Dave Bailey – Page 11 – Welcome

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 19 – Arrow!

The wolf leaped. Launching itself into the air.

Thorgaut braced himself for the coming impact.

The tree trembled as its branches snapped back into place.

A long, sharp pointed arrow flew through the air.

It found its target in the gray wolf’s side right behind its left leg. The tip of the arrow piercing its lung. Then burying itself in the wolf’s heart. Snuffing its life midleap while it was still in the air.

The wolf continued its trajectory in the air, but it was already dead by the time its body slammed into Thorgaut.

The weight of the massive gray creature slammed into his body. The branch below his feet snapped under their combined weight.

The one in his left hand also broke. He also couldn’t hang on with his right in its weakened condition since he had wounded it in his previous fight.

Thorgaut’s body fell to the ground again for the second time that day. His arms and legs flailing wildly. Trying to find something to grab. Trying to push the wolf’s body away from his. All in the split second it took for him to hit the ground.

The body of the great grey wolf crashed down on top of him. Crushing him. Smothering him.

And then everything went dark. The blackness of non-awareness engulfing Thorgaut as he succumbed. To the fall. To the pain. To the struggle.

But only for a moment.

Thorgaut came to unable to breathe. Gray fur in his face. Preventing him from getting the precious air he so desperately needed.

He struggled against the crushing weight on top of him. He finally pushed it off and sat up inhaling deep gasping breaths. He looked around wildly to understand what had happened.

Thorgaut looked down and saw part of the arrow protruding from the wolf’s ribs. It had broken in the fall and lay at an angle. It was a long arrow. Longer than Thorgaut’s arrows. And much longer than the arrows regular warriors used in battle.

He looked up in the direction that the arrow had come from. He couldn’t see anything between the trees of the forest that explained where it had come from.

The black and white wolves were off to the side unsure of what to do. Thorgaut pulled the arrow to get it out so he could use it as a weapon if needed. But the tip of its barbed point was stuck deep in the wolves body between its ribs, and he couldn’t get it out.

The remaining wolves circled Thorgaut trying to make sense of what had happened to their fallen comrade. The black wolf took a step in Thorgaut’s direction.

A second arrow came flying out of the woods and sank into its shoulder. The wolf yelped and buckled under the pain, but it didn’t stay down. It immediately scrambled to its feet and hightailed it into the woods. The white wolf close behind.

Part of the gray wolf still lay across his legs. Thorgaut pushed it off to pull them free. He tried to stand up, but everything started to spin. The forest and trees seemed to be swimming before his eyes. His knees buckled, and he fell forward on top of the gray wolf.

And then he saw a pair of large, black boots walking in his direction as he passed out.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 18 – Treed!

Thorgaut pushed himself up and tried to scramble to his feet. He stood unsteadily. His head felt light from hanging upside down for so long. His feet tingled as the circulation started to flow back into them again after having been cut off by the rope.

He looked around for his weapons. They were still on the ground where they had fallen on the other side of the wolves.

The pack continued to press forward in his direction. The black and white wolf both held back a bit and advanced cautiously with their heads down. The gray wolf though came at him aggressively with its head held high.

“Right!” Thorgaut said. “You want to avenge your buddy. Huh?”

Thorgaut spotted some branches and rocks on the ground. He considered using them as weapons. He knew though that they wouldn’t do much good against one wolf, let alone all three of them. It would only make them angrier.

He looked up at the tree beside him. It was still small, and the branches looked like they would barely hold his weight. But it was his only option. He leaped up into the lower limbs and hoped he could pull himself up high enough to keep out of the wolves reach.

Thorgaut grabbed on to a branch and threw his foot up against the trunk for extra leverage. He threw his other arm up to grab onto a second branch. He was still pulling himself up when the gray wolf leaped at him.

He was still sore and weak from his earlier efforts. He was unable to pull himself up fast enough. The large gray animal latched onto the heel of his foot that was still hanging down off the branch. The weight of the wolf almost pulled him back out of the tree, but Thorgaut managed to hang on.

The wolf didn’t have a tight enough grip on his foot, and its teeth slipped off leaving a deep gash. The wound ran deep enough that Thorgaut could see the white of the bone across a part of his foot.

The rabid grey animal fell back to the ground and immediately leaped back up again with a snarl. But by that time Thorgaut had managed to pull his foot higher to safety. He sighed with relief and looked around for a higher branch that could support his weight. He tugged on a few to test them, but they were still young and green. None were strong enough to support his weight.

Meantime, the black and white wolves had arrived at the tree and now sat waiting patiently below. The grey wolf though continued to his assault on the tree. He jumped tirelessly time after time, trying to get a hold of Thorgaut’s feet.

Thorgaut leaned back against the trunk of the tree. He shifted his weight around from time to time when the wolves jaws snapped perilously close to his feet.

The gray wolf finally paused to take a break. The three wolves gathered around each other for another one of their little meetings. Thorgaut watched expectantly. He couldn’t get over how much they seemed to communicate to each other through their growls, snarls, and whimpers.

He wished he could understand what they were up too. They were way too smart for ordinary wolves and seemed to be planning something. They didn’t seem to be up to any good when they looked up in his direction.

After a few minutes, the gray wolf broke off from the pack and backed off a short distance away. The white wolf came closer to the small tree and stood at its base almost directly below Thorgaut. The gray wolf took a running start in the direction of the tree.

Thorgaut couldn’t believe it. Were they going to do what he thought they were? He held his breath.

The gray wolf jumped onto the white wolf’s back. It didn’t have a solid footing and almost slipped. But it didn’t and from there leaped up towards the branch. It managed to grab on and pull itself the rest of the way up until it stood on the limb in front of him.

Thorgaut should have kicked out while it was still getting its balance. He froze momentarily in shock though. He couldn’t believe it. And by the time he gathered his wits about him, the wolf had a solid footing and was ready to attack.

Thorgaut did kick out at its feet to see if he could knock it off anyway, but by then it was too late. The wolf snapped at his feet, and he pulled back. He tried to get around the trunk to another branch.

He grabbed on to a branch with one hand to stabilize himself. Then he threw his foot out on a limb to pull his body around. At the same time, he also grabbed another branch with his free hand. He tested the bough he was standing on by lowering his weight carefully with both feet.

As expected, the branch wasn’t as stable as the previous. It started to bend under Thorgaut’s weight. He pulled his weight back up on his hands so it wouldn’t break. He realized that his hands were flush with the trunk. The branches were the thickest and sturdiest there. He had been placing his feet though, farther out on the limb where it wasn’t as strong.

Thorgaut pulled his feet in closer to the trunk and let up on his arms to test his weight again. This time the branch seemed firmer and didn’t bend as much. But he didn’t like being this position because his body was closer to the wolf. There was no way he could get out farther on the branch to move away from it.

The trunk of the sapling was too thin to be much of an obstacle for the wolf. It found another branch to put one of its paws on to stabilize itself. Then it reached around the trunk with its neck and tried to bite into his thigh right above the knee.

Thorgaut jerked his leg back just as its jaws snapped shut. So, it didn’t get much flesh even though its teeth did rip into his pants. Thorgaut pulled back on his leg to get it farther away, but the wolf had a solid hold. It tugged back against him.

