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Introduction:

The raid on Zavala is over. But the Viking invasion of Arkadia has only just begun.
Chapter 9: The Final Tally

The next few hours passed by uneventfully. In addition to sorting through endless numbers of wounded, I spent some time wandering the town with my warriors. I even helped carry a few wounded Zavalans from houses to the square. I was a firm believer that a leader should be out amongst his warriors, leading from the front and doing what they do. Other nations had kings that sat in high castles and never saw the faces of his people or the blood of his warriors. Clan warriors would never follow such a ruler.

But there were so many bodies, and I could not spend my time carrying them all. Over one hundred more bodies were found on the beach, in the fields, and in the streets and houses of the town itself. Besides the dozen sentries who had been killed at the start of the raid, the majority—sixty or so—of those found outside the square were injured but alive. The problem now was getting their injuries treated quickly. Some of these villagers had been bleeding into the dirt for close to half the daylight.

Fortunately, there was some good news on that front. On their own initiative, some of my warriors had decided to treat the wounded Zavalans where they’d fallen. Holger, a young warrior with a shaved head and short beard, stepped out of a house with a young woman about his age draped over his shoulders. She already had a bloodied bandage tied around her belly. Two villagers helped a man hobble to the square, his broken leg already set and splinted.

Zavala had been a bigger town than I had expected. We found just under four hundred people in Zavala. Of those, less than a quarter were captured (mostly) uninjured including nineteen young children and fifty-two teens and adults. About a hundred and a half injured were also taken, though that number was falling by the hour as more succumbed to their wounds. The fatally injured and those with maiming injuries had already been executed, contributing to the corpses being transported to the empty grain huts for burning.

In terms of loot however, Zavala was disappointing. While a full accounting would have to wait until tomorrow, initial assessments pointed to only a small quantity of gold and other valuables, and some small quantities of ore. There were a fair number of spears, knives, bows, and arrows recovered from the barracks and the fallen defenders, but all of them were of lower quality than comparable Clan weapons. I estimated that a comparable Viking town would have held three or four times more gold and weapons. The only good news was that there were enough foodstuffs for all my warriors and captives.

I needed a ready source of gold for a number of things. I owed a share of the loot to each of my warriors as a reward for fighting under my command. I owed a death payment to the kin of those who had died or been maimed fighting in my host. I needed gold to repair weapons and armor, and buy stocks of good arrows and other equipment. And I would need a lot more besides in order to establish Zavala as a crucial staging post.

If there were few items in the town that I could sell, I’d have to settle for selling my captives. I could sell my uninjured captives immediately, but seventy-two would barely cover the shares owed to my warriors or their kin. It would be weeks before the wounded recovered and could be sold. During that time I would be forced to feed and care for them. I regretted killing and wounding so many Zavalans—not for moral reasons of course but for the financial loss they represented.

But the worst news came as the sun dipped low in the sky. Ulf, who was commanding my archers, came sprinting into the square. He looked around and quickly spotted me as I was consulting with Sigrid.

“My Lord,” he wheezed, out of breath, “We have a problem.”

=======================

Sneaking out of the village on the morning of Harvest Day had been easy for Liza. She’d told her parents she was meeting friends early and left the house before sun up. She’d served sentry duty many times as a warrior trainee, and knew which routes to take to avoid them. It was easy in the pre-dawn darkness. One out of sight of the village, she followed the small dirt road headed east. Three kilometers up the road stood a stone marker. There she waited.

She didn’t have to wait long. Travis, her lover of seven months, sauntered down the road. He smiled when he saw her and she ran to him, kissing him passionately on the lips. Hand-in-hand, they moved off to a nearby clearing—their clearing.

Travis was a farm-boy from one of the outer farmsteads. They had met a year ago to the day at last year’s Harvest celebration. They’d seen each other a few more times whenever Travis came to Zavala to sell his family’s crops, and they’d become lovers a few months later. Travis had brought her to sexual maturity in the very clearing to which they were now headed. They’d talked of marriage together, and when Liza turned eighteen last fall, she’d broached the subject to her parents.

They would have none of it. Liza’s parents were wealthy merchants. The idea of their daughter marrying a mere farm boy was anathema. Concerned for her chastity, which they didn’t know had already been lost, they had forbidden her from ever seeing Travis again.

Liza could not accept their decision. Together, she and Travis continued their relationship in secret. The clearing in which they had first made love became their regular meeting spot. Liza would sneak out of town using whatever excuse she could and Travis would make extra time on his way to and from the market. They’d talk for hours and make love in the grass.

