Journey to the Northern Giants

Scribed by Astrius, filius Garius, discipilus Flambeau,
Nominated Hoplite to the Stonehenge Tribunal

This record is a personal account of the journey of the magi Astrius and Cormoran to find the clan of giants who live in the far north of the Novgorod tribunal. The origins of the expedition lie in a longstanding schism between two different clans of giants, those who dwell still in the frozen northlands and those who now reside in the British Isles. The reason for this schism is not entirely clear to me but the great distance between the two clans had meant that by default a peace had held between the two warring factions for many years. However, recently giants have been dying in mysterious circumstances in Britain and so a giant moot was held in the Cambrian mountains to decide what to do about it, to which my sodales Cormoran was invited.

No non-giant was allowed to attend the meeting, which was attended by the heads of the different clans of giants from different parts of this island. In the midst of this conclave a giantish soothsayer had a vision which foretold that Cormoran was the only one who could solve the riddle of the killings and put a stop to them. To help him do this he was given an ancient giantish artifact, the horn of Bergylmir. Worryingly, while attending the moot Cormoran heard the leader of the giants of Norfolk talk about launching an attack on the covenant of Narwold. Although he was clearly still a little hesitant about placing his half-kin in potential jeopardy, it was heartening to hear him pass on this information so that pre-emptive action can be taken as necessary to protect that covenant. The Cormoran of old would have kept this quiet and I am hopeful that he is indeed growing wiser as he gets older and may yet use his great strength and art to benefit the Order.

The upshot of the meeting was that Cormoran should take the horn and travel to Novgorod to somehow deal with the northern giants believed to be behind the killings. Eager to test myself in the great wilderness contained within the northern lands where many fierce beasts and the Order of Odin are said to lurk, I offered to accompany Cormoran on his voyage and he gladly accepted.

Having obtained permission from Pontifex Medius for what could be a lengthy sojourn we set off at the start of autumn in the year 1183. We made first for the covenant of Solis Castle where we hoped to find a ship to take us across the North Sea to Novgorod. I was disappointed to find that the Praefecta was not within the covenant when we arrived for she would I am sure have arranged passage for us with a minimum of fuss or request for payment. However, with the Praefecta away attending on Narwold lest the giants make a swift strike, we were forced to deal with Moravius. The tribunal's elder Verditius was his usual opportunistic and avaricious self, offering us the use of a ship to take us to the port of Stavanger in return for a claw and the venom sac from the wyvern in Mynydd Myrddyn, if we are able to slay it and harvest the vis from its corpse. Although reluctant to make a trade of a doubtless not insignificant amount of vis for what is after all just use of a mundane resource, Cormoran was keen not to tarry so we agreed to the deal. The sweet deal he had just struck clearly put Moravius in good humour for he told us what he knew of the area which we were travelling to without further haggling or request for payment.

Stavanger is a port in the kingdom of Norvegia, part of the Novgorod tribunal. Three days east-northeast of Stavanger, within a great forest, lies the covenant of Bear Claw, from where we should be able to get directions further north to the lands where Cormoran believes the northern tribe of giants may be found. The ship was a vessel not dissimilar to the type used by the norse raiders of old and was captained by one Olaf Hundsmunsen who seemed fairly unperturbed by our Gifts, I would guess that he has carried magi on board before. The seas were rough, though nowhere near as bad as those in the Straits of Hercules and the wind that whipped down from the north was bone-chillingly cold.

Three days out to sea, late one night, with the hoarfrost on the deck glittering in the dim moonlight, the ship was attacked by a sea serpent of some sort. The creature, a large wingless wyrm of some variety judging by the glimpses I got of it when it breached the surface, tried repeatedly to ram and sink the ship, presumably aiming to feast on any men in the water. As I endeavoured to get a clear shot at it from the rolling deck of the ship, to my horror I saw Drudwhil slip and fall into the icy water. I feared the worst as the creature spun about and headed straight towards him, but luckily the creature was intent on the larger target of the ship and ignored my familiar as it surged again towards the ship. It was then that I was finally able to strike it squarely in the head with a bolt of lightning, wounding it not insignificantly. Although still fit enough to swim on, the serpent decided to seek easier prey and with a flick of its long tail disappeared back down into the depths of the dark sea.

Our relief was short-lived for the damage that its attacks had done quickly became apparent. There was a sizeable hole in the ship that resulted in a day's worth of bailing out before Cormoran had recovered sufficiently from his magical exertions during the serpent attack to use a spontaneous muto herbam spell of considerable magnitude to plug the hole until the moon changed. Happily the next day we sighted land and spent the next day sailing along the coastline towards Stavanger. My first sights of Norvegia showed just how different it is to Britain, or indeed any other country I have visited. The ground is rocky and mountainous, blanketed in snow and thick with dark thin-leaved trees. The coastline is frequently interrupted with numerous large sea inlets that Captain Hundsmunsen told me are called fjords.

The next day we entered the port of Stavanger, a small town set in a sheltered natural harbour. To my dismay I saw that protruding from the thatched wooden buildings was the unmistakable stone spire of a church. It seems that the taint of the Christ god and his accursed dominion has spread further than I had thought. Grim news indeed, but the outlook was only to get worse as Captain Hundsmunsen espied a couple of 'knarrs', norse longships that on sailed out to meet us. Apparently this means that Stavanger is no longer held by the same side in the civil war that grips Norvegia, and we may not get the friendly welcome we had been expecting. Cormoran cast a spell to turn himself into a raven and flew off as the lead knarr drew alongside us. Four soldiers boarded us and took the captain onto their ship after they found the cargo and swords in the hold, no surprise then that the captain was concerned.

