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Thread: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

  1. #1

    Default Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    This is an AAR that I have going over at the Total War Center, and thought you orgahs might like to read as well. You guys are, naturally, a little behind but I'll try to get the Org thread caught up quickly. This is a Sweboz AAR (in case you couldn't tell), played with no mini-mods.

    In line with the EB focus on roleplaying and history, this will be a very character-focused, story-driven AAR. There won't be very many pictures outside of scenes from the battles; in other posts, you'll usually get one or two showing scenes or characters I think are important. This is just the nature of the beast, I'm afraid; if you like AAR's with a tone of shots from the game, this one isn't for you. Hopefully my writing will be entertaining enough that you'll read it anyway. Every few posts I’ll have one (like this one) wherein I give an overview of the status of the campaign, along with characters, agents, and the like. That’s where a lot of pictures will be, I suspect.

    Settings are on E/E because I really suck, using EB 1.2 with RTW.exe

    272 BC

    For those not in the know, this is how the Sweboz begin
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The merry band of brothers that is the royal family
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Our formidable assortment of friends and allies.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The world as told by the Sweboz
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    As the campaign progresses I’ll start taking FOW off for these benchmarks and giving you an insight into how the rest of the world is doing.



    Heruwulfaz - Faction Leader
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Athawufaz - Faction Heir
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hrabnaz - Family Member
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Ansuharjaz - Family Member
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Wilagastiz - Spy
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hagaradaz - Diplomat
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Without further ado, we're off.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Prologue - Beginnings

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Spring returned to the tribes of Germania the same way it always had; slowly and inexorably, like a gnarled vine slithering up the length of a mighty forest oak. The primeval fields and forests of the land, long buried and suffocated in the cold stillness of winter, were gradually stirred to life once again in the face of nature’s warm, creeping embrace. The days grew longer, the wild game grew bolder; and although the dull burn of winter’s chill still edged the air, it could not hope to stem the tide of human industry, as the familiar creaking and clattering of cart wheels join the springtime chorus. It was the time and season of rebirth, and optimism for the future.

    If a good man is measured, as he ought to be, by his heroic and glorious accomplishments on the field of battle, then King Heruwulfaz laid claim to a rather dull and inauspicious legacy. His beloved and venerable father, the mighty Swartagaizaz, had ended many tumultuous decades of violent pillaging and warfare with his own, suitably violent death on the field of battle. Mortally-wounded, with his life rapidly slipping from his calloused hands, the warrior-king’s closest kin begged him to name a successor.

    Heruwulfaz, the eldest of Swartigaizaz’s four sons, was entirely green and untested, both as a warrior and as a ruler of men; although amongst the Suebi, the two professions were intimately related. As a young child, chronic fatigue and sickness had kept him from accompanying his father on campaign. To make up for this, Heruwulfaz was made to spend his every free moment with pursuits devoted to bettering himself, a regiment he had steadfastly maintained even as King. His mornings were filled with rigorous drills and exercise regiments; his afternoons were spent in the company of refined wise men and soothsayers, who taught the young man how to reason, and how to articulate reason. Both his mind and his body had been finely attuned through practice and education, but in the practical matters of statecraft and the world he was ignorant, and dangerously so. There was only so much time before the appearance of competence would give way to the reality.

    “My noble lord?”

    Heruwulfaz was literally jolted out of his reprieve; a hollow clap echoed across the hall as the King’s head collided with the back of his throne. He massaged the back of his head as he tried to recollect his thoughts. “Speak.”

    “Your honored guests are here to see you, lord,” the guard apologized, keeping his eyes intently trained on his feet. “You requested that you be informed as soon-“

    “I know what I requested!” Heruwulfaz snapped, coming perilously close to smashing his elbow against the chair. He found himself consumed with a sudden and irrational irritation towards everything; his hall, his guards, the abrasive itch of his robes against his skin. As quickly as the outburst came it had receded, leaving a deep pit of fatigue in its wake. The king brought a gentle hand to his temple and flippantly waved the other. “Just send them in.”

    The guard gave a silent bow before disappearing once more beyond the threshold. Heruwulfaz closed his eyes and groaned at this new development; in his preoccupation he had totally forgotten about his guests that were supposed to arrive today. He threw a baleful glare across the breadth of his audience chamber, suddenly filled with a visceral disgust at how sparse and plain it was.

    A weak clap of his hands elicited the appearance of a young servant boy, scampering into the room through one of the side doors. In comedicly exaggerated strides, he half-knelt, half-dove to the ground in front of his king and bowed his head. “My lord has a request?”

    The crisp and genuine display of subservience seemed to buoy Heruwulfaz; already he could feel the painful tug of his headache receding. Maybe this won’t be a complete disaster, after all. “Go quickly and bring my orders to the kitchen servants,” he barked with practiced authority. “Tell them to bring food, drink, and accommodations for ten guests.” He pointed a hulking finger toward the rushes on the floor. “Put it all right there in the middle. Understand?”

    Whatever vocal reply the servant gave was drowned out in a flash, as a small trio of noblemen paraded through the threshold, their chain-mail jingling loudly against their chests. With ceremonial precision, they assembled themselves into a line and dropped to one knee, their hands clasped deferentially together. “Hail.”

    Heruwulfaz was on his feet in a flash, his stern countenance melting into an expression of unrestrained optimism and joy. “Brothers!” he breathed, descending down from his dais like a reanimated corpse, his arms limply outstretched on either side. He took a few steps, and then abruptly ground to a halt.

    The euphoria on the king’s face crumbled into an instant, usurped by a heavy veil of tired sadness. His muscled arms dropped to his sides like wet seaweed left to hang. “You are not my brothers,” he asserted, staring at each one as if he hoped they might magically transform into the familiar kin he had expected.

    “We…are not your brothers by birth, lord,” one of the men tried, his words slowly building momentum as if even they could sense their own futility. “But we are your kin through oath and battle, sworn to carry out your sovereign will.”

    “What’s more,” another blurted, his voice charged with the impetuous of flash genius, “we bring word from your brothers, who have much they wish to relay to you!”

    Heruwulfaz crossed his arms, slowly settling back into his original state of aloof arrogance. “Speak, then.”


    My lord, your brother Athawulfaz stands steadfastly against the opportunistic raiders of the Rugoz…

    “That’s them…yes, I’m sure of it,” the warrior whispered, slowly inching himself sideways until he was adjacent to his lord. The leaves of the forest floor scarcely so much as rustled at the touch. “That’s the standard of Rugoz on their shields, right there. And a warband would never march with that sort of wealth on their person.” He nodded vigorously, as if it were himself he needed to convince. “Yes, this is definitely them.”

    Just a few dozen meters out of the forest, oblivious to the noose being fashioned around their necks, the warriors of the Rugoz marched towards home, their worn and blistered feet quickened by the twin blessings of victory and fame. Their recent raid across the river into the lands of the Sweboz was merely the latest in a long and successful series of raids, all of which had consistently ended in ruin for the Sweboz. Morale was high, discipline was lax; warriors drank freely and took trinkets from the carts and the spoils were ferried onward towards the river. Even the experienced scouts at the front of the pack failed to notice the wild mass of fiery red hair nestled in the treeline.

    The red-headed giant of a man known as Athawulfaz grinned, clapping his scout’s shoulder with a genial hand that threatened the burst the frail woodsman’s lungs. “Excellent work,” he lauded, clumsily trying to ready his dagger from his low vantage point on the grass. “They won’t get away from us this time.” He turned his head to the right and nudged the prostate figure at his side. “When I give the signal, you give yours, got it?”

    The man silently pulled a long tube from beneath his person and nodded, his gaunt face flush with anticipation at the thought of the justice to come. “On your signal, lord” he murmured.

    The placid stillness of the morning was shattered in an instant by the raucous cacophony of horns and drums. On either side of the road men leaped from the dense cover of the woods like malignant spirits, their throats echoing with furious war cries as they descended upon those who had profited from the suffering of their people. Drunken Rugoz warriors tried to brandish whatever weapons they had, swinging in a panic at both friend and foe alike.

    “Not one more treasure taken!” Athawulfaz cried, his face contorting into a grin of sadistic glee as he cleaved his way through one warrior after another. “None may live!” He rounded his fury on a helpless juguntz, batting the youth’s flimsy shield away with a single arc of his fist. The helpless warrior threw up his hands and cringed, but Athawulfaz was true to his own word. His blood-caked hands slid along the hilt of the dagger as he readied it once again, crashing it through the thick mantle of the Rugoz’s heart with a dense squish. The bare-chested victim shuddered violently, gagging and coughing in a fit of panicked hysteria until he finally toppled to the ground.


    While your other brother, Ansuharjaz, impresses upon the western tribes the strength of our host…

    “-and I have just about had it with these senseless attacks on our herds!”

    A single guard stepped tepidly into the open doorway, awkwardly wielding his spear as if it were a broomstick. He gazed up at the enraged man he had accosted, wondering if it was too late to change his mind. “My most sincere apologies to your lordship, but you cannot-“

    “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” the man roared, towering over the timid warrior until the two men’s noses practically touched. “I am a noble and vested lord of the Heruzkoz,” he insisted, pushing his way effortless past the hapless doorman, “and by the Gods, my complaints will be heard!”

    “Peace, friend.”

    The two words were spoken so calmly that it was a wonder anybody even heard them at all. The Heruzkoz diplomat froze where he stood and slowly swiveled around, seeming to relax himself as he beheld the well-kempt nobleman striding across the length of the hall. “Are you the lord they call Ansuharjaz of the Sweboz?”

    Ansuharjaz touched his hand to his chest and offered his most disarming smile. “Indeed I am? And who are you, noble lord, that your duties compel you to such haste?” He slowly sank into his chair and offered the other to his guest.

    It was obvious that the diplomat had been eagerly anticipating the question. With childlike exuberance he assumed his full height and locked his arms together, turning his nose up like a haughty dictator of the lands to the south. “I am Segumerjaz of the Heruzkoz,” he boomed to his nonexistent audience. “And I come bearing a complaint.”

    “Well then,” Ansuharjaz grinned, looking distinctly unimpressed by his guest’s auspicious title. “Let us see what we can do about that, shall we.”

    An impatient jerk of his hand sent the few servants in the room scurrying; with the other he beckoned for the diplomat to take a seat. “Come, relax. Explain to me your complaint.”

    Segumerjaz did as he was asked, cautiously settling himself into the chair as if he expected a trap. “My complaint, if you will, represents a long list of grievances that my lord feels he can no longer abide by.”

    Ansuharjaz shrugged, the faintest trace of sarcasm creeping into his voice. “It is refreshing to hear someone speak so plainly.”

    “Do not mock me,” the diplomat snapped peevishly. “I wanted to impress upon you that this is not an isolated affair. For over a year now we’ve been putting up with waves of violence coming from Sweboz lands. Livestock are killed, homes are robbed; this is a serious matter.”

    “Sounds like the work of lay criminals,” Ansuharjaz suggested with a yawn. “Over which we have no jurisdiction.”

    “Feeble excuse!” Segumerjaz roared, his accusation choking in his throat. “You have done nothing to try and keep order on our border; have you so quickly forgotten when our warriors used to scour the frontier so that your king wouldn’t need to worry about some ridiculous wolf migration!?”

    “King Swartagaizaz is dead,” Ansuharjaz retorted testily, “and King Heruwulfaz now reigns. Do not confuse the policies of the father for the policies of the son.”

    Segumerjaz stood from his chair in a huff, the hairs of his moustache practically bristling with indignation. “Then be sure you do not confuse our kindness with weakness.”

    Ansuharjaz snarled and spat a thick green wad onto the floor. A puerile chuckle escaped him at the sight. “Your weakness is remarkable on it own merit, dog.”

    The Heruzkoz diplomat left in a hurry, his head bowed low.


    Hrabnaz, your loyal brother in the south, begs you to send him more supplies…

    The afternoon rainfall was like a divine blessing, soft and warm. After enduring months of winter’s cold, dry grasp, the spring rains served as an exhortation to activity; nature’s way of apologizing for her cruel blizzards. The plants and trees of the forests found a renewed luster; young children dove and splashed through the muddy puddles on the bog roads. There was surely nobody who could hold ill will against the first showers of spring.

    “Damned rain,” Hrabnaz cursed, impatiently brushing the moisture from his eyes as he tried once again to align his shot. “Of all the useless times to have a storm.”

    For the umpteenth time the warrior drew his bow, squinting into the distance at the blurry mound which occupied his efforts. Whatever the deer was doing, it clearly wasn’t in a hurry; for well over ten minutes now the beast had lingered there, picking at tufts of grass as if they were fine delicacies. Every now and then the creature would give a sudden start, as if it could intuitively sense its demise approaching. Each time, however, it was quick to relax again.

    Hrabnaz knew he couldn’t afford to wait any longer; he couldn’t let this chance elude him. Months of constant skirmishing against raiders and the elements had left him and his men desperate for whatever they could find. The opportunities for wild game in the area had dwindled significantly, and some of the more industrious warriors amongst them had turned to unsanctioned raids across the border into the Silengoz lands to get what they needed.

    Plea after plea had been sent back to Swebotraustasamnoz, beginning King Heruwulfaz for supplies; so far, these pleas had evidently fallen on deaf ears. Hrabnaz’s retinue and associates tried to allay some of the noble’s darker concerns, but his thoughts could not be kept from wandering onto dangerous topics. What had compelled their father to give Heruwulfaz the throne, anyway? Of course he was the oldest, but what did age matter? When Heruwulfaz had been cowering in bed with the chills, it was Hrabnaz and his other brothers who had accompanied their father to war, spilling blood and enduring hardships at his side.

    Was it simple jealous; did Heruwulfaz, in his shame, seek to erase his kin from history by pushing their lives and achievements into the shadows? Was it something more sinister and politically motivated than that? For that matter, was the treatment Hrabnaz felt he received even real?

    The conflicted young lord felt his fingers release the end of the arrow. He heard the low whistling as it flew, with perfect straightness, out of the cluster of the brush and straight into the broad flanks of the unsuspecting deer. It kicked pathetically before sprawling limply into the mud.

    Hrabnaz breathed a huge sigh as he returned his bow to its place in the satchel. If nothing else, he would eat tonight.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter I – Visions

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The last of the three mailed couriers finished his grim report with a bow, kneeling before his sovereign king in silence once more. With only the slightest hint of panic, his less-experienced comrades shot off quick bows of their own and dropped to the ground with a metallic clank.

    Heruwulfaz chewed absently on his lip, the familiar responsibilities and anxieties of kingship cascading through his head like a stormy sea. This latest batch of dispatches, it seemed, was no different than any other he had heard before. As the preeminent political and social force in the Northlands, the Sweboz Confederacy was the predictable target for plots and machinations amongst the lesser tribes. Its borders and world-wealth were the largest, true, but what good did that do for them when it served only to attract aggression and jealousy from its neighbors? The tribes and peoples of the Northlands had become stuck – stagnant. Their existence was a cyclical tale of subsistence and violence with no ending, no climax, and no payoff. What was needed was a great change; one powerful, collective push to set the people of the Northlands moving forward again. Which reminded him…

    “I thank you three for your words,” Heruwulfaz announced, abruptly grounding himself back into the mundane concerns of the present. “I hope you will make full use of my hospitality before you return to your lords; for now,” he added with a curt bow of his own, “I bid you farewell.”

    The three messengers shuffled noisily out of the hall, mumbling and grumbling to themselves before they were even out of earshot. Heruwulfaz turned expectantly toward his door slave, whose rigid stance put the wall boards behind him to shame. “What is the hold-up with my guests?” the king demanded suspiciously.

    “They have gone to the assembly-grounds, my lord. They await you there.”

    Heruwulfaz bore into his emotionless servant with an incredulous glare. “Did I not specifically say they were to meet me in this hall?” He gestured vaguely towards the table behind him. “I even prepared-“

    “A delegate of the Thing intercepted their party, my lord.” The giant knot in the man’s throat betrayed his fear. “They told them you would be meeting them along with the rest of the Assembly.” He opened his mouth again as if to apologize, but then quickly shut it without a sound.

    At first it seemed the king might endure the news with only slight incident; his eyes began to blink at a dizzying pace, his hands slowly clenched themselves into bleached fists at his sides. His jaw began to twitch a little, and then a little more until suddenly, as if some invisible threshold had been broken, he threw both arms to the sky and unleashed a roar that would have made all the warriors of the Northlands mewl in terror.

    The helpless servants in the room adopted what was known as the “play dead” tactic; their backs flatly against the walls, turning their eyes towards the ground, or the ceiling; anywhere that could avoid tempting the wrath of the king. On this particular occasion, it was no use.

    “Those dirt-sucking, overprivileged she-men have overstepped their bounds one too many times!” Heruwulfaz whipped around in a huff, seizing his slave by the shoulders and shaking him like a reed. “Is there anything else you haven’t told me!?”

    The servant threw up his palms and cringed, his brains thoroughly addled. “I – no, my lord! If you leave now you’ll probably reach the assembly-grounds before they do!”

    Heruwulfaz pushed the helpless man aside, already making for the doorway in rapid strides. Brisk blasts of spring air were already whipping in from the village, their raw touch further inflaming Heruwulfaz’s passions. Muttered curses poured from his mouth in a cascading tide of rage; those unfortunate servants who had come to investigate the disturbance quickly jumped and scattered again as their king angrily muscled his way out of the hall, his web of profanities hanging in his wake.


    The necessary political relationship between Heruwulfaz and the Thing was laced with mistrust and bitterness; the inevitable backlash of two indomitable wills colliding together. The various factional leaders of the Thing, although constantly at one another’s throats, could at least find some common ground in that they found the new king of the Sweboz to be egotistical, petulant, and uncompromising. Heruwulfaz, for his part, made no secret of labeling the entire assembly as a corrupt and self-serving bastion of reaction and stagnation. This anachronistic body of freedmen, in Heruwulfaz’s mind, was a needless leashed placed on the powers of the king, preventing him from doing the work that was required of him. He coped with their existence, barely, and resorted to either going over their heads or behind their backs whenever the laws would allow. Evidently, the Thing was not afraid to reciprocate the treatment.

    The bards and songwriters would often tell of how the Thing used to leap to its feet and cheer with admiration when King Swartagaizaz returned home from campaign. They described how each councilman would take their turn praising him, humbly lowering their faces to the dirt as they requested the privilege of his noble presence at their tables and in their homes.

    On this day however, when his son Heruwulfaz strode into the clearing, he was met only with a cold, stony silence. A hundred leering eyes glared at him from every direction; the spring winds hissed with the sound of hushed, malicious whispers. A few amongst their number were bold enough to flaunt their disdain with loud belches and yawns. Heruwulfaz embraced their disrespect as a warrior embraces the challenge of his opponents, carrying himself as imperiously and regally as he possibly could. He stood expectantly in the center of the field for a moment, slowly trailing his gaze in an arc across the councilmen. Finally he shrugged and crossed his arms. “So,” he began with an air of forced nonchalance. “Where are the honored dignitaries I was told to expect here?” Instinctively, he turned his query towards the greybearded man sitting directly in front of him. The two sized each other up with the familiar wrote combativeness of time-honored rivals.

    By ancient law, the Thing has no vested leader; the fiercely independent spirit of the Germanic peoples is corrosive to the idea of even a simple speaker or chairman. As is the way of all things, however, the ideal eventually yields to realism and pragmatism. Erilaz, a noted orator and nobleman of the Samanonz tribe, was the master of the largest single political faction in the Thing, which inevitably meant that it was he who dictated the ebb and flow of their decision making. Under his long stewardship, the Thing of the Sweboz Confederacy had become the most powerful free assembly out of any of the Northland tribes. Heruwulfaz was fooling himself if he thought Erilaz would easily give it up.

    “They should be here in just a minute,” the venerable statesman wheezed as he willed his brittle legs to stand. “My slave managed to catch up with them as they came up the road. It’s funny,” he said with a hollow laugh, “they were seemingly under the impression that you planned to speak to them in private.” He cracked his knuckles and grinned, the poisonous taste of calculated malice dripping from his words. “Naturally I was quick to correct the misunderstanding; the laws are very clear, after all. ‘The Thing must be party to negotiations with other tribes’.”

    Heruwulfaz scowled and stepped forward until he practically engulfed the old man in his towering presence. Erilaz didn’t budge; if anything the act only increased his defiance. “I know the laws,” the king rumbled through gritted teeth. “But seeing as how we’re on the subject, perhaps I ought to remind you of what the laws say about disloyalty to your king?” As if this had somehow been too subtle, Heruwulfaz dropped his hand ominously towards his dagger.

    Whatever loud retort Erilaz had planned was drowned out by a sudden discordant uproar at the edge of the clearing. All heads present turned in stupefaction and bemusement as the noble chiefs of the Northlands poured into the assembly grounds in an amorphous parade of sound and color. Each individual lord and king was literally surrounded by an overflowing entourage of heralds, notararies, and loyal thanes; all loudly chatting amongst themselves and paying lip-service to their employer. It was a particularly amusing sight.

    Heruwulfaz and the rest of the Sweboz patiently stood and stifled their laughter as the guests and their retinues slowly tried to assemble themselves into a semblance of order. The king silently tried to asses and identify each individual delegation as the demarcations between them began to form. Some of these lords he knew he had seen before; on trips beyond Sweboz lands, or during councils of truce with his father. Others, he noted, were altogether new faces, from the lands along the river Rin to the west. Heruwulfaz never did receive much instruction in the lay of the Northlands, but from his approximation, it seemed that all the chiefs from east to west had answered his summons.

    Good, he thought with a private smirk. Then perhaps I can succeed after all.

    The din and clamor at last died down, leaving the entire clearing smothered in a hushed, anxious silence. Erilaz strode forward towards the group of arrivals, pointedly knocking his shoulder against Heruwulfaz’s as he passed him by. “The free assembly of the Thing of the Sweboz recognizes your arrival, honored lords.” He bowed and threw his palm forward in supplication. “We ask that you identify yourselves, so that we may do you the honor of addressing you by your names.”

    Once invoked, the ancient rituals rolled along like clockwork, each actor playing his part with practiced perfection. One by one the honorable kings and chiefs stepped forward to proudly proclaim their names: Harkilaz of the Rugoz, Theudanaz of the Kimbroz, Ulfilaz of the Scandzaz, and on and on. When the last of the great lords had given his name, Erilaz called for the horn of convocation to be sounded.

    The stage belonged to Heruwulfaz now, and he was intent that this window for change not be squandered. The free peoples of the Sweboz, and indeed all of the Northlands, surrounded him on all sides, waiting anxiously to hear what he had to say. Beads of sweat began to trickle down the sides of his forehead; he could feel his heart pounding painfully against his ribs. A painful lump suddenly seemed to build in his throat, cutting off the words he wanted to say. All the times he had imagined himself giving this speech he had imagined it being easy, like talking to a friend, or one of his brothers. Now, in the moment of action, he felt his confidence sliding into helplessness.

    He took a deep breath and began to speak, only to find that his voice caught in his throat and stuttered out as a high pitched squeak. A general snicker passed through the crowd as they delighted in the misfortunate on their onerous king. Trembling a little, Heruwulfaz cleared his throat and tried again.

    “Mighty kings of the Northlands; honorable freedmen of the Thing. In the name of my house and of the great tribes of the Sweboz I bid you welcome here, and I thank you all for coming. Many of you have traveled a long and arduous distance to be present here today; and, being that you are all great and worthy men, I know that you time is not be lightly spent. Nor do I believe that you proud and mighty lords, having already built great legacies for yourselves and your people, are inclined to waste much time on the tall rhetoric and flowery words of one as young and unproven as myself. I shall therefore speak quickly and frankly, as an honorable warrior ought to do.

    The Northlands are not always kind to us, brothers. Here, surrounded by the vast forests and rugged mountains of our forefathers, the will of the Gods is fickle and unforgiving. The heavy spring downpours flood our meager fields and turn them into choking swamps; in the dead of winter our warriors and womenfolk brace themselves against storm after howling storm as if cruel nature seeks to scour what little we have wrought from the earth. It is a brutal and fragile life that we live, brothers, but against all the trials and tribulations of the Gods we endure. We endure because we are strong; because the bitterness and agony of our lives makes us strong! Every one of us in a man forged of iron, his soul wrought in the blazing fires of hardship unending. Even as the lightening-bolts crash in the heavens, and the roar of thunder is heard from Hel to high Habukoz we continue to grow stronger!

    And yet…we have lost our way, brothers; for this fiery forge in which we are crafted ought to bind us firmly together, like the links on the armor of a mighty warlord – yet it does not. Our shared torment at the hands of the Gods ought to make us like blood-brothers; inseparable kin beneath the same host…but it does not. Instead we forsake the bonds that hold us together and turn on each other, like starving animals fighting over rotten scraps of food! Two warriors who bathe in the icy waters of the same river later turn upon each other, wildly stabbing their spears as if the other were not a fellow brother of the Northlands by some wretched sprite!

    Brothers, the time for change is at hand; I know you can feel it as I do, whispering upon the spring winds with ethereal promises for the future! Since the time when man first walked the earth we Northlanders have fought amongst ourselves, fighting and killing and looting – where does it end!? How long will we be content to simply let things be as they will be; content to let these great windows of opportunity slip through our grasp and off into the forgotten annals of history!? Let us make something of this moment – let us move forward. Let us put our hearts forward to the task, so that when the time of man is gone and past they will still sing our names and remember what we few men were able to accomplish together!”

    Heruwulfaz’s speech had been delivered perfectly; his audience had been totally and helplessly hooked by his words. They followed the tone of the speech like puppets, nodding in affirmation and shaking their heads in disgust as the situation warranted. The look on Erilaz’s face told the whole story by itself, slowly twisting from smug arrogance to bewilderment, before finally settling on a look of smoldering disdain.

    As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the elderly politician sprang to his feet and motioned for attention. “I never realized Swartigaizaz’s eldest had such a silver tongue,” he hissed with a humorless smile. “And apparently quite the mind for philosophy too, though what a good Northlander can do with philosophy I haven’t the slightest idea…”

    The jubilant mood in the clearing instantly became solemn again. Erilaz smirked, seemingly enjoying the change in atmosphere. “You make some very interesting points,” he began, pacing back and forth with maddening poise. “But I fear your argument lacks…teeth – and sense. You place a great deal of emphasis on our common brotherhood, and the forces that make us into the strong men that we are. But, surely, our iron strength of character must be attributed to all the forces in our lives – not merely some of them.” He stopped his pacing; his back turned away from the king. “If our people have warred for thousands of years, then surely it is our warring that has helped to make us strong?” he demanded with a theatrical raise of the eyebrow.

    “Our children and women-folk are also strong, even though they have never tasted combat. The only thing our warring dos is make us weaker than we truly are.”

    Weaker?” Erilaz parroted with genuine surprise. “How on earth do you figure?”

    The king opened his mouth to reply, but to his frustration to words came to him. He paused for a second before trying again, leaving his jaw hanging foolishly for a few seconds before it clamped shut without a sound. Human speech, it seemed, could not do justice to the importance of what he wanted to illustrate. He cast frenzied looks around the field, as if what he wanted to say was hiding and simply needed to be uncovered.

    “You there!” he bellowed, pointing an accusatory figure towards one of the warriors in the crowd. The assembled onlookers obediently turned their heads towards this new actor.

    “M-me, your lordship!?” The man touched a clammy hand to his chest, looking as if he might faint.

    Heruwulfaz nodded and beckoned with his outstretched finger. “You’re a skutjonez, are you not? Give me your quiver,” he demanded, not bothering to wait for an answer.

    The terrified soldier complied, practically sprinting the distance between himself and his king. Heruwulfaz took the leather satchel in his hands, giving it an appraising squint as he quickly turned it over in his hands. What he wanted from it was anybody’s guess. The crowd watched the spectacle with desperate curiosity.

    With a swift swipe of the hand Heruwulfaz drew one of the arrows, holding it triumphantly over his head like a war-trophy. The crowd stared at it in silent awe. “A single arrow,” Heruwulfaz explained, leaving it to hang in the air for a moment. Then, out of nowhere he grabbed either end with his hands and cleanly broke it in half against his knee, tossing the pieces to the ground with theatrical distaste.

    Heruwulfaz may as well have just cut out a man’s heart for the reaction he got. The whole crowd sat riveted in astonishment, looking from the arrow to the king and back again. Erilaz’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, and he was about to comment when the king suddenly reached his hand into the quiver again.

    “Two arrows,” he proclaimed. Again he took them in his hands and, with only a small amount of exertion, snapped them in half. The four pieces clattered to the dirt at his feet. Without waiting for the crowd’s reaction Heruwulfaz took three arrows and, with some light grunting, broke them too.

    Nobody dared to make a sound; few even had the courage to blink. All eyes were locked on Heruwulfaz, wondering what malady of the mind could have possibly possessed him. The king took in their stares and smirked.

    “Ten arrows,” he said ominously, holding the bundle over his head like a boulder. Faint murmurs ran up and down the astonished crowd. Heruwulfaz took a gigantic breath and squared his weight as he bent over the arrows. For a split second he seemed to relax; then with a sudden jolt he wrapped his hands around the edges and pulled as hard as hew could. His whole body began to tremble with the exertion; the veins in his face and arms seemed to bulge until the stunned onlookers were sure they’d explode. He snorted and huffed like a winded boar, pouring every fiber into breaking the arrows.

    Finally, almost involuntarily, he relaxed, hoisting the bundle over his head once more as a triumphant grin stretched across his flushed face. “A single arrow or two is easily broken,” he panted. “But many arrows, bound together, are unbreakable – not because any one is better than the other, but because they work together to reinforce the whole.”

    He placed the arrows respectfully back into the satchel. “This is what the Northlands can be. A mighty bundle of arrows, each as strong and deadly as the last; and together, our combined might can deliver death unto our enemies.”


    The great bards of lore would later record that the kings of the Northlands were so deeply moved by Heruwulfaz’s rhetoric that they all agreed to swear their everlasting fealty to him on the spot. A flock of millions of white doves soared through the skies overhead, and dignitaries from the farthest corners of the world came to pay homage to the new great king of all the tribes.

