The penultimate chapter, the final leg of the journey, along with a particular tragedy which I have been looking forward to writing since I started. I never imagined I'd get this far, thinking I'd give up around the chapter three mark, but we're nearly at the end! In the last chapter I will be expanding the climactic battle greatly, and adding a slight twist to the ending. Chapter Six: Of Our Bones The Hills...

Sigrholm was their destination. They would be passing back through the Wyrmscale Mountains again, past the Old Father, a solitary peak standing away from the rest of the mountain range. Rook walked at the head of the caravan, his chest still giving him pains every now and again. Iver walked next to him.
“Yngvar.” said Krumr, approaching the pair. The old Varl looked weary. He almost looked vulnerable. “Did I do the right thing?” he asked. “I killed a Varl.” he muttered, struggling to get the words out. “I killed Fasolt.” Krumr was taking deep breaths. “It’s not like killing a Dredge. Or is it? Tell me, Yngvar, please. Are they the same?” Iver slowed and stared at the ground. There was a conflict in his eyes.
“I am afraid I can’t tell you.” he managed at last.
“What about you?” Krumr asked, turning to Rook. “Have you slain one of your own kind?”
“Yes.” Rook said simply, thinking of the men in Frostvellr. Three he had killed, if he remembered correctly. Gods, please let him have remembered correctly.
“How did you feel?” Krumr mumbled. Rook wasn’t quite sure how to put it into words.
“Sort of…sick.” he stammered. He hadn’t thought about it too much, being so focused on getting his people out of that rat hole. Was killing a human any different to killing a Dredge? Or a Varl? Was it really any different to killing a beast? He had never felt much for a deer or rabbit before, but that was for food. Did that make it alright, compared to killing a man or Varl or Dredge? He noticed Krumr had walked off, clearly satisfied with that answer. He looked at Iver.
“Give him time. He will see that it was necessary.” the giant said.
“It’s strange seeing the grizzled veteran have such a crisis about killing.” Rook said. Iver shook his head.
“Varl killing Varl is a thing unheard of. Each human is created from different parents. We Varl were each crafted by the same hands, and it gives us a sense of oneness. To kill another would be like you killing your own brother.”
“You have a good point.” Rook agreed. His thoughts went to Hogun and Mogun. Since Frostvellr the two had drifted apart. Mogun had become more aggressive while Hogun tried to both keep him in check and look after his wife and child. Rook would perhaps have to intervene. He nodded to Iver and turned to walk through the caravan, hoping to find the twins. As he neared the rear of the caravan he was approached by a familiar woman with brown hair and a black dress. Looking behind her he could see a bald man with a short blonde beard walking alongside a little girl, and Rook remembered that they had found the girl freezing in the snow. She was now tracing a line through the snow with a stick as she walked.
“Greetings.” the woman said with a grin. “We just wanted to say thank you. You see, we could never have a child, Kristofer and I, but this little one-ˮ she gestured to the girl. “-has given us a chance to raise a family.”
“What have you called her?” Rook asked, smiling.
“Aukfrosta.” replied the woman. The little girl looked up, and Rook smiled. “She still doesn’t speak.” Suddenly the girl stopped, surprising her new father, and started jabbing at the ground with her stick and drawing strange hurried patterns.
“What is it, Auk?” the man, Kristofer, said. The girl’s actions became more erratic, jabbing at the ground more aggressively in a manner that Rook would describe as frightened. He stepped over to her drawings and inspected them. He could make out a line of squares and circles, and she was pointing at a spot past the end of the line. She was now clearly terrified, though of what Rook didn’t know, and her fear was moving onto her parents.
“She’s never been like this before.” the woman said. “I don’t understand it.” Rook knelt down in front of her.
“Don’t worry.” he said calmly. “You’re safe here.” He heard a small noise, barely audible. He leant in towards her hoping to hear.
“…edj…” she whispered, jabbing at the same spot in the snow. “…edj…edj…” Could she be trying to say Dredge? Rook pondered this, but decided not to make much of it. They needed to keep moving.

