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Knut is called by geis to seek vengeance for his family. As he searches for those responsible, a group of highlanders try to stop him from going any further.
Wind rose up from the valley below, bringing with it the promise of spring. Forest blanketed the foothills and swept out of sight towards the great lakes, broken by sporadic islands of granite boulders. Knut was alone in his silent survey, but that’s how he preferred to be. All one could really count on in life was one’s self. Besides, he had Frodi, his spear, he didn’t need anybody.
It was hard to believe watching the scenery below what rumors had carried into the Northern Realm. The vauntir were said to be raiding the High Hills country. Vauntir raiding parties now seemed almost common in tales from the highlands, but what had set Knut’s trail towards the highlands were the stories of vauntir taking prisoners. What would they need with humans? Could they be exacting revenge? It is told in old stories that the vauntir were once servants of men, perhaps they wanted revenge. It’s understandable, unless one considered the seemingly mindless and dumb countenance of vauntir. It seemed that nightmares were taking shape. Even Thulheim had its problems, what with the Dead Eaters and a growing anxiety.
Knut also had a personal reason for investigating the stories: his mother was from the highlands. He had heard in a rumor that her village had been attacked. The northern folk were strong, they could fend for themselves. Knut had a score to settle here, and he would settle it.
Tall pines rose around him as he made his way down the ridge. It was an old forest, and seemed to hold a kind of mysterious calm about it. Birds sang, chirped, croaked and flitted all around, and a deer ran off before Knut could get too close. It was as his mother had described: beautiful.
He tried not to think too much about his mother even though he was here on her behalf. Painful memories tore at his chest, though she was dead sixteen years now. But, dead or alive, he was still under geis to defend family.
A small clearing filled with grass and cut through by a stream opened up before Knut. He stayed in the trees and looked around. It was an innocent clearing, but there were too many stories heard which stopped him from exposing himself where vauntir could roam. He skirted the clearing until he came to the stream and followed its course.
Ahead of him was a boulder whose head rose above the trees. It was a massive thing of granite, demanding its space. Knut walked up it and ran a hand across its surface. If he climbed it, he should be able to get a good view of his surroundings, and maybe find a way to a village.
Knut propped his spear against the boulder and laid his pack on the ground. The climb was an easy one, and once to the top, the sea of trees flooded out before him. Across the trees just behind his left shoulder he could see the ridge he climbed down earlier, but that was all. No sign of villages anywhere.
As he stood atop the boulder, a flock of birds panicked out of the trees below. Knut climbed down as fast as he could, taking the last half of his descent in one leap. He picked up his spear just as a man emerged from the woods in front of him.
Spear in hand, Knut stood still, waiting for the stranger to make his move. The man was nearly as tall as Knut. He wore a sword at his side, with a bow and quiver on his back. So the man did not want to fight, but that did not mean there weren’t others hiding.
“Ho there! My name is Stan, I watch these woods. What brings you here, Northman?”
“You watch these lands, but do you defend them? I am here on family business, my mother’s village lies in these parts. It was attacked by vauntir, and if you had defended instead of watched, I would be at home,” Knut replied.
“You are a bold one, Northman. You trespass on our land and insult us. What is it you plan to do?”
“Kill. My name is Knut; my mother’s name was Lahna. I am under geis to avenge any wrong done to family, and her village was attacked two moons back.”
“One man against the vauntir? You must be a great warrior or a fool if you think you can defeat them,” Stan said walking forward.
As he walked toward Knut, Stan raised a hand in the air and whistled. Knut watched as others emerged from the trees with bows in hand. Ten had emerged and were gathering around Stan. There were seven men and three women in the group. One of the women glared at Knut.
Knut didn’t know why she was glaring, but she was fair enough to look at. She had long dark hair tied back with green cloth. She was slender but he saw she had muscle, and breasts. Her eyes were green, and they burned as they glared at him. He smiled back.
“That’s a story, Knut, but how are we supposed to believe you? Can you prove you’re not just a bandit?” the green eyed woman asked.
“You have my word on it.”
“If you were a bandit, your word wouldn’t count for much,” Stan said as he walked between Knut and the woman. “You’ll have to come with us until we know what to do with you.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you fear one man over the plague of vauntir in your woods, you have priorities to sort through. I will go on my way, and you may do as you please,” Knut said as he bent down to retrieve his pack.
He slung his pack over one shoulder and glared at Stan. Knut didn’t want a fight, but he wouldn’t be forced to put aside his mission. Seeing no sign to detain him, Knut walked past Stan and started for the trees, but the green eyed woman stood in his path. When he tried to go around her, she side-stepped and stopped him again.
“If you want me around that much, girl, you may come with, but I can’t promise to protect you when things get rough. It may be best if you stayed here,” Knut said smiling.
