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  1. Bk 2, Ch 1: Interlude
  2. Bk 2, Ch 2: The Calm Before the Storm
  3. Bk 2, Ch 3: The Stage is Set
  4. Bk 2, Ch 4: The Performance of a Lifetime

Bk 2, Ch 2: The Calm Before the Storm

Categories Dark Fantasy, Death, Teen, Violence

Author: Jonesy_Dangerfield

Published: 03 May 2017

  • Font:

Chapter 2: The Calm Before the Storm
After that first sparring match on the third day, I made a point of talking with Emmy at least once a day. Sometimes it was for only a minute, sometimes it was for a half an hour. Sometimes we talked about her life, about Viking culture, and about combat theory. Other times we talked about nothing at all.

On the sixth day, I found time in the late evening. The other Zavalan girl was asleep when I walked in. There was a thick bandage around her chest, but I could tell that, like Emmy, the girl didn’t have much bust underneath. I was beginning to think that these people on average had smaller breasts than Clan women. It wasn’t a bad thing, just different.

Emmy was still awake and sat up when she spotted me. I asked how she was doing, and she responded cheerfully that she was feeling much better. We briefly continued our conversation from the previous day before she asked, “Why am I here?”

I explained to her that Viking culture respected warriors of great strength and skill, regardless of whether they were friend or foe. Normally, captured warriors became slaves. However, warriors that demonstrated great skill in honorable combat, witnessed by at least one Chosen warrior, were allowed to join Clan society.

“You are villein—an honorary member of the Clans now. You are entitled to the same rights as any of my karls—free men and women,” I explained.

“What if I don’t want to be a part of your society?” she asked, “What if I want to leave?”

“Under normal circumstances, you would be required to stay. But I will grant you leave to do as you wish,” I told her, “You are free to go to another town, or you can choose to stay here. It’s your choice.”

Emmy paused for a second to absorb my words.

“What about Alena?” she asked, indicating the other girl.

“She is thrallsvar. It’s hard to explain in your language… She is a slave, but higher than a slave. She belongs to Torstein, but she has more rights and can earn her freedom.”

Emmy didn’t like that answer very much, and our conversation ended there.

===========

On the seventh day, I came in late in the afternoon. After checking up on my wounded warriors, I walked over to Emmy. She was her usual cheerful self as I approach. Her friend Alena was asleep again.

“Does she ever wake up?” I asked.

“She suffered internal damage when the arrow pierced her chest, so she will take longer to heal,” Emmy replied, holding her nose and doing her best to imitate old Sigrid’s nasally voice.

“And how are you doing, girl?” I inquired.

She looked cross. “A have a name you know, and it’s not ‘girl’.”

I laughed. “Who is your mother, Emmy?”

“I don’t have a mother, or a father. They died of plague about a year ago,” she replied sadly. From the sudden hoarseness of her voice, I could tell it was still an emotional wound as raw as any of her physical ones. “So no, you didn’t kill them. But you did kill practically everybody else I knew.” She sniffed and shook her head angrily.

During most of our interactions, Emmy’s mood had remained cheerful. But every once in a while, that façade would fall away. It was a reminder that despite her cheerful and tough demeanor, Emmy was still a young girl that had recently experienced a lot of trauma.

“I won’t apologize for attacking Zavala or the actions of my warriors. War and conquest is our way of life, and it is the only way my people can survive.

“Less than five years ago,” I continued, “we fought vicious wars against ourselves. Our homelands are poor and our population had grown too large. Our society stood on the brink of destruction. Clan fought Clan for food, fishing rights, and petty amounts of gold and land. Bandits roamed unchecked. Thousands died in combat and tens of thousands more starved. My parents and sister were amongst them. I was ten when Earl Bjorg and his men attacked our village. They butchered my father and raped my mother and sister to death as I watched, hiding in the rafters.

“Then, a powerful jarl discovered new lands across the great waters to the east and to the south. These lands were fertile and rich with gold. He convinced the jarls to stop their in-fighting with the promise of greater land and wealth abroad. He proclaimed himself King—jarl of jarls—and united the Clans in an effort to conquer these lands and save our people.

“We of the Clans are never going back to that. Every one of my warriors experienced the Dark Times, either as warriors or as children. Every one of them has a story like mine. We are never going back. And I would sack a thousand villages to prevent it from happening again.”

Emmy sat in silence for a few minutes. I thought she was done speaking with me, so eventually I turned to go.

“Melanie,” she said, still facing away from me, “my mother’s name was Melanie.”

“Then you are Emmy Melaniedotter, Emmy daughter of Melanie,” I said gently, “Keep her name and memory in your heart.”