Neither had much leverage since they were above the ground on weak branches. Each of them locked into place without being able to go forward or backward.

Thorgaut had a bit of an advantage because he was able to use his hands to help keep his balance. After a few moments, he pulled back as hard as he could with his leg. Then he shoved his knee up and forward into the wolf’s face and nose.

His tactic worked. The effect of his knee connecting with the wolf’s face caused it to let go of his leg. Also, the fact that Thorgaut was no longer resisting its pull threw it off balance.

The great gray wolf threw its paw forward to regain its footing. It overcompensated though and threw its leg too far over. It almost fell but managed to catch itself with the upper part of its leg. It took a moment to get itself back up.

Thorgaut pulled back with his leg and let loose with a wild kick. His foot connected with the wolf’s head. Since he was using his left leg though, he didn’t have as much power behind it as he had hoped. Being off balance while hanging in a tree didn’t help much either. So, in the end, his kick didn’t do as much damage as he had hoped.

The wolf had pulled back though which gave him a moment to recompose himself. It snarled furiously with its ears laid back. Thorgaut jerked his body around like he was going to kick at it again. The wolf ducked its head to the side. When it realized what he had done, it barked angrily and sharply at him.

Thorgaut noticed when he faked the wolf out that it was easy to shake the whole tree because of its small size. He grabbed onto the branches and shook the tree as hard as he could just like he was trying to knock ripe fruit to the ground.

The wolf crouched down as it tried to keep its balance. It didn’t have fingers or hands to grasp on and tighten its hold. Thorgaut hoped he could knock the wolf out of the tree if he shook hard enough.

Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain. He couldn’t shake the tree violently enough to knock the wolf out. Thorgaut tried several times until he didn’t have the strength to continue any longer. He paused to catch his breath.

When the wolf realized he wasn’t going to shake the tree again, it started to press forward. Thorgaut pulled his legs back as far as he dared to try and keep them away from the wolf’s jaws. But the wolf didn’t try to bite him.

Instead, it lowered back on its haunches like it was going to leap at Thorgaut to knock him out of the tree. Thorgaut prepared for the worst, but there wasn’t much he could do except tighten his grip on the branches and prepare for the worst.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 17 – Swing!

Thorgaut noticed that all three wolves were converging upon him. He needed to do something, but what? There was little he could do tethered to the rope without any weapons left. He realized his only chance was to climb up the cord and away from the ferocious jaws of the wolf trio.

His body was numb from having hung upside down for so long, and his arms felt like rubber. The thought of letting go and succumbing to the wolves went through his mind. He immediately shoved them aside.

He was Thorgaut Kabbisson, the firstborn son of a Jarl and the rightful heir to his father’s seat in the lodge. He would sit in his father’s place when the time came. He would also challenge the regional King to take his throne as well. Thorgaut’s mother had driven that thought into his head every single day since as far back as he could remember.

He was the rightful heir to all the northern kingdoms. One day he would rule and reign over all the cities and towns of NorthWorld.

He would not give up now. He would do everything in his power to fulfill his destiny and live up to his mother’s expectations; even if he had to come back from the dead to take his rightful place.

But right now he had to survive, and the only way to do that was to make it to the top of that rope.

Thorgaut twisted his head and torso up towards the rope. He grabbed onto it with both hands and began to pull himself up as fast as he could. One pull over the other. Reach. Grab. Pull. Reach higher.

He favored his right hand that the wolf had bitten. He couldn’t pull himself up as far on it as he could with the other. First, because of the pain whenever he squeezed it around the cord. And second, because the blood from the wound made the rope slippery and harder to grasp.

Thorgaut could hear the wolves below but tried to ignore them for the time. He concentrated so heavily on his current task that he didn’t even bother to look down. He focused on getting one hand over the other to pull himself up as fast and as far as he could.

He still had a ways to go, but his arms were already exhausted from everything he’d been through today. His breathing was rough and labored. Rasping.

Thorgaut paused to try and catch his breath while he clung to the rope with all his might. His arms trembled from the effort, and his grip started to slip.

Somehow, he finally remembered to wrap his legs around the rope and squeeze tightly. Up until now, he had just been using the strength of his arms to pull himself up hand over hand. Thorgaut realized that he could use his legs to relieve the strain on his arms. That brought immediate relief to his hands.

His fingers especially ached, and it hurt when he tried to relax them. Thorgaut grimaced as he stretched and wiggled his fingers around. They began to prickle as the blood flowed back into them and regained their regular coloring.

Thorgaut took a moment during this brief break to look down. The wolves were still circling on the ground below him. The black wolf had its head turned up towards Thorgaut. It watched him intently. It didn’t break eye contact with him but held his gaze until Thorgaut looked back up at the rope.

He felt exhausted and too tired to continue pulling himself up. He looked back down. The gray wolf had sprawled out on the ground as if waiting for Thorgaut to fall back into their waiting jaws below. In a way, he wanted to. Fall on the ground. Sprawl out in the grass. Rest his tired body. It would be such a relief and would feel so good.

Thorgaut swatted the thoughts from his mind. He swore and muttered a curse at the wolves under his breath. Strangely, he realized that the didn’t feel any anger or hatred towards them. They were wild animals defending their territory and hunting for prey.

He wasn’t sure in which category he fit. Did they see him as a threat? Why were they targeting him like this? They didn’t look starving. And they didn’t seem like mere dumb animals he usually saw in the woods.

Thorgaut could tell that they were brilliant. They seemed to have a highly evolved form of communication. There were much more intelligent than the rest of their species.

Thorgaut looked back up and reached out to start pulling himself back up the rope again. His arms trembled from the effort. His shoulders ached and his muscles burned under the strain of his struggle. But he found that he was still able to continue and hitch himself up bit higher.

The rope loosened somewhat as he pulled himself up, but it was still tangled around his legs. He couldn’t use his hands to unwind it since he was hanging on to the rope, so he tried to shake them free. It took him a bit, but he finally got it undone. He pulled his legs p and wrapped them around the cord again tightly to hold himself in place.

Then he reached up again even higher. Only this time, Thorgaut shook the rope off of his legs before attempting to hitch himself up. He didn’t want to risk it getting stuck around his legs again. He needed to conserve his strength.

He didn’t have that much farther to go. Just a couple of more pulls and he would reach the branch. Then he could pull himself up into the large tree and rest. After that, he could wait in safety until the wolves grew tired and left.

Thorgaut reached up once more and stretched to grab the rope as high as he could with his good hand. He pulled his body up and then wrapped his legs around the cord for another brief break.

It was rough going, but Thorgaut knew he could make. Not much farther to go. After catching his breath, he started again. He shook the rope off his legs and reached up with his other hand. The one that the wolf had bitten.

Thorgaut grabbed hold of the rope with his sore hand and let go with the other to pull himself up. Unfortunately, the blood dripping down the cord made it too slippery for his grasp. Poor Thorgaut no longer had the strength to keep hanging on with his bad arm. And he still hadn’t pulled himself up high enough to get his legs wrapped around the rope.