    The reality was not nearly as uplifting. It is true the chiefs and kings were deeply impressed by Heruwulfaz’s speech, and they did not simply brush the young sovereign’s arguments away as he had feared they might. Yet as far as they were concerned, Heruwulfaz was simply filled with idealism and optimism born of youthful ignorance. They felt certain that, in time, he would become disillusioned with his own grand vision for a united Germania. Even disregarding this, there was no way that a well-established ruler or men would abdicate his office, especially not to one as inexperienced as Heruwulfaz. These realities considered, the honorable guests promised to think on what had been said, and then quietly departed Swebotraustasamnoz for home.

    Before their departure, Heruwulfaz was approached by the chief of the Rugoz, a short, stocky man known as Harkilaz.

    Harkilaz was even younger than Heruwulfaz, and in all matters could be considered completely unremarkable. So it was a great surprise to all when the chieftain attempted to intimidate Heruwulfaz, demanding that the Sweboz surrender their hunting rights on the west bank of the river that they shared as a border. As if this were not enough, he stooped to insulting the king for his meekness and lack of repute, insisting that the dream of a united Northlands could never come to pass. It was not long before he was driven from the hall, with the additional warning that he never return

    But Heruwulfaz saw in this a brilliant opportunity to demonstrate a point; for although he dreamed of a united kingdom of tribes, he was not afraid to carve this dominion out of blood and iron. The Rugoz had made a dishonest craft of terrorizing the Sweboz; their raids had turned the entire west bank of the Oder into a desolate wasteland.

    If Heruwulfaz wanted to convince the tribes of his vision for the future, he would need to prove that he was up to the task; and what else did a good Northlander respect more than a well-earned victory?

  4. #4

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter II - The Battle of Rugoz

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Warriors amongst the peoples of the Sweboz Confederacy were not divided into ranks; at least, not as we might think of them. Instead they functioned on an understood system of seniority and experience, with the older and more reliable warriors typically forming a static and immovable battle-line, whilst those with less battle experience stuck to harassing the enemy from afar with throwing spears and arrows. No one group of individuals was better paid or better treated than the others; they all marched and fought together as equals beneath the same banner.

    Okaz of the Markamannoz was one of the more experienced warriors in the party, having loyally served the noble lord Athawulfaz in patrolling the banks of eastern river for over three years now. Through battle after battle, he had become something of an unofficial expert on the cowardly warriors of the Rugoz. He had memorized everything he could about them: their tactics, their battle formations, and their choice of equipment. More than anything else, he had memorized their inhuman cruelty towards the peoples of the Sweboz. Too many times Okaz had been made to walk through charred and smoldering villages, gazing in revulsion and horror and the senseless devastation the men of Rugoz had wrought in their wake. He had been forced to look into the eyes of the survivors as they babbled hysterically, weeping at the destruction of their world. Their helpless eyes still leered at him when he slept.

    “It’s just over this hill,” Athawulfaz was saying, chatting to his warriors as if they were casual drinking companions. “Another few minutes of marching and we’ll finally have our chance at vengeance.” He snatched a crude canteen from his hip and took a long, messy swig; something about the smell made Okaz doubt his lord was drinking simple water. “I’ve been wondering when my brother would finally get the guts to go after these curs,” he added with a laugh.

    “They know we’re coming, right?” a warrior from behind asked as he jogged towards the conversation.

    “Of course – we sons of Irminaz are not so dishonorable as to attack without warning,” he said with obvious distaste. “Besides, I saw a few Rugoz scouts in the woods earlier in the march. The cowards thought they were being sneaky, but I swear you could see them from a mile away.”

    The circle of warriors erupted into laughter, clutching their sides as if they might double-over right there onto the dirt. Okaz snorted contemptuously at their obvious boot-licking, but he managed to hold his tongue; against the likes of Athawulfaz, their flattery would come to nothing anyway.

    The path on which they walked began to slope higher and higher, and soon they could all see the gentle crest of the hill in the distance. The incline was steep; men already tired from marching turned their spears into walking sticks as they pushed themselves up the last stretch of the trail. Okaz’s face glistened – not with exertion, but with anticipation at the retribution his fellows were about to unleash. With a final show of effort, he mounted the grassy summit and gasped.

    Athawulfaz had spoken the truth; the Rugoz had known of his approach. At the outskirts of the village they stood, stamping their feet and banging their shields in a bloodthirsty fervor. Their numbers were clearly vast; at least six-hundred men, probably more, stretching across the far end of the field like a tidal sea. At this distance their cheering and screaming reached the Sweboz as a dull rustling, like autumn leaves sliding across the ground.

    “Look at that,” Athawulfaz chuckled, taking another gargantuan sampling on his canteen. “They had the courtesy to line up for their deaths – more than I expected from the likes of them.”

    “There are an awful lot,” one warrior remarked, bravely broaching the obvious subject.

    “Since when did size and numbers count for anything?” Athawulfaz spat, gazing down at the Rugoz host in pitiless contempt. “One of us is worth ten of them any day – I’d gamble on it.”

    “Your luck will soon be put to the test, then,” Okaz said with a wry grin. “I think it would be rude to keep our victims waiting any longer, don’t you think?”

    “Yes, I think you are right,” Athawulfaz laughed, clasping a hulking hand on Okaz’s shoulder. “An animal for the slaughter does grow rotten when left to its own fear, after all.”

    “I’ve never heard that one, my lord.”

    “Me neither.” Athawulfaz raised an imperious hand and threw his head back. “Sound the advance, again! Form up into battle lines!” He quickly grabbed Okaz by the arm and the warriors began to move again. “You’ve been a dependable warrior, Okaz of the Markomannoz. You and I may have to have to have a word after all this.”

    The warrior froze uneasily, not exactly sure what to think. “I always aim to serve, my lord.” Without waiting to hear the response he pulled himself free and hurried to rejoin the rest of his band.

    The two swarms stood facing one another, too far apart for skirmishing, but close enough to oaths and curses could be heard if yelled loud enough. Warriors on either side picked and chose opponents at random, challenging them to prove their worth in the coming battle. A few of the greenest soldiers on either side would dart out from the battle line and jog in the middle, as if daring the enemy to try and hit them.

    Okaz could only roll his eyes as the whole spectacle. There was a bit of a double-standard here, he had to admit; he was not yet so old that he had forgotten the foolishness of his own youth. Still, this was an important battle for him, a battle devoted to revenge and retribution. The brutal misdeeds of the Rugoz had plagued his mind for far too long; today, in a tide of blood, he would put his nightmares to rest.

    In time the showmanship and boasting ceased, and the field was smothered by an atmosphere of tension and anxiety. Neither side wanted to be the first to engage, and both were growing restless from the delay. The archers behind Okaz fingered their bowstrings impatiently, their arrows hanging limply from their fingers. If anybody had so much as sneezed, combat would have begun.

    At last the lord Athawulfaz stepped forward from the Sweboz side, marching boldly out into the clearing with his arms outstretched on either side. He slowly panned his eyes up and down his assembled foes, making imperceptible nods of the head as he assessed their host. “Where is the one called Harkilaz of the Rugoz!?”

    With equal boldness, the stout Harkilaz stepped forward from the battle line, his warriors parting way for him as he passed. “I am he,” he proclaimed proudly. “And you are?”

    Athawulfaz grinned and beat his chest with a massive fist. “I am Athawulfaz, son of Swartigaizaz, brother to Heruwulfaz, the great King of the Sweboz!” He leveled a long finger towards his rival. “And I am here to make you answer for your crimes!”

    Harkilaz made a barking noise that barely passed for a laugh. “What crimes, dog!?”

    “Even now shall you make me name them, and break my heart again!?” he cried. “Your crimes can be seen in the countless farms and villages torched to the ground by your wretched henchman! Your crimes can be seen in the tortured gaze of those womenfolk your men have raped and despoiled! Your crimes are beheld in the tide of blood and misery that stains the grisly banks of the eastern river!”

    Harkilaz snorted and waved his hand dismissively. “Hyperbole and rumor, all of it.”

    “Then you have no answer?” Athawulfaz seethed through gritted teeth.

    Harkilaz seemed to think for a moment, and then with a disgusting hacking noise heaved a thick wad of spit onto the grass. “Here is our answer, wretch.”

    Athawulfaz uncrossed his arms and gave a humorless smile. “Here is ours.”

    At this signal the whole Sweboz army seemed to explode in a tide of noise and chaos, pounding their weapons and screaming their war cries as if to make the Gods themselves sit up and take notice. Unlike the taunting of the Rugoz, which was filled with arrogance and pride, this was a show of fury and indignation, the fruits of countless years spent quietly enduring offense after offense. Okaz shouted as loudly as any of them, smashing his spear against his shield until he was almost afraid it would break before the battle had even started.

    What happened next was like a blur to Okaz. From a few feet behind him he heard the dull snapping of bowstrings, as a split-second later a volley of arrows went shooting over his head and across the field between the two armies. Athawulfaz, perhaps having seen this or perhaps not, suddenly drew his dagger and shouted for his warriors to charge the enemy. Harkilaz, his cowardice revealed in the moment of action, sprinted back through the Rugoz battle line, disappearing behind a wall of astonished warriors.

    Okaz was no longer his own master; vengeful bloodlust consumed his mind, spurring him forward towards promises of glory in battle. His kin charged behind him, trying to keep pace with their frenzied comrade-in-arms. His once-tired legs now pumped beneath him with almost inhuman speed; fierce gales of stormy wind whipped across his face, throwing his hair behind him like a sail. It would be rain tonight.

    In just seconds he approached his first enemy, a bare-chested duguntiz boasting a blood-stained shield; he had killed before, or else wanted to make his opponents think he had. Okaz didn’t stop, smashing into the warrior’s wooden shield with the broad side of his shoulder. The man stumbled backwards, his weight hopelessly displaced by the force of the impact. Okaz pulled his spear back and ran it cleanly through the other’s ribs. He fell to the grass with a thick gurgle.

    Okaz was already rounding on his next target, a second duguntiz already engaged in battle with another. The furious Sweboz warrior took sadistic pleasure in stabbing him through the back, imagining the horrified look that must have been plastered onto his face. A light push to the back sent his corpse toppling to the ground.

    “My thanks,” the unknown soldier panted, clutching a thin band of red etched into his torso. “That one was a little too much for me.”

    “You are hurt,” Okaz observed rather needlessly.

    “Yeah, but I’ll be okay,” the soldier insisted, already tearing a strip of fabric from his trousers. “It was a glancing blow.”

    Satisfied, Okaz turned and rejoined the fray.

    The rest of the Rugoz outside the village were easily dispatched by the Sweboz. Those few who were not cut down retreated into the settlement, trying to recuperate themselves for a second round of combat.

    “I didn’t see the enemy chieftain anywhere,” one of the warriors breathed as they charged into the encampment. “Figures he would just leave his own men to die.”

    “I saw him bolt at the start of the battle,” Okaz agreed, his spear nearly sliding through his blood-stained hands as they advanced. “Retreated right through his own ranks, the damn coward.”

    “Not many left,” another panted, his face webbed with cuts and lacerations. “Then we can rest.”

    “You should probably drop out of the battle line, brother,” Okaz cautioned to the inured man. “You may feel fine, but if you ignore your wounds they can-“

    “He’s here, he’s here! Look alive!”

    Okaz’s head turned in shock, twisting to watch the village road as a large band of horsemen galloped towards them, their spears lowered for a charge. A general panic passed through the entire warband as men tried to ready their spears and brace themselves, scrunching as densely together as they possibly could. The horses were just seconds away, snorting and whinnying as they flew unstoppably towards their targets. Okaz fumbled foolishly with spear, trying to center his weight in the face of the oncoming mass.

    At the last second he closed his eyes and turned away, stabbing blindly with his spear in what he was certain would be his final act of defiance. Instead he was met with a shrill scream and a revolting spray of warmth against his face. Timidly he opened his eyes a crack and looked in astonishment at the crumbled horse sprawled at his feet. Almost forgetting the battle still raging around him, he kicked the lifeless mount aside and gasped.

    Even now, beneath all the blood, and grime, and sweat, he could still be recognized. Harkilaz, Chief of the Rugoz. Okaz gave a hollow laugh at seeing the man’s pitiful remains. “You will rule nothing now,” he whispered, not sadistically, as he would have expected, but sadly.

    The Sweboz began to move again, charging up the last stretch of road that led to Harkilaz’s noble hall. Harkilaz’z fierce show of defiance had not been his last. The path up the hill was littered with the carcasses of fallen Rugoz, their hands still tightly clutching their weapons as if they meant to defend their homes even in death. A few such warriors still clung to life, writhing in agony on the ground; they were either put out of their misery or left to suffer, depending on the whims of their betters.

    An interesting spectacle was unfolding in the center of the village. Athawulfaz, in uncharacteristic style, appeared to be engaged in a standoff with the last of Harkilaz’s loyal soldiers, stood arrayed for battle beside a sacred monument to the Gods.

    “You have fought bravely,” the royal prince conceded, “and your loyalty to your fallen lord reflects well on your manhood. But consider now that which I offer you,” he warned, “and consider the alternative therein.”

    “You come to parley with your hands soaked in the blood of our kin!” one of the Rugoz cried, eliciting nods of assent from his fellows. “Why should we listen to a single word of your poisonous tongue!?”

    “As I said,” Athawulfaz began testily, “the alternative is death. Do not make this decision lightly.”

    “We are already resolved.”

    Although Athawulfaz sighed, every feature of his person radiated with joy at their apparent choice. He slowly drew his dagger, and the edges of his mouth curved in sadistic pleasure as he thought of the final battle to come.

    “Then have at you.”


    The last of Harkilaz’s warriors were finished swiftly and mercilessly. The Sweboz Confederacy had added a new tribe to its number, and all of the Northlands were now forced to sit up and acknowledge the resolve of King Heruwulfaz.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Great start to your new AAR! Love the story, well written.

    Although your savage barbarian Sweboz sometimes speak in a somewhat polite and highly educated manner....

    I'd have thought a barbarian conversation would be in words of one syllable, e.g.

    "Come! We go!"
    "Where, my lord?"
    "To Rugoz!"
    "Why, lord?"
    "To kill them!"
    "There they are!"
    "We kill now, lord?"
    "AAAARRRROOOGAAAH!!!" (Yes, I know that's a three-syllable word, but I have to allow the Sweboz some sophistication in their battle cries)

    ;) Just kidding....
    Last edited by Titus Marcellus Scato; 01-25-2011 at 15:38.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Haha, thanks! I'd go for the Neanderthal-esque approach, but it turns out that forming multi-clause sentences is pretty hard when you can only use "ugh".


    Chapter III – Murmurs of Malcontent

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    “My noble lord is presently occupied with urgent affairs,” the servant apologized, his eyes trained humbly at his feet. “As soon as he is available I will send him to come and greet you.”

    Ansuharjaz gave the doorman an impassive nod. “Of course, thank you. Tell my brother there is no need to hurry on my account; the wellbeing of the Confederacy must come first.”

    The slave quickly disappeared back into the vaulted confines of the hall, leaving Ansuharjaz to wait by himself in the scorching summer heat. It had been some months now since he had last been back in Swebotraustasamnoz; the town was bigger and busier than he remember, about as crowded and bustling as a settlement could ever get in a place as rural and barren as the Northlands. Not only had it grown in size during the past spring, but Ansuharjaz sensed that it had become more politically important as well. His brother’s grand speech before the Thing, and the swift assimilation of the Rugoz tribe thereafter, had elevated the modest Sweboz capitol to new heights as the unquestionable heart of the Northlands. He wondered: was this the apex of the Confederacy’s glory, what he was living right now? Or was it only the beginning of things to come?

    “-can’t believe you idiots didn’t show him in – a man can die standing around in this kind of heat!”

    With his characteristic dithering, Heruwulfaz emerged through the doorway, a train of apologetic servants babbling excuses as they scurried in his wake. Ansuharjaz turned, wiping beads of sweat from his face as he beheld his eldest brother for the first time in many months. “Heruwulfaz,” he acknowledged, his face breaking into an easy grin. “Berating the servants again, I see?”

    All of the king’s consternation vanished in an instant; his whole face split into a toothy smile as he pulled his comrade into a crushing embrace. “Ah, my brother – it has been too long! You’ve amassed quite the head of hair, I see,” he teased, gazing at the man’s face as if he were seeing it for the first time.

    “Psh! The hair’s nothing,” he laughed as he ran an unconscious hand through his chestnut mane. “It’s the mustache I’m most proud of!”

    “Indeed, indeed!” Heruwulfaz chuckled as he led his brother into the hall. “It definitely has the size, although the manicuring leaves something to be desired, I think.” He snapped an expectant finger, prompting a cadre of aides to spring forward.

    “Kindly bring food for my brother and me,” he ordered as the pair settled themselves down at the table. “And have some ready for my other brothers when they arrive. They shouldn’t much longer now,” he added hopefully. The servants vanished from the room without a trace.

    “Athawulfaz will be along any minute,” Ansuharjaz assured, taking the spare moment to loosen the armor around his chest. “I passed him on the road coming into the town. Apparently his horse broke a leg or something.”

    “And Hrabnaz is simply late, I assume,” the king said dryly.

    “Well, you know how he is,” Ansuharjaz said with a roll of the eyes. “I’m sure he’ll blunder in and start telling us about how much important business he had to get through; and how we couldn’t possibly believe how busy he’s been.”

    The two men broke into easy laughter. A line of servants marched in, bearing with them the contents of the midday feast; an exquisite assortment of meats, puddings, soups, pies, and porridges – and of course, plenty of ale.

    “Do you remember,” Heruwulfaz laughed between mouthfuls of food, “that time that father wanted us all to be there when he was talking with the Silengoz chief?”

    Ansuharjaz thought to himself for a moment. “Oh! Was that the time where Hrabnaz was snooping around the day before and he-“

    “Yeah!” Heruwulfaz smiled, “yeah, when he just ran in into the room late, and then suddenly he was yelling ‘father, I finished going over your plans to raid the Silengoz camps’!”

    Ansuharjaz laughed and shook his head, his face hot with ale. “He never quite knew when to keep his mouth shut, that one.”

    “I assume we're talking about Hrabnaz?”

    With loud, heavy footsteps, their brother Athawulfaz entered the hall, practically stooping to avoid banging his head on the doorframe. He genially brushed aside his brothers’ hearty welcomes and took his seat without prelude, eying the banquet before him with a hungry eye.

    “Poor Hrabnaz is the butt of everything,” Ansuharjaz continued with a chuckle. “It’s as if whenever the Gods are angry they just decide they’ll take it out on him.”

    Athawulfaz shrugged apathetically, downing his goblet with a ferocious gulp. “He’s a good lad though – takes it all in stride. Besides, a lot of the troubles he puts up with are his own fault. He always bites off more than he can chew.”

    “What about you?” Heruwulfaz grinned as he tore his way through a thick leg of chicken. “You went into that war against the Rugoz outnumbered and outclassed.”

    Athawulfaz shrugged and reached for more mead. “Numbers are meaningless,” he said simply. “And Harkilaz was greatly overrated as a commander of men. His tribesmen weren’t even sorry to see him go, save a handful of stubborn idiots.”

    “Tell me about that, actually,” Heruwulfaz said with businesslike interest. “I haven’t gotten many first-hand reports on what’s happening with the Rugoz.”

    “Quite simply, they have been smoothly added to the ranks of our Confederacy. As soon as the initial occupation was completed they elected a new tribal chief and, when I departed, they were deciding on who should serve in their delegation to the Thing. There’s still work to be done, of course; we need to work out the usual arrangements for taxes, take censuses and head counts and the like. I figure that sometime in the next two to three years we’ll be able to call them ‘integrated’.”

    “Which brings me to something I wanted to say,” Ansuharjaz announced excitedly. “As you know, I’ve been handling all of our diplomatic exchanges with the western tribes for some time now.” He paused for dramatic effect, looking around the table at his brothers. “After our crushing victory against the Rugoz, the chieftain of the Kimbroz came before me and announced that he intended to join the Sweboz Confederacy.”

    Heruwulfaz was propelled to his feet in a wave of excitement and euphoria; he scanned the hall as if wondering why the whole world had not suddenly erupted into celebration along with him. “Th…that’s fantastic!”

    “Indeed. I took the liberty of telling him that we accepted his peoples’ bid for membership. Delegates have been dispatched to begin the assimilation process, although it will take considerable time.”

    “Also,” he sputtered through a mouthful of lamb, “I recently played host to a messenger from the lands of Skandza to the far north. He says King Ulfilaz is intrigued by your dreams for the future, and by the principles of the Sweboz. He requests that you send someone to meet with him – someone who can discourse at length on these topics.”

    “Send me.”

    Three pairs of eyes turned in surprise towards the doorway, where Hrabnaz had made a silent entrance, his whole face red and moistened and the summer heat. He lingered there awkwardly for a moment, staring at them with an intense, humorless glare that seemed ill-suited to the raucous atmosphere of the feast.

    Athawulfaz was the first to find the courage to speak, clapping raucously on the arm of his chair. “Better late than never, eh brother!? Come, let’s get you some ale.”

    Hrabnaz reluctantly took the fourth seat the table, hunching over his plate like a ravenous animal guarding a scavenged corpse. “Send me,” he insisted again, undeterred from this line of questioning. “Send me to Skandza.”

    Ansuharjaz chuckled silently to himself and raised his cup to his lips. “I don’t know what there is to look forward to in Skandza, brother. Once you get that far north, it’s nothing but snow and cold all the time.”

    “Better than starving to death in the middle of nowhere, hunting raiders who don't exist” Hrabnaz snapped, instantly wiping the smile off of his brother’s face. “At least in Skandza I would have food and lodgings.”

    The three others shared an uneasy glance; communication passed silently between them as Hrabnaz simmered to himself. Their brother had always been a little bit like this, in some respects; he was marked for his intensity, his emotionality, and his unfortunate propensity towards bitterness and cruelty when upset. This seemed to be a particularly bad episode.

    “It is important work that you are doing,” Heruwulfaz tried. “The Silengoz have been known to take advantage of any weakness they can find. Since you and your band began to patrol the area, attacks have all but stopped.”

    Hrabnaz snorted in disgust. “It is a complete waste of my talents,” he spat, picking moodily at his food.

    Athawulfaz was wracked by a loud snort of his own. “What talen-“

    “Hrabnaz,” Heruwulfaz interjected hastily, “I have a task in mind – one that I need a trustworthy individual for. I think you may find it to be more to your liking.”

    “What is it?” Hrabnaz inquired skeptically.

    “You may have heard about the recent assimilation of the Rugoz, after the recent battle. I need somebody to act as my overseer there; to serve as the official liaison between myself and the tribal government.”

    “Basically, you need a new governor,” Hrabnaz deduced.

    “Yes, basically,” Heruwulfaz conceded with an exasperated sigh. “Would you like to be that governor?”

    Despite his best possible effort, there was no way for Hrabnaz to contain the smile that began to tug irresistibly at the sides of his mouth. In typical style, however, he steadfastly refused to acknowledge any amount of gratitude or excitement. “Yes,” he said with false boredom, “I think that would be a more palatable office.”

    Heruwulfaz was seen to breathe a huge sigh of relief. “I am glad that’s settled then. Now, Ansuharjaz, would you kindly pass me the potatoes?”


    A land as harsh and uncompromising as Skandza required a strong and decisive ruler; one who would not only be able to meet the challenges of his country, but also to exceeded and master them. As far as these qualities were concerned, King Ulfilaz was about as good as they came. For many decades he had served the vast lands of Skandza well, firmly upholding law and order through ruthless and pragmatic policies of rule. There were some who disagreed with his methods, to be sure, but they had long since learned to keep their dissent to themselves.

    At Ulfilaz’s side through all of these difficult decisions was his son, whose mother had named him Hlewagastiz. Hlewagastiz was still fairly young, and he had yet to learn all of the intricacies of statecraft needed to rule as wild a people as the Skandza. Even so, he had quickly come to display a remarkable talent for politics and governance, and Ulfilaz could not have been more proud of his son. In time, as age wreaked its toll on him, the moment would perhaps come for the mantle to be passed on to one that was more capable…

    The doors to the throne room opened with a tired groan, and the young prince Hlewagastiz strode confidently through the threshold, his metal helmet tucked casually beneath his armpit. With mechanical precision born from endless practice, he advanced toward the throne, dropped to one knee, and bowed his head. “Noble lord and father,” he began reverentially, “I request permission to speak with you.”

    Ulfilaz leaned back in his throne and rested his head against his hand with a sigh. It was getting late now; the world outside the hall was filled with the thick darkness of night and the mournful songs of the forest insects. “Of course you may speak, my son. You may always speak freely here.”

    At this the young man stood again, affixing his father with a serious glare. “I wanted to talk to you about this business with the Sweboz, and their king Heruwulfaz.”

    Ulfilaz seemed to become more alert upon hearing this subject; he straightened himself and sat forward. “Yes, of course. What about it, exactly?”

    “I understand you sent messengers to them,” Hlewagastiz continued, his voice dipping into the accusatory. “Inquiring about the merits of joining their Confederacy – isn’t that right?”

    This series of questions at once confused and disturbed the aging king. His tone became defensive and suspicious. “It’s true that I’ve been trying to learn about some of their ideas and the benefits of their alliance. What is your point?”

    “Father, our Kingdom has proudly maintained its independence for centuries; your father and his father before him surveyed this land as its sole master. We are the vastest of the dominions in the Northlands – our banner is flown from the southern islands all the way to the land of the endless ice in the north. What can the Sweboz offer us that we do not have?”

    “Our size may be great,” Ulfilaz admitted, “and our people proud; but we are isolated from the rest of the world of men. There is little we have to trade with the other tribes, and those few caravans we have must brave perilous journeys across the pirate-infested waters of the straits. This ‘Sweboz Confederacy’ may be able to offer us an outlet for the flow of commerce to commence one more.”

    “Our joining the Sweboz would mean an end to our kingdom,” Hlewagastiz emphasized, his voice breaking with exasperation. “It would require that you abdicate your throne forever.”

    “We have talked enough for one night,” Ulfilaz decided abruptly, pushing himself to his feet with the aide of his crude wooden cane. “My bones ache, and my whole body summons me to sleep.” He slowly limped away towards his bedchamber, his cane clapping against the floor with every step. “Goodnight, my son,” he called in his wake, and then was silent.

    The conversation seemed to resolve something in Hlewagastiz’s mind; he sighed and let his head fall limply against his chest. He considered himself to be an honorable man, driven by good intentions and motivated towards justifiable ends. This self-appraisal made the events he was about to set in motion all the harder.

    He strode through the doorway in a hurry, nearly smashing right into the shifty-looking servant skulking beyond the threshold. As soon as they met Hlewagastiz seized him by the shoulders and spun him around into a corner. “The king will not listen to reason; that means that we must turn to our contingency.”

    He looked fearfully around the abandoned hall and pulled the man closer. “Begin administering the poison – one half-dose with every meal. He should never realize what’s happening; if he begins to suspect something, give him the entire vial in a single sitting, to hasten it. You must not speak of this plan to anyone either than myself, or I will kill you. Do you understand!?”

    The terrified servant bobbed his head up and down, the color having completely drained from his face. In the light of the torches he looked positively ethereal.

    “Good," Hlewagastiz sighed as he relinquished the young man from his grasp. "Then get to bed. You will have work to do tomorrow.”

  7. #7

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter IV – The Winds of Change

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    In time the scorching summer months gave way to autumn, and a renewed chill seemed to settle over the brooding forests of Germania. The dry fall winds, chattering as they swept through the brittle tree branches, seemed to bring a wave of change and upheaval upon their backs. Everything was different; nothing could be considered certain. The Sweboz Confederacy, once simply one of many regional powers, had swelled in both size and power, bolstered by the surprise addition of the Rugoz and Kimbroz tribes. Its shadow could now be felt across the whole land, cowing all lesser tribes into docility and submission. Only the people of Skandza in the far north had the strength to realistically challenge the Sweboz, and as far as anybody could tell their king had only good things to say about the Confederacy and their young king.

    This string of heroic successes had done much to shore up Heruwulfaz’s position as ruler. The crushing victory against the Rugoz in spring, and the spoils earned therein, had earned him the unquestioned loyalty of his warriors and battlefield commanders. The Thing quickly found they were politically incapable of challenging royal authority, and in adding two new tribes to the Confederacy Herwuwulfaz had satisfied their hunger for greater power and oversight anyway. Only a few diehard traditionalists, led by the bitter Erilaz, continued to rail against royal fiat.

    In the royal halls of Swebotraustasamnoz, the focus of day-to-day affairs shifted. Heruwulfaz was at last secure enough in his office that he was able to put aside the petty concerns of tribal politics and focus on completing his grand dream for the future. More and more he came to spend his time secluded in the great hall, delegating orders to his subordinates and deciding how and when to proceed with his vision.

    “The Habukoz and Heruskoz tribes have been mostly silent,” Ansuharjaz explained as he and his eldest brother sat around the crackling fire. “The Heruskoz will accuse us of various transgressions from time to time, but other than that they seem determined to remain uninvolved in affairs to their west. I can’t say I blame them,” Ansuharjaz added with a humorless grin. “As far as they can tell we’re gobbling up neighbors left and right.”

    “I admit we’re not exactly putting on a friendly appearance,” Heruwulfaz conceded with a grin of his own, “but that won’t be concern for much longer. Once we begin discussions with the Skandza, we’ll be too powerful to ignore any longer. The remaining tribes will either up and join us, or try to take us on all at once. In either case, the end result is the same. The Confederacy will count amongst its number all of the peoples of the Northlands.”

    “I will prepare the eastern armies for an attack all the same,” Ansuharjaz assured, poking at the dying fire until the logs splintered and shot orange sparks hissing into the air. “We can’t be too careful with the lives of our people.” The nobleman paused for a drink. “Have you prepared an envoy for King Ulfilaz?”

    “In fact I have,” Heruwulfaz said as he stood from his chair with a reluctant groan. “Which reminds me I need to give him his orders; he must have been waiting for some time now.”

    The king motioned for his brother to follow him, and together the two slowly made their way towards the vaulted expanse of the audience hall. “I understand Hrabnaz had settled himself amongst the Rugoz,” Ansuharjaz said flatly.

    “Yes,” Heruwulfaz sighed, “he has indeed. “He’s been received well enough, and from what I understand he’s proving to be a competent administrator, if a little bit unimaginative. Some have suggested that the tribal chiefs are doing all the work and leaving him to take the credit, but I personally don’t buy it.” He snickered to himself, “Hrabnaz would never let others do work for him. He has that going for him, at least.”