As I stood and walked out, I could hear her sobbing quietly.

===========

Emmy was a bit subdued on the eighth day; but surprising, she was still willing to talk to me. Alena was finally awake, and I got the chance to introduce myself. Unfortunately, our meeting was cut short when Freyr ran in and informed me that a messenger had arrived.

As soon as I realized a Zavalan had escaped the village, I sent a messenger on horseback back to the coast. It was at least a five-day ride to and from the coast and even longer by foot. He carried two messages. The first was to my cousin, Gunnar Chillsend, who was with my remaining two hundred warriors camped with the Clan main force. I ordered him to bring every warrior he had and all the weapons, carts, and siege engines that he could beg, borrow, or steal to Zavala immediately. The second message was to King Hrothgar. I informed him of the conquest of Zavala and offered it to him as staging base for future attacks. I also informed him that I expected an enemy counterattack very shortly and requested that he send reinforcements and aid.

I read Gunnar’s letter first. He informed me that the first column of 80 warriors would arrive in ten days’ time. Another column of 50 would arrive the day after. The remaining 40 warriors that were available, under the command of Noll Wagonram, would bring two ballistae and the supply trains. They would likely arrive two days after that. In sum, in six days (the fourteenth day), I would have an additional 80 warriors, bringing my total contingent to 160. A day later, and I would have 50 more. I expected the enemy to attack exactly around that time. It would be close, but it looked like most of my reinforcements would make it in time.

I opened the King’s letter next.

“Gods damn that man!” I roared, throwing the message across the square. Two black crows cawed loudly in protest and flapped away from a now-vacant stall.

The message was not from King Hrothgar but rather from Jarl Hallr Ormarr, the King’s assistant. He and I had never gotten along. I could not imagine why, though the fact that I had shoved a knife into his brother’s gullet probably had something to do with it. Jarl Ormarr congratulated me on my conquest of Zavala and said that he would inform the King about it “at some point”. He claimed the King’s armies were needed “elsewhere,” but that reinforcements would be sent to me “as soon as they became available.”

I knew exactly what Jarl Ormarr was up to. He could not avoid telling the King of my conquest forever, but he would wait just long enough to ensure the King could send me no timely aid. In the meantime, my forces would be left to defend the town alone against a large attack. If I succeeded, my forces would be severely depleted. If I failed, Jarl Ormarr was in a prime position to re-capture the city for himself. It was a win-win situation for him.

I cursed him before the gods and swore that I would get my revenge.

==========

On the nineth day, Emmy asked to be allowed to return to her old home.

“Are you old enough to live by yourself, kid?” I asked.

“I’m thirteen summers old!” she cried, “If I’m old enough to make babies, I’m old enough to live on my own!”

“Ho ho, so there’s no hope for your chest size, eh? I guess you’re stuck looking like a little kid!” I guffawed.

Her eyes flashed with anger, but only for a moment. By now she knew there was no ill intent behind the perceived insult. She pouted until I told her that the house was hers. I told her she was a free person; she could do whatever she wanted. She moved back in that afternoon, but gave me an open invitation to drop by.

I dropped by in the evening of the eleventh day. She came to the door and beckoned me inside. A small fire was down to the embers in the hearth. On the shelf above stood a few small wooden figurines—a bird, a fish, a rabbit, a fox. Hung on the wall lay two spears and a bow. Two cushioned chairs were pushed in under a small wooden dining table. The remains of the third chair were in the firewood pile.

“It’s a very nice place,” I said.

“Thanks, though it’s kinda lonely,” she said glumly.

“Are you okay here by yourself?”

“I’m used to living on my own by now, so it’s fine.”

I sat in awkward silence and watched as Emmy fussed around with some wooden dishes in a water basin. She was naked once more, save for the bandages around her torso and right thigh.

Well, she is in her own home, I thought to myself.

There was a pile of dressings on a shelf, and I noticed that her own bandages showed signs of dried blood.

“Want some help changing your dressings?” I asked.

“That’d be great, thanks,” she said.

She moved by the hearth and untied the bandages. She bared her breasts first, then the rest of her torso, then the bandage around her thigh so that she stood completely naked before me. I circled her slowly, examining her wounds. The cut on her back was healing nicely, and pinkish flesh was now visible beneath scabbed tissue. The deep gash in her thigh was also healing, but had not yet closed. A little blood trickled down her leg as a result. Sigrid had done an excellent job re-stitching Emmy’s left side, and the wounded showed signs of great progress. Still, it too continued to bleed.