As we were led through the narrow fjord to the harbour and docked at the town's sole jetty I wondered what exactly they were likely to do to us. With the captain off-ship there was now no one left on board with whom I shared a common language so it was no little trepidation that I followed the rest of the crew down onto the jetty. No doubt I could swiftly conjure a blade, armour and fire to smite down any who came against me, but even the simplest of spells take a little time to cast and I would be somewhat vulnerable until then. On a purely tactical level the smart move would be to prepare myself before I came within sword range of the locals, but I had seen the spire of the church and knew that I soon as I began my conjurations I would make my identity as a wizard clear and most likely remove any chance of negotiating a peaceful way out of the situation. As we stood in a line on the stone quayside, Drudwhil trotted off as casually as he could to see what was going on further into the port.
The port officials questioned the crew one by one, leaving Marcus and I, both obvious foreigners, till last. I was heartened to see that while some men were taken into the small port hall, an equal number were set free. With no language in common my conversation with the port officials was brief to say the least and Marcus and I were soon directed to the port hall where the other crew were being held. There was no overt intimidation or rough treatment by the soldiers who led me there so I put up no resistance. I was however not so forthcoming when it was made clear to me that I would have to hand over my blade and Marcus his sword and precious shield. The officials sensed my reluctance and there was a brief moment where I wondered whether it was time to take matters into my own hands, but their body language was not hostile and they seemed genuine enough in their manner as I think they indicated through gestures that the weapons would merely be placed in an adjoining room and would be left there. Reluctantly I placed my blade in the room, making my unhappiness at doing so as clear as I could and hesitantly Marcus did the same with his arms. The door to the room was then locked, as was the door to the room we were being held in.

After a few hours, a new more senior official arrived. He explained in halting English that his name was Amund and asked why I had come to Stavanger. I tried to explain that I was a hunter of sorts, not the foreign mercenary that he clearly believed me to be. When it became apparent that he was not convinced I dropped the name “Bear Claw”. The name seemed not unknown to him and he told me that I would be taken later to see his superior, the “Landman”.

That evening, we were led through the streets to the Landman's manor house, the only building save the church made out of stone. The Landman was an important-looking man with long blonde hair in his forties, though he wore his years lightly. What he had heard from his men thus far cannot have greatly impressed him for although we were given food I was acutely aware throughout that there were four armed guards close behind us at all times. I tried to repeat my story about being a hunter, but the Landman made the admittedly valid point that my bastard sword was not the weapon of a hunter, but that of a mercenary. Besides, were there not beast aplenty to hunt in my own land? I tried to explain that what I was hunting were not normally beasts such as boar or stag but that rare and mythic ones that tales spoke as being found in the wild lands to the North, such as giants.

Unfortunately the Landman remained unimpressed by the story. Myabe folk such as he, even in these wild lands, do not believe in creatures such as giants. I suspect it more likely because he sensed something of my Gift and the fact that, despite the essential truth behind my giant-hunting story, I was holding something major back, namely that I was a magus. Guessing what the likely sentence would be if he were to rule that I was a foreign mercenary I eventually took a deep breath and declared myself to be a wizard. Judging from the look on the Landman's face as I said this, he was not greatly enamoured of wizards. Acutely aware of the armed soldiers a mere pace or two behind my unarmoured back, in the long moment that followed I silently cursed myself for not having pursued the study of rego sufficiently to have learnt the 'Circle of Encompassing Flames'.

After some deliberation the Landman stated that if we were to swear on the altar of the church that we meant no harm to Stavanger and would take no part in the war then we could go free. Given my experience with the Knights Templar in the Levant and the sickness that has afflicted me when entering places tainted by the dominion ever since binding my familiar this was a request I could not accede to. I stated that I would gladly swear such an oath but that I would not do such inside the church. There was an unpleasantly long stand-off during which I could hear the soldiers shuffling behind me as they readied themselves.

To my relief the Landman ordered us to be thrown into a cell while the priest was summoned. Fortunately we were not manacled but simply marched downstairs to the dungeon and pushed roughly inside one of the small cells. There I spoke with Marcus and we set our plans on what to do next. We had been at the Landman's mercy and now that it was apparent that he was in thrall to the church, whose sacrament I had clearly rejected, I could not allow that to happen again. I conjured a suit of mail about myself and swords for both Marcus and I and we waited grimly for the soldiers to return. I determined that when they did so I would make my position clear and back it with overt magic if necessary, though I would only use lethal magics as a last resort.

As we stood and waited in the cell, I became aware of a great commotion from upstairs. Unbeknownst to me Drudwhil and Cormoran had met in the town's streets and debated how best to proceed. After their talk Cormoran had been spotted in an alleyway in human form by a guard. Cormoran reacted quickly to prevent an alarm being raised and slew the guard, but did not hide the body very well for it was soon discovered and a hue and cry raised. With the town on a war footing there was much alarm that enemy agents might be inside the walls, possibly presaging an attack. Hearing the sound of booted feet on the stairs I filled the narrow gaol corridor outside my cell full of webs to stop the guards from overwhelming me through force of numbers. They initially attempted to cut their way through but when I incanted lightning and blew off the door of my cell they retreated to await the arrival of the priest.

The priest duly arrived in a short while and we conducted a long debate in latin. I strove to convince him that despite my refusal to submit to the Church I was not a diabolist and that I had no intention of taking part in the war that beset his country. He was a stern and severe man, and I thought on a couple of occasions that despite my warnings not to approach me he would martyr himself by doing so. I stated plainly that all we wished to do was to have our belongings returned to us and to be allowed to leave the town without further hindrance. If this was permitted us then we would gladly swear an oath that we would take no part in the war nor raise weapons against the town or its inhabitants.

In the end he saw that I would not be swayed to his 'blessings' and agreed to my request. I espied no fear in him, despite the implicit threat in what would likely happen were an attempt made to rearrest me or prevent me from leaving and if he was as sharp as I believe him to be he would have seen from my face that I was fully prepared to kill him and anyone who tried to stop me if I was left no other choice. Eventually he left and told me that he would speak to the Landman and have a way cleared for me to leave.

I waited a suitable length of time for such to be arranged and then walked out warily, all the whiles watching for an ambush, though thankfully none was forthcoming. We reached the front doors of the manor house and I conjured a thick fog to blanket the centre of the town and shield our departure from any bowmen. In the meantime Cormoran was able to recover my weapons and armour from the church and using a rowing boat that Cormoran had stolen we made our way across the fjord and out of Stavanger and its accursed dominion aura to begin our long trek north.

