Steam rolled off the fresh puddle of blood dripping from Odain’s axe. With a roar he rallied those at his back to pursue the fledgling force that retreated into the woods ahead. Crunching snow sounded with each thunderous step they took in pursuit of their prey. The noise reminded him of crushed bones and steel shattering wood. It all was a familiar sensation to him. One thats embrace felt as if reunited with a time weathered friend. Battle rage thrummed in his ears only to be subdued by a quiet voice at the back of his mind. “Odain...” It cried distantly. “Odain,” it said again like a pesky gnat at a great banquet he was unable to shake. His narrowed vision subsided and suddenly the field of battle no longer felt confined to what lay before him. Standing at Odain’s side was his Hersir, Vargo. Vargo was a thin man, at least by the tribe of Valkara’s standards. His bearded face and wrinkled eyes looked up at Odain with pleading. “The battle is won, Odain. There’s no reason to give chase,” Vargo said, finally able to see he had his chieftain’s attention. Odain gave a grunt for a response but as is eyes returned to the vanishing forces before him, he knew the man was right. “Send word ahead to prepare my tent for our victory feast,” Odain grumbled, turning his back to the retreating foe. “And chieftain Thundrin?” The words a question on Vargo’s lips. Odain shot a wicked grin, “Have him brought before me tonight.” Vargo’s eyes grew uneasy at what Odain might have in mind for his captured enemy. Regardless the thin man stepped away wordless to carry out the order. Most men behaved that way around Odain. Most men didn’t have the stomach to stand beside the strong. They turned to sniveling cowards or petty lap dogs. He’d seen it countless times in his father’s court and his grandfather’s before. Odain’s family tribe known as Valkara had always been strong among the north dwellers and so many a coward game begging at their hall. Another pair of crunching boots stirred him from the memory of the old days. A sinewy man dressed in basic leathers and garnished with a wolf’s hide approached. His dark and long stringy hair fell over a scared and menacing face. Fen Wolfsbane, an untamed beast of a man.
“You called a halt to the attack, Odain?” Why in Lacka’s name would you stop us when we could have wiped Thundrin off the map?” “Is it your place to question my orders?” Odain boomed. Fen smirked a slimy little smile, “It is when they are stupid.” Not many men dared to speak to Odain that way. Fen often left him wondering whether it was madness or malice that left him with such a loose tongue. Odain rolled his axe’s shaft in his palm letting silence hang between them. Fen embraced the tension meeting Odain’s gaze. “See you at the feast, Fen. I suggest you clean up. You smell like shuka.” With that Odain turned not waiting for a reply. That was one he’d need to keep his eye on. Following the trail of snow covered bodies and broken weapons of war, Odain found himself at the war camp’s outskirts. A buzz stirred in the air as the various units of his fighting men returned victorious. Already some had began to drink themselves into a stupor around their tents and cook fires. A hint of jealousy swelled in Odain’s chest remembering the days in his father’s war parties. Weeks on the road surrounded by his closest companions. Nights of revelry and days of bloody battle. Not a care in the world except for each moment. Now things were different. He had tribes to unite and hold together. Stubborn old men who couldn’t see past their own patch of snow and mountains. Their gaze rarely fell beyond their lands to those in the south. They make lack foresight but Odain could see what was coming. Tales of another chieftain from the Hillmen had arisen above the rest. Word spoke of his tireless effort to rally the Hillmen into one unified people. If that happened and the tribes of the north were unprepared? Well, untold disaster would befall Odain’s people. He couldn’t let that happen, he wouldn’t. His grandfather and his father had tried to wipe this threat out years ago before such a time as this could come. The shortsighted fools of the north instead poisoned them for their ambition using the way of traitors and shadows. It was a despicable thing and Odain would weed out every last one of them. In fact he almost had. “If they won’t join you with honey dipped words, give them sharpened steel,” he murmured to himself. A grin stretched across his wrinkled and weathered face. He wasn’t as young as when he’d set out to fulfill his ancestors’ dreams. His once blackened beard and hair was now more snow than soot and the scars that marred his body hadn’t always brought such aches as they now did. It didn’t matter though. With the fall of clan Thundrin only one more obstacle remained.
