Vol.4, Ch.1, P.5
“Hhut…! Hhut…! Hhut…!”
Sharp breaths and bladed strokes, cutting through the crisp air of dawn—there I was, under the pale morrow sky, in the midst of sword practice. Changed yet again though my living arrangement was, the daily rigour remained much the same. Save, that is, for its severity.
I have, for starters, doubled up on my lower body drills. Much woe and many wounds had I suffered in the battles at Arbel, and on what account but the sluggishness of my charges. Blade and body being my only tools, I needed power—explosive power, that I might close a farther distance in one breath and land a blow that otherwise would’ve missed. Thus have I been doubly attending to my legs and loins both.
“Hhut…! Hhut…! Hhut…!”
And as well, the hale of my heart and lungs. No blade I’ve borne before possessed such a weight as the soot-steel, and yet by the look of things, my battles with it would only increase from hereon out. What I needed next, then, was such stamina to longer wield the wolven weapon.
Hitherto had I addressed it with rigorous running, but of late, I’ve also added swimming to the menu. A change of much profit, as the chill of the waters served, too, to whip my wits into shape. That swimming bore many benefits was neither lost to the Londosians, popular as it was as part of a training regimen. Why, some members of the Orders themselves partook of this activity just for that same purpose.
Lastly was this very practice itself: the daily swinging of the sword, under sun and moon. Since my smallest years have I kept the custom, but of late, a worry had been growing in me: that these swings of mine had meandered—strayed, even. Never did I intend for such slovenness, and yet the battles at Arbel begged to differ.
And so have I rethought my compass. Back to the beginning it was for me. Recall the first feeling, relive the first time these hands’ve held a hilt—and bear it all upon the blade anew. Such thought guided me at this moment, swing after swing, stroke after stroke, each repetition never mimicking itself, but executed as though it were my very first and very last.
A relic of long-gone ancientry, a token of utmost trust—the svǫrtaskan. Entrusted with it as I was, it would not do at all to wield it with weakness. I must hone myself to the highest heights, sharpen myself to shear through hesitation, and at the last, make myself worthy of this weapon.
“Why, good morning, Rolf,” greeted asudden a voice to the side. “Such a sweat you make. More so than yesterday, and the day before!”
“Phew…” With practice just about finished, I turned and met one of my many new acquaintances: “Emma. A good morning to you,” I returned her courtesy. A housewife of the home next door, Emma and her husband both had been helping this wayward Man meld more snugly into Hensenite society. “Where’s Frank?” I asked her.
“Long on duty he is,” Emma answered. “A vándýr prowls yonder, you see; he has made busy since yesternight.”
Her husband, Frank, was himself a brave of the Hensenite host. And from the sound of it, the poor fellow had been on patrol well through the sleeping hours. Sure enough, though the Fiefguard threat had vanished, the need for civil security had not. Even now, the Hensenites slackened not a mite in each of their duties.
“Well, Rolf? How fares you here?” asked Emma.
“Very well, thank you very much,” I answered. “The weatherwhims are docile enough. It’s pleasant here.”
A bit of idle banter then followed between us, though such “banter” was hardly banal. Not to me, at least. In fact, I found it quite the breath of fresh air.
Thereafter, I headed back inside and broke my fast. Cheese layered on slices of hearty bread, and on the side, a helping of goat’s milk and dried fruits—the usual fare for the Hensenite breakfast. A simple meal, admittedly, but delectable all the same.
Of special note were the fruits, hitherto foreign to my Londosian eye and palate. Apparently, they are of the sort loath to part from the boughs, full-ripening on their stems before going on to dry under many wheelings of the sun. There, from on high, they are further fed by their mother trees, and become themselves like pearls packed with nutrition. Their sweetness, too, is just as concentrated, with a mere lick more than enough to enliven the whole body. I even confess that this very specimen was solely responsible for a newfound epiphany: that I had something of a sweet tooth.
On the heels of breakfast was a brew: tea, namely. Here in Hensen could one partake of the herbal liqueur at pleasure and plenty, for though tea may be a seldom luxury in other lands, here was it cultivated it to a veritable bounty.
I’ve found much to be fond of in Hensen’s tea customs. Break fast, brew a pot, and sip away the slow hour—such was the Hensenite routine. That’s not to say the folk here lived easy lives. Their daily business was all a bustle, in fact. But just the same did they savour to the fullest such time as they could spare with their families. And what better accompaniment to it than a warm bowl of tea.