    The audience hall looked especially cramped and rundown in the melancholy hues of the evening. The customary torch-lights only exacerbated this, flickering low in their places and casting long, chiseled shadows from every angle. Wondering why on earth he had procrastinated to this hour, Heruwulfaz assumed his seat in the throne and summoned his underlings forward.

    “Wiligastiz of the Ermundeurjoz,” he barked, looking expectantly at the crowd in front of him.

    A slender-looking man of few years stepped forward, keeping his head respectfully bowed. “My noble lord?” he mumbled, his voice slithering out in a clandestine hiss.

    “Wiligastiz,” the king boomed, “you are to travel north to the lands of Skandza. You will request an audience with the King of their people, who should be expecting you. Do as he requests of you and then return here.”

    “All the while,” Heruwulfaz added, “I want you to remain alert. Take note of everything you see and hear, and investigate anything you find to be suspicious. I trust you are skilled enough that you can carry out these orders?”

    Wiligastiz threw himself into a deep bow. “My lord’s confidence is not misplaced. On my life, his will shall be carried out.”

    Heruwulfaz nodded imperiously, refusing to give this smooth-talking spy any indication that he was impressed. “Then go and make it so.”

    The king cracked his neck and waited for the man to depart. “Next,” he said with a tired sigh, “I call Hagaradaz of the Samanoz.”

    At this summons strode the diplomat Hagaradaz, carrying himself with such natural poise and refinement that he seemed to glide across the floor like a sprite. “Orders, my king?” he sang in a voice that was at once deep and majestic.

    Heruwulfaz permitted himself a toothless grin; the rumors he had heard of this man’s speaking talent seemed to be true after all. “Hagaradaz, I am told that you have something of a silver tongue; that you can effortlessly sway lesser men to your side and stand your ground with the best of them.”

    A smile tugged at the corners of Hagaradaz’s mouth. “It is improper for a man to assess his own merits, my king.”

    Heruwulfaz nodded in agreement. “Then I shall have you assess those of others.” He straightened his posture and locked eyes with the envoy. “What I am about to ask of you is not an easy task,” he cautioned, “and I do not ask it lightly. Nor do I demand it of you, as I could choose to.”

    Noticing the man’s quiet anticipation, Heruwulfaz pressed on. “Good Hagardaz, I humbly ask that you, in concert with my wishes, travel across the whole breadth of the world of men. As you do so I ask that you meet with all of the kings and chiefs of the lands you visit, spreading to them knowledge of our peoples and our cause. Finally, at the conclusion of this great journey, I ask that you relay to me all that you have learned of the mortal world, so that I may rule more wisely for it.”

    The magnitude of this request seemed at first to overwhelm Hagaradaz; for many long moments he stood frozen in place, staring at his king with a look of blank incomprehension. The others in the hall grew anxious, and were about to comment when the young diplomat bowed and spread his hands. “If my lord wishes it, then I shall of course endeavor to deliver it to him. The laws demand nothing less.”

    The king let out a huge sigh of relief, although nobody had noticed he was holding his breath. “Good Hagaradaz, know that I do not hold your kindness lightly. Nor do I intend to send you on this journey alone and without support.”

    At this cue a second man stepped forward from the crowd of supplicants, his hands clasped respectfully behind his back. Without as much as a word he knelt next to Hagaradaz and was still.

    “This is Berdic,” Heruwulfaz explained. “He is a slave – gifted to me by the chief of the Habukoz, who in turn received him from the city-dwelling Walhoz to the west. He speaks countless languages – ours among them – but perhaps more valuable than anything else is his ability to write.”

    Hagaradaz turned in surprise towards the young servant, eyeing him with a look of newfound respect. “He will record the events of our journey, then,” the diplomat concluded.

    “Well, yes,” Heruwulfaz began, “but he has an even more important role than that.”

    “Translating, of course!” Hagaradaz deduced with a nod.

    “That too,” the king conceded with an amused grin. “But there’s an additional job you have not yet realized. You see, Berdic here is going to teach you how to write.”

    The diplomat touched an astonished hand to his chest, looking at Heruwulfaz as if he were quite mad. “Me, your lordship?”

    “Indeed. While I trust the work of good Berdic here, it is preferable that the records be left in your own hand,” the king insisted. “So that there can be no doubt as to their authenticity.”

    “Our language has no written letters,” Ansuharjaz interjected. “It cannot be written down, to my knowledge.”

    “He will not be writing in Swebozez,” Heruwulfaz explained patiently. “He will learn to write in the language of the Walhoz. So long as his observations can be translated back to me, their format is irrelevant.”

    “But my lord,” Hagaradaz protested, “surely this man cannot speak all the tongues of the world of men?”

    “Indeed he cannot,” Heruwulfaz agreed. “So I give you leave to acquire other translators whenever you need them. Preferably without the use of force,” he added, “but you may do what you must do.”

    Fatigue was beginning to take its toll; Heruwulfaz could feel his eyelids fluttering under the influence of sleep. With the last of his good humor he threw himself to his feet. “It is late, and my bed calls me. All of you,” he commanded with a wave, “begone. I will address those matters left unattended tomorrow.”

    The mob offered their farewells and then quickly departed, flowing out the doorway and into the autumn night like a human sea. Their departure left Heruwulfaz with nothing to distract him from his exhaustion.

    “A strange choice, Wiligastiz,” Ansuharjaz commented as the last of the petitioners crossed the threshold. “He is not what I would call…a ‘diplomat’. Ulfilaz may be disappointed when he receives a shadowy footman at his door instead.”

    “I sent a spy,” Heruwulfaz corrected, “because this is a spying mission. Or it has become one, at least.”

    “What do you mean?”

    The king sighed and began to make his way to bed as he explained. “Strange reports have been coming out of Skandza this past couple of months. Sudden shifts in royal policy, mysterious horse raiders sighted on Kimbroz lands; and then to top it all of, rumors that King Ulfilaz is grievously ill.”

    “He is growing very old,” Ansuharjaz conceded as he helped his brother put out the torches. “It is impressive that he eluded death for as long as he did.”

    Heruwulfaz grimaced as his thoughts turned to the subject. “Perhaps so, but his death would still be a setback. His son, Hlewagastiz, is…less favorable to our interests.”

    “Is that so?”

    “It is,” the king assured darkly. “Whereas Ulfilaz supports our Confederacy, his son despises it. He does not welcome our accomplishments, but views them with fear. He thinks our power is a threat to Skandza.”

    Ansuharjaz shrugged. “He is not incorrect, I suppose. As our influence spreads north, that of the Skandza becomes minimized. In assimilating the Kimbroz and Rugoz, we have completely cut them off from the world.”

    “That may be true, but my job is to protect the interests of the Confederacy, not the Skandza,” Heruwulfaz insisted. “In any case, I’ve readied the hosts. If this ‘Hlewagastiz’ comes to the throne I almost sure it will be war between us. If that’s the case, we must win.”

    “Annexing Skandza would be a point of no return,” Ansuharjaz cautioned. “The other tribes would have to do something about our expansion – whether through diplomacy or warfare, I cannot say.”

    The evening chores done, Heruwulfaz turned towards his bedchamber, shuffling with the gait of an utterly exhausted man. “There will be time enough to worry in the morning.”


    “My son…is that you?”

    Hlewagastiz considered himself to be a hard, pragmatic man, but he still could not repress the pangs of sorrow he felt upon seeing the fruits of his handiwork. His honorable father Ulfilaz lay in a pitiful bundle on his bed, his frail form wrapped in a thick cocoon of shawls and blankets. His eyes, glassed over with the veil of diseased blindness, strained to look upon the face of his son through the mist.

    Tepidly Hlewagastiz made his approach, checking and rechecking his father’s face as if he half thought it might be the unfamiliar visage of a stranger. He was barely recognizable anymore; his features had been wracked by sickness, reduced to a pale, clammy layer of taunt flesh drawn thinly across his bones. Lying there, staring blankly off into space, he looked as if he were already prepared for his funeral.

    “I am here, father,” Hlewagastiz stammered, his voice shriller than he expected. Gingerly he reached out and clasped his father’s hand, feeling the brittle coldness beneath his touch. In all of his dark plotting he had never imagined the effect of his machinations to be this visceral. “I am at your side.”

    Ulfilaz grinned weakly, displaying his blackened and rotting teeth. “My son…I knew you would be. You always have been.” He gave a laugh which quickly turned into a pathetic spell of coughing. “I am sorry you have to see me like this,” he wheezed.

    “No, no,” Hlewagastiz insisted as he absently rubbed the man’s hand. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You…” he started before trailing off. “You always did what you thought was right. Nobody can fault you for that.”

    “My time is nearly up,” Ulfilaz continued through labored breaths. “The Gods have come to collect at last. I…can bear the mantle of King no longer.”

    “I swear to you father,” Hlewagastiz insisted, his voice returning to its usual strength. “I swear I will defend our lands to my last breath.”

    Ulfilaz chuckled weakly to himself. “I know you will…my son. I trust you…to make the right decisions.”

    The king’s whole body was suddenly consumed with a terrible spell of coughing; it sounded as if the old man was determined to cough out his own lungs. Finally he seemed to settle in his bed, mumbling incoherently to himself as he turned onto his side. It was the closest he could get to sleep anymore.

    There was nothing more Hlewagastiz could say. With a final caress of the hand he stood and left the room that would soon be his father’s crypt.

    “Put the rest of the poison into his next meal,” he spoke solemnly to the servant outside the door. “He has suffered enough.”

  8. #8

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    So, the son doesn't seem to have been swayed to accept the Sweboz, war is inevitable, and the diplomat goes to learn about the 'world'.
    1x From Fluvius Camillus for making him laugh.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Quote Originally Posted by CashMunny
    So, the son doesn't seem to have been swayed to accept the Sweboz, war is inevitable, and the diplomat goes to learn about the 'world'.
    Indeed. Exciting times in Germania, eh?

    Chapter V – Sparks

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    “The king is dead,” proclaimed the regent, his voice solemn and final. “Long live the king!”

    At this cue Hlewagastiz reached out his hands and seized the crown of his forefathers, placing the ancient vestment atop his head with stoic humility. A wave of polite applause erupted from the crowd in response, goading the new king into an awkward bow. Not a single lord present that day seemed to suspect that the prince had won the throne through anything less than honorable means; or if they did, they certainly didn’t say anything. The earls and lords of Skandza, seeing the ceremony had reached its climax, threw back their heads in unison and chanted their oaths. “All hail Hlewagastiz, great king of Skandza! Long life to the king of Skandza!” Their praise was loud and firm, if a little unenthusiastic.

    Hlewagastiz seemed to positively swell at the response he was receiving, but he waved down the congratulations of the crowd with what was obviously false modesty. Of the new sovereign’s many talents, it appeared that good acting was not among them. “My pious subjects,” he began, an uncontrollable grin consuming his face. “Words cannot express my delight at seeing you all here today. I know that we must seem to live in strange and difficult times but, with trusted friends such as yourselves at my back, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.”

    Several of the guests began to applaud, expecting that this particular platitude would mark the end of the coronation ceremony; but Hlewagastiz was not quite finished with his captive audience. He raised a hand and patiently waited for the smattering of clapping to die down again. “The end of my father’s reign does not only mark the death of a great and worthy man; it also marks the end of an era. Dark clouds are gathering over the Northlands, and each passing day dashes our hopes that the storm may yet break and pass us by. I trust that you noble lords can feel it, as I do, marching hand-in-hand with the cold tendrils of winter – settling over the land like an irresistible blanket of snow.”

    This seasonal metaphor seemed to please Hlewagastiz with its cleverness; he grinned to himself as he pressed on with his oratory. “My worthy father should have died hereafter, for he has left us to march alone and unprepared into the darkest hour of our kingdom’s brief existence in the world of men. I speak, of course, of the growing turmoil across the sea; this new wave of upheaval amongst the tribes of the Northlands, instigated and encouraged by that foulest of realms, the Sweboz.”

    Indistinct whisperings echoed through the vaulted expanse of the hall as a general wave of uneasiness swept through the assembled crowd. The new king’s vehemently anti-Sweboz stance had been something of an unconfirmed rumor amongst the nobility of Skandza every since the early summer, when his obsession with them first began. At first nothing more than a minor point of gossip, the king’s sudden passing in mid autumn had suddenly turned it into an unavoidable point of court politics. The general sentiment, both within the aristocracy and the populace at large, was sharply against a war with the Sweboz Confederacy; on the contrary, many members of the Skandzan Thing had openly suggested joining the Confederacy. In proselytizing his anti-Sweboz stance, Hlewagastiz was making a serious gamble with political capital that he frankly didn’t have yet.

    The young king could easily sense his audience’s hesitation. He gave them a paternalistic smile and hastily lifted his finger. “Simply consider the situation for a moment, if you would. Many months ago, when the year was still young and the Sweboz were still as small and inconsiderable as any other nation, the Northlands were at peace. The tribes were strong and plentiful, and each passing day brought assurances that the old ways of things would endure unchallenged. Men fought, died, and quarreled amongst each other; the races of man were made equal by the force of the sword.”

    The seditious murmurings of the crowd wavered and died away; at the very least, Hlewagastiz had their attention. Emboldened, he carried on with even greater confidence. “The winter storm outside my hall brings its wrath to bear against a very different land from the one we all remember. The Northland tribes have become week and few in number; those that remain do not resist the Sweboz but withdraw from them, hiding from their gaze in hopes that they will simply forget and go away. The wealth and bounty of the earth, which men once needed to earn through right of victory, is now hoarded and monopolized – passed amongst a select few while the other nations are left with nothing.

    Yet the dishonorable men of the Sweboz are still not satisfied!” Hlewagastiz cried with the perfect amount of indignation and horror. “The vile daemon Heruwulfaz will not stop until every last tribe and nation in the world of men is made to kneel at his feet! Even as we speak his gaze turns towards Skandza, leering greedily at the power and prestige of our great kingdom.”

    Hlewagastiz’s eyes glassed over as his speech began to wind down; although his gaze was trained into the crowd it seemed as if he was staring at something just beyond his field of vision. “My father was a great man. No one…nobody loved this kingdom more than he did; and yet in his desire to help our people, I fear he has nearly driven them to ruin. He has made the Sweboz believe we are weak and amenable to assimilation – they think we will go quietly as their armies roll across the world.

    We must demonstrate otherwise.”


    A war between two states is not a spontaneous occurrence; it does not simply erupt onto the scene one day without any sort of rhyme or reason. Rather, the outbreak of a conflict is best compared to the events of an earthquake; even before the main event itself there are small tremors and disturbances, serving as a warning to those who are alert and attentive enough to catch on to them. Just as there are those tasked with watching the weather, there must be men tasked with watching the states; men with sharp eyes and keen ears to catch the tiny intricacies of statesmanship.

    After Hlewagastiz took power in Skandza, it did not take Heruwulfaz long to realize that war was on the horizon. His informants consistently returned from their tasks with grim tidings, often reporting mass movements of soldiers, and a consistent depopulation of rural villages which suggested the implementation of conscription. It was not long before Skandzan war-parties were a regular sight on the opposite banks of the Northern Sea, milling idly about and fooling nobody with their stories of increased bandit activity. In time, there were even rumors that the hosts of Skandza had been seen making sojourns into Kimbroz lands; rumors which King Hlewagastiz vehemently denied time and time again. Heruwulfaz, thoroughly unconvinced, ordered the armies of the Sweboz to be moved north and that regular patrols be implemented.

    Okaz of the Markamannoz was less than thrilled about his new assignment; to be more accurate, he flatly despised it. He had never cared much for the cold and brooding lands of the Kimbroz tribe, greatly preferring the patchwork forests and valleys of his tribal homeland to the south. The few times he had traveled through Kimbroz – in his earliest years of manhood – he had generally wound up either killing someone, or having someone almost kill him. On one especially dismal occasion, he had endured both. Some of his comrades insisted that the lands of Skandza were worse, but Okaz wasn’t so sure.

    The warrior’s mount gave a sudden snort and pawed anxiously at the ground, as if it could hear its master’s thoughts and wanted to show its agreement. Okaz laughed and tried to regain his balance as he nudged the beast into walking again. “You see?” he joked to nobody in particular. “Even the horses don’t like it here.”

    Truth be told, Okaz didn’t have the slightest idea what horses did or did not like. This was practically the first time he had ever ridden one, excluding the odd errand or two he had required them for back on his father’s farm. When the lord Athawulfaz had approached him after the battle of Rugoz and offered him a promotion to the ranks of the ridonez, he had been tempted to admit his equestrian ineptitude and quietly let the office pass him by. Money and status, however, can override all good intentions, and before he knew it Okaz found himself amongst the ranks of the cavalry.

    His time spent on patrol these past few weeks had been, collectively, one of the most frightening experiences of his life. The Skandza were here; he was utterly convinced of it. Others within the army felt the same way, often returning from the night watch with blood-curdling tales of shadowy figures in the trees and slaughtered livestock rotting in the fields. Every day Okaz had held his breath during the morning muster, praying to Wodanaz, Tiwaz, and every other god and spirit he could think of to keep his name of the list for night duty.

    Today, his divine favor had finally run out. Now he found himself riding alone and afraid through the fields of the countryside; using weapons he didn’t like, on a mount he didn’t trust, in a land he didn’t know. In his left hand he clutched his small allotment of throwing spears – the other found itself wrapped around the wooden handle of a torch. He had already been in an incident tonight; a local farmer, drunk and roaring mad, had nearly been cut down when he stumbled unsuspectingly into the road. It had been a rather inauspicious start.

    The sound of footsteps and rustling branches pierced through the stillness of the night like a mighty thunderclap; Okaz felt himself practically leap off his horse in shock. He readied a spear and allowed his instincts to take over as he tried to locate his invisible assailant. “In the name of the king,” he demanded shrilly, “hold or die!”

    “No – wait, please! I am a man of Sweboz!”

    Okaz’s throw jerked to a stop, leaving the spear clutched threateningly in his hand. Although he restrained himself, he refused to lower his weapon; instead staring suspiciously as a second mounted soldier came trotting into the road. By the light of their two torches, Okaz could clearly make out the tribal markings of the Kimbroz painted upon the other’s shield. With a reluctant grumble, he lowered his spears again. “Man of Sweboz,” he muttered, more to himself than anyone else, “but man of Kimbroz also? The times [i]are[/i\ changing fast.”

    If the other warrior heard, he gave no indication; he merely reigned in his horse and began to trot beside his comrade. “It is a good thing you hesitated,” he laughed genially. “I almost thought you were going to run me through back there!”

    “Me too,” Okaz quipped, simply glad to finally have some company with him. The small country road seemed much brighter and less threatening with two men to patrol it; the phantom shadows skulking in the woods seemed to waver and disappear into nothingness. Not many hours were left until sunrise, and Okaz’s head was filled with tantalizing promises for rest and relaxation back at camp. Already he could almost smell the smoky tang of the morning cooking fires.

    “So, man of Sweboz,” Okaz yawned, hoping that some conversation would help them both stay awake. “What is your name, then?”

    “I am Agilaz,” came the response. “And you are?”

    “My name is Okaz,” the other informed curtly, “Okaz of the Markamannoz.”

    “Well met Okaz,” Agilaz smiled. “I am glad for your company – and for your help. The Skandza would have surely invaded this land months ago if your kin were not here.”

    Okaz shrugged modestly. “The Kimbroz are of the Sweboz now,” he mused, “so it is only just that all men of Sweboz must rise together to defend them.”

    “I suppose you are right,” Agilaz agreed. “Still you must admit it is strange, to see hundreds of warriors rise in defense of homes that are not theirs.”

    “These are strange times,” Okaz replied simply. His imagination was beginning to go wild on him; the stench of thick smoke seemed to hang in the air like a blanket. The warrior hungrily licked his lips and clutched at his stomach. “Gods curse the night watch,” he swore aloud. “I’m going mad with hunger!”

    “Ugh, I hear you brother,” Agilaz moaned. “I could almost swear I smell something cooking.”

    Okaz’s head quickly snapped around to his side, his face locking rigidly into an expression of disbelief. “What did you just say!?”

    The other recoiled slightly at this display. “I was just kidding,” he protested with an uneasy smile. “I just said I thought I could smell something burning, that’s all.”

    All of Okaz’s fatigue seemed to evaporate in an instant; he was suddenly wide awake and alert, cursing liberally to himself as he checked the woods for sings of an ambush. How could he possibly have been so stupid – he should have realized it wasn’t all in his head! Countless years of skill and experience and he was still making novice mistakes!

    “I think you are right,” Okaz observed gravely. “I can smell something burning too.” He brought his horse to a stop and began to assess his surroundings, trying to determine where the stench was coming from. “The smoke smells thick; whatever is burning, there is a lot of it.”

    Agilaz nodded anxiously and backed his horse away, keenly aware of his own relative uselessness in this situation. Feeling exposed on the open road, he reared his horse around and began to move again. “Wait a minute – Okaz, look!”

    The warrior slowly turned around, following Agilaz’s trembling finger to its destination. Just barely visible in the light of the early morning were ghostly whips of smoke, floating lazily up into the air with a whimsy that ill-suited their ominous nature. It seemed at a glance that the fire had been burning for some time; a thick mass of smog already hung like an umbrella in the sky, while even more continued to billow up from an unknown origin in the distance. Okaz frowned and bit his lip in reflection. “What on earth do you think-“

    Agilaz, however, had already departed, flying down the forest road at breakneck speed. Immediately Okaz took off after him, squinting intensely as clouds of dirt and dust whipped into the air and lashed at his face. For a man who knew next to nothing about riding a horse, he was going awfully fast, and yet his comrade continued to place more and more distance between the two of them. “Agilaz!” he finally cried over the beating of hooves, “slow down for a minute – I can’t keep up!”

    To Okaz’s surprise, the man did stop, bringing his horse to a rearing halt in the middle of the road. Agilaz seemed to freeze there on top of the hill, his one hand clutching tightly onto the reins, the other hanging limply at his side. Okaz quickly caught back up with the Kimbroz warrior, and was about to ask him what he was doing when his gaze turned accidently towards the village in the valley below.

    Or at least, it had been a village. Now the only thing that could be seen was a vast, terrifying expanse of smoke and flame, which seemed to bathe the entire clearing in an unearthly orange glow. It looked as if nothing had been spared; every last house and hovel in the village was either alight or reduced to smoldering ash. Though they were still some distance away, both men could clearly hear the shrill sound of terrified screaming, as the inhabitants scurried away in every direction like inconsiderable ants.

    “By the Gods,” Agilaz breathed, his face still blank and uncomprehending, “what happened…who on earth has done this!”

    “It is the Skandza,” Okaz stormed, slowly grasping his spears with his free hand. “I am sure of it. They were bound to do something like this sooner or later.”

    “Come on,” Agilaz insisted, his face twisted with panic. “We can still help.”

    It didn’t take more than a minute for the two men to reach the village; riding, as they were, at maximum speed. The scene as they approached was even more devastating and visceral than it had originally appeared. Those who had escaped the terror were running hysterically across the open field, oblivious to anything other than their own safety. At this distance, the smoke all but blocked out the morning sun, plunging the surrounding countryside back into darkness.

    The warriors lost no momentum as they flew through the charred remains of the village palisade, coming to a stop in the middle of what was probably once a house. Even though the flames had run their course some time ago, Okaz could still feel waves of heat wafting up from the ruins. Several pots and vases were strewn carelessly around the perimeter, the flames having cracked and melted them into amorphous blobs. The soldier dismounted from his horse with a crunch, praying that dry timber was the only thing these ashes were made of.

    “Still fresh,” he concluded after a cursory search of the remains. “And some of the rubble on the bottom was still smoking. The attack couldn’t have happened long ago.”

    “Agreed,” Agilaz sighed as he brushed the soot from his hands. “It seems as if most of these buildings only just recently caught fire,” he added as he regarded the ongoing bonfire.

    A sudden rumbling distracted Okaz from his reply; perplexed, he raised his head just in time to gawk in astonishment at the party of horsemen galloping down the village road. The warrior hastily picked one out from the group and tried to analyze his appearance before he disappeared. The rider in question was obviously young; a well-built man with an unkempt nest of blonde hair dangling out behind him as he went. The improvised torch in his hand was condemning in and of itself, but most important of all were the markings carved into his shield, which Okaz instantly knew could belong only to a single nation.

    “Skandza!” he bellowed, the tones of his voice caught between rage and surprise. In a single bound he had remounted his horse, fumbling impatiently for his throwing spears. “Hurry, Agilaz!” he cried at the stupefied horseman. “Before they get away!”

    In another instant they were off again, the wind whipping over their shoulders as they desperately chased after the party of raiders. Okaz rode with the conviction of a man possessed, locking the mob of riders into his sights with obsessive desperation. He wasn’t quite sure if his quarry knew they were being pursued, and Okaz didn’t quite care either way. He had seen far too many people get away with terrible things to let these men go; this time, at last, somebody was going to pay for their crimes. The pair eventually came flying past a small group of fellow Sweboz on patrol; without so much as a word they formed up and joined in on the chase. Okaz would have felt proud, if his fury had left any room for it.

    He knew not how long they rode for, or where they were when the chase finally came to an end. He only remembered how irritated he was at by the soft, pleasant glow of the morning sun as his horse gradually began to tire. Their fast gallop eventually decayed into a canter, and then a trot, until the poor animal ground to a defiant stop in the middle of an open field. Incensed, Okaz tried to whip the beast into action again, but it was no use. No justice would be delivered this day.

    “Gone,” Agilaz spat, rolling the words around in his mouth like a bad taste. “And nothing but terror left in their wake.”

    “They may have escaped,” Okaz hissed, “but little good it will do them. Their days are numbered.”


    As a man who spent most of his adult life skulking around in the shadows and eavesdropping from moldy alleyways, Wilagastiz didn’t exactly have very high standards of comfort and cleanliness. The Skandzan brothel he found himself in, however, was so utterly marred by grubbiness, lechery, and filth that even he couldn’t help but turn his nose up at the establishment and its amoral patrons. Not one to keep his back exposed, the spy seated himself at a table in the back corner, quietly debating to himself whether or not the ale in his mug was actually safe to drink.

    Wilagastiz had come to the tavern for the same reasons most men did; to drown his troubles beneath copious heaps of mortal indulgences. The past few days had certainly given him plenty to worry about, at any rate. His initial meeting with King Hlewagastiz had been awkward and perfunctory; a failure that Wilagastiz chose to attribute to the king’s obvious predisposition towards hating the Sweboz. Having failed to establish amiable contact with the northern kingdom, the spy had then proceeded to spectacularly fail at his secondary task; despite all of his best efforts, none of the servants in the king’s hall had been willing to part with privileged information. Wilagastiz was still deciding who he should blame for that particular misstep.

    What he had learned from his efforts, however, was that King Hlewagastiz clearly commanded the steadfast loyalty of his inner circle; whether they followed him out of fear or out of respect, the spy had yet to determine. Although this was relevant and useful information, Wilagastiz knew he could not return to King Heruwulfaz with this tidbit alone. His personal self-interest demand he procure something a little more valuable than his own second-hand observations.

    “Can I get you anything to eat, sir?”

    Wilagastiz regarded the innkeeper with the coldest, least friendly look he could possibly manage. “No, thank you.”

    To the spy’s distaste, the man was determined to have a conversation. “Already filled up on liquor, eh? I don’t blame you – a man needs a tall drink to keep him warm in this weather!”


    “That’s what the King seems to think, anyway. He practically cleaned out my entire stock with his last order!”

    The spy’s interest was suddenly piqued. He pushed his drink aside and directed his attention towards the barkeep. “You say the king orders his spirits from you?”

    “Well, I have connections,” the man admitted with a flush. “My son has worked for the royal house as a servant for the past…oh, must have been three years now. He does all sorts of odd jobs, but he mostly works in the kitchens, see?”

    “Really now?” Wilagastiz had started giving the innkeeper his undivided attention. “So he must help prepare a lot of the food for the royal family?”

    “Indeed he does, sir.” The man cheerfully extended a platter of venison. “Sure you don’t want to put some meat on those bones?”

    “I’m surprised he still works in the royal kitchens,” Wilagastiz continued undaunted. “Typically, when a new king takes up the throne, he changes out the kitchen staff – to prevent any unfortunate confusion of loyalties.”

    “Well, my son was already familiar with King Hlewagastiz, you see.” The man made the comment as offhandedly as he could, but to a trained ear his discomfort was obvious.

    The spy could sense himself working towards a revelation. He excitedly redoubled his efforts. “How so?”

    The other scratched the back of his neck uneasily. “Well, he did some special requests for him…”

    “Of what kind?”

    The innkeeper backed up and made to leave, clearly pained by his silence. “It’s not really a topic worthy of discussion. I’ll just leave you to your drink-“

    “Wait!” With lightening speed the agent grabbed the man’s hand and pulled him back. Not pausing to explain himself, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a single, square piece of solid amber. He tossed the priceless material onto the table as if it were a pebble. “Of what kind,” he repeated smoothly.

    A pudgy hand crawled across the tabletop like a spider, snatching the cube with unexpected dexterity. Poison, the man mouthed, his eyes darting fearfully back and forth.

    Wilagastiz froze and leaned in closer. “Are you sure?” he whispered.

    The other’s head bobbed timidly up and down, his face as cold and white as the snow swirling in the air outside. Having had his fill for conspiratorial nonsense, he quickly took his platter of meats and scurried off to another table.

    “Poison,” the spy repeated to himself, staring moodily into the bottom of his drink. He tried the word a couple more times, feeling the burdensome weight that it carried on the tip of his tongue.

    Now this, he decided, was something worth reporting.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Cool the spy finds out about the poisoning and the Skandza start a war. Heruwulfaz will see his union yet, I'm sure. Skandza can't win and after they take Skandza nobody can win against Sweboz.
    1x From Fluvius Camillus for making him laugh.

  11. #11
    Near East TW Mod Leader Member Cute Wolf's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    In ancient Middle East, driving Assyrian war machines...
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    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    well, looks like my wolfy packs are mentioned...

    My Projects : * Near East Total War * Nusantara Total War * Assyria Total War *
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  12. #12

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cute Wolf
    well, looks like my wolfy packs are mentioned...
    I guess you're famous!

