Ragnarøkkr

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by J_"Kraken", Jan 10, 2016.

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  1. [​IMG]
    This is a story of coming of age,
    of war,
    of loss,
    and of the world's end.
    ---
    The gods themselves are tied with humans,
    their wyrd as weak as man's,
    man's as powerful as the gods'.
    ---
    Jörmundur has come,
    the Destroyer.
    ---
    And with it,
    Death.




    Part One:
    -Brother Against Brother-
    [​IMG]

    The Hunt
    had not been going well. The first snowfalls of winter had begun, laying a crisp, white layer over leaves still leftover from autumn, and the only food Freja had managed to bag had gone to feed herself. Rabbits, more often than not, with the occasional squirrel to complement. Now well into the third day of her excursion, running low upon her stores of salted fish and dried bread, Freja had decided it was time to return, empty-handed though she was.

    She had awoken early that morning to find that Fraelis, goddess of the seasons, had not granted her bedroll beneath a great pine tree respite from the cold. A fresh covering of snow had greeted Freja, clumps of ice already formed in her ginger hair. As had been the case with the previous morning, and the one before that, the forest was eerily silent. Though wind whistled overhead, buffeting pine needles and shoving at branches, the birds did not so much as chirp in acknowledgement of the orange-hued awakening sky.

    Freja had wasted no time in packing her bedroll and slinging it over her pack, grabbing her spear from where it leaned against the tree, and donning her leather boots. Fully equipped, the girl had stood and waited for something to stir, to fill the forest with noise, perhaps some elk or fawn she had missed the day before. None did.


    They do not call these peaks the Crown of Bones for no reason, she supposed as she left her tree.

    Four days prior, the shieldmaidens had been sent out to hunt what little game they could before the snows of winter could halt the advancing column. For the first time in over two years, the Sisterhood had rallied its banners at its fortress monastery, Heimskringla, and marched to war. Called to defend the Jarl Ingjald to the north from his traitorous brother Sigurd, the Sisterhood had not taken the call to war lightly.

    And for Freja and the other shieldmaidens, it was their first step into adulthood.

    Caught in her daydreams of future glory earned, not minding the world around her, Freja snapped back to the present as a snarl sounded behind her. A low, gurgling sound no man in good health could produce. The girl wheeled around and almost gasped as she spotted a wild boar limping along a frozen stream twenty paces away. Her eyes traced the beast as it limped along, noting that no blood trailed behind it. Had it fallen and injured its leg? Freja hunched low and crept to hide behind the nearest tree, observing the boar's path.


    "Boars aren't to be hunted alone," She had overheard Balder, a woodsman that had frequented Ingrid's inn so many years ago, say once. "Bastards're tough, nearly ripped Eilrik's leg clean off 'en we 'unted 'em last."

    But this one was wounded.

    Silently removing her pack and placing it against the tree, Freja stepped from behind the bark and called to the boar. It started, glanced around, and locked its gaze with the girl's. For a brief moment, Freja believed that the beast would flee, for they had no concept of honor: a wounded boar would rather flee and eat another day, but this one was hungry. And meat was meat, whether it walked on two feet or four. It snorted and lowered its head.

    Elated, Freja braced herself against the tree, slamming the butt of her spear against the wood and pointing it forward.


    "You need to make 'the first blow 'the killin' one."

    Squealing, the boar charged straight towards Freja, tusks lowered. As it slammed into Freja's spear point, the girl nearly lost her grip at the shock of the impact, the spear quivering in place as it slashed its head to and fro, attempting to cut at the girl's legs with its jagged tusks. As the boar struggled to gore Freja, it drove the spear deeper and deeper into its body, anger and pain flaring in its dim eye. It did not give up. Frustrated, Freja only thrust harder.

    For the better part of a minute the boar flailed upon Freja's spear, inching deeper and deeper into its body. Sweat beading down her neck with strain, gasping, the girl still pushed the spear deeper, attempting to rip the brute creature's muscles into bloody ribbon. Then, in a sudden CRACK, the spear split down the middle and sent a shower of splinters flying upwards. The boar lunged forward, Freja felt pain lance through her thigh, and suddenly the beast was atop her! Without thinking, Freja whipped out her knife and thrust up at the boar's throat. With a wet slash, the blade sunk deep into its throat. Using the blade as leverage, Freja thrust up and over, casting the boar, now choking on its blood, on its side where it writhed once, snorted, and gave up.

    Grabbing for her hunting horn, Freja lay one shaking hand to the gaping hole in her thigh and blew twice upon the horn. With any luck, someone would hear....


    Almost one blow, 'eh?

     
    #1 J_"Kraken", Jan 10, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
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  2. This cough
    was growing worse each day. When Antonia left three days prior, it was a mere itch in the back of her throat. Several days of sleeping in the frigid air and snow had caused it to deepen, each hacking cough worsening the pain that made it difficult to swallow. More bothersome still was the fog beginning to settle over her mind. She wasn't quite sure if it had been three or four days since her departure, and was struggling to keep track of her direction and path. Granted, it was more difficult to travel when all of the land's natural landmarks were covered in a layer of white, but she'd spent several hours this day traveling in circles, nothing but the cold keeping her eyes open.

    Despite all this she was completely focused on the task at hand, and once she'd pulled herself from her reverie, was searching for signs of life: little footprints, scraps, nests, dens. The Goddess had blessed her with good fortune in the earlier days. Game hadn't been terribly difficult to find--and still wasn't. But whereas she'd had no troubles in her first day at capturing the animals, she now was nearly incapable. Her coughing scared them away, or she would make silly mistakes, mis-stepping and making a noise, or aiming poorly. The one rabbit she had caught today had such a badly damaged hide that she was embarrassed to return with it. But abandoning the still-good meat was a greater insult. She'd taken it with her, thinking perhaps she would eat it herself during her return journey, although she hadn't eaten much since her throat grew hoarse.

    Return. The thought had barely crossed her mind. Was it perhaps too soon to make her journey back? Out of sheer pride she deigned to continue.

    Maybe she would find more to the north. The girls back home had said the land there was more laden with life; plump hares and lazy squirrels and bigger game. Brita had caught giant fish in the rivers there--or so she said. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between amazing stories and amazing lies. The idea still captured her interest though. It was enough to turn her feet north, where the snow had fallen heavier and the wind howled fiercer.

    Her cough continued. She scooped up handfuls of pristine snow and ate it as she walked, the chill soothing her throat just enough to ease some of the hacking. A gloved hand held her spear, her left hand red with cold and wet from the snow. Her fingers were growing numb, but it bothered her not.

    An iced over river crept up beside her. It was quite wide, though maybe not thick enough to stand on. Brita got no fish from this river, she thought to herself, grinning as she walked along the frozen edges. She could see clear across the water to the banks of the other side, and then to where the sparse treeline picked up. No better over there than here, she presumed. It was just as lifeless and deary.

    Eventually she began to find foot prints in the snow; human, small, and old, dusted with snow, and fresher, even smaller tracks. Another hare. The fog lifted on her mind as her excitement grew. She slowly followed the tiny prints, stepping with forced caution, her muscles rigid. This time, she would make a clean kill, no destroyed furs. She wouldn't miss, either.

    The tracks grew lighter as she continued--it had begun to run. Had someone scared it? She had seen human tracks. One of the other girls must be somewhere close nearby. I best catch this rabbit and leave quickly.

    Then, as suddenly as she had found it, she lost the trail near a small cluster of trees and brush. The reflection of the midday sunlight made the snow blindingly white. The prints had to be somewhere, but she simply couldn't make them out in the glare. Covering her eyes with her bare hand, she peered into the brush, looking for signs of life. It was almost as impossible a task as locating the tracks. She dropped to kneel on the ground, as close to the brush as she dared to go. Please, show yourself, little rabbit.

    A small, gray silhouette came into view. It was still, nibbling on small bits of vegetation. Antonia smiled, holding her breath as a cough threatened to shake her. She lifted the spear. One careful blow...

    The sound of the horn jolted her and the rabbit both. The fuzzy creature froze before darting away into the crag, food forgotten--Antonia's blade sunk into the snow where it had stood moments before. Cursing under her breath in frustration, she straightened to stand, turning in the direction of the call. She had known another girl was nearby! And she had gotten herself into trouble, too, it seemed. She bit her lip, glancing to the out crop where the rabbit had fled and back towards the river, the source of the noise. She wanted desperately to chase after her prey, but the sound of the horn was more pressing. The Sisterhood came before things more trivial.

    Without taking the time to brush the snow from her leggings, she raced back towards where she came, halting at the river. The opposite banks were again still and barren. But that was indubitably where the sound had originated from, somewhere past that river. Cautiously she tapped the butt of her spear against the ice lightly once, and then again more firmly. When it failed to crack, she placed a foot against the surface, gradually applying the full force of her weight upon it. She winced, expecting to hear the groan of the river, but it never came. After placing both feet onto the frozen river, she darted across, her practiced footfalls light and quick, like the rabbit's. On the opposite bank, the thinner ice began to heave underfoot, but a deft leap had her clearing the edge before the river's surface began to break.

    From here, Antonia could see the smaller stream that broke off from the river, as well as a new set of prints in the snow. So, she followed these tracks...

    She rounded the bend of the stream and found Freja, her spear in pieces in the snow, and next to her, a bloodied boar.

    "Freja?" she asked hoarsely, her eyes wide in surprise. What luck her friend had! She cleared her throat, pain scratching her throat, and continued. "That was a bold kill, Freja. Are you alright?"

     
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  3. Pain.
    Pain was all Freja could feel below her waist. For a while, the joy of victory had acted as sweet medicine to the bleeding hole in her thigh, numbing the pain, casting it away with its warm embrace. But when the adrenaline faded and her muscles relaxed, the wound was still there, and it throbbed dully with each beat of her heart. If it was anything to take away from the lingering sense of fear eating at the back of her mind, the blood oozed from the wound: pulsing blood would mean that, no matter how close aid was, she would be dead.

