At first it seemed that the fire did little, the brittle straw bundles smouldering gently, more smoke than flame like the snort of the sleeping dragon. But in the space of a few minutes, the thatch was awash in an orange-yellow blaze, leaping up into the sky to billow forth smoke.

Shouts of surprise and panic were already coming from within and Woden knew the roof would soon start to collapse, creating a living hell for those within. They would be strangled by the fumes, suffocated in their thick intoxication, and reduced to ash.

The door opened and a desperate man tried to run out, screaming madly as if a senseless charge could deter the waiting predators. Bowdewyn was too quick. His sword tip struck like a cobra, plunging into the man’s stomach, to halt is momentum and bring a look of pure horror and shock to his face. For a moment it seemed that the man might continue on, a pace forced despite the red stain spreading down his abdomen that he clutched with both hands. But as Bowdweyn slid the blade from his gut, the man collapsed to his knees, the defiance finally spent.

With a jab of his foot, Woden kicked the door shut.

Now the roof roared, the heat baking down on them, the thatch crumbling. Large chunks of dried reeds dropped downwards, bringing smoke and fire into the hall below. Even the beams, the skeletal ribcage of the building, where burning now, turning black in the inferno. The cries within were growing less, a silent cloak descending as only the noise of the burning building could be heard.

A bearded face came to a window, coughing and spluttering, gripping the edge to try and pull himself out.

The blow of an axed forced him back.

Moving away from the door, satisfied now that no shot would be fired, Woden turned to face the houses that surrounded them. Nothing stirred, no villager or animal insight, but he knew they were being watched. The people were anxious, nervous and afraid; curious as to what was to happen. Where they there to kill, to plunder? Or was this something new, a start of an era where a new leader would replace the corrupt?

Woden could feel his heart beat, thumping against his chest; his breathing seemed to swamp his mind chest rising and falling steady and slow. Another test of leadership.

Behind him, the roof of the hall collapsed inward, throwing out a final groan of creaking timbers.

The End

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