He started to slide down the rope and flailed to grab hold with either his legs or his other hand. But he miscalculated and missed with his good hand. The momentum jerked the line out from his under his legs. His body was going too fast, and he couldn’t stop the slide.

Thorgaut continued trying to grab on with his hands and squeeze the rope between his legs to slow his fall. His efforts were all in vain. All he did was get some nasty rope burns on the way down. The pain was excruciating, and he yelled out in pain and frustration.

When his body reached the end of the line, his head swung down and back. The force of gravity and pull of his body when he arrived at the end, caused the rope to swing out in an extended arc. He swung right through the pack of startled wolves who were trying to figure out what this crazy human was doing.

As he swung out and reached the end of the swing, the weight of his body and pulls of gravity proved to be too much. The rope snapped where he had been cutting through it earlier when the whole attack started.

Thorgaut was finally free of the rope and completely airborne. He went flying through the air with his arms and legs flailing. His body somersaulted through the air, and he tried to twist himself around to land on his feet.

He almost managed, but his feet were numb from the lack of circulation. He hit the ground and tumbled to the ground awkwardly. He rolled for a bit in the grass and leaves until his body slammed into a young sapling and came to a complete stop.

Thorgaut spat out the dirt and leaves in his mouth as he lifted his head to look around. He felt disoriented and tried to get his bearings. He rolled over to look back at the tree where the trap had snared him. And then he saw the wolves again.

All three headed towards him once again. He sighed in exasperation.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 16 – Throb!

The wolf stopped circling him and sat down a short distance away.

“Can you speak?” Thorgaut asked him. “Are you one of the mythical talking animals I’ve heard of?”

The wolf cocked its large black head to the side. It remained completely immobile and unflinching for a long time.

The other wolves gathered around it and sat too.

It was unnerving and Thorgaut didn’t know what to make of this turn of events. So, he remained still as well and stared back at them.

The black wolf turned to the yellowish-red wolf and snarled a command. It stood up immediately and approached Thorgaut cautiously.

It was almost close enough for Thorgaut to reach out and touch. But he didn’t do that of course. It was a tense moment.

He remained perfectly still with his arms crossed in front of his chest still holding the arrrows.

Thorgaut wanted to move. He was still hanging upside down which was uncomfortable to begin with. But now his muscles began to burn from the tenseness and stillness he tried to maintain.

For some strange reason, Thorgaut realized he didn’t feel fear. The animal didn’t seem intent on harming him at the moment. It was as if the animal was analyzing him for some reason.

After a minute or so, the wolf turned around and walked back to the rest of the pack where they seemed to be conferring among themselves. Thorgaut had no idea how though. He couldn’t actually hear them say anything.

The wolves seemed to have reached a decision. They separated and spread out around him. The black wolf went to his right. The white wolf to his left. The gray wolf went around behind him where he could no longer see it.

Thorgaut twisted his head for a minute to try to see where it was going. He caught a glimpse of it but turned back to keep an eye on the yellowish red wolf that was still in front of him.

All four wolves stepped in closer and tightened the circle around Thorgaut. things didn’t look good, and he realized that staying still wasn’t fooling them into thinking he was dead. And they sure didn’t seem to plan on leaving anytime soon.

“Hey!” Thorgaut yelled at the top of his lungs. “What’s going on? What are you all doing?”

The wolves paused when he started to yell. The yellowish-red Wolf snarled quietly as if it was telling him to hush up. Then it took a step closer. Its eyes bored in on him. The wolf’s eyes began to glow softly. Thorgaut squinted looked at it more closely. The glowing eyes of the wolf really weirded him out. A chill of fear ran down his spine.

“What are you doing to me, you demon-wolf!” Thorgaut shouted in its direction. But it didn’t stop. Its eyes shone even brighter.

Thorgaut looked wildly around the other wolves surrounding him. They had all stopped as well, but their eyes were not glowing like the yellowish-red wolf. It took another step closer. Thorgaut’s ears began to ring and he felt a buzz in the back of his head. He could almost feel it’s snarl vibrating at the base of his skull.

He closed his eyes tightly trying to squeeze the vibrations out of his head, but they only got stronger. He opened his eyes once again, and his head throbbed with pain. The glow in the wolve’s eyes dimmed and brightened in sync with the throbbing he felt.

“Was he being hypnotized by a wolf?” Thorgaut asked himself. His mother had never told him any stories about strange wolves with glowing eyes. This was pretty freaky. none of his friends would ever believe him if he made it back alive.

The throbbing came in faster and more intensely. The pain in his head was excruciating. Thorgaut senses seemed to become sharper and more acute with each passing throb. He could sense each of the other wolves around him and their connection to each other. Even the gray wolf that was behind him still sitting quietly.

Just when Thorgaut didn’t think he could take it any longer, the black Wolf to his right gave a low growl. The yellowish red Wolf took a step back. Its eyes stopped glowing in the throbbing immediately stopped. Thorgaut blacked out.

When he came to he didn’t know how long he had been out. His head still hurt like crazy. He opened his eyes and found the yellowish red wolf right up in his face. both of his arms were hanging down towards the ground. The arrow had fallen out of one, but the other was still resting in his right hand with its tip against the ground.

Thorgaut reacted instantly, closing his fingers around the arrow bringing it up swiftly towards the wolf head. The wolf tried to leap back, but it was too close and not in a very good position to get out of the way in time.

The jerked its head towards his hand to see what was going on. Thorgaut couldn’t have planned it any better. He drove the arrow deep into the wolf’s left eye. He didn’t let go and slid his hand down the shaft as he continued to push it in.

The Wolf couldn’t pull back because the arrow was locked into its head. Since Thorgaut arm was so close it twisted its jaws into his arm and snapped its sharp fangs down into his flesh. 679

Art screamed again in pain and fury. These crazy animals would not give up. Every time you turn around they were trying to bite him. This was ridiculous. He needed to find a way to put a stop to it. but now all his arrows and rocks were gone. And he sure didn’t think you have a shot at diplomacy here anymore.

He reached out with his other hand and grabbed onto the arrow as well. He pressed the arrow even harder deeper into the wolve’s eye until it finally let go of his forearm. It raced off into the woods with its yellowish-red tail between its legs.

Thorgaut glanced briefly at his wrist. There was a lot of blood, so he couldn’t see exactly how bad the damage was. But it seemed that the leather band he used to protect his write while shooting his bow had protected his arm from the worst part of the bite. He sighed in relief as he twisted around to see what the other three wolves were up too.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 15 – Black!

Thorgaut looked at the magnificent, black creature before him. Then he looked at the arrows in his hand. Then to the axes on the ground. There wasn’t much he could do now. All he had left were these arrows. He didn’t imagine they would do much good without the bow.

The only thing he could do would be to drive the point of the arrow into one of the creature’s eyes when it jumped at him. He would only get one shot, and it would be a long shot at that. In his tired and weakened condition, he would have to get lucky. And after his run of luck these past few days, he didn’t feel very confident.

But even if he did get lucky and manage to nail it in the eye with one of the arrows, that wasn’t guaranteed to stop it. More than likely, it would infuriate the creature even more.

Thorgaut sighed. Well, this was what he had, and he was going to make use of it. This wasn’t how he had planned to die. But if he did die, he would die with honor.

