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Thread: The Halvarsaga

  1. #1
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    Default The Halvarsaga

    (Going to err on the side of caution and call this one PG-13)
    A/N: This is all Jax's fault.

    Chapter List
    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5
    Chapter 6
    Chapter 7
    Chapter 8
    Chapter 9
    Chapter 10
    Chapter 11
    Chapter 12
    Chapter 13
    Chapter 14
    Chapter 15
    Chapter 16
    Chapter 17

    Chapter 1
    The tolling of the cloister bell made Wulfric look up from the manuscript he was illuminating. Surely it was not vespers already? The light from the candle on his desk flickered as he rose and crossed to the tiny window of the cell, but the clouded gray sky outside gave no indication of the time. On his perch, Dismas shifted, fluttering his blue and white wings. Wulfric was about to open the door when the sounds of commotion and voices shouting words he did not recognize in the hall outside made him draw back. Definitely not vespers.

    Wulfric thought he heard someone say “Stop!” Then there was the sound of metal striking metal, metal striking stone, and then a dull thud. This was followed by a sharp pounding at the door, and Wulfric backed up against the wall. He picked up the stool he had been sitting on and lifted it. When the door to his cell flew open, Wulfric threw the stool at the man who walked through. The man caught it and tossed it down. Dismas squawked and flew at the man, but he swatted him away with a casual motion of his hand. “Stay down, Dismas,” Wulfric commanded.

    The man turned to face him, and Wulfric was paralyzed before the warrior’s intense blue gaze. His long blonde hair was braided down his back, and the sword in his hand and the leather armor he wore were spotted with fresh blood. The warrior held a finger to his lips before stalking around the cell. He went first to the racks of scrolls and unrolled several of them. He puzzled over the markings before tossing them to the ground. Then he turned his attention to the illuminated manuscript on the desk. As he flipped through the pages, Wulfric thought he saw a flicker of admiration in the warrior’s eyes as he peered down at the delicate inking details. The man closed the book and smiled when he saw the gold embossed in the leather on the cover. He opened the book again and seized the pages to tear them out.

    “No!” Wulfric cried. He had spent two months on that manuscript.

    The warrior turned to him with a flash of irritation. He considered the book for a moment and the collection of inks and brushes now scattered across Wulfric’s desk. Then very slowly and with great care, he slid his knife into the manuscript’s spine to separate the glue from the pages. He set the pages that Wulfric had slaved over on the desk and stuck the cover in his belt. Then, he pointed at Wulfric and motioned towards the door. Wulfric took his meaning and stood up to leave, gathering up Dismas as he did.

    When the warrior glared at him again, Wulfric tried to seem adamant. “Please, you must let me take him. He’s all I have.”

    Even if the warrior could not understand Wulfric’s words, he understood the tone. The man nodded and shoved Wulfric out the door. They left the scriptorium, and Wulfric saw that the other cells had likewise been sacked. The corpses of two of the town guardsmen were slumped by the door outside. Wulfric almost vomited and cradled Dismas closer to his breast. He felt the Chatot stir and hoped the bird would remain silent. When they emerged into the monastery courtyard, another man was waiting for Wulfric’s captor. This one was smaller, with a more wiry build, but covered in far more blood. He quipped something in the hard, staccato words Wulfric had heard in the corridor earlier and laughed. The slim man took a bite of an apple and sauntered over to Wulfric, looking him up and down. He scoffed and look up at Wulfric’s captor. The larger warrior just narrowed his eyes and shoved Wulfric forward before turning to a Gogoat placidly grazing nearby. “Steinarr!” he barked. It seemed to be a name. The Gogoat looked up, took another bite of grass and walked to its master’s side.

    The warrior led Wulfric towards the chapel. As they passed by the open gates of the monastery, Wulfric looked down and saw the village at the bottom of the hill. Coumarina was burning. He was shoved through the doors of the chapel where more of the invaders were lounging on the benches. Several other monks and many of the townsfolk were huddled on their knees before the altar, cowering before the raiders. When Wulfric was pushed into their mass, he felt a hand seize his arm and pull him down. “Brother Wulfric!”

    “Shepherd Aelffred!” Wulfric whispered. “Thank Arceus you still live.”

    “Would that I could say the same of Brother Godric and Brother Wilbur,” the priest replied. “You and Dismas are both well?”

    “Well enough. What happened?”

    “The northmen came quickly. We couldn’t stop them. They swept into Coumarina’s harbor and stormed through before the town guards knew what was happening. Then they broke our gates down and… oh, it’s terrible. Arceus have mercy on us all.”

    “What about Saewin? Or the Absol?” The priest’s Alakazam and the local Absol had always defended the monastery in the past, and their combined might had always been enough to drive away any who might disturb the tranquility of the consecrated ground.

    Shepherd Aelffred nodded to one of the northmen currently counting out the monastery’s coffers from its small wooden box that was kept under the altar. He looked enough like Wulfric’s original captor to be related. A brother or cousin, perhaps? A Doublade hovered by his head and a Talonflame perched near him, eyeing Dismas. “That one killed Saewin,” Aelffred growled, “and two of the others got some of the Absol. The rest of them fled after that.”

    The prisoners lapsed into silence, but the northmen continued to chatter among themselves. The more he listened, the more Wulfric started to remember hearing the language before. When he had been a child living in the northern reaches, his father had traded with men from still farther north, and his father had known their tongue. Wulfric furrowed his brow and tried to remember what his father had taught him.

    The slim warrior from before walked into the chapel accompanied by a Breloom and strode up to the altar. The man with the Doublade glanced up at him and went back to counting out the coins. The slim northman smirked and went to the shrine behind the altar where the golden four-pronged disc was displayed. The raider removed it from the wall and set it atop his like a crown. He called out to his comrades, and several of them laughed. Shepherd Aelffred gritted his teeth, but could do nothing. When the slim warrior began to prance around, Wulfric could take it no longer. He jumped to his feet.

    “Stop that now!” he said in the language of the northmen. “Put it back.”

    “You can talk?” the slim man said, the smile dying on his lips. “A shame you sound so stupid.” He drew the axe from his belt and prepared to strike Wulfric down. Dismas jumped into the air with a cry that knocked the warrior back. The Talonflame on the altar spread its wings as the slim warrior prepared to strike again.

    “Skaldi!” Wulfric’s captor stood at the door of the chapel, his arms crossed. “Put it down.” Wulfric was thankful they were using such simple words. His captor walked forward, and the group of prisoners moved aside so he could walk to Wulfric unhindered. “You speak our tongue?”

    Wulfric nodded. “A little. From when I was small.”

    The warrior raised an eyebrow. “And you could teach me to speak your tongue? And make the marks?”

    “I… yes, I… what? Marks?”

    “From before. The marks.” He held up the cover of the book. “In here. I would like to learn your marks and your words.”

    “I know the… marks.”

    “Then you will come with me.”

    “I… what?”

    The man with the coffer box looked up. “I thought we weren’t taking thralls today, Halvard.”

    “This is a special thrall, Torvald. He is a gift from the gods. I would be a fool if I did not take him.”

    Torvald rolled his eyes and put the coins back into the coffer box. “As you say, brother. We’re done here. Skerast, Branna.” The Doublade shifted and seemed to wake up, though with some of the spirit aligned, it was difficult to tell. The Talonflame fluttered onto his shoulder.

    Halvard pursed his lips. “Bring what you can carry. I’ll tell Ragnhildr to be ready to sail. Ivarr and Ulfi will bring up the back.” He turned on his heel and walked outside, jumped up on his Gogoat’s back and cantered out through the gates. Torvald wrapped his hand around Wulfric’s arm dragged him out of the chapel.

    “Welcome to the clan, priest,” Torvald barked with a laugh. He, Skaldi and the other northmen filed out of the chapel. Once they reached the monastery gates, Torvald snapped his fingers. His Talonflame flew off his shoulder. One of the other northmen nodded to his companion pokemon, a Flareon. The two fire aligned both unleashed a column of flame at the chapel, and in an instant, the entire building was in flames.

    “You’ll kill them!” Wulfric cried.

    Torvald held out his arm to give his Talonflame a perch. “Perhaps. If they’re quick, they’ll live. If they aren’t, they’ll die.” He smiled. “We didn’t even lock the doors this time.”

    “You’re monsters.” Wulfric hissed.

    Torvald only shrugged, and Skaldi laughed.

    Wulfric was marched down the hill to Coumarina’s harbor. Many houses in the village were burning too. When he saw Wulfric staring, Torvald rolled his eyes. “We only burn the ones who try and fight. We may be monsters, but we’re not savages.”

    At the harbor, a knot of northern warriors waited before four sleek longships pushed halfway up the beach. Wulfric was surprised to see several women standing there, armed and bloodied like the men. “Your women fight too?”

    Skaldi made an expansive gesture with his hands. “If they want to. I’m not standing between a woman and a fight she wants to be in.”

    Halvard smiled when he saw Wulfric being led to one of the ships, but there was no mirth in it. The monk was forced down between two barrels taken from Coumarina and watched mutely while Halvard exchanged words with a striking woman with two small scars running parallel on her face. She too resembled Halvard, so perhaps a sister? Their conference finished, and she swung up into the furthest boat, one that had a Noivern clinging to the stern. Several other warriors and their pokemon mounted the ramp and took their places at the oars while the warriors did the same on the other three ships. Halvard stood at the end of the ramp and turned to take one last look at Coumarina before he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled.

    The water in the middle of the harbor began to seethe as something massive stirred beneath the surface. With a roar that nearly deafened Wulfric, a massive blue creature rose from the waves of the bay and roared as the water sluiced off its back. Even in the flat light, its sapphire and gold scales glittered. It undulated its serpentine body as the northmen began to row. Wulfric turned to Halvard and struggled to keep his voice level. “Y-You have a Gyarados?”

    Halvard was running his hand through his Gogoat’s leafy ruff and whispering into the grass aligned’s ear. He turned and smiled at Wulfric, and this time Wulfric saw the pride etched into every part of his face. “That’s Uthald. My pride and joy.” When Steinarr snorted, Halvard cringed. “My other pride and joy.”

    “No one has ever tamed a Gyarados,” he said.

    Halvard laughed. “No one but me!” He leaned against the rail of the ship. “Rest while you can, priest. As soon as one of my men gets tired, you’re taking your turn at the oar.”

    Wulfric paled as he watched the northmen pulling at the oars of the longship, their muscles straining. He curled up tighter and held Dismas close as he looked out for the last time on Coumarina, the smoke from the chapel rising up towards the clouds and Arceus’s hallowed halls. He fumbled for the four-pronged ring he wore on a leather cord around his neck and clutched it in his fist, muttering a litany of prayers to Arceus.

    After all, it was time for vespers.
    Last edited by Firebrand; 18th July 2017 at 11:56 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Catchy title you got there! Don't judge a book by its cover and all, but those letters sure sound good together.

    Now, this... has a lot of potential. It's only the first chapter, so I naturally have a lot of questions; the only thing I can safely assume at this point is a viking AU, which is honestly enough to grab my attention. As for everything else, I can't comment too much, since it could really go anywhere. Poor Wulfric, though - I felt genuinely bad for him, and the bond with his Chatot is set up immediately and effectively. Also, the vikings, ruthless as they are, are given some redeeming qualities; them playing around with the crown was a fun moment and a nice way to show they're more than just bloodthirsty monsters. It's just the way they roll. Also, hey, women warriors! Sure, the gender equality comes more from a place of apathy than anything else, but I'll take it. Definitely want to see Two Scars more.

    So again, I can only poke at possibilities I think are legitimate, like Wulfric traveling and eventually bonding with these people that essentially destroyed his home? That does offer up interesting possibilities and moral dilemmas. But, these are just assumptions and not really constructive in any way, so I'll shut my yap.

    Now, if there's one thing I can point out - and this is personal preference, and someone else might totally not see it that way, the one thing that bothered me is that the writing sometimes teetered on the edge of purple prose. Sure, words like "sauntered", "quipped", "staccato" and such are fun, but too many of them can get tiring. Said is not dead! There's beauty in simple words. I just found myself a bit distracted from the otherwise great flow of the story and the writing. Oh, and this sentence:

    Quote Originally Posted by Firebrand View Post
    He had spent two months on that manuscript.
    This feels a bit superfluous, especially because that's easily deduced from everything else you've set up nicely. But yeah, this is just one sentence that stuck out particularly to me.

    On the whole, I realize this review has been half and half, but that's not because I think the chapter is average! It's the first chapter, after all, and the ball hasn't started rolling yet. I liked all of it, except the two things I brought up, which can be attributed to personal taste. So do keep this going, you have me interested.
    Last edited by Stryfe; 19th May 2016 at 10:21 PM.

  3. #3
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    Chapter 2

    Everything ached. It seemed like just when Wulfric had managed to massage the soreness out of his muscles, he was forced back to the bench to row again. The northmen had sailed up the Kalosian coast for three days, even rowing by moonlight. When clouds obscured the heavens, the ships turned out to deeper waters far out of sight of the shore and Skaldi called on his Ampharos to light their way. Harvald kept the ships on course through a strange shard of fogged glass he would hold up to the sky, judging the sun and moon’s position through the reflection of the glass. Uthald swam alongside the ship, breaching occasionally with bloodstained fangs. While Wulfric rowed, Halvard sat with Dismas held gently in his hands, stroking the Chatot’s feathers and staring at the horizon in contemplative silence. The first time Harvald had taken Dismas from him, Wulfric had panicked, but once his turn at the oar was up, Harvald handed the pokemon back without a word.

    Finally, the ships turned into a long inlet nestled between the northern mountains, and Wulfric could make out a collection of huts and longhouses lining the shore. Harvald walked with an easy rolling gait to where Wulfric crouched by the rail of the ship. “Rovngalad,” Halvard said, gesturing with a tilt of his head that he meant the town. “It is my home. And now it is yours, too.”

    The longships docked at the harbor and the northmen began unloading. When Wulfric was pushed out of the boat, he reeled on the dock as he tried to find his balance. Skaldi barked out a laugh as he walked by with his Breloom. “Look, the priest’s knees have gone weak!”

    Wulfric blushed and hid his face as Halvard took his arm and led him up to the shore. The woman with two scars from the other ship stood at the end of the dock. She surveyed Wulfric and raised an eyebrow. “This is the priest? He doesn’t look like much.”

    “It is not the strength of his arms or back that I care about,” Halvard replied. “It is his tongue I want.”

    The woman rolled her eyes. “We have just enough to go around to feed ourselves. If you insist on keeping the thrall, he’ll be fed from your plate.”
    Harvald laughed. “An empty stomach is a small price to pay to read the southerner’s marks, Ragnhildr!”

    “If you say so, brother.” She turned to Wulfric. “Come with me, priest. It’s late in the day, so I suppose we’ll let you rest. Tomorrow you get to work.” She smiled the way all the northmen did, like a predator showing its teeth to terrify its prey. She whistled, and the Noivern perched on the stern of her longboat lifted off into the air and flew out over the village. A Houndoom with wickedly sharp horns trotted to her side and sniffed at the hem of Wulfric’s robe. Dismas puffed himself up, but the canine seemed content to ignore the Chatot. “Geirr,” Ragnhildr snapped. “Down.” The Houndoom obediently went to her side.

    She and Wulfric walked through the winding streets of the town to one of the larger halls. Ragnhildr drew aside the fur that served as a door and walked into the space. Two children sat by a hearth with a Kirlia. The younger one, a girl, jumped to her feet. “Mother! You’re home!”

    Ragnhildr scooped up her daughter and spun her around. “I am. Did you and Svein behave for Valdis?”

    The girl nodded. “And we brought the Mareep in from pasture, and we didn’t even have Geirr to help us. We did it all by ourselves.” Ragnhildr set her down and patted the Kirlia’s head. “Thank you for keeping my children safe.” The psychic aligned tilted its head and gave a brief nod. Wulfric grasped his four-pronged ring. Saewin had done the same thing when Shepherd Aelffred had thanked him, and that was an uncomfortable reminder of home. Geirr walked past the family and lay down in front of the hearth, showing his fangs in a wide yawn.

    Ragnhildr’s son stared at Wulfric with eyes that were the same piercing blue as Halvard’s. “Who is that?”

    Ragnhildr sighed. “Your uncle decided to bring a thrall home. This man is a southern priest. Your uncle wants to learn the southern tongue, and I need more help on the farm.” She turned to Wulfric. “You are not completely stupid? You do know how to farm?” Wulfric nodded. It was one of the many tasks the monks had undertaken in Coumarina. Ragnhildr pursed her lips and pointed at a corner by the hearth. “You will sleep there.”

    Something thudded to the ground outside. “Sigrund's back!” the girl cried and rushed out of the hall.

    “Runa, be careful!” Ragnhildr shouted after her. The woman turned to Wulfric. “Come, Svein and I will show you the fields.” They took him out of the longhouse by a second entryway in the back that opened on a large fertile plain. It was divided up at intervals by low wooden fences and stone walls. In the closest field, Runa was prancing around the same Noivern that had perched on Ragnhildr’s ship, and the dragon twitched its head to follow the girl’s movements. A flock of Mareep huddled around a large boulder further out in the pasture.

    “This is all your land?” Wulfric asked.

    “The whole village is our land,” Ragnhildr replied and then scowled. “You will speak only when spoken to, priest.”

    Later that night, Harvald and Torvald had returned to the hall after carousing with several other northmen. Ragnhildr and Runa were asleep in a curtained room while Torvald and Harvald conversed softly over drinks. Wulfric sat in his assigned corner, trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible. He clutched his four-pronged ring in his right hand, fervently muttering a litany of prayers. Svein sat on the other side of the hearth, running his hands through Geirr’s fur. When Wulfric looked up after reciting the seventh psalm, he saw the boy staring intently at him. “What is that? In your hand?”

    Wulfric held up the ring. “It is the symbol of God. If I hold it when I pray, I feel closer to Him.”

    “Which god?”

    “What do you mean? There is only one God.”

    Svein laughed. “Then your god must be very busy. Ours know to split up the work.”

    “The only god is Arceus.”

    The boy shrugged. “If you say so. Maybe you southerners only have time for one god. Sometimes it gets tedious praying to all of them.”

    “How many do you have?” Many stories were told of the more primitive religions of the eastern regions. When he had the time, Wulfric had found the illuminated Tojoh and Hoennian manuscripts where missionaries had chronicled the ancient beliefs in many other gods those lands had honored before they had accepted the Arcean faith. He knew there were some holdouts who clung to old folk religions in Hoenn, but Tojoh had been entirely converted for many years, though they did pay respects to the Tower Guardians as well. He knew that there had been pagan beliefs in Kalosia centuries before, but they were barbaric and he was never terribly interested in those stories.

    Svein began ticking off on his hands. “Well, there is the Blue Spirit, and the One Who Watches. We’ve got the Protector of the Wild Places, and the Storm Bringer, and the Herald of Spring. Mother saw the Herald once, when she was a girl. And of course, there’s,” and here Svein made a gesture with his left hand, pressing his fingers into a Y shape, “the Bringer of Death. I’ve seen it myself, over the mountains, red and black and big as a tree.”

    Wulfric inclined his head. “We use those same names in the south, more or less. Those aren’t gods. They are very powerful, but they aren’t gods. The Blue Spirit is Articuno, and the Protector is Xerneas. The Storm Bringer is Zapdos, and yes, I’ve seen him from Coumarina once or twice. The Herald, I think, is Moltres, it fits with some folk beliefs. These are just very powerful pokemon, all created by Arceus.”

    “And what about the Watcher?” Svein scoffed. “And the Bringer of Death? How can your god create death itself?”

    “The Watcher, I think, is what we call Zygarde, but we Arceans are fairly sure Zygarde is just a myth. It doesn’t exist. Zygarde was made up to scare hunters into not leaving their carcasses out to rot, or woodsmen from cutting too many trees. Has anyone ever seen it?”

    “Well, no, at least not for hundreds of years. But what about the Bringer of Death? I’ve seen it. How is your god strong enough to create death itself?”

    “Arceus can do anything,” Wulfric said, a little defensively. “And Yvetal is not death itself. It’s just a very strong pokemon that we don’t fully understand.”

    “How do we know Arceus isn’t just a strong pokemon we don’t understand?”

    “Because Arceus emerged from Chaos and created the world. No pokemon is strong enough to do that.”

    “How do you know?”

    Wulfric opened his mouth and then closed it again. Of course Arceus was the one true god. How could the child not see it? He formed the world with His thousand hands and set creation off on its expanding coil, creating everything as He saw fit in His grand design. To be the perfect being, Arceus had to first exist, and so because a perfect being like Arceus could be conceived of, He therefore had to exist. But Wulfric lacked the language to explain this to the precocious northerner. Fortunately, the child spared him the need to elaborate.

    “I’ve never seen a pokemon like that bird before. What is his name?”

    Wulfric looked down at where Dismas slept in his lap. “This is my Chatot. I call him Dismas, after Saint Dismas, one of the first easterners to embrace the grace of Arceus and renounce the godhood of the Tower Birds.”

    “To be a saint, all you have to do is say a god isn’t real?” Svein laughed. “Does that mean we’re both saints now?”

    “There’s more to it than just—”

    “Is he strong?”

    “Dismas, you mean?” Wulfric shook his head. “I wouldn’t say so. Neither Dismas or I are fighters. But he is very clever.”

    At that moment, Torvald came over and ruffled his nephew’s hair. “Is the priest filling your head with ideas, Svein? There’s time enough to talk to him tomorrow. Time to get to bed.”

    Halvard stood as well. “You should sleep too, priest. You’ll be out in the fields early in the morning.” The two warriors led Svein away to a room opposite Ragnhildr and Runa’s while Wulfric curled up on the hard packed earth and began his litany of prayers again.

    ***


    The repetitive motions of plowing a field left Wulfric sore and tired, but after rowing up from Coumarina to Rovngalad, he was already numb to exertion. He fell into the rhythmic rise and fall of the plow the same way he had fallen into the rowing, though he knew he would be waking up sore and stiff for days. Because Svein had taken an interest in Dismas, Wulfric had let the Chatot join the boy while he herded the Mareep in the pasture. The Chatot’s mimicry had amused Svein, and he had been using it to trick Runa all morning. And besides, Wulfric didn’t like Dismas to see him like this.

    Harvald had hitched Steinarr to a larger plow and was turning a different part of the field. Other villagers, some of them thralls, worked in the other sections of the fields and always hailed Wulfric’s captor as “Jarl Halvard”. They had begun work at sunrise, and when Halvard told Wulfric to stop it was nearly noon. “If I work you any harder, you’ll probably die on me. Can’t let that happen, for all the trouble it would put me through.” The northman walked to a well and pulled up a pail, drinking deeply from it. He let it fall again and motioned for Wulfric to do the same. “There’s a big rock under the new field, can’t do anything more until we do something about it. I’ll need to send for Torvald. Jarn only listens to him.” He waved Svein over. Dismas followed and alighted on Wulfric’s shoulder. “Boy, go fetch your uncle in town.”

    Svein glanced over his shoulder at where Runa and Geirr were trying to marshal the Mareep flock. “I would, but a few of the Mareep wandered off into the woods. I don’t trust Runa going there alone.” He looked over at Dismas. “Perhaps the bird could go? He can mimic voices.”

    Halvard turned to Wulfric. “And he could find Torvald?”

    Wulfric shrugged. “Dismas is clever. I should think so.”

    The northman tilted his head. “Show me the trick.” After a few minutes of practice, Dismas had managed to get the message right and Wulfric was fairly confident that Dismas had been given enough of a description to recognize Torvald. “What’s stopping the bird from flying away?” Halvard asked as they watched Dismas fly over the field and into the village.

    “Would Steinarr abandon you?” Wulfric replied.

    “Fair enough.” Halvard sat down on the ground and patted the earth next to him. “Nothing can be done until my brother gets back. Teach me some words. Field. Rock. Plow.” Wulfric did as he asked, and though Halvard butchered the pronunciation, he could see the northman turning the words over. Finally, Halvard smirked. “There’s a question that has been eating you. I can see it. Ask, then.”

    Wulfric lowered his eyes. “The people here call you jarl. That makes you their lord, yes? But if you’re the lord, then why are you working the fields with me?”

    Halvard dug his hand into the soil and pulled up a handful. “Because this, priest, is my land. It belongs to me, but I belong to it. It is only right that I work it alongside my subjects and my thralls. Did not your lord in the south do the same?”

    “No. The king would never work his own fields.”

    Halvard let the dirt trickle through his fingers. “Then he does not deserve to be king.”

    “The king sits on the Illuminated Throne by the grace of Arceus Himself!”

    Halvard threw back his head and roared with laughter. “I ought to strike you for that insolence, priest, but you’re too damn funny!” He got his laughter under control. “Do you mean to tell me that your god came down and personally put the crown on your king’s head?”

    “Well, of course not. But the High Shepherd conferred his blessing and…”

    Halvard laughed again. “Men who claim to speak for the gods only ever say what they wish. It is just that they hide behind their gods to give their words weight. Skaldi says he speaks for the Bringer of Death, but do I believe him? Of course not. Yvetal is a force of nature, what time does it have to speak through the runes? Perhaps Skaldi can feel its power and be in awe of its majesty. His sacrifices may even reach the Bringer of Death somehow. But whenever he claims to speak with Yvetal’s voice, I know that is my signal to watch Runa play one of her little games or to finally get the bramble out to Steinarr’s leaves.”

    “You do not honor the gods? Any gods?”

    “You ask too many questions, priest.” Halvard shrugged. “But put that way, no. I don’t.”

    “So when you told Torvald and Skaldi that I was a gift from your gods…?”

    “I was just trying to shut them up. If I told them I just wanted someone to teach me your southern language, they would have tried to dissuade me.”

    “I see. So you would turn the name of god to your own ends, for selfish gain?”

    “The gods don’t care about us. Why should I care about them?”

    “Arceus cares about all living things.”

    Halvard laughed again. “Then your god has too much time on his hands.” The jarl jumped to his feet and waved at an approaching figure. “Torvald! The bird found you?”

    Torvald walked up to the well and drew up some water. Dismas fluttered around his head until Wulfric waved him off to go back to Svein and Runa. After taking a drink, Torvald grunted. “That damned bird wouldn’t leave me alone. What’s so important you needed to drag me all the way back here?”

    Harvald took his brother and Wulfric out into the new field he and Steinarr had been plowing. “There’s a large rock right about here,” Halvard said, pointing at the ground. “We need Jarn to move it.”

    Torvald muttered something under his breath before sticking two fingers in his mouth and whistling. The large rock foundation at the edge of the forest began to move and shift. The squeal of metal grinding against metal filled the air as the rock pile stood upright, revealing a glittering metal carapace. An Aggron half again as large as any that Wulfric had seen any of the Kalosian knights use rose up and growled. Torvald snapped his fingers and beckoned the monstrous beast over. With plodding steps, the Aggron ambled through the herd of Mareep. The electric aligned seemed undisturbed by this and just parted around its feet.

    “Jarn, there’s a rock just here,” Torvald said. “We need you to dig it up.”

    The steel aligned made a long, deep rumbling sound, and it felt to Wulfric like all of his bones were shaking. Jarn began to dig, its heavy tail lashing back and forth. “Will that be all?” Torvald said, and before waiting for an answer he turned on his heel and strode off back towards Rovngalad.

    Harvald shook his head and hitched his plow behind Steinarr again. “Back to work, priest.”
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  4. #4
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    Chapter 3

    After the evening meal that night, Wulfric huddled in his corner, trying to massage the aches from his shoulder. Dismas squawked and fluttered up to the edge of the hearth as Halvard dropped a short stool in front of him. The northman held out a small cup to the monk and indicated he take it. Wulfric took a small sip and nearly gagged. It was vaguely related to the ale he had drank at the monastery, but far, far stronger. Halvard laughed and took a long draught from his own larger tankard. He waited until Wulfric gathered his wits before setting his cup on the ground and folding his arms. “You will now teach me how to read your marks.”

    Wulfric’s mind raced. “I can try. But I think it might be best to teach you a few more words first.” When Halvard scowled, Wulfric hurried to explain himself. “You see, that way, you can recognize the shapes of more letters and know the sounds. If you already know the words, they’ll be easier to write and spell.”

    Halvard thought about this for a moment. “Teach me the words you see fit, and then at the end of the lesson, show me their marks.”

    Wulfric started by reviewing the words he had taught Halvard in the field earlier that day, writing them out in the dirt with a stick as he did. He then moved on to simple greetings and phrases, though Halvard started to seem overwhelmed and grow frustrated when he wrote out longer things. By the end of the session, Wulfric was mentally exhausted, but Halvard could introduce himself in Kalosian and could name a few household items and farming tools. Harvald looked between Wulfric’s writing and his own more shaky script and nodded slowly, trying to commit the words to memory.

    “One last thing, priest. Show me how to write my name. I know southerners conduct their business by signing contracts. I do not wish to seem a savage by not knowing my own name.”

    Wulfric muttered a silent prayer hoping that Harvald spelled phonetically, and scrawled it in the dirt. Harvald practiced this several times before looking up at Wulfric again. “Now do yours.” When the monk complied, Halvard took his stick and gestured between the names. “These two marks, they are the same.”

    “Yes, we both have an ‘L’ and an ‘R’ in our names.” He quickly wrote Dismas’s name as well. “See, Dismas and I both have the ‘I’ sound, and you both have the ‘D’ sound.”

    Halvard scowled down at Wulfric’s name. “But how do I read your name?”

    Wulfric realized that over the past four days, Halvard had not only never referred to him by name, but he had also never asked for it. “It says Wulfric.”

    “Wulfric the priest, then?”

    “Well, technically,” Wulfric replied, “I’m not a priest. I’m a monk.” He had to say it in Kalosian.