    Quote Originally Posted by CashMunny
    Cool the spy finds out about the poisoning and the Skandza start a war. Heruwulfaz will see his union yet, I'm sure. Skandza can't win and after they take Skandza nobody can win against Sweboz.
    Yep, it's not looking good for those 'tribal-rights advocates' out there.


    Chapter VI – Madness

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    A dozen sets of galloping hooves clapped discordantly against the soppy ground as king Heruwulfaz and his royal entourage went flying into the center of the camp. “Look alive!” the heralds cried as they tried to lead the party through the mob of onlookers. “Make way for his lordship the King!” The crowd of warriors instantly complied, practically mangling themselves as they tired to dive out of Heruwulfaz’s path. A train of servants rushed out to meet the honored guests, bearing with them the usual compliment of food and refreshments, but the king was in no mood this morning; he roughly shoved them all aside as he vaulted down from his horse.

    Nothing was more frustrating to a ruler than feeling as if events were out of his control. All of the reports Heruwulfaz had been given about the Skandza raid thus far were vague, incomprehensible, and often contradictory; all he could be certain of at this point was that something had happened, and it had been serious enough that his lieutenants had specifically requested his presence up north. It had taken much longer than he would have liked; affairs back home had required his attention and winter blizzards had blocked much of the roadways, but at long last Heruwulfaz had arrived in Kimbroz. The soldiers, having endured a long and uncertain winter, were overjoyed to have their king with them again, but the king was not prepared to return their excitement.

    The grass was soft and yielding from last night’s rainstorm, and the king found himself practically wading the journey between his horse and the commander’s tent. Right at his side, splashing determinedly through each and every puddle, was his young son Harjawulfaz. In appearance, the lad was the spitting image of his father, with the same flowing hair and stern countenance that had made Heruwulfaz so intimidating in combat. When it came to attitude, however, the two could not possibly have been more different; whereas his father was serious and focused, Harjawulfaz was carefree and irresponsible, constantly neglecting his studies and spending all his time on leisure and sport. A few years ago, Heruwulfaz might have blamed it all on youthful ignorance, but Harjawulfaz was going on fourteen now – he needed to start preparing for the demands of manhood.

    The commander’s tent looked like it had seen better days; standing in a pit of mud and sludge it was a wonder the wretched thing was still standing at all. With the royal party having finally reached its destination, Heruwulfaz laid a hand on his son’s shoulder and lifted the tent flap. “You wait outside,” he insisted as he stooped down to enter. “I shouldn’t take too long.”

    As soon as the king was inside, all of the mud seemed to vanish, giving way to a single, miraculous patch of solid ground; an island of dryness in the middle of a swampy sea. In the middle of this oasis had been placed a single wooden table, around which a cadre of four men sat in waiting. One of them Heruwulfaz recognized as being Theudanaz, the chief of the Kimbroz; on his left sat the commander of his host, and the other two he could only guess at, for now.

    “Ah, my king!” the captain cried, leaping respectfully to his feet. “I am so very glad to see you answered my summons – for a while I was afraid you were not coming!” he added genially.

    “There were some delays,” Heruwulfaz said flatly as he found himself a seat, “but I came as soon as I possibly could. Now,” he began with a sigh, “I would very much appreciate a full explanation of what’s happened here.”

    “My messengers did not explain it to you?” the captain inquired anxiously, clearly less than thrilled at the prospect of answering for himself.

    “Not very well,” the king responded humorlessly, sensing his subordinate’s unease. “I was only told that an incident had occurred and I should come to Kimbroz as soon as possible.”

    The captain clicked his tongue thoughtfully. “I see then.” He reclined in his chair and sighed with resignation befitting a condemned criminal. “To be quite blunt, your lordship, we were attacked; raided, to be more specific – by warriors from Skandza, to be even more specific.”

    Heruwulfaz bore into his commander with an icy glare. The other two men, sensing imminent danger, suddenly become incredibly fascinated by the woodwork on the table. The king made an impatient noise in his throat. “Go on.”

    “There is a village,” the captain explained, “or there was a village, anyway, that served as a crossing point for ferries between the lands of Kimbroz and the two islands claimed by the King of Skandza. A few months ago, in the last throes of winter, the village was torched to the ground by mounted raiders from Skandza. Only a handful of villagers survived the attack, and almost all of them were driven mad by what they endured.” The captain turned his eyes apologetically towards the ground. “We’ve been preparing for an invasion from them ever since.”

    The king’s whole body seemed to sag with fatigue as he absorbed the dire news. As usual his worries seemed to come in waves, piling up in heaps whenever they were least welcome. Another war would mean ever more deaths; more deaths would mean fewer farmhands in the spring. Fewer farmers meant stagnation and poverty. “Tell me truly,” Heruwulfaz demanded, his face as solemn as a sheet of stone, “are you absolutely certain that it was the Skandza who did this?”

    The captain quickly threw up his hands in defense. “I can only report as I have been told, your lordship. This man,” he explained with a nod towards the warrior on his left, “is the one who told me that the raiders were Skandzan.”

    Heruwulfaz shifted to face the soldier in question, and for a few moments the two merely stared at one another in silence. The king could tell that this man was no excitable greenhorn; he bore on his face the scars of a career well fought, and his hair had clearly been cut many times for many kills. “You are the man? Tell me, what do they call you?”

    The warrior’s pockmarked face shone with the faintest hint of pride as he spoke. “My name is Okaz. I am of the proud and worthy Markamannoz, whose kin sit in your royal hall with you and pay you homage.”

    The smile on Heruwulfaz’s face indicated the soldier had answered correctly. “Then explain to me how you know the Skandza are the ones responsible for this atrocity within our borders – speak carefully,” the king added with a look of warning. “Your next words may decide the fate of an entire nation.”

    “I have lived long in this world and seen much of it,” Okaz answered calmly. “My travels have taken me to the furthest corners of the Northlands, and farther still. I know well the sacred symbols that the Skanza bear into battle; the icons of the Gods that they plaster onto their shields and paint upon their bodies. There can be no mistaking them,” he insisted darkly.

    Heruwulfaz chuckled a little to himself as he stared the old warrior down. “You certainly present me with an interesting dilemma, Okaz. You have no hard facts on your side, nor do you have any physical evidence to support your case. It is simply your word against the word of King Hlewagastiz, who will almost surely deny any involvement in this attack.”

    “I am a man of honor and experience,” Okaz said simply. “I assure you that both are present in my assessment. The raid was the work of the Skandza – I would swear on it.”

    Chief Theudanaz suddenly cleared his throat. “For what it is worth, great king, I am convinced that this man is telling the truth. One of my own warriors, who was present when the raiders were encountered, corroborates the report. The Skandza have been sending messengers to try and intimidate me for months now,” he added darkly. “I am not at all surprised that they attacked.”

    The king bent across the table, locking his eyes with Okaz’s as the two engaged in a silent duel of wills. This Okaz certainly appeared to know what he was talking about; his tongue was sharp and his explanation sounded genuine. More importantly than that, he seemed to have a certain air about him that suggested he was a man of integrity and honor. Logic was on his side, given that there was no other group large or well organized enough to carry out a raid like this, at least not this far north. The fact that the raiders had specifically struck a key crossing point into Skandza also seemed to lend credence to Okaz’s words. Surely wars had been started on flimsier pretenses than this?

    “Okaz,” Heruwulfaz sighed at last, “if you are lying, I can only pray that the Gods are merciless in their torment.” The grin in his eyes betrayed the king’s good humor.

    “And if I am wrong,” the other laughed, “I will gladly bear it.”

    The fourth man at the table abruptly coughed, eliciting surprised stares from the others, who had quite nearly forgotten his presence. “Pardon me, my king,” the man hissed, “but it would be remiss of me not to deliver my report to you while I have the chance.”

    Heruwulfaz regarded the other with a confused stare, squinting as if he were trying to identify an old friend that he could barely remember. A few seconds of intense thought passed, until finally he leaped forward in his seat with an excited smile. “Wilagastiz,” he cried, “it really is you! You took so long to return – I’d just about forgotten!”

    In Heruwulfaz’s defense, there was little about Wilagastiz that looked the same as when he had left. His usually well-kept moustache was gone, replaced by an entangled, dirty mess that might, in some circles, pass as a beard. His hair had been left to grow to freakish length, obscuring his face and neck to the point of comedy. Only his voice remained unchanged, flowing from his mouth in smooth, silky tones.

    “I only just returned to Sweboz lands,” the spy explained, idly twisting a finger through the longs strands of hair on his chin. “I assure you my time in Skanza was well spent.”

    “Tell me quickly, then,” the king insisted. “I have a lot of matters to attend to, it would seem.”

    “As you wish. King Ulfilaz’s sickness was not natural, it was poison,” Wilagastiz blurted casually. “Hlewagastiz had one of the kitchen servants slip quicksilver into the nightly meals. It is amazing he survived as long as he did.”

    Heruwulfaz kept an impassive visage, but inside he was reeling. This revelation, although entirely unexpected, could be used to his significant advantage if he played it correctly. Blackmail probably wouldn’t work, but there were more practical uses as well. “Did Ulfilaz know, do you think?”

    “It’s possible,” the spy conceded, “but I doubt it. I believe Ulfilaz would have ousted his son if he seriously thought he was being betrayed.”

    “He never was one to be sentimental,” Heruwulfaz agreed. With some amount of groaning, the king pushed himself to his feet. “I thank you for your loyalty, Wilagastiz. You are dismissed until I have need of your services again.”

    Heruwulfaz waited as the spy made his way out of the tent, mumbling and grumbling all the while. A sharp blast of wind carried through the enclosure as he left, sending the king’s skin crawling; whatever happened, it was going to be a cold spring.

    “You said that you’ve been preparing to counter an invasion,” Heruwulfaz resumed with a sign, “how prepared are you to launch an invasion?”

    “I should think there wouldn’t be any problems,” the captain shrugged. “Our stores are full, the men are eager for some action, and we can easily requisition some ferry boats from the nearby villages.”

    “I am prepared to furnish additional supplies on your orders,” Theudanaz interjected. “Toppling the rule of this Hlewagastiz would be a great service for the people of Kimbroz.”

    Heruwulfaz nodded his appreciation. “Then we must get to work. There are a lot of tiny details that still need to be hammered out.”

    “I’ll take a full inventory of all our assets,” the captain promised, “and send it right along to Swebotraustasamnoz as soon as I have it.”

    “No need,” the king retorted, standing restlessly from his chair. “It is my intention to lead this invasion in person.”

    The captain sat frozen in stupefaction for a second, before quickly bowing his head in humility. “It is an honor, my king. I will carry out your every order.”

    Heruwulfaz turned to go, trailing his words loudly behind him. “Then let fall the wrath of Sweboz.”


    “You have damned yourself and your entire nation with this fool’s errand!” the nobleman shouted, pacing feverishly back and forth across the hall. “Your idiotic war games will be the death of us all!”

    Hlewagastiz raised an impatient hand, but the man continued his rant unabated. Incensed by this defiance, the king smashed his fist against the side of his throne with a bang. “That is enough!”

    All noise in the room fell dead in an instant, leaving Hlewagastiz’s furious scream to echo ominously against the high walls. Every man turned his eyes toward the enraged king, watching his every move with a strange mixture of fear and wonderment. A few brave lords began to inch towards the door, but soon thought better of it. They were resolved to try and prevail through reason.

    Hlewagastiz looked at each man with a glare of utter contempt, his whole body heaving with the force of his furious breaths. He looked quite ill standing there, his face flushed and his eyes jerking aimlessly in his head like those of a maniac. The king’s hand shot to the hilt of his dagger, and the crowd released an astonished cry as Hlewagastiz tore the implement from its sheath and tossed it harmlessly to the floor.

    “Do not call me a madman,” he panted, leering at his guests as if to dare them to speak. “It is you who are the madmen, not I!”

    “Your lordship,” one of the men protested, his voice stuttering meekly from his throat, “we do not think that you are mad…we simply question the necessity of this war with the Sweboz-“

    Hlewagastiz was in the man’s face before anyone knew what had happened. “What’s there to question?” he hissed, advancing on the hapless lord until he was practically pinned to the wall. “This is not some petty contest I engaged in for my amusement – this is not,” he bellowed as he rounded on the others, “a fool’s errand! This is a war for our survival!”

    “It is now!” one of the guests dared to interject. “All the tribes of the Sweboz gather to annihilate us because of your impetuousness!”

    The king spun around in a flash, affixing the man who had spoken with a murderous glare. “My impetuousness? My impetuousness!” The crowd looked on in horror as Hlewagastiz was consumed by a fit of hysterical laughter. “This Heruwulfaz claims to speak for all the tribes of the Northlands – has the gall,” he shouted as he was suddenly consumed by rage once again, “to invade and brutalize his neighbors as he pleases, and you presume to criticize my impetuousness?”

    “What the Sweboz do is their own business,” another lord protested, finding strength in numbers. “This unprovoked raid of yours has merely given them pretense to annex us!”

    Unprovoked!?” Hlewgastiz shouted in exasperation. “What did the Rugoz and the Kimbroz ever do to provoke their assimilation! What more justification do I need than the defense of the old ways!?”

    “The Rugoz spent years raiding and tormenting the Sweboz!” one man objected. “The Kimbroz were willingly added to the Confederacy at the behest of their Chief and their Thing!”

    Hlewgastiz snorted and cast a dismissive hand. “Are we really so foolish as to believe that pathetic lie?”

    “Are we really so foolish as to believe yours?”

    The king lumbered around like a wounded animal, trying to identify and intimidate each of his challengers. He was beginning to feel the first pangs of helplessness as the mood in the crowd slowly began to turn against his favor. His chance of winning their support back with another lofty and rhetorical speech was slim – so be it! If they would not cooperate with his court, he would push them out of it!

    “You have the courage of old, feeble women,” Hlewagastix spat, “and the brains to match. Your tongues are as black and as dull as lead.” He struggled for further oaths, but none came; he settled for a final disgusted sneer. “Be gone from my home,” he commanded, “and do not return unless I bid you.”

    The king made for his private chamber in long, confidant strides; despite minor setbacks and annoyances, he had never felt more secure than he did now. It was only a matter of time before his subjects recognized his greatness; the nobility of what he was trying to accomplish. Heruwulfaz only knew how to destroy; his empire was built through force of arms and held together only by the weight of his personality. Hlewgastiz knew he actually stood for something. He was a paragon of the old ways of doing things, the same ways that had made the Northlands great to begin with.

    He was certain history would judge him kindly.


    “Okay, good! Now try this one: allos.”

    Hagaradaz listened to the new word, curiously rolling it around on his tongue. “Allos,” he slowly parroted back. “You said that ‘allos’ means ‘two’, right?”

    Berdic smiled at his master’s success. “Indeed it does; and the word for ‘three’ is ‘tritios’,” he explained slowly.

    The diplomat nodded and ran the word through his head a couple of times, willing himself to commit it to memory. He found he had something of a talent for learning new languages, which was fortunate because he would be needing them sooner rather than later. Already his scout reported that the might western river was less than an hour’s journey away; on the other side of its raging banks was the land of the city-dwelling Walhoz, men who did not make use of the Northland language, among other things.

    The Sweboz had a murky and contentious relationship with the tribes of the Walhoz, and even the oldest and wisest men could scarcely remember a time when peace had existed between them. Both peoples accused the other of raiding and harassing their lands; both groups looked upon the ways and customs of the other with disdain, insisting that they way they did things was right. King Heruwulfaz, in his wisdom, had resolved that this relationship must change; and Hagaradaz was instructed to make it happen.

    As they beat their way down the rural trail, the envoy chanced a sidelong glance at the translator-slave he had been given; the young man named Berdic. It was still very early in what Hagardaz knew would be a very long journey, but he had already found the foreigner to be polite, personable, and intelligent. He would doubtless do well in his official role as interpreter, but Hagaradaz had a sneaking suspicion that he would find ways to be useful in other matters as well.

    His status as a slave gave Hagaradaz a degree of pause, and complicated matters somewhat. It was in the diplomat’s nature to treat Berdic as well as he would any other man; as far as he was concerned, slaves were a thing to be pitied, not exploited. Even so, he wondered what the man must have thought about the prospect of a worldwide journey – a journey from which he might never return, depending on how large the world of men turned out to be. Certainly Hagaradaz had chosen to make the trek by his own free will and his respect for the king, but what about slaves like Berdic? Having already been dragged from his home once, did the boy feel anything now?

    “We have traveled together for some days now,” Hagaradaz began suddenly, “and I still know as little about you now as I did when we began.” He paused for a moment, deciding if he ought to ask or not. “Tell me – how did you wind up here, consigned to travel to the ends of the earth with a windbag like me?”

    Berdic laughed, blushing a little at the question – or perhaps it was simply the heat. “It’s nothing exciting, if that’s what you were hoping. No heroic last stands or anything like that.”

    The diplomat smiled warmly. “Well go ahead, then. I’m sure it must be a little bit interesting.”

    “My tribe,” the slave began, “the Arverni, have been at war with a group of tribes called the Aedui for many years now. My parents were farmers, working the countryside outside of an oppida called Vesontio – they barely every scraped together enough food to keep us all fed.”

    Berdic shrugged moodily as he continued. “One day, an Aedui war-party came through our land – on their way to the city, probably, I don’t know. I was out playing in a field with my brother; we used to pretend we were warriors. I had pretended to kill my brother,” he explained, “so he dropped down into the grass and just sort of lay there. When the Aedui came through, they only saw me.”

    “I walked forward a little bit,” he explained as he walked his fingers though the air, “so that they wouldn’t get close enough to my brother to notice him. There were a couple of them – just grunts, paupers with spears really. I think some of them wanted to kill me, but there was this one man who suggested they just bring me back to their camp.”

    “You didn’t do anything?” Hagaradaz asked in shock.

    Berdic shrugged defensively. “What was I supposed to do against half a dozen men with weapons? They were either going to kill me or they weren’t – nothing I could do about it.”

    Hagaradaz nodded gently and tried to smile. “I’m sorry – go ahead.”

    “They took me back to their camp,” Berdic explained, “where they showed me to their commander.” The slave chuckled to himself, “he was furious!”

    “Why would he be mad?”

    Still laughing, the slave shrugged and threw up his hands. “I think he was trying to cultivate the good favor of my people – he wanted to walk into the city without any unrest; kidnapping kids doesn’t exactly help with that. He also probably thought I was useless – too small to carry equipment or do camp work.”

    “So what happened, then?”

    “One of the war-chiefs retainers – one of the brinhetin – said he would look after me during the campaign. I guess he was just a nice guy, or maybe he saw potential in me, I don’t know.”

    Berdic sighed, finding his own life to be exceptionally tedious. “His name was Tancogeistla, and he was the greatest man I’ve ever met. He made me everything I am, and taught me everything I know.” The slave’s eyes could be seen to glisten as he recounted memories of his patron. “Over the next few months, he taught me how to read and write – the most valuable thing I think I’ve ever been given. He talked to me about philosophy, theology, and politics. He even tried to teach me how to fight, although I was never very good at it. Eventually, the Arverni blocked the Aedui advance, and we turned around and traveled back into the land of my master.”

    The slave suddenly paused, sitting on the back of his horse with unnatural rigidity. Hagaradaz sensed the story reaching its inevitable turning point. “And then what happened?” the diplomat prodded.

    “He died,” Berdic spat, his voice bitter and resentful. “And his son, a man named Meriadoc, inherited me as his property. Things happened quickly after that; Meriadoc couldn’t find any practical use for me, so he sold me to the first buyer he could find: a group of traders from Habukoz. After a brief stint as a servant, I was gifted to King Heruwulfaz,” he explained, “who used me as a translator.”

    The party had since reached the famous western river, which seemed to sparkle and shine in the intense light of sunset. Some of the servants grabbed tools and set off to find wood for a barge, though there was no chance of fording the river before nightfall. Hagardaz laid a sympathetic hand on his companion’s back. “Perhaps you will find our adventure to be a little more exciting,” he teased.

    “Yes,” Berdic sighed as he unrolled the tent. “Perhaps.”

  13. #13

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter VII – Turncoats

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The Kingdom of Skandza was even more wretched and inhospitable than Heruwulfaz had imagined. It was late in spring by now, but the air was still perpetually cold and crisp here; it seemed that no matter where they were or where they were facing there was always a fresh windstorm or rain shower to rail against them. The very earth on which they marched seemed cruel and alien; massive rocks and boulders lay impaled in the ground like dagger points, causing the warriors to cheer with delight at even the most miserable of flora along the path. It seemed as if they had been traveling forever, and Heruwulfaz knew there was further still to go; before too long, their trail would take them over arduous mountains and through brooding forests.

    The host no longer marched so much as it shuffled, dragging their tired feet along the petrified surface of the trail. The sudden disillusionment of his host frustrated Heruwulfaz, but he had to concede that it was neither unexpected nor unreasonable. The king had badly misinterpreted his scouts’ reports of Skandza; when they claimed it was a desolate and unforgiving place, he had automatically assumed their assessment was colored by the natural ailments of winter. As it had turned out, this northerly kingdom was miserable whatever the season and whatever the weather. The invasion wasn’t in jeopardy, of course; their armies still had plenty of food and supplies left to press the advance. The dent in the morale was dangerous in its own way, however, and against a professional army like that of Skandza, any handicaps at all could prove to be fatal.

    “I have traveled far in my time,” Okaz mused as he sloshed undaunted through a group of puddles, “but I don’t think I’ve ever been this far north before in my life. I had planned a trip once, but a trader in Kimbroz talked me down – said this place was an armpit. Turns out he was right.”

    Heruwulfaz gave the man a distracted laugh. “It is a wonder that the people of this land survive at all, let alone build a state all to themselves. King Ulfilaz must have been a great ruler to be able to turn nothing into something.”

    “He was tougher and crueler man than all his subjects combined,” Okaz agreed through tired breaths. “They say the reason he built his capitol so far north was to make sure petitioners would literally shiver when they came before him.”

    “And now this ‘Hlewagastiz’ sits on the throne,” Heruwulfaz sighed darkly. “He is a dangerous character – all the tyranny and brutality of his father, without any of the same talent for rule. Little news comes out of Skandza anymore, but I doubt the people are happy under his rule.”

    Okaz shrugged. “The common people are unlikely to have strong feelings in the matter – I’m sure their lives are little different now from what they were before. They will not hinder our conquest, but I doubt they will take up arms alongside us either. No, I believe it is the Skandzan nobility who are of genuine political concern.”

    Heruwulfaz would be the first to admit he still had much to learn about politics, but he was still surprised to find himself being corrected by a rank and file soldier. “How do you figure, then?” he asked curiously.

    “I know little of Skandza, but I am sure their kingship system is the same as any other,” Okaz explained. “Hlewagastiz relies upon his lords and vassals for political and military support. In return, he is supposed to provide them with skilled leadership, and fairly distribute the wealth taken from his enemies. So far as I can tell, Hlewagastiz is not a skilled ruler, and has only succeeded in entangling his kingdom in a war it cannot win. Now if you were an earl, and your king was trying to drag you into oblivion with him on a foolish suicide mission, what would you do?”

    “You have a point,” Heruwulfaz mused in an attempt to sound competently informed. “King Hlewagastiz has indeed greatly wronged the laws, and left others to pay for it. My agent, Wilagastiz, was not well received with the Skandzan king, but he did manage to deduce some points of interest.”

    Okaz nodded grimly, “yes, I heard about how he poisoned his father. An unforgiveable crime, that.”

    “Not only his parricide,” Heruwulfaz interjected, “but other things of concern as well. I’m told that he has been behaving madly in court; launching into furious rants at the slightest provocation, and then bursting into laughter or tears in the same breath. I’ve even heard he eats alone and won’t touch his food until it’s been thoroughly tested.”

    Okaz snickered, “he fears he will suffer the fate of his father, no doubt – that figures. Blood has a funny way of getting stuck to a man’s hands.”

    Their advance began to take them up a large hill, covered in a deadly array of loose gravel and stones. The dirt road they had been following wavered and tapered off into nothingness, taking with it the last lingering feelings of comfort and security. For the first time since they had crossed the sea, Heruwulfaz realized the gravity of their situation; trapped, as they were, deep in hostile territory.

    “Let’s keep moving,” the king urged anxiously. “We’ll want to get these rocks as quickly as possible.” In a single motion he snatched a horn and began to gallop towards the front of the column. “We’re not stopping – not yet, anyway! Sound the advance again!”


    Heruwulfaz turned around in vague surprise, finding himself staring right into the eyes of his son Harjawulfaz. The boy was fidgeting uncontrollably on his horse, sucking air through his teeth as if were in pain. Okaz, late as usual, was still lingering in the rear.

    “Can it wait, son?” the king insisted as he gestured toward the advancing host. “I don’t want to spend too long here.”

    “Father, I’m tired!” Harjawulfaz whined petulantly. “We’ve been on the march since before sunrise – can’t we stop for just a little while!?”

    Heruwulfaz clicked his tongue impatiently and rolled his eyes. “No, we can’t stop. We need to get out of here before any of Hlewagastiz’s scouts discover us.”

    The boy crossed his arms and sulked, trying to wear down his father as he had done with a thousand royal servants in his time. If he could have, he might very well have dug his feet into the dirt. “I don’t want to go any further! I want to rest!”

    With dizzying speed, the king snatched the reins of his son’s horse and yanked the beast forward, nearly knocking Harjawulfaz off in the process. “Well that’s too bad,” he seethed through gritted teeth. “Because you’re either coming, or you’re getting left behind. I know your mother’s always been there to keep you from doing anything, but its high time you-“

    “They’re here!”

    Terrified cries began to reverberate along the length of the column; proud warriors began to scream and panic in a disturbing display of child-like terror. Heruwulfaz, thoroughly confused, began to force his way through the mob, searching for somebody who could explain the sudden outburst. By chance, his eye happened upon the warrior Okaz; with impressive precision, the king shot out a hand and grabbed the man by the hair.

    “Okaz!” he bellowed, paying no heed to the warrior’s discomfort, “what in the name of Wodan is going on here!?”

    “Gods preserve us,” the man swore as he wriggled himself free. “It’s the Skandza – a whole arm of them. One of our advanced scouts spotted them just ahead.” His voice was calm and even, and marked only by the defeated tones of reluctant acceptance.

    Then, as if cued by some hack playwright, they appeared. It was impossible to make out any specific details at this distance, but there could be no mistaking their numbers. Their host stretched across the hilltop in a perfect line; each warrior standing shoulder-to-shoulder like conquering heroes on parade. Indeed, so complete was their surprise and so perfect their timing that they were doubtless already imagining the glory that awaited them back home. Heruwulfaz drew his sword and steeled himself for a charge.

    Torturous moments passed, and yet the Skandza still made no move to advance upon their prey. Terror quickly turned to confusion, and then intrigue as the Sweboz began to cease their hysterical antics. What could they possibly be waiting for? Their advantage was slipping away from them by the second; Heruwulfaz’s quartermaster was already hastily handing-out weapons and armor to their warriors. All eyes were tightly glued to the ridge, but for nothing.

    Suddenly, there was movement; dust kicked up into the air as a small group of horsemen began to slowly descend down the hill. At once the Sweboz were back at arms, nervously gripping their weapons and awaiting the order to strike. Their numbers were large enough that they could have easily cut down the entire party at a whim; still, something about their peaceful approach convinced Heruwulfaz to hold his attack. “Stand down!” he ordered, as confidently as he could manage. “These men aren’t a threat.”

    The wall of armed Sweboz reluctantly parted way for the riders, holding their shields out in front of them as if to form a human corridor to their king. Heruwulfaz, trusting his gut instincts, nudged his horse and rode out to meet his unusual guests. Quickly, as if an afterthought, he swung around and motioned to Okaz. “Come,” he dictated. If he was going to speak with his enemies, he certainly wasn’t going to do it unguarded.

    A single figure on horseback advanced from the rest of the group, tucking his ornate helmet casually beneath his armpit. It took only a second of observation to conclude that this man was a nobleman of some kind. His hair and beard were impeccably well-groomed, and the coat of chain-mail around his chest clearly implied significant wealth. The lord slowly dropped a hand to his waist, and for a tense moment Heruwulfaz anticipated an attack, but to his relief the Skandzan merely drooped forward into a bow.

    “Hail to you, Heruwulfaz, great king of all the tribes of the Sweboz!” he greeted with an easy smile.

    “Hail to you as well,” Heruwulfaz returned cautiously. “Although I must say this is not quite the greeting I would have expected.”

    The Skandzan laughed, “Indeed! I’m afraid that our ‘noble’ king has had an unfortunate propensity towards killing his guests!”

    Excitement suddenly began to bubble in the king’s gut. “Then you do not stand with Hlewagastiz?”

    The other threw his head back and scoffed, “surely not – unless I should find myself standing atop his corpse! Though even that would be too good a fate for a cur like him.”

    Heruwulfaz began to grin stupidly. “And these warriors you have brought? They are with you?”

    “They are with us,” the nobleman corrected with a nod toward his comrades. “We represent those who still have the honor to stand against tyranny when it rears its head.”

    By now the king was positively beaming. “What is your name, friend?”

    “They call me Fruhijaz, and I like it well enough. My brothers and I brought our loyal warriors to the field as soon as we heard you were here. Hlewagastiz believes we intend to drive you from the field, but I have slightly different plans in mind.”

    “Indeed,” Heruwulfaz grinned, “and now that you are here, I have a plan of my own. A plan to give even more men the courage to stand against tyranny.”

    Fruhijaz crossed his arms expectantly. “And what plan is that?”

    “Bear this news back to the court of your despot,” Heruwulfaz said simply. “His throne has been most dishonorably taken. King Ulfilaz did not contract the plague – it was poison.”


    “I am sorry for the meager accommodations,” Hrabnaz began as he aimlessly poked at the raging fire in the hearth. “I know you have traveled a long way to get here.”

    Hrabnaz’s mysterious guest put on a tight smile as he seated himself, keeping his cloak firmly wrapped around his person. “I find your hall to be more than comfortable, noble lord. Besides,” he added as a subtle glint streaked through his eye, “I am very eager to speak with you at last.”

    “Before we speak,” Hrabnaz sighed as he tried to make himself comfortable, “I must insist that I know your name – for your sake as much as mine.”

