Woden slid down off his horse, the beast giving a relieved snort after its long journey. Yesterday’s travel had been short, the weariness of a day’s battle gnawing at them and insisting that they rested by the campfire. However, today they had travelled the bumpy countryside till mid afternoon and the ache of the saddle was starting to set in.
They had stopped outside a farmhouse, its thatched roof like a drooping haircut that moped over the brow. Large fields stretched away, a patchwork tartan landscape. Cattle grazed the grass, lazily looking up at the interruption to their food, before going back to their monotonous chewing. Their tails swished back and fourth as they swatted away flies drawn by the heat.
Other hovels could be seen; the farmers who shared the communal ground. All would have animals on the field, all caring for the soil and splitting its responsibility. A dog barked and Woden could hear the calls of children, playing on a Summer’s day. As he walked around the squat building, the smell of the grass, a sweet perfume, filled him. Yet this was not a life he wished for and he happily touched the hilt of his sword as he realised a life without battle would be a life not worth living.
Around the back, two young boys with dark hair and bright faces, fought an imaginary battle with two gnarled sticks. He watched as one quickly moved to whack his younger brother on the leg, evidently not the most caring of older siblings. A young girl, probably no more than fourteen, sat on a stool milking a cow. The animal stood patiently, happily waiting as the quick hands worked the teats.
Round green cabbages huddled in rows and large carrot leaves, like miniature fur trees, sprouted up out of the ground. The top of the roots peeped out from the soil and the smell was aromatic, a pleasure to the labour of the farmer who knelt weeding the ground. His rough hands worked the quickly, pulling up both leaves and roots of the invading plants.
Coughing, Woden announced his presence and the middle aged man turned his head to look over his shoulder. Seeing the tall warrior, he rose up, wincing from the pain his knees sparked through him, and wiped his hands on his shirt to leave brown stains streaked across. He watched Woden carefully, sizing up and judging what the larger, well-armed man wanted. Finally he spoke.
“Linn, take the boys inside.” He ordered, not taking his eyes of Woden. With sword and armour clearly on display, it was no surprise that he decided the situation could turn nasty.
The statement had been aimed at the girl who had also turned to look at the new comer. Her face was dainty, speckled with freckles, and although some might not see her as beautiful Woden found himself attracted to her. The girl walked over to the two boys and took hold of their hands pulling them quickly into the house.
“What can I do for you, my Lord?” The man addressed Woden officially as a mark of respect, seeing his higher standing.
With his eyes following the girl until she went indoors, Woden turned back to the man, “We are close to Wulfden?”
The man nodded, still unsure of what to make of him, “That’s right, an hour’s travel down the road.”
Despite Arw having proved himself by showing him the Wealas camp, Woden found himself relieved. The directions that the mysterious man had given him were correct and at last he felt sure that the village would soon be under his control, “Who is the most powerful thane here?”
Evidently the man could find nothing suspicious about Woden’s questions and he seemed to relax but the shortness of his answers showed his eagerness to continue with his work, “A man named Odell, my Lord.” His look was one of distaste and Woden could instantly see his opinion of the overlord was bitter. Maybe the task ahead would not be as hard as he thought.