    The boar was a sign, she told herself, it must have been.

    Though Freja had never stepped foot in the Crown before the Sisterhood's forced march, she knew that boars were not of these peaks. They inhabited the foothills of the mountains, where it was not quite as cold come winter and hunters were just as infrequent as they were here, where the earth pierced the heavens. Had Brynhildr sent the boar to test her? Had it been a sign of approval? Regardless, Freja touched the silver amulet embossed with a pair of wings to thank the goddess for the victory. A measure of warmth flared through the girl, then faded as quickly as it had come.

    Freja's gaze drifted to the dead boar, dagger protruding from its neck, blood mingling with her own in the snow, dying it a deep hue of crimson. She attempted to reach fro the blade, grimacing as weight pressed to her thigh, hand retreating back to staunching the flow of blood. With a smile born of ill humor, she wagered the tusks of the brute would make a fine addition to Brynhildr's pendant, a token of gratitude and prowess in equal measure.

    "You failed," she muttered, glaring into the boar's dead, dim eyes. With a pang of fear born of uncertainty, Freja wondered if that would be true given another hour: though she had not been keen on listening for footsteps, the forest remained still around her. "I won't let you win," the girl added defiantly, thumping her free hand against her chest. "I will not be killed by a pig."

    ---

    "Your sister once hunted," the crone had told Freja.

    They sat at the Dirty Wheel's fireplace, the old woman wrapped in sheets, leaving all but her eyes and nose covered in thick, wooly cloth. Freja thought she looked more like an elderly sheep than a true Sister of Brynhildr, tucked in like that. The girl lay sprawled by the fire, mesmerized by the woman's voice, only dimly aware of Ingrid's shouting - Bjorn had probably left a loaf of bread in the fire too long.

    "Do all Sisters hunt?" Freja had asked then. "Was she good at it? We have a woodsman-"

    "Do you want your first question answered?" The crone snapped. Freja flinched and found a sudden interest in her boots. "Inkeri was more adept on the battlefield than stalking through the woods," she chuckled then, the sound scraping like stones against Freja's ears. "She could not have crept up to a drunken, sleeping, deaf Jötunn even if she was naked with but a single dagger. She was proud over a brace of two rabbits she had snagged once as a child, only come to find out they were from a local butcher's shop."

    "She lied?"

    "Oh, I suppose not. She never claimed she had killed them herself, and she had the decency to pay the man," the crone's eyes fell onto Freja then, who blushed at the attention. "And what of you, girl?"

    "I can hunt bread."

    ---



    "Freja?" A hoarse, cracking voice questioned, sending Freja jolting to alertness. "That was a bold kill, Freja. Are you alright?"

    "The whoreson got my leg," Freja spat, moving her hand to bare the glistening gash. "Broke my spear, too."

    But that was the least of her worries.

    "Do you have any cloth to bind this with? Once the bleeding stops I can-" Antonia shot her a look. "Oh come on, 'Toni!"

     
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  4. Blood
    was everywhere. It was difficult to tell where Freja's began and ended, and how much of it came from the boar. It stained the white snow, the warmth melting it ever so slightly. Even after Freja removed her hand from the wound, Antonia could barely make out the outline of the gash itself. Hopefully it merely looks bad, she thought, though unable to hide her grimace, quickly averting her eyes. No matter how many wounds she had seen over the years, she never got quite used to seeing broken flesh and sinew.

    "Do you have any cloth to bind this with? Once the bleeding stops I can-"

    She cut Freja off with a sharp look, her eyes narrowed. She didn't need to listen to know where the girl was going. Placing a finger to her lips--an insinuated "be quiet!"--she propped her spear against a nearby tree and knelt in the snow beside her friend, careful to avoid the wood splinters. Freja's spear was broken beyond repair. Audhild would not be happy about Freja's injury, and even less so about the weapon. The battle-worn woman was both loved and feared by the children--you loved her if you knew to avoid her scrutiny and temper, and feared her if not. Antonia would do her best to perform damage control. Afterwards, they could only pray to be in the Sister's good favor once they returned.

    They would return. Antonia could not leave Freja here, wounded; she would have to accompany her friend back. She swallowed back the sour taste in her mouth. It wasn't Freja's fault, after all, even if though it was her choice to foolishly choose the boar as her prey of choice. Perhaps next time she would not make so naive a mistake.

    She had managed to kill it, though.

    The metallic stench of blood was permeating the air, a sharp tang that made Antonia's nose sting. She pressed her gloved hand against her nose while she searched among the scant possessions she carried with her. For some reason, she hadn't thought to bring any bandages with her. It was hard to be upset with Freja's mistakes when she herself had failed to make such an insight. She did manage to find something--a thin roll, nested between the remnants of dry rations and flint. She couldn't recall why it was there, maybe it had been intended to function as a bandage, but it didn't quite matter. These was enough of it to wrap Freja's wound, and was clean enough. Setting it aside on her bedroll, which she laid out over the snow, she peered up at her friend, brow slightly lifted.

    Antonia gestured towards the wound, an unspoken request for permission. She coughed and cleared her throat before speaking, forcibly enunciating each word so as to be heard over her rasp. "A boars tusk is anything but clean. That needs cleaning. Before our return, infection could easily set in." She spoke very matter-of-fact, already leaning in to investigate the extent of the damage before Freja could respond.
     
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  5. "I'm fine, I'm fine."
    Freja insisted as Antonia examined the gash in her thigh. "I don't need you fretting over me like my mother! Audhild'll do that enough when we get back, 'Toni."

    Her friend, as expected, promptly ignored her pleas and gently shoved her hand aside. With quick hands, Antonia bound the cloth around the wound and tied it tight to Freja's leg, the girl grimacing in pain at the sudden pressure. Blood leaked through the bandage within moments, though did not continue to seep through and out the cloth; for the time being, they had contained the flow, at least in part. Before Freja allowed Antonia to assist her to her feet, the girl grabbed a handful of snow and pressed it gingerly to the bandage, letting the cold act to numb the area.

    "No point in trying to hide the boar," Freja grunted as she rose to her feet, leaning heavily on Antonia. "We'll need to make certain someone will go to retrieve it."

    The pair hobbled to where Freja's pack rested by the tree, took what little of worth was there, and then set off, back to the camp.

    ---
    Their journey back to the Sisters' encampment was a lengthy ordeal. Every frozen stream sent them inching across its surface, making sure that their feet were never pushing down too much on one location. Every snow drift felt a mountain in its own right. All the while, Freja trudged onward, bleary and incoherent more often than not, periodically hunching to press more snow into her wound. Her leg was a mixture of snow water and blood now, leggings matted in thinned blood still blossoming from her gash.
    ---
    "Stop sniveling, girl." Audhil snapped. "What do you think a real spear'll do? Hm?"

    Freja knelt hunched over a stinging welt that stretched from her wrist to her elbow, gently pressing a hand over the sprouting injury. Her mock spear lay at her side, snapped in two by the ferocity of Audhil's onslaught. The older woman hunched beside Freja.

    "I asked you a question."

    "I-i-it w-would c-c-cut me," Freja stuttered.

    "Good, you've got wits," Audhil chuckled, hoisting herself to her feet and giving the hunched girl one last look over, attention shifting to the discarded spear. "We'll work on the rest. Oh, and that's the last weapon you break under my watch."
    ---
    Freja felt Antonia prod her in the ribs. Snapping to attention, feeling a burst of new-found determination and strength resonate through her, the girl looked up, tracing Antonia's outstretched hand with her eyes. There. The encampment. The smoke of cook fires rose into the grey, overcast sky and if she concentrated, Freja could make out the sounds of steel on steel and bellowing voices.

    "I suppose," she croaked. "Falling to my knees and passing out would be melodramatic of me, wouldn't it?"

     
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  6. "I would
    appreciate it if you tried not to." Antonia replied dryly, though a small smile escaped. "I don't think I could carry you all the way down. But it's not too far, now, you'll make it alright." She cast a brief glance down towards Freja's wound before tearing her eyes away and continuing down the gentle slope the hill towards the encampment.

    Her cough had not gotten any better over the time of their return journey, but it was less of a concern than her friend's injury. Even now she did her best to support as much of Freja's weight as she could. She joked about dropping unconscious but it didn't seem as unlikely a venture as she made it sound. Reaching the encampment had been one step short of a miracle. The miracle proper would be making it through the encampment and to the Sisters--and getting through that conversation unscathed. She grit her teeth and kept walking.

    Girls who had returned peeked out at the pair through the folds in their tents, or looked up to watch the slow procession from their work. Some had pity in their eyes, but none spoke. There was companionship here, but also competition. Brynhildr did not dote upon all. Two wounded shieldmaidens with little on their persons from the hunt posed no serious threat to their own chances and favor.

    Ahead, Audhild stood with two other Sisters, underneath an open tent with a map spread between them. As the pair limped forward, the three women looked up, brows furrowed and mouths set in hard lines. They stared expectantly at Freja and Antonia, who took the initiative to speak. She cleared her throat, ignoring the jarring pain, and said lamely:

    "Where is the healer's tent?"

    "Is that all you have to say for yourself, child?" Audhild scoffed, exchanging glances with the two other Sisters before stepping forward. "You do not come hobbling into this camp with incompetence. Where is your catch? Where," she turned to address Freja, "is your weapon? And how did you manage such an ugly wound on so simple a task? I do not raise incompetent girls, yet this is all I have thus far received."

    When the girls remained silent, Audhild snapped. "Explain yourselves!"

    "Well... the spear broke when--"

    "And I suppose you used it as kindling?"

