Thursday, 13 December 2012

Scene Seven - A secret meeting...

A full day had passed since the meeting with the stranger in the shadows. A busy day packing and storing the goods and stock that was held over from the meeting of the Warhost, most of whom had drifted off in various directions, back to homelands or to other adventures. Vollsanger had counted up the takings and dictated the figures to Agnes who wrote them into the Book with practised hand. It was now a few years since Vollsanger had learned his letters by the fireside working into the early hours with the patient owner of the Crimson Moon, but keeping the ledgers was still out of his reach. "Generating income is no problem " he would reflect, "recording it is a pain and leads to ink on the fingers"

Out back he could hear the Bynts busy with the daily tasks, and the occasional laugh and giggle showed all was well. It was getting dark and he expected a visit any time ...

Sure enough, about an hour after sunset, a tall lanky figure in a heavy cloak and hooded features slipped in through the curtain at the rear of the tent. Vollsanger sat by the low firepit in his fur covered chair, sipping on some hot mulled wine, the kettle hissing gently on the coals. He gestured with his mug to a seat by his side and the stranger looked around at the entrances into the main tavern.
"It is quite safe here - we will not be disturbed" Vollsanger assured him. "you may tell M'lady De Sade that she may come at any time.."

It was clear that the stranger had not expected to hear the name spoken aloud! He jumped to his feet, legs balanced for fight or flight, arms poised and only the relaxed stance of the old Bard stopped him from reaching for the dagger at his side.
"Sit down Mr Everhard, it took me a while but I recognised you from our brief meeting. I presumed the Lady was Mistress Wren,  and your reaction tells me that my guess was right. "

Indeed, Vollsanger had spent a fruitful day. At first it was a difficult task to remember where he had seen the stranger before, but the rapidly departing Warhost had cut down the options considerably. The Ship in the harbour called the "Atrocity" had been very quiet, little happening, but enquiry had shown that most of the Crew and passengers were aboard their shorebased "Knot Yacht", a sprawling tented camp of Yurts and Belltents. He had not needed to enter to make more enquiries. The Mongols had been friends of the Tavern for years, and the strange defection of Binabik Tai-ishi from their numbers had been a subject of speculation over many an ale and mead. But when Bin had joined the Caravanshi and suddenly appeared as the Lord General of the Steppe, no barkeep worth his salt could have failed to recognise such an influential character.

He may call himself Everhard De Sade now, he may claim to only be the "housekeeper", he may state his only position was as messenger - but the figure standing before him was still Binabik Tai-ishi, also known as Bin Caravanshi the juggler and fool, the swordmaster, ex Lord General of the Steppe Alliance.  

The fire glowed and poured out heat into the cool evening. Vollsanger slowly reached out and poured a mug of Mulled wine and placed it in front of Everhard. 
"I think we have business to attend to... I shall call the "Widow" if Mistress Wren de Sade wishes to  join us"

Two hours later, the two ladies had conducted their business...

Yarp the cellarman and barrel roller had stood on guard just outside the tent, a threatening sight and any unexpected visitor rapidly changed their mind about how important their visit to the back room was going to be. There was no doubt that various members of the steppe were patrolling the outside, it was the quietest two hours ever experienced in the back room of the Crimson Moon.

And so it came to be that the Widow and Vollsanger would leave for the Norscan Homelands - secretly, and with a large quantity of Gold - the same strange gold that Vollsanger had seen the day before.
And the Crimson Moon, in its entirety, with Yarp, and the Bynts would head to the next meeting of the Factions with the Steppe Alliance, under the ownership of Mistress Wren de Sade, sailing in the Atrocity to new adventures, with the De Sades and the Carvanshi and perhaps even some of the mongol horde..

A new day was to dawn for the Crimson Moon ... a time to move on to bigger and better times. 
The Land may have a Renewal of Magic - now the Crimson Moon had its own Renewal...

We wish them every success for the future...

[from the hand of Vollsanger the Skald - here all week]

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Scene Six : a Meeting is arranged..

It had not been an easy meeting to set up, too many eyes and ears surrounded the old Tavern since rumours had started  that the "widow" Agnes intended to return to her homelands. And Vollsanger, the ageing  Bard, seemed to have a restrained spring in his step with the prospect of return. But the talks with Radgast and his hidden supporters had not been going well. Oh, they liked the concept of the tavern and knew that it was a thriving business, how thriving Vollsanger did not let on.. that was a much more a personal matter...

But it seemed that Radgast was answering to other masters, and was not the free agent that he had purported to be. Talk was cheap - but the sale of the Tavern involved hard gold - and when it came to the crunch - Radgast was not able to bring the support needed. Radgast's backers  would take the Tavern to lands other than the Warhost in search of more gold - that was not the way of the Crimson Moon ....

And then the stranger had accosted Vollsanger in the shadows by the storehouse... Not in a threatening manner, Vollsanger had a history of furtive meetings in the shadows and recognised the purpose here was for secrecy and discretion.  No harm was intended. But he carefully slipped the dagger from his left sleeve into his hand - just to be careful...  Hidden in the shadows.. the tall, angular frame seemed slight in the tattered cloak that hugged his shoulders... the hood pulled down over a weatherbeaten face, wispy beard and tight lips, which whispered "We have a proposition.."

