A Nordic life – Chapter 1
Snow was falling in large flakes on the coniferous forest. The ground was covered by such a thick layer that an unwise man could be knee-deep in it; it creaked under the footsteps of the loggers. Breaking the chime of the icy wind, these craftsmen would chop the frost-blackened wood, ripping off pieces of bark with each blow their powerful arms placed. Quickly thinned to a thin trickle of plant flesh, the fir cracked and leaned dangerously backwards. Satisfied, the Northerner put his axe on his left flank, leaned his right shoulder against the trunk and pushed as hard as his strength would allow.
“Taka!” shouted Guerann according to the consecrated custom as he felt the sap flowing over his hands. The tree fell with a heart-rending sound, received further down by an enormous mass of blue flesh. It was an ugr, a semi-giant with arms as wide as an adult man’s torsos, three meters high, with a barrel belly and an aggressive face, endowed like its fellow creatures with a simple but relatively friendly character. The superhuman placed the severed tree on his shoulder with a breath of effort and offered his most beautiful yellow teeth smile to his comrade.
“‘Catched!” His voice sounded like the bellow of a bull.
“I saw, Trorin, I saw. Come on, let’s not lose our pace. Cut it out with the others!” replied Guerann, made joyful by the affection of his fat friend. The ugr lost no time and made his way through the snow, raising small clouds as he advanced towards the small, improvised camp set up there. Adding a certain natural bonhomie to the good mood, the blue ogre placed the trunk on three oak trestles in a row, getting a positive nod from a third northerner.
“You can get the other one out of the way. “Brunwolf explained, pointing to a trunk carcass that had been stripped of its branches.
“Don’t bother saying it every time,” replied the porter, vexed.
“With you, how can I know?” said the man by rolling up the sleeves of his tunic. The cold bit his flesh, and he felt his skin redden by the frost as he raised his hands to bring his axe down on the end of the tree, cutting it cleanly. He repeated the work on several branches, stripping the conifer. After a dozen blows, he cursed himself for not having carried an extra fur and retrieved a leather sack from his bag from which he drew some shots of a powerful mead.
“One day you’ll have to explain to me how you can stand naked in the snow!” he shouted, amused, to Guerann. The latter was indeed in simple padded canvas pants, good shoes, of course, but nothing to cover the upper body. He simply endured the cold and the snow, chasing away the sensations at each swing.
“I think of Trorin, it keeps me warm,” laughed the other one. Concerned, challenged that one pronounced his name, Trorin stopped one of nose cleaning in rules to turn to the culprit. Feeling that he had not been called, he sat down on a stump and resumed his activity.
“On the other hand,” Guerann continued, “I think the Rudolf must have screwed up my last tattoo. You know, the spiral from the shoulder to the left arm? It itches.”
“He’s getting old, Rudolf, his arm’s not so steady anymore. Otherwise, you’d better hurry up and get your calva, the blue gets bored and if he lurks on your drink…” Brunwolf continued, looking at the provisions.
Feeling the wisdom of the advice, the Northerner passed his axe in his left hand and began to get closer to his friends. A heavy pack of snow slipped from a branch and fell on the top of his skull, triggering the hilarity of his two companions. The echo of the laughter spread across the valley, perhaps even disturbing the other lumber camps scattered throughout the woods. Angry, Guerann humorously cleared the white powder from his short blond hairs before going to sit on a stump. As he passed by, he grabbed a thick elk fur tunic and put it on: inaction was the bed of cold. Not much good for this snack: a bottle of strong alcohol, some dried walrus and wild radishes. Hardly enough to satisfy a man. Nostalgically, the young lumberjack thought of his Klothild, who was waiting for him at home and who, with her cooking skills, could make him forget his hunger once evening came.
“I am hungry,” Trorin let go in a mood, peering too closely at Guerann’s dish.
“By Halstein and Högni, you’ve already had your ration!” dropped the latter, strategically placing the meat opposite his ugr friend. The monster growled with annoyance and then turned away, occupying his hands by playing with the metal strips that made up the bulk of his garment. The scene prompted Brunwolf to look up to the sky and return to work.
“Come on, get to work,” he said, holding a hatchet and a serrated saw.
A shadow passed in front of his eyes as he stood to slice off a stubborn branch from the trunk on the trestles. The black form slid behind the firs and quickly retreated, disappearing into a gathering of winter shrubs and ferns. The black-bearded Northerner blinked so many times that he found himself with a headache. Accustomed to the dangers of the Mannheim mainland, he let his gaze wander over the edge of the clearing, watching for an aftershock.
