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Thread: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

  1. #1

    Default [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear



    So this is going to be my first AAR, and one of my first experiences with Europa Barbarorum in general. Iím a little ahead of the story as I post, so I have a general idea of where this will go, but naturally things will change as I go.

    In line with the EB focus on roleplaying and history, this will be a very character-focused, story-driven AAR. Every few posts Iíll have one (like this one) wherein I give an overview of the status of the campaign, along with characters, agents, and the like. Thatís where most of the pictures will be, I suspect. Iíll work them into the writing if I find they fit.

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

    272 BC


    For those new to EB, 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 Iíll 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: 



    Athawulfaz - 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: 



    Wiligastiz - Spy
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 



    Hagaradaz - Diplomat
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 


    Without further ado, we're off.
    Last edited by Beckitz; July 12, 2011 at 07:07 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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 Sweboz, 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 mustache 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, begging 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.
    Last edited by Beckitz; January 16, 2011 at 04:47 PM. Reason: Typos

  3. #3

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Great start! Looking forward to more!

  4. #4
    dezikeizer's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Great start, I'll be following this. Just a couple typos:
    filed
    i think you meant: field.
    staring at ach
    Shouldn't that be: staring at each?

  5. #5

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    New update about a third/a half of the way done; some more exposition, and a little bit of real action too.

    @BM - Many thanks; it's inspiring to know such a prolific writer as yourself is reading!

    @dezikeizer - Ah, the fickle ways of Microsoft spellcheck . I'll get those fixed posthaste.

  6. #6

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    YAY, a not-so-popular campaign for an AAR. Always like these. Welcome to the boards.

  7. #7

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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, over-privileged 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. He was a traditional and conservative king, answering to a conservative body of free delegates representing a conservative tribe; to nobody's surprise, their style had meshed perfectly. The reign of Swartigaizaz was the epitome of the warrior-king system, with a powerful fighter trading victory spoils and sound leadership in exchange for fealty. His warriors would have laid down their lives for him any day.

    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, notaries, 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 assess 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 your 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 itself seeks to scour what little we have wrought from the face of 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 on a mighty warlord – yet it does not. Our shared torment at the hands of fortune ought to make us like blood-brothers; inseparable kin beneath the same banner…but it does not. Instead we forsake the bonds that should hold us together and turn on each other, like starving animals fighting over rotten scraps of food! Two grown men who bathe in the fresh waters of the same riverbank will later turn upon each other, wildly stabbing their spears as if the other were not a fellow brother of the Northlands, but 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 even when all the exalted trophies and relics of our brief time on this earth have crumbled to dust they will still sing our names and remember what we few, great 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 ever does 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 no 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. Our peoples suffer for our disunity; the city-dwelling she-men of the west and the south prey upon us while we are too divided to raise a hand in defense. Let us instead stand against them - a mighty palisade behind which to shelter our wealth and our livelihood.”

    He placed the arrows respectfully back into the satchel. “This is what the Northlands can be, if we only reach out to make it so. 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?

    Last edited by Beckitz; February 16, 2011 at 04:03 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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 stares 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 self-serving obvious boot-licking, but he managed to hold his tongue; against the likes of Athawulfaz, their flattery would come to nothing anyway. A more incorruptible and apolitical man Okaz had not yet seen. Unlike men like Hrabnaz, who sought power and prestige at every available opportunity, Athawulfaz was a simple and duty-bound warrior, deriving all the enjoyment he could ever need from combat and blood.

    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 of 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 palm 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, holding him in a vice-grip. “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. His arm throbbed where it ad been clenched; impatiently Okaz brushed aside both the pain and the mysterious portents for the future.

    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, who 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.

    Last edited by Beckitz; January 16, 2011 at 04:50 PM.

  9. #9

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    There we are. Hopefully I can find more ways to work in pictures in the future. Assuming you all like the pictures?

    @Diomede - Thanks! I actually registered here about two years ago, but I found that I didn't have much to say at the time. It looks like that's changed though!

  10. #10

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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 be 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.”

    “We talking about Hrabnaz?”

    With loud, heavy footsteps 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, eyeing 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, 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 two months ago 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 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 some time.”

    “Also,” he sputtered through a mouthful of lamb, “I 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. “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,” 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. 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 sighed. “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 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 completely drained from his face. In the light of the torches he looked positively ethereal.