    "Audhild," one of the other Sisters spoke up. She had a gentler lilt to her voice, a softness in her eyes that the elder Sisters did not have. "Perhaps it would be best to send the girls for Eir's attentions, first."

    "She walked here well enough!"

    "Miss, I beg you to hear us out." Antonia croaked. "Freja killed a boar, you see. It got her with its tusk and her spear broke against its body, but she did kill it good. I came across her after hearing her call and accompanied her back."

    Audhild frowned. "A boar?" She looked at Freja for confirmation. "Is this true? How was it that you found a boar in these lands?"
     
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  7. "Yes. A boar."
    Freja remarked, lips stretching into a weak smile. "It must have come from the valley behind us or the hinterlands."

    The girl swerved in place, clutching tightly at Antonia for a brief moment. Her head swam and her vision went dark for a moment before snapping back into life. The throbbing in her leg had receded into a distant feeling, and the only indication to her continued loss of blood was the slow-ebbing stream of it trickling down her leg and to the earth below. Freja knew that, once she sat down, it would be a while before she could rise again, if she could at all.

    Audhild's eyes narrowed into narrow slits, her brow furrowing. "Most will be bringing back rabbits, squirrels, perhaps ever a deer. But Freja needs to go hunting after a boar..." The large woman snorted. "At least it wasn't a bear, or worse. And you'll be-"

    "Audhild," another spearwife interjected. "There will be time for a reprimand later. Freja needs Eir's attention, and we will need to see to finding that boar. Girl," to Antonia. "Can you lead us to where you found Freja's catch?"

    There was something in the woman's voice that agitated Freja, though she could not exactly put a finger to why. Perhaps it was that a note of disbelief hung in her heavily accented voice. Let them question her kill. She had the wound to prove it, and even if they found no boar and it was placed down to stupidity and arrogance, Brynhildr knew. The pain, the suffering, was not wasted.

    She sent it. Freja mouthed, grimacing as Antonia began to lead her out of the tent's entrance. The motion had sent her head swimming again, and her legs could only manage to propel her at forward in a hobble. She must have sent it...Gods be damned, what've you done, Freja? Maybe Audhild's right...

    What felt to be an eternity later, Antonia and Freja stumbled into the healer's tent. The bony woman, Eir, sat in an equally narrow wooden chair, squinting at a scroll clutched in her long-fingered hands. She had long-since given up teaching Freja to read, declaring the girl to be a lost cause even at eight, though she did attempt to bait the girl into desiring to read every so often. Eir rose to her feet, squinting at Antonia and Freja.

    "Red 'n black hair," the woman sniveled. "So that'll be Antonia 'n Freja..."

    Though Eir could be no older than thirty five, age had already robbed her of sight, and her squint, combined with an uncanny ability to read people, gave way to other Sisters claiming she could see through a man's body and straight into the soul. If she could, Eir kept that talent privy to herself and only herself.

    "Well, what's it this time? Audhild's not-"

    Her squint fixated onto the blood-ruined breeches Freja wore and she let out a sharp hiss and clicked her tongue in annoyance.

    "Brynhildr spare me, but I'll be damned if we can't just fight with clubs and stones. Bruises and broken bones...Those aren't nearly as frustrating as-"

    "Sister Eir," Freja spluttered. "I would-"

    "Yes, yes, appreciate my rambling to stop. Come, Antonia, help me get poor Freja up to the cot here..."

    Freja, relieved, slipped into darkness the moment her back touched the soft cot.

    ---
    When Freja had jolted awake, she had been distraught to find that she was pinned beneath a heavy fur blanket, a film of sweat plastered across her brow. Not sweat, a cold rag soaked in water. Had she broken into a fever in her sleep? Had Antonia's fears been confirmed and an infection had already settled into her leg? Frantically, she peered beneath the fur blanket to find that most of her leggings had been cut away, the gash in her thigh coated in a sticky salve and wrapped in a proper bandage.

    "E-" Freja's voice cracked, cutting off the statement in a wash of pain.

    The girl eased her head up, neck muscles flaring in protest at the sudden effort. Eir's tent was, for the moment, empty. An iron stew pot simmered above a pile of charcoal, the scent indicating to Freja that she had missed at least one meal, if not more. Her stomach grumbled, audible even through the covers. For a brief, panic-stricken moment, Freja had believed that the others had left her behind, only she could still hear the other Sisters, even if she could not see them.

    "Oh, awake I see," Eir grumbled, hunching low to enter the tent, toting a bucket of melted snow water. "You're a lucky girl - the boar only barely scraped your bone, or came as close to makes no difference... It will be a while before you'll be able to walk without a crutch, but there's not much I can do until it starts healing naturally. I did all I could with the Wyrd."

    Freja nodded.

    "Looks like I won't be able to keep all this stew to myself anymore, though..." Eir groaned in mock despair. "Oh, Antonia stopped by, said you'd want this..."

    The older woman reached into her medical pouch, which sat perched by Freja's cot, and withdrew a long, yellowish object. Freja's gaze honed in on it: it was a tooth. The tooth of a boar.
     
    #7 J_"Kraken", Feb 1, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2016
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  8. Brynhildr
    protect her.
    Antonia left again not long after arriving. With Freja in Eir's care, Audhild turned to Antonia with her tongue-lashing. There was no room to argue, not with the shieldmaiden. She took it silently. Eventually, the same spearwife from before again became her salvation, suggesting that time was of the essence in retrieving the boar. "We waste not such a gift. A kill like that is of great use." They would leave immediately, and pack light.


    Many of the other women in the camp wore their doubt on their sleeves. In the state Freja arrived, hardly able to stand on her own feet and paler than fresh snow, Antonia couldn't find a reason to blame them. Had she not seen it herself, she would have doubted, too. So she buried her contempt. She would lead them to the boar, and with luck, it would still be there. Small thoughts worried her mind; they had covered the boar appropriately, but suppose another girl found it, and claimed the kill? Or perhaps it became supper for another beast? What would Audhild think of Freja should they not find the full, fresh kill?

    No. She would find it. Because she sent it.

    If Freja believed this, Antonia would too. Signs always came in a subtle fashion, but were not often revoked. There was no reason for Brynhildr to only express her favor in private.

    The journey back into the wilds passed quicker than that of their return. An underlying buzz of excitement put a spring to Antonia's step, despite the pangs of hunger growing in her stomach. Perhaps it was punishment for coming back to the camp nigh empty handed and bringing a wounded sister. She wasn't about to ask. Hunger was nothing new to these girls who learned to handle punishment. Silently, she hoped that her expression of eagerness would help her earn forgiveness.

    She slowed as they approached the sight where the kill lay. They had been following the red in the snow, a painfully unmarred track. If her company thought poorly of it, they did not speak their minds, merely allowing Antonia to lead them further. As far as she could see, no fresh tracks had been made alongside their own. Their luck was holding. Within a minute they had reached the clearing. Antonia moved to where she had hidden the boar, kneeling down in the ice to retrieve it.

    "See, here it is. We--"

    A high pitched caw! abruptly cut her off, and all three women turned towards the source; a raven, feathers blacker than night, perched on a snow laden branch, hanging low. It watched with beady eyes before crying out again, launching itself off of the branch and landed heavily on the boar.

    Antonia waved her arms at it. "Shoo! Begone!"

    "Anton--"

    The bird shrieked again before the Sister could get out her warning. It didn't attack, but instead buried its talons into the raw hide of the boar, digging up a chunk of swollen flesh. The raven pulled the piece away, wringing out its wings before rising again into the air, circling the group once before it vanished into the sky.

    "Haul the boar," the shieldmaiden ordered. When neither the spearwife nor Antonia moved, her eyes narrowed into a glare, and she snapped, "Now!"

    It took them both to haul the boar up after tying it with rope. Carrying it made the trek home none the more pleasant. The shieldmaiden was sour the entire journey, stomping through the snow a few paces ahead of the struggling pair. It was a mere bird. Why the strife?

    She desperately wanted to ask, but dared not break the silence.

    "Bring it to the girls," the shieldmaiden directed once they arrived. "And then get yourselves cleaned up and in bed."

    "But--"

    "Now."

    No questions, then. The elder woman continued deeper into the camp. Antonia could follow... After they got rid of this deadweight boar.

    The two left it with a collection of acolytes, four of five young girls whose unfortunate job would be to prepare the carcass. Antonia didn't envy them; she had her fair share of that labor in years past. It almost felt wrong leaving the boar in their unskilled hands. After resting it down, she placed her palm against its flank, looking at its empty eyes. Why could she not part with it?

    How about a souvenir?

    Glancing around the small tent, she found a knife. Grasping it tight, she tipped the boar to face her, working deftly to loosen and remove a lengthy tooth from its jaw. It wouldn't be needing them, after all. Wiping the aged blood off, she stowed it into her pocket, dropping the knife back where she found it. She would leave it for Freja later. For now, she would go and find that shieldmaiden.
     
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  9. "Stop."
    Freja protested as Eir prodded her wound, testing the bandages' strength. "If I wanted to be fussed over, I'd head back home!"

    Eir shook her head, tossing her frail blonde hair in a spray of curls. She grabbed a thin knife from the table opposite the cot Freja laid upon, squinted at Freja's bandage, and nodded to herself. Freja felt inclined to offer to remove the bandage herself, terrified of the chance that Eir's abysmal eyesight would do more harm than good, though the first time she had offered to tend to herself had ended in a reprimand and questions of "Well why don't you tend to everyone, then? Surely you're better suited?" Freja, having been little more than eight at the time, had believed that she could tend to the Sisters, and had even apprenticed under Eir for a time, though ultimately, the girl didn't have the stomach for it.

    "Shall I bring Audhild?" Eir offered, gingerly slicing into the bandage. "I'm certain she'll be quite interested in what you do and don't want."

    "No," the girl replied shyly.