    “What is this word, monk?”

    “Arcean priests are called Shepherds. They lead the congregation,” Wulfric cringed as he used the Kalosian term again. “Sorry, the people, in the mass. Er, the service. They administer the sacraments, I mean the rites, and lead the prayers to Arceus. I’m just a monk, which means I can’t administer rites but I study Arcean scripture and copy manuscripts, like you saw in Coumarina. I offer my life in service and devotion to Arceus in the hope that I can better understand His great majesty.”

    Halvard nodded slowly and then shook his head. “I don’t get it. If you could be a monk, why not a priest? That sounds like a better deal.”

    “That was not what I was called to do.”

    “You’re a monk… because your god told you?”

    “Yes, I suppose so.”

    “So Arceus came down and said ‘Wulfric, I want you to—’”

    “Oh, not this again. No, I just felt it.” Wulfric put a hand on his chest. “I heard his words in my heart.”

    “Now what is Arceus doing in there?” He could tell Halvard was just teasing him now. The northman took a long drink from his tankard, and some of the foam clung to his beard and moustache. Ragnhildr’s Kirlia came up behind him with another cup and he took it with a smile, patting her between the rounded pink antennae on her head. “Thank you, Valdis.” Halvard stared into the fire. “You know, Ragnhildr was telling me earlier that I am much too easy on you. If I’m kind to you, I will make you soft. I think she saw our little chat in the field today. Skaldi says I should beat you. I think he would enjoy that.”

    “Maybe don’t listen to Skaldi?”

    Halvard chuckled. “No, for now I won’t listen to Skaldi.” He took a drink. “But you know, I never really had the knack for talking to thralls. I never needed to. I’m Harvald Sigurdsson! The jarl’s son, the prince! Everyone just did what I asked them to anyway!” The northman’s shoulders slumped. “There are days when I wish I was not the jarl. I wish I had been born a farmer.”

    “Because the burden of leadership is heavy?”

    “No, I like to be the leader. I like to command my men and for my name to echo like the Storm Bringer’s wrath. I just wish I felt like I’d earned it myself.” Halvard took another long drink, and Wulfric could tell that the ale was beginning to affect him. “Everything I’ve ever done was always just brushed off because of who I was born to. If I win glory, it’s because I’m the jarl, because I’m Sigurd’s son, because I am Harald’s nephew. When I was a boy, it was because I was the prince. Of course I did great things. That’s what princes do.”

    “You were a prince?” Wulfric asked. “Am I understanding that rightly? In Kalosian, prince means the son of the king, the heir to the throne of the realm. Is it different in the north?”

    “No, no,” Halvard drank again and waved Valdis over for another tankard. “You have it. I was not the king’s son, but my father was his brother. King Harald ruled the northlands, but when his wife and son were killed, he vowed never to marry again. He was my uncle, and because I was my father’s firstborn son, he named me as his heir. I was to be the king.” He broke off and twisted his lip, brooding in silence for a time before slamming his fist down on his knee. “And then the usurper Ingmar killed my uncle and my father and made himself king. He told me that I could keep Rovngalad if I only swore fealty to him, and now everyone knows I’m the prince who lost his kingdom just to save a tiny village.” Halvard gritted his teeth. “No one understands that if I hadn’t made a bargain to save Rovngalad, he would have killed me and burned the whole village to the ground. My village! I wish I had been a farmer. Farmers don’t have to choose between pride and their subjects.”

    “Some men are born to be more.”

    “Maybe I was born to be king. Maybe I was born to be a farmer. But I wasn’t born to be jarl. That was always Torvald’s calling. He’s the warrior, the one who knows how best to lead a raid, what to demand in trade. I’d just strike out into the mountains or across the sea and leave the title to him, but he doesn’t care for the people like I do. He doesn’t love Rovngalad, he lusts after it. If I was king, the title would fall to him, and all this would be resolved.” Halvard threw back another drink. Wulfric had lost count of how many the northman had, but he was certain it was more than he had ever seen anyone drink in one sitting. “So there’s only one thing that can be done, Wulfric. Do you know what that is?” The monk shook his head. Halvard smiled the northmen’s predatory smile. “We have to take my title back. We have to make me king again.”

    “You could do that?” Wulfric cried.

    “Maybe. I have the six fastest ships in the north and the best boat builder in generations. Every person of fighting age living in Rovngalad is a warrior worth at least two of Ingmar’s dogs. And I have a few secret weapons. The first I have is Torvald, the mightiest warrior in the north. He wants me to be king as badly as I do, and I can use his selfishness. Then, because I have Torvald, I have Jarn. And finally, I have Uthald. There isn’t a man in the north that isn’t afraid of my sea monster. He’s the only reason Rovngalad hasn’t been razed. I’ve sworn oaths before gods I don’t believe in. I’ve sworn oaths to my people, to my family, and now to you, Wulfric. I’ll be king again someday, and I will cast Ingmar down! I swear it on my blade, on my life, hell, I’d even swear it on that ring around your neck if you thought it would do any good!”

    Halvard threw his tankard down and leaned in. “Listen to me, Wulfric. This is my land, but I only hold it in trust for my people. This hall we sit in is mine in name, but I don’t fool myself. It’s really Ragnhildr’s. I own only three things in this world.” He counted off on his fingers. “The first is Steinarr, the second is Uthald and third,” he pointed at Wulfric, “is you. Uthald and Steinarr have faith in me. I know it the same way that you know Arceus speaks to you. So tell me Brother Wulfric, do you believe in me? Do you have the same faith in me that you put in your god?”

    Wulfric knew it was blasphemy. He knew that the oaths he had taken years ago explicitly said that his loyalty belonged to Arceus alone, and that Arceus was to take precedence over any king, lord or cause. And yet, Arceus slumbered in his hall high above far away Sinnoh, and here in front of him was a man that Wulfric could feel was destined to change the world the same way the great saints of the Arcean faith changed the world. Wulfric knew that it was the greatest sin a monk of Arceus could commit. And Wulfric found that he did not care. “I do. I believe in you, Halvard. I will follow where you lead.”
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  5. #5
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    Chapter 4

    The wheel of the year turned. Wulfric plowed the fields all through the spring and tended to them through the summer. His muscles grew stronger, and Halvard’s grasp of the Kalosian language grew with each passing day. To practice, the two men would converse late into the evening, switching between languages as Halvard dictated. Ragnhildr and Torvald begrudgingly accepted Wulfric into the daily routine of their home, though many of the other northmen, Skaldi the most vocal among them, still treated Wulfric with wary distrust. The northern priest’s disgust with Wulfric’s southern religion was writ plain on his face, and he never passed up an opportunity to spit on Wulfric as he walked by.

    At least once with every turn of the moon, Torvald would take Jarn and vanish for over a week. Sometimes he took other men with him, but more often than not, he left alone. No one in the village spoke of this. The one time Wulfric judged Halvard inebriated enough to address the question, Halvard had simply waved him off, saying Torvald was doing his part for Rovngalad before quizzing Wulfric on Kalosian military strategy, something Halvard had a keen interest in but that Wulfric only had a passing knowledge of.

    When the time came to bring the harvest in, the village hummed with a frantic energy. Wulfric labored alongside Halvard’s family in their fields from first light until sunset to reap all that they had sown and store it in the large stone granaries and barns on a raised mound in the village center. Once their own field was clear, they immediately set to work helping other families who did not have as many hands.

    After one of their nightly language lessons, Wulfric asked Halvard what the rush was. “I know you’ve said the winter comes earlier here in the north, but surely it will be weeks yet before we lose the harvest to frost.”

    The northman shook his head. “It’s not the winter or the Blue Spirit we’re afraid of. It’s the Storm Bringer.”

    “Zapdos?”

    Halvard nodded. “Aye, that’s your name for him. For years now, the Storm Bringer roosted in the Sea Spirit’s Den, not far from where we took you. You know this?” When Wulfric said that he did, Halvard pressed his lips together. “We aren’t sure why, but he seems content to leave the south alone. It’s just us that he terrorizes. We’ve made offerings and sacrifices, said all the prayers we know, performed every rite that’s been handed down, but nothing seems to work. In late fall, the Storm Bringer rampages up and down the coast. If we don’t harvest the crops in time, the storm ruins them.”

    Several days later, the sky darkened and thunder rumbled in the distance. The people of Rovngalad hastened to bring their Mareep herds into the stone barns, where they would be hidden and could not start any fires in the village in their panic. Halvard and his family huddled around their hearth. Torvald calmly slid his knife across a long spar of wood, carving intricate designs into the handle. Skerast drifted around his head, and Branna preened on a carved perch nearby. Sigrund, Ragnhildr’s Noivern, took up much of the rear of the longhouse, fidgeting and wincing with each clap of thunder. Halvard picked burrs out of Steinarr’s mane, but Wulfric could see him cringing each time lightning split the sky. For his part, the monk curled up in his assigned corner and held Dismas close to his chest, listening to the howling wind and lashing rain rage just outside the longhouse.

    A heavy pounding came at the solid oak doors of the longhouse. Torvald rose and opened them, and Skaldi staggered into the hall, his Ampharos in tow. The northern priest pushed his wet hair out of his eyes. “Halvard, I am going to make an offering to the god.” Halvard looked up and titled his head to the side, saying nothing. Skaldi narrowed his eyes. “I have Tyri to protect me from the lightning, and it can’t do anything but help! Perhaps the Storm Bringer will leave us in peace this year.”

    “What will you be offering?” Ragnhildr asked.

    “Two Mareep,” Skaldi replied. “Ivarr and Ulfi have offered one each. But perhaps the god requires a greater sacrifice.” He glanced over at Wulfric and smiled.

    Halvard rose. “We are not killing my thrall, especially in an empty gesture like this. Kill the sheep if you think it will do us any good, but leave Wulfric out of it.”

    Skaldi muttered something under his breath before turning on his heel and stalking out of the longhouse. The priest took the two Mareep out to a hill some distance from the village, squinting against the rain. The Mareep began to panic as they got further from the village, and no amount of bleating from Tyri could calm them. Once Skaldi judged they had moved far enough away, he drew out his knife and quickly butchered the two sheep. He sang out a prayer to the Storm Bringer, praising his great might and beseeching the god to show mercy on the village. The blood of the two Mareep seeped into the muddy earth as Skaldi and his Ampharos returned to their hut in Rovngalad.

    Later that night, as the heart of the storm drew closer, the cacophony of the thunder grew deafening. In between flashes of lightning, a sound like metal grating against stone split the air, drowning out even the thunderclaps. The villagers huddled closer to their fires, and none dared to look outside. When the storm moved away the next morning, the Mareep carcasses were gone, and a large swathe of the nearby forest was levelled, many of the trees scorched by lightning, and deep gouges carved into the earth.

    Skaldi proclaimed that the sacrifice had spared the village a similar fate.

    Several days after the storm, just as the villagers were beginning to clear the last of the debris left in Zapdos’s wake, Halvard woke Wulfric with a grin. “We’ll be doing something a little different today. Come with me to the docks.” Outside, Torvald was checking over a collection of spears, murmuring something to Svein. Ragnhildr stood off to the side with her arms folded. When she saw Halvard emerge, she strode over to him.

    “I still say he is too young for this.”

    “Torvald and I went on our first hunts when we were younger than Svein is! It’s past time!” Halvard clapped a hand down on Wulfric’s back. “Besides, we need every hand we can get. I’m even bringing Wulfric along!”

    Ragnhildr’s nostrils flared. “If anything happens to my son, Halvard, I will send you to the Bringer of Death with your entrails in your hands.” She turned on her heel and stalked off to the longships riding at anchor.

    Wulfric tugged on Halvard’s sleeve. “Hunt? What are we hunting?”

    The northman took a spear from the rack and hefted it in one hand, checking the balance. “Wailmer! They migrate past Rovngalad every year. We hunt a few to use their meat and oil to help us get through the winter, and we need everyone who can pull an oar to help. Come.”

    He led Wulfric down to the dock where three of the longships were prepared to sail. Svein and Torvald followed behind them, and Halvard directed Wulfric to his place. Ulfi, one of the warriors in Halvard’s band, took his place beside him. The warrior grinned through his thick red beard. “Try and keep up, priest.”

    Svein and Torvald took their place on the bench directly across from them, Svein sitting ramrod straight and trembling with nervous energy. Wulfric clicked his tongue at Dismas and glanced over at Svein. The Chatot turned his head in confusion for a second. “Sit over there,” Wulfric hissed. Finally, Dismas seemed to catch his meaning and fluttered over to sit on Svein’s shoulder. The boy reached up and stroked the bird’s feathers and smiled over at Wulfric. The priest turned his eyes down, but couldn’t resist quirking his lips up in a smile as well.

    In her boat, Ragnhildr watched the exchange with expressionless eyes as she checked the straps on Sigrund’s saddle.

    Halvard strode down the middle of the longboat. “All right!” he called. “Let’s go!”

    At the stern of each boat, a man began to beat out a steady rhythm on a hide drum. The rowers matched their strokes to the tempo and they slid through the water toward the mouth of the fjord. Ivarr’s Beartic and Aesgir’s Sharpedo swam alongside the boats. Halvard clambered up a rope to the top of the longship’s mast and whistled. The water at the mouth of the fjord frothed as Uthald burst from the depths of the trench that ran its length, his sinuous body undulating beneath the surface. When the boats drew closer, Halvard walked along the narrow spar that held the sail and dove headfirst over the side of the ship, kicking through the water to the Gyarados’s flank. Uthald lowered himself so that Halvard could climb atop his head and grasp one of the three spines there.

    When the three ships reached the open water, Ragnhildr shot off into the sky on Sigrund’s back, circling the surrounding sea in a wide arc. After several minutes, she circled back. “I’ve found them,” she called down. “Follow me!”

    Wulfric saw the splashes the Wailmer made as they breached before he saw the pokemon themselves. The drums began to beat faster as the ships drew close. Sigrund swooped down and shrieked at the pod, the sound sending the Wailmer into a panicked frenzy. The Noivern made continued passes, splitting the pod with each successive scream. Halvard and Uthald dove before coming up on the other side, hemming the Wailmer in. Ulfi smiled at Wulfric. “Get ready, priest. This is where the fun starts.” The other two boats cut off three Wailmer from the rest of the pod. When they tried to dive down to escape their pursuers, the Beartic and Sharpedo quickly dove deeper and forced the Wailmer back to the surface.

    The Wailmer began to panic, and Torvald leapt to his feet, grabbing a spear from the rack. He hurled it into the flank of one of the Wailmer, bloodying the water. Ulfi and several other northmen picked up their own spears and began to attack the Wailmer. Ragnhildr and Sigrund swooped over the longships, using sonic blasts to keep the rest of the pod at a distance. Torvald barked orders to warriors on the other two ships, directing them where to cast their spears. The Wailmer struggled and tried to break through the triangle the boats had formed, but they were already weakening. Svein cheered as one of the Wailmer let out a long, low moan and turned up on its side. It still breathed, but it had stopped fighting. Sharpedo and Beartic turned their focus on the remaining two.

    Halvard and Uthald swam around the pod, the jarl scanning the sea for something. The sea began to seethe as a massive creature beneath the waves rose to the surface. “Arceus above,” Wulfric gasped. In Coumarina, he had sometimes seen Wailord breaching far out at sea. He had heard from sailors and fishermen that they were massive creatures, but nothing had prepared him for this. The Wailord rose from the depths, its massive bulk cresting the waves. Halvard signaled to Ragnhildr, and an instant later Sigrund released a sustained pulse of sound. The Wailord began to fall away from the longships, and Wulfric let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

    Halvard shouted something, and Uthald put on a burst of speed, circling back towards the longships in a long arc. As the Gyarados passed by, Torvald lobbed a spear towards his brother. Halvard caught it out of the air as Uthald changed direction again, this time swimming straight at the Wailord. Uthald drew close and lunged forward, sinking his fangs in the Wailord’s flank. The leviathan groaned and drew away, but Uthald struck again and again, the water around the beast turning red. With a long, low groan, the Wailord descended beneath the waves, its fins working furiously to get it away from the Gyarados.

    Halvard barked a command to Uthald and shifted the spear to the crook of his arm while he tied his waist to the longest of the three spars that crowned the serpent’s skull. Uthald roared before plunging into the depths after the Wailord, Halvard clutching the spine in his right hand and holding the spear close with his left. Wulfric and the northmen waited in breathless anticipation, staring at the water where Halvard had disappeared.

    The northmen had begun to secure the wounded and dying Wailmer to the ships to be towed back to Rovngalad, but Torvald barked an order to bring them all to attention. “Leave them!” he shouted. “Back to your oars! Halvard’s coming!”

    A massive shape was rising from the depths, and the northmen frantically worked their oars to get out of the way. The Wailord burst to the surface again, bleeding from several new wounds. Uthald had wrapped himself around the back of the Wailord, where it was less broad. Halvard still clung to the spike on the Gyarados’s head, but his hair was plastered to his face with a mix of salt water and blood. The spear he had dove with was now buried halfway up its length in the Wailord’s flank, and every time he twisted it a fresh gout of blood poured forth. The northmen cheered as the Wailord groaned in obvious pain.

    Uthald contorted, sliding back into the water, but instead of delivering the final blow, the Gyarados surged up and bit down at the highest part of the Wailord’s back that he could reach. Halvard leapt from Uthald’s crest and drew his sword, driving it into the whale’s back. He proceeded to walk towards the Wailord’s blowhole, drawing a long, gaping wound as he did so. When he was nearly halfway across the creature's back, the Wailord gave a final moan before closing its eyes and ceasing its struggle. Wulfric clutched his iron ring and said a prayer for the repose of its soul.

    Halvard wrenched his bloody sword from the Wailord’s back and held it triumphantly above his head, and all the northmen cheered. Torvald grinned up at his brother before turning on his heel and barking more orders to the rowers. They pulled up alongside the Wailord and began driving hooks into the dead pokemon’s flanks, securing it with lines to tow back to Rovngalad. Uthald circled around them to keep scavengers away from their prize.

    The northmen laughed and joked as they returned to their benches and began rowing back to the fjords of Rovngalad. Svein looked over at Wulfric. “We’ve never taken down a Wailord before! My uncle said that he and Uthald could do it, but Mother always thought he was just being stupid.”

    Ulfi laughed. “Next time we go to the clan meet, we’ll have to tell everyone all about it!”

    “No one will believe us!” Torvald replied. “We’ll have to bring some of the bones!”

    When the boats finally cut their way up the inlet that led to Rovngalad, Wulfric nearly collapsed off his bench in sheer exhaustion. The adrenaline that had propelled him through the Wailmer hunt had long since faded, and even months of working the fields had not prepared his muscles for nearly nine straight hours of rowing. The boats docked and Ulfi laughed while Wulfric struggled to his feet and tried to disembark. After letting the monk try to force his legs to work for a moment, he picked Wulfric up and deposited him none to gently on the shore.

    Those who had not joined the hunt, mostly the old, the young, the infirm, and many of the thralls, immediately set out on small fishing boats to carve the meat and blubber from the warriors’ catches, along with siphoning off the oil. The smell made Wulfric retch, and he bent double as his stomach threatened to expel its contents, only for him to realize there was nothing to send back up.

    Halvard jumped down from Uthald’s crown and waded through the shallows, brandishing his sword aloft for the children of Rovngalad to marvel at. He beamed and laughed, but a shadow eclipsed the setting sun, and Sigrund crashed to the earth, landing in a flurry of wings and wind. The Noivern collapsed the moment her feet touched the ground, exhausted from the extended flight. Ragnhildr leapt from her back and laid a hand on the dragon’s flank, pressing her forehead to Sigrund’s snout and breathing slowly, deeply. Sigrund’s frantic breaths slowed to match Ragnhildr’s, and she slipped into unconsciousness. Once the Noivern was seen to, the woman whirled on Halvard.
    She stalked towards him, and Halvard’s grin vanished immediately. Ragnhildr punched her brother across the mouth, sending him sprawling to the ground. The villagers around them gasped in shock and horror, but no one moved to interfere. While Halvard climbed to his feet, Ragnhildr spat in his face. “You idiot,” she snarled, punching him again as soon as he stood up, sending him sprawling once more. “How could you be so reckless? Would you deprive your people of their jarl? You could have killed everyone on those boats!”

    Halvard got to his feet again, holding up a hand to forestall any further blows. “I did what I had to so I could feed my people through the winter and have enough to trade at the clan meet. Besides,” he lowered his voice, “Even were I to die, Torvald could take my place.”

    Ragnhildr leaned in close. It was only because Wulfric and Dismas had crept closer that they could hear what was said at all. “You know damn well he couldn’t do what you can,” she hissed. “If you die before you can lead us against the Usurper, I will pray to the Bringer of Death to cast you out of the Glowing Halls and into the Abyss.”

    Halvard narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn’t.”

    Ragnhildr tensed to strike him a third time, but held herself back. “You put us all in enough danger just by being alive, Halvard. But it would be worse for all of us if you were dead.” She walked off and the villagers went back to carving up the hunt’s spoils, but Halvard seemed stricken. After a few moments, he shook his head and made his way up the village’s central path, back towards his longhouse. Wulfric forced himself to his feet and trudged after the jarl, but when Halvard reached his fields, he whistled for Steinarr and swung up onto the Gogoat’s back. The two of them cantered off into the forest on the far side of the field, and Wulfric knew he had no chance of following now.

    He fell to his knees and fumbled for the iron ring around his neck. “Pray with me, Dismas.” His Chatot fluttered to the ground next to him and looked up at him expectantly. Wulfric took a shaky breath. “Oh great Arceus, Your humble servants come to you in need of Your grace.”

    “Praise be to the Lord Most High,” Dismas said, giving the proper response. He had often accompanied Wulfric to the daily prayers.

    “Oh Lord Arceus, come and heal my troubled heart, deliver me from the darkness and grant me clarity. In Your name we pray.”

    “Hail to you, oh Lord of Light.”

    “Craft me into Your instrument so that I may be a light in this darkness, and with your benevolent power deliver me from the torment I find my spirit in. Fill me with Your light and direct my mind and heart into the grace of Your love.”

    “We bow to Your great name, All Seeing Light.”

    “Have mercy on my soul, trapped in this purgatory, and look with mercy on this forsaken and troubled man. Admit me into Your thousand-armed embrace and show me the way to guide Jarl Halvard so that we may become the tools with which Your mission on this earth is fulfilled.”

    “For this, we pray.”

    Wulfric and Dismas remained there, nearly motionless, until Wulfric’s muscles began to stiffen and then pain him. He remained with his forehead pressed to the cold, hard earth, waiting to feel the light and warmth of his faith fill him, but it did not come, and he found no solace.
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  6. #6
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    Chapter 5

    The drums beat out a steady pulse, almost like a heartbeat, while a piper droned on with a strangely-shaped wooden flute. The northerners, wrapped in furs against the late autumn chill, walked in silent procession down the hills of Rovngalad towards the harbor. Wulfric and the other thralls followed some distance behind, outside the circle of light cast by the torches. Even though Halvard’s family was on the far edge of the crowd, leading the procession, Wulfric could still make them out. Halvard and his siblings seemed to tower above the ordinary villagers, dwarf them by the sheer virtue of their presence. Steinarr, Jarn and Geirr walked beside them, the Houndoom’s horns and Aggron’s plates gleaming in the torchlight.

    When they reached the pier, the northmen stopped and formed a rough semi-circle around Harvald. The jarl raised his face to the sky and stood silently for a moment before spreading his arms wide. “Today, people of Rovngalad, we gather to celebrate our harvest, and to honor our sons who have grown so strong!” Several people cheered, and a handful of boys were pushed to the front of the crowd, Svein among them. Dismas squawked and alighted from Wulfric shoulder to fly above the gathering for a better view.

    Halvard locked eyes with each of the boys in turn. “I’ve watched all of you grow up into men your fathers can be proud of. It is through the strength of your backs that we brought in the harvest to spare it from the Storm Bringer’s wrath. It was the strength of your arms that propelled our longships through the sea. You hunt for us, you fish for us, you honor the village. And as you have honored Rovngalad, now Rovngalad honors you!”

    The boys lined up before Halvard, and he gave each one of them an iron bangle that fit over their wrist. He spoke to them quietly, in words Wulfric could not hear, and the boys responded. When Halvard had told Wulfric about this ceremony after their language lesson several days prior, he had explained that the boys would swear loyalty to him as jarl, pledging the strength of their arms to fight for him and to protect his lands. Then the boys would each receive a kiss from the jarl’s wife, but as Halvard was unmarried and uninterested in marrying, this role would be fulfilled by the Ragnhildr, as the highest ranking woman in Halvard’s family. Then, each boy would be handed a small bowl full of mead, a spiced and honeyed drink, that they were to drink in one long pull.

    Wulfric smiled when he saw Ragnhildr give Svein a quick hug as well, and Torvald tousled the boy’s hair before handing him the bowl. A few of the other boys had coughed after drinking their mead, but Svein fought down the urge even though it was plain he wanted to. This made Torvald smile wider, and the warmth in his eyes when he looked at Svein was almost enough to banish the predatory, aquiline cast from his features.

    Once each boy had taken an arm ring and sworn their oath, their parents came forward to present them with the first pokemon that could be truly their own. For Svein, it was one of Geirr’s pups, a Houndour sired on another Houndoom in the village a few months before. Wulfric also saw Ulfi the boat builder give his son Odmund a Timburr. A good choice, now that Odmund would be helping his father at the docks, and would need a partner able to support him. Other boys received pokemon like Lillipup, Skiddo, and Espurr, pokemon to help them work the fields and bring in the Mareep herds.

    Halvard smiled in a way that Wulfric could only describe as beatific, spreading his arms in a magnanimous gesture. “And now,” the jarl boomed. “We feast!”

    Thralls appeared at the fringes of the northmen gathering, bearing long wooden tables and platters laden with food. The northmen parted around them as the revelry commenced. Wulfric was not needed to serve, and so he retreated to a dark byway of Rovngalad and knelt down to pray.

    “Oh Great Arceus, Lord Most High, your humble servant beseeches You to give Your blessing to Svein this day. Though he is not of Your flock, he is a strong lad, and true of heart. Perhaps one day he may yet honor You in his heart. For this I pray.”

    ***

    Halvard stormed up the main thoroughfare several days later, Wulfric and Svein, laden with firewood, had to hurry to keep up. Talvar, Svein’s Houndour pup, panted along at the boy’s heels. “Every cursed year!” the jarl snapped. “Every year I have to go and bow to that damned usurper!”

    Torvald had no difficulty matching his brother’s stride. “And every year, you throw a tantrum. You know it is our duty.”

    “I know full well what my duty is!” Halvard shot back. “And I plan to do it! I just don’t have to like it!”

    “Then stop acting like a petulant child,” Torvald said with a sigh. “At least this year we have the Wailord hunt to brag about.”

    “Oh, of course, the Wailord hunt.” Halvard turned and spat. “That’s what I think about bragging about the damn Wailord. The Wailord doesn’t matter, because I still have to kiss Ingmar’s boots!”

    Torvald seized Halvard’s arm and lowered his voice to a hiss. “You know he would slaughter everyone here if you didn’t.”

    “I’m so sick of being the Fool of Rovngalad. How much longer do you—”

    “Soon.” Torvald allowed a ghost of a smile to play across his lips. “By this time next year, you’ll be drinking your mead out of Ingmar’s skull or we’ll all be feasting in the cold halls of the Bringer of Death.” He turned and glowered at Wulfric. “This doesn’t concern you, priest. Keep moving.”

    After their language lesson that night, Halvard and Wulfric lounged by the hearth, the northman drinking his customary horn of strong ale. Dismas was perched on Halvard’s knee, and the jarl was absentmindedly stroking the Chatot’s feathers with one finger. “I wonder if Dismas could shout as loudly as Sigrund,” Halvard mused. “It would take some practice.”

    “Dismas isn’t much for fighting,” Wulfric replied.

    “Have you ever tried?”

    “Not really.”

    “Then how would you know, eh?”

    Wulfric shrugged and conceded the point. “May I ask you a question?” When Halvard shrugged, Wulfric sat up straighter. “What were you and Torvald talking about earlier? You have to go see the man who killed your father? I don’t understand.”

    Halvard threw back the rest of his ale, and instantly Valdis was at his side with a fresh cup. The northman tried to smile at his sister’s Kirlia, but it didn’t reach his eyes. For a long moment, Halvard just stared into the fires of the hearth. Finally, he sighed. “Ingmar, whether I like it or not, is king of these lands. All the jarls in the north must go to his hall once a year and pay him tribute. If I don’t, my life and my lands are forfeit. For most of the jarls, it’s simply an inconvenient duty to tend to after the harvest’s brought in, a chance to drink with men from other clans and trade gossip. But for me…” He took a drink and wiped the froth from his mustache. “Ingmar knows the shame he cast on me when he killed my father and uncle, and he loves to rub my face in it. Every time the jarls gather, he shames me again. I’d love to just stick a knife in him and be done with it.”

    “So why haven’t you?”

    “If there was just me to think about, I would have. But Rovngalad needs me. If I were to kill Ingmar under his own roof, as his guest, the other jarls would be honor-bound to make war against me.” Halvard shook his head. “The only consolation is that Ingmar is bound by the same rules I am. So long as I’m at the Meet, he can’t kill me either, and once I’m home, he wouldn’t dare go up against me when I know the land better than he does. He’s a bastard, but he’s not stupid.” Halvard fell silent again for a spell. “You ought to come with me.”

    Wulfric was stunned. “What? Why?”

    “Because I said so. I’m the jarl, right?” Halvard smiled ruefully. “Mostly, I think I ought to bring you because it would annoy Torvald and Skaldi. That’s reason enough. But I want to bring you because you’re the only one who sees me as Jarl Halvard, not the Fool of Rovngalad.” The northman threw back his ale, set his cup aside, and threw one last log on the fire. “It’s late. You should go to sleep.”

