mardi 14 août 2012

The coming of Gautrek and the shadows of the woods

   The boat cruised over the waves, slicing through the water like a knife through soft butter and sending up clouds of spray whenever they hit a high way. The crew sat huddled under cloaks and blankets, their weapons stashed in the ship’s belly, unused and eager. The ship’s captain, a huge man named Gautrek, stood at the ship’s prow, his mane of blond hair billowing out behind him as he watched the closing shoreline.

   They closed quickly, and when they got within distance to see huts, rocks and trees, they pushed out the oars and bent their backs to land even quicker. The men talked in hushed tones, their weapons now across their laps in readiness for the looting to come; the season had been a poor one, and all were hungry for loot and some decent food. Gautrek knew this, and needed silver to keep his men loyal, or he would find himself in a watery grave.

   The inhabitants of this village must not be used to seeing raiders, for they did not run away when they first saw the ship approaching, but instead stood and watched, but when they saw Gautrek with a draw sword, they ran, pulling their children and livestock to a wooden strong house further inland. The boat scraped ashore and the burning began; first the raiders battered down the cottage doors, and took anything of worth such as pots, axes, knives, joints of meat, bags of corn and vegetables, anything. The grain stood was a prime target and a knot of villagers met them with spear and shield, but they were too few and the raiders hungry, and they fell quickly under their iron. All the grain was loaded onto the boat and all the houses burned, their thatch crackling loudly and snapping, throwing up columns of thick, black smoke.

   “What shall we do about the strong house?” Gautrek looked at the tall tower, armed villagers standing at the top and archers waiting at high windows. He would have burned it, but he would loose men, so he ordered his band to return to the ship and sail south.

   The raiders obeyed eagerly, happy now they had loot in the hold and food in their cooking pots. They had lost no men, and as they turned south they dreamed of even more loot, silver and slaves, The Spear sticking out of the island to their right.

   A rider told Gritten the news.

   “Tell me again, slowly. Tell me everything.” The rider took a breathe, paused, and recounted his story again.

   “It was dark, there was no moon. Jatgeir had wanted to sneak up on Falfanar’s hall and take him alive, but he came to us.” They’re not called the Night Swords for nothing. “They came howling from the woods, firing arrows and making lots of noise. I think they must have had some people with pots on the other side for I thought we were surrounded, but they came at us from the right. Falfanar led them, and they cut down several men quickly. I saw one of Jatgeir’s riders fall, his horse butchered and they dragged him from the saddle. Jatgeir’s oldest son fought Falfanar, but his horse got a spear in the chest and it fell, and Falfanar pulled him off, bleeding and faint. Jatgeir tried to rally some men, but a group led by Falfanar and his son attacked him and beat him down.”

   “Is he dead?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “What of Reidr’s men? And Armal’s?”

   “Armal’s men ran first, they were at the back of the column. And Reidr’s, they were to the right, so perhaps they are dead.”

   “How did you escape?”

   “I was with Jatgeir’s pack horse, and when I saw the fighting, and his men being cut down, I climbed up and rode away as quickly as I could.”

   “You did well to come to me.” Gritten handed the servant a horn of beer and left him on the bench as a servant gave him some food.

   “What happened?” Maren, Gritten’s wife, asked when he entered his private chamber.

   “Falfanar ambushed Jatgeir as he approached Valfar. He killed a good number of his men, and he and his son are either dead or captured.” He sat on the bed and ran a hand through his hair. “Two things will happen now; Daras will have to fight Falfanar, it has gone too far to be sorted out in court now. And with Jatgeir captured others will seek to become lord of Drikilvarr.”

   “Summon the nobles.” Maren advised. “Call them in a neutral place and there you can sort all this out. You are now the most powerful man on the island, you must stop the fighting.” Gritten nodded but he knew it would be harder than that. “You have the upper hand; Armal was defeated, and Reidr is not very powerful on his own. Only Falfanar is a problem, but you have the Elards behind you, and combined you can intimidate him into listening.”

   “Armal will listen, but I feel that Falfanar might make a claim to the lordship. He defeated him and shown his power. He might try to get Armal behind him, which won’t be too difficult.” I must act first, less more feuding destroys our peace. “Iolin! Sent a rider to the Hrodals, tell them I summon them to a council at the Old Man’s Rock in the name of the peace.

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