On reaching the far shore we hid ourselves and the boat amongst the trees which grew down close to the water's edge. As we rested for the remainder of that day and following night we saw no signs of pursuit. However, before we set off next morning Cormoran flew out in raven form to locate the army which we knew to be nearby, for we had no desire to undergo further problems with the local mundane folk. To our relief it had already reached the southern end of the peninsula that Stavanger is located upon and thus we could safely press on east-northeast to Bear Claw. From the size of the force that Cormoran reported advancing on the town it seems likely that Stavanger will have changed hands once again by the time we return. If we are truly fortunate the church will be burnt down and the Landman and his priest executed, but that is maybe asking for too much.

The fjord led in roughly the right direction so we decided to take advantage of the natural pathway it offered. We rowed further inland, making steady progress through the calm waters and into a pristine wilderness. As we pressed on, stopping only to change oarsman, the fjord on either side of us narrowed gradually, the sides becoming ever steeper. We camped out undisturbed overnight and as we rowed on next day we found that the fjord gradually morphed into a broad and sluggish river which by the end of the day had led us close to the borders of a large forest. Cormoran once again assumed the form of a crow the next morning to try and locate Bear Claw covenant. After some searching he spotted it, sitting on a slight rise perhaps a day's march inside the great forest upon whose edge we stood. My sodales also noticed that the river soon led into rapids so we abandoned our boat and struck off through the trackless conifers in the direction in which the covenant lay.

That afternoon we came across a rough path of some sort, though whether made by man or beast we could not tell, and decided to follow that in the hope that it was used by members of the covenant. We had an hour of daylight at most left when through a break in the trees we espied a wooden palisade atop a rocky outcrop, Bear Claw. While that view was welcome after the long and eventful voyage we had undertaken from Severn Temple, it was the sight of the true scale of the forest as we climbed the track leading up to the covenant that really inspired me. Ahead, the trees stretched as far as the eye could see with no sign of any human presence, let alone any church spires, to despoil it.

The good humour brought on by such a vista was somewhat marred when we neared the gate and Cormoran confessed that he had forgotten the name of the magus from the covenant who he had met at his last house meeting. While he could at least remember the name of the magus's shield grog, Valgat, his failure to recall even this simple detail did not exactly fill me with confidence as to his grasp of the details of our quest. In any event the gate was unmanned when we reached it so we rang the bell which hung from the gatepost and waited. After a short delay, magus Udath of House Ex Miscellania, Cormoran's friend from the meeting, came to the gate and obviously pleased to have hermetic guests from abroad, bid us enter. We soon learned that we had had something of a lucky escape, for the forest surrounding the covenant is the territory of packs of shapeshifters who can assume the forms of wolf or bear. While they are allies of the covenant, as strangers had we still been abroad after dusk we would likely have been attacked by them.

Yet such misfortune did not befall us and we were warmly welcomed into the covenant. Facilities at Bear Claw were very basic, and it is obviously naught but a Spring covenant on a remote frontier. That said, its location more than made up for the lack of the amenities that I was disturbed to find that I had grown so accustomed to at Severn Temple. It is not hard to see how magi who rarely stray beyond the confines of well-established covenants grow soft and unfamiliar with the oft-times harsh realities of the world beyond their Aegis of the Hearth.

Besides Udath there are three other members of Bear Claw covenant, Magus Baldur of Jerbiton, Maga Alciga of Merinita and Magus Temperus of Bonisagus, the latter a young man barely out of his gauntlet. Of the four, all save Baldur were within the covenant, which was perhaps for the best. When I related the tale of what had befallen us in Stavanger, I was told that Baldur had been trying to cultivate the Landman as an ally for some time and was likely to be angered by what had happened. It is possible that his efforts stayed the Landman's hand initially, but quite clearly Baldur's diplomatic overtures could not have been all that successful if the welcome I received to Stavanger was anything to go by. But despite this possible setback the magi were most hospitable and arranged for a welcome feast that evening.

Over dinner, in between repeated requests for news of the wider Order, Temperus told us more about the shapeshifters which inhabit the forests thereabouts. They operate in family groups and become capable of assuming more powerful animalistic forms as they grow in age. The wolves are apparently the size of a horse! Interestingly, they also possess some form of non-innate magical resistance which is acquired through a long-term series of rituals and sympathetic magics, and can be strong enough to resist spells of the tenth magnitude! As covenant allies the shapeshifters act as guards against possible incursions from the Order of Odin who are said to dwell in the lands to the north and with luck we shall encounter when we journey there. Temperus was also able to tell us a little of the Odinists, though it sounds like Bear Claw is rarely, if ever, directly troubled by them. They are primarily elementalists, with strong affinity for the summoning of elementals and wielding of elemental forms, and also possess some manner of magical resistance.

When people had eaten their fill, Cormoran told the council of the giant seer's vision and the reason for our coming to these lands. Maga Alciga, her preternaturally green eyes gleaming in the firelight, said that no giants had been seen in the lands thereabouts for many years and that their homeland lies over one hundred leagues to the north. With the severity of the winters in those lands she advised us to wait until spring before setting off and we were cordially invited to over-winter in Bear Claw. Alciga told us of an old covenant that lies in those lands, Shining Light, and asked us to bear a message for a magus there, one Mortalitus of Criamon. Apparently it has been some eighty years since she saw him last. She also warned us that the Order of Odin is believed to be active in those lands, so it seems that I am likely to get my wish to test my mettle against them.
The mention of Shining Light covenant sparked a memory in Cormoran of something the giantish seer had said about “shining lights in the sky” so hopefully despite the frustrating vagueness of Cormoran's recollections, it sounds like we are heading to the right place. Alciga said that she knew of at least one more magus in Shining Light covenant, Magus Atroxus, a very old Flambeau, perhaps the oldest yet living. She generously also offered to provide us with a guide to take us to the covenant, the irrepressible Valgat.

In what remained of autumn I was able to pick up a bit of a feel for the basics of the language of the norse folk, as well as a little of the lie of the land surrounding the covenant. Although there are no battlements to walk around, with the aid of 'Rise of the Feathery Body' I was able to see clearly over the stockade and drink in the vista before me at my leisure. Truly it must be seen to be believed for those who have grown accustomed to more domesticated landscapes. All around there is nothing to see but green forest, truly this is a wild and untamed land, mayhap a reminder of what England and Wales must once have been before man became 'civilised' and blighted the landscape with his stinking cities and churches.

