The barracks in Vissvind was warm, almost stuffy from the bodies crammed inside it. The garrison had swelled recently as tales from the north had heralded a renewed war against the Rime Clans. But the tales were distant and muddled. There weren’t enough trainers for the new recruits and Arne found himself running awkward drills for the new blood.
His arms were sore from fresh effort after years of mostly gentle guard duty for King Einsland. He rubbed them absently and stood, stepping outside for some fresh air despite the bitter cold. The days blended into one another. Guard duty at the north gate. Guard duty at the south watchtower. Guard duty at the port. Training in between. Sleep in a hay bed. Bread and occasionally fish to eat. It wasn’t a bad life, but Arne sometimes wished for real battle. The dreams of his youth. Earning a Name.
Arne’s eyes wandered to the horizon where a lazy curl of smoke ascended into a darkening sky. He followed its pattern absently, marveling at the freedom of wisps as they defied the pull of the earth. And then he shook his head. Smoke on the horizon. The guard at the north tower saw it a split second after and the alarm bell rang. Arne was about to get his wish.
Blood spackled Arne’s raven helm as his axe bit deep into the neck of Rimelander before him. Hollow Song, he noted with disgust. The torn faces hanging from the dying man’s belt perfectly exhibited the evil that Arne was fighting. The boy fell, Arne swiftly pivoted to deflect a heavy hammer blow from a raider with filed teeth before that opponent was impaled by spears.
Thirty five years. That’s how long since the Rimelanders broke their oaths. They had been allowed to fester on the fringes for too long. Arne shattered the knee of a bearlike oathbreaker and wrenched his axe free with a sickening crunch. Like chopping wood, he mused with a tinge of dark humor. He stepped over the man as his companions finished him off and surveyed the battlefield. He could see the signs of rout already in the enemy’s movements. Subtle hesitations, a pause too long while they seemingly looked for a new opponent.
And then one of them ran. Arne grinned to himself at the inevitable cascade and joined in the infectious roar of victory with his comrades.
He stopped cheering before the others. Hollow Song this far south was a rarity. Overturner’s report of the Rime Clan Althing was now public knowledge, though it was difficult to tell what was true and what was embellished. Apparently, a new clan called the Sons of Ulfrandr had tried to force others into following their mad, bestial god in the same way the Bearking had united the clans long ago. But the Rime Clans had proven as fractious and treacherous as ever, most abandoning the Althing and their traditions.
With their renewed internal conflict came more raids to the south. This had been one of those and while Arne’s own Frostravens had hurried to the aid of this settlement, the smoldering wreckage of homes and blood on the snow revealed the true danger of the raids- their speed. Arne absently touched the leonem hanging from his neck and offered a prayer to White Benalus to help guide the fallen and protect them from Sveas.
A call from his companions broke his reverie. The glory of battle was over, but the Church taught that was only the beginning of their labor. Now comes the rebuilding. Hefting a fallen beam over his shoulder, Arne rejoined his band and got to work.