A Tale of the Sons of Jomer: The Long Ride of Sverrir and ValR

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Chapter 3: To the Stedding of Stanbucca

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For a week, they searched in vain for the creature that frightened the game and attacked the wolves. They passed from the towering conifers of the lower slopes to the scrubby pines and high meadows and valleys that crossed the mountain flanks. Sverrir pulled ValR aside after they ate and the boys were getting camp ready for the night.

“ValR, the boys need a break,” said Sverrir.

“We haven't found it yet.”

“I know that, and we'll keep looking for it. But the boys are not used to being on constant alert for this long and they need a break, if only for a day or so. They are losing focus.”

“If they can't handle this, then they need to find something else to do.”

“By Tormalan's blue balls, ValR, it has nothing to do with their lack of talent or proficiency. You cannot take green troops, and treat them as grizzled veterans for weeks at a time. They are not veterans. This is good practice, but they have years to go before they are that competent.”

“But we need to hunt that animal down.”

“And we will. But you need to back off and give them some time off,” said Sverrir, “otherwise when the arrows fly, we'll have our asses hanging out.”

“You're too soft on them.” grumbled ValR.

“And you spend too much time alone in the woods. I'm a File-Leader for a reason, beyond my incomparable good looks and winning personality. I know people and these kids have reached their breaking point,” said Sverrir.

ValR sighed irritably, “You are an enormous ass, Sverrir.”

“But I'm an enormous ass who's right. Is there a farmstead or settlement around here we can spend a couple days?” said Sverrir looking around for a familiar landmark.

“A day from here is a farmstead, they'll offer hospitality,” said ValR wearily.

“Worst comes to worst, ValR, we can take a hunting party from the stedding and be able to cover more ground quicker than just the five of us in these trackless expanses.”

“Go to bed, Sverrir,” replied ValR irritably before he stalked off into the night.


The next morning, ValR led them up a trail that wound its way deeper into the meadows and valleys in the mountains. They stopped to water the horses and eat lunch next to a gushing stream of glacial-fed melt water that coursed down the flank of the mountain. A field of red and white flowers stirred in the cool spring breeze that moved through the valley.

By early afternoon, Eirik spotted a baer in the middle of the valley at the bottom of the trail near another mountain stream. A crude earthen dike surmounted by a palisade of squared off wooden logs surrounded a barn, a long-house and a couple of outbuildings. A timber gate was set into the western side and smoke came from the roof of the hall.

Sverrir studied the farm and eased his battle ax in the loop on his saddle and exchanged a look with ValR, who was fingering his bow shaft. They rode down into the valley and could hear the chime of bells drift up from the valley below. Goats were scattered in small clumps all over the valley, grazing on the bushes and the tilled fields.

“Sloppy farmers,” said Ketill, looking at the ranging goats.

“Big goats,” said Eirik as he stared one in the face from the back of his horse as it chewed its cud watching them pass unconcernedly.

“The mountain goats are bigger than the ones we raise in Gholdam proper,” said Ketill.

“Where are the farm hands?” asked Grimm as they trotted up to the gate.

“That's a very good question.” Sverrir pulling his shield and spear off his horse. “I want the three of you to stay outside the gate here with the pack horses. ValR and I are going in. If anything happens to us, ride back to base as fast as you can and report it. Do not stop until you get there. Don't do anything heroic. Time enough for you to write your sagas later. Do you understand?”

The three young men nodded as Sverrir led ValR into the baer through the sagging gate.

“Look at this.” ValR pointed to the deep gouges scored deep into the timbers of the gate. Sverrir whistled and probed the marks with the point of his spear.

“They're deep. What could have battered this gate down and left those marks?” Sverrir pushed the gate open with his back, spear at the ready. ValR darted past him. Sverrir poked open the doors to a couple outbuildings with his spear and peered in the dark interiors. He turned and shook his head at ValR unasked question. They looked at each other and walked slowly toward the main hall.

The doors to the main hall were stove in and sagging off the hinges. Several benches were smashed and scattered immediately around the doors. Sverrir slipped inside and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. Sverrir dropped the point of his spear as the smell hit his nose, “I think we've found them.”

ValR walked over to the heaped pile of mutilated bodies and poked at them with an arrow.

“I don't think whatever did this stuck around, do you?” said Sverrir, looking over ValR shoulder, “I'll get the boys started on the grave.”


Sverrir wiped the mingled sweat and dirt off his face as ValR came out of the main gates. He handed the shovel to Grimm and climbed out of the pit.

“So?” said Sverrir. ValR made a gesture with his head and they walked a little way.

“Most everyone was there,” said ValR, holding out a couple crude iron and stone arrowheads.