    The other touched a modest hand to his chest. “I am Gloaugiz, of the Habukoz – and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, lord Hrabnaz,” he smiled.

    “Likewise,” Hrabnaz returned, with somewhat underwhelming emotion. “Well then, lord Gloaugiz, I understand you had something of a proposal?”

    The other seemed glad to finally get down to business. He put aside his cup and straightened himself. “Indeed I do, lord Hrabnaz; and I know you are a busy man, so I shall speak quickly.”

    Gloaugiz sighed and cracked his joints, clearly struggling against the heavy pull of sleep. Hrabnaz could feel it too; the lateness of the hour, combined with the sedating influences of food and drink, made it hard to stay awake. “Go ahead.”

    “Lord Hrabnaz,” the other began thoughtfully, “how is it that you came to find yourself here, in Rugoz?”

    The lord shrugged indecisively, “I don’t know. King Heruwulfaz offered me the office of governor, so I took it, I guess.” His voice trailed off, a weakness he tried to mask with a hoarse cough.

    “I see….and how do you like this office?” Gloaugiz pressed. “Does being a governor interest you at all?”

    “Well it’s better than fighting raiders in a swamp,” Hrabnaz said a little helplessly.

    “Perhaps – but that’s no different then saying one broken tooth is better than two; it’s terrible in either case.”

    Hrabnaz crossed his arms and stared at his guest for a moment, trying to get a reading on him. A visit from a fellow lord was innocuous by itself, but there was something suspicious about this man that Hrabnaz couldn’t quite pin down. “So, you’re comparing being a governor to breaking a tooth?”

    Gloaugiz smiled humorlessly, “governor of Rugoz, at least. I would sooner be a poor farmer, tilling the earth with my bare hands, than try to bring good governance to this place,” he said with a dismissive wave.

    “It’s not that bad,” Hrabnaz tried, but it was obvious he did not believe his own words.

    “Seems pretty bad to me,” the other remarked. “You spend years loyally defending your countrymen from raiders – often without enough food or supplies for your forces. You were called home, but then what? Your brother Heruwulfaz feared your new-found fame – you were a threat to him! So, what did he do? He pushed you the sidelines; he condemned you to waste away here, on the easternmost edge of the world, governing a tribe that was once the sworn enemy of your kin!”

    “Things have changed!” Hrabnaz protested, but his voice caught in his throat.

    “Indeed – and they have left you behind, Hrabnaz. You are well on your way to being forgotten by history.”

    “And you,” Hrabnaz began cautiously, “you can stop that from happening?”

    “I believe so.”

  14. #14

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter VIII – The Fall of Hlewagastiz

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    “We’re still trying to compile all of the reports,” the lieutenant cautioned uncomfortably, “but there are a few facts of which we may be certain. Most of them, admittedly, are not good.”

    A cruel snicker hissed from Hlewagastiz’s lips as he beheld his terrified subordinate, leering at the soldier with the same disdainful revulsion one might give to a feral mutt, or a blood-sucking insect. Ashamed and helpless, the lieutenant hung his head and cringed, leaving his king to slobber noisily from his goblet.

    “Of course the news is bad!” Hlewagastiz roared, carelessly splattering drops of mead into his unkempt beard. “You incompetent fools haven’t brought me good news in months! Always the same pathetic failures – always the same pathetic excuses!” The king’s fury reached a climax as he pounded his fist rowdily against the arm of his throne.

    “My…my deepest apologies King,” the lieutenant stuttered, his anxiety growing worse with each passing moment. “I was merely passing on the scouts’ initial reports, as you ordered. I did not mean to offend you, my lord.”

    Hlewagastiz returned with a disgusted snort, but for the time being his barrage of insults was stopped. He abruptly became quite sober, slouching deep into his seat as his face became heavy with weariness and depression. Once more he began to bring his cup to lips, as if to rejuvenate himself with its power, only to toss it away at the last minute, its contents sinking into the aging rushes.

    “Should I…fetch another cup for you?” the soldier began, but there was clearly no point. Hlewagastiz was beyond all forms of reason and human understanding by this point; he seemed to exist in an alternative reality, or perhaps saw things that nobody else could see. The king thought that made him rather unique, although most others would venture to replace ‘unique’ with ‘strange’. The lieutenant wasn’t even sure if his words were getting through anymore; at the moment Hlewagastiz was slumped catatonically in his throne, staring off into space.

    “Behold how easily evil triumphs,” the king mumbled, still intently gazing at empty air, “when no man is willing to rise against it. Heruwulfaz will rule over the whole of the world, and all my efforts – all my tormented, sleepless nights – will be as if for nothing.” His voice was faint, and laden with terrible sadness.

    The lieutenant watched his lord uneasily, torn between his desire to flee and his fear of reprisal. Hlewgastiz hadn’t spoken sense in a very long time now, but there was at least one thing on which the two men were agreed: Heruwulfaz would win the imminent battle. His host was the bolder, the better trained, and the better motivated. He was a brilliant and accomplished young man, while Hlewagastiz was little more than an animated corpse, stumbling comatose through the motions of mortal society while his mind was lost somewhere far away. A competent and energetic ruler could have still snatched a victory for the remaining forces of Skandza. Hlewagastiz was not endowed with either of those qualities.

    The Skandzan king slowly managed to rise to his feet, his eyes still locked eerily into space. For a few moments he tottered limply about like a marionette, trying silently to find his balance. In all his repertoire of mad and unnatural displays, this one was entirely unprecedented. His lieutenant stared longingly at the open door, trying to calculate his odds of escape on the fly.

    “If I must put my life on the line here,” Hlewagastiz declared with sudden clarity, “in defense of the Old Ways, I shall be glad to do so.” Having evidently found a renewed source of vigor, the king quickly strode over to his banquet table, which in recent times no longer played host to sumptuous food and drink, but instead a giant map of the Skandzan Kingdom, with crude wooden figures used to represent known detachments of soldiers from both sides.

    Hlewagastiz wasn’t entirely certain how to read the map, which was just as well given that he probably would have flown into a mad rage if he knew what it reported. A long, ominous line of figurines were arrayed in a semi-circle around the capitol, their pedestals carved with the insignia of the Sweboz Confederacy. Even more Sweboz armies were depicted crossing the great sea to the south. Amidst this vast horde, a single Skandzan soldier was placed over the capitol, defiantly baring his spear against the swarm of oncoming foes. At the very least, Hlewagastiz knew the events depicted on the map were bad; that was probably the reason why he had since given up on strategizing.

    “You said you had reports to present,” the king barked to his lieutenant as he sat himself down in front of the map. “I’d very much like to hear them now, if you don’t mind.”

    Hlewagastiz’s sudden transformation in mentality was almost too much for the poor soldier to comprehend; he struggled to remember what he was had wanted to say as he dashed over to his lord. “Yes – of course, my king. I just received word about King Heruwulfaz-“

    “He is on his way, then,” Hlewagastiz concluded darkly, pulling one of the Sweboz figurines further up towards the capitol.

    “Yes, my lord. His attack is imminent. When I came to warn you, my scouts estimated he was a little less than two hours away. That figure will be even less now; given the time you have dallied.” The soldier briefly cringed at his unintentional insult, fearfully of any provocation that might interrupt the king’s miraculous burst of sanity.

    “We don’t have much time left,” Hlewagastiz agreed with a sigh. “Tell me what else, quickly.”

    “As you will have possibly deduced,” the soldier continued, “Lord Fruhijaz did not turn back the Sweboz with the army you gave him.”

    “He was defeated?” Hlewgastiz said with mild shock. “I thought a warrior as capable as he would have been able to handle a few stubborn Sweboz.”

    The lieutenant spoke the next few words as if they scalded his tongue in passing. “My king, lord Fruhijaz was not defeated, per se. He actually has defected to the Sweboz.”

    A remarkable anomaly began to unfold on Hlewagastiz’s face; his features began to steadily cycle through the full range of human emotions as he gradually processed this latest revelation. Tiny blood vessels bulged and began to tremble as a strange choking noise bubbled from inside the king’s throat. Just when the terrified soldier thought his lord might burst into flames, Hlewagastiz began to relax again; he placed an exhausted hand over his eyes and exhaled. “This is unfortunate,” he observed rather unemotionally.

    “Others…have joined him as well, my liege.” The lieutenant decided it best to simply plow through the rest of his bad news all at once. “In fact, most of your noble lords have left the city to join Heruwulfaz in his camp. They have taken with them the better part of their loyal warriors – only your own personal troops, and those of the honorable Lord Gilogaz, remain to defend the crown.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “Why?” the king asked simply, barely keeping his voice even anymore. “Why have they who once applauded me and did me honor so quickly forsaken me for a foreign dog!?”

    “There have been rumors,” the soldier whispered, as if his own words terrified him, “baseless ones, I’m sure – which seem to suggest thatyou were responsible for your father’s death. I can only assume that your former vassals believe these rumors to be true.”

    “That’s absurd!” Hlewagastiz blurted, far too quickly and far too emphatically. He threw a conspiratorial glance over his shoulder. “My father died from illness – it was the plague, everybody knows that!”

    His lieutenant shrugged and threw up his hands helplessly. “I don’t know what to tell you, my king. All I know is that there have been stories going around that you poisoned your father, because you wanted to take up the throne for yourself.”

    In another instant Hlewagastiz was on his feet once again, towering over his subordinate in an indignant rage. “For myself!? No!” he insisted, almost pleadingly. “I did it to save our kingdom!”

    The lieutenant hastily motioned for the king to be silent, eyeing the doorways for signs of potential eavesdroppers. “Your majesty,” he pleaded, “I seriously recommend you not discuss this further.”

    “Be silent!” Hlewagastiz demanded, returning to his usual imperiousness. “If my memory must be tarnished by this fact, then if nothing else at least let it be the truth!” He spun around and began a frenzied pacing. “I loved my father dearly, but I love this kingdom more; and I cannot bear to see it fall into the hands of dirty foreigners and egg-headed reformers. I know that he would have understood.”

    “This is not the time for apologetics,” the soldier said kindly, but firmly. “If you believe that you did the right thing, then you must see your choices through to their conclusion.” He rapped his knuckles on the map between them. “The host of Hlewagastiz approaches rapidly, and our forces still await your orders for battle. If you still yet believe in the Old Ways, now is the time to prove it.”

    “I do,” Hlewagastiz insisted, as if he needed to convince himself of it, “and I will. Though odds are stacked against me – and though my enemies crowd around me like vultures – I will still fight to the last!”

    For the first time in many troubled weeks, the lieutenant felt himself grin. “Now that sounds more like the boast of a king.”


    War drums crashed, and the whole countryside for a mile around seemed to shake and tremble as the vast horde of Sweboz made ready for battle. The placid field on which they camped suddenly devolved into a chaotic cacophony of noises, sights, and smells as hundreds of men struggled to make themselves ready for the coming bloodbath. Some devoted their precious remaining time to bathing and hygiene, trying to at least look presentable before they cut down their foes. Others turned to games and rituals, in hopes that they might chase the possibility of death from their minds.

    It had been a long time since Okaz had ever felt nervous about a battle, and he certainly wasn’t going to start today. By now he had fought so many men in so many places that they all seemed to blur together, until Okaz could rarely ever tell who he was fighting, never mind where or why. Each one of the deadly encounters he was thrown into was little more than an exercise anymore; a round of mundane practice for his fighting skills. It was not a fun way to approach the job of a warrior, but at the very least he was good at it.

    For the moment, the old warrior lay motionlessly beneath the tattered rag he called a tent, taking deep breaths as the tantalizing smell of sizzling meat wafted through his head. Part of him – the baser, more animalistic part – hungered to arise and join in the lunchtime feast. A second later, and he had thought better of it however; as good as the food might taste now, it wouldn’t feel nearly as great in the heat of battle. Instead, Okaz grabbed his washrag and wet it again, polishing his weathered shield for the umpteenth time. Better to keep his thoughts on the coming battle.

    The harsh bleating of war-horns suddenly shot through the camp, rousing all the warriors to stand as they quickly sounded off the order to form up for battle. A strange sensation rippled uncomfortably through Okaz’s stomach; it took him a moment to realize he was excited, or possibly nervous. After such a long time spent in apathy, the emotion seemed to hit him wrong; it felt unnatural and unwanted. As he pushed away the flaps of his tent and his eyes feel naturally on the sprawling city ahead of him, the churning sensation only intensified further.

    [i]It is revenge[i], Okaz concluded as he gathered up his weapons and belongings. My body must know that vengeance is at hand.

    Yes, it made sense alright – and vengeance was something worth being excited over, after all. Surely any man would be anxious at the prospect of putting his nightmares to rest! Okaz had already suffered long enough for crimes that were not his own. He had thought subjugating the Rugoz would grant him peace, but if anything it only left him emptier; less human and more…warrior. Surely, this would be the end of it all; one final, heroic effort was all that was needed. Today, he was determined to win back his life; even if it had to come with a mountain of corpses.

    “Wait – Okaz! Before you go!”

    The old warrior turned in time to see his king galloping recklessly through the camp, at the same time clumsily trying to secure his helmet with his free hand. Moments like these, in which Herueulfaz’s youth and inexperience briefly surfaced from beneath the façade, did much to make the towering king seem more human.

    Okaz managed to suppress a snicker, and hid his smile by quickly dropping into a bow. “My king commands?”

    “I’m taking you off horseback for this one,” Heruwulfaz explained as he finally managed to fix his errant cheek flap. “One of Fruhijaz’s horses broke a shoe, and I don’t have time to get it replaced, so I’m going to give him yours.”

    Okaz was somewhat taken aback, but he obediently passed the reins of his steed to the king. “Where would have me then? With the duguntiz?”

    “Yes, I think that would be best.” There was an uncomfortable pause as the king lingered. “You don’t mind, do you? Honestly, it’ll probably be safer on the ground anyway.”

    Okaz seriously doubted that was true, but it was never a good idea to argue with one’s king. “Of course, my lord. I shall do as you wish, always.”

    “Come,” the king said kindly, “walk with me. The battle is about to begin, I think.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The two men finally began to make their way out of the camp, traveling with the rest of the stragglers toward the mob that had formed out in the field. Okaz grimly realized that it was smaller than the one he had seen last year fighting the Rugoz ; even with the reinforcements from the Skandzan turncoats, their forces numbered less than five-hundred. From the looks of it, Hlewagastiz’s personal troops numbered somewhere around six-hundred, most of which were milling about inside the confines of the village.

    “They outnumbered us,” Okaz observed, “but after everything that’s happened there might be some reason to question their morale. Do you have a plan?”

    Heruwulfaz nodded confidently. “Hlewagastiz has numbers, but his host is uniform in its construction – in particular, he has no archers or horsemen to speak of. I think we ought to sit at range and pelt them on their approach.”

    Okaz shrugged, “I have neither the authority nor the wisdom to pass judgment upon you, my king. I can only say that, personally, I believe your plan is sound.”

    The king chuckled modestly, “you waste too much effort on paying me respect, Okaz. If my kin are afraid to tell me their minds, how can I ever hope to succeed in my rule?”

    “I agree,” Okaz responded flatly, “but in this case rest assured that I have spoken truly.” He was feeling especially terse at the moment; the alien sensations were twisting about in his gut again.

    “Go,” Heruwulfaz finished, sensing his companion’s unease. “Find a spot in the battle-line – I’m going to sound the attack in a minute. And stay alive!” he added as he rode away, “that’s an order!”

    The warrior tightened the grip on his spear as he formed up, his king’s farewell echoing in his mind. “Stay alive,” he muttered sarcastically to himself. “I suppose I can do that.” A few of the warriors next to him tried to strike up a conversation, but the look on his face shot them down in an instant. Okaz had no time for childish banter; this was important.

    These moments in a battle were the worst ones of all, primarily because absolutely nothing was happening. Hlewagastiz’s army had deployed across from the Sweboz, banging drums and yelling out their boasts to anyone who would listen. Despite the gravity of the coming battle, they seemed to be largely at ease, almost to the point of being unprepared. They were probably waiting for Heruwulfaz and Hlewagastiz to speak, as was the traditional start to a battle in the Northlands. Traditionalists to the end, Okaz thought with a smirk. By his reckoning, they were about to receive a very rude awakening from their quixotic nostalgia.

    “Archers, advance!”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The warriors heeded Heruwulfaz’s call, as a band of the thinly-built skutjonez stepped out from the line and began to cross the field. The Skandzan army seemed to be puzzled by the maneuver; in their telescopic understanding on the world, they thought it unthinkable to begin battle without the preceding rituals. Fatally, they made no move to defend themselves or get to cover, standing totally exposed and totally unawares. From his spot in the frontlines, Okaz could barely contain his anticipation. Let’s see you try and escape this time.


    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    There was a momentary pause as the command was processed, and then an instant later the sky was darkened by a furious volley of arrows, whistling gleefully as they shot across the width of the clearing and into the hearts of their targets. Even from here, Okaz could make out the alarmed screams of the Skandza, angrily cursing their foes as death rained down upon them. The Sweboz, unmoved, fired off another salvo.

    “They are charging!” somebody shouted, and sure enough Okaz noticed that the Skandza had recuperated enough to mount a counter-charge. The whole lot of them swarmed across the field like a mighty human wave, screaming curses and swinging their weapons wildly in a blind rage. The archers began to pick them off a couple at a time, but the horde press on undaunted, vaulting the bodies of their fallen comrades with impressive dexterity.

    “This is it, brothers!” Okaz called to his kin on either side. The Sweboz archers quickly pulled back in the face of the oncoming swarm, and now there was nothing standing between Okaz and his righteous vengeance. He heard no orders given, but the petty formalities of command would not hold him back any longer. With a bestial roar he hurled himself towards the Skandza, his fellows charging in sync at his side.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Everything he had ever learned about combat flowed seamlessly through his mind; his limbs and body moved unbidden, reacting instinctively to the tide of the battle around him. Just as the two armies were closing together, Okaz felt himself jab out with his spear; a hard tremor reverberated up his arm as the metal point struck beneath the enemy’s exposed throat. A second later, another hapless victim had risen up to take his place; amused, Okaz bashed the young man in the face with his shield and ran him through at the midsection.

    He was no longer Okaz of the Markamannoz, a humble warrior from the southern borderlands. He was no longer a weary observer, struggling to right the wrongs he had been forced to bear witness to. He was a faceless warrior in a crowd of pathetic weaklings, mewling feebly as they were cut down by their betters. A sort of grisly dance began to unfold, as Okaz bounced between targets, buying himself time on one flank so he could focus on another. In time, his brothers in arms found themselves enraptured in the same energy, and together a bloody swathe was cut into the enemy formation.

    “The cavalry have come!”

    The sound of coherent human speech came as a corrosive shock to Okaz, who was suddenly totally alert and totally confused. “What are you talking about?” he panted to a comrade, as he and his enemy cautiously stared each other down.

    “Look!” the other cried, pointing a finger beyond the heads of the Skandza. “Our horsemen are charging!”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    A second later, all questions were answered as a thundering mass of horses smashed into the rear of the Skandzan lines, sending grown men flying like children’s dolls. A general panic overwhelmed the remaining enemies, and save a few courageous individuals, they tossed their weapons to the ground and began to run. Infuriated, Okaz tried to hunt down as many cowards as he could, but he had not realized just how exhausted he was. He was forced to watch as the rest disappeared into the settlement.

    “It is not yet time to rest,” a warrior cautioned, although he himself was gasping for breath. “More still are coming.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The next wave of enemies had indeed arrived, passing their disgraced kin as they charged down the path out of the city. Okaz gave the new arrivals a quick assessment; they seemed to be Hlewagastiz’s best and most loyal soldiers, given the quality of their equipment and the royal heraldry on their shields. Their arrival on the field meant that the hardest struggle was to come, but also one of the last. If the Sweboz would win now, they could win the whole battle for sure.

    Something bright and shiny suddenly flashed at the corner of Okaz’s vision, and he turned wincingly to look into the face of Heruwulfaz, bright red and covered in grime and sweat. The warrior quickly lurched into a bow. “Hail, great king. You look well.”

    Heruwulfaz laughed happily, “better than I have been in a long time, my friend! I trust things went as well in the center as they did on the left?”

    Okaz nodded towards the Skandzan warriors forming up, “well we have them down to their veterans, for what that’s worth.”

    “Then what do you say we finish them off?” As he spoke, the king drew his sword once more, crusty patches of blood still clinging to the tip. With theatrical flourish, he pointed the blade high into the air, causing the metal to shine in the heat of the sun. All eyes rested eagerly upon him.

    “With me, sons of Irminaz! Attack!”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    All of Okaz’s fatigue seemed to evaporate in an instant; the familiar blood haze could be felt creeping over his mind once more. His feet began to pound the earth beneath him, and a moment later he found himself hurtling into battle once more, his brain already casually picking out likely targets and threats.

    His first victim went down easily, screaming in horror as he clutched the gory hole where his eye had once been. Pleased, Okaz spun around and prepared to attack his next target, when a gray blur suddenly flew into his field of vision from the side. His shield automatically jerked up, but the blow had been well-struck. The warrior lost his balance and fell hard onto the ground. Through tears of pain he saw his assailant towering over him, his sword raised in preparation for the finishing blow.


    The Skandzan king suddenly turned around in confusion, forgetting all about his hapless victim as he locked eyes with the treasonous Fruhjiaz. Hlewagastiz snarled and readied his sword. “So here he is,” the mad king began, striding causally through the mass of fighters as if he were simply an actor on stage, “the most fickle Lord Fruhijaz. I must commend you on your little stunt – I admit I never suspected you might turn your back on your own countrymen!”

    “Half the warriors who have railed against you today are Skandzan!” Fruhijaz insisted. “It is you who have done the betrayal, not me!”

    Hlewagastiz waved his kinsman down impatiently. “Bah! It is only treason when done for selfish reasons. Everything I have done, I have done because I believe it to be right.”

    “How can you still say that!?” Fruhijaz cried exasperatedly. “You must have some understanding of how insane all of this is!”

    “History will vindicate me!” Hlewagastiz roared. “When all of the once-proud tribes chafe under the rule of petty tyrants, and men can only ever dream of being free, they will realize just how right I was – they will mourn for my failure!”

    Fruhijaz lowered his arms and stepped forward, his face heavy with sadness. “Hlewagastiz-“

    He would never finish his sentence. As he advanced toward his king, unarmed and in good faith, Hlewagastiz gave a mighty swing of his sword, burying the blade deep into Fruhijaz’s neck. For a surreal moment, it seemed as if the nobleman might survive his wound, as he stood rigidly on his two feet, blood pouring from the gash in his neck. A few seconds later, he toppled to the ground and died.

    The Skandzan king took a deep breath, but whatever empty platitude he was about to produce was cut off by a heavy blow to the back of his head. Stars flashed across his eyes as he stumbled forward, rolling to the ground with a dense thud. The Sweboz quickly formed a human circle around the prostate usurper, holding their shields out like a palisade. Hlewagastiz was all alone.

    “I think you have killed enough for one day,” Heruwulfaz remarked as he stepped towards his fallen enemy. “Although I must admit, you are very good at it. This field is littered with men whom you have heartlessly sent to their deaths.”

    “Flippant and conceited,” Hlewgastiz gasped exhaustedly, “even in victory. You will…never understand.”

    “Probably not,” Heruwulfaz retorted, “for I can never understand the man who is driven to kill his own father.”

    “You would have too,” Hlewagastiz grunted, “if you believed it was necessary. If you believed it was right.”

    Heruwulfaz shook his head pitiably. “You truly are mad. You believe the Confederacy brings the bonds of slavery.”

    It was difficulty for Hlewagastiz to remain conscious any longer; his head drooped weakly around on his neck. “I don’t believe it….I know it.”

    Heruwulfaz took another step towards his opponent, who began a pathetic attempt to wriggle backwards through the dirt. “No – don’t! Stay back! Don’t you dare touch me! I am the King of Skandz-“

    The sword shot through the Skandzan swiftly; the life in the mad king’s eyes seemed to flicker and fade away. His last, pathetic cries were left to echo off into the countryside. With the resignation of a man bound to duty, Heruwuflaz returned his bloodied sword to its sheath.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “All hail King Heruwulfaz! All hail the great Xorjonoz!”

    The chant stunned the king as it reached his ears. Surely he could not be hearing correctly! He may have won a great battle here today, and he had far more accomplishments then most men his age, but the honor being proclaimed Xorjonoz seemed to great for someone like him.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “My friends-“he tried, but the mob was unstoppable. They cheered and beat their weapons madly against the ground in elation. Behind him, the corpse of Hlewagastiz was scooped up and carted away like a trophy.

    “Xorjonoz,” he mouthed as he was hoisted onto the shoulders of his warriors. “Perhaps I could get used to that in time.”

  15. #15

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter IX – New Ties
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    It was a strange and surreal thing to be holding court in the house of one’s enemy. The situation in Skandza still being rather volatile and unstable, Heruwulfaz had decided it best to remain in the country for a while, at least until he could be sure that the latest addition to the Confederacy would not violently disintegrate upon his departure. Perhaps to emphasize his triumph, or perhaps simply out of convenience, the king had set up his offices in the palace of the late Hlewagastiz, perching himself on the same throne from which the mad Skandzan had once orchestrated the downfall of his people.

    Even the pettiest of chiefs and kings had been watching as the armies of Sweboz and Skandza clashed, and for good reason; Hlewagastiz and his host had represented the last true challenge to Sweboz authority in the Northlands. Now that the Skandza were defeated, the assimilation of the remaining tribes was no longer a question of “if”, but rather “when”. To prevent his neighbors from doing anything desperate, Heruwulfaz found himself playing a tense diplomatic game, trying to assuage the worst fears of the remaining tribes whilst simultaneously prodding them towards membership in the Confederacy. So far it was working, but only just.

    “I have taken a census of these new lands, as you ordered,” the retainer announced with a flourish, “and return now to present them to you at your Lordship’s leisure.”

    Heruwulfaz crossed his arms expectantly, stifling a tired yawn at the prospect of another long day. As far as the duties of a king were concerned, listening to long lists of statistics ranked among the worst of them. “Present them, then – lest you should forget them first!”

    The other laughed politely at his king’s joke before continuing. “First, I have the account of the casualties from the battle with your enemy Hlewagastiz. My king, we have finally finished identifying all of the dead and fallen, and I am pleased to report that casualty rates were better than we initially expected. It would seem that our forces lost no more than one-hundred warriors, whereas almost none of the Skandzan host survived.”

    Heruwulfaz grunted his approval, trying to present the appearance of an impassive and commanding king. “See to it that all of the dead are buried honorably, in accordance with the traditions of their kinsmen,” he insisted. “Lord Alugobaz can instruct you on the proper rites for the Skandzans – the rest, I am sure, can be handled easily enough.”

    “Of course, it will be done my lord. As for the rest of my report…” the servant began clearing his throat noisily. “Your agents have traveled through the breadth of this land and taken careful accounting of everything – what little they could not see for themselves they have gleaned from the native inhabitants. To begin with, I have been told that the people of Skandza number a little more than one-thousand persons – women and children included.”

    “This land is populous,” Heruwulfaz remarked with genuine surprise. “I do not recall seeing so many villagers when I was on the march.”
    “The land of Skandza is incredibly vast,” the retainer explained, carefully defending his report. “Civilization is not very dense here, true, but across so great a distance the numbers add up quickly.”

    “Which brings me to my next report,” the man continued. “In riding throughout the countryside, your agents have achieved a rough understanding of this country’s borders. Let me begin by saying that, to the north, your dominion now stretches without end. The forests and crags of Skandza eventually give way a boundless expanse of snow and ice, which reaches all the way to the very ends of the earth.”

    Heruwulfaz sat up in his seat, honestly intrigued. “Am I to understand that my scouts have actually seen the ends of the earth!?”

    The servant shook his head apologetically, “I am afraid not, my lord. In time, as one travels far enough north, the obstacles arrayed against them become insurmountable; I am told that it is cold enough to sear a man’s skin to the bone, and that the ice becomes fickle and untrustworthy. Clearly, as the world of men begins to transition into the world of the Gods, the land becomes corrosive to mortals. One of your loyal servants actually died trying to press onward – he sank right into the water and froze to death.”

    “A bitter lesson,” the king mourned, “but well-learned nonetheless. What else do you have to tell me?”

    The retainer bowed and began to speak again. “In the west, your patrimony now extends across forests and mountains, all the way to the open ocean. You did not pass through this region during your campaign, but I can assure you that this part of the land is very much the same. Your scouts wished to emphasize, however, that the fishermen in these parts are particularly talented, and they have excellent knowledge of sailing and navigation.”

    Heruwulfaz reached idly for his cup. “What lies across this new ocean, if anything?”

    The other shrugged, “none of the villagers have ever crossed it before, my king.”

    “That will have to change,” the king mumbled, more for his own benefit than for anyone else. “I have already seen the south for myself,” he added quickly, growing bored once again. “Give me your report of the east so we may be done with this.”

    The retainer seemed to be flustered momentarily, but he recovered gracefully and carried on. “You should know first that it is impossible to go east in Skandza without also going north; the whole country is shaped like a wide horseshoe. The east, therefore, is cold and snowy as the north is, with little in the way of civilization. With enough travel, your lands soon transition into those of the Sami, who prefer to keep to themselves.” Having finished his report, the man took a step back and dropped to one knee.

    “My thanks for your assessment,” the king replied between gulps of beer, “you have done fine work, and will soon be rewarded. For now, you may go.”

    No sooner had the servant made his way from the hall then the door shot open again, smashing so fiercely against the wall that the whole room seemed to shudder and groan with the impact. Trapped between astonishment and irritation, Heruwulfaz pushed himself to his feet, a stern reprimand already waiting on the tip of his tongue.

    It was not some incompetent slave who emerged through the doorway, however, but rather a very irate-looking Erilaz, storming across the length of the chamber as fast as his cane would allow. Heruwulfaz couldn’t avoid the tiniest pang of pity as he watched his political rival struggle to simply cross a room. Neither age nor circumstance had been kind to the old man over the past year; he looked like a man on his deathbed, the flesh of his face sunken, withered, and sallow as a corpse. Even his long hair, a gift he had once taken great pride in, was now thin and brittle, more akin to a batch of twigs then anything else.

