Sorry for the delay, the Christmas rush didn’t leave much time for blogging. Here’s chapter 3:
A long time had passed since Tunc’s exploits in the hills north of Ubertas, Sto’s device had certainly done its job and a treaty had been signed in which the people of Dultha came off very well. Balance was restored as all territories which had been taken by Ubertas were returned and the king of Dultha promised that the Hydra would not be used against the Ubertans unless they performed an act of aggression against Dultha. With the treaty signed life went back to normal for the majority of Dulthans. However the king was growing increasingly concerned about Tunc’s fate. No one had heard from Tunc for weeks and to make matters worse Tunc’s wife Fulya was frequently visiting the palace, in an increasingly harrowed state, asking for any information there might be about her husband. This didn’t sit well with the king: Fulya was very familiar with the palace and well acquainted with the king, having accompanied Tunc to many of the palace’s sumptuous banquets.
The king had always enjoyed Fulya’s company and it pained him to see a woman, who was ordinarily so composed and impeccably turned-out, in such a state. The only hint of her old self was a gem encrusted broach in the shape of a scarab beetle which Tunc had given her for their twentieth anniversary. The king had promised her numerous times that at the first sign of any new information, from the multiple search parties which he had sent out, he would personally visit her home to deliver the news. However this didn’t seem to calm her down and the king had taken to asking Mrs Yahni, the palace cook, to have a pot of tea at the ready at all times. Fulya was steadily getting clued up on palace gossip courtesy of Mrs Yahni, and though she didn’t seem to be relaxing very much she at least cracked the occasional smile at the tales of romance and intrigue offered up by the matronly commander of the kitchen.
Meanwhile, high in the mountainous lands of the northmen, Tunc was being slowly tortured by the northmen (well that’s how he felt about it anyway) as he sat through yet another rehearsal of the ‘show’ being put on by the group that had found him. The northmen seemed to think they were bestowing some great honour on him by allowing him to witness the show which was to be performed for the ‘Northcheif’ (their equivalent of a king) at the midwinter festival in the northman capital Stormforge but if he had to sit through another tuneless rendition of whatever folk song they were trying to belt out he would lose his mind. When the ‘show’ was over he politely clapped his hands and was met with a group of beaming smiles as the northmen relished his praise. Tunc quickly jumped in with the umpteenth appeal that the group let him contact his people, he understood a little of their language now but there was still a massive barrier in how to phrase his request. You see the northmen weren’t particularly big on long distance communication, they would leave on a hunt, be gone for a month or two and then return to their homes with the goods they had traded for meat and furs. As a result they had no words for ‘message’ or ‘letter’.
By the light of the waning moon Tunc once again tried to make himself understood by drawing with a stick onto the forest floor. He had all but given up when he heard a crow call from high above in the trees. It was a Dulthan crow and the only reason for one to be in the mountains was if it was accompanying a Dulthan guard. He was right and in moments the unarmed northmen found themselves held at sword-point by a squad of Dulthan soldiers. ‘Stand down men.’ yelled Tunc, jumping right back into his role of leader of the king’s guard ‘The northmen have done me no harm (apart from perhaps to my eardrums).’
Once the misunderstanding was cleared up and Tunc was clued-in on the success of his mission, the Dulthans were welcomed into the northmen camp and treated to a feast of roast game and strong mead. Fairly soon Tunc was subjected to more auditory torture and this time it came in both northman and Dulthan forms. He took his leave and went away to finally write his message to the king and (since there were a number of carrier crows) he also took the time to craft a letter to his wife begging her forgiveness for what must have put her through over the past few weeks.
When Tunc returned, aside from a few chosen for guard duty, the men were in full revelry and he wasn’t particularly inclined to try and catch up with their drunkenness so he decided to take a walk in the moonlight and take a look around. The northmen had been slowly edging through the hills for weeks and had often spoke fondly of the ‘checkpoint’, apparently they were less than a day’s walk from it and Tunc wanted to know what was in store at the checkpoint. If it was a chance to stock up on supplies it may be useful to take the Dulthan guard along that way to replenish supplies for the trek home but if there was any sign of more northmen ‘shows’ he might just take his chances and disembark as soon as possible.
As he continued on his way he came upon what would once have been a small clearing in the dense forest, a land-slide has since chopped away half of the clearing and taken a host of trees hundreds of feet below. Looking out over the crevasse Tunc couldn’t mistake the signs of settlement in the valley below and thankfully their appeared to be women down at the checkpoint: perhaps they might reel-in their menfolk’s behaviour and save Tunc from more infernal northmen ‘music’. However, Tunk’s attention was quickly grabbed by something else, the light was low but, as far as Tunc could see, a number of giant birds appeared to be sitting motionless with wings outstretched at the edge of the town wall as if preparing to strike.
