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  Click here to go to the first staff post in this thread.   Thread: The Banner Saga: A Novelisation

  1. #21
    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.

  2. #22
    There had been few provisions left in Haukstorp. Enough to fill a cart, no more. Nevertheless, the caravan set up their bedrolls in the houses, along with some tents. A number of campfires were set up in the middle of the town, which had all its houses in a circle surrounding a large open area. Rook sat on a log near one of these fires, with Oddleif to his left, and Alette and Egil to his right. Iver forewent the log, sitting instead on the floor next to Egil. Alette was sewing into the red banner of Skogr. The other people of Skogr sat on logs around the same few fires. There can’t have been more than two score of them. There were even fewer sitting with Hogun and the people from his village. Mogun noticeably sat away from his brother, sweet talking one of the Frostvellr women. Hogun’s wife was sewing into their banner while their son sat on Hogun’s lap, thin as bones. The people of Frostvellr were split between two groups of fires, Onef’s fighters around one, some of the non-fighters around the other, along with Ekkil and his group, who had a few of Rook’s trusted men watching them. The Varl from Wyrmtoe and Ubin’s group stayed together with their own set of fires. Eyvind wandered round trying to heal wounds from the battle. They had slaughtered a few of the yox for their dinner, though they had to keep most of them to carry the other supplies. As such, each person had only a meagre amount of food. Rook had given his last bit of meat to Alette. The mood was sombre, although Egil would occasionally try to make a joke, causing Alette to chuckle.
    “I wonder if you can eat Dredge.” he said, looking back over to the battlefield, where the Dredge bodies remained.
    “You’ll have to replace your teeth afterwards.” said Iver. “Skin’s practically made of stone.”
    “That’s a shame.” Egil said, frowning as his stomach rumbled.
    “What about people?” said a voice behind them. Onef stood there, hands on his hips and helmet removed. “We lost two dozen. Would be a shame to let the meat go to waste, seeing how we are now. One of the Varl died, too. Bet he’s got plenty of meat on him.” At that point Iver stood, towering over the man.
    “No.” he growled. Onef was visibly intimidated, but remained where he was.
    “Apologies.” he said, raising his hands. “It’s just that we don’t have enough food to make it to Sigrholm. Look around, people are starving.”
    “We can’t eat our own!” Rook retorted, louder than he meant to. Others stopped their conversation and listened. Hogun took his son off his lap and walked over, along with a few others.
    “We might have to.” he said reluctantly. “Look at my little Dori.” he continued, gesturing to where his son was sitting, now leaning on his mother, simply unable to support himself. “We can’t go on like this.”
    “We can’t stoop to treating our dead with such disrespect, either.” said Nid, who was standing there with her three boys. “There are many things I would do to protect my children, but that is not one of them.”
    “I agree.” nodded Kristofer, who had also joined them. “Little Auk may just as well be my daughter by birth, but I will not allow her to eat our own dead.” Onef looked at each face, gauging their reactions, from reluctant agreement to outright hatred. Finally, deciding the general consensus leant towards the latter, he grunted and walked away back to his own fire.

    Their bellies far from full, the caravan left after a rest. Each day news would come in that someone else had collapsed from malnourishment. They left the bodies. They reached a wooded area, in which a tall stone stood. On it was engraved a female figure, holding a tablet on which ancient runes were carved. The godstone depicted Ingrid, goddess of knowledge. Eyvind was walking alongside Rook, looking up at the stone.
    “It’s from this stone that the Mender’s learnt the language of the gods.” he explained.
    “What does it say?” Rook asked.
    “Supposedly the writing changes according to who is reading it.”
    “What do you see?”
    “Oh, I can’t read it. Juno can though.” Eyvind said, his voice sounding forlorn. He definitely missed the other Mender. On the ground by the foot of the stone lay a dead Dredge slinger, one of Oddleif’s arrows embedded in it. The Dredge had died reaching towards a bundle of cloth. As people started to gather around the corpse and inspect it Iver stepped hurriedly forwards.
    “Wait, this shouldn’t be seen!” he said. It was too late. A shriek rang out from one of the clansmen, and murmuring took hold. Rook stepped forwards. Reaching uselessly out of the bundle was a pair of tiny stone arms. Oddleif walked over to it despite Iver’s protest.
    “It’s… a baby.” she gasped. The murmuring and whispering grew louder as the word was repeated.
    “Which means, probably, that Dredge is a woman.” Rook pondered.
    “So when we killed the slingers at Haukstorp, we were leaving the babies to die?” Odd said.
    “In a war, it’s only the males who fight.” Iver said. He received a number of quizzical looks. “They’re not invading, they are fleeing.”
    “Juno told me about a darkness coming south.” Eyvind said. “I assumed the Dredge and this darkness were somehow connected, but maybe they are simply running away from it?”
    “Could this darkness be related to the serpent and the quakes?” Rook asked. Eyvind shrugged. Oddleif turned to Iver.
    “You knew! Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked angrily. Iver looked around, then sighed.
    “When I was young, in the Second Great War, I killed the Sundr known as Raze. We were in a battle against the forces of Raze near Gimfell Peak. Eventually a snowstorm came so fierce that the fighting stopped. I became separated from the other Varl, and so did Raze. I stumbled across her on her own. She was nursing a Dredge child. Taking the opportunity, I threw my axe. It twisted in the wind and struck the child. Raze, who I had seen tear down wall after wall of defences at Greyhorn, let out a pathetic whimper at the death of its child. She didn’t even try to stop me from finishing her off. I brought the Sundr’s head back to Grofheim, and Jorundr wanted to name me Kendr as a reward. I didn’t deserve it, so I fled. I walked and walked until I found Skogr, a place where nobody knew the name of Raze, where I could be free of my shame.” He took a deep breath. “That’s how I killed a Sundr.” There was a deathly silence hanging over the caravan.
    “What do we do with the baby?” a child asked, pointing and breaking the silence. Rook tried to say something, but a lump formed in his throat. What should they do? Take it with them, already having no food and no idea how to look after a Dredge infant, or leave it here to die? He mustered everything he had and spoke.
    “We’ll put it to a vote.” he said. “Those in favour of taking the baby with us?” A number raised their hands. “Those in favour of leaving it behind?” A larger number raised theirs, though most had abstained. Rook took a deep breath. “We leave it behind. Carry on.”

    The revelation about the Dredge had made people think. Conversations about communicating and negotiating with them started to become prevalent, when the people weren’t too busy foraging or hunting for food. In the far distance behind them the all too familiar wave of stone started to become visible over the hills. As they started to get closer Krumr decided to try and lead them away into the thicker woodland and lose them there. Taking two score of his Wyrmtoe warriors with him, he was gone for a while, Ubin fearing the worst. Two days later, however, the war party returned triumphant, only four Varl down.
    “Behold, doubters!” Krumr shouted proudly. “That should have bought us a couple of days.” Tales of the warriors’ deeds started being told, some being exaggerated more than others. One of the Varl even claimed he hit Bellower with a throwing axe. Most people laughed off that story.

    The small victory provided comfort for a short while, but soon stomachs started to rule over hearts again, and the sight of Sigrholm and its promise of food raised the hope of the caravan. Eyvind especially appeared nearly ecstatic when they finally reached the town. Previously built on a spit of land jutting out from the northeast side of a lake, Sigrholm was now an island, the quakes having flooded the lower parts of the town. The caravan had to cross a ford to get to the centre of town, the water reaching knee level for most of it.
    “One catastrophe to another.” Oddleif remarked as the people of Sigrholm stared at the visitors from their windows and doorways. Eyvind’s head turned this way and that, looking for Juno. When the caravan came to a halt many people all but collapsed, leaning against whatever they could. Sigrholm’s market was engulfed by the water, but further uphill there seemed to be stalls set up. Rook immediately set off up the hill while Eyvind searched for his fellow Mender.

    “Hmm…” the merchant mumbled, hand stroking his bearded chin as he inspected the caravan. He stood at the counter of a stall with several large wagons and crates behind him. “I’ve got about two weeks’ worth that I can sell.” he said.
    “I’ll take all of it.” Rook said hurriedly. He was leaning against the counter to support himself, much to the merchant’s chagrin. His legs were nearly giving out completely. The merchant looked at him cautiously.
    “What have you got to trade?” he asked.
    “Armour, weapons, trinkets.” Rook listed. He didn’t want to get rid of too much of the armour and weapons, but all the other non-essentials could go as far as he cared. The merchant looked over Rook’s shoulder.
    “That bracelet’d be worth a fair bit.” he said. Rook turned and saw Alette, her face gaunt from near starvation. She looked at the bracelet on her wrist.
    “Uhh...” she started. It had been made and given to her by Aldis, her mother, Rook’s long-gone wife. Suddenly the trinkets held a lot more value, and Rook wasn’t so sure about the deal. Alette’s eyes seemed to glaze over and she started to sway. Rook was barely fast enough to catch her as she fell, and the sudden movement made his head swim too. He grasped at the bracelet, practically tearing it off Alette’s wrist.
    “Have it. Take it, just please give us the food.” he cried. The merchant snatched the bracelet and hurriedly ran off, returning with an apple, which he thrust into Rook’s hands. “Come on, Alette.” Rook muttered, cupping her face as her eyes fluttered open. “Got some food for you.” he said. She slowly picked the apple out of Rook’s hands and took a bite. Rook looked back towards the merchant with a look of gratitude. “I’ll see what else I have.” he said. The merchant simply nodded and left to get the wagons ready for trade.

    Rook and Alette returned to the caravan and Rook passed on orders to collect anything of value to trade for the food. Some were upset at having to give up family heirlooms or other gifts of sentimental value, but again stomachs ruled over hearts and there were no arguments. The people ate well for the first time in too long, probably going through the merchant’s definition of a couple of days’ worth in a matter of hours. Smiles came back to everyone’s faces. Everyone’s except Eyvind, who after being gone for the afternoon had returned, a look of anguish on his face.
    “I can’t find her.” he said. “She’s not here!” Rook raised his hands to calm him down.
    “Are you sure that the dream was real? That she was really coming here?” he asked. Eyvind stared at him with confusion.
    “It has to be real, I have to see her again!” he slowed down, taking a few deep breaths and leaning on his staff for support. “To be honest, I’m not so sure anymore. The threads are sort of…blurring into one another.”
    “The threads?” Now it was Rook’s turn to look confused.
    “Yes, the threads that make up the tapestry.” Eyvind explained. “It’s how Mending works. You learn to see the world as a tapestry, made up of threads that can be manipulated. It’s almost like playing a harp, only the strings are invisible.”
    “Strings that call lightning from the sky.” Rook remarked.
    “Oh, none of the other Menders can do that, only me.” Eyvind shrugged. “Don’t know why. That’s how I met Juno. The council sent her to watch over me and help me control it. There’s a close bond between teacher and apprentice, but for me and Juno, it…grew from that.” His expression became pained.
    “Why do you think Bellower’s following us?” Rook asked, changing the subject.
    “Maybe he knows it was Iver who killed Raze.” Eyvind answered. Rook couldn’t think of anything else to say, other than what he knew would hurt the Mender.
    “We can’t stay here long.” Rook said.
    “Please, just a few days.” Eyvind pleaded. “She’ll be here, I promise.”
    “Two days at most, then we’re moving on.” Rook said. “Now come on, you need to eat.” Eyvind nodded and started to walk, still leaning on his staff. Rook kept his arm round the Mender to give support.

    Rook was woken by the sounds of a scuffle coming from outside his tent. He jumped up to his feet and looked around. Being suspicious of the locals, he had left his bow strung, and he grabbed it along with his arrows as he ran outside.
    “Thief!” a man from Skogr yelled. A group of half a dozen people were running from the food wagons with their arms full of stolen goods. Swords were being drawn and some prepared to run after them. Rook glanced around at the nearby houses and saw the heads poking through windows, their faces eager.
    “Wait!” he shouted. “Protect what’s left!” The fighters halted and instead formed a ring around the remaining food. The faces in the windows turned to disappointed scowls.
    “What’s going on?” Alette asked from behind Rook. She had obviously been woken up too.
    “Some of our food was stolen.” he explained. Egil ran up next to Alette, his sword and shield ready. “They’re gone already.” Rook sighed. Egil sheathed his sword and rested his shield on the ground.
    “What do we do now?” he asked.
    “We can’t stay here.” Rook said. He looked towards Eyvind, who had also joined the flurry of movement that beset the caravan. Rook waved him over. “We can’t stay here.” he repeated, to the Menders sorrow. “They’ll try again, and we can’t risk that.” Eyvind furrowed his brow and sighed.
    “I understand.” he muttered.

  3. #23
    The caravan rejoined the long road that was Sten’s March, that led northeast up to Skogr and southwest to the city of Boersgard. That was where their destination was now, and then from there to Arberrang. Eyvind did not speak as they walked, no matter how much Rook tried to talk to him. This far south there was barely any snow at all, only in the small areas shaded from the unmoving sun. The forests became thicker, rivalling the woods around Skogr. Something about these woods felt off, and Rook could see that others sensed it. Some of the fighters had hands at the pommels of their swords. People seemed to have drifted even closer into their respective groups, the people of Skogr walking near the front, just behind Onef’s men. Ekkill’s group, still in ropes, walked behind the people of Skogr, guarded by Iver and a few other trusted fighters. Hogun’s village walked behind them. The Varl from Wyrmtoe and Einartoft brought up the rear. Everyone stayed close together on the path, the tall trees on either side looming over the caravan and in some places blotting out the sun.
    “Rook.” a voice from behind said. Rook stopped and turned to see Onef. “I’d like a word.” he continued. Rook nodded and followed him away from the caravan, still within sight, barely, but out of earshot.
    “What is it?” Rook asked when Onef finally stopped.
    “I’m grateful for what you’ve led us through so far, Rook.” he said, looking at Rook through the eyes of his helmet. “But it’s always been about trust.” Onef’s arm moved quickly and Rook felt the air forced from his lungs. Looking down he saw the handle of a dagger in Onef’s hand. His brown tunic started to turn red. He looked back at Onef with a look of disbelief. “You have too much of it.” the man continued, withdrawing the dagger and putting it back into the sheath on his belt. He drew his sword and turned around to rejoin the caravan. “Nothing personal!” he shouted as Rook collapsed to his knees. Rook’s vision blurred as he struggled to hold his eyes open, clutching at his wound. Several screams brought him back to his senses, but by now Onef was gone. Rook took the axe from his belt and used it to push himself to his feet, nearly fainting then and there as he did so. Using the handle of the axe as a crutch he hobbled towards the track, the sounds of fighting becoming louder. As he walked out from the trees onto the road he saw the chaos that had ensued. Onef’s fighters cut down anyone not of their own. Rook saw Oddleif preparing to release an arrow, but one of Onef’s men jumped at her from behind and ran her through. Rook tried to shout but the noise got trapped in his throat. He steadied himself, gripped the axe by the handle and threw. The axe head went straight into the man’s chest and Rook ran over to where Oddleif had fallen. He then heard a scream that chilled his heart. Looking to his right, he saw Alette, with no weapons but the quiver of arrows on her back, with Onef walking towards her, his blade covered in blood and several bodies left in his wake.
    “Go.” Oddleif uttered, and Rook took off, his daughter’s plight overwhelming his pain. As he was about halfway there Egil jumped in Onef’s way, sword and shield ready. As they parried blows Rook was knocked to the ground by the corpse of a man. Rafnsvartr’s blank eyes stared at him as another one of Onef’s fighters prepared to finish Rook off. Rook reached at his belt, but realised he had left his axe over by Oddleif. The man raised his sword, but grunted and stiffened up. Behind him stood Ekkill, having somehow been released. Ekkill withdrew his axe from the man’s back and let out a battle cry. His own Frostvellr men clashed with Onef’s fighters. Ekkill pulled Rafnsvartr’s body away and extended his hand to Rook. Rook took it and pulled himself to his feet. Rook looked back over to Alette and saw Egil and Onef still swinging at each other. Alette was frozen, conflicted between helping Egil and running away. Rook started to run again, the pain in his abdomen worsening. As he was nearly there Egil failed to parry a blow, and Onef’s sword cut across the bicep of his left arm. Egil winced and nearly dropped his sword. Onef took advantage and thrust again, this time getting Egil in the throat. Alette let out a cry while Egil collapsed with a gurgle. Onef grabbed Alette by the arm and pulled her away. Egil reached out towards her as he choked on his own blood. Rook ran past him. Two of Onef’s fighters got in the way and Rook reached for his axe, only to remember he still hadn’t retrieved it from the corpse of Oddleif’s attacker. Iver stomped in between Rook and the two fighters, looking more fearsome than ever before. With one swing Iver cleaved one of them in two and sent the other sprawling to the ground clutching his now leaking gut. Iver took one look back to make sure Rook was alright before engaging the other traitors. Rook grabbed a sword from one of the dead men and staggered forwards, chasing Onef. His own injuries meant nothing, he had to save Alette. He heard raised voices, one being Alette, and this strengthened his resolve. He pushed himself from tree to tree. He heard a scream and his heart nearly gave out. One final push and he reached a clearing. Alette sat leaning against a long dead tree trunk, staring at her hands, which clutched a broken arrow shaft. In front of her lay Onef, his hands slowly and uselessly clawing at the other half of the arrow, embedded in his throat. He let out one final gargle and ceased to move. Rook collapsed next to Alette, putting one arm around her. She slowly turned to look at him, dropping the arrow.
    “I killed him.” she mumbled gently. She turned to look at the body again, but Rook held her face with one blood-stained hand.
    “Don’t look at him.” he said. “Don’t look…” Rook trailed off as his head became heavier and his eyes started to drift closed. He heard Alette shouting for help right next to him, but it sounded muffled, as if from far away. A new voice was heard. A strangely familiar woman’s voice.
    “Rook.” it said.

