Part I can be found here.
After several moments, he felt himself calming down. He closed his eyes and focused. Now was not the time for revenge. Now was the time to reunite with his father. He walked slowly over to the side of the bed to kneel next to him. “Father,” he whispered.
The older warrior sat bolt upright, and brought up with him a knife whose blade was as long and wide as his forearm. Only the sight of his son’s face stopped the swing. The sheet fell away, revealing a torso marked with scars old and new. “Aye, Broc!” he said in surprise, in a voice as strong as it always had been. “Well it’s about time you showed your face, boy! The stories have been coming fast and furious about you.”
A calm and relieved feeling came to Broc, the sound of his voice and reaction reminded Broc of the great warrior father he had known. A slight smile crossed his face, “Aye Da”, he said in a cheerful tone. The other thoughts and emotions that were building up within him all but vanished. “I’ve had my share of adventures, but enough of me. Let’s talk about those bastards that did this to you.”
“What, this?” His father waved the knife over the shortened leg under the sheet. “Just a scratch, Broc.” Sigurd said it lightly, but one who knew him well – like his wife, or his son – knew that the wound ran deeper than the lost limb. “Last fall the Third Hand started moving into our hunting grounds. So we pushed back. There’s more than a few warriors here who caught the worst end of that, and quite a few who didn’t come back at all.”
Broc looked steadily into his father’s eyes, “And what of their number”?
“Quite a few of them fell as well,” he answered with a harsh laugh. “They had to retreat, back to their own lands. With luck, most of ‘em starved during the winter.”
“Then I shall hunt the survivors,” Broc said proudly and confidently. “I will show them what its like to be on the sharpened end of a North Redding warrior’s sword.” He then turned his head slightly from his father’s gaze and in a lowered tone, “I avenge you … this I swear.”
Sigurd Hjalm-Gunnarson [is that the right way to spell it?] laughed again, and this time the sound was full, almost joyous. “Aye, son, I’m sure you will.” He clapped one calloused hand on Broc’s shoulder. “You should talk to Jarl – he’s been itching to exact payment for his eye. But first, help your old man out to sit in the sun, so you can tell your mother and me what you’ve been up to. The bards have prettied it up a bit, I imagine, and it’ll be better to hear it from your own lips.”
He swung his good leg over the edge of the bed and let his son support him out the door, where he took a seat on a stool to smoke a pipe while Broc spoke. “Start at the beginning,” Delling told him firmly, letting Broc know she wanted to hear everything he had done, everyone he had met, everywhere he had gone – not just the tales about frost wyrms and dragons and great battles.
Broc did just that. He recounted with the best of his remembrance all of the events that led up to this point, trying to go in as much detail as possible. He spoke of his companions, the fights, his conquests; of his enemies and of the women, his learning to read, and of his awakening of his sword. His stories carried into the night. He started a small fire, for light and for warmth. Ale was passed between father and son, and even his mother took a swig or two. As the stories were being told throughout the afternoon and night, random villagers started to meander closer to also listen to the stories. Before Broc knew it, a crowd of more than a dozen twelve other villagers were also gathered around the small fire, even Jarl. Broc did not care. Anyone could listen to his stories. There was no embellishments or exaggerations, for he did not need them. Broc told everything, and everything he told was the truth.
The audience listened raptly, only occasionally interjecting questions or comments, and often laughing at the lighter moments. When Broc recounted fights, and how enemies had been vanquished, many would look around and nod, murmuring approval. Delling and Sigurd occasionally would look at each other, and at one point Broc could see his mother reach out to take his father’s hand and hold it between both her own, a sign of how she still loved him and always would. The men in the crowd filled pipes, passed their tobacco to share, and as Broc reached the end of his account about how the polar bear had fallen, and he had stood over it bloodied and torn, he looked up to meet Jarl’s one good eye and saw the other man nod in approval of the choice he had made. Warriors did not choose elk for the Regis Raul – the wolf god deserved better, as did Hegart’s blade, and every man and woman around the fire understood that. One boy, no more than ten, asked to see the scar, and Broc stood to pull up his shirt and show where the marks of the bear’s claws still lingered – and then the mark that the Regis Raul had himself set up his shoulder.