Vollsanger was sure that he recognised this man, the voice was heavily disguised  but years as a skald had taught the bard how to listen to the resonance of the voice, the tones, the intonations, to wade through the lies and hear the voice behind...  "I know that voice" he thought to himself..... but steeled his face into open questioning... They sat on two store boxes in the shadows by a small table normally used for measuring grain.

"My lady would like to meet with you - to discuss some plans of mutual advantage" The eyes were bright and piercing under the hood, questing into the face of the old bard for some hint of how the offer was being taken...
A stranger sitting at the table would have been hard pressed to see what happened next. A Gold piece appeared between the fingers of the hooded figure... and strayed across the knuckles before disappearing into the clenched fist ... only a second for the whole movement. Not a word was spoken. Two fists laid out on the rustic wooden surface.. one holding he gold piece that had just rolled across his hand..  the other, back to the surface - fingers clenched....

Vollsanger continued to look into the hooded eyes - and without hesitation covered the clearly empty fist with his right hand  - which opened slowly to reveal a large gold piece. Vollsanger took the Gold - his eyes never straying from those of the stranger...

"The Widow is the only one who can make any final decision, but it is well that you spoke with me first, for I speak for the "widow" in all such matters.."  No mention was made of what 'matters' - it was clear that both men knew the subject of discussion and both disdained to elaborate.  Vollsanger recognised a hint of command and stature despite the ragged clothing and the, probably false, stoop of the shoulders. Here was a man who had commanded men, warriors, perhaps more !!   Vollsanger knew it would come to him if he did not press the memory.  But who was the Lady ???

"Perhaps later in the Crimson Moon - we have a private room at the back - and there is separate entrance for those who wish to be circumspect..  Bring your lady - she will be safe and we can talk and enjoy a hot mulled wine or a jug of mead... "

A breath of wind and the place next to him was empty - only the still shadows.
Vollsanger looked at the Gold piece in his hand. A bite told him it was true gold, but there were strange marking on the coin - not of these lands he thought, and he knew most coin of the lands..   Was there a hint of the image of a dragon upon the back of the coin....
"Stranger and stranger " he thought - I may have to do some enquiries of my own." The stranger had smelled of salt and fish, and the sea!!!  "Maybe I should start with the yacht that is moored in the harbour.. It had a strange name... Ah Yes - the Atrocity !!!!"



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Scene Five - Leaving the warhost

A chill on the air brought a wisp of moisture on the breath, the moon was bright and shone on the water, the creak of ropes tightening as the moored dragon boats rose on the tide...  Tonight was special. Tonight was the passing from one life to another. Tonight a door closed and the future was unknown.

The quiet harbour was hidden from most eyes - and the passage over the water back to Norscan Lands had been planned with the greatest secrecy. Too many people knew that the "Widow" Agnes was returning to her homelands - not sure what she would find after so many years. After accusations of evil deeds, poisonings, attempted murder of  Norscan Nobles, all distant deeds. Years of separation from her people, indifference of her Lord General, lack of support as she struggled to carry the Tavern from land to land to support the Warhost....

For a brief period, she had allowed herself  to find a new family with her adopted children - the Ua DĂ©aghaidh, but one by one they had succumbed, departed and died... the last throwing his life away upon the whim of  Cole... another sadness to carry with her to the new lands..

Yes - too many knew of that they were travelling, but Vollsanger had planned carefully and he was confident that no-one knew of the travel plans that would take them back to Norsca.

Behind them - the entire contents of the Crimson Moon Tavern was packed and secured and was being led away from the bay. Neither knew where it was to be stored - it was not their problem now. There was no doubt that the Crimson Moon would be in place when the Warhost met for Beltane. But the "Widow" and Vollsanger would not be there - only the new owners....

"That was a lot of gold ... everything we asked for" Agnes said quietly to the Bard. "I never thought that they had that sort of money.."
"There are rumours of a Dragon Hoard ... I have never seen such runes as appear on the gold - but you have tested and it is good gold.... I do not think we have cause to fear"
"Still, I shall miss the Warhost - it has been my family for so long..."

"Should we tell everyone who has bought the Tavern?" she asked...
"They will find out soon enough" he replied.

"We shall find a new life back in the Homeland...  It is time to get aboard..."

Their hands clasped for a second and gave a tender squeeze. The wedding may have been at Beltane, may have been only a year and a day ... but, possibly there would be more for the "Widow" Agnes and Vollsanger....

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Scene Four - Prentissed

Scene 4 - Prentissing

Caarg was no more pleased on the day that he managed to free himself of his charges then any other day that Wulf could remember..
They had dutifully splashed water upon themselves and each had made some effort to straighten their tatters and rags, and then Caarg had pulled the wide oaken door completely open and led his charges out from the room that had been their home for most of their lives - down the long stone stairway and out onto the Courtyard....

Caarg held his black horse whip in his hand - but there was no need for its use..    Each of the 37 lads knew only too well the pain that whip could inflict - and today was in some ways a change and a holiday. Not one of them really knew what would happen today. Not one of them knew where they would be sleeping that evening, nor what the future would hold...  It seemed to each of the boys that it could not prove worse than the years on the Fostery Hold... they hoped.

