Chapter 2: The North

Note: this will be the last installment of this series. If anyone wants to continue it, they are free to do so.

 

Errik looked on through the snowy woods, ahead the long, half covered trail stretched a few hundred more meters before coming to an end at a round stone carved with the Runes of a great Nordic hero of legend who had once slain the monsters who dwelt along the shore.

Sieglac the Seaworthy, they called him. It was said that by that very spot, he held off a whole horde of horrible monsters beyond imagining, with his axe. Bloodied and broken beyond any reasonable person could take, he then saw the great monstrosity of the sea come rising from the waters, by the cliff face where he had fought. And in that moment, Sieglac took up his axe, and charged at the beast, before jumping off of the cliff and diving at it head-on. Neither him nor the monster were ever seen again, or so the runes tell.

Errik paused when he came to these runes. Setting down his sword and pack, he traced his fingers over the ancient carvings, which snaked their way around the rock. In the middle of these, was a rough sketch of Sieglac, axe in hand, diving fearlessly into the great jaws of the beasts mouth.

I’m no hero, Errik thought. And besides, there are so many people who would call themselves or others heroes, people start to forget what it means to be one.

As Errik picked up his sword and shouldered his bag, a heavy Norse battle helmet swung around and clanked with his horn, which he had found a long time ago, when he had first ventured North. That was a long time ago, Errik recalled, and then remembered why.

Breathing heavily into the cold northern air, he headed along the side of the cliff that dropped off to the sea. To his right, if you looked closely enough, you could see the barely kept path snaking through the mysterious Northern Woods, towards its eventual end at the mountains. Erik gazed to his left, out across the frigid, black ocean, its waves churning and twisting with the winds.

The North, Errik thought, was a land untouched by the troubles of the South. Mostly because the Western Kingdoms were too busy fighting amongst themselves, and the East was separated by the great, untamable Strangewoods. The only way, apart from the very dangerous Highland pass, to get to the North was by ship, and not many would go through the trouble to do so. Except those like Errik, for whom the North was the perfect refuge from a past he wanted to forget.

Errik paced on through the woods, as the trail lead briefly away from the cliff face. The wind was picking up, and he felt his long hair being softly pushed back by the breeze. Since venturing Northwards, he had grown a dark brown beard and grown his hair out considerably. His face looked much more tired than his Southern days, and he rarely smiled anymore, for not many things could do that anymore.

The history of the Northern peoples can be traced back to the south, when the world was very young. Not much is known about these times, and even less is known about the Northerners during this time. The little that has been passed down through oral histories and rock rune carvings depicts a time of great suffering. A great war, in which the Northerners (then known by another name) raged between the East and West. Though little more is known about this war, the Northerner’s tale had them flee to the North at it’s end, by choice or force no one knows.

Now, thousands of years past, the split groups of Northerners call themselves by different names and have grown accustomed to the harsh, cold climate. Those that lived here were mostly simple farmers that fought for their Jarls, and their Tula or land in common speak.

Errik’s alleigance fell to the high Jarl of Skale, who had united the lands North of it to his. His only significant rivals lay across the sea. The Island of Govik, where the men with dark beards and sails dwelled.

Errik was a scout for the Jarl, a position that he had taken up many years ago, as a favor the Jarl owed to Errik for a long-begotten deed. Now, heading back North to Skale, the wind was picking up more, and he could hear the howling of the wind. Darkening grey clouds began to flow in from the mountains beside him, and he began to walk faster.

Continuing up a snaking part of the path, he finally made it onto a ridge that overlooked a small valley that stood between him and Skale. From his position on the ridge, he leaned against a tree as the cluster of longhouses and farms stretched below him, all huddled around the great hall of Jarl Hargeir, which was all sorrounded by a thick wooden wall and ditch, with watch towers stationed at strategic points.

From the point of view of one of the Southern Kingdoms, this would be but a basic defense, but for the North, this was one of it’s greatest strongholds, save for the ancient ones which lay half-buried far in the mountains, which were used only in the most dire of times.

As Errik looked on, he suddenly noticed a small band approach. He was off to the side of the road as they came, and so he turned his head quickly, not really expecting much. There were around half a dozen, all brandishing axes, swords, or other weapons. They were clad in dark clothing, and a few wore helmets.

Erik was about to turn back around when something caught his eye. Instantly, he dove behind one of the snow banks, and held his breath, hoping he hadn’t been seen, and cursing himself for not noticing earlier. One of the men had a cross branded on the right side of his face; he was a murderer, and a reasonably new, recent one at that. Erik could only assume the rest of the band were the same. Errik felt for his sword, which was still sheathed, drawing it would only garner unwanted attention to himself. He took into account the fact that he was considerably outnumbered. The best course of action, he concluded, would be to try to wait them out, and hope they didn’t see him.