Next season, when winter fell upon the covenant it quickly became clear why we had been warned not to venture further north this season in such stark terms. The winds were knife sharp and cold enough to form a hoar frost in my beard within mere moments of stepping outside. The snow fell almost continuously, great drifts of snow taller than I building up within the covenant walls, almost covering them completely. It was all the grogs could do to keep the paths between the few covenant buildings passable. Inside, the covenant was warm enough, the basic comforts it offered seeming like luxuries given the howling blizzards which lay beyond the main door. As recompense for all the help and hospitality we had been shown, I spent the season scribing two of my most potent healing magics into the covenant library, 'Incantation of the Body Made Whole' and 'Gentle Touch of the Purified Body'.

Then, finally, the blizzards began to subside and the landscape slowly shook off its heavy blanket of snow. We were eager to set off, but before we did so Udath gave us an amber brooch, a token to mark us as friends of the covenant lest we encounter any of the shapeshifters who dwell in the forests. The forests were harder going initially than I had expected. Unlike the broad sprawling forests of England and Wales, the woods here were more tightly packed, with thick undergrowth making passage difficult. Nevertheless it was hard to contain my excitement at the chance to explore this strange and wild land.

We moved cautiously, keeping a careful eye out for any sign of wolf or bear tracks which might indicate the presence of the shapeshifters. On the fourth night as we camped out in a small clearing we were alerted by the faintest of noises from the nearby treeline. As I conjured flame to my sword I caught a glimpse of large yellow eyes from just yards away as a great wolf, larger than those which so plague Mynydd Myrddyn, leapt towards me. I forbore my instinctive desire to incant fire or lightning and instead held up the amber brooch that Udath had given to us. Plainly the creature recognised it for it aborted its charge just feet away from me. There was a long moment as we locked eyes in the flickering light of my sword's flames before as suddenly as it had arrived it turned and bounded away into the night. After that we saw no further sign of the shapeshifters. Thankfully whatever arrangement Udath and his sodales have come to with them holds true.

After a week's trekking through the thick forest we reached a steep hill and on climbing it found that the winter had not yet fully loosed its grip on the land thereabouts for the wind was bitterly cold and there was snow in the air. Despite the long leagues we had travelled as we stared out at the land ahead the dark woods still stretched almost as far as we could see, though now faintly on the horizon loomed the foothills of the mountain range that we would have to cross to reach our final destination. It took us two further weeks to reach the far side of the forest and as we broke the treeline and walked out into a steep-sided snowy valley I felt curiously exposed without close-set trees all about me. Ahead loomed a range of high mountains, at least as big as anything I have seen in Wales, if not taller. Fortunately Valgat knew the path well for he led us on confidently 'twixt the snow-capped peaks to a high pass which he said leads on to the lands beyond.

As we neared the top of the pass Drudwhil spotted a curiously humanoid-shaped rock just off the path. Concerned that it might be some enchanted guardian created by the Order of Odin I investigated it as best I could. Curiously, while its likeness to a humanoid form was so uncanny as to surely be the result of some creator, I could get no sense that it was anything other than inert rock. There was no trace of magic about it and it appeared utterly mundane when I focused my sight and peered through the veil to the world of spirit. With seemingly nothing apparent to worry about we pressed on, though the thought of leaving it behind us as we moved on into unknown territory left me a little uneasy.

That night, we were still perilously high and dangerously exposed to the elements so Cormoran used his great facility with spontaneous magics to carve out a hole from the solid rock. I conjured a large piece of canvas to go atop it to keep the rain and snow out and we all hunkered down for the night. We had barely finished our evening rations when we heard something small run across our makeshift roof. Cautiously we peered out and saw that there were tiny footprints in the light snow which lay on the canvas. We followed them for a short distance north in the direction in which they led and found that they merged with two or three more similar tracks. Still uncertain as to what exactly we were dealing with we returned to our camp, doubled the watches and waited. The rest of the night passed without further incident so in the morning we pressed on, anxious to crest the pass and reach the forest which lay in the valley beyond before nightfall.

As we neared the highest point of the pass the wind picked up to such an extent that it was seriously hampering our movement. Cormoran attempted to cast his formulaic ward against wind and lightning upon us but when he did so on Drudwhil his magic went awry, leaving my familiar plagued with incessant freezing cold winds. I was able to offset the severe chill they caused with a spontaneous creo effect, but the incident at least solved the riddle of the identity of the small stone creatures. Clearly we were in some sort of faerie aura and the creatures we had encountered were some sort of minor stone fey. It would certainly explain my failure to detect anything out of the ordinary with them and why Cormoran should botch a straightforward formulaic spell.
In any event, we reached the top of the pass by early afternoon and with no little relief began our descent. We were a little disappointed when we soon discovered that we would not reach the relative shelter of the woods for another few days as we still had several leagues through rocky foothills to negotiate but the worst was nevertheless over. As well as marking the end of the mountains, the trek onwards from the pass also represented a true step into the unknown for our party for it was as far as Valgat had travelled before. This was slightly troubling but our ever-cheerful guide seemed confident enough in the directions he had been given.

Sure enough, once we reached the treeline it didn't take our guide long to find the track to the village of Strømsund. To my dismay I found that the Christians had reached even such remote places. It was not a large or particularly well-appointed church, but nevertheless it was still profoundly disappointing to find it there. To avoid risking our Gifts disturbing the locals, Cormoran and I stayed outside the village stockade while Valgat went in to buy some fresh provisions and see what local news he could garner. The locals warned him against proceeding further north, saying that they were the home of very dangerous wizards, giants and even fire-breathing dragons. This news restored my spirits and our packs now heavy with food again we set off.