A day had passed since their departure from Einartoft, and they had made slow progress. Shouts came from the rear guards and Rook looked back to see another smaller caravan approaching, catching up quickly. From their size, they were obviously Varl. Rook called the caravan to a halt to allow the others to meet them. At their head walked the aged Varl who Rook had seen writing during his first meeting with Jorundr, his long white beard, curving horns and lazy eye being distinctive. Iver walked forwards to greet him, clearly knowing the Varl.
“Yngvar!” the old Varl said.
“Iver.” was the reply.
“Iver.” the other Varl corrected himself. “It’s been quite a while since we last spoke, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed, Ubin.” Iver nodded. “What made you leave?”
“Someone had to.” Ubin said.
“What do you mean?” Rook asked.
“Bellower is heading this way.” Ubin explained.
“Already?” pondered Iver. “How is that possible?”
“A group from Wyrmtoe arrived a few hours after you left. They went the long way around. Bellower and his army are marching around they said.” Ubin mournfully looked at Eyvind, who unbeknownst to Rook had walked up next to him. “Destroying the bridge only delayed Einartoft’s fall.” Eyvind looked at the ground.
“We need to get to Sigrholm. Juno is waiting for us there.” he said.
“We’ll join you.” Ubin said. “I have a few dozen Varl here, and supplies.” Rook nodded and the Varl caravan started to walk with them.

With the addition of Ubin’s caravan their food carts were stocked, which gave everyone much relief. This feeling faded when they reached the Old Father, where the road forked. On the road to Sigrholm all too familiar black shapes wandered in large packs. Eyvind swore under his breath.
“Dredge that way now? That’s the quickest way to Sigrholm.”
“We could take the High Pass to Haukstorp, then follow that road south.” suggested Ubin.
“That path will add at least a few more days.” Eyvind said. “We might not have the food to last.” These two were clearly more versed in worldly travel than Rook, for whom distances of hundreds of miles may as well be to the ends of the earth. At least, that had been the case a few months ago.
“We can’t take the risk with those Dredge.” Rook said. “We’ll take the Haukstorp way. Juno will have to wait a while longer.” Eyvind’s face dropped at that statement, but Rook hoped that his decision had saved lives. Looking back at the Dredge, he thought of Aukfrosta. Had she been able to sense them?

Another day went by, the caravan entering High Pass, and the evidence of the quakes grew. Cliffs jutted out unnaturally and sheer drops had appeared. From one of these drops a small pack of Dredge seemingly appeared, coming towards the caravan. Rook formed up a dozen warriors, there only being six Dredge, but they were unneeded. As the Dredge got within sixty yards they started dropping, one by one. Rook looked to his left and saw one of Oddleif’s students, the one with a blue tunic and yellow cloak, shooting her bow. When the final one had dropped the woman walked over to Rook and his fighters, looking proud with herself. She had long braided red hair.
“I’m Nid.” she said.
“Rook. Nice to meet you. That was some good shooting.” Rook recalled she had shot a snow rabbit at Oddleif’s demonstration.
“Thank you.”
“Had you handled a bow before all this?”
“No, I only started when Odd taught me.”
“Oddleif’s a good teacher, but there’s some natural talent there as well.” Rook smiled. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“Frostvellr.” Nid replied. “Me and my three boys were thrown out after my husband-” she paused. “Sorry. We snuck into your caravan when you left.”
“I’m glad you did.” Rook said. Nid’s face, which had been tense, relaxed somewhat briefly.
“It was Ekkill’s men that killed him.” Nid said, furrowing her brow. “And now they’re travelling with us. At first I was angry. I saw the very man who had done it, and I wanted to sneak into his tent in the night – well, when he’s sleeping – and I wanted to slit his throat.” Rook looked around awkwardly, not sure what to say. “But I’ve let it go now. I don’t want my sons to grow up with hate in their hearts.” Rook breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no trouble.
“I’m happy to hear that.” Rook said.
“Anyway, thank you for taking us in.”
“You’re welcome.” Rook said. “I suppose I might see you on the battle lines with the other archers.”
“Maybe.” Nid said, walking away to join the other fighters.

