Sirenia: A Nation Of Five Queens (Part 2)
It was impossible for either parties to know the size of the adversary as the night’s darkness hampered visibility.
Duchess Emilia remained quiet as the Jarl educated her on the role of Fjeldorian champions. The custom was peculiar but one that had made so much sense to her. She wondered why more nations didn’t settle disputes in a similar way. The slightest tingle of fear in Ein’s demeanor made Emilia feel uneasy. If the Jarl was able to be shook even at a very minor level, how could she not let the fear overwhelm her? Finally, she inhaled deeply, remembering her mission. For her sister Lilian, Emilia had to be brave.
Nareen on the other hand smirked with anticipation as she clutched on to her staff. Overhearing Ein’s words, she responded. “Oh, I hope they’ve misplaced their horn.”
Priestess Gabrielle’s grip tightened around her staff, chanting in an ancient tongue. The gem which sat atop the staff pulsated softly. Then her irises started to illuminate with the same softness. “We look to outnumber them four fold.” She said with confidence.
Before anyone could react to Gabrielle’s intel, a horn could be heard from where the Stone Born stood. The Calivians remained where they stood while the Fjeldorians that accompanied them started to march slowly towards Ein’s party.
Blinking with surprise, Ein turns to his thanes. "...send out the Heavy and Light Cavalry to ambush the Calivian army. Engage when the Champions begin the fight. make sure no Stone Born is harmed unless they strike out first. Heavy Infantry, stay with the supply train. Light Infantry, follow me and the Champions. Huscarls, stay with the Ladies of Megata, and give your life to the gods to save them if things go wrong. We cannot have any openings in our units. Hildisvíni the Brute and Asbjorn Halfkin are to accompany me, and act as my temporary personal huscarls and potential Champion for the duel until we return. May the Allfather protect us all on this night. Dismissed!"
With his order sent, his men gathering, and their own horn blowing in return, Ein turns to the Duchess. "Stay with the carts, and make sure you have at least one huscarl with each of you. The last thing they need is prisoners of war, or worse...the Stone Born don't necessarily have a word for 'consent' when it comes to those things. If the battle turns for any reason, you are to flee the field with the huscarls back to your homes. They will protect you with their lives." As the spearmen and lightly armored shieldbearers gather around him, and the more heavily armored warriors build a circular phalanx around the carts. The huscarls surround the Women and nod in respect. "Alright men, MARCH!!!"
Duchess Emilia listens intently as Ein instructs his men to ambush the Calivians. It wasn’t exactly the ethical approach the Duchess expected but she also didn’t disagree with the orders. The Sirenian Warrior, Nareen was close enough to hear the orders as well and bit her tongue before she could ask for permission to join the Ein’s men. Nareen was tasked to protect Emilia, and any action deviating from that would be treason.
Ein’s men shouted in acknowledgement of the Jarl’s orders and moved quickly into position. As Ein, Hildisvíni and Asbjorn advanced towards the opposing party, four Stone Borns met them halfway. Three of which were obviously champions, marked by the scars, hulking physiques and a general air of intimidation. The leader of the group, Dustin Bjargburin started to speak immediately.
“Brothers of the North. I am the cousin to Bjargburin’s King. A shame we must meet under these circumstances, huh?” His tone was perfunctory and held very little sincerity. “What would the gods say to our kings if they knew we were serving the southern folk?” He chuckled at the rhetorical question. “However, we stand in each other’s way. So I elect Gulbrand as our champion.”
Gulbrand was treelike in height and circumference. A strap on either shoulder with a pair of axes hanging off his back. The giant walked into the space between the two parties. Saliva was dribbling down his slack jawed mouth. The torches held by both parties illuminating the makeshift arena like a spotlight. The remainder of either parties invisible in the night.
A smile was returned, Ein's demeanor as calm as the breeze around them. "Jatteson serves no king but the High King. You should know this...after all, we have met once before, during the Althing that elected King Hrútr Ormslayer of Clan Blóðhrafn. That was...eight years ago? I was seventeen then. Your cousin blamed my people for the title of High King being given to a King other than him, believing we had bribed the other clans, all because my father was a Blood Brother to Hrútr. A pity the rage he felt made your cousin look more the fool than before. As for my company serving the Southern Folk...we do not serve. Work alongside for proper pay, maybe. The High King has granted some of his men for our endeavors. You made the right decision when you chose not to engage us in open battle."
