This story stands as the culmination of several months of resources and effort put forward by a group of players.
In the final month’s of 267, Fritha Stormjarl, Hersir of Clan Stormjarl gathered support from various packs within Stormjarl territory. They were set to converge at the hold of Jarl Gor Whitecrest with the intention on supplying and organizing for a raid on Grimward. The primary focus of these raids was to retrieve as many Stormjarl ulven that had been taken captive during the Ulven Civil War as they could. Fritha was joined in her endeavor by her mate, Thrand Stormjarl; their long time friend, Bryech Savagefang; an honorbound-turned-freeman from Pack Longfang, Kaylek Nightriver; and a former Longfang, Toralf Grimmsvulker. Together they spent months preparing for the raids. Supplies were loaded, weapons were sharpened, and and through it all Whitecrest played a series of pranks, most utilizing eels, on the preparing Ulven. No doubt he did this in a bid to maintain levity. Most did not find his jokes pleasing, save for Kaylek who found that he had needed some levity in his life. In November of 267 they were prepared to strike out to exact honored vengeance and reclaim their lost family.
Before preparations were final Jarl Whitecrest had pulled Fritha aside and entrusted her with command of his Viknar, Stormjarl’s elite warriors. The gravity of the situation was not lost on her. All of Stormjarl was watching these raids.
Honor, Family, Vengeance – 267 Stormjarl raids on Grimward
As the month progressed more and more ships from nearby villages began to arrive at Whitecrest’s Hold to take on supplies and weapons for the upcoming raids. The time and effort put forward by Thrand and Fritha helped to secure support from an array of Stormjarl settlements. The coin they had put forward helped to make sure that all of the warriors were well equipped and their armor and shields were reinforced. The training that Thrand and Bryech brought to the fresh raiders made sure that they were ready to fight hard and fight together. The labor put forth by all made sure that the ships were able to be packed quickly and efficiently. In the end a fleet of ten ships carrying warriors from several different coastal settlements moored along the coast of Whitecrest’s Hold.
There was a palpable tension surrounding the raiders and warriors packed into the Stormjarl long ships as they cast away from the pier and began their journey northward. People were excited, but in the same vein they were nervous. It had been a while since they’d all gone raiding and for some of them this was their first time. Many of the younger warriors had been very vocal and excited about their first raid, but once on the ships they sat in silence, staring down at the deck. On one boat one of the older fighters looking for a glorious death grew tired of the sniveling youngsters and began to rummage through his small bag of provisions. After a while he pulled out a fairly large bottle filled with a rich, amber liquid and handed it to one of the green warriors
“Whiskey, boy. Drink it and share it with your friends. It’ll put some fire in your belly. I won’t be needing it either way.” Within time the tension seemed to die down and the rest of the voyage was largely uneventful aside from Kaylek’s unyielding sea sickness.
Thrand and Fritha road together in the same boat, leading the first group, so as to be ready to make quick decisions together when needed. Bryech, Kaylek, and Toralf split themselves up and road in different boats within the second group so as to integrate more easily into the Stormjarl raiders and Viknar. Everything seemed to be set up to ensure a clean and decisive victory. Stormjarl was prepared while Grimward flatfooted, but that did not mean that there may not be a tough fight ahead.
It was still early in the morning when the first village came into sight around a bend in the coastline. The dawn had broken, but only just barely and fog bled over the hills in the distance in a wispy grey wave, backlit by the orange morning sun. Were it not for the pressing matters at hand the scenery would stand worthy of admiration, but now was not the time.
Fritha and Thrand took their ship and began their approach toward the small settlement with the rest of the first raiding party following closely behind them. As the boats approached the shores the raiders kept their eyes open, but they did not see anyone on the beach or around the village to stand against them. It was not long before the boats reached shallow waters and upon Fritha’s command the Viknar were the first to disembark, weapons in hand, to storm the beach.
Once on the beach the ringing of an alarm bell came into focus. It was not clear how long the bell had been ringing due to it’s sharp tone being overpowered by the sounds of waves hitting boats and the loud nature of splashing through waist high seawater while carrying heavy weapons and shields. Upon hearing the bell however, the lack of people milling through the village started to make sense. Clearly the alarm had been raised and the villagers had taken to sealing themselves away.
