The mead hall in Ribe was full of men, women and children. The sound of laughter and celebrating echoed out of the town and out across the lands beyond. Pav stood on the wall that they had built around the town to defend against the invading armies from Hedeby and Schleswig. The lights from their campfires dotted the landscape, glowing in the dark of the night and giving the old warrior an unsettled feeling in his stomach.
The snow had fallen and driven back the armies to the shelter of forests that surrounded the town. The animals had all been driven out and the snow had made it virtually impossible for the army to forage for anything in the forest. Other dangers lurked in the trees like trolls, wolves and bandits. If the armies of Hedeby and Schleswig were foolish enough to remain in the woods during the winter they wouldn’t be in any state to assault the town in force come the first thaw of spring.
“Any signs of movement out there?” Kaleb asked as he joined his father on the wall.
“No, everything is quiet, just as you’d expect. No one is stupid enough to try and launch an attack against these walls when the snow is knee-deep,” Pav replied gruffly.
“How many fires have you counted?” Kaleb asked as he warmed his hands in the bracer that stood beside him.
“Too many to count, rising smoke from denser parts of the forest too. Impossible to know how many warriors they’ve got there,” Pav sighed, “how are the preparations going?”
“Well, Axel and Frigg have the fires burning hot enough to keep me forging from now until Ragnarok,” Kaleb said with a grim expression on his face.
“There were plenty of blades left on the corpses now covered by snow,” Pav shook his head sadly.
“The cost of war we pay in the lives of the young. You told me that when I was begging you to tell me heroic stories from the tribe wars,” Kaleb said patting his father on the shoulder.
“All those lives lost because Viggo has lost his mind and now calls himself king.”
“We’ve loaded the bodies into the boats and they are ready to burn – children of Ribe, Hedeby and Schleswig alike,” Kaleb tried to console his father.
“We’ll sing songs of this day for generations to come, of the madness of ‘King’ Viggo and how the first snow of winter held him here and broke the spirit of his army,” Pav said.
“You don’t think he’ll retreat?” Kaleb frowned.
“No, his queen is here and all those that would consider themselves elders of both Hedeby and Schleswig. None of them has the wisdom or experience in war that would tell them returning home until the spring thaw is the only sensible thing to do. They’ll be starving in a few weeks, and those that don’t starve will fall prey to the wolves,” Pav growled.
“At least with their attention focused on us, the children have a better chance,” Kaleb sighed and looked up at the sky. There wasn’t a single star to be seen, so think was the cloud.
“It’ll snow again soon. I hope they’re keeping themselves warm,” Pav smiled to himself.
“Erland knows how to keep a fire burning, even in the heaviest rain. They’ll be warm enough,” Kaleb closed his eyes and tried to not think about passing the whole winter without any word of how his son fared.
“They were meant to search for the arm rings, just as we were meant to stand on this wall and hold back the tides of war,” Pav said warmly.
“Then we must all do what the gods have put before us and trust that when the spring thaw comes, our children will be home again,” Frigg said as she joined her husband and her father-in-law on the wall.
“Brave the cold of winter’s nights, bear our heavy hearts on high, for the sun will shine once more when spring is here again,” Pav recited and turned his attention to the blazing glow of the hundreds of fires that sprinkled the dark, snow-covered lands of Ribe.
The children were sat huddled around the small fire that Riki had built. The darkness was closing in around them and the cold had caused all their spirits to dip. War hadn’t come to the shores of Skåne, but none of the children could keep the siege at Ribe from their minds.
Eva was sat with Wifrith curled up at her feet. Even the wolf seemed to feel the cold in the air. He whined and shivered, despite the heat from the fire. The warrior maiden thought about her parents back in Ribe. They had raised her as a warrior, trained her because they knew that she was destined to search for the arm rings of Yngvar. She had been miserable growing up because all the other children in Ribe made fun of her for training to fight. The old ways were changing and the tribes needed fighters to protect the villages from bandits, not warriors to fight tribe wars. Her parents were both warriors, some of the last to take the trials of their ancestors, though Eva hoped that one day that she would get the opportunity to take them.
Christian was sat beside Eva, both of his arms wrapped around his chest to try and keep out the cold. Opposite him sat his brother Riki and his sisters, Camila and Beatrix. The three of them were huddled together to keep out the cold and had fallen asleep. Oleg and Joas, the two men from Hedeby were somewhere in the darkness, they had chosen to take the first watch over the camp to make sure that everyone stayed safe throughout the night.
Erland was lying on the other side of Christian and was snoring so loud that Christian was sure that anyone thinking about attacking them would be frightened off by the noise. Christian was glad that his siblings were so close, somewhere that he could protect them against the dangers that searching for the arm rings of Yngvar presented. His best friend seemed unconcerned about his family on the outside, but Erland had been quieter than usual since the news of the siege of Ribe had been brought to them.
Erland was an only child, just like Eva, and his parents were warriors in Ribe. They had taken the trials with Eva’s parents and he knew that they would be the ones fighting in the worst of the battles that were to take place around Ribe. But it wasn’t just his parents that he worried about. His grandfather, Pav, was one of the elders of Ribe and he had once set out with his friends to find the arm rings of Yngvar, though they had been unsuccessful. If it came to the defence of his home, Erland knew that Pav would gladly give up his life to protect those he had spent his life leading.
Pieter was sat hugging his knees on the other side of Eva. He had been sent away from Ribe to search for the arm rings once the siege had begun and felt that he should be serving with the rest of the warriors in the town – by defending it. He was wracked with guilt and the cold was only helping to deepen the melancholy that he felt.
Dalla was the final member of the company. She was using a stick to draw patterns in the dirt and frost in front of her, using the light from the fire to see by. It was Dalla’s way of keeping her hands from wringing with worry about her grandparents. Her parents had died and she had been sent to live with her grandparents in Ribe. She had barely been there a few days before she had set out on the quest to find the arm rings.
There seemed little to be cheerful about as the ten children and wolf spent their first night on the shores of Skåne.
“Hey look!” Christian said as he noticed something white fall to the ground.
“What is it?” Riki mumbled as he stirred in his sleep.
“It’s snowing,” Eva said quietly.
“It’s snowing!” Christian cried waking up Erland, Camila and Beatrix.
“What did you say?” Erland asked grumpily.
“It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” Eva shouted with glee. Erland, Riki, Christian, Eva, Wifrith, Camila and Beatrix were all on their feet in a moment, clamping their hands and dancing around the fire as the snow fell.
“I don’t understand. Why are you all so happy?” Dalla looked at her friends as though they were all crazy.
“Because snow falling here means it has already snowed in Ribe,” Oleg grinned as he and Joas came out of the darkness.
“Snow in Ribe means that there will be no fighting until the spring. Winter is here and we’ve got until the spring thaw to find the arm rings and bring an end to this war before they can start fighting again,” Joas explained.
“We have time to get the other arm rings?” Dalla asked brightly.
“Yes, and more importantly, we now have hope,” Joas replied.
If you enjoyed this freebie, check out the Children of Ribe series here.
If you enjoyed this freebie, check out the Children of Ribe series here.