    Rook heard voices talking as he tried to open his eyes.
    “Are you sure you can’t-ˮ
    “I’m sorry, Alette. I can mend the wounded. I can’t revive the dead.”
    Rook opened his eyes and saw Alette and Eyvind talking. Iver stood behind them both with his arms folded. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a few grunts. It was enough to get their attention. Alette looked at him with glee.
    “Father!” she exclaimed, about to throw her arms around him, then looking at the wound, she settled for holding his arm.
    “Odd?” Rook mumbled.
    “She’s alright, Rook.” Iver said. “Good thing Eyvind was here, or she wouldn’t have made it. Neither would you.”
    “Thanks.” Rook nodded to Eyvind.
    “We killed most of those traitors. Those we didn’t kill fled into the woods.” Iver explained.
    “There were a lot of people I couldn’t save.” Eyvind muttered mournfully. Alette looked at the ground. “Why did Onef do this?” the Mender asked, looking at Rook.
    “He had this planned ever since the beginning.” Rook said.
    “That much is clear.” Iver said. “I set Ekkill and his men free. He killed at least half a dozen of the traitors all by his lonesome.”
    “Onef must have thought with us gone, he could take Skogr’s banner and the others would fall in line.” Rook wondered aloud.
    “Or just take our supplies and leave the others for Dredge bait.” Iver said. At that moment Rook decided to stand from the table on which he had been laid. Alette put her hand on his back to support him. Rook felt at his wound with his hand, to find it scarred over as if it had been several weeks ago. He gave Eyvind another grateful look as he walked out of the tent. The camp had been hastily assembled while people recovered from the attack. On the right of the path was a line of a dozen bodies, respectfully laid down with their hands on their chests, each clutching some item that had belonged to them. At the end of the line was Egil, his shield placed over his chest. A flower had been placed next to him. Other people stood mourning their own dead loved ones. Further down the line, Kristofer and Aukfrosta stood crying. Rook walked up to them and saw that Kristofer’s wife lay in front of him.
    “Tindra.” Kristofer muttered. “She told me to run as she grabbed a sword. She said ‘keep Auk safe’, and then attacked the others.” He took a breath. “If I knew how to fight, maybe…she would…” his head collapsed into his hands and he let out a moan. Rook rested a hand on his shoulder.
    “We can’t change what has already happened. The best thing you can do is look after Auk. Be the parent you and she always wanted to be.” Kristofer nodded, still crying, and bent down next to Auk to talk to her. Rook continued walking down the line, looking at each face. There was Oddur, Skogr’s baker. There was Ari, a fellow hunter, and next to him his wife Fridur. Their hands were clasped together rather than on their chests. The necklace that Ari had given Fridur on the day of their engagement had been sold for food in Sigrholm, but a crudely made wooden replica had been placed between their heads. At the other end of the line lay Tryggvi, with his strange hair and moustache, and his spear held in his hands across his chest. Rook was glad that Oddleif was not there.
    “Are you alright?” a voice said, startling Rook. He turned to see Nid.
    “Um, well…” Rook began. He didn’t really know how to answer, so he shrugged.
    “Oddleif is in that tent over there, by the crooked tree.” Nid explained, pointing. Rook thanked her and immediately walked over.
    “You’ll have to put up with me a little longer.” Odd said when Rook entered the tent. She was resting on a bedroll with a bandage around her chest.
    “I thought for sure…”
    “Things could have been worse if not for Eyvind. You took a wound yourself.” She glanced at the bandage around Rook’s abdomen. His hand instinctively went to the wound.
    “Well, I’m alright.” Rook said. “And I’m glad you are.” Oddleif smiled. “Now then, there are things I need to see to.” Rook said, turning away.
    “You’re welcome to keep me company a bit longer.”
    “I would if I could.” Rook chuckled. He left the tent and saw Ekkill standing some distance away, being thanked by a few of the villagers. Ekkill grinned as Rook approached.
    “Look who’s still not dead!” Ekkill cried.
    “Thanks to you.” Rook smiled. “Why did Onef do this?”
    “He ran Frostvellr. When Frostvellr stopped working, he joined your caravan. Now he wanted to run your caravan. It’s all about being in charge with that one.”
    “So why did you stick with him?” asked Rook. Ekkill shrugged.
    “I don’t know, Rook. Family makes you do weird things. What I did to you and yours in Frostvellr, I’m not proud of it. I don’t know why, but I did what Onef told me to. When my sister died, I had suspected that it hadn’t been a simple fever. I wanted to confront the man about it, but something stopped me. I was so angry, but somehow he got in my head.”
    “He’s gone now.” Rook said. “So you’re free to go. You and your group.” Ekkill gave him a thankful look.
    “I’ll stay with you. You’re a good man, Rook.” Ekkill did something with his face that could resemble a smile, though his twitchy eye made it seem more like a snarl, and walked off.

    Once the caravan made it out of the forest a strange sense of freedom filled everyone, glad that the ordeal was behind them. Before them lay rolling hills and an easy march. Occasionally a small pack of dark figures could be seen in the distance, but there was no need for fear. They had interred the casualties of the mutiny in cairns of rocks. Three days went past, the caravan marching past a couple of abandoned farms. At the top of a lightly forested hill stood the godstone of Bjorulf, god of drink and merriment. Bjorulf’s bearded visage inspired a number of the clansmen to break open kegs of mead. One particularly spirited man climbed up on a cart with a wooden tankard and held it in the air.
    “To the only god that matters!” he toasted as he raised the tankard to his mouth. There were a few cheers from the other revellers. A few hours went by, in which the memories of past events seemed to temporarily give way to smiles, laughter, dance and song. Hogun and a few dozen others gathered berries from the bushes. Rook was cautious at first, but found these berries to be nourishing, the weariness in Rook’s limbs flooding away. Rook looked around at the people and Varl around him, forgetting their troubles for a while and being happy. For the first time in far too long, Rook thought, this was a good day.

  4. #24
    The fertile lands around Reynivik, on the road southwest from the godstone, were said to be blessed by Bjorulf to be such good farmland. Now though, the farms were all abandoned, the fields once grazed by livestock now empty, save from the occasional group of Dredge. Some of the farmhouses had been simply abandoned, the inhabitants probably having fled to Boersgard, others had been the site of small battles, their owners preferring to die fighting. As the caravan entered the village proper there was an eerie silence. A single Dredge grunt lay seemingly dead against the timber door of a mead hall. Rook took his axe from his belt and slowly approached.
    “Hold up, Rook.” Ekkill whispered, putting his hand on Rook’s shoulder. “I’m not sure you should, with that wound.” He had his own axe and shield ready and walked up to the Dredge. He knelt down in front of it, looking straight into its eyes. Suddenly it let out a rasping shriek that made Rook shiver. Ekkill raised his shield and thrust the edge into the Dredge’s throat, crushing its windpipe. It fell silent, but the alarm had been raised. Dredge emerged from seemingly everywhere.
    “Get back!” Rook yelled, and Ekkill ran to rejoin the caravan. A dozen Dredge gathered in front of the mead hall door and prepared to advance on the front of the caravan while others appeared to the sides. At that moment the mead hall door splintered and was thrown open, knocking down two of the Dredge. They turned to see a Varl clad all in red, with long ginger hair and beard. He had a bandage wrapped around the base of one of his horns. He wielded an enormous sword, with which he swept away two more Dredge with a single swing. His movements seemed powerful but somewhat clumsy, and Rook wondered if that was in any way related to having just come from the mead hall. Taking advantage of the distraction, Rook sheathed his axe and unslung his bow from his back. Nocking an arrow, he aimed at the stoneguard that led the group. Aiming just under the shoulder, he released. The arrow hit its mark, making the Dredge recoil in pain, dropping its weapon to clutch at the wound. Iver launched himself forwards and headbutted the Dredge while Ekkill led his fighters against the others. The stoneguard fell to the ground and Iver raised his axe, bringing it down in the centre of the Dredge’s chest with enough force to break through the armour and kill it. Looking back at the caravan, Rook saw that Krumr had organised the defence of the supply carts, holding off the Dredge on both sides.
    “Father!” Alette’s voice yelled, alerting him to a Dredge grunt that was running towards him. Rook hastily shot his bow, the arrow scraping across the Dredge’s breastplate, and, not having enough time to draw his axe, instead held his bow like a staff, parrying the grunt’s first blow and darting to its side to smack it behind the knee.
    “Here!” a man shouted, gesturing with his hands. Rook chucked him the bow and drew his axe. The grunt spun round to face him and Rook hacked at its arm. The grunt twisted to avoid his attack and punched with its other hand, hitting Rook in the chest and recalling memories of the battle at Marek’s godstone. This time Rook managed to keep his feet, swinging upwards to parry the next blow and also catching the grunt’s wrist as he did so. The grunt’s weapon dropped from its hand, the rocky tendons being damaged too much to keep a grip. It shifted its stance so that now its left side faced Rook. It glanced at the stone mace that lay on the ground between them, wondering whether or not to take the risk. Rook lunged forwards, hacking at the Dredge’s groin. The Dredge tried to dodge but wasn’t fast enough, falling to the floor. Rook finished it off with a blow to the neck and turned to see that the battle was going their way. Rook got his bow back and picked off some of the remaining Dredge until all were either dead or fleeing. The red clad Varl planted his sword in the ground and leant on the pommel, looking at the visitors.
    “Welcome to Sigbjorn’s house of mead!” he boomed. He swayed slightly. Iver had a disapproving look on his face.
    “Didn’t expect to see any Varl this far south. Or this drunk.” he said. The Varl let out a small chuckle and then whistled. About two dozen people, mostly families, exited the mead hall timidly, stepping around the Dredge bodies.
    “Who are you?” Rook asked.
    “S’their place.” Sigbjorn answered. “I’m jus’ here.” Rook turned to the villagers.
    “We are headed to Boersgard to seek refuge. Any who wish can join us.” he shouted, so that everyone could hear.
    “Have you got a cart free?” one man asked, hauling a barrel of what was presumably mead over his shoulder. Three more men stood behind him with barrels of their own.
    “We can make some room.” Rook said, to the delight of the tipsy Varl. The caravan rested in Reynivik for a while. As they were about to leave Sigbjorn stopped in the doorway of the mead hall and took a deep breath, as if absorbing any last essence of alcohol in the air.
    “I’ll miss this place. Good memories.” he said, before walking away with the caravan.

    When Sigbjorn was more sober, he explained that he had been supposed to bring a delivery of mead to Boersgard. The four barrels were all that remained. Three days went by, and Boersgard came into view. Situated at the base of a small lonely peak, the city consisted of three levels leading down to the Deepmot, a lake from which led the River Mireway to the east and the River Ormsa to the west. Each level looked progressively poorer, the third and final level being nothing but harbour and slums, the middle level being mostly marketplaces and some houses, and the upper level being where the upper class housing and administrative buildings were. At the top of the nearby mountain there was an abandoned watchtower with a large path leading up to it, a large field between it and the city gates. Glad for the safety of stone walls, but remembering the perils of Frostvellr, Rook led the caravan towards the gates.

  5. #25
    Chapter Seven: The Slayer And The Slain...

    A Varl, bigger than Rook had ever seen, stood atop the gatehouse. He wore brown trousers and had a bear pelt draped over his shoulders, his muscular and scarred chest exposed. His horns were broken and his jet-black hair and beard were matted and unwashed. Two axes were held on his belt.
    “Leave, now!” he roared. Rook stood at the head of the caravan, along with Iver, Krumr and Ubin. The three Varl were glaring at the gatekeeper. Sigbjorn pushed his way through and stepped forwards.
    “Open up, Bolverk!” he yelled. The black haired Varl laughed and signalled for the gates to be opened. A dozen human soldiers lined up to escort the caravan through. Sigbjorn gestured to Rook to meet with Bolverk. The black haired Varl looked down at Rook with disapproving eyes.
    “Who’s this whelp?” he growled.
    “This is the man who dug me out of Reynivik.” Sigbjorn answered. “He’s the leader of this lot. You may be interested to know they’ve brought a Mender with them.”
    “Your job wasn’t to get a Mender. Where’s the mead?” At this Sigbjorn shrugged apologetically. Bolverk muttered a curse under his breath.
    “I’m Rook.” Rook stammered. “We’ve come a long way, some as far as Skogr. Are you in charge here?”
    “That’d be the governor.” Bolverk said, pointing at a large wooden building to the left of the gates. Banners with the wolf’s head of Arberrang flew over the roof. “Get yourself settled. I don’t care where you go, but if you stir up trouble, you’ll see me again, and it won’t be to talk. Mender!” Eyvind timidly left the caravan to approach. “Come along. We’re going to see the governor.” With that the two Varl walked towards the great hall with Eyvind between them. He looked back at Rook and gave a nod. Rook rejoined the caravan next to Iver.
    “This feels like Frostvellr all over again.” he said.
    “This isn’t Frostvellr.” Iver replied reassuringly. “That one in the bear skin leads the Ravens, a mercenary company. Judging by the lack of city guards, I’m guessing they’re keeping the peace here. We ought to go to the docks and see what our options are, just in case we need to leave.”
    “Agreed.” Rook nodded.
    “When Bellower gets here, he’s going to walk over this place without breaking his stride.” Iver muttered.
    “You may want to keep that to yourself.” Rook said. “Now about those docks…”

    Nobody had ever uttered a nice thing about Boersgard. Compared to its twin city Ormsdalr to the west, Boersgard was an aging and senile mess that couldn’t remember whether it wants to sell you something or steal everything you’ve got. This was obvious from the differences between the richer houses on the upper level and the shacks and hovels by the docks. There were no boats in the harbour, their owners probably having moved to greener pastures. Several of the buildings were boarded up, as if to defend from looters. Everyone Rook and Iver saw looked at them with suspicious eyes, and Rook kept a hand near his axe at all times. Once he had seen the docks, he and Iver walked back up to the gates, where Eyvind had rejoined them.
    “What’s it like, Eyvind?” Rook asked.
    “The governor is effectively in hiding. The Ravens are protecting him and his from any potential uprisings.” the Mender explained. “They’re going to build ships to go down the Ormsa to Arberrang, but it’ll take at least a month.”
    “Bellower will be here in the week!” Iver shouted.
    “It’s the best we can do.” Eyvind said, raising his hands in a calming gesture. “I’ve arranged for us to go with the governor in return for protection in Arberrang. I don’t think he’s very popular there.”
    “We won’t get that far.” Iver said before storming off to go on the wall.
    “He’ll be alright.” Rook reassured Eyvind. Rook went to see to the rest of the caravan before joining Iver on the wall. In the far distance a few groups of Dredge could be spotted, but Bellower’s main force was still thankfully out of sight.
    “If we want to be standing in a month’s time, we’re going to have to be prepared.” Iver said, his gaze not moving from the dark stony figures congregating in the distance.
    “What did you have in mind?” Rook asked.
    “First off, we need a place for our people to stay. Second, food’s going to be scarce, so we’ll need to find a deal with somebody. Third, there’s going to be rioting once people figure out the boats. And then there’s what happens when the Dredge get here.”
    “What a mess.” Rook sighed. “I’ll do what I can.”
    “I know you will. Krumr would be ideal for commanding the defence. Send him my way when you see him.”