    “Good. Then get ye to bed. You will have work to do tomorrow.”
    Last edited by Beckitz; January 18, 2011 at 05:53 PM.

  11. #11

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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.

    “Wilagastiz 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.

    “Wilagastiz,” 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?”

    Wilagastiz 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.”



    ***


    And now war sits on the horizon.


    To those who are reading: I'm thinking of entering this into the MAARC, just to give it a little more public exposure (I doubt I can actually win). Good idea/Bad idea?
    Last edited by Beckitz; January 19, 2011 at 08:58 PM.

  12. #12
    dezikeizer's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Great updates, you have a talent for this. +rep when I can. As for the MAARC, it's not a bad idea to enter to give the store more exposure. Go for it.
    Just a few things:
    tried to asses
    I think you meant: tried to assess.
    warring dos
    Shouldn't that be: warring does?
    but to his frustration to words came to him
    I think you meant: but to his frustration no words came to him.
    They shouldn’t much longer now
    I think you meant: They shouldn't be much longer now.

  13. #13

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Quote Originally Posted by dezikeizer View Post
    Great updates, you have a talent for this. +rep when I can. As for the MAARC, it's not a bad idea to enter to give the store more exposure. Go for it.
    Just a few things:
    I think you meant: tried to assess.
    Shouldn't that be: warring does?
    I think you meant: but to his frustration no words came to him.
    I think you meant: They shouldn't be much longer now.
    Thanks for pointing those out; it's hard to catch your own mistakes when you know what you meant to write.

    The rate of the updates will probably slow a little bit in the future, but I still intend to pump them out pretty regularly.

  14. #14

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    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 demon 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 are 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 signs 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 accidentally 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!”

    “…quite.”

    “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 departed.

    “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 his tongue.

    Now this, he decided, was something worth reporting.
    Last edited by Beckitz; January 22, 2011 at 06:51 PM.

  15. #15

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Excellent job sir! You are a great writer.
    Co-Leader of BRITANNIAE: INVASIO SAXONUM

  16. #16

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    well written AAR, intriguing plot, and an interesting set of characters. will be following this.

    KINGS AND PAWNS, EMPERORS AND FOOLS...

  17. #17
    dezikeizer's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Great update as always. Perhaps the King can expose the king of the Scandza for what he did, and avoid a war that way. Just a couple of things:
    daemon
    Shouldn't that be spelled: demon?
    checked the woods for sings of an ambush
    I think you meant: checked the woods for signs of an ambush.

  18. #18

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    looking good! if i could write like that..
    Then, as throngs of his enemies bore down upon him and one of his followers said, "They are making at thee, O King," "Who else, pray," said Antigonus, "should be their mark? But Demetrius will come to my aid." This was his hope to the last, and to the last he kept watching eagerly for his son; then a whole cloud of javelins were let fly at him and he fell.

    -Plutarch, life of Demetrius.

    Arche Aiakidae-Epeiros EB2 AAR

  19. #19

    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

    Response time!

    Quote Originally Posted by ArtoriusRex
    Excellent job sir! You are a great writer.
    Thank you, but I'm really not that good. There's a whole world of real authors out there who could easily put me to shame.

    Quote Originally Posted by sinner
    well written AAR, intriguing plot, and an interesting set of characters. will be following this.
    Thanks, and glad to have you.

    Quote Originally Posted by dezikeizer
    Great update as always. Perhaps the King can expose the king of the Scandza for what he did, and avoid a war that way. Just a couple of things:
    daemon
    Shouldn't that be spelled: demon?
    checked the woods for sings of an ambush
    I think you meant: checked the woods for signs of an ambush
    Indeed, thanks for catching those; and it's probably too late to avoid a war, but perhaps Wilagastiz' revelation will come in handy later.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wulfburk
    looking good! if i could write like that.
    I'm sure you can; writing is easy with enough practice!

    ***


    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 mighty 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.”
    Last edited by Beckitz; February 02, 2011 at 08:16 AM.

  20. #20
    Maiar93's Avatar Primicerius
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    Default Re: [EB AAR] Sons of the Wolf and the Bear

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    Predictor of AAR Plot Points and a wannabe forum ninja

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