, I’m prepared to deal with it if I have to.

The plan is not yours but they do want you to help place the tribe’s troops so they won’t be spotted but yet can move fast.

Alright. I’ll call my scouts together. I lay out the plan. No fancy speeches. No promises, except that Lunars will die today. Then we head for the ridges.

You see a small detachment of grim faced Humakti set out to guard the ford and start to dig in there.

I’ll send the scouts where I think it makes sense. And I’ll make a few suggestions for other good places to conceal troops.

Riders pass to and from the far side. You notice they and the Humakti are careful to brush out the marks of their passing

Good. I don’t need to mention that then. Am I up high on the ridge now? I want to see how well hidden our forces are from above.

Yes. They’ve done a good job. This is their home ground or near enough anyway. The Colymar have taken the right flank. Back behind your ridge the bulk of the Grazelander cavalry forms up. They are under the banner of the Stallion King. The royal army takes the centre on the back of a low hill overlooking the ford. You can’t see the other flank from here.

I wait and keep looking and listening. Bow out, arrows at the ready.

Up ahead you see a dust cloud… yes… 6scan roll please — pass

The Grazelander scouts are falling back. They are fighting a vicious running battle with … Praxians… mounted on sable antelopes. Below you a detachment of Storm Bulls rides pell mell to the ford and reinforces the guard there. The numbers are still small.

Praxians? Sable riders? I’ve heard stories of them. I spit in the dirt. They aren’t deeply enough into the trap yet, are they? I take a quick glance to make sure my scouts are ready, but that no one looks like they are too ready and will blow our cover.

You glance down at the hill where Starbrow and her generals sit. No sign.

How are the Grazelanders holding up?

The Grazelanders are giving as good as they get and falling back on the ford skillfully.
Garas, one of your best scouts comes up. He’s chewing on a grass stalk. “Spoke to one of The Prince’s men. Her Death Lord General, Eril? Rode off hell for leather back towards Boldholm last night. Now what sort of omen is that?”

“Not the time for gossip,” I hiss at him. “How’s your nephew? He looked a bit green around the gills back at the Tula, and you’ve left him alone at your post to talk about royalty?”

“I haven’t said a word to anyone else.” He nods and heads back

I’m worried that it might be a bad omen. But I don’t want to admit that, even to a friend. Now’s not the time to worry about that. There’s a Lunar army about to be at our feet and it’s too late for worry.

The Grazelanders turn and run for the ford just as you swear they were cut off. You see flashes of magic and horses leaping incredible distances. Fire and lighting splashes.

In the distance, you see a darker dust cloud as the host approaches.

Hand signals, sending calm. Reminding the archers to wait. Hand briefly on Uhnta’s head. Wait. Prayer to Yinkin. “May our arrows fly true to the hearts of our prey.”

The Sables try to force the ford. They receive a hail of arrows and thrown weapons. A few make it across but are cut down swiftly by the Humakti.

You see the Lunars now. At their head is a warrior on a red horse, red armour shining with magic light. Skirmishers spread out to either flanks. You see the huge shields and heavy armour of an actual Lunar legion forming up to force the ford

The Lunars take their time. They form up, shields interlocking, spears bristling. They begin the slow march forward to the beat of drums

The Lunars force the ford. The fighting is fierce. The Humakti and Storm Bull forlorn hope fight well and hard and take many with them to their death halls… but they are too few. The ford is taken. The Lunar and Tarsh irregulars stream forward

I hate watching this slaughter. A calming breath. Relax the hand gripping my bow. Soon. It will be soon.

Starbrow’s guard gallop forward onto the crest of the hill. You hear the horn blow, you see her banner waving. The Grazelanders cheer and surge forward.

I wait with the patience of a hunter for our signal.

The signal comes. General Charge. All forward. Push them into the river

You charge down the slopes out of hiding, leading your archers. The Grazelander lancers hit the front rank of the Tarsh irregulars… who just shatter.

The Lunar legion forms up in a crescent by the ford. They stand at arms length apart, spears ready. The Lunar skirmishers fan out ahead of them and engage the Grazelanders as the Tarsh men flee passed them. On the other side of the river, you see more Lunar heavy infantry trying to ford, hampered by the cowards from Tarsh…7Now a single roll will do, we are abstracting it, also a battle roll please – Oh! I rolled 44/70 on the shooting and 003/30 on battle.

You manage to bring down a few of the skirmishers. You get your archers in a great position. The fyrd form up their shield wall and are advancing in good order on the Lunar flanks. The royal army is pressing forward at the centre. You can’t see the left flank. The Grazelander heavy cavalry falls back and awaits it opportunity, too wise to charge heavy infantry set to receive them. The horse archers streak in, fire, and out again

If an opportunity arises, I’ll do a quick look to see how my archers are holding up. There’s little I can do for them, but just a look to see how we are doing for arrows and injuries. There doesn’t seem to have been much return fire on our position…

It’s been easy work for them so far. Of course, the fyrd are about to close with… yes… it’s the Elite Granite Legion. But even as they lock shields and their skirmishers run past… their lines are spread thin, reinforcements are coming for them but they are struggling with the water and the skirmishers are packed tight behind them. They are surrounded on three sides with their backs to the water. You hear their centurions bellowing and a war song on their lips. These are soldiers expecting to die for their empire.8Scan roll please — 33/50

There is a sudden Red Flash. As though a thousand red lightning bolts flashed down. You see suddenly troops behind the Prince on her hilltop where just now there were none. You see the banner of Starbrow totter and fall. You hear the gasp of physical pain from your clansmen. The Granite Legion raises their shields and charges meet you.