Olaf's ReachMature

The Bearclaw tribe is raided by the Outcasts and strewn to the winds. How will they pick up the pieces? And will they ever get their village back?

Olaf's Reach. A small community set high on cliffs by the ocean. The huts were sturdy, a mix of wooden beams, stone and metal joists and clung to the edge like a barnacle on a ship's hull. Pathways made of tied wooden planks and rope joined each building and on each level of the cliff were huts. The people were also just as hardy. Stocky, well-built, but easy-going. Peaceful people who had not had to fight for a very long time. Their community was cut off on one side by the ocean and a forest on the other. Beyond that forest lay hot springs, water fed by the heat of the volcano nearby. It was there the villagers took to bathing. It was a regular passtime to head for the pools every 7 days or so and bathe together. Nudity was not an issue and anyone bathing in woollen underwear was considered a prude and laughed at.

The pools, however, were not the only thing that entertained the villagers. They were fond of wrestling, feats of strength, fishing contests. The kind of games they could get their teeth into. Literally, sometimes. It was not unknown for players to end up with bite marks on their arms and legs from scuffles.

The main trade in the village was done by travellers who knew the safest ways over the volcanic tundra and were weapons, armour, tanning and woodworking. Simple, yet important trades. Despite not fighting for a long time, they knew the importance of trade and the gold it would get for the village so that it could buy more seeds for crops, feed for their animals and also more animals as well, as dragon attacks, though rare, did occasionally happen and would decimate the livestock.

The chief of the village was Gunnar the Great. A man known for his prowess in the battles of old. He wasn't such a great warrior anymore, as peace had reigned, but he still held his title proudly. The villagers loved the man and would sing of his deeds on a nightly basis in the mead hall.

The hunter was a woman named Ráðgerðr Julisdottir. Rae for short. She had been handed the task after becoming the apprentice of the former village hunter, Ragnar Wolfskin, who unfortunately met his demise at the hand of a Monstrous Nightmare back when she was in her early teens. She too suffered from the attack, gaining a scar along her left thigh, but he came off much worse. The dragon took him in his mouth and chewed him clean in two. Afterwards, the job fell to Rae's father, Gløder Gormsson, but he was far too lazy and dimwitted to take up the task in hand and ended up shooting himself in the foot with an arrow. Rae's brother, Rynjus Glødersson, was far too busy with his job at Arnþór's forge to do it, her mother Juli Maggeysdottir was already working in the mead hall and her sister, Kellý Julisdottir, had married the village bard, Tåmas Tåmasson and had her hands full with their farm. Thus the task fell into her hands and she provided the village with meat, antlers, skins and furs. Something important for when winter rolled around.

Arnþór's forge was a major focal point for the village. Arnþór the One-Eyed (Lost to a Nadder's spines) and his apprentice Rynjus Glødersson produced weapons, armour and banded shields for trade, as well as shoes for horses, metal joists, armature, hinges, locks and keys. It was a simple, ctone built hut with a funneled roof to let out the smoke and heat. Rynjus was in charge of the forge's upkeep and would be seen stoking the furnaces and using the bellows to keep the fires kindled.

The main center for the village was the mead hall. A huge building located at the top off the cliff, carved into the rock itself. There meals would be served and mead would be drank by villagers who wanted it. The food stores were located at the rear of the mead hall and only the mead hall servants had the keys to it which were entrusted to them by the chief. Servants ranged from young boys and girls, to older men and women who had no exact skill set. The widows and widowers also could hold jobs within the mead hall keeping them as important members of the tribe. The hall also had rooms in which mead was made and stored, bread was baked and the meat butchered after hunting should there be a surplus. Usually the butchering of mat was left to the hunter in her hut.

The environment was as expected. Mostly cold and damp with occasional sunshine within the summer months. Though that didn't last long at all. Winter would arrive quickly and would not end for a very long time. The first signs of spring were always a welcome releif. This was usually heralded by the flocks of birds which would try to nest in the cliff. Snow would fall and the wind would batter the village. Waves would surge up from the ocean below and take anything that wasn't tied down securely, freezing whatever else it touched.