    "Thought not."

    Eir tutted and began to peel back the bandage. Freja, out of instinct moreso than true pain, winced as the gunk-like salve and bandage were pulled back. Underneath, her skin was red, agitated, tender, and above all, itchy. Where the boar had gored her remained an ugly scab, a deep shade of red-brown, surrounded by a layer of dead skin. The wound was still swollen, and it still ached even with the numbing salve, but it was not quite so terrible as it had been two days ago.

    "See?" Eir cooed. "Nothing to worry about - I still know my way around a bandage, girl."

    The older woman poked at the injury once more, eliciting a sharp gasp of pain from her patient. Nodding in satisfaction, she tossed the old bandages and busied herself cutting new strips of cloth. Freja watched as the healer worked, fighting the urge to scratch at the scab. Eir, having finished cutting the cloth into equally sized squares, reached for a small jar and popped the lid off. Freja's nose crinkled at the scent of the salve - a potent mixture of mint leaves, crushed berries, and other herbs.

    "Can't you just use the Wyrd?" The girl questioned, wincing as Eir began to smear the salve across the wound.

    "Even if I could do more than I have already done, the pain will do you good," the healer snapped. "The rest is up to your body. Still, you'll have to come back and have me fuss over you from time to time. I'll make Audhild and Antonia drag you in here screaming if I have to."

    Ten minutes later, Freja stumbled out of the healer's tent for the first time in three days. Preparations to move the column had started the day before, Eir had told her, with most of the hunters returning with food to keep them going for another four or five days before they were to resort to prepackaged rations. She could her the din of weapons and felt a pang of disappointment at her missed training sessions: wounded or not, she was a warrior first.

    Leaning heavily on a staff Eir had given her before dismissing her entirely, Freja hobbled over to the training grounds she knew Antonia would be. The sun was almost directly overhead, which meant Audhild was drilling the girls on swords before lunch. Though it took her well over fifteen minutes to reach the patch of land they had claimed to be "worthy of training", Freja arrived just in time to see Antonia handily dispatch another Sister with her wooden sword. Audhild prowled the other pairings, barking sharp orders to "keep your knees bent" and "ease up" as the others sparred. Seeing Antonia about to ready-up once more, Freja caught her attention and waved her over.

    "Enjoy your time at the top, 'Toni," she beamed as the girl approached. "Once I swing a sword again, you'll be sorry."

    A pause.

    "So, what mischief have you been up to while I was being prayed and fussed over? Nothing too fun, I hope."

     
    #9 J_"Kraken", Feb 27, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2016
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  10. [fuck this post it's BBcursed]
     
    #10 Rainjay, Mar 24, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2016
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  11. Aila
    was one of the easier sparring partners to best when it came to the Sisters. She had several prominent weaknesses, one of which being her knees--the stories said that the sinew had been damaged not long ago, and Eir had only been able to do so much to help. Even a light whack with a training blade was enough to send Aila buckling. As a result, most of the girls and women exploited that one particular bodily failure. Though Antonia tried her best not to be among them. Was a win really a win if it was earned through cheating?

    That said, Aila wasn't the best of fighters in the camp besides. Her left side was weak, usually not as well protected as it should be. Antonia suspected that that arm was weakened, too, or perhaps the shoulder had been damaged. She also, for some reason unbeknownst to Antonia, fell for a feint every time.

    Maybe she was just going easy.

    Regardless, Antonia won the sparring match. Before she had a chance to continue, she saw a familiar red-head and saw a waving hand.

    "I'm surprised you're up so quick. What did you do--don't tell me. You bribed Eir, right?" she grinned as she teased Freja. "You'll be out of practice by the time you're on the field again. Audhild can't be bribed so easily."

    "Frankly, they've had us too busy for much mischief..." She paused, glancing around for Sisters before continuing, "Though I do have something to tell you, when we've a moment's peace."
     
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  12. "Bribery?"
    Freja questioned, adopting a mock incredulous expression. "I think she's let wounds fester over less. And Audhild, well, I think she'll expect me to drill with my crutch as a sword if I try anything."

    As Antonia continued, the girl's brown eyes lit with amusement.

    "Good, I feared that your moral character was showing through without me," she let out a sigh of relief in jest, wiping exaggeratedly at her forehead with her free hand. "Then I'd no choice but to leave you to easy matches like Aila, and that's no fun for either of us."

    Freja spared a glance over her friend's shoulder and grimaced: Audhild was beginning to prowl the field again, scouring the field for missteps. Even though she could not hear the harsh bark of the master-at-arm's voice clearly, Freja had an idea of what the woman was yelling. She'd been at the end of those "encouragements" more than her fair share of occasions. Brynhildr forgive her if she dared to be a moment late. Having no desire to subject Antonia to that, or find herself ambling on her crippled leg with a sword, the girl turned her attention back to Antonia.

    "But looks like I'll have to anyways."

    The two exchanged farewells, and Antonia went back to sparring with Aila. Freja watched for a moment, but quickly lost interested and hobbled away as she noticed Audhild venturing closer and closer to the sidelines of the training grounds. With little more to do, she made her way back to her tent. As she continued her leisurely pace towards the fringe of the Sisters' encampment, Freja noted the smoke of cookfires starting to dot the immediate horizon, along with the smell of wood smoke and, eventually, cooking meat. With a sudden flare of pride, she wondered how much of it would be her kill.

    Casting the thought of food aside - Eir had given her quite enough to digest - she continued onward, one painfully slow and deliberate step at a time. The wound inflicted by the boar was already beginning to feel worn and sore, her leg protesting the strain of walking first to the training grounds and now back around the encampment again. Frequently, she checked the bandages strapped to her leg for fresh blood, and found none. Still, it hurt. A dull, low throb that flared every time she applied pressure to the leg.

    Freja finally clambered into her tent - not truly "hers", the tent itself was a large, if crowded, mass of canvas and stakes meant to house six. It currently fit ten sisters, all Shieldmaidens like herself. Tossing her crutch across the expanse of ground between the entrance way and her bedroll, Freja clutched at chests and trunks, hunching low in an attempt to manage hopping across the tent on one foot. After two minutes, which felt more to be ten, of staggering one-footed to her bedroll, Freja collapsed onto her bedroll, letting out a sharp sigh. After allowing her sore leg to recover, she maneuvered herself into a sitting position, her recovering leg stretched outward, and checked her trunk.

    Everything was still there. Her helmet, which had once belonged to her sister, was still painted along the sides with two tiny sets of wings to denote her status as a Shieldmaiden. Her chainmail, boiled leather, greaves, and shin guards were all tucked below the helmet (she'd need to check those for rust soon enough). Almost reverently, Freja plucked the boar's tooth from Antonia and placed it atop the pile of armor, imagining, impractical as it was, a helmet with two horns made of the tusks: she would have to settle for tying it around her neck, or perhaps to her sword hilt. She tucked the tooth in enough to keep it from moving around, but well within sight, and collapsed back onto her bedroll, content.

    ---
    "This helmet shall be yours until your death," Audhild prompted, holding out a polished silver helm towards Freja. "It may need to be refitted, and perhaps even replaced depending on how much you grow, but you will never be wanting for a helmet so long as you are a Sister."

    Freja reached out for the helm, to which Audhild responded by shifting the object out of the girl's grip.

    "First, you must understand that this is a symbol of you commitment to your goddess. If you take this, you will have taken your first step to becoming a shieldmaiden, do you understand? There will be no going back."

    Freja blinked, swallowed, and nodded.
    ---
    "Well come on, then," Freja whispered.

    The sun had just set beneath the mountains about an hour previous, and most of the sisters, those not on watch, had already taken to bed. Most, particularly the younger ones, still sat awake. Freja and Antonia, along with the other shieldmaidens situated in this part of the encampment, were tucked away in an attempt to fool the prowling Audhild and company, their voices low. The two girls were hardly more than a foot away from one another, with other shieldmaidens situated on either side, leaving a relatively clear path down the middle of the tent and to the exit.

    "What was it you had to be cryptic about?"
     
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  13. In the time
    between training and their late night rendezvous, Antonia had tried to do a little more digging, but to no avail. The spearwives all seemed tense, though it was nothing one couldn't account to the upcoming battle, and spoke of nothing from the other night. Even Audhild dropped no hint that the discussion had ever happened--but Antonia wouldn't doubt her ears. She heard what she had heard, and it was only fair to tell Freja. She felt guilty for dragging her out of rest for such a thing, but it was important; Antonia just didn't know how, yet.

    She was nervous to speak in a crowd of other girls. What if they overheard her? It was incredibly difficult to keep secrets in such a close knit community, especially since rumors were the only currency among the shieldmaidens and acolytes. They needed the help of these girls to mask their conversation, but it would be so easy for one girl to 'overhear' their muted discussion. No doubt it wouldn't take long for Antonia to be found as the epicenter of the rumor, and she did not want to be on the other side of Audhild's anger again. The chances she could make it through two tongue lashings without serious punishment was scarce. No matter how important, she did not want this interfering with her steps towards becoming a spearwife. In the current circumstances, though, she had little choice.

    Leaning in closer to Freja, she began to recount the story of what she had seen and heard. "Remember the boar? When we went to retrieve it, a raven appeared and actually maimed the beast. It landed on the boar's flank and ripped out a chunk of it's flesh before flying away. It didn't seem like such a big deal; it's in the nature of a raven. But the spearwife with us was terribly alarmed and refused to speak of why. So, after we brought the boar back, I thought I would investigate..."


    --
    The spearwife had gone from view, but Antonia remembered the direction she had stormed after they arrived back at the camp. Retracing her steps back to where they had entered the encampment, she turned and followed the direction the sister had gone. The path, merely a well-trodden bit of grass, was empty with the exception of a few acolytes running errands. No spearwives walked the trail, not even any sisters on patrol.