Under Fritha’s direction she took half the Viknar and raiders and sent the other half with Thrand to sweep through the village, moving from home to home, clearing them of any potential combatants and searching for Stormjarl thralls. Home after home, they were found to be devoid of life, but many of them with warm meals still set at their table. After the first few empty cottages everyone started to realize that the villagers, knowing that as farmers they didn’t stand a decent chance at repelling raiders, tucked themselves away in a central, more defensible position. After searching through the homes the two forces reconvened at the front door to the village’s modest longhouse and found it barred from the inside.
On Fritha’s orders all shields were brought to the front and arranged into a wall in front of the doorway and few of the Ulven with large axes were placed on either side of the entrance. The axmen were instructed to bring the door down, aiming to splinter the frame where it met with the doors heavy iron hinges. The axes made quick work of the door frame and within minutes the thick wooden doors buckled and fell out and away from the building and as they did a volley of arrows rung out from inside the longhouse. The arrows slammed into the wall of shields and one pierced straight through the forearm of one of the axmen who was a little too slow when clearing the doorway. As his friends and allies cleared him from the area, Fritha lead the shield wall in pressing through the doorway.
Inside the longhouse stood a cobbled together militia of farmers and fishermen, all of whom stood in shock and terror when met with the prospect of fighting against true, battle-hardened Viknar. Thrand and Fritha called out to them to drop their weapons and explained that there was no need for violence. The two explained that if they laid down their weapons and allowed them to take any rescued thralls with them then they would all be “gentle” in their collection of “supplies” on the way out of the village.
The Grimward militia exchanged meaningful looks between themselves. They seemed incredibly hesitant to push this fight and seemed to be weighing their options. After a short time an older Ulven stepped forward from the back with a stern look in his eyes.
“You are all cowards!” he shouted at his fellow clansmen, “Our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives, our children are all to the north fighting the Mordok and we won’t even stand against these Stormjarl pups? Well I’m not going to roll over like you.” The Ulven turned to face the Viknar and spit at their feet. “When I see him he’ll judge me brave, can you sneak-thieves and raiders say the same?”
The elderly Ulven lifted a crude club high above his head and charged the shield wall alone. He did not reach the wall. He did not come close. Without hesitation, a long spear shot forth from a crouched position behind the wall and pierced the Grimward Ulven’s chest and his body fell limp on the wooden floor of the longhouse; his blood pooling around his body and streaming down through the gaps in the floorboards.
That was all the convincing that it took. The rest of the militia tossed their weapons into the center of the room and dropped to their knees with their hands on their heads. It seemed simple to them: not all battles must be fought. In the end the villagers turned over the thralls they had. The majority of them were farmers that had been kept in the villages to work the fields and tend to supplies while the rest of the working age Grimward went north to aid The Shield. On the way back to the boats the raiders were let loose to scour the village for supplies and valuables, but told to keep their word that they would be “gentle”. The haul from the first village came relatively light and brought in eighteen missing Stormjarl who were divided between the Stormjarl ships.
Lanterns were smashed along the piers and as the long ships prepared to sail away, torches were tossed onto the oil soaked boards. Within a short time roaring fires overtook the docks of the small village and the raiding ships of the first strike party began their journey northward to reunite with their friends and fellow raiders.
When it had become abundantly clear that Fritha and Thrand’s team would be able to handle the first village Bryech gave the call that the second group should start making its way to the next target. The travel went smoothly and in relatively short time the long boats of the second arm were landing on the beach.
The scene upon arriving at this village was not remotely the same as the first. Whereas the first village appeared unguarded and empty, here a wall of militia fighters was present on the beach looking to stop the advance of the invading raiders. These Grimward fighters stood in defiant pride and beat their shields while hurling insults and jabs. With the droning sound of a blowing horn they charged down the beach with ferocity and fervor that was shocking to the raiding party that was expecting an easy fight. The Stormjarl warriors locked into a stable shield wall and braced themselves in the sand to the best of their ability.
The resulting battle did not last long, though it ended in much bloodshed. The ferocity of the Grimward militia quickly proved to be primarily bluster as they slammed into and bounced off the Stormjarl shield wall. Not to be dissuaded by their initial weak start, the Grimward militia dug themselves into a shield wall of their own with the goal of stopping the encroaching Stormjarl in their tracks. Unfortunately for this village, they had sent their best warriors and equipment to the north and those they left behind were largely untrained and not accustomed to the nature of battle and its terrors.
