adalwulf the two swords (tales of germania book 1)

 
 
 
 
 
ADALWULF
THE TWO SWORDS

 

- GERMANI TALES -

 

AUTHOR: ALARIC LONGWARD

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR

MAP OF NORTHERN EUROPE B.C. 12

NAMES AND PLACES

BOOK 1: THE HANGED MAN

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

BOOK 2: WOLF BAITING

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

BOOK 3: TORN FACE

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

BOOK 4: THE DEN

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

BOOK 5: THE THREE FATES

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

AFTERWORD

Copyright (C) 2016 Alaric Longward

ISBN 978-952-7101-98-8 (mobi) ISBN 978-952-7101-34-6 (paperback)

Cover art by Markus Lovadina (
http://artofmalo.carbonmade.com
)

Cover design by (
http://www.thecovercollection.com/
)

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author's permission.

 

- For the readers -

 

 

 

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

 

Greetings, and thank you for getting this book. I hope you enjoy it and also read the
The Oath Breaker
, Hraban’s story. Also, check out
Maroboodus.

Grab them from my
AMAZON HOMEPAGE

 

When you have completed the story, I would appreciate if you could take the time to rate and review the story on Amazon.com and/or on Goodreads. This will be incredibly valuable for me going forward and I want you to know how much I appreciate your opinion and time.

 

Please visit

 

www.alariclongward.com

 

and
sign up for my mailing list
for a monthly dose of information on upcoming stories and information on our competitions and winners.

 

    
             

OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR

 

 

THE HRABAN CHRONICLES – NOVELS OF ROME AND GERMANIA

 

THE OATH BREAKER – BOOK 1

RAVEN’S WYRD – BOOK 2

THE WINTER SWORD – BOOK 3

BANE OF GODS – BOOK 4 (COMING 2016)

 

GOTH CHRONICLES - NOVELS OF THE NORTH

 

MAROBOODUS - BOOK 1

 

THE CANTINIÉRE TALES – STORIES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEONIC WARS

 

JEANETTE’S SWORD – BOOK 1

JEANETTE’S LOVE – BOOK 2

JEANETTE’S CHOICE – BOOK 3 (COMING LATE 2016)

 

TEN TEARS CHRONICLES – STORIES OF THE NINE WORLDS

 

THE DARK LEVY – BOOK 1

EYE OF HEL – BOOK 2

THRONE OF SCARS – BOOK 3 (COMING 2016)

 

THIEF OF MIDGARD – STORIES OF THE NINE WORLDS

 

THE BEAST OF THE NORTH – BOOK 1

QUEEN OF THE DRAUGR – BOOK 2 (COMING 2016)

MAP OF NORTHERN EUROPE B.C. 16

NAMES AND PLACES
 

 

Adalwulf
– would-be champion of Hulderic.

Aristovistus
– in the past, a famed leader of a confederacy of Suebi. Tried to conquer Gaul 58 B.C. Defeated by Gaius Julius Caesar. Grandfather of Balderich, the old leader of Marcomanni.

Bait
– servant boy of Balderich

Balderich
– grandson of the famous Aristovistus, grandfather of Hraban, leader of the Marcomanni.

Bark
– brother of Wulf, priest of Freyr, foe of Maroboodus.

Bero
– brother of Hulderic. Followed Hulderic from Gothonia to regain his ring and to have his vengeance. Foe to Maroboodus.

Burbetomagus
– shared capital of the Mediomactri Celts and the Vangiones.

Catualda
– son of Bero, cousin to Maroboodus.

Cerunnos
– son of Teutorigos

Chatti
- a fearsome Germanic tribe living north of the Maine River, south of the Cherusci.

Cherusci
– a mighty Germanic tribe living at Weser and Elbe Rivers.

Danubius River
– Danube River.

Draupnir
– ring of Woden. Every ninth day, this wondrous, dwarven-crafted ring would spill eight others.

Draupnir's Spawn
– spawn of Draupnir, Woden's ring, and the influential ancient ring of Hraban's family.

Ear
– brother of Raganthar, cousin of Leuthard

Ebbe
– Chatti noble, father of Gunda and Adgandestrius, ever ready to oppose Rome.