He clears his throat, and prepares the honoured tradition of presenting a Champion. "I, Ein Gunnhildarsson, Jarl of Jatteson, elect Hildisvíni the Brute as my Champion." Hildisvíni steps forward. He was actually rather small, a head shorter than Ein, but he was built to take a hit. While muscular, he was lanky, his body seemingly more adapted to toughened durability over raw strength. He carried no armor or shield, and wore only trousers and boots. Instead of a spear, sword, axe, or seax, his only weapons were two curved knives in the shape of boar tusks. His exposed torso carried quite a few tattoos, but the art was almost clouded by a ridiculous number of scars. A proper medical expert would note that some of the scars appeared to be from supposedly fatal wounds. Like a wild boar, Hildisvíni was known for being too stubborn to die, and was as fast as a charging boar. He dwarfed under Gulbrand, but he preferred it that way.
When Hildisvíni stepped forward, Ein continued with the traditions. "As the party that called the horn first, I present my wager. If I win, your men are spared, but the warriors who killed the Úlfhéðnar must pay the Weregild of each member of the fallen. They must go to Jatteson, and offer their services as thralls to the families until the weregild is paid, then the family can do whatever they desire to your men. Now...what are your terms?"
Dustin Bjargburin didn’t take kindly to Ein’s smug words. It was clear that the Bjargburin leader still carried bitterness over the Althing incident. Had Dustin knew that it was in fact the Jattesons who blew the horn, he would have ignored the call and went straight to battle. The elders in his clan never let Dustin forget how the Jattesons robbed the Bjargburin of power in the North and ever since, Dustin had the Bjargburins use Ein’s clan as scapegoats for their misfortunes.
Dustin was so pleasantly surprised by the Jarl’s decision. Dustin and his brute, Gulbrand smirked as Ein elected Hildisvíni. The Bjargburin were obsessed with height and those who were taller were viewed as superior to those less vertically gifted. “More scars. Easier target.” Gulbrand grunted at Dustin as more drool trickled down the side of his underbite.
“I accept your offer. The ones who killed your men will indeed serve as Thralls. Except… Gulbrand. He will gladly die before being made a servant.” Dustin paused, thinking about the things he wanted from the Jatteson. “If I win, you must admit to my warriors that your people were in fact bribed during the Althing. Additionally, your men will join as auxiliary to us Bjargburin in assisting the Calivians.” If Hildisvíni lost, Queen Lana and Megata would surely be doomed.
Ein nods in agreement. While he did not believe his people were bribed or bribed the other clans in any manner, this was no time to argue over the logistics of the past. With a quick gesture of approval towards Hildisvíni, Ein moves out of the way of the Champions.
"I accept your terms, Dustin of the Stone Born. May the best warrior grant the other a quick passage to the Hall of the Gods."
With that, Asbjorn Halfkin took a war horn, and sounded the deep call of the horn, announcing the start of the Champions Duel...all while, unknown to the Bjargburin, announcing to the Cavalry units to begin the ambush of the Calivian army. The strike was quick, with the Light Cavalry leading the charge, since they were faster than the Heavy. It was a total surprise to see the charging warriors come from the right side of the army, allowing very little time for the lines to brace for a charge, their defenses taking too long to set up. When the defenses were established, making it dangerous for the Light Cavalry to charge again, was when the Heavy Cavalry charged from the left, which was now the rear. With the attention facing towards the Light Cavalry, the Heavy plowed through the army with like a scythe through grain. While the strategy was devastating, without the aid of any Infantry or Archers, the Cavalry would fall...so Hildisvíni had to be quick.
The Brute was both agile and durable, with an endurance that rivaled that of a stubborn boar. Normally, against a larger opponent, he would make small strikes that didn't take much energy, wearing down his opponent while they used their energy to strike fast and hard. He had plans to exhaust Gulbrand as well, but with how long the Cavalry was able to hold out before breaking, he knew the amount of time he wished to take would be too long. He had to strike, and not just with tiring blows, but deadly ones. Drawing his blades, the smaller man roared out as he charged the Stone Bear, fearlessly going straight towards the massive warrior without issue.
Ein leaned in to Asbjorn, and whispered. "...if and when Gulbrand dies, charge through with the Light Infantry towards the Calivians. If the Bjargburin try to stop you, call the horn and commence a tactical retreat. Swap Infantry, assault the Bjargburin with the Heavy Infantry in the front, and command the Light Infantry to flank from the rear. When they are defeated, proceed to aid the Cavalry units with haste. If the Bjargburin do not get in your way, continue with the Light Infantry around to the opposite side of the Calivians. I will lead the Heavy and we'll charge from our side. With that, we will have the Calivians squared off, with the Cavalry on their front and rear, and the Infantry on their right and left. They should have nowhere to retreat, but if you have any stragglers, send the Light Cavalry after them and keep the Heavy Cavalry with both Infantry units, so that they may assist you in gather the Bjargburin who killed our Scouts and enforce their duty to repay the weregild."