Under the direction of Bryech and a few of the other veteran warriors, the Stormjarl raiders brought down heavy axes upon the Grimward shields and were surprised to find that many of them crumbled as though the linen and paint on their faces was all that was left to hold them together. It did not take long to break Grimward’s line and as the shield wall crumbled so did any semblance of order within the militia’s ranks. In this growing chaos, the Stormjarl Raiders quickly learned that an untrained force can still be dangerous. With their ranks broken the Grimward militia began to abandon order and charge into the fray with reckless abandon. Under their wild lack of tactics they were crushed, but not before they were able to overrun and kill some of the invaders. Things progressed quickly and violently and before they knew it, Bryech, Toralf, and Kaylek found themselves standing on a blood soaked beach trying to take in their surroundings. The Grimward forces fought through to the very end, and a brutal end it had been.
Bryech placed a few of the raiders on the morbid duty of verifying the dead so as to give a merciful end to their enemies and hopefully locate and triage any of their own wounded warriors. Kaylek also remained on the beach to help tend to the wounded while Toralf and Bryech joined the rest of the raiders as they went into the village to search for any thralls and loot for supplies and spoils.
Twenty-four Stormjarl thralls were recovered from the village, again all of them farmers left behind to tend to harvests and supplies and a reasonable haul of supplies and valuables was brought down to the beach and loaded into the ships. As the last of the goods were being loaded onto the boats everyone was able to see Fritha and Thrand’s ship carving it’s way through the waters followed closely by the rest of the first raiding group. With the smashing of lanterns and the tossing of torches, the second raiding party set sail to reconvene with their allies. The flames and smoke from the burning docks punctuated their brief visit to the small coastal village as it shrunk away into the distance behind them.
Even with the loss of a few lives in the second village, spirits were high as the ships reunited and plotted their course to the next target. The first raid had gone as smoothly as one could hope and, even when met with resistance, the second raid went quickly and with a low mortality on the part of the raiders. It seemed as though Ranmir’s intel was correct and all of the targeted coastal settlements had sent what warriors they had to the front and were content to leave their security to their militia. Unfortunately for said militia, they did not stand a chance against the Stormjarl Viknar or the other raiders in their party. With this sense of security and the high adrenaline from a so-far-successful raid, the long ships pressed on to their next fight.
The third village began to come into focus as the fleet rounded another bend in the coastline. This settlement was a degree larger than the last two had been and was nestled away into a small pocket created by the coastal hills and bluffs. Up a small hill to the back of the village stood a large longhouse and from there a twisting network of dirt roads lead through the village and down to the beach. As the boats approached the shore it became evident that, much like the first village, there was no one around the greet them, but unlike the first village there was no alarm bell.
With Fritha in the lead, the Viknar hit the shores and as the raiders assembled into their lines Kaylek, Toralf, and Bryech reunited with their allies from the first raiding party. Together they looked over the empty village.
“No welcome? That seems odd,” Kaylek stated as he squinted his eyes to see if he could pick out any forms in the distance.
“Yeah. Something doesn’t quite feel right,” Bryech responded.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be too worried,” Fritha assured the two, “This is how things were when we arrived at the first village. The villagers all held up in their long house and barred the door. They’re probably doing the same here.”
Toralf scoffed at Fritha’s words, “They didn’t even fight? That’s not at all what we dealt with at our village. They fought to the bitter end.”
Thrand stepped up and put a hand on Fritha’s shoulder, “They are probably hold up in the longhouse, but we should still be careful and search all the homes again, just to be sure.”
The groups broke apart again and began a thorough sweep through the village, checking every home as they made their ways toward the back of the village and after a painfully slow search they reconvened at the doors of the longhouse. Fritha quickly organized the raiders into the same formation they used to take down the doors at the first village and once in position one of the axmen reached out and grasped the handle to the doors and pulled. To the surprise of everyone, the door swung open with little effort and revealed a completely empty longhouse. The Ulven on the shield wall dropped their shields and peered inside the building in a state of confusion. There was absolutely and unequivocally no one in this village.
The Stormjarl Viknar stood in a loose formation and looked to Fritha for guidance. Before she could formulate a plan the sound of a large horn was heard blaring from the top of the hill that flanked the village to the north and in short time it was answered by another droning horn from the hill to the south. The raiders all snapped to attention and looked around in shock as the sound of roaring warriors began to come into focus over the tops of the adjacent hills.