As they came to the courtyard, Wulf could see a similar line of young girls being led from the tower on the opposite end of the square. He could see Lyssa who used to play with him some two years before. Before they were separated. She was turning in to a tall lass, deep red hair and a turned up nose. Wulf had always thought her beautiful, even her sharp freckles across her nose. The others had teased him mercilessly when they were first parted. "Spotface" they called her - but Wulf still thought her striking and sometimes dreamt of her at night as he huddled under his blankets. They could have been a Lord and Lady in a fine Castle or Keep, with servants and squires, and ladies in waiting...  Now she was being led out with the other girls into the shade of the leanto against the wall.

Wulf lost sight of her as he was pushed back against another wall and shoved into line with the other lads.
"Get to the back Cripple"  muttered Caarg grabbing some of the other boys and putting them into line..  Wulf hunched a little more and limped to the rear.
"yes - get back Cripple" said Danto, "If I am going to be picked as Smith I don't want anyone seeing you and thinking I could be weak"

Danto had a good chance of being picked to Prentiss with a smith, thought Wulf. He was a good few inches taller than all of the other lads and already strong in arm. He practiced his strength by lifting the benches and beds from the floor in the Hold. He had determined over a year ago that he would have a proper skill and claimed that his father had been a smith before he had died at his forge, killed, he said, by followers of the Nything.
Wulf dutifully stepped further back. He did not want to spoil Danto's chances.  Danto was probably as near to being a friend that Wulf  had in the Hold. Danto's strength had protected him a number of times when others decided to make fun of the Lame kid, who seemed so nimble at meal times....

At last, Caarg was satisfied with the line of boys and presumably his counterpart with the girls was equally content, as the large bell high in the West tower started to toll. THey all looked expectantly towards the Courtyard entrance where two thralls were turning the wheel to open the giant iron Gates. None could remember seeing the gates open before and each knew that if they closed again today while they were still inside, it would mean that no-one had seen fit to take them for Prentissing - and like as not they would end up turning those wheels just like the thralls.

Life outside may be unknown - but for each in the line it was difficult to imagine that it could be worse than life inside the hold.

One last glimpse of the gates before their eyes were turned down to the ground. Caarg had warned that it would be death or maiming to have the affrontry to look a free man or free lady  in the eye when at the Fosterling...  No one fully believed - but no-one wanted to be the one to test the threat.

Wulf chanted his personal mantra in his mind. "Eyes down to the ground. Move into the background. Don't appear too fresh or youthful or you may end up in a brothel with some of the girls. Don't look too strong or you may end with a lifetime of heavy work as thrall, or rowing in the longboat of some trader."

Danto may prove lucky with his ambition. He had a notice around his neck which Caarg had written. Danto thought it told that he was the son of a Smith and good for the trade. Wulf did not know - he did not have his letters. He had never had a chance to learn. All Wulf knew was that there was no card around his neck to show his skills. He did not think he had any really.. other than dissembling... He was quite good at that... But that would not get him prentissed.

Looking at the ground he could see the feet of those who came to look and to prod. Twice he was told to look up and open his mouth as someone examined his teeth. He knew the rules. His eyes were tight shut as he looked up.  He smelled the stink of sweat and leather... He heard the rustle of rich velvets and the sweet aroma of a pommander. He heard voices raised and voices wheedling, and deals being struck all around him.
He heard Caarg's slimy voice saying "They are all like my children ...  of course I must see them prentissed but for years I have paid to keep them strong and healthy so your lordship would have only the best"
There was a jingle of stel and money passing hands as he heard another of his compatriots taken out of the line and taken away...
He could hear everything, sounds highlighted while his eyes were fixed upon the ground.

Slowly he became aware that there was someone in front of him.
 Too far away for feet to be in his line of vision. He could smell nothing in particular except for the bitter hint of the hot sand on the walkway. He could hear nothing .. in fact that was what confused him most, there was someone directly in front of him he felt sure - but he could hear no breathing, no rustle of clothing, as though a statue had walked from the alcoves and was even now standing in front of him...  

"Tell me of this one" The voice that spoke in front of him was rich and deep in tone. A voice that could be both commanding and courteous at the same time. The voice seemed to pour like honey and it was all that Wulf could do not to immediately look up to see the source of that sound.
"Ain't nothing but a cripple this one."answered Caarg, a little confused, as he hardly expected much interest in the quiet lad who scurried around on his bent foot and kept out of his way.
"But I am sure I can give you a good price for him if your lordship is interested.." He sounded doubtful.
"I am no lord" laughed the Voice, with a resonance of bells and echoes, "I am but a traveller with the Guild.. But if he has a bent leg then he can't run far."
"Oh he wouldn't run from your lordship, urr your Sir-ness" exclaimed Caarg quickly, "All my boys are trained from a young age. They know the meaning of the whip and will be pleased to obey - won't you boy?" The last was directed at Wulf who almost forgot himself and started to look up .. As he opened his mouth to answer - he reeled as Caarg cuffed him around the ear "Eyes down boy !!

