A short tale

From: lipscomb@vax.ox.ac.uk
Date: Thu 11 May 1995 - 15:13:07 EEST

Hmm.. I seem to have appeared in yesterday's digest with nothing to say, the result of letting someone else use my account I feel. Sorry about that, and to make up for it I'm going to swamp the digest with this short story I knocked up the other day.

The idea behind it was to present a series of tales, told from the viewpoint of a young Orlanthi, to new players as a means of imparting some of the atmosphere of the game. The place names will be unfamiliar as my campaign is based on Fritz Leiber's Nehwon geographically, but uses Gloranthan culture and mythology Berianstown is set in a mountain lakeland, and bears a passing resemblance to Tolkien's Lake Town. The Orlanthi culture is fairly primative, the closest Gloranthan analogue would be those found in Ralios, I think. I have no idea what spell the Song of the Pines is in game terms - Speedart, probably, but maybe Arrow Trance.

How I learnt the Song of the Pines

     After the fight with the Broos, I felt it might be a good idea to learn some magic to protect me. Garl recommended The Pine Song, which was Arrow Magic, and seeing as I had proved myself with the bow I agreed.

     Now, there lived outside Berianstown Frithwa 'the Mad', whom Chief Hardwood referred to as 'touched by Eurmal'. To look at him, the Trickster hadn't just touched Mad Frithwa but punched him full in the face. Frithwa went about clothed solely in fading woad and mud. He lived up a tree and spoke to animals. He shouted obscenities at women, and hinted that his mating abilities were as potent as a Broo's but he was tolerated for two reasons. Firstly he fulfilled the role of Eurmal during the Sacred Time ceremonies and secondly he was able to contact the many spirits that lived around Cloudriver Valley. So, naturally, to learn the Song of the Pine, I would have to visit Mad Frithwa although word was that he always asked bizarre or unaffordable prices for his services.

     I called on Quilby Featherback, the duck with all the answers, who called himself a purveyor of information but who everyone called a nosey-beak and gossipmonger, with a gift of two fine salmon I had caught that morning, knowing Quilby's weakness for such fine fish and asked him what he knew about Frithwa and his prices. At first Quilby said that it was an impossible question to answer, as Frithwa always asked different and random prices but after I threatened to pluck his tailfeathers he became a bit more forthcoming. When Aldo Trollspear went to learn the Swift Stream Magic, Frithwa merely asked him for a clump of soil, but when Old Widow Feybeck wanted to learn the Little Fire Magic he demanded she bring him the head of a broo! Well of course, the poor old lady wasn't capable of this but luckily for her Aldo went right out and killed a broo for her, one of Pighead's band, no less. Widow Feybeck never told Frithwa that she had not killed the broo herself, nor was that part of the bargain, so in the end she learnt the magic.

     I pointed out to Quilby that this didn't really help me, and that the salmon I gave him were particularly fat and succulent and how his tailfeathers were looking particularly loose and so he agreed to help me meet whatever price Frithwa might set, and thus I set off to find the shaman.

     The shaman could commonly be found up near Pine Ridge near Ugly Rock, and sure enough as I set off up the gully that leads to Ugly Rock I heard a voice above me and looked up. It was the naked, filthy Mad Frithwa.

'What brings you so close to the realm of the spirits, little Ulrith?", he
asked in a strange up-and-down voice, as if he were an adolescent whose voice was becoming that of a man.

'I wish to learn the Song of the Pines, O Wise Master', I called back to
him, knowing that with Magic-men flattery is always best.

'Ah. That I can do for you, but I demand a fair price', came the quavering

     This was the part I was expecting. 'Name it', I called back. There was a malicious chuckle from the shaman.

'I want you to bring me', he paused for effect, 'the Chief's Wife!'. I
think to my credit I didn't show surprise, I who have fought broos, mighty warrior Ulrith Harkensson was not going to be disturbed by a little man with sticks in his hair. Without blinking, I replied: ' Surely you would prefer a younger, more attractive and ..er.. more available woman?'

