The Dunhill Six, as they were now known, had been called into a deep council with Lord Valon.
It was then he revealed a plan that had been hatched after interrogating the lone survivor of the ambush against them. The barbarians were apparently fanatical worshippers of death, explaining why they felt it was necessary to throw themselves at the enemy without regard for life. It also explained how they seemed to not consider strategic value when going to battle.
Lord Valon informed them that they were being recruited for a dangerous duty. They were to head north by sea, skirting the known areas where enemy ships had been encountered, and find some kind of authority of these barbarians and treat with them. The ship would also have a strong negotiator from the kingdom aboard and would take the lead when negotiating a peace when the time came for it.
After only a few days at sea the crew of the Gale Song referred to the negotiator as ‘Lord Fancypants’, though his name was actually Baron Samuel Highrose. The friends could see the source of the name quite clearly. The man was fastidiously clean, wore expensive clothes and refused to speak with anyone in a friendly tone. Even the captain he spoke to as if he was speaking to a servant. The men of the crew he chose to ignore for the most part.
After two weeks of travel the captain began to move them toward the coast, hoping they would have passed most of the patrols of the enemy. It was then that they were struck by a vicious winter storm. During the storm the keel of the ship was broken and they needed to beach her as soon as possible.
While stuck on the beach the Dunhill friends decided they would scout the area and see if they could find a way south. During this scouting trip they encountered a group of barbarians who were converging on them from both sides, weapons at the ready. Thinking they were under attack, the friends returned in kind until the last man was standing. When he gave up they took him into custody and began to question him.
They found out that the group of barbarians was a hunting party looking for a pack of wolves that was stalking their village. In fact, that exchange revealed that this hunting party had nothing to do with the war to the south. They regarded it as a despicable waste and that those who were responsible were a plague upon the northmen. They called them the ‘Hoonvre’ which could be translated as fanatics, so Pratch said.
Surprisingly the friends also found out that the barbarian people were split up into castes and generally lived only in those caste communities. They would work with each other only occasionally. They were the builders, the warriors and the hunters. The entire way they interacted was complicated to the point where Pratch even gave up trying to figure it out.
At that point they were brought to speak with the leader of the hunter’s village. In the squalor of ramshackle buildings, half-cured hide tents and mud-covered children the friends saw the wealth of kings as everyone had steel weapons and equipment. Even their spoons were made of the stuff. The contradiction was mind-boggling for them. Steel was obviously not rare for these people.
During a long conversation with the headman they discovered that the Vandreer had long mastered the art of forging and working with steel and should they wait just a few days a ship would likely arrive to trade things like that with them. And the group did choose to wait in the village for the ship.
As the headman had said, a ship arrived within a week. It was a slightly larger ship than the typical war vessels they saw, but in the same configuration. A high prow and stern with a deep, shallow hull and rowers benches with a flat sail and a jib line running between the prow and mast. The Vandreer did not clearly label their ships as the kingdom does, but they were told that the name was the Tjakeldur, with the captain being a man named Indor.
The group returned to pick up the ship’s crew and found the Gale Song completely dismantled. It was at that time they came up with the plan to sail south back to Dunhill and bring Valon the news of the true situation regarding the nature of the barbarian society. They sailed south, hugging the coast with the Gale Song’s crew hidden in the shallow hold and out of sight.
The third morning on their journey home they discovered several Vandreer vessels following them at different quarters. When they caught up to the Tjakeldur Indor shouted an exchange with the nearest captain and was ordered to follow them into port at the encampment of the Hoonvre.
It was that day that Magnus slew the king in single combat after the king issued a challenge to them, though Roger tried his best to get involved in the battle too. Thanks to an enchantment by the mage, Elwin, the fight was completely one-sided and Magnus stood victorious having not taken a single hit. And it was so that Baern, Son of Ul fell to the mighty Warbane, which the Hoonvre called Bryde Konger Magt (which Pratch translated as The King Breaker).
During the negotiations with the new king, Regnar, the group was invited to remain in the encampment and be treated like other Vandreer would be. Unfortunately this meant they would be tested and they were tested as various warriors attacked at odd times.
Pratch used his wiles to intimidate his attacker before the king and cowed him into submission. In disgust Regnar slew his own man for being such a weakling that words alone would stop him. Roger slew his attacker so readily they suspected he used some kind of witchcraft on him, so he became known as Sjael Stjealor (or Soul Stealer). Of course, Arthur slew his attacker before he even came within sword reach, earning him the label of Langt Agribar (the Far Hand). Terror ran free as Quentin transformed into a dire wolf and tore the throat out of his attacker, but it did not stop there. He spoke with a voice that was not his own, in clear Vandreer.
He told them that they were cowards for seeking a release to the struggle that is life and that this worship of the end was an affront to Goremtal. He told them that true strength comes from overcoming all obstacles and that the fight should be carried on for all time, not just in the face of adversity, but that they should seek to conquer death as well.
Elwin was never attacked, but he later found out that he was referred to as the tavse folgesvend af opkomlingene, which translated to him being the silent friend of the upstarts. It was clear he was not considered a challenge and as such would be left alone.
Negotiations continued for almost a month as Highrose pursued a very good treaty with the men of the north. In the end he was able to get them to agree to cease all hostilities that gave the kingdom several very nice benefits, such as the secret of harvesting ore and smelting (which the Vandreer called ‘the secret of steel’).
Indor agreed to carry the men of the kingdom all the way to Dunhill and they set sail immediately. It took a few more weeks to reach the fishing town. The six were surprised to see most of the defenses had been finished and several towers were being erected.
When they met with Lord Valon he was happy that the campaign was over, but he was unsure of how the king would react to the revelation that the Hoonvre were some kind of religious fanatics. It was then that the group found out that the king had carried out a pogrom to destroy all temples and texts associated with worship of the gods. This explained quite clearly how worship had shifted from the deities to ancestors. Upon hearing this Quentin requests that they serve as protectors for Baron Highrose as he goes to Landhaven. Lord Valon agrees and sends the Six upon the journey.
Pratch, who had been absent for the entire council session returned with an outlandish hat and notified the group that their current attire would surely be considered a travesty and they should all get better dressed. Their resistance to his urging was obvious and they acquired only moderately presentable clothing before they left aboard the Royal Shrike. Captain Montbaine was awarded this new commission for his notable service to the crown.
It was only a day into the journey when Baron Highrose informed the captain in front of a few members of the Dunhill Six that they would be making a stop over at Silverfell. He did not explain why and simply returned below decks. He had obviously considered his station returned and the friends below him. Without arguing the captain turned the ship southwest and began the trip to the home of the Windward Coast’s grandee.