Tunc moved quickly, darting back to the camp, sounding a call to arms as he went. When he arrived back in the camp the Dulthan guard were standing to attention swords in hand with only a hint of inebriation left on them. The northmen were similarly turned out, despite their more disorganised nature they were similarly armed and ready for the proclaimed threat. Tunc quickly described the fearful scene to his men and then attempted to make himself understood to the northmen. He had to resort to waiving his arms like a giant bird and pointing in the direction of the checkpoint before understanding started to glimmer in the northmen’s eyes but it became clear that they must not have understood the threat as every one of them fell to the ground laughing.
Tunc was at a loss as to what to do, they had to get down to the town and help those people as soon as possible but without the northmen to guide them they didn’t stand a chance of making it there in time. Finally the leader of the northmen calmed down enough to talk and patiently explained something which to Tunc sounded simply absurd: the giant birds were northmen constructions called ‘pleens’ which they used to fly from checkpoint to checkpoint. The idea that a human being could fly was clearly absurd but Tunc was somewhat accustomed to the more superstitious beliefs of some of the tribes around Dultha so assumed that these ‘pleens’ must be some sort of charm or ‘lucky’ statue used to give travellers a sense of hope as they ventured to the next checkpoint.
With the ’emergency’ cleared up the group tried to settle down for the night amidst the occasional tittering laughter of a northman. Tunc took the opportunity to digest the fact that he was at last going to be making his way home.
After a quick cold breakfast they embarked at dawn the following morning and were making good time in their descent into the valley when Tunc’s preconceptions were shattered. Far off in the distance a ‘pleen’ began to slowly edge along the grass, producing an increasingly audible hum as it did, it pace accelerated and, just as it looked as though it might be heading straight into a small wood further down the valley, it performed the miraculous, and gently lifted off into the sky. The Dulthans were dumbstruck but the northmen simply continued down the trail as though nothing had happened. Frustrated that he lacked the words to ask the northmen about what had just happened Tunc was forced to simply shake himself back together and get the Dulthan guard moving.
They witnessed three more pleens ascend to the skies before stopping to take a break and eat, at which point Tunc attempted to gain some more information about these strange creations. The northmen shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders, the only sense Tunc could make from what they were saying was that it was a ‘pleener’ secret but that it had something to do with the use of ‘fire-water’. Though he wasn’t an enginician like Sto, Tunc could tell this was important, the more information he could get about this creation the better. He quickly penned a letter to the King explaining what he had seen and hoped that he would get a response quickly. He wasn’t sure what the right questions to ask might be and was concerned that he might miss something important regarding the workings of these magnificent creations.
They were met with a surprising display at the gates of the town as they were requested to remove all metal items and deposit them in individual locked cabinets beside the gates, only a few steps past the gates they found the reason behind this strange stripping down as a Dulthan guard found his pocket torn asunder as the coins leapt from his pocket and stuck to a giant horseshoe shaped piece of metal beyond the gates. The northmen had another laugh at the Dulthans’ expense as they explained that the ‘magnet’ was there to pull the weaponry from anyone entering the city, though it would happily take metal money too.
As it turned out the northmen with whom Tunc had become familiar were planning on getting in a pleen to take them to the next checkpoint but they were going to have to wait for the next couple of days, as there were a number of hunting parties ahead of them. The group found lodgings in the town and settled down for the evening.
The following morning Tunc went out to acquire supplies for their return home. When he returned to the lodging house later in the afternoon he was greeted with a Dulthan messenger hawk. Messenger hawks were bigger and faster than the standard messenger crows and this one had brought a package. It turned out that by order of the king Tunc would not be returning home just yet as he was now to act as ‘Ambassador Tunc’ and attempt to make a moderate alliance with the northmen by way of presenting the Northcheif with the key to the city of Dultha and, under Sto’s suggestion, he was to do everything he could to acquire both a pleen and to recruit a ‘pleener’ to bring back to Dultha. Tunc felt utterly downtrodden but he had been a military man for too long to let orders upset him, the king had spoken and so it must be done. He penned a long letter to Fulya apologising for his continued absence and expressed his longing to be with her again soon. That done he gathered his men to him and explained the situation: ‘Tomorrow we leave for Stormforge to befriend a king and to acquire a flying machine, for the good of Dultha!’ This was followed by a loud chorus of cheers ‘For Dultha! For Dultha! For Dultha!’