Thundershield

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Chapter 5

Ragnar awoke startled, he was lying in a stead he had never seen before. It had an odd smell to it, a musky and earthly smell. He sat up and immediately regretted it as his head began to throb with pain. Last thing he vaguely remembered was charging towards some men in a blind rage. He felt a blow to the side of his head, falling over and lying on the ground for a moment, then nothing.

Was this the afterlife?

The halls of Kord?

Am I to see my brothers and kin again? Ragnar thought.

This room certainly didn’t look like how Ragnar had always imagined the halls of Kord looking. It was a rather simple and spartan stead. There was a single bed, which he currently lay in. A single door that looked a little too low compared to those he was more used to seeing. There was a small fire in the corner of the stead which provided all the light and warmth. In the middle of the room, there was a simple wooden table and a single stool. Apart from some odd cooking equipment and furs it was empty. Ragnar’s forehead knotted as it began to throb even more terribly. His vision began to swim and he involuntary lay back down and fell back unconscious.

***

‘Time t’get up laddie, ya’ve been in that bed for the past three nights an’ from the look of things ya ain’t been out during the day either.′

Ragnar awoke to this new and strange voice. It had a thick and odd accent, but somehow sounded familiar to him. He opened his eyes, his vision blurring in and out of focus. He closed his eyes tight and rubbed his hands against his eyes before opening them again. He turned and looked to the figure now standing at the edge of the bed. A short and stocky individual filled his view. He had hard dark skin, short brown hair with a short scruffy beard and an overly long moustache that came down lower than the rest of the beard. It was a dwarf. Ragnar instantly recognised him as the dwarf Gorn who frequented the tribe’s camp. He was a personal friend of the tribe’s leader and was well respected by the entire tribe.

‘Wha...Wha...Whats going on?’ Ragnar finally muttered.

He felt as weak as that time he got the winter sickness back when he was seven.

‘Ya’ve been sleeping in MY bed for the past three night’s lad, that’s what’s been going on’ Gorn replied in his thick Dwarven accent.

Ragnar looked at him confused.

Gorn sighed and then said, ‘Look lad. I figure it best to just get this part over with. I got some bad news for ya...’ Gorn paused to take a breath before continuing. ‘Yer entire clan has been killed, cut down like dogs, all cept you.’

Ragnar could see the pain momentarily behind Gorn’s eyes but it was quickly covered. Hearing this brought up memories Ragnar did not want to remember.

‘I was on my way to visit Bladvar when I came across the slaughter. I managed to save ya before those bastards...’ Gorn paused again, this time with a look of disgust on his face, ‘killed ya...’

Gorn knew exactly what would of happened to Ragnar had he not arrived when he did. He would of been lucky to of been simply killed. But he decided as blunt as he normally is, this was no thing to tell a child.

‘I... I know, I saw. Me...’ Ragnar had to pause momentarily before continuing ‘me and my brothers arrived before they were finished. We were overcome by such rage that we charged them.’

Ragnar could remember up to that point clearly but after that everything became vague and cloudy.

‘I never felt anger like that before.’ he continued. ‘I saw them die...’

‘Yer brothers?’

Ragnar only nodded in reply. A short moment passed before Ragnar spoke again.

‘Well, at least they died glorious deaths and must now sit in Kord’s Hall with father.’

‘Glorious eh? More like a fool’s death if ya ask me but you Northers are all the same aren’t ye?’

Ragnar flushed red with anger at this remark and jumped to his feet but regretted it almost immediately. Though not just because such sudden movement made his head throb with agony. Dwarfs are a small race but Gorn was tall for a dwarf and came up to Ragnar’s full standing height and Ragnar felt more than a little fear staring him in the eye.

‘Ha ha ha!’ Gorn boomed, his shoulders bouncing up and down as he let out a thunderous laugh, ‘Typical Norther, as foolish as I think it is, I must admit I do some what admire yer tempers.’

Ragnar calmed down slightly, but still stood facing Gorn.

‘Look lad, let’s get these formalities out of the way shall we, I’m hungry.’

Gorn held out his hand to Ragnar. It was not a common gesture of his people but he recognised it enough to reach out and shake Gorn’s hand.

‘The name’s Gorn.’

‘Ragnar.’

Gorn nodded.

‘So way I see it Ragnar is that ye are at least gonna have’ta winter here with me. Do you have any relations with any other tribe?’

Ragnar shook his head. It was common for people to move between tribes through marriage or hostage exchange to settle a blood-feud but Ragnar’s only kin had been in his tribe.

‘Skíta!’ Gorn said with a spit.

Ragnar had heard often enough the old Northern tongue spoken by shamans or travelling bards to recognise the language. Gorn had clearly lived among the Northern tribes for a long time. Though Ragnar did not know the exact meaning of the word he could tell it wasn’t a positive one even without Gorn’s spit.

‘Right then, guess I’m gonna be stuck with ya aren’t I?’ Gorn continued, ‘These lands are no place for someone so young.’

Just a quarter moon ago Ragnar would of rebuffed that comment with shameless bravado, but after what he’d been through he realised just how young he was and how dangerous the world really is.

‘Ye will have to earn yer keep too, there is plenty of work to do before winter still.’

Ragnar could not argue this point as in these lands everyone was expected to pull their own weight.

‘Also, I’m gonna teach ya how to fight lad. Ya will need to be able to look after yerself now. And besides,’ Gorn’s features softened and a slight curl tugged on one corner of his lips. ‘Every Northman worth his blood needs to be able to fight.’

