Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 9

Tar’vid waited patiently as Bordin called another stop to the army, Windholme seemed like it could be defended easily if this journey was the only way to it. So far they had passed through two ravines that barely accommodated two men walking side by side, certainly, the oxen cavalry would never make it through, and even a single gatehouse would deter almost any attack... when had he started to think so tactically.

“What’s the hold up this time?” Tar’gorth asked from behind him.

They stood in a snowy field now, with nothing he could see that would halt their progress once more, though Bordin knew this terrain better than any of them.

“We’ve reached the Wind bridge... right there,” one of the Jakken told him, pointing towards what looked like just another field of snow.

Slowly the army formed up into a line three men wide as they moved towards the still invisible bridge. It took only moments for the nature of its design to become apparent to the Paladins. The field dipped ever so slightly, anyone rushing across the field would miss the incline and plunge several hundred feet into the raging waters below should they not find the narrow bridge that stood slightly offset from the path.

“What an incredible design,” Tar’gorth remarked as they passed along the thirty foot stone bridge.

“Indeed, it was built by the giant men and Elves many hundreds of years ago. It is deceptive to the eyes for newcomers, I’m not sure if it is magic or a feat of building, but the bridge seems almost invisible on approach, yet not when leaving,” Bordin chimed in, his monstrous axe resting on his shoulder.

“I suppose the last Blooming drew many of the Dwarviari here, perhaps it was their creation?” Tar’gorth murmured to himself.

Tar’vid simply enjoyed the view from the centre of the bridge, on the left side of the chasm it opened up into a great lake. With the sun still high in the sky, the water shone brightly as the spray lapped against the chasm walls. It felt like summer, though the Jakken’s thick winter clothing and snow proved otherwise.

“Bordin, what happened to the prisoners you took in the first battle with us?” Tar’gorth asked suddenly as they once more began their march across the snowy fields.

“What makes you think we took any?” Bordin replied whimsically, never turning around.

“From what I have observed of you, I don’t believe you’re a butcher” Tar’gorth replied, moving swiftly to walk beside the large warrior.

“Perhaps you are wrong in your observations, are we not savages that you came to destroy after all?” Bordin retorted bitterly, looking down at Tar’gorth.

“Have we ever treated you as such?” Tar’vid chimed in angrily. “Even when you and your warriors cut down my comrades and friends, did I ever once treat you as lesser? Do not attribute motives to me when I have shown you nothing but respect.”

Bordin raised his fist and the column halted immediately, he turned around slowly and strode over to Tar’vid, covering the distance in only a few swift strides, stopping mere feet from him. Bordin suddenly dropped to one knee, hanging his head low. “Pardon my words, chieftain, I have forgotten my place and spoken out of line.”

“By the Saints, stand up” Tar’vid replied, offering him a hand. “We are to be allies in the coming months, perhaps, years to come... I would prefer us to be friends... at the least not so openly hostile anyway.”

“Perhaps you are right, let us...” Bordin’s words stopped as a roar of anger came from close by in the column.

A squat man coming forth and brandishing his axe, his face hidden beneath a helmet with a long red beard seeming to flow from within.

“Why does he yet live?” the man spat at Tar’vid, pointing his weapon at Bordin, a challenge clear. “He has insulted our chieftain, and in return, you show mercy? I Helsig cannot tolerate such an affront!”

Tar’vid moved his hand towards Torgard’s hilt slowly, unsure if it was a challenge against himself. Bordin caught his arm, however, before taking a step forward and taking his great axe in both hands.

“The challenge is directed towards me, my chieftain, honour must be satisfied... do you challenge me under the gods Helsig?” Bordin shouted out in response as the majority of the column spread out to form a space of about twenty feet square between them containing only Helsig and Bordin.

“What’s happening here?” Tar’vid asked aloud, though he wasn’t expecting an answer.

“It’s a challenge of honour,” explained a man calmly from behind him.

The newcomer was clean shaven and seemed somewhat more soft-spoken than the others. His hair short, rather than the usual shaven or unkempt look of the others.