Two days passed, and the caravan was now leaving the High Pass, at the end of which stood the godstone of Dundr, the Loom Mother’s male counterpart. The stone had been broken by the quakes, splitting into a number of parts in between which respite from the wind could be found. Rook could just about see the carvings of Dundr’s face, though large parts were missing. Most of what remained showed a beard and a tankard of mead, which Dundr taught men how to brew. The caravan pitched their tents in the lee of the stones and rested. Rook heard his name called in his sleep, by the same woman’s voice as at Einartoft.

It was not long to Haukstorp now, the village being visible from the hill on which the godstone of Dundr stood. As they went downhill out of the High Pass the snowfall on the ground dwindled, until eventually the grass could actually be felt under their feet. This was little comfort, however, as the food carts had run dangerously empty. Rook had put orders in place for the food to be carefully rationed since they had left Einartoft, and it was showing. Most of the people had lost a lot of weight since leaving home, and most being from remote villages they weren’t exactly well fed to begin with. One woman from the twins’ village who had been pregnant had miscarried as a result of malnourishment. Hogun, who had been good friends with the woman, was distraught about it. Mogun didn’t seem to care, despite some rumours indicating that he would have been the father. Any bonds of brotherhood between the two had been shattered. At least a few people had simply collapsed. As Haukstorp got closer some of the scouts reported Dredge ransacking the village. Rook, Iver, Hogun and Onef stood on a hillock overlooking the place. Some black figures could be seen moving around from house to house.
“Looks like a dead town.” Iver remarked as they thought about what to do next.
“We need food, and if the Dredge haven’t moved on that means there’s some there.” Rook said.
“We’re going to have to take it from them.” Iver said, not entirely disagreeing.
“We can do that.” Rook muttered confidently.
“Are you sure?” said Hogun. “Most of our fighters are starved and in no condition to fight.”
“Same goes for them.” Iver pointed. “See how they move? They’re desperate, just like us.”
“Warriors! Shieldwall!” Onef yelled at the top of his voice. A few of the Dredge below stopped and turned towards them while Onef’s fighters locked shields in a line.
“Well done, you’ve alerted them.” Hogun said sarcastically.
“We have the high ground; I’m drawing them to us.” Onef explained. His tactics made sense. Rook turned to face the remaining caravan.
“Oddleif! Form up the archers!” he shouted. Oddleif ran to follow the order. “Krumr, cover the right flank!” The Varl nodded and shouted to his warriors. Rook turned to Hogun, speaking more quietly. “Hogun, get the fighters from Skogr and your village and cover the left flank. I’ll join you in a minute.” Hogun nodded and shouted to Egil who was nearby, shield and sword at the ready. Iver remained at Rook’s side. Looking back down the hillock, Rook saw that the Dredge were starting to form up their own battle lines. Onef’s shieldwall was positioned slightly down from the top of the hillock, to allow Oddleif’s archers to shoot over them into the Dredge ranks. Dredge slingers ran forwards into range and started to pelt the fighters with their exploding rocks. Rook ran over to Krumr.
“Can you make it to those skirmishers and back before the others retaliate?” he shouted, struggling to be heard over the whizzing and banging of the projectiles. Krumr looked out, judging the distance between them and the slingers, and between the slingers and the main battle line.
“Yes.” he nodded. “With me!” He raised his polehammer and the Varl charged forth. Oddleif yelled for the archers to stop. Krumr’s band smashed into the slingers, each cutting down only one or two before fleeing back up the hill before the other Dredge reached them. When the main Dredge line rushed forwards, their formation had started to loosen and Oddleif shouted for her archers to take advantage. The Dredge charged up the hill towards the Varl, who by now had regained their position on the flank. They seemed focused on the Varl with a zeal and rage that had appeared at the deaths of the slingers.
“Iver! Tell Onef to move his shieldwall around and attack the Dredge from the side!” Rook yelled. Iver nodded and ran towards the centre of the line with his longer legs, reaching Onef faster than Rook could have. Onef shouted and the shieldwall started to turn in a disciplined and well-practiced manner, the right flank being the centre of rotation. Egil and Hogun’s group started down the hill too, to secure the village and cut off the Dredge line of retreat. The Dredge were now trapped between the Varl warriors, Onef’s shieldwall and the fighters of Skogr. It took a while, but the stone warriors were cut down to the last.