“May the best warrior grant the other a quick passage to the Halls of the Gods.” Dustin returned the ceremonial call in a perfunctory manner.
“Our ancestors depend on you to win, Gully. Don’t let them down.” The Bjargburin spoke solemnly to his champion.
The two Stone borns had fought alongside each other since they were young. Gulbrand hadn’t always been the self assured warrior he was at the time. Always oversized, Gulbrand was more of a gentle giant as a child. Unfortunately, Bjargburin culture didn’t take kindly to gentleness and Gulbrand felt the wrath from his parents and peers alike. You are the largest of your peers, yet you fight like a sheep! I didn’t realize your mother bedded with a sheep because no son of mine would be so meek! Dustin would overhear his dear friend’s father utter those words as frequently as his daily prayers to the All Father. That is when Dustin decided to convince his giant friend to pick up an axe. That decision paid off eightfold as Gulbrand would end up saving Dustin’s life several times on the battlefield.
Gulbrand stared unblinkingly at Hildisvíni while he reached for two bearded axes. Gulbrand’s axes, however, were equipped with blades on both ends of the haft, making upswing slicing as much of a threat as downswing hacking.
It didn’t take long for Dustin to realize that an ambush was coming. The heavy gallops of the cavalry’s horses caused the Bjargburin leader to yell orders at his men. “Separate and flank! Separate and flank!” The stone born weren’t known for their tactical prowess but matters were made worse due to a mix of Calivians in their midst. While the Calivian’s northern counterparts parted from the center of the formation, the Calivians stood their ground, taking the brunt of the charge. The Bjargburins who had dodged the path of the Jatteson cavalry, came crashing in at their tails. “Protect the southerners! If they die, we lose our bounty!”
“Despicable, Ein. Like a true Jatteson.” Dustin spat on the ground. The leader didn’t acknowledge that his Jatteson counterpart did not disrupt the duel.
Dustin looked on as Gulbrand charged at his opponent with an axe in each hand. The stone born champion did away with smooth motions. Instead, his approach could only be described as untethered violence. Gulbrand’s four blades hacked, sliced, and stabbed. Most of his attacks found thin air as their targets, except for a couple of slices that gashed Hildisvíni’s forearms.
The three Sirenian women looked on from a safe distance. The priestess and Nareen kept a focused look out for any threats while Duchess Emilia looked over the destruction that was taking place. “The horns. The Calivians will most certainly know we are here now. Pray that Sirena will guide us safely.”
"You're right, Dustin. It is like a Jatteson to take advantage of the situations presented to them, instead of charging forward, hoping to break down a wall with one's own head. Besides, it is not our fault that you kept some of your men with the Calivians, instead of separating your units. I hope most, if not all, of your men survive, Dustin, for it is not your people we seek to slaughter. If you want my advice, I'd suggest a tactical rout for your men." Ein's intentions were true, despite the fact that he purposefully did not mention the fact that the Bjargburin attacked his men first.
"You work for the Calivians because they offered you a bounty. The way I see it, your men fighting alongside my men for the lands of Sirenia would be beneficial to both of us. After all, your men can replace the men of mine that you killed, all while still getting your share of the loot and pay. Plus, you'll be technically working for the Fjeldorian King, which while I understand you may not like him, it's better than for Southern folk. Last but not least...while you're killing the enemies of Sirenia alongside Jatteson warriors, we can begin the makings of a truce between our clans, even if it's a temporary one. Come, Dustin. You have the opportunity to make your own choice here, without pressure from your cousin and peers. Well?"
Hildisvíni took the cuts on the forearms with ease, despite the force behind them. His stubborn adrenaline wouldn't allow a few cuts and gashes on the arms to slow him down. While he gave far more cuts to the giant than he received, they didn't dig as deep as an axe, despite how solid the hits were. Covering the legs and hips with small blows here and there, Hildisvíni struggled to find the one location he needed to strike more so than any: the tendons behind the knees. He knee that if he could bring the massive barbarian to his knees, and make him unable to move, he could easily reach his vitals.
'All I needed was one...clean...cut...' the Brute thought to himself. His focus was unaffected by the occasional blows he would take, giving it back as good as he got.