Not far beyond Strømsund, the landscape changed as the long tracts of forest became increasingly interrupted by icy lakes which caused us many a long detour. The snow was noticeably deeper here too and the nights grew ever shorter, with just three hours of darkness a day. One night, a month or so since leaving Bear's Claw, as I sat on watch in those few dark hours I noticed a fire in the sky, first to the northeast and then to the northwest. The next day as we moved cautiously on, Drudwhil spotted booted footprints in the snow, heading from west to east, not far from where I had seen the fire in the sky. Valgat told us that he thought Shining Light covenant was only a week or two away so we pressed on, keeping a wary eye out for the men who had left the tracks.

We did not have long to wait, for that night as we busied ourselves making camp on the side of a small valley Cormoran saw three figures making their way along the opposite slope. I quickly cast 'Eyes of the Hawk' upon myself and saw them to be fur-clad men with long hair and beards and strange blue tattoos. There were also curious items hanging from their belts, possibly flasks, even a wand, but it was hard to be sure even with the magic to enhance my vision. Only one of them, a large, powerfully built man, carried a weapon, a large axe.

Uncertain was to whether they had seen us or not, we decided to remain still, crouching down in the sparse tree cover on the hillside. One of the men happened to look in our direction and then turn and say something to his companions but neither of them looked over at us. Assuming that the first man did notice us, which I believe he did, the others must be quite disciplined, merely adding to my belief that we were looking at members of the Order of Odin.

Cormoran took the form of a crow and flew high over the valley to watch what they did when they reached the end of the valley. Sure enough, as soon as they rounded the mountainside and moved out of sight of our camp the men stopped and had a brief huddled discussion. They then split up, one man doubling back round the far side of the mountain to come on us from behind while the other two pressed on ahead in the direction they had been originally travelling. Cormoran flew back with this news and we decided to intercept the man who was attempting to move behind us.

With Cormoran following his progress from the air we were able to set a good ambush as the man tried to use a small shallow ravine as cover as he crept round. I waited by the top of the ravine and as he came into view loudly declared myself, lest he be some isolated member of the Order. The man's reaction removed any doubts as to which Order he belonged for he immediately cast a spell which appeared to be some variant of the 'Circling Winds of Protection' and hurriedly tried to climb out of the ravine on the far side. Before he could escape beyond near range I was able to cast 'Prison of an Icy Winter' and the spell's penetration was powerful enough to punch through whatever magical protections he had, freezing him solid.

Aware that there were still two more members of the Order of Odin somewhere nearby we quickly bound our prisoner and carried him back to our camp. The plan was to collect our packs and move to a more defensible position but either by chance or design the Odinists were ready for such a move. We had barely gathered our belongings when I heard a loud crack from the slope above us and immediately afterwards a deep rumbling that I could feel as well as hear. I correctly guessed that 'Crest of the Earth's Wave' or something similar had been cast and sprinted as fast as I could across rather than down the slope, hoping that the Odinist version of the spell had as limited a width to its effect as the hermetic version. Drudwhil and I were both swift enough to escape the roaring wall of earth that raced down the hill, but Cormoran, Marcus and Valgat were not. Cormoran's parma held firm but Marcus and Valgat took the full impact of the wave of earth, though fortunately they only suffered minor injuries.

Meanwhile I turned to look up the hillside to try and spot the caster of the spell. Outlined on the hilltop stood the second wizard and I immediately flung a 'Bolt of Abysmal Flame' against him, quickly followed by another. Although he was still standing after the first one struck home, the second brought him to his knees and the third bolt punched clean through whatever elemental protections he had about him and he collapsed to the ground wreathed in flame.

Any celebrations were cut quickly short by the arrival of the third Odinist, clearly a grog of some sort as he charged in towards me. Drudwhil spotted the danger and leapt in to intercept him, sustaining a nasty gash to his flank from a fierce axe blow. I quickly drew my sword and joined my familiar in battle. A furious swordfight between the Odinist warrior and I then ensued. He was a skilled fighter and clearly bore some enchantment akin to 'Gift of the Bear's Fortitude' for he was able to shake off blows that would have felled a normal man. Wanting to test both my and his martial prowess I had resisted trying to cast magics during the mêlée, however Cormoran took my failure to put the man down quickly as a sign that I was in trouble so he apported into the fray. His sudden appearance in the midst of the fight distracted me and I caught Marcus a glancing blow with my blade, though fortunately he was not seriously hurt. At this point I lost patience and brought matters to a head by marshalling my thoughts and blowing the man's chest apart with the 'Incantation of Lightning'.

After tending to Drudwhil’s and Marcus's wounds, I searched the corpses of our foes and collected what items could be recovered from them. Both the spellcaster on the hillside and our captive wore amulets of dull metal with an engraving of a hammer and the body on the hilltop also yielded up a wand, which while a little scorched appeared whole. There was also a flask with a liquid of some sort inside and a goodly quantity of vis: three white feathers each containing two pawns of auram vis; a red scale with five pawns of ignem vis; and, three small blue polished stones each with a single pawn of aquam vis.
This done, I tested a range of spells upon the prisoner and judged that he had a magic resistance of about the 6th magnitude, although neither of the corpses possessed any resistance. It seems probable that their resistance is powered by their life force, perhaps shaped by the elaborate blue tattoos they bore all over their bodies. We attempted to interrogate the prisoner but neither Cormoran nor I knew the formulae for any spells that would allow us to determine truth from falsehood. When it became clear that the man would not talk other than to spit insults at us, for he clearly knew of the Order of Hermes, I granted him his request for a quick death.

With that we moved on, travelling more slowly than before as a result of Marcus and Valgat's injuries. As we trekked north the days grew even longer until we were down to barely two of hours of darkness and even that was little more than a dim twilight. The persistent light made it hard to sleep despite the long days of hard marching and we grew irritable and tired as we continued ever northwards.

One night, a fortnight on from our battle with the Order of Odin, we made camp in the lee of a small copse of stunted windswept trees. Drudwhil was first on watch and noticed a quite breathtaking sight. He quickly woke me from my fitful slumber and I sat up, scarcely able to take in what I was seeing. The whole sky to the north was illuminated with a constantly changing pattern of shimmering green light which shed an eerie glow across the whole landscape. The spectacle could only be the phenomenon known as the “Northern Lights”, from which I assume Shining Light covenant takes its name from, indeed the covenant is supposed to lie in a minor regio directly beneath the lights.