    And so three days later, Wulfric found himself once again curled up in the belly of a longship, clutching a damp cloak around his shoulders as the northmen cut through the northern sea. On this voyage, Halvard had told him, the ships would not likely leave sight of the coastline as they travelled up the northern straits to Yeavenguut, Ingmar’s seat of power. Svein and the other boys who had gotten their arm rings were all on Halvard’s boat, and so Wulfric’s usual seat next to Ulfi was taken by Odmund. When Wulfric was to take his first turn at the oars, Torvald patted the bench beside him. “You’re with me today, priest.”

    The warrior rowed in silence for a long while, the muscles in his neck and arms flexing and straining. Though Wulfric was panting and his arms had begun to ache, Torvald’s breath came at a measured pace, and Wulfric was reasonably sure that the water dampening Torvald’s brow was merely spray from the ocean, and not the sweat that drenched was even now freezing on the faces of the other men aboard.

    “I want you to be very careful,” Torvald said, taking Wulfric by surprise. The warrior kept his gaze fixed straight ahead, where Branna roosted on the prow. “I’ve seen the way you look at things, Wulfric. Where most men see only the river, you see the currents moving underneath.” The oar rose and fell several more times before Torvald spoke again. “Though my brother hates the title that Ingmar fashioned for him, it’s not without a grain of truth. Halvard thinks he’s invincible, but we both know that’s not true. I try to keep an eye on him, but I can’t be everywhere at once.” Another stroke of the oar. “Will you help me in this?”

    “Of course,” Wulfric said. “That’s why Halvard brought me along.”

    “Then perhaps my brother isn’t as foolish as he appears.”

    Wulfric hid a smile and feared he was about to overstep himself. “He also did it because he thought it would irritate you.”

    Torvald rolled his eyes. “Never mind then.”

    That evening, as the sun set on the western horizon, turning the waves gold and orange, the northmen sailed into Yeavenguut. Like Rovngalad, Yeavenguut was deep within a fjord, but unlike Halvard’s humble collection of fisherman’s huts and fields, Yeavenguut was an imposing stone fortress with a modestly sized town bustling within an outer palisade. The mouth of the fjord was guarded by two stone towers, and even from a distance, Wulfric could see the archers standing atop them. As the longships sailed into the gap between them, Halvard wordlessly stood up and jumped onto the ship’s railing before diving into the ocean. Wulfric watched the small splashes the jarl made as he stroked beneath the water’s surface until he reached Uthald, taking up his place atop the Gyarados’s spiked crown. Uthald surged forward to lead the ships up to the docks.

    A small man with a balding pate and another man in a hooded red robe hustled forward to meet Halvard as the jarl strode up the wooden planks. The balding man inclined his head in something that barely passed as a bow and clasped his hands in front of him. “Jarl Halvard, King Ingmar is waiting for you in the hall. I am to accompany you.” A Klefki bobbed behind the man’s head, its iron and bronze keys clanging.

    Halvard gave the man a look that spoke of supreme distaste, and for a moment Wulfric thought he would shove him off the docks. But the moment passed, and Halvard simply nodded. “I know the way,” was all he said. Halvard snapped his fingers and Steinarr, who had been resting placidly in the stern of Halvard’s longship, got slowly to his feet, careful not to upset the boat. Ulfi and his son affixed a ramp that allowed the Gogoat to descend into the shallow waters, and once Steinarr drew level with Halvard, the jarl swung up into his customary place on his back. Halvard glanced over his shoulder at Uthald. “You behave yourself until I get back.” Then, he tapped his heels lightly against Steinarr’s flanks and cantered off through the thronging main street of Yeavenguut, scattering the crowd before him.

    Torvald jumped over the ship’s railing and landed nimbly on the dock. He shouldered his pack as Branna alighted on his shoulders. “Trygi,” he said, nodding to the steward.

    The balding man nodded back. “Torvald. A pleasure to see you again.” His words lacked any kind of inflection, his eyes remained as dull as chips of stone.

    As Torvald brushed by, he shoved Trygi off the dock and into the water. “Would that I could say the same.” Trygi spluttered and tried to get himself right side up while Halvard’s men all roared with laughter. Trygi’s Klefki made to rush at Torvald, but Branna spread her wings and shrieked and the Klefki demurred. “We’ll set up camp in the usual spot, lads,” Torvald called over his shoulder. “Get those ships unloaded!”

    The northmen quickly and efficiently unloaded their own gear and the things they had brought to trade at Yeavenguut from the ships and moored them. As they all went to follow Torvald, Wulfric felt a hand clamp down on his arm. The figure in the scarlet robe, silent throughout all the proceedings, looked him up and down from heavily lidded eyes. “You aren’t one of ours,” they rasped, in a voice that Wulfric could not determine was masculine or feminine. The figure’s lips were completely black, though whether it was some kind of cosmetic or their natural state, Wulfric was not sure. Something rustled underneath the robe, and a Sabeleye poked out its head, fixing Wulfric with its unblinking stare.

    “Get your filthy hands off him!” Wulfric felt himself be yanked back and the scarlet figure released their grip. Skaldi leaned in close to the figure’s face and hissed. “Wulfric is Jarl Halvard’s!” the northern priest spat. “You don’t get to touch him!”

    Skaldi led Wulfric away, muttering to himself under his breath. “Thank you,” Wulfric finally said.

    Skaldi glanced at him. “I didn’t do it for you, priest. Agmundr corrupts everything he touches, and you’re Halvard’s property.” Skaldi shrugged. “I don’t much like him.”

    Svein and Odmund caught up with them then, chattering excitedly as they took in the sights and smells of Yeavenguut. Wulfric tried to pick out strands of the conversations, but the multitude of dialects and accents was too much for his tentative grasp of the northmen’s language. The exited the fortress town by means of another gate, and went some distance into a stand of trees outside the walls. Torvald had already started a fire and was cooking some of the salted meat they had brought with them. Ulfi took Odmund while Svein and Talvar hurried over to Torvald. The warrior mussed his nephew’s hair and inclined his head to Skaldi. The priest nodded back and began setting up his own bedroll. “There will be a feast tonight,” Torvald said to Wulfric. “Normally, any thralls not belonging to the household would be barred, but you’ll be coming along with us. I’m sure plenty in Ingmar’s court will be amused by a southerner who speaks our language as well as you do. But I need you to stay alert, like we spoke about before.”

    “I understand.”

    “And bring your Chatot too. I’m sure they’ll like to see him. If you need me, if Halvard is in danger, send the bird with a message. I’ll come to you as quickly as I can.” Torvald reached up to where Skerast was hovering behind his head and ran a finger along the flat of one of the blades. “If you don’t stay alert, this place will kill you.”
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  7. #7
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    Chapter 6

    After Halvard’s various stories about the cruelty of the Usurper, Wulfric had not been sure what to expect of the man. He realized after the fact that he had constructed a mental picture of him similar to the pagan lords that had persecuted the first Arcean missionaries that crossed into the southern lands, bent and pale men with minds poisoned by the heathen priests that whispered in their ear. He had certainly not expected the ruddy, bearded giant of a man who sat on the throne dais of Yeavenguut. Ingmar had a booming laugh and rumbling voice that seemed to make the boards of his hall shake. He traded good-natured insults with many of the other jarls and warriors crowded around the long wooden tables, but there was a shrewd calculation behind his eyes, and every time he happened to glance at Halvard or Torvald, his gaze hardened.

    A ceremony much like the one Wulfric had seen in Rovngalad took place before the feat began. The boys all lined up before Ingmar and swore an oath of fealty to him as their king, before receiving a kiss from his much younger wife. They were then all given a simple earthenware cup full of mead that they were to drink and then throw the cup to their feet to shatter it. When the rite was completed, the feast began.

    Svein, Odmund and the other boys from Rovngalad returned quickly to their fathers and uncles, and the men of Rovngalad quickly closed ranks. They commandeered a table at the far side of the hall, as far from Ingmar and his retinue as possible. Wulfric heard Ingmar laughing intermittently throughout the feast as he stood behind Halvard’s shoulder. The king scratched his Zangoose behind its notched ear as an Aegislash drifted around his head. The red-robed priest stood utterly still off to one side of the throne dais, and Trygi the steward was constantly rushing about the hall to fetch the king something or other, or to carry a message.

    He cleared his throat as he approached Halvard’s table. Wulfric had the distinct sense he was looking down his nose at them. “Jarl Halvard, King Ingmar requests you join him. Bring your southerner.”

    Torvald stood up, and Trygi stumbled back with a little yelp. The warrior brushed past the castellan with a grunt. “Just going to take a piss,” he muttered, but Wulfric caught the look he threw Halvard.

    The jarl sighed and rose to his feet and picked up his drinking horn, tossing back the contents. He steered Wulfric forward, and Wulfric saw that Ulfi and Ivarr moved to the far side of the hall, where they could rush the dais if they needed to. Halvard held Wulfric back when they reached the cleared floor before the high table. The jarl bowed to the king, keeping his face carefully blank. Ingmar grinned down at him. “Ah, the Fool’s come back again. What do you think of what I’ve done with your uncle’s hall?”

    Wulfric blanched. He had not expected Ingmar to be so bald-faced about Halvard’s station. But Halvard merely shrugged. “A little dark for my tastes, but nice enough. I prefer a larger hearth and a few more torches, myself.”

    “Oh?” Ingmar’s eyebrow went up. “Agmundr tells me you have yourself a pet southerner too.” He beckoned to Wulfric. “Come here, lad. Let me get a look at you.” Wulfric shuffled forward and bowed. Ingmar looked him up and down. “What does he do?”

    “He speaks our language like a native son of Rovngalad.”

    “Anyone can grunt and swear. Nine hells, I’d bet even your Gogoat could speak like a native son of Rovngalad.” Ingmar replied, to general laughter. Out of the corner of his eye, Wulfric saw Torvald leaning against the large doorframe of the hall, his eyes narrowed. One of Skerast’s tassels wrapped around his wrist.

    “Wulfric, say something to the king,” Halvard said softly.

    “Your majesty, it is an honor to stand in your presence. I am so fortunate that Jarl Halvard has given me this opportunity.” On Wulfric’s shoulder, Dismas bobbed up and down in a facsimile of a bow and repeated what Wulfric had said.

    Ingmar leaned forward on his throne. “Interesting trick. Say something more.”

    “Your castle is most impressive, your majesty. Even the great castle of Lumen to the south pales in comparison.” A blatant lie, of course. The single time Wulfric had made a pilgrimage to Lumen, the citadel had awed him with its scope, easily five times the size of Yeavenguut. But Ingmar did not need to know that. “I am,” he searched for the proper word, not one the northerners used often, “humbled to come before you and stand in your august presence.”

    “Big words for a little man.” Ingmar tossed back his goblet of wine. “Jarl Halvard, he speaks better than you. How much would you sell him for?”

    Wulfric felt his throat constrict as a smile played across Halvard’s face. “Only your crown would be sufficient, King Ingmar,” Halvard said.

    “Does the slave mean that much to you?”

    “Perhaps your crown means that little to me.”

    The two men regarded each other for a long moment, and it seemed to Wulfric that the entire hall held its breath. Finally, Ingmar scoffed and waved his hand, a clear gesture of dismissal. Torvald flicked his fingers and Skerast uncurled its tassel from his hand. Halvard took Wulfric’s elbow and started to lead him away, but Ingmar held up a finger. Torvald froze in the doorway, his hand reaching toward Skerast again. “Jarl Halvard, you and your southerner come and walk with me when this is all over.” Halvard nodded up at the king and returned to his table. The men of Rovngalad were far more subdued for the rest of the feast, muttering amongst each other and fingering their weapons. A few other veteran warriors came and spoke briefly to Halvard, exchanging little more than pleasantries so as to avoid the notice and ire of King Ingmar.

    When the ale and mead finally ran dry and the northmen began to disperse, Torvald sat down next to Halvard. “Are you actually going to go?” the warrior asked.

    Halvard shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I’ll have my sword, and I’ll have Wulfric.”

    Torvald scoffed. “Because if Ingmar tries to kill you, I'm sure your little priest can stop him. Let me come with you, brother.”

    “You may be the finest warrior in the north, but I’m not so far behind you. I can look after myself, little brother.” It was said just sternly enough for Torvald to fall silent. Skaldi opened his mouth to say something, but Halvard shook his head. “Both of you, bring the men back to the campsite. If I haven’t returned by midnight,” Halvard shrugged, “do what you have to do.”

    Wulfric followed Halvard down to the water’s edge, where Ingmar waited with his red-robed priest and another man. The king stared out across the water to where Uthald drifted in the deepest part of the fjord. “A magnificent creature,” Ingmar said when he heard Halvard’s footsteps. “I’ve always wondered how a stupid fool like you managed to tame a shipbreaker like that.”

    “Did you just bring me out here to trade insults, you old bastard?”

    “I brought you here to talk, away from the prying ears in my hall.”

    Halvard glanced at Agmundr and scoffed. “Right. Is this the part where I admire all that you’ve built over my father and uncle’s graves? Or are we going to skip to the part where you try and put a knife in my back?”

    “Nothing so underhanded as that. I’m not the savage you think I am, Jarl Halvard.”

    “Is that so?”

    “Whether you believe me or not, I did what I had to do. I united the north.”

    “My great grandfather united the north, and my uncle was doing just fine at keeping it united until you killed him.”

    “Harald and Sigurd were getting too old. The far-flung jarls were getting restless. How long before they broke away and carved out their own kingdoms? I put your uncle and father down and kept the north untied under my banner.”

    “If that’s what you want to believe, so be it.”

    Ingmar sighed. “It is the truth, Jarl Halvard.”

    “Let’s say it is. Why tell me now? I swore your oath. I’m back in the fold for another year.”

    “I know you are plotting to kill me, Halvard.”

    Wulfric sucked in a breath, waiting for Agmundr or the third man to draw a knife, to fall on Halvard, to leave the jarl in a puddle of his blood on the sand. Uthald was too far away to help, if he even knew Halvard was here. But Halvard betrayed no emotion. “So you’re not quite as stupid as you look.”

    “You admit to it?”

    “No sense in lying, if you already know.”

    “The other jarls won’t help you if you go to war against me.”

    “I know plenty who won’t help you either.” Halvard turned his head and spat. “The warriors of Rovngalad always knew we would have to fight whatever Yeavenguut threw at us alone.”

    “You’ll throw the lives of your subjects away for your vain dream?”

    “They swore an oath to do it. Each of my warriors—”

    “Is worth three or four or five of mine, I’ve heard it before. I know you have the fastest ships, the strongest pokemon, the finest warriors. But Rovngalad is small, and you are underequipped. You cannot beat me. Just give it up, Halvard. I will let you go back to Rovngalad to live out the rest of your days quietly. It’s a generous offer. Prove to me you’re not a fool.”

    “No.”

    Ingmar pointed out over the water to the two towers that stood at the mouth of the fjord. “I have a southerner too.” He inclined his head to the third man, the one who had remained quietly in the shadows. “He doesn’t speak our tongue as well as your priest, but he speaks enough now. He is a builder, and thanks to him, I have made Yeavenguut impregnable.”

    “You built two piles of rock on your fjord. How could my army ever hope to face that?”

    “You laugh, but only because you don’t see. With those towers, I can string chains beneath the waves. I can keep your ships out, or trap them in the fjord. Perhaps your Gyarados could leap them, but for all its ferocity, could it really stand against the full might of my army alone?”

    Halvard’s eyes went wide, and Agmundr laughed behind Ingmar. The king smirked. “Now you see.”

    Wulfric edged around behind Halvard’s back. “You are from the south?” he whispered to the quiet man. “They captured you too?”

    The man, several years older than Wulfric, with a ragged beard and sunken eyes, nodded. “I never thought I’d hear someone speak Kalosian again.”

    “I’m Brother Wulfric, from the monastery at Coumarina.”

    “I’m called Donatus Builder. They took me from Geosenge Village.”

    Wulfric glanced over at Ingmar. “Why do you serve him? He’s wicked and cruel.”

    “All the northerners are wicked and cruel,” Donatus replied. “I serve him the same reason you serve your jarl. You keep them happy, you keep your life. King Ingmar wanted towers, so I built him towers.”

    “You could escape with us, come back to Rovngalad. There would be a place for you there.”

    “I’d be trading one master for another. Jarl Halvard won’t be so different from King Ingmar. I’ll stay with the demon I know.”

    Wulfric shook his head. “I’m sorry, Donatus.”

    The builder shrugged. “We just got captured by the wrong people. It’s nothing personal, Brother Wulfric.” He sighed. “Say a prayer for me, would you? Let Arceus know that I’m just doing what I need to do to get by. He’ll understand, right?”

    “His love is all-encompassing and His wisdom infinite. I’m sure He will.”

    Donatus nodded. “Thank you, Brother Wulfric.”

    “I won’t turn tail and go home,” Halvard was saying. “Perhaps you could crush us all with your little finger, but I don’t care a damn about that. You killed my father and my uncle. You stole my throne, and you cast me out into exile, then treat the very thing that shames me like some generous boon.” Halvard snarled and bared his teeth. “The only way this story ends is with a bloody sword and one of our heads in the dirt.”

    Ingmar shook his head. “Just remember that I tried to give you one last chance. I won’t offer it again.”

    Halvard and Wulfric returned to the Rovngalad camp. Halvard brooded in silence, and Wulfric knew better than to try to draw him out of it when he was this sober. The men had built a small fire, but no one tended to it as they all prepared their bedrolls. Halvard sent Wulfric over to sleep by Torvald and Svein while the jarl slumped down against Steinarr some distance away. Torvald raised an eyebrow as he groomed Branna’s feathers. Wulfric glanced over at where Svein played with Talvar and inched closer to Torvald. “They didn’t kill each other,” Wulfric whispered. “But they certainly wanted to.”

    “Well, that’s something.” Skerast drifted by Torvald’s head, its blades glittering from the polish Torvald had recently applied.

    “Ingmar kidnapped a southerner like me, a builder. He’s the one who built the towers at the mouth of the fjord.” He explained what Ingmar had told them about the chains that he could raise, and Torvald’s scowl grew deeper.

    “That sounds unpleasant.” He shooed Branna off his knee, and the Talonflame alighted on a tree branch above the clearing. “Nothing we can’t work around, but still rather inconvenient.” Torvald fell back on his bedroll. “Well, nothing you need to concern yourself with, little priest.”

    One by one, the men drifted off to sleep, and the fire died to mere embers. In the middle of the night, Wulfric was woken to Dismas scratching at him. The monk nearly sat up, but saw a shadow move before the faint fire pit. Keeping his eyes to small slits, he saw that a company of armed men was moving through the camp, swords drawn. Wulfric felt his throat constrict as one of the men drew close to Halvard’s sleeping form. He reached over and grasped Torvald’s wrist, trying to shake the warrior awake. Torvald brushed his hand away, and Wulfric saw that he was already awake and watching the men with his eerie predatory smile.

    Wulfric’s heart was racing. Torvald was going to let the assassins kill his brother and usurp Halvard’s title. Halvard’s dream of regaining his throne and working to establish stronger ties between the north and south would die with him. Wulfric knew he had been sent to Halvard’s side for a reason, and he had to do what he could to protect him. “Halvard!” he shouted. “Halvard, wake up!”

    As he drew the dagger from Torvald’s discarded sword belt and sprang to his feet, Dismas jumped into the air and unleashed a booming squawk. The sound made all of the assassins pause for just long enough for Wulfric to leap across the fire pit and onto the back of Halvard’s assailant. He plunged the dagger into the assassin’s throat and felt the man’s blood pump out onto his hands.

    Halvard was on his feet, sword already in hand. “Men of Rovngalad!” he boomed over Dismas’s shrieking. “Men of Rovngalad, stand and fight!”

    And with that, the clearing erupted into chaos.
    Last edited by Firebrand; 25th September 2016 at 2:16 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Chapter 7
    Halvard’s sword flashed as he raised it and drove it into the chest of the man who only seconds before had tried to kill him. Wulfric slipped from the man’s back as Halvard kicked him to the ground. All around the clearing, other warriors of Rovngalad were jumping up from sleep and seizing their swords and spears. Torvald barked a command, and Branna flew from the tree she had been roosting in, fire blossoming along her wings and illuminating the pandemonium below. Halvard checked to see if Wulfric was unharmed before kicking a spear to him. “Protect my nephew.” And with that, he was gone, running into the fray.

    Wulfric raced to Svein and Talvar’s side. The boy had his sword in hand, crudely lashing out at any of the masked warriors who drew close, though none got close enough for him to strike out at. The only one who did was immediately set upon by Talvar. A Banette emerged shrieking from the trees and tackled Talvar to the ground, freeing the man the Houndour had pinned. An Ariados skittered towards them, but Wulfric jabbed at it with his spear, driving the insect away. Branna, Chatot and the other Rovngalad air aligned were battling fiercely against a flock of Murkrow and a Haunter.

    A warrior with two Bisharp charged at Torvald, but Torvald held his ground. Skerast had wrapped around his arms, and Torvald held one blade loosely in each hand. Wulfric had been told Torvald was the finest warrior in the north ever since he had been kidnapped, but he had never seen Torvald truly fight. He now saw that the title was not merely empty boasting. With a roar, Torvald engaged his attacker, whirling with Skerast in a complicated pattern of blows. He seemed to be surrounded by a shifting curtain of steel, hitting everywhere at once. Steel rang against steel as he parried both of the Bisharp and sent one sprawling with a quick riposte. One of Skerast’s blades began to glow, and he ripped clear through the spine of the second. Then, without losing any momentum, he turned on his heel and hacked off the man’s head with a heavy blow that Torvald made seem almost nonchalant. His face was spattered with blood, but Torvald paid it no mind, simply stalking through the chaos to find another foe.

    Halvard was mounted on Steinarr’s back, hacking away with sword and axe. The Gogoat charged around the edge of the clearing, tossing foes with his horns. The men of Rovngalad knew to stay within the perimeter Halvard had set to avoid being caught beneath Steinarr’s thundering hooves. A Machoke bellowed as it jumped in Halvard’s path, seizing Steinarr’s horns. Halvard brought up his axe and lopped one of the hands off, changing the bellow into a strangled roar of pain and surprise. Steinarr disengaged with a toss of his head, and Skaldi screamed as he brought his axe down again and again on the war aligned’s back, not stopping until the massive Machoke lay still in a spreading puddle of blood.

    Wulfric kept Svein close, using the reach of his spear to try and drive attackers away. After the initial attack, the men of Rovngalad had turned it into a rout and were driving most of their assailants back. Most of the masked assassins were now trying to retreat, and those that weren’t had more pressing concerns than a scrawny monk and a boy. The battle-maddened pokemon of both sides crashed around, sparing little thought for friend or foe. Wulfric seized Svein by the collar and dragged him away as Ivarr’s Beartic hurled down a foe’s Pangoro right where they had been standing. The ice aligned fell on the prone dark aligned again and clamped his heavy jaws down on the Pangoro’s throat.

    “Thanks,” Svein said, more than a little shaken. He batted away a swooping Fletchinder with his small round shield. The air aligned spiraled off, flying lopsided.

    When all of the mysterious assailants had retreated or been killed, the energy of the warriors evaporated. Halvard stumbled over to where Svein and Wulfric stood in mute shock. Dismas fluttered down, and Wulfric tossed his spear aside to take the Chatot into his arms. Halvard knelt before Svein and took the boy’s face in his callused and bloody hands. “Are you all right? You aren’t hurt?” When Svein assured him that he was fine, Halvard clasped him in a brief embrace and turned to Wulfric. “You saved my life.”

    “It is my duty to serve you.”

    “Nonetheless,” Halvard said. “You showed true courage, acting as you did. I don’t know how many of my men would have done the same. I won’t forget this.”

    Wulfric did not get the chance to reply. A keening wail split the night air, and the three of them turned to see Ulfi on his knees, clutching something to his chest. When Halvard crouched next to him, Ulfi held out his arms. “Look what they did. Look what they did to my boy.” Someone had cut Odmund’s throat, a gaping red line beneath his chin. A bruise on the side of his face suggested he had been bludgeoned with the blunt end of an axe, and a red stain had spread on his tunic from another wound on his chest. Svein let out a strangled cry and Wulfric buried the boy’s face in his chest, trying to spare him the sight. Halvard put a hand on Ulfi’s shoulder in mute sympathy.

    Aside from Odmund, there were two other Rovngalad casualties. They were older men, veteran fighters with little to speak of in terms of family. They had fallen bravely, and while their passing was mourned, they had died the way they wished. But Odmund had just been a boy, with a whole lifetime ahead of him. Ulfi would not leave the corpse, and wept bitterly. Ivarr sat with him and helped Skaldi recite the prayers to send Odmund’s soul to the cold halls of the Bringer of Death.

    When the rites were completed, Halvard returned to Ulfi’s side and touched a finger to the ring on Odmund’s arm. He whispered something into Ulfi’s ear, and the boat builder nodded. “Odmund would have been honored,” Ulfi managed to say.

    Halvard slipped the ring from the dead boy’s arm and went to Wulfric’s side. He held out the bloodied ring. “Take it.”

    “What?”

    “It’s yours now. Take it.”

    “But that would mean—”

    “It means you’re free. It means you’re a man of Rovngalad. I don’t need a thrall. I need a good man like you to stand by me.” He shook the ring insistently. “Take it, Wulfric.” Wulfric slid the bangle onto his wrist, and Halvard jerked his head towards Yeavenguut. “Now come with me.”

    They were joined by Torvald at the edge of the clearing, and the jarl nodded brusquely to his bloodied brother. The two of them fell into step beside each other, and Wulfric had to hasten his steps to keep up. “So what’s our next move?” Torvald growled.

    Halvard clicked his tongue at Steinarr and ran a hand through the grass aligned’s bushy mane. “That’s on the Usurper now. Do you have what I told you to bring?” Torvald mutely held up a dark sack, and Halvard pressed his lips into a grim smile.

    They came upon the closed gates of Yeavenguut, and Halvard pounded on the thick slabs of wood and iron. Minutes passed with no response, and the jarl’s hand was turning raw from the repeated knocking. Finally, the door creaked open slightly, and a sleepy-looking porter peeked around. Torvald shoved the door open, knocking the man on his rear. “Get the king,” Halvard snapped. “Tell him that I and my men were just attacked.”

    “Jarl Halvard, King Ingmar is sleeping now and—”

    The porter broke off when Torvald leveled one of his blades at his throat. “The king. Now.” The poor man nodded and hurried off into the city proper.

    When he was out of sight, Halvard sighed and pressed his forehead against Steinarr’s. “I’m so tired, my friend. Why won’t the gods just let me rest?” Steinarr rumbled low in his throat and licked Halvard’s chin.

    The porter returned with Ingmar, the priest in red robes, and an honor guard. Ingmar tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Jarl Halvard, why are you terrorizing my porter at this time of night?”

    “A better question is why your men were terrorizing our camp!” Torvald snapped.

    “What are you talking about?” Ingmar shot back. “Why are you covered in blood?”

    “We’ve been sending your treacherous warriors back to the Cold Halls where they belong,” Torvald said. “And may they rot in the deepest, darkest pits the Bringer of Death can find.”

    “I assure you I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    Torvald upended the sack he carried in his left hand, and a ball rolled out of it, stopping at Ingmar’s feet. The red priest picked it up and showed it to the king, careful to hold it so as not to stain his robes. When the priest raised it up to one of the torches, Wulfric saw that it was the severed head of Trygi and nearly vomited. Ingmar studied the head of his retainer dispassionately and shrugged. “Trygi acted on his own accord. I had no knowledge of any raid he planned against you. Had you left him alive, I would have had him tortured to find out his motives. But you've spared me the trouble.”

    The look that passed between Halvard and Torvald made it clear that they thought Ingmar was lying through his teeth, but lacking any solid proof, they could do no more. Ingmar knew it too, and he allowed a smirk to crack his carefully blank visage. “Jarl Halvard, you ought to take your southern thrall back to camp. He looks quite ill.”

    “My southerner is no thrall,” Halvard said. He reached out and seized Wulfric’s arm, raising it to the torchlight so that all could see the ring there. “He is a man of Rovngalad.”

    Ingmar made no move to mask his distaste. “You must truly be desperate to try and swell your ranks with southern priests.”

    “I lost three fine warriors tonight,” Halvard said. “One of them was a boy who swore an oath of loyalty to you just hours ago. Trygi died with his blood on his hands.”

    “What northman doesn’t have his fair share of blood on his hands? Between the two of us and your brother, we have more than most. What does the blood of one boy matter one way or the other?”

    Halvard narrowed his eyes. “My men will be leaving on the morning tide. We swore our oaths to you, and I have no more patience for your mummer’s show of a festival. You can try to stop us if you choose, and we can see if those southern towers of yours really can stop the men of Rovngalad.”

    “It would seem to me, Jarl Halvard, that one of your men has not sworn an oath to me.” He glanced down at Wulfric’s arm ring and smiled.

    Halvard placed a protective hand on Wulfric’s shoulder. “The time for that rite has come and gone. Wulfric is my man for the next year, and he will swear to you at your next feast, as is customary.”

    Ingmar glanced at Agmundr, and the red priest spread his hands. “He is not wrong.”

    Ingmar huffed out a breath. “So be it. Leave this place, Halvard Sigurdsson.”

    “With pleasure.” Halvard mounted up on Steinarr’s back and rode through the gate. Torvald paused just long enough to spit at Ingmar’s feet before turning on his heel and gesturing for Wulfric to follow him. Together they disappeared into the shadows of the forest.

