|Perhaps a little something to try and start off with...|
Falco's Reign - Part 1A dozen Varangian guards in full battle dress were waiting stoically. Miranda Alanis, champion of prince Falco Adler and therefore by definition captain of the Varangians, was among them. It was rather cold in this chamber and they were all wearing their red cloaks. Miranda looked at the young man who was standing in the middle of the room, staring at the door.
“Nervous?” she asked.
Without taking his eyes of the door, Falco replied: “Do I look nervous?”
“No, but you’ve put on your ‘inscrutable’ face, which means you don’t want people to know what you’re feeling, which in turn means, you’re probably feeling nervous.”
“Oh, shut up!”
“I’m just asking because if you’re nervous, I don’t want to add to that by telling you the latest news.”
“What latest news?”
“Are you sure you’re not too nervous?”
“Stop teasing and just tell me!”
Falco's Reign - Part 2The Great Hall of the Adlerburg, containing the two thrones of Vestfjor, was full of finely dressed people, in various stages of drunkenness. Beer, mead and wine were available in copious amounts, as well as all sorts of food. It was already the fifth day into the celebrations and Falco was definitely longing for the end of it. Not that he didn’t like parties. He liked them just fine, but this endless event was not that much fun for him. The first day had been a very formal affaire, with ambassadors, high foreign dignitaries, many important nobles, rich patricians and merchants being introduced to the jarl and his wife and giving lots of presents. Nice but quite boring, in Falco’s opinion. Anya, on the other hand, seemed to be in her element. She charmed them all and, at the same time, made sure her somewhat less formal and bored husband remained focused.
The only tense moment presented itself, when princess Irena, with a big smile on her face and Frederik Falkhorst at her
Falco's Reign - Part 3A month after the double celebration of the coronation and the wedding, a lonely rider stood on top of a hill, looking at the grand, walled city in the distance. The characteristic skyline of the three mighty towers, amidst many smaller ones, was unmistakable.
“Griffnar,” she whispered. “Finally.”
She pulled her cloak closer around her body. A pale, weak sun, sent its weak rays down from the sky. It was march and it had finally begun to thaw, but that didn’t mean, it wasn’t cold anymore. With water dripping from the leaves of every tree, and snow melting everywhere, the air was so humid, it actually felt colder than when it was still freezing. A mist was forming in the plain below, rising from the wet meadows and rolling from the rivers Scaldis and Lear. Soon, it would seem as if Griffnar was besieged once more, but this time by a white blanket of fog instead of an army.
“Damn, fucking northern weather!” the young woman cursed and not for
Falco's Reign - Part 4The Varangian guards at the entrances immediately reacted, drawing their swords and running towards the dais. Falco raised his arms and waved with his hands.
“No!” he gasped. “It’s okay, guys! That was just a friendly punch, you know, like old friends greeting each other. It’s perfectly alright!”
The Varangians reluctantly assumed their former positions. The champion next to the throne removed her helmet and stepped down the dais as well.
“Miranda!” Cailida said. “I should have known!”
“Hello cousin! Can’t you take a little joke?”
“A joke? I spent an hour in that fucking dungeon!”
“I didn’t know you were in there until five minutes ago,” Falco said. “And even that wouldn’t have happened if you had waited for two seconds and listened to me before bursting out of that tavern.”
“The guards wouldn’t have been looking for you either, if you hadn’t p
Falco's Reign - Part 5Cailida stared at the front of ‘The Horny Bugger’. It wasn’t the worst tavern in the Temple District, but it certainly wasn’t the best either. Being close to the Slaver’s Guild House, it attracted a lot of the members of that small, but rich organization. Which explained the relative quality of the establishment. If, at least, you could call slave traders quality clientele.
She wondered for a moment why Slovin had chosen this place and not some tavern in the Dwarf Enclave. But then, she remembered the nature of the dwarfs. They were very decent and stern people who wouldn’t tolerate any ‘incidents’ within their quarter of the city. On the other hand, the number of slave traders who were dwarfs was surprisingly high and that particular kind of dwarf was somewhat less morally high standing. It was exactly that kind that was working in the nearby guild house and relaxing in this tavern.
She inspected the front of the building one last time b
Falco's Reign - Part 6Cailida and Anya ran as swift as the wind through the dark and mostly deserted streets of the city, followed at a little distance by Erwin. He just barely managed to keep up with them. His stamina unfortunately had never reached its former level after his forced stay with the Mountaingoblins. Still, he was determined to do his part in this rescue mission.
As they were running, Cailida glanced a couple of times at Anya. The girl was wearing once again the boyish clothes she had used during her journey through Jotunheim and Vinland. Contrary to Erwin, she easily kept up with the mercenary.
“So,” the merc said. “You’re pretty good with that bow. You must be one of the best archers in Griffnar.”
“Shane is better than I am. But yes, I’m good.”
“Who the fuck is Shane?”
“Shane the Shade. A friend of Frederik. He has left for his home in the south. Never mind. It’s not important. We’re almost there. We should slow do
Falco's Reign - Part 7“I knew it!” Rodey yelled at Cailida. “I already thought I recognized Anya! You’re selling me out!”
“Watch your mouth, kid! I’m not selling anybody out.”
“You’re taking me back!”
“Rodey,” Anya said gently. “Why do you think we came there in the first place? To get you out.”
“No! You’re lying. You came to get her stuff back! That’s all!” Rodey yelled. “I’m just a little extra! Now you’ve got your slave back to carry your bags for you. But I won’t go back. I won’t!”
“That’s not true, Rodey. I don’t care about Cailida’s stuff. Why would I help her getting it back? I’ve only known her for a couple of hours. Erwin and I came to help you.”
“They are telling the truth, boy,” Cailida said. “You’re right about me, of course. I only came back for my stuff. You did a very lousy job wa
Falco's Reign - Part 8Cubert Amharson looked at himself in the mirror and fluffed his greying beard and moustache a bit more. That was better! He was meeting the jarl in an hour or so and he wanted to look good. After all, he was the newly appointed high priest of Tyr, chief of the demon hunters. He was in the city for over a month now, having arrived in the middle of a severe winter. The College of High Priests of the holy city of Yggdrasil had sent him to Falkkeep, in the south of Vestfjor, even before Bloodburg had fallen and the former high priest of Tyr in Griffnar had been killed. It had been a wise precaution. The College had suspected Torque was involved in the whole sordid affair with Caitlin and Otar and they knew this could potentially become a huge scandal. So Cubert had been ready to take over as soon as it was possible. Cold chills still ran over his spine when he thought back of the dreadful journey in the snow and ice covered roads.
But it had been worth it. He had arrived half frozen only a
Falco's reign - Part 9Falco entered his throne room, followed closely by Cailida, where he found a nervous looking young priest, waiting for him. Miranda arrived almost at the same time from another door. She still looked somewhat upset, although she was trying to hide it. Falco quickly exchanged a questioning look with her, but she just shrugged. The priest immediately turned to the young jarl.
“My lord, I am …”
“Owain, right?” Falco interrupted him. “You were introduced to me at the coronation.”
“That’s right, my lord,” Owain replied, feeling slightly flattered and surprised, despite the situation, that Falco still remembered his name. “I have terrible news.”
“Must have happened very recently. I spoke with your high priest this morning and he didn’t mention anything.”
“That’s just it, my lord! His grace, Cubert Amharson, he … he has … been killed.”
“What?!” Falco exclaimed
Falco's reign - Part 10The jarl walked to the monumental doors that were slightly ajar. He suddenly hesitated and turned back to his friends.
“Cailida, could you go to Anya and tell her what happened? You too, Eric, I would like you to send the word to the barracks of the regular army, the Adlerburg and the city guard that everything is alright again. Keep them vigilant, but for Asgard’s sake, let them use tact. We don’t need them provoking a new riot.”
Eric immediately turned and walked away, but Falco grabbed Cailida by the elbow before she could leave. The mercenary looked at him quizzically.
“Cailida,” Falco said quietly, “Anya will want to come her. Tell her not to. Make sure she goes home, to the Adlerburg. I don’t believe a demon is involved, but you never know. She has already had to face one in Svartelheim, she doesn’t need a repeat of that event. Besides … even if there’s no demon involved, I don’t want her to see the body. It
Falco's Reign - Part 11“Nice room,” Falco said to Miranda. “The priests of the Temple Council live very comfortably.” She nodded.
“They do. It doesn’t surprise me. Falco, I didn’t want to say anything before, but I really don’t believe that it’s possible …”
“I know,” Falco quickly interrupted her.
“Then what was that show all about?”
“Give me a break, Miranda. It’s my first attempt at solving a crime. I only realized later it wasn’t possible. I didn’t hear you come up with something. Most important thing was to make sure the ‘demon’ theory was eliminated as soon as possible. Anyway, I don’t think we should discuss this here.”
“I see. As you wish. But, that footprint … did you draw the same conclusion I did?”
“Probably. It would mean there’s more than one. Speaking of which, you were really spooked earlier today when you saw the first one. Wh
Falco's Reign - Part 12Anya opened her eyes and yawned. Falco wasn’t lying next to her anymore. Instead, he was standing close to his wardrobe, finishing getting dressed. Still sleepy, she looked at the timepiece on the mantle of the fireplace. It was a little over 7 a.m.
