When Avren had finished, silence reigned in the hall:
Wellan’s feasting chamber filled with apprehension
and meditative fear, as though it stood empty
and became a ruin, beyond the pale of men.
Avren hesitated, then made his conclusion:
“This is my full story, and the record I leave.
Things happened as I said; I have told not one lie.
Believe me at your choice, but keep your doubts quiet;
I’ve no patience for it, the questions of scoffers.
Keep your doubts to yourself, until another time.
I’ll make my tale more full, at some other feasting.”
The silence dug deeper, and Avren stood alone
in the place by the hearth from whence the Jade Robe speaks.
On every side of him, Wellan’s men sat thoughtful,
fearful of the future they saw in Avren’s tale.
In that sea of silence, there came slowly a sound
like a squall on the sea, a shouting and sighing,
a swift sussuration that stirred some from stupor.
The story of Avren had cast enchantments there,
sunk men into legend, reminded them of old
tales they had learned in youth, still on their mothers’ strings.
The noise came from outside, as from a great distance,
like a host on the hill way across the valley,
or the cheers of a crew on a ship far out to sea.
One by one, ears tilted, the story forgotten,
at least for the moment, as they searched for the sound,
picked at it in their heads, and discerned its meaning.
Avren started to speak, but Wellan stood by him,
laid a hand on his arm, and pressed him to silence,
while everyone listened to the noise from outside.
They heard it clearly now, over the hearth-crackle,
the splintering of wood and screeching of metal,
and grunting-beast noises, like a boar but bigger,
and the crash of bodies against stout wooden walls.
A thud, and thud, and crash, and they heard boards breakings,
and hinges giving way, and some giant creature
smashing one of the sheds, battering down the barn.
“It’s after the livestock,” said Wellan to no one,
and he stood there longer, not knowing what to do.
Not a man left his place. They could hear lowing cows,
and the sudden screaming as the beast shredded them.
They heard the fearful tramp of the scattering sheep,
and their screams in the night as they fell to talons.
The men in the hall heard the grunting invaders,
knew there was more than one, and not one man dared stir.
“Have you no weapons here?” said Avren to his host,
and he named blades of old, weapons of mythic strength
from Tarvenis his home, Abrequis and Muthet,
both swords of great virtue. But Wellan stared him down,
fear writ large on his face. “There are gavera here,
all snarling teeth and claws, and hides like fine armor,
rings of the strongest steel. From the sounds, there are four,
and maybe even five; when they come out in packs,
they often bring extras who wait in the darkness,
ready to cut us down. A dozen men might fight
to take just one of them, still losing one or two.
We cannot defeat them, not in such great numbers.
Avren, look around you: we are all farmers here
not virtuous black cloaks; we have no skill with blades.
But here, take a weapon, if you desire death.”
Wellan took his own blade, a sword of famous name,
Yndaryl of keen edge, fine steel from Arduvel
shaped by a master smith, one Udrian by name,
who learned the arts of old, who wore the azure gown.
Wellan’s great grandfather had won it in a raid
by the men of Barra led by pirate Jashim,
who raided in the north for twenty-two long years
ere he came to Alba and died in fierce combat.
It was a potent blade even in Wellan’s hands,
but its fate lay elsewhere, and now it met its lord.
The Heron seemed taller armed with that noble knife,
more sure of his own skill, and a man to be feared,
or possibly honored as a master and lord,
if he should somehow live, and prove his battle-worth.
Avren spoke to his men: “Arm yourselves, and follow.”
Men gave weapons to them, swords of such dignity
as men in that district might find to their liking.
These were heirloom blades from the days of raiding;
I know not their makers, but they came from good hands.
Gedaran whose father was Gadam the black cloak
and lived at Orchard Farm gave over his weapon
to fierce-faced Colama. Maglus from the Westfold,
whose father was Teblun, gave Bramen his long steel,
a prize from raids on Tay back in the years of blood
Vediran got his sword from Althan of Greenhill,
up beyond the border, whose house was built of stone
against nightly attacks, whose sire was Priand
the man called the leopard, and whose son was Priadh,
the finest warrior and the most just black cloak.
Then they followed Avren to join him in battle.
Lenna stood by the hearth, wrapped in her blue mantle,
her hands still powdery from helping cook the cakes.
The mantle lay askew across her fair shoulders,
for she donned it in haste, and her fine bosom showed
through the covering folds, her soft white flesh exposed.
“You frail men of Alba!” she berated them all,
“to give your swords over to guests under your roof,
and then wait in the hall while they go fight and die!
Your fathers are laughing, else they would be weeping,
to see you standing here while your guests do battle
to save your cows and goods, and keep us all from harm.
Each winter they rob us, those villans of long claws,
and you never fight them, fearing your fathers’ tales,
remembering their deaths and the claws in the dark.
and now you slay your guests! You must all be brave men.”
Then the other women came forward from their seats
to berate their menfolk, and urge them to the fray.
Their scornful words bit deep. The four weapon-givers
found axes and long spears, made their way to the doors,
each shamed to swift action, and now ready to fight.
They heard the fight outside, the clash of steel on claw,
and every man listened. Now there were shouting men,
their embattled voices echoing echoing the women
who scorned the cowardly, but praised aloud the brave.
One by one the others took up their sturdy blades
and followed the first four out the door into night.
Every man in the hall, excepting the toothless
and the boys without beards, went out to the darkness
in the dark of the year, when the night is longest.
They followed Avren out, to battle gaverae.