It was a rainy spring evening in the town at the end of the land. The rain had been falling for hours, so most people had kept their work indoors. At the edge of town, behind the last few wooden longhouses, two figures crept along under their wool cloaks. It wasn't really so cold anymore that the cloak was needed, but it was a comforting way to keep the rain away from the head. And it had become a habit that was hard to put away after the long, dark winter months.
"Are you sure it's okay for me to join you tonight?" the woman in the rear asked. She was walking close behind her slightly lower companion, but her broad shoulders and heavy walk made her seem significantly larger.
"Of course. It's not a problem! You're my sister, and I'm inviting you, and that's that," the leading girl answered, "besides, we need more people if we ever want to get anything done before the men return from playing war".
"Don't call it that," the older sister snapped back, "war is not a game, and most of those men didn't have a choice whether to fight or not, and you know that!"
"Sorry sis, it just seems so mindless that they keep raiding back and forth across that river, and every time they make camp for more than a week on the other side, they announce it as some great conquest," the younger replied.
The older sister grumbled assent and fidgeted with her cloak. After a few moments she said, "I don't disagree, but you have to agree that it's more complex than that. We can't just ignore the raids from the eastern jarls across the river. Where would they stop claiming land from us? And when will we be pushed down to the shore, and be left no choice but work their fields or be thrown to the sea monsters?"
Her sister didn't reply, but grabbed her by the arm and led her to a door on the backside of one of the smaller longhouses. The door was old and worn, and the planks had several cracks that betrayed the small fire someone had going in the firepit inside.2. November
She knocked on the door and the barely audible voices inside hushed. A few short breaths later the door was slowly opened and the face of a young man with short blonde hair appeared.
"Oh, it's you Solvi. Come in, come in. Who's that you're bringing with you tonight?" the young man asked.
"Hi Siggeir. It's my sister Jorunn, she wants to help us." the younger sister named Solvi replied as the pushed her way in through the door. Jorunn followed after her, nodding to Siggeir as she passed him. The sisters took seat on the bench along the wall near the small fire. Beside them sat three other figures. The first was a slightly older version of Siggeir. He was obviously his brothers, but unlike Siggeir he had a short, well-groomed beard and blond hair just short of his shoulders, and he introduced himself to Jorunn as Sigmund. Next to him sat a girl with the same shade of blonde hair - Siggeir and Sigmunds sister, as she revealed when she stretched her arm in front of Sigmund, to shake Jorunns hand and introduce herself as Sigfrid. Next to Sigfrid sat a moody young man who didn't stir apart from a glance as Solvi and Jorunn entered.
On a couple of small stools next to the fire sat a few more young people. One of them looked up and said "Nice of you to join us at last, Solvi. That's the seventh time you're late by my count."
"Oh, shut up, Ketil. It's not my fault everyone else shows up early. You can't tell what time it is in here in the dark anyway," Solvi said as she reclined against the wall of the longhouse.
"Enough with the banter you two. If we're not expecting anyone else, I say we get started," a man said as he stood up from his stool by the fire. "I see a few new faces tonight, so introductions are in order. My name is Yngvard, and unless anyone has any objections, I will be directing this meeting tonight. Next to me are my siblings Ketil and Gunnar. Siggeir, let's start from you and introduce ourselves along the bench."
Siggeir awkwardly rose halfway from the bench, before deciding it was unneccessary. "I'm Siggeir, as is now apparent, and I'm the brother of Sigmund and Sigfrid over there," he said as he waved his hand indeterminately towards everyone else on the bench.
"Good evening everyone!" Solvi said as she jumped up from her seat, "as most of you know, my name is Solvi, and tonight I've brought along my older sister Jorunn, so we can finally have some muscle and fighting skills in this little gathering." A low grumble was heard farther down the bench from Sigmund, who apparently considered himself something of an experienced fighter too. "Hush, Sigmund, you know I'm right," she continued, and turning to her sister "why don't you introduce yourself, Jorunn."
"Jorunn?! Jorunn Hlifdottor the shieldmaiden?" the person at the far end of the bench exclaimed, "You brought a hirdsman to our meeting, are you out of your mind, Solvi? She's going to tell everything to the Jarl, and then where will we be?! Did you not think before dragging her in here?"3. November
"My sister will do no such thing, Gwyn!" Solvi snapped back, "She's a good person, and she wants to make this town a good place to live, just as much as the rest of us."
Jorunn slowly stood up from the bench and softly said to Solvi, "You don't have to defend me, dear Sol. I will explain my own reasons for being here, and if anyone in this room doesn't trust me after that, I will leave and speak no word of what happened tonight."