The Thanes surrounded the Sirenian ladies with hands on their swords. The archers and war mammoths behind them gave a semblance of reassurance, perhaps left behind simply for the sake of protecting these women. One of the Thanes looks over to Emilia, and speaks with certainty.
"If for some reason, Ein and that half of the army fall, we will protect you. The strategy is to line up the Archers to strike down any who approach, and when the time is right, the mammoths will charge and plow the armies into paste. When the mammoth charge, the Archers will hold the lines and us Thanes will personally escort you ladies, secretly and safely, off of the battlefield, and return you women back home as your personal retinue. Jatteson is famous for being tactical, so you do not need to fear what happens under our protection, even if the worst outcome possible arises."
Visibility was very low from where the Sirenians were situated. Torches and moonlight being the only source of light made it difficult for any observers to truly see what was going on. However, the Sirenians were able to make out some of the action. Silhouettes of Jatteson Calvary men could be seen clashing into the shadowy blob of Calivian men. The sight was so strange for the Sirenians. It appeared that the battling warriors were respectfully avoiding the invisible circle drawn around the two champions. There was order even amongst the chaos.
Duchess Emilia nodded solemnly at the Thane as he tried to assuage her concerns. Priestess Gabrielle tried to corroborate the Thane's claims of safety. “The Jatteson warriors seem to be winning this battle, my Duchess.” The holy woman’s spell afforded her a more accurate account of the skirmish.
Dustin scowled at Ein for the Jatteson’s words' rang logic that the Stone Born refused to acknowledge. “You have no idea what is on the line here for my people. I will not concede and forfeit a chance to bring my people back to prominence!” Dustin’s tone and countenance started to grow more rabid. The sight of his men dying on the ravine angered the downtrodden leader. “You may have very well signed your men’s death sentence by agreeing to help the Megata whore queen! Even Sirenians high Queen wants her...” Dustin stopped himself from divulging too much.
Gulbrand grew increasingly impatient with his opponent. “Die! Just fucking die!” The giant screamed as he swung his axe without much success. The cuts along Gulbrand’s hips and legs leaked blood down to his boots, making each of his steps soggy. The Stone Born giant advanced with a quick staccato attack, knocking the Jatteson brute down, stunning him. Gulbrand smelled victory as he approached his opponent slowly and raised his axe overhead, looking to deliver the death blow. Unfortunately, Gulbrand’s laggard approach allowed Hildisvíni time to slide his weapon upwards, cutting deeply into Gulbrand’s thigh, severing the giant’s femoral artery.
Dustin cried out at Gulbrand as the giant dropped to the floor, blood spouted on to the ravine. The Stone Born giant’s blood flowed down stream. “I’m.. I’m sorry... I thought I had him... I failed you, Dustin.” Gulbrand’s voice was soft when addressing his leader.
“No, brother, you did well. The gods will be proud.” Dustin consoled Gulbrand until the giant took his last breath. Dustin then wasted no time. Brandishing his own axe and ran straight for Ein.
Nareen had a fidgety demeanor, tapping her nails against her no staff as she looked on. The warrior saw an arrow whirl by her peripheral. “Archers! Take cover! Archers!” Nareen’s warning was too late. Several thanes that accompanied the Sirenians had arrows meet their flesh. The three Sirenians scattered west into the trees, seeking shelter from the barrage of descending arrows. Adding to the commotion, a small Calivian cavalry came charging into Ein’s rear army.
Ein kept his composure, even as he heard the war mammoths sound out in panic behind him. That same devious smirk the Jarl loved to show grew across his face as Dustin charged at him, running past Hildisvíni. The Brute did not hesitate, slamming the pommel of his blade into the Bjargburins temple, dazing the furious warrior in an instant.
"Hm. A flanking ambush, not too bad. Asbjorn, correct me if I'm wrong, but I do not see a good portion of cavalry amongst the army in front of us. It must have been Light Infantry for them to get that far that quickly. Smart, for Southerners." He turns to look at his other fellow Champion. "Return with your Light Infantry. The Mammoths will be dying to run away in fear of the assault from their rear, so have them charge the front lines of the Calivians. Assist the Archers and Heavy Infantry, and make sure the Sirenians are safe. If a single hair is missing from them, or a single drop of their blood is exposed to the elements, let me know. But first..."
Ein turns back to Dustin, his smirk gone. "You have broken the honourable traditions of our people, attempting to strike at the winner of the duel. For that, we will show you no hospitality. Champions, Asbjorn and Hildisvíni! Capture this man, tie him up, and strap him to his horse. Hildisvíni, I want you to lead his horse, and make sure he doesn't get free of his bindings."
