Bryech made slow and careful steps toward the rise in the hill, looking to gain a view of the creek below. Thrand moved quietly to his left some distance away. Far enough to give advantage to their task but too far to speak without giving them away. They didn’t need to speak though, years of training, fighting and working side by side. They could speak without words, like two wolves on the hunt.
Cresting the hill Bryech scanned the creek, his untrained eyes almost missing the doe as she worked her way along the creek bed. With years of being an accomplished warrior under his belt, one would think he knew how to use a bow properly but he had only recently gotten comfortable enough with one to hunt prey that doesn’t fight back. He took aim and calmed his breathing. Remembering everything Thrand, Fritha, and Arland taught him. His aim shook and he fought his rising excitement to steady himself. He exhaled, he had been holding too long. He knew better but he was too focused on his prey. Bryech loosed his arrow and held his bow to follow the shot. He saw only the moment before the arrow reached the doe, but watched in horror as the arrow struck higher than he wanted. The doe jumped and disappeared from view.
“Did you hit it?” Thrand broke the silence with a holler. Bryech couldn’t see him but responded.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t a good shot.” Bryech began walking towards Thrand scanning for him on the hilltop. He found him a short distance away kneeling beside a large oak about halfway down the rise for cover. Slinging his bow over his back he nodded his head in greeting as Thrand looked back at him, his face highlighted by his blue face paint.
“So what happened?” Thrand asked. Bryech let out a frustrated breath before replying.
“Held my aim too long, I hit her but the shot was high,” Bryech sat down next to his friend before continuing.
“We’re going to have to track her for a while, and that’s after we give her time to lay down and die.”
It was quiet for a time as the two continued to scan the creek. It was still early in the morning and the forest was alive with the sounds and colors of autumn. Thrand set his bow down and started digging through his pack. Tossing Bryech an apple he said.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, just gives us a reason to sit on our butts and eat.”
Bryech reached out and caught the apple happily taking the fruit. He bit into it, his large canines gouging two distinct and deep channels into the apple. Bryech took his friend’s advice and let his mind wander a bit. There the two of them sat for a while making idle chatter and poking fun at each other and some of the events that had taken place recently having a good laugh now and then and enjoying the weather. It was peaceful.
After a few hours the two worked their way down to the creek bed and found the blood trail. The tracking was relatively easy with Thrand’s experience as a hunter helping them. Bryech was sure he would’ve lost the trail several times by now had his friends not been there to guide him. They eventually found their quarry Bryech’s mood swiftly changed and he smiled as they set to work field dressing the doe. It was well into the afternoon once they had finished and they had a fair distance to travel, the shorter days of winter fast approaching. Luckily they made quick work of their task and set to travel home.
“Carrying this will be faster than dragging it, grab a sizeable branch we can tie this to and carry.” Thrand said as he cleaned his knife. Bryech set to the task looking quickly for a suitable branch on the forest floor finding none and forgetting himself in the excitement of his first successful hunt.
“I can’t find anything that’ll work.” Bryech said. Thrand looked at him incredulously and said.
“Bryech, we’re in the woods, break one off a fucking tree.” before laughing at him. Bryech felt his mind make the connection and darted to a nearby sapling and chopped it down with his hand axe.
“I can’t believe how stupid I am sometimes.” Bryech chuckled as he helped Thrand tie their harvest to the branch.
Their walk back was uneventful. They made conversation when they weren’t focused on traversing terrain with their effort split between walking and carrying. By the time they made it back to camp the sun was setting and the evening fires had already been lit. A few of the villagers rejoiced as they came into view. A fresh kill was always appreciated before a journey by longship. They would be leaving in the morning for Jotunvik, although the Aettinjav of Clan Squallborn was an exciting break they still had work to do with the returning people of Stormjarl as agreed upon in the peace between Grimward and Stormjarl, and as was their duty set upon them by the Clanleader Graytir himself. For now though they rested. All of the preparations have been made the ships packed all that was left was to celebrate their victories with the new members of their Clan. Jarl Fritha and her followers had been staying in the great hall of the Stormborn settlement for the days since the Aettinjav. They were treated well and the people were happy to have them there. Word was spreading quickly of their involvement, who knew how far it would spread.
Bryech contemplated this as they had their last meal in the hall, The local jarl had a small feast prepared with skalds playing music and drink to be had the atmosphere was lively and happy. The night dragged on and after the food had been cleared and everyone had separated into their own smaller conversations.
Bryech poured himself another cup of mead and found a spot to lean against a post away from the crowds. He liked to size up a room and watch what goes on. In one corner he saw the Truthseeker Audhild and her mentee who had been vehemently opposed to The Maw of the Wolf speaking with a group of Squallborn members who had been invited to attend as a sign of good faith and friendship. Bryech respected her she was a strong woman and a capable Truthseeker but he disagreed with her on many things so they weren’t exactly friends he knew she was honorable though and he trusted her to an extent. In the next corner Kaylek Nightriver and Afkhar Stormjarl sat next to a small fire pit having a boisterous conversation, Bryech smirked a bit at the sight of them. Two tried and true friends both having fought beside Bryech. He hoped to learn to enjoy himself as they did now that peace seemed to be taking over the lives of Clan Stormjarl.