Ragnar could not see any weapons in the room though one look at Gorn’s stature and he could tell the dwarf knew a thing or two about fighting.

‘I was a good friend to yer chieftain Bladvar and as ya are the last the last of his tribe I swear to look after ya until yer are able to yerself.’

‘Thank you Gorn, though I do not know how I could repay you.’ Ragnar said.

Gorn waved away Ragnar’s worries dismissively.

‘Don’t ya be worrying bout that yet laddie. But right first things first, let us establish some ground rules, first off, stay off MY bed.’ And with that he grabbed Ragnar and shoved him off the bed onto the cold ground.

‘Yer clothing is over there by the fire, go put it on while I prepare us some grub, it’s gonna be a long and tough day laddie. Gonna have to sort out a bed for ya first off.’

Ragnar’s stomach grumbled so loud even Gorn could hear it to which he raised an eyebrow to.

‘Hungry eh?’

Ragnar blushed slightly and only nodded in reply.

‘Well then let’s get started with breakfast then eh?’

***

Ragnar was awoken by a rough jab to his side. Despite being awoken he refused to open his eyes. The jab came again, this time painfully hard. Though it didn’t need to be too hard as it was always in the same spot. He yet again refused to open his eyes. It was not even dawn yet and Gorn was already trying to wake him, he had only just lied down to sleep or at least that was how it felt. It had been like this for the past few weeks, each morning Gorn would roughly awaken Ragnar and force him out to catch some fresh meat for breakfast. Not that it was needed, Gorn had plenty of food but if Ragnar did not catch anything he did not eat until evening.

‘I’ll stick ye with the pointy end next laddie if you don’t get up.’ came Gorn’s rough voice, the same line Ragnar heard every morning.

Though the old scab on his bruised side reminded Ragnar that a dwarf never idly threats, or at least Gorn didn’t. Ragnar opened his eyes and groggily rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

‘It’s gonna be a long day laddie, best get up and get hunting.’

Ragnar let out a moan as he sat up on the makeshift bedding Gorn had thrown together for him on the ground. Little more than some furs piled up in a corner of the small stead. All in all it was actually quite comfortable, except for when it came to getting up. His entire body ached from the strenuous regime Gorn had him enduring.

‘What is it you have planned for me today dwarf? Eating hot coals or something?’ Ragnar said groggily despite himself, it was never wise to answer back to Gorn.

‘Hmm, now that you mention it some hot coals may go a long way towards shutting up that moaning of yers.’

Gorn ended his reply with third jab into Ragnar’s side from the sharpened pole he had a habit of carrying around to Ragnar’s torment.

Always the same damned spot.

Ragnar winced in pain and scowled at Gorn before slowly getting to his feet and stretched out the stiffness from his joints.

‘Right well, off ye go.’ Gorn said to him as he tossed the hunting bow that Ragnar had yet to hit anything with into his hands. Ragnar had to scramble to catch it in time.

‘I’ve got to get me some nice stew leftovers to heat up and eat, I’m starving.’ continued Gorn with a smirk before walking away towards the hearth, deliberately making a show of licking his fingers.

Ragnar’s scowl deepened but a large rumbling in his stomach quickly consumed his thoughts with that of hunger.

‘Ha! Ye must be hungry indeed lad, I heard that one from here!’

‘Are all dwarves as annoying as you?’ Ragnar snapped.

‘Much worse lad, trust me, now get on outta here, yer putting me off me food with that face.’

Ragnar bit down his retort and merely shook his head before getting fully dressed to go outside. It was a bitterly cold morning as the sun had yet to rise and give its feeble warmth. The blue glow in the sky over the eastern peaks which heralded the sun’s arrival only chilled Ragnar further. He looked down at the bow in his hands and sighed. He had yet to hit anything save for the ground or a random tree trunk. Those damned hares were too fast and he was far from someone like Vilgrid’s skill with a bow. He pushed the thought of Vilgrid from the front of his mind and set out into the forest, at least the snares he placed along trails had been successful and after visiting three of them he was grateful to find that today they still yielded him some breakfast. When he returned to the camp Gorn was already outside waiting for him.

‘What time do ye call this!?’ Gorn shouted at him.

The sun had still not even crested the eastern ridgeline.

‘And look, I see not a single one of them have any arrow wounds like the last ones, and the ones before that!’

Ragnar flung the three dead hares onto the ground in front of him and picked out an arrow from the quiver on his side. He walked up the three carcasses and stabbed each one with the arrow.

‘There! Happy!?’ Ragnar shouted back throwing the arrow on the ground and muttering curses under his breath.

‘What’s that laddie? Right well that little hissy fit of yers has cost ye yer breakfast, we’re gonna get straight to training.’

Ragnar was moments away from complaining further but snapped his mouth shut in the last moment.

Through gritted teeth Ragnar asked. ‘And what is today’s training dwarf?’

‘Well, that hot coal idea of yers this morning was a high contender but then I figured I couldn’t afford to waste any coal on you so I figured we could go with yer favourite.’ Gorn said with a growing grin on his face. Ragnar let out a defeated sigh as he knew exactly what Gorn was referring to. Gorn stepped to the side revealing the long thick branch with two large bags full of rocks on either side.

‘Time to get running laddie.’

Ragnar hung his head in defeat. To say anything now would only add to the amount of rocks in the bags, and the dwarf had an awful habit of putting too many into one side. Gorn was right, today was going to be a long day.

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