The March of the Wild Angels

Part I

Bard threw back the flaps from his tent and stepped outside into the cold wind that blew across the snow and sought, with fingers of ice, to find its way past his layered hides to chill his bones as he left the warmth behind.

Two warriors fell in behind him as he made his way through the campfires and around the tents to one which was significantly larger than all others. This was the clan’s meeting place where all official business was conducted, especially when the weather was too cold for sitting around outside. Bard was not looking forward to this morning. A stranger had been caught on the outskirts of their tribe after he had stolen one of the goats and killed it. The disturbing thing was that he had been found eating the goat raw, which suggested the man had a malignancy of the brain or spirit. As chief of the clan he was expected to pronounce sentence for the theft, but in such rare occurrences it usually seemed more compassionate to put such wretches to death and send them to the afterlife and some semblance of peace. It was distasteful nonetheless.

As he approached the tent he pulled himself up to his full height of 6’11, his broad shoulders wide as he cut a powerful and authoritative figure striding forth to administer justice.

“Frigga’s Teats!” he yelled as he slipped in a still steaming cow pat and went down on one knee steadying himself with one hand flung out onto, yes, he groaned, fresh goat shit. A snicker to his left caused him to shoot a glare up at the spear maiden who was half of his honour guard, but Borghild was quick to regain her self-control and he let the matter slide as he struggled back to his feet and tried to shake the worst of the muck off. Besides, he was far from the only one slipping and sliding in this cursed camp. A light dusting of snow seemed to fall on a daily basis, covering every little ‘gift’ left by the unconcerned livestock. “little pranks”, he had heard them called by some of the children. “I bloody well hate this place,” he muttered under his breath.

If it weren’t for the ores they had found in these cold desolate hills he’d be down on the warmer plains. Even so, he had no idea what they might do with the ore. The clan had not the skills to work metal as others. Still, perhaps in time they might learn from those who had the working of iron and brass, bronze and lead.

He entered the tent and looked around at the gathering there. The elders, several servers and, he noted with a surprise that registered as no more than a slight raising of his left brow, 6 guards surrounded the prisoner, a scrawny man dressed in no more than scraps, with his hands bound, a rawhide rope around his neck and his feet hobbled by a short length of leather that would restrict him to no more than a shambling walk.

Bard gave a short jerk of his head at the guard in charge who approached him. A man of few words, he needed only nod at the prisoner and raise his brow again to indicate the question, and the guard explained.

“My chief. One of the shepherd girls gave alarm that this man had stumbled upon her flock and killed the goat. Sigurd and Aelfhir arrived and when they approached the man he ignored them and continued to eat. As they lay hands on him, this … creature attacked and stabbed Aelfhir in the thigh with a bone torn from the rib cage of the goat and spat a mouthful of blood into the eyes of Sigurd before grabbing his club and knocking him senseless. I arrived then, with ten more warriors, but four more of us took serious injury before we subdued him.”

Bard was impressed in spite of himself. His warriors liked to compete at feasts in boasts of their feats of daring and battle prowess, but the hardiest amongst them, if compelled to absolute honesty, would be reluctant to face even two opponents at once. He raised his hand to his head in an unconscious gesture, to where a sizeable bruise was fading. The battle scar of an argument with his beloved mate, Agmar, over whose turn it was to feed the fire, and she was barely half his size. “Twelve warriors to subdue him, but I note there are only 6 warriors to guard him now?”

“Fifteen more stand within earshot my chieftain.”