    Rook sent Krumr and his warriors to the wall and found a public house for the non-fighters to stay. Rook went to sleep uneasily. When he woke, Alette was sat next to him sewing into Skogr’s banner. It seemed to take her mind off everything. Ubin was also sitting at a table in the far corner, writing as he had been for most of the journey. One of Krumr’s varl, Finbjorn if Rook remembered correctly, fetched Rook to come to the wall. Rubbing his eyes and yawning, Rook took his breakfast, a bowl of stew that Oddleif had brewed up, and joined the defenders, the sight bringing him out of his tired stupor. Thousands of Dredge now stood outside the walls. Rook nearly dropped his bowl.
    “So glad you could join us, your stew will be of much use in the Battle of Boersgard.” Krumr remarked. “They’re starting to get brave. Soon they’ll be making their move.”
    “I’ll give you all the fighters we have.” Rook said. “I trust you can get us through this.” Krumr responded by nodding and leaning on his polehammer. A stone whizzed over their heads. Nid, who Rook hadn’t noticed until now, shot an arrow in return.
    “You’d better get going before that stew gets cold.” Krumr said. “I’ve got things here.” Rook walked back down the stairs and back to the public house.

    He had sent Hogun, Mogun, Ekkill and most of the caravan’s fighters to aid Krumr and Iver. He hoped they could make a difference. He sat with Alette and Oddleif eating his stew. Oddleif wanted to join the fighters, but her wound was still giving her too much pain. Most people sat in silence, the only sound coming from Kristofer, who was training with a sword against a pile of bags filled with sand from the docks. An hour went by, then Rook was disturbed again.
    “There’s rioting down at the docks!” the messenger said. “The Ravens are there, but it could turn into a bloodbath at any moment.” Rook hurriedly strung his bow, grabbed his axe and jogged with the messenger down to the docks. By the time they got there, it was too late. The Ravens stood in a line, all with bloody weapons, and at least two dozen bodies lay in front of them, some holding improvised weapons. Bolverk stood a few yards in front, a circle of corpses around him. He was splattered with blood and made Rook jump back with fright when he turned towards him.
    “Nice timing.” he growled as he put his now red axes back onto his belt. A horn sounded from the direction of the gates. Bolverk drew his axes again and pointed to an older member of the Ravens. “Sparr, keep a dozen men here! The rest of you with me!” He took off towards the gate, as did everyone else.
    “What’s happening?” Rook asked. A large woman wielding a spear turned to him as she ran past.
    “The defenders are struggling!” she yelled. Rook and the messenger joined the Ravens in running to the gate.

    There was pandemonium when they reached the top of the hill. The gates were dented, nearly broken, and Dredge were climbing up onto the wall. Rook nocked an arrow and shot at one of the Dredge grunts, which stumbled backwards off the wall. Bolverk leapt up, grabbing the rampart and pulling himself up before hacking at any Dredge that would dare come near him. The other Ravens used the stairs. The spear woman gathered a few in the gateway, preparing in case the gates fell down. Krumr stood atop the gatehouse fighting three Dredge at once while Iver was further down the wall. Eyvind had joined them, casting lightning into the Dredge formations outside the walls. Rook shot another arrow, felling another Dredge grunt. The door splintered and a gap appeared. Rook aimed his next arrow through there, striking a curious Dredge in the face. The spear woman gave him a disapproving look for shooting past her and her fighters. Another splintering sound and the gate burst open, a stoneguard running through and scattering the Ravens in the gateway. The spear woman tried to keep her men together, but was swept aside by the stoneguard’s mace, her sturdy shield protecting her. Krumr saw the stoneguard and jumped from the ramparts with a mighty roar, bringing his polehammer down on its head. The stony helmet cracked into pieces along with the head within, and the stoneguard fell down. A group of slingers appeared in the gate and started pelting him with explosive rocks. One hit him in the left eye, sending him reeling in pain. Another struck one of his horns, breaking it off. Two Dredge grunts jumped down from the wall onto his back. Rook quickly nocked an arrow and shot one, but the other brought his mace down on Krumr’s head. The Varl collapsed to his knees and the Dredge kept on striking. The shield woman rushed in and impaled the Dredge, killing it, but more stones came from the slingers, and Krumr soon fell dead. Rook shot his bow at the slingers, felling three of them before they fell back. Grunts started to run through the gateway now.
    “The gates! The gates!” Rook yelled, and some of the fighters near him ran over to defend the gateway. Rook reached for another arrow, but found the quiver on his hip empty. He dropped his bow and drew his axe, joining the fray. Mogun rushed in, cutting Dredge down with worrying glee. Rook dodged a Dredge mace and hacked at its neck with his axe. Extracting the axe he turned and parried another blow. He kicked the grunt away to give him room to swing and struck at its chest. It parried his attack, grabbing the axe below the head and grappling with Rook. An arrow appeared below its shoulder, and it let go to clutch at the wound. Rook glanced to his left and saw Nid nocking another arrow. With control of his weapon back, Rook swung at the Dredge’s neck and killed it.
    “Rook!” Iver’s voice yelled from above. “We need you up here!” Rook took off towards the stairs, taking them three steps at a time. He kicked a grunt off the ramparts before joining Iver. Iver killed the Dredge he was fighting, then pointed towards the hills to the north. Rook looked past the black mass of Dredge and saw figures on the crest of the hill. Two banners flew above them, one red and gold, the other white and blue. Battle cries sounded out and the army charged into the rear of the Dredge. The number of Dredge assaulting the wall started to decline as they faced the new threat. Bolverk let out a roar and jumped outside the walls, cutting down Dredge left and right.
    “Ravens!” the spear woman cried, and the mercenary company charged out through the gates after Bolverk. Rook, exhausted, stood on the wall watching. Suddenly, a thundering shriek shook the battlefield. Iver, standing next to Rook, visibly tensed up. Rook looked up towards the abandoned watchtower on the peak at the other end of the field. A giant crimson figure stood at the top, with its long spear raised in the air. The Dredge army fell back towards the watchtower, and the new arrivals made their way towards the gate. At the head of the army, with their respective banners held following them, were the black haired Varl general from Einartoft and the Prince of Arberrang. At their backs were hundreds of both Varl and humans. Alongside the Prince walked a woman wearing a blue and black cloak with the hood drawn up over her black hair. She held a spear the shaft of which was carved with runes similar to those on Eyvind’s staff. When Eyvind saw her, his eyes went wide.
    “Juno…” he started to mutter. She stepped forwards and the two Menders embraced.
    “Eyvind, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to Sigrholm.” she said. “I ran into problems.” At that the Varl general stepped forward.
    “Problems is putting it lightly. There’s a mile wide canyon practically splitting the world in two.” he said. “Dredge are coming out of it in their thousands. We couldn’t find a way through. Nice to see you Yngvar, by the way.”
    “Hakon.” Iver shook the Varl’s hand.
    “We found this one unconscious in the snow.” Hakon gestured to Juno. “Apparently for a second time.” Eyvind gave Hakon a grateful look.
    “We need every fighter we can get.” said Iver, getting to the point. “Bellower is here.” he pointed in the direction of the watchtower.
    “I know, I heard him.” Hakon said.
    “Impossible not to.” muttered the Prince of Arberrang. Rook respectfully bowed his head. “You were at Einartoft.”
    “I was, my Prince.” Rook said.
    “This isn’t the time for formalities. Let’s not just stand around here.”
    “Agreed.” Hakon said. Something told Rook Hakon didn’t usually agree with the Prince.

    The army entered the city and immediately set about repairing the defences under Prince Ludin’s orders. Varl warriors and human soldiers in red and gold stood watch atop the walls while others cleared the bodies of the previous battle in a disciplined fashion. One of the bodies was that of Krumr. Ubin had come to see with a mournful look on his face.
    “I win.” he muttered sadly.
    “What?” Rook asked.
    “I’m now the oldest living Varl.” Ubin explained. “It’s a strange feeling. Something to go down in my book.”
    “I’m sorry this happened.” Rook said respectfully. “Death is no easy thing.”
    “And there will be more of it before this time is done.” Ubin said, turning to look at Rook. “You take care of that girl of yours, you hear me?” Rook nodded. Ubin walked away, back in the direction of the public house. Rook continued looking over the dead, recognising the occasional face. Hadn’t there been enough dead already? Skogr used to be a village of three or four hundred, now there were thirty six.
    “Rook.” the female Mender’s voice said from behind him. It sounded familiar.
    “Yes, what is it?” he replied. He turned and saw Juno and Eyvind standing together.
    “There is one more journey that must be made, and you must make it with me.” She turned to Eyvind, a tear in her eye. “You must wait for me again. Hold this place until I get back.”
    “I only just got you back and you’re leaving me again.” Eyvind mumbled, fighting through tears.
    “I’m sorry. It’s only for two days, at most. I promise.” The two embraced again, and Juno turned to Rook, expecting a response.
    “Where are we going? Why me?” he asked.
    “You’re needed.” Juno said. Rook found himself nodding.
    “Alright. Let me say my goodbyes first.”
    “Of course, but be quick.”

  6. #26
    A day later, Rook and Juno arrived near a cliff’s edge overlooking the Deepmot, at which stood scores of Dredge, strangely dressed in dark cloaks, holding staffs of some kind. Rook froze in fear, but Juno simply raised her spear and continued walking.
    “It’s okay, Rook.” she said. Rook found his fear subsiding, and he followed her. At the edge of the cliff was a godstone, only this was unlike the others Rook had seen. Instead of engravings into the stone, the designs on this one were wrought from silver. Juno stopped near the bottom of the godstone. Rook looked around at the Dredge nervously.
    “Do not fear, Rook. They cannot see us, nor hear us.” Juno explained. She looked up at the worn godstone. “Most do not know of this stone, even those who have lived their whole lives in Boersgard. While Denglr deals in trade, Stravhs showed men that it has consequences too. Two sides of the same coin.” She pointed up at the silver near the top of the godstone. “That is what we are here for.”
    “Why? A bit of metal?”
    “You can see that I have the ability to…influence minds.” Juno said, gesturing at the Dredge. “But Bellower, is both immortal and beyond my powers to control. To a point.”
    “And why me? Why not take Eyvind or Hakon?”
    “Eyvind is needed to keep Boersgard from falling. As for you…When I arrived I looked into the thoughts of everyone. You were the one who I knew I could count on to go back to Boersgard if something went wrong. You would find your way back to Alette no matter what.” She paused. “We need some of that metal to make an arrow. An arrow to slay Bellower.” She let those words sink in. “Be aware, what I am about to tell you is of the utmost importance, but it is also vital that no one else knows.” She waited for Rook to nod in agreement. “The arrow will not kill Bellower. Nothing can. He has no physical weakness.” Rook’s eyebrows raised in shock.
    “So how…?” he started.
    “The arrow will pierce him and allow me to enter his mind. I will make him believe that he is dying.”
    “You’re going to make him think he is dead? That is insane!”
    “That is our only way. Now then, you must get this metal.” Rook nodded, laid his weapons down by Juno’s feet, and started to climb. He grasped Stravhs’ shoulder and pulled himself up, next holding onto the pommel of a sword. He reached up again, holding an axe head. He looked down and saw dozens of Dredge staring up at him, kept calm only by Juno’s magic. His heart was racing. If Juno faltered, there would be no hope for either of them, and then if they failed, Boersgard would fall…and Alette…No. That would not happen. His determination refilled, Rook continued to climb until he reached the top, pulling out a silver arrowhead. He looked down at Juno, who gestured for him to return to the ground. Relieved, Rook did so.
    “Well done. That should do.” Juno said when shown the arrowhead. With that they started to leave the godstone, the heads of every Dredge turning in unison to follow them. When they were out of sight Rook breathed a sigh of relief. Now to return to Boersgard and finish this.

    The walls had taken a beating since Rook had left. Eyvind had been mending them, stones and planks of wood hastily fused together in what could only be a Mender’s work. The Dredge armies remained on the other side of the field, at the bottom of the watchtower peak for now. The gates opened and Eyvind rushed outside to greet Juno, as did Alette for Rook. When they were all inside and the gates were closed, Juno turned towards Rook.
    “Take this time with your daughter. Use that silver arrowhead for an arrow and join me on the battlements when you are ready.” she said. Rook nodded while Alette looked at them questioningly.

    Rook sat in the public house as he fitted the silver head onto an arrow shaft and attached fletchings. Alette watched him work with fascination.
    “What will this do?” she asked. Rook looked at her with a small smile.
    “It’s going to kill Bellower.” Alette nearly gasped, and Oddleif, who had been sitting nearby admiring Alette’s work on the banner, looked up.
    “Let me do it.” Alette said, breaking the silence.
    “What?” Rook gasped. “No.” he shook his head.
    “Why not?” Alette asked.
    “What do you think Bellower’s going to do when he sees someone holding the only thing that can destroy him? I can’t let that happen to you.”
    “I’m not the child who left Skogr anymore. I can do this. For once, let me decide what happens to me.” She took a breath. “Last night, I had a dream. I dreamt we never left home. We never had to run. We never had to kill. I thought, why are we alive, when even the gods are dead? When I awoke I knew why we’re still alive…because we choose to be. Let me make this choice.”
    “Alette…” Rook saw what she was saying, but was still afraid for her. He couldn’t protect her forever. She had already killed one man, and a few Dredge, but could she kill a Sundr?
    “She needs to be her own person, Rook.” Oddleif said. “She needs to make her own choices.” Rook sighed.
    “Alright.” he said, giving Alette the finished arrow with a heavy heart.
    “Thank you.” she said. “I won’t waste this chance.”
    “I know you won’t.” Rook replied, hugging her.

    Rook joined Juno and Eyvind atop the battlements, Alette at his side.
    “We’re ready.” he said. Juno looked surprised at the sight of the silver arrow in Alette’s hand. Juno stared at Rook intensely.
    “Are you sure? Whoever has the arrow will be in the greatest danger.” she asked. Rook looked at Alette, then nodded. “Very well. The others should be along shortly.

    It was a few minutes before other people arrived. Iver, with Kristofer and the other Skogr fighters. Hogun and Mogun, with the fighters from their village. Ekkill with his Frostvellr men. Hakon, with his army, bolstered by the warriors from Wyrmtoe. Prince Ludin with his forces. Finally, Bolverk with the Ravens. The leaders joined the four up on the walls to discuss their plan. Ludin was accompanied by a red cloaked woman and a dark skinned Varl warrior. Hakon had standing next to him a black-bearded Varl armed with a spear and shield. Bolverk had his spear woman standing next to him. Ubin had also joined them, quill and paper in hand.
    “My scouts report there is a path running up along the mountainside.” Ludin explained, pointing to the right of the watchtower. “Too small for Varl. The Varl will have to join the main forces in assaulting the central road up to the watchtower.” Hakon nodded.
    “Only about half a dozen or so could fit up that path without the Dredge noticing.” Hakon said.
    “Agreed. I’ll lead the group.” Ludin said. “Yrsa will be with me.” he gestured to the cloaked woman. “Juno, you’ll be with us.” He now looked at Alette, holding the silver arrow. “And you’re going to be our Sundr slayer?” he asked, questioning the decision. “Very well. I assume you’ll want to be with your daughter…” he trailed off, looking at Rook.
    “Rook.” he prompted.
    “Rook. Very well. That’s five.”
    “Six.” Eyvind spoke up. “I’m coming too.”
    “That’s our group.” Hakon said. “I’ll lead mine. What about yours, Prince?”
    “Bersi will be in charge of my main forces.” Ludin said. The dark skinned Varl nodded. “How many fighters have you got, Rook?”
    “From Skogr, eleven. Hogun and Mogun have nine. Ekkill has twelve.” Rook answered.
    “Thirteen.” Ekkill said. “That archer girl’s with me.”
    “And twelve from Skogr!” Oddleif said, reaching the top of the steps.
    “Are you sure you’re okay to fight?” Rook asked.
    “I’m sure. The wounds have mended fast.” Oddleif said.
    “Thirty four. You and the Ravens join as reserves for my troops.” Ludin ordered. The people nodded, except for Bolverk, who crossed his arms and grunted.
    “Trust me, you want the Ravens in front.” the spear woman said.
    “Very well. We have our plan then?”
    “There is little time.” Juno said. “Whether Bellower is waiting for more forces or wants to starve us out, I do not know. However, I know that he does not expect a direct attack. This…ˮ she took Alette’s arrow from her hand. “Once pierced by this, Bellower will be vulnerable.” She looked Rook in the eyes. He remained silent. Juno gave the arrow back to Alette. “We only have one. Don’t miss.”
    “I won’t.” said Alette. Juno nodded.
    “Now is the time to speak to loved ones or to the memory of any god you hold dear. In the morning we slay a Sundr.”