“Good morning,” she said.
He smiled at her in response.
“You’re up early,” she continued. “I thought you would sleep in today, after the past two nights.”
“I wish I could. Too much to do. I have to inspect the temple of Tyr and I have tons of boring ‘jarl’ work waiting for me afterwards. Would you like to come?”
“Trying to make up for yesterday?” she asked with a mischievous smile.
“Maybe a little.”
“Normally, I would love to but … I don’t know … Don’t you think it would be a bit inappropriate?”
“Yes. It would seem like I’m just coming along to satisfy my curiosity. Ga
Falco's reign - Part 13The door to the jarl’s study flew open. Falco didn’t look up from the book he was reading but simply said;
“Hello Cailida. Why don’t you come in?”
“How did you know it was me?”
“I recognized your style and the absence of a knock on my door. How was your day? Did you have fun with my squires?”
“You really believe I would enjoy a day, babysitting two fucking kids who are barely in their teens?”
“No, of course not. But did you enjoy it?”
“Strangely enough, yes. They are fucking cute, both of them. Actually, I think you and that white haired young sorcerer should join them when they are having fun. It would do you good. You’re turning way too fucking serious for your age, now that you are jarl.”
“You could be right. That would be fun, I admit. Not sure if I have the time though. What did you do? Train. Have them fight each other?”
“First, I took them to a tavern. When they were
Falco's Reign - Part 14It was utter chaos. Clouds of dust and debris were hurled through the narrow tunnels. The laborers who were still in other parts of the developing sewer system, immediately fled to the ladders to get out, fearing the whole system of rudimentary tunnels would collapse. At the same time, the Varangian Guards tried to get down to help their jarl. Humans and dwarfs were pushing each other out of the way and off the ladders. Odokar was the first to recover from the shock. Suddenly, his voice bellowed out over all the noise of the chaos and panic.
“Quiet!! Calm down, damn you! Supervisors! What the hell are you doing!? Get your people under control! Stop that bullshit down there! The tunnels aren’t collapsing. Climb those ladders, one by one, or I’ll kick your asses when you get up here! Varangians! Let the laborers get out of the shaft first, otherwise they will just get in the way! Where is my team? Ah, there you are. Get ready! As soon as they’re out, we go in. Tak
Falco's reign - Part 15“Where do you think they took that fucking hybrid?” Cailida asked her cousin.
They had walked through the throne room and into the military wing of the Adlerburg with its barracks, training grounds, armories and of course, prison. Miranda absent mindedly shrugged. She had preferred to stay on the market place, near the shaft, but somebody had to make sure Cailida didn’t do anything stupid.
“To the dungeons of course,” she replied.
“I know that,” Cailida said, rolling her eyes. “But which one? It’s fucking big down there, you know. All kinds of levels, with different kinds of dungeons, from quite nice to vomit inducing filth.”
“How do you know that? Have you been down there?”
“I was arrested the first time I came here, remember? But that’s not when I found out how fucking big it is down there.”
“Then when …?”
“When Falco gave me that letter that got me into everything. I ha
Falco's Reign - Part 16For a moment it had seemed as if everything had worked out like Falco wanted it to. The assassin was lying flat on her belly on the ground and Narvi was ready to capture her. But then, almost as if in slow motion, he saw Vili falling against a support beam and everything went to hell in a matter of seconds. Wooden beams started to crash down, knocking out Narvi. Earth rained down on them in huge chunks. His first instinct was to jump forward and try to reach his friend, but he immediately realized that would be suicide. The whole tunnel was now collapsing at an alarming rate. Narvi had already disappeared under a mountain of earth and rocks.
Falco spun around and desperately tried to outrun the collapsing tunnel. A very heavy beam came down and missed him by mere centimeters, crushing the body of the unfortunate worker who had been killed by the hybrid. The beam and the rock and sand that came with it blocked his way, save for a narrow hole. He pressed his body through it, almost choki
Falco's Reign - Part 17The next morning, Falco quickly descended the stairs on his way towards the prison cells. The prison was one level below the ground, under the military wing of the Adlerburg, but it was still above the true dungeons, which were further down. A staircase and several corridors led directly from the jarl’s wing to the prison, but it required several keys to get through the doors that sealed them off. Miranda joined him.
“On your way to face the creature once more?” she asked.
“Yes. I want to question her, if at least, it is possible to have a normal conversation with that hybrid. Maybe she knows more about the Stalkers. But I’ll probably just get some ferocious snarls out of her. I … ehm … I brought Anya breakfast in bed this morning.”
“Ah. You wanted to atone for your sins?”
“Something like that.”
“Did it work?
“I think so. Of course I also had to promise I wouldn’t exclude her from my plans anymo
Falco's Reign - Part 18The two sorcerers walked through the corridor that led to Falco’s private quarters. A dozen meters to the right of the door that gave access to his and Anya’s apartment, was another entrance. Behind that was a small waiting area and a spiral staircase that went up into a tower and to Falco’s most favorite room in the Adlerburg; his father’s old study. He had hesitated for weeks before he had moved in, but once he had done it, it had quickly become his ‘home base’. Here, he liked to work and study and meet with people in private. There was another staircase as well that ended directly in his apartment, but that one was just for his own and Anya’s private use.
The moment the Varangian Guard let them in the waiting room and told them they could go up right away, a fat nobleman came out. He looked nervous but at the same time relieved. As if he had just completed a difficult and dangerous task and had gotten off better than he had feared.
Falco's Reign - part 19Odokar ran to the broken window and, standing next to Falco, stared in the deep.
“I don’t think your friend will have survived that fall,” Falco calmly stated.
“Friend?” Odokar barked in a hoarse voice. “He abused my trust and brought shame on my name! He’s not a friend. Good riddance, that’s what I say. My only hope is that you won’t hold this against all dwarfs.”
“You forget Narvi got hurt trying to protect me. He’s my friend and I have many more in Svartelheim. I will never forget that.”
Falco turned away from the window to face the room. Miranda and Halem twisted Knut’s arms on his back had pulled him to his feet. He walked over to the priest and stopped right in front of him.
“Knut. You realize your life is forfeit. There is only one way you might save it and that is by telling us all you know about the Stalkers. Every single detail.”
“So I can spend the rest of my life in your du
Falco's Reign - Part 20Pumori was running through the forest. The sun fell on her skin and the air smelled better than the most expensive perfume any Tarquinian lady had ever worn. She was happy. She was home. Suddenly, she entered a clearing, where a second figure was crouching down near a fire. He was dressed only in a loincloth made of the pelt of some animal. When he stood up, she recognized him with a shock. It was the Falco-lord. Only, it wasn’t. Not quiet. This person looked more feral, had longer hair and was wilder in every respect. He grinned at her.
“Pumori …” he whispered.
She woke up with a start. A wave of sadness washed over her when she realized where she was. It wasn’t the forest. She was still in her cell, lying on her side on the straw matrass. She had pulled the rough blanket they had given her up to her chin. There was only a trickle of light still falling through her narrow barred window, high up in the wall. That was her only indication that night was fal
Falco's Reign-Part 21Tarquinian Colonies. A small estate in the countryside, near the city state of Caltania.
May 12 1303 A.O.R.
“I won’t ask how you got in here, Silvana,” Moreno said as he walked back into his room. “You were always very good at manipulating people with hypnoses and magic. I’m just wondering why you are here. After all, I haven’t heard anything from the Tarquinian Circle in half a year.”
Silvana raised an eyebrow and followed him in.
“You should thank the gods you didn’t hear from us,” she replied. “You failed us rather miserably at a very important mission. You lost a lot of respect and influence among the free companies. In fact, the mercenary captains are already bickering among themselves who should take over the position of ‘Primo Capitano’. Your absence after your ignominious defeat didn’t help either. You basically went into hiding. There were voices in the Council of Nine that said that you had ou
Falco's Reign - Part 22Griffnar, Adlerburg, June 7 1303 A.O.R.
“But why not possible?” Pumori said in a complaining tone of voice. She was standing next to her, rather narrow, window and looking stubborn and defiant at Miranda.
“You know very well,” Miranda said irritable. “You have to stay inside because …”
“Falco-lord say Pumori stay inside until wounds heal. All healed now,” she said sticking her hind paw out, to show it had healed. “All bandages gone.”
“Yes, of course. You had to be healed, otherwise people might figure out the deception with the execution, but that wasn’t the only …”
“And weather beautiful! Sun shines! Nice warm. Pumori want outside!” she said, stamping her paw on the floor.
“Will you let me finish my sentence?!” Miranda snapped angrily. Pumori flinched and quickly took a step back. “That wasn’t the only condition Falco imposed. We have to figure out a way to i
Falco's Reign - Part 23July 17 1303 A.O.R.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written to you, so I thought I should pick up my quill and let you know what I’ve been up to.