“What did you see?” Guerann asked, instinctively realizing that his companion was on the defensive.
“It stinks,” Trorin commented to his companion, clenching thick square teeth. “I smell meat too. I can smell the meat too,” he said as he grabbed a huge axe that he usually used to help cut down ancient trees.
Following the example of the Ugr, the blond man grabbed a fighting sword that he always kept within reach and placed it in his left hand, leaving his powerful right arm for his tool. The air seemed to become rarefied by the flutter that followed. Following the habits of their militarized society, the three men placed themselves back to back in a triangle. The stench emanating from Trorin’s body left his two human friends wondering about the relevance of his sense of smell, but deep down, they knew of his natural gift for hunting. After all, he was born an ugr, and like all of his race, he possessed the blood of the Einerjhars, the blood of the mortal gods. As such, many of his warrior abilities and instincts were far superior to those of their human brethren. If he felt something in his gut, it was that there was reason to worry.
Long minutes passed without any sign of movement. Only snow fell in large flakes, leaving the conifer thorns twisting under its weight. A strong wind rose, and despite the protection of the wood, it seeped between the clothes and furs, caressing the skin of the poor motionless fools.
“I’m going to see,” Guerann said with an imperious tone…
Brunwolf tried in vain to hold him by the arm, but the first one got away without paying attention. Weapons well in hand, the Northerner moved forward, determined. Volutes of steam escaped from his mouth, accelerating in rhythm and volume as his concentration increased. In front of him stood indifferent trees and thick thorny bushes that blocked his view. He was too experienced to think that such obstacles would slow down one of the local predators. As the young man walked under the foliage, he turned around and saw that his allies had moved towards him while standing back, ready to intervene. A half-smile formed on his icy lips as he thought he was finally well assisted.
This moment of innocence was short-lived.
A huge paw made three grooves in the bark where his head had been half a second earlier. In a superhuman reflex, Guerann had crouched down, anticipating the assault by instinct. He let out an impressed whistle in front of the power released on impact: the wood had exploded, each line on it as wide as a human hand. In a heartbeat, he thought he was glad to have heard the beast’s hoarse breath before the attack! Not very discreetly, the monster blew, spat, and growled angrily as it brought its front leg back to her. The Northerner, still on his knees, obeyed the experience conferred by years of survival in Mannheim and swung forward, starting a fast roll that caused him to straighten up against his opponent.
The beast was magnificent: similar to a bear, but much larger than those of its species, it displayed a white fur soiled by traces of mud and dried blood. Its half-open mouth was screaming threats by releasing clouds of steam. But more than its dirty, sharp fangs or the thickness of its limbs, which must have been the width of a human torso, what impressed Guerann was its eyes. She had deep blue eyes with a perfectly black iris and a perfect white cornea. In his life as a lumberjack, the young man had seen many wild animals, from sleepy marmots to curious wolves and a bestiary that could be turned into a poem. Yet he had never seen that look in a wild animal, it all seemed unrealistic to him, far too humane. Lost in his contemplation, he seemed to be paralyzed when the monster approached him with heavy and slow steps.
He must have been less than three feet away, within fangs’ reach, when Trorin’s mass grabbed him on the side, even dropping his weapon to catch him more effectively. The ugr and bear rolled through the snow before crashing into a fir tree whose trunk twisted in the shock. Unlucky, the ogre found himself trapped under a fighter as heavy as him, something that seldom happened to him! In a desperate move, he tried to free himself, shaking his huge body to free his arms. Then he felt daggers digging into the flesh of his biceps, ploughing trails of pain. The creature straightened up, dominating him from its full height, fangs forward. Responding to the challenge, Trorin showed his teeth more beautifully and straightened his bust in a single movement to deliver a violent headbutt that landed in the muzzle of his opponent. Taking advantage of the confusion of a prey that he rightly considered too big for them, Guerann and Brunwolf threw their weapons forward, hitting the bear’s exposed flanks without restraint.
“For glory and the end of times!” shouted the first, driving his blade through the hard hairs like fir thorns. The metal made its way to flesh, tearing a stream of blood and pieces of skin from the animal, which growled in pain. The second didn’t hold back and attempted an upward strike to the belly, not managing to do better than his friend: a slight injury, not very disabling. The slap he received just afterwards was on a completely different level, and he took off backwards to finish his fall in the deep snow.