He didn’t know if dying while fighting a wolf would be enough to get him into Valhalla, but he steeled himself anyway. He wouldn’t make a sound even if the wolf did sink its teeth into his throat. He would die like a genuine, brave Viking and let the Valkyries judge his worthiness in the afterlife.

“Come on you lazy wolf,” he screamed at the black creature before him. “Are you afraid of a man who is tied up in a snare?”

As he said that, another head popped out from behind the bush. This one was snow white. A white wolf as giant as the black one. Then another one. This time gray. Then a yellowish-red wolf.

Thorgaut’s heart sank. This was the end. He would never be king of Jorundarfell, much less king of the North. He steeled himself to accept his fate if his time had finally come.

If so, the words his mother whispered in his ear would never come true. The words of the old crone would all be a lie.

Then he remembered Halldora! Maybe Halldora would find him and bring him back as a shuffler. He could become the king of the shufflers.

The thought excited him. He could rule over a vast, limitless army. At the same time, it also terrified him. If he couldn’t die, he wouldn’t make it to Valhalla. He would never see his friends and family again. They would all enjoy the afterlife, and he would be eternally stuck here with the rest of the undead.

The more he thought about it, the less he liked the idea. Too many things could go wrong, and who knew would happen to his soul in the process. Perhaps it was better to die now as a brave soldier and just be done with it.

He didn’t have much time to think about it though. The wolves drew in closer and tightened the circle around him. And his instincts kicked in as he tried to figure out a way to get out of this mess he was in now.

Thorgaut had only two arrows. And there were at least four wolves that he could see. At most he could stab one or two. There wouldn’t be much he could do after that though. His bare hands wouldn’t do much damage to those massive creatures. He needed a weapon.

The wolves circled in warily. Thorgaut looked pretty harmless hanging upside down. But they had seen their fallen companion and knew it was Thorgaut’s doing. They were smart and knew better than to rush in.

The black wolf was the boldest of the creatures. It pressed in closer and continued to circle him. It sniffed the air cautiously as it moved around him.

Thorgaut stayed still so as not to make any sudden movements that would startle the creature. The thought flickered through his mind that they would sniff him and move on. But then he realized how silly that was. These creatures came in with deadly intent. He remained still and waited for the right moment to strike.

These were interesting creatures. They were different somehow from other wolves Thorgaut had seen growing up. They displayed an intelligence that seemed almost human. The way they interacted with each other was different from other packs he had seen. The snarls and growls of these wolves seemed more expressive than usual.

He recalled the stories of the talking animals of the North that his mother had told him as a child. But he always thought those were fables. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try talking to it.

His father always said that diplomacy was the best option for a king to keep peace. Thorgaut didn’t agree with him though.

Sometimes he thought the old man was getting soft in old age. His father seemed to have lost the fire of his youth. He didn’t want to fight anymore and didn’t stand up for the clan.

It was strange. The Viking culture and religion dictated they must die in battle to enter Valhalla. Now, the old king wanted to take things easy and enjoy the years he had left.

Thorgaut had lost respect for him in the last few battles they had fought. His father had held back and stayed behind the men who were fighting. At first, Thorgaut had thought there was something wrong with him or that he was sick. He had lingered back to watch over him and protect him if he keeled over.

But after two or three battles like that, Thorgaut had given up in exasperation. He left his father in the back and returned to the battle lines. Thorgaut had jumped right back into the fray at the front.

Thorgaut believed that there was a moment for diplomacy and there was a time for fighting. A warrior needed to choose his battles wisely. He also realized that this was one battle that he wasn’t going to win by brute force.

Thorgaut racked his brains trying to think of something intelligent to say. It couldn’t hurt to try in case the wolf could understand him. He had no idea what they wanted or what would keep them from killing him as they seemed intent on doing.

The black wolf had moved in just outside his reach. He gave up trying to think of something intelligent and decided to start talking.

“Hello!” Thorgaut tried. “How are you today?”

“That sounded like a stupid thing to say given the situation,” he thought. Thorgaut wanted to slap himself.

His father had a saying. He tried to remember what it was that the great Jarl Kabbi Skurfasson had said about diplomacy. He couldn’t remember the exact words his father used. But it went something along the lines of, “Flattery makes friends and truth makes enemies.”

Then there was that other saying his father always repeated. “Everyone loves to be flattered, so lay it on thick with your trowel.”

Thorgaut snickered at the thought of flattering this wolf. “My, what large teeth you have, Mr. Wolf.” As if somehow that would convince a deadly wolf to refrain from ripping his throat out. That would be too easy. Just say a few kind words to persuade them to move on. No, he needed something better than that. And he needed a backup plan in case that didn’t work.

He recalled what his mother had said to his father in their last argument right before he left. She was fed up with his silly ideas about diplomacy. Jarl Kabbi had been negotiating a treaty with the Krǫptugrvegr tribes to the East.

His mother, the wise Jorwen Fjelddottir, despised their kind. She warned his father that they weren’t trustworthy. She told him that they would end up disregarding the treaty and cause trouble for him. And even if they didn’t, she found their demands excessive and wanted to send them packing.

That started old Kabbi off on a rant about both sides having to make concessions. He tried to convince her to give in a bit so that everyone came out on the receiving end. He said that they needed to be open for the negotiations to be successful. He was under the delusion that he could tame the wild ones who lived in the mountains.

After spending a long time trying to convince her to live in harmony with their neighbors. When that didn’t work, he attempted to strong-arm her into being more diplomatic.

But she had refused outright and started to leave. Kabbi was livid with anger and threw the silver cup in his hand. It bounced off the wall to her side. Thorgaut didn’t think he was really trying to hit her. He was just throwing one of his silly temper tantrums when things didn’t go his way.

Jorwun turned around a laughed. “That was very diplomatic,” she said. She clapped her hands slowly for good measure.

“I think you’re finally starting to understand what diplomacy is it about.” she continued. “It’s the art of saying ‘Nice doggie!’ till you can find a rock to throw at it. You know their reputation as well as I do. So, if you continue dealing with them, make sure to find a big rock.”

His mother stomped out and refused to take part in the rest of negotiations. His father hadn’t listened to her and gone ahead with the treaty anyway.

Thorgaut knew that treaty would come back to haunt them; even if it didn’t happen now during his father’s reign. But eventually, Thorgaut would have to deal with the Kroptugvegr tribes himself. They had already started making trouble again.

He would have to worry about that later though, if he made it out of here alive that was. For now, he needed a ‘rock’ to deal with these wolves.

He didn’t have a rock to deal with these wolves. So, he would have to use his diplomacy skill until he could get a hold of one.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 14 – Gray!

Thorgaut shortened the distance between his hands on the ax handle. He pulled it in close to his body while waiting for the strike. The wolf started to charge, and Thorgaut prepared to swing. The wolf pulled up short and the swing shot over the wolf’s head.

The velocity of the ax’s swing pulled his body around on the rope again, and the wolf watched as he went on past. It came after him, but by that time Thorgaut was swinging back at it. The wolf backed up and turned. It was too late.