“Boats. We need to go back to the boats!” Thrand shouted in urgency, “They’re going to cut us off! They’re going to crush us from the sides!” He reached out and shook Fritha by her arm.
Fritha broke from shock and looked over the alarmed raiders and in the loudest voice she could muster gave the command, “You all heard him. Get back to the boats. We’ll stage on the beach! We can’t let them hit us here.”
Everyone quickly took heed of Fritha’s words and began a quick rush to return to the beach and be ready for a true fight. Unfortunately not everyone made it to the shores before the Grimward fighters reached the village and their forces collided with the Stormjarl forces. Toralf and a not-insignificant number of the Viknar were separated from their allies as the Grimward forces closed in around the village. Without hesitation Fritha turned and gave the command to fight and clear them a path out, but from the first swing it was clear: this wasn’t a militia; these were Grimward Warriors and they came to crush anyone they found.
What followed was a horrendously brutal fight. Shields were smashed and bones were broken. Blood was spilled on the edges of swords and chests were split wide under the weight of heavy axes. Arrows cut through the air and found their place deep within the flesh of their targets.
Bryech bounced down the line calling out orders and taking advantage of any opportunity he saw to drive a sword into the ribs of a Grimward warrior. He parried axes and blocked swords, all while his adept footwork and quick responses kept him from harm’s way. When a spear pierced a Grimward leg causing them to drop their shield, Bryech was there to deliver the final blow. When an axe fell toward a Viknar’s head, Bryech was there to catch the ax head on his sword and pull it from the warrior’s hands.
Kaylek stood behind a wall of shields and dropped his ax repeatedly on the enemy lines, splintering shields under the force of his blows. Seeing the damage being done to the lines, a Grimward archer drew back their bow and threaded their arrow through a small gap in the Stormjarl shield wall where it hit it’s mark in Kaylek’s chest, narrowly missing his left lung. Kaylek gritted his teeth and winced at the impact as he stumbled back and away from the line to pull out the arrow and bandage his chest, but within seconds another arrow found its way through the wall and took up a trajectory aimed to join it’s friend in Kaylek’s torso. At the last moment Bryech’s shield shot to the side and intercepted the arrow in flight. Kaylek nodded to Bryech and stepped back from the line to treat his new wound while Bryech stepped up to the line and shouted to everyone within earshot,
“For fuck’s sake, you’re a damned shield wall! Do your fucking job and block arrows! I’ll show you how the Ulfednar do it.” And Bryech stood on the line and under his watch, no arrows passed and through the entire battle, he was not touched by a single blade. The only evidence that he had even fought was the coating of Grimward blood that he earned through the fight.
On the other side of the line, still within the village, Toralf stood with a group of hardened Viknar. They formed up as best they could in the streets of the village and stood against the onslaught of Grimward Warriors striking from all sides. Cut off from the beach, things looked beyond bleak for them, but Toralf held solid and did not step off their shield wall, all the way up until an ax reached out and hooked the top of his shield and pulled him off the line. Within a split second axes began to fall upon him and splintered his shield and though he did all he could to parry the following blows they eventually found purchase on his body. Axes and swords cut into his limbs and in the end a large heavy mace landed a blow on his torso and broke several ribs on the left side of his body. Toralf fell to his knees and saw his blood pouring into the dirt; the sight of his vital essence mixing into a thick muck as the edge of his vision softened and blurred is the last thing Toralf remembers.
One of the Grimward warriors lifted his ax above his head to deliver the finishing blow, but as the ax fell it was intercepted as the grizzled veteran who had given his whiskey on the boat shoved his way out of the Viknar shields and blocked the ax, his heroic deed put him well in harms way and before he knew it axmen surrounded him and drove their weapons deep into his body, but he stood through the pain and shouted to his assailants,
“Here I will die, but I will do it with honor. I will die with glory and he will know my name. I join the Great Wolf as a warrior.” A final ax fell and buried itself in the Viknar’s chest and his body went limp.
As the Grimward warrior struggled to dislodge his weapon from the corpse, a low, guttural roar began to manifest deep in the Toralf’s throat as he rose to his feet. Tall and imposing, he stood face-to-face with his savior’s killer, his eyes wild and alight with a burning fire. The roar broke free from Toralf’s throat and he screamed in the face of his adversary as he reared back and punched him square in the nose, knocking the Ulven to the ground. With uncalculated and reckless ferocity, Toralf took the large ax from the Viknar’s body and drove it deep into the Grimward’s chest before turning to face the Grimward line that blocked their path to the beach.