Wulf remained silent as he stumbled back to his feet - eyes still downcast.
"Can he move ??" asked the Voice quietly..
"Oh Yes" said Caarg, seeing the opportunity to get rid of the one parcel that he thought would remain. He can get around pretty fast - just a limp. Show him Boy" -
Wulf felt that the whip was out again rather than saw any action - but he limped in a small circle - his left shoulder still hunched over... Not too slow, not too fast - just enough to show that you can't do all the heavy work.."

"He'll do " said the Voice.. "How much??"
The voices of Caarg and the stranger drifted away as they walked out into the sunshine and towards the small booth where the Quartermaster sat with his men at arms keeping talley of the day.

Wulf was left standing against the wall wondering what change his life was to take...
It was half an hour later that the Voice returned..
"Follow me boy!" He said and Wulf dutifully fell into step behind. Now he could see the leather boots, used but serviceable, worn down at the heels but without holes or patches. Heavy britches were above those boots with strips of fur and leather wound around to keep loose material from tangling into the boots.  

No word was made as they found their way to the iron Gates. Wulf dearly wished to look up - to see what those Gates really looked like from underneath - a sight that would be glorious to see - but his knees trembled and his leg hurt and his foot cramped as he limped along. Eyes resolutely upon the floor.

Outside the gates it was hotter than before. No shade was here. the uneven stones of the roadway burned his feet and smells of the huts and shacks that formed the outer ring around the hold smelled of sewage and rotten food. A dog charged up and yapped around his feet but the Voice did not seem to notice - just walked steadily onwards at a pace that seemed just the right speed for the limping boy...

Soon the ramshackle buildings were passed and the unlikely pair headed into the woodlands that surrounded the township. After an hour the Voice said "This seems like a reasonable place" and headed into the woods and into a small clearing,
"Look up boy - you are no Fosterling now - you've been prentissed"

Wulf looked up tentatively. Firstly at the clearing. The trees here were tall and straight and had silver on their bark. The ground between the trees was mossy and quite open. The clearing itself was covered in grass and there was clear sign that a fire had been burned in the past. In fact the Voice was even now rummaging in some undergrowth and pulling out some kindling and a small bundle that looked like clothing.

Wulf had his first chance to see the man who had taken him from the hold. He looked to be about six feet tall when he stood. His clothes were not those of a rich man - but they were serviceable and looked to be light, warm and waterproof though the sun shone strongly today - they did not seem to overheat the wearer. A dagger was in a leather sheath at his side - but no other obvious arms.
Something was wrapped in the bundle that he had puled from the undergrowth which could be a sword or axe - but Wulf could not see. A dark green shirt of a fine weave peeped out from above his doublet leading to the face of a man in his forties. A neatly trimmed beard, brown with wisps of grey, a full mouth and dark piercing eyes. Wulf hesitated to look into the eyes. He had been told to look up but did not want to offend his new lord... His quick glance gave him the impression of depth and darkness and almost a hint of humour...

"Please sir ... to what am I prentissed ??" Wulf hardly dared ask the question - but it blurted out of him ..
"Why ...  to the Bard's Guild" laughed the Voice .. "You are now the prentiss to Gwyddgrug the Bard" ..   The Voice started to put the  kindling together for a fire.
"But.. B.B . but I can't sing or anything " stuttered Wulf..
"What ??" Laughed Gwyddgrug?? " You are not prentissed as a Bard !!!  you are prenitssed as a servant to the Guild .. You will be cleaning and  clearing and doing as you are told.. You a Bard !!!" he smothered his laughter .. "Now get on and make this fire up - and then go and fetch water and start laying out a camp .... And make it snappy or you will feel the heel of my boot!

At least he was out of the Fosterling Hold thought Wulf..  It was the start of a new week....
He never liked to think more than 7 days ahead .. and rarely that far ...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Scene Three - The ley of Thorvald's Bane -

The fire burned high and the light flickered across the faces of those stood and squatting around the heat. Tyng was over and the Lord General and his high staff had moved from the fire leaving his people gazing into the flames...
"Give us a tale of heroes Bard" called one of the warband.
"Aye, a tale for a cold evening" echoed another.
"Here's mead.. give us a tale" said a third thrusting a horn into Wulf's Hand....

"I will give you a tale" said Wulf and stood up, letting his multicoloured cloak shimmering of Autumn Leaves fall to the floor. He stood against the fire and looked hard at his listeners.. then his eyes seemed to glaze slightly as he looked into the far distance, and his voice took on a new form, more urgent, deeper as he started his tale......