Asbjorn gets off of his horse, motions to the Light Infantry to return to the main army, and sounds another horn call.
The mammoths were held at the sides of the army, for two major reasons. Firstly, it protected the sides of the army, as only the most foolish of cavalry would charge at a line of war mammoths. Secondly, while the rear was more vulnerable, if the mammoths were ambushed from the rear, and their tamers couldn't control them, the mammoths would trample the army in front of them, regardless of the fact that they were allies. The tamers managed the beasts to the best of their abilities, but when the sounds of horns rang, they knew what must be done.
The men were well trained, and with all the men who could lead in times when other leaders were absent, the ambush was only deadly for a period. Since many of the Archers were in the back, they were some of the first to fall, but the Heavy Infantry responded quickly. Soon, a tried and true Shieldwall covered their rear, with the remaining Archers returning fire. Once the Light Infantry returned, the positions once again changed. The Heavy Infantry spread their Shieldwall thinner, into a more traditional phalanx, surrounding the Fjeldorians on all sides. In order to combat the thinned lines, the Light Infantry stood behind them, creating a second box of Light Infantry within the Heavy Infantry. With some shouts and commands, the mammoths charged forward, and the Fjeldorians began to close ranks, condensing the army in order to better brace themselves for any charge or ambush on any side, as well as close in the Shieldwall further, protecting the Archers as much as possible.
Half of the men assigned to the Sirenian noblewomen covered the ladies in their retreat, while the other half remained with the army in order to lead it. "Quickly, but keep your heads down!" The head Thane led the retreat, while the others kept their shields over and around the women, potentially protecting them from any stray arrows. "The Jarl will know how to deal with this. Seeing how quickly the ambush reached us...they must've been planning it since the start. It won't be long until they engage each other..."
Ein breathed in deeply. He knew at any moment the war mammoths would be heading their way, and he did not want to be in front of them when they finally charged. "I'm sorry it had to come to this, Dustin. But you've made your choice. Look on the bright side though! We'll have a wonderful chat about all the information who know regarding Megata and the other Queens..."
Asbjorn and Hildisvíni approached the dazed man, with Asbjorn carrying rope, and Hildisvíni still bearing his blades, moving behind the Bjargburin. Hildisvíni made sure he placed himself between Dustin and Dustin's horse, but kept himself on edge. He did not forget the fact that Dustin still held onto an axe, and was ready for any sudden movements. Asbjorn was surprisingly calm about the situation...almost too calm.
"So, Dustin Bjargburin," spoke the Jarl in a degrading manner. "It appears that the weregild will be paid for in the end, despite the fact that you'll never see your brothers in arms ever again. I hope you feel proud of your decision, you dishonourable simpleton."
Calamity was in the air as the Calivians came crashing in, following the arrows that rained from above. The mammoths, as expected, were startled by the incursion and sights of the giant tusked creatures could be seen crushing a few incoming soldiers. The mammoth handlers held their beasts in position long enough to trample a significant headcount of Calivian warriors, but once a third set of arrows started to rain down again, the mammoths charged forward, crushing men indiscriminately. Jatteson and Calivians alike, who did not move swiftly, were flattened on the ravine.
Dustin, still dazed from the assault on his temple, walked with a wobble. He breathed lackadaisically, as his mind was trying to come to. The Bjargburin leader was out of options and even honor had left him. "We Fjeldorians fight for snow covered lands. The southerners bask in paradise. The High Queen will show. Even if I can't be there to see it. I won't talk to your... employer" Dustin's words were jumbled. The ground shook and Ein knew that could only mean one thing. Mammoths. Cries from the incoming beasts could be heard as they charged forward towards Ein, his champions and their captive. Hildisvíni yanked at the startled horse, in turn pulling Dustin out of harm’s way, but said horse was flattened in the process.
The Calivians had shown their hand. The third barrage was the last. As the remaining Calvin infantry had been mowed down by Ein’s men, the archers were exposed and shortly afterwards, joined their compatriots in the afterlife. The Sirenians escorts rushed to Ein with the three women, knowing that their leader would refuse to continue without knowing about their well being. “My Jarl, The Sirenians are safe. However, we should move quickly. I fear the attack was just merely to hold us at bay until heavy reinforcements arrive.
Duchess Emilia and Priestess Gabrielle looked over at the man tied to the crushed horse and it was clear that they were no strangers.
Dustin spat on the ground, in the direction of the priestess before laughing like a mad man. “By All Father. Of course… My niece has sided with the fucking Jattesons.”