Well, I’ve been very busy, so that’s a good excuse for not writing quite that often. Anya and I and most of the gang have been on a bit of a tour through the northwestern part of Vestfjor. Miranda couldn’t come because she sprained her ankle rather badly. The fault of a rather unusual hybrid girl you’ve probably already heard about. I’ll tell you more about her later. Cailida and the boys went along for a while, but then she took them on a separate training exercise, back to Griffnar. I hope they’re alright. I also received a letter from Erwin and his father, by the way. They managed in completely fooling Slovin about the whereabouts of my alter ego Thialfi. Right now, that bothersome dwarf is on a ship towards Singastein, but with the subtle hint, Thialfi will be getting o
Falco's Reign - Part 24Anya entered the chambers Kris Skallagrim had put at their disposal. She turned to the servant girl who was holding a tray and said.
“You can give that to me now, girl.”
“But … milady …”
“I’ll take it to him myself. You can go now.”
“Yes, milady,” the girl replied. She just didn’t get it. What noble would do such menial tasks herself? The court in Griffnar really had taken a dive! She handed the tray to Anya and left to do servant girl stuff.
Anya walked on her toes to the big four-poster bed at the end of the room. But, to her disappointment, there was no Falco anywhere in the mass of sheets. Puzzled, she looked around and saw the open door that led to their little balcony. Falco was standing there, leaning on the railing. Anya put the tray down on a table and went to stand beside him. Falco looked up and smiled. His wife stared at him inquisitively.
“I was going to surprise you with breakfast, but you see
Falco's Reign - Part 25The jarl of Vestfjor and his retinue had left Grimkeep and had been traveling for a day and a half along the coastal road. Despite the beautiful summer weather, the mood wasn’t too great. They were all a bit down after finding the pillaged village and having to give up on their pursuit. A message had been sent to the jarl of Caledonia to request talks concerning the mercenary problem at their mutual border, but as a reply wasn’t expected for several weeks to come and would no doubt be conducted by ambassadors and emissaries, they had decided to leave a few days after the incident and go home. Lord Skallagrim had increased his patrols along the border, but the frontier was long and in many regions rather wild. Preventing more raids and surprise attacks would not be that easy.
“I’m going to miss Grimkeep,” Anya said, trying to lighten the mood. She was riding on her white horse, next to Falco’s black griffin. “The name is really misleading. I tho
Falco's Reign - Part 26About the same time Falco furiously left Caledonia and started to help Skallagrim to organize counter measures against the robbing and pillaging mercenaries, and Arcala took a slightly anxious wolf girl to a place called the Academy, to pursue goals only she knew in their entirety, far away in a neighboring realm, another kind of meeting was taking place.
Baron Bjarnulf Ofgard, chancellor of High King Olaf Garadson II, was staring pensively in his drink. He had a problem. It wasn’t a new one. It had existed for some time, but it was getting worse and the time to find a solution was running short. He wondered for a moment if maybe he had waited for too long. But no, this was not the time for doubt. He hadn’t been able to remain chancellor for more than fifteen years by shrinking back for a challenge. He was sure when he heard the reports of his men, he would find a way. He always had before. Anything to maintain his position. He scratched his thinning blond hair, put his gla
Falco's Reign - part 27Arcala and Pumori arrived late at night at Elvira’s old estate, which was now called, in a rather grand fashion, the Academy. Grand, because it still wasn’t that elaborate. The most impressive building was the old manor, a very large building and once the ancestral home of Elvira’s late husband. It had one huge square tower, that got a bit narrower as it got higher. The rest of the complex consisted mainly out of some old service quarters and several warehouses, stables and barns that were partly converted for their new purpose, be it living quarters for the orphaned children or a school or washing facilities and so on.
The last few kilometers they had travelled on their own, as the elf sorceress had sent the small Varangian escort away. She had only accepted their presence because Falco had ordered it anyway. Now that she was no longer under the influence of Caitlin’s restricting chains and spells, there weren’t a lot of opponents she couldn’t handl
Falco's Reign - Part 28It was raining. It often did this close to the mountains, in Skallagrim’s Domain. Two horsemen quickly rode towards the small army camp. Dozens of canvas tents were built around a big one in the center. A mix of regular Vestfjor troops, Varangian Guards and the soldiers of House Skallagrim were walking around. The horsemen glanced at each other nervously, dismounted and went to the big tent. They greeted the two Varangian Guards at the entrance and were immediately sent through. Rain was trickling melodically on the canvas. They saluted the jarl and his staff, who were standing around a table with maps on top of it.
“The scouts are back, my lord,” one of the Varangians said.
Falco looked up for only a moment, before he continued staring at the map.
The men glanced at each other. Then, one of them started talking.
“I have very little good news to report, my lord. Unfortunately, the first rumors concerning an imminent attack on a s
Yuletide-part 110 days before yuletide
“Huh? What? I’m awake! What?” Falco stammered. He had been ‘hard at work’ behind his desk in his study (which in this case meant, he was taking a nap). “Anya?”
“Who else? Now tell me the truth! What do you think about this?”
She held a beautiful, fur lined red dress in front of her and looked at him with sparkling eyes.
“No, no, I mean, very beautiful. Astonishing! And stylish and everything. It’s new, right?” he asked, a bit wary. There was very little he missed in a fight or a dangerous situation, but noticing the fact his wife was wearing a new dress and looked spectacular in it, was something that rather often eluded him. And that in turn, usually meant Anya would give him a hard time for a while.
“Yes, I found it this morning at Anabelle’s tailor shop. Isn’t it great! It really fits the occasion!&
Yuletide - Part 29 days before yuletide
“I’m not sure what this has to do with Yuletide!” Falco said, looking around. “I’m pretty sure I know most of the Yuletide traditions, and none of those involve a visit to a harbor.”
He was walking with Anya along the warehouses and the guild houses towards the docks. Cailida, substituting for Miranda as bodyguard, was strolling behind them, casually playing with her sword.
“Maybe you don’t know all the traditions! Maybe the Yuletide allfather arrives by boat,” Anya replied.
“No, he doesn’t! Wait! I know why we are here! You have been ordering all kinds of stuff and presents from the neighboring realms and they arrive today.”
“Oh, come on, Falco! Then I would have had to order them weeks ago or even longer. It’s no fun starting to prepare for Yuletide before the actual season begins.”
“I suppose so. Say, wouldn’t it be great if you could order something from a fa
Yuletide - part 38 days before yuletide
Usually, the jarl and his wife didn’t exactly go out to do their shopping themselves. They had people to do that for them. But this was different! Anya wanted gifts for everybody who would be on her Yuletide feast and that required a personal approach. Miranda hadn’t been allowed to come because they would be buying her a present too, and that had to remain a surprise.
They had been walking across town for hours, visiting shops and stalls, accompanied by a couple of Varangian Guards and two servants to carry everything. Usually, Falco didn’t mind shopping much. He had always enjoyed sneaking out of the Adlerburg on market day when he was little. But it felt different now. He kept seeing things, he knew would have made good presents for his father or brother. That hurt. Still, he forced himself to smile and go on. Concentrating on what his friends would like, helped a bit. At one point, he stared at the pelt of a wolf for several minutes. It had
Yuletide - Part 45 days before yuletide
“Falco, just look at that! It’s so beautiful!” Anya said, standing in her nightgown in front of the window. Falco, firmly clutching his pillow, was still lying in bed.
“I know there’s snow out there. I came back in the middle of a mild blizzard, remember? I can still feel the chill in my bones. I don’t understand how Pumori could stand it, even though I forced her to wear a coat.”
“Stop whining, you big baby, and get over here. The whole world is pure white.”
“But I’m lying very comfortable right now!”
“Don’t make me come and get you!”
“Gods! Typical for me to marry such a bossy wife.”
“What did you just say? I couldn’t quite hear you.”
“Nothing. I’m coming milady,” he said teasingly.
With a blanket still wrapped around him, he stood next to her and gazed upon a magnificent, white, winter world. The sky was still grey, but at l
Yuletide - Part 54 days before yuletide
“Don’t look so annoyed. I know Yuletide is Odin’s feast and I know you’re not very keen on the gods in general, but it is customary in these days to bring the other gods a little sacrifice as well,” Anya said, holding Falco firmly by his arm. They were walking over Tyr’s bridge towards Thor’s temple. “Even in Vinland, we did that. Although it were just altars back then, and not entire temples we visited.
“And you were dedicated to Thor at your birth. So we should start with him.”
“And one of your best friends and mentors is a priest of Thor. He will love it when he sees you in the temple.”
“I know!! I’m here bringing the sacrifice, aren’t I? Just drop it already.”
“Okay, sorry, I’ll shut up,” Anya said, a bit taken aback.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Dealing with the temple
Yuletide - Part 63 days before yuletide
The next day, there were no more snow showers during the entire morning and shortly after noon, Falco led Halem, who was carrying an axe over his shoulder, Miranda, Anya and Cailida to the gardens of the Adlerburg. All the trees and bushes were covered in a thick layer of snow.
“Why are you taking us out here?” Anya asked. “A couple of days ago, you didn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone go outside. And now we are ploughing through the snow.”