This time was no different. They talked briefly and made love in the morning dew. Spent, Travis fell asleep. Her vagina warm with his juice, she curled up next to him and drifted off as well.

The sun was high in the sky and drifting lower as Liza blearily blinked her eyes open. Travis was running his fingers up and down her breastbone, between the swell of her breasts. Liza felt that familiar rush again, and she leaned over and kissed him. But she was already satisfied, and besides, she had to get back to the village before her parents suspected anything. Travis wanted to pick up some things from market, so he agreed to accompany her on the way back.

Whenever they walked together, they would always split as soon as they came within view of the first sentry post. Today though, something was amiss. The first thing they noticed was the lack of noise coming from the town. The next thing they noticed was the absence of the sentry normally stationed on the road.

Cautiously, they moved a little closer. And then, they saw the sentry. Liza recognized him as a fisherman’s son a few years younger than her, though she didn’t remember his name. He was lying on the ground, his spear cast aside. He was lying in a puddle of blood, his neck slit ear to ear.

“We have to get back to the village!” whispered Liza.

They left the path and together, they crept through the brush towards the village. They stopped on a small rise and looked out into the village. Strange men and women were walking around carrying what looked like sacks or… or… bodies. Things that were clearly bodies lay in the fields and streets. Someone had attacked the village!

“We have to warn the outlying farms,” said Travis. Liza nodded and they both turned to go.

Suddenly, a thin, bearded man was in front of them with a knife in his hand. There was a moment of dead stillness as both sides paused, Liza and Travis surprised by the raider’s presence and the raider surprised that his prey had turned around. Then the raider charged at Travis, slamming into him and stabbing him under the ribs. Travis grabbed the raider and dragged him down to the ground.

Liza frantically looked around for something, a weapon, a tool, anything she could use to help Travis. She spotted a rock and scrambled to grab it. Travis was tangled up with his attacker, frantically grabbing at him, choking on his own blood. The raider pulled out the knife, and rammed it in again and again while trying to stand. Liza took the rock and smashed it into the back of the raider’s head. He went limp immediately and sprawled on top of Travis.

“Oh no, Travis, Travis!” whispered Liza frantically, shoving his attacker to the side and cradling her lover in her arms. Travis was clutching his chest, trying desperately to hold in his lifeblood. He was failing. Blood flowed freely from three stab wounds and bloody bubbles formed in a fourth. He coughed and blood spewed from his mouth.

Travis grabbed Liza’s arm and stared intensely into her eyes.

“Go! You have to *cough* warn *cough* the others.” Travis choked on the blood flowing up from his ruptured lung and vomited blood down his chin.

Tears welled up in Liza’s eyes. Travis was thinking of his family and their safety; if raiders had attacked Zavala, they would surely soon attack the outlying farmsteads where they lived. She didn’t want to abandon her lover, but Travis’ eyes remained locked on hers, pleading with her to do as he asked. She nodded and kissed him fiercely on the lips.

“I love you so much,” she whispered. She kissed him again, then ran east down the road.

Travis lifted his head to watch her until she was out of sight. The love of his life was safe. Exhausted now, he let his head relax and let the growing darkness take hold.

=============

I stood on a small rise east of the village with Sigurd, Ulf, and a few others. The rise commanded a decent view of the village and the waterfront, though buildings hid the main square. At my feet was a grisly scene. A young man with multiple stab wounds to the chest lay in a pool of blood. Beside him lay Viggo Rasmussen, whose brains were visible beneath the shattered dome of his skull. Small footprints—a woman’s footprints by the looks of them—led away from the scene and away from the village. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened here.

“Fa- fa- forgive me, my Lord,” said Ulf, “I came and got you as sa- sa- soon as I found him.”

Ulf was shaking like a leaf in a strong wind. He knew how crucial it was that nobody escape Zavala to warn outlying farms or towns. He knew that I had placed great trust in him and his men to accomplish that critical task. And he knew that he had failed.

I closed my eyes and breathed. In. Out. In. Out. It was all I could do not to unsheathe my sword and cut Ulf down where he stood. This was not the first time Ulf or his men had screwed up. But it would definitely be the last.

“When did you last speak with him?” I asked.

“Before noon, ma-ma-ma- my Lord, when I went around with you,” he stammered.

“So you mean to tell me that you did not ONCE inspect the picket line after I last left you?” I was trying as hard as I could to dampen my rage, but its heat could not be controlled.

“My deepest apologies, my Lord.” Ulf was practically groveling now.

I turned away from him, staring east towards where the girl had run. It had been some six hours since Viggo had last been accounted for. The little bird could have as much as a six hour head start on any pursuit. I paused for a second to think. Decision made, I turned to my most senior warchief, Byrn Vargr.