The distraction caused by the attack nevertheless benefited Trorin, who found the strength to get up, knocking the bear on its back. Guerann, thinking at full speed, followed up with a strike from his short-sword to the forehead of the beast, which roared as it approached, retreating just in time to be struck on the eyebrow arch. Trorin, standing, threw a charge again, hands in front of him, driven mad and determined to crush the bear’s skull in his hands. Soon the ugr found himself gratified with a nasty trace of claws on the armour that was enough to propel him backwards, in a movement far too calculated for Brunwolf’s taste. Quickly back on his feet, the beast did not hesitate to run towards the woods, abandoning the fight there.
“For the Eirenjhars, we’ll get him!” exclaimed Guerann as he raised his axe.
“YES!” Trorin shouted, though his allegiance to the mythical demigods was doubtful.
“He’s barely hurt, do you think we have a chance?” Brunwolf dared, suddenly pale and white knuckles around his axe.
“And you want to back off? We’ll shoot him down, like true sons of Mannheim!” he almost spat at his friend as he ran towards the forest, the ugr on his heels.
“One day you’ll lose us…” was the only answer.
And so, the race through the woods began, with heavy snow hiding the roots and old trees whose low branches seemed to block the way. Everyone progressed according to his means: Guerann and Brunwolf used their local knowledge and agility coupled with a little brute force to break branches, dodge thorn bushes, and keep track of the fleeing beast, while the less refined ugr simply sniffed out his prey, breaking down any obstacle in his path. The thrill of the hunt, coupled with the power of adrenaline made one forget the notion of time. Had they been running for a few minutes, several hours, several days? When their marathon stopped in a white clearing surrounded by bare oaks, not one would have been able to answer.
A hill covered by the forest ended in this circle of icy grass. A few dead sprouts of fir trees tried to add surface to the woods, but without success: the gods had wanted the place to remain open. At the place where the hill was biting the earth was a hole, a cave entrance, a prelude to a large cavern. Trorin did not doubt his nose for a second: the smell of the enemy permeated the old stones of the tunnels.
“We don’t have a torch, Guerann, we’d better not go in,” Brunwolf dared, causing the woodsman to sigh.
“You know, sometimes I wonder if the blood of the gods runs in your veins,” he replied. “I’ll go back alone then. Trorin, you stand in front of the hole and watch.”
The ugr excused himself and, as a good simpleton, turned his back on the darkness of the tunnels.
“You watch inside, to help me,” Guerann was annoyed.
“Oh,” said the overseer.
After looking up to the sky, the young Northerner scratched off his three-day beard and went deeper into the limestone room. In truth, even if it cost him to admit it, Brunwolf was right: there was no light after a few meters, and it was impossible to detect the slightest movement. In the present situation, he would be easy prey, despite all his courage and strength. Guerann let out a sigh, allowed himself a last glance into deep darkness and turned back, promising himself to come back with some light.
His foot stumbled onto a hard object, and he cursed as a metallic noise bounced off the walls. He stood for a few seconds hopping on the spot, cursing all the gods of creation for his trouble.
“Should I come?” Trorin asked shyly.
“No,” the warrior replied angrily.
The pain finally passed, and the curiosity quickly replaced the annoyance. Guerann’s hands came to seize the object of his misfortune and bring it back to eye level. A helmet appeared to him, forged from a metal similar to steel but charcoal black. Various jewels and fine frescoes adorned his crest, and a fine fresco ran along the nasal bridge. The eyes were covered by two half-spheres in a sieve, which allowed the fighter to have a certain visibility. After a shrug of their shoulders, the young Nordic boy decided to give it a try. The lip was strangely made, his eyes were offset from the visor. Blaming the problem on custom-made craftsmanship, the lumberjack was content to keep his find in his hands and bend down to pick up the rest.
“Hey Brunwolf, Trorin, come see what I found!” he shouted happily.
“No sign of the bear, I take it?” replied the first one in a mood.
“Not that I’ve seen.”
“He’s far away, I feel the smell go away,” declared the ugr, definitive.
Proudly, Guerann exhibited his treasures: pieces of armour in pure metal with unusual bluish colours. Gold and precious stones as decoration or recounting rewards forever forgotten. And a bag that seemed to have been there for an eternity, containing scrolls that were surprisingly well preserved in the cold. To tell the truth, there weren’t even any skeletons left in these armours, carried away by scavengers or scattered by time. What struck the trio was how small the occupants of these steel carcasses must have been. So yes, it was said that the men of the southern lands, of whom the elders spoke around the hall fires, were small compared to the proud people of the North, but there they were not talking of southern smallness but of minuscule size! Brunwolf experimented, trying to measure one of the warriors of yesteryear by the measurements of his armour: they were to reach his torso, and perhaps even his belly!
