Printed from WriteWords -

Night of wolves

by  craig.horne

Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009
Word Count: 677
Summary: The first third of a short stort in progress.

A spear was flung into the hut and landed with a thud against its inner wall. A round leather-faced shield followed, then a sword. With his weapons discarded, King Bridei turned to his men and gestured to them to do the same. His visitors, in turn, discarded theirs.

“Now when we’re drinking and insulting each other,” said the king, with a smile, “punches will be the worst to come of it.”

With this he closed the door of the hut, turned and descended the slope towards his hall which stood about a spear’s throw away. Night was almost upon them. A faint breeze rustled the heather that cloaked the ground and made the flames of the king’s torch flicker. Water made a rippling sound over rocks as it meandered along the nearby glen and the spectral white of an owl streaked through the pinewoods on the surrounding hills.

Bridei stood a head taller than most of the other men and was powerfully-built but supple in his movements. Like many of the others he bore designs cunningly wrought in woad-dye on his skin and wore his blue-black hair long and his beard short. Like them he also wore a knee-length tunic which was girdled at the waist and made up of close-set checks of different colours.

His hall was a rectangular timber building thatched with reeds and had square windows with thin-scraped gut stretched across them. Smoke curled through a hole in the roof and the harsh skirl of someone inside tuning reed pipes filled the air. About thirty paces to the east stood another hall around two thirds its size. The men’s respective wives could be seen entering this one. Behind the halls were other smaller buildings including cookhouses from where the smell of herbs and roasting meats heralded the feasts that awaited both groups.

As he walked, the king turned to the leader of the visiting party and said, “Tell me Naiton, any word from our friends in Abertabaicht?”

“None my lord,” replied Naiton. He was a man with hair the colour of fox fur and a strong, weather-beaten face. “And we saw no sign of their approach on the road here.”

The king stroked his moustache. At length he said, “Perhaps they have been waylaid.”

Bridei pushed open the heavy oaken door of the hall, stepped inside and placed his torch in an iron sconce on the wall. The other men followed and he directed them to take their places on the benches which lined the walls on either side. In front of the benches, a series of long wooden boards had been placed on trestles and laden with bowls, cups and cutlery fashioned from wood and bone. A twin colonnade separated the benched areas from the central passageway which was furrowed to accommodate the fire that now burned. The fire trench stretched from the door to the dais at the head of the hall where the king and Naiton sat down with their chief retainers.

A host of serving-girls now poured forth from the far corners of the hall bearing flagons of heather ale while a boy stirred a cauldron which was suspended from the rafters on chains. A stew bubbled within and occasionally the boy had to dodge the juices that leapt out and hissed on the fire below.

The king waited until the men had taken their first drafts of ale before speaking. “Men,” he said. “I thank you for coming here tonight. I feel there is a great need for the coming together of our people to counter the growing menace of the Garmani.”

With this came the murmur of agreement along the benches and the clunking of cups against the wood.

“Hoards of these Sea Wolves seem to be brought forth on every tide; the Angles and Saxons take everything they lay their eyes on.” He paused. “No more.”

“Though Abertabaicht have declined to break bread with us there will be others. The glens swell with free men ready to join our cause and chase this scourge from our lands."