Thorgaut managed to connect the blade of the ax with the wolf’s body. As the rope came swinging back, he had the weapon stretched out behind him. The head of the battle ax was almost trailing the ground. His swing was perfectly aligned with the wolf’s fleeing body. It was almost too easy. He swung the ax up between its hind legs and into the wolf’s belly.

The wolf yelped and snarled as it turned back on him. His movement kept pulling him forward and upwards even after the wolf stopped. The ax remained, still stuck in its belly between its legs. Thorgaut wasn’t able to keep his grip on the ax, and it slipped out of his hands. He tried to reach back for it, but he was too far past it. His fingers brushed off the handle, and it fell back to the ground.

The wolf writhed and twisted on the ground as it tried to get the blade of the ax out of its body. Blood poured out of the wound. Thorgaut admired his deadly handiwork as he swung back over the wolf’s body. It looked up at him with a fiery vengeance in its eyes.

Thorgaut realized that now he had no weapon left to fight the wolf. It snarled and leaped at him, but the weight of the ax pulled it back down. By then, Thorgaut had swung on past out of reach.

How long could he keep on swinging away from the wolf’s fangs? He didn’t have any other weapons except for the arrows in his quiver. “The quiver,” he remembered. But he didn’t have time to reach back to pull any out. He was swinging back in towards the wolf and its waiting jaws.

Thorgaut jerked himself forward and upward so he could grab on to the rope between his feet. He pulled himself up as high as he could hoping the wolf wouldn’t be able to reach him in its wounded condition.

The wolf intent on attacking Thorgaut leaped up into the air after him. The blade of the ax came loose in the air and fell to the ground. The weight of the weapon left its body which allowed the wolf to reach up high enough to snap its jaws around the back of Thorgaut’s coat. The coat added some protection, but the tips of the wolf’s fangs still dug into and pierced his side.

Thorgaut roared in pain and anger. The force of the wolf’s leap pushed them both out farther in the swinging arc. The pain caused Thorgaut let go of the rope. His body dropped back down from the weight of the wolf hanging on to him. By that time, they had reached the top of the swing’s arc and headed back again.

He reached around trying to hit the wolf or gouge his fingers in one of its eyes. But the jerk of his body coming back down and the rope coming back down loosened the grip of its jaws. Part of the coat tore, and some of the wolve’s teeth broke forcing it to let go of him as its feet hit the ground.

Thorgaut swung on out and tried to turn his body as he came back around. The wolf was waiting for him, but the wolf’s pull as it fell, threw the swing off to the side. The wolf had to readjust before it jumped which gave Thorgaut an extra moment to prepare.

The wolf leaped high into the air as it had done before when Thorgaut had pulled himself up on the rope. But Thorgaut didn’t pull himself back up. He continued to hang down as far as possible.

The wolf overshot Thorgaut’s head which was still hanging down. Its powerful jaws snapped around his thigh. But by then, Thorgaut had already shoved his hand deep inside the open wound from the ax in the wolf’s belly. He grabbed a fistful of intestines and squeezed as hard as he could.

Thorgaut yanked his hand back out again. As it came out, he grabbed onto the exposed innards with his other hand and pulling even more out. The wolf let go of his leg and dropped to the ground. Thorgaut was still holding onto its innards with both fists. Gravity took over and did the rest. As the wolf fell even more of its intestines and organs came ripping up and out of its body.

The wolf hit the ground shrieking with fury. It tried to pull its legs up under it and turn towards Thorgaut for another attack.

Thorgaut gave another strong pull on the organs in his hand pulling even more out as they came free. The wolf went down, and couldn’t get back up again. It rolled around on the ground whimpering and moaning. The wolf dragged itself off slowly by pulling itself forward with its front paws. It didn’t look up at Thorgaut after that or even look back.

He let go of the bloody mess he was holding in his hands. He relaxed his entire body and let his arms hang down. He twisted a bit to make sure the wolf was still down. It wasn’t hard to tell where it had gone, even though he couldn’t see it anymore.

A trail of blood led behind some bushes where it would lie and lick itself until it died. If it was even still alive, that is. There was so much blood and guts on the ground that Thorgaut didn’t imagine much was left in the wolf’s body.

Thorgaut looked up at the bite on his leg. Between the shredded pants mixed with the blood from his wound, he couldn’t tell how bad it was. He also ran his fingers over the bite on his back and shoulder, but couldn’t determine how severe they were either. The adrenaline rushing through his body blocked the pain so he couldn’t even feel the wounds.

He hung there for a minute before to catch his breath. After a moment, he opened his eyes and looked for his axes. They were still there on the ground. One just below him and the other off to the side where it had fallen out of the wolf’s body. There was no way he could reach it.

Thorgaut remembered the arrows in his quiver if they hadn’t all fallen out. He could try using the edges of the points to cut through the rest of the rope. There wasn’t much there.

He started to reach behind his neck, but the pain from the bite began to kick in. He switched to his other hand and reached back. He could feel the arrows and sighed with relief. His arm was sore, and his hands were numb, so he took care to work them out with caution.

Two of them came right out without much trouble. Thorgaut pulled the arrows around front grinning with satisfaction. Pleased with himself. After everything else that had gone wrong the past few days, he hadn’t expected them out come out at all. Or he half-expected the points to break or fall off as soon as he got them out.

“Whoooo!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as he stretched his arms off to the side.

Thorgaut heard something rustling in the bush where the wolf had dragged itself off to die.

“Great!” he groaned. The last thing he needed was for the wolf to transform into a shuffler. “Imagine that. After all that I went through to kill it, I get killed by an undead wolf that comes back to life after I kill it.”

Thorgaut kept looking in the direction of the bushes until he saw what it was. He froze, and his heart stopped beating for a moment.

Another giant wolf, only this one was pure black. It looked back at it’s fallen comrade and then at Thorgaut with a menacing growl.

The black wolf lifted its head and howled all its rage and fury into the sky. The most bloodcurdling warcry he had ever heard in his life. Chills ran through Thorgaut’s body.

Then the wolf lowered its head and fixed its eyes on his bloody and battered body still hanging from the rope.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 13 – Bait!

Thorgaut reached back with this hand and kept the second ax pressed in place. He wrapped his fingers all the way around it and pulled down on the handle. He couldn’t pull the shaft all the way out of its bindings.

The handles were longer than most. Thorgaut had taken them to the best blacksmith in the region to have them extended. He wanted longer handles to give him extra reach in battle.

His friends laughed at him because his arms already had such a long reach anyway. They said that with the extra length on his handles, he was ready to fight Loki and the giants.

Thorgaut had laughed right along with them. He was a massive warrior, so the handles were proportional to his size and felt right when he gripped them. But now he wished he hadn’t made them quite so long.

He continued to press on the ax up against his back as he slid his fingers farther down the handle. He gave it a firm tug and pulled it out as far as it would come. Then he pressed it back against his body while he slid his fingers back down the handle to get it another tug. It took him several tries before he could finally pull it free.

He had to pause once to stretch and relax his arm. The fact that he was hanging upside down and couldn’t keep himself steady didn’t help any either. He kept swinging and spinning around every time he reached around his back or pulled on the battle ax.