The knowledge that we were nearing our final destination lifted our spirits and took the edge off our frayed tempers. We set off eagerly the next morning, or at least at first light, for in truth it was likely still the middle of the night. It took a week's further travel, with the lights looming ever larger overhead before we finally saw the covenant. As we stood with the lights directly above us we noticed a large fortress a few miles off to the east, visible only in the flickering green light. When we drew near the vast scale of the castle became clear, it was huge and would easily dwarf Solis Castle, the largest covenant within Stonehenge. The walls were 60 feet or so high and the thick main doors themselves some twenty or so feet in height.

We knocked on the sally port and after a short wait an elderly norseman with a thick, plaited greying beard came to the door. He was clearly somewhat alarmed when he spotted Cormoran's giantish ancestry and demanded that Cormoran proved that he was a magus. Somewhat appeased by Cormoran's demonstration of his ability to levitate, he asked us our names and we duly gave him them, adding that we had a message for magus Mortalitus. The man, Bjartr, the castellan, said that Mortalitus was within the covenant and with that he stepped aside to let us inside the large gatehouse and ordered the portcullis raised.
As we passed through the gatehouse and into the smallish courtyard that lay beyond I noticed to my alarm a figure standing in the shadows, dressed only in rags with pale grey flesh. When I asked about the creature, which was clearly unliving, Bjartr simply shrugged and said that it was one of Mortalitus's many constructs. They act as servants for the covenant for apparently there are few living people who still dwell within. I could espy no sign of any spirit animating the dead body's flesh so I reluctantly continued on despite my unease and the low growl from Drudwhil beside me. As we headed deeper into the labyrinthine depths of the covenant, along a confusing series of dark and dusty corridors, it became clear that there was a feel of decay about the whole place. Everywhere I looked mortar was crumbling in the walls. We saw more of the undead servants sweeping, carrying things around and so forth, their macabre appearance in stark contrast to the mundane nature of their tasks.

While we walked, Bjartr told us that there were two other members of the covenant besides Mortalitus, Atroxus of Flambeau and Venatio of Tytalus. Cormoran grew strangely quiet as we strode deeper into the heart of the covenant, though in truth it was hard to tell which direction we were heading in for we had taken so many turns and twists that I was quite lost already. My sodales told me that he was convinced that the giantish seer's vision had spoken of this place and that it will be attacked by enemies of some sort, though he could not say which. I can only assume he means the northern giants, for it is surely to keep them out that this covenant was built on such a grand scale. Cormoran then made something of a leap of logic by adding that he also believes the northern giants have formed an alliance with the Order of Odin, though he had no evidence whatsoever to back up such an assertion. In truth I doubt whether either were the ones who actually killed the giants in Stonehenge, though of course it seems highly likely that the northern giants are ultimately behind it all in one way or another.

Our debate was brought to a hasty end by a low growl from Drudwhil who said that we were being scryed on. I loudly declared myself so that no one could be in any doubt as to our identities of members of the Order of Hermes. Drudwhil thought that the scrying stopped then but it was hard to be sure. Somewhat on edge we then reached the rooms we had been allocated which, while dusty and clearly not used for some years, were comfortable enough. After a short wait, refreshments were brought to us by a shabbily dressed zombie, though I was somewhat reluctant to partake after the scrying incident. What seemed like but a moment later I found myself standing in a different part of the room with no memory at all of having moved there. Although it was impossible to be sure as the room had no external window I had the distinct impression that some significant period of time, maybe even a few hours, had passed and was missing from my memory. The same was true for Marcus and Drudwhil.
After the suspicions of scrying and now a magical attack upon my mind I was very much on edge when Bjartr appeared an hour or so later with the news that Mortalitus would see us now. I told him firmly of my belief that I had been the subject of a magical attack, but he appeared genuinely surprised and confused at the accusation so somewhat warily I joined Cormoran in following him to meet with the old Criamon.

We journeyed along still more gloomy winding corridors before arriving at a dusty old door. I was about to enter when Marcus grabbed my arm and pointed out the faint sanctum markings in the stonework above. With all that had gone on up until now in the covenant I was not about to enter such a sanctum and after knocking on the door, said so. After a short pause Mortalitus emerged and scratched off the sanctum marking before beckoning us through. He was an old, rail-thin man, some six and a half feet tall, with skin almost as pale as his creations. As I entered his rooms I saw faint light coming through a narrow slit in the wall, clearly we were on the outside edge of the covenant though I had no idea which side.

Cautiously sitting down as bidden, I passed on Alciga's missive which Mortalitus duly read, laughing drily as he did so, before tossing it onto the fire. I raised the issue of scrying and potential mental manipulations and he used some magics upon Marcus to check whether or not my suspicions were correct. Mortalitus said that there were indeed traces of magic upon my consortis, but although he recognised the sigil he refused to say who it was, merely saying that he would have a word with the perpetrator. Clearly it could only have been one of his sodales and thus in all probability Venatio. Of course given our situation and location there seems little point in any formal complaint about it if no real harm has been done. We then spoke a little on broader matters, with Cormoran explaining something of the nature of our quest. Mortalitus seemed somewhat surprised by the tale for it seems they have not had any problems with giants for over a decade. Nevertheless he said that he would arrange a council the next day to see if anything could be done to further our mission.

