The Rite of Clúcath
Norgald was surprised when he saw, across a particularly daunting mountain pass, signs of an encampment. He approached slowly and carefully to the gates of this camp when two Hill-men approached him. “What business do you have with the Trév Gállorg, outsider?” said one of the men.
Norgald chose his words carefully. “I have received a call for aid from a kinsman of the Rangers of the North.” The Hill-men chuckled to one another and one spoke, “There is no further North than here, Dwarf. We know of you who seek, but you may not walk upon our lands without our Chieftain’s leave.”
Was this a trap? Norgald readied himself for battle until he saw one of the hill-men smile at him. “Come now, Outsider. If you have come in friendship, you have nothing to fear! You have arrived in Aughaire and left the soft-lands behind. Come, I will take you to our leader.”
Aughaire could scarcely be called a settlement. What little shelter there was was put together by scraps of animal leather and fabric. The very pond on which this settlement lay was a metallic red hueue. Who would choose to live in such a place?
Norgald had little time to ponder such a question as he soon found himself before the leader of this tribe of hill-men. He was an imposing man who bore a bandage across his right eye and draped himself in furs yet he undeniably bore a noble stature.
“You have come to Aughaire, but you are of dwarf-kind.” he spoke, roughly. “You seek your ranger friend. He is known to us and has aided us. We count him a friend among our people but you, too, shall have to prove yourself before you are allowed to walk our lands. You must be given a Fém and that requires the trust of our people.”
Crannog tasked Norgald to meet with Tasgall, a scout camped on the fields of Angmar. He explained to him that a Fém was a purpose, a task given to each member of the Trév Gállorg and their allies.
If the Ram Dúath was cold and unforgiving, then Angmar was completely lifeless and barren. Nothing sprung from this land. Norgald soon reached a lone Hill-man upon a sickly lake. “Crannog sends you to aid me? Very well. My name is Tasgall, and stopping the encroachment of the hill-beasts of Nad Nathair is my Fém.” said Tasgall to Norgald.
Norgald had only ever heard stories of Hill-beasts. He could scarcely believe such creatures truly existed. “I believe the Matron and Master dwell in the Nad Nathair. We shall wait until evening and make our way into their nest. With the master and matron defeated, the hill-beasts will scatter and diminish.”
They approached the mountain pass of Nad Nathair in the dark of night. Though they walked in silence, the hill-beasts saw them first. Norgald could not believe what he saw before him. A creature, larger than even the most monstrous bears of the Blue Mountains, raced on it’s hind legs towards them.
This monster was soon joined by it’s siblings. Norgald and Tasgall fought bravely against them. They made their way to their nest. They had little time for respite as the Matron ambushed them.
The matron, furious at the death of her children, fought to her last breathe against them. “But where is the master?” gasped Tasgall as he cleaned his sword atop the body of the matron. They didn’t go far when a group of Hill-men emerged. Norgald relaxed himself but Tasgall readied his weapon. “What’s going on?” remarked Norgald.
“Stay alert. The Trév Duvárdain are not to be trusted…” whispered Tasgall, eyes locked on the approaching men. “I thought I smelled the odor of the Trév Gállorg here." spoke the leader of the group, "And you thought it was just the smell of hill-beast." the group laughed.
"You are not worthy of notice, Drostan. I would not sully my blade with your blood." spoke Tasgall fiercely. "Strong words from a coward such as you, Tasgall." sneered Drostan. "You have not called for Clúcath against us. You tremble at the memory of our strength."
“Clúcath?” wondered Norgald. "Drostan, we have to go! Something comes!" spoke the woman beside Drostan.
No sooner than she finished her words when the master hill-beast appeared. The Trév Duvárdain ran and Drostan smiled menacingly at Norgald and Tasgall. "I hope this dwarf can fight, Tasgall. You are on your own!"
Norgald and Tasgall fought valiantly and felled the great beast. They had succeeded in their mission, but Tasgall looked concerned and troubled. As they made their way back to camp, they spoke on what had transpired.
“The Trév Duvárdain and the Trév Gállorg were once one people, but over the years they grew apart, splintered as tribes sometimes do; there was always hope we would one day be reconciled, but that hope is now gone.” he said solemnly.
Norgald asked him of Clúcath. “It is a ceremonial combat that was once used to determine the ruling order of the various tribes. The last Clúcath was called many years ago, and Násan, the warrior of the Trév Gállorg, was slain. But this is not the time to speak of such things: our victory over the hill-beasts should not be tainted by such unhappy memories. You have aided me with my Fém, and that brings honour to both of us!” he said patting Norgald’s back.
Norgald approached Crannog who was lost in thought as his advisors spoke to him. They retreated as Norgald arrived, leaving Crannog and Norgald alone.
“Long have I served my people as chieftain.” he spoke, suddenly. “I have given many dozens of Fém to those of age among my people, and to those few travellers I deem worthy of calling friend. It is a heavy burden, for a Fém is not to be granted lightly. If it is beyond the reach of the one to whom it is assigned, the blame falls upon me, as chieftain.”
He walked towards Norgald and placed his hand upon his shoulder. “Many of my people call you friend, and I count you now among my people, Southron.” he said with a smile. “I give to you now your Fém. I give to Norgald, dwarf from the South, this Fém: to begin the rite of Clúcath, the ancient privilege and burden of the Trév Gállorg.”
The people around the area wore a shocked expression on their faces. Some cheered and others look concerned. The preparations were made and the challenge was sent. Norgald, Crannog and his people marched to Fail-á-Khro to meet the Trév Duvárdain.
Their chieftain, Domongart, spoke first. ''The Trév Duvárdain do not need to respond to your invocation of Clúcath.''
''You are frightened of us! You are spineless, Domongart!' yelled Cána, Crannog’s chief advisor.
''I am no coward. I do not shy from your feeble protestations of strength.'' sneered Domongart. ''The combat will be to the death. The Trév Duvárdain do not engage in the mock battles of children.''
''Drostan, Avair...kill them!''
Norgald and Cána fought and defeated the Trév Duvárdain.
''It seems my choice of warriors was poor." chuckled Domongart. ''Kill them.''
''The Trév Gállorg show mercy, even to you and yours, Domongart.'' spoke Crannog.
'Then you are weak and deserve their company.'' laughed Domongart. ''I no longer count Avair or Drostan among the Trév Duvárdain and strip them of their names.''
Norgald and the Hill-men returned to Aughaire victorious. Their people cheered and celebrated at their triumph. Crannog spoke to Norgald in private. “He who was called Drostan has come to join the Trév Gállorg, but his name is lost; he will be known henceforth as Soltakh, "He Who is Changed." She who was called Avair did not accept this choice; she is now neither Trév Gállorg nor Trév Duvárdain. She has done much evil and could only see that in others; though Nekhtan might have forgiven her past, I feel she could not. She wanders now the trackless lands, a woman with neither name nor home…”
"Your Fém is at an end, and I salute you not only as chieftain of the Trév Gállorg, but as Crannog, humble tribesman of Aughaire, as well. You may cross our lands freely.” he said with a smile to Norgold.
“And what of Corunir?” spoke Norgald. “Ever aware of your exploits, Master dwarf.” spoke a voice behind him.
There stood a ranger of the North, disheveled and weary, “You have done much for these people, and for that I am grateful. Why do you seek me?”
Norgald handed him the falcon’s letter that had been sent to Daervunn. Corunir held it for a brief moment before speaking. “Why have they sent you in their stead?” He sighed. “It matters not, come, we must speak in private of the danger that we face before us.”