“Let’s get these cleaned before we put on more dressings,” I said.

“Whatever you say, gramps,” she replied.

“Hey! I’m not old enough to be your grandfather! In fact my eldest son is about your…” A hammer’s blow struck me in the chest, nearly causing me to double over. My throat felt like it was being squeezed as I choked on the words. I swallowed heavily to clear it, as a lump formed where the words had caught.

“Well, he would have been about your age,” I said.

“What happened?” asked Emmy.

I didn’t answer; it was a story for another time.

Emmy padded over to the wash basin and I followed. It was quiet for a time save for the splashing of water as I used a cloth to wash the blood from her back.

“So is this how you get your kicks, old man? Rubbing naked young women?” she said teasingly.

Without warning, I moved in close, my strong chest resting on her bare back, my head on her shoulder, breathing in her ear. I wrapped my arms around her gently but firmly, pulling her in close. Two fingers dipped into the water then slowly sliding down the front of her neck, her breastbone, her belly, her pubic mound.

The touch sent shivers down Emmy’s spine. She began to breathe rapidly and she could feel her nipples hardening. A fire like she’d never experienced filled her loins as her heart began to pound in her chest. Emmy rubbed her thighs together nervously, but that only served to add fuel to the flames.

And then suddenly, the touch was gone. I pulled away from her and laughed mightily.

“Come on, you think I would want to have sex with a little girl like you! Hah!”

Emmy was surprised by just how disappointed that made her feel. Her disappointment showed; sometimes she really did have a hard time disguising any of her emotions. I couldn’t help but laugh at her innocent sincerity.

Emmy too started laughing, albeit somewhat awkwardly, and I went back to cleaning her lower back. As much as I enjoyed teasing her and seeing her naked body—and I really did enjoy both of those things—the real reason I’d come was to get her advice on something. Unsurprisingly, she beat me to it.

“You’re worried my people are going to try to retake the village, aren’t you.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“They’re not your people anymore,” I responded, “We are your people now.”

“Your people killed my friends, my comrades—nearly everybody I’ve even known—barely a week ago! What makes you think I want to join you and your band of murderers?” She wasn’t shouting, but she said it emphatically.

I paused for a second while I put the words together.

“I think in your heart, you know you belong with us. You weren’t born prey like the rest of the people here. You were born a predator—you were born a warrior! In your heart, you love battle—lust after it even. It gives your life purpose and meaning and you love every bit of it—from the exhilaration of the kill to the pain of death. Now that your blood has had a taste of it, you know you can never go back to the life of a sheep. And you know that only with us—only by joining us—can you live the life of a wolf. It was fate that led us to attack this place and it’s your destiny now to join us.”

Emmy didn’t respond. After a time though, she spoke. “You’re right to anticipate an attack from the beach,” she said, “It’s the only logical place for a large force to land.”

“How do you know that I expect an attack on the beach?”

She turned her head around towards me and cocked an eyebrow.

“Even a blind man could see your defensive preparations by the water. Or do your people fish from sunken boats and harvest wooden stakes planted in sand?”

“Fair enough. Tell me, how do your people fight?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, seeking clarification.

“Large forces, armies I mean. How do your people make war?”

Emmy paused to think about the question. “Well…,” she started slowly, “I’m not really sure to be honest. I’m not sure anyone here really knows anymore. The Empire conquered these lands way back in the time of my grandmother’s grandmother. Warriors will occasionally be called to fight elsewhere, but other than that we’ve been at peace. The remnants of the tribes that used to live here survive as bandits and thieves deep in the swamps and forests, and they’ll still raid a town or village every so often. In fact, I bet my people will think you’re nothing but a band of common brigands.”

“What about your training? Why is a little girl like you a warrior anyway?”

Emmy glared darkly at me over her shoulder. I threw up my hands in a gesture of innocence, accidentally splashing water across her back.

“Hey, I didn’t mean it that way! It’s just that by our standards, you’re too young to be a warrior,” I replied hastily.

She rolled her eyes and faced forward once more.

“‘Little girls’ like me are required to train as warriors. Training starts once you turn twelve, although I started earlier than that. This province may be at peace, but the Empire was built on warfare and the warrior culture remains important to our identity. There aren’t any real wars these days—at least not this far north—but there are always pirates and bandits and dangerous animals like wolves, tigers, and bears.”

“Go on,” I said, setting aside the towel and grabbing a stack of bandages. Emmy glanced back and continued.