After our previous experiences, we all shared a single room that night with a strict watch set at all times. If further magical mischief was worked that night there was no trace of it in the morning and we duly followed the undead guide sent to lead us to the council chamber. After walking down yet more dark and dingy corridors we found ourselves outside a large elaborate set of double doors, covered with fine and intricate silverwork. Beyond lay a large, high-roofed room, in the middle of which was a large oval table with formal high-back chairs arranged about it. Seated at one end was an ancient and twilight-ridden magus dressed in bright red robes, his hands gnarled and bent with arthritis, Atroxus. Venatio was not present but Mortalitus was, though curiously he appeared not to recognise us at all, Maybe the twilight that has so obviously afflicted Atroxus's body has wrought more subtle damage on the Criamon. Standing to attention around the sides of the room were the first living covenant folk we had seen besides Bjartr, a number of well-armed grogs with the unmistakable poise and confidence of veterans.
Atroxus bade me speak of our reason for coming to the covenant and when I told him that it would best be told by Cormoran, whose mission I was assisting he was openly contemptuous of the fact that I would permit myself to be led by an Ex Miscellanian. He listened impatiently as Cormoran repeated his tale and poured scorn on Cormoran's hypothesis that the giants were allied with the Order of Odin. Mention of the Odinists clearly touched upon a raw nerve with Atroxus for he ranted and raved about having kept the Order of Odin at bay for many long years without any help from House Flambeau or the rest of the order. Having experienced similar tirades from old Flambeau before I stood quietly waiting for his temper to cool a little but to my alarm Cormoran decided that this ancient battle magus needed to listen to him instead and responded most rudely to him, including at one point actually wagging his finger in Atroxus's direction.

How close he and quite possibly I came to dying in those moments I do not know, but I could see small flames flickering around Atroxus's hands as Cormoran continued his rambling and incoherent retort. Fortunately my seemingly suicidal sodales lost track of whatever point he thought he was making and his argument came to a mumbled end before he pushed Atroxus too far.
After a tricky few moments, Atroxus calmed down enough for us to continue our discussions though I made sure that it was I not Cormoran who led the conversation from then on. Although Atroxus knew nothing of the matter of the giants of Albion, he agreed to let us stay on in the covenant for as long as we wished and granted us access to the covenant library where we might be able to find information that could help us.

We thanked Atroxus and hurried down to the library eager to begin our search. Our enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the discovery that there was no librarian to help us as apparently the only magus who ever used it was Venatio. It was a large and dusty place, reminding me more than a little of the pagan libraries at Cad Gadu. It was obvious that looking through the books one by one would take seasons if not years. Without anyone to assist us we resorted to simply looking for any books that appeared to have been recently read, that is to say tomes which were not covered in a thick layer of dust and cobwebs.
Drudwhil's sharp senses came good yet again and he found a couple of books written in Norse that seemed cleaner than the surrounding volumes. The first was a collection of maps of the northland coast, but the second contained lots of pictures of giants and most interesting of all, latin annotations in the margins. By a picture of two giants fighting were the words “This could be used as a useful bargaining tool.” Other such notes included “If the enmity is really so great then perhaps there is a role that I could play”, “Clearly identifying the chief giant is going to be the way forward. Convince him and I'm sure we'll be able to stop the attacks” and finally “Lord, this is dull. I'm sure I can do better.”

The book appeared to strongly suggest that Venatio had done some sort of deal with the northern giants to put an end to their attacks on Shining Light, presumably the pay-off for them being the death of their hated kin in Albion. The problem that we now faced was that if this was indeed what was going on then there was nothing illegal about it, Venatio had simply made a deal to protect his covenant and as no magi had suffered as a result then there was absolutely nothing wrong with it in hermetic law. Cormoran tried to argue that Stonehenge magi had been endangered but that was little more than wishful thinking. Seemingly at something of an impasse we retired to our quarters to sleep on the problem.

Late that night we had a visit from Mortalitus who told us that there would be no more scrying upon us. I asked whether he had spoken with Venatio but he just smiled and said “naughty, naughty”. That was not the main reason for his visit however, for he asked Cormoran whether he would care to come and discuss the art of necromancy with him. Cormoran was unsurprisingly a little reluctant so Mortalitus left another animated corpse outside the room to act as a guide should Cormoran decide to come after all and with that he departed. For reasons best known to himself, after some thought Cormoran decided to go and speak with Mortalitus and left with Valgat to follow their unliving guide. It transpired that it was not so much Cormoran that the Criamon was after, but rather his permission to sacrifice Valgat and raise him at the very instant of his death. Thankfully Cormoran refused to accede to such and was then summarily told to leave Mortalitus's sanctum.

On his way back to our quarters he met the elusive Venatio and spoke with him and his raven familiar in the Tytalan's sanctum. I am not sure precisely what Venatio and Cormoran discussed, but given that ultimately this was his mission I did not pressure him to tell me. He did however pass on one little titbit that he had gleaned from Venatio about the northern giants, namely that they are resistant to mentem magic. A somewhat alarming fact and very useful to know for it had been my intent if we encountered one to lead with just such a form! The next day Cormoran flew off in the guise of a raven to look for giants in the mountains to the north of the covenant.

While he was away, Atroxus sent for me as he wished to pass on something of the extensive body of knowledge that he has accrued on the Order of Odin over the course of his decades-long war with them. The Odinists gather in large groups which range widely across the northern lands. For every wizard in the Order there are two or three magically augmented warriors, much like the one we had encountered on our journey here. Although mass attacks on the covenant here are not commonplace they do still occur every few years with some 50 or 60 Odinists gathering together to launch a concerted assault. Atroxus is gravely concerned that given his great age and the strong taint of twilight that lies upon him it will not be long before he passes away and the covenant is left undefended. Without him, Shining Light, for many long years a great bastion against the Order of Odin will fall, potentially exposing the weaker covenants to the south, albeit some fair distance away.

The nature of the Odinist wizards' magic makes it relatively easy for them to manipulate the elements and this extends to the ability to summon elementals too. They have the ability to use vis and have some form of magical resistance which while especially strong against the elemental forms is less good against mentem. Some amongst them also have the ability to shapechange into birds and beasts native to these lands, such as bears, wolves and eagles. Interestingly their essential Gift differs from ours and Atroxus said that Venatio believes that many of them acquire their magical talent through some sort of arcane initiation ritual.

One of their major weaknesses is that they are usually highly specialised in one or two forms and lack the versatility common to most hermetic magi. Also the Order of Odin is not as cohesive or structured an organisation as I had imagined for while there are large groups they do not often co-operate and inter-group rivalry is not uncommon. That said, Atroxus believes that there are more members of the Order of Odin in this region alone than there are magi in the Order of Hermes.