“Helsig has seen Bordin’s words as a slight against you, a challenge to your authority. Although he fights for your honour, the two of them have a somewhat long history.”

Tar’vid wanted to ask more, but Helsig had begun his advance on Bordin. Neither, strangely, fought with a shield he noticed. Bordin moved first as Helsig closed with him, jabbing with his axe as Helsig moved his head aside, the axe blade scraping across his helm. Bordin pulled back quickly, the axe’s tip hooking on the eye socket of Helsig’s helm. Feeling resistance he wrenched hard, jerking the man’s head violently and ripping the faceplate free, revealing Helsig’s face, his left eye a mass of scar tissue and his face red with anger. Bordin backed away, nimbly avoiding Helsig’s wild counter slashes.

“I’m going to take your other eye now Helsig, though you’ll make a poor skald” Bordin taunted, beginning to circle his opponent, keeping towards his opponent’s blind side.

Tar’vid recognised a strategic fighter when he saw one, and Bordin’s large frame would make him a fierce foe should it come to it.

“Perhaps I shall make you sing of my deeds? Though your voice is shrill like a woman’s” Bordin continued, laughing as he moved.

The taunt had the desired effect though, and Helsig charged forward, slashing wildly as he tried to hack Bordin apart. Bordin’s skill was a beauty to behold though, as he deftly turned aside the blows with the axe head and the long shaft of his weapon, taking a step backwards and forcing Helsig to overreach, the large warrior moved in, driving his axe head into Helsig’s face, the mass of iron broke his nose and pulverised Helsig’s remaining eye as he collapsed to the ground, slumping to his knees as he screamed in agony... Then Bordin looked to him and Tar’vid noticed all others also looked in his direction.

“You must decide, mercy... or not” explained the same man, whispering in his ear.

“Mercy, he shall have mercy!” Tar’vid called out to Bordin, who nodded as he stepped forward and with one swing decapitated Helsig.

“A just decision, my chieftain, Helsig truly would have been a terrible skald... the name’s Tristain,” he said with a smile.

The others began to walk onward once more, giving him, and the corpse of Helsig plenty of room.

“I thought mercy would have saved his life” Tar’vid said to Tar’gorth apologetically.

“Not your fault lad, don’t forget, this is a new culture to us, we probably have more in common with the southern Elves” he replied with a shrug. “It’s something we’ll have to get used to I guess.”

Bordin walked over to them wiping his axe head clean on Helsig’s trousers. “I’d hoped to make him my skald, though, I guessed you might be merciful. You’re a soft man from the south after all” he said with a grunt and half smile. waiting for the two Paladins to start walking before following along closely.

“So about the prisoners you took?” Tar’gorth asked again quietly.

“Oh, they were taken to Kendral castle... only place with a proper prison after all. Took a fair few of you Paladins captive too, they just rushed a shield wall, the crazy people. We just hooked them in one at a time, the rest of the army broke quickly after that, ran straight into Rorgna though... should have stood and sought mercy from us, poor bastards” he replied.

Perhaps there was hope that Tar’lin yet lived amongst the prisoners he thought as they crested a high ridge, and there, less than a mile away sat what looked like a city.

“Welcome to Windholme, my chieftain, the capital of the Jakken people,” Bordin said to him with pride, clapping him on the shoulder as they descended into the valley.

Tar’vid arrived in Windholme with the Jakken a few hours later, the great walls were actually a lot higher than he’d first thought, perhaps standing at thirty feet or more. The gatehouse doors stood wide open, a large man barring the way with a great axe in hand similar to Bordin’s, like him, he had a long dark beard, though he was much broader and heavy set.

“Brother! Where is Rorgna?” boomed the guardian, his stance unmoving.

Bordin stepped forward, pausing beside Tar’vid and waiting for approval before speaking. Tar’vid nodded his head and Bordin continued forwards until he came within feet of his brother.

“Rorgna is dead, brother... defeated in single combat by our new chieftain, Tar’vid the Paladin,” Bordin said loudly, pointing at Tar’vid.