The exercise made Trorin laugh, and he talked alone for about ten minutes about these “appetizers” that intrigued his gourmet palate. Ignoring their friend, the two other companions passed the various cards they had found to each other. Rune inscriptions were found on them, incomparable to those used in Mannheim. However, there were symbols in the drawings that left no room for doubt: the sea, two continents.
“I don’t know, Guerann,” said Brunwolf, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Neither do I, which means it’s valuable,” continued the other happily. “Let’s take it back to the village, we can decide what to do with it later. We can outfit a ship with their sale!”
The Nordic man with brown hair gave him a suspicious glance look. The whole story intrigued him and seemed to him to be too happy a coincidence. Yet he didn’t dare to share his doubts with his friend, who seemed invigorated by the discovery. Everyone in the village knew Guerann’s taste for adventure, combat and ancient legends. The prospect of having discovered relics must have made him feel like one of those heroes whose sagas were contagious.
Beginning their return journey, the trio rushed to retrieve the cart containing the trunks that had been cut and cleaned of untimely branches. The snow came on again as their wheels drew lines on the white layer, which were immediately covered with fresh flakes. The home of the Tresldom clan was a proud, fortified place, with a refined appearance but with prominent defences. Around it was a surrounding wall of planted trunks cut in point on the upper part and reinforced with real platforms where archers waited patiently for the arrival of a traveller.
“Open up, Rudam,” Trorin shouted to the guard on duty. “It’s cold down here!”
“One second,” replied the warrior wearily as he left his brazier to manipulate the ingenious door opening system. “Hurry up, we’ve seen stalkers hunting around here, I wouldn’t like to leave the door open too long,” he added, looking at the foliage around the town.
Pressed by this revelation, the lumberjacks hurried in and deposited the fruits of their labour under a roof on pylons as an easy storage space, sheltered from the snow. There, four sturdy lads were already beginning to unload the wood on the ground and prepare it for the carpenter’s work. Then came the time to decide who would retrieve the pieces of armour as their footsteps led them to the icy ocean. The discussion was short-lived when Guerann made a decisive argument:
“I’ve found it, I’m keeping it. We’ll share it tomorrow, Klothild’s going to blame me if I’m still hanging around.”
And since neither the ugr nor Brunwolf wanted to rub shoulders with this terrible woman, they offered no resistance, even though Trorin grumbled a little about his friend’s propensity to keep the “golden stuff.” Brunwolf living in the common hall, separated from his companions once he arrived at the fishermen’s place, central on the docks. Karvs, snekkars and other byrdings anchored along the wooden planks on which various sailors were waving. Trorin scratched his head before solemnly declaring that he was hungry and that it was time to eat. His face brightened with a smile as a fishing boat filled to the brim with tuna dropped anchor a little further west. There he had found his evening meal.
With his bag still on his shoulder, all smiles, Guerann took advantage of a few moments of calm to greet the sailors on the way back, including one of them, who must have been his age, and who was moving around on his boat like an lynx on a mountainside. Seeing that the sun was starting to go down, the young member of the clan went back home. A few strides were enough for him to reach his lover’s home: a beautiful shack six meters long, three meters wide and three meters high. The peat and wooden roof formed a very sloping triangle that ended at a man’s height, supported at the bottom by twelve wooden posts that Guerann himself had cut. Passing through the stone walls, the young man saw the same crack he had seen for six weeks and, as he had done every night for the past six weeks, he promised to plaster it the next day. With the worker’s light footsteps, he entered the Eldaskáli, the entrance, which was, in fact, the only room in the house.
The interior was rough, spartan in its furnishings, but rather safe and comfortable. The entrance was located on the far left of the boat. Through the elaborate wooden door, there was a small corner with a kitchen area consisting of a stove in a cast-iron basin topped by a trestle of the same material from which a frying pan hung vertically. A series of various kitchen utensils and ingredients were kept in different boxes. A little further to the right, a chest contained the couple’s clothes and opened the way to the wide, goose-feather-padded marriage bed on which his lover was waiting. Busy watching the meal with one eye while sharpening a superb sword with an abrasive stone, she paid no attention to him. A few simple pieces of furniture adorned the interior, surmounted by pious figurines representing disappeared gods or Eirenjhars completed the furniture.