“Oh, it’s time. Get ready boys,” one of the older, Viknar muttered to his surrounding allies, “It looks like we’re about to get our path out of here.” Toralf launched at the enemy line with a complete lack of self-preservation and with the Grimward ax he smashed through shields and cut down warriors, carving a thin line through the Grimward forces. Behind him the Viknar had assembled themselves in a wedge and charged into the fray, driving themselves into the crack that Toralf had cut and splitting it wide open as they made their push to the beach.
Kaylek was mid-way through bandaging his wound when he heard Toralf’s roaring cut through the Grimward lines. He watched as Toralf spilled out through the back of the shield wall and he watched as the Viknar wedge shoved warriors aside as it too burst through the lines. The warriors followed Toralf through to the back of the Stormjarl forces where he lost his strength and fell into the sand next to Kaylek. It was clear that the wounds that Toralf had sustained were well beyond the scope of what Kaylek would be able to treat, but after a brief hesitation a thought came to Kaylek’s mind.
“One of you! No, two of you. Take him!” Kaylek yelled at the raiders that had followed Toralf’s charge, “Hold those wounds and take him back to the boat I sailed in on! That one! Right there!” Kaylek called out in fervent urgency while pointing to one of the Stormjarl long ships. “One of our passengers, one of the thralls we saved up is a healer. We have supplies on the boat. Get him there. Now.” Two of the Stormjarl stepped forward without hesitation, scooped up Toralf, and immediately began to run him to Kaylek’s boat. Kaylek finished bandaging his wound and stood up to get his bearings.
A degree of chaos broke out on the battlefield following Toralf’s push. The Grimward forces began to fight more recklessly and the raiders were beginning to be pushed back down the beach. Lines from both sides began to crumble and fall into disarray as the fighting became more brutal. Grimward axes repeatedly dropped on the Stormjarl shield wall as they drove the lines back. A few large poleaxes smashed through Fritha’s shield, one cleaving clean through and into her shoulder. Before she could recover from the impact a spear shot out and pierced her leg and an ax hooked her ankle and pulled her to the ground as her lines continued to fall back without her. Fritha grit her teeth through what should have been a series of immobilizing blows and forced her bleeding shoulder and leg to drag body back toward her line, but the movement of the battle was too quick and the Grimward lines continued to push her own warriors back and away from her. Just as the Grimward lines were set to overtake her, Thrand pressed through the Stormjarl wall and took a firm hold of her wrist and started to drag her down the beach away from the encroaching Grimward warriors.
An imposing Grimward warrior in thick chain and masterfully tooled leather pauldrons pushed his way through his line, and unfortunately for both Fritha and Thrand, outpaced them as they backed away. He carried a large, heavy mace and bellowed as he stepped within striking range, “I don’t know your name. I don’t know your face. But I saw from the hills, you lead this party. You think you can just walk into my home? You think I’ll just let you run away? When I’m done with you, Stormjarl whelp, you won’t be walking or running ever again.” In a burst of speed that betrayed the heavy nature of the Grimward’s weapon, he stepped forward and brought the mace down with resounding force on Fritha’s left leg. A sickening series of cracks rung out over the clamor of the battlefield; Thrand roared in protest; Fritha grit her teeth and held back a scream. She did all she could to remain conscious, but with the loss of blood and the mounting pain from a rapid succession of wounds, her vision began to blur.
The Grimward warrior stepped closer to Fritha’s body lifted his mace above his head to crush her ribs and drive home a final blow, but was caught entirely off guard as in a final act of defiance, Fritha drove her seax into his calf before finally succumbing to her wounds and passing out. Capitalizing on the confusion, Thrand dropped Fritha’s wrist and threw himself over her body to tackle the Grimward. With his balance off, Thrand was quickly able to take the Ulven to the ground and without hesitation he tore Fritha’s seax from his opponent’s leg and drove it repeatedly into his face, showering himself in blood.
The brutal display sent a wave of shock through the Grimward forces and the Stormjarl Viknar were able to capitalize on their hesitation and push them back toward the village far enough to bring Thrand and Fritha back into the relative safety of their back lines. Through it all, Thrand remained on top of the now obviously deceased warrior that he had brought to the ground, still repeatedly stabbing the Ulven in the face and throat.