"I will tell you the Ley of Thorvald's Bane -
"the tale of a Man who spurned Magic – but died for chasing it"

Thorvald was one of the “Old Style” Norscan men… a hero who walked the lands as the Gods stride the skies… They say he stood full seven feet tall without his wolfskin boots, and could cleave a hammer and axe by left and right hand – like a Giant Windmill – striking all within his reach… some say that the Hammer was Mjollnir itself and I have no reason to believe that such a Norscan Hero would not be blessed by the Gods - particular Thor!!
A leader of men he plagued the Albion coast – finding the weak, timid men of that land unworthy of their women – who it must be said – he found comely (and often), in his raids… and parts of Albion land are still known to have many who favour the thick shock of red hair so distinct in Thorvald’s line…
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

Many tales are recited by the Bards
Of the Night of the Blood Moon – deep October when approaching the shores of Albion – a Storm such as none had seen rocked his drakkar the “Skuldelev” (the Skull digger)– three men struggled to hold the wheel as the boat floundered towards the cruel rocks….. Thorvald strode to the wheel and put his axe and hammer down – braced himself and took the strain – sent the three to reef the sails as he – alone – held the boat – straight and true …the unique Norscan sail allowing it to beat against the wind… strong and true…
30 Souls were rescued from Rann that Stormy night… held by the strength of Thorvald …
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

“I have the strength of Men “ Thorvald would cry.. “ I have no need for Magic things”
“The Gods will strengthen the hearts of man – Courage and hope !! That’s all men need … and a comely wench and a tankard of Mead …”
And yet – in all his raiding of the Albion shores – he heard of something special – an item revered by the fops of Albion, something that gave them hope and strength – that rallied them in time of battle … under the Gods of Law…
“These Gods of the Weak are no comparison to the Gods of Norsca “ Thorvald would say around the campfires… “ There is no need for powers of the spirit – when a Wolf is strong and True … No need of the elements when he has an axe and hammer, no need of a fountain of life – when he is supported by Yggdrasill – which has the very sap and pulse of life running through her …””
And yet – he wondered about this treasure of the Gods of Law.. hidden deep in Albion….
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

At last – unable to stop his impatience – he took the Skulldigger across the waters to Albion shores – 30 strong Norscan Fighters by his side – chosen of Thorvald…. Each a warrior – each disdaining Magic and Occult arts …
Many were the trials and tribulations as they fought their way deeper in to Albion Lands until at last they stood before the triple rings of the Keep – wherein he had heard – the Treasure of the Gods of Law was hidden – protected by Three Guardians.. each with powers from the spheres of magic… each sworn through life and death to protect their charge..
Thorvald Came to the first ramparts and there he faced the first Guardian…
Terrible was the Guardian to behold… Lifting his arms above him he spoke with a voice that passed through the bones and rattled the sinews….
“The Gods of Law forbid you to pass.
I Shamar – am sworn to protect – though life and death -
Leave now – and never return “
Thorvald could feel the power of Spirits building in the air as the Guardian drew on his skills to cast… but Thorvald disdained magic and knew that to a true heart – his strength of mind could withstand the onslaught…“
“The Gods of Norsca are greater than your petty Gods of Law!!!
I am Thorvald and I scorn your magics….
A Wave struck Throvald and his men and as Thorvald struggled to keep upright – he saw his men turning white with fear – screaming and struggling not to run – “I am Thorvald and I Scorn your Magics” yelled Thorvald and took his mighty axe in his right hand and threw with all his might – cleaving Shamar’s Skull and the wave of terror ceased … “
But as Thorvald looked around – he saw Shamar with hands raised in a particular way – right over left – each with fingers split in the middle – crossed as if making the letter “W” the Warding Sign of Law…… a last call to the Gods of Law.. but Thorvald saw that of his followers – a third lay gibbering on the ground.. he moved onwards…
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

Into the second ramparts … there stood the second Guardian ..
“The Gods of Law forbid you to pass.
I Eliazar – am sworn to protect – though life and death -
Leave now – and never return “
Thorvald could feel the power of the elements building in the air as the Guardian drew on his skills to cast… but Thorvald disdained magic and knew that to a true heart – his quickness of mind could withstand the onslaught…“
Stripping off his Chain he took his pelts and dipped them into a vat of water and took the soaking fur over his shoulders
“The Gods of Norsca are greater than your petty Gods of Law!!!
I am Thorvald and I scorn your magics….
Wave upon Wave of elemental force struck Throvald and his men and as Thorvald struggled to keep upright – he saw his men scream as their armour turned to molten metal – screaming and struggling not to run – as the Guardian took air into his hand and formed a ball of fire which struck Thorvald - but his soaking pelts steamed and he stood untouched..
“I am Thorvald and I Scorn your Magics” yelled Thorvald and took his mighty hammer In his left hand and threw with all his might – battering Eliazar’s Skull and the wave of heat and fire ceased … “
And as Thorvald looked around – he saw Eliazarr with hands raised in a particular way – right over left – each with fingers split in the middle – crossed as if making the letter “W” the Warding Sign of Law…… a last call to the Gods of Law..
but Thorvald saw that of his followers – another third lay charred upon the ground.. he moved onwards…
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