'No.' said Frithwa. ' Chief's Wife, or no magic.'

     And so it was I returned to Berianstown and told Quilby what the shaman's price was. The result was he fell about in a laughing fit and I had to slap him on the beak (perhaps a bit too hard, but I was angry) to sober him up.

'Why don't you just give her too him?', he asked. I protested that she was
not mine to give, in fact not even the Chief's to give as no man owns his wife, but Quilby waved these comments away with his arm as if trying to reclaim the duck's legendary lost flight. 'Frithwa never comes into the village does he? How is he going to know if you bring him the right woman?'

     Quilby then told me his plan which first of all involved us in going to the Ernalda shrine and telling the women of the town what Frithwa had asked of me, and there was much consternation and tut-tutting about the morals of Some People and how they should be Taught a Lesson and the women of the town agreed to help myself and Quilby in Quilby's plan. That plan required one of the women to pretend to be Chief Hardwood's wife, and Kareena Ernaldasdottir, who was training to be a priestess, was the one chosen. Kareena was not too young and pretty to be unbelievable as a Chief's wife, but neither was she too old and plain. She also had the fire of spirit that was needed for our plan, and so it was that the very next day I set off up the gully to Ugly Rock where we met Frithwa, crouching in wait for us.

'O Mighty Shaman, I have brought you the Chief's wife', I called to him.
 'But first, show me the secrets of the Song of the Pine'. Frithwa peered at Kareena and licked his lips. 'Send the woman up first', he said.

'Please, O Husband-to-be, grant me this one boon', asked Kareena.' Teach
 this young man the Song of the Pine, then I am yours'.

'Very well', said Frithwa, 'but if you try to cheat me I will send
vengeful spirits to devour your soul. At the top of Pine Ridge you will find the Sacred Grove of three trees in a triangle and one slightly further back. They are the tallest trees in the forest and their trunks are a different shade of red, so that is how you will know them. Around each of the three, tie a cord woven of ivy and around the one tie a cord woven of spiderbush roots. Then stand in front of the one facing the three and chant "Child of Aldrya, a challenge I bring/Child of Aldrya, appear in this ring" until something happens'

'Will I then learn the Song of the Pine?' I asked.

'We shall see. Now send up the woman' cackled Frithwa. Kareena hitched her
skirt and climbed up to the top of Ugly Rock. She stood there for a moment whilst Frithwa cavorted around her before speaking. 'You are rather dirty for a husband of mine. I think it is time for a wash', and with that she kicked Frithwa hard on the rump and he plunged headlong off Ugly Rock straight into the Cloudriver. Knowing that Kareena was able to look after things from now on, I set off up the gully to Pine Ridge.

     I found the four highest trees, and tied the cords around them as Frithwa had said. Then I stood back and began the chant. I don't know how long I had continued for, but my mouth was getting dry and my voice tired, and I swear the sun was setting, when into the clearing between the three trees appeared a man-sized figure, but it was not a man. Instead of hair, it had a close-fitting cap of what looked like a pine cone, its skin was the colour of pine needles, and its eyes were totally violet with no white, or pupil or anything, but I was not afraid.

'What do you want?', it asked, and its voice was like the rustling of
leaves. I told it that I wanted to learn the Song of the Pine.

'That is easy', it replied and handed me a pine cone.

'This cone bears the song within it. If you wish to sing the song, you
must ask it to help you. Now, there is a price' and it reached forward towards me, and I saw its hand go right into me but did not feel anything. I saw it withdraw, holding some sort of glowing fruit. ' Do not be alarmed', said the spirit, 'It is merely some of your soul force. You will regrow it in time' and with that it stepped behind a tree and was gone.

     A week later, Kareena returned to Berianstown and told us how she had mistreated and henpecked Frithwa something terrible until the poor man had sent her packing, as we had discussed according to Quilby's plan. 'I don't think married life agrees with him', she laughed. And that is how I learnt the Pine Song, and how Frithwa the Mad decided that he would never marry.

Simon Lipscomb

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