    That usually meant that the sisters were gathered. It was an ideal time for the younger girls to skirt their duties and sneak away--no doubt that the absence of their elders had been long since noted by the acolytes and shieldmaidens. Audhild's tent, their makeshift command center per say, would be bustling with all the activity that had cleared out on the paths. It also happened to be in this direction. None of the young sisters would stop her, and there were likely no spearwives outside to notice her movements, so she made haste to the tent proper.

    Antonia could hear the noise from inside the structure before she could see it. It was a muted noise, but it was difficult to hide the whispering of that many sisters, even if they were spearwives. The light was bright, shining out from the opening of the tent, and shadows flicked past as the sisters inside moved about.

    From where Antonia stood, that was all she could note. The whispered conversations carried as one collective sound, the words indistinguishable from one another. She had to get closer. A tree was right outside the tent, being used to stabilize its structure against the wind. She knelt behind it, her shadow blocked from being cast through the tent's material by the thick trunk of the tree. From here, she could better hear what was being said inside, though it as still mostly indecipherable. Too many people were talking at once.

    The heavy smacking noise of steel--sword on shield--right by Antonia's head made her jump. She could see the distinct shadow of a figure inside the tent only a foot or two away from where she knelt hidden. The conversations halted, and there was a moment of eerie silence. Then the figure began to speak. Her voice was deep and booming, though still muted as to maintain a semblance of secrecy. Whomever it was, it was clear that she had authority. It wasn't anyone that Antonia was familiar with.

    "Enough. It is clear that the appearance of this raven is a message, though be it from Frigg or some other source we know not and must assume not. She would provide us with another sign should this be a message of Her foresight."

    Another voice, younger, piped up. "But why would the goddess send Huginn to intervene with Brynhildr's gift? It goes against all that we know of the pantheon; why would Odin turn his back on one of the sisterhood?"

    A chorus of voices erupted throughout the tent. "The boar was a sign of favor! The raven is not of Odin's design!" "Has He turned his back on Valhalla?" "The bird was just a bird. There is no sign to be found."

    "The girl is cursed!"

    Did they mean Freja? Surely she was not cursed. Her feat was a blessing! Brynhildr would not allow for a simple raven to alter her favor into something of ill intent, even if it was Frigg's desire.

    "ENOUGH!" It was the first woman speaking again. The sisters hushed. "By all accounts we cannot place the meaning of this appearance. It may be naught but a stray bird and a missed meal. But Brynhildr's favor is not received lightly, nor revoked. She acts with intent. The raven is either not of her design, or is a part of her message. If it is, then it comes as a warning and not as a curse. You will not treat the girl with such disrespect.

    "We cannot allow ourselves to fall into such a state of disarray. We have a battle on our horizon and that must be our focus. This group will continue onwards to the jarl, and I will take the others with me to investigate this sign. It is not often Brynhildr speaks to us, sisters, and it is not often of happy news. We must be ready for anything."

    --
    Antonia surmised all that she had heard, not leaving out a thing. When she finished, she leaned away, glancing towards the other shieldmaidens around them. None acted like they had heard, but looks could be deceiving. She simply had to hope that they could keep their noses to themselves.

    "I'm unsure what to make of it, truthfully. But the spearwives are worried, Freja. They could not stop bickering with each other--even Audhild was arguing." She sighed, wringing her hands in anxiety. "Do you think ..."

    "Do you think we are in danger, Freja? We've had such peace. I cannot imagine what warning Brynhildr would send to you, but you'd be the only one to figure it out."



     
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  14. [​IMG]

    Danger?


    "I've no idea what Brynhildr wants with me," Freja admitted. "If she needed to warn someone, why not one of the elder Sisters? They're supposed to have a closer connection to her, certainly more than I do. In any case, a more urgent warning would have been sent to all of us, with no need to for us to fill in the gaps. Business with ravens and symbols can make rumor fester into fact - and I'm not sure I'm all too comfortable being at the center of that. "

    The girl let out a sigh.

    "But I suppose I am. Better this happens when we have the trail to focus on more than gossip, though. Let the Spearwives drive themselves mad with meetings, maybe they'll even drag out a Sayer."

    'Sayers' were, effectively, augurs and fortune tellers of the Sisterhood. When a Sister became too old for war, or still within their youth in a few fringe cases, and did not wish to instruct, they could opt to sacrifice an eye in the manner of Odin - Brynhildr's consort - and offer a blood tithe to the winged goddess for a glimpse into her visions. Their ability to prophecize and foretell events was ultimately limited to what Brynhildr allowed to pass through, but they did have an innate connection with the goddess that gave them an insight to vague signals.

    The tent's entrance flap suddenly flew open, causing Freja to let out a subdued squeal into her bedroll to muffle the noise: Audhild's face jut through the opening! Then came her shoulders. The older woman scanned the floor of the tent, dotted with ten 'sleeping' shieldmaidens.

    "You louts," she barked. "Next one to talk'll lose her tongue!"

    Freja fought back a giggle: this was not the first time she had been threatened by the 'cut tongue' remark. Audhild was perhaps a bit loose in the head, but she was not a ruthless sadist. She stuck to the tried-and-true flat of the sword blade whenever one of her underlings stepped out of line. The redhead offered a peek through he covers, attempting to nestle herself away from Antonia as if nothing had transpired. Audhild's head slid back into the night beyond the tent and the floor returned to silence. Though each Sister knew Audhild was bluffing, upsetting the Spearwife on the road would be foolish.

    ---
    Freja sat at the feet of Eir, staring up at the older woman as she offered the girl a series of runes etched across a sheet of aged paper. Her fingers traced the runes in a straight line, mouthing them aloud, but Freja wasn't paying attention: she had noticed a small mouse in the corner of the bookshelf behind Eir's chair, and was contently watching it scramble around the gap between two shelves.

    "Are you listening to me at all, Freja?" Eir snapped.

    The girl jolted and looked up to the woman, letting her smile pass quickly. She nodded.

    "Then what is this?" A squat finger came to rest on a squiggled line dotted twice above a gap between two lines.

    Freja mouthed the sound, and Eir sighed. "No - that's this one," her finger came to rest on another rune. "Sometimes I wonder if Brynhildr has taunted us by giving us your sister reincarnate."

    "What was she like?"

    "For another time, child - maybe once you learn how to read I'll divulge a little bit here and there. If she could learn, you certainly can."
    ---
    The next week had passed in relative quiet for Freja. No one except Audhild - who didn't care what you did so long as you kept listening to her - and Antonia, with the occasional visit from Eir, had bothered to talk to her. After her midnight chat with Antonia, where they discussed the meaning behind the boar and subsequent raven, along with Freja's 'curse' or 'blessing', the camp had fully packed itself up and set out on the road once more. With no intention to pause again, having wasted three days to recoup rations, the Sisterhood pushed itself harder each day in order to reach their destination of Gunnarsholt.

    Beyond skirting around snow drifts, which had clogged mountain passes in the recent coming of winter, they saw little excitement on the road itself. By day they marched alongside the caravan - with occasional breaks to ride a pack animal, if the fates allowed it - and by night they sat guard or slept. In the wee hours of dawn, woodsmen and hunters were sent out to forage for extra food, keeping within range of the caravan, but otherwise, Freja's days consisted of marching, watching others train, checking in with Eir, and sleeping.

    On the night before the group came within sight of Gunnarsholt, with the end of the trip nearing, Eir had finally cleared Freja of her 'visits'.

    "Now," the old healer began as she cut at the most recent bandages. "I expect you not to take any gross risks when you're out there, you understand? I'll treat scratches, burns, bruises, all of the above. But if you get yourself stuck on a spear because you enjoy visiting me for stab wounds so much, I will have to respectfully give you to some other healer, maybe not one so understanding and accommodating as me."

    Freja snorted.

    "Oh, I know, you want out of this as much as I do. I'm done with dealing with your sniveling over your own health. It's quite agitating, I must say."

    The woman removed the bandage, revealing a pale white scar and taut skin. The wound itself was still tender, but it no longer pained Freja to walk or move, though Eir had still said that her practice should be limited.

    "Eir," Freja muttered, softly.

    "Yes?"

    "Thank you."

    "Oh, don't worry - I won't tell anyone you said that deary, no need to be so quiet."

    Freja flushed, Eir laughed, and outside the sounds of pre-battle revelry began...

    War was coming.
     
    #14 J_"Kraken", May 29, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2016
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  15. Antonia
    was training, taking her practiced stance in the small dirt clearing across from her opponent. The sun was still low in the sky, it's light blotted out by thick clouds, and the air was foggy with cold, lazy mist flowing across the grass. It was another training session with Aila, her unsteady, knobby knees already trembling as she clutched onto her wooden sword with cold, reddened fingers as though for dear life. Her cheeks were flushed and she was shivering despite the heavy furs she wore. She was simply too skinny to hold on to any semblance of body heat. By contrast, Antonia stood solidly on her feet, her chin up and her shoulders squared. This match would be no problem, Antonia mused, sizing the girl up. Aila had never been a challenge.

    She let Aila strike first. The weaker girl stepped forward with a sloppy cut across her front. It was easy to dodge--the brunette simply stepped backwards from the swipe--and was followed by a sideways smack to the girl's arm. Antonia knew Aila was weak there, and hit expertly on the tendon behind her elbow joint, which buckled with the force of the blow. Aila's face betrayed her pain, a grimace creasing across her features before hardening into an unusually angry mask.

    She then lunged forward, throwing her sword at Toni in rapidly successive strikes. The elder girl parried and blocked, each blow hitting her own wooden weapon with a resounding thwack! Aila spun, circling around to Antonia's backside, but Antonia followed the movement, not to be bested. She blocked another flurry of attacks, growing even more aggressive in their nature, before finally making some of her own.