“Goblin-work,” said Sverrir looking at the crude script incised in the weapons, “Do you think some were taken prisoner or escaped?”

“I misspoke. Everyone was there, just not all of them.”

“They were eaten?” said Sverrir, spitting, “Do you think the Goblins ate them?”

“Perhaps,” said ValR, noncommittally.

“Do we spend the night here?”

“Not much choice. Once we bury them, night will be here and I don't want to be out there tonight, although I have some things to look into later."

“Things? Do you know any of Father Grimm's prayers? I really don't want their spirits to grow restless and return from the Halls of the Dead to walk the night either.” Sverrir wiped his suddenly clammy hands on his trousers.

“I doubt they will walk tonight, brother. Besides, there is too many to bury them all on a threshold.”

“Even still, odd things happen, out here on the frontier.”

They walked to the hall and Sverrir glanced in the door where the bodies were arranged.

“I'll get the lads to help me bury these poor bastards if you want to run your errands.”

ValR nodded once and strode out of the building.

Sverrir placed the last stone on the common grave and wiped the sweat from his brow with his dirt stained hand. The light was quickly slipping from the valley as the sun fell behind the bulk of the mountains. The breeze stiffened, driving away the sickly sweet smell of the rotting bodies and the harsh sour odor made when the boys became sick moving the bodies. He hoped that Grim and Ketill had finished and there was hot water.

Eirik came over and stood by Sverrir looking at the cairn, “What could have done this?”

“Something that has no right walking among Men. We are going to hunt whatever it was down and end it,” said Sverrir.

They picked up their shovels ad walked through the broken gate. Smoke wafted out of the chimney and quickly shredded in the breeze. Sverrir walked through the door into the kitchen. He could see Grim and Ketill blocking another entrance into the hall with a trestle table top. A clean cauldron of water sat steaming on the counter next to the fire pit with a lump of lye soap.

“Wash up boy and then start dinner.”,” said Sverrir as he walked into the main hall. He gave Grimm and Ketill a hand shoring up the main door and blocking up the windows. The smell of food began to fill the hall as they finished sealing up the last of the windows. He sent Grimm and Ketill into the kitchen to eat and he took a last walk around the hall, inspecting the work. Satisfied, he returned to the kitchen and splashed the mostly clean water on his torso and face. He started scrubbing with the soap and lather up.

“What do we do now?” said Ketill, picking up the dishes around the table and putting them in a tub.

“After you wash the dishes, put on your armor, check your weapons and go to sleep. I have a feeling we are going to move fast tomorrow, so get plenty of rest,” said Sverrir, picking up a towel and drying himself off. Eirik handed him a bowl of stew and a horn spoon before leaving with the other two to fetch their weapons and armor. A second bowl sat covered with cheese cloth on the table. Sverrir ate and the fire burned low. The low murmuring between the boys fell off as they drifted into sleep. Finishing his stew, he put on his armor and checked his weapons while he waited.

A lone owl hooted in the night. Small animals skittered around the hall and the silence was occasionally punctuated by a soft snore. Sverrir returned to the kitchen after walking the hall again to find ValR wearily sitting at the table, devouring the bowl of stew. Sverrir stirred up the coals of the banked fire and put another cauldron of clean water on. ValR pushed back the bowl and sighed. Sverrir handed him a rough cloth towel and the lump of soap.

They sat in silence, watching the pot heat up. When steam roiled from the top of the water, Sverrir pulled the cauldron off the fire and placed it on the table. ValR stripped to his waist and started washing the day off.

“Did you find anything?”

“Yes,”

“What?”

“Nothing good,”

“Thanks. That explains so much, I understand everything now,” said Sverrir acidly.

“I went to visit some of the old shrines, the forbidden sacred places, the ones Men are encouraged to forget. I found things; sacrifices,” said ValR, shaking his head.

“Another Witch-king?” said Sverrir, hand tightening on his sword.

ValR soaped up an arm. “Not those shrines, the others; the ones that belong to our neighbors to the West.”

“Goblins,” spat Sverrir, “but the border has been quiet for decades. Surely the Stone Workers would have seen or heard something if another of their petty kings started getting imperial ambitions again. Who were the sacrifices to?”

“Dispater and the Red Knight.”

“Judged and found wanting. Resistance met with overwhelming force and the survivors sacrificed for the glory of the Lord of Flies,” mused Sverrir.

“I thought Baalzebul only took sacrifices of warriors?”

“Devil-worshipers have never been that discriminating and Goblins have often adopted a 'better safe than sorry' philosophy toward the Powers they are enthralled to,”

“Why didn't you go into the priesthood?”

“I believe abstinence is a sin that needs to be avoided,” said Sverrir, “Look, you sack out with the boys, I'll take watch tonight. I'm not really any use tracking through this forest anyway and I'll be just fine to fight tomorrow. Where are we going, back to the borg?”