The rain kept coming the following days. Seldom in downpours, but dry moments was far between. A few of the youngest hirdsmen in Jarl Hrodvald's hird had been tasked to dig extra drainage canals around the training area behind the Jarl's big meadhall. The hird was doing their best to combat the muddy ground with wood chips, and a small area at the high end of the slightly tilted square was tiled with flat, wide rocks. A bench had been placed on the tiles, and a few middleaged hirdsmen sat watching the younger warriors spar.
Jorunn was carefully moving her muddy boots across the sticky ground as she was trying to predict the next move of her two opponents. Her spear was held diagonally with the butt forward, ready to swing around and block a thrust or a jab from the short swords of her sparring partners. Jorunn saw them nod at each other, just they attacked from both sides at once. She leaped back and to the right. Away from one sword and parrying the other. Jorunn kept her spear moving in an arcing motion. She swung it towards her opponent, who had to hide behind her buckler to avoid the strike. The spear's long steel tip clanged against the buckler, and almost in time with the sound came the ringing of a bell.
It was the bell next to the back door of the meadhall signaling the end of the sparring session, and the beginning of the next event on today's schedule; the Jarl would be giving audience and settle disputes this day and Jorunn had been assigned guard duty.
Before entering the meadhall, she walked over to the hirdsmen at the bench. One of them was her father Alfvin, who was the training master of the hird, and she greeted him with a short but tight hug. She then traded the spear for her beloved battle axe, which he had been holding for her during training. It was only slightly shorter than the spear with a thin but deadly bearded axe head, and while she trained with the spear and the sword as any hirdsman, she never took a guard duty without her axe to lean on. And lean on it she did, already moments after she received it from her father, as he was complimenting her on the training session.11. November
After a short conversation about the intricacies of spear-fighting against multiple opponents, Jorunn headed for the door of the meadhall. She entered into a small back chamber, where several other hirdsmen sat near a small hearth. She continued through the chamber and entered the main hall. It was a large, almost square room with benches and tables along each side. The door she entered through sat on one side at the back end of a wide dais, holding a long wooden table rimmed with iron. The Jarl sat at the center of the table on a wooden throne decorated with carved images from old stories. On each side of the Jarl sat a few of his closest friends and advisors. Jorunn took position beside two other hirdsmen at one end of the table. A few other hirdsmen buzzed into the room and found their spots, before the Jarl signalled for the front doors to be opened.
The double door swung inwards and revealed a small crowd outside, some of which immediately swarmed in and found seating places at the side tables. A line of people formed in the middle of the room, grouped in twos, threes or fours.15. November
The first two people in line stepped forward and made short, stiff bows towards the Jarl, before one of them began explaining their dispute.
"Honored Jarl, I am here with my neighbor, Dagvin. We are both tenants at small farms owned by Hergil Jorulfsohn, but he cannot settle this issue, as he is away with his warriors. Dagvin here says that I must provide planting grain for his fields as well as my own, and claims Jorulfsohn told him such before leaving. But I have received barely enough planting grain for my own fields, and those are of significantly smaller area than Dagvin's! If Jorulfsohn wanted me to distribute grains, he would surely have given me more, or trusted me with the key for his barns. I trust that you, wise Jarl, will back me up in this, and ..."16. November
This went on for a while before the farmer, who had even forgotten to introduce himself, ceded the word to his neighbor Dagvin, and allowed him to tell his side of the story. The Jarl discussed quietly with his advisors for a short while, before coming to a decision, and then it started all over again with the next pair of farmers. Apparently it had left a lot of chaos behind, when most of the wealthy landowners had left with their warriors to fight the eastern Jarls.
A few months earlier, shortly after the snow started melting and the first plants peeked above the ground, an army larger than any known in recent times, had crossed the eastern river. They had claimed larged tracts of land and given the people working the fields a choice; either stay and work for them or flee west and spread the tale of their conquest. Most had stayed. Those who owned their own farms and fields wanted to stay on their ancestral lands. And those who rented a farm and worked the fields of some landowner had acquiesced to their new masters, in the hope that it wouldn't be too much worse than before.
But of course the landowners had not acquiesced. As soon as word reached their farmsteads and halls, they had started gathering up their warriors in a loose alliance of trained hirdsmen and loyal farmers with staves and axes. Within a month of first word of the invaders, the earliest groups had started marching east.17. November
And now Jarl Hrodvald Torvaldsohn of the westernmost town was left with frustrated tenants and chaotic disputes with no easy solutions. Something had to change.
The longhouse at the edge of town had never held a gathering of this size. People sat tightly packed on the wall-lining benches, and the few stools around the fire had been moved back and used as makeshift speaking platforms. Word had spread about the small group of young people, who had a new idea on how to run things. People had been milling into the small building for a while, and the buzzing conversations had slowly been growing as the single room filled up. No fire had been made as it was beginning to approach warmer weather, and that many people in a single room would surely be enough to keep it warm.