“You wanted a traditional Yuletide, didn’t you? Well, this is part of the tradition of the Adlerburg. In that part of the gardens, there’s a copse of fir trees. Every year, we used to go down there, to pick a tree for the yuletide log and to collect pine needles, holly, mistletoe and pine cones to decorate the hall where the feast will be. And in case you were wondering, we always plant new trees to make sure we don’t run out of them.”
“And why does Hal
Yuletide - Final part (aka part 7)2 days before Yuletide
No Yuletide without decorations. No decorations without collecting pine cones, branches of fir trees; mistletoe and other stuff from the woods and gardens. And that is what they did. And that is what they did. While Ursula and her people baked cookies and other treats to hang in the Yuletide tree, another team led by Rodey and Arno and accompanied by Pumori went first into the gardens and later into the nearby woods outside the city to gather as much material as they could find. Falco sent Bloodwing along with them. He could help them to carry their treasures, but also to keep an eye out for them. A third and last team made wooden decorations from colorful materials. All of this would be used the next day to decorate the hall where the celebration would take place.
“So, did you like living at the Academy?” Rodey asked.
“Yes. Are hard life, but Pumori though! Like living there.”
“Oh … You didn’t like living in the Adlerbu
Falco's Reign - Part 30It was two days after the Yuletide celebration. Winter had not diminished its grip on the land in the least and a thin layer of ice covered the outside of the windows. A fire was burning in the hearth, spreading a pleasant heat in the study, where Falco had gathered some of his most trusted friends.
On the desk he had placed the scrap of paper he had found in his coat. He was very agitated, looking at his friends and the paper, hoping for some kind of reaction. Anya was keeping an eye on him. He had hardly eaten or slept in the past days, wanting to share this with everybody. Unfortunately, many of them had been a bit ‘out’ after the big Yuletide feast, so it hadn’t been possible to do this any sooner.
“Well?” Falco asked impatiently.
“It’s … interesting,” Halem said.
“Interesting?” Falco asked.
“I guess you think this means that somebody is telling you there are more Adlers left?” Talisin said.
Falco's Reign - Part 31Defalin, the Capital of Erin, was not as big as Griffnar. Neither was it dominated by three massive towers and the seat of the jarl was not surrounded by water, even though the city itself was built on the banks of the same river that flowed through Griffnar. The palace still had a strong wall, but it depended much more on the city walls for its defense than its own. That didn’t mean the city was puny or unimpressive. It was, in fact, very beautiful, surrounded by, in summer time at least, a green landscape with rolling hills and gentle forests. Now of course, everything was still covered in snow, although the first signs of thaw had appeared.
In this winter wonder land, seven horsemen were riding leisurely along a path that winded around the city. Two of them, clad in white and green colors and chainmail, were about fifteen meters ahead while two others, equally dressed, were trailing an equal distance behind, making sure the three highborn nobles, had the necessary privacy to t
Falco's Reign - Part 32It was the second half of February. Still winter, but the period of unrelenting frost that had reigned since before Yuletide, had finally ended. Snow and ice had been melting for over a week and the roads had once again become more suitable for travel. Although ‘suitable for travel was a relative concept as the thick layer of snow was now replaced by a layer of half frozen mud. Falco’s new roads were a big help, if and where they were finished, but in most places, that was not yet the case.
So despite improving conditions, it was still not very comfortable to travel great distances. Nonetheless, through this bleak, cold, humid winter landscape, three horsemen were slowly advancing along the increasingly muddy roads. Cailida was in a good mood and was singing a rather dubious song that was a favorite among Tarquinian mercenaries. After a while, Pumori tried to sing along, but she had only picked up a few lines and words, so she mostly hummed a bit, occasionally throwing in a
Falco's Reign - Part 33A dozen river drakes were anchored in Griffnar’s harbor, ready to depart. These ships were a design that had evolved from the ancient Viku longships but they were much larger than the old ships, had a hold and often a castle and, depending on how they were adapted, could be used for almost any purpose, whether it be passenger transport, cargo or warfare. It was the most commonly used type of ship on the great rivers of Midgard.
The harbor was bustling with activity. Workers were running up and down the gangways to load the last of the cargo. 100 Varangian guards were manning two war drakes and spreading across the other ten ships; two on each one as a security detail. About an equal number of servants, stable hands and pages were put on three passenger drakes. One cargo ship was used to transport horses and four other cargo drakes would be used to carry all the supplies they would need, like food, clothes, fodder and anything else you could think of. The last two passenger drakes
Falco's Reign - Part 34By Falco’s standards, the journey along the rivers was pretty tame. They encountered plenty of inquisitive river folk and local villagers who were watching from the river banks, but nobody with evil intentions. Temperatures were still low, but not as low as they had been. The frost was over and seemed to have no intentions or returning. In fact, although the sun didn’t give much heat yet, she was around most of the time, an occasional rain shower notwithstanding.
All in all, it should have been a pleasant journey but strangely enough Falco was more restless and nervous than he had been on his way back home from Jotunheim. He found it difficult to get the news about possibly surviving Adlers out of his mind. And the destination of his journey wasn’t very appealing either. But he did his best not to be too moody and enjoy looking at landscapes he had never seen before. Anya and he also spent a lot of time in Frederik’s company who was coming along with them as wel
Falco's Reign - Part 35Rufus, blacksmith of Cormal, a small city about fifty kilometers to the southwest of Defalin, looked up from his work at the anvil, when the door of his shop opened. The short stubby woman who entered waved a sword in his direction.
“Uma, how are you?” he said.
“Could have been better, Rufus,” she huffed. “I have an urgent job for you.”
“Urgent? Oh, I don’t know, Uma. I have tons of work and …”
“Don’t give me a hard time, Rufus. Please, help me out here. Tom’s sword and dagger need to be sharpened asap. Like, right now, so he can pick them up tomorrow morning.”
“What’s the hurry? I thought Tom’s next tour of duty in the Cormal company wasn’t for another three months?”
“Yeah, well, plans have apparently changed. He needs to report tomorrow and if he arrives with a blunt sword, he’ll be on report from day one. So, can you help me out?”
“Sure, give me
Falco's Reign - Part 36It was the last day of the first week of the Althing. The speeches (and parties) of the jarls of Armorica and Frisia had been followed by the ones from jarl Hagen of Arioviki and Jarl Rudolf of Hendeby.
Falco had been anticipating Rudolf’s speech. He felt a bit guilty about the whole wedding affaire and the consequent cooling of the relations between Vestfjor and Hendeby. He was therefore determined to support the old jarl as much as he could. But it turned out, there was not that much to support. Rudolf’s speech was a mix of remembering and saying goodbye. He recalled the good old days of high king Olaf’s reign, how he had destroyed the orc horde that had invaded Midgard more than twenty years ago. How good the peace had been that this great victory had brought. Now that Rudolf himself had come at the end of his own rule, and his daughter, princess Irena, would soon take over from him, he could only look back at those days with gratitude and the urgent plea to make s
Falco's Reign Part 37The first day of the second week of the Althing, was filled with religious duties. Endless ceremonies for the gods followed one after the other. Sacrifices were made to ask the gods to send down their wisdom, strength and courage so the decisions that would be reached would ensure the future of Midgard. In the meantime they also made it clear what their own wishes for the future were; stability, prosperity and piety. Of course it was also a way for the Temples to make some extra gold, because all the jarls were supposed to make donations in gold, cattle, land and the occasional slave. Combined with the money Bjarnulf and the queen had ‘generously’ given to rebuild the old temple of Odin and in that way ensure the support of the Sacred Realm for Philgar’s regency, the Temples were having a very good year. Falco found the whole day extremely boring, although he did manage to keep a straith face throughout the ceremonies. An added bonus was, that there was no feast at th
Falco's reign - Part 38Falco’s stewards had spared no expense on the party they gave that evening. It was one of the few things on this journey Falco had not cut the budget of. Having the smallest delegation at this royal gathering was one thing, giving an underrate party was another. Food and drink of excellent quality were present in abundance and the entertainment was as good as an assembly of jarls and high nobles could expect.
But Falco was not enjoying it. He tried to hide it, but he couldn’t fool Anya. Standing somewhat in the back, she watched him, as he quietly sipped his drink and, without much enthusiasm nibbled on his food. Some of his friends clearly were on to him as well and tried to cheer him up without much success.
Anya understood. He had given all he had, but he knew, unless a miracle happened, it would not have been enough. Argyle’s actions had been bad of course, but even then, Falco might have succeeded, if it had not been for the high king. Anya felt Falco was winning
Falco's Reign - Part 39Hagen walked leisurely to the castle on the stern of the ship. He enjoyed the feeling of the gentle spring sun on his face as he climbed the stairs, where his guest was waiting. Falco was standing at the railing watching back in the direction of Mikligard. After a week’s sailing down stream and with favorable winds in their sails, the city wasn’t visible anymore of course. Only the rest of the combined Vestfjor-Arioviki fleet and the sun glistening on the water. The air was full of the scents of spring and Hagen was in an excellent mood.
“Good morning, Falco. Are you missing Mikligard already?” he grinned.
“Hello, Hagen. Not really. In fact, if I never have to see that city again, it would still be too soon.”