    ***

    The rigging creaked as the longships tacked towards the mouth of Rovngalad’s fjord. Uthald kept pace with the lead longship, the sunlight glittering on his sapphire-blue and golden scales. The sea wind blew Wulfric’s hair back from his face, and on his shoulder Dismas ruffled his feathers. The monk idly toyed with the ring on his arm, still unused to the weight of the bangle. He watched Halvard slowly rise from his place atop Uthald’s crowned head and settle his stance as they passed the spars of land that marked the entrance to the fjord.

    The rowers guided the longships to the wharf, where the women, children and infirm of Rovngalad waited to meet them. Skaldi jumped from his boat as soon as they reached the shallows, holding aloft the severed heads of three of the night assailants. His Breloom leapt after him, and together they splashed onto the shore.

    Torvald stepped lightly onto the dock and swept Runa up in a hug, carrying her off into the village proper after a brief nod to Ragnhildr. Svein raced to his mother and embraced her, babbling excitedly about the chaos of the nighttime attack. Ragnhildr mussed her son’s hair and sent him after his uncle, promising to listen to his full accounting later. Wulfric hung back to help Ulfi lift Odmund’s body, now wrapped in a burial shroud, from the belly of the boat. Odmund’s Timburr limped along next to the boat builder, looking just as shocked and confused as the boy’s father.

    Odmund absently patted Wulfric’s shoulder, muttered “Thanks” and continued on his way towards his house on the shoreline. Wulfric looked for Halvard and finally saw him making his way up towards one of the game paths that lined the hills around the village. Halvard generally walked those trails when he wanted solitude to think, but Wulfric wondered if he ought to go after him. When he tried to move off the dock, Ragnhildr stopped him.

    “Torvald sent word about what happened home with Branna,” she said.

    “Yes.”

    “So I know what my brother has done for you.” She glanced down at his arm.

    “I… yes. I suppose I’m one of you now.”

    Ragnhildr’s lips twitched up in something approaching a smile. “Yes, I suppose you are. It is not undeserved.” She wrapped her arms around his torso and pulled him close. “You saved my brother’s life and protected my son. I cannot thank you enough.” She abruptly pulled away. “You are more than welcome to remain in our hall, until such a time you wish to move into one of your own.”

    “Ragnhildr, thank you. That is…”

    “The least the children of Sigurd can do to show our gratitude.” She started up the dock and glanced over her shoulder. "Well, aren't you coming? I've kept your supper warm." Wulfric smiled back and followed her to what was now truly his home.
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  9. #9
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    Chapter 8

    Wulfric grunted as Halvard threw his entire body weight behind his sword blow, and the monk-turned-northman staggered back a few paces. Halvard hissed out a breath and pointed the tip of his blade at Wulfric’s feet. “Sloppy. Again.” Wulfric charged, and Halvard parried effortlessly, sidestepping the blow and slapping Wulfric with the flat of his blade. “Again. Every man of Rovngalad stands in the shield wall, and every man counts on his brothers in arms. If one man flags, the shield wall breaks. We can’t get back the years you lost in that southern monastery, but I can make sure you don’t get the rest of us killed.” This time when Wulfric attacked, Halvard slowed his counter to show him how it worked.

    Since arriving back from the disastrous affair at Yeavenguut nearly a month ago, Halvard had brought Wulfric into the daily training with the rest of the warriors. The farm work Wulfric had endured for most of the previous year had hardened his muscles, but dragging a plow and swinging a sword were quite different, and he was crawling to bed sore once again. Svein and the other boys were in a similar circumstance, and it embarrassed Wulfric that the only opponent he could regularly match was Svein. The boy was over a decade his junior and more than a head shorter, but what he lacked in muscle mass and reach he made up for in a lifetime of learning weapons fundamentals from his uncles. However, the previous week Wulfric had managed to best Skaldi, and he still felt a glow of pride whenever he thought back to it. The northern priest had overreached and Wulfric had slipped inside his guard, knocking him to the ground and disarming him. Skaldi had been livid, of course, but Halvard had seemed suitably impressed.

    Occasionally Ulfi would take Wulfric off Halvard’s hands and help him with his axework, and sometimes invited him to help out in the boathouse when the weather prevented them from spending much time in the fields. Ulfi was a stern teacher, but his style was far more patient than Halvard or Torvald’s, and Wulfric knew he was trying to fill the void in his heart that Odmund had left. Although he had little enough interest in building boats, he indulged Ulfi and paid careful attention whenever the man lectured him on how to sand along the grain and fit the ribs.

    While Wulfric sat massaging his sore muscles by the fire, Torvald sat down across from him. The warrior had just returned from one of his strange trips out into the mountains with Jarn. Torvald leaned back with a groan and smirked. “Halvard’s running you hard, isn’t he?”

    Wulfric smirked. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

    “Big talk from such a small man.”

    “I’m no Torvald the Red, but I’m getting there.”

    Torvald laughed. “Well, you certainly boast like a northman now!” He poured himself a horn of ale and took a draught. “Wulfric, would you turn Dismas over to me tomorrow? There are some things I would like to teach him.”
    “Dismas isn’t really a fighter.”

    “On the battlefield, your pokemon are often the only things standing between you and the Cold Halls. Perhaps Dismas won’t fly at the lead with Branna and Sigrund, but you’ll want him to watch your back.”

    Wulfric turned to his Chatot. “Well, what do you say? Do you want to learn how to fight?”

    Dismas cocked his head from side to side and warbled for a moment. Then he bobbed up and down. “Fight! Die! Blood!”

    Wulfric glanced over at Torvald. “He’s all yours, I suppose.”

    And so it went. When Wulfric reported to the training yards for his daily beatings, Torvald took Dismas off with Branna and Skerast. When the Chatot was returned to Wulfric in the evenings, Dismas was covered in scratches, his feathers were rumpled and in disarray, but Wulfric could not deny that Dismas was carrying himself with far more swagger. When Wulfric asked what Torvald’s methods were, the warrior shrugged. “We’re just sparring. Dismas isn’t as fast or strong as Branna, but he’s quick and he’s clever. He can turn and loop faster because he’s small.” He rumpled Wulfric’s hair. “Kind of like you, little priest.”

    One day while taking a short respite from training, Halvard shooed Svein from the bench he shared with Wulfric. The boy shrugged and went off to wrestle with Talvar. Halvard watched his nephew for a moment before turning Wulfric. “When we first met, you were drawing. I remember that.”

    “Yes…”

    “Can you draw me something?”

    “I suppose, had I the proper tools.”

    “I need a map.”

    “Halvard, I have seen the sea charts you keep. I’m sure I could copy them if you needed it transcribed, but I doubt I could compare to—”

    “I don’t need a sea chart, I need a map. Of your kingdom.”

    Wulfric felt his throat constrict. “You mean, of the interior?”

    Halvard nodded. “We know the coastline, more or less. A few raids have gone a short ways up the rivers, but not very far. But your kingdom has iron, and some of the finest swords and armor I’ve ever seen.”

    “You plan to raid Kalos? Inland Kalos?” Wulfric shook his head. “You’re mad. The king’s knights have their estates in the interior. We would never get out alive.”

    Halvard scoffed. “You think Kalosian knights can match the fighting men of Rovngalad?”

    “Maybe you would win against a few knights. But there are many knights in Kalos, and only so many men of Rovngalad.”

    “Just draw me a map, Wulfric. I have ink and parchment. We can talk more when it’s done.”

    It took him several nights to be satisfied with his product, and much of it was guesswork. He knew that the brothers who had specialized in cartography at the monastery would have scorned his amateurish efforts at rendering the Kalosian coastline, but it was better than nothing. The rivers were a simpler task, as he knew roughly where those courses ran. He also made notations as to where there was open country, mountains, and the inland desert, though he doubted Halvard would have any interest in the badlands.

    At Torvald’s suggestion, he also marked potential arms stockpiles and the best way to reach them. After considering the various options, Wulfric ultimately deemed that the best place to strike was the citadel at Camphorae, some distance southwest of the capital of Lumen. The longships could row up the Sennouire river from where it emptied into the sea south of Geosenge Village and follow it up the lowlands to just outside of Camphorae. Though the river would undoubtedly be defended at key points along its length, there were long stretches where it was uninhabited and the closest settlements were leagues from the banks. It would also give the raiders a chance to practice defending their boats from defenders on the shore, as they would certainly be forced to do when they mounted their offensive against Yeavenguut.

    When Wulfric presented his plans to Halvard, the jarl studied them for several minutes in silence. “This is our best option?”

    Wulfric nodded. “There are better stocked garrisons in the eastern mountains, but we would have to travel overland in Kalosian territory. We would surely be discovered and killed. Camphorae is by no means a vulnerable target, but it is far more feasible to attack there than it would be to try and reach San Dent-du-Mille or, Arceus forbid, Anistelle City.”

    “How many knights can we expect?”

    “I do not know for certain, but there will be at least a full legion of common soldiers at the garrison. Duke Louis de Verron keeps his court at Camphorae, and his personal guard would be formidable.”

    “What is a ‘duke’?”

    “A noble. He’s the king’s cousin. So he has many knights at his command.”

    Halvard glanced over at Torvald. “How evenly matched were our men against the knights at Coumarina?”

    Torvald shrugged. “There weren’t many when we took the garrison. Ivarr and I could handle them. Skidsegg and Thorund couldn’t.” Wulfric had never before heard the last two names, and could only assume that they had died in the raid where he had been captured. Torvald continued, “I’ve been training the others. Their formations and tactics are predictable, but their armor is much better than ours.”

    Wulfric cleared his throat. “If I may?” He tapped his map, where he had marked major Kalosian fortifications and citadels. “The southern nobles are always squabbling about something or other, so their troops are constantly seeing combat. Knights are hardened veterans and exceptionally skilled. But your warfare is very different from theirs. When Kalosian lords fight, they march their troops to their rival’s city and start a siege. Battles tend to be rather structured affairs, with formal writs of challenge. They aren’t used to defending against an opponent that comes out of nowhere, strikes fast and retreats with their spoils. If we can keep the element of surprise, Duke Verron in all likelihood won’t be able to respond quickly enough. You could take the weapons and armor from the garrison and be three leagues downriver before his knights even get to Camphorae.”

    “The men won’t like running from a fight,” Torvald said.

    “The men will have plenty of chances to die in glorious battle when I take Ingmar’s head,” Halvard replied. He turned back to Wulfric. “What do you know about the coffers of Camphorae?”

    “They are considerably fuller than the ones of Coumarina. More than that, I can’t say.”

    Halvard smirked and clapped Wulfric on the shoulder. “That’s all I need to hear. Torvald, do you think the men would be satisfied missing out on their share of glory if they got their share of gold instead?”

    “I’m sure it would quiet most of them.”

    “Of course it would.” The jarl stood up. “Inform the warriors that we will sail when the moon turns.”

    “So soon?” Torvald cried. “Halvard, that’s just days away!”

    “And why wait? The fields are planted. My warriors are getting restless, and we haven’t had a real raid since returning from Coumarina last year.”

    “It will be as you say,” Torvald said. He glanced over at Wulfric. “But this time, we’re not bringing home any strays.”

    “That will be for Wulfric to decide,” Halvard replied with a laugh. “He’ll be leading the raid.”

    “He’ll what?” Torvald snapped.

    “I’ll what?” Wulfric yelped.

    Halvard shrugged. “Why not? You know the country better than any here. You know these Kalosians, know their strange foreign ways. You can leave the fighting to us, but it will be your responsibility to guide us to Camphorae.”

    Wulfric swallowed the lump in his throat and looked to Torvald for help. The warrior sighed in resignation. “He’s the jarl. Once he’s made up his mind, there’s nothing I can do.”

    Skaldi, however, was not nearly so accommodating. “I’ll go to the deepest pit in the Cold Halls before I follow some southern priest!” Skaldi spat when Halvard told his assembled his warriors the plans for the spring raid. “You can give him an arm ring if you wish, but that won’t make him one of us! He’ll just get us all killed!”

    Several other warriors took up Skaldi’s tune, and soon the rumbles of discontent were spreading. Ulfi stood up and walked to Wulfric’s side, putting one of his heavy, scarred hands on the monk’s shoulder. “I accept Jarl Halvard’s choice,” the boat builder rumbled. “We need his knowledge if this raid is to succeed. If you stand behind the jarl’s dream to take back his throne, then you’ll stand behind Wulfric.” He pressed his lips in thin smile. “Or are you all just too cowardly to sail south?”

    “Coward?” Ivarr roared. “You call me a coward, you old bastard?”

    “Are you afraid to follow Wulfric, our brother in arms, to the south?”

    Ivarr hesitated. “Damn it, of course not!”

    Several of Skaldi’s naysayers started to come around, and Ulfi leaned down to speak in Wulfric’s ear. “I put my honor on the line for you. Don’t prove me wrong.”

    “I won’t. I swear it.”

    And so a fortnight later, Wulfric found himself on the docks of Rovngalad once again, going over his crude map with Ragnhildr, Halvard, and Torvald. Ragnhildr pursed her lips as she studied the smudged ink. “We are sure to be detected as we move inland.”

    Torvald shrugged. “We just kill anyone who sees us.”

    Wulfric did his best to hide his discomfort. For all that the northmen had adopted him as one of their kind, he was still at heart a Kalosian, and the thought of putting his innocent countrymen to death to further Halvard’s aims sat poorly with him. But he did not let his discomfort show, and took his place in Halvard’s boat beside Ulfi. Ivarr and Torvald cast their longboats off from the docks first, and Ragnhildr followed after them. Halvard and Skaldi directed their ships to bring up the rear. As they rowed towards the mouth of the harbor, Uthald drew up alongside the longship. Halvard reached out over the water and brushed his hand against Uthald’s scales. “Not this time, my friend. Stay here and protect the village.”

    Uthald moaned deep in his throat and pulled away, drawing himself up out of the water to watch the ships pass through the mouth of the fjord. Halvard turned and waved as they turned south, and soon even the top of Uthald’s crest vanished behind the coastal hills.

    They sailed for five days, curving out to sea to stay out of sight of the settlements on the coast and from any fishermen plying the abundant coastal waters. When Halvard and Ragnhildr judged them far enough south, they turned east and it was not long before they came across the mouth of the Sennouire. They did not linger in the delta long, for Geosenge Village was only a league up the coast. The sails were struck and stowed in the bellies of the ships as the northmen rowed their way up the river, stopping for the night only when they were certain they were far from any Kalosian village.

    They camped on shore that night, and Wulfric huddled close to the fire. All around him, warriors inspected their weapons, polishing their swords and sharpening their axes. The low rumble of muttered conversations filled the night air. Halvard sank down next to Wulfric and spread the map across his knees. “Show me where we are.” Wulfric gave the jarl his best approximation, and Halvard nodded slowly. “How far should we go tomorrow?”

    Wulfric thought for a moment, and estimated that if they pushed, they could reach Camphorae in three days. “Going back down the river will be easier, of course,” he said. “We won’t be fighting the current, and your longships are faster than any Kalosian river boat I’ve seen. Provided we manage to surprise Camphorae and take what we need quickly, we should be able to slip completely through their fingers.”

    Halvard tugged at his beard. “If it comes to a fight, stay close to me. I will keep you safe.”

    “Thank you.”

    “I know this is hard for you.”

    Wulfric reached for the small iron ring around his neck. “I know that I’m one of you now. But for all that, these people we’re raiding are still my countrymen. I don’t like killing anyone, but I especially don’t want to kill a man with whom I ought to have no quarrel. I’m bringing death to them and… by Arceus, that’s as good as murdering them myself.”

    “You may hate me for making me do this to you. That’s… fair.” Halvard sighed. “But I need the men to trust and respect you. When I kill Ingmar, I will open trade with the south. But the men need to see that the southerners can be trusted, and the only way to do that is to fight and bleed beside one. Better yet, if they’re led by one in Rovngalad’s most ambitious raid in years, it will be less of a bitter draught when we start trading for what we could have just taken.” Halvard shook his head. “Leadership is a heavy burden, Wulfric. Being jarl is bad enough, and when I’m king it will be worse. If I thought Torvald could do it, I’d turn things over to him in a heartbeat.”

    “About Torvald…” Wulfric took a deep breath to steady himself. “Halvard, on the night we were attacked in Yeavenguut, Torvald woke up too. He could have stopped things before I did, but he tried to stop me. He would have let you die.”

    Halvard was silent for a moment. When he finally did speak, it was with resigned acceptance. “I can’t say I’m surprised. If I were in his position, I might have done the same thing.” The jarl shrugged. “He probably thought that once I was out of the way, he could settle things with Ingmar and rule Rovngalad in peace.”

    Wulfric stared into the flames. “Halvard, do you truly believe you’ll win?”

    “Of course I do,” the jarl replied. “I can’t fail. Too much is riding on me.”

    “Even though the odds are so long?”

    Halvard scoffed. “Odds? A man like me doesn’t need to consider things like odds. I make my own luck.”

    Wulfric managed to smile and fingered the ring of Arceus he wore beneath his shirt. “I wish I could have the same faith in myself that you do.”

    “You don’t need to believe in yourself,” Halvard said. “I believe in you, Wulfric. So just believe in me, and I’ll carry us through. Guide us up the river, and I’ll take everything from there. I swear it.” Halvard lay back on his bedroll and smirked. “Wulfric, I promised you that we would change the world and a man of Rovngalad never goes back on his word. But I can’t do this without you.”

    “I’ll stand with you. I promise.”

    Halvard smiled. “It’s not going to be easy. But life without difficulty is a life without valor.”

    A/N: Funny story, I had this done a couple weeks ago but just never got around to posting it. Oops. I'm about halfway through the next chapter so hopefully this time there's less of a gap... not that there's anyone reading this anyway. Well, whatever. See you next time.
    Last edited by Firebrand; 30th December 2016 at 4:14 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Chapter 9

    Dismas fluffed his feathers as he sat atop the mast of the longship, surveying the rolling Kalosian countryside spread out beneath him like an imperious lord. As Halvard picked his way between the rowers, he thumped the mast with his fist, making the Chatot squawk in indignation. The jarl laughed and continued on to Wulfric’s bench. He knelt beside the monk and unrolled Wulfric’s map. “It seems like the river splits into three tributaries up ahead. Which route should we take?”

    Wulfric glanced over the map and thought for a moment. “As I’ve said, I don’t know much about this part of the kingdom, but I think we ought to follow the northbound route. I know there are rapids and a series of waterfalls to the south , which means we would have to carry the longships overland.” He had seen the northerners do that on several occasions already, allowing them to bypass stretches of the river that would prove perilous. However, the longships were rather heavy, and they lost valuable time doing it. “We might have to pass by a settlement or two, but that’s preferable to braving the rapids.”

    Halvard nodded and signaled for Ragnhildr’s ship to draw even with his own. He spoke quietly with his sister for a few moments before Ragnhildr leapt onto Sigrund’s back and shot off into the sky to scout ahead. The longships continued up the river, but when they reached a long bend, Halvard instructed them to wait for Ragnhildr’s return before pressing on.

    The sun continued its arc across the sky, and eventually Torvald and a few of the other warriors grew tired of sitting idly. They navigated their boat to a shallow point in the riverbed and secured it before wading to the bank for a bout of sparring. The Kalosian floodplain extended around them, and occasionally swarms of Villion fluttered by to see what these strangers were doing in their territory, only to be chased off by Branna and Dismas.

    A dark shape finally materialized in front of the sun, and Sigrund dropped out of the sky to alight on the riverbank, her powerful hind legs flexing to absorb the impact of her landing. Then with a quick flutter of her wings, she hopped across the narrow expanse of river to settle on the wide platform in the stern of Ragnhildr’s boat. Ragnhildr dismounted and walked briskly to the railing, motioning Halvard’s ship to draw alongside.

    The warrior woman folded her arms. “Wulfric’s hunch was right. The northern passage is the easiest, but there is a fishing village a ways up the river. We won’t be able to pass by undetected, and if we’re seen, they’ll be sure to send word up the river.”

    Halvard looked up at the sky. “Not long until nightfall now. We’ll come on them in the darkness.”

    “And then what?” Wulfric asked.

    Halvard smirked, as though it was obvious. “We make sure there is no way for them to send word on ahead.”

    The oars of the longships were wrapped in rags to damped the sound they made as they dipped into the water and the blades of swords and axes was darkened with ash to dull their shine. Skaldi, Ragnhildr, and the other women prepared torches while Torvald walked the warriors through their paces. From what Wulfric could gather, the raid on the unsuspecting village would be brief and brutal. Unlike the attack on Coumarina when he had been captured, there would be no lingering to count up treasure. If the northmen found something worth seizing, they would take it, but it was doubtful a village like this had any worthwhile prizes. They would land and rampage through the village, torching whatever they could. Anyone who resisted or tried to fight would be cut down.

    It would be bloody, it would be efficient, and it made Wulfric a little sick to think about it.

    The moon was just beginning to wane that night, though it was obscured by clouds. The longships silently made their way up the river, stopping just outside the village. Groups of warriors disembarked and waded to shore with their pokemon partners and waited for the signal. Halvard swung up into his usual place on Steinarr’s back, and the Gogoat braced his legs.

    Outside the village, Branna shot into the air, her wings cloaked in fire. She plunged at the wood and straw buildings, setting several roofs ablaze in her first pass. Halvard roared out a battle cry as Steinarr’s legs bunched and he sailed through the air to land on the village’s dock. The longship rocked back and forth as the northmen remaining on board fought to stabilize it, though it was not likely to capsize. Ulfi had constructed Halvard’s longship with a wider draft specifically to accommodate the weight change when Steinarr boarded and disembarked for this very reason.

    Though Halvard had been eager to see Wulfric prove himself in battle, when the monk had volunteered to remain with the crew to stabilize the longship, the jarl had conceded that Wulfric would likely only get in the way on a raid like this. So Wulfric watched from the river as the men and women of Rovngalad rampaged through the fishing hamlet. The still night air was filled with the roar of flames and raucous laughter of the attacking warriors, and was soon joined by screams for mercy and entreaties to Arceus.

    Wulfric fumbled for the four-pronged ring he wore around his neck and tried to mutter a prayer, but the words caught in his throat.

    He saw Ulfi silhouetted against the flames, an axe in one hand and a shield in the other. The boat builder roared in unison with his Druddigon Hjodtr as one of the villagers attacked with a Dragalge. The poison-aligned’s whip-like appendages wrapped around Hjodtr’s arms and dragged the dragon towards the river. Ulfi roared again and swung his axe in a backhand motion, cracking the villager’s skull with the blunt end before attempting to hack at the Dragalge’s tentacles. Hjodtr opened his maw wide and blasted the poison-aligned with a pulse of indigo light, and together warrior and pokemon beat their foe into submission.

    Skaldi raced through the small houses with a blazing torch, his Breloom and Ampharos bounding along before him. The pokemon dispatched any foe in his way while the northern priest set alight everything in his path. Torvald danced through the flames, Skerast glinting in his hands. Ragnhildr had freed the town’s Gogoat herd and was using Geirr and Sigrund to drive them through the wreckage of the town to sow further panic. And above it all rode Halvard, sword raised high as he and Steinarr charged through the flames with no regard for their own safety.

    Next to Wulfric, Aesgir shouted encouragement to his two Sharpedo as they fell upon villagers who tried to flee to the river. Somewhere in the chaos, Ivarr’s Beartic bellowed. The shrieks of the villagers were growing louder and more desperate as their homes were reduced to ash, and their bodies were beginning to pile up on the riverbank. The smell of charred flesh became overpowering, and Wulfric leaned over the side of the longship to vomit at the stench.

    Finally, Halvard blew out three long blasts on a hollowed out goat horn, the signal to retreat. Like the tide rushing out, the northerners raced away from the burning village and splashed through the shallows to their ships. Steinarr galloped down the burning dock and launched himself into Halvard’s longship while the remaining crew fought to stabilize the rocking craft. As they rowed off into the darkness, Wulfric glanced over his shoulder and saw the stars obscured by the thick acrid smoke of the burning village.

    Around him, the northmen laughed and joked at the success of the raid, several of them showing off treasures they had managed to purloin in the chaos. As the ships continued down the river, the burning village turned into little more than a distant red smear on the horizon. Wulfric felt ill as he pulled on his oar, knowing that the destruction was all his fault. The only wrong these people had done was to live in a village their ancestors had built in a bend in the river. Had Wulfric never bought the northmen here, they would still be safe in their beds, instead of watching their lives go up in smoke, or worse, dying in the streets.

    “Isn’t it wonderful?” Skaldi said with a laugh as he sat on the bench across from Wulfric. “The screams, the fire, the blood?”

    “It’s horrific.”

    “Having second thoughts, priest?”

    Wulfric gripped his oar tighter. “I’ll do what Halvard needs me to do. I swore an oath. If that means more of… this, then so be it.”

    Skaldi shrugged. “If you say so.”

    He refused to let Skaldi get to him. Though the deaths he would be responsible for on this raid would weigh heavily on his conscience, it was ultimately a necessary step to reclaim Halvard’s throne and open relations between the north and south to make a better world. He was never one for moral calculus, and trying to justify killing for the greater good did little to salve his conscience, but it did settle his stomach, and Wulfric feared that was the best he was going to be able to do for the time being. He muttered a prayer to Arceus, hoping the Lord of All would understand, or at the very least be compassionate enough to let Wulfric try to argue his case when it came time to return to the Halls of Origin.

    Two days later, a lookout spotted a thin finger of smoke curling up into the sky some distance from the river. A brief consultation with Wulfric, Halvard and his siblings established that it was unlikely to be a village, given its location. “I would think it’s just travelers,” Wulfric said. “Possibly soldiers on patrol? We ought to be near the border of Camphorae.”

    Torvald folded his arms across his chest and stared off into the distance. “Whoever they are, we can’t risk them bringing word that we’re here. We’ll have to deal with them.”

    And so Wulfric found himself hastening to keep up with Steinarr as the Gogoat bounded across the Kalosian countryside, Torvald, Skaldi and several other northmen racing along beside him. Torvald’s lips were pulled back in his odd not-quite-grin that he always donned before a fight, and Skaldi’s eyes were tiny pinpricks of black on his green iris. Branna and Dismas were tiny dots in the wide vault of the sky, easily keeping pace with the warriors below.

    It was all Wulfric could do not to trip over his spear and keep his slightly too large helmet from falling over his eyes, so it was a welcome relief when he saw Steinarr cantering back towards them over a rise. Halvard swung off the Gogoat’s back and waited for them to catch up. “They’re just over the rise. Wulfric, tell me what you think of them.”

    Wulfric followed Halvard up the hill and crouched in the long grass. About twenty men lounged around a fire, a few of them armored and several more sitting within easy reach of weapons. “Those two wagons there look like they belong to traders or merchants. Most of the armed men are likely mercenaries hired to protect the caravan. But see those four men in armor there?” He pointed, and Halvard nodded. “Those are knights. It’s likely they met the other group on the road and decided to all travel together if they’re going in the same direction.”

    “The knights could be troublesome,” Halvard admitted. “But we can surprise them. All right.” They slunk back to where the other northmen were waiting. Halvard turned to Torvald. “You’ll come at them head-on with most of the men and draw their focus. I’ll flank them from the west with Steinarr and a few others, and Skaldi, sweep down from the east to pick off any who try to flee.” As the northmen sorted themselves into their respective attack groups, Halvard steered Wulfric into Skaldi’s force. “You’ll be safest here,” he told the monk. “Skaldi will strike last, and at best you’ll only have to terrify a few traders.” Wulfric begrudgingly agreed.

    He and the rest of Skaldi’s force curved out away from the trader’s camp before circling back to wait for their signal to attack. While they waited, Wulfric saw Skaldi inhale some kind of spores from his Breloom’s mushroom cap, and the northern priest almost immediately grew more agitated. A few other northmen partook of the strange sacrament, but Wulfric made sure to hang well back. Finally, the shouts of the Kalosian mercenaries began.

    Torvald ran down the hillside at the head of his force, Skerast flashing in his hands. The first of the mercenaries raced up to him and had his head lopped off his shoulders for his trouble. Ivarr and his Beartic crashed by Torvald and fell upon the enemy warriors as Branna dropped out of the sky to claw out the eyes of a man who tried to attack Torvald from behind. Torvald spun on his heel and drove one of Skerast’s blades into the man’s unarmored torso even as he opened a gash across another man’s stomach with the other blade. Though he could not hear it from so far off, Wulfric knew that Torvald’s Doublade was likely humming with pleasure at all the blood it was drinking.

    As the knights began to advance on Torvald’s men, Halvard and his force appeared from the west, crashing into the flank of the hastily thrown together mercenary formation. Halvard did not let Steinarr lose any momentum, trampling two of the men as the Gogoat continued further into the camp. The largest knight in the company, a man taller and broader than even Torvald, planted his feet before Steinarr’s charge and waited for the Gogoat to run him down. The instant before he did, a Pyroar jumped from the grass and tackled Steinarr to the ground. Halvard jumped from his saddle and rolled to his feet as Steinarr tried to kick the fire type away. With a snarl, Halvard drew his sword and axe and charged at the knight, who parried the jarl’s sword easily and caught Halvard’s axe on his shield.

    Seeing this, Skaldi hissed. “Now! Go now!” His small contingent of warriors sprinted down, whooping and hollering. Dismas drifted lower in the air, letting Wulfric know he was there. Wulfric signaled that the Chatot should go to Halvard’s aid, and the little bird flapped furiously to reach the jarl in time. An enemy Talonflame screamed and moved to intercept him, only to be attacked by Branna. Halvard chanced to look up just as Dismas reached him, and he clapped his hands over his ears. The Kalosian knight took the opportunity to strike, but before his blade could fall, Dismas unleashed a horrifying cry that sent the knight reeling. Halvard grinned, kicked the man in the chest and knocked him to the ground. He placed his sword in the small gap between helmet and armor and drove the point in. The knight struggled for a second, but soon succumbed.