They came blundering straight towards the spot where he was hiding, and Errik held his breath. The band abruptly stopped, and Errik rolled his eyes, of course they stop, right here! He muttered to himself. Still hidden, but peaking over the side of the snowbank, he saw that there were six of them, as well as a seventh, who was bound, tied up, and had a blue piee of cloth wrapped all the way around his face. Erik lay there watching this strange parade, when one of them suddenly spoke.

“How much farther is it Biorlan?” One of them said, in a northern tongue that Erik knew from Grindill, to the south.

“There, just through this valley, and we’ll be there. We’ll have to go around though, or risk being seen.” The one called Biorlan said.

Errik watched intently. This was strange indeed. These more remote paths were much less travelled during the Winter season, if they were travelled at all. Errik himself was heading to Skale for the Winter, as surviving on one’s own out in the Wilderness during the Winter was a dangerous ordeal. But these were criminals, murderers, and Erik assumed, kidnappers. And if they were newly branded ones, to be killed on sight, why would they be going to one of the largest cities in all of the North? Perhaps the most likely place where they would be killed at.

“What about him?” One of them asked, a rather slim one, with a helmet that looked far too big for him covering his face, and more notably, Errik observed, his branding.

The Slim one with the big helmet pointed at their prisoner, who didn’t look to be in a very good shape. He was bent over, and his head was hung over, defeated. He possessed a slight limp, though from outlaws or some other thing, Errik had no idea.

Erik saw one of them start to turn to face him, and he quickly recoiled to behind his hiding spot, and once more held in his breath.

“Hey, I think I saw something!” One of them said.

Biorlan scoffed. “You can’t even see one centimeter in front of your face with that thing on!” Errik heard a clang of metal on metal, then a cry of ‘Hey’ From the Skinny one with the helmet, before things went quite again.

Errik heaved out a quite sigh of relief. The band began to start to move. Erik looked back as they trudged onwards towards Skale.

Errik pondered what to do. He couldn’t let these six get away, yet he couldn’t fight them all either. He was relatively good with a  sword, and he was no stranger to violence, having been in more than his share of fatal encounters, and perhaps he would have fought them. But not like this. He was too weary of his long journey from Karlsfell to be a match against six. Also, he took into account the fact that there was a prisoner who could be killed or used as a hostage. All these thoughts shimmered around his head, taking a part in the decisions that Errik was making. But one thing Errik tried to keep at the very back of his thoughts, was that the main reason he didn’t attack the bandits, was out of fear. His fear of death. Though he was a brave one, he was not one for crazy, headlong charges into death, at least not anymore.

Finally, he resolved himself. It wasn’t worth the risk. There was no way Errik was going to be able to rescue this man or even kill the bandits, at least not right now. And there was a lot more to lose than to gain. I’m sure he’ll be fine, Errik thought about the prisoner. They haven’t killed him yet, so why would they now? The group was just about to disappear below the ridge, and into the valley, when Errik saw the prisoner, who was at the back of the group, being pulled along. Erik shook his head as he emerged from his hiding place.

I’m no hero. He thought to himself sourly. He walked over slowly towards the snaking path that lead down the valley, then up again to Skale. The sun was now beginning to set, and the shadows of the trees were growing longer. Erik trudged through the snow, and towards the jumble of footprints where the bandits were just at. He looked at their mess of footprints. Even if he hadn’t been watching, Errik could have told from the tracks that there were seven of them, but not if they had a prisoner. He knelt down at the tracks, and brushed his finger over them.

A glint in the snow caught his attention. He brushed away some snow and blew the remaining snow crystals away, revealing a circular stone carving on a rope, which swung back and forth as he picked it up from the snow. One of the Bandits must have dropped it, Errik figured. But then, he began to look at it closer.

I’ve seen this before, he said to himself. It’s…Errik thought back. He remembered standing in the Jarl’s halls, at one of the great feasts last Winter. Someone was sitting beside the Jarl, and he was wearing this very amulet, which bore the sigil of a wolf’s snarling head. Then the pieces came together. His son!!! Erik put his hands on his head. The Jarl’s son had worn this necklace at the feast. And it was perhaps his son who was limping behind these outlaws, who were heading back towards Skale. Erik stood up. He knew it was no longer a choice to pursue them or not. If this indeed was the Jarl’s son, then if Errik, rescued him, surely there would be some kind of reward. Erik could still see the silhouettes of the band of outlaws in the distance, and thought.

He thought for a while, almost but not quite losing all sight of them before he made his decision. It’s funny, he thought, how heroes are called such by those who believe them to be so. To some, the slayer of the enemy is a hero to them, but to the enemy, he is the murderer of their friends. And the one who saves your skin, always does so because they want something in return. These are the harsh things that Errik had learned over the course of his life. That the only person in the world he could truly trust now was himself.

 

The map of the world for reference:

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