  7. #27
    The next day, Rook spoke to each and every person he could. Kristofer held Aukfrosta tight. He had arranged for Alfdis, one of Skogr’s farmers, to look after her in the event that he did not return. Hogun embraced his wife and son while Mogun sharpened his axe. Nid said goodbye to her three boys and made arrangements for them in case she did not come back. When all had been said that was needed the army assembled outside the gates. The group that would traverse the treacherous mountainside to attack Bellower from behind stood on the top of the gatehouse. Hakon and Iver stood at the head of the Varl army.
    “Varl!” Hakon yelled. “Grofheim fell! Einartoft fell! But we shall make sure that that stops now! The Sundr Bellower is up there, with thousands of Dredge! But we have Yngvar, Sundr Slayer, here with us! This is a Great War! We have fought through two of them and we shall fight through the third! Warriors, for Grofheim!”
    “Grofheim!” the Varl army cheered, raising their weapons in the air. When the shouting died down Ludin walked to the edge of the parapet and looked over the human army.
    “Soldiers of Arberrang!” he cried. The red and gold army turned to face him in unison. “You have come a long way with me! We survived Ridgehorn together! I trust you to stand with me now! I shall not lead the charge, but know that I am fighting with you! For the King!”
    “Arberrang!” the army shouted, banging swords against shields. As they did so Bolverk strode confidently to the front of the Ravens.
    “Ravens!” he roared. The crowd went silent again. “You know what to do!”
    “For the Black Banner!” the Ravens cried.
    “Move out!” Hakon ordered, and the three armies started to move as one in the direction of the watchtower, at the bottom of which Dredge had formed up.
    “We must move quickly.” said Juno, taking off down the stairs. The group followed her. They went at a jog towards an area of fallen rocks at the base of the mountain. By the time they reached it the clamour of clashing steel and stone had begun. The path was visible further up, being a thin set of steps carved out of the cliff side, but the base of the stairs had been destroyed by the falling rocks. Eyvind waved his staff and focused. The stones started to float, rearranging until they could be climbed up to where the steps began. Ludin went first, clambering up on top of the rocks. Then went Yrsa, followed by Rook and Alette, then Eyvind, and finally Juno went last. The staircase was loose in some areas, and Eyvind had to rebuild the steps at various points. At about halfway up, the group was looking across a chasm, on the other side of which was a plateau where the main road zigzagged up to the watchtower. A few Dredge slingers spotted them and started launching projectiles.
    “Look out!” Ludin yelled. Rook, Yrsa and Alette started returning shots with their bows while ducking under rocks striking the cliff face and sending sparks flying over them.
    “Keep moving!” Juno shouted, and Ludin started to speed up. A cry was heard, and Yrsa stumbled and fell clutching her cheek. Ludin practically jumped down to the ground, reaching out and grabbing her arm. She flailed around until she found a grip on the rock with her other hand. With Ludin’s help she climbed back up, but her bow was gone. She turned to Rook.
    “Take this!” she removed a strange ring from her finger and gave it to Rook. It had a piece of flint on it. He put it on his finger and Yrsa passed him one of her arrows. She then took a pouch from her belt and lobbed it towards the slingers. It clattered on the ground around the Dredge, spilling oil. Rook nocked Yrsa’s arrow onto his bow and she demonstrated a sort of flicking motion, gesturing to the arrowhead. Rook tried to repeat her action, and after a few attempts sparks appeared from the flint, and the arrowhead was set alight. Yrsa nodded and Rook drew the bow. The shot hit the ground near where the pouch had landed and the slingers were ignited. Some of them stumbled off the cliff, falling to the ground below.
    “Go!” Juno yelled, and they continued to move up the staircase. The cliff curved round and the join between the staircase and the flat where the watchtower stood became visible. Bellower stood at the edge of the cliff, watching over the battle ensuing below. After a few minutes the group was closer to their goal. Looking back towards the first plateau he saw the allied army pushing through the Dredge. Bolverk, visible by his bear pelt cloak, was cutting his way through the mass of Dredge far ahead of the main battle line. Ludin’s soldiers had formed a shield wall and were slowly but surely pushing the Dredge back while on their left the Varl were hacking and slashing their way forward. Archers were at the rear of the army, Oddleif and Nid among them, shooting arrows over their allies into the further back ranks of Dredge.
    “He’s seen us!” Yrsa shouted, and Rook looked back towards the watchtower. Bellower was gesturing with his spear. A slinger ran towards the edge of the cliff and threw two bright blue stones. They exploded on contact with the cliff a few yards above the group’s heads.
    “Watch out!” Eyvind yelled as he raised his staff. Most of the debris was forced aside by the Mender’s abilities, scattering harmlessly into the chasm, but one particularly large rock struck the stairs between Rook and Alette, knocking it away. Alette lost her balance, but Rook leant across the gap and pushed her back into Eyvind’s arms.
    “You’re going to have to jump!” Rook shouted. He put his bow over his back and held out his arms. “I’ll catch you, I promise!” Alette steeled herself and leapt across the gap. Rook caught her but the silver arrow slipped from her quiver. Rook’s heart fell but then the arrow stopped in mid-air, slowly floating back up. Rook’s gaze followed it until he saw Juno, her hand outstretched. Alette plucked the arrow out of the air and put it back into her quiver, giving a thankful look back to Juno. A curse from Ludin brought Rook’s attention back to the front, where a Dredge grunt was now making his way along the staircase towards them. Others were waiting at the top. Ludin, Yrsa, Rook and Alette moved forwards, allowing Eyvind and Juno to jump the gap. Rook started shooting arrows at the Dredge at the top of the staircase, felling two and sending another stumbling into the chasm. Ludin held his spear out in front of him with both hands, assuming a long stance. The first Dredge grunt approached carefully. Ludin thrust out with the spear to push it back, but after a few feints it lunged forwards, swinging at Ludin’s head. He barely dodged it and nearly slipped, but managed to pivot and knock the Dredge with the spear. It tried to grasp at his arms but fell backwards off the cliff with a screech. Ludin continued moving forwards while Rook and Alette provided covering shots with their bows. Eventually Ludin reached the top of the staircase and lunged forwards into the nearest Dredge, Yrsa behind him drawing a dagger and doing the same. Rook put his bow on his back and drew his axe with one hand, gesturing for Alette to stay back with the other. Eyvind waved his staff and called down lightning on a group of Dredge that were standing together. With Ludin, Yrsa and Rook opening up a gap the group ran out onto the plateau in front of the watchtower. Bellower turned to look at them with his wide glowing eyes.
    “Now!” Juno shouted. Alette nocked the silver arrow and jumped up onto a boulder. Rook killed the Dredge he was fighting and turned to look. Alette drew. Rook thought back to just after Aldis had died, when Oddleif decided to train Alette in how to use a bow. Rook remembered how Egil would take a break from his sparring to come and watch, and occasionally compliment her progress. Now Egil was dead, and Alette was alive. How far she had come in three years. She took a deep breath and released the string. The silver arrow flew through the air and struck Bellower in the heart. The red colossus stumbled back, a look of what was almost fear visible on his face. Then his eyes narrowed and the fear turned to anger. He raised his head and let out a shriek that shook the mountain. Rook knew in that instant what Bellower would do, and what he needed to do. He rushed forwards and threw Alette down from the boulder, taking her place and holding his bow aloft.
    “I, Rook of Skogr, have slain you!” he cried. The Sundr stared at him with his glowing golden eyes and stomped forwards, grabbing Rook with his right hand and lifting him up into the air. Rook felt the Dredge’s grip tighten, felt the air be forced from his lungs, then felt his ribs compress and break under the pressure. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. His legs flailed until his spine broke, losing the ability to control his body. His vision blurred and his ears were ringing as the blood flow to his brain was constricted. He managed to look one last time at Alette on the ground, staring up at him with disbelief. Then he felt himself pushed into the ground and all was black.

    Her father lay broken on the ground, crushed by the Sundr. Alette didn’t move, though the battle still raged around her. From the side came Hakon, Iver, Bolverk and the others, cutting down the nearby Dredge and surrounding Bellower. They struck at him from all angles while Eyvind called down lightning bolts that stabbed into him. Bellower started to collapse to his knees while the Varl continued to attack. Rather than watch, Alette crawled over to her father’s body, his face contorted in unimaginable pain. The sounds of the fighting drifted away as tears flooded forth. She held his head against hers and lay there sobbing. She did not know for how long she lay there, but Iver came and rested a hand on her shoulder.
    “Hush, child.” he said gently. “You are alive and we must go. You must be someone else now. Put up your hood. There is time to be Alette another day.”

    Fog covered the River Ormsa. Dark clouds blocked out the sun, making it the closest thing to a night in a long time. Men, women, children and varl lined the banks, some holding flaming torches. Prince Ludin’s soldiers stood at attention. Ludin had Yrsa on his left and Bersi on his right. Yrsa held a burning torch. Hakon’s warriors, some of the last Varl in existence, were lined up with their heads bowed. The thirty one remaining people of Skogr were gathered together in mourning, Kristofer and Aukfrosta among them. Oddleif stood at the front, holding back tears. Hogun stood at the head of his village with his wife and child. Ekkill had respectfully taken his helmet off and held it in his hands, as did his fighters. Nid stood next to him with her children. Even the Ravens were there, though more out of respect than mourning. In the shallows of the water Iver and Alette stood before a small boat. With his remaining arm, Iver held a flaming torch. Alette held aloft the red banner of Skogr, her hood drawn up over her head, tears streaming down her face. In the boat lay the body of Rook, his woodsman’s axe held in his arms. Next to him lay his bow, and around his neck was the medallion crafted and given to him by a little girl from Skogr at the godstone of Hridvaldyr. Iver slowly moved the torch down to ignite the oil that covered the boat. As he did so, he gave the boat a gentle push to send it down the river. As the fire caught and the boat became ablaze, Ubin quietly walked up next to the pair, respectfully bowing his head. He started to speak, softly, reciting an old Varl dirge.
    “We are all guests upon the land,
    Never to stay in one place,
    A noble name shall never perish,
    He will not be forgotten.”
    Next came Oddleif, struggling to keep herself from crying. She took a deep breath, then sung in a mournful voice.
    “As the endless sun lights a path,
    Only the brave can follow,
    Every fighting step and stumble,
    Is not without reason,
    Atonement rests beneath the stars,
    For those who earn the night.”

  8. #28
    This is it, the end. It's been a long five months since I started this. Much has happened in that time and there were several occasions where I considered abandoning it. Please let me know what you think and whether or not you want me to do the sequel. Your reviews will be much appreciated. Thank you for reading.

  9. #29
    Skald Aleonymous's Avatar
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    Mar 2013
    Quote Originally Posted by ajrman View Post
    This is it, the end. It's been a long five months since I started this. Much has happened in that time and there were several occasions where I considered abandoning it. Please let me know what you think and whether or not you want me to do the sequel. Your reviews will be much appreciated. Thank you for reading.
    Gigantic undertaking, ajrman, successfully completed I kinda stopped after Chapter 2, but I will try to compile the complete work in a printer-friendly format so that I can read it offline. I will get back to you with more comments and also bring this to Stoic's attention. Get your quill ready for Saga2
    Together we stand, divided we fall.

  10. #30
    Member SirCritic's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    I thik you did a decent job but I don't feel like everything was as fleshed out as it should have been. I wish more was expanded upon. I do think Stoic should see this though. Maybe they'll get a professional author to make a real hardcover commercial novelization of the trilogy. That would be cool. thanks for doing this

  11. #31
    Skald Aleonymous's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    OK, here's the dropbox link to a PDF containing all the seven chapters of the novelisation:

    I designed the page-layout so that the document can be easily printed in "Booklet" format. So, if you got a double-sided printer, four pages will fit on the two faces of a single A4 (or Letter) sized sheet. I used Palatino Linotype, but I will maybe switch to something more close to the font used by the game (Minion Pro).
    Together we stand, divided we fall.

  12. #32
    Hello! Thanks for compiling the novel as a pdf Aleo, it looks so much better in that format, and will be easier for future readers. For the sequel I'll be trying to use the game as more of a rough guide, rather than my awkward-in-hindsight 'direct translation' technique from Chapter 1. I can't promise a date, but the quill will be touching paper (or fingers touching keys at least) soon.

  13. #33
    Sequel time! My strategy for writing TBS2 will be to play through each chapter, making note of the events and important dialogues, and write based on those notes rather than write as I play, like I did for the first game. With this method I hope to flesh out each character more and make it a bit more of my own style, whilst keeping the story intact. I am also going to add more characterisation for the Horseborn, which is something that in my opinion fell a bit flat in the game. To do this, I'm going to add more chapters, treating Canary's herd as a 'POV group' similar to Rook's and Hakon's caravans in TBS1. Unfortunately, this means that the time between chapters is likely to be a lot longer. Anyway, to begin with, here is a prologue written from a new point of view: An Oath Until The End...

    The endless sun was shining on the plains of Dalalond. To the south stretched miles and miles of flat grasslands, though now great cracks had ruptured the earth. Four hundred or so Horseborn, creatures that looked like the upper body of a human placed on the body of a long-extinct horse, were gathered together in a crowd. Another fifty stood in a separate group, eighty yards away. Between them were two Horseborn, the leaders of their respective herds. Eagecánnthach, leader of the smaller herd, held his bronze spear with both hands. His hair was black, with red swirling painted patterns that denoted his status as leader of the herd. He had on his right wrist a bronze bracer, given to him by his father and predecessor. On it was engraved a fish from the rivers of southern Dalalond. The Horseborn standing before him was a slender woman who led the herd of four hundred. She had yellow hair, and blue paint covering one arm and half of her face. She wore a leather breastplate and held a spear. Her name was Cainánóiridhe, though most humans preferred to call her Canary. She had become leader of her herd of no more than a hundred at a young age and had led them to victory against the herds of Cúmchaiodhe and Una’ech, assimilating them into her own. Other small herds had actively sought her out to join her, and now there were only two rival herds, that of Eagecánnthach, and the herd led by the warlord Trigecánnthae. Trigecánnthae was known as a vicious fighter, who once, having subjugated the herd of Madh’ech, cut off the ears and tails of each of Madh’ech’s Horseborn. It had also been his ancestor who rounded up all of the horses belonging to mankind and exterminated them, at the place now called the Plains of Slaughter. Eagecánnthach had fought a few skirmishes against Cainánóiridhe’s herd, but after suffering severe losses, he had decided to settle this by a fight to first blood, an ancient Horseborn tradition.