    One bruise on the shoulder. Another on the hip. She hit Aila on her shaking knees, her wobble ankles, her unguarded wrists. The girl was taking a beating--nothing she couldn't recover from, nothing the shieldmaidens were unused to. But Aila's face grew red and hot with an unprecedented fury, brighter with each hit she took, until she released a ghostly, completely inhuman roar, leaped back to her feet, and advanced hungrily on the startled Toni.

    It was all she could do to keep moving, ducking and jumping out of the sweeping motion of Aila's strikes. She was slowly being backed into the surrounding forest, and had to do something--and soon. Pressing back on Aila with equally brutal attacks of her own, she managed to reclaim some ground. But her victory was short lived; Aila vanished from view, something hit the backs of her knees and ankles, her tendon snapping and her strength receding, her legs dropping her to the frigid ground. The breath was knocked from her lungs with as a rib shatteringly hard kick was delivered to her chest. She could feel the snap of her ribcage, but didn't, couldn't scream. The assault continued for one, two, three minutes. She began to fear it would never end. That she was going to die

    This isn't training. This isn't right! But nobody was coming to help her.

    Aila's face reappeared over her, snarling and grinning. Victory gleamed in her eyes; she leaned forwad and grasped a tight handful of Antonia's hair in triumph, tugging viciously until the shieldmaiden cried out.

    "You can't win forever, Antonia," she sneered. Her facial features began to twist, morphing into that of a beast. "I'm going to get you someday. Someday real soon."

    Aila pressed her blade, now gleaming with shining steel, to Antonia's exposed throat. She couldn't move, her body was frozen. There was nothing she could do as Aila cut into her throat, laughing at the gush of sticky, warm blood that followed.

    "Very soon, Antonia, we'll meet again."


    --⌖⌘⌖--
    She awoke the call of a raven, its shrieking voice too close for comfort. For the few quiet moments after, she lay still, chest heaving. Then she began to wiggle her fingers and toes first, proceeded by her wrists and ankles, and then her arms and legs. Cautiously she sat up, shoving off the suffocatingly heavy blankets and running her hands across her body--legs to hips to torso--before stopping at her collar. Hesitantly, she ran her fingers over the skin. There was no blood, no stinging wound. She inhaled deeply--no pain.

    Everything was alright. She was alright. It was just a dream.

    In silence, she calmed her racing heart until she could climb to her feet and dress for the day. Faint sunlight peeked through the openings in their tent, just bright enough for her to see the forms of the other shieldmaidens under the canopy. There, three rolls down from her own, was Aila's sleeping face. She looked the same as she always had. There was no sharp beak or downy feathers, just soft skin and mussed hair and inflated red cheeks. Aila, in all her innocence. There was nothing to fear there.

    Antonia rubbed her eyes and stepped from the tent, blinking in the shift in the light. A few of the elder Sisters were already awake. Some of them passed by the tent of younger girls as she emerged, carrying their weapons in their hands and against their shoulders, faces creased into grim masks. Each was dressed in armor, the silver crests of the Sisterhood gleaming in the morning sun. They paid her no mind, simply progressing on their way. The normalcy of it was jarring--and it also reminded her of what they were here for. Would they join the fighting this day? It looked as thought the Sisters were indeed ready for it. They were ready for anything.

    "You, there!" A voice barked at her from the left, and she jumped before turning to the speaker, another Sister, "Wake the other children, girl. The sun has long since risen. With haste, now! You must be prepared by the bell."

    Antonia nodded in quick obedience and turned back into the tent to wake the others. She merely had to rouse the nearest two girls before the whole collection began to wake, taking a few moments to open their eyes before raising to their feet. Despite the exhaustion from the intensive traveling, they listened once to Antonia's repetition of the message the Sister had given her and then jumped into routine. They all had been drilled in procedure long ago and knew, for the most part, what was coming. But they had not all been in battle like this before. She met Freja's eye, exchanging a smile she hoped would pass as confidence, before ducking from the tent to stir the younger girls in the neighboring tents.


    In the bustle of activity that followed, Antonia's mind went empty. It was that, or obsess over the cryptic dream or of the looming battle. Neither were desirable, and so she allowed her thoughts to space. By muscle memory, she readied herself as she had learned, following alongside the others. Few of them spoke other than to relay orders. She ignored the growing tension and continued on her way.

    The sun was rising steadily higher in the sky, and she could now see the camp abuzz with activity from where she stood on the hills. Further out, she caught sight of the thin columns of smoke dotting the horizon, marking the encampments of the jarl and his enemy. Their enemy. It still puzzled her as to how the Sisterhood decided their allegiances. In fact, the shieldmaidens had been told surprisingly little of the conflict that they were to participate in. Whatever Sigurd had done to spur such a calling of arms was a mystery, even though it was enough to name him a traitor, worthy of war and of Sisterhood intervention. Antonia couldn't imagine what the man must have done against his brothers to provoke this sort of drastic action. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

    She turned at the call of another girl. The shieldmaidens had assembled, equipped with spears and swords, their steel glinting--she shuddered and clenched her first around her own spear--beside the shields, some rounded, some kite. Each bore the defining ribbon of rank, a purple and silver piece with the goddess' crest, indicating to their enemy of their youth and position in the Sisterhood. Not all men cared about the markings once the bloodletting began, but it had become customary. Standing side by side, the girls looked like a collection of misfits, but unified misfits. Even Aila stood amongst them, her face not betraying the fear she most certainly felt. Antonia wanted to chide herself for letting herself dream of such awful things regarding her sisters. They were family. There was no betrayal there.


    With a nod, she came down from the hill and joined the group. Together, they marched.
     
    #15 Rainjay, May 29, 2016
    Last edited: May 29, 2016
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  16. War
    was a simple matter in the realm of the Unnulf. Somewhere in lands across the sea, or perhaps south of the Gatekeeper Mountains, generals spent years concocting devious strategies and formations. Not in the land of the Unnulf. Battles were fought in the shieldwall. Two ranks of warriors would line themselves, young warriors eager for blood in the front aside one another, shield overlapping shield. Behind them stood the veterans, carrying spears and two-handed weapons serving both as the hammer of the shieldwall and the overseers to the brash, inexperienced fighters ahead of them. As was always the case in their many drills, Freja stood aside Antonia, her shield tucked firm behind her friend's. To her left stood Aila, clutching nervously at her sword.

    "Oie!" Audhild shouted, shoving at Freja with the butt of her spear. "Get that shield above your waist, girl."

    Berating herself, Freja raised her shield with a hint of reluctance: lined with steel and made of thick "iron wood", the heavy shield was already a difficult thing to carry. Combined with the exact position it needed to maintain to stay interlocked made the task of staying in formation was formidable all its own.

    Up ahead stood the enemy shieldwall, jeering and shouting at the Sisters. Behind them a ruined keep, the gate destroyed in a great show of massive splinters covered in a fresh layer of snow. As Freja examined the enemy, her heart sank: the Sisters were outnumbered almost two to one. The enemy could sweep across them like a crescent moon, coming in from both the front and the sides. Though a Sister, particularly a trained one, could easily take three men in the shieldwall, Freja bit her lower lip and wondered how well the boast would hold up to reality. Hinging her axe at her side, the girl touched the boar's tooth hung from a thong around her neck and muttered a silent prayer to Brynhildr: Lady, protect us.

    "For Brynhildr!" Shouted a woman off to Freja's right.

    Overhead a spear trailed through the air, sinking almost exactly between the two combatants, trailing with it a streaming banner of intricate black and white line work: so was the foe committed symbolically to the goddess.

    "For Byynhildr!" The Sisters repeated in a deafening roar.

    A horn sounded from the enemy ranks and the army began to march towards the Sisters. Their own horn responded, and the shieldwall began to clamber forward. Overhead, the sky turned pitch black as spears began to fly from both sides, streaming through the air. The cry of "Shields!" rang throughout the wall and the front rank hunched down, hefting wooden shields to block the incoming missiles. Freja's arm jarred as the metal-tipped spears sunk deep into the wood or bounced off. Well to her left a hideous scream sounded. Risking a look, Freja turned to see a girl no older than fourteen pinned to the ground, a spear protruding from her gut.

    "Fill the gap! Move left! LEFT!" Audhild boomed. The line shifted left and kept marching. "Are you going to let one whoreson's spear do you in? MOVE!"

    A spear slammed into the ground at Freja's feet. In surprise, she halted, only to feel Audhild's prodding spear butt in response to the sudden halt. Gritting her teeth, the girl kicked the spear to the ground, hearing it snap under her studded boot in a satisfactory crack of wood. Managing to break her axe-carrying arm free of the shield lock, Freja beat the flat edge of her weapon against the shield.

    "Is that the best you can do?!" She demanded, adding her voice to the chorus of taunts raining from both the Sisters and the enemy. "I've seen old nannies throw harder than you!"

    "Shields down!" Roared a Spearwife.

    The front rank responded and shifted their shields from overhead to directly in front. They all knew what would come next. The word that every battle hinged on...

    "CHARGE!"

    ---
    Freja sat huddled around her fellow Shieldmaidens before a blazing campfire, good arm extended out to warm herself while she waited for the evening meal to finish brewing: a good deal of the meat had already been eaten by the host, leaving stews as the only staple meal. She could barely make out the outline of the ruined keep in the distance: the impressive stone structure was lost in the black of night, with only the fires lit atop the hall standing high above the keep's walls gave any evidence of the place's existence. Almost six hours had passed since the end of their battle, and preparations for the dead were being made. As the Sisters had discovered, matched warrior for warrior, the enemy stood no chance after the initial impact and spear-throwing. Their wounded numbered below one hundred, their dead in the tens. Freja herself had escaped with a broken arm from an axe blow to her shield, a broken nose and missing teeth from a mailed fist to the face, and a cut across her shoulder from a wild sword swipe.