“Byrn, choose five of your best riders and organize a pursuit force immediately. You may take all but two of the horses. Follow the road east until dawn and kill anyone you find.”

Byrn saluted and ran back to the town to gather his men. Next, I had to address Ulf’s incompetence.

“Seize him,” I commanded.

There was only one person to whom I could be referring to. Two of my guards stepped towards Ulf, hands on the hilt of their swords. Ulf wailed in dismay and fell to his knees. The guards hauled him to his feet, each man twisting one arm behind his back and holding it there. Sigurd undid Ulf’s swordbelt and handed it to me still in its scabbard.

“Ulf Ingolfson,” I proclaimed, using his Father’s name, “You have failed me for the last time. I strip from you the title of haersir of Jorvikthorp, so that none may owe you allegiance. I strip from you the title warchief, so that may you never again have the honor of leading warriors to Valhalla. I strip from you your Chosen name, and let it never be spoken again. Before the Gods and our ancestors, I curse you and name you thrall.”

“Vidar!” I yelled. A large warrior that had accompanied Ulf snapped to attention. “Ulf Ingolfson has brought shame to your clan. Will you swear loyalty unto me and redeem your clan’s honor or will you refuse and allow your clan to be cast out as niðr—without honor?”

Vidar knelt down on one knee and drew his axe, presenting it to me in both hands. I accepted it from him, shoving it into my belt. Ulf remained where he was, immobile and silent except for an aggrieved hiccupping.

“Before the Gods and my ancestors, I swear loyalty to you, Baron Aurkyn. I swear to serve you until the day of Ragnarok. I swear to wipe away the stain of Ulf Ingolfson’s dishonor.”

I drew Ulf’s sword and tapped it once on his shoulder in accordance with Clan custom. Then, I ceremonially offered it to him.

“Before the Gods and our ancestors, I accept your pledge of loyalty, Vidar Bearhide. Accept this sword, and claim your right as haersir of Jorvikthorp and warchief in my service.”

Vidar accepted the sword and sheathed it in one fluid motion. He remained kneeling and asked, “What is thy bidding, my Lord?”

“Ulf has brought shame to your clan and endangered the lives of every man and women in this raid,” I declared, “As such, I am confiscating your Clan’s share from this raid in order to make preparations for the defense of my new territory. Your Clan will also pay an additional honor-debt for all the warriors who may die as a result of his shame. Do you find these terms acceptable?” The terms were harsh, but Ulf’s failure might have just doomed every man and woman in my host.

“I do, my Lord. They are most generous,” Vidar replied, head bowed.

“Then rise and take command of your men. I will give you another ten warriors to reinforce the perimeter.” His reinforcements would be men of my choosing—men I trusted to get the job done right. Vidar was new to leadership, and I could afford no further failures. Vidar knew this as well—he was no fool.

Vidar stood, sheathed his new sword and belted it around his waist. Then, he turned to Ulf. My guards released him gruffly but he remained standing, frozen shock and fear and horror. I had given Vidar my commands as his Lord, as was my right. But as the new head of his clan, Vidar had to deal with the now-demoted Ulf first.

“Ulf Ingolfson, you have brought shame to this clan. I cast you and your family out so as to wipe clean the stain from our honor. Your lands and your possessions will be confiscated to make up for the shares in this raid you have lost and to satisfy the Clan’s honor-debt,” Vidar commanded. He drew back and gifted Ulf with a backhanded slap that sent the thrall spinning into the dirt. Ulf lay there, gasping and shuddering in pain, shock, and grief.

Formal proceedings concluded, I headed back to the town.

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Byrn returned with his five scouts late the next morning. He rode straight into the square and saluted as I approach.

“My Lord, we followed the trail and found a farm about five miles away and another one two miles after that. Both showed signs of being abandoned in a hurry, and horses were missing from their stables. We found another farmhouse six miles beyond and a larger farmstead a few miles beyond that; both were occupied. It was dark, and we killed all that we found at both locations. We returned after searching the larger farmstead.”

“Did the families from the first two farms flee there? Was there a teenage girl amongst the dead?” I asked.

“There was no sign of extra people at either location. There were a few male teens and some very young girls, but none that could have made the footprints we found,” he replied.

I nodded and frowned. The escapee had clearly warned the outlying farms. She and the families in those farms had likely fled in some other direction away from the trail. It would have been next to impossible for Byrn to determine that direction in the dark.

“Get me a messenger,” I commanded, “we’re going to have company.”
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