Into the third ramparts … there stood the third Guardian ..
“The Gods of Law forbid you to pass.
I Aedino – am sworn to protect – though life and death -
Leave now – and never return “
Thorvald could feel the power of the very earth building in the air as the Guardian drew on his skills to cast… but Thorvald disdained magic and knew that to a true heart – he could withstand the onslaught…“
“The Gods of Norsca are greater than your petty Gods of Law!!!
I am Thorvald and I scorn your magics….
But as he approached – he suddenly was struck with a blindness as if the lights of the world were blown out like a candle.. Pain racked his body and about him he could hear his remaining men scream in pain and agony as if they were being opened up by blades. His hands were empty – hammer and axe thrown… but on he struggled in the darkness…
“I am Thorvald and I Scorn your Magics” yelled Thorvald and with his mighty hands he found the neck of Aedino and choked the guardian till the last struggles stopped…
But as Thorvald dropped the body and his sight cam eback to him – he saw Aedino with hands raised in a particular way – right over left – each with fingers split in the middle – crossed as if making the letter “W” the Warding Sign of Law…… a last call to the Gods of Law..
And Thorvald looked to his followers – and the last of them lay upon the ground – as if they had received the wounds of a thousand cuts and their eyes seared as if put out by burning rods..
Thorvald moved on to the centre chamber and so the bards say – he found his prize – he stole the treasure of the Gods of Law – but all of his men lay slain in the three ramparts ..
He passed the three Guardians – each with hands upraised wit the Warding sign as though they might rise from death to follow him … but he struggled back to the Skulldigger and made his way to Norsca..
Little is heard of the exploits of Thorvald after that time …
It is said that he could not get the treasure of the Gods of Law to Work – some say that it was magic in nature and would not bend to his will – but there are tails of a haunted man – being chased by three throughout the lands of Norsca - and rumours that to allow him rest and sleep at night –
Thorvald buried the treasure in a secret place….

Thorvald was a great hero – one who scorned the Magics – but Bards still hear tales of Thorvald’s Bane …
“Hero Mighty – Hear his Name
Scorning Magic, died in Vain
Norsca Triumph Law Disdain
By Odinsheim – Thorvald’s Bane”

The fire had grown low as Wulf finished his tale and sat. He quaffed from the Horn of mead he held and passed it to his left....   "Aye.. Odinheim" he said quietly - but only to himself - that was his own tale which would not be told around the firepit - at least not by him....

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Scene Two - Fosterling Hold

It was the last hour of darkness, a slight glow along the horizon hinting at the coming dawn. Still too dark to make out any features in the stone cell, but there were few to see even in full daylight when the sun squeezed through the narrow gap that could be a window, or a viewpoint for a  keen eyed bowmen to defend the keep.

Breath condensed into huff from the sleeping bodies scattered across the room, each huddle under whatever blankets they could find, grab, steal from their neighbours. Wulf sat huddled under his ragged covering looking up towards the night outside, eyes hardly focused, listening to the sound of his companions.

"last day of fosterling you little rats" Caarg had said as he shut and bolted the heavy doors of the holding room after dishing out the slop that passed as evening meal in the Fosterly Hold.
No-one tried the doors, they were heavy and well bolted from the outside.
"keep you rats safe" Carg would mutter through his broken teeth and half shaved face.
All the fosterlings had tried the door at some time in their years at the Hold, some from babe and others like Wulf for only a few years. But pull, tug, kick, scratch was all the same to the heavy oaken beams.
Tomorrow was the start of his tenth year, or so Caarg told him... all the lads in the room were of an age - some taller, some more thickset, some weak and sickly. All of an age...
He knew that there were other rooms in the Hold, rooms with other children crying themsleves to sleep. Other rooms with children who were younger, but all of an age.

Wulf remembered his first year at the Hold, the wide stone hall they lived in then was more airy than this current room. That was before they separated the girls from the boys..

Tomorrow was his last day of fosterling...
His breath rose from his lips, cold and wispy, and he watched the first glimpses of the dawn in the distant sky...

"Last day I'll be wet-nursing you rats" Caarg had said...
"Thank the Gods for that!!" Gork had muttered, just loud enough for the boys to hear. Carg looked with bleary eyes at the laughing boys and cuffed the nearest lad - Samwell on principle, sure that someone was making fun of him. Samwell took the blow well, falling to the ground, but years in the hold had taught them all how to take a blow, roll and feign enough pain to avoid the second blow... Caarg had seemed satisfied that his authority was intact and shuffled out of the door....

Less than an hour and the door would open again, and each would walk out into a new world.
Less than an hour to the Prentissing.

Gork said that he would be chosen by a great Knight and taken to squire, and one day be a knight himself and lead the warband...  Gork was taller than the other boys. Maybe a few months older than most of his companions, certainly a leader amongst the ragged band. Few wanted to challenge him, his fists were tough and he wrestled like a wild animal - biting and gauging. Many a time he had to be pulled from one of the other boys for a suspected insult or believed words spoken behind his back.

Wulf had felt those fists, and had curled into a ball to reduce the impact of the kicks from those bare feet. He was smaller than Gork, but more important he had no wish to step into Gork's place. He did not want to watch every night to see who was trying to take usurp him as leader. He saw no need to challenge - Wulf kept his head down and let the others fight over their place in the pecking order.

But when it came to food, Wulf would stand his ground - he would not starve in the Hold as some of the weaker lads had.  The daily scrabble for food was his only battlefield. He had no wish to be top of the pile, but he was quick of foot and swift with his hands. Get in quick and get out safe was his unspoken motto.....Survive!! get through to the end of the week !!