Kaylek followed the line forward and found Fritha unconscious and Thrand still in the midst of his moment and immediately rushed to Fritha’s side to check her for a pulse. Kaylek pressed a finger to side of Fritha’s neck and felt relief wash over him as he felt a weakened, but present pulse. He then looked up and Thrand and called out to him, “Thrand, Stop! He’s dead! There are more important things right now.”
Thrand’s head snapped back, a fire burning in his eyes as he looked back at Kaylek holding Fritha’s head as she lie bleeding in the sand. His eyes darted over Kaylek in a panicked frenzy of rage and lingering hatred for his opponent, but immediately settled into a state of shock and unbridled worry when they found their way to his mate. He immediately let go of Fritha’s seax and scrambled in an uncoordinated rush across the sand back to Fritha. Thrand looked her over in a panic and realized the severity of her wound. “Give her to me, Kaylek. I need to get her out of here.” Thrand shoved Kaylek hard in the chest and scrambled to lift his mate out of the sand. Kaylek fell back hard onto the beach and winced as his wound made contact with the ground, but grit his teeth and climbed back to his feet to find Thrand pulling Fritha up by her arms and pushing toward the boats. The entire time Thrand did not stop repeating, “I need to get her out. I need to get her out…”
Once on his feet, Kaylek shouted, “Thrand! Wait! I know–”
Thrand’s head snapped back and shot daggers directly into Kaylek’s eyes, “I’m not waiting. I’m getting her out. I swear, Kaylek, If you to get in the way –”
“Just listen for a second! I know where we have a healer! Let me take her.”
Thrand’s eyes burned with a smoldering rage, “Just tell me where they are. I will take her. She’s my mate. I will make sure she’s okay.”
Having pushed the Grimward lines back up toward the village, Bryech had earned the chance to look back and saw Thrand arguing with Kaylek, Fritha limp in his arms, and immediately rushed to his friend’s side.
“What is happening, What happened to Fritha?” Bryech called out in urgency.
“She was wounded, badly. Thrand is trying to take her back to the ships, but he needs to be here to finish what was started. I can take her.” Kaylek answered.
Bryech dropped into a urgent, yet reassuring tone. “Thrand, you need to be here. With Fritha down you have the command. Don’t let her think you’ve wasted this opportunity. Let Kaylek take her and you and I will finish her raid with honor.”
Thrand began to protest, but before words could leave his lips he felt Fritha’s hand on the side of his face and looked down to see her eyes hard and determined though her voice was weak, “Finish this, Thrand. Don’t waste resources.”
Thrand’s eyes softened and he was able to see the help that was being offered to him. With great effort he relented and passed Fritha to Kaylek who immediately began to rush her to his boat to be tended to by the healer. Thrand turned and walked to the mangled remains of the deceased Grimward warrior and picked up his mace before returning to Bryech. Together they rejoined the lines to take the command. Under his capable orders and steeled reserve Thrand led the Stormjarl Viknar in a decisive and bloody victory, his swift tactical decisions tempered in the cool flames of hard determination. Bryech’s fervor in battle remained unquenched as he and Thrand cut their way through the enemy lines. In the end Grimward soldiers either set down their weapons, or were cut down indiscriminately.
When the battle resolved only a small handful of Grimward warriors remained and were bound and kept for questioning. Bryech took the duty of interrogating the warriors, though it did not take much effort before they revealed everything that they knew.
A pair of hawk’s had been sent from the first village before the raiding party had even set foot on the doorstep of the longhouse. One warned the next village up the coast of the arrival of the Stormjarl Viknar and warned them to be prepared. The second hawk was sent to the nearest Chieftain, Yjolkar Duskmace. Yjolkar sent a hawk of his own to the third village to tell them to pack their valuables and the thralls and immediately move to his nearby home of Duskwatch, a village tucked into the inland hills a half-day’s journey away. Yjolkar gathered his forces and set out immediately for the third village, arriving with enough time to be well staged before the Stormjarl party landed on their beach. Through questions and answers a few things became clear: There were no valuables or Stormjarl thralls left in this village, the Ulven that crushed Fritha’s leg and was killed by Thrand was the Chieftain, Yjolkar Duskmace, and whatever message Thrand and Fritha looked to send to Grimward was received loud and clear.
