Gritten sat on one of the long benches in the solid wooden tower, a tankard of ale in his huge fist and his shaggy beard sitting on his belly like some small dog. Others filtered into the hall, leaving their swords at the door and took their place on benches around the Salt Blood and his retainers. Gritten recognised a couple of faces, and knew of several others; Yorc Elard, the southern sea lord, followed by his son who in turn led in his new wife, Gritten’s daughter. He gave his daughter a slight smile and looked at the next arrivals, Reidr Ulfarn, a wolf pelt around his slight shoulders, his four sworn swords at his back, all in grey and swathed in wolf fur. Another, who he presumed to be Armal Hrodal, came in last. He looked like a peasant, with a thin cloak and undecorated clothing, his chin badly shaved and his broad brow making him look like a thug, and his son looked worse. Once all were seated a herald blew a horn and opened the back door for Jatgeir Aeborth, lord of Drikilvarr and master of the Sunset Shore. He took his place atop a dais on a huge chair covered with carvings of trees and beasts, showing his devotion to Dorva and the Order. He sat straight, iron straight, much like his face and hair; long, thin, knife like with a small noble mouth surrounded by a trimmed moustache and beard, his dark hair oiled, perfumed and scraped back across his skull. Around his waist he wore a sword belt, minus the sword, covered with engraved copper plates, and several gold and silver rings sat twinkling on his fingers. Gritten pushed his tankard away from him and sat forward, noting how he seemed to look down over his fellow nobles.
“Nobles of Drikilvarr, we meet today to decide upon the fate of one amongst us.” That was very direct. “As you may know, Falfanar of the Night Swords has broken our peace by attacking my son and blood, rendering his left hand useless. This is a grievous crime, and must be punished.” Jatgeir looked over the nobles severely. “He has refused my summons here today, and with that means he refuses to negotiate and stand by the law. Action is in order.”
Gritten stood. He was the second most powerful man on Drikilvarr, with the biggest retinue, the only other fort, and he himself was a mighty fighter, but he knew the values of peace. Feuding mean death of innocents, crops burnt, animals slaughtered, maidens ravaged and villages razed to nothing. Gritten had seen it before, after the death of his father, and he did not want his land to suffer again.
“Lord Jatgeir,” he started, his loud voice ringing clear. “We must bring Falfanar to court, before the judges and the high Dorva before action may be called, and only then if he refuses the crimes he has been accused of.”
“The court is here, now, Gritten, and he has refused to come.”
“Demand blood money.” Gritten pressed. “If he pays, you have no need to cross swords. We all prefer peace to the feud.” He looked over his fellow nobles, meeting their eyes.
“What would you do, Gritten, if Falfanar wounded your son?”
“I would do as I have just said. Swords are for foreign enemies, we must not fight between ourselves.”
Reidr of the Ulfarns stood, his features cold, always cold.
“Blood demands blood, nature knows that. If a man refuses the way of men and turns to nature, we must treat him equally. I stand behind Jatgeir.” Reidr sat down and Gritten turned to him.
“Just because he might act like a beast, it does not mean we must do the same. We must prove ourselves better than him, before the gods.” Reidr shrugged and offered Gritten a sly smile.
“I am a wolf, and the wolf hunts in the night, I have nothing to fear.”
Yorc looked nervously over to Gritten for help. He was kind, but foolish, and would do nothing without Gritten’s support. But nor would he do anything if everyone turned of Gritten. He stood timidly and spoke.
“Feuding costs money, money for swords and ships, and to rebuild all that is destroyed. We must demand Falfanar to pay the blood money and ask for forgiveness, and only if he refuses then shall we be forced further, but not before.”
“You are against the feud because you are too poor to help, Armal.” Reidr said. “You could not help if you wanted to.”
“I can speak with him, Jatgeir.” Gritten offered. “I shall ride to his hall and talk with him, an I shall sent a rider to Evensill with word of the outcome.”
Jatgeir turned to the High Dorva Rodrik who sat below him to his right.
“What do the gods say?” The Dorva stood slowly and spoke with a controlled voice.
“Falfanar has broken the peace, and as he refused to come forward, the gods cannot forgive him.” As he sat Gritten cursed softly. Jatgeir told him to say that.
Armal stood. “I will not go against the gods’ wishes.” Jatgeir turned to Gritten, his eyes poisonous.
“Feud with the Night Swords if you wish, but my men will have no part in it.”
“Very well.” Jatgeir stood. “Under the eyes of the gods and men, I declare that the Ulfarns must give over their lands and go into exile.” The High Dorva noted down the accusation on a sheet of parchment and Jatgeir, Reidr, Armal and Yorc pressed their seals into a blob of melted wax. Gritten collected his cloak and left quickly, not looking back.