    After seeing his partner fall, the knight’s Pyroar fought on with a renewed vigor, but between them, Halvard and Steinarr made quick work of it. For his part, Wulfric waited on the edge of camp, doing his best to look intimidating in his oversize armor and herd fleeing travelers back towards the other northmen. He was seized by panic when he felt someone grab the back of his collar and drag him towards the fray. The realization that it was Skaldi who had grabbed him did little to lessen Wulfric’s fear. The northern priest shoved Wulfric towards three cowering unarmed men and gestured with his axe. “Kill them. Any one of them.”

    “Skaldi, I-I can’t, I…”

    Do it!” Wulfric clutched his spear and shook his head. Skaldi growled in disgust. “Oh, so you can kill northmen, but not your own kind?”

    “I’ve never killed a northman!”

    “You drove a knife through a man’s throat at Yeavenguut!” Skaldi snapped. Wulfric knew it was pointless to argue that it was Halvard who had impaled his would-be assassin, and that Wulfric had acted out of desperation. For that matter, had the man already been dead when Halvard had driven his sword through the man’s guts? There had been so much pumping out onto Wulfric’s hands. Maybe he had killed a man. Skaldi had continued ranting. “We’re just like savage to you, no better than mad beasts. You’d kill us the same way you’d put down a Mightyena menacing your flocks. May the gods curse you, Wulfric—”

    “Wulfric?” one of the cowering men said, picking up Skaldi’s last word. “Brother Wulfric, is that you?”

    “Shepherd Aelffred?” Wulfric gasped as the chaplain of the Coumarina monastery tried to stand.

    “Wulfric, what are you doing here with these… these pagans? When they took you, we all thought you died, sacrificed in some barbaric ritual.”

    “No, they took me, but they made me one of them. They think I’m one of them now.”

    “One of them?” the Shepherd was incredulous. “One of these savages? Wulfric, you shame our order and your vows!”

    “I did what I had to survive, Shepherd Aelffred.”

    “I suppose it will be on Our Lord to judge you, not me.”

    Skaldi appeared at Wulfric’s side and pointed to Aelffred. “I’ve changed my mind. You don’t get to pick anymore. Kill him.” He spat in the dirt. “And speak properly, none of the southern garbage you’ve feed Halvard.”

    “I won’t, Skaldi.”

    “If you don’t, I’ll kill the other two.”

    Wulfric fixed his face in what he hoped was an intimidating glare. “You would just kill them anyway. I will not kill an innocent, unarmed man.”

    Skaldi shrugged and tossed his axe underhand to Shepherd Aelffred. “Now he’s not unarmed.”

    Aelffred picked up the axe and looked at Wulfric. “What is he saying?”

    “He wants me to kill you. He gave you the axe because I told him I wouldn’t kill you because you’re unarmed.”

    “You’re better than this, Wulfric.”

    “That’s what I keep trying to tell myself.”

    Skaldi stomped his foot, clearly running out of patience. “Pathetic,” he snarled, wrenching Wulfric’s spear from his hands and driving it through Aelffred’s abdomen. He recovered his axe and smashed in the heads of the other two men. Skaldi glared at Wulfric with the same intensity Wulfric had tried to match and pointed at Aelffred with his bloody axe. “Get your spear.”

    Wulfric was forced to recover his spear from Aelffred’s corpse, but to his credit, he managed to stagger out of Skaldi’s sight before vomiting up the contents of his stomach.
    3DS FC: 0748-3041-6462

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  11. #11
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    Here's something I never thought I'd see: a Pokemon story that has the word "vespers." For real though, I'm a fan of the setting you've put together here. Medieval Kalos is a great way of bridging a Viking setting with one that comes from Pokemon proper. I'm also a sucker for pre-Pokeball settings, which you take full advantage of by making it so that not just anyone can train a Gyarados for example, and showing why with the ferocity of the Wailord fight. You also go deeper with the Arceus-as-God concept than most writers do, specifically with how you juxtapose the Pagan view that all legendaries are gods with the Arcean view that the other "gods" are just parts of nature. I think you've done well at establishing a convincing world without overwhelming the plot and character-drama.

    As for your writing itself, it's good too. Despite the number of difficult names, for both the humans and the Pokemon, you differentiate everyone enough through description and mannerism that it's never hard to follow. The action scenes are definitely a highlight. They're rather grisly, but still relevant and exciting rather than gratuitous. If I have a complaint writing-wise it's that some scenes seem to fly right by which I feel could stand to stick around longer. Biggest example is the whole bit with the Zapdos visit, which I thought could have been its own chapter especially with Skaldi's thought of sacrificing Wulfric. Of course, readers' mileages will vary on that and I understand the inclination not to linger too long on the early parts of the story.

    My only other real complaint has to do with what I see as occasional choppiness in Wulfric's characterization. There are two key moments, one in chapter 3 and one in chapter 6, where he seems to go native almost on a dime, in the first case by blaspheming and in the second case by killing. These are tempered by future developments where we see that A) Wulfric is still devout and wants to turn Halvard into an engine for spreading the faith (end of chapter 4) and B) that in other moral-dilemma-type situations he still refuses to kill (end of chapter 9). Still, in chapter 3 especially it seemed like a rapid shift from the Catholic Arcean monk mindset to the "sin a little to save many" mindset. It definitely feels earned by the time it's chapter 9 and he's helping plan the murder-tastic invasion though, so that's good.

    The two elements of the story that have me most interested right now are actually Torvald and Skaldi. It's a great, tense moment when Torvald is going to watch the assassins kill Halvard with a smile on his face. It adds an extra bit of color to basically everything Torvald does before and after as well. I hope you have something special planned for how his conflict of interest plays out. And Skaldi is the perfect foil for Wulfric. I really like how he's going out of his way to expose how far away Wulfric is from being honestly assimilated into their way of life, especially at the end of chapter 9.

    Favorite dialogue exchange:
    Wulfric felt his throat constrict as a smile played across Halvard’s face. “Only your crown would be sufficient, King Ingmar,” Halvard said.

    “Does the slave mean that much to you?”

    “Perhaps your crown means that little to me.”
    Sick burn, Halvard!

    Nice touch:
    Battles tend to be rather structured affairs, with formal writs of challenge.
    And sorry, but I had to snicker at this part:
    “You don’t need to believe in yourself,” Halvard said. “I believe in you, Wulfric. So just believe in me, and I’ll carry us through.
    Believe in the Halvard who believes in you! Who the Hel do you think I am! Bróđerly Combining Gurren Lagann! Okay, I'll stop now.

    One last thing: I'm too tired to do a spelling/grammar review right now, but one thing to definitely fix is that there are 15 cases where Halvard in written "Harvald." And if you want more nitpicks I have some, so just ask and I'll write them up later.

    Thumbs up, and looking forward to the next chapter. Don't fret, someone is reading this! :)

  12. #12
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    Chapter 10

    Wulfric stood alone on the worn road, staring across the fields at the walls of Camphorae. A line of travelers and pilgrims filed through the town’s gate after a cursory inspection by the town guards. He swallowed the lump in his throat and forced his feet forward. When he reached the gate, the guard looked him up and down, taking in his dusty monk’s habit. “The cathedral is just off the main street,” the man said before waving him through.

    Wulfric let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding after he passed through the portico and into the quiet cobbled streets of the small town. Instead of heading for the Arcean cathedral, despite how much he wanted to pray, he made himself walk down to where the a tributary of the river flowed through a wide grate into the city. The shadows were lengthening as night set in, making the fortress north of the town grow more imposing. Wulfric slipped into the tunnel at the riverbank and down towards the opening on the other side. Torvald, Skaldi and Ivarr crouched on a small stone lip next to the water while Wulfric struggled with the rusted iron padlock that would allow the grate to swing inwards.

    “Wait a moment,” Torvald hissed before clicking his tongue at Dismas. The Chatot fluttered down from Wulfric’s shoulder as Torvald muttered a handful of commands. “You’ll want to stand back,” the warrior advised Wulfric. Dismas’s wings began to glow as he channeled his inner power, making his muscles and feathers stiff and rigid as steel. With a squawk, he beat at the lock until it fell from the grate with a clatter.

    Ivarr shoved the barrier open, its hinges protesting with a long, drawn-out shriek. His Beartic lumbered in after him, the massive white beast’s shoulders stooped to fit in the cramped darkness of the tunnel. “Let’s hurry and get the fun started, eh?” Ivarr chuckled, clapping one hand on Wulfric’s shoulder as he crept by.

    Skaldi splashed through the shallow water, his Breloom and Ampharos bounding after him. “I’ll set a few fires,” he called back to Torvald. “That should buy you some time.”

    Torvald waited until Ivarr and Skaldi had disappeared into Camphorae to set about their assigned tasks before turning to Wulfric. “I’ll admit, I’m impressed that worked.”

    Wulfric shrugged. “Most towns on a river like this have a way to let the water flow through, and they get used to smuggle things in and out. I doubted Camphorae would be any different.”

    Torvald smirked. “It’s better than Halvard’s plan.” The jarl had thought to conceal several warriors in the bed of a wagon pulled by Steinarr and driven by Wulfric so that they could infiltrate the walls of Camphorae and open the gates for the larger assault when night fell. He had hit a snag when Wulfric pointed out that wagons were very likely to be searched by the guards, and their ruse would undoubtedly be discovered. However, barring an alternative, Halvard was willing to forge ahead. Wulfric had managed to dissuade him from this course by proposing a different solution that would put fewer men at risk but ultimately achieve the same goal.

    A Kalosian army would be unlikely to try and infiltrate a city from the river tunnels, because it would be terribly difficult to bring in a substantial force and deny them the use of any of the large pokemon that were staples in Kalosian warfare. As such, the tunnel was likely to be unguarded as it posed no defensive risk to an inland city under the king’s protection. And so, Wulfric had infiltrated the city and was preparing to throw its gates wide open for the northmen.

    Torvald and Wulfric waited by the riverbank until they saw thick plumes of smoke rising from across the city. On the high street above them, they heard the rapid footfalls of town guardsmen as they raced to fight the fires before they could spread. Torvald flexed his fingers and Skerast wrapped around his arms. Wulfric palmed a dagger he had worn beneath his robes, figuring that even on the slight chance he was searched at the gate, it would not be far-fetched for a lone traveler, even a monk, to be armed.

    Torvald raced to the guardhouse, Wulfric close on his heels. The northman crashed through the door to the small room at the base of the tower before Wulfric could catch up. The monk heard a strangled cry and two heavy thumps. When he peered around the doorframe, he saw Torvald standing before an overturned table with two corpses bleeding out on the floor. The city gates had been shut at sunset, and the locks were sturdy constructions of wood and metal. Torvald gestured at the heavy doors. “Figure out how to get those open before someone notices we’re here.”

    After a moment’s examination, Wulfric instructed Torvald on how to throw the bolts back while he operated the levers that guided the mechanisms. Together, they pushed the left door open wide enough to admit a man, allowing in a stream of northmen waiting in the shadows beneath the outer wall. By now, the city guards had taken notice, but their shouts of alarm came too late. The northmen silenced them with arrows and blades as they spread out into the city.

    When Ulfi and his Druddigon squeezed through the gates, he and Hjodtr helped Torvald push the doors wider, allowing Halvard and Steinarr to ride through. Ragnhildr and Svein ran alongside the Gogoat with Geirr and Talvar, the two fire aligned giddy with excitement. Halvard nodded to his warriors and grinned. “To the castle!” The northmen cheered as they took off up the high street.

    By now Skaldi’s fires had spread, despite the best efforts of the town guards. Wulfric figured they had to be a suitably terrifying sight for the guards stationed outside of Duke Verron’s fortress, a shadowy horde appearing suddenly from the flames. Halvard raised his axe high while his handpicked band of warriors formed a shield wall in front of him. “Charge!”

    The northmen screamed as they raced at the castle gates. Verron’s knights ran to meet them, their armor glinting in the firelight. They crashed into the shield wall, and the warriors of Rovngalad began to push them back after the initial charge broke on their shields. The northmen parted to allow Torvald through, Skerast’s two blades glowing with white light. Steinarr soared over their heads, landing just before the portico of Verron’s castle. Several members of Verron’s guard were trying to lower the heavy metal grate to bar the northmen from entering, but Ulfi saw their strategy. He and Hjodtr ran underneath the falling metal curtain and braced themselves, supporting the crushing weight of the steel with their muscular forearms. “Hurry up!” the boat builder shouted. “I can’t hold this forever!”

    Torvald and Aesgir ran inside and efficiently butchered the men lowering the gate before raising it back up. Ulfi massaged his arms and grimaced as Ragnhildr and Halvard coordinated the rout of Verron’s knights back towards the burning town. They were pursued by a detachment of northmen, leaving the main gate of the castle undefended but for the corpses of the slain. Wulfric tried to steady himself and waved Halvard over. “If this castle is anything like the one at Coumarina, what we’re looking for should be in the armory, and that should be near the guard station.”

    The jarl nodded and led his remaining warriors inside. Other guards within the castle itself ran out to meet them, but the northmen dispatched them with casual ease. Due to the nature of their attack, many of the knights were unarmored and, despite their skill with the blade, tunics and nightshirts did little to deter the northmen’s swords and axes. When they finally broke down the door to the armory, Halvard directed his men to take anything they could fit into the sacks they carried. Wulfric watched as the northmen snatched helmets, gauntlets, breastplates and swords in a frantic haste, their sacks clanking with the weight of the metal.

    Torvald glanced at his brother. “I’m sure if we looked, we could find enough gold to make our ships ride low in the water.”

    Halvard brusquely shook his head. “There’s no time for that. We need to leave.”

    The northmen came up from the castle catacombs only to find the doors to the outside had been shut and the two sentries they had left to guard their retreat had been cut down. A broad-shouldered man in gilt-edged armor sat mounted on the back of a Rapidash in the middle of a company of knights. “You’ll go no further, pagan savages.”

    Halvard stepped forward and swept into a low bow that still managed to come off as sarcastic. “Duke Verron, I presume?” he asked in accented Kalosian. “I am sorry we had to meet like this. In my own homeland, I am something of a duke as well.”

    The duke’s scowl deepened, and Wulfric had to fight down the urge to step backwards. Verron stroked his beard. “A savage who speaks a civilized tongue, but a savage no less.” He gestured at the sacks Halvard’s men carried. “You have something that belongs to me.”

    Halvard shrugged. “Ah, but you had something that I needed. I found these lying in your armory unused. Surely I can put them to better use than gathering dust. Your men all seem to be armored already. Surely you can part with these?” When Verron’s scowl deepened, Halvard winked. “Why don’t we have a wager? If I win, we leave with our spoils. If I lose, we surrender the armor back to you.”

    “What would the wager be?”

    “In your land, knights ride at each other and try to unseat the other one. They… they…” Halvard snapped his fingers at Wulfric. “What do they do?”

    “They tilt.”

    “They tilt. Yes. We will have a tilt.”

    Verron’s face split into a sinister grin. “Yes, we shall have a tilt.” Wulfric swallowed the lump in his throat. Duke Verron had never been unhorsed, and his skill as a rider was known all throughout Kalos. Wulfric had told Halvard this, but the northman seemed blithely unconcerned as he swung up on Steinarr’s back and drew his sword and axe. Verron tapped his heels against his Rapidash’s flanks and trotted forward. His men parted before him and stood at attention.

    At Verron’s word, he and Halvard galloped at each other, their mounts’ hooves clattering on the stone floor of the great hall. Just before they collided, Halvard jerked Steinarr away, and they raced off to the left. “Coward!” Verron bellowed. “You filthy coward!” The duke turned just in time to see Halvard raise his axe and throw it. The weapon spun through the air and buried itself in the thinner armor of the duke’s back, making Verron lurch and fall from his horse. Steinarr continued his charge, slamming his horns into the doors to the castle and throwing them open.

    Torvald roared as he rushed the line of Verron’s men at arms, Skerast’s glowing blades ripping through the mail of the first unfortunate man. The other northmen in Halvard’s company followed, throwing the Kalosian ranks into chaos. When they emerged from the castle, Wulfric saw the town to the south was entirely engulfed in flames. “Hurry!” Halvard called. “If we don’t move now, we won’t be able to get through!”

    Ragnhildr stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled. Sigrund dropped from the sky and several warriors pressed their sacks of armor on the Noivern. She took as many as she could carry in her claws and lifted off with several powerful beats of her wings, straining under the weight of the iron. “It will take her a while to get those back to the ships,” Ragnhildr told her brothers. “We’re on our own for now.”

    Halvard nodded and led his men back towards the town gates. As they ran by the burning cathedral, Wulfric saw Skaldi standing on the stairs, his arms bedecked in the holy golden bangles that had once adorned the back of the altar. The northern priest laughed uproariously as the flames made the beams of the church creak and groan. “Get away from there!” Torvald bellowed as the first of the supports crashed down. Skaldi kept laughing as he raced after them, and Wulfric saw that the priest was covered head to toe in blood. He forced himself not think of what had happened to the Shepherds and monks who had no doubt sought shelter in the sacristy.

    Branna screamed as she flew on ahead, swooping and diving through the leaping flames. A small contingent of surviving city guards stood in a semi-circle around the city gate with a troop of Pawniard and Bisharp. The northmen formed up a shield wall to engage them when a loud bellow rang out over the roar of the flames. Ivarr and his Beartic crashed into the guards from their flank, scattering their ranks. Halvard sounded the charge, and the shield wall advanced in the confusion, splitting to allow Hjodtr and Geirr through to box in the Pawniard troops. A flock of Murkrow were released from the top of the guard tower, no doubt to inform the neighboring lords that the northmen had invaded.

    “Branna!” Torvald shouted. “Stop them!”

    “You too, Dismas!” Wulfric added.

    The two air aligned soared off into the night, their wings glowing as they stiffened their muscles for aerial combat. Dismas released a concussive burst of sound that disoriented the flock while Branna soared upwards only to stoop again, picking off the stunned dark aligned one by one.

    Wulfric would have loved the opportunity to watch Dismas display his newfound combat prowess, but a Bisharp had managed to approach and was currently battering Wulfric’s shield. The monk braced himself and shoved back, knocking the steel aligned off-balance. He raised up the edge of his shield and brought it down hard on the Bisharp’s head, and the steel aligned collapsed. The shield wall pressed forward, and the Kalosian defenders gave way, allowing the northmen to get through to the gate. Once they had reformed the shield wall in the arch of the gate, the captain of the Kalosian guards shouted something. With a rattle of chains, the heavy iron portcullis above the gate began to lower to trap the northmen within the city wall. Reinforcements spilled out from the burning streets, hemming in the warriors of Rovngalad.

    As the iron grate crashed down, Ulfi and Hjodtr positioned themselves to try and catch it as they had the one in Verron’s castle. “No!” Wulfric cried. “This one will be much heavier. Get clear!” Hjodtr moved much faster than his trainer, tackling the old boat builder out of the way, and they both tumbled outside of the gates just as the metal portcullis finished its descent. “Go!” Halvard shouted to Ulfi. “Go back to the boats and be ready to sail off! If they come for you before we do, just leave without us!”

    “Jarl Halvard…”

    “That’s an order, Ulfi! If they come for you, we’ll already be dead!”

    Ulfi nodded and together he and Hjodtr vanished into the darkness outside of the city. Torvald glanced at his brother. “We don’t have a lot of options here. Even if we could fight our way down to the river gate, there’s no way we could all get out.”

    Halvard gritted his teeth. “And trying to fight our way through might result in more losses.” He swore and shook his head. “I don’t know what to do. I’m all out of clever plans.” He turned and locked eyes with Wulfric. “Please. I need your help.”

    Wulfric’s mind worked furiously. There was no way they could hold off the Kalosian soldiers and break through the portcullis. Their backs were literally to the wall, and it seemed as though Halvard’s much-vaunted luck had run out. Wulfric couldn’t shake the feeling that this was his fault, that with a clearer plan of retreat he could have avoided this, could have gotten all the northmen to safety. But as things stood, there was no way out.

    “Northern savages!” Duke Verron boomed from the middle of the high street. The duke was supported by two of his men, and obviously in pain, though he had obviously only taken the minimal treatment for the wound in his back. “When you’re all dead, I’ll hang you from the walls of Camphorae to show the world what happens when pagans invade my land! Onward!”

    His soldiers and knights advanced on the narrow gateway arch, and Wulfric shrank back against the metal grate. “Shield wall!” Ragnhildr shouted. “Form up and brace yourselves!” The northmen hurriedly got into formation, overlapping the edges of their shields and shifting their weight to best repel the attackers. A few muttered things to their neighbors, hushed goodbyes and well wishes, promises to meet again in the Cold Halls. Wulfric placed a hand over his chest where his iron ring sat and whispered a brief prayer for a mercifully quick death.

    “Kill them!” Verron shouted. “Kill them all!”
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  13. #13
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    Chapter 11

    Wulfric’s only consolation was that his death was likely to be mercifully quick. He might have forsaken his place in Arceus’s embrace, but at least he wouldn’t have to be terrified and in pain any longer. The northmen in front of him stood resolute in their shield wall. They had trained their whole life for this moment, to accept and embrace their deaths. Their pokemon stood behind them, disciplined and barely fidgeting. When one of the Kalosian Rhyhorn charged the line, Ivarr’s Beartic jumped over the ranks of northmen and hurled the rock aligned back at their enemies.

    “Don’t give up,” Torvald said to the men and women in the shield wall. He didn’t raise his voice as Halvard might have done. He didn’t have to. “Don’t relent, not until they crush the last breath from your chest. Not until every last drop of blood you have is spilled.” The warriors around him nodded, their faces hardening as they steeled their resolve.

    Sigrund screamed by overhead as she returned from her charge to carry back the sacks of armor to the river. The Kalosian archers fired a volley of arrows at the Noivern to drive her back. She shrieked as she winged higher into the upper air, and the northmen retreated a few paces to escape the force of her concussive blasts. Wulfric found himself pressed even closer against the iron grating that trapped them. The iron bars were cold against his flesh, and he remembered how earlier that day Dismas had managed to use his wings to cut through the padlock on the river gate. Of course the Chatot was not remotely strong enough to try and cut through the heavy iron portcullis, but it did give Wulfric an idea. Now that Sigrund had returned, he might just be able to make it work.

    Wulfric shoved his way over to Ragnhildr and told her his plan. The warrior woman stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled a command to her dragon. Sigrund dove again, but this time before the archers could fire on her, she let loose with a long roar. The dragon’s voice carried a physical force, driving the Kalosians back and holding them in place. “Torvald!” Wulfric shouted over the noise. “Have Branna unleash all the heat and flame she can on the edges of the grate!” Torvald did not waste time questioning Wulfric, and hollered for his Talonflame to do as the monk instructed. Ragnhildr and Svein ordered Geirr and Talvar to do the same, and soon the metal that joined the portcullis to the gateway arch glowed a dull red.

    Wulfric reached out and grabbed the two closest warriors, Ivarr and a shield maiden he was fairly sure was named Helga. “Get your pokemon to attack the center of the gate, and hurry! Sigrund can’t hold long.” Ivarr barked the command to his Beartic, and Helga instructed her Bisharp to attack with everything it had. The portcullis began to groan as the metal strained under the force it was under. Skaldi ordered his Breloom to join the assault, and the grass aligned began to strike where Beartic could not reach.

    Under Wulfric’s direction, the fire aligned continued their attack on the outer edge of the portcullis, though Wulfric could see that their time was growing short. Sigrund was beginning to tire, and they could only keep up their desperate attack on the gate so long as the Noivern was able to cover them. Halvard seemed to notice this as well, because he ordered the other pokemon to stand down. He swung up onto Steinarr’s back and murmured something to the Gogoat. The grass aligned bleated and lowered his horned head. With a snort, Steinarr charged at the weakened portcullis, and with a scream of wrenching metal tore the grate from its supports. The northmen gave a ragged cheer as Halvard swung his mount back around.

    “Retreat!” he bellowed. “Run for your lives! Get to the river!” He tapped his heels against Steinarr’s flanks, and they galloped over the Kalosian plain. Wulfric let himself get caught up in the flood of warriors stampeding out of the gate. Dismas fluttered near his head as Sigrund and Branna soared overhead. Ragnhildr sprinted by him, dragging Svein by one hand. “Torvald!” she screamed over her shoulder.

    Her brother stood just outside the gate, Skerast wrapped around his wrists and forearms. When the first of the Kalosians ran out after them, Torvald cut them down as they passed, but even he could not hold forever. “Torvald, get clear!” Wulfric shouted, but the warrior obviously could not hear him. He glanced up at Dismas. “I need your help, my friend.” He took a deep breath and shouted “Torvald, run! We still need you!”

    Dismas opened his beak wide and boomed, in a passable facsimile of Wulfric’s voice amplified several times, “Torvald, run! We still need you!” Torvald seemed to wake from a deep trance as he drove one of his blades through the torso of a final Kalosian before turning to run after the rest of the northmen.

    Skaldi and several of the retreating warriors were setting fire to the fields as they ran by, covering their retreat with a long curtain of fire. Several Kalosians ran through the flames, beating out the fires that smoldered on their armor. Their valor did them credit, but it did not stop the arrows of Skaldi’s men from cutting them down. When a great dark shadow appeared on the far side of the flames, the northern priest looked positively gleeful. He nocked an arrow in his bow and waited as Duke Verron flew through the fiery curtain on his Rapidash. Skaldi let fly, and the arrow flew straight and true, puncturing the duke’s throat in the gap between helmet and breastplate. Skaldi watched as the duke toppled from his horse and grasped at his throat before turning and running back to the ships.

    The northmen hastened down the river to where they had left their longships and boarded as quickly as possible. The few warriors they had left behind to cover their retreat sat at their oars, ready to shove off as soon as soon as Halvard gave the word. When Ulfi saw Torvald, Ragnhildr and Wulfric, the boat builder nearly collapsed into tears. “By the gods, how did you manage to get of there alive?”

    Ragnhildr jumped into her longship. “A little quick thinking from Wulfric.”

    Torvald nodded. “We never would have made it this far without him.”

    Ulfi pulled the monk into a brief embrace. “I knew I wasn’t wrong to put my faith in you,” he said before taking his place at the oar. Wulfric sat down beside him and squared his shoulder. Though he was exhausted and sore, he knew that they needed to put as much distance between themselves and Camphorae as possible. Though Dismas and Branna had managed to intercept the Murkrow earlier, other messages would be sent out, and soon there would be patrols looking for them up and down the river. Though the current was now in their favor, the rivers in the Kalosian interior drifted along lazily and that alone was not likely to help them escape.

    “Ready!” Torvald called from the rear of the ship. “Heave to! Row!”

    The five longships cast off and began their journey back down river. Halvard picked his way down the center aisle of the longship and tapped the warrior across from Wulfric on the shoulder. When the man looked up, Halvard gestured at his oar further down the boat. The man stood carefully and went to take Halvard’s place. The jarl sat down with a groan and took a minute to settle into the rhythm of pulling the oar. When he had the tempo down, he glanced over at Wulfric. “Well, that wasn’t a complete disaster. At least we got the armor, and most of us made it out alive.”

    “It might make trading with the Kalosians a little more complicated down the line.”

    “That’s a field to cross when it’s time to till it.” The jarl sighed. “How long do you think we have until they start trying to kill us again?”

    Wulfric pondered for a moment. “The Camphorae soldiers are as bloodied and exhausted as we are. I think it won’t be hard to get ahead of them. But they have allies up and down the river. All it takes are a few flying aligned to spread the message before everyone from here to Geosenge Village knows about us.” The monk nodded to himself. “I don’t think we need to worry much about pursuit. Your longships are faster than Kalosian river barges, but I suppose there’s always the threat of an ambush. No, I think that what we need to worry most about are archers on the shore and any blockades they manage to set up in the river itself.”

    “I’ll have Aesgir send the Sharpedo ahead of us. They might be able to stop any blockades early on. Anything they can’t manage, Ivarr can set Dagmar on.”

    And so it went. Aesgir ordered Gunnar and Gunnhild downriver, and the Sharpedo tore off in rapid excitement, their dorsal fins kicking up large wakes as they sliced through the water. Dagmar drifted along with one clawed hand resting on the rail of the longship. The Beartic had been so exhausted after the fight at Camphorae’s gates that he had been unable to drag himself aboard, and now floated lazily along in the warm waters of the river while he gathered his strength again.

    Wulfric sympathized with the great white beast. All he wanted to do was curl up on his cot beside Halvard’s hearth and sleep for a week. Every inch of him ached, and it was only going to get worse as the northmen fought to keep abreast of the Kalosians. He and Halvard had often discussed that the flight back down the river was certain to be the most dangerous part of the raid, and Wulfric needed to keep alert. After breaching the gates at Camphorae, the northmen know looked at him as far more than just a mouthpiece for Halvard’s orders. He was truly in command now.

    The first attack came the day after their raid. Two troops of archers sprang up from the riverbanks and began to fire on the northmen. Wulfric saw two warriors fall before they could get their shields raised. Half of the northmen formed a variation on the shield wall, keeping their shields high to form a curtain of wood and metal above their heads as the other half continued to row. Sigrund, Branna and the other flying aligned took the sky to harry the archers to cover the retreat. Dismas started to fly off as well, but Wulfric called him back. For all of the Chatot’s newfound power and the scrappiness that came with it, he was still in a different class entirely from the northern pokemon that had been bred and trained their whole lives to fight.