While a single Odinist wizard is no real threat to a hermetic magus with any sort of martial capabilities, Atroxus warned that groups of them are exceedingly dangerous and there are elders who can wield extremely potent elemental magics. He believes that they pose a sufficient threat to the Order that a major expedition should be launched against them and their numbers decimated before they can gather to launch raids on the covenants to the south of here. I promised to relay on his request as best as I was able and he dictated an extremely blunt letter to Primus Flambeau which he instructed me to pass on. When I told him that I would also be sure to inform the Praefecta of his warning, he scoffed and said that Orlania, a maga of nigh on 140 years no less, was “a mere whelp”. Suffice to say that I will not be repeating those words to her. Atroxus said that he would judge me by the response he received to his letter. I have no desire to be in the bad books of so formidable a magus though I think it unlikely that he will still be with us when next, if ever, I return to Shining Light.

Atroxus then spoke a little about the nature of the giants of the northern lands. They are fiercer than their counterparts in Albion and are almost 60 feet tall, with the ability to summon snowstorms and cause earthquakes. They are susceptible to fire, but it needs to be extremely strong to take into account both their great size and their magical resistance which he claimed can reach the 15th magnitude! There are several of them who dwell in the mountains to the north of here and Atroxus told me that he would lay the blame for any harm done to the covenant as a result of our expedition firmly at my feet. Although I trust Cormoran a great deal more than I once did I will not tell him that until the matter is concluded and we are many leagues clear of here!

That evening Cormoran and I met up in our quarters and we discussed our best course of action. It seemed somewhat futile to me to continue for no crime had been committed and neither of us had the power to take on these giants. Surely then all we could likely achieve would be to risk harming the covenant here, something I was not prepared to countenance given Atroxus's warning. Cormoran however said that something might still be done with the horn of Bergylmir. Next day he flew off once more into the mountains to look for a giant on which he could test the giantish artifact. He was able to find one and duly blew the horn. It was apparently extremely hard to blow and when he heard the first note ring forth he also felt the unmistakable touch of twilight. Nevertheless the response of the giant he'd targetted was without question for it dropped to the floor, cowering in abject terror. My sodales then announced loudly that he was Cormoran from the isle of Albion and he commanded that the attacks upon the giants who dwell there should stop forthwith.

Pleased with his efforts Cormoran then flew back to the covenant. The following day Venatio came to see him and asked him what he had done for apparently the giants were in uproar. When Cormoran told him about the horn, Venatio offered my sodales a deal. If Cormoran was to demonstrate that the horn was as powerful as he claimed and give it to Venatio, then he would cease killing the Albion giants. Cormoran initially refused this proposal as he did not want to give away the horn. When we discussed this turn of events I convinced Cormoran to reconsider given that Venatio’s deal would both maintain the peace ‘twixt the giants hereabouts and Shining Light, and also put an end to the killings in Albion, which was ultimately why we had journeyed all this way.

Cormoran duly returned to Venatio and they flew off to see the horn in action. They entered a large cave, inside which a giant moot was taking place to decide what should be done in response to Cormoran’s demands. Some five giants spotted Cormoran and advanced menacingly upon him, whereupon he blew the horn once more, again feeling the touch of twilight as he did so. The giants all cowered before him, terror writ large upon their misshapen faces. Venatio pronounced himself most satisfied with the horn's powers and so Cormoran handed it over. In return Venatio promised that no Stonehenge giant would be attacked by his hand.

Our mission thus completed we collected what provisions we could carry from Bjartr and set off for the long journey back home. While I had learnt much on the nature of one of the Order's oldest foes I was not sorry to leave Shining Light covenant and its dark corridors and shuffling undead. Sadly we did not encounter any more Odinists as we crossed the frozen lakelands and we reached the mountain pass with any incident of note. As we camped out near the high mountain pass we once more espied some of the small stone fey but they made no hostile moves against us and so we descended without further ado into the great forest and back to Bear Claw covenant. Magus Baldur was not present, but I learned from Udath that he was not at all happy with what had happened with the Landman some months ago. Unperturbed I wrote up my notes of the Order of Odin and left a copy with the covenant, in case the Odinists do raid South in the years to come. Then, after a small exchange of vis, we departed on the final leg of our homeward journey.

Naturally we were a little cautious about entering Stavanger again but Valgat, who had accompanied us for this last stretch, entered the town on our behalf and by happy chance was able to locate the same captain who had brought us here last year. Captain Hundsmunsen recognised our descriptions and duly agreed to collect us from a prearranged point a few miles outside the harbour. We said our farewells to the faithful Valgat and set sail for England once more. The sea voyage back to England was bracing but peaceful enough and with the summer drawing to a close we landed safely back in Stonehenge, near Solis Castle.

I spoke at some length with Praefecta Orlania about my encounter with the Order of Odin and Atroxus. She was quite surprised that I had encountered any Odinists at all, for it seems that I am the first magus known to have done so for many years. She was very doubtful whether Atroxus’s warning would be heeded by House Flambeau, for he has long been presumed dead or twilight-addled and is unlikely to be taken seriously even despite his great age. I took her advice to moderate the language Atroxus had used in the letter he had dictated and rewrote it so as not to offend the Primus. That done, I wrote a detailed account of the intelligence Atroxus had provided on the Order of Odin and also a full report on my own fight with them. These collected writings were given to a redcap to be sent on to the Domus Magnus.

A couple of weeks later we were home and as I bring this journal to a close I am once again sitting in my sanctum in Severn Temple, reflecting on my second long expedition to the very ends of the Order. I cannot help but recall my encounter with the priest in Stavanger. When I faced off against him I felt my gift flicker like a candle in the wind, just like when I faced the Knights Templar. Although I did not feel quite as vulnerable as I did on that rocky mountainside in the Levant, but there was a definite air about the priest and I was far from certain that my magics would prevail against him. The one lesson that I must take from this journey is surely this. Despite the potential resurgence of the Order of Odin when Atroxus’s long and honourable vigil comes to an end, it is surely the hateful Christian church that is the most dangerous enemy the Order faces. Even if it is too powerful to take on directly now, we must start making plans before it becomes too late and magic is naught but a wistful memory.

Magus Astrius, filius Garius, discipilus Flambeau. Summer 1184