His brother turning his head to look at him, inspecting Tar’vid more closely. “A Paladin, perhaps he’ll find common cause with that other one. Damn my eyes brother, I can’t see him from here” he said grumpily, lifting his axe and striding over to him.

Bordin’s brother towered over Tar’vid much like Bordin did. “I am Svein, prefect of Windholme. So, you’re the one who killed Rorgna in single combat?” he asked, fixing Tar’vid with his green eyes.

“I did, he fought well, should such a thing matter” Tar’vid replied.

Though he still had some resentment towards the former chieftain, he realised this culture seemed to favour martial prowess above all else.

“Not particularly, no, I would have assumed no less from him after all,” Svein replied before kneeling before him. “If my brother sees fit to follow you, I see no reason to challenge. You have my axe if you’ll have it.”

“I welcome anyone who would join me, and should you fight half as well as your brother, I would be blessed indeed” Tar’vid said, offering Svein a hand.

Svein gripped his forearm tightly before rising. “You speak wisely, my chieftain. My brother has always been a good judge of character... perhaps you’ll be the right one to lead us after all... or not and someone will kill you.”

Svein began walking back towards the gatehouse as the others around Tar’vid began to move along. Tar’gorth stopped beside him, a look of amusement on his face.

“When I first met you, I’d never have thought you’d command the respect of so many, so quickly. Yet here we stand... and now, I’d follow you without a second thought lad” Tar’gorth said, clapping him on the shoulder and smiling kindly.

Bordin walked over to them, the sea of Jakken warriors parting to let him pass. “I’ll take you to the great hall, there will be feasting for several days, so we must get you settled quickly. I guess you can come along too old man” Bordin added with a smile, Tar’gorth’s stare boring a hole through him.

They made their way through the streets of Windholme, the crowd parting before them. Tar’vid noticed the reunion of families, he also noticed many would soon be grieving for husbands and sons that would never return. Tar’vid put such thoughts aside, noting that the buildings here varied wildly in construction, some were stone with slate roofs, though many now had thatch and wooden components to them.

“We maintain them as best we can, but we can’t replicate the slate and our stonemasons can’t keep up with the replacement work,” Bordin commented, noticing the direction of his gaze.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect so many buildings to be as well maintained as they are. We were led to believe you would be savages. I’m glad we were wrong” Tar’gorth commented, Tar’vid noticing Bordin’s little smirk.

Tar’vid had only caught glimpses of the great hall, though upon being mere feet from it he could appreciate its great size. The hall was indeed a massive structure, a great dragon statue sat perched upon the roof, with all manner of mythical creatures decorating the borders of the roof and apex. Tar’vid wondered what it all meant, and how old such stonework could possibly be.

“Welcome to your home for the foreseeable future, my chieftain. Follow me inside and I’ll give you the tour” Bordin said, climbing the wooden steps to the large double oak doors.

Six guards stood barring the way, each wearing well-maintained chain mail and gold trimmed helmets, holding a spear and shield with a short sword on their hip, the shields were painted with a bulls head, perhaps the symbol of the Jakken. As Bordin approached they stepped aside, forming an honour guard as the large warrior pushed open the doors, standing aside so Tar’vid would enter first. He climbed the stairs with Tar’gorth and their small group of guards, Tarquin appearing beside him from out of nowhere.

“All hail chieftain Tar’vid!” the guards cried out in unison as Tar’vid passed them by.

The small group passed under the intricately carved lintel and into the hall. To Tar’vid’s surprise, the building was, for the most part, a single room. With only a few galleries set apart and another doorway towards the rear of the building. A long fire pit dominated the room, food and drink already being arranged for the upcoming feast, though perhaps this would have happened if it were Rorgna that had won the day. It was then that Tar’vid noticed a group of people nearby, several women around his own age, one noticeably older and several younger boys.

“Who are they?” he asked Bordin with a growing sense of unease.