“Chieftain, Odain,” cried the familiar voice of Vargo. “Your tent is ready,” the man gave a submissive bow. Without acknowledging the bent over fool, Odain swiped away the flap of his tent revealing the feast inside. Those inside rang out in joyous victory as Odain entered. Mugs sloshed their contents as men raised them in salute to their chief. “It was a fine battle today,” Odain said in a booming voice that filled the tent. Another cheer sounded in response. “Only one obstacle remains in our path. That of clan Thoras and its chieftain Frode. The merriment damped within the tent at the sound of those names. Thoras was the only tribe that had ever rivaled Valkara for supremacy of the north. A strategic port was what gave them their strength. All other clans had to risk the long and dangerous road south to reach the rest of Islandia. Not Thoras, their mastery of the sea had given them an advantage of trade and weaponry that had kept all others in check. That is until now. “You know men how we have brought to submission all other tribes in the north under our rule.” A faint murmur flowed through those at the feast as they fixed their eyes on Odain, waiting for him to continue. Seeing he had their full attention Odain spoke once more, “You remember clan Fenra?” Those feasting nodded. “What of clan Volknar? or Hamthrall? Do any remember the mighty shield maidens of clan Barnor?” “We do, Chieftain!” cried a brave soul raising a mug. “Where are they now?” Odain’s eyes scanned the room. “Some stand beside you as brothers to our cause. Some lay dead and buried beneath the frozen soil of the north. All pledge allegiance to us.” A fire caught in the eyes of those who met Odain’s gaze. “And now we add one more name to that list. Bring him in.” Two armed men burst in from the other side of the tent. Hauled in their arms was a beleaguered figure. His long brunette locks fell in a wild mess below his shoulders, covering his eyes. His olive green tunic and leather armor had seen better days. As the two guards thrust the man to the ground, he raised his emerald eyes to meet Odain who towered over him. “Chieftain Thundrin, you rejected my offer of unity and now you find yourself here. I wonder will you seek unity now?” Thundrin’s emerald eyes hardened at the words, “Shuka on your unity. We of clan Thundrin have carried my family’s name for ten generations. You think I would give that up? Clan Valkara can burn in the deepest fires and soon you will. Frode knows you’re coming and when you meet...well let’s say I look forward to dining with you in the grave.” Odain fought back the rage swelling in him, “Silence, mongrel. Frode and his ilk will receive their punishment just as you and all the other clans have.” Odain motioned with a hand for a nearby guard to bring him an axe. “Careful, Odain. Your ambition blinds you, just as it did your fathers. They were so hungry to feast on the flesh of their foes that they forgot the most dangerous kind of enemy. The one within your own brood.” The words washed over Odain like a flood as he received the axe in hand. Did another traitor really slither amongst their ranks? “I said silence, serpent tongue. You wish to divide us in your final hour but the only division I see is your head from your neck.” Shoving down the nagging anxiety of betrayal Odain stepped forward raising his axe. With one swift swing Thundrin was left headless on the floor. Odain watched as Thundrin’s head tumbled away finally stopping to face him. Frozen on Thundrin’s face was a smug expression. “Chieftain, may I?” Vargo asked, kneeling to take the axe. Stretching out his hand Odain dropped the weapon into Vargo’s waiting grasp. Turning Odain moved to address the crowd once more but a figure caught his eye. Near the entrance a smiling Fen leaned against one of the tent’s poles. A flicker of amusement was in the man’s eye before he slinked away into the night. Blinking Odain realized every man’s gaze within the feasting tent was fixed on him. Each of them sat eager and anxious to know what was next for clan Valkara. “Perhaps we need to weed out a few snakes,” Odain thought to himself.