"People!" a voice cut through the noise. "Friends, family and neighbors. Welcome to our little house. We've called this meeting to discuss the future of our town, and if I may be so bold, the future of our people. My name is Sigurd Gunvaldsohn, and my family is lucky enough to own both this little house and a small farm a days walk from here." Sigurd held a short pause before continuing, "but not all of you are so lucky. Most of the faces I can recognize here are tenants, renting the house you live in and working on someone elses fields. Some of you are crafters, using your skills and expertise to make the things, the rest of us can't live without, and yet you live small, often living two or three families in a house."
Mumbled assent and confirming grunts accompanied Sigurds speech from around the packed room. After a few more sentences describing the poor conditions of those gathered, he paused to let the murmuring die out, before he continued.
"All of this while the landowners sit in confortably in their longhouses and their halls, eating the bread we bake, drinking the beer and mead we brew, using the plates, cups and knives we forge. I say enough is enough. Everyone deserves to have their own bed to sleep in, their own tools to work with, and their own piece of land to grow food on."19. November
Yells and cheers punctuated Sigurd's passionate speech, which he kept going for a while. At the end of it all, the room was alive with discussions. Sigurd had presented the challenges they had to overcome to successfully claim the land they worked for their own, and had asked everyone to consider how they could contribute to the cause. Time passed and from the rampant discussions a sort of consensus formed. Small groups was appointed to hammer out the details of tricky tasks, and other groups formed to directly tackle more immediate jobs. One group was given responsibility to organise the seizure of all the locked and temporarily abandoned granaries, and another group took the task of planning how the seeds and grains were to be distributed among farmers, and by whom and when the planting and related farm work would be done. A few of the most politically minded crafters took upon them to slowly, but not too slowly, turn the Jarl's advisors to their cause. Or at least make clear where they could garner support and who had to be dealt with by other means.
At the end of the night the rebellion had been planned. Only one thing remained unclear. How would they stand against the warriors, when they returned from the battles? Was it even possible to prevent the landowners to return and put their rebellion to the sword?
"We could go to the dwarves," a small voice piped up.
"Shush, that's ridiculous, Ketil," a stronger voice near the first one snapped.
Sigurd intervened, "Don't be so quick to dissuade your brother, Gunnhil. I know you think we should stand our ground and be strong on our own, but it's not a bad idea that Ketil is proposing. Has anyone here been on one of the trading expeditions to the dwarves' home in the mountains?"
"I have," Jorunn replied, "I am Jorunn Hlifdottor, a shieldmaiden and one of the Jarl's hird. I have travelled with the caravan twice, and seen the halls of the dwarves. And I agree; support from the dwarves could mean the difference between life or death for us when the warriors return. I can lead a small band to the dwarves to plead our cause and seek their aid, if none here objects."
A moment passed in utter silence. Mention of the dwarves had disrupted all other conversations in the room. Most of them was idle chatter, so this new idea woke people's curiosity, albeit with widespread apprehension.
"I'll go." Ketils words broke the silence. Ketil had stood up from the bench, and with a skinny figure and shoulder length black hair in a messy pile, it was hard to tell whether the offer was serious.
"Not without me, you won't," said Solvi, "You're my best friend, and you couldn't tell a dwarf from a mole without my help."
"And Ketil definitely won't be travelling anywhere while I stay here," Gunnhil added, "my bow can give us a meal or two on the way, that we won't have to carry."
It was a chilly and wet morning when the party was set to leave town. The drizzle had been almost constant for weeks now, only punctuated by a few rare hours of clear sky in the middle of the night. The early spring flowers had popped up a month ago, and was already begging to give way to a plethora of plants and flowers getting ready for summer. The edge of the forest sat just east of town. The trees had small but bright green sprouts on each little sprig and branch. Songbirds had been awake in the forest since the first inklings of sunlight despite the rainclouds making the sky a dull grey.26. November
They had agreed to meet at dawn just outside town on the large eastern road. Gunnhil and Ketil had been sitting beneath a tree for a while before any of the other showed up. As a hunter used to early morning departures, Gunnhil had roused Ketil while it was still dark and had almost sheparded her sibling through the last preparations and packing. Luckily they had sturdy wool cloaks to guard them from the rain while they waited. Ketil and Gunnhil had been chatting softly, but Ketil fell silent when Sigfrid was the next to arrive.
"Good morning, travelling companions," Sigfrid greeted them. Gunnhil's reply was a short "'Morning", and Ketil was suddenly very interested in some small detail on a backpack. Before the air became too awkward, Ketil was saved by Solvi skipping into sight from around a building.
"Good morning, friends! Jorunn will be here soon, she just had to pick up a few things from the armory. Our dad let her grab a few extra bits, so we wouldn't have to go unarmed into the wilderness."