“I’m home, Klothild!” the woodcutter said cheerfully.
Undeterred, Guerann put his heavy bag on the ground, which let out a great metallic sound. Observing that the woman still did not deign to look at him, he turned a greedy glance toward the meal. She was a magnificent blonde, with strong muscles but almost erased by a beautiful burgundy red and golden peasant girl’s dress, which was too beautiful to be that of a commoner. In the same way, in spite of hands affected by combat and manual labour, she moved and expressed herself with aristocratic ease. Also marked by the hard life of the North, her beautiful face with its new nose welcomed three large scars that ran across her right cheek and forehead. Above his head, a crown braided with golden hair adorned her body, at the crossroads between the short haircut of the members of the hard-pressed clans and the long haircut of the wives of idle chiefs. Moreover, this hairstyle was not only a coquetry: it was also a symbol of status. Indeed, Klothild was a daughter of a Related Blood, the descendant of an Eirenjhar, almost a deity herself! She was in charge of sharpening with stone a very beautiful sword made of runes in the mysterious sense.
“You sharpen Læternsillir?” asked Guerann, who suddenly felt insecure, “did werewolves come into the village again?”
“I saw you coming. You were smiling,” replied the woman, cold as death.
A silence passed.
“And when you smile,” she continued, “you’re going to bring a bad idea, as always.”
The woodcutter looked up at his companion with surprised eyes, not knowing how to take this remark declaimed with the calm of a mountain jötnar during a meal. Luckily the comparison between the beauty and a giant of the cold ended there: she burst out laughing with a good-natured laugh, delighted with her joke! Realizing that it had been played, Guerann flipped down his last card and leaned over to kiss her, to which she readily replied.
“So, what’s the news from the clan?” the lover asked and began to search her bag.
Klothild looked up to the sky and extended her hand, spreading the fingers of her left hand and passing with her index finger.
“Some fishermen saw a ship aground a little further south, they didn’t get close, but apparently there wasn’t a soul living in it. A nomadic clan came to trade a half-ton boar for half a ton of kvas and fish and… Ah, and a giant worm was seen fighting a jötnar earlier in the day, just after you left. The two parted on bad terms from what Trisha told me. I was lucky, if the worm had won, I’d have been tasked with finishing him off.”
As she finished the tirade, Guerann pulled out the strange helmet, responding distractedly as he turned his back on his companion.
“And you would’ve killed him for sure, I’m sure, but look at this!” he claimed proudly, displaying the blue steel helmet.
Klothild was speechless for a moment, just grasping the object and turning it around in disbelief. She pulled the same circumspect head as she inspected the other pieces.
“And the highlight of the show… a map,” the young warrior concluded, showing the yellowed map with seas and mountains.
“Guerann… Where did you find this?” she asked, giving him back a large shoulder pad of gold and azure.
“Well, I was with Brunwolf and Trorin, and we were attacked by a bear… a giant bear, actually… and we chased it into his cave… that’s where we found this,” the woodcutter replied, less and less sure of himself as he revealed his recklessness.
“When I said that your smile brought trouble,” she replied, sighing and rubbing her eyes. “I don’t suppose you told Brunwolf and Trorin to be quiet?” the tone was accusatory.
She was given only a questioning glance, which led her to massage the bridge of her nose with her fingers. Suddenly weary, she threw to conclude:
“Trorin will be taken for a fool and Brunwolf won’t say anything, but above all, don’t show these coins to anyone, my love. With the council of clans coming this year, the chiefs will be on their toes and any news… ”
Relieved to escape a discussion that he guessed was full of reproaches, Guerann grabbed wooden bowls and spoons. It was time to sit at the table. The dish was very hot, and Guerann had to blow over it several times before he could swallow a bite. Sitting on stools facing each other, Klothild decided to break the silence and begin the discussion.
“I’m worried, Guerann. The clan meeting is not as well prepared as usual.”
“You told me that three years ago and the three years before that,” replied the lumberjack in a mood.
“Several warriors have already come to see me. They’re worried about a possible war between Tresdolm and Jormund.”
“Jormund? I know that Karloman has been brutal recently with the attacks on the hill clans, but still, we are blood brothers, all of us.”
The daughter of a Blooded emptied her bowl of soup in one go before getting a refill, taking the opportunity to catch some black kvas.
“Blood brothers maybe, but in the meantime, trappers, scouts and Hurscarls have been coming to me for three full moons to get advice on tactics to adopt against the other clan warriors. Not monsters, Guerann, sons of Mannheim!”
