Chapter 1: Trellborg of Kjarrskal in the foothills of the Scurthyrshlaew, Jarldom of Westholt
ValR started to enter the open door when crockery smashed on the door post, hurtling shards past his head. Startled, he ducked around and carefully peered back into the main room. A shrieking woman with a heavy, long black braid and startling blue eyes picked up another clay pot as a tall man with luxuriant blond mustaches made a placating gesture.
“Bastard! Goat raping Whore-son! Skuldri curse your loins and tongue!” she screamed launching another pot at Sverrir.
“Helga, my love, please, if I could just explain.” said Sverrir, wincing as the pot bounced off his shoulder.
Ketill snuck a look past ValR before ducking back, barely dodging a whirling plate. “Who's that?”
“My brother.” said ValR, swinging his shield off his back and braving the door. A pot shattered off the center boss as ValR advanced up to his brother and covered him with his shield.
“Got a minute?” said ValR over the screaming din as another clay projectile shattered off the shield.
“Just.” said Sverrir as he glanced quickly around the shield. Helga was panting and growling, searching for more crockery.
“I need another on patrol.” ValR watched as Helga found another cache of cookware and started another round of screeching and pot throwing.
“How long?” said Sverrir grunted as a small jar bounced off his thigh.
“Couple of weeks.” said ValR over Helga's yelling.
“Patrol in force?”
ValR shook his head. “Milk run.”
“Perfect,” said Sverrir, stepping out from the shield, “Helga, my alder blossom, duty calls me to the March. We can discuss this when we are both in better spirits.”
“Sverrir Jomerssen, Tormalan help me, if you leave, don't even think about coming back, because I'll cut your balls off and feed them to you in the night if you do!” snarled Helga launching another plate, forcing Sverrir behind the shield again.
“That is a horrible thing to say, my sweet,” said Sverrir from behind the shield.
“Gear?” said ValR starting to back out the door.
“Back up at the barrack stables on the horse. Was out on a patrol. You're lucky I came back today.” Sverrir said, backing out with ValR.
“I'm the lucky one?”
“Yes, well.” said Sverrir, dodging more broken pottery as Helga followed them out, incoherent in rage, and started launching the remaining cookware at them as they went outside. Sverrir started when he saw the three young Rangers staring at him.
“ValR, who are these fine fellows?” said Sverrir.
“New recruits to the March. I'm Grim Haakonssen,” said Grim. A plate whirred past his head and landed wetly in the mud.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Sverrir bowed as ValR rolled his eyes and blocked a clay mug from braining his brother.
Confounded by the shield, Helga took aim at the young Men surrounding Sverrir and ValR, still shrieking imprecations against his manhood and dubious parentage.
“Now what?” said Ketill, bewildered, dodging pottery.
“Now, we run.” said Sverrir bolting up the lane.
They rode along the muddy road out of the trelleborg with a couple of pack horses in tow, Sverrir in the lead, the pennon on the end of his spear snapping in the morning breeze. ValR brought up the rear, making sure none of his charges meandered away. People called out to Sverrir as he passed. He smiled and waved, occasionally shouting replies that often left the onlookers laughing.
They continued up the road as it wound through the wooded foothills and last snow drifts until it petered out into a trail under the spread of the pine trees that coated the mountains flank.
Sverrir reined his horse in slightly, waving the younger Men to pull ahead of him on the trail and he fell back abreast of his brother.
“ValR, what is the real reason you brought me along?” said Sverrir quietly.
“I told you, I needed another experienced hand on this patrol.”
“Right and a bull gives milk. Seriously, ValR, why?”
“A couple of the lads shouldn't be Wardens. They haven't the knack. I was hoping you could talk to them.”
“And provide a reasonable alternative, such as being a Warder or a member of a comitus instead?”
“Was that so hard?”
They rode for most of the day before ValR called a halt under the pines. A neatly stacked cord of wood and blackened ring dominated the clearing to one side of the trail. The recruits led the horses to a semi permanent corral and started to set up camp as Sverrir studied the surrounding forest.
“What's the matter?” said ValR.
“Nothing. Just, I have the nagging feeling someone is following us,” said Sverrir, shaking his head.
ValR examined the forest around them. “I'll double back and see. Stay here with the boys?”
“ValR, it's probably nothing, just the paranoia of not having been at the mercy of the mountains for a while.”
“Better safe than sorry,” said ValR, hefting his longbow and fading back into the woods along the trail.
“Where is Master ValR going?” said Ketill, bringing back a pot of water from the spring.
“Humouring his brother,” said Sverrir, “quite the campsite you have here. I didn't expect to have this kind of accommodations on patrol.”
“There are a number of them we've established along the trails,” said Ketill dumping the dried meat into the pot with some tubers.
“Really? When did this start?” said Sverrir driving his spear point first into the ground next to the fire ring.
“We've always done it,” said Grim, placing the bedrolls under the lean-to near the paddock.
“Here, place my bedroll and ValR outside.” Sverrir pointed to a comfortable spot.
“Sorry, sir,” said Grim.
“Don't be sorry, you didn't know. And Grim? Don't call me Sir. I work for a living.”
“Yes, Si, uh, Sverrir,” said Grim.
“If it makes you uncomfortable to use my name, call me File-Leader,” said Sverrir.
“Yes, File-Leader,” said Grim.
Eirik and Grim were washing the dishes and Ketill was attending the horses by the time ValR returned. He sat down next Sverrir at the fire and Sverrir handed him a plate of food. ValR took the food without comment and started eating. The recruits started to stand at parade rest around the brothers. Sverrir waved the young Men back to their chores. ValR set his plate down when he finished eating and Grim collected it.
“How much do you remember about the trail lore?” said ValR.
“Not much, truth to tell. I could probably keep us going in the right direction if you set my feet upon the path. Why?”
“I have an errand to run no later than tomorrow afternoon.”
“So was someone following us?”
“Care to elaborate on the errand?”
“Just point me in the right direction and I'll try to get us there in one piece. By the way, who started these camp grounds? I thought places like this, they were an affront to Strathhaum?” said Sverrir, with a sigh.
“They are. NorvegR thought they'd give some of the younger recruits something to do, practicing woodcraft and short unsupervised patrols to give the lads more experience without the additional hazard of being exposed to the elements.”
“Don't tell me you approve of this?”
“I don't. But no-one consulted me beforehand. And if it displeases Strathhaum enough, NorvegR will find out soon enough,”
Sverrir snorted and shook his head.
“I'll be gone before dawn. Stay on the trail until early afternoon and turn off at the rock marker where the hemlocks start. Ride uphill until dusk. I'll meet you where you camp,” said ValR, getting up and going over to his bedroll.