The ax kept getting bunched up between the leather binding straps. Thorgaut had them crisscrossing down the length of the handle. His father told him that they would increase the strength of his grip in battle.

Thorgaut had to work to get the ax off to the side and loosen the bindings. He wiggled it around and twisted it back and forth trying to pull it free. It took him a bit of time and effort to get the ax completely loose.

He felt the bow coming loose, but he didn’t try to hold it in place. If he could get the bow out of the way, it would be easier to get the ax out. He kept wiggling till he felt the bow come loose and let it drop to the ground below.

After that, it was easier to slide the ax out. It still took a few minutes before he was able to work the handle completely out though. But he finally got the ax around the front of his body where he could hold it between both hands.

They were shaking from the effort. The strain of reaching that far behind his back while hanging upside down left them feeling sore. He paused for a few moments to catch his breath and also to stop swinging.

Thorgaut tried to reach the blade of the ax up towards the rope, but it didn’t quite get high enough. He slid his hand as far down the handle as he could while keeping his grip on it. It still didn’t reach the rope though.

He tried to twist his body up and to the side and managed to touch the blade to the rope that way. However, his body bent too far to the right and felt very uncomfortable. So, he centered the ax with both hands between his legs and scrunched his abs to pull himself up towards his feet.

The blade of the ax reached the rope between his feet in a more comfortable position. He tried taking a light swing at the cord, but it didn’t cut into it. All it did was tighten the rope around his feet and jerk them off to the side. His body, of course, followed soon after and he swung around for a bit until he swayed back to a stop.

That didn’t work, so Thorgaut tried sawing the rope with the edge of the ax. The blade seemed to be making progress and cutting through the fibers. It was slow going, but from his position, it looked like he was almost halfway through. His arms and stomach ached from the effort though, so he paused to stretch and relax his muscles.

Thorgaut took a deep breath and pulled himself back up to continue cutting through the rope. It was coming along well, and he had almost cut all the way through when a flash of movement caught his eye. He twisted to get a better view, but it was gone. He turned his body around to get a complete view of the area around him.

He didn’t see anything but gave himself another turn around in both directions to make sure. That was when he saw the giant gray wolf slinking in the opposite direction. “Oh, schmack!” he sighed. He twisted around for a better look and tightened his grip on the ax.

It was the biggest wolf Thorgaut had ever seen in his life. Massive bulk. A huge neck. If he had been standing, it would have come up to his shoulders. For once, Thorgaut felt happy to be off the ground. Not that he was high enough to be out of its reach. Judging by its size and muscular frame, Thorgaut figured it could reach him if it wanted to.

The wolf continued watching him from a distance. It looked like it was trying to decide what to do with this strange two-legged creature. Thorgaut wondered if it had ever seen a human out here in these woods. Much less one that was hanging upside down.

Thorgaut felt like a sitting duck waiting to get eaten. He twisted back up to continue sawing at the rope while keeping an eye on the wolf out of the corner of his eye.

The wolf circled in much closer and crouched lower in attack mode. Thorgaut stopped sawing at the rope. He twisted down into position and swung around to face the wolf.

He overtwisted and swung past his view of the wolf to the point where he couldn’t see it. He tried to twist back as the wolf charged and leaped. Thorgaut swung out with the ax. He swung his arm out too far and completely missed the wolf. But even though his swing was too broad to harm the wolf, it still served to swing his body out of the way.

The wolf’s body shot passed him. The wolf twisted his neck and body in the air. Its jaws snapping inches from his ears. He heard the menacing growl and snap. Relieved he hadn’t been bitten, Thorgaut still shivered at how close its teeth had come.

Thorgaut twisted around looking for the wolf behind him. The wolf had landed and spun back around to face him again. It was gathering itself for another leap. The look in its eyes shocked Thorgaut. The fire and fury in his eyes blazed. It looked strangely like one of the enemy soldiers he faced in battle. Not like any animal on the prowl that he had hunted before.

The wolf leaped into the air towards him once again. Thorgaut swung the ax forward and under towards the wolf. The weapon connected with the wolf, but Thorgaut didn’t have enough power behind it to hurt the wolf from that angle. The swing also didn’t propel Thorgaut out of the wolf’s path.

The wolf snapped out towards his throat. The ax did partially block the wolf’s attack, so it didn’t sink its teeth into his neck. But it still managed to bite into his shoulder. The wolf’s murderous teeth sank through the outer covering of his clothing and into his flesh.

It snapped its jaws shut around his shoulder and gave a sharp pull. The force of its leap and the effect of gravity pulled the wolf’s body away from him giving it even more power. Fortunately, its teeth didn’t get too far into his muscle, but it still managed to draw blood and yank out some flesh. It hurt, and Thorgaut yelled out in pain and fury.

The wolf snarled as it landed. Invigorated by the taste of warm, fresh blood, the wolf howled with excitement.

“Great!” Thorgaut muttered. “Why don’t you go ahead and invite the rest of the pack over for supper, you dumb mutt.”

The wolf prepared for another violent attack. It came in closer underneath him this time before leaping.

The proximity of the wolf allowed Thorgaut to get a solid blow in across the top of its head. Unfortunately, for Thorgaut the blade twisted away in the opposite direction. It didn’t cut into the wolf, but the solid object still made for a nice, firm blow to the side of its skull. The shock of the solid steel at the base of its skull left the wolf stunned. The gray creature fell back down to the ground and whimpered off to the side still circling him.

Thorgaut twisted his body to follow the wolf’s pace and keep an eye on it. His arms ached from the weight of the ax. The blood rushing to his head made his ears roar and his head throb.

The rope had twisted around as far as it was going to go, and had now started to spin back in the opposite direction. Thorgaut couldn’t keep an eye on the wolf. He only saw it once each time he spun around past it.

The wolf didn’t understand what he was doing and had backed up a bit with an angry snarl. Thorgaut reached the ax down and managed to push the head against the ground to slow down his spinning.

The wolf hunched up its hind legs like it was going to attack again. Thorgaut pulled his ax back up in preparation for the attack.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 12 – Trap!

Thorgaut finally gave up looking for his sword. He decided to head back the way he had come until he found something that looked familiar. He knew he must have made a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

He hoped to find something familiar that would point him in the right direction. If that didn’t work, he could always head back towards the sun until he came to the plains. But he didn’t know how he would find his way back to his friends from there.

He walked slowly, paying close attention to everything around him. He often paused to look at the view from the way he had come. It was slow going, but still, he didn’t see anything familiar.

Thorgaut kicked himself mentally for not waiting until his men were ready. He should have brought them all along with him. He knew they didn’t mind having the day off yesterday to kick back and relax. They deserved it after the all the raiding and looting they had done on this trip. Their ship was already full, and they wanted to get home.

But Thorgaut had wanted to press inland a bit farther to see what the opportunities the land held and were available. Opportunitmeaning cities to raid and kingdoms to conquer.

Thorgaut and his friends had left most of the men guarding the ship. Then he had traveled up the river towards the black mountains. He had brought Liut, Bior, and Grimar, three of his best soldiers and closest friends. Katla, the shieldmaiden wanted to tag along, so he had let her come too.