“And I think you’re giving too much weight to this policy, woman,” said the young man, putting down his empty bowl. “My grandfather’s father was still young when the last war between the clans of the Three Kings took place, and I don’t think there’s any news for tomorrow.”
Klothild was stung to the core but didn’t respond, just letting out a sound blast. After shrugging his shoulders, Guerann stood up and walked to a small window and opened the shutters, allowing himself to be penetrated by the icy air that almost killed the stove’s fire.
In front of him were the streets of Tresdolm, at least as many as he could see from the top of the small hill on which his house stood. Marauders were beating the snow on their bellies, banging here and there on a window to ask for some food. They never came knocking on his door, Klothild’s reputation as a semi-divine warrior inspired too much fear and respect to be disturbed. Nevertheless, he threw a skinful of kvas to a poor herald whose colourful clothes were losing their intensity as the ice rubbed against them.
It was like this on the northern continent. Destructive cold wiped out crops, hunted game and fish. The situation only got worse with each passing year, leaving more and more northerners in hunger and misery. He wanted to do something about it, to help his people, his clan. This treasure gave him hope that he could find even greater riches and save these people. Personal glory? The valiant battles described by the Valkyries? The legends and tales of the Eirenjhar? Yes, he liked all of these, and he would take them by force as tradition intended. But that wasn’t his primary goal. In the distance, a group of noble fighters in shimmering armour patrolled in tight formation, their decorated weapons displayed for all to see. Guerann closed the shutters and came to join his lover for the evening activities: a few passes of weapons in confined space and woodcutting by the fire.
It was two hours later that the knocks rang out on the door as the fire was dying and they were getting ready to go to bed. The Klothild’s eyes turned to the door in the same breath. They exchanged glances before Guerann slowly, cautiously opened it. Behind the frame appeared the silhouette of a powerful and rich Nordic man dressed in the best of togs, heavy furs of fantastic animals and gildings on the metals of his belt or the buckles of his clothes. Ornac, chief of the Tresdolm clan, wiped his long grey beard from a litre of snow and pulled the woodcutter out of his house, closing the door behind him. It was bitterly cold and the young Northerner, dressed in his nightgown, could already feel his breath getting colder.
“Trorin said it all. What did you find?” Ornac asked in a tone that allowed no reply.
“Pieces of armour… They don’t look like they’re from here and…” Guerann said doubtfully.
“Give them to me, that’s an order.”
The powerful hand on the young man’s shoulder tightened. Within the clan it was whispered that Ornac had the blood of a giant, it was obviously not devoid of truth. The status of Jarl was little defined in Mannheim’s politics, but it guaranteed a certain obedience of the subjects and the role of leader as well as protector.
“But they for…”
“Give it to me.”
Guerann dared to look at his Jarl’s face. His hard features were so twisted with anger that a vein pulsed beneath his eye.
“Yes… My Earl…”
Undone and confused, the woodcutter returned home to grab the pieces of armour with that special steel. Klothild had Læternsillir in her hand, ready to use it. Her gaze had changed from that of a loving mistress to that of a Bonded Blood’s daughter, a warrior of rare skill who served as one of the clan’s most terrible weapons. He motioned to her to put her away: it was useless.
A few minutes later, the Jarl was about to leave after a last look at his subordinate.
“It’s not against you, it’s for the survival of all of us,” he whispered before leaving.
The icy atmosphere seemed to have cooled several degrees more. Almost zombified, Guerann passed under the quilt, his wife against him, not knowing how to console him. Everything was ruined: it wasn’t just a matter of depriving him of a few trinkets found in a cave, it was also a matter of depriving him of a chance to bring back riches that would benefit the entire clan. He would still have to see the miserable, the incompetent and the old people lingering in the cold white streets. It seems that this was the Law of the North and that the weak had no right to live, that justice and the world were made that way:
The gods were dead, the Eirenjhars were but a handful. There was no more Valhalla, no more hope, just a life spent on an icy land, toiling away so as not to die too quickly.
Tired, he got up to get some kvas. Searching for the bottle in the dark, he got his hands on something crunchy: the parchment card. Something had changed when he unfolded it. The moonlight, filtered through the shutters, made white, almost luminous, rune-like traces appear. Klothild, growing impatient, said:
“Guerann, have you finished? Come to bed.”
The warrior turned the parchment in several directions, opened the shutters and decreed:
“Klothild, get your things together. We will be able to leave.”
To be continued…