Wulf had no real aspirations for the coming day. He knew from the whispers in the long cold rooms that once a year all the residents of Fosterly Hold who were nearing their 10th birthday would be paraded in the great courtyard of Fosterly Hall. He had peered through the slits that served as windows only a year ago to see the thirty of forty children led out and lined against the wall, so the Great and the Good, the Rich and the Bored, the Wize and the Curious, and a few artisans could examine them without having to stand int he sun.  He could still remember the aroma of the roasted  pig in the Courtyard as the Prentisses were told to stand, speak, walk, lift iron bars, any act that took the fancy of the Great.

What had happened to those last year he wondered.. Some might find themselves in the big houses, kitchen thrall, the luckier maybe working in the warm, others tilling the fields, most of the girls were probably now working in the brothels - some of the prettier boys as well. All Wulf knew was that Gork would certainly not be a great knight...  That was for some Lordling....

Wulf hunched his shoulders, dropping his left slightly so he appeared to have a slight deformity in his spine, and curled his toes on his bare left foot. The pulled foot would soon turn to cramp and give him a more authentic limp. He pulled the blanket closer and blew into the cold air.
Less huff now he thought. The air is warming up out there. It would not be long now he knew... He would not be crying like some of the boys, but his limp and his slight stoop would make him less attractive for the heavy work or the brothel. He did not know how he knew this, but his act had kept him out of most of the beatings and quarrels in the hold....

A jingle of brass keys at the door as the old lock was turned. A creak of the iron hinges as the massive oaken door swung open..  

"Right you little Rats - lets be having you" roared Caarg as he swung two large buckets of cold water onto the floor - kicking the door shut behind him.
"Better have clean little rats for the Great and the Good"

Survive thought Wulf - make it through to the end of the day, make it through to the end of the step at a time... He shuffled forward with the others...

Monday, 24 September 2012

Scene One - of Ale and Tales

Three in front - one, maybe two behind...  I need to even the odds!!
"Friends - it was just a jest.. surely we can resolve this with a jug of ale ?"
Quite proud of his voice control.. there was not a hint of the chill of terror creeping up his back into his vocal chords...
He shifted the lute to his right hand and waved it away from him... giving every appearance of openness and vulnerability..
The largest in front of him, a swaggering brute dressed in old boiled leathers, a rusty chain shirt and and boils on his left cheek - half hidden by an unkempt beard that had every sign of being pulled out by the roots whenever it annoyed its keeper thrust his face towards him...  a sour stench of rotten cabbage and cheap beer.
"Well little man - me and my comrades are have gonna have to rip your tongue out of your ears and tie it round your lute and stuff it right up your trumpet"  he seemed pleased with his turn of phrase. and given other circumstances Wulf would have applauded his choice of words..there was a poetic ring to the phrase...
He moved slightly to his left - not too far .. he did not want to bump into the unknown predators behind him, but his movement now meant that Boils was directly in front of him and blocking the approach of the others...

He didn't dare take his eyes away from those leering down at him ...
Where the hell was Thorgrimm...  he had got him into this mess ..
But now it seemed that Thorgrimm had little wish to include himself in the troubles of a travelling Bard who had chosen the wrong song to sing...
Thorgrimm, Northman, six foot six tall, broad of shoulder, wolf pelt covering his hand knit chain mail shirt, Thorgrimm who travelled the high road alone and not with known allegiance... Thorgrimm who kept his story to himself... and Thorgrimm..  last was seen pulling one of the wenches onto his lap and explaining the best way to weigh her breasts.....
"Please Gods !! don't let him have taken a room with her while I was singing... it was only a few verses!! He was never that fast before.."
In reality - he could not be sure - he had only met with the Northman a day before and had little idea of his habits - only a respect for his abilities with his matched Dane axes, sword and shield..... and the hope that he would come to his aid ...

But now it seemed unlikely and his only hope was in a silver tongue and a nimble brain... two skills that he had honed through many years as he made his way through the Bard's guild.....

"I think your friend needs some help" giggled Aleesha as she tried to twist out of Thorgrimm's arms.. a half empty jug of ale swinging from her left hand as she used her right to push his from her breast.. Her grubby cotton shift hung open at her front but the leather belt at her waist was pulled in tight and showed her young figure at its best. She ground her body over his groin as she played at escape...
"Friend ?? Let the Gods take the little fellow !! He got himself into it - I have better things on my mind" and his face thrust into her cleavage making her scream with laughter...

Boils made his move - a clumsy charge with outstretched hands where the bard's throat had been a second before. The casual move to the left had drawn Boils in that direction while the lute in the right gave Wulf the balance he needed to duck under his arm - holding his breath at the under arm stench he kicked back with his left foot - hard into the back of his attacker. The kick was good - caught the charging man in the bottom of his spine adding to the momentum and piling him into the one or two attackers that had been behind. Wulf did not turn to count them. He still had two in front of him, though the element of surprise was now his.
Their view had been blocked by the mass of Boils so they little expected to find the elderly minstrel dodging between them.

Wulf swapped the Lute to his left hand reversing it so that the base of the instrument was protected behind his arm, and lowered his right shoulder to barge into the chest of the the first attacker. As large as Boils, and no prettier, his eyes were bloodshot and drunken spittle exploded from his mouth as his wind was knocked out of him. Like a long lost lover he opened his arms to catch Wulf in a bearhug but the bard had once again side stepped and using the neck of the lute in his fist as extra weight - he stabbed his fist into his throat...