But after three days he had decided to turn back. They hadn’t seen anything impressive. Besides, his friends were chomping at the bits to return to the comfort of their village and loved ones. They had left the town more than two moons ago, and they were already coming upon the third.

They were running low on supplies, so Thorgaut told them to take the day to hunt and fish to restock. It hadn’t been entirely necessary. They could have made it back to the ship with what they had, and even killed some game along the way. But Thorgaut’s adventurous spirit urged him on just a little bit further. He told them he was going hunting, but they all knew he what he was up too and his desire to explore.

Thorgaut trusted them and had confided in them of his plans to take the King Mar Bolverksson’s place. They knew he planned to conquer the Northern regions. They knew he was ambitious and respected him for his leadership and fighting skills. He also knew they each of them had their own secret dreams and ambitions of gaining a commanding position by his side.

So, his friends had taken the time to lash up some simple shelters and set up camp for a few days. Then they had gone fishing for the night. They were still sleeping when he left them. He imagined they had fished all day and then feasted well into the night. But by now, they would be worried about him and wondering what to do.

Most likely they would be out looking for him by now. Liut was an excellent tracker. He would be able to find Thorgaut with the help of those two hounds of his as long as it didn’t rain. If worse came to worse, Thorgaut knew he could set up camp and wait for a day or two till they showed up.

Thorgaut didn’t like the idea of stopping, but it would be better than wandering in circles. It would take his friends longer to find him. Thinking about them made him feel happy. It was good to have a group of loyal friends he could count on. He smiled as he thought of them.

But at the same time, he wanted to find Halldora again. If his friends showed up, they would make him head back to the ship and go home. And then he never would locate Halldora again. She couldn’t be far though. All he had to do was…

Thorgaut heard a loud crack and something pulling at his feet. The ground slipped away from under him. The whole world flipped upside down, and the trees spun wildly around him. He waved his arms and tried to make sense of what was going on. He felt nauseous and almost lost his breakfast. The spinning started to slow down, and the trees stopped whirling around his head. He looked at his feet and saw a rope tied around them.

“Oh, great!” he muttered. “Caught in a trap. Just what I needed.”

Looking on the bright side, he hoped someone would come along soon to check it.

“Hey! Hello. Anyone out there.” he yelled. He paused to listen, but there was only silence. He instinctively reached for his sword and knife belt but came up empty-handed. He remembered that he hadn’t found it earlier. He swore under his breath.

Thorgaut reached behind his neck for the pair of axes he kept with his quiver of arrows. The pair of battle axes were made from the finest steel. The man who sold it to him said it had been forged in the most potent furnaces of the mountain dwarves.

Not that Thorgaut believed him. He grew up hearing stories about elves and dwarves all his life. But he had never seen them. His mother often told him stories of dwarves and other strange creatures. She was a great storyteller. She told the stories as if they had happened to her. She even claimed to have seen the dwarves herself in the lands beyond. That was before Thorgaut’s father had raided her village and slaughtered her family. Then he had made her his shieldmaiden.

His mother was smart. She had wooed her master and convinced him to marry her. She was a good woman and bore him many children. She performed as dutifully as any earl’s wife ever did to keep her position.

Jorwen was a beautiful woman and made for a lovely wife, and mother, and queen. Thorgaut had always been able to tell though that she didn’t truly love his father. Not that she had too. Most earl’s and other members of the royal clan, married for convenience and to expand their power; not necessarily because they were looking for love.

But still, his father hadn’t chosen to marry her to extend his throne and power. He had chosen her for some other unknown reason. Well, he always said it was because he loved her, but Thorgaut knew there was more to the story then he was letting on.

There were whispers that his mother had elven blood flowing through her veins. Others even said that she had used her elven powers to cast a spell and charm his father. He had asked her about it once, but she had laughed it off and denied it.

Thorgaut continued to tug at the axes and pull them out, but they were heavy and pulled down on his neck. They had scrunched up under the quiver since he was hanging upside down. He could only reach back and touch them with his right hand because of the way they had shifted off to the side. He tried to hold the first one between his fingers and pull it free. But it was too heavy, and he lost his grip on it.

The first battle ax slipped from his fingers and fell to the ground below him. Thorgaut sighed in frustration. Things were going so badly for him these days. He was always on top of things and in control. But nothing seemed to go his way out here in these woods. It would have been embarrassing if anyone had been around to see him like this.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 11 – Weird!

Thorgaut knew she wanted to kiss him. He thought about insisting and trying again. But the firmness of her voice made him realize that it would be better to wait for a more opportune moment. He stared at her longingly as if willing her to change her mind. But she didn’t. Halldora turned and walked back to the kitchen.

He sighed in frustration and turned around to step back outside. Vriobrum stood behind him right outside the doorway. The sight of the shuffler standing so close caught him off guard. He jerked backward involuntarily.

“Holy cow! You gave me quite a start there, Vriobrum.” Thorgaut gasped. “Excuse me. Move back. Let me get by.”

Vriobrum didn’t move. He stood there staring Thorgaut down with a challenging look in his eye. He didn’t budge, nor look like he was in any hurry to go anywhere. So, Thorgaut stepped off the path into one of the flower beds to get past the shuffler.

The Viking prince walked out into the woods for a way to clear his head. He needed to find his friends and get back to his camp. But at the same time, he didn’t want to leave Halldora here. Maybe he could convince her toD go with him. She could come in handy down the line.

Halldora could help him with his conquests when he became king. He could march into battle and fight the enemy. If his army started to lose, she could raise those who had died in battle to turn them against their enemy. That would be brilliant.

He would be undefeatable. His army would be unstoppable. He could conquer the Northern kingdoms even faster and easier with her help. Halldora’s army of shufflers was the thing he had been looking for all this time. All of his explorations and adventures had been leading him here even though he hadn’t known what he was looking for exactly.

Thorgaut smiled and started walking back to the house. He would have to go easy on her and find a way to convince her to help him. He couldn’t come right out and ask her to build him an army of the undead. She didn’t seem like the kind who would go for that. No, he would have to be more subtle.

He walked back in the direction he had come, but couldn’t find his way back into the meadow. “This is ridiculous,” he thought. “How come I keep getting lost in these woods,” he muttered. Something was off, but he couldn’t place it.

After walking around for another fifteen minutes, he stopped underneath a large tree. He sat down to catch his breath. It was early, so the sun was still in the East. That meant if he walked into the sun, he should come back out to the open plains he had been on yesterday. From there, he could find the jacket that marked the trail back into the woods. Then he could follow it back into Halldora’s glade.

Everything had been so strange around these woods. Directions seemed to be fluid and changing. Just when Thorgaut thought he was getting somewhere, he ended up being someplace unexpected.

He had heard of places like this. Locations full of magic where time and space were different. “Halldora could have something to do with it. She could have placed a spell over it to protect herself and the shufflers from being discovered.” he thought to himself.

Thorgaut decided to climb the tree to get a look around and get his bearings. He unbuckled the belt that held his sheath and put it under a bush near the roots of the tree. He climbed as high as he felt comfortable with the branches holding his weight.