    "Like I was saying," Aila continued from her earlier boasts. "Here this man comes - must've been as tall as Audhild but twice as wide. He's got this battle axe clutched in both of his hands. We make eye contact for a moment before he comes yellin' and screamin' at me. I raise my shield like I'm about to block the blow - which would've taken me and the shield in one sweep - and right as he's about to come down, I hunch down and drive my shield right up in to him. He goes flying over me and lands face-first in the snow. Barely had time to grab his axe before I slit his throat."

    "Well it's because you were using a sword," one girl retorted, snorting. "Of course an axe is no match for you. He misses, he's a goner!"

    "Only if he's a dolt," Freja remarked, casting a glance towards her axe, its head buried firm into the ground.

    "That's a one-hander, Freja," the girl explained. "We're talking about a man at least one-hundred-fifty stone swinging an axe with two hands."

    "Well I," began Freja, swelling her chest with pride. "Managed to kill four of them."

    "Tell me you got the one that busted your face," Aila said.

    "Makes it all the worse he was this lanky green boy!" Freja growled. "Came up right as I was digging my axe out of some oaf's shield when he slams his free hand into my face. I stumble back and drop my axe. Before I know it, he's elbowed me in the chest, 'cept he doesn't know how hard leather and chain can be, so he yelps and stumbles back. I grab my knife and..."

    Freja pulled the knife from her side to demonstrate.

    "Cut out across his leg," she mimed the action. "Then up to the thigh with another quick stab. He stumbled down and I kick him over, grab my axe just in time for a real warrior to give me a good blow to the arm."

    The girl rubbed at her splinted, useless arm. Eir had, reluctantly, taken Freja back into her care, though she could do little for broken bones, Freja had learned. The arm hurt. More than the boar wound ever had. Freja was willing to wager that if she had been entirely lucid for the entirety of that encounter, she would be complaining a great deal less, but broken arms nonetheless agitated her. The nose especially, with dried blood clogging her airways, turning her voice nasally, and driving her insane with a constant itching.

    "Well come on, 'Toni," Freja smirked. "Tell us of your exploits! I mean, we can't all be as great as me-"

    The gathering chuckled at that, dribbled with statements of "Likely story" or "I doubt it!"

    "But you must've done something worthwhile!"
     
    #16 J_"Kraken", Aug 1, 2016
    Last edited: May 31, 2016
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  17. Antonia
    watched the twinkling stars above as the girls around the campfire shared their stories, most of them excited and eager to one-up each other with tales of their battle prowess. Her bedroll was packed up and positioned underneath her head as she lay on the frigid ground, her uninjured arm angled underneath her head and her other hand resting lightly over her chest. Several of her ribs were battered and sprained, if not cracked, and she had found that laying flat eased the pain somewhat. But still with each forced breath jarring pangs stretched across her torso and caused her to seize; despite Eir's chastisement, her breaths were more like gasps, as she couldn't yet think past the pain and impose herself to inhale as deeply as the healer had instructed. Damn if it gave her pneumonia. She'd had the illness once before and much preferred it to the agony that was now afflicting her. Worse of all, it kept her quiet and distanced from the others as they bragged and talked. She wanted nothing more than to include herself in the chatter, but simply couldn't bring herself to sit up and speak. So long as she was silent and on the wayside, Antonia was going to be forgotten in the excitement. Her pride was beginning to bruise more than her sorry ribs.

    For some time the girl laid there and wallowed in her own self pity. She was even jealous of Aila, however honest her stories may be. As Freja began to speak, she began to think that maybe a little bit of pain would be worth getting up and joining the girls. But then her red haired friend turned with a smirk towards Antonia and invited her to the conversation. With the eyes of all the girls suddenly on her, Antonia attempted to sit upright only to give up with a wince. She'd speak from where she was. Clearing her throat, she offered a one shouldered shrug and started to speak as gently as she could and still be heard.

    "I suppose there was one encounter worthy telling about..." she said, glancing around at the young Sisters. "It was this nasty brute of a man. Big, and ugly. I had just finished off this sorry looking boy with a single cut of my sword," she gestured with her good arm to demonstrate, "and turned around to this giant, absolutely covered in blood--I imagine most of it was not his own--and viscera from who knows how many unlucky souls. He was hefting an axe big enough to break yours in two, Freja. As he lifted it up he smiled--he had only maybe five or six teeth left in there, and it smelled horrible--and then he swung!"

    One girl scoffed with an amused smile. "And I suppose you killed him, then? Don't tell me a little scrap like you stood a chance."

    Antonia ignored her. She was getting to the good part. Perhaps she was embellishing a little here and there, but it was all in good storytelling. "I ducked under the first swing. He was so tall that it wasn't really hard to do, you know? But then his friend, a more human looking fellow with a scowl and face more marked up than Gudrun's, showed up and shoved his shield right into me--like you did with your kill, Aila--and finished it with a kick." She rubbed her hand over her chest, remembering the blow. "His boots must have soles of steel, I say! But I got up, and--"

    "And then your big sister comes to save your arse," From behind came Halladóra, toting a spear and a grin half the size of her face. She sat down cross legged beside Antonia and gave her a heavy pat on the shoulder, causing the younger girl to grimace in pain. Next to each other, the two girls were almost twins, with the same dark eyes and hair and even the same nose and chin, though Halladóra's shoulders were more square, her body stockier and a still angry-red scar stretching from her whitened left eye and down her cheekbone. Despite her decidedly stronger and better toned body, Halladóra always insisted she was the prettier of the two, and was usually backed by the voices of the other girls, much to Antonia's chagrin.

    Antonia's expression melted into a glare as several of the other girls broke into laughter. "You only helped!" she exclaimed, chest tightening as she forced herself upright. "You couldn't be bothered to come 'save' me until I had already slaughtered the first one."

    "True!" Halladóra said. "I had to see what my little sister could do on her own, first. But I couldn't just let that disgusting heap of a man cut my sister into hound meat, could I? Besides, all I wanted was one good cut off his back. Can't you give me that? I let you take the kill."

    "It was my kill to take!"

    The elder girl just laughed and looked towards Freja. "I don't know how you stand her. She's just so greedy!"

    "Alla!" Antonia yelped in pain as her sister yanked her into a hug. "By all the gods, Freja, save me. Hit her with your axe if you must. I don't really care."

    "Aw," Halladóra said, tightening her hold around a struggling Antonia. "Is this how you treat family?"

    "You're going to break my--" Her words froze in her mouth as she felt something shift in her chest, which promptly erupted into a sharp stabbing feeling. She bent over with her arms over her chest and a sour taste in her mouth, wanting nothing more than to gouge out her sister's remaining eye in that moment.

    "Is she alright?"

    Halladóra looked down at the girl in her arms and shrugged. "Yeah, she's fine. Just a little bent out of shape is all... Maybe she should see Eir." She nodded to herself and began to get to her feet, hauling her younger sister up with her. "But not to worry! She'll be her usual, annoying self for the tribunal tomorrow. Good night, sisters!" And with that, the two raven-haired girls left.

    "Too bad she couldn't stay," Aila sighed. "Alla has the best stories."
     
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  18. Freja
    was never entirely sure what to think of Halladóra. She shared the looks of her younger sister, though their similarities ended with their black curls and eyes. Her frame was simply larger than her younger sibling's. Freja supposed that was to be expected - the two were separated by a few years of age - but compared to the smattering of girls there, she may as well have been a jötnar in human shape. In one sense, the girl saw Halladóra as a role model within the Sisterhood. Strong, skilled, and battle-hardened. Everything a scion of Brynhildr strove to become. In another, Freja could not help but conjure up images of the classic abusive, immature older sibling. Boasting and all its of its associated habits were welcomed and even encouraged, but Halladóra always seemed to take her boasts one step too far, particularly when Antonia was involved.

    "Always one to talk", Eir had told Freja upon leaving the Sisterhood's fortress monastery weeks ago. "In fact, I think she may very well talk so much about losing that eye I'm not sure why she didn't go ahead and cut out the other one herself."

    The memory of the jest brought a faint smile to Freja's lips as she thumbed the flat of her axe blade with her good hand, pondering Antonia's request with a finger jokingly stroking her chin.

    "I suppose I could bu-"

    Halladóra's grip on Antonia tightened and, not too unlike a bundle of sticks, the smaller of the two dark-haired girls snapped under the pressure. Without so much as a squeal of pain, Antonia slipped in her sister's grip to the ground, clutching to herself tightly, her breathing coming in ragged gasps. The group jolted at the sudden response, throwing in questions of "Are you alright?" and "Where does it hurt?" Freja darted to her friend, ignoring her arm flaring in protest at the sudden movement. Before she could reach Antonia, Halladóra shouted her farewell, turned, and left, carrying with her a squirming and protesting Antonia off to see a healer.

    "Too bad she couldn't stay," Aila huffed from behind Freja. "Alla has the best stories."

    Freja, having given up the chase, hobbled back to the war chest she had been using as a seat, sinking gratefully onto the chest top.

    "I wouldn't fret over it too much," Freja snorted. "Knowing Halladóra we'll know everything from what color the eyes of her first kill to what angle the sun was to her back."

    "Oh don't be so bitter," Aila retorted, but even she was smiling. "We have the tribunal tomorrow, so even Halladóra can't shift the focus to her. Now come on, Audhild'll have our heads soon if we're out much longer."