    A third Horseborn, aged and grey, trotted to meet the two. In his hands was a long wooden staff, which he held extended between the two herd leaders. Eagecánnthach and Cainánóiridhe eyed each other up, assessing, analysing, planning. Their tails swished angrily and they stomped their hooves on the dirt. The elder looked at each of them, then raised his staff with a shout. Eage made a few feint lunges, but Cain barely reacted. Cain shifted her stance and held her spear only with her right hand. Her left side was now less protected, but that was probably a trap to draw Eage in. He waited, not taking the bait. He had heard that that was how she had defeated the warrior Scathach, a contender for leadership of her herd. Cain’s face showed a twinge of irritation at her opponent’s stillness and she backed off, holding her spear in two hands again. Eage prepared himself for the inevitable charge that would follow. Cain held her spear out forwards and took off at a gallop towards Eage. He widened his stance and braced himself. He stood fast as Cain smashed into him, spears colliding. Blows were exchanged and parried as fast as one could blink. Eage twisted and used the shaft of his spear to smack Cain’s abdomen. No blood was drawn, but it threw Cain off, giving Eage a fraction of a moment. He took the opportunity and thrusted with the spear point. Cain dodged and spun round, kicking Eage with her hind legs. Eage jumped back in pain. Both parties glanced at the elder, who had leaned forward to inspect. Seeing no blood, he backed away and said nothing. The two Horseborn continued to fight. They started to circle each other, occasionally thrusting at the other with their spears in an effort to provoke the other into a full attack. Then Eage attempted a daring move. He changed the grip he had on his spear and reared up on his hind legs. Cain took the bait and lunged forwards. Eage thrust down with his spear and caught Cain on the arm, but not before she had also got in a glancing strike on his flank. They both backed off and looked to the elder. The elder’s face was wrinkled in thought, but eventually he raised his staff and held it in Eage’s direction.
    “Eagecánnthach suffered first blood.” he shouted, moving the staff over to point at Cainánóiridhe. “Cainánóiridhe is the victor.” Cain gave Eage a wry smirk. Eage responded with a scowl. Admitting defeat, he reluctantly held his spear in open palms and knelt down on his front legs, offering his spear to Cain.
    “I pledge the service of myself and my herd to the leadership of Cainánóiridhe.” Eage spoke. “I swear this oath from now until the end, be it my end or hers.”
    “I accept your oath.” Cain replied, raising her spear in the air. The elder raised his staff, and Eage’s herd moved to join with Cain’s. There was some stamping of hooves from the more stubborn members of Eage’s herd, but all eventually gave in.

    After all necessary introductions had been made and arrangements organised, Cainánóiridhe called Eagecánnthach to her tent. She told him to bring one of his Horseborn, so he had brought his friend Aiodhmír, the best shot with a javelin in his herd. Cain was stood with three other Horseborn, one male, blue-grey haired, with a bronze flail; one female, brown haired, armed with javelins; and finally one male with cream coloured hair who also carried a flail.
    “This is Scathach, Derdriu and Ro’ech.” Cain said, gesturing to each of them in turn. “My first command for you is to head north. There is someone you need to find. Rumours have spread of a herd of Humans and Varl travelling together. Led by a girl, whose father has slain a leader of the Stone Men. Be warned, Trigecánnthae’s herd have been raiding in that direction.”
    “What’s important about this girl?” Eage asked.
    “With our plains cracked and broken, we need to find new lands. Trigecánnthae has started raiding the Human villages, but he thinks too small.” Cain smiled. “I am looking at Arberrang. The city with walls like mountains. That place will be our salvation. We can’t take it by ourselves, but that girl will get us in.”
    Last edited by ajrman; 06-21-2016 at 08:27 AM.

  14. #34
    Chapter One is here. Please tell me what you think about this new style, and suggest any improvements. Chapter One: From Their Homes All Must Flee...

    Alette nocked an arrow to the string of her bow. With the hood of her green cloak pulled up over her ginger hair she drew the string back to the corner of her lip. The seven foot tall humanoid creature clad in black stone and obsidian armour, called a Dredge, was standing about thirty yards in front of her trading blows against a man dressed in a green cloak over a light blue tunic. He had a short black beard and was bald save for a scruff of hair on the top of his head. He held a small iron buckler and dagger, and had a lyre slung over his back. The man’s friends were also locked in combat, although they were outnumbered and being pushed back. As Alette aimed, the Dredge’s armour shifted, seemingly growing bigger and turning deep crimson. The man’s cloak became red and his features became older, his hair growing long. She blinked and forced herself to focus, the two figures reverting to their original form. She exhaled and released the string. The arrow struck the Dredge in the side of the neck, surprising both of the combatants. The Dredge fell to the ground clutching at the arrow. The man looked around until he saw Alette, visibly giving a sigh of relief. He turned and ran away. Following him with her eyes, Alette saw barricades set up in front of a village, about thirty fighters held the barricades against twice as many Dredge. The cloaked man clambered over the barricade with help from the other defenders. Alette nocked another arrow as a few Dredge turned towards her position on a ridge overlooking the village. She loosed a second shot and felled another Dredge. As she nocked a third arrow she heard footsteps coming up the ridge from behind her. She turned to see two horned giants reaching her side, with several more following them. There were also soldiers dressed in red and gold, with shields painted with a wolf’s head. They lined the crest of the ridge. One of the giants, known as Varl, was missing an arm and had long blonde hair and a beard. He wore a white tunic. He held an axe in his right hand. He looked at Alette disapprovingly.
    “Don’t go ahead like that.” he grunted. The other Varl, with black hair and a moustache, wearing a leather breastplate over a red tunic, held up his axe with both hands.
    “Grofheim!” he roared. The two score Varl that had joined him on the ridge repeated the battle cry and charged down towards the Dredge. The human soldiers were lead by a man with light brown curly hair and some stubble. He raised his spear, joining the Varl in charging down the hill.
    “Arberrang!” he yelled. The human soldiers cheered and followed him. The villagers at the barricade were filled with vigour and renewed their fight.
    “Skanvik!” they yelled, leaping over the barricades to assault the Dredge. Alette stayed on the ridge, still shooting arrows into the Dredge army. It was not long before the Dredge were driven off. When the last Dredge had disappeared into the trees Alette slung her bow over her shoulder and walked down the ridge to the village. The green cloaked man was talking to the leaders of the Varl and the human soldiers. The one armed Varl was also there.
    “This is the leader of our caravan.” the human leader explained, gesturing to Alette.
    “Prince Ludin. King Hakon. Iver.” she said, nodding to each in turn. The green cloaked man’s eyes went wide.
    “A prince and a king, led by a young girl?” he said.
    “My name is Alette. We have come from Boersgard.” she said.
    “Thank you for saving us, Alette.” the man said, bowing. “Your timing makes me think the gods have returned! I am Aleo, the skald.” That explains the lyre, Alette thought. This man was one of the travelling singers and storytellers known as skalds. “How is it that you came to lead these royals?” Aleo asked.
    “I…My father…killed the Sundr Bellower, and died in doing so.” she replied hesitantly. Her eyes met with Prince Ludin’s, the only one present to know the truth. She had shot the arrow that killed Bellower, but her father had pushed her down and claimed that he did, to save her.
    “I, Rook of Skogr, have slain you!” her father’s final words resounded in her head, and in her mind’s eye she saw the red giant Bellower holding him in its hand, crushing, squeezing, the life being forced out of him.
    “I’m sorry to hear that.” Aleo muttered, bringing Alette back to the present. “I shall sing songs of his deeds in honour of his sacrifice.” Alette bowed her head in thanks.
    “We need to prepare to leave.” Hakon, King of the Varl, said impatiently. “How soon can your people be ready to go?”
    “Go?” Aleo said, taken aback. “We cannot go. This is our home!”
    “Skogr was our home.” Alette said, gesturing to herself and Iver.
    “Hofn was his.” she raised an arm to point at Hogun, who was standing nearby helping the wounded. He was a man from one of Skogr’s neighbouring villages. He and his brother Mogun had mutinied against their village’s chieftain to join the people of Skogr.
    “Frostvellr was hers.” Alette pointed to Nid next to him, a mother of three from the walled town of Frostvellr, where the people of Skogr and Hofn stayed for a short, violent time.
    “Wyrmtoe was his.” she pointed to Finbjorn, a Varl warrior who was now chief of the town of Wyrmtoe, succeeding Krumr, an aged fighter who had died during the battle of Boersgard.
    “Reynivik was theirs.” she pointed to a group of families from the small village of Reynivik, which they had passed on the way to Boersgard.
    “Grofheim was his.” she gestured to Hakon, who had succeeded Jorundr as king of the Varl. Jorundr had fought at Grofheim and fallen back to Einartoft, where Alette’s – or at the time, Rook’s – caravan had met him. Hakon and Prince Ludin had departed for Arberrang shortly before the Dredge assaulted Einartoft. Iver had lost his arm battling the Sundr Bellower, and they had seen a giant serpent, the likes of which had never been witnessed before. With Rook’s help, Eyvind of the magical order of Menders had destroyed the great bridge at Einartoft, delaying the Dredge invasion. The caravan was cast out by Jorundr, and a few days later Einartoft fell. The caravan had reunited with Hakon and Ludin at Boersgard, where their army had provided Boersgard with enough troops to launch an attack against Bellower and his forces.
    “All of us here have left our homes.” Alette said. “Some of us are trying to get back to theirs.” she nodded at Ludin. “It’s no longer a safe world. Our only hope is the walls of Arberrang.” Aleo looked at his people, and the bodies that lay on the ground, many of whom were his friends.
    “Very well. We will come with you.” he said at last. “Let me talk to my people.”
    “Of course.” Alette nodded, doing her best to give a smile. The skald turned and walked back to his village, hugging a few of his fellow survivors along the way.

    It took a couple of hours to load Skanvik’s food and provisions onto carts and to prepare the people for departure. Aleo said that there were about a hundred and twenty people in his village, and it was difficult to find room on the boats. The fleet had two score longships. Skogr, Hofn, Frostvellr and Reynivik each had their own ship. The Varl of Wyrmtoe were divided between two ships. Ubin’s escort had one ship. Hakon’s army was split between fifteen. The people of Boersgard had five while the Governor and his nobles had a ship of their own. The Ravens had two ships, one of which held a strange casket. Bolverk, the massive Varl leader of the Ravens, had grown very protective of this casket, and had allowed no one near who wasn’t a Raven or the Mender Juno. Prince Ludin’s army had previously had ten ships, but had relinquished four to the people of Skanvik and now packed more tightly onto their remaining six. On Skogr’s ship, Iver banged a drum to keep time. There were fourteen oars, seven down each side. A cloth tent roof was set up near the back of the ship to provide shelter from the everlasting sunlight for those who weren’t rowing. Skogr’s ship was near the front of the fleet, with the red village banner blowing from the top of the mast. Alette had sewn into it the events of Boersgard. All in all, more had been added to the banner over the past few months than there had been over Skogr’s five generations of history. Before the Dredge invaded the biggest event on the banner was the split, where half of Skogr went south to set up the village of Bitra. Alette’s grandfather had been a little boy when that happened. Now the thirty two remaining people of Skogr were half a world away from their home, with perhaps no chance of ever going back. The people who had fled Hofn had left their banner with those who preferred to stay. Frostvellr had completely forgotten about theirs in the power struggle that Alette’s group had walked into. Reynivik had brought their banner, and it waved from their mast. Hakon’s ships had the blue and white pennants of Grofheim whilst Ludin’s had the red and gold of Arberrang. The Ravens had the Black Banner waving over Bolverk’s ship. Skanvik had also affixed their banner to the mast of one of their ships, while the other three still held the Arberrang colours. They would follow the River Ormsa west and south all the way to the ocean, then follow the coast north to Arberrang. Prince Ludin would try to negotiate with his father to allow Alette’s caravan into the city.

    Alette was standing at the bow of the ship, watching the treeline, seeing the occasional glimpse of movement.
    “How much longer?” one of the oarsmen grunted, clearly tired.
    “Only half an hour, then the shifts’ll change.” Alette responded.
    “I meant the journey.” the oarsman said. “How long till we get to Ormsdalr?”
    “A week.” Alette replied. “Maybe more. We’ll stop at the godstone of Aselei in a few days.” The oarsman nodded glumly, having got his answer.
    “Don’t like boats, Hadd?” one of the other oarsmen joked. A few people chuckled, Hadd included. Alette didn’t. She couldn’t. Hadd’s brow furrowed and he stopped smiling.
    “Are you alright?” he asked. Alette nodded and turned away, looking into the distance.
    “It’s okay to not be.” Hadd continued. Alette tried to think of something to say, but was interrupted by a shout from her left. Everyone turned to see one of the Ravens’ ships, the one with the giant casket. Bolverk, the giant with a snow bear pelt draped around his shoulders and greasy unkempt black hair, his horns broken near the base, was leaning over the side.
    “Girl!” he shouted. Alette said nothing. “You stopping to save every idiot along the river will get us all killed! These people are slowing us down and they don’t pull their weight!” The Ravens had stayed behind to watch the ships during the battle at Skanvik.
    “We’re doing the right thing, Bolverk!” Iver yelled from the stern of the ship. “Not that you’d know what that means!” The leader of the Ravens scowled and turned away, ordering his drummer to quicken the pace. Alette walked towards the stern of the ship, passing Freydis, Oddur the baker’s widow; the couple Arnulf and Aasa, and their son Ubba; the orphaned twins Dageid and Dotta, a few years older than Alette; Tofi, a fighter who’d lost his leg at Haukstorp; Torgrim the Elder and Torgrim the Younger, father and son. It was strange that some of these people she’d never met before leaving Skogr, despite living in the same village for her whole life, but now she felt a kinship to each and every one of them.
    “A-Alette?” a quiet voice said. It was Sigrod, a boy the same age as her.
    “Yes, Rod?” she responded. The boy wore a grey shirt and dark green trousers, and had short red hair and a few hairs on his chin.
    “It’s about Egil.” he said. Egil, the boy from Skogr with the iron shield, had died defending Alette during a mutiny from some of the Frostvellr fighters. It had been their leader, Onef, who had plunged a sword through his throat. She had done the same to him with one of her arrows. It had been the first time she’d killed another person. She missed Egil.
    “What about him?” she asked, a little more harshly than she meant.
    “Um, well, at the godstone of Marek I fought in the shield wall. Well, I say fought, I, uh, I panicked. I froze. I would have died, but Egil saved me. He was always better than me.”
    He wasn’t wrong, Alette thought. Quite often during Iver’s training sessions back home Sigrod had been in the mud with Egil standing over him victorious.
    “After that, I swore to myself I would be better. I would fight. Properly. But then, in the woods when the Frostvellr men attacked, I saw their leader come for you. I saw Egil get in the way. I saw them fight, and I could have helped. I should have helped. But I froze again. I could have saved him, but I didn’t.” The boy looked down at the floor, unwilling to meet Alette’s eyes. “It’s taken me a while, but I-I want to apologise. I failed him, and I want to change. I’m sorry.” Emotions ran through Alette’s head. Anger – he just stood back and let Egil die – followed by guilt – then again, she hadn’t done anything either until it was too late – then sympathy.
    “Thank you, Sigrod.” she said at last. The boy breathed a sigh of relief, but did not look up. “Olrik?” Alette said, turning to one of the rowers. A large bearded man looked up at her from his bench.
    “Can you teach Sigrod to fight next time we’re on land?”
    “Thanks Olrik.” Sigrod said. “I, uh, I’ll try not to let you down Alette.” Alette nodded and continued walking. Ducking under the tent cloth, she sat down next to her bow and quiver. Across from her sat Kristofer, a bald man with a blonde beard, and Aukfrosta, his adopted daughter. They had found Aukfrosta freezing in the snow on her own, and Kristofer and his wife Tindra, having been unable to have a child of their own, gladly took the girl under their wing. Tindra had died in Onef’s mutiny. After that Kristofer had learnt to fight, to try and make up for not being able to save Tindra. He had proven himself in the Battle of Boersgard.
    “How’s Auk?” Alette asked. Kristofer looked up.
    “She’s alright. She likes the boats.” he said.
    “Good.” Alette said, smiling at the girl. She had to smile and stay strong, especially around the children. There wasn’t much to talk about, so Alette just sat there. When Iver shouted for the shifts to change, she took up her position on one of the oars. Oddleif sat on the oar next to her. Oddleif had been the chieftain’s wife before they fled Skogr. The chieftain had died and Rook took up the mantle. It was also Oddleif who had trained Alette to use a bow. She wore a white tunic and cloak and had very pale blonde braided hair.
    “Not sure I’m cut out for boats.” she grumbled.
    “You should talk to Hadd, you have that in common.” Alette said.
    “You know, you have your father’s wit.” Oddleif said. Alette looked at her, and her expression dropped. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Rook had a way of making the rest of us stronger, and sometimes that way was through humour.”

  15. #35
    They continued rowing for several hours. The river narrowed, and some shuffling and changing of speeds had to happen until the fleet travelled in two columns. Eventually shouting was heard from the boats ahead.
    “Stop!” the voices said. The cry was repeated by the drummer of each ship and eventually the fleet came to a halt. Alette stood up and turned towards the front. Trees had fallen from either side and driftwood had accumulated, blocking the river. Alette walked to the bow of the ship, and was joined by Iver. Planks of wood started being set down between ships, so that messages could be carried.
    “What do you want to do?” he said.
    “Get some of our axemen to work on either side, chopping at the trees and breaking up the driftwood.”
    “Got it, I’ll send the message to Hakon and Ludin, and they can order theirs.”
    “I want to go ashore as well.”
    “Are you sure? Could be a trap.” Iver looked at her questioningly.
    “All the more reason for lookouts. I’ll take some of Odd’s archers.”
    “I’ll come with you.”
    “No. I’ll need you to get the boat moving if anything goes wrong.”
    “Fine.” The Varl crossed his arms.

