Greetings! My name is Valdis Brighteye, Troubadour of the Windhowlers Trollmoot. You have sailed a long way over the Twilight Peaks to take the Crystal Oath. To honour the Code that binds us together as raiders we exchange tales, accounts of our most daring victories and our most tragic defeats. You have arrived at a time of celebration and rejoicing. As you can see the revels in the great hall continue even now, though our Champions have departed in haste on matters of great import.
The tale I tell involves a contest, pitting the greatest captains of the Windhowlers against the Bloodlore warriors of Chorak Bonecracker. Chorak has long walked the discipline of the Sky Raider and full fifteen circles lie behind him. His people and mine have ever been blood enemies and even the Crystal Code blunts our ancient feud but a little. Our Chieftain, Thorvald Harjiliak, is the Hero of the Age, the Storm-made-flesh and no mortal weapon can take his life. Chorak’s storm has raged for many years but it will soon blow its self out. Thorvald’s Storm, on the other hand, is still building and soon it will tear across Barsaive in a tempest not seen since the Orichalcum Wars. This has been foretold!
Unwilling to endure the continuing stings of Bloodlore raids, Thorvald sent Chorak a challenge, demanding training from the Sky Raider Master. He hoped to gain an audience with the Raider to address the issues between our moots and our common enemy, Thera. As Thystonius’ custodians of the Sky Raider discipline the Bloodlores were honour-bound to meet the challenge head on and so they did. Five warriors from each moot were to face each other in a duel. For each victory Thorvald would earn the right to the secrets of a single circle of his Discipline. For each defeat the Windhowlers would have to surrender a precious drakkar. The proceedings were blessed when a great-horned troll stepped forward to take charge of the contest. Yes! Mighty Thystonius himself walked these lands not five days ago.
Girded in great armour of crystal and steel and bearing the weapons forged by Alvaldur the Younger and the Dwarf Olaf Horunsun the Captains of the Moot stepped forward to meet their fates. They faced single combat against a Bloodlore Captain, around the great Crystal of Challenge and under the eye of Thystonius. Can there be a truer proving ground?
Of the great deeds of that day the Windhowler Troubadours will sing for generations. Geirbjorn Jawripper, a true giant, was bested by swiftness though he remained unbowed. Canny Ragna Redspear earned her name once more in defeating her foe. Old Ulfkell One-Eye fought tooth-and-nail but was defeated by a younger warrior. Young Fardiss Longshanks, the son of our last Chieftain Jodmarr, acquitted himself well and was the only warrior to send his foe home on his shield! Of the foes these warriors faced we say little. They were the shadows of Chorak Bonecracker and their tales are told. Their time is passing. We celebrate our warriors today and the honour they have brought to the clan and all Trolls.
So it came to pass that Thorvald stepped forward clad in a hero’s panoply. Protecting him was the great armour ‘Dread Naught’, sunset crystal plate of unsurpassed craftsmanship. In his right hand he bore Kegel’s Sword, a blade forged from the very elements of creation. To his left arm was strapped ‘Live Free’, his Father’s great shield, the last carved from the tree named Harjiliak’s Bane. His grandfather’s terrible blade, ‘Die Free’ was at his side and the many trophies of his victories – his tall battle-helm, his shining bracers and more – were also to be seen. Chorak was no less impressive and his savage hammer above all showed that this was a warrior to be feared.
With his mighty armour, parrying blade and warlike shield it appeared that Thorvald meant to meet the onslaught head on. Many had tried this before but none had survived. In fighting a Sky Raider of Chorak’s ability it is said that a warrior faces two distinct battles. The physical contest is plain to see but the ferocity of Chorak’s potent battle cries is more than enough to unman the most experienced of fighters. The struggle to keep your nerve and wits, to keep doing the right thing, is what beats most of Chorak’s victims. Sure enough, from the very start Thorvald was on the back foot. Chorak was faster, stronger and more skilled. Blows that would have felled a thundra beast were struck faster than the eye could easily follow and the vast majority were Chorak’s.
Unruffled, Thorvald simply grinned, kept his guard up and asked Chorak for more. He then compared the Bloodlore Chief’s assault to a stern scolding from his grandmother. The jibes seemed to have some effect and Thorvald earned him a little respite as Chorak’s blows became wilder. Thorvald’s defence was masterful – swift footwork, shield positioning, parries and anticipation allowed him to frustrate Chorak. The Bloodlore Chieftain was obviously calling on his strongest attacks and talents to rid him of this upstart. Perhaps a couple of minutes in to the duel his hammer eventually struck home. The enchantments upon it ripped into Thorvald’s body and a resounding crack accompanied the shattering of several ribs. Thorvald went down. All eyes turned to Thystonius. In previous duels a wound of this magnitude had earned victory for the warrior striking it but the Horned Passion indicated that the battle was to continue. He was obviously enjoying the contest. Thorvald found his feet and flames were soon to be seen from his wounds as the fire within forged him anew.
Chorak continued where he had left off and still Thorvald avoided the majority of his strikes. His taunts continued and Chorak’s hammer maelstrom found little except for Thorvald’s mighty shield and it stood firm. Thorvald in truth mounted few attacks and rarely threatened his foe. If anything, this infuriated Chorak all the more. The duel continued. Perhaps in the fifth minute Chorak struck home again. This time Thorvald retained his feet though his right arm brielfy hung limp by his side. Again Thystonius indicated that the contest was not done and the duellists went at it again.
Three more times did Chorak’s hammer strike our chieftain, inflicting terrible wounds and still Thorvald fought on. It must have continued for at least ten minutes while every observer stood spellbound. While Thorvald had conserved his energy to better cope with the punishment he endured, Chorak had kept nothing back. There was a point where I saw a moment of concern on the Bloodlore’s face as though the advantage were about to swing to Thorvald. A second later a master-stroke from Chorak had settled the contest. Thorvald lay unconscious. Again all eyes turned to Thystonius. He was grinning with open delight at the amazing physical prowess he had just witnessed from both fighters. Chorak had been expected to win easily. He had not done so. Thystonius’ judgement was just and final. The duel was Thorvald’s and the contest was the Windhowler’s!
Not since the Raid of the Long Spear have we enjoyed such a victory over the Bloodlores. Though we lost two Drakkars – the ‘Cloud Chaser’ and the ‘Thunderhead’ – the training Thorvald would receive and the prestige and honour earned would strengthen the whole moot.
I spoke to Thorvald soon afterwards. He said that he had approached the duel with Chorak like the war with Thera. He had never tried to win because in doing so he would instantly lose.
‘In the lowlands I heard the tale of the Willow in the Storm. The Oak stands tall and will not bend but if the Storm is strong enough even the proudest Oak will crack. The Willow is flexible and bends as the Storm blows. It can survive the fiercest of tempests,’ he said.
I asked him how that would help outside of the duel. If he had faced Chorak on the field of battle he would have surely been slain.
‘Aye’, he said to me, ‘I wasn’t ready to face Chorak yet but now I know a lot about him. As he trains me I will learn still more. If he continues to plague the Windhowlers I swear I will end him.’
‘Today I played the Willow but some day I will be the Storm. In that same situation Chorak can only ever be the Oak and that will settle for him. Mark those words Troubadour for this is no idle boast.’
That is the tale of the Great Challenge. Now please grab a horn of ale and join the celebrations. On the morrow you enter the Sunset Caverns to swear the Oath and pledge yourself to our Code. Tonight we DRINK!