    When that assault failed, the Kalosians tried again further downriver. A hastily erected blockade stopped the longships, and despite Gunnar and Gunnhild’s best efforts the Sharpedo had been unable to break it down. While Kalosian soldiers on the riverbank tried to pick them off, Dagmar dropped into the water and swam beneath the river to where the blockade stood. He climbed atop the wooden structure and began to batter it with his heavy fists while Sigrund drew the archers’ fire. When the barricade collapsed, the Kalosians moved to the second part of their plan, turning a winch to raise a chain across the river and barring the longships from passing through. Without waiting for any orders from Ivarr, Dagmar seized the chain and pulled, wrenching the anchor from the ground and dragging it into the river. The Beartic roared as he swung the broken chain above his head, and the Kalosian archers hastily retreated.

    Ivarr jumped up onto the prow of his longship and cheered as Dagmar calmed down and swam back to the boat. The warrior shouted jeers to the fleeing Kalosians as the longships continued on their way.

    The northmen now slept in short shifts to ensure that there were always enough hands pulling the oars. When Halvard and Wulfric finished their shift in the small hours of the night, they hunkered down in the sides of the longship. The jarl had been pensive ever since watching Dagmar break the chain, and when Wulfric asked him what he was thinking, Halvard took a moment before responding. “What the Kalosians tried to do to us here is what Ingmar built at the end of his fjord, yes?”

    “More or less, I suppose, but—”

    “But you don’t think we can get through his chain the same way?”

    Wulfric nodded. “King Ingmar’s chain will be much stronger than this one, and far better anchored. Dagmar may be strong, but I doubt he’s strong enough to bring down an entire stone tower on his own.”

    Halvard sighed. “Of course it can never be that simple.”

    “Not to be presumptuous, but perhaps we ought to figure out how to get out of this before we start planning the next creative way to get ourselves killed?”

    After breaking through the slapdash blockade, the Kalosians had given the northmen a few days of peace. Wulfric had begun to suspect that the Kalosians had simply decided it was not worth the time or effort to continue pursuing them and had cut their losses. Though the northmen were still making haste towards the sea, their flight had lost some of the desperation they had following their escape from Camphorae. However, as they skirted past Geosenge Village and came into sight of the open sea, the northerners saw why the Kalosians had left them alone.

    Drifting in the ocean was a flotilla of Kalosian naval barges, hemming in the northern longships as they exited the river delta. The northerners instinctively took up their weapons and braced for battle, but Wulfric commanded them to wait. He pointed out over the water to where soldiers and their pokemon massed on the decks of the barges. “They outnumber us at least five to one. There’s no way we can get out of this if we attack them directly. But we don’t need to. They need to hunt down every last one of us, but we just need to escape. Look at those barges. Ulfi, do they look like they can keep pace with our ships?”

    The boat builder shook his head. “Probably can’t sail worth a damn either.”

    “Exactly. Kalosian ships are good for moving lots of things from one place to the other. They don’t necessarily do it fast, and they don’t have to be very nimble to do it. But you northerners live on the sea. You know boats better than anyone. Sure, the Kalosians will kill us if they catch us. But they have to catch us first.”

    “But they have more ships that we do,” Ivarr said. “What’s to stop them from just tightening the net? Then we wouldn’t be able to get clear.”

    “Right. We’ll need to disrupt them, create some kind of distraction.” Wulfric pointed at two boats to the northwest. “Aesgir, I need you to have Gunnar and Gunnhild attack the hulls of those barges there. Torvald and Ivarr, we need Branna and Dagmar to attack the barge directly west of us. We’ll make them think we’re trying to get out to sea.” He turned to Ragnhildr. “I need you to go up with Sigrund to attack the barges from the air. She’s been our best asset in disrupting the Kalosians so far, and she’s strong enough to handle any flying aligned the Kalosians use to stop you. Fly in a wide arc, starting in the west and moving north. Once you reach that barge there,” Wulfric said, pointing at the one directly north of them, “hit it with everything you have. That’s the one we need to get rid of to break through.” Ragnhildr nodded, and Wulfric continued. “The rest of us need to row with everything we have. We’ll go directly north. The waters there are littered with boulders that will make navigation difficult for their larger boats. The longships should be able to pass through.

    Once we’re sure that they aren’t pursuing us any longer, tack west and out into the open ocean. From there, sail back northeast to Rovngalad. If your longship gets separated from the others, don’t wait or try to find your way back. Just sail home. Any objections?”

    When no one spoke up, Halvard ordered his warriors into position. Gunnar and Gunnhild shot off through the shallows to harry their targets while Dagmar surged off through the lapping waves to the west. Branna circled over the Beartic’s head and let him strike the hull first before diving at the rigging, her feathers cloaked in flames. The soldiers on the deck quickly turned their attention from Dagmar to the spreading fire, though with each fire they put out, Branna’s next dive would set several more.

    The barge the Sharpedo had been sent to attack lurched dangerously to one side as one of the water aligned managed to breach the hull. Aesgir cheered as the barge began to tip, pitching the soldiers into the sea. Many were weighted down by heavy armor and sank like stones, while those who could swim hurried to neighboring barges. While most of the latter made it, others fell victim to Gunnar and Gunnhild’s gnashing jaws.

    The Kalosian ships began to move in on the northmen’s boats, just as Ivarr had predicted. But just before they hemmed in the northerners, Sigrund dropped out of the sky and unleashed a deafening roar. The sound rattled the teeth in Wulfric’s skull, and he doubted that the soldiers on the Kalosian barges fared much better. Sigrund directed her blast in an arc around the formation, the wall of sound splintering timbers and making the ears of several soldiers bleed. When she brought her wrath to bear on the northernmost ship, she unleashed her full power, using the sound of her roar to breach the hull and split the mast.

    “Now!” Wulfric screamed, and the northmen began to row frantically. A few of the Kalosians on the sinking barge tried to stop their ships with flaming arrows, but Halvard had dispatched several of the women and young men to stand ready with shields to catch them. The longships between the damaged barges and headed towards the rocky shoals to the north. The rowers on the Kalosian barges worked to pursue them, and Wulfric directed the longships to scatter.

    Torvald nodded to his brother from the deck of his own ship before tacking west, slipping out of sight behind a rocky spar. Halvard directed his crew north into the shoals. Several Kalosian boats attempted to follow them, but their wider decks made it nearly impossible for them to navigate the treacherous waters. The northerners worked their oars as Halvard called the cadence, and soon they had weaved their way through the rocks and out into the open ocean. Using the sun as their guide, the longship tacked westward into deeper waters for several hours before turning back north for home.

    The journey back was largely uneventful, and in time they rendezvoused with the other four longships. Two of them had been badly scratched in the shoals, but the damage was not enough to compromise the hull. As they made their way back to Rovngalad, they kept the Kalosian coastline in view, but only barely. A watcher on the shore would not have been able to see them, and they took care to avoid well-known fishing lanes.

    Finally, after days of travel, the northmen passed the first of the fjords that marked the entrance to the northlands. Weary but eager to return home, the warriors found the strength to reach Rovngalad after only two more days. However, as they approached the mouth of the fjord, Ulfi scowled. “Something doesn’t seem right.”

    Trails of smoke drifted up over the hills around the village, though they were darker and more acrid than the normal cooking fires could account for. No Mareep roamed the hills, though they should have been out to pasture. The longships passed through the mouth of the fjord, and the northerners were left in mute shock as they sailed towards what was left of the village.

    Rovngalad was in ruins, burned to the ground.
    3DS FC: 0748-3041-6462

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  14. #14
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    Welp. If Halvard hadn't already wanted to make mincemeat of the king prior to coming home to THAT, that sure as hell would've done it. Whether or not said king had anything to do with it. Depending on how many, if any, are left of his villagers, dude might get rather more reckless. Moreso the fewer he has left to look out for. Whether or not that'll make him more dangerous where his enemies are concerned, I can't say.

    Anyway hi, just got through binge reading this, which was hella easy because it just pulled me right in. I don't know exactly how often I'll be able to pop in and catch up moving forward, but rest assured I'll want to.

  15. #15
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    Well, finally got around to reading and reviewing this, and hoo boy it was quite a treat. Before I begin apologies for my brain taking the premise as an excuse to imagine everyone as manly hunks of testosterone unless described otherwise. Including the woman and children. Especially the women and children.

    Ironically on that note the thing I liked most about this fic is the amount of thought you've put into your premise. It's a Viking AU, but it's not the stereotypical "guys in horned helmets do nothing but loot, plunder, murder, and drink beer" kind of Viking AU. I mean, you go into actual details of the Viking society of this fic, what everyone's day to-day lives are like when the looting, plundering, murdering, and drinking beer aren't going on, and how the Pokemon factor in to such a society.

    The incorporation of the Pokemon into this fic's setting is praiseworthy in and of itself; they blend pretty well into society, into people's lives, into their rituals - the Wailord hunt scene stands out here. And the intelligence of the Pokemon is on a "just right" level for such a setting - animal like enough that human affairs din't revolve too much around them for the story's own good, yet juust intelligent enough for them to still have a part as characters. This scene I particularly enjoyed in regards to the latter:

    “That’s Uthald. My pride and joy.” When Steinarr snorted, Halvard cringed. “My other pride and joy.”
    The characters are very well-done; each has their own motivations, beliefs, (the discussion of religion in Chapter 2 sticks out here, as well as highlighting the fandom's own differing views on Legendaries!) and goals. Everyone has distinct personalities and things to like about them; Wulfric is a solid "fish out of water" protagonist, and even as the others commit atrocities you still manage to root for them in the end, especially when they're up against someone even worse. (Hoo boy that Chapter 9 cliffhanger drove that home.)

    If I have any criticism of this fic, it's that the cast, while fun, can be difficult to keep track of. There's a lot of old Norse names that can be difficult to memorize, and a lot of characters, and I've had times where I thought Ulthar was human for a second in early chapters.

    But this is a wonderfully crafted fic that really uses its premise well, and it definitely needs more attention.

    Alain finds out exactly what people think of him far worse than the hard way, and only one thing can save him.
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  16. #16
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    Chapter 12

    Torvald stood on the dock, slowly shaking his head in disbelief. Halvard’s hands trembled as he walked to the shore, where he fell to his knees in the sand. His shoulders quaked as he looked out on the devastation. The houses had been razed, the fields and pastures scorched, and it seemed nothing had been spared. The air was silent, with none of the bustle and conversation Wulfric had come to expect of the dockside market.

    “Runa!” Ragnhildr shouted. She jumped from her ship and splashed through the shallows, calling her daughter’s name. Torvald and Svein took off after her while Wulfric helped Halvard to his feet. The other warriors hesitantly disembarked from the longships and slowly fanned out through Rovngalad, trying to see if anything could be salvaged or if any of their loved ones had survived.

    Wulfric finally caught up with Torvald and Ragnhildr at Halvard’s hall, which had suffered worse than the other buildings in the village. A crippled man sat on a stool in front of the door, slowly whittling with a dagger. Ragnhildr backhanded him. “Tell me!” she demanded. “Where is my daughter?”

    The man spread his lips in a smile, revealing several missing teeth. He wheezed with laughter until Ragnhildr struck him again. The man shook his head. “The little girl with hair like straw and eyes like jewels? Dead. She burned when we torched the hall.”

    “How?” Torvald growled. “How did you do this? Uthald and Jarn, they must have—”

    “Your pet monsters? We didn’t kill them. Couldn’t manage that. But the sea beast sank deep into the fjord after a good battering, and we drove your iron monster up into the mountains where it wouldn’t bother us. After that, it was easy to put the village to torch.” The man grinned wider. “That’s the price you pay when all of your best warriors are out to pasture.”

    It happened quickly, almost too fast for Wulfric to follow. Torvald’s fingers twitched, and suddenly he was holding Skerast. There was a flash and then a geyser of blood splashed from the man’s throat. Torvald kicked the corpse from the stool and turned on his heel. “I need to find Jarn.” He stalked past Wulfric and Halvard and met his brother’s eye. “Ingmar is going to pay for this.”

    Halvard could only nod as they continued on towards Ragnhildr. The woman turned to Wulfric. “Wulfric, please take Svein. I don’t want him to see this.”

    Svein shook his head. “No, Mother. I’m a man now. I have a responsibility to my… to my sister.” His voice broke, and he tried valiantly not to cry. Halvard pulled his nephew into an embrace and let the boy hide his face in that jarl’s tunic so he wouldn’t have to hold back his tears.

    Wulfric backed away slowly. “I’ll leave you to mourn. I… I wouldn’t want to be in the way.” Halvard turned to him, about to say something to stop him, but Wulfric shook his head. Halvard’s family needed him, and despite opening their home to him, Wulfric would just be an interloper. As he made his way back down towards the harbor, he fished the iron ring out from under his tunic and began to pray.

    “Oh great Arceus, Your humble servant comes to you in need of Your grace. Heal my troubled heart and make me into a vessel of Your peace. In You, let me find clarity and the strength to guide my flock, as You guide Yours. Lord Arceus most high, I come to you in my hour of need beseeching Your light. I give myself to You so that You might make an instrument of me. In Your name I pray.”

    And yet, Wulfric felt nothing. There was no peace, no clarity. No grace.

    Wulfric found Ulfi sitting outside the remains of his workshop, idly poking charred wreckage with a stick. The boat builder looked up as Wulfric approached and gestured to another mostly intact chair nearby. “Did you find Runa?” he asked.

    Wulfric shook his head. “She… she died in the attack.”

    Ulfi nodded slowly. “I see.” They sat in silence for a moment. Only the lapping waves made any noise. Finally, Ulfi grunted. “Do we know what happened?”

    “King Ingmar ordered the attack, we think. There was a man who was left behind at Halvard’s hall, he was wearing Ingmar’s colors. He didn’t last long once Torvald had him, but he said that they hurt Uthald enough to make him dive deep in the fjord to lick his wounds and they drove Jarn up into the mountains. It seems clear to me.” Wulfric shrugged. “How are you holding up?”

    Ulfi tossed his stick into the water. “My workshop can be rebuilt. My tools can be reforged. I’m probably the one man in Rovngalad who doesn’t give a damn about this one way or the other.” He gestured vaguely in the direction of his small hut. “My wife died years ago, and Odmund… well. I don’t have that much left to lose. I kept Odmund’s old cradle and my wife’s wedding dress under my bed. Those probably burned up. But I still have my memories of them. Ingmar can’t take those from me.” Ulfi stood with a groan. “I’m going to go see if anyone needs something heavy lifted. That’s about all I can do now.”

    Wulfric watched Ulfi wander off into the ruins of the village. Over the past several months, he had begun to feel like one of the northmen, like part of their tribe. But now, in the face of this tragedy, he felt like an outsider and a voyeur. The northmen needed to mourn the loss of their homes and loved ones, and Wulfric keenly felt that he was unwelcome. He settled Dismas on his shoulder and picked his way out of the village and into the forest at the base of the mountains. The trees muffled the sounds drifting up from the village, and soon Wulfric was alone save for the sound of the sea air moving through the branches.

    He wandered aimlessly through the trees until he caught the scent of wood smoke, entirely unlike the acrid stench of Rovngalad’s charred ruins. Following the smell, he found Skaldi hunched next to a small fire in a clearing. The northern priest jabbed at the coals with the broken haft of a spear. A battered metal pot hung on a spit over the flames.

    Skaldi glanced up when he heard Wulfric’s footfalls, a hand going to his axe. “Oh. It’s just you.”

    “I thought you would be in the village.”

    “Why?”

    “Is your family safe? Your home?”

    “Haven’t got a family, and my home was a wreck before all of this.” The priest shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t want to be around people. It’s easier in the woods.”

    Wulfric nodded. “I understand. I feel the same, sometimes.”

    “Sure you do,” Skaldi scoffed. He gestured at the other side of the fire. “You might as well sit down. If I let you keep wandering around out here on your own, you might fall in a pit and break your legs or something.”

    Wulfric sat down and raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t think you’d mind if I disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

    “I wouldn’t. But Halvard would complain.”

    “I see.”

    The water in the pot reached a boil, and Skaldi carefully slipped it off its pole and poured the hot water into a chipped clay cup. He blew over the top and held it out to Wulfric. “If you’re going to hang around, you might as well drink up, priest.”

    Wulfric took a cautious sniff. “What is this?”

    “Tea. Don’t you have that in the south?”

    “Of course we have tea.” Wulfric sipped the green-brown liquid and pursed his lips. It was far more bitter than he was used to, and earthier. “It’s… interesting.”

    Skaldi tutted. “You don’t drink it in silly little sips. Take a long draught.”

    “It’s rather hot…”

    “Don’t have the stomach for it?”

    Wulfric scowled and tilted the cup up again, drinking it down in three long gulps. He gasped as he passed the cup back to Skaldi. “By Arceus, that burns! This is how northerners take their tea?”

    “It’s how I do,” Skaldi replied, pouring one out for himself. “It’s more potent that way. Cheers!” He tossed the earthy tea back and swallowed, blowing out a long breath when he finished. “Shouldn’t be long now.”

    “Shouldn’t be long until what?”

    Skaldi tittered. “Wulfric, we are going to pray together.”

    Wulfric tried to stand, but he was overcome with a wave of dizziness. “What was in that tea? What have you done to me?”

    “Just a few herbs and mushrooms.” Skaldi waved his hands dismissively and rose to his feet in a single fluid motion. He slunk around the fire and hoisted Wulfric up. “I think it’s time I introduced you to my gods, Wulfric. You see, when I pray to my gods, they answer me. Can you say the same?”

    Wulfric tried to snap back that of course Arceus heeded his prayers. And yet, had not his prayers always fallen on deaf ears? Skaldi laughed and led Wulfric onward. “I thought not. Come, I’ll show you what a northern god can do.”

    The fog had settled more densely over Wulfric’s mind, and his thoughts grew increasingly muddled. The greens of the forest seemed much sharper, even as the trunks seemed to warp and bend. He felt as though his spirit was tethered to his body only by a very thin cord, and he was drifting somewhere above it. A strong wind could sever the connection, and he would be barred from Arceus’s domain forever. The thought made him begin to panic, but he felt Skaldi’s hand clamp down hard on his arm. “None of that now. Not yet.”

    Wulfric focused on Skaldi’s iron grip, using it as his anchor to reality. The sky above their heads had darkened, and the wind began to howl. Stinging rain lashed Wulfric’s face as they emerged from the trees on a cliff that overlooked the coast. Dismas shifted uncomfortably on Wulfric’s shoulder, bunching up his feathers to keep the water off him. Skaldi staggered to the cliff’s edge and spread his arms wide, cackling madly as the wind whipped through his hair. “Do you feel it, Wulfric? Do you feel the power of my gods? It is in the roar of the wind, the biting cold, the crashing surf! These are gods truly worthy of respect and fear! What can your god bring against mine?”

    Wulfric could only shake his head as a long rumble of thunder made the teeth rattle in his skull. A brilliant flash of lightning split the sky some distance out to sea, followed by several more strikes. Skaldi threw back his head and howled along with the thunder. “Look! The Storm Bringer is rattling his wings!”

    In the next thunderclap, Wulfric heard another sound, a long, drawn out shriek. He had heard it once before, when Zapdos had descended on Rovngalad last autumn. A chill ran up Wulfric’s spine as the dense clouds were illuminated again. The lightning crackled around a dark shape with broad wings soaring in a long arc along the coastline. Hearing the Storm Bringer pass overhead had been one thing, but now he was witnessing the raw fury of lightning incarnate for himself.

    Zapdos screamed again, and was echoed by a clap of thunder that nearly deafened Wulfric. When the ringing in his ears subsided, he heard another long scream coming from the south. A great dark shape passed by above the clouds, and Wulfric felt an immense pressure pushing down on him as the vast shape soared by. The Storm Bringer unleashed its fury, splitting the sky again and again with lightning, but the dark shape seemed undeterred. It circled once above the cloud cover and began to pulse with red light. Skaldi fell to his knees and spread his arms wide. “Oh Bringer of Death, show us your power!”

    A blast of crimson light descended from the sky, making the sea boil where it struck. Zapdos spiraled out of the way and beat furiously up into the air. The clouds flashed with blue-white lightning as the Storm Bringer struck back, though the Bringer of Death seemed to treat it as nothing more than a minor annoyance. The clouds flashed alternately blue-white and blood red, silhouetting the raging gods. The storm raged around Wulfric and Skaldi, the wind whipping their hair about their heads even as the rain plastered it to their skulls.

    Skaldi chanted prayers too quickly for Wulfric to follow, not that he was paying the northern priest much mind anyway. The battle between the giant air aligned was like nothing he had ever seen before. His god was a distant force, all-powerful certainly, but Arceus exerted His power in subtle ways. This was raw animalistic fury, the clash of two predators fighting over territory. The northern gods were no more than beasts. Powerful beasts, yes, but they had none of the grace that Arceus had. Couldn’t Skaldi see that?

    Perhaps he could, and that primordial fury only made Skaldi revere them more.

    The crimson light of Yvetal swept out over the sea, throwing up large clouds of steam. Zapdos dove low, lightning sparkling along its feathers. When Yvetal did not stoop in pursuit, Zapdos angled itself higher, obviously intending to strike Yvetal from below. The massive red pokemon glowed brightly again and unleashed another blast of crimson light. Though Zapdos tried to dodge, the blast clipped its left wing, and the Storm Bringer plummeted. Yvetal screamed and began to descend, only for Zapdos to unleash a burst of lightning in the Bringer of Death’s eyes. Yvetal recoiled, and Zapdos winged away as quickly as it was able on its damaged wings. As the Storm Bringer fled, the worst of the storm passed with it, though the rain still cascaded down. Yvetal circled lazily above the clouds, not deigning to give chase to a nimbler foe. It began to slowly descend from the roiling thunderheads, the red glow intensifying as it passed below the clouds.

    As it looped back towards the shore, Wulfric saw the Bringer of Death clearly for the first time. The lines of black along its pulsing red body stood out like veins, deep voids gouged into its flesh. Its eyes smoldered like massive blazing coals, and the oppressive aura of blind fear settled over Wulfric once again. Skaldi prostrated himself on the ground as Yvetal drifted lower. Wulfric reached up and clutched the iron ring that sat heavily on his breastbone.

    “Give the god its due!” Skaldi hissed. Wulfric fixed his gaze on the Bringer of Death and tore the leather thong from his throat and held it at arm’s length. “Yes!” Skaldi urged. “Cast off your old god! He can’t save you now!”

    “No.”

    In spite of his terror, Wulfric did not let himself waver. He held the iron ring before him, brandishing it at Yvetal. “I will never submit to your gods, Skaldi.” Yvetal had reached the cliff where they now stood, and Wulfric felt the weight of its burning gaze. His fist clenched around the leather in his palm. “The power of Arceus is great, and He shall be my shield. In His grace, I have no fear.”

    “You fool! You have seen the might of my gods! How can you doubt their power?”

    “They are fearsome, to be sure. But I will not succumb to fear.”

    Yvetal screamed, and Wulfric gritted his teeth. The temptation to flee was nearly overwhelming, but he knew that to do so would invite certain death. The Bringer of Death was glowing brighter, but Wulfric felt the rain on his brow and felt a fire burning in his breast. The cold, lashing deluge of Zapdos’s fury had subsided, replaced by a misting rain that beaded on his skin.

    “Your gods embody the power of the raging storm, the strength of the churning sea, the abject terror of death. But for all that, they lack the power of my Lord. You hear the screams of your gods in the roar of thunder, but Arceus speaks to me with the soft spring rains and the whisper of the wind.” He threw his shoulders back and held his iron ring higher. “He speaks to me now, and I know that so long as I hold Him in my heart, I will never walk alone!”

    Yvetal screamed again, but this time Wulfric did not cower. The monstrous beast spread its wings wide and surged back up above the clouds, flying back from whence it came. Wulfric turned his face up to the rain as his face broke into a beatific smile.

    ***

    Halvard sat in the sand near the docks, his head bowed and heedless to the rain. “Runa…” he whispered. “Will I truly never see you run again? Will I never hear your voice calling me home from across the field?” He picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle through his fingers. “Without you, everything is going to be so quiet and still. It is like all the color has bled away from the world.”

    His eyes stung, but he had no tears left to shed. “I… I simply can’t believe that you are gone. You will never see another sunset, let alone another summer. We all ache from your loss, but it is nothing to what was stolen from you. There was so much you could have done, could have been. You could have been a warrior, a mother. You had so much joy to give, and so much left to see.” Halvard shook his head. “Runa, my dear niece, you are not gone because you will always be in my heart. You were the light in our lives. I know there will come a day when we meet again in the Cold Halls, but…” His voice broke. “But I will wait here a while, and if you wish to come and sit with me, and lay your head in my lap, I will stroke your beautiful hair with my rough farmer’s hands one last time.” His shoulders heaved with a gasping sob.

    Halvard sat there, letting the rain soak into his skin. After what seemed like hours, the downpour abated into a gentler shower. He heard footsteps in the sand, but he did not raise his eyes. Someone took Halvard’s hand in both of their smaller ones, and sat down silently beside him. After a moment, Halvard lifted his head, almost ready to believe that his niece had heard him from beyond the veil. Instead, he saw Wulfric, the monk’s eyes closed in silent prayer. As though he could feel Halvard’s eyes on him, Wulfric gave the jarl’s hand a gentle squeeze.

    They sat together in the soft rain for some time, and eventually Ragnhildr and Svein made their way down the beach and sat with them. Ragnhildr laid her head on Wulfric’s shoulder and pulled Svein close. Torvald came upon them not long after and stood beside his brother. The warrior opened his mouth to say something, shook his head, and sat down.

    The rain continued to fall, mingling with the tears on their cheeks and trickling down to the damp earth. Wulfric had tilted his head up to the heavens and let the water cascade down his face. Although they were all soaked to the skin, they did not feel the cold. Wulfric clasped Halvard’s hand and began to pray.

    “Great Arceus, who dwells above,
    Hallowed be Thy name
    Where all Thy light touches
    May Thine will be done,
    As above and so below
    Bless us this day, and those to come
    And forgive us when we stray from Thy light
    And guide us to work in Thy name,
    But keep us from the Shadow.
    For Yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory
    Forever and ever
    In Your name I pray.”

    His prayer finished, Wulfric opened his eyes to see the sun breaking through the low-hanging clouds. The rain began to abate, and as the children of Sigurd watched, the water of the fjord began to seethe. Uthald burst from the depths, tossing his crowned head. The spray caught in the sunlight, glittering like iridescent shards of crystal. The Gyarados turned his face towards the sun and basked in the warmth. Though he bore fresh wounds on his scaled hide, the leviathan seemed as powerful and vigorous as ever, and when he roared, Wulfric felt it deep in his bones.

    While the screams of Zapdos and Yvetal had inspired terror, Uthald’s roar was the sound of defiance, a challenge to the universe itself. Wulfric knew that it was a sign from Arceus, just as surely as he had felt Arceus with him when he stood against the Bringer of Death. The rain had been sent to cleanse him of his sins, and Arceus had called Uthald from the depths to remind Wulfric of his purpose and strengthen his resolve.

    He grasped Halvard’s hand again, and this time, Halvard clasped back.
    3DS FC: 0748-3041-6462

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  17. #17
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    Geez, this has been sitting open in a browser tab for how long? It's about time I sat down and actually read the dang thing. Apologies if my thoughts and comments are a bit all over the place—I haven't really reviewed in a while and I was trying to hit the high points of twelve chapters at once, for which I have no one to blame but myself—but hopefully they're helpful and encouraging all the same!

    The setting, plot and characters seem very Vikings-inspired, which is fine by me; it's a pretty good show, although I haven't kept up with it lately. Hopefully things end better for Wulfric than they did for Aethelstan!

    I like the archaic names for Kalos's various locations, haha. Very clever, especially the Latin-inspired changes.

    The character development does feel like it's moving a bit too quickly in places, most noticeably in Wulfric's relationship with Halvard early on. I can understand a monk not feeling like he can run away from or otherwise resist these huge scary barbarians from the north, so his being submissive and obedient isn't a problem, but he starts trusting Halvard for what looks like no real reason other than "well, he's not that horrible for a slave owner and also he helps out on the farm". There's no obvious evidence of Halvard actually giving Wulfric a reason to believe in him, and for a little while it seems like Wulfric is actively annoyed by Halvard's lack of faith in any gods; it'd be nice if you could show more reasons for Wulfric to come around and feel more loyal and/or friendly.

    Also, it would've been nice if we'd seen a bit more evidence of Wulfric's limited understanding of the northmen's language in the first few chapters. There are a few places later on where you mention Wulfric struggling to find equivalent terms for his Kalosian words, which is great, but we never see any of that from the other side. A small thing, but it'd make for a nice touch.

    Interesting choice to use "x aligned" instead of "x type" for the pokémon, although the first time I noticed it I stumbled a little since it looked like it was describing how the doublade was positioned rather than its type. (Could just be down to me reading that sentence too quickly, mind.) It might help if you hyphenated it as "spirit-aligned" or "psychic-aligned" and so on; technically that's more correct anyway, as both words together are being used as a single adjective or noun.

    Very curious about Torvald and his relationship to Halvard. So far he's been a pretty decent guy, if a bit gruff and taking his time warming up to Wulfric, but Wulfric's observation that Torvald was going to let Halvard die during that nighttime raid is a bit worrisome. Did Wulfric just misinterpret that, or is he barking up the right tree after all? Is Torvald going to go through some Rollo-esque confusing loyalty swings? Color me intrigued. Also, Torvald definitely saw that Wulfric was awake and aware of the raid, and obviously tried to shush him in a manner that Wulfric interpreted as "no, let it happen, let them kill Halvard"; if Torvald does have designs on Halvard's position, it would seem he's well aware that Wulfric might be an obstacle going forward. Probably not good news... granted, Halvard didn't seem too concerned when Wulfric finally brought it up (and I'm glad he did, it kinda seemed like he'd forgotten about it for a while there), which... is also a little distressing!