    It took a while for arrangements to be made, but eventually two of Ludin’s ships, as well as Skogr’s, landed on the southern bank while three of Hakon’s landed on the northern bank. Alette jumped down to the shore, along with Oddleif, the twins Dageid and Dotta, the hunter Ljotulf, Oddni, Frida, the swordsmen Kristofer and Hrolf, and the axeman Arnulf. The seven archers had arrows nocked and stood behind the other three, scanning the treeline. Prince Ludin was organising defensive lines and people to cut the trees. He also sent two people into the woods as scouts. Alette walked over to the prince.
    “How long will it take?” she asked.
    “Could take anywhere from a quarter to half an hour.” Ludin replied, his spear in hand. On his left stood Yrsa, a red-cloaked archer with long brown hair. She wore a red hat and had a scar running along her left cheek. She was called by some a witch, for her proficiency with fire. On his right was the dark-skinned Varl Bersi, with long black hair and a beard, wearing a black and yellow tunic. He leaned on his bearded axe and peered at everyone and everything through suspicious eyes.
    “Arnulf!” Alette shouted. The axeman with a short brown beard and a blue shirt joined her. “Assist the Prince’s men with the blockage.” she ordered. The man nodded and ran over to the blockage, starting to hack away at the driftwood. Twenty minutes went by, in which the trees were weakened and some of the smaller bits of driftwood started to break away and head downriver. It wouldn’t be long now.
    “Dredge!” a voice cried. The guards, most of whom had relaxed or sat down, sprung to their feet, weapons at the ready. Alette and her archers nocked arrows, having also relaxed and put them away. One of the Prince’s scouts ran from the woods shouting. “Dredge!” he managed one more time before a stone flew from the trees, catching him on the back of the head. He stumbled and fell, his head bleeding. More stones started flying from the treeline, but the woods were thick enough that the aggressors could not be seen.
    “Shields!” Ludin shouted, and his men formed into tight lines with overlapping shields. Kristofer and Hrolf joined the end of the line, adding their shields to the walls, while the archers ran behind. Frida was cut down by a projectile before she could reach the safety of the shield wall.
    Alette drew her arrow and shot over the shields into the trees and her archers followed suit. None of them were sure if they’d hit anything, but hopefully it would take the pressure off.
    “Axemen! Retreat onto the ships!” Ludin shouted. The axemen started to wade into the water and board the ships, some being hit by the Dredge slingers, turning the water red.
    “Arnulf!” Alette yelled. He ran towards her, bent down to stay in the cover of the shields. He ran to Skogr’s ship, but as he climbed up a stone slashed across his leg, he screamed in pain, but a couple of the oarsmen grabbed him before he fell, pulling him into the boat. The fighters who had remained on the ship took their shields to the front to provide cover for those on board. Ludin was ordering his men to evacuate in groups while the others retained the shield wall. Alette turned to her archers.
    “Get on the ship in pairs!” she yelled. “Oddni, Ljotulf, get ready! The rest of you shoot!” She nocked an arrow, as did Oddleif and the twins. “Go!” Alette cried and the four archers drew their bows, loosing as the other two ran for the boats. “Twins, go!” She and Oddleif shot two more arrows into the trees as Dageid and Dotta ran for the ship. Suddenly the soldier who was standing next to Kristofer fell down, a stone having hit his knee, and immediately another stone impacted with his head, sending him reeling back dead. “All four of us!” Alette shouted. “Go!” Trying to move as a unit, Kristofer and Hrolf holding their shields up while Alette and Oddleif let off rushed shots with their bows, the four of them moved towards the ship. Alette jumped and grabbed the hand of Hadd, who pulled her aboard. She turned to help Hrolf as Oddleif helped Kristofer. She grabbed his arm and started to pull when his head jerked to the side, a red gash appearing. Blood splattered onto the side of the ship as Alette let go in shock. The dead man fell back into the water. Iver started drumming and the oarsmen pushed against the ground with their oars, trying to get off the shore. Alette looked at the rest of the fleet and saw that some of the boats had forced their way through the weakened blockage, while Hakon’s forces on the opposite bank had also come under attack. She looked back as her ship began to move away from the shore and saw that the Prince’s ship had also started moving. The third ship was not yet full, with about a dozen troops still on the shore, filing off in pairs. There was a flash from the darkness of the trees and a glowing blue rock arced through the air, landing on the deck of the ship. Soldiers hid behind shields or jumped off the boat and the rock exploded, splintering the woodwork. Men were sent splashing into the water, while the boat split into two halves. Dredge warriors surged out of the trees and attacked the small shield wall, quickly overwhelming it. The ones who stood their ground had their shields battered with the black stone maces of the Dredge grunts until the shields broke, then the maces were brought down on their head or chest, their blood staining the soil. Those who broke ranks and fled into the water were brought down by slinger projectiles or pulled back by the faster Dredge and held under the water. Some of the men on the wrecked boat managed to get weapons and a sergeant held his sword on high, leading a suicide charge into the Dredge. Other men had had limbs blown off by the explosion and lay there screaming. A few had managed to make it out of the shallows and were swimming away, but they were picked off by Dredge slingers, the water around them turning red. All the men on Ludin’s and Alette’s ships stayed silent, helpless to do anything but watch the massacre as the ships moved away from the shore.

  16. #36
    The next two days were solemn. The same had happened on the northern bank, Hakon losing a score of his Varl. Ludin had lost the entire crew of one ship plus a dozen more. Skogr had lost two of its people, Frida and Hrolf. It was a huge relief when the river widened and the island on which stood the godstone of the goddess Aselei became visible. The Ravens landed first and immediately set about scouring the island, making sure there were no more Dredge lying in wait. There were some trees on the western side of the island but the eastern side, on which the fleet landed, was all rocky beaches. In the centre of the island, near the top of a small hill, was the godstone, in the shape of a long haired woman crawling towards the crest of the hill. Aselei was the goddess of travellers and wanderers, representing the struggle to see what lies over the next hill. After the Ravens returned giving the all clear, the other seventeen ships were disembarked. Most were glad to be on dry land, but some were still shaken from the ambush. Tents were set up around the godstone, Alette’s own tent at the very top of the hill. Putting her bow, quiver and cloak to one side Alette lay down on her bedroll and stared up at the cloth roof of the tent. On the boats there had been no privacy. She had been forced to be Alette the Leader constantly. In here, beneath the cover of the tent, out of sight of anyone else, she could be anyone. She imagined being Alette the Girl, who never had to leave Skogr. Alette the Girl, who had never heard of Dredge outside of stories. Alette the Girl, whose father was still alive.

    She didn’t know how much time had passed when a voice spoke from outside.
    “Alette, there’s someone here to see you.” It was the voice of Guthrum, one of Skogr’s people who she had posted as a guard. She stood and put on her cloak, drawing up her hood. She lifted the flap of the tent and saw Aselei’s stony face staring down at her. Below that, three men stood. There was Guthrum, with long brown hair and a braided beard.
    “Thank you Guthrum.” Alette said. “You can go now.” The man nodded and walked away towards his own tent. The other two men were quite a sight. One had a wild thatch-coloured beard and hair barely tucked into his iron helmet. He wore a brown tunic and had a sword at his belt. His shield was painted blue. The other man wore a wolf pelt cloak in which was held a thin rondel dagger. This man had a trimmed greying black beard and shortly cut black hair on the top of his head. He had tattoos down the side of his face, and sharp, suspicious eyes. The most startling thing about him was that he was missing his right hand and there was a scar running all the way across his neck. Clearly this man had seen action.
    “Finally, I get to meet our new leader.” the man said. He was well spoken, probably from an upper class background, similar to Prince Ludin. His next statement proved this. “My name is Rugga. I am the governor of Boersgard.”
    “It’s nice to meet you.” Alette said courteously.
    “Likewise. With the chaos of the siege and our river-borne flight I was unable to introduce myself. I’m guessing you’ve never been to Arberrang before.”
    “No. I’d never left Skogr before all this.” Alette shook her head.
    “Arberrang is different to anything you’ve seen before. I came to Boersgard for a more relaxing life.” That gave Alette all the information she needed. “You might be a good leader for the road, but trust me when I say you are not prepared for the bear’s den that is the capital.” He extended his left hand. “Allow me to act as your advisor.”
    “Very well.” Alette nodded, shaking the governor’s hand. The man bowed.
    “I look forward to working with you. I’ll talk to you again later.” he turned and walked away. The island on which they were encamped was covered from end to end in tents. Around the godstone were the tents belonging to Skogr, Hofn, Frostvellr and Reynivik, being the smaller villages. The Varl were all set up on the western side of the island, with Ubin’s group and those from Wyrmtoe closest to the centre. The soldiers of Arberrang were encamped along the southern shore of the island. The people of Skanvik were between the godstone and the camp of Arberrang. The sprawling mass of the Boersgard camp covered the northern shore. The Ravens were set up on the east side, closest to where they had landed, with their mysterious casket in the centre of their camp. Alette wanted to talk to Ludin and see how he was dealing with the aftermath of the ambush. She walked south, past the people of Skogr and through the Hofn camp. She was stopped by Hogun, one of the twins who had taken on leadership of his village.
    “Alette. I’d like to talk to you.” he said. He wore a red tunic and had an axe at his belt. He had long blonde hair and a braided beard. He and his brother Mogun were identical except for a scar running along Mogun’s face.
    “What is it?” Alette asked.
    “I’m concerned about Mogun. He’s been spending far too much time talking to those Ravens.” To emphasise his point, he scowled in the direction of the Ravens’ camp.
    “Talking about what?”
    “Getting drunk, trading war stories, that kind of thing. He’s always been that kind of man, but until all this started happening he and I were alright. Since then, we’ve…” he hesitated. “We’ve drifted. And now he’s off with those mercenaries and I’m worried he’s getting ideas of leaving.”
    “Leaving?” Alette furrowed her brow.
    “Well, leaving us, Hofn, our people. Although, with the way they isolate themselves, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Ravens just up and left the whole caravan.”
    “I see.” Alette thought for a moment. “I don’t think there’s much you can do, so don’t worry. He’s a fighter, he can take care of himself.”
    “He’s a fighter, so he’ll get himself into trouble, most like.” Hogun sighed. “Well, I guess, like you say, there isn’t much I can do.”
    “You should look after your wife and son.” Alette said. “They’re the ones who need you.”
    “You’re right.” Hogun nodded. “Thanks.” Alette nodded back and continued, walking past Ubin’s tent. The old white haired Varl was writing, as always. That reminded her to record the deaths of Frida and Hrolf on Skogr’s banner. She would do that before they left this island.
    As she walked through the Skanvik camp she was greeted and thanked by everyone. Aleo, the skald and chieftain of the village, stopped and bowed before her with a performer’s theatrical flair.
    “Greetings, Alette.” he said with a smile.
    “Hello, Aleo.” Alette replied.
    “Your Mender has been a great help with our wounded.” The skald explained. “I want to thank you again for taking us in. With the Dredge all along the shore like that, we don’t know if we’d have survived much longer.”
    “Don’t mention it.” Alette said. “I am only doing the best I can do; what my father would have done.” She looked down at the ground. Aleo laid a hand on her shoulder.
    “You’ve made him proud, I’m sure.” he said, trying to cheer her up. She forced a small smile.
    “Where is Eyvind now?” she asked, veering away from the subject of Rook.
    “He’s over there, dealing with the last of the injured.” Aleo pointed to a large tent to his right. Alette nodded and walked over, seeing people from the battle at Skanvik as well as the wounded from the river ambush. The humans were lying down on tables set up in organised rows and columns under the cover of the tent. Varl were instead on bedrolls on the floor due to the difference in size. Some of the people who had already been tended to had unnatural-looking scars where only a few days ago there had been bleeding gashes. Eyvind was working on Arnulf - who had been injured in the leg during the ambush - with Juno standing next to him. He was a young man with short brown hair and a pointed beard. He wore a blue shirt and brown trousers, and held a wooden staff engraved with patterns, with which he did his work. Juno, the woman a couple of years his elder, and to whom he was an apprentice and lover, wore a long blue-grey cloak on the shoulders of which were black raven wings. Underneath her hood she had long braided black hair. Her Mender’s staff was in the form of an ornate spear. She had around her a strangely authoritative aura that was only enhanced when she spoke. It must have been the power of the Valka, the highest ranked members of the Order of Menders. She looked at Alette with piercing eyes, telling her without words not to speak, for risk of distracting Eyvind from his work. She waited until the Mender was finished, and then spoke.
    “Hello, Eyvind.” she said. The man looked up from his work and smiled.
    “Hello.” he said quickly before looking back at Arnulf. “There. Take it easy on that leg now.” Arnulf looked at his leg, running a hand over the new scar on his thigh. He had a look of slight disgust, but mostly gratitude.
    “Thank you.” he said, before standing slowly, nodding at Alette and leaving the tent.
    “It’s weary work.” Eyvind said, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow.
    “Maybe you should take a break. I’ll deal with the rest.” Juno said smiling at him. He looked at her and smiled back.
    “Thanks. I guess I need it.” He looked at Alette. “And I guess you want to talk about something.” He walked over to an empty table and leant back on it, putting his staff down to rest on his hands. Alette did the same.
    “I just wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done. Most of these people wouldn’t be alive if not for you.”
    “Thank her.” He gestured to Juno. “She’s the one who taught me.” He looked at Alette’s bow, which she had rested against the table. “Maybe you could give it a try.”
    “Me? Mending?” Alette said quizzically.
    “You’ve already shown intelligence and an ability to focus under pressure. Those are the main parts of being a Mender. All you really need to learn is how to see the world the way a Mender does.”
    “And how’s that?”
    “You see it as a sort of tapestry made up of threads, and once you start seeing the world as threads, you can manipulate them. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but when I’m doing my work I act as if I’m playing a harp. That’s the method I use, anyway. I see the threads of the world as invisible strings.”
    “Strings that call lightning from the sky.” Alette said. Eyvind’s expression dropped. He looked like he was about to say something, but changed his mind.
    “Don’t expect to be able to do anything like that. That is a rare gift, which I have been fortunate enough to have.” He now picked up his staff to show it to Alette. “Take the string off your bow.” Alette reached into a pouch at her belt and pulled out a long bit of string, which she used to remove the string of her bow. She handed Eyvind the bow. He started to visibly focus on it, his fingers making small plucking motions. After a few moments it looked as if the bow was starting to splinter slightly.
    “What are you doing?” Alette asked, but Eyvind continued his work. Tiny flakes of wood started to drift away and Alette saw that intricate patterns were starting to appear in the limbs of the bow, as if being carved with a knife. Ten minutes must have passed by the time Eyvind finished.
    “There.” he said. “The basic patterns every novice Mender has on their staff. Whenever you have a free moment, study these carvings, run your fingers along them until they are engraved in your memory. It will take a long time, but when you feel you have memorised the patterns, both by sight and touch, then come and see me again and I’ll show you how to begin Mending.”
    “Alright, I will.” Alette said. “Thank you, Eyvind.” She walked away with her newly decorated bow, having put the strings in her pouch. She was approaching the entrance of the tent the flap opened and two soldiers in red and gold walked in. Following them was Prince Ludin and Yrsa. Alette stood by while he walked over to the tables on which lay his wounded men. His two guards stood on either side of the entrance. The man on the left kept looking at one of the wounded troops in particular. Ludin looked back and gave him an understanding nod. The man bowed and walked to his friend, removing his helmet and laying it on the ground. His friend, who had a bandage covering the right half of his face, raised his hand to clasp that of the standing soldier. The Prince looked at them remorsefully.
    “You did what you could.” Yrsa said quietly, putting a hand on his shoulder.
    “It wasn’t enough. I could’ve posted more sentries, sent more scouts-ˮ
    “It was a battle. Battles have casualties. We achieved our objectives; that’s all that matters. As a leader, you have to deal with that and move on.” Yrsa said. Her voice was flat, as if it was only her mouth speaking, not her heart.
    “I’m no leader.” Ludin said, dropping his shoulders. “A commander, at best. The title of leader goes to someone else.” he looked at Alette.
    “You’re the Prince. Heir to a kingdom. You have to be a leader.” Yrsa said. “Alette is just a village girl.”
    “I’m not sure I appreciate the tone, but she’s right.” Alette gave a quick glare at Yrsa. “By your birthright as son of the King, you are a leader whether you want to be or not.”
    “It’s the same for you though, isn’t it, daughter of Rook?” The mention of her father made her face twinge. Seeing that he had struck a nerve, Ludin quickly looked down. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
    “Maybe you should go.” suggested Yrsa. Alette gently touched Ludin’s shoulder as a sign of support, then left, heading back to her tent.