    Simultaneous with the decline in Erilaz’s health, his political power and reputation had taken a dive as well. Heruwulfaz’s triumphant victories in the field had made criticizing him akin to political suicide, and in this sense Erilaz had fallen upon his sword hard. His ring of powerful supporters and advocates had dwindled down to almost nothing, leaving only him and a small group of devout reactionaries to rally a hopeless defense against the rest of the Thing. Even if he had still been the puppet master of the Thing, it would have done him little good. Through his victories, Heruwulfaz had made himself powerful enough to all but obviate the Thing as a political force; in particular, his recent investment as Xorjonoz by his troops gave him uncontested authority over the army, and uncontested control over the army essentially gave him uncontested control over the whole nation. Still, it was not in Erilaz’s nature to back down, not even from a king.

    “Heruwulfaz!” the old man wheezed, infusing his reedy voice with as much malice and contempt as he could possibly muster.

    “You do not look so well, my old friend,” the king commented kindly. “Surely your healer has forbidden you from traveling like this?”

    Erilaz literally spat onto the floor, still hobbling awkwardly towards Heruwulfaz. “My healer is a moron and a windbag – vices which seem all too common lately, I might add.”

    Heruwulfaz patiently ignored the slight, motioning for his servants to bring a chair. “Since you have come so far, I suppose it would be remiss of me to waste your time with small talk. What can I do for you?”

    The venerable statesman took a few moments to settle himself, stretching out his limbs with a series of discomforting pops and cracks. Having finally made himself comfortable, he put aside his cane and cleared his throat. “Your lordship, I come before you with a single, simple request: you must disband the army.”

    The question was so blunt and so bold that Heruwulfaz could not help but laugh at it, nearly spitting out a mouthful of beer in the process. Just seconds later, the stony glare on Erilaz’s face had turned the king’s mirth into confusion. “Surely you can’t be serious?” he insisted, still chuckling a little to himself. “This is the strongest our host has been in living memory! Why would I send them home now?”

    Erilaz stubbornly crossed his arms, planting his feet into the ground as if to make himself physically immovable. “Do not attempt to mock or belittle me, Heruwulfaz. I ask this of you in all seriousness.”

    As luck would have it, the king did become serious, leaning forward from his throne with a distinctly un-amused look plastered on his face. “Listen, I know what you’re trying to do, Erilaz,” he whispered dangerously. “First off, even without the army I have more than enough political support to keep you down. You’re time on the stage is over. In any case, this conversation is pointless, because as a matter of fact I am not going to disband the army, I am going to keep it.”

    “This has nothing to do with politics!” Erialz hissed, and this time Heruwulfaz could tell that he was being serious. “This is a matter directly relevant to the well-being of our nation. This constant war-footing is draining all the wealth from our lands!”

    Heruwulfaz stared back incomprehensively. “I don’t-“

    “It’s the economy, stupid!” Erilaz roared, the exertion causing him to be momentarily consumed by a ferocious cough. Instead of waiting to recuperate, the old man pressed on through his bouts of wheezing. “What do you…think happens when…people aren’t home for the…harvest season!? No crops can get picked and then…there’s not enough food!”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The king waited patiently for Erilaz to finish, already regretting his earlier threat. “I’ll admit that the economy has suffered a little, with all this constant campaigning. However I have spoken at length with my advisers about this issue and I believe that, as the Confederacy adds new tribes, its internal trade will increase exponentially. I’m told that we’re already beginning to make back some of the wealth we lost last year. Once we begin to integrate larger territories like Skandza, trade should begin to flow again.”

    Erilaz grumbled and mumbled to himself, but offered no further protests. With childish petulance, the old man snatched his cane and returned to his feet, shuffling towards the exit as fast as his age would allow. Heruwulfaz smirked, taking a quiet pleasure in yet another victory. “Be safe on the roads,” he called after his rival, “travel can be quite taxing on a man of your age!”

    “I am going for a walk,” the king declared, leaving a small crowd of petitioners to groan in disappointment as he started towards the door. They would just have to wait; Heruwulfaz had spent all day cooped up on his throne and his limbs with aching with restlessness. A nice walk – or maybe even a quick ride – was the only thing that could get him through the rest of this day.

    Heruwulfaz had not taken more than five steps out the door before he abruptly collided with another pedestrian, tumbling backwards into the road with a painful thud. Dazed now, he stumbled back to his feet and readied a furious oath at the blurry culprit in his vision.
    “My sincerest apologies, your lordship,” the figure offered as it began to back away. “I should have paid more attention.”

    “Wait a minute,” Heruwulfaz began as his brain slowly processed the other’s voice, “Okaz, is that you?”
    Even as he asked this, the blur on his vision had already begun to fade, revealing the familiar countenance of his friend Okaz. It was no wonder that they had walked right into each other; the old warrior, although always looking somewhat fatigued, appeared to be especially exhausted today, sporting dark, baggy layers of skin beneath his eyes.

    “It seems I’ve been bumping into you everywhere!” Heruwulfaz remarked as he began his walk again. “Where are you off to?”

    “Making rounds,” Okaz replied unenthusiastically. “We’ve been told to go through the settlement and search all the houses for weapons.” The simple act of saying this made the man sigh with exhaustion. “There are a lot of houses.”

    “You don’t look so well, my friend,” the king commented with some concern. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, yet you look ten years older.”

    Okaz turned his head away defensively. “I have not slept in a while,” he replied, trying to make his insomnia sound trivial.

    “I know the feeling,” Heruwulfaz replied kindly. “I’ve been told that difficulty going to sleep is a sign of restlessness. You probably need to burn off some more energy during the day.”

    Okaz shook his head flatly. “I can get to sleep just fine, usually. It’s…my dreams that give me trouble,” he muttered, chiding himself for wasting the king’s time on his own, petty problems.

    “Your dreams?” Heruwulfaz replied curiously, “what about them? They are strange?”

    No, they’re…” Okaz trailed off, desperately searching for the right words. “It’s like they’re punishing me – mocking me.”

    He took the king’s silence as an invitation to continue. “The job of a warrior, at its simplest, is to defend his home and his people. Every battle I’ve ever fought – every man I’ve ever killed – I justified by saying that I was defending innocent people. I tried to convince myself of it – I guess I’m still trying…”

    “I spent over three years fighting to try and to stop the Rugoz,” he recounted bitterly, “and they always seemed to slip through our fingers. Scores of villages were torched to the ground, their inhabitants slaughtered like animals – I’d never felt so useless before in my life. You can’t imagine what it’s like until you’ve seen it. You have to be there, walking through the smoldering embers of some innocent person’s life, listening to their wailing just echo around in your mind.”

    The warrior grew visibly distressed, “I thought that conquering the Rugoz would make everything right again, but nothing changed – I can still see it all in my head while I sleep. It just added more nightmares to torment me; I can’t stop wondering who was innocent and who was guilty. So many of them were young – barely older than boys!”

    There was no stopping the flow of words anymore; they poured from Okaz’s mouth like a thunderous tide. “Then, in Kimbroz, I watched that village as it burned to the ground. It was hard to see with all the smoke, but some people must have been trapped inside their homes – I could hear them screaming. There I was, an experienced warrior with years of service under my belt, and I still couldn’t do anything to help people!”

    “I thought…I hoped that the battle here in Skandza would change things somehow. I thought that, by defeating somebody who I really knew was evil, I could just put it all to rest. As usual, I had no such luck. I just keep seeing all of these terrible things in my mind – they won’t ever leave me alone, I know that now. They are the curse that every warrior must bear – from the start of his career until the last mound of earth is placed over his grave.”

    Heruwulfaz tried to think of something suitably to say, but he would have had better luck trying to grab hold of the wind. After a few minutes of unfathomable silence, the king quickly resumed his walk again, burdensome thoughts floating around in his head.


    “Lord Hrabnaz,” the king commanded, his voice reverberating through the vaulted confines of his hall, “step forward.”

    Hrabnaz willingly complied, quickly hurrying up to the throne and placing himself prostrate on the ground. It was an act of supplication, but Hrabnaz added a certain confident theatric to the ritual that made him seem imposing in his own right. “I am right here, King Bidajaz. What is your will?”

    The king of the Habukoz smiled, relishing in watching his plan come together so seamlessly. He rose to his feet and motioned for Hrabnaz to do the same. “There is no need for you to lower yourself in my court, Hrabnaz. Unlike your kinsmen, I hold you and your abilities in high esteem.”

    Hrabnaz blushed slightly at the compliment. “You are too kind, lord. Your eye for character and talent is unmatched.”

    “I trust none of your brothers are aware of what has transpired between us?” the Habukoz king asked, his tone abruptly becoming grave and conspiratorial. “Not even the slightest hint of suspicion on their part?”

    Hrabnaz carefully pushed the man away, moving forward with an air of supreme confidence. “I thought you said you trusted in my abilities?” he teased. “Believe me; they are none the wiser – and they never will be.”

    Bidajaz seemed satisfied, clapping a paternalistic hand on Hrabnaz’s back. “You will be an excellent servant of Habukoz, Hrabnaz. For a man as talented as yourself, I believe your career will go far indeed; and who knows? Perhaps, given enough time and loyal service, the throne could even be yours.”

    A look like that of an excitable child crossed over Hrabnaz’s face. “Do you really mean that, my lord?”

    Bidajaz smiled; this impetuous young noble was far too easy to manipulate. “Time will tell – certainly stranger things have happened; and I am certainly not one to let blood ties come before ability.”

    “Then tell me what I must do,” Hrabnaz implored, “so that I may perform it quickly and flawlessly.”

    “Your brother’s victory against the Skandza puts me and the rest of the remaining free tribes in a difficult spot,” the Habukoz king sighed. “We do not have the military might to openly defeat the Sweboz, not even if we all banded together. Through the employment of subterfuge and cunning, however, we may stand a chance.”

    “I need you to return to your brother’s court,” Bidajaz explained, “and report to me anything and everything that he does. Troop movements, new appointments to office, war plans – if he as much as sneezes, I want to hear about it. If I can know his every move in advance, then I can easily undermine him – and if I can undermine him, my tribe…our tribe can persevere.”

    Hrabnaz digested his instructions with a single nod of the head. “It will be done, your lordship – you can count on me.”

    His orders given, King Bidajaz turned away and headed for bed. “I expect great things from you, Hrabnaz. I’m sure you won’t disappoint.”


    ”Two weeks after crossing the River Rin into the lands of the Walhoz, we began to pass through territory belonging to a peoples called the Arverni. The Arverni are among the most powerful and prominent of the Walhoz, commanding countless settlements and many worthy warriors, who are decorated in fine panoplies of metal. Yet none of their wonders could compare to that vast city they call Vesontio.”

    Amongst the tribes of the Northlands, it was exceedingly rare to see a single building made out of stone, let alone an entire defensive wall. Hagaradaz and his party were still some distance away, but even now they could get an acute sense of the city’s imposing power and grandeur. Like all cities of the Walhoz, it was perched at the very top of a steep hill, lording over the surrounding villages and farms as an unquestionable edifice of power. The villagers they had passed had only spoken of Vesontio in awestruck whispers; having seen it for himself, Hagaradaz at last understood their behavior.

    “There it is,” Berdic sighed, his eyes beginning to mist a little at the sight of the massive oppida. “Vesontio…it hasn’t changed the slightest bit.”

    “That’s right!” Hagaradaz blurted suddenly as they started their approach up the hill. “You said Vesontio was your home, didn’t you?”

    Berdic laughed and shook his head. “Not the city itself, no. My family lived on a farm a few miles out from here, but during the harvest season, I would usually help my father bring our crops to market here. It was always really exciting,” he added a little wistfully. “The plazas are huge, and my father would always give me a spare coin to spend when I came with him.”

    “Your kind use coinage then?” Hagaradaz asked, wisely bringing the conversation back towards their task. “I thought I heard that before, but I wasn’t sure.”

    “Gold and silver ones, mostly,” Berdic explained. “Sadly, we didn’t come up with the idea by ourselves; the Massalians – an odd group of peoples in the far south – spread the idea to us. It makes commerce easier, but it also introduced us to the fickle thing called ‘taxes’.”

    It was clear that they were not the only people heading into the city that day; the path up the hill was clogged with a veritable swarm of travelers, peddlers, and citizens. In such terrible congestion, to be on horseback was a wonderful thing; the crowd, eager to avoid being trampled, gladly parted way for the party of Sweboz. A few travelers cursed loudly at the disruption; Hagaradaz urged his horse forward, grateful that his knowledge of these peoples language was still perfunctory.

    The Sweboz knew what a city was, of course; their knowledge of the world was broad enough that they knew of the Walhoz and some of their customs. Even so, Hagardaz couldn’t possibly have been prepared for the sheer sensory overload that assaulted him upon passing through the gates of Vesontio. It was as if all orderly constraints of color and sound had been chaotically torn asunder; a hundred voices all seemed to shout at once as conversations struggled to make themselves distinct within the din. Brightly made tarps and ornamented carpets hung over long rows of cramped merchant stalls, which stretched in long rows at either edge of the street, funneling people onward even as they tried to draw them aside. Berdic, the more experienced of the two by far, took his master by the arm and began to lead him.

    “Keep your eyes forward,” he insisted, mumbling out of the corner of his mouth. “Try not to bump into anybody – and if you have to, at least try to avoid the ones with weapons. If somebody tries to sell you something, keep moving; don’t stop for anybody, even if they look hurt.” With great difficulty, he steered the pair towards the path to the governor’s office. “Make sure you keep an eye on your belongings too, because they can get stolen before you know it.”

    Breaking away from the mob was akin to escaping a howling tornado; it took all their willpower to escape, and once they were out the change was immediate and visceral. The dull roar of human speech seemed to fade into a quiet murmur; all of the dizzying sights passed mercifully out of view. Hagaradaz took a huge breath, greatly relieved to be back in his element. As they got to traveling again, only a handful of venerable-looking persons traveled along the road with them; whoever the governor was, he clearly wasn’t amenable to the common rabble.

    Like most of the buildings in Vesontio, the governor’s mansion was made of finely-polished stone, standing at the absolute summit of the hill in a very unambiguous expression of his authority. The guards at the front entrance appeared to be suitably well-equipped, sporting a fine kit of chainmail and padded helmets, and sharp-looking swords to boot.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “Please step aside,” Hagaradaz requested with his meager mastery of the Walhoz language. “I am a diplomat of the Sweboz. I am here to talk.”

    The two soldiers seemed to get the message; one of them disappeared into the mansion, while the other held out his hand to suggest that they should wait. Nervously, Berdic leaned over and whispered in his master’s ear. “I recommend that you let me translate, from now on.”

    Hagaradaz suddenly looked petrified, “by the Gods, what did I say to them!?”

    “No, no, you did fine!” the slave assured, “but I’m worried you’ll say something offensive by accident.”

    The door creaked open once more, and the returning soldier beckoned for the two to follow him back inside. Quietly steeling himself, the diplomat nodded his thanks and stepped boldly through the threshold, Berdic following cautiously in his wake. Somewhere behind them, the door slowly groaned shut.

    The building’s stone construction lent itself to a dark and labyrinthine interior. In less than a minute spent inside, Hagaradaz had given up trying to memorize his way out. A minute later, he was utterly, hopelessly lost. He stuck to his Arverni guide with an almost desperate attachment, terrified of the ramifications if he managed to get left behind.

    In time, their nonsensical navigating led them to a wide open audience hall, where a single circular table had presumably been placed for them to sit at. No sooner had they entered than they were accosted by a burly, greybearded man, his clothes finely adorned in the sacred symbols of the Arverni nation.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “In truth, I never thought this day would come,” he exclaimed, his tone hovering somewhere between good-humored and disdainful, “a man of the east who comes to our lands not to fight, but to parley! What has happened to your kind, easterner, that you now employ the virtue of restraint?”

    Hagaradaz began to reply, hoping that Berdic could catch his words as he went. “Many things, noble lord of the Arverni, but foremost among them is an awakening. For we, the miserable masses of the Northlands, having lived countless centuries in misery and squalor, have resolved to build for ourselves a future in which all may prosper, not merely the strongest.”

    The nobleman let out a barking laugh, but a measure of respect could be seen to glisten in his eye. “What is your name, easterner?”

    “I am Hagaradaz, of the tribe of the Samanoz. This,” he added with a sweep of the hand, “is my translator Berdic. Who are you, lord?”

    The Gaul puffed out his chest, “I am Aneirin, the governor of Vesonito – devout worshipper of the god Lugos, a peculiarity for which I have become quite well-known.”

    “Good health to you, Aneirin,” Hagaradaz returned genially. “Now, shall we get down to the business of this meeting?”

    “Indeed, and you can begin,” Aneirin rumbled, “by explaining the meaning of these eastern raids into our lands. We have a war to contend with as it is – your kind nipping at our heels only complicates matters further.”

    “I was actually just about to ask you,” Hagaradaz returned patiently, “what cause your warriors have to be making forays into the Northlands. Admittedly, your attacks rarely reach Sweboz territory, but my noble King endeavors to style himself as protector of all the tribes. Your raids on the Habukoz and Heruskoz make things difficult for us politically.”

    Aneirin clenched his fists dangerously. “We are in the middle of a war – you easterners have always been a nuisance at best. To keep our borders safe, it is only prudent that we endeavor to weaken our neighbors.”

    “There is a war going on in the Northlands every day,” Hagaradaz countered, “a war that is deeper and more pervasive than any other fought before, or any that ever will be fought. It is a war between two forces – two ideologies – that are incompatible with ne another. One of them – the one I fight for – advocates for a civilization peace and cooperation with its inhabitants and all of its neighbors. The other, the one we fight against, is an ideology of chronic warfare and violence, punctuated only by despair. I ask you, which civilization would you rather share a border with?”

    Aneirin chewed furiously on his moustache, his face turning redder by the second, but it was clear he had no retort. “We stop our raids across the river, and you will try and stop these two tribes from attack us?”
    “An agreeable arrangement for all, don’t you think? The cessation of hostilities is only the beginning. Once word spreads that the river crossings are safe again, trade between the Northlands and your peoples can resume again. The wealth of two nations will flow back and forth, enriching all at nobody’s detriment.”

    By now, the Gaul could not possible decline; his best bet was to try and save some face. “I suppose this is a fair arrangement. I will pass the word on to our King, who will surely approve it. But I warn you – and mark me well – any negations between your nation and those of the Aedui will be seen as a hostile act.”

    “Fair enough,” Hagaradaz shrugged. “I seem to recall hearing bad things about the Aedui anyway,” he added with a subconscious glance towards his slave.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    A comfortable pause passed as Berdic took a sip of water. “These are perhaps the fastest negotiations I can remember!” Aneirin laughed. “What will you do with the rest of your time?”

    “I think I will partake in your city’s hospitality for another day or two,” Hagaradaz mused as he slowly stretched himself out. “But before long, I am bound to travel onward. I have more nations to meet with, at my King’s command.”

    “A bit of advice then,” the nobleman offered, “you will want to head south-west first. There is a peninsula in that direction, where many nations find themselves coming intersecting together. Most of them are tribes, but I have heard stories of foreign men who also dwell in cities – ones even larger than this.”

    The thought of an even larger city stung Hagaradaz’s brain like a jolt of lightening; it was both an exciting and terrifying prospect. “I guess I know where I’m headed next.”

  16. #16

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter X – New Ventures

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    “Hoist up the sail!” went the cry, and within moments the narrow vessel was abuzz with energy and activity, the strained grunts and pants of its sailors echoing ominously across the foggy expanse of the shoreline. Most of them were glad for the warmth their exertion brought on this chilly morning; it had already been several weeks since the first leaves had begun to brown. Still, they would not be warm for much longer – their planned route took them north, across the murky waters to the shores of mighty Skandza.

    The people of the Northlands prided themselves as being masters of many trades; all men were expected by society to be fierce warriors, in addition to being competent hunters, woodsmen, and farmers. A discipline typically lacking throughout their culture, however, was that of sailing and navigation. To a traditionalist, the sea was a fickle and unnatural thing; it took that which was right and predictable and flipped it on its head. On the open ocean, bravery and valor were worth next to nothing, and the average Northlanders would doubtless agree that any activity in which bravery was meaningless was, to be blunt, a meaningless activity.

    Yet money and wealth, as they say, can be powerful persuasion. King Heruwulfaz was, among other things, a visionary and a reformer. He clearly saw the massive potential for wealth that seaborne commerce presented, and he certainly wasn’t the type to let Erilaz and his ring of pig-headed reactionaries tell him otherwise. Just a few months after the conquest of Skandza, Heruwulfaz sent out orders for the construction of a Sweboz trading fleet, which would ferry traders back and forth across the sea free of charge. He further dictated that his laborers should erect trading ports on either end of the sea lane; the first such port facilities to ever be constructed in the Northlands.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    This embryonic seed of seaborne commerce required a skilled and effective man to oversee it, and the royal lord Ansuharjaz was wisely given the position. Under his guidance, a vital semblance of order had been brought to an otherwise hectic and confused operation. Regular travel schedules were established and publicized, the routes were meticulously mapped, and a strict code of discipline was imparted upon the sailors, who previously had suffered from an unfortunate propensity towards inebriation. It was not a job that Ansuhajraz would have asked for, or even one he liked, but as was his nature, he did his best possible job with it. His eldest brother was counting on him.

    “You gentlemen will want to wait a while before leaving,” the nobleman asserted, speaking to no one in particular as he strode up and down the wobbly length of the ship. “The last group that left during a fog somehow wound up on the eastern shore of Kimbroz – we had to pay a fortune to keep the merchants from slandering our services after that.”

    The ship’s captain scoffed and rolled his eyes as if any aspersions against his seamanship were unthinkable. “Don’t worry about a thing, your lordship – we’ll get everybody and everything there safely, I promise.” His enthusiastic confidence was akin to that of a brazen child.

    Ansuhajraz took a suitably paternal tone. “It’s not just about getting there safely,” he frowned, “it’s about getting there on time and in the right place. A lot of this stuff we’re shipping is perishable; that’s the whole point of having a shipping schedule.”

    The captain waved away Ansuharjaz’s concerns with a flick of his wrist. “Bah with all your schedules and all this planning. All I get paid to do is sail the damn boat back and forth – anything more complicated than that is your job, lord.”

    “And if you want to ever be paid for sailing your boat back and forth,” Ansuharjaz began testily, “you had best make sure you do it exactly as I say. I don’t have the patience for any mistakes – especially not from someone as overpaid as you.”

    The captain began picking spare bits of grime from his fingernails, rapidly losing interest in the argument he had started. “You make a big show with all your threats, my lord, but you’re not fooling anyone. If you get rid of me, who else are you going to find who knows how to sail?”

    “I’m told the fishermen in Skandza do good work,” Ansuharjaz tried, but his talent for bluffing was rather underdeveloped.

    “They might do,” the elderly sea dog retorted, still casually attending to his hygiene, “but I doubt you’re going to spend months hunting down some backwater group of inbred fishermen just because you think I’m a little to cheeky for my own good, right? You and I – there’s an understanding between us. I sail the boats, you pay me, and we both stay happy.”

    Ansuharjaz couldn’t believe the man’s disrespect for a nobleman – a brother of the Sweboz king, no less! Still, the cocky sailor was correct in essence – the time and effort involved in finding a new captain just wouldn’t be worth it. Perhaps in time Ansuhajraz would be given a window of opportunity, but for now he would just have to grin and bear it.

    “You just make sure everything is done right,” the nobleman returned, trying to save face through his remonstration, “and we won’t have any problems. Which reminds me of what I was saying before – I really think you should wait-“

    “Shh!” the captain interjected his confidence and carelessness evaporating away in a second. The man’s blanched, gnarled fingers grasped intensely at the rim of the hull as he leaned over the water, squinting ineffectively through the veil of mist hung before him. The rest of the crew hastened over to join him, not entirely sure what they were supposed to be worried about.

    “What, have you gone mad old man?” Ansuharjaz joked uneasily. “There’s nothing to see out there with all this fog hanging-“

    He never had a chance to finish his sentence before a pair of firm hands wrapped around his neck and dragged him to the ground, causing him to bang his head hard against the hull on his way down. At the same time, the rest of the crew all dropped hard to the floor as well, huddling themselves tightly together in a unanimous display of terror. Ansuharjaz opened his mouth to protest, but the same hands quickly returned to cover it again. Confused and irate, the nobleman ripped the offending extremity from his mouth and turned around, only to stare into the eyes of the sea captain, his wrinkled face drained with fear.

    “What on earth-“ Ansuharjaz began, but for the third time that day he was silenced as the captain pressed a bony finger to his lips. The nobleman complied, trusting in the other’s considerably significant experience even as he had only just finished questioning it.

    “I think I see some pirates,” the captain whisper, slithering over to Ansuharjaz as a worm might crawl through the mud. “They’ve been through this area in the past – probably looking for ripe targets.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Inch by painful inch, Ansuharjaz peeked his head over the rim of the ship’s hull, his eyes darting comically from one side to the other in his head. Other sailors slowly followed suit, until a long line of timid eyes had assembled along the length of the vessel, all watching the glassy surface of the water for even the smallest sign of a disturbance. Somewhere down the coast, a loon was heard signing its mournful song; its voice was like a clap of thunder compared to the stillness of the sea.

    Just when the tension was becoming unbearable, they appeared; materializing through the fog like ghostly ships of the dead. A rational man would have immediately dove back into cover, but all those watching were too transfixed to even so much as blink. The ships casually began to pass by the mouth of the harbor, moving with the slow confidence of a predator sauntering through its hunting grounds. The raiders reached the other side of the port and turned around for a second pass, evidently fooled into believing the area was deserted. Either out of boldness or desperation, the pirates drew closer to the shoreline, standing on the tips of their toes as they looked for any sign of life or loot.

    Then, almost anti-climactically, the pirates departed, sailing back out to sea until they disappeared behind a heavy wall of mist. Both of Ansuharjaz’s lungs were burning; he hadn’t even realized he was holding his breath. A palpable sense of relief passed through the sailors as they slumped into satisfied heaps against the hull, most of them turning to drink to sooth their nerves.

    “You have a good eye,” Ansuharjaz admitted to the captain, feeling comfortable enough to speak again. “If not for you we could have all wound up dead.”

    “Perhaps you ought to remember that,” the other said wryly, “the next time you think about trying to replace him.”

    The nobleman grinned and patted the captain on the shoulder. “I surely will – but don’t think this gives you leave to slack off!”

    The seaman snickered, already turning back towards his work. “I would never dream of it, your lordship.”

    Ansuharjaz had quite enough of snark and seamanship for one day. He whistled for his horse and made for home, satisfied that the Sweboz shipping economy, young and inexperienced though it was, could endure the days to come.


    It was, as the saying goes, good to be home. After having spent many miserable months languishing in the frozen wasteland of Skandza, the long-awaited return to Swebotraustasamnoz was incredibly satisfying. No sooner had the gates of the palisade been sung open than a cowed of overjoyed citizens thronged his caravan, desperately reaching out their hands as if merely touching their king would be a divine experience. This type of unrestrained adulation was altogether disquieting for young Heruwulfaz, who much preferred to serve his subjects from behind the impenetrable walls of his royal hall.

    A good politician must be able to mingle as well as he manages, however, and in this regard the king could at the very least muster a competent and believable façade of sociability. Upon his triumphant return, he patiently played along with the demands of his adoring public; shaking hands, giving speeches, awarding commendations, and generally doing things he much rather not do. Heruwulfaz was indeed a patient and reasonable man, but he was certainly wasn’t a saint; when the Thing asked him to recount the Battle of Skandza for the fourth time in a row, he decided he had had quite enough.

    The sun had since passed behind the horizon, but from his place on the hill the king could still clearly hear the raucous shouting and laughing of the victory celebrations as they carried on into the night. Heruwulfaz found himself struck by an immense feeling of satisfaction; the kind he thought the Gods must have as they looked down upon their handiwork each day. When he was off on campaign or perched on his throne, it was easy to loose sight of the direct effect his actions were having on the lives of others. He would not soon forget how good it felt to watch his labors pay off at last; and this past couple of victories was only the beginning. Heruwulfaz was confident that the fortunes of the Sweboz, already soaring, could climb higher still.

    “I’m surprised to see you here brother,” a familiar voice chuckled from behind, “I would have thought you’d be out enjoying the festivities!”

    The crunchy sound of footsteps upon the fall grass announced the arrival of Hrabnaz, who wasted no time in sitting himself down beside his brother, an unusually good humor gracing his attractive face. From the amount of grunting and hissing it took for the young prince to seat himself, it was clear he had spent most of the day on horseback.

    Heruwulfaz quickly pulled his brother into a one-armed embrace. “Yeah well, you know me, Hrabnaz – never been much of one for parties. What about you, though?” he asked as he reached for more food. “Not quite feeling up for partying?”

    The question was something of a ruse; under the pale light of the moon, Heruwulfaz could clearly the smile plastered on his brother’s face. The other, perhaps sensing he was being too transparent, turned his head away. “I have had a long day,” he explained flatly. “A little rest is in order for me, I think.”

    “I thought you looked tired when you came over here,” the king remarked casually. “Been busy lately, have you?”

    Hrabnaz did his best to shrug away his brother’s inquiry. “More than usual, I suppose. I haven’t had any free time like this in a while.”

    The other nodded absently, quietly picking away at the last bits of flesh on his apple. “Believe me; I think we all know the feeling. Although I must say, it’s no surprise to me you’ve fallen behind on your affairs…I hear you’ve been doing a lot of traveling out west.”

    It was quite fortune for Hrabnaz that a cloud was passing overhead; else the whole world could have easily seen the color flow into his cheeks. “Well…just here and there, you know…checking out the borders and whatnot. Just trying to help out is all.”

    “Your wife has missed you greatly,” the king said matter-of-factly. “She was terribly upset that you were not there to greet your second daughter.”

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hrabnaz took the news of his daughter’s birth as casual as one might receive reports of the weather. “I am sure she will be a strong and healthy woman. The strength and health of our kingdom is not so certain, however.”

    “I can’t blame you for being concerned,” Heruwulfaz continued, oblivious to his brother’s guilt. “The situation on the western border is getting worse by the day. I was hoping the defeat of Skandza would make all the others capitulate, but instead it looks like they’re determined to go down swinging.” The king chuckled through a mouthful of food, “I’ll be happy to oblige them, of course, but our forces aren’t ready for battle yet. They need time to recover from the last campaign.”