Thrand sent the raiders into the village to confirm the lack of Thralls and valuables and told them to take whatever supplies they could find that the villagers were unable to carry with them as well as any serviceable weapons and armor from the fallen Grimward warriors. In the end, there was still much in the storehouses in the way of grains and supplies stored up for the winter and a good deal of serviceable equipment was collected from the dead. The supplies were loaded into the boats and before heading down to burn the docks and cast off, Thrand tossed a knife into the sand next to the bound Grimward.
“Cut yourselves free once we disappear down the coast, then burn your dead.”
Thrand and Bryech returned together to the ship Kaylek had sailed in on. Fritha and Toralf were already aboard having their wounds tended to and it made no difference which raiding group they sailed in for the return journey. Toralf’s wounds were severe, but the healer was able to stabilize him with the promise of no lasting damage. His ribs were broken and would take a few months of rest to properly heal, but in the end he would be in fighting shape again.
Fritha was not as lucky. The healer had managed to stabilize her condition and clean the sand from her wounds, but her leg had been hurt badly. The chieftain’s heavy mace had shattered bones in her leg and despite the healers best efforts, there was simply no way to properly set what remained. Fritha would live, but her leg was irreparably damaged. She slept through the journey home and not once did Thrand leave her side, nor for a second did he even think of releasing his gentle hold on her hand.
Elsewhere in the ship and throughout the fleet word buzzed between the returning Viknar and raiders. Stories were told of Bryech the Untouchable, The Shield of the Viknar, who whipped their lines into shape and was untouched by arrows and blades. Tales were woven of Toralf the Unyielding who when beaten down, rose and broke the Grimward lines and led many out of the village deathtrap. Word spread wide of Thrand the Tempered whose quick actions saved the life of his mate and turned the tide of the battle and who took the charge and led the raiders to victory. But above all they spoke of Fritha the Honored who brought them the chance to regain their slighted honor, who brought them hope that they would see their stolen families again, who gave her all on the battlefield to bring them to the end. Though the last battle had been hard and bloody, spirits were high on the return home. Songs were sung and looted bottles of mead were drank. Toralf drank and rested while Bryech sang a song or two, Kaylek sat quietly and tried to hold back sickness, Fritha woke up now and then, but overall she slept, and Thrand watched over her.
It was late in the afternoon when the ships returned to dock at Jarl Whitecrest’s hold. The Jarl stood on the docks and greeted the returning raiders with a grin and open arms. He clapped warriors across the back as they walked down the docks and he seemed in a great, jovial mood until he saw Thrand and Bryech carrying Fritha down the dock on a cobbled together stretcher. He didn’t ask any questions, he saw the look in Thrand’s eyes.
“Take her to bed and get some rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Bryech helped Thrand get Fritha to bed and then turned in for the night. Toralf found a room with a decent bed and laid down to sleep. Kaylek caught up on the drinking he had missed on the ship and eventually found a warm place to pass out for the night. Thrand cleaned Fritha’s wounds and changed her bandages before falling asleep at her side.
In the morning Thrand paid a visit to Whitecrest’s longhouse to tell him about the outcome of the raids, but was quickly cut off when he tried to speak, “Oh, don’t worry about filling me in, Thrand. While you were sleeping last night we had a great deal of drinking here in my hall and the Viknar and your Nightriver friend told me everything. All things considered, you all did well. Could it have been smoother? Probably. Was the situation beyond your control? I think so, but you all rolled with the punches and you came out on top… I’ve got something for you. There’s a tradition in my hold that when someone has proven themselves they are given a small token of appreciation” Whitecrest reached into a pouch and pulled out a tasteful silver arm ring and tossed it to Thrand with a shit-eating grin covering his face. “ But when rank is bestowed on a warrior, on a friend, they are given an arm ring. Go ahead and put that on, Hersir Thrand Stormjarl and then go get those friends of yours and bring them in here. I have words for them as well.”
Thrand slipped his new ring over his wrist and went out and brought back Bryech and Toralf, but after a deal of searching and asking around he wasn’t able to find Kaylek. The three Ulven returned to Whitecrest’s hall and Bryech and Toralf took a place at the edge of the Jarl’s platform. He immediately launched into a rehearsed and theatrical speech, “You have all done a great service for—Wait. Where is the other one? The one who thinks my eels are funny?”