ValR dried himself off. “I must think on this.”

Eirik, and Grimm stood by the horses, holding them in readiness for the departure as Sverrir strode out of a building carrying several small wheels of cheese.

He was stowing the cheese in his saddle bags when Ketill came running up, “Master ValR wants to see you inside the hall!”

“What is it?” Sverrir strode into the hall.

“I have come to a decision, brother. There is a place we must go first. It's a couple days ride but I must have your oath that you will not reveal what you see there,” said ValR, standing in front of the chieftains dais.

“I know I am merely a lowly Red Shank and was never shown the secret handshake of the Wardens, but I won't disclose your hidden tree fort.”

“This isn't a joke, brother. I must have your ring oath on this matter,” said ValR.

“Is it really that serious?” Sverrir fingered his sword hilt as ValR nodded.

“What is it?”

“I cannot talk about it until you swear the oath.”

“And if I don't?” said Sverrir.

“You go back. We go forward. You follow us, I'll lose you in the mountains.”

“ValR!” said Sverrir with a hurt expression.

“I'm serious. Your oath or you don't go any farther.” ValR set his jaw.

“I name ValR Jomerssen of Clan Tyrien as my witness herein, that I take an oath on this hilt ring, a lawful oath, so help me Grimm and Skuldri and the Father-General, Tormalan, as I shall hold his secrets as mine own to the grave and beyond, into the very Hall of the Dead,” intoned Sverrir as he held the sheathed sword by the hilt.

ValR was momentarily taken aback by the strength of the oath.

“Does that satisfy you?” said Sverrir calmly.

“Sverrir, what have you done?” said ValR, wide-eyed.

“Sworn a just oath on my immortal soul, I hope. Now, what is your little secret brother?”

“There are a number of outlaw villages in the mountains with which the Wardens have an...understanding. They provide shelter and sustenance for us on our patrols and we offer protection and news.”

“Oh, ValR, the King will not like that,” said Sverrir mildly, shaking his head. Sverrir knew that once someone was declared into outlawry, whether greater or lesser, by the assemblies of landed families known as Things, no-one in Gholdami was to offer succor to them. They were nithing, persona non-grata, nobody. No laws protected such individuals because, legally, they did not exist. Once outlawed, they had no protection and were outside the bounds and limits of society. They could be killed with impudence, since no repercussions either legal or familial would be forthcoming. And for the Kings Wardens to be allied with such individuals, even outside the bounds of Gholdam proper? Well, heads would roll if the King ever found out. And Sverrir knew it wouldn't be figurative.

“That's why we don't mention anything about it in our reports.”

“You Wardens play a dangerous game, ValR.”

“It's no game here. It's survival. Besides, we've technically not broken any laws or customs.”

“I'm sure the King will be as understanding and forgiving and merciful as the mountains about it.”

“Most are descendants of the original outlaws, not outlaws themselves.”

“But they could return; we don't have the whole 'sins of the father visited unto the seventh generation' nonsense so prevalent in the South.”

“But for generations they have been told that they are outlaws because they are descended from outlaws. Besides, this is the only home they know and they answer to no king or jarl.”

“Asgell would be happy. A group of Gholdami following the old ways just like in the sagas,” said Sverrir as they walked out of the hall.

“Not just Asgell. I think Uvaegi would come up here and carve out a life for himself if he were a couple years younger.”

“More likely a decade younger. And he would try to bring Father with him,” snorted Sverrir. ValR grinned at the thought as they walked out the gate and stopped dead. Ketill and Grimm stood with spears pointed at the throat of a hairy, green-skinned creature as Eirik had a foot braced under the creatures arm and the other on the side of its head, keeping it from biting his foot with its needle-sharp teeth. He had its arm twisted and locked.

“Eirik, where did you find your new toy?” said Sverrir.

“He was creeping around the stedding. Ketill saw him and we ran him down.” Eirik kept the pressure up as the creature struggled and growled at them and gabbled at them in a language that was foul to hear.

“Goblin, what are you doing here?” said ValR patiently. The Goblin spat at him and writhed in Eirik's grasp.

“Why are you even bothering with the Green-belly? Just take it out into the pasture and kill it.” Sverrir, disgusted, fingered his sword.

“Kill you, Red Legs. Kill you and the Grey Man and suck the marrow from your bones,” snarled the Goblin in Rannik, still straining against Eirik's hold.

“What ho, Gobbo. So you can speak a civilized tongue. Answer the question: why are you here?,” said Sverrir.

“Eat the Greylings eyeballs. Crunch, crunch. Eat them and skin them while they scream,” gabbled the Goblin.