Ein took in the situation at hand, processing the events and prioritizing what he should address first. In the end, he felt his honour, and the honour of his men, came first.
"Gather what members live. If they are Bjargburin, they're coming with us in rags and rope. If their Calivian, hang their corpses from the walls of the ravine. I want the pathway to be paved with the skin you peel from their backs." Ein gave the order to any one of his high ranking personnel to do, knowing full well that the sooner he quenched the fires of war in their chest and the embers of revenge for their fallen allies, the sooner they would calm down.
"The rest of you, regroup the men and beasts, figure out our losses, and see if we have enough men to appease the Sirenian queen. I do not fear we have lost any supplies, and even if we did, we have less mouths to feed...but still check on our supplies as well. Champions, stay with Sirenian women. It appears we have a family reunion to discuss..."
As his men nod in agreement, departing to deal with the aftermath of the conflict, Ein turns to Priestess Gabrielle. "Fjeldorian descent? That makes this quite interesting...so, who shall speak with the prisoner first? Or perhaps..."
The Jarl turns back to Dustin, his tone rather calm in the current situation. "...we let the prisoner decide himself who he'll talk to first?"
The huscarl listened intently to Ein's orders. The huscarl offered a toothy smile when he heard that his Jarl wanted to make an example out of the Calivians. The huscarl and his compatriots cried out to acknowledge Ein's words and had spread out quickly to execute the orders. Pleading voices from wounded Calivians could be heard snuffed out by axe or sword. The final, futile cries were blood curdling.
Duchess Emilia, Priestess Gabrilee and Nareen stood stiffly, trying to ignore the lingering cries of death as Ein spoke.
"I have no words for her. In fact, I have no words for you, either, Ein. You may as well give me a good death here and now." He spat on the ground once more.
Gabrielle looked at the Jarl, embarrassed and nervous. Duchess Emilia offered the priestess some reprieve from the attention and spoke quietly to Ein. "Jarl, I should have mentioned something earlier, had I known that we would be faced with the Bjargburin. A few months prior, we attempted to seek help from the Stone born because we thought the priestess would offer us an in. However, they declined for reasons unbeknownst to me."
Ein's men surveyed the battleground. The Jattesons had lost a fifth of their men while half sustained injuries. Rations were for the most part unaffected, save for a run away mammoth which carried a week's worth of food. The Jatteson soldiers made quick work of Ein's orders and started to skin the Calivians. Dead or alive. A band of Bjargburin of about thirty men were recovered with mostly minor injuries. Ein's huscarls binding them by their wrists with one single rope.
After a moment of silence, the Jarl turns to the Duchess. There was a look of contemplation within his eyes, as he tried to fit the pieces together.
"...Hm...whatever their reasons for them siding with the Southern folk were, it's highly possible that they already made their agreements before you arrived to make them an offer. As for how they got the information that you would make the same offer to another clan is not important for now, the important thing is the fact that they're targeting us to such a degree. The Calivians are conspiring..."
Ein looks up at the sky, the sounds of mutilation on the wind reminding him of more troublesome times with an oddly bittersweet nostalgia.
"...I doubt they're attempting to destroy us for the sake of simply destroying us. I think they may know of certain movements, activities, and offers that the Queen or Queens are making, and they're simply ambushing us in an attempt to prevent aid reaching Sirenia. We will have to discuss these issues further with Queen Lana. But, we'll have to survive getting to Megata first."
After expressing his thoughts to the Duchess, letting her consider her own thoughts for a moment, he glances toward the Priestess.
"Gabrielle, everything will be fine. The situation may seem troubling and concerning, but just know that all will work out in the end. As for him..."
With quite possibly one of the last times Ein would look at Dustin, and another one of those smirks that Ein loved to show more than any other facial expression, the Jarl decided to grant his sentence early.
"Dustin, I hope the soles of your feet are more durable than your pathetic Champion was. Men...strip him down. Tie his bonds to the saddles of my Champions...both of them. He'll make for a wonderful gift for the Queen of Megata...or, at least, a gift for whoever operates her dungeons. As for the prisoners who must pay their weregild, leave their furs on their backs, but tie them to the tail of that run away mammoth when you finally catch the damned thing. Send it back north to my Wives. They will ensure that the Slavers break the men just enough to prevent them from harming our wives and children, all while keeping them in working conditions. Unless anyone has any concerns they wish to address to me here and now, you are all dismissed."
Finishing up his orders, the Jarl stretches, seemingly more relaxed now that everything that remains is to be taken care of, then turns back to the Duchess to hear her thoughts.