Silence fell when he described what had happened at Palderton, and parents gathered children closer, muttering invocations for the gods to protect them all against the things that lurked in the shadows beyond the fire. At the movement, Broc looked around and again saw Jarl watching – but not Broc this time, instead a tall woman with long blonde curls who had taken a seat halfway around the circle from Jarl and settled down with a child, perhaps a little over a year old, on her lap. Hanne Magnusdottir, Broc remembered. She had been courted and won by Rolf Rolfsson … but now she wore over her shoulders the black shawl of mourning. When she saw Jarl watching, she shifted again, and the one-eyed man dropped his gaze back to his pipe. There was a tale there, Broc could tell, one similar to his with Ghini.
He had his own tale to finish, though. Some gasped when Broc explained how one of the undead creatures had pounded him into the ground – “fists as hard as iron, and as strong as the mountains,” he said with a rueful shake of his head, before going on to recount how he had clawed his way out of the dirt and carved the creature apart. As he continued the story of how they had managed to make it to Obber’s Mill before the nefarious bard, everyone leaned forward expectantly, anxious for the end of the story, and to know that the wrong-doer had met a just end. When Broc told them how he had split the man from crotch to collarbone, there was a collective sigh of satisfaction.
When he was done, the others swapped tales, of marriages made and children born, and the recent struggles with the Third Hand tribe. Broc learned who had been killed, who had survived whole, who – like his father and Jarl – had lost parts of themselves. Hanne’s husband had been cut down early, Jarl half-blinded had lead a rear-guard retreat that pulled Sigurd and other wounded to safety. The Stamm had fought madly, wild with need for hunting lands, driven by near starvation and desperation. “Something drove them south and west,” someone commented. “Onto our blades!” another chimed in with a laugh, and chatter started about what could or should be done – and Jarl’s plans to put together a hunting party to slaughter the Stamm – as the gathering broke up.
At the last comments, something dark passed over Hanne’s face, a look for disagreement and disapproval, before she stood and stalked off with her child without giving anyone a chance to say anything. Jarl watched her go without speaking, and then stood and turned back to Broc to offer him some pipe tobacco. “A good tale you’ve woven,” he said. His tone was respectful.
“Aye that it is,” Broc said quietly while taking the pipe tobacco. Broc leaned down to catch a piece of lit timber to light his pipe. While lighting the pipe and speaking between puffs to get the flame going, “Thank you for pulling out my father from those monsters.” Broc then removed the pipe from his mouth and blew out a small amount of smoke. “I’m sorry they took your eye for that. I doubt those bastards could see any better because of it.”
Jarl chuckled at the jest. “They probably ate it and shat it out. Hope it gave someone the squats.” He waved off the comment about Broc’s father, saying only that even with one leg Sigurd was twice the warrior than most men. “You going to be around long enough to go finish them off?” he asked bluntly.
Thinking for a moment, Broc looked intently at Jarl’s eye, “Does a Stamm child eat his siblings if he’s hungry enough?”
Jarl laughed again, and nodded. “Aye, and use the knuckle bones of his brothers to play dice.” He tipped his pipe to Broc. “Shall we speak in the morning then?”
“Aye,” Broc answered, nodding in agreement. Broc clasped Jarl’s shoulder with a warrior’s farewell. “Sleep well, Jarl, for tomorrow morn we will plan out our vengeance. These Stamm bastards will be screaming for their mothers….well up until they see their heads on pikes…HA!” Broc said while throwing his head back at his own joke.
As the two North Redding warriors parted ways, Broc took the long way back to his parents’ house, for no particular reason other than doing so. Seeing the closed-up market and the lightless windows of the surrounding cottages, he started to hum quietly a old North Redding battle hym. The warrior was sure to look at every feature of his home village. Every house, tree, cart, and even the stray cats running about. It had been a long while since he had been here, and he was enjoying every second of this trip.
To be continued.
DM’s Note: This photograph used under Creative Commons license.