“Yes, yes. And spoon their brains out for your porridge. Eirik, rip his arm out of his socket, please.” Sverrir said to Eirik with a wink.

Eirik tightened his grip and turned the Goblin's wrist a fraction of an inch. The Goblin shrieked and his heels drummed on the ground.

“Goblin, you know the Gholdami. My young friend here will disjoint your limbs one by one until you are a legless bug. And then we will leave you in the fields, surrounded by the freshly killed carcasses of goats. I will personally leave a trail of carcasses into the mountains to your broken body. Now, what you wish would happen will not. But I swear to you on the bones of my fathers that what I tell you is true. Answer the Grey Man's question,”

“I answer, you free?” said the Goblin with an ill-disguised cunning look.

“Perhaps. Do you swear on your damned soul to tell us what happened here?” Sverrir nodded at Eirik, who twisted the arm a little more.

“Yes, yes! By Infernal Balance, I swear!” squealed the Goblin. Sverrir signaled to Eirik to let go. The Goblin snatched his arm away from Eirik's grip and snarled at him, extending his filthy clawed hands toward Eirik. Ketill and Grimm gently pressed their spear points into the Goblins neck.

“So, what happened here?” said Sverrir.

“Men killed. Left to rot. You bury them. I leave now,” said the Goblin, starting to push himself up off the ground. The spears didn't move, keeping the Goblin on the ground.

“You promise! I tell. You break word!” howled the Goblin, lapsing into his own disgusting language.

“Why were you here?” said ValR. The Goblin stared malevolently at them with his oversized yellow, slit-pupil eyes. The spears points gently pierced the skin and a thin reddish blood trickled down his neck, claws tearing at the sod. Eirik grabbed the Goblin's arm again and twisted it.

“Signs and portents,” muttered the Goblin under the strain of the arm bar.

“Who disturbs the forbidden dark places of old?” said ValR

“The gods send messenger to keep promise made to Glurmek, greatest of Over-kings in the time when Goblins ruled the North. Old places awakened to prepare for return,” said the Goblin.

“What promise was that, Green-belly?”

“Glurmek was promised to return as God-king to rule priest-king when he died,” said the Goblin.

“Whatever happened to this Glurmek?” said Ketill.

“Killed by treacherous, tricksy Dwarves,” snarled the Goblin, “Killed when they burned the great city down at the end of the Great War. Kill them all! Kill and roast them for fodder!”

“So this Glurmek is returned from the Caverns of the Damned?” said Sverrir.

“No. Priest-king read signs in sky and earth, water and fire. Sends servant to prepare the way. Servant calls moot of sons and daughters of Glurmek. Says it is time again to raise banners of the Iron Legions and march and drive Men and tricksy Dwarves from this land, our land,” said Goblin.

“Have the banners been raised?” said ValR softly.

“Ha! Chieftains remember priest-kings promises from past. Priest-kings send sons of Glurmek to death instead of the favored sons of Kustikk under old banners and signs and portents. Sons of Glurmek not trust word of priest-kings from the kingdoms now, demand proof. Servant to prove truth of signs and portents from priest-king. I sent to see truth,” said Goblin.

“And what truth have you seen?” said ValR.

“Men weak, unable to defend against might of servant. Servant make offerings in old places, awaken land to Goblins again, sweep Men from on mountains and Dwarves from under, take that which is ours again, rule mightily over rock and stone as of old,” said the Goblin.

“Is that what you will tell your chieftains and war leaders Goblin?” said ValR.

“The shrines wake, the eyes of the gods look toward the sons of Glurmek in favor again. We will march,” said the Goblin. Sverrir and ValR exchanged a look. Sverrir waved his hand at the three young Men. “Eirik, let him up. Ketill, Grimm, spears up.”

Eirik reluctantly relinquished the Goblins arm. Ketill and Grimm slowly raised the tip of their spears. The Goblin sprang to his feet and Sverrir hammered him back to the ground with a blow of his fist.

“This is what you will tell the sons of Glurmek, Goblin. Tell them to hold to the treaties and oaths sworn on the pillars in the holy places or the sons of the North shall show them the mercy of the mountains,” said ValR.

“No, Grey man, the sons of Glurmek will be told that Men are weak. The banners will be raised and the lands will fall to us again in fire and Man-blood.” spat the Goblin.

Sverrir casually kicked the Goblin in the stomach, causing it to curl up, “How about a compromise. You tell these chieftains and petty-kings that the priest-king lies to them. We'll demonstrate his falsehoods by killing this servant and shipping the head to them. Deal?”

“If you fail, we march,” said the Goblin, curled up.

“Saddle up, boys. We've got a Goblin to kill,” said Sverrir swinging into his saddle.


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