"Damn.. that is going to hurt and stop me playing for a few days!" he thought as he held on tightly to the instrument with aching fingers.

Only one more he thought as he twisted in a full circle - bringing the lute around so the iron band that had been welded to the rear of the sound box caught the third adversary in the shins causing a surprised yell through broken teeth. Swinging the lute on its strap he swung it back into his right hand and held it like a bat waiting for a ball - and as broken teeth raised himself the iron   band struck him sharply over the back of his head.

"Three" thought Wulf as he carried forward without stopping or looking...

The whole attack had taken only about 7 seconds - not much longer than he had been able to sing his song.  A bad choice he knew now - but he had not seen the sigils sewn into the filthy cloaks of drunken mob in the corner or he would not have chosen to sing the Lay of Llangoren, a bawdy song concerning the Queen, several dark elves and an aubergene......
Normally a guarantee of a coin or two and a jug of ale ... he wasn't to know that the rabble were pledged to the Queen as well as being well in their cups!.

"Only a few yards to the door" he thought - "I am too old for this!!! A man should have a little respect when he is  nearing his 60th nameday"
Still not looking back to see what havoc he had caused, or how near his adversaries were he made through the smoke and stale air towards the large ill fitting wooden door, heavy and beer stained, hoping that it would open easily.
Thorgrimm watched the ruckus out of one eye.. while his hands remained actively involved trying to keep a wriggling Aleesha firmly on his lap and juggling his ale.
He watched as the old man, surpisingly sprightly on his feet weaved his way passed his attackers. Six foot tall when standing upright, long silver hair falling to his shoulders and a head band of tooled leather about his head bearing a silver emblem of a wolf, stomach a little portly, showing signs of many good meals and time spent in taverns and Lord' banquets..  his shirt a little threadbear with signs of many roadside repairs, and patches on his leather trews suggesting that times were not quite so good at present.

He was quite impressed with the turn of speed from the old man - but they had been travelling for a day and the old bard continued to display unexpected traits... But from his vantage point it was clear that the fellow would not manage to open the door before he was engulfed by the five Queen's Men..

With a sigh he dropped Aleesha uncermoniously to the floor - and stood - ale in hand and walked into the narrow gap between the crude tables filled with boisterous and drunken customers who were now beginning to take notice of the chase...
One group, looking like sea-farers with wild tattoos across every part of available skin started banging mugs on the table in rhythm, shouting "Fight!! Fight !! Fight"  The refrain was soon picked up by other tables.

Throgrimm stood up and stretched as the first of the five bumped into him with a curse. Ale splashed from Thorgimm's tankard into the face of one of the chanters..

It was difficult to say who appeared the more angry - the chanter - spluttering as he stood turning the table over as he did so, or the first of the five who found himself brought to a sudden stop as he hit the wall of chain and leather and steel that was the fully armoured Thorgrimm - now clearly six foot six, and well armoured with a Dane axe to his side and sword sheathed at his left. His girth suggested too many good meals at one time, but it would be a fool who assumed that his weight was only fat - there was the clear sign of the warrior about him... the way he stood, large but balanced. The way only a professional fighter, or one who lives by the sword and the axe.

The five were brought to a stop like a set of dice against a wall. Thorgrimm turned and looked at them - though probably the same height as Boils, he appeared to tower over them as he said in a deceptively quiet voice "You spilled my ale"
"What of it - I am going to turn that squeeker into mush"  yelled Boils as he started thrusting his way through his comrades.
Thorgrimm stepped slightly to his left, as the ale covered man finished turning the table over his companions - who were now rising to fight each other...

Boils started to pass Thorgrimm as a grip of iron took him by the throat and half lifted him from the ground...
"You spilled my ale" He said again - in the same quiet voice....
Boils felt himself turned towards the angry table group - and an earthen ware jug smashed down upon his head and Thorgrimm dropped him into the melee....
Broken tooth wanted none of the big man and backed off with his companions back to their table - the fighting still carrying on around Boils and spreading through the other end of the tavern.

Thorgrimm leaned across to where Boils and his band had been sitting and picked up the earthenware jug still full of ale and turned to leave the room. Picking up his Double Handed Dane Axe, almost as tall as he, he sauntered towards the door, giving Aleesha a wink as she sat cursing him on the floor....

Wulf had just managed to lift the heavy rope handle and was tugging at the door to open it inwards as Thorgrimm reached out and swung it open with ease. Wulf grabbed a loaf of bread and some cheese from a platter on the nearest table - the occupants never noticing as they watched the chairs being thrown around the room... They both walked into the chill of the evening..

As the door closed behind them they could hear the barkeep shouting for order, and the ominous crack of the barkeep's sap hitting skull as order was  restored...

"You took your time" said Wulf as he tore a lump out of the bread and handed it to Thorgrimm.
"I never liked that song" answered Thorgrimm as he handed over the jug of ale...  "you cost me a woman"...
"Nah - we'll sleep in the barn - she'll turn up later" answered Wulf...
"Unlikely" said the glum Thorgrimm thinking of his last view of her cursing him as she sat on the floor with her shift around her thighs"
"Trust me she'll come...  and her friend ... I spoke with her ... I'm Der Vollsanger"