In response, the woman punched Knut in the stomach, doubling him over. She stepped back and kicked at him, but Knut caught her ankle and pulled it forward. She landed on her back with the wind knocked out of her.
“She’s spirited! If you were more like her, the vauntir wouldn’t be a problem,” Knut said as began to walk away.
“Ban!” Stan shouted. “One more step, and you’ll not take another.”
Knut stopped and turned around. One of the men had an arrow drawn and ready. Knut shot an angry glare at Stan.
“You are in our land now, Northman! You will do as we say,” Stan ordered. “Knut, we cannot allow you to go roaming around. For sure you’ve had news of vauntir in the north, have you not also heard rumors of outlaw bands? If you cannot give any sign that you are who you say, we have no choice but to take you with us.”
“If it’s a sign you want, then follow me to my mother’s village, if anything is left of it. The survivors will be able to tell you of my mother.”
“We cannot follow you; we must get back to the hall. It’s only two days trek back upstream. When we reach it, we can decide to help you or not.”
“Sorry, Stan. You can try to stop me and lose men, or you can let me go. My mother’s village should be somewhere downstream from here, I’ll not go further away from it having traveled so far,” Knut said as he let his pack fall to the ground and readied his spear.
Stan had not gotten a good look at the spear until Knut held it now. It was the work of a master. It was a magnificent winged spear with an ash shaft and four inch tail spike. The spear head was engraved with a wolf. The metal had a dark luster that was beyond doubt star metal. He must be a warrior, or a lucky thief.
“Bran, Haldan, Nald, Morrain! You will accompany Knut. If his story is true, let him be, if not, kill him,” Stan ordered.
Knut shouldered his pack again and turned to leave. The four assigned by Stan followed.
“I’m going as well. If he is a liar, I want his head,” the green eyed woman said.
“Fine, you may go as well, Llyra. There’s a village three day’s journey down stream. I hope your family is safe, and that you are who you say,” Stan said.
Knut followed the stream once again, but this time he wasn’t alone. It may be a good idea to have some help, if he did run into any vauntir, but he preferred to be alone. Maybe he should try losing them, but he let the idea go. If the highland folk knew their lands as well as Knut knew his, they’d corner him. At least that woman, Llyra, was coming. If nothing exciting happened at least he could rile her a bit.
Of the small party, Knut was the tallest, and the man Ban, the shortest. Ban was bald, and had a dark moustache. The other woman in the party, Morrain, was the same height as Llyra. She had auburn hair and brown eyes. She seemed too rangy and wiry, which was good for some, and she bore it well, but she was too slender for Knut. The other two men looked as though they could be brothers. Both were a few inches shorter than Knut with dark hair and green eyes. One of them had hair to his shoulders; the other kept it cropped short.
It was a quiet walk for the rest of the day. Knut enjoyed the silence of his companions, and the quitet sounds of the woods. He noticed how quiet the highlanders were, and that they seemed more to flow through the forest than walk.
Nothing exciting or unexpected happened. They hunted along the way, and when darkness began to grow, they struck camp. Knut started a small fire and began roasting a rabbit Haldan had killed. The rest of the party laid out bed rolls then joined Knut around the fire.
Llyra sat opposite Knut at the fire. She still glared at him, but now her eye held flames.
“You seem to have a problem with me, girl. What is it?”
“Well if that’s it, you shouldn’t have a problem at all. I’m just a man checking in on family, but if that has you worried, why trail along?”
Llyra spitted a grouse and set it across the fire. “One of your kind raided my village and raped my sister.”
“A Northman? Raiding the highlands? That’s unheard of. You’re all so fragile; there’d be no honor or fun.”
“He was a bandit. Bandits raided my village, burnt it to the ground and took whatever they wanted. One of them resembled you: tall, long blonde hair and he carried a spear and knife.”
“Ha! You’ve just described half of the men back home. Don’t tell me you’ve really just followed me out here for revenge. I’m not the one you’re looking for,” Knut said as he stirred the fire. “But if you need someone to help keep you warm, then I am.”
“Savage!” Llyra cried. She stood up and walked into the night, letting her grouse fall to the coals.
“Are all Northmen as uncouth as you?” Morrain asked.
“Uncouth? She wants to follow me to take my head, and I’m the uncouth one,” Knut replied as he tended his dinner.
“You do wrong to mock the highland people.”
“I come here to help them. My mother was from here, and she was a strong woman. I have no doubt of your capabilities.”
Knut pulled the rabbit from the flames and began devouring it. He tore off a quarter and offered it to Morrain, who refused. He shrugged and ate.
By the time Knut had finished eating and had moved away from the fire to lean against the trunk of a tree for the night, Llyra had returned. She sat at the fire, this time not casting Knut so much as a glance.
This was going to be a long trip; this was why he preferred to travel alone.
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