The setting sun cast a red haze, which bled into the light of fires below, as if the sky were a fresh painting smeared by a careless hand. Clouds of smoke, bearing scents of burning wood and thatch, rose to meet clouds of water hanging in the upper air. The play of light and shadow would have been eerie on a quiet day. This day, though, it was only a backdrop to the clamor of human activity.
Dozens of campfires had popped up, small makeshift things alongside the greater pyres that consumed the last vestiges of the village. Meat and stews added their scents to the air. These inviting flavors offered a marked contrast to the tang of blood and the acrid smoke.
The roar of battle had passed; the sounds now were of laughter and boasting, celebration, and the commonplace shuffles and clanks of armed warriors walking about. Someone had brought a lyre to strum, and at least three drums had been produced to sound out a beat.
The Avalanche sat with the commanders of his units, devouring a rack of beef-ribs provided by some enterprising karl currying favor. Melted fat dripping down his beard, he roared in laughter in response to a lowbrow joke. A handful of fresh cuts across his wide belly went completely ignored.
To his left was Stigr, straight-backed and sharp-eyed despite the revelry. As usual, the man had finished his meal well before the others. To his right, Erika was leaned forward, stirring the fire. Across the flame, Runar was standing and gesticulating, recounting a particularly exciting moment of the battle.
“…and then he threw me at the orc! Good thing I landed spear-first!”
Another wave of laughter broke out. Erika looked up, her expression a cold grin. “Jumping spear-first at orcs now, are you? Didn’t know you were that desperate already.”
Runar staggered back, clutching his chest in mock pain. “Slain! At the height of my glory! What cruel fate!”, he gasped as he fell back into a log to more chuckles.
Hallbjorn looked between the two, confused. Erika, used to her warlord’s quirks, explained with a straight face – “The spear is his dick.” A few more seconds’ pause, and Hallbjorn slapped his knee with mirth. “Ah, I get it. Good joke! Another drink! To Runar’s dick!”
The Avalanche took a big gulp from his own horn and asked, wiping off his beard, “So who else showed good fighting? Tell me more!”
Stigr spoke up then. “I saw strength and courage from Leif. The one with the mace, from the lowlands.” The others listened attentively; quiet Stigr was often the most observant among them, and rarely exaggerated. Stigr explained how this Leif had fought, describing Leif teaming up with other karls to surround larger orc warriors.
Hallbjorn reached for another rib as he spoke. “Good, good. Sounds like you have a plan for him?” Stigr nodded once. “If you agree, Avalanche. With word of your conquest here, more karls are sure to come. I suggest giving him command of the next group to join us. Let him show us what he can do with a hundred men.”
Hallbjorn chewed as he took the time to slowly process this advice. “Sure, why not? With luck we’ll find more orcs by then. Or maybe those Cold Hand dogs. Someone call Leif over!”
As the warlord and his favored karls continued to rest and plan their future battles, a few at the edges at the camp worked on the last tasks of cleaning. They grunted as the final orc corpse was heaved up into the pile.
“Don’t half stink, eh?” one of the karls said to the other, who snorted. “Like nothing I’ve smelled before. Heavy as shit, too.” The first shrugged. “Yeah, but I’d rather carry corpses than whatever that green stuff is. You really think the Avalanche is going to drink it?”
“Positive. Why else would we be bringing it back.”
“Five copper says Lord Saenger doesn’t let him.”
“Oh yeah? Five copper says they don’t find out until it’s too late.”