“All alone up here? Where is Anya? And that champion of yours that never seems to leave your side?”
“Anya is really troubled by sea sickness on this voyage. Although I guess I should call it river sickness in these conditions.
Falco's Reign - part 40It had been a tough couple of days for Rodey and Ewan. Pumori and Cailida worked them hard from dawn till dusk and the rations were very meagre. They couldn’t even remember the number of times they had transformed from human into wolf boy and back again. That too took a lot of energy and in the end, they just couldn’t do it anymore. Arcala had been watching them all the time as they got increasingly tired and hungry. Unknown to them and even to Pumori and Cailida, their water was spiked as well, with a potion that made them more irritable. Not much, just a little. But combined with the incessant exercises, exhaustion and hunger, it certainly did not improve their mood or their self control.
The third day, after having only received a slice of bread at breakfast, they were summoned to Arcala’s quarters. Cailida was standing by her side when they entered.
“You boys have greatly improved in controlling your transformations,” Arcala said, looking down on the k
Falco's Reign - Part 41About a week later, Falco and Anya were laying on a bear rug in front of the fire place. Although it was spring by now, it could still be chilly in the Adlerburg, especially in the evening, so a warm cozy fire was heating the room.
“I’m glad everything is finally back to our normal routine,” Falco said. “Although our normal routine can’t be like it was before, now that I have screwed up the Althing. We need to find a way to increase our own troops considerably, if we can’t get the others to follow us.”
“That’s true,” Anya said. “But I wouldn’t give up on rallying the other jarls just yet. If Hagen can get confident enough to go against that throng of advisors of his, I think he may be on your side.”
“We do have a good rapport,” Falco admitted. “He could be on our side in due time. In fact, he suggested as much back in Mikligard. Maybe Maud will be willing to listen as well. She did seem to b
Falco's Reign - Part 42The next morning, the captains were surprised to find themselves summoned urgently to the Adlerburg. The grandmaster of the Order of Mjolnir was invited as well. He was under no obligation to come, but declining never entered his mind. If the jarl suddenly invited him to his keep, there had to be a good reason. To Falco’s (only) delight that day, he also brought Haldrik with him. The paladin’s tour of duty in Heimdall was over and he had recently returned to Griffnar.
The chaos that erupted after Talisin and Eric had explained about the coming war, was indescribable. But luckily, it was also short. Most of the men and women in the room had been warriors since the day they had been able to carry a sword and grow a beard (with the exception of most of the women of course). So, after the initial shock, they soon settled down and, even before Falco has asked for their opinion, their minds were already turning to the problems at hand. The problems of bringing the companies to fu
Falco's Reign - part 43Owain stared at the piece of paper on his desk. There were a number of locations on it and a list of roads, forts and cities. Next to each of them was room to add information. Some of which was pretty common knowledge. Some was not. He hesitated and nervously rubbed his chin with his hand.
What the young jarl has asked him during their secret meeting was no small matter. At first, he had found the whole cloak and dagger thing somewhat amusing. After all, he didn’t have a lot of secret meetings in the back of an inn with the jarl, while they were both in disguise. He wondered for a moment why Falco had chosen the alias of Thialfi when he did a thing like that. He looked … unusual … as a blonde. Anyway, he had been amused but not for very long. The news Falco had brought, had been very disturbing. An impending war was not what he had expected. It had gotten even worse when Falco had made his request. The jarl had applied no pressure. In a calm and quiet tone of voice
Falco's Reign - Part 44Pumori elegantly dodged Darcia’s attack. She took another step back, parried the wooden sword of her friend, quickly spun around and hit Darcia on her bottom with the flat side of her own practice blade. The girl uttered a short, surprised squeal.
“That are hit for Pumori”, the wolf girl cheered.
“One you’re going to get back!” Darcia grumbled, rubbing her backside. “Take that, wolfie!”
The human girl doubled her efforts. Pumori had to admit Darcia was getting a lot faster. Apparently, Arcala’s body altering potions were indeed having their effect. She was more agile, faster and stronger, without having lost the leanness of her body. Which was a nice added advantage for Ewan who was serving as a referee in this duel and really enjoyed what he was seeing. After all, Darcia wanted the fight to be fair, and therefore had decided to wear the exact same kind of protection and clothes Pumori was using…
Pumori cautiously retr
Falco's Reign - Part 45Maud was sitting at her breakfast table, enjoying a piece of bread, covered in butter and honey. Her twelve year old son and seven year old daughter were present as well. She liked having breakfast with her kids. It wasn’t like she could spend a lot of quality time alone with her children, so she was feeling quite annoyed when suddenly, her chamberlain charged into the room, after a short knock on the door.
“Excuse me for interrupting your breakfast, milady, but we received an urgent message! From one of our agents in Vestfjor!”
He handed her a piece of paper. Maud carefully wiped her hands on a napkin before she took it from him.
“Mm, from Moira,” she said, swallowing down the last piece of honey covered bread. “A good agent, but also a naughty one,” she continued with a wink towards her son. “She works for more than one master, although she thinks I don’t know. Let’s see what she has to say …”
Her eyes quickly w
Falco's Reign - Part 46Falco didn’t know it yet, but the war had actually started more than a day before the Caledonian ambassador entered his throne room. Shortly before dawn on the 16th of June, a throng of warriors gathered under the cover of darkness in front of the fortifications in the three mountain passes in the Pict Mountains that were suitable for an army.
The Caledonian warriors waited in silence, staring at the wooden stakes in front of the low palisades. This wooden wall had been erected in the last couple of weeks and they felt quite confident they would be able to tear it down. It was difficult to understand why the soldiers of Vestfjor had chosen to defend this palisade, in stead of the older, stone fortifications further down the pass, where it was at its narrowest. Ironically, those had been built on the order of jarl Karl by Caledonian war prisoners after the last Caledonia-Vestfjor war. They would have to be dealt with as well, after the destruction of the palisade.
At a whispered c
Falco's Reign - Part 47Maybe he was mistaken, but Kian had the distinct impression the wood was getting less dense and the road broader. Maybe they were finally getting close to the edge. It was about time! Not that he wasn’t enjoying himself. He had been very excited and glad when his mother had told him he would accompany her and the army on the invasion of Vestfjor. So much even that she had warned him this wasn’t a vacation. He was there to learn about military life. Being the son of the jarl of Erin would not spare him from the hardships of a military campaign. Well … at least not from all of them. So far, he had had a great time, even though the long hours on horseback for days on end were beginning to exact their toll. He looked around him with pride and confidence! These were new lands he had never seen before and thanks to his mom’s policies, one day he would reign them! It didn’t get any better than this.
Despite his sour muscles, he straitened his back, trying to loo
Falco's Reign - Part 48The keep shuddered as boulder after boulder from the catapults smashed into the towers. Debris and dust rained down constantly on the men who were defending the fortress. Screaming and battle cries filled the air almost every hour of the day and night as wave after wave of Caledonian warriors charged the walls. Doctors worked to the point of exhaustion to take care of the wounded, but more still followed. The captain who had once been responsible for this fortress in peacetime looked at the enemy through a narrow window and despaired. So many of them and increasingly less of their own. Suddenly the door flew open and Count Kris Skallagrim, his armor covered in blood and gore, burst into the room.
“My lord!” the captain exclaimed.
“The fortress cannot be held much longer,” the count said, surprisingly calm considering the circumstances. “Captain, medical men, begin preparing the wounded for transport immediately. I want to see them move out of the southern
Falco's Reign - Part 49“Get these men some water. They look parched. They can get some beer or mead as well, but only after they have made their report,” Miranda said.
She was standing next to Falco’s seat in the priest-administrator’s audience chamber. The light that fell through the windows was getting more dim, as the sun slowly sank behind the endless forests of Sorenson’s territory. A long summer’s eve was coming to an end. For the time Falco was staying at the temple complex, the priest had given him the use of his house. Falco had refused the offer of the bedroom, preferring his own tent instead, but the audience chamber was convenient for discrete talks. Right now, two men, guides and scouts were standing in front of him, covered in sweat and dirt. They had come from baron Sorenson to report on the situation in his domain.
“Speak, men,” Miranda said. “The jarl wants to know all about Woodburg.”
“Yes, champion,” the man on the rig
Falco's Reign - Part 50The day went by uneventful. The army marched further to the northwest, but they moved cautiously. By all accounts, the enemy had to be somewhere close by. The landscape they were now moving through was like a checkerboard. Patches of open land with the occasional farm were followed by stretches of forests that were becoming increasingly dense or rows of low hills, sometimes covered in trees, sometimes bare. Whole armies could be hiding behind such a wood or row of hills. They didn’t even have to be hiding on purpose. They could just be marching behind it and neither side would notice the other, if it weren’t for the scouts. They swarmed around the army, sometimes dozens of kilometers away, to see and hear what the army itself could not. But their numbers were limited and the surface to cover huge.