Or at least, that’s how the story goes. Sundered from family as I was, there was not another familial soul with whom I could relish this moment. Still, the custom lost little of its lustre in my mind. Sat upon the floor mat, sipping unhurriedly from bowl in hand, whilst bathing in beams of sunlight sighing through the latticed windows—alone though I was, it was a time I found most fulfilling.
Once the bowl was finished, I summarily made ready and left my new home. It was earlier than usual; a small detour to the main garrison was in order. There must I part with the soot-steel for a while, as where I was headed next suffered no bearing of arms.
Indeed, for today was the day of the clan council—the vindarþing.
The fólkheimr hummed and bustled more so than it normally did. Many envoys and their entourages were come, all to attend the vindarþing, which included also delegates from disparate regions within the Vílungen sphere. Meaning, of course, that it isn’t solely Hensenites that sit for the meeting. Leaders and chosen representatives from the surrounding settlements, too, were here to have their say.
Situated near at hand to the fólkheimr centre was the venue: a þinghǫll, wide, wooden, and wizened with memories of numberless meetings. Contrasting with the common home, in this solemn space does one sit upon one of a great many seats.
Newly entered, I took a moment to stare in wonder at the hall interior: cavernous, almost consecrated it seemed. Londosius, too, has such parliaments, albeit at the provincial—and alas, perfunctory—level, serving as naught more than claques that paid lip service to their respective landlords, and with little or no authority to call their own.
Such is not the case with the vindarþing, where many matters are deliberated over, and the powers of enactment and enforcement palpably exercised. From the confirmation of persons to their key positions, to the ratification of new rules and regulations, all affairs of import earn or lose their blessings at the vindarþing. Put simply, the members here decide the rules, and it is the jarl himself who puts them to practice. A uniquely Vílungen custom this is not; apparently, most other Nafílim clans adopt much the same style of governance.
“Lo there—a Man, for true…”
“So, that is their look…”
Eyes all over looked my way asudden. The gathered members—civilians they were, each and every one of them. Former hands of the military some were, but that was about as divergent as they came, for it is outlawed for any soul to serve with both sword and speech at once. As such, only few here have ever laid eyes upon a Man outside the bounds of battle. Some might even recall this occasion as their very first. Nevertheless, collective curiosity glinted in their many gazes.
Included in the sea of stares, however, were the erstwhile meek whose homes were turned into battlefields at one point in their lives. Burned into their eyes were the forms of Men making corpses of their kin—eyes that now glared upon this Man with enmity.
Still, I felt it false to baulk their frowns and clenching teeth. No, I greeted them, one seething stare after another, with nods silent and solemn. Whether the gesture was appropriate or no, I knew not, though surely there must be some virtue to confronting their vehemence. Such was my sincere thought as I gave them their due deference.
Before long, into the hall entered the chairman, who wore many winters upon his bristly brows. Beside him was the Jarl Alban, and upon sighting the two, the gathered members all calmed into quiet. And so began the vindarþing.
“Hereby I declare Herr Rolf: War-Chief to us Vílungen.”
So boomed Alban’s voice. At length had he been detailing my deeds at Hensen, Balasthea and Arbel, after which the chairman had then put forth a vote for my confirmation as a new war-chief to the Víly clan. The motion had passed with well over half in favour—doubtless due in no small part to the jarl’s laying of the groundwork days prior.
Amidst rumbling applause, I stood and bowed before the assembly, and there officially became a hand of the Hensenite host. And along with my commission, too, was approved the enlistment of Men into the Nafílim military. Sig’s standing, precarious as it was, ought also gain new purchase with this development.
“This makes a precedent, then? More Men, joining our ranks henceforth?”
“A precedent, yes. Henceforth? Mayhaps. If there breathes yet other Men so willing.”
Such words were exchanged between the vindarþing members and the jarl when they were yet deep in debate for the decision. A debate for the inclusion of Men in the Nafílim cause—a future I much hoped for.
Aberrations are a certainty. In any system, in any machination, in any species. So it must be that Sig and I were hardly alone in our rebellion. More would be met, surely: wayward warriors and heretic heroes who might soon muster under our new banner.
“Rolf. Let us hear your words and see your spirit.”
There—the jarl’s voice, pulling me out of my thoughts. My acceptance speech was expected. Nodding, I stepped afore him and faced the assembly in full.
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(Language: Old Norse) A “thing-hall”. In Soot-Steeped Knight, a parliamentary hall for the convening of the vindarþing. The þ consonant is pronounced with an unvoiced th sound, as in “think” or “thumb”. The ǫ vowel is a rounded o sound, pronounced with a cross between the o sounds in the words “on” and “old”.
(Language: Old Norse) “Evil beast”; the term the Nafílim use to refer to a behemá.