He looked around but didn’t see anything familiar. He should have been able to see Halldora’s glade. He couldn’t even tell where the forest ended and the plains began. The only thing he could see were trees spreading out in all directions. He did see a mountain range off in the distance that looked somewhat familiar. It may have been the one he had seen across the plains during yesterday’s trek. But he couldn’t be sure from here. And he sure didn’t want to risk getting even more lost.

This was such a frustrating feeling. By Thorgaut’s calculations, he should be right near Halldora’s glade. Granted, she did have it well hidden from outsiders. Anyone who didn’t know what they were looking for wouldn’t even notice it. But now that he knew where she was, he should be able to find it. Or at least see something that looked familiar.

“Halldora! Halldora!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Are you there? Can you hear me? Helloooooooo!”

Thogaut paused to listen if she answered back. But there was nothing out of the ordinary. He heard the usual sounds of the forest and the wind in the trees. He yelled a few more times, but no one replied.

He sighed and climbed back down. This was ridiculous. Here he had found a lovely woman out here in the middle of the woods who could help him conquer the North. And now he had gotten himself lost again for the third time in a row, and he might not be able to find her.

Why did he keep turned around in these woods? And who was the woman that had been screaming the night before? It apparently couldn’t have been Halldora. Those were a few of the thousand unanswered questions swirling around in his mind.

When Thorgaut reached the bottom of the tree, he walked over to the bush where he had left his sword. He reached down to pick it up, but it wasn’t there. He knelt down and felt around. He pulled the branches and leaves back, but he couldn’t find it. Thorgaut looked around to see if other bushes looked similar. Maybe he was looking under the wrong shrub.

But there weren’t any that looked like that particular thicket. There was no way he could have confused it. He looked around to see if some animal had dragged it off. There were no tracks or trails to show what could have happened though.

There was something going on around here. That was for sure. This whole situation was starting to feel like one of those scary stories Thorgaut’s mother used to tell him before putting him to bed. They would leave him feeling sleepless and terrified in the dark long after she had gone from his room. She said the tales were to toughen him up and make a man out of him. But he never remembered her telling any of those stories to his brothers.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 10 – Sorry!

Thorgaut walked out from under the shade of the house and trees. He basked for a moment in the sunshine. Then he took a deep breath and exhaled with a loud sigh.

He barely noticed the scent of the flowers wafting up from the garden. The chirping of the purple birds flitting from tree to tree escaped his senses as well.

His mind was spinning a million miles an hour. He tried to process everything he had learned about the shufflers. So, Halldora had created and surrounded herself with a small group of undead corpses. And she could control them at will.

Vriobrum shuffled by on his way to the flowerbed. Thorgaut watched him go past and then followed from a short distance. Vriobrum glanced back once, but then ignored Thorgaut after that. He watched Vriobrum trying to pick weeds from among the flowers.

It was uncomfortable to watch him bend over and work at such weird, stiff angles. Vriobrum’s clumsy fingers often missed the weeds entirely. Sometimes he would even uproot a flowering plant.

Thorgaut drew closer within talking distance and waited until the shuffler looked up. “Hello!” Thorgaut said as he raised a hand in acknowledgment. The shuffler didn’t say anything but did maintain eye contact.

“It’s a nice day. Huh?” Thorgaut said. He looked up at the light blue sky and blazing white sun above him. He wondered if Vriobrum noticed the details of the things around him.

Vriobrum returned to picking the weeds. Thorgaut took a few steps forward until he stood on the opposite side of the flowerbed. The shuffler stopped what he was doing but didn’t look up this time. Thorgaut reached out a hand and picked a few of the ornery sprouts too.

“So, Halldora tells me that you were a mighty warrior once,” Thorgaut said. Vriobrum didn’t answer. He continued picking more weeds.

“It must be frustrating to be stuck like this,” Thorgaut said quietly. “You wanted me to put you out of your misery last night along with your friends. Didn’t you?”

The shuffler didn’t say anything. It stood up without looking at him and shuffled off towards the house. Thorgaut finished pulling a few final weeds that Vriobrum had missed. Then he walked back to the house too.

Halldora was standing in the doorway watching him. He caught her eye and fixed his gaze on her as he walked toward the hut. He admired her slim, lithe figure. The way her dark hair swirled around her face and neck as she swept the floor.

She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But she wasn’t ugly either. Her only real defect was her height. She was shorter than he preferred. He liked women who came up to his eyes. He couldn’t complain though. Who expected to get lost in the unexplored woods of the North and then stumble across a pretty woman anyway.

He found her to be pretty in her own way. Maybe it was just because she was different than most of the woman in his region. Most of the princesses and royal women he met were all too pale and pasty looking. They looked like they didn’t get much sun. But he could tell that Halldora spent plenty of time in the outdoors by the sheen of her sunkissed skin.

He stood in the doorway and watched her sweep the floor. Each stroke of the broom bringing her closer in his direction until she was directly in front of him. She was so close the swirls of her dress brushed against him. He caught a whiff of her scent and took a deep breath. She smelled like wild daisies. It was intoxicating.

Thorgaut started to reach out and touch her. He wanted to take her in his arms and draw her in close. Kiss her and be kissed back by those soft lips.

Halldora stopped sweeping just inches away from him. She wiped a few strands of hair out of her face and pulled them back to fix them in place. A few stray strands she had missed still hung over her eyes. She jerked her head to the side to toss them back, but that didn’t work either.

The stubborn strands still stuck to her cheeks. So, she tried to puff at them with her breath to blow them out of the way. Her hands were still busy tying back the rest of her hair.

She didn’t break eye contact with Thorgaut the entire time. He stood mesmerized, watching with bated breath. She had an aura of beauty and charm that left him transfixed.

She noticed the intentness of his gaze and blushed. “What is it?” she asked.

It had been a long time since he had felt this way around a woman. Most of the silly girls who came to see him at his father’s lodge bored him. He realized he had been staring and shrugged nonchalantly. You remind me of someone I once knew.”

Halldora smiled revealing a perfect set of white teeth and finished tying her hair back.

Thorgaut reached out and grabbed the few stray strands that were still there. The hair swayed and escaped his grasp. His large fingers felt clumsy like the shufflers he had seen earlier. He didn’t want to poke Halldora in the eye, so he brushed them to the side with a single finger. The tip of his finger trailed along the edges of her cheekbones. Her skin felt so soft and smooth under his touch.

Halldora caught her breath and closed her eyes. She turned her face up and to the side to follow the trail of his finger caressing her cheek and into her hair. He let the rest of his fingers trail into and down her curls. He squeezed his fingers and thumb together to apply pressure as he pulled down on the locks of her hair.

When he reached the ends of her hair, he played with the loose strands between his fingers. He ran his hand back down through her hair several times, gathering more each time.

Halldora opened her eyes and gazed into his. Thorgaut tugged at her hair, guiding her head closer to his. He glanced down at her lips and then back up into her eyes. Then he slid his hand around the nape of her neck and grasped her gently but firmly.

He pulled her in for a kiss, and his lips almost brushed against hers. But at the last instant Halldora pushed the broom that was still in her hands against his chest to hold him back. She turned her head right before he could kiss her.

“No, Thorgaut. Stop,” she whispered in a low, husky voice. “We shouldn’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

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