“When you first start off you’re a Trainee, although most of the older warriors call us Pups to make fun of us. It’s not a full-time commitment, just a few hours every other day. On your fifteen birthday, you’re promoted to a full-fledged warrior—a Wildcat. It’s a big honor—your family holds a big feast and everything! Becoming a Wildcat also means you can be called up as part of a warband, although Trainees get called up too if there aren’t enough. Mandatory service ends at eighteen summers. Those who choose to stay warriors after that are given the title, ‘Blades of the Empire’ and are paid a salary. It’s their job to train the local warriors and trainees and to answer the call to battle first should the need arise. Blades also serve as warleaders for bands of Wildcats and Trainees There’s never been a large number of Blades around here since there’s little fighting to be had here and even fewer war spoils, so the meager regular pay isn’t enough for it to be worth it for most people. But, I hear there are a lot more warriors in the cities and further south.

“We do a lot of different training, though in hindsight it was probably more play than combat preparation. We’re primarily trained on spears, though we occasionally train with both knives and bows and arrows as well. Swords, like the one on your hip, are rare and expensive. Only nobility and the wealthy are able to afford them. Shields are even rarer; they’re impractical to use with spears and we consider them cowardly anyway.”

“You mentioned training is mandatory for girls,” I said when she finished, “What about for boys? I noticed many of the fighters in this village were men; they must have come from somewhere.”

“Boys aren’t required to train—something about ‘boys being more useful in the fields and mines’ and such as my warleader used to say. But many choose to train anyway, with their parent’s permission of course. I’m pretty sure most do it just so they can ogle all the girls. A few choose to make a living out of it though, just like the women.”

I finished wrapping the bandage around her midriff and moved around to her front. Emmy spread her legs obligingly to allow me to wrap the wound there. If she felt anything as I pressed the bandage tight to her inner thigh with my hand, she didn’t let it show this time.

“What are you supposed to do if you come across a large enemy force or another spear wall?” I asked, steering the conversation back towards Arkadian tactics.

“One of the Blades, a woman named Veronica, used to tell me stories about when she was part of a force that took out a pirate camp. She said they just encircled them with a spear wall and slowly penned them in until nobody was left. And if that doesn’t work, we do what you did,” she replied with a shrug, “Charge.”

“With spears and knives?” I asked incredulously, “Doesn’t that seem… inefficient to you?”

“Remember, we’ve mostly trained to fight bands of disorganized tribes, pirates, and criminals,” she scolded, “Fighting another spear wall was more of a theoretical exercise than anything else. If we did ever run up against a spear wall, we were supposed to just use superior numbers to overwhelm it.”

“That sounds like an awfully bloody approach for a nation of peace,” I said sardonically.

It took a minute for Emmy to respond. When she did, her voice was reflective and somber. “You said before that your lands were poor and that your people froze or starved. Here, it’s the opposite. Our lands here are fertile, capable of feeding our population no matter how quickly it grows. As a result, life is cheap. Did you see that slave girl the shaman gutted in the square? Every town of any real size sacrifices a girl like her. Every year. I hear the cities sometimes sacrifice a dozen or more. Our legends tell of battles where untold scores died gloriously for the sake of Arkadia. In a war, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at throwing away hundreds or even thousands of lives. We may be at peace, but that doesn’t mean we have much respect for the sanctity of life.”

The next morning, I told Sigurd what Emmy had said about the enemy's approach to fighting.

"You trust what she says, my Lord?" he asked, one brow raised in suspicion.

"Yes, I do," I replied with an air of finality. He looked like he had more to say on that topic, but he cut it off and moved on.

"Given the terrain and how the Zavalans themselves laid out their defenses, I agree that the beach is the most likely place to attack," Sigurd said. "We've already laid obstacles on each end. That will reduce the number of troops they can land at a time."

I rubbed my chin pensively, and thought out loud. "The question now is how large of a force they are able to muster. According to Emmy, it would have taken a force of at least three hundred of their warriors to take and hold Zavala. If they assume we suffered minor casualties, they'll still expect our force to be at least two hundred strong. Therefore, I estimate the enemy will bring five hundred, maybe six, maybe seven hundred warriors.”

“The obstacles we’ve set up will force them to land piecemeal, so we should not have any problems defeating them in detail, my Lord. Our bows are superior to theirs; if we push our archers forward, the enemy will be unable to defend the landing from their ships.”

“There are too many risks,” I replied, “If we pushed our archers forward in an attempt to cover an attack close to the water, they could use their ships to quickly move their archers into range to fire back. Plus, while Emmy says these Southerners will not hesitate to expend lives, we can’t assume they will be wasteful with them. If we crush the first wave, the enemy will probably back off and try another tactic. We are already at a numerical disadvantage and the enemy does not yet know the true weakness of our position. I cannot allow him to regroup and return with a larger force and a better plan. I want to destroy his force here and now. I think we have to let them land.”