“They are Rorgna’s family, it’s your decision what to do with them” he replied with a shrug.

“What did Rorgna do with the previous chieftain’s family?” Tar’vid asked, having a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer.

“Put the males to death, took the females as slaves. Pretty standard practice really.” Bordin told him in a matter of fact way.

“I’m not comfortable with putting children to death” Tar’vid replied, shocked that this was standard practice.

“I get your hesitance, such things I guess are not done in the south” Bordin replied with a curt nod. “But, they’ll be men one day, and more than likely come for vengeance against you, my chieftain.”

“What should I do?” he asked Tar’gorth, hoping the older man would have some wisdom to share.

Before Tar’gorth could say anything Tarquin butted in, whispering in his ear. “There are other tribes in the north, my friend. I have been talking with a man named Tristain and he has told me of at least nine other... why not send the boys off to them as wards.”

Tar’vid could live with that, perhaps such a thing would cement some kind of alliance.

“What about the women, should I send them off too?” he asked, perhaps naively.

“No, my friend, not unless you want them to be used for unsporting ventures, it would be kinder to kill them I think. Perhaps have them as serving staff, it would surely be preferable to death” Tarquin offered, it seemed reasonable... though it sounded like slavery and after hearing Morkin’s tales, he was reluctant to be a slave owner.

“I agree with him, it seems the most honourable way lad... or at least the lesser of the evils” Tar’gorth offered, having heard Tarquin’s whispers.

“Bordin, I have made my decision. Send out emissaries to the other tribes, I wish to send out the boys to them, the women are free to do as they wish” Tar’vid said, hoping he’d come across as decisive.

Rorgna’s family heard his pronouncement and began talking frantically amongst themselves, after several minutes the three boys stood before Tar’vid, each dropping to one knee before him... it felt quite uncomfortable.

“We could not bear to leave our mother and sisters, my chieftain. I, Rorholm, swear to follow you without thought of vengeance, upon the Gods themselves I swear this,” said the first boy who couldn’t have been older than thirteen.

“Aye, we each swear this oath to you, my chieftain,” the other two spoke aloud, their voices shaky but confident.

Tar’vid looked over to Bordin who shook his head, as did Tarquin. Tar’gorth, however, seemed taken by the boy’s show of loyalty. Tar’vid bid them rise and they stood proudly as one.

“I would be honoured, to take you into my service, but what of your mother and sisters?” Tar’vid asked of them, giving Rorholm the chance to act as the head of his household.

“They too shall be in your service, my chieftain,” he said happily, waving over his sisters, they came over quickly and curtsied before him together. “May I introduce you to Languardia and Hildina, mother says they are both of marriageable age, should it be your wish.”

The two girls looked up at him, partly in fear, but mostly out of curiosity. Both of them were pretty and slim, with dark red hair like their brothers. Though Languardia had something behind her pale blue eyes, a fierceness that reminded him of Luna... he put such thoughts to the back of his mind, the memory of his wife saddening him still.

“That won’t be necessary, though, I will be happy to take you all into service” he replied, offering each a hand up. They both smiled shyly before returning to stand behind their mother and brothers.

“I fear you’ll regret this decision, my friend,” Tarquin stated flatly, passing him by and over to the fire pit to warm himself.

“Ignore him, lad, I think you’re handling yourself well. Now, let’s get some food, I’m starving” Tar’gorth added... though Bordin said nothing, he merely eyed the newly sworn family from beside the fire pit.

As Tar’vid approached him Bordin fingered his axe nervously. “You think you made the right choice?”

“I’d like to think so, the more allies the better right?” Tar’vid replied happily.

“Just be wary my chieftain, that family is ambitious, and one way or another they’ll be back in power some day.”

“I think you fret over nothing, I have their oaths, and that’s all that I need right?” Tar’vid replied with a smile, noticing the two girls looking in his direction before giggling.

Bordin shrugged and walked over to Tar’gorth, leaving him alone. Well, he had a feast to prepare for and had acquired an army of fierce warriors. All in all, a good days work he thought.

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