Falco ordered his men to set up camp in the evening on the gentle slopes of a hill, near a well that provided them with fresh water. Tensions were rising among the men, but
Falco's Reign - Part 51They ran like they had never run before. They didn’t stop to eat or rest. Not even for a few moments. As they had a rough idea of the direction the army would be taking, they had absolutely no problem in locating the new camp site, but by the time they got there in the early evening of the second day after they had left the camp, they were completely exhausted. The sentries that intercepted them immediately alerted the camp and sent for a carriage to bring them back that last kilometer to the jarl’s command tent.
Falco stepped outside, shielding his eyes for the setting sun. Miranda was already standing near the cart, helping Rodey to get off. Ewan was already, a bit shaky, walking towards him. Even though the cart ride had lasted only a few minutes, it had given them enough energy to walk on their own power.
“Ewan? Rodey? What’s going on? Where is Shane?”
“Shane is still out there,” Ewan panted. “He …”
Falco's Reign-Part 52 aka Battle of Orcfang Peak 1On top of a hill, around which Erin’s army camp had been built, an old logging camp had been thoroughly reorganized and refurbished to serve as Maud’s headquarters and living quarters. Every morning at dawn and every evening, just before dusk, she and her nobles and officers met in the largest of the cabins to discuss the current situation and the events of the day.
Kian was always supposed to attend those meetings, although he sometimes tried to get out of it. Usually, he had to try to hide the fact he was sleepy and bored. Who would ever have thought that waging a war could be this boring? He didn’t know how she did it, as she was at the same time talking to her officers and staring at maps, but his mother almost always noticed it when his eyes started to wander to the crests and weapons and tapestries that had been attached to the walls as decoration. When that happened, Maud always followed the same pattern. First, there was a stern, even angry glare, than a short
Falco's Reign-Part 53 aka Battle of Orcfang Peak 2The plateau was bustling with activity. Civilian aides and attendants of the quarter master were setting up tents, parking the carts with supplies, Maud’s personal possessions and last but not least, the war treasury in a square, protected by their own special guard detail. This time however, Maud was not overseeing all that activity. She and her son, surrounded by bodyguards were standing at the edge of the plateau. Both Ursa and Ruadi were part of her retinue. Ruadi, much against her wishes, had not been allowed to join the cavalry charge. General Roykirk had decided that she was too tired, after having ridden an entire night to bring them the news.
Below on the plain, some 22.000 warriors were marching in long columns towards Orcfang Peak. Maud was looking through a spyglass, a precious and rare item she had obtained from the engineers guild. Kian was jumping up and down in excitement at her side and tried to get his mother to give him the spyglass. Maud ignored him. She was w
Falco's Reign-Part 54 aka Battle of Orcfang Peak 3Ronan watched, grinding his teeth, as he saw so many brave warriors being shot down and so many more run in a blind panic. He was a tall, heavy man with the posture and face of a simple brute and a grinding voice to match that look. But looks can be deceiving. He had brains as well.
“Form ranks, damn you!” he roared above the shouts of blind panic and the shrieks and pleas of the dying and the wounded. “Captains! Abandon column formation and form battle ranks! Keep your distance from those woods. Stay clear from the god damn gap. Stop those survivors from running off! This is just a setback! That’s all! We have plenty of warriors to crush that whelp and his horde of adventurers and freaks! By Loki’s balls! Form ranks or I’ll gut you myself!”
It was crude but effective. The companies that had still been outside the gap quickly formed a strong, stable battle line. The survivors of the other companies were stopped in their tracks. Some that had be
Falco's Reign - Part 55At exactly the same time a victorious Falco landed amidst an exhilarated, cheering army, lord Sigismund Ronval was standing on the outer wall of the harbor of Ronjar, looking down on the enemy camp at the other side of the river. So far, there had been no major assaults or attempts to cross the river. The only hostilities had been the occasional artillery duel, or sorcerers throwing boulders, lightning and fire at each other. But as there weren’t that many sorcerers on either side (most were either with Maud’s or Falco’s main army) they didn’t do much damage. The catapults and ballistae however … Sigismund had responded with spear throwers and catapults of his own, constructed on towers and walls.
Still, all of this had just been unimportant skirmishing. Sooner or later, the enemy would try to cross the river and assault his city and the real fight would begin. But even that wasn’t truly important. The war would not be decided here, but on some batt
Falco's Reign - Part 56By the time Falco and Miranda landed once more near the ancient fort, things had already drastically changed. The prisoners of war, fit enough to work, were digging graves or chopping down trees for pyres and the repair work on the fort. A large number of tents had been erected as well, where the wounded of both sides would be treated. A group of hundreds of prisoners in rough clothes, with scruffy beards had been separated from the others and assembled close to where Bloodwing landed.
“Lord Falco,” Volsung said. “These are militia men from the Sorenson Domain. Like their lord, they committed treason and therefore deserve to die. Shall I arrange for their execution?”
The terrified men started to beg for mercy, claiming they were innocent and had had no choice in the matter. Falco looked rather annoyed and irritable.
“Be quiet!” he shouted. “I can’t hear myself think with all that whimpering. Volsung, there has been enough killing for one
Falco's Reign - Part 57“Do you think they will be following us? I mean, isn’t it logical they would assume we all go back to Erin or to my city, Woodburg?”
“I hope not!” Maud replied rather worried. “That would mean I set up my own son as a decoy.”
“Your son is following the safest route, my lady,” Ruadi said. “If they ride without delay, they should have enough of a head start to get back to Erin and Defalin safely. It’s we who are facing the real danger.”
“But why would they assume …”
“Don’t be a fool, Sorenson,” Ruadi snapped. “When we left, that black devil on his flying demon was up in the air. He wasn’t just enjoying the view. For a moment, I was afraid he might even come after us himself. But he just hung there for a while and then returned to his own people. Nonetheless, he will have sent warriors after us.”
“Ruadi is right, I’m afraid,” Maud admitted.
Falco's Reign - Part 58Pumori’s band of young warriors continued its path through the wild lands after their final victory over Maud’s warriors. Their precious cargo was still swinging gently underneath the heavy branch, conscious, desperate, but completely helpless, while her only two surviving warriors trudged behind Pumori’s horse.
“Stop!” Pumori ordered, raising one fist towards the sky. She stuck her nose up in the wind and sniffed. Then, she looked at the two young wolf men with a questioning look. They smelled the air as well and nodded. “We stops … over there for rest of day and night.”
She pointed towards the end of the path, about halfway the hill they were currently descending.
“Already?” Darcia asked. “But it’s only like three in the afternoon.”
“Pumori know, Darcia. But still stop. We is having visitors in hour or so. No worries. Are good visitors. Pumori smells. Ewan and Rodey-boy too. And Pumori smells somethi
Falco's Reign - Part 59Count Sigismund Ronvald, lord of Ronjar, was having dinner with his wife and children. The fact there was still plenty of food available in the city, was about the only good thing left in these troubling times and he was determined to enjoy it. And have his kids enjoy it. He frowned at his youngest daughter who wasn’t very hungry and was just playing with her food. When she noticed, she gave him a shy smile and, by way of compromise, put a piece of carrot in her mouth. He smiled back at her. Well, a piece of carrot was better than nothing.
She was only ten. His oldest boy and daughter where about Falco’s age. The boy a little older. The other three were somewhere in between. What would happen to them and his beloved wife Olivia, if Maud decided to take the siege a bit more serious and attack for real. Death? Exile? Slavery?
And to add to his problems, in a few days the emissary from Hendeby would arrive to collect his answer. Hendeby wouldn’t attack Ronjar, even if he
Falco's Reign - Part 60General Sean O’Reilly had very mixed feelings about his assignment. Sure, it was a great honor to be appointed to lead thousands of men in a war, but the commission lost much of its glory when you considered this was just a secondary, unimportant front. Hold them on the south bank of the Scaldis, jarl Maud and general Roykirk had told him. Seize opportunities if you see them, but don’t waste your men. And it was pretty clear they didn’t really expect him to get a lot of opportunities.
He had to admit, with the 8000 men he had received, it would be a very difficult task to get across the river and take the city. It just wasn’t enough. The Scaldis was a big river and the only bridge had been destroyed by lord Ronvald. Only the pillars were left standing. So, apart from the occasional artillery duel, there hadn’t been much fighting. Under normal circumstance, if taking a city by force wasn’t an option, you just starved it into surrendering. But th
Falco's Reign - Part 61The carriage of Sverig, ambassador of Hendeby, rumbled over the winding dirt road. It was exactly a week after he had delivered his jarl’s demands to lord Sigismund and he was returning to Ronjar to collect the answer. He hoped lord Sigismund would be reasonable and accept Hendeby’s ‘protection’. But even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t really matter. Sigismund had no troops available that could stop the advance of jarl Rudolf’s army. Still, it would look good on his record if he could actually convince him to open his gates and allow Rudolf’s troops in.
“Your excellency, Ronjar is in sight,” one of his escorting horsemen announced.
Sverig stuck his head out of the window, held on to his hat and looked at the city ahead. He frowned.
“There’s a lot of smoke, hanging over the city, sergeant,” he said.
“There sure is, your excellency.”