“I couldn’t find him in the village, Jarl.” Thrand answered, “I asked around and no one outside had seen him.”
“That’s odd. He was definitely drinking with us last night. He must have found somewhere to bed down.” Whitecrest stood from his chair and in doing so knocked a heavy pewter goblet from it’s place causing it to fall to the wooden planks of his platform with a loud crash. Within a few moments a groaning could be heard coming from beneath the platform and soon following Kaylek crawled out from underneath the Jarl’s platform covered in mead stains and a layer of dust.
“Where the fuck am I? Shit, my head hurts.” Kaylek muttered as he pulled himself to his feet and hazily looked over the confused and concerned faces of his allies. Bryech and Thrand quickly grabbed Kaylek by his arms and pulled him over to stand between them. Toralf dug an elbow into Kaylek’s ribs and pointed up toward Whitecrest who stood on his platform with an amused grin.
Whitecrest cleared his throat and began again, “You have all done a great service for not just me, not just Thrand, not just Fritha. You have done a great service for Stormjarl. This was not your fight and you didn’t need to be here, but I am glad you were. I heard the stories of how you held yourselves on the battlefield. Know this, you will always have a warm bed in my home. There will always be mead and ale for you. There will always be a hearth to warm your blood. The blood of the battlefield is thicker than that of brotherhood. You are our brothers now. You are welcome anytime. And Bryech,” Whitecrest continued, “Bryech Savagefang or should I say, Bryech the Survivor of Blackwolf Creek, Bryech the Untouchable, Bryech The Shield of the Viknar. It seems the list of names you’ve earned with my people and all of Stormjarl continues to grow. Know this, Bryech. We have a great interest in you and a great deal of appreciation for all you have done for us. There are important eyes are on you and we greatly look forward to watching your future.” Whitecrest let a sly smile cross over his face. “Now someone go fetch Fritha, if she can walk. She deserves to be honored as well.”
Thrand left his allies to talk with Whitecrest while he went to gather his mate and help her to the long house. When he entered their small room he found her sitting up in bed. She looked him over as he walked through the door and when her eyes landed on his arm ring she smiled, “One of Whitecrest’s gifts? Well then Hersir Thrand, I assume, what else did I miss?”
“He would like to speak with you,” Thrand answered, “The rest are in there talking with him right now. You shouldn’t try to walk on that leg yet. Let me help you.” Thrand helped his mate to her feet and found a sturdy staff to help her support herself and together they returned to Whitecrest’s hall where they found their allies sitting around a table to the side of the room, all of them plastered with a knowing grin. Thrand helped her up to the front of the room and supported her to keep weight off of her injured leg. Whitecrest bowed his head and began to speak,
“Hersir Fritha Stormjarl. Our people owe you a great debt. You have worked hard to help us bring back some of the honor we lost to Grimward. You have worked hard to be sure that people would be reunited with their families again. You gave much on the battlefield and then you gave more. I cannot express the gratitude that I feel for what you have done. I trusted my Viknar to you and you did not squander that trust. You are strong, Fritha Stormjarl, strong in many ways and I know in my heart that you would make an amazing Jarl yourself.” Whitecrest lifted his head and looked over the room, “I want you to know that I am going recommend that you be made a Jarl. My word has weight behind it and I know that it is time for you to move up. If this is what you desire I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to bring it to fruition. There is one small catch however; Jarls of Stormjarl cannot hold fealty or status with other factions.” Whitecrest’s face hardened slightly, “If you wish to be a Jarl, you must give up being a Longfang permanently and make your home here in Stormjarl. I know this is no small choice. Take your time and think it over and let me know how you want to move forward. No matter the choice you make, know that all of us appreciate you and no matter which path you walk we know you will walk it with honor.”
Whitecrest continued on to explain that all of the valuables would be collected from the ships and shares of the spoils would be split between the warriors. It would take some time to be sure things were divided appropriately, but he assured everyone that he would get everyone their share in due time. The rescued Thralls would have a chance to share their stories and then they would all be escorted to their home villages as soon as possible. The supplies would be divided up and sent to home villages of the rescued Stormjarl to help offset the losses they incurred by not being home to help with harvests.
“You have all earned a good long rest.” Whitecrest continued, “Take time and enjoy yourselves. Eat with us, drink with us. It is time to celebrate, but do not forget that we have cast a stone through Grimward’s window and we all know they aren’t the type to leave a favor un-returned.”