    Hrabnaz’s body quietly switched to the alert; like a proverbial puppet master, the direction of the conversation was slowly evolving as he desired it. “Yes, our forces have certainly looked better. I’d almost think that, if the western tribes were to attack now, we could very well lose!” he added, subtly trying to extract information from the king’s enigmatic mind.

    “I’m not sure I would go that far,” Heruwulfaz countered pensively. “Granted our host ha somewhat exhausted itself, but they are still the largest and most experienced group of fighting men in the whole Northlands. If any of the western lords try to press the war into our turf, I suspect they will be dispatched in short order.”

    Typical, Hrabnaz thought, searing his brother with a look of bottomless contempt. Always so confident of his own brilliance – but not once does he ever do honor to those who loyally serve him! The prince cleared his throat, “I didn’t see any of our armies on my travels,” he observed innocently. “Where are they now?”

    “Moving south out of the woods,” Heruwulfaz sighed, clearly tiring of political talk. “Athawulfaz marches at the head of the column. It’ll take a week or two, but we should hopefully be able to find a clearer route to invade from. I just hope…”

    Hrabnaz hung onto his brother’s words with intense anticipation. “Go on, what is it?”

    The king reluctantly carried on. “When I last spoke to Athawulfaz, he seemed to imply that our army was the only thing preventing the western tribes from invading into Kimbroz territory. I suspect he was mistaken, but I’m worried the Heruskoz will find out about our maneuvers and launch an attack.”

    The prince grinned subtly to himself. They will do more than that, if I have anything to say about it. Having finished his work for the night, he rolled to his feet and made to leave. “It’s getting late, and Edjufrithko will want to know that I’m home. I will see you in the morning, Heruwulfaz.”

    “Goodnight, Hrabnaz,” the king called as the other started off. “It is good to have you back.”

  17. #17

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    270 BC

    ”A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new; when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

    The lands of Germania have come a long way over the past two years; where there was once instability and chaos, a type of dependable order has begun to creep over the land in the form of the Sweboz Confederacy.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Constant warfare and campaigning leave little room for any other pursuits, and barring the recent birth of Hrabnaz’s daughter Fritharikjo, no new issue have been produced from the royal family.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The host of the Sweboz is vast and powerful, but is concentrated under a single banner. While Athawulfaz patrols the border well-equipped, the rest of the Confederacy’s territory remains vulnerable to any surprise attacks.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    By making peace with the Arverni nation, Hagaradaz has taken a great burden off of Heruwulfaz’s shoulders. Still, the terms of their treaty mean that relations between the Aedui and the Sweboz are likely to remain frigid into the foreseeable future.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    It has only been two years, but the ramifications of Heruwulfaz’s vision can already be acutely felt. Where it had once been dangerous to merely visit the next village over, a man can now ride from sunrise to sunset without having ever seen the boundaries of Sweboz, and he can be sure that every nation he passes through is a friend of his kin. No more fertile ground for growth and innovation has ever been laid.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    As the power of the Sweboz grows, their understanding of the world does as well. Through a combination of Hagaradaz’s travels, exponential trade growth, and territorial expansion, the people of the Northlands have gleaned a far more accurate perception of the world beyond the Northlands, particularly that of the city-dwelling Walhoz.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

  18. #18

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter XI – Misinformation

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The shoddy merchant carts were poorly suited to the demands of the trail, haphazardly bouncing and crashing as they slowly wound their way through the ancient hills and forests. The caravan’s massive cargo – a gratuitous load of grain and fresh venison – did little to make the journey any easier. The nameless grunt assigned to harnessing the supplies clearly held his job in low regard; the fastenings were so few and so poorly done that even the tiniest bump would send loose rations rolling whimsically away into the pasty dirt.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The convoy had traveled far today, and they had further to go if they were ever to reach their destination. In typical fashion, they had been given little information with regard to the purpose of their expedition, and little reason to believe they would ever find out. No concrete mention had been made of their destination either, but that was a mystery easily unraveled; even a novice woodsman would have known that their trail was carrying them onwards towards the western tribes, where the last remaining followers of the Old Ways were assembling the remains of their hosts in a final, quixotic display of defiance.

    No true man of Sweboz would dare to publicly question the judgment of their beloved king, but there were more than a few eyebrows raised at the decision to put his son Harjawulfaz in command of the operation. The young man was energetic, to be sure, but his princely wisdom and temperament were still painfully constrained by the boundaries of boyhood. Where Heruwulfaz approached statecraft with a gentle touch, Harjawualfaz had shown himself to be something of a lumbering giant, effectively battering his way through dilemmas by virtue of sheer stubbornness and tenacity. This indomitable spirit, combined with equal amounts of wisdom and ability, was the making of a great and worthy ruler; without it, it amounted to nothing more than the useless pugnacity of a tavern brawler.

    “I hate these stupid wagons,” the prince whined as their cart cleared an especially monstrous rut. “They bounce all the time and there’s nowhere comfortable for a man to sit. When I am finally made king, they shall be banned.”

    The horse driver, a man whose name was as forgettable and inconsiderable as his station, was having an increasingly difficult time of hiding his amusement. “I don’t know if that’d be such a good idea, your lordship,” the servant chuckled in his charmingly vernacular tongue. “The soothsayers can work many wonders, but I’ve yet to see the magic that can make a carriage fly – ‘cept in my dreams, of course.”

    “I never said anything about flying,” Harjawulfaz retorted irritably, wincing helplessly as they cleared yet another bump. “We ought to just take boats out of the water, and put wheels on them. Then it would be just like sailing, but over land instead of the sea.”

    The driver, not entirely certain if he was supposed to laugh or not, settled for a toothless smile. “I seem to recall they have those already,” he teased. “I believe they call them ‘wagons’.”

    “Never you mind!” the Prince spat, ill-humor hanging stubbornly about him like a somber cloud. “What business does a miserable layman have talking to me anyway? You’re just as dull and stubborn as my father, you are!”

    The servant grimaced slightly as he absorbed this latest salvo of curses from the prince. “Of all the words I have heard used to describe the king,” he began seriously, “I have never heard ‘dull’ and ‘stubborn’ among them. Perhaps we are not thinking of the same person…”

    Harjawulfaz met the driver’s patience with a rude snort. “My father is undoubtedly an accomplished man, but none of his accomplishments hold a candle to his mastery of hypocrisy. Consider how he lambasts his enemies and rivals as being blind and narrow-minded, and then steadfastly refuses to accept any ideas other than his own. Or regard his scathing condemnation of warfare between the tribes – even as the soldiers and armies of Sweboz march to do battle in every corner of the Northlands.”

    “King Heruwulfaz has a great and lofty vision for this nation,” the servant insisted calmly. “If the sacred values of law and fraternity are ever to be realized, it is perhaps necessary to temporarily forsake them in the name of pragmatism, no?”

    The prince was plainly unmoved by the other’s vague rhetoric. “Tyranny begins with pragmatism,” he cautioned darkly, “and ends with the iron chains of slavery. Ideals are not petty trinkets to be created and discharged at will; you must always stand by them if you expect to be able to speak for them. The precedent my father will set in the years to come shall be the defining standard against which all our leaders will be measured until the end of time. He should be mindful of the example he is leaving for posterity.”

    “You speak with the authority of a man who has never had authority,” the driver scolded. “It is well enough for you to criticize the weaknesses of the king now, but I must wonder if you will so easily rebuff the temptations of power when you sit upon the throne.”

    Uncomfortable tension still edged the afternoon air, but when Harjawulfaz spoke his words were delivered with a certain flat resignation. “Only time will tell us that; and until then I think I will keep to my reflections, however speculative they may be.”

    “Then allow me to speculate for a moment as well,” the driver continued. “No one has been very forthcoming with information about our destination, and the depot foreman seemed confused when I told him we were headed out west. What exactly are we doing, if your lordship wouldn’t mind saying?”

    Harjawulfaz carefully held his words for a moment, biting his lip as if he were not certain he could trust this lowborn servant at his side. Eventually, he coaxed himself into explaining their assignment. “The time is fast approaching for my uncle Athawulfaz to strike at the western tribes, and put an end to their scheming. If he is to carry out a campaign, he will need ample stores of food; father had heard that the army was running low, and so here we are.” A skilled eye might have noticed the driver’s brow furrow at this assessment, but the man held his tongue. What little remained of their journey passed by quickly, and in comfortable silence.

    There was a certain exaggerated majesty to the caravan as it flew into the open clearing, wheels thundering and hooves pounding rhythmically against the already flattened grass. Sunlight fell lazily down from the sky above; oozing a thin, glistening layer of orange gloss over everything it could touch. One-by-one the mighty ‘ships of the land’ rumbled to a stop, their drivers dismounting with all the grumbling and cursing that befits long hours of uninterrupted riding.

    “Wait…this is wrong,” Harjawulfaz asserted, his brain at last beginning to process the empty plain in front of them. He jumped down from the wagon and began to pace erratically, shaking his head in a mixture of disbelief and frustration. “This all wrong,” he repeated, “there’s nobody here!”

    “This grass is bent,” the servant observed as he knelt low to the ground, and “and you can see the remains of campfires lying around. They were definitely here at one time or another – probably just went on the march again is all.”

    The prince shook his head with rising agitation. “No – that’s not right. They should still be camped right here – they weren’t supposed to move out again for another month!”

    The other could only offer an apathetic shrug. “All I can tell is that they were here before, and they’re not here now. Maybe somebody gave you the wrong instructions.”

    Harjawulfaz confidently waved away his servant’s supposition. “This assignment was handed down from the very heart of the Confederacy; my uncle Hrabnaz explicitly assured me the army would be here. If he does not know what he is doing, then who does?”

    The driver released a quiet sigh; working with a man as stubborn and independent as young Harjawulfaz was something of a mixed blessing – if that. “Dwelling on errors of communication is a fruitless endeavor, my lord. The fact of the matter is that they are not here, and we don’t know where they are. So…with this in mind, what do you want to do?”

    This sort of unrefined mental coaching seemed to have a positive effect; the prince slowly began to let himself relax and reassemble his scattered wits. “We ought to wait here for a few days,” he proclaimed, oblivious to the general groan that erupted in response. “If my intuition is correct, uncle Athawulfaz and the troops will return here in good time.”

    The workers slowly shuffled away, readying their tools and equipment with all the enthusiasm of condemned criminals. Harjawulfaz seemed to notice none of it, waltzing through the emerging campground as if the prospect of a wretched week spent in the lonely woods were some sort of coveted.

    “Not even sixteen years old,” the driver seethed to one of his fellows, “and already making decision on intuition! I tell you, prince or not, that man is nothing more than an imbecile!”

    “Time and trial make for a fine polish – even on the roughest stones,” the worker said without interest, letting his words hang pointedly in the air. “Now help me prop this tent up – the sky looks ominous.”


    Wherever the Sweboz marched, victory seemed to follow, faithfully marching at their side through one triumphant conquest after another. There was an enormous amount of credit to be given, and no shortage of honorable heroes to give it to; perhaps to lord Athawulfaz, for his bold and fearless deeds in battle, or perhaps to the beloved King Heruwulfaz, for the unity and purpose he managed to bring to the disparate nations of the Confederacy. Then there were the pious within society, who would doubtless heap the honor and prestige upon the omnipotent gods who watched over them all.

    “You lads are the real heroes, I say,” Athawulfaz remarked to Okaz, choosing – in typical style – to march alongside his men rather than ride mounted. “The common folk love to chatter and gossip to themselves about their leaders and chieftains, but I’d wager that being good at fighting is a lot more valuable than being good at dissembling.”

    Okaz returned a polite laugh. “You do yourself a disservice, my lord. A strong and worthy leader is just as important as having strong and worthy warriors. Ask yourself, ‘what is a fine sword worth without a man to wield it’?”

    The nobleman snorted amicably. “You spout platitudes like a practiced greybeard, Okaz – perhaps you have a career in politics waiting for you once you retire. You may surely have my place, if you like.”

    “I should think not,” Okaz grinned. “If politics was as simple as inventing proverbs we wouldn’t have any need for kings in the first place! Besides, your royal brother needs strong men like you on his council – for advice.”

    Athawulfaz let out another snort, a little harsher this time. “My advice is of dubious value at best; both Heruwulfaz and I know it. I am a warrior; blood and death are my sustenance. Politics and diplomacy are like a meaningless buzzing in my ear – I go wherever I am bid, and I kill all who stand in my way. It is who I am.”

    “At least you are good at it,” Okaz quipped. “There are many men who can do nothing but brag and boast – do you still remember the chief Harkilaz, and how hastily he deserted his loyal soldiers?”

    “How could I forget?” Athawulfaz smirked. “I suspect I have never fought a more unworthy adversary – and his host was nothing impressive either. I didn’t even enjoy vanquishing him; there was no fight to speak of. It was just a chore.”

    The conversation naturally trailed off, replaced by the reliable beating of tired footsteps against the trail. With enough time spent as a warrior, Okaz had become fully accustomed to the tedium and hardship that came with marching. While most of the young men whined and grumbled under their breaths, the old soldier glid across the dust with easy strides. Still, the man was careful to conserve his energy; although the path seemed easy now, they had a long afternoon ahead of them, and the black clouds rumbling overhead seemed to suggest that it would be a very wet journey.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    “This maneuver seems improvised,” Okaz observed as they began to descend into a rather densely forested valley. “I thought we were well-positioned before – why the sudden decision to move out?”

    “Not my call,” Athawulfaz shrugged. “My brother originally said he wanted us to head south, where there’s less woodland, but then Hrabnaz showed up the other day telling us he had spoken with Heruwulfaz and we were supposed to head north instead. Doesn’t sound like a great idea to me, but it’s not my job to question my orders.”

    Okaz wrinkled his nose suspiciously, “it seems odd that his Majesty would send lord Hrabnaz out of his way to do something a simple messenger could have done just as easily.”

    “It also seems odd that a noble prince and an unknown killer should speak as friends,” Athawulfaz teased, “but then again I suppose the machinations of fate are always difficult to interpret – now more than ever, it seems.” The nobleman looked skyward, regarding the swirling mass of black and grey with dull foreboding. “Such a chill in the air…there will be rain tonight.”

    “Let it come down!”

    A peculiar series of events suddenly began to unfold, cascading one after the other in rapid succession. First there was a sort of general roar, rising from either side of the woods like a frothy wave crashing against a rock shore. A strange crunching sound followed shortly thereafter; the sound of twigs and leaves being mangled beneath anxious feet. Finally, in a moment of pure cinema the storm released a mighty jolt of the brightest lightening, illuminating – for but a fleeting instant – a terrifying mob of assailants charging the Sweboz from either side, furious screams reverberating in their throats.

    “Ambush!” Athawulfaz cried, feeling the unfamiliar jolt of panic sweep through his bowels. As soon as the lightening disappeared a hellish nightmare of darkness and chaos emerged in its place, with the Sweboz sprinting every which way for want of weapons and leadership.

    “My sword!” the prince cried as he fumbled aimlessly through the blackness, “where is my sword!?” He turned to seek aide from Okaz, but the warrior had already slipped away, lost amidst the tumultuous melee unfolding in every direction.

    Quick, panting breaths began to emanate from somewhere behind him; almost instinctively, Athawulfaz spun around and planted a massive first in his assailant’s face. A sick feeling of pleasure tingled in him as he felt the other’s nose bend and splinter beneath the impact. The noblemen bent down over his victim with the anxiety of a grave robber, running his hands blindly over the comatose soldier as he searched for some sort of weapon. “Come on, come on,” he pleaded, but his search was fruitless.

    Rain was coming down in a flood now, and Athawulfaz only just noticed the second enemy in time to dodge his thrust. The attacker began to make a patient advance, cautiously jiggle his spear in a bizarre attempt at feinting. In terms of skill and experience, however, the warrior was in way over his head; the nobleman easily dodged the second strike and yanked the spear from his enemy’s grasp, drilling the point into his adversary’s back as he tried to flee.

    Finally having armed himself, Athawulfaz clenched his teeth and leaped into the fray, fighting with all the fury and bloodlust he was famous for. Against this human whirlwind of carnage, no man could hope to provide resistance. Friend and foe alike hastened to dive out of the giant’s path, mewling and squealing like young peasant girls.

    At some point during the brawl, the royal brother lost his spear; he automatically reverted to fisticuffs, violently bashing and clubbing any who were foolish enough to think his martial prowess any the lesser. “Come on curs!” he bellowed as he effortlessly snapped the neck of a young juguntiz. “Better to die now then have me hunt you down later!”

    “You lordship,” Okaz suddenly cried, breaking into the nobleman’s gory trance, “we need to get out of here, now!”

    Athawulfaz slowly turned around, his face marked with casual confusion. “What are you talking about?” he asked of the warrior, “they’re scattering like ants!”

    You are killing many,” Okaz pressed, “but everybody else is getting slaughter. Everybody’s trying to escape south again – we should join them.”

    Athawulfaz scoffed and wiped blood from his mouth, half-heartedly following after his friend. “What’s the rush – I’m doing just fine!”

    “You are not!” Okaz insisted as they broke into a sprint. “You were killing plenty, but you were also taking blows left and right – didn’t you notice!?”

    A single glance to his person suddenly awoke Athawulfaz to reality; he hadn’t even felt the terrible rainbow of gashes and cuts that seemed to have spread across his body like a web. All of them looked painfully to the naked eye, and there were a few choice ones among them that made the nobleman wonder how he was still on his feet. “I guess I couldn’t feel…these look really bad,” he observed in a shrill voice he barely recognized.

    “You’re going to be alright,” Okaz promised as the sounds of combat and slaughter fell to a soft murmur. “We’ll just catch up with the survivors and then…”

    Okaz was still talking, but his words were little more than gibberish as Athawulfaz toppled hard to the muddy ground.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter XII – A Storm Gathers

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Any fool with a tongue and half a mind for imagination can talk of heroism, but to rise up into the pages of history requires more than simple words or deeds. Rather, true heroes – the kind whose worthy names are forever immortalized in the minds of men – are born out of the highest virtue of them all: selflessness. To kill a score of warriors, or swim a raging river, is impressive to be sure; but to able to put aside all thoughts of oneself, and give without question to the welfare of others, is an ideal that most can only ever aspire to.

    Okaz never stopped to question what he was doing, even as his back began to buckle and strain beneath the weight of the catatonic giant slung over his shoulders. The warrior couldn’t claim to be well-versed in the healing arts, but he had seen enough wounds in his time to know that Athawulfaz was in bad shape. Every now and again he could still hear the prince moaning in agony, his cries providing an eerie companion to the torrential storm that had begun to fall. Though he was running as fast as he could, Okaz could still hear the deafening sound of the melee close behind him; a tiny voice in his head begged him to drop Athawulfaz and take off on his own. Ashamed at himself, the warrior shook his head and redoubled his pace.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    A grotesque sucking sound indicated that the prince was trying to speak; Okaz did his best to push away the pounding of the rain. “I can…hardly breathe,” Athawulfaz complained weakly. “Who…” he began, but is voice wavered and disappeared beneath a clap of thunder.

    “Hush your lordship!” Okaz begged with poorly concealed fear. “You must save your strength, please!”

    The other squirmed and writhed blindly in his position, nearly causing Okaz’s knees to break beneath him. “What about…the battle,” Athawulfaz tried again, more insistently. “Who…who won?”

    We did,” Okaz lied, praying his answer would silence the nobleman. “It was glorious. We routed them from the field in just minutes; everyone fought bravely…especially you.”

    Athawulfaz chuckled – or at least, the warrior guessed it was a chuckle. “I should have known…thank you, Okaz,” he added with a rattling sigh. “If I must go, at least I may leave in victory…”

    It was a response that gave little reason for optimism; Okaz found himself speeding again as panic and adrenaline coursed through his body in equal measure. The manly sounds of battle had since faded away; only the rapid beat of the rains was left to mark their flight. Fickle and treacherous even in the best of weather, the country road on which they ran devolved into a veritable swamp, mud and refuse pulling stubbornly at Okaz’s feet with every step. Visibility became next to impossible; the tired warrior only knew that he was headed north, and that to slow down for even a minute would almost certainly spell disaster.

    “We have been running for a long time,” Okaz panted, as if speaking to his lord would somehow keep him alive. “We must surely be getting close now.”

    Athawulfaz was racked anew by coughing, his lungs sounding grotesquely thick and congested. “Listen,” he whispered, “tell my brother…tell him that we won…and that the way to the west is open.”

    The warrior shook his head emphatically, feeling foreign emotions well-up deep inside of him. “No, you will tell him! Any celebration would fall flat without your lordship to grace it.” He squinted slightly, impatiently ignoring the sting of raindrops in his eyes. “You must be there to see his Majesty’s dream become a reality; to watch as our one-time enemies throw down their spears and take up our hands in friendship instead. It is as much your accomplishment as anyone else’s.”

    “You talk…too much Okaz,” the prince chided, his pain now making him ornery. “Your head is…fat with dreams and…devoid of reason,” he squirmed uncomfortably. “Set me down…so that I may rest.”

    “No,” the warrior insisted; disobeying, for the first time in his life, a direct order from his betters. “We need to keep moving. You are hurt, and there is further to go.”

    “What’s the point?” Athawulfaz retorted angrily. “I’m no fool…I know how bad…my injuries are. I may as well…opt for a peaceful death…if death in battle is to be stolen from me.”

    “No death is better than any death at all, wouldn’t you say?” Okaz secured the nobleman on his back and began to slow, every fiber of his body burning from exertion. “Come on,” he gasped. “We’ll stop at this farmhouse up here.”

    If travel on the road had seemed difficult, it was nothing compared to the muddy cesspool that Okaz now found himself attempting to wade through. Clumps of mud – or at least, what looked like mud – rose up as high as his shins or even higher; it was a wonder that a farm had ever managed to survive there at all, in retrospect. Somewhere not far away, a single light pierced the swirling expanse of the fog – a beacon guiding the pair onwards toward sanctuary.

    “There are people inside,” Okaz promised, hoping with all his heart that it was true. “They’ll be able to help us, I’m sure of it.”

    No response came from the man on his back; anxious, the warrior shook himself as if to wake his baggage. “Your Lordship?” He repeated the motion, more aggressively. “Athawulfaz!?”

    Still not a sound emerged. Cold panic gripped Okaz as his stimuli failed to generate a response; he found himself sprinting the rest of the way to the tiny farmhouse, all manner of terrible scenarios racing uncontrollably through his head. “Open up!” he demanded hysterically, his fist rattling the crude wooden door. “In the name of his Majesty, open the door!”

    The door opened, swinging noiselessly inward to reveal a thin, scrawny peasant man standing defensively in front of his young son. A single dagger sat clutched in his trembling hand, its construction as crude and simple as the meager furnishings which adorned his home. “Who are you,” he demanded curtly, “to speak with the authority of the king?”

    Okaz did not deign to provide a response; the farmer continued to bare his dagger as the warrior muscled his way through the door. The peasant drew back in alarm, and was about to raise a cry when his guest dumped the catatonic Athawulfaz onto the dining table, sending bowls and plates clattering to the floor.

    “By the Gods,” the man breathed, his face becoming awash in unmitigated shock, “no…is that?”

    “This is Athawulfaz,” Okaz announced darkly, “son of Swartigaizaz and brother of the great King Heruwulfaz – may his reign be long. Just an hour ago, this noble prince was badly injured in a fight with our enemies. I fear he will not survive.”

    The farmer touched a clammy hand to his forehead. “Oh my…Baldaz!” he said to the boy, his voice hoarse and constricted. “Run and wake Oma – be quick!”

    The child scurried further into the house, leaving the two men alone to their anxiety. “More inauspicious tidings there surely cannot be,” the peasant brooded to himself.

    “Baldaz…” Okaz repeated curiously. “Is he the one who beat Brecca in a swimming race?”

    “No, that was Beo,” the farmer dismissed, his eyes fixed morbidly on Athawulfaz’s heaving figure. “His wounds are very grave…how on earth did it come to this?”

    Okaz sighed, powerless to stop the faint smile which crept across his face. “His Lordship is an exceedingly brave and energetic fighter; it usually does him a service, but today there were simply too many.”

    The peasant tentatively approached the table, looking at the nobleman’s lacerated torso in a sort of horrified wonderment. “These wounds could have easily felled a bear, let alone a man; does he not feel pain?”

    The warrior proffered a humorless laugh. “If he does, he certainly doesn’t show it. In the heat of battle, I have seen him become more animal than human; his fury and bloodlust are unequaled. I suspect he would have sooner been hewn in half than lay down his arms.”

    The farmer shot his guest a cautious sidelong glance. “Am I correct to presume that you carried him to my home?”

    “Indeed – and I have the bruises to prove it,” Okaz quipped dryly.

    The other returned a polite laugh. “What is your name, warrior?”

    “They call me Okaz – and you?”

    “I am Hludaz,” the other explained. “You have already met Baldaz, of course.”

    Okaz was about to responded when a tapping was heard, beating rhythmically somewhere within the house. Perplexed, the warrior was about to question his host when an elderly woman made her way into the room, hobbling along with the aide of a roughly made cane. Every aspect of her reminded one of a hag; her face was wrinkled and leathery from many decades of exposure, and even her limbs seemed to be gnarled and twisted out of shape. “What’s the rush for?”

    “Mother,” Hludaz greeted, rushing over to help the woman walk. “We need your help. This man here,” he explained with a wave, “is the brother of the king. He is badly wounded and needs medicine.”

    The old woman pushed her son away and approached the prince, examining his body with an utterly impassive countenance. A shaking pair of hands began to fell at the various cuts and gashes, appraising them for unknown qualities. “He is very badly hurt,” the woman assessed, “but if I set to work right away, I may be able to save his life.”

    No sooner had this stunning pronouncement been made then the healer set to work, reaching for her various pots and jars without as much as a single word. Okaz watched with cautious excitement as she began to carefully mash ingredients together, shoving bitter spoonfuls of the medicine past Athawulfaz’s motionless lips.

    The prince’s survival was still far from assured; but if nothing else, Okaz could be sure that he had at least been given a chance. All of the exertion and stress of the previous hours seemed to suddenly catch up to him; his whole body felt heavy as he flopped down into a nearby chair.

    “You seem very tired,” Hludaz observed kindly. “Would you perhaps prefer a bed? I would be happy to open my home to you, after all you have done.”

    “I am fine, thank you,” Okaz assured. “I would prefer to remain at his Lordship’s side until we are certain he will be okay.”

    “I understand – and I will certainly be glad to have a warrior keeping guard for us!” Hludaz laughed, the tension of the previous deathwatch slowly disappearing.

    “Ha,” Okaz laughed humorlessly, “you will need more than just one warrior if things are as I fear them.”

    “What do you mean?” the other asked perplexedly.

    “Only one man not in the army knew we were marching south today,” Okaz said with a simmering anger that surprised even him. “And that man is the same who gave us the orders in the first place.”

    Hludaz gasped, “surely not King Heruwulfaz?”

    “No – his brother: the honorable Lord Hrabnaz,”


    “You have lied to me!”

    King Bidajaz conducted his reaction with masterful theatrics, reeling backwards in his throne as his whole face was consumed an expression of shock and indignation. “Good Hrabnaz,” he chuckled incredulously, “I didn’t expect you back for another day, at the earliest! What on earth are you shouting about?”

    Hrabnaz dashed the king’s good-humor with a single swipe of his hand, the pair of royal guards backpedaling cautiously out of the potential line of fire. “Do not play me for a fool!” the prince roared, leveling a trembling finger at his patron. All in the room were as still and silent as statues but for Hrabnaz, who continued to shake and heave in the center of the hall as if he might explode.

    “I surely won’t,” Bidajaz said kindly, “but first I think you need to help me understand what has you so upset – else how can I hope to be of any help to you?” As an actor he was unmatched; his every word and mannerism, down to the slightest idle motion of his hands, was performed effortlessly and immaculately.

    “The seneschal just brought me the report,” Hrabnaz explained, struggling to keep his voice level. “According to him, the main Sweboz army was just ambushed on its march southward.”

    Bidajaz erupted into a chorus of triumphant laughter, his fist banging excitedly on the arm of his seat. “And it was a success too, so I’ve been told! After all our planning and skulking we have finally scored a tangible victory against our foes!”

    “My brother was among that host!” Hrabnaz bellowed, utterly sickened by the king’s joy. “Who knows what happened to him?! What if he was hurt!?”

    “It would be quite the shame if he was only hurt,” the king chuckled, prompting a small crowd of advisors to hurriedly do the same. “If he lives we may have to devise some way of finishing him off.”

    No words were necessary; the horrified stare plastered on Hrabnaz’s face was an entire speech unto itself. What little mirth had emerged from the cluster of retainers quickly fell flat again, leaving silence to reclaim the hall. Bidajaz sighed as might a laborer put to a task, pushing himself reluctantly from the comfort of his throne. “Come boy,” he asked rather than demanded. “Walk with me for a minute – it’s a beautiful night.”

    The other hesitated for a long moment, squinting suspiciously in response to this altogether unexpected invitation. His right hand hovered somewhere near the hilt of his dagger, betraying the ongoing conflict in his mind. A single clap echoed off the walls as he took a tepid step forward. “You had best explain everything,” he asserted as he took another step, “and if you lie then Gods have mercy on you, because I surely won’t.”

    Bidajaz almost laughed, but he quickly thought better of it; even the slightest display of flippancy might have turned the young prince against him. Through Hrabnaz’s cooperation he had been handed the tools he needed to keep the independence of his people and orchestrate the downfall of the Sweboz; he would gladly to anything not to lose it.

    It was a warm and windy night that the two men ventured out into, the purple sky above laced by a brilliant web of stars. Word had been passed around about a storm gathering somewhere in the east, but for now the weather was as pristine as could be. It was a strange time indeed for treasonous talk.

    “We haven’t had weather this nice in ages,” Bidajaz commented pleasantly. “I was growing more than a little sick of the cold, let me tell you.”

    “Hold your dissembling,” Hrabnaz growled. “We have more important things to talk about than the seasons.”

    The king let out another sigh, no longer willing to beat about the subject at hand. “Yes, yes, I know. You’re worried about prince Athawulfaz, correct?”

    “He is my brother,” Hrabnaz insisted. “The same blood that runs through him is in me also. You must have known that he was in the army as it was marching – why did you go ahead with the task.”