  17. #37
    Once Alette reached her tent she recorded the events of the journey since Skanvik, including their two casualties. Then she spent the next few hours following Eyvind’s instructions, examining the patterns he had engraved into her bow. After a while she closed her eyes and ran her fingers along the limbs of the bow, trying to memorise the twists and turns. She found that it helped to take her mind away from everything else, although it was rather boring. She heard swords clanging against shields from outside. Glancing through the open tent flap she saw Olrik training Sigrod. Arnulf, Kristofer, Olrik’s wife Dagne and a few others had also decided to have an impromptu sparring session. Torgrim the Elder was teaching his son, Torgrim the Younger, how to correctly hold a shield and axe, although it would be a few years yet before the Younger was anywhere near fighting age. At one point Iver walked past, and decided to stand and watch, occasionally correcting someone’s stance. An hour later, shuffling was heard and the sparrers stepped aside as Bolverk walked through, heading for Alette’s tent. She put down her bow and stood in the entrance, looking up at the giant.
    “We’ve stayed here too long.” the Varl said.
    “Two days.” Alette replied. “We’ll stay one more, then we’ll continue the next day.”
    “Soft. I’d have my Ravens on forced march.”
    “Well it’s not just your Ravens here.” Alette folded her arms.
    “Of course. You’ve got all these weak and useless people here. We ought to leave them behind.”
    “We ought to leave that casket behind.” At that Bolverk’s brow furrowed and Alette became nervous. The Varl leant over Alette, looking down on her. She felt a bead of sweat form on her forehead, but refused to show her fear.
    “No.” he growled.
    “What’s in there that’s so important?” said a new voice. Bolverk straightened up and turned to Iver. Alette gave him an appreciative nod.
    “It’s not for you to know.” Bolverk snarled. He turned to Alette again. “But we need to get moving. Now.”
    “We’ll leave tomorrow.” said Alette, hoping to compromise.
    “Fine.” Bolverk grunted. He pushed his way past Iver, who continued to watch him go.
    “Nicely handled.” he said. “Didn’t give in or anger him.”
    “He looked pretty angry.” Alette said.
    “He’s a berserk. They’re always angry.”
    “What’s a berserk?” Alette asked.
    “A berserk is a Varl who decides to forego society completely. They live in the wilderness, wearing a bear pelt as a cloak, hence the name. In battle, well you saw him at Boersgard no doubt. They get taken over by a frenzied rage. Sometimes they can be more harm to their own than to the enemy.” Alette listened with interest as Iver explained.
    “If we get into a battle, we’ll want to keep him away from ours then.”
    After a few moments of silence Alette drew up her hood. “Well, I’d better go and tell everyone we’re leaving tomorrow.”

    As soon as the horn that signalled the morning was blown the people were up and packing away their things. Once they set sail Alette, as well as some of the oarsmen, could swear that the river was flowing faster than before. Maybe it was just the effect of taking a few days on dry land before going back to the boats. Alette also noticed mist, which gradually got thicker over the course of the day. It got to the point that she could barely see the riverbanks. The river was flowing faster, Alette noticed after a few hours. There was also a rumbling noise, very quiet, but as time went on it started to rise. The Frostvellr ship had ended up in front of Skogr’s, and Nid, one of Frostvellr’s archers known for her sharp eye, came running to the stern of the ship.
    “Waterfall!” she yelled. Alette stood and walked right to the bow of her ship to confirm what she’d heard. “Waterfall!” Nid shouted again, and the Frostvellr ship’s oarsmen reversed their strokes, bringing the ship nearly to a halt, turning to the right as they did so. The Skogr oarsmen barely reacted in time, the ship all but ramming into the hull of the first. Alette heard a cry and a splash in front.
    “Make for the northern shore!” she yelled at the very top of her lungs. Iver, who was standing at the stern, raised a horn to his mouth and blew. Other horns blew amidst shouting as the other ships in the fleet slowed down and turned. There were cracks and more cries and splashes as ships collided into each other or the many sharp rocks that jutted out of the water. As Skogr’s boat turned and rowed for the northern bank, Alette saw Dredge start to come out onto the beach that lined the shore. Nid was shooting arrows from the bow of her ship, and Alette rushed to the tent area to get her bow and arrows. One of the Varl ships made it to shore first, the lead Varl, one of Hakon’s lieutenants named Griss, led the warriors into the Dredge. Those fighters on Skogr’s ship who were not manning the oars grabbed their weapons and prepared to land. Alette nocked an arrow and shot at a Dredge slinger that had rushed ahead of the main Dredge line, but the rushing water and rocking ship threw her aim off. Griss’ vanguard charged into the Dredge ranks approaching from the treeline as Skogr’s ship plowed into the beach. Further upriver a ship - she wasn’t sure who it was, maybe Reynivik - crashed into a group of rocks, throwing many of the people into the water to be washed away by the current. The Ravens landed and were almost instantly running forwards, Bolverk leading the charge with a mighty roar. Skogr’s fighters jumped from the boat and ran towards the Dredge, shields raised to deflect the slinger’s projectiles. Iver was grabbing his axe ready to charge. Alette wanted to see how the rest of the fleet was doing, but she needed to focus on the battle right in front of her. Her own fighters were joining the Varl of Griss and the Ravens. She, along with Oddleif, Dageid, Dotta, and Ljotulf started loosing volleys of arrows from behind the shield wall. Griss’ warriors had succeeded in causing a breach in the Dredge ranks, and the Skogr shield wall charged in to take advantage. Slightly behind them was the hesitant Sigrod.
    “Sig!” Alette yelled. Sigrod glanced at her, then ran forwards to do his part. After the Dredge had been pushed back some way, Alette gave the order for the non-fighters to begin disembarking. Sharp cracks sounded from the right, and Alette glanced upriver to see bolts of lightning arcing down into the treeline. That meant Hakon’s ship, on which the two Menders had been travelling, had landed not too far away. A flash of white fur disappearing into the treeline indicated Bolverk’s frenzy had taken hold while the other Ravens stood in two ranks, pushing the Dredge back in an organised shield wall. Suddenly, a deep warbling was heard, and Alette saw a large Dredge, larger even than the Stoneguards or Scourges, step forward. It was wearing beige cloths wrapped around its arms and torso underneath the usual stone armour, and its breastplate didn’t have the normal pauldrons. It held a strange weapon in its right hand that had two curved spikes jutting out from it. In its left it held a more conventional stabbing blade. The Dredge lunged at Griss, who raised his shield to deflect the blow. The shield stopped the attack, but one of the spikes hooked around the top of Griss’ shield. The Dredge pulled away with its right hand, opening Griss up to attack, and thrust with its left, impaling the Varl. The Dredge let out another warbling cry and a number of Stoneguards formed up around it.
    “That’s their leader!” Alette yelled. “Kill that, and maybe they’ll fall back!” Olrik, who was leading the shield wall, raised his weapon and shouted.
    “On me!” he yelled, and the shield wall charged at the new Dredge. It swung with its hooked weapon, chucking away Hadd and Guthrum in a splash of blood. Torgrim the Elder thrust at the Dredge with a spear while Olrik and Dagne tried to hack at the back of its knees with their axes. Sigrod was engaged with a Dredge Grunt and Kristofer was working with Ginnlaug to take down a Stoneguard. Alette shot at the leader with her bow, the arrow bouncing off its armour. Then there was a roar, from the treeline, a flash of white fur, and Bolverk ran out from the trees, leaping from Dredge to Dredge with his twin axes, finally jumping onto the back of the Dredge leader and embedding both axe heads into its head. The fighters backed away as the Dredge fell and Bolverk was instantly jumping at the nearest Dredge Scourge, felling that with a mighty swing. The remaining Dredge started to fall back.
    “Regroup!” Alette shouted to prevent her fighters chasing the Dredge. The surviving Varl came back, the ones with shields forming a loose shield wall. Sigrod was visibly shaking, barely holding onto his sword. Alette gave him an appreciative nod. The Ravens held their shield wall, though the large shield maiden was trying to calm Bolverk down. Blue and white banners came from the right, and Hakon and his warriors approached. Eyvind and Juno were with him.
    “Ludin’s men are making a beachhead and helping the civilians disembark. I’ve ordered some of my Varl to do the same.” Hakon explained.
    “Thanks.” Alette replied. “We can’t cross that chasm, so any ideas?”
    “We’ll have to think quickly. It won’t take long for them to regroup and attack again.” Iver said, joining them. Eyvind and Juno hurriedly whispered to each other.
    “We might have a plan. It’s a gamble, though.” Juno said.
    “Gods, it’s bad when a Valka plan is the only plan…” Hakon sighed.
    “I can’t promise everyone will make it.” Eyvind muttered. Juno gave him a look.
    “What’s the idea?” Alette asked. Eyvind took a deep breath.
    “We’re going to make a bridge across the chasm.” he said. Everyone there but the two Menders looked confused. “Using our Mender’s powers, we might be able to raise up the rocks from the bottom to create a bridge. It’s risky, but it might be our only option.”
    “No.” Hakon said, simply. “You’re expecting to get close to a thousand people to walk on a bunch of floating rocks across a hundred foot chasm? Forget it.”
    “It’s our only way across!” Eyvind raised his voice.
    “Alette?” Juno prompted, looking at her.
    “I trust you.” Alette said. “Get us across.” Hakon gave her a disbelieving look, but eventually nodded. Juno looked grateful.
    “Eyvind, get started. I’ll talk to the people.” Eyvind nodded and walked to the edge of the cliff, taking deep breaths and mentally preparing himself for the task. Juno jumped onto a boulder to look out over the people who had now assembled.
    “There is a dangerous task ahead of us!” she shouted. Through some Mender’s trick her voice was projected, resounding in people’s heads to make sure everyone could hear. “As I speak Mender Eyvind is crafting a bridge of rock to take us across the chasm.” Murmuring started amongst the crowd. “We need to keep the caravan as calm and organised as possible to make sure everyone gets across safely. I know you will all be scared, but please trust me!” There were some agreements, but many were reluctant. A rumbling shook the ground, and Alette looked at Eyvind to see that the first part of the bridge had been formed, a large chunk of earth ripped out of the ground and floating next to the cliff. Eyvind was straining, and now moved forwards onto the rock.
    “Please go!” Juno shouted, pointing at the floating rock. Some people moved, but others stayed put. The sounds of warhorns prompted a few more to start walking, and others were simply swept along by the crowd, until finally everyone was joining Eyvind on the rock. A contingent of Prince Ludin’s soldiers were holding the rear. The warhorns meant that the Dredge had regrouped and were now advancing towards them. Finbjorn, the leader of Wyrmtoe, led some of his Varl warriors towards the rear to face the new threat. Alette could not push through the crowd, and had to make sure her people were moving, so she walked towards the chasm. The first step onto the floating rock was strange. More rocks were now floating up to continue the bridge, Eyvind and Juno walking forwards with the people following. Finbjorn and the men of Arberrang were giving ground slowly. Eventually, everyone made it onto the rock bridge, including the rear guard, who were fighting the Dredge. Slingers ran to line the cliffs, pelting the sides of the caravan with their stones. People started to drop dead, falling from the bridge, screams echoing through the chasm, barely distinguishable from the roaring of the waterfall. Panic began gripping the people, causing some to push others off the edge in their scramble for safety. There was more rumbling as another rock joined the bridge. Alette looked at Eyvind to see that he was strained nearly beyond his limit. They were about a third of the way across the chasm now. There was little Alette could do but continue walking, and hope that her perseverance would inspire her followers. The shouts and screams from the back escalated, and Alette turned to Hakon, who was clearly nervous.
    “What’s going on at the back?” she shouted. Hakon looked back, his face turning to shock, both hands grasping his axe.
    “The Dredge have broken the line!” he yelled. “The people at the back are under attack!” Alette gasped.
    “Lift me up!” She ordered. Hakon grabbed her and lifted her up onto his shoulder. She could see now that people were bunching up near the front as the ones at the back shoved their way forwards. The members of Finbjorn’s warriors and Ludin’s soldiers who were at the back had broken, the shield wall falling apart and individual soldiers separated and cut down. Dredge were pouring through the gaps and attacking the civilians. More people were cast into the chasm in their fear-stricken rush. An inhuman scream from the front made Hakon turn around. Alette now looking at Eyvind, who was writhing in pain and near collapse. The edges of the rocks he had brought up were crumbling, cracks appearing in the ground beneath their feet.
    “The stress!” Juno shouted as Alette jumped down from Hakon’s shoulders. “He can’t handle it!” Alette ran to join the two Menders and reached out with a supportive hand for E yvind. Juno grabbed her suddenly, holding her back. “You can’t distract him! We have to lighten the load!” At that Juno looked towards the back of the caravan with an almost chilling look. Alette looked back, then realised with horror what Juno was thinking.
    “No!” Alette shrieked, but it was too late. Juno waved her hand and the sound of rumbling and cracking echoed from the back, along with screams. Alette looked at Hakon again and he lifted her up. The back quarter of the caravan, which was mostly people from Boersgard and Skanvik, as well as the Dredge who had followed them, could do nothing but scream as the ground beneath them crumbled, sending all of them – Human, Varl and Dredge alike – down to the bottom of the chasm. Alette looked at Juno, who simply had a look of grim determination on her face. Eyvind’s spasms ceased and he was able to continue. Alette jumped down from Hakon’s shoulders once more and stomped towards Juno, grabbing the collar of the Mender’s robe on a threatening manner.
    “Why them?” she roared, with a rage that surprised herself. “Why not the Ravens’ stupid cart?”
    “Not the cart.” Juno responded calmly. Alette calmed down, getting her breathing back under control, and found her hands letting go of the Juno’s robe. She still fixed the Mender with an icy stare, before continuing the walk along the land bridge.

  18. #38
    About ten painful minutes passed before the caravan reached the other side of the chasm, on which lay Ormsdalr. People practically jumped onto solid ground, and once everybody remaining was safely across Eyvind let out a grunt of relief as the last rocks fell to the chasm floor. When he turned around there were a number of gasps. He had aged at least twenty years, his beard greying and wrinkles appearing on his face. He tried to lean on his staff, but collapsed into Juno’s arms. Looking around, Alette examined the town. Ormsdalr was once a great trading hub, but now its buildings were abandoned and ruined, some effectively hanging over the edge of the cliff. The caravan split back into its constituent groups as family and friends rushed to embrace each other.
    “Alette!” a familiar woman’s voice sounded from the crowd. Oddleif burst forth and threw her arms around her. Alette responded in kind.
    “It’s good to see you’re alright.” Alette gasped. Oddleif let go and her expression dropped.
    “We lost Tofi and Bakr.” she said. Tofi had been a fighter, but had suffered a leg injury at Haukstorp. Bakr was Skogr’s oldest man, at sixty seven.
    “Oh.” There were now only twenty four people left from Skogr. She could see other people sobbing as news of passed loved ones was carried around. The adrenaline was now wearing off and Alette realised how tired she was. She saw Aleo shuffling along with an empty look in his eye. As she approached he looked up.
    “I lost half my village.” he muttered, no inflection in his voice. The normally jolly skald was now broken and despondent.
    “I’m so sorry.” Alette croaked. She reached out for his shoulder, but he tensed up, his brow furrowing.
    “It was that damn Mender’s fault!” he growled. Some nearby turned to face him, nodding in agreement. Alette saw that this could go very badly very quickly.
    “They killed my Estrid!” one man shouted, grabbing an axe and raising it in the air.
    “You said we could trust you!” a woman cried. More shouting and jeering rose to a crescendo as people rounded on the two Menders. In the midst of the crowd Alette saw Rugga watching her, seeing how she would handle the situation. Her first test. She ran to the nearest rundown shack and climbed on top, raising her arms to get people’s attention.
    “Listen to me!” she ordered. The shouting quietened down a bit, but the crowd was still advancing slowly towards Juno and the unconscious Eyvind, Aleo leading them. Alette couldn’t get everyone’s attention by shouting, so she came up with a more risky idea. She unslung the bow from her shoulder and nocked an arrow, aiming into the air. Measuring the angle just right, she released. The arrow soared in an arc, and as it reached the zenith Alette held her breath, praying to all the dead gods she’d got it right. The arrow came down and landed two feet from Aleo at the front of the crowd. Aleo himself jumped back in shock while all other eyes turned to her.
    “We’ve all lost people!” Alette shouted. Thoughts of all her lost friends and family flashed through her mind. “Everyone here has suffered! But we would all be dead if not for Eyvind and Juno! They did what they had to to keep as many people alive as possible! It may have been my father who shot the arrow that slew Bellower, but it was Juno’s plan. If she hadn’t been there none of us would have made it out of Boersgard, and then we wouldn’t have been there to help Skanvik in its hour of need. The truth is –ˮ
    “Alette!” Oddleif shouted, running from the direction of the outskirts of Ormsdalr. “It’s the Ravens! They’re leaving!” The crowd’s attention now turned away from the Menders. All except Rugga started following Oddleif to see what the fuss was about. Rugga fixed Alette with his calculating stare and gave a small nod. Alette jumped down from the building and joined the crowd, Juno giving her a grateful nod as Alette walked past, before going back to tending Eyvind.

