Thrand squinted as he looked up at the clear blue sky. He was lying on his back and his head hurt. Fresh blood trickled down his lip where a shield edge had just busted it open. With slow, sore, and deliberate movements, Thrand picked himself up off the ground.
Bryech stood several yards away. His expressionless posture and lack of being tired misleading to the harsh beating he had just given Thrand. Bryech was younger but strong and spirited, he made a good Pack Longfang warrior. He would make a fine Ulfednar some day. Part of Thrand wished he wouldn’t make it look so easy when he pummeled him during weapons training but he knew to voice it or even believe in such things would dishonor him. Would a Grimward warrior or a Whiteoak berserker be any less savage in battle?
Thrand wiped the blood off of his chin and picked up his sword and shield. Preparing himself for another beating, he clanked the weapon to the shield edge audibly two times.
The blade whipped through the air, heading straight for Thrand. It’s path was deceptive enough to be hard to follow, but Thrand’s eyes were trained enough to understand where it was going. But the weight of the shield was too much for him to react quickly and he felt sluggish.
Try as he might, there was nothing he could do… he was just simply too slow, too clumsy to block it.
With a painful slap, the flat of Fritha’s blade swatted Thrand across his bottom. The sting and the smart of the pain enough to force Thrand to suck in air through gritted teeth. Flat or not, it was still a couple pounds of steel hitting him with sufficient force.
“How exactly did you become so much better at this than I?” asked Thrand grumpily as he rubbed the pain out of his left buttock.
“My father taught me and I paid attention to fighting with a sword and shield. I think some of the pups in the village can use a shield better than you.” replied Fritha in a matter-of-fact voice with a hint of playfulness. Although her duties as a Daughter of Gaia in the Onsallas village kept her busy, Fritha continued to train as a warrior. She excelled at sword and shield combat and could best Thrand most of the time.
“Yeah, well I can still outrun you any day and you shoot like a blind mordok.” snapped Thrand, his pride obviously hurt more than his rear.
“Are you finished pouting? Are you done or should I continue to beat you?” grinned Fritha.
Thrand was both amused and not at the same time and half-playfully glared at her.
Thrand was soaked in sweat, wearing a padded gambeson with bits of leather over it. Hours of fighting in the damp conditions of the swamp had left him tired. He was used to cloaks, hoods, and lighter wool tunics… not constricting and hot garments for close quarter battle. His limbs felt heavy. He was out of arrows and throwing knives.
The Whiteoak warrior standing before him had a shield. He stood poised and ready to strike, stoic and waiting for Thrand’s advance.
Although Thrand’s skill with a shield was improving, he did not have one to protect him during this fight. He did, however, hold a long two handed axe in both hands. And if there was something that Thrand was good at, it was handling an ax and splitting fire wood.
With a roar, Thrand leapt towards the Whiteoak warrior. Planting his feet and winding up the axe, it generated immense force as it spun around and shattered the warrior’s shield. Splinters exploded from the now useless shield and before the Whiteoak warrior had time to react, Thrand spun and followed up the heavy strike with two smaller ones aimed at the Whiteoak’s midsection. The axe bit deep in each side, but yet the warrior remained standing. With a second roar of exertion, Thrand arced the axe in a large sweep, winding up and with precision and strength landed the axe blade directly on top of the Whiteoak’s head. The blade bit deep, cutting the Whiteoak warrior in two.
“Thrand, you’ve been at this all day. You should take a rest.” said Stanrick from somewhere nearby. His words were both an approval that stopping would not be looked down on yet there was also a challenging edge to it.
Thrand snapped out of his mental battlefield. The two bloody halves of a Whiteoak warrior were in fact the two halves of a sturdy log that he had just split. The shield a simple piece of wood cobbled together to be used in training.
Breathing hard with exertion, Thrand’s mind raced. He still, to this day, felt shame for being so far away from the battles in Clan Stormjarl territory. To hear reports of how his new Pack was fighting to save his old Clan cut him deeply, making him feel helpless and useless out near the Dirge Swamp. He was not skirting his duties or avoiding the battle, he was just needed elsewhere.
Thrand looked up at Stanrick and met his gaze.
As the Stormjarl recruits braced for impact and the lines crashed into each other, some of them were jostled hard and fell to the ground. Hours of intense training had worn them out and made them clumsy.
Their mock shield wall broke and crumbled, the warriors too exhausted to continue on. Orrin, Azra, and Bryech all pushed easily through their line even though the recruits outnumbered them three to one. With wooden swords or padded sticks they thumped the recruits, painfully teaching them a lesson.
Thrand stood beside the line and watched. He was analyzing the fight and how the two sides met, how an archer could support them or how a long weapon like a large axe could be used to break the other lines shield wall. He had spent time learning from some of the human and syndar warriors, how they fought in combat and dealt with war.
With a few groans of pain and exhaustion, the Stormjarl recruits stood up and stumbled back into a line. A sudden aroma wafted across the training grounds right outside the palisade walls of the Onsallas Outpost.
Fresh, hot, delicious food… food that the recruits were starving for, food that Fritha and Reyna had been preparing that afternoon. Delicious spices, savory meat, fresh warm bread and butter mixed with bee honey. Some of the recruits looked longingly at Thrand, silently pleading to have him stop the training so that they may rest and eat. Almost comically on cue, one of the warriors stomachs growled audibly during the few seconds of respite. He too was hungry, deprived of food and training most of the day. His mind thought of how hungry the defenders of the Battle of Blackwolf Creek must have been as the Grimward line pressed on them for months and finally charged into a bloody melee.
Fresh and hot meals would be a luxury once the raids began and the Longfangs joined Clan Axhound in their attacks on Clan Whiteoak. With the raids on their mutual enemy approaching, the intensity of the training had picked up for the new recruits. Thrand’s face was expressionless as his eyes scanned from warrior to warrior.