    Dismas's "Fight! Die! Blood!" in chapter 8 was friggin' adorable okay. Like, it should probably be upsetting, because either it means he doesn't understand what he's in for or has a worrying predilection for violence, but it was adorable so idc.

    I like that you take the time to describe the northmen's rituals and their tactics, like dampening the sounds of the oar splashes and dulling the shine of the blades—nice, useful detail without being infodumpy or making a bigger deal out of it than it is. Loved the battle scene at the little fishing village, too. It moved quickly, wasn't bogged down by unnecessary flourishes but still had some lovely setting details interspersed with the action—and the line about the smoke of the burning houses blocking out the stars was quite poignant.

    Inhaling breloom spores as part of a berserker ritual is a nice touch, too. You've done a good job of integrating pokémon into the setting and society, rather than them just "being there", which is always nice to see and, as I know from wrestling with some of my own ideas, not always easy to pull off and pull off consistently.

    The scene between Skaldi and Wulfric was pretty great. A powerful, climactic battle between zapdos and yveltal, a bracing, tense description of the storm, and it's nice to see that Wulfric hasn't completely forgotten about his inner religious turmoil, since the story was kind of light on that for a while. I mean, we'll see how steadfast his faith remains, since there seems to be a fair amount of story left to go and room for him to be further assimilated into the northmen's culture, but yeah, definitely nice to see that come up again.

    Not gonna lie, I teared up a bit at Halvard bemoaning the loss of Runa. That was really nice, and also really evocative. There's some dissonance in it coming right after that wild storm and furious battle, but I think it still works.

    I am a little conflicted about the Lord's Prayer bit, though. Obviously you've modeled this Arcean religion very heavily on Christianity, which is fine, but I dunno, I guess it would've been nice if it could've been something more its own than just a rehash of the Lord's Prayer? Something that anchored it to this setting a little better than just changing out a few words? Even if it was just flavor stuff, like mentioning the thousand-armed embrace or the Halls of Origin, it'd probably have been a bit less jarring. I liked the scene itself, though. I doubt any of the family will be converting just because of something like that, but it's great to see how ready they are to accept the sentiment of Wulfric's prayer for them, especially right after the other northman he interacts with regularly just tried to force him to cast off his beliefs. It's very touching, and it does a good job showcasing the growing bond and understanding between the characters, even if the story does feel a little light on showing the buildup of character growth between these moments.

    But anyway! Hell yes! Pokémon stories set in different time periods! Vikings! Violence! Religious conflict! Adorable pokémon! This is my jam and I will absolutely be keeping up with it, so keep up the good work!

    (also now I'm imagining what a machoke and its belt would look like in a Viking setting and I can't unsee furry underpants this is your fault and you should be ashamed)
    some fanfics or something

    The Best Game - The Pokémon Trainer's Guide

  18. #18
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    Okay so first of all, this is the best thing, and second of all it's actually also a really engaging story. I haven't seen a lot of historical pokémon fanfic, which seems like a crying shame because … well, this, quite honestly, and the more I read of The Halvarsaga the more it seems that way. Vikings and pokémon is a brilliant combination, and that realisation is what I guess serves as the hook, but once you read past that it's the character interaction that keeps you going (Ingmar & Halvard and Wulfric & Skaldi are the stand-out examples, but they're all great, really), to say nothing of the delicious worldbuilding. (I didn't know I wanted detailed descriptions of animal sacrifice to Zapdos in my fics but having had a taste I'm all for it.) And then you go on a bit more and there's a really good action scene, and then further still a really interesting bit of political manoeuvring, and then an even better action scene, and, well, you get the picture. It's definitely a plus for the pacing; every time you reach a point where you might stop reading, something else happens. And then you start again.

    One thing I particularly like is the way Kalos' placenames have clearly drifted over the years, so Dendemille is, centuries back, Dent-du-Mille. I'm going go out on a limb here and guess that this isn't the main draw of this fic for most of its readers, but I think it's probably one of my favourite things about it. This probably says more about me than the fic, but it's still a great touch and I like it a lot.

    None of which adds up to a very coherent review, unfortunately, but I guess by this point this is more of a response to say 'I'm really enjoying this and here's why' rather than a review. Which I guess is okay. Anyway, the fact that I read this all in a single sitting meant I couldn't not respond. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next!
    80 DAYS
    Jules Verne's got nothing on you.

    GO HOME
    Some people just won't see reason.

    ARBITRARY EXECUTION
    If the cover-up is real, it isn't a conspiracy theory. It's a conspiracy fact.

    TIME AND TIDE | A LEASH OF FOXES
    IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER

  19. #19
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    I may or may not have cheered a bit when that old fart bragging about burning the hall got offed. Good gravy that guy got on my nerves--just as he intended for anyone who heard/"heard' him run his damn mouth, doubtless. XD;

    Yveltal vs. Zapdos was pretty rad. I don't know how much, if any, of what Wulfric experienced was colored by Magic Mushrooms, but I imagine the birds were, at least, actually there seeing as both those guys saw them. Only other explanation that really comes to mind is major power of suggestion--though obviously not major enough to make him renounce Arceus.

  20. #20
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    Chapter 13

    Halvard watched his men drill on the beach, his face drawn. The northern warriors twirled blunted weapons and beat them against the metal rims of their shields as they clashed and danced apart. Further down the stretch of sand, Torvald barked orders for the men to form a shield wall and just as quickly break apart. The jarl sketched plans for the assault on Yeavenguut in the sand with a narrow branch but wiped them away just as quickly. He grunted a curse, hurled the stick into the water of the fjord, and drew his sword.

    Wulfric finished drilling with Aesgir and found Halvard angrily hacking a training dummy to pieces. “I thought we were supposed to be using practice weapons today,” Wulfric remarked as he took a swig from a waterskin. Halvard just grunted again before lopping off the wooden simulacrum’s head in a casual, backhanded blow. “It’s the chain between the towers, isn’t it?” Wulfric continued. “It’s got me puzzled too. I’ve never heard of anything like it in Kalos. I’ll give Donatus Builder the credit he’s due, it’s an ingenious feat of engineering.” Wulfric had to revert to Kalosian to say it, as he did not quite have the right words in the language of the northerners to get the phrasing right, and by now Halvard had learned enough Kalosian to catch his meaning.

    “A curse on the family of Donatus Builder,” Halvard growled, driving his blade through the chest piece of the decapitated mannequin. “May they suffer for ten generations.”

    Wulfric said nothing. He had an acute sympathy for King Ingmar’s captive southerner, who in truth had only done what Wulfric had, just for a different master. Still, his chain presented a thorny problem. “Truly, I don’t think getting past the chain in the first place will be the most pressing of our problems,” Wulfric said. “If Ingmar is wise, and I fear that he is, he won’t raise the chain when he hears of our approach. He and his warriors are behind their walls and have little enough to fear from what we can bring to bear. No, it’s far more sensible for him to wait until we’ve committed ourselves to the attack and raise the chain behind us. He and his men could pick us off in the harbor and on the shore at their leisure.”

    Halvard finally sheathed his sword and nodded. “I’ve had the same thought. However, I have not told you everything. If you’re to help me, it’s time you know everything I do.” He signaled to Torvald down the beach, and the jarl’s brother adjourned his training session to join Halvard. When he had gotten close enough to speak to in confidence, Halvard said quietly, “It’s time that Wulfric saw the tunnel.”

    The three of them made their way out past the Rovngalad pastures and into the forest beyond. The sun was low in the sky when they finally reached the foothills of the mountains, and yet Halvard and Torvald continued onward. Finally, after making their way down a concealed trail, Halvard pointed to a deep cave carved in the mountain’s base. “What is this?” Wulfric asked.

    “Our back door to Yeavenguut,” Torvald said.

    “Surely you’re joking!”

    “Not a bit,” Halvard replied. “Rovngalad’s two greatest assets are Uthald and Jarn. Ingmar is rightfully afraid of what Uthald can do, but he also knows that there’s no way we can load Jarn onto a longship. To him, Jarn is a protector, and no threat to Ingmar provided he stays behind his walls.”

    “Which means,” Torvald chuckled, “that he likely has no plan for when Jarn suddenly shows up at his gates.” He sat down on a nearby boulder with a groan. “Halvard and I have always known that we didn’t stand a chance against the Usurper without both of our companions. Jarn and I have been digging this tunnel for years, and a few months ago we broke through to Yeavenguut. We concealed the passage again, so it’s nearly impossible for Ingmar to know what we’ve done.”

    “Who knows about this?”

    “Aside from the three of us? Ragnhildr, obviously. And I had to bring Ulfi in to construct some supports for the tunnel. Ivarr and a few of the other men helped a little here and there.” Torvald shrugged. “But we’ve kept this secret close. Only the people Halvard and I trust implicitly are brought here. We have no idea who could be an agent of Ingmar’s, and if he were to find out…”

    “So when you took those trips up into the mountains, you were digging this?”

    “Usually. Other times I just left to train. I needed a believable cover, and if it was known that I went off on my own to strengthen myself, and was seen to be doing so, I was more likely to be believed.”

    Wulfric was dumbfounded. “But a tunnel from here to Yeavenguut, right through the hearts of the mountains… that must have taken…”

    “Most of a decade,” Torvald said. “Yes.”

    Halvard folded his arms and stared into the darkness of the tunnel. “When we attack, Torvald will lead a band through the tunnel and attack Ingmar from the rear. We’ll use Jarn to breach the walls of Yeavenguut, and hopefully that’s enough for us to land our warriors.”

    “So you’re hoping that if we manage to breach the city, we would be able to take it over, and then the chain wouldn’t be a concern.”

    “That’s only if the chain is lowered so that we can get into the fjord in the first place,” Halvard said. “We can’t be sure that’s the case. And even then, that’s assuming that Ingmar hasn’t lain a trap for us in the city itself. His raid here was a deliberate provocation. He wants us to come to him, so I have to think he’s plotting something.”

    Torvald stood and put a hand on Halvard’s shoulder. “You’re overthinking this, brother. Ingmar doesn’t understand what it means to bring down the fury of Rovngalad.” He smiled that predatory northern grin Wulfric had seen so many times and began to walk back up the trail. Halvard watched him go and shook his head.

    “You don’t think it will be so simple,” Wulfric said. It was not a question.

    “Of course not. Ingmar has some sort of plan to catch us unawares. The tunnel is one thing, and maybe it will be enough to turn the tide in our favor, but I can’t lead my people to their deaths if I’m not sure. We need more power.”

    “Well, short of divine intervention, I’m not entirely sure what would be more powerful than a Gyarados and an Aggron.”

    “Divine intervention…” Halvard kicked a branch into the cave before sitting down on a nearby boulder. “Tell me Wulfric, what do you think of our gods, now that you’ve seen them for yourself?”

    “Well, I still don’t think they’re gods, for one thing.” When Halvard rolled his eyes, Wulfric continued. “But their power is undeniable. They may not be gods, but they are certainly forces of nature.”

    Halvard nodded. “And what of your god? Is He not also a powerful force of nature?”

    “With Arceus, it’s different.” Wulfric tried to distill centuries of theological philosophy into language Halvard could comprehend. “Arceus doesn’t just exert tremendous power over the world, He is the world. He shaped it, crafted it and exists as an intimate part of it.”

    “Says who?”

    “What?”

    “I mean, who told you this? And who told them? And so on and so forth, back to the beginning of the whole thing. Obviously no one was around to watch Arceus make the world, so how do they know it’s real?”

    “Faith, Halvard. It’s a matter of faith.”

    “If you say so. But doesn’t Skaldi also have faith in his gods? What makes you any more right?”

    “Arceus is a universal force! I’ll grant that Skaldi’s idols are tremendously powerful pokemon we can’t begin to understand, but that doesn’t make them gods.”

    “Easy, Wulfric. I don’t mean to upset you.” Halvard held up a finger. “But humor me for a moment more. You just said that the gods of the north are merely powerful pokemon. Does it not stand to reason that they could be tamed the way any pokemon could?”

    “I’m not sure I like where this theological argument is going.” Wulfric pursed his lips. “And while I suppose what you say is true, it would be nearly impossible!”

    Halvard shrugged. “That’s what everyone said about taming a Gyarados, until I came along. They just weren’t looking at it the right way.” He waved his hand. “You can go back to the village if you like. I’m going to stay here a while. The change of scenery will do me some good.”

    ***

    Several days later, while Wulfric was saying his evening prayers by the water, he heard someone approach behind him. Wulfric turned slowly, one hand going unconsciously to the dagger Torvald insisted he wear on his belt. Ulfi raised one hand in a sheepish wave and came to sit next to the monk. “I’m sorry,” the boat builder said after a moment. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. But I’ve watched you say those prayers of yours for a while now, but I’ve never been close enough to listen to what you’re saying. I suppose I just wanted to know.”

    “You did?”

    Ulfi nodded. “When you’re praying, your face changes. You look so calm, so peaceful. It’s not like when Skaldi does it. His prayers are… feverish. He gets that look in his eyes, you know the one I mean.”

    Wulfric nodded. “I think I’ve rather had my fill of Skaldi’s prayers.”

    “I see the peace your prayers bring you… and I want to learn to have that for myself.” Ulfi hung his head. “My wife and my son are gone. I have faith in Jarl Halvard, and I’ll fight for him until my dying breath. I have my work, my boats, and that’s all well and good. But I don’t have peace, not like you do. Could you show me?”

    Wulfric blinked. “I… I suppose I could teach you the prayers.” He clicked his tongue at Dismas, and the Chatot flapped off his shoulder to stand on the sand before the two men. “Just try to repeat what Dismas says. He knows the responses to the prayers, but we pray in Kalosian. Once I’ve finished, I’ll try and translate the prayers into your language so you know what we’re saying.”

    Ulfi nodded, and when Chatot said the responsorial to Wulfric’s prayers, the boat builder gave his best attempts to speak the strange foreign words. His brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to replicate the sounds, but they were clumsy on his tongue. When Wulfric had worked through his litany of prayers, he sat in the sand with Ulfi for another hour until the sun finally set behind the hills to the west, coaching the man on the proper responses to the translated prayers.

    Wulfric had only prayed in Kalosian, even after his language lessons with Halvard had concluded. The only interest the jarl had shown had been purely academic and theoretical, and a man who had no faith in the gods of his homeland was unlikely to convert to a foreign one. The Kalosian prayers had been Wulfric’s connection back to his home, but now that he had a willing acolyte, it was time to bring them to the northmen.

    After the first evening, Wulfric settled into a routine. He and Dismas would rise early and say their prayers in Kalosian, and then join the rest of the northmen for training and working in the fields. Then, when evening set in, he and Ulfi would meet at the boat builder’s workshop for another round of prayers, this time in the language of the northmen. Ulfi, who had some skill in writing, also began to transcribe the prayers in the northerner’s runic script on bark that was stripped from the timbers used to make and repair the longships. Wulfric had not even thought of this, but when Ulfi had proudly presented him with the northern translation of the Lord’s Prayer, Wulfric felt his heart swell and knew that this would make spreading the Word of Arceus to the north easier by an order of magnitude.

    Ulfi took to the teachings of Arceus with the zeal only a convert could have, and he was an able pupil. He listened attentively to the stories Wulfric told him of the saints and Shepherds of the past, and took interest especially in the accounts of the early Arcean converts in Tojoh and Kalos when the Arcean Shepherds began to spread out of Sinnoh. It was one night several weeks after beginning their evening prayers that Ulfi turned to Wulfric. “You have spoken of a ritual that converts to your faith must undergo to dedicate themselves to your god.”

    “Baptism, yes.”

    “I would like to be baptized.”

    “Are you sure?” Wulfric pressed. “Ulfi, once you do this, there is no going back. If you are baptized, you give your soul to Arceus.”

    “I would like to be baptized,” Ulfi said again. “I have found something in Arceus that I never had in the gods of my ancestors. When I leave this world, I want to go to Arceus’s embrace, not the Cold Halls. If what you tell me is true, that there are no Cold Halls and the Bringer of Death has no kingdom, that we all go to Him when we die, then I have nothing holding me to my old faith.”

    The boat builder stared out at the lapping waves of the fjord. “You say that only the baptized can go into Arceus’s hall and that all the pagans must wait outside the gates. My wife and son are out there, but they never knew they had to be baptized. Could I intercede with Arceus on their behalf?”

    “I… I don’t know, Ulfi. No one does.”

    “Well, all the same, I have to try. I can hold the gate for my family in the next life the way I hold the gate for my brothers in arms in this one. Wulfric, I have made my choice in this. I would like for you to baptize me.”

    And so the next night, they proceeded again to the shore. Ulfi stood in his nicest tunic at the water’s edge, and followed wordlessly as Wulfric led him into the sea. Uthald drifted lazily some ways off and rose out of the water a fraction to see what the two humans were up to. They waded until they were waist deep before Wulfric turned to face Ulfi. “Do you, Ulfi Angradsson, renounce the false pagan gods of the north and dedicate your body and soul to Arceus, Lord of Light, King of the Most High?”

    “I do.”

    “Do you pledge to serve Him, to carry His word in your heart, and to bring light to the world and banish the shadow?”

    “I do.”

    “Lord Arceus, Your humble servant comes before you to be filled with Your light. May You work through him and make him an instrument of Your glory!” Wulfric dipped his hand into the sea, reached up, and placed his thumb on Ulfi’s forehead. He drew the four-pronged ring of Arceus on the boat builder’s brow and rested his hand on Ulfi’s shoulder. The northman nodded gravely and lowered himself into the cold water. Wulfric watched as his pale face disappeared beneath the waves and remained there for several heartbeats. Then, Wulfric jerked Ulfi’s shoulder up, and the northman burst from the sea with a triumphant roar. The water dripped from his hair and beard, but he seemed impervious to the cold.

    Wulfric couldn’t help but smile. “In Your name we pray.”

    “Hail to You, Lord of Light!” Ulfi bellowed, completing the rite. Then, his face split into a wide grin, and he pulled Wulfric into a brief but tight embrace. “Thank you, my friend.” They went back to shore, and Ulfi poured them both a generous helping of mead. They toasted Ulfi’s conversion and drank deeply.

    As they sat on the sand waiting for their clothes to dry, Wulfric saw something move in the shadows near the village. He peered into the darkness and saw Skaldi crouching there, his brow furrowed. After their shared encounter on the cliffs where Wulfric had stood in defiance of the northern gods, the northern priest’s attitude towards him had changed. It was no less terse, and certainly Skaldi’s faith in his gods would not be swayed, but when he looked at Wulfric now, the monk saw something verging on respect in his eyes. Where Skaldi had prostrated himself, Wulfric had stood unwavering. And although he had stood in defiance of the northern gods, the only thing Skaldi held in higher esteem than his gods was an unyielding and defiant will.

    At the very least, he had not tried to interfere with the ceremony, though Wulfric was sure that had he wished to, he could have stopped the whole thing. As far as positive signs go, it wasn’t much, but it was enough.

    ***

    Finally, the day to launch the invasion came.

    The sea was calm, and a favorable wind blew from the south. Wulfric stood on the docks with Halvard and his siblings, watching the gray morning mist clear. Finally Ragnhildr broke the silence. “This may be the last time we all stand here together.”

    Torvald nodded grimly. “Could be. But there are worse ways to die.”

    “It’s not enough,” Halvard said. “All this, all of our warriors, it’s not enough. We’ll all fight to our last breath, but the Usurper will wipe us out.”

    “Don’t talk like that!” Torvald snapped. “We have to strike now! It’s only a matter of time before Ingmar finds the tunnel or comes for Rovngalad again. Ingmar can build a hundred fortresses, forge a thousand chains. I’ll break them until he breaks me!” Torvald shoved Halvard. “What is wrong with you Halvard? Why do you have so little faith in the strength of Rovngalad?”

    Halvard stared into his brother’s eyes. “You didn’t see our father die. Neither of you. I did. He was like you, Torvald. He fought and he fought, breaking everything Ingmar could put against him. But in the end, he broke too. Our father, our uncle, their allies, they were shattered and thrown to feed Ingmar’s pokemon. He left us with Rovngalad because he knew he could crush at any time. And he still can. We need more power.”

    “We can’t get any more power,” Torvald hissed.

    “We can,” Halvard replied. “I can. You two launch the invasion. Fight until Ingmar breaks you, if that’s what you wish. But Ingmar will not fall until I can bring the power of the Storm Bringer to bear on him.”

    Torvald and Ragnhildr were shocked into silence for a moment as what Halvard said sunk in. “You can’t be serious,” Ragnhildr said. “You can’t tame a god!”

    “Of course I can,” Halvard replied. His voice was even, devoid of any bluster or bravado, just a simple statement of fact. “I am the Fool of Rovngalad. I am the jarl, the son of Sigurd, and the rightful heir to the throne of the north. Taming a god is the least of what I can do.”

    “I’m coming with you,” Wulfric said, surprising even himself.

    Halvard smiled his signature half smile and placed a hand on Wulfric’s shoulder. “Not this time. It’s just going to be me and Uthald. I can’t even bring Steinarr.”

    “Take Dismas,” Wulfric insisted. “I may not be able to go and protect you, but Dismas can.” The Chatot hopped from Wulfric’s shoulder to Halvard’s.

    The jarl shook his head. “I can’t talk you out of this, can I?”

    “No.”

    Halvard ran a hand through Steinarr’s leafy mane. “So be it. Steinarr will have to look after you until I get back.” The Gogoat rested his heat against Halvard’s side and closed his eyes.

    “You’re really going to do this.” Ragnhildr shook her head. “You’re a damned fool, Halvard.” She turned to Torvald. “Assemble the warriors. We’ll sail on the tide, and you should be leaving.” The two of them strode off the dock, leaving Halvard and Wulfric alone with their pokemon. Steinarr trotted over to Wulfric and regarded him silently. Wulfric placed a hand on the grass aligned’s brow and tried to manage a smile.

    “Halvard, are you sure about this?”

    “I am.”

    “Aren’t you afraid to die?”

    The jarl smiled again. “Die? Who the hell do you think I am?” He took Wulfric’s hand in his. “I’m coming back, and I’m going to bring down the wrath of the gods on everything Ingmar has built. Once I’m king, we’ll start building the world we’ve dreamed of. I swear it, Wulfric.” He whistled, and Uthald surged through the water to meet him. Halvard jumped from the docks and grabbed onto the Gyarados’s crowned head as it swam by. “I’ll see you in Yeavenguut!” he roared as they whirled around and out of the fjord.

    “Wrath of the gods!” Dismas crowed from Halvard’s shoulder.

    Wulfric raised his hand to wave goodbye, but Halvard was already looking west. The monk trudged off the docks and passed Torvald making the final preparations for his subterranean assault. “That bastard is dead already,” Torvald growled. “He’s just too stupid to realize it.”
    3DS FC: 0748-3041-6462

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  21. #21
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    Oh man. Careful, Halvard. This is a legendary fricking lightning monster you're targeting here. For Ulthar's sake, I certainly hope you know what you're doing. Otherwise Zapdos gets to have fried fish for dinner. With a side order of hot 'n' crispy chatot wings.

    Not that that's all I imagine is riding on this, of course. Inclined to agree that yeah, Ingmar is totally baiting them into a Highly Unfavorable Situation and they'll need all the secret weapons they can get their hands on as such. Hell, I'm not even 100% certain he doesn't already know about the tunnel somehow.

  22. #22
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    I finished my last response by saying I couldn't wait to see what comes next and not only did what came next surpass my expectations, it also left me asking the very same question all over again because oh man, there's so much good stuff in this new chapter. The baptism of Ulfi, the evolving relationship between Wulfric and Skaldi, Halvard's massively overambitious plan – it's all really compelling, and there's definitely a sense that things are getting serious. Halvard's scheme is fantastic, the kind of plan that's so gigantic and so ambitious that whether it goes wrong or right, the results will be spectacular, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of it. He's that kind of leader who either gets everyone through or gets everyone killed without any in between; not perhaps the kind of guy you actually want leading you, but definitely a really entertaining one to read about.

    One minor thing, though – right at the start, you use the phrase 'just as quickly' twice in two sentences, which seems like it might have been an oversight. It isn't really anything major, but it breaks up the flow of the paragraph a bit. I guess it might actually be intentional, now I think about it, to draw a kind of parallel, so maybe disregard what I just said. In general, though, this story just keeps getting better. Looking forward to more!
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 13th May 2017 at 2:12 PM.
    80 DAYS
    Jules Verne's got nothing on you.

    GO HOME
    Some people just won't see reason.

    ARBITRARY EXECUTION
    If the cover-up is real, it isn't a conspiracy theory. It's a conspiracy fact.

    TIME AND TIDE | A LEASH OF FOXES
    IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER

  23. #23
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    I was looking for a good story to read and I eventually found this one. And I must say, I got hooked really quickly once I started reading the prologue.

    I liked the Viking/Irish setting of the story. It’s definitely not something you’d see in a lot of stories and that got me really intrigued by it. I almost thought I was reading a story from a different fandom when I first started. It was only when I got halfway through that I became sure that I was reading a pokemon story, or at least an irish tale but with pokemon in it.

    As of the prologue, I can see that the plot revolves around how Wulfric was basically forced to make these illuminations for the Vikings. It reminds me of The Secret of Kells (great movie btw) which had a similar setting as this story. I only knew of the concepts of illuminations when I watched that movie and it’s the reason why I understood what Wulfric was doing exactly. It’s no surprise that Halvard saw value in bringing Wulfric along. Illumination is one of the most remarkable forms of artistry.

    I could sense a contrast between Wulfric and Halvard. Wulfric is a man who illuminates manuscripts while Halvard is a brute warrior and I’d like to see how you played around with this contrast between them in later chapters. Both characters are interesting in their own rights and I can see a huge journey ahead for both of these men.

    The dialogue and pacing was done very well. I like the simple speech pattern of the Vikings and the more sophisticated dialogue of the other men. The chapter also didn’t feel too long nor too short, nor did it feel rushed. It was by all means done commendably.

  24. #24
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    Chapter 14

    The northerners’ faces were grim as they readied their weapons on a rocky shore several miles south of Yeavenguut. Ragnhildr and Torvald had known of the place from their childhoods in Yeavenguut and had chosen to rendezvous there before the invasion. The longships had sailed up the coast for several days, taking a circuitous route to stay out of sight of any coastal settlements or fishing boats, and to give Torvald’s subterranean raiders time to reach Ingmar’s lands. Ragnhildr had decided it was too dangerous to risk a fire, so the warriors sat huddled under their cloaks. Somewhere outside the small encampment, a branch snapped. Aesgir and Helga, the sentries on duty, immediately had arrows nocked on their bows.

    “Stand down,” Torvald said, stepping from the shadows. His face was streaked with grime and he reeked of torch smoke. Ragnhildr stood and passed Torvald a skin full of ale. The warrior drank it down in a few long gulps. He nodded to the assembled warriors and folded his arms. “My force is encamped around the tunnel mouth now. None of Ingmar’s sentries are in the area, and I don’t think I was followed. We’ll strike at dusk tomorrow.”

    Wulfric knew that the delay was to give the warriors time to rest, but he saw the look that passed between Ragnhildr and Torvald. Against all hope, they still were waiting for Halvard to come over the horizon, though whether triumphant over the Storm Bringer or realizing the folly of his plan, Wulfric couldn’t be sure. In the days since leaving Rovngalad, he had come to doubt the jarl’s aims himself. If there was any man in the world who could subdue and tame a creature revered as a god, it would be Halvard.

    But Wulfric had to admit that the odds were terribly long.

    Torvald stayed only long enough deliver his message, eat a strip of dried meat and clap a few of the warriors on the shoulder before returning to his own war band. Wulfric sat against Steinarr’s flank, watching Aesgir’s Sharpedo, Gunnar and Gunhild, drift idly in the dark water of the cove. Their red eyes glowed just above the water level. Svein came and sat down beside Wulfric, and the boy was quiet for a time. Finally, he turned to the monk. “Are you afraid?”

    “I’m terrified. I always knew this was coming, but I thought I would be by your uncle’s side. With him not here, I can’t help but feel…”

    “Like something important is missing. I know what you mean.” Svein reached up and stroked Steinarr’s horns. “Do you think he’s dead?”

    The blunt question took Wulfric aback. Certainly, all of the northerners had been wondering, but none of them dared to speak it aloud. Wulfric took a shaky breath. “Svein, I’m not naďve enough to think that I would know somehow if Halvard had died. And I know that it’s likely he… that he won’t return from this. But I have to have faith that he’ll come back to us. If he doesn’t, I doubt any of us will live much longer anyway, but the world will feel far emptier without him in it.”

    Svein inclined his head. “Wulfric, I’ll keep you safe. I swear it.”

    Wulfric couldn’t help but smile a little. The boy was barely half his age, the smallest in the shield wall. And yet, he could see the warrior the boy was sure to become, if he lived long enough. Svein had the hard lines of Torvald’s face, but in his eyes Wulfric could see Halvard’s fire. “And I you, as far as it is within my power. We’ll stand together.”

    Some time later, Ulfi came to pray. The monk and the boat builder knelt on the sand and bowed their heads. They recited several of the prayers Wulfric had taught Ulfi, going through them four times for each of the points on the Arcean ring. When they finished the litany, Ulfi shook his head. “It’s not the same without Dismas, is it?”

    “No, it isn’t. For as long as I can remember, Dismas and I have always said our prayers together. And now I’m not sure if we’ll ever pray together again.”

    Ulfi stared down at his hands. “I’m sure they’ll be fine. They have Uthald, and I’ve never seen a finer family of warriors than the children of Sigurd. He may not be of our flock, but I have to believe that Our Lord is guiding him. He is striking down a pagan idol, after all.”

    “Prayer can only do so much, Ulfi. Things will go as Arceus wills it, but He cannot answer every prayer. Our actions are our own, and while they may be guided by His hand, it is our choices that define us. Halvard has chosen his course, and what will be, will be.”