As Bryech scanned the room a woman caught his attention, She was very beautiful. Rich brown hair done up on top and left loose on the sides and back, and eyes that looked like bright amber in the firelight. Ensnared by her looks he watched her for a time, she wore Stormjarl colors and had an impressive amount of embroidery on her apron dress. Forgetting himself Bryech stole too many glances at her and she eventually saw him. They locked eyes for a moment. Bryech watched her look him up and down sizing him up before a small smile lit up her face exposing her fangs to the fire light. Bryech felt his chest tighten for a moment then ease as she looked back to the small group she was conversing with. Bryech’s mind started to question what that was hopefully wondering if she was interested in him. Bryech shook the thought out of his head and took a pull from his tankard assuring himself he was wrong.
Looking around once more he saw Thrand and Fritha sitting by another small fire pit across the room from him They were sharing a tender moment together with their foreheads touching and eyes closed. Bryech smiled but at the same time felt a pang of jealousy he looked around and saw several other mates embracing or talking or simply standing close and felt a familiar feeling of loneliness build in his chest he wanted to feel what they were feeling. He took another long pull of his mead enjoying the sweetness of it.
Looking back Bryech saw that Fritha was now approaching him looking the way she did when she wanted to have a serious conversation. Before she could reach him she was intercepted by a small crowd of people who wished to speak with her. She was Jarl Fritha the Honored after all, and everyone wanted to know her. Bryech felt his emotions begin to crowd his mind and he made his way outside to a small cooking fire that had been left as the festivities moved inside. Taking a few minutes to reignite the flames and get a comfortable fire going again gave Bryech a welcome distraction. With some struggle he managed to breathe life back into the flames. Sitting on a stump next to the fire Bryech did what he did best when he wasn’t fighting, overthink. His thoughts raced and wandered about his choices in life, his cryptic dreams, his battles won and battles lost, his friends gained and his friends who were taken. Eventually his mind wandered back to Ingrid as it always did. He felt the pain of missing her and of wondering if he had stayed with them in Ironmound if things would’ve been better. He knew he would have always felt as if he had abandoned his friends though and that he would be seen as a coward like his father and the thought of that was just as unbearable. It was a lot to process, luckily the late autumn chill shook Bryech from his thoughts as he wrapped himself in his fur cloak. Hearing noise behind him he wondered for a moment who it was but the familiar rattle of Fritha’s leg brace gave her away so he didn’t bother turning he simply greeted her as she sat on another stump beside him.
“My Jarl.” was all Bryech said. Bryech viewed Fritha and Thrand not as friends but as family so he was often far too aloof in his opinion but he knew she understood his respect for her.
“Trying to avoid me out here?” Fritha jested as she nudged him
“No, just wanted to be alone for a moment.” Bryech replied not taking his eyes from the fire.
“Are you ok Bryech?” Fritha’s voice was heavy with concern, and to be honest Bryech didn’t know how to respond to that right now. So he changed the subject.
“You had the look about you that you get when you want to have a serious conversation,”
Bryech turned and faced her. “What’s on your mind?” She looked at him and took a small breath before beginning.
“At the Aettinjav you told me you planned on making a case for you becoming a Hersir to Graytir once we returned to Jotunvik.” Bryech nodded, remaining silent as he sensed Fritha wasn’t done speaking.
“As I watched you fight for our allies who were not yet even our people and for us I felt proud to be your friend, your family.” Fritha paused again for a moment Bryech couldn’t tell if it was to think or something else but he continued to wait.
You were a big part in securing several of the victories for Squallborn and you willingly put your life on the line for The Maw of the Wolf, this showed me everything I needed to see.”
Fritha turned on her stump and faced Bryech pulling out her seax and said.
“I have watched you grow as a warrior, a man, and a leader, and I am proud to call you my family, I give you my word as your Jarl and friend that I will support your push toward becoming a Hersir.” Bryech was shocked and so very happy. Pulling his own seax Bryech bumped his fist with Fritha’s
“My Jarl you honor me more than words can express, thank you.” Bryech leaned forward and hugged his friend being careful not to stab her with his dagger. Fritha nodded and smiled jokingly saying.
“For now I’ll leave you be, make sure you go to sleep at a proper time so you don’t oversleep tomorrow and get left behind.” she stood and returned to the hall where undoubtedly somebody was looking for her. Bryech sat at the fire for a while longer contemplating his thoughts once more. Eventually Bryech realised it was much like Thrand had taught him about wounds, sometimes things just need time and the proper care to heal. Bryech realised he would have to let go of things and grow to heal. Something much easier said than done Bryech thought.
Eventually the sounds within the hall grew quiet as people slept where they lie in the hall and the fires died down, heading back inside Bryech was distracted by a movement to the left of the hall caught his eye. It was the woman he had been admiring. They locked eyes and she curled one finger toward her encouraging him to follow and then disappeared around the corner. Bryech felt his heart beat faster and fear take him. Which he scolded himself for he was an accomplished warrior he shouldn’t get this nervous about women. He steeled himself and followed her, not taking Fritha’s advice and instead having a restless evening.
The sun rose the next day and he boarded the longship feeling tired but happy. They set off on their journey home and after a few hours at sea Thrand approached him. Bryech nodded in greeting and looked out at the open ocean, a far more comfortable and confident sailor than when he had first sailed to Stormjarl with Pack Longfang all those years ago.
“I don’t mean to coddle you but Fritha told how you felt the need to be alone last night, are you okay?” Thrand asked. Bryech appreciated his concern and how he approached it, it showed Bryech that Thrand understood him. Looking at Thrand and smiling and then looking back out at the sea taking comfort in his new found journey to heal and grow he replied
“I will be, I just need time.”