    When the crowd reached the outskirts, where the Ravens were gathered, Hakon and Bolverk were confronting each other in a large space in the crowd. The large blonde shield maiden was keeping her troops organised in defending the mysterious cart. Juno had refused to drop it into the chasm, and Alette wondered what it was that the Mender wanted safe.
    “Stand down, or you’ll be missing more than your horns.” Hakon warned, his axe ready just in case. This only aggravated the Varl Berserk, whose knuckles had turned white grasping the handles of his twin axes. Alette looked at the crowd, seeing Prince Ludin, his Varl bodyguard Bersi and the witch Yrsa standing nearby. She ran for them, an idea springing into her mind.
    “Stand down?” Bolverk growled. “You yox-spawn!” he roared, sounding frighteningly similar to an actual bear. Alette reached Yrsa.
    “We need to separate them!” she yelled. Yrsa nodded as the two Varl lunged at each other. Yrsa reached into one of the pouches at her belt and brought out a fragile container, flicking her wrist and chucking it. It landed on the ground halfway between the two Varl and exploded, sending slivers of burning oil out in every direction. The Varl immediately backed away, afraid of the flames. Both of them immediately gave Yrsa a dirty look.
    “Ravens!” Bolverk yelled after a few moments, having calmed down slightly. “Move out!” Hakon looked at Alette quizzically.
    “Let them go!” she shouted. Hakon put away his axe and huffed. Some other people followed the Ravens, prompting the shield maiden to stand on her cart.
    “Any who wish to join us and can pull their weight are free to do so!” she said. This prompted more to join. Alette could see Mogun, Hogun’s brother; Ekkill, the leader of the Frostvellr fighters; Bersi, to Ludin’s surprise. Hakon looked irritated about the desertion, but let them all go. Hogun walked over to Alette.
    “I’m sort of glad he’s leaving.” Hogun said. “Is that bad?”
    “It’s his choice.” Alette replied. “He wants to spend his time fighting, the Ravens would be the right place for him.” Hogun shrugged. When the Ravens were gone, Alette started to organise camps and sentries, deciding that they all needed a rest. She didn’t even bother to lay out her bedroll, so tired she could just lie down on the ground, drifting into sleep almost immediately.

  19. #39
    Junior Member Bjorn the coalstoker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    This is a very good enterprise, ajrman.
    I myself tried to contact Stoic several times to propose (professionally) a project for an international novelization. I never got a reply. I guess they are only too busy working on the game or they thought about it long before and have already their operative plan. Whatever the case, it would be a pity not to have TBS developed on a cross-media dimension, with novels, paper RPG, comics and so on. Warbands is surely the first step on that direction, but I really hope they´ll do many more!

    Good writing .
    Fire never dies alone.

  20. #40
    It took me long enough, but here is Chapter Two of the second act. Given my rate of progress with this chapter (and it's a short chapter), I am opting to cut out the planned Horseborn chapters, and simply extend the roles of the Horseborn we see in Alette's story, so the next chapter will be following Alette's caravan instead of Canary's like I had originally planned. Maybe if I complete this with plenty of time before TBS 3, I might go back and redo these Horseborn chapters. Here is Chapter Two: Cast The Hone Into The Air...

    The Ravens always finish their jobs. This particular job had come from the Valka Juno. They were to take the cart from Boersgard and drop it in the Blue River, which flowed from the Godsreach hills west into a deep fjord before finally reaching the ocean. Juno hadn’t explained the nature of the cart’s contents - typical Valka secrets - but had promised a large sum from the Council at Manaharr once the job was done. Folka, the large blonde shield maiden, had allowed some of the other caravan to join the Ravens after the confrontation with Hakon. Bolverk questioned this decision, and rightfully so. Ormsdalr had only just disappeared behind the crest of a hill, the caravan going past a small wood, when a few of the new rats made a challenge.

    “You know, this cart looks big enough to fit two Varl in it. Could have a great deal of treasure inside.” said a bearded man wearing red, with blonde hair and a scar running across his face. An axe was at his belt. Half a dozen others stood behind him, the prospect of treasure inciting their curiosity. The rest of the Ravens slowed to a halt, gathering behind Bolverk or simply standing by the side.
    “The cart stays closed. Valka’s orders.” Bolverk growled.
    “Well the way we see it…” the fighter gestured to his allies. “The Valka’s not around anymore. Let’s see what riches she’s left for us.”
    “We’re mercenaries you idiot.” Bolverk raised his voice. “We’re paid to do jobs, not steal from our clients.”
    “Look around!” the bearded fighter said, raising his arms, a gleeful grin on his face. “Jobs and clients don’t mean a thing anymore! The world is ending and it is glorious!”
    “Take one more step and you and your band of rats die.” Bolverk said, drawing his axes. Folka shifted into a ready stance, her shield held forwards and spear lowered.
    “I was hoping you’d say that.” The fighter said, drawing his axe and taking a step forwards, taunting the bear. Bolverk leapt forwards, knocking the man down with his head before jumping to his friends with animalistic speed and strength. Fragments of details flashed through Bolverk’s mind as instinct took over. A severed arm. Snow turned red. A sharp pain as a spear bit into his shoulder followed by another splash of blood that wasn’t his own. Folka impaled a man who was then lifted up on her spear. The lead fighter, the only one left, tried to stand again but another Raven kicked at the back of his knees, forcing him down again. Bolverk stomped around to the front of the fighter. Time to make an example. Crossing his arms, he sliced with both axes in a scissor motion. A blonde, bearded head went flying. Bolverk looked at the other new recruits and snarled. None dared move.
    “Move out! Leave the dead!” he roared. The other rats fell in line as the Ravens set off again.

    “We should probably get to know a few of the recruits. Find out which ones might be trouble.” Folka suggested to Bolverk as they walked. The shield maiden was tall for a human, and wore a white surcoat over a long, dark grey tunic. Her blonde hair was in short pigtails. Her nose was bruised and misshapen from repeated breaks, collected over the course of years working with the Ravens.
    “I’m not much of a ‘get to know’ person.” Bolverk said.
    “I’ll do the talking then.” They started by approaching the Varl who had joined them, who had dark skin, black hair, and a long yellow and black tunic. He dragged a small cart with him, containing food, a tent, a long bearded axe, and a number of books.
    “You. What’s your name?” Folka greeted the Varl.
    “Bersi.” the Varl replied.
    “You were the Prince’s bodyguard.” Bolverk stated. Bersi nodded. “Most of those who join us seek riches. Why’d you?”
    “Let’s just say you’re not the only ones who have dealings with the Valka.” This cryptic answer was enough for Bolverk. The Varl wouldn’t say any more anyway. Folka, on the other hand, was intrigued.
    “You’re working for them too?” she asked.
    “I won’t say any more.” Bersi said, crossing his arms. Folka opened her mouth to speak, but Bolverk interrupted.
    “It doesn’t matter.” he said. Folka gave him a look, but continued walking. The next man had wild ginger hair under an iron helmet, and his beard was unkempt. His left eye twitched constantly. An axe was at his belt and he had a shield slung over his back.
    “What’s your name?” Folka asked.
    “Ekkill. You really made an example of Mogun.”
    “Who’s Mogun?”
    “The man who’s a head shorter than he was a few hours ago.”
    “You knew him?” Bolverk asked.
    “We were both travelling with Rook from early on.”
    “You didn’t try to help him, though.” Folka said.
    “Man was an angry fool, always picking fights with the wrong people.” He nodded to Bolverk. “Case in point.”
    “So why’d you join?” Folka asked.
    “Wasn’t really much else to do.” Ekkill shrugged. “You were looking for people who fight; I’m a person who fights. I brought a few of my men with me.”
    “Just as long as you follow orders.” Bolverk warned.
    “I can do that.” Ekkill nodded.
    Amongst the Boersgard recruits was one man throwing axes at some of the nearby trees. He hit his mark every time. While Folka got the names of the others, Bolverk approached the axe thrower. By his slightly delayed reaction and drifting eyes, Bolverk could tell this man was slightly drunk. The man’s shaggy black hair had receded, most likely shaven, beyond the top of his head, a single braid hanging from the side down to his shoulder, and he had rough sideburns on his gaunt face. The bald area of his head was covered in tattoos. He wore a brown shirt with mail visible under it. He had thrown four axes so far, and had another two at his belt and one in his hand. Also on his belt were a number of animal skins, probably containing mead or some other beverage.
    “Where’d you learn to throw like that?” Bolverk asked.
    “Taught myself.” The man said as he turned and threw his axe at a thin branch, the axe severing it from the trunk before embedding itself in another tree behind. “Name’s Oli.”
    “You’ll be better sober.” Bolverk muttered, with a hint of a command.
    “Not in the right state frame of mind when I’m sober.”
    “Mead’s under rations. You’d better not cause problems.” Bolverk said.
    “Tha’s fine. I won’t.”
    “Good. If you do you’ll have more than a hangover.” The man would probably be good friends with Sigbjorn, that perpetually inebriated Varl responsible for messing up the Reynivik contract. Bolverk joined Folka and heard her analysis of the other recruits. Mostly lowlifes who had lost their homes in Boersgard and simply needed somewhere to go, though some were actual fighters, having served Boersgard’s governor. Then there were Ekkill’s lot, half a dozen men from Frostvellr. Bolverk assigned scouting duties to some of them and walked alongside the cart.

    “This is the largest the Ravens have been in my lifetime.” an aged voice said from Bolverk’s side, after a while of walking. The old man Sparr, with his white hair and gold cloak, wore a large blue furry hat. He had a dagger at his belt and a shortbow over his back, though in recent years his skill with it had dwindled, a sign of his age. His wrinkled face had seen more fighting than most humans. He had first joined the Ravens at Karlshus, a mead hall along the Red River. Two rivalling gangs had come to blows, one of them blockading the hall to trap the other inside. A week later a group of fighters from Strand arrived to lift the siege and keep the peace. They ended up fighting the besiegers and the other gang sallied forth to join the battle. Then the Ravens arrived. Bolverk remembered that fight fondly; it wasn’t often you got four-sided brawls. One of the besieged, a young man named Sparr, had proven his skill with a bow and, with the rest of his gang dead or fled, decided to join the Ravens. That was fifty years ago. Since then, he had fought with the Ravens on all their exploits, saving Bolverk’s life personally on at least two occasions. When his fighting skills suffered from his age, his eccentric nature and ability to spin a tale led the Ravens to keep him as a skald, telling stories of the Ravens’ victories.
    “Mostly just rabble.” Bolverk replied. “Arrow fodder at best.”
    “Have a little faith, Bolverk.” Sparr grinned.
    “These supplies the girl gave us won’t last long.”
    “We’ve got people foraging and hunting.”
    “Won’t be enough.”

    The opportunity for food arose the next day. Fortunate, seeing as the food taken from Ormsdalr was just running out. Scouts reported a village a mile or two ahead. Bolverk ordered the Ravens to spread out and approach slowly, using the trees as cover. Sparr and Folka stayed with him. As they got closer to the village Bolverk could see crude wooden palisades surrounding a dozen or so timber houses. Several people were armed and standing at the palisades looking out.
    “Maybe we can extort this lot.” Bolverk suggested. The other two nodded. He walked confidently out of the treeline, a man holding the Black Banner following him. The other Ravens walking in a single line forwards, hands on weapons.
    “You know who we are!” Bolverk shouted, holding his hands out in an intimidating manner. “You know who I am! Two wagons of food outside this wall in half an hour!” The defenders talked amongst themselves for a minute, then one nocked an arrow. Bolverk lowered his arms and a hint of a grin crossed his face. The bowman drew his bow and Bolverk grabbed his axes. The bowman released and Bolverk stepped aside, the arrow grazing his shoulder. His grin widened as he roared and the Ravens charged. Bolverk started hacking and slashing the palisade apart with his axes. The banner bearer was struck by an arrow before he reached it but another man came forward and caught the banner before it fell to the ground. The line smashed against the palisade. Folka jabbed her spear over the wall, the head of the spear going into a man’s throat. Oli the axeman threw his axes at the defenders, each one hitting a mark. Sigbjorn span around and swung his sword in a wide arc, splintering the section of wall in front of him. Two Ravens charged in through the hole. Bolverk kicked another hole in the palisade, through which he leapt and started cutting down defenders. Other gaps soon appeared, until the majority of the Raven’s troops were inside the village’s defences, ransacking the houses and pulling the villagers out into the middle. There were a dozen kneeling there: four men, five women and three children. All were scared and crying. Several Ravens circled the group, weapons drawn, looking at Bolverk to give the order.
    “We won’t kill you, but we’re taking what we need.” he yelled.
    “That’s as good as killing us!” a woman spoke out. She held her child, a boy about six years old, close to her chest. The nearest Raven held his sword close to her throat. She glared at him. The tension was broken by Folka.
    “Take enough for one day and get out!” she shouted. The other Ravens looked to Bolverk, who nodded. The people were allowed to stand and take a few bits of food from the wagons that had been filled. When the villagers were gone, headed south, the Ravens continued on the road westwards, with less empty bellies.

    The next day their path started uphill and the patches of snow on the ground began growing bigger, the mountains to the northwest looming in the distance. As the hours passed clouds gathered and light snow started to fall. In a clearing in the trees, at the top of a hill, was a giant stone bird, its head reaching for the sky. It was the godstone of Irynx, lord of all winged creatures. One of its wings was cracked and split. When Sparr saw the ‘wound’ he chuckled.
    “You think Irynx has forgiven you for that yet?” he asked. Bolverk growled at him. All eyes darted between the stone wing and Bolverk. Sparr, sensing their confusion, laughed. “Ah, yes. We were here, oh, forty years ago now. There were only twelve of us then. Better fighters by far than any of you!”
    “Enough!” Bolverk growled. Sparr stopped talking, though he continued smiling. Bolverk wandered around the treeline as camp was set up. By the time he returned, a couple of pigs were on a spit over a campfire, and annoyingly Sparr had continued his tale.
    “So here we were, surrounded by no less than thirty men, and then Bolverk – this bear of a Varl – grabs the nearest tree and tears it out of the ground! And he just starts swinging it wildly! Those who didn’t immediately jump to the floor were killed, and poor Irynx here took a hit.”Bolverk glared at Sparr, then walked up to the crack in the wing.
    “It was an accident, you know that.” he said apologetically, running a hand along the crack. “I remember the days when you would fly over the Wyrmscale Mountains, your wings casting shadows over whole villages…” Bolverk trailed off, then shame and anger took over. “Then you died, and left us nothing but this rock!” Without thinking, he kicked the godstone in rage. The whole rock shook, knocking away the snow that had gathered and startling the other Ravens. After he had settled down again and eaten dinner, Bolverk went to sleep leaning against the lee side of the large wooden cart from Boersgard. Despite being away from the rest of the Ravens’ camp, he didn’t quite feel alone.


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