“Then why not deceive them, my Lord?” suggested Sigurd, “If the enemy thinks we are brigands and pirates, let us act like brigands and pirates.”

Sigurd drew his sword and began to sketch his idea in the sand.

========

On the twelfth day, my scouts reported a sudden increase in the amount of shipping traffic. The guard tower spotted first two then three boats patrolling east of the village at the edge of visual range. When my scouts to the east reported back that day, they reported that the boats were crewed by what looked like armed individuals. The enemy was preparing to make his move.

On the fourteenth day, the first of my reinforcements arrived, led by the warchief Osvald Eikbeinn. Osvald’s appetite for the fairer sex, especially virgin maidens, was prodigious and inexhaustible. I greeted him warmly and admonished him to stay away from my newly-captured slaves—the maidens especially. They were worth half again as much unspoiled at market. Osvald feigned ignorance and offense.

Gunnar arrived with the rest of my reinforcements on the thirteenth day. He congratulated me on my conquest and I informed him of our plan. With his reinforcements, my host had grown to just over two-hundred warriors.

The number of ships surrounding Zavala had grown to a dozen. Battle would soon be joined.

==========

That night, I hosted a traditional Clan feast in one of the large houses close to the square to welcome my reinforcements. I sat at the head table of course, flanked by Gunnar, Sigurd, and my other senior warchiefs. The newly arrived warriors cheered as Zavalan slaves entered to serve them. The warriors that had participated in the attack roared as plates of beef and mutton were brought forth; it was the most fresh meat we’d seen in nearly three weeks.

Emmy arrived well after the start of festivities. Strangely enough, it was the first time I’d seen her clothed. A black bikini bottom was tied around her thin hips. She still had the bandages around her belly and thigh, but had removed the bandages from around her breasts. In their place was a black triangle bikini top to match her bottoms. Ironically, instead of enhancing her femininity, the flatness of the bra served to reinforce her girlish appearance. She looked around nervously until Brigitta, one of the shieldmaidens that had been part of the assault, guided her over to a table full of other female warriors.

After a while, I got up and moved to leave the hall on the pretense of taking a piss. I made sure though that Emmy saw me get up. As I passed, our eyes met and I beckoned with my chin for her to follow.

I left the hall and turned right, walking slowly down the street. I was two dozen paces away when Emmy opened the door. Music from the hall drifted through the open door. She stood on the threshold, searching, then spotted me. She followed behind, unhurriedly. I took another right so that I was no longer within sight of the hall, and Emmy followed shortly after.

“What’s up old man?” she asked.

“Your people will attack in the next day or two. I wanted to have a chance to talk to you one last time before then.”

Emmy nodded.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

Emmy shrugged. “I’m going to stay here in Zavala. There isn’t anywhere else for me to go.”

“I understand,” I said, nodding, “Are you going to fight for us? For the enemy?”

Emmy didn’t know what to say. Eventually though, she spoke. “To be honest, I don’t know if I want to fight for you. Your warriors are the ones that attacked my home and killed my family. You don’t know how hard it was to sit and eat and talk and laugh in there, knowing that every one of those people killed a friend or a relative.”

“So you won’t fight against us then I take it?” I asked, addressing what she had not said rather than what she had.

She whipped out the knife strapped to her thigh, twirled it around, and assumed a fighting stance. I stayed motionless, my arms crossed.

“I could kill you right now, and deal a severe blow to your force. The Arkadian army would storm in, kill your warriors, and free the remnants of my people that you keep locked in the barracks and force to serve you at dinner. Then I’d have my vengeance,” she said.

“You could try,” I responded coolly. I liked Emmy a lot, but if she did turn on me, I would not hesitate to snap her slender neck.

Emmy sheathed her knife and let out a sigh. “It’s not like that would do me any good anyway. I killed some of your comrades too, yet you all seem to be at peace with me,” she said.

“You know, I know exactly how you feel,” I said, pushing myself off the wall and patting her on the shoulder. “For years, I sat in the same hall, at the same tables as some of the men who’d killed my family. I ate with them, laughed with them, and even befriended some of them. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In the end, I was able to make peace with them.”

“How did you do it?” she asked.

I shrugged nonchalantly and started walking back to the feast. “I slit every one of their throats and recited the names of my father, mother, and sister to them as they died.”

Emmy gaped at me open-mouthed.

“Don’t leave your house and stay away from the fighting!” I called over my shoulder.

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