    “I made a crucial decision,” Bidajaz replied testily, “one that will go a long way to protecting the Heruskoz. There is no doubt that it was the right thing to do.”

    “But…” Hrabnaz stammered, “he could be dead! I’ve known him my entire life – better than anyone else, and-“

    “So what? Hrabnaz, listen,” the king insisted, grabbing his pupil paternally by the shoulders. “You have already renounced your allegiance to the lands of Sweboz; Athawulfaz and the others – they are not your kin anymore. You may think to show them clemency, but what would happen, do you think, if they ever found out about all that you have done?”

    A fleeting image of a sword flashed through the prince’s mind, the blade gleaming as it swooshed down upon the neck of a traitor. “I understand,” he said solemnly, “but this is not a case of mere treason, your Majesty. What we are talking about is fratricide – nothing less!”

    “You told me that your brothers were always inequitable to you,” Bidajaz reasoned patiently. “That they stole your honor, robbed you of your glory, and consigned you to the most menial and wretched tasks they could possibly think of. Did you not spend half a year patrolling treacherous swamplands in the far south?” he asked theatrically. “That sounds as much like an attempt to kill you as anything else.”

    “They may have tried to hold me back,” the prince relented, “but they were surely just misguided. It can be all too easy for lesser men to fall into the cursed vice of jealousy.”

    The king managed to suppress a snicker. “Hrabnaz, if you are ever to be a king then you must now begin to think like one. Put aside the emotions that have made you weak and suggestible; discard all your foolish sentimentality and overactive empathy! Your brothers are no kin of yours; they have spent their entire lives keeping you weak and making themselves strong! Your lot is now permanently cast against them – the ancient laws will show you no mercy if you treachery is ever revealed. When you see them, do not see the faces of your brother but see them for what they really are: enemies and obstacles to be overcome and destroyed! When you treat with them do not do so with love and compassion, but with hate – for hate can be the most powerful of allies, when wisely and justly used.”

    “To take up arms against my own family,” Hrabnaz whimpered, “what man would ever deign to look me in the eye again!?”

    “What man would dare not to!?” Bidajaz cried, his eyes seeming to literally burn with passion in the darkness; the prince could only recoil helplessly. “All kings are beloved in triumph – your name shall be like legend, its echo ever carrying down the vaulted corridor of the histories. Wherever you shall ride your lesser will flock to you, straining and breaking themselves if only to look upon you. All those who thought they would be great – Heruwulfaz, Ansuharjaz, and Athawulfaz – shall be cast evermore from human memory, all of their achievements being raised to your name instead. From riverbank to rolling riverbank your domain shall stretch, encompassing all the worthy people of the world and leaving the rest to wallow in agony for want of your supreme grace.”

    “But…what if it never comes to pass?” Hrabnaz moaned, his willpower draining from him with each passing second. “What if all of my – all of our efforts fail?”

    “It is too late to worry about that,” the king asserted. “If you fail to fight, then time itself shall work against you – your treachery shall become bare and you will be hunted for a lowborn dog. If you pursue this dream then you may still fail, true, but the alternative is greatness everlasting. I think the choice is clear.”

    Hrabnaz refused to commit to anything, but fate had already been set into motion. “If I were to…to fight…what should I do?”

    “Ride to the house of your brothers,” Bidajaz said softly. “Do what you know you must.”

    Later, with all others asleep and with only the Gods themselves to bear witness, Hrabnaz rode for the lands of Sweboz.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    I like this AAR very much... I love the new intrigue.... Will Hrabnaz be fighting his brothers? btw are you RPing this only or are you doing this ingame as well, if so I'm curious how
    The path is nameless - Lao Tse

  21. #21

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Quote Originally Posted by Reality=Chaos
    I like this AAR very much... I love the new intrigue.... Will Hrabnaz be fighting his brothers? btw are you RPing this only or are you doing this ingame as well, if so I'm curious how
    Hrabnaz certainly seems determined to be rid of them, at any rate. Most of what I'm writing is stuff I'm RPing based on events in the game. For example, Athawulfaz got the "scarred" trait while marching towards the Heruskoz, so I decided to write the ambush scene. A lot of stuff is just embellishment for plot purposes, but it's all based on real events, I assure you.


    Chapter XIII – Family Reunion

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Certainly Okaz was no stranger to malicious and disagreeable dreams, but his night spent in the house of the lay farmer Hludaz was marked by a sleep more restless and fitful than any other he had endured before. His mind seemed to be torn between the world of men and the world of dreams; he ceased to know for sure whether he was conscious or unconscious, watching helplessly as the low-burnt candles cast their elongated shadows up and down the walls. Everything he saw was fleeting, indistinct, and never fully comprehensible; he saw brief scenes of the elderly healer leaning over the prince, applying strange ointments and potions to his wounds. A split-second later and the room seemed to melt and swirl, finally emerging empty save for the catatonic Athawlufaz. With time and fatigue, Okaz ceased to see anything at all, his whole body slouching exhaustedly into his lap.

    It had been a very long time since the warrior had been woken by the call of a rooster, but there was no mistaking that shrill and entirely unwelcome call as it reverberated through the house. No sooner had he been jarred from his meager allotment of rest then Okaz found himself tumbling ungracefully from the chair, flailing as he sprawled pathetically across the stale floor rushes. Either through the sound of his collapse or the continued exhortations of the rooster, the others in the house were roused to their feet as well, shuffling into the main room with the usual morning grumbling and eye-rubbing.

    “You know,” Hludaz yawned as he stepped over his prostate guest, “if I had known you wanted to sleep on the floor, I could have given you the dog’s spot, near the fire.”

    Okaz rolled onto his back and sighed, still searching for the motivation required to get up. “Spare me,” he mumbled through errant strands of hay, “it’s far too early for wit. I can’t have gotten more than five minutes of sleep.”

    “Well I’m sure you fared better than the Prince did,” the farmer replied with a nod towards his table. “I kept hearing him moan throughout the entire night – probably all that medicine he was given.”

    The haze over Okaz’s mind seemed to clear in an instant; grimy rushes went slipping into the air as the warrior bounded back over to the table. In his fatigue and complacency, he had all but forgotten about his Lordship’s struggle against death. His hands reached out uncertainly, as if he thought it would somehow be disrespectful to even touch a nobleman.

    “Your fear is misplaced,” Hludaz promised as he followed his guest over to the dining table. “It is a good thing that he has been crying out in pain – it means he can feel it and respond to it.” The farmer turned away and proceeded towards his cabinet. “Do you remember when you first brought him here, how he wasn’t making any noise at all?”

    An uncomfortable string of memories began to tumble through Okaz’s mind; for a brief moment he could feel the cold sting of the rain on his back, and the painful pounding of his heart as the prince ceased to respond to his questions. Back in the real world, he gave the slightest shudder. “I do indeed.”

    “That was a bad sign,” explained Hludaz, now returning with a fresh slab of dough. “It meant that his body was shutting down – he wasn’t reacting to things anymore. Now he’s getting better, so he can feel things better – or worse, depending on how you see it.”

    Okaz let out a humorless laugh, still keeping his eyes tightly trained on the body in front of him. “Hopefully he will be well enough to move again soon. I do not want to stay in one place for too long – and the remnants of the army will be looking for him.”

    The peasant began beating the dough carelessly against the table. “I hope you’ll stay for breakfast, at least. Never sorry to have more company, and we always have plenty of food to go around.”

    “I suspect I have no choice in the matter,” Okaz replied with a wave towards Athawulfaz. “I can’t go anywhere until he’s at least awake – the laws command it.”

    Hlduaz put down the dough and withdrew from it, wiping a few early beads of sweat from his brow. The look on his face was one Okaz had seen many times over; the look of an entirely spent man, wondering how he was ever going to make it through the rest of the day. “Then I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a quick favor?” Hludaz said hopefully. “It’ll only take five minutes, I promise.”

    Lingering traces of sleep were still harassing Okaz, tugging at his joints and making them sluggish; there was little he could have preferred less than to be sent on an errand. Still, after everything this farmer and his family had done, custom dictated that the warrior do his part to repay him. “With what do you need help?”

    “I need somebody to run and fetch me some water, to cook with,” the peasant explained as he continued to rest. “I’d have Baldaz do it, but he’s not strong enough to carry the whole pail; and my mother is busy looking after the prince.”

    There was a momentary pause as Okaz processed this report, mentally counting the number of people the farmer had cited. “And…there’s nobody else around to help you?” he asked rather consciously.

    If Hludaz at all understood what his guest had insinuated he certainly didn’t show it; there was only the tiniest twinkle of emotion in his eye as he shook his head. “No – nobody else. That’s why I need to use the extra pair of hands while I still have it!”

    For a few moments the warrior’s head was filled with a whole array of potential excuses he could have made; about sickness, infirmity, or even royal station. Just as quickly he had shouted down his immature reluctance; a little activity and movement in the morning was good for the humors anyway.

    “I will return shortly,” Okaz pronounced with a sigh. For a moment he lingered awkwardly beside the table. “Is…is there a bucket somewhere?”

    A solitary finger stretched out towards the doorway. “Right over there, by the entrance. Just go ahead and take it right off the hook; if you follow the dirt path down the hill you’ll reach the well in no time.”

    Okaz plucked the wooden pail of the peg with little delay, the first rumblings of hunger beginning to stir in his stomach. It came to him that he must never have eaten supper last night, and he seemed to recall having something of a small lunch as well – a poor choice, but then again, so was marching on a full stomach. This modest breakfast would be the first time he didn’t plan his meal around the demands of soldiery; for that alone it was worthy of being enshrined as a feast.

    Hludaz had perhaps not been entirely truthful with his directions – Okaz was finding it to be a little more than a mere short walk. The hill he was walking down was steep if, not sheer, and it seemed to gradually transform into a repetitive series of tiny mounds and depressions, the monotony broken only by the chance stream or boulder. Although a little dull, it was hardly an unpleasant walk at least; after last night’s terrible storm the new day’s sky had been left a vivid, healthy shade of blue, with the forest songbirds and insects having apparently returned in full, if their renewed chorus was any indicator.

    The water-well was as dull and predictable as one might have expected, although perhaps looking slightly run-down. Like any well, it was little more than a ditch encircled by a pile of stones, although in this case there was a distinct sensation that either the construction or the maintenance portion of the assembly had been performed with underwhelming attention-to-detail. A notable film of moss and debris lay thinly spread across the greenish surface of the water; very hoping that Hludaz would be boiling this liquid, Okaz ran his pail through the puddle and started back.

    For the first time in many weeks, the warrior found his thoughts drifting away from the mundane and the practical and towards the lofty domain of the philosophical; a topic of which, like most people, he knew little about but had no shortage of things to say. He found himself marveling at the meager world-wealth of these peasant farmers – rationing dough and drawing their water from stagnant pits in the ground. That which he had always found grueling and arduous – sleeping in tents on the march and eating military rations – seemed petty now that he held it in perspective to the poverty of the rural folk. Since the earliest dawn of man, the Northlanders had always been quick to trumpet the importance of freedom – but what was freedom worth if you were not also equal?

    This train of thought would continue no farther; Okaz found his reflections interrupt by a rumbling, so faint as to be indistinct, emanating from somewhere nearby. By this point, his instincts acted without him even realizing it; he was only vaguely aware of his pace slowing to a crawl, his eyes readily scanning the field for anything at all out of place. His mind began to run through its vast catalogue of survival strategies and combat stances – all of this, he realized, without having been given even the slightest real evidence of a threat. It suddenly struck him how long he had gone without being truly relaxed.

    Then, just when he thought it had been a false alarm, he saw them: a small party of horse-bound soldiers, their banner whipping violently through the air as they flew down the road. Armed warriors on the road were not terribly uncommon, but something about this particular war-band made immediately made them seem sinister; perhaps it was the furious speed at which they rode, or the unknown symbol which was sewn into their standard. Their conduct was entirely brisk and businesslike, implying no small amount of formal training; they dismounted in impressive synchrony, moving towards the farmhouse in an ominous, semicircular mob.

    There was a loud knock on the door, a quick and tense exchange of words, and then they were gone, somberly filing one-by-one through the doorway. From his distant spot on the crest of the hill, it was impossible for Okaz to tell what had been said or what had transpired. The presence of armed soldiers this far west could mean but one of two things; either the Sweboz army had recovered already, or the armed agents of the Heruskoz were now patrolling the area for its remnants. Only the latter seemed at all likely.

    Okaz crept silently along the wall of the house, his back pressed as flatly as possible against the uneven crags of the woodwork. In his right hand he still tightly clutched the water pail, splashing his trousers with loose discharges of water as he tried to hold it steady. It was somewhat foolish, he realized, to go through all the trouble of holding onto this tiny bucket, but he didn’t dare drop it – the slightest sound could have ended his impromptu spying in a moment.

    Muffled voices were coming from beyond the wall; Okaz positioned himself beneath the open window and rose up to a crouch, placing his ear just beneath the sill. The conversation seemed to be reaching its crux.

    “-still don’t see why you gentlemen stopped here. This is Sweboz territory; the laws of the Heruskoz don’t apply here.”

    There was no immediate response save for a series of heavy, mail-clad footsteps. “We must have just been mistaken…this is the royal prince here, on the table?”

    Okaz’s back was killing him now; the disks of his spine groaned ominously in his awkward pose. The warrior took a trembling hand and tried to ease his pain.

    “I never said anything about a prince…”

    “Don’t be so dense,” one of the soldiers snapped peevishly. “This is the royal heraldry of Sweboz here, on his tunic. I would recognize it anywhere.”

    Hludaz was heard to pause uncomfortably. “I…I don’t know who he is.”

    “You lie,” was all that the warrior cared to muster. “Irwaz, ready your sword and-“

    A sharp jolt of panic hit Okaz as the bucket slipped from his grasp, scraping shrilly against the wall as it tumbled downward. As if this were not bad enough, the comedic charade continued as the pail bounced again and again down the hard dirt road, its hollow banging making a commotion to rival that of a full-equipped army. Finally, just when Okaz’s embarrassment had become all but unbearable, the circus ended; the bucket ceased to bounce and simply rolled the rest of the way down the path.

    The party of warriors reacted in just seconds; as soon as the clatter of the water-pail had died away their angry cursing had risen to fill the void. Deciding that stealth had become irrelevant, Okaz removed himself from the wall and turned to run, burn the tired creaking of the doorway froze him in place. He watched reluctantly as the war-band came around the side of the house, their hands dangling over the hilts of their blades.

    “Who is this?” demanded the leader, a fiery-faced gentleman with scowling wrinkles etched deep into his skin. “Some sort of thief?”

    Hludaz, looking helpless and clueless in equal measure, followed his guests to the scene of the disturbance. “Oh – this is Okaz,” he explained blankly, “a warrior of the Sweboz – and a fine one, at that. It is he who brought me the body of the prince.”

    No further words were ever passed between the soldiers, but when they finally moved, they moved as one, drawing their swords and bringing them to bear with finely-practiced precision. Okaz found himself flying into a retreat as a he backpedaled down the hill, his un-guarded arms raised in front of his face in a futile gesture of defiance.

    One of the warriors at the head of the pack made a massive lunge; Okaz pulled his torso back at the last minute, but not quite fast enough; a brief sting coursed through his arm as the blade sliced into it. Genuinely afraid now, Okaz lowered both his arms and prepared for a final stand, watching with smoldering contempt as his enemies began a leisurely attempt to encircle him. A muttered prayer escaped the warrior’s lips as he curled up a punch.

    “No more Sweboz die this day!”

    All heads turned just in time to see a dizzying blur slash through the air; a weak moan went out as one of the assailants toppled to the ground, his limbs flopping like wet seaweed onto the dirt. In another second, all had found themselves recoiling in fear at the giant who had no joined them in their diversion.

    “Okaz, you devil!” Athawulfaz laughed, hefting the carpenter’s hammer effortlessly in his right hand. “Thought you’d leave me out of this one, eh? Fat chance!”

    “Your Lordship!?” the warrior cried, quite forgetting about the battle he was supposed to have. “I thought you were unconscious!”

    “I’m awake,” the nobleman returned, “and I’m thinking it’s time for a little…morning calisthenics.”

    Almost to a man the enemies ran for their lives; only their apparent leader, the dour-faced one, still stood his ground, his already venomous visage growing more furious by the second. As if something had been decided, his hand shot down reflexively to the hilt of his sword. “Then fight me, cur!”

    His death was hardly worthy of the virile scream he had given; a dense crushing sound accompanied by the implosion of his skull, leaving his head to bounce and sag repulsively in the road where it fell; the captain’s sword, finely made and richly ornamented, cart-wheeled whimsically through the air before impaling itself into the grass.

    Athawulfaz casually drew the blade with his left hand, turning it over beneath the fresh light of the sun. He seemed to really be studying it, as if there were something in particular he was looking for. Then, without any warning, all questions were answered; Athawulfaz hefted the sword high into the air and, with an unearthly roar, pelted it into the field.

    “We have been betrayed,” was all he could say.

    “Hrabnaz told the Heruskoz of our location,” Okaz was quick to add, grateful that his suspicions were being corroborated. “That’s the only way they could have known we were going north instead of south.”

    The lord pumped the air furiously with his fist, grinding his teeth so tightly they seemed as if they might shatter. “Those men were Hrabnaz’s personal guard – his loyal thanes, sworn to do his bidding. He sent them here to finish me off!”

    “There’s no telling how long he has been an agent of the Heruskoz,” the warrior cursed pensively. “Their foul king will have had access to even the most closely guarded secrets.”

    Athawulfaz turned around haughtily, moving at an almost unmatchable pace. “Not for long he won’t.”

    “Wait!” Okaz called after him, jogging to match his steps with those of his hulking comrade. “We should ride to the capitol,” the warrior agreed, “We should bring this knowledge to the king,”

    “Aye,” the prince seethed as he swung atop a vacant horse. “And we will need to hurry if we are to get their in time. Saddle up,” he commanded with a sigh, “we ride for the east.”


    “Once again you return!” Heruwulfaz laughed as he descended the courtyard stairs. “I swear you have traveled more in these past few weeks than ever before in your life!”

    Hrabnaz coldly brushed away his brother felicitations, giving him a dark look that was at once solemn and exhausted. “Indeed brother; and I will continue to travel until I have done all that I must do.” He threw a hand irritably into the air; his servants took the message and made to quarter his horse.

    “Your sarcasm ill-suits you,” Heruwulfaz responded chidingly. “It seems to have put you in a terrible humor lately.”

    “There is no time for humor,” returned Hrabnaz, his voice seemingly trapped in the same, tired monotone. “With each passing day the ranks of our friends dwindle and those of our enemies grow more numerous. It is a crime for you to live as carelessly as you do.”

    The king gave his brother a look of deep and genuine concern, laying his arm gingerly around the other’s shoulder. “You are not well, brother. Come on, let’s get you inside. Ansuharjaz has probably started eating already, the pig.”

    For the first time that evening, Hrabnaz laughed, but it was like no laugh Heruwulfaz had ever heard. The usual mirth and warmth was replaced by an unattractive mix of malice and bitterness; it hit the ears like a mad-dog’s bark. “We may as well just throw him in the pot next time – slice some garlic in and you’d probably never taste the difference!”

    “With enough garlic you won’t taste anything!” joked the king, carefully ignoring his brother’s bizarre and sadistic vein of conversation. “Now come on, I’m starving – and I’m sure you are too!”

    For a moment the young prince seemed as if he meant to remain in the cold; his head turned slowly back towards the direction he had come from, his eyes boring an invisible hole into the surface of the road. He seemed almost enraptured, or maybe even lucid – his every tiny filament and particle seemed to freeze perfectly in its place. Only his hair was moved, whipping and fluttering under the influence of the nighttime winds.

    Then the trance was gone as he turned back towards the awaiting feast; only the glossy stare in his eyes left to suggest anything was wrong.

  22. #22

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    Chapter XIV – A Matter of Resolve

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Riding, as any man will readily attest, is often an overtly monotonous activity, conducive to flighty thoughts and wild deviations of the imagination. With nothing but the empty road ahead, and the dense thundering of hooves ringing faithfully in one’s ears, one is inevitably left to turn their attentions inward, mulling over those heavy and ponderous thoughts which our daily lives – busy and demanding, as they are – all too often sequester from our minds. As they beat their way through the bogs and forests of the countryside, Athawulfaz found himself suddenly assailed by a legion of fears and anxieties he had thought banished long ago; the fear of death, of loss – the fear of growing old and gray in bitter solitude. He was determined not to suffer it.

    The average traveler, after accounting for rest, nourishment, and errands of sanitation, could have made it to the hall of the Sweboz king in a little under a week – Athawulfaz did it in just two and a half days. Such a grueling journey clearly took its toll on the prince; his face was frozen in an agonized grimace, and faint ripples of blood were seen to trickle from his bandages every now and then, pooling in long waxy tendrils along the length of his undershirt. Still, save the briefest interludes of rest, the man defiantly refused to slow or change his pace – even as his horse began to wheeze beneath him, and loyal Okaz dropped farther and farther back along the trail.

    “Hurry up!” the giant barked, his voice slurred by his tightly-clenched teeth. The wind and rain stung at his face but he defied them, his ragged hair lashing like a bundle of whips about his face. For a split second the prince turned and shot a glance down the hill at his destination; in the clearing below lay the sleeping heart of the Sweboz kingdom, her halls and cottages sprawled across the breadth of the valley like a spider web. Athawulfaz turned back, the usual rage burning behind his eyes, but there was something else there now as well – fear, or perhaps despair…

    Okaz panted and dug into his horse for the umpteenth time, his frame bent low in the saddle for want of shelter. He squinted and looked towards Athawulfaz, who had become little more than a grey smudge in the distance. “You must slow down!” the warrior cried, his voice wrestling to be heard over an especially vicious clap of thunder. “Your horse will drop dead at this rate – they cannot keep this up!”

    “Bah!” was all that the prince deigned to say, angrily spurring his horse as he charged down the last stretch of road towards the city. Some token protestations were raised by Okaz but the nobleman blocked them out, allowing himself to go into an almost trancelike state. The pain from his wounds – seemingly reopened by exertion – was becoming almost unbearable, but Athawulfaz pushed this sensation away too. There would be all the time in the world to rest later.

    The prince reached the gates of the palisade and stopped, his horse sounding as if it were prepared to keel over and die on the spot. Athawulfaz swung himself hastily from the beast, but his legs were still weak; they quickly buckled under his weight, sending the giant toppling to the ground. A terrible pain gripped the prince’s torso; he weakly fought a powerful urge to vomit.

    “Your lordship!” a nameless sentry cried, hustling in full array over to where Athawulfaz now rolled in agony. “Are you alright!? What’s going on?”

    “Help me up,” the giant ordered, his voice faint and devoid of its usual force. Even with the scant lighting available one could see that he was extraordinarily pale. Only his eyes still seemed to possess any life; they screamed of stony determination, and a certain grim resolve. He managed to stand, but not without trembling.

    “You must open the gate,” Okaz commanded, flying into the growing crowd on horseback. “This man must see the king immediately.” Almost as an afterthought, the warrior grabbed the guard by the arm. “Came Hrabnaz to the city tonight?”

    “Yes sir,” the soldier blustered, looking utterly terrified and more than a little confused. “He arrived not more than an hour before supper. He is staying with the King at his hall for the night.” He opened his mouth again but could only gape.

    Athawulfaz cursed loudly, snatching a sword from a nearby guard with a bloodied hand. “We may be too late,” he despaired, looking through a wall of wind and rain towards the looming shape of the king’s hall at the hilltop. “Gods, please don’t let it be too late...”

    The sentry captain seemed to regain some of his wits, rallying his men around him as one of their number ran for support. “Wait a minute,” he began hesitantly, “someone still needs to explain what’s going on.”

    Okaz grabbed the man by the shoulder and took him aside, speaking in low, almost conspiratorial tones. “Steel yourself for the gravity of what I am about to say: Prince Hrabnaz is a traitor.” He brushed aside the guard’s astonished look. “He has sold his loyalties to the western king Bidajaz; it was through his machinations that our army was put to flight in the field. We fear he intends to slay honest Heruwulfaz and take the throne.”

    It took a fair span of time for the captain to digest this astonishing report; his eyes seemed to blink rapidly, as if he had been physically struck over the head. Several times he opened his mouth but could do nothing save exhale; his subordinates behaved similarly, looking back and forth between the two men in complete stupefaction. When he finally spoke, however, he spoke with a kind of dignified resolve and purpose that Okaz would never forgot as long as he lived.

    “Lead the way, brother.”


    It was an excruciating and unbearable feeling, to be so close to your goal and still lack the strength to cross the finish line. Hrabnaz stood in silence, unnoticed by all save the whispery cloud of gnats buzzing by the open windowsill. His left hand hung limply at his side, twitching and jerking uncontrollably as the traitor pondered his task. In his right hand he clutched his dagger – the metal of the blade shimmering and warping beneath the refracted moonlight. Not more than five feet away from him, his target – the great King Heruwulfaz – lay in total slumber. His trusted guards had retired for the evening, his retainers were dismissed and abed – he was alone.

    It should have been easy – there were no obstacles in his path. Hrabnaz was hardly a champion fighter, but he was no stranger to the blade either; a single, clean slash and Heruwulfaz would be dead – nobody would ever suspect the identity of his killer. Once he was out of the picture, the deaths of his other brothers would be trivial. The Sweboz Confederacy would splinter and break apart; the empire Heruwulfaz had wrought overnight would tumble by sunrise. The Northlands, in their chaos, would cry out for a savior; and who better to step into that role than the wise and benevolent Hrabnaz?

    A muffled noise came from the sleeping king, and suddenly every muscle in Hrabnaz’s body was poised to flee; he put his arms up and crouched down like a wolf, his senses becoming acute and honed. A moment later, and the prince realized his folly; Heruwulfaz turned over and was still – it had been nothing more than dream-induced mumbling. Still, the incident reminded him of his vulnerability – it was time to stop dawdling and act. Glory and honor unmeasured awaited him.

    Hrabnaz hefted the dagger high into the air, and time stood still for a single moment as he looked down at his brother. A flood of memories washed over his mind, like waters bursting from a dam; he found himself remembering days long gone and past. He thought of happy, trivial things – of racing homemade rafts down the river, of days wrestling each other along a sandy beach. He thought of hunting together, of sneaking out late at night, and of the long talks they used to have out walking in the woods. Then, like a flashing ray of lightening, the memories faded – his arm unfurled and struck downward.

    A thunderous crash – a blinding wave of torchlight as the door to the king’s bedchambers was thrown forcibly open. Hrabnaz froze as a hulking silhouette stomped through the doorway, a party of soldiers behind him as his free hand extended an accusatory finger towards the would-be murderer. “Hold, traitor!”

    With a sudden start, Heruwulfaz woke up, pulling his blanket tighter about him like a frightened child. “What is going-“he began, but all his questions ceased as his eyes fell upon the glistening dagger just above his head. His gaze trailed from the deadly blade, over to Hrabnaz’s petrified face – back and forth, comprehension and horror both slowly creeping across his countenance.

    Hrabnaz did as Hrabnaz was wont to do: he fled, striding the distance between himself and the window in a matter of moments. Without the slightest pause he vaulted out into the howling night storm, his body already in a running stance as he plunged the short drop to the ground. Athawulfaz ran over to the sill, a furious rage bubbling in his gut as he watched his brother mount up and take off down the road. “Run, you coward!” he bellowed with an anger that was extreme even for him. “We’ll see how long you can hide!”

    Another door flung open with a bang, and this time it was Ansuharjaz that entered the room, a pair of royal guards standing armed and ready at his sides. A comical look of adrenaline was plastered on the prince’s face as he looked maniacally at all of his potential targets, a long wooden stirring spoon clenched in his right hand. “Royal blood shall not be spilled without a fight!” he barked madly.

    Despite the gravity of the situation, Athawulfaz had to fight back a small chuckle as he pried the spoon from his brother’s hands. “Save your wrath, Ansuharjaz,” the giant seethed. “The culprit has already escaped.”

    The newcomer cursed and flopped into a chair; far from his usual cool composure, the man was clearly shaken. “How could this have happened!?” the prince cried, suddenly sounding angry. “What fool let an assassin waltz into our home – do we employ guards, or children!?”

    “It was easy,” Athawulfaz began darkly, “seeing as how the assassin is also our brother.”

    Not a single muscle on Ansuharjaz’s body moved for the longest time; his back became rigid and erect, his eyes wide and unblinking. There was a slight twitch on his face when he finally looked up at Athawulfaz and simply asked, “What?”

    “I do not know all the details,” the prince conceded, at this point beginning to simply sound tired and defeated, “but I know enough. Hrabnaz is a traitor – he appears to have given his loyalties to King Bidajaz of the Heruskoz. I can’t say for how long this has been going on…”

    Athawulfaz turned to his eldest brother and grimaced – although perhaps this was simply on account of his running wounds. “Our army is crushed,” he said curtly, “because our brother told the western tribes of our movements. We were ambushed – we fought our all, but all the odds were against us…the remnants are probably regrouped…somewhere.” The prince hastily lowered himself into a chair, hissing as he mastered a fresh wave of pain. “They may still be numerous enough to fight a war, if properly led.”

    Heruwulfaz – who had until then sat in silence – was finally compelled to release a long and burdened sigh. His face fell into his hands – a massive ache throbbed in his temples. The volume of what he was being asked to process was astounding; it seemed like something out of a dream, or more accurately a nightmare. No words seemed adequate.

    Okaz – feeling awkward and rather out of place – was the first to break the silence. “Um…my king?” he began uneasily. “Do you have orders?”

    Another pause hung as Heruwulfaz stood from his bed. Step by painful step he made his way over to the window – moving as if he were sleepwalking, or entranced by some spell. For a long minute he simply gazed out across the city, closing his eyes as the spray of rain soothed his face and the crash of thunder beat in his ears. At last, all his thoughts came together with a great, emotionless shrug.

    “Rally all the soldiers and fighting men of Sweboz,” he commanded. “Bidajaz must fall.”

  23. #23
    Guest Member Populus Romanus's Avatar
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    Jan 2011
    Seattle Suburbs

    Default Re: Sons of the Wolf and the Bear (Sweboz)

    I am happy to see that you have started up on this again Becklitz!


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