And that winter was no different. The beginning had been even more harsh than usual for the Bear Claw tribe. Their crops had failed and the fish had been scattered to the west by the changing tides. The food in the store houses was only just holding them steady, but everyone feared it would run out very quickly. It put extra pressure on the village hunter, Rae. So much so that she had been ordered by the chief to train others to assist her. She didn't like that, not one bit. She was no teacher, her lack of patience and people skills made that obvious. But, what could she do? The tribe was on the verge of starvation. She had no choice but to suck it up and get on with it, regardless of personal feelings.

Her training methods, although somewhat brash, were very effective. She hoped that she could at least teach them the basics, get them to kill as many animals as possible. If they could do that she wouldn't mind prepping, skinning and gutting them, just as long as they brought in kills. That would be good enough for her. She would deem that a success. And, much to her relief, it seemed as if that was exactly what was happening.

The days went on and winter was fast approaching and the tribe was banding together to ready the village for the inevitable storms that battered the cliffside huts. Rae had managed to train a group of five hunters to a basic, competant level just so they could bring in the food ready. They had one more day of hunting left before the winter shut down, a tradition that had been kept for centuries. The huts would be secured with planks, the doors bolted and the main village gate closed for 5 whole months where all would live within the mead hall in safety.

It felt as if she had only just been out hunting and dragged back fresh kills. And yet she was having to go out again. Rae had gathered the hunting party together for the last hunt of the season and huddled into her fur cloak, shivering against the icy wind that howled around her. "Let's make this quick, clean and easy. You know the routine." She gestured for the hunting party to follow her and made her way through the gates at the rear of the village before stopping and glancing over her shoulder with a sneer. "And if I see anyone not following the rituals I'll be sure to put them on the menu too, is that clear!?"

The Bearclaw tribe had very strict rituals with regard to hunting. It was important for the spirits, as well as their own well-being and the hunting rituals had been passed down for generations. Hunter to hunter.

The group nodded silently and followed her, hearing the crunch of the snow underfoot and the slamming of the wooden gates behind them. Rae adjusted her bow on her back and reached behind to count her arrows one last time before continuing on. "I trust everyone is well equipped? If not, then that is your problem. My arrows are my own, as are my blades. I will not be sharing if that's what you think. You know the rules."

It was highly insulting to ask to borrow the weapon of another individual within the tribe. Each weapon was made specifically for that individual. If purchased from the armoury the weapon was customised for that user and that user alone. Sharing weapons was taboo.

They continued on until they reached the forest. The trees stood up like spikes against the snowy tundra, coated in snow and blasted by the winds. Rae grimaced and tightened her cloak. She hoped it would be over soon so that the village could lock down and hide from the awful conditions. She stopped suddenly. Rustling up ahead. Something was there. Was it a rabbit? No. Bigger. A deer perhaps? To encounter a creature so quickly and on the outskirts of the forest was rare indeed. What luck! She slowly put one foot in front of the other and crouched, gesturing behind her for the others to stay low and keep quiet. The rustling became louder until Rae caught sight of her target. It was a deer. A buck. It seemed oddly nervous, but kept dipping its head down to try and scrape at the frozen ground. Rae found it odd that it was out in such conditions, but food was food. She took her bow, held her breath and loosed an arrow, hitting it square in the chest. She breathed a sigh of relief and stood erect again, the rest of the hunters following suit. She slowly approached the deer and knelt at its side to follow the correct ritual.

All the hunters approached and gathered in a circle, kneeling in the snow as Rae checked to be sure it was indeed dead. She then took one of her blades from it's holster and made a small cut on the body of the deer to spill some blood. She then took a small bone bowl from her belt and collected the blood inside it, taking a sip, dipping her fingers in and painting her face with it. One streak on the forehead, one on the chin and a large sweep from right to left over her cheeks and nose. She then offered it to the person to her left and they repeated the action until the blood was all gone. They then offered prayers and praise for the animal's sacrifice before Rae tethered its legs and hoisted it over her shoulders to carry back.

That was when she heard it. A thunderous roar of hundreds of voices, followed by screams of men, women and children. The smell of smoke filled her nostrils as commotion spread through the group like wildfire.

"What in Thor's name is that!?" Rae turned to see clouds of black smoke billowing from where the village stood. She instantly dropped the kill to the ground, loosened her cloak and hurried her way back, the rest of the panicked party following close behind.

The End

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