“You think there may have been a major attack? Is the city burnin
Falco's Reign - Part 62Captain Seamus joined a small group of Erin officers that had gathered at the edge of the field where all the prisoners of war were being assembled. The Vestfjorian soldiers had just finished confiscating his armor and remaining weapons. He nodded to his colleagues and gestured at a nearby farm with several stables.
“That’s where they are taking the ones with more serious wounds,” he said. “All of them. Ours as well. I saw. At least the Black Prince is not entirely without compassion.”
“Blast the wounded,” one of the senior captains said. His arm was bandaged as well, but it was only a superficial cut. “I’m more interested in what we are going to do next.”
“What do you mean?”
“Escape, riot, whatever. I don’t particularly like the idea of Maud arriving here with the main army and finding us all in shackles. Damn! At least the general was lucky enough to die in battle. He won’t have to face her wrat
Falco's Reign - Part 63Maud was lying on a straw matrass in her bare cell. She felt exhausted and empty. The Varangian captain had questioned her for several hours about the remainder of her army and the meager garrisons that were left in Erin. He had asked how the betrayal of Sorenson and Linson had been achieved and how far it reached. And she has answered their questions. All the time, Talisin had been present as well, leaning nonchalantly against a wall. The sorcerer had asked no questions, but he had not been idle. He had been observing her, looking for a sign of deceit or lies. If he had done his job right, he would have found none. There had been no violence whatsoever in this interrogation, but it had exhausted her nonetheless.
Suddenly, a key was turned in the lock and jarl Falco Adler entered. He was alone and carried a small, but heavy looking bag with him. Maud watched as he slowly turned the bag upside down. Shiny pieces of gold clattered on the cell floor.
“Tarquinian gold, Maud,” h
Falco's Reign - Part 64After the disbanding and departure of Hendeby’s army near the border, nothing was holding Falco and his men any longer in Ronjar. Except perhaps the soft beds in the castle and the loving care of lady Olivia (who was still finding it difficult, despite all she had witnessed, to see Falco as an adult and not the cute little boy that had spent each spring many weeks as a guest in their house).
Lady Maud did exactly as she had promised. Looking like a true jarl again (except for her circlet which was still confiscated by Falco), she stood before her defeated warriors and spoke to them. Her advice, if not orders, was clear. They would be treated well and they would be allowed to go home as soon as the war with Caledonia was over, so they had to behave sensibly. No heroics, no riots. Erin no longer fought Vestfjor. Every life that was lost as of this moment, was a pointless loss.
Reinforced by 3500 of Sigismund’s men (and Sigismund and his oldest son and daughter as well), the a
Falco's Reign - Part 65From the diary of Duke Duncan Bhaltair
July 4 1304 AoR: Argyle has given me a total of six companies to join the siege of Brugar. It’s still a rather limited number of men, compared to the 5000 ‘traitor militia’ and the 5000 Erin warriors that are already there, but my brother considers it sufficient to stake a claim on at least part of the city once the war is over. We’ll see, I guess.
July 13 1304 AoR: Argyle may have been more right than he thought. 10000 men may sound impressive, until you realize most of them are militia of questionable quality. This is particularly so for the ‘traitor troops’ of Sorenson and Linson. I bet only about a thousand of them are of regular army quality, more precisely the retinues of Baron Linson and Sorenson’s oldest son, who leads his father’s contingent. I was however surprised to see that the same goes for the Erin warriors. At least half of them are soldiers from Erin lords and not regular troops at a
Falco's Reign-Part 66The 25th of August 1304, Falco entered Brugar at the head of his army. It was the fourth of his cities he liberated from the enemy, although the celebrations this time were probably the most cheerful of all. After all, Kalhan and Woodburg had been mostly relieved that no punitive measures were taken against them and Ronjar, unlike Brugar, had never been completely surrounded and besieged. Maud’s wagon rode among the other carts and wagons of the supply train, discretely guarded by Varangians. Falco had ordered it that way to prevent her being booed by the inhabitants of the city. He figured she had already endured enough humiliation.
As they approached the city hall, the Lord Mayor of the city and his captains were waiting for him at the steps of the monumental doors of the building. The main square in front of the city hall was packed with thousands of people. He welcomed Falco and his army and thanked them for their timely arrival. Falco in turn thanked the Lord Mayor and the b
Falco's Reign - Part 67Kian woke up with a start. At first, he couldn’t remember where he was, but then, the reality hit him hard. He had always found that the most annoying part of traveling was not sleeping in one’s own bed but not in his worst nightmares, he had ever imagined that he would be able to sleep in a dirty dank muddy hole. His body felt stiff and ached. He cautiously flexed his limbs and stood up. To his surprise, he saw a dark sky and stars through the grate above him. It was still night.
For the first time since his capture, he didn’t feel completely paralyzed by an all engulfing fear, so he decided to check out his prison. There wasn’t much to investigate. It was a roughly circular space, about two meters in diameter with earth walls and mud and water on the bottom. He walked to the other side. He noticed the bottom of the pit was a bit uneven. On his side, the water was just a thin layer, causing a muddy, smelly muck. On the other side, he stood ankle deep in filthy
Falco's Reign - Part 68The inhabitants of the small Shield Maiden castle at the northwestern edge of the Craite forest were a very vigilant lot. Contrary to what the capital and the sophisticated circles of Erin believed, they knew the forest was dangerous, that something different than fugitive criminals or bands of robbers was hiding in there. But that was not their main worry these days. Vestfjorian armies had taken the border region. Some of their scouts had been seen at less than fifty kilometers away and the Shield Maiden’s own numbers were below a quarter of the usual contingent. If the Vestfjorians decided to push on, it would be impossible to stop them from taking the castle. Luckily, for some unknown reason, the Vestfjorian knights and warriors seemed to have stopped their advance. At least for now.
Commander Gunn, a rather temperamental blond warrior was making her usual morning inspection round along the battlements, when she suddenly noticed a slave boy appearing from the furthest bend in
Falco's Reign - Part 69“People of Erin,” Flynn Mclouglin, high priest of Odin, shouted towards the masses that had gathered on the main square of Defalin, beneath the grand balcony of the palace, “I stand before you today as a bearer of terrible news. The rumors that you may have heard are unfortunately true. Our armies have suffered terrible defeats at the hands of the Black Prince. Thousands of our brave soldiers have perished and our nobles, including lady Maud Faol herself, have been captured or killed.”
He waited for a moment until the uproar his words had caused had settled down.
“Much to our grieve, we have learned that prince Kian, while retreating from the battlefield and trying to find a safe way home, was intercepted by knights of Vestfjor. After a brave but futile fight, the young prince was killed in the melee. A grave loss for our realm.”
A shocked outcry of sorrow rose from the crowd. Flynn allowed it to continue for a few seconds before he continued.
Falco's Reign - Part 70“Lords Roderik and Ewan, reporting for duty, lord Falco!” Rodey said with a big grin on his face.
Falco turned to them. He was sitting on a bench in the gardens of the city hall, overlooking the river Miklis. It was strictly forbidden by the lord mayor to throw any waste in the river on this spot or any location upstream from the city hall, so there wasn’t any unpleasant smell. It was a bit like in Griffnar, before the building of the sewers had started. It had been forbidden there as well to throw any waste in the waters around the Adlerburg.
“Don’t be silly, guys,” Falco replied. “Take a seat. We need to talk.”
“Shouldn’t I get Pumori and Darcia as well?” Ewan asked. “If this is business about the wolf warriors …”
“No. It’s just the two of you I need to see.”
“Mm. That sounds a bit ominous,” Rodey said.
“It isn’t. Not at all. I suppose it’s … a h
Falco's Reign - Part 71While Argyle returned to Grimkeep, Duncan led his army in forced marches towards the Lear. The large ford, also known as the Big Wade, was located at the spot where the Lear left the Karg forest and entered the fertile Leklis valley, which ran all the way from Kalhan, over Brugar to Griffnar. The little ford, also known as the Little Wade, where Coronado had set up camp was further up stream.
Somewhat to his relief, he noticed there already were several thousand men present. Apparently some of the companies that were spread all over the Skallagrim Domain had arrived.
“Captain!” he yelled as he dismounted his horse. “How many have arrived already? And do you have any idea where the others are?”
“About 6 companies have arrived, my lord.”
“About 3000 men,” Duncan mumbled. “With my own troops and those Argyle gave me, we have 10000 men. That’s only half of Adler’s numbers.”
“Several more companies have been seen,
Falco's Reign - Part 72The high ranking prisoners of Erin, except for Maud herself, had been locked up in the largest logging camp, annex lumberyard in the immediate vicinity of Woodburg. All the lumberjacks and laborers had for the time being been sent home to make room for the p.o.w.’s. The Woodburg city guard, assisted by those same lumberjacks and a limited number of Falco’s regular troops had made fences and wooden walls around the camp and a number of additional cabins and tents for the many nobles and high ranking officers. The situation was primitive, compared with the castles and mansions most of the inhabitants were used to living in, but not much different from the circumstances of an army on the march. All their weapons and armor had been confiscated and most of their personal items and clothing had been lost as well, when Falco’s army had pillaged the wagon train of the Erin army, but they had received simple but sturdy clothing from the city to add to the attire they wer
Falco's Reign - Part 73It was a beautiful late summer day. Glorious sunshine, a bright blue sky without a cloud and a gentle summer breeze to cool down the warmth of the day. A lazy summer day when you were supposed to skip work, slip off your shirt and hide with your girl in the nearest hay stack. A day to enjoy. But Falco knew it would not be like that. Not like that at all. He took a last bite of the sandwich that served as his early lunch and a long draught of his water bottle and turned his gaze back to the field in front of him and more particularly to the Caledonian army on the other side of that field. He patted Bloodwing on the neck and nodded to captain Volsung of the Varangian Guard.
