It was not hard to make out the village in the night, dim shapes against the horizon, situated on top of a hill. The light from the crescent in the sky had started to sweep away the obscurity of darkness, a contrast to last night’s inky black. As he lay in the grass, like a snake ready to strike out at its prey, he watched the smoke drift into the sky, its grey trail barely visible.

The ground was rough against his stomach and he felt the blades of grass brushing against his hands. Within, his heart beat an excited rhythm even though he knew he would be hidden by the undergrowth and the gloom of night.

A young girl, wrapped in her woollen dress and a shawl that covered her shoulders, walked down a path towards him and for a second his whole body tensed, alarmed that he might be discovered. But she merely emptied a pot she carried onto a heap of dung, a smell that had made Woden’s face screw up, and then returned to here house.

As he spied on the village, hoping for some useful information that would give them advantage, he noticed an armoured man walking around the edge of the houses. He carried a spear in one hand and held a round shield in the other but, although he did scan the area once or twice, his laid-back posture and loose grip on his weapon suggested he was in no mood for battle. Either he was a regular sentry and they had become laxed in their duties or Odell knew of their coming but his men were not of good quality. Either way it suited Woden.

Stars sparkled in the sky and Woden watched as a fire bolt raced across its canvass, a shooting star denoting his destiny. It was a sign from God and it was clear that he had every possible backing in the coming endeavour.

As animals called out in the night and the summer’s heat dwindled slightly, he wondered whether to go closer. Perhaps they could surprise them, assault in the night and slit their throats in the darkness. But that was a coward’s way, not an image he wanted to print on the minds of people who would be his churls. Instead the twelve of them would ride in, tall and proud, armed with weapon and shield. He would give Odell the chance to leave or take the village by force.

Someone scurried from one roundhouse to another, and it reminded Woden of a small nocturnal animal, fearing the owl that might swoop down to pluck it up for the kill. Woden’s talons were his sword and men, but he knew it was more likely Odell’s malevolent reign that was filling the people with fear. Of course most of the people would live in the surrounding countryside, farming the land to provide for Odell and his men, and in return the thane would protect them. But how much did Odell fulfil his side of the bargain?

Crawling backwards until he felt he was well out of sight, Woden rose ready to do battle.

The End

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