    ---

    The Tribunals of the Sisterhood, like all others among the Unnulf, were simple affairs. One wronged party would approach another, seeking damages of one sort or another. In times of old, the Sisterhood's main duty had been to travel the land and settle such affairs, but ever since the days of the King Snækol Gardisson, each Jarl was instead granted the right of maintaining his (or, in rare instances, her) branch of justice. The Sisterhood, of course, had balked at the suggestion, claiming it offended their goddess that such a power would be taken from her rightful followers. Snækol, abusing his wife's position as the Voice of the Gods, had claimed that Odin himself believed that women could not be trusted with such a power and stripped them of it entirely. Many of the common folk believed this tale of signs from the gods, but all interested parties understood that Snækol was simply attempting to avoid angering a third party arbitrator should the need ever arise.

    In the old system, wherein the Sisterhood held the power of the Tribunal, often such claims of wrongdoing would be settled by a challenge. Most cases were over theft of livestock, dowries for brides, or even (commonly enough among more rural populations) claims of wives coming to their husbands' without their virginity. Though the Sisterhood had often carried such challenges to the death of one combatant or the other, as a part of Snækol's decree no one individual could claim the right to slay his opponent no matter the offense. Fate, as it is wont to do, saw to it that, despite his efforts, no more than a year later, Snækol Gardisson, would-be King-of-Kings and prophecized founder of a line of heroes, was dethroned by use of his own rulings.


    Still, despite its creator long since gone from the annals of history, no one had yet dared utilize the Sisterhood to settle affairs greater than village squabbles or boundary-stone placements. Thus it had been odd when, so many weeks ago, the Sisters had not only marched for war for the first time since the previous winter, but they had also been called upon to judge the opposing parties in the ways before King Snækol.

    "Hallmund and Waltheof Frodisson," began Narrdi.

    The mead hall, Hallmund's own, stood silent as the woman spoke. Most warriors worth their salt knew the Chosen of the Sisterhood by name, but all knew Narrdi the Bloody. Towering almost two meters in height with broad shoulders to match, Narrdi's powerful frame was barely contained within her grey ceremonial robes. A cowl obscured her shaved scalp, though a lone, thick blonde braid still protruded from the side of her hood. The braid itself was lined in intricate black patterns swirling around in a loose interpretation of the Wyrd, each strand impossible to trace from one end to the other. Freja, in such talks before this involving Spearwives and Chosen, had attempted to do so but never could quite find where one line began and another ended.

    "It has come to the knowledge of this Tribunal that there is a grievance you wish to bring to our attention," she continued. "In foregoing the path of civility and bringing needless bloodshed to both your kinsmen and our Sisters before consulting an arbitrator, first we shall levy a fine of two head of cattle per Sister slain, one head of cattle per Sister injured or labeled as a casualty. Does this punishment seem just?"

    At this, Narrdi turned to face her Tribunal, Spearwives all, who promptly nodded their assent.

    "Very well, so it shall be," Narrdi stated, finally turning her head down to face the two opposing jarls before her. All around the floor sat Sisters, soldiers, and townsfolk alike, crammed shoulder to shoulder uncomfortably at large long tables. The center row, dedicated for the two opposing parties, had been left clear of all but the jarl's personal guard, unarmed as was the custom, alongside a group of Spearwife handlers.

    "As the wronged party, it remains Jarl Hallm-"

    "Wronged party?!" boomed Watheof, reaching to his belt for an axe that was not there. "What? I'm supposed to let some-"

    "Remember Jarl Wathoef," Narrdi interjected coolly, "that you agreed to the terms set in your surrender. Conducting this Tribunal was among those terms listed, unless you have forgotten?"

    That silenced the man.

    "As the wronged party," the Chosen continued as if nothing had transpired,"it remains Jarl Hallmund's right to declare his damages sought. If you have selected such, let you speak now, Jarl."

    Hallmund stood and cast a glance around the vast hall before wheeling about to face Narrdi.

    "Though it pains me to do so," he boomed. "Such an act of treachery as to declare war on one's own brother out of spite and jealousy must be met in kind. I wish to challenge Jarl Watheof Frodisson to a contest of arms, may the survivor claim victory."

    "Jarl Hallmund seeks a trial of steel and blood," the Chosen stated. "Who wishes to back him in such a claim?"

    The hall erupted into noise as bannermen and soldiers loyal to Hallmun shouted their symbolic swords to his cause. In instances where one jarl challenged another, as to avoid needless feuds over petty mistakes and rivalries, in both the old and new laws, men had to be willing to pledge their life to their liege should the need arise. Likewise for the challenger, one needed to acquire the support of the people in order to properly carry out an armed trial.

    "And who shall pledge their swords to Jarl Watheof?"

    The mead hall once again boomed as supporters pledged their fealty and support. The Tribunal began to attempt to lower the spirits of the roaring crowd and, after the mass of riotous supporters had yelled their fill, an eerie silence filled the chamber.

    "Very well," Narrdi said. "So it shall be that Jarls Hallmund and Waltheof Frodisson shall conduct a trial by combat to the death within the next turn of the moon. Rights of the winner shall be determined by the Tribunal and presented forthright the evening before the trial, followed by arguments and requests of both parties. So this Tribunal has spoken! May Brynhildr serve as your judge upon the day of battle."

    And on that note, the Tribunal rose from their seats at the end of the hall and proceeded, flanked by a group of Shieldmaidens, out of the doors, leaving in their wake a booming, roaring, and, above all, passionate crowd ready to see blood spilled.
     
    #18 J_"Kraken", Aug 9, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2016
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  19. .
     
    Rainjay threw 20-faced die for: Evens: Hallmund Odds: Waltheof Total: 14 $dice

  20. It was
    a mere week after the tribunal and trial had concluded that the Sisterhood packed it's bags and prepared to leave. As it was becoming quickly apparent, their presence was needed elsewhere, and they were not wholly welcome in the company of the jarl and his lands any longer. Although it was by the intervention of the Sisterhood that Jarl Hallmond found victory over his brother, he had soon changed his mind and decided that they were to blame for Jarl Watheof's death in the trial by combat--despite it being his choice to try his brother as such. Both jarls had the fervent support of their men, and unsurprisingly, the death of Jarl Watheof had brought no peace or civility. But it was not the job of the Chosen to fix civil matters; Brynhildr had chosen the victor of this quarrel, and it was now Hallmond's duty to handle his prize. And so the Sisterhood would move on, and leave him to his troubles.

    Those who could walk would walk, and those gravely injured rested in Eir's care. In only a day the Sister's ranks had assembled and were ready to move on, and left the jarl in an organized procession. Antonia walked beside Freja, Halladóra, and several other shieldmaidens, murmuring among themselves so as not to attract the attention of the elder Sisters. For the most part, Eir had decided that Antonia could walk and would do so, but sullenly and sluggishly, her arms pressed against her chest and her feet dragging in the dirt.

    "It will be good for you," Eir had said. "If you don't start breathing you might as well stay with the dead. There is no place for a girl with dead lungs amongst the spearwives."

    She had tried to argue but she knew there was little point to it. Eir was adamant that walking would strengthen her bones, and had given her nothing but a flask of tea to help with the pain. The herbal remedy, Antonia was quickly realizing, was little more than a placebo, so diluted that it was rendered useless. Perhaps Eir had not intended her to notice, but any shieldmaiden who had spent time with the woman knew what her proper medicines and remedies tasted and smelled like. Her tent, during travels, and the infirmary, when at home, smelled so strongly of ginger and anise that even foreigners could find her from anywhere. The tea, however, lacked that trademark of Eir's. She had actually managed to make the drink taste and smell tolerable.

    As a result, Antonia remained largely silent during their walk. Over the last week, the pain had notably receded from being absolutely unbearable--she had spent much of that time asleep, except for when Eir had yanked her mercilessly to her feet for exercise--to manageable, but still by all means unpleasant. Walking was a challenge. Walking and talking was worse. And so, for once in her life, she simply listened.

    "The jarl would have made a decent Sister--if he were female, anyways," one girl was saying, eyes wide and somewhat moony. "Oh, if I could fight like that!"

    "I'd kick his arse in a second if I had the chance," Halladóra said. She walked with a broad smile and a spring in her step, possibly the most carefree individual in the procession. "But I guess the goddess has better plans for him. Hmph."

    A third, younger girl piped up. "Maybe he'll become a great king. Brita said that all the jarls will fight, and the last one standing will reign as king of a new era."

    "Brita is stupid. We are in an era of peace."

    "But then why have the southern jarls begun to war? How do you explain that?"

    "Those are just rumors. You'll make a fool of all of us if you listen to that nonsense. Why would we be going home if there was another battle to score?"

    The girls quieted for a moment, pondering Halladóra's words. None of the rumors had been confirmed to the lower-ranking Sisters, but keen ears had heard quiet bits of conversation between the elder women in the camp over the last week. It wasn't until Narrdi, two days early, alone, and carrying nothing more than a rucksack and a spear left the camp without notice and never returned that people began to talk. Some said that they were preparing for war in the south, where it was said that several jarls, like Hallmund and Waltheof, were waging war mercilessly on one another. Others believed the unspeakable, that the Chosen were congregating for the first time since the Akranes, the bloodiest battle in history.

    It was incredibly rare for the Chosen to gather. Their numbers, albeit scarce, were enough to make the idea of them assembling all together at the same place difficult to imagine. The Chosen were held to different rules and standards than the rest of the Sisters. Although several stayed with the Sisterhood, some training the younger girls and others standing as respected leaders, most of them were spread out across the land, acting on the will of the goddess as was their duty and right. Many traveled so freely that their location could only be pinpointed by word of tongue. There had to have been some secret to communication between the Chosen, but Antonia had never figured out exactly what it was. Surely they were not sending messengers.

    If the Chosen were meeting, something was wrong. Really wrong. Antonia cast a glance to Freja, wondering if her friend had the same thought as she; did this have something to do with the boar? The thought put a sour taste in her mouth that lingered even after a swig of Eir's fragrant tea. Even rarer than a gathering of the Chosen was the intervention of the gods. Something was beginning--or happening--and it was worse than feuding jarls.
     
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