“Yes, my lord. As you can see, Duke Duncan uses the river to shield his right flank. The outer edges of the Karg forest almost reach the end of his battle line on his left. It is a good position, difficult to outflank.
“Go on. Describe the terrain and the position of his troops. I can
Falco's Reign - Part 74It was a small but impressive company of ten that rode north through the forest of Karg towards the Pict Mountains. Falco was there and Miranda, Talisin, Erwin, Olaf, Narvi, Haldrik, Darcia, Ruadi and Rodey. Narvi was riding the same horse as Rodey, clinging desperately to the boy. He was still afraid to ride a horse or a pony on his own.
Olaf had been a surprise. He had not been invited when Falco had made his selection, but he had followed them anyway. And as it was impossible to stop him from following, except by using rather permanent means, Falco had accepted him in their midst. He still didn’t trust the mysterious envoy from Viku, but he also had no reason to believe the man would betray them to the likes of Coronado. The others didn’t exactly trust Olaf either and although the Viku warrior tried to avoid it, he still caused some tension. And there was more dissent than just an uninvited guest in the group as some of them doubted they and especially Falco should even
Falco's Reign - Part 75“I don’t know, Falco. This still sounds like madness to me,” Miranda said.
“I’m inclined to agree,” Olaf said. “This sounds like the action of a a bunch of berserkers. But unfortunately, you aren’t crazy, out of control warriors.”
“We each would have to kill seven or eight of them,” Narvi whispered, looking down at the cheerful party below. “If it were goblins or militia or something like that, then I wouldn’t worry. But these are hardened mercenaries. Men who have fought all of their lives. They will be half drunk, sure, but still …”
“And what are you going to do, even if something miraculous happens and we do defeat them without losing some of our own? What about the rest? Even leaderless, we can’t defeat almost three hundred more of them,” Haldrik whispered.
Rodey and Darcia said nothing but looked a bit insecure. Ruadi showed no emotion at all. Pumori’s attention was d
Falco's Reign - Part 76Sitting on a bench in a corner of the hall, Saraid observed the invaders. The outer edges of the hall were the only places left that had remained untouched by the ten minutes of chaos and mayhem that had destroyed the best part of the mercenary company. The wolf girl had put her there, after she had had bound Saraid’s hands behind her back. To say that the situation was tense and awkward when you were standing in a hall that was littered with dozens of dead bodies, may sound odd, but it was true nonetheless. Nobody seemed to be very at ease, after the revelation about who was actually pregnant and who wasn’t. Saraid didn’t quite understand it, but apparently, the jarl wasn’t happy hearing that his wife was pregnant. That was odd. Why wouldn’t he like to get an heir? She didn’t ponder that question long though. She had her own worries
She glanced to her right. The Black Prince was leaning against the wall, only a few meters away from her. He had taken
Falco's Reign - Part 77“My lord,” Volsung said, dragging the highest ranking Tarquinian among the surviving mercenaries before Falco and pushing him down on his knees. “It’s over. The stronghold is yours. And their fate,” he kicked the Tarquinian in the side, “is in your hands. Command us what to do next.”
Falco hardly looked at the captured warrior. He just glanced at the rising sun and suppressed a long overdue yawn.
“Next?” he said. “Next, I want to get out of this charnel house as soon as possible. But first, we need at least a couple of hours of rest. I think I’ll set myself up in the gate house. Alone,” he stressed, looking at Miranda.
“Of course, my lord, but what about the stronghold? If we just leave it, others like Coronado or some mountain clan may reclaim it. Maybe it is better if we burned it to the ground?”
“Maybe …” Falco said. He suddenly heard a little disappointed yelp behind him. Glancing
Falco's Reign - part 78Deputy Grandmaster Sinead glared with a menacing and determined look on her face at the nervous representatives of the most important temples in Erin. In a perfectly coordinated action, the priests had been lifted off their beds and brought to the headquarters of the Shield Maidens in Defalin. Other actions were taking place as well, but so far that was still unknown to them.
In a sudden, violent gesture, Sinead planted her dagger in the documents that were lying before them on the table.
“It seems to me the case is very clear,” she hissed.
“But, lady knight,” one of them tentatively began, “I’m sure the high priest didn’t mean …”
“Whether he meant to or not is immaterial!” Sinead yelled. “Flynn is responsible for the death of Grandmaster Oneida!”
“It … it isn’t certain …”
“Not certain? Not certain! A former priest turned assassin was found at the scene! A man who was known
Falco's Reign - Part 79About the same time Falco took a big gamble and attacked Coronado’s stronghold, Ursa stumbled through the streets of Defalin. She had walked these streets many times before, but never naked and on a chain. Unfortunately for Ursa, it wouldn’t be the last time she had to do this. The dwarf led her out of the alley and via a couple of smaller, mostly deserted streets onto one of the main arteries of the city. Far enough from the palace so nobody would wonder if that female slave perhaps originated from there. All the time, she just stumbled behind him, blinking against the light that was way too bright for her after the weeks of darkness she had experienced.
In the main street, the dwarf was greeted by a couple of his coworkers, one human and one dwarf. Together they escorted their new to be auctioned item towards the slavers guild building, located conveniently next to the slave market.
“Well …,” the human said, “she doesn’t look like much. Did w
Falco's Reign - Part 80The next morning, Gunn tied Ursa behind her horse after a modest breakfast and they took off. Gunn steered them away from the road and through the fields. She made her horse ride just fast enough so Ursa had to run all the time, but could still keep up. Around noon, they reached the southwestern road and the small Shield Maiden Convoy that was making its way to Crucible. Ursa was tied to the other slaves, who were all males. She had been walking for a while when she looked up at the slaves around her and, to her shock and terror, recognized the man who was walking beside her. Flynn was staring in front of him with wide open eyes filled with fear. He was gagged the same way she was and looked like he had received a beating. She tried to catch his attention, but he only glanced at her briefly, with terrified eyes. When Ursa moved a little closer to him, she was whipped back in position by one of the mounted Shield Maidens.
They walked for days, from dawn till dusk, until they finally lef
Falco's Reign - Part 81It was indeed a very happy reunion with Cailida. Miranda was of course glad to see her cousin again and Falco to have his old companion back from the days he pretended to be a young thief called Thialfi. But Cailida was truly overwhelmed when Rodey flew into her arms and hugged her joyously, only moments later followed by Pumori. For the first time in her life, the rough, tough, foul mouthed mercenary was completely lost for words. She had been a part of several outfits and expeditions, but she had never acquired many friends. To be greeted like this now, came as a big surprise. Even her resolve to say goodbye to them and announce she would be returning to Tarquinia, suddenly crumbled to dust and was forgotten almost immediately. She felt so moved that, to her embarrassment, a few tears appeared in her eyes. However, she quickly rescued the situation by locking Rodey by the neck under her right arm and Pumori under her left and saying, quasi serious:
“That’s enough, you suc
Falco's Reign - Part 82In a mansion quite close to Grimkeep, that had once belonged to one of Falco’s relatives and now belonged to him, the royal ambassadors were enjoying the jarl’s hospitality, although not really voluntarily. One of them, a middle aged ambitious baron was tapping his fingers impatiently on the table, covered with dishes, mead and beer. The other one, a neighbor of his from the border region with Vestfjor, was less agitated and was eating a roast chicken with much delight.
“Why so irritable, my dear baron?” he asked. “Can’t you just enjoy all this excellent food and drink?”
“We have duties to perform, Sir Corin,” the baron snapped. “We are being held here against our will! Ambassadors of the royal court! It’s a damn insult!”
“I’m sure jarl Adler has his reasons. Besides, lord Ronvald explained that lord Falco would soon visit us.”
“I don’t need his visit! I need him to let me continue my
Falco's Reign - Part 83The weather was downright dreary. A thick blanket of clouds constantly covered the sky over Griffnar, while rain showers followed one after the other and heavy winds tore through the branches of the trees. But for the next three days, none of that mattered to Anya and Falco. To them, it could just as well have been high summer in Asgard. Apart from the obligatory appearance on the gatehouse to show their newborn son to the assembled masses, they kept themselves completely away from matters of state. Anya needed to rest and Falco simply didn’t want to do anything else then stay at her side and be close to his son.
Not that this was a real problem. Calvin, aided by Anya’s grandfather Ulric, made sure of that. Ulric might under other circumstances have frowned upon Falco’s absence during the council meetings, but right now, he was so overjoyed that he had become a great grandfather (and that Falco had finally accepted his responsibility to sire an heir) that he had decid
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