The priestess turned away as her uncle was stripped down and bound once again. The sight of a family, though estranged, was hard for Gabrielle to witness. Nareen tried her best in offering comforting words, but as a hardened warrior herself, Nareen's way of consoling became more of a lesson in vengeance.
A few of Ein's men wrangled the runaway mammoth and accompanied the beast back up north with prisoners in tow. Several packs of huscarls continued to carry on Ein's orders to pave the way with Calivian dermis.
Duchess Emilia maintained her composure as the party started southward once more. There was an eerie stillness in the air. As if the amount of death that had occurred satisfied the night, rewarding the victors with a sense of calm.
“At this rate we’ll reach Megata territory by morning.” The Duchess spoke with comfort while staring out into the night’s sky. Her humble breasts bounced to the rhythm of her horse’s trot.
The party was deservedly tired. Having traveled over a day without proper rest and surviving an assault, the Jarl’s men somehow managed to keep a respectable pace, but it was clear that reprieve was needed. Dustin had fallen over several times from exhaustion but managed to get up each time. Fuel perseverance with his pride. Fortunately, the Jatteson men possessed the same brand of northern pride and swallowed every drop of discomfort and tiredness with a stoic demeanor. The Duchess and Priestess, however, were not as hardened. Their heads slumping over throughout the night as they temporarily cave in to slumber's soothing temptation.
Daybreak met the party as they made their way perpendicular of the ravine and into a well traveled section of the forest. By the time the huscarls started to chew on dried pieces of salted meat, the party had reached a clearing. To the left, northward, was the disputed High Plains. To the right, or southward, Megata could be seen. At the sight of their home, the tired eyes of the Sirenians were quickly replaced with hope. “We’ve made it.”
Ein looked out into the clearing with awe, breathing in deeply through his nose, as if testing the air itself. His eyes squinted from the particulates, yet he remained stupefied. Looking back at the company following him, the Jarl stretched and yawned alongside his sleepless men.
"Duchess Emilia, what would you advise as the next best course of action? When we head straight towards the city, will we be requested to seek the palace immediately? I hope they provide some form of barracks for this company, I think we all could use..."
Blinking more often than usual, the Jarl almost drifts off to sleep in the middle of his sentence.
"...use a rest, before we get started. Should we...um...fuck, sorry. Should we, perhaps, rest before or after meeting her advisors? I assume we won't be meeting the Queen herself, correct? Or am I mistaken?"
Shaking his head to try and stay awake, his mind foggy with a full march through the night after a battle. It seemed clear that he couldn't focus properly, his thoughts reduced to just questions. All the while, he kept the entourage moving towards Megata, their pace finally slowing down to a more nonchalant speed.
submitted by Gunnhildar
Beginning of The Bhagavad Gita - Posted for a friend!
re: 'a sovereign state of emptiness'
The Bhagavad Gita - 5th century BC, unknown author.
The story of a war between the two clans of a royal family in northern India. One clan is the Pandavas, who are portrayed as paragons of virtue; they are led by Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, and his four brothers. Opposing them are the forces of the Kauravas, their evil cousins, the hundred sons of the blind King Dhritarashtra. At the conclusion of the epic, the capital city lies in ruins and almost all the combatants have been killed.
The Gita takes place on the battlefield at the beginning of the war. Arjuna has his charioteer, Krishna (who turns out to be God incarnate), drive him into the open space between the two armies, where he surveys the combatants. Overwhelmed with dread and pity at the imminent death of so many brave warriors—brothers, cousins, and kinsmen—he drops his weapons and refuses to fight. This is the cue for Krishna to begin his teaching about life and deathlessness, duty, nonattachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and the inconceivable depths of reality.
Then Arjuna, looking at the battle ranks of Dhritarashtra’s men, raised his bow as the weapons were about to clash, and said to Krishna, “Drive my chariot and stop between the two armies, so that I can see these warriors whom I am about to fight, drawn up and eager for battle. I want to look at the men gathered here ready to do battle service for Dhritarashtra’s evil-minded son.”
After Arjuna had spoken, Krishna drove the splendid chariot and brought it to a halt midway between the two armies. Facing Bhishma, Drona, and the other great kings, he said: “Look, Arjuna. From here you can see all the Kurus who are gathered to do battle.”