    ***

    The fjords of Rovngalad were lined with rolling hills and pastures, well-suited for the grazing of Mareep herds. The fjords of Yeavenguut, by contrast, were hemmed in by stark, sheer cliffs of gray stone, worn smooth by centuries of the sea crashing against their base. As the Rovngalad longships rounded the inlet that led to Yeavenguut, Wulfric saw the imposing towers that guarded the mouth of the fjord once again. As he and Halvard had predicted, Donatus Builder’s chain was well below the surface, and to all appearances the harbor was open for the taking.

    Ulfi, sitting next to Wulfric on the oar bench, growled low in his throat. “Steady on, boys. Keep your heads clear.”

    As they entered the fjord, Wulfric could make out the sails of a small fleet of longships bobbing in the harbor. They flew the colors of several of the other jarls who were loyal to Ingmar. The Usurper had rallied his vassals to come to his aid, swelling his ranks to far outnumber the fighting men and women of Rovngalad.

    It was all exactly as Halvard had predicted.

    Though their fleet was outnumbered, it was known to all that Rovngalad had the swiftest and most maneuverable ships, and that their longboats were less likely than anything short of a sluggish Kalosian barge to capsize. The boat building techniques of Ulfi’s late father were one of Rovngalad’s closest-guarded secrets, imparted to Ulfi when he learned the trade and shared by him with a handful of trusted friends only hours before they had sailed north to Yeavenguut to ensure the trade was not forgotten should he fall in battle.

    Outnumbered they might be, but they were far from outclassed.

    A horn bellowed from the walls of Ingmar’s fortress, and archers in the Usurper’s longships nocked arrows to their bows. “Wall!” Ragnhildr shouted, and the warriors of Rovngalad raised their shields above their heads as the first volley was launched. Most of the arrows fell harmlessly into the harbor, though several thudded against the invaders’ shields. The horn blasted out over the evening air several more times, and Wulfric heard the clatter of metal behind him.

    He turned to watch as the long, thick chain rose slightly from beneath the waves, sealing off their retreat. Ragnhildr banged her axe against the rim of her shield. “All right! No turning back now! Let’s show them what we’re made of!” She threw back her head and roared, echoed an instant later by every warrior on the longships.

    Aesgir bounded to the prow of his boat and climbed the snarling bowsprit. He sucked in a deep breath and howled, signaling to Gunnar and Gunhild to burst from the depths. The Sharpedo sliced across the surface of the water and reached the enemy longships before the Usurper’s supporters had time to figure out what was happening. The sleek water aligned burst from beneath the waves and flailed across the deck, gnashing their teeth as they thrashed to and fro. Before the sailors could respond, the Sharpedo had jumped back overboard and vanished beneath the waves.

    The cheers of the Rovngalad warriors were cut short by the thudding of a large drum from somewhere on the shore. The steady one-two beat continued, though Ingmar’s ships made no move to advance. Ulfi growled again, scanning the waves. “There!” the shipwright shouted, pointing to a wake moving across the surface.

    “Archers!” Ragnhildr shouted. “Prepare to fire!”

    The sea surged around the Rovngalad longships as three more wakes cut across the harbor. A deep and somehow familiar roar shook the timbers of Wulfric’s ship as whatever lurked in the depths drew closer. Just before they passed below the ships, all four creatures burst from beneath the waves. Ulfi shouted a curse and Ragnhildr screamed for the archers to launch their missiles. Only Helga came to her senses enough to loose her bow, but the arrow splashed uselessly into the waves.

    The four Gyarados Ingmar had summoned roared in unison. “Row!” Ragnhildr cried. “Row as fast as you can! Make for the shore!”

    Aesgir whistled to his Sharpedo, and the two sleek water aligned angled back towards the longships rowing in formation. He flashed a series of hand signals, and an instant later Gunnar and Gunnhild shot off in different directions. Gunnar leapt at the deck of one of the Usurper’s ships again, clamping down on the head and torso of a man as he passed overhead. The man flailed as his crewmates tried to beat the Sharpedo off, but when Gunnar finally thrashed his way back into the water, he had carried the upper half of the warrior with him.

    Gunhild shot across the waves, angling towards the nearest Gyarados. She launched herself out of the water and tackled the leviathan, her jaws gnashing furiously as she tried to sink her fangs into its armored scales. The Gyarados whipped back and forth and managed to send Gunhild tumbling through the churning waves, but the Sharpedo had the taste of blood in her mouth. As soon as she oriented herself, she was carving back through the waves to renew her assault.

    Another Gyarados swam alongside the ship at the very edge of the formation. The archers on deck pelted the serpent with arrows, though the volleys seemed to do little but agitate the monster. With a sinuous contortion of its body, it raised its tail from the water and brought it down in the center of the longship, splintering the vessel and sending the northmen aboard screaming into the sea.

    Though Ivarr had gone with Torvald’s war band through the tunnel, his Beartic had sailed with the fleet. Dagmar leapt from the sinking vessel and used his heavy claws to gouge deep cuts across the Gyarados’s left eye. The beast reared up and screamed, desperately trying to shake the Beartic free. But Dagmar held firm, clutching one of the Gyarados’s spines with one claw while the other drew long, bloody rents along the soft tissue of its face. As the Gyarados bucked and thrashed, Wulfric saw the dull gleam of sharpened metal rods driven into the serpent’s back. He whirled around, trying to catch glimpses of the other three in the chaos.

    “Ragnhildr!” he shouted, shoving his way down the longship. “Ragnhildr, I have a plan!”

    Ragnhildr launched a flaming arrow from her bow at Ingmar’s ships, but fell short. “What are you talking about?”

    “Look at the Gyarados! See the spars on their backs? Ingmar has driven them mad with pain and rage. He’s trapped them here and set them on us, but he doesn’t control them, not like Halvard and Uthald. They’re attacking anything they see, and we’re just the closest targets. But to them, one ship is just the same as any other.”

    Ragnhildr’s eyes widened as she realized what Wulfric was proposing. “We can play Ingmar’s hand against himself, provided we turn them in the right direction!”

    “Exactly. Can you and Sigrund—”

    Ragnhildr cut him off with a wave of her hand and whistled to her Noivern. The black and purple dragon touched down lightly on the stern of the longship, clutching the prow with her claws. Ragnhildr scrambled to climb onto Sigrund’s back and braced herself in the leather straps fixed there. “You and Ulfi have command of the fleet,” she said. “Or what’s left of it, anyway. Get them to shore, Wulfric!”

    The monk nodded and watched as Ragnhildr and Sigrund shot off into the sky. The Noivern swooped down at the closest Gyarados and unleashed a horrific scream. Wulfric clapped his hands over his ears and saw rivulets of blood dripping from the Gyarados’s eyes as it raged against the sheer pressure of the sound. Abruptly, Sigrund left off the auditory assault and darted across the waves, the Gyarados in pursuit. The air aligned flitted between the four sea monsters, harrying them with bursts of concussive sound and pulses of indigo light, all the while shepherding them closer to Ingmar’s ships. Aesgir had seen their gambit, and now signaled to his Sharpedo to hem in the Gyarados from the sides in much the same way the Houndour of Rovngalad kept the Mareep from straying from their flocks.

    “Onward!” Ulfi bellowed. “Put your backs into it! We’ll break through them yet!”

    The remaining four boats of the Rovngalad fleet advanced as Ingmar’s men deployed their own water aligned. Sharpedo, Carvanha, and a handful of Dragalgae flitted through the dark, churning waters of the harbor even as the smaller force of aqueous Rovngalad pokemon swam out to meet them. Dagmar snarled as he slashed at a pack of Carvanha that shot past him. The snarls turned into a drawn-out bellow of pain as a Sharpedo clamped down on his shoulder, only to be tackled aside by Gunnar. The two sharks tumbled through the water, a mass of teeth and trails of blood. Hjodtr, Ulfi’s Druddigon, barreled to the front of the longship and unleashed a blast of purple and white light at a Dragalgae rising from the depths. The beast screamed as it dove to safety, its frilled appendages flailing.

    The Gyarados had been driven back towards Ingmar’s ships, and the Usurper’s fleet was beginning to give ground. They had seen the destructive power of the water aligned, and did not want to see the Gyarados’ wrath turned on them. Ragnhildr did not give them a choice.

    She drove the Gyarados onward, whipping them into a frenzy of pain and anger. The serpents thrashed through the waves, their scaled coils smashing everything in their path. The enemy fleet was in turmoil as the rowers hastened to move around the beasts. Ragnhildr and Sigrund looped back towards the Rovngalad ships. “Now!” Ragnhildr screamed as she passed overhead. “Break through the lines! Get to the shore!”

    The warriors of Rovngalad worked their oars, their shoulders rising and falling as they powered their ships onward. No one was entirely sure who first started it, but soon, every warrior on all four remaining ships was screaming a wordless battle cry, defiance and rage and pain all rolled into one sound that filled the air and drowned out even the roars of the Gyarados. When they reached the ranks of the enemy, the archers returned to their posts and began launching volleys of arrows at the Usurper’s men. Their pokemon companions clashed across the gaps in between ships, with several nimble war aligned trying to jump the gap. A pair of Gurdurr attempted to leap from the nearest ship to Wulfric’s boat. Steinarr caught the first one on his horns and tossed it into the churning sea, while Hjodtr simply clawed the second one open and tipped its bleeding form overboard.

    And then, suddenly, they were through.

    The warriors drove the ships up onto the beach, and several of the Rovngalad war aligned dragged them up still further, the metal rams Ulfi had affixed under the prows gleaming in the last light of day. Several of Ingmar’s ships had broken ranks and had made it to the shore as well, hemming in the Rovngalad war band on two sides. Another force advanced from before the gates of Ingmar’s citadel.

    Skaldi drew his axes and rolled his shoulders. “It seems we’re surrounded.”

    “A pity,” Ulfi said as he signaled for the shield wall to form up.

    “For them, aye,” Helga replied as she fell into step beside the boat builder.

    Ulfi glanced over his shoulder at Wulfric. “Get up on Steinarr, he’ll keep you safe. Play Halvard’s part. I may be strong, but I’m no strategist. I need you to call the shots.”

    Wulfric nodded and clambered into Steinarr’s saddle. He put his hands on the Gogoat’s horns like he had seen Halvard do, and he felt Steinarr go rigid beneath him for an instant before relaxing again. He was about to give the order for Steinarr to advance, but the Gogoat seemed to instinctively know what Wulfric had intended, and set off at a trot.

    Ingmar’s men regarded the warriors of Rovngalad warily, unwilling to commit to the engagement. Wulfric saw Svein standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Helga and Aesgir in the shield wall, his face grim. The boy caught Wulfric’s gaze and nodded.

    As the standoff continued and the Gyarados continued to rage in the harbor, a thundering crash echoed from the west. A Talonflame shot into the sky, her wings bathed in flame as she dove towards the stone ramparts of Yeavenguut. The warriors of Rovngalad cheered as Branna swooped and danced through the air, gracefully avoiding the arrows of the Usurper’s archers. “Charge!” Ulfi shouted, and the shield wall raced forward to meet the enemy.

    ***

    Torvald burst from his concealed position outside Yeavenguut’s eastern gate as Branna whirled over the walls and whistled to Jarn. The Aggron rose up from small pit he had dug and lurched forward down the slope. Torvald saw the other members of his war band and their pokemon rising up from their hiding places and racing towards the gates. To any watchers along the wall, it would seem as though an invading force had simply appeared out of nowhere, an army of ghosts.

    As Torvald made his way down from the rise, he met up with Ivarr, and the two warriors fell into step. The war band that had traversed the tunnel between Rovngalad and Yeavenguut had spent hours in the suffocating dark with little else to do but plan their assault on the fortified gates of Ingmar’s citadel. They no longer needed to speak to coordinate their movements, having talked through them so many times on their eight day march through the tunnel. A shield wall had already begun to form at the base of the wall, and Torvald could faintly hear the guards atop the ramparts shouting to each other, scrambling to find a way to combat the Aggron that was even now lumbering towards their fortification. Jets of flame shot down from the wall as the defenders of Yeavenguut as fire aligned tried to drive the beast back. The stone aligned that the Rovngalad warriors had brought with them fired back with a volley of jagged rocks, making the fire aligned flinch away.

    “Jarn!” Torvald barked. “Strike the gates down!” Skerast darted about his head until he held out his arms. The Doublade shot into his hands, the purple tails at the end of the blades wrapping around Torvald’s wrists and forearms. Torvald gritted his teeth as the familiar prickling sensation that happened every time he and Skerast became one passed.

    Torvald jumped up onto Jarn’s rear leg and from there onto the Aggron’s shoulder. “Men of Yeavenguut!” he shouted. “Hear my words! I am Torvald the Red! Run to your king and tell him that I am coming for him!” His arm twitched of its own volition as Skerast took control of his body. The left blade jerked up and swatted an incoming arrow from the sky, and Torvald bared his teeth in a predatory grin. “No walls can stop me! No gates will stand in my way! Tell Ingmar that I will have his head!” He jumped down from his perch on Jarn’s shoulder and nodded up to his behemoth. “Jarn, charge!”

    The Aggron grunted and lowered his crested head, the metal plates that lined his body grinding together. Jarn took a few lumbering steps forward before building up speed and crashing into the heavy wooden gates. The metal braces groaned, but the gate held. “Again!” Torvald roared.

    Stones and arrows rained down from the walls of Yeavenguut, but the shield wall held firm, protecting the warriors and their war and pestilence aligned partners. The thick hides and carapaces of the stone and earth aligned pokemon allowed them to shrug off the missiles. Fire rained down from above, but Jarn was undeterred. Torvald had trained Jarn and Branna together for years, accustoming Jarn to the intense heat of a fire aligned’s flames, and it seemed that the arduous training had paid off. The Aggron barely flinched as the fire aligned of Yeavenguut tried to drive him back. He repeatedly threw his weight against the gates, making them give a little more each time.

    Torvald stalked back and forth in front of the shield wall, letting Skerast do as it willed. His arms rose and fell, knocking rocks from the air and slashing arrows out of the sky. When he and Skerast bound themselves together, Torvald felt a remarkable clarity, where the noise and confusion of the world fell away, and he concerned himself with nothing beyond the next motion of his blades. Skerast seemed to hum in his hands, but it was not a hum that he could hear. He felt it in his bones, a deep reverberation that was like a second heartbeat.

    Skerast felt things differently than Torvald did, experienced the world in a way that was utterly alien to him, but years of being bonded had allowed Torvald some insight. At that moment, Skerast hungered for blood, and in his twinned consciousness, Torvald did too.

    Jarn threw himself against the gates once more, and there was a long groan followed by a thunderous crack as the wooden beams that held the gate split at last. The doors flew open as Jarn allowed his momentum to carry him through into the passage beyond the gates. A group of would-be defenders fled before the steel aligned, unwilling to pit their blades against the monster that had destroyed their supposedly unbreachable gate. Jarn roared, sending them scattering into Yeavenguut.

    Torvald stalked forward, Skerast’s blades glinting in moonlight. The Doublade vibrated in his hands. “Yes,” Torvald snarled. “Time to feast.”

    ***

    The corpses of the fallen, both human and pokemon, were strewn across the plain before the southern gates of Yeavenguut. A portion of Ingmar’s forces retreated to the citadel when it became clear that the eastern gate had been breached, but the warriors of Rovngalad were still outnumbered. Wulfric sat astride Steinarr’s back as the Gogoat galloped along the fringes of the enemy forces. Pokemon fought bitterly in the space just before the Rovngalad shield wall. Dagmar grappled with a Pangoro, forcing the dark aligned to the ground and tearing out its throat. Geirr and Talvar bounded back and forth between the enemy’s shields and the defensive bulwark of the Rovngalad warriors, dark red hellfire dripping from their maws. Helga’s Bisharp held a line with a handful of others of its line, their metal appendages glinting under the light of the stars. Hjodtr sported several fresh wounds, but the dragon still stood strong, his claws red with blood. Somewhere overhead, Ragnhildr and Sigrund battled against Ingmar’s air aligned.

    Occasionally the shield wall would part to allow Skaldi’s Breloom to unleash a barrage of explosive seeds against the enemy shields, but the men of Yeavenguut refused to give ground. Wulfric directed Steinarr back towards the Rovngalad formation with a brief shift of his weight. The Gogoat bounded across the trampled grass, nimbly dodging a Conkledurr. Wulfric signaled to Ulfi, and the boat builder shifted his position to the back of the formation. “We need to go on the offensive,” Wulfric said. “Torvald won’t last long without reinforcements.”

    Ulfi nodded. “One desperate charge then? Hit them hard before they know what’s coming?”

    “I suppose Steinarr and I will have to lead it, won’t I?”

    “It’s what Steinarr was born to do.” Ulfi smiled in a way that was probably supposed to be encouraging. “Go with Arceus, Wulfric. Let His grace be your shield.”

    Wulfric reached up with his free hand and touched the iron ring around his neck. The grace of Arceus was all well and good, but he wasn’t about to set aside his real wood and iron shield either. “Ready the men.”

    “Aye, we’re ready.”

    Wulfric took a deep breath. “Men of Rovngalad!” he cried, praying his voice wouldn’t crack. “No more of these games! On to Yeavenguut!”

    The warriors answered with a cheer as Steinarr galloped forward and launched himself over the top of the shield wall with a single bound of his muscular legs. They landed with a jolt that Wulfric felt in his teeth while Geirr, Talvar and the other Houndour raced to their side. Helga’s Bisharp made a chittering noise, and soon a rough formation of Pawniard and Bisharp darted in front of them. Wulfric drew his sword and gulped.

    Oh Arceus, I’m really doing this, this is actually happening, Arceus have mercy…

    He heard his comrades in arms behind him screaming a wordless battle cry, and before he knew it, he was screaming too, hoping against hope that somewhere far across the sea, Halvard was listening. They met the enemy lines with crash of steel on steel, and Steinarr took command. The Gogoat bucked and tossed his horned head, hurling enemies from his path and crushing the wooden shields of his foes. Wulfric held on as tightly as he could, trying not to be thrown off by his rampaging steed.

    From above came a high pitched whine that quickly grew in intensity before culminating in a deafening thunderclap. All combatants on the field below were momentarily stunned as two dark shapes flitted in front of the moon. Even with the light against him, Wulfric could vaguely make out the shapes of two Noivern. “Keep fighting!” Ragnhildr screamed down from above, the words sounding oddly muted to Wulfric’s ears, as though coming through several layers of cloth. Sigrund lunged out in front of the moon as well, winging her way higher. A pulse of indigo and white light shot from her mouth, sweeping across the midnight sky and momentarily driving the enemy dragons back.

    The warriors on the ground shook off their temporary deafness and resumed their clash. By now, the fighting had worn on for several hours, and fatigue was beginning to show on both sides. But the warriors of Rovngalad fought with a desperation Ingmar’s men lacked, knowing that they had nowhere to retreat to. Behind them were four rampaging and pain-maddened Gyarados and a blocked harbor, and before them a citadel full of enemies. Breaking ranks to flee to the tunnel to be hunted down in the dark was no better alternative than dying beneath the moon.

    And so Ingmar’s forces continued to lose ground, and lose men. “We have them on the run!” Ulfi boomed. “One more press! One more charge! Onward!”

    In the air above, Sigrund hissed and screamed as she fought back the enemy Noivern. Though she was clearly stronger, she was tiring and Ingmar’s dragons had the advantage of numbers. Sigrund’s sonic pulses were growing weaker and her movements sluggish, though she still managed to beat her foes back and protect Ragnhildr clinging to her back. With one last defiant scream, she unleashed another pulse, sending the two other dragons wheeling higher into the upper air.

    They tucked their wings into their flanks and dove, their ears and antennae quivering as they prepared another attack. Sigrund tried to repel them again, but could not muster the strength. The two Noivern released deafening sonic blasts simultaneously, catching Sigrund in the middle. The sound drowned out Ragnhildr and Sigrund’s screams of agony as their eardrums burst and blood welled in their eyes. Sigrund crumpled and plummeted to the ground some ways distant, her landing throwing up a plume of dust.

    Sigrund fell back, her wings hanging limply at her sides as she plummeted. The straps that held Ragnhildr to the dragon’s back had broken, and the woman tumbled through the air behind the Noivern. For the briefest instant, she fell in front of the moon, her golden hair shining around her head like the halo of an Arcean saint.

    But she continued to fall, crashing to earth with a plume of dust. “No,” Wulfric gasped. It didn’t seem possible that the fiery woman who had only moments before commanded the full strength of Rovngalad could be struck down so easily.

    “Mother!” Svein screamed from within the shield wall, shoving at his comrades to fight his way clear and run to Ragnhildr’s side. Ulfi grabbed the boy and dragged him back into the formation.

    “No one could have survived a fall like that,” the boat builder said. “We’ll grieve for her later, but if you leave the wall now, you put us all in danger.” Svein nodded and wiped his tears away. Ulfi nodded. “But don’t worry, lad. We’ll make them pay. Helga! Take those bastards down!”

    The warrior woman nodded and fell back to the center of the shield wall, her comrades filling the gap she left. She nocked an arrow to her bow and scanned the sky, waiting for Ingmar’s Noivern to pass in front of the moon. Now that Sigrund had fallen, there was no need to worry about accidentally striking her. Helga drew her arm back and let out a breath, releasing her bowstring with a loud twang. The arrow flew straight and true, burying itself in the breast of one of the Noivern. The beast screamed as it fell, but when it hit the ground, it stopped struggling. The other dragon shrieked in panic and fled to the safety of Yeavenguut, and Helga cursed as its shadow moved out of range.

    Ulfi maneuvered himself to the rear of the shield wall and signaled to Wulfric. “We need to finish this. Give the order to move on.”

    “Charge!” Wulfric shouted . “For Ragnhildr!”

    The warriors of Rovngalad roared in answer and began to hammer at the remnants of Yeavenguut’s defenders. When they were within range of the citadel’s archers, arrows began to rain down from the walls. The warriors of both war bands ducked beneath their shields. When the hail of arrows relented, Ulfi and Wulfric ordered another charge, hoping to strike down the last of Ingmar’s forces before they could rally again. Steinarr lunged into the fray, his horns goring and tossing aside human and pokemon alike. Dagmar snarled as he tore screaming men limb from limb. Skaldi whirled through the enemy ranks, his axes rising and falling and thudding against wood and bone. Soon, the arrows began again, but it was too late to save the last defenders of the gates of Yeavenguut.

    The warriors of Rovngalad retreated to just outside the range of the archers’ bows to rest for a spell while Dagmar, Hjodtr and a handful of the surviving war aligned dragged the largest of the longships up from the beach. Helga, Aesgir and the other Rovngalad archers stood with their bows trained on the gates, ready to shoot down any who tried to break through their lines. Ulfi made his way over to Wulfric, favoring his left side. “So Ragnhildr is gone?”

    “I’m afraid so. Ulfi, what’s wrong with you?”

    The boat builder removed his hand from his side, and it came away slick with blood. “One of the bastards got me good,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m holding it together for the men, but I won’t last long.” He let out a low groan of pain.

    “We need to try and stop the bleeding! We can sew you up and—”

    “No,” Ulfi said. “It’s too late. I can feel the darkness coming. Trying to save me would be a waste of time.”

    Wulfric slid from Steinarr’s saddle and took Ulfi’s broad, calloused hands in his own. “Please, let us try to help you. I was too late for Ragnhildr but you… I can’t lose you too.”

    Ulfi forced a smile. “I’m going to join our god, Wulfric. I can almost hear Him calling to me. I’m going to be with my wife and son.” His face contorted in pain. “But I’ll hold the gate for you, one last time.”

    The pokemon returned, bearing the overturned longboat on their shoulders. The large iron prow Ulfi and Ivarr had affixed it with shone dully in the moonlight. Torvald had breached the gates of Rovngalad with Jarn, but the southern invasion force would have no such help. Ulfi had designed the ram to sit below the water level, keeping it a secret from any ships that the Usurper pitted against them until they were able to land. They had planned to carry the ship on their shoulders, shielding the attackers from arrows while they battered down the gates.

    Ulfi shooed the war aligned away from the boat, taking the weight up onto his shoulders with a grimace. Dagmar and Hjodtr remained behind, helping him bear the load. “I don’t have long,” he growled to the dragon and the ice aligned. “We’ll have to make this quick.”

    “This is suicide!” Wulfric cried.

    “This is dying with honor,” Ulfi replied. “Men of Rovngalad, on many raids I have held the gates for you! Allow me the privilege one last time!”

    The northmen cheered his valor and willingness to face death, but Wulfric could only stare in mute shock as Ulfi charged towards the gates, heedless of his mortal wound. He slammed the heavy prow against the doors, and a tremendous boom resounded through the night air. “Arceus,” Ulfi hissed as he slammed the ship against the gate once more. “Soon I will stand before Your gates and join You in Your glowing halls.” Another boom, another searing pain in his side. “As I held the gates in this world, I swear to you, Lord of Light, I shall hold the gates in the next.” He bit down on his lip to stifle a cry of pain. “My wife and son, and the countless northmen who came before them never had the chance to accept Your grace. Can you truly bar them from the glowing halls just for that? I will break the gates down if I have to. I will not spend eternity without my family.” It was taking all of his focus to stand. His arms trembled under the weight of the longship. It wouldn’t be long now.

    “Put your backs into it!” Ulfi shouted at the two pokemon behind him. If they didn’t break the doors down before he ran out of time… well, that didn’t bear thinking about. He could feel the wooden slabs giving more and more each time they struck. Every fiber of Ulfi’s being screamed with agony, and his shirt was soaked through with blood. “Oh great Arceus,” he rasped. “You are my shepherd, under your gaze I shall not want. May You guide us to pastures green, and lead us to lie by still waters.” Of all the prayers Wulfric had taught him, that had always been his favorite. It reminded him of home. “Guide me home, Arceus.” The doors shuddered one final time before bursting open. Ulfi stumbled forward, shrugging the longship off his shoulders. A handful of Ingmar’s warriors waited for him in the narrow passage between the gates and the city itself. The shield wall parted, and archers fired. Three arrows struck Ulfi, and he fell to his knees. “Take me into Your light, Lord of All.”

    Dimly, he heard someone call out his name, and then everything faded.

    Wulfric saw Ulfi fall. “No,” the monk gasped. Beside him, Skaldi unleashed a wailing, inhuman scream. The northern priest snatched a crystal vial from beneath his armor and held it beneath his nose, inhaling the brown spores within. Skaldi’s breathing grew ragged, and an instant later the priest sprinted forward, his Breloom a pace behind. When they reached the gates, Skaldi blew past Hjodtr and Dagmar, vaulting off the splintered door and leaping at the enemy formation. His axes glinted in the torchlight as he descended, another scream ripping from his lungs.

    Using his axe’s hooked blade, he dragged the first warrior out of formation and used his second weapon to cave in the man’s skull. His Breloom darted forward, jabbing with lightning-quick blows as his master danced through the chaos, bathing in the blood of the Usurper’s warriors. Hjodtr stirred himself and charged roaring into the fray, heedless of the spears and blades of Ingmar’s men. The dragon was soon bleeding from many fresh wounds as he tore warriors apart with his claws.

    Skaldi’s howling was drowned out by the screams of dying men as the priest and the pokemon butchered them. Wulfric could only watch in mute horror as one of the Usurper’s warriors brought his axe down on Hjodtr’s thick skull, stunning the dragon long enough for his comrade to drive a sword into the small, vulnerable triangle of skin on the Druddigon’s neck. Hjodtr opened his fanged maw to roar one more time, but no sound emerged. In a final, battle-maddened act, his claws shot out, pulling his killers into a deadly embrace, puncturing their armor and likely several organs.

    In a matter of minutes, the bloodbath was over. Skaldi and his Breloom stood over the corpses of their foes, the priest up to his elbows in blood. His rapid breathing slowed as the spore-induced trance wore off, and he licked a spatter of fresh blood from his lips. “Yvetal,” he rasped. “I offer this feast to you. And before the night is out, I shall offer you far more.”

    The remnants of the Rovngalad force hurried to the gate to join Skaldi. Their numbers had been winnowed since they had landed on the beach several hours ago, and they were all exhausted. Crashes and screams sounded from deeper within Yeavenguut, and several buildings were burning. Distantly, Wulfric could hear Jarn’s grating roar. He slowly became aware that the northmen were looking to him for orders. Steinarr was tense beneath him, straining to rejoin the fighting.

    He pointed to several of the most exhausted warriors. “You remain here with the wounded to guard our retreat. The gate is as defensible a position as any. If things get bad, retreat down to the beach.” He glanced at Ulfi’s body. “Take him back with you, if you can.” Wulfric turned to the rest of the beleaguered warriors. “The rest of you are with me. We will carry on and join up with Torvald. And from there, we take the fight to the Usurper.” He held his sword aloft, tried to channel an inner reservoir of energy he was not sure he possessed. “Onward, warriors of Rovngalad!”
    Last edited by Firebrand; 23rd June 2017 at 2:17 AM.
    3DS FC: 0748-3041-6462

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  25. #25
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    Hot damn, now that's some action. Liked Ingmar's gyarados being turned against his allies. Serves his *** right for shoving bolts into them like a b-hole. The sharpedo biting a person in half was a memorable, gory image. And Torvald sort of merging with Skerast in such a way is just badass af. That sort of thing would probably never have occurred to me, despite doublade being both 1.) a ghost and 2.) a weapon(s). Glad you thought of it; that **** was rad.

    A shame about Ragnhildr, though. God, sonic weapons are actually pretty fricking terrifying when it all comes down to it. And I may or may not have cried like a child at Ulfi's last scene.

    (Yeah there's no "may" about it. That **** broke me to pieces, in the best way possible.)

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