Arjuna saw them standing there: fathers, grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, fathers-in-law, and friends, kinsmen on both sides, each side arrayed against the other. In despair, overwhelmed with pity, he said: “As I see my own kinsmen, gathered here, eager to fight, my legs weaken, my mouth dries, my body trembles, my hair stands on end, my skin burns, the bow Gandiva drops from my hand, I am beside myself, my mind reels. I see evil omens, Krishna; no good can come from killing my own kinsmen in battle. I have no desire for victory or for the pleasures of kingship. What good is kingship, or happiness, or life itself, when those for whose sake we desire them—teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other kinsmen—stand here in battle ranks, ready to give up their fortunes and their lives? Though they want to kill me, I have no desire to kill them, not even for the kingship of the three worlds, let alone for that of the earth. Alas! We are about to commit a great evil by killing our own kinsmen, because of our greed for the pleasures of kingship. It would be better if Dhritarashtra’s men killed me in battle, unarmed and unresisting.”
Having spoken these words, Arjuna sank down into the chariot and dropped his arrows and bow, his mind heavy with grief.
As Arjuna sat there, overwhelmed with pity, desperate, tears streaming from his eyes, Krishna spoke these words to him: “Why this timidity, Arjuna, at a time of crisis? It is unworthy of a noble mind; it is shameful and does not lead to heaven. This cowardice is beneath you, Arjuna; do not give in to it. Shake off your weakness. Stand up now like a man.”
Arjuna said: “When the battle begins, how can I shoot arrows through Bhishma and Drona, who deserve my reverence? It would be better to spend the rest of my life as a pauper, begging for food, than to kill these honored teachers. If I killed them, all my earthly pleasures would be smeared with blood. And we do not know which is worse, winning this battle or losing it, since if we kill Dhritarashtra’s men we will not wish to remain alive. I am weighed down by pity, Krishna; my mind is utterly confused. Tell me where my duty lies, which path I should take. I am your pupil; I beg you for your instruction. For I cannot imagine how any victory—even if I were to gain the kingship of the whole earth or of all the gods in heaven—could drive away this grief that is withering my senses.”
Having spoken thus to Krishna, Arjuna said: “I will not fight,” and fell silent.
As Arjuna sat there, downcast, between the two armies, Krishna smiled at him, then spoke these words.
THE BLESSED LORD SAID:
Although you mean well, Arjuna,
your sorrow is sheer delusion.
Wise men do not grieve
for the dead or for the living.
Never was there a time
when I did not exist, or you,
or these kings; nor will there come
a time when we cease to be.
Just as, in this body, the Self
passes through childhood, youth,
and old age, so after death
it passes to another body.
and heat, pleasure and pain—
are transient: they come and go;
so bear them patiently, Arjuna.
Only the man who is unmoved
by any sensations, the wise man
indifferent to pleasure, to pain,
is fit for becoming deathless.
Nonbeing can never be;
being can never not be.
Both these statements are obvious
to those who have seen the truth.
The presence that pervades the universe
is imperishable, unchanging,
beyond both is and is not:
how could it ever vanish?
These bodies come to an end;
but that vast embodied Self
is ageless, fathomless, eternal.
Therefore you must fight, Arjuna.
If you think that this Self can kill
or think that it can be killed,
you do not well understand
reality’s subtle ways.
It never was born; coming
to be, it will never not be.
Birthless, primordial, it does not
die when the body dies.
Knowing that it is eternal,
unborn, beyond destruction,
how could you ever kill?
And whom could you kill, Arjuna?
Just as you throw out used clothes
and put on other clothes, new ones,
the Self discards its used bodies
and puts on others that are new.
The sharpest sword will not pierce it;
the hottest flame will not singe it;
water will not make it moist;
wind will not cause it to wither.
It cannot be pierced or singed,
moistened or withered; it is vast,
perfect and all-pervading,
calm, immovable, timeless.
It is called the Inconceivable,
the Unmanifest, the Unchanging.
If you understand it in this way,
you have no reason for your sorrow.
Even if you think that the Self
is perpetually born and perpetually
dies—even then, Arjuna,
you have no reason for your sorrow.
Death is certain for the born;
for the dead, rebirth is certain.
Since both cannot be avoided,
you have no reason for your sorrow.
Before birth, beings are unmanifest;
between birth and death, manifest;
at death, unmanifest again.
What cause for grief in all this?
Some perceive it directly
in all its awesomeness; others
speak of it with wonder; others
hear of it and never know it.
This Self who dwells in the body
is inviolable, forever;
therefore you have no cause to grieve
for any being, Arjuna.
Know what your duty is
and do it without hesitation.
For a warrior, there is nothing better
than a battle that duty enjoins.
Blessed are warriors who are given
the chance of a battle like this,
which calls them to do what is right
and opens the gates of heaven.
submitted by GotWarrants