Elisedd
– Celt woman in Sparrow’s Flight

Ermendrud
– daughter of Fulch the Red

Fulch the Red
– warlord of Bero, father of Ermendrud.

Gaius
– scribe of Tiberius

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus
– the first man of Rome, seemingly keeping Rome a republic, but in reality, creating an empire where he would hold the power over the military and much of the legislative power. Strove to ensure the continuation of his line in charge of Rome.

Galdr
– magic, spells, rhythmic spell singing.

Gau
– a Germanic county, administrative area.

Gernot
– Hraban's weak-willed brother.

Gothoni
– old Germanic tribe from the Baltic Sea.

Grinrock
– capital of the southern Marcomanni, home of Isfried.

Gunhild
– sister to Sigilind, Hraban's aunt. Daughter of Balderich.

Guthbert
– Batavi rider of Maroboodus, brother of Leuthard.

Hard Hill
– capital of the Marcomanni, oppidum hill next to Rheine.

Harmod the Old
– champion of Hulderic.

Helm
– warrior of Leuthard

Hermanduri
– vast Suebi nation covering much of the Weser River. Roman allies.

Hraban
– the Raven, the Oath Breaker, son of Maroboodus.

Hulderic
– Hulderic the Gothoni, noble of ancient house, father of Maroboodus, grandfather to Hraban, brother of Bero.

Hunfrid
– a Vangione noble, son of Vago, brother of Shayla, Koun, and Vannius.

Ingrid
– slave of Balderich, serves Teutorigos

Iodocus
– Celt, servant of Hulderic

Issa
– Alpsman, servant of Tiberius

Koun
– a Vangione noble, foe to free Germani. Brother of Shayla, Vannius, and Hunfrid, son of Vago.

Leuthard
– a Batavi warrior who served Bero, then Maroboodus. Brother to Guthbert, former lord of the Brethren

Luppia River
– Lippe River in middle Germany. Where much of the Germanic wars took place.

Marcomanni
– the bordermen, Suebi Germanic tribe divided into two gaus, counties. Led by Balderich and Maroboodus
.

Marcus Lollius Paulinus
– governor of Gaul, responsible for losing an eagle to the Sigambri

Maroboodus
– son of Hulderic, father to Hraban and Gernot, husband to Sigilind. A man returning home after a long period, bringing with him war and threat of destruction of the whole world.

Mare Suebicum
– the Baltic Sea.

Mare Germanicum
– the North Sea.

Mattium
– famed capital of the Chatti, home of Ebbe. Oppidum.

Mediomactri
– Gauls living west of Rheine River, opposite to the Marcomanni. Share their land with the Germanic Vangiones

Melheim
– brother of Isfried, brutal and treacherous. Noble of the southern Marcomanni.

Moenus River
– Maine River, where Hraban lives as a youth.

Moganticum
– a major Roman military base started by Agrippa, it kept growing into a naval base and a trade city. Mainz of today, located where Maine River combines with Rheine.

Nero Claudius Drusus
– Stepson of Augustus, son of Livia, brother of Tiberius. The leader of the early wars against the Germani east of Rheine, and the greatest, best liked leader of his time.

Oldaric
– the other Chatti lord, father of Albine. Stubborn and slow to oppose Rome.

Quadi
– a Suebi tribe, allies of the Marcomanni north of Maine River.

Raganthar
– leader of the Brethren, brother of Ear, cousin of Leuthard

Ragnarök
– the final battle of Germanic mythology, the end of most of the living things, the gods included.

Seidr
– magical power of Freya, the war goddess, mistress of seduction. Völvas use it.

Seisyll
– Mediomactri lord and relative of Teutorigos

Shayla
– a half Celt, half Germani druid, opponent of Tear, trying to steer away the prophecy of the end of the world. Sister to Vannius, Koun, and Hunfrid.

Sigambri
– old Germanic tribe living around Lippe River. Always at war with Rome along with the Bructeri, Usipetes, Marsi and Tencteri.

Sigilind
– daughter of Balderich, wife of Maroboodus, mother of Hraban and Gernot.

Suebi
– a vast confederacy of Germanic tribes stretching from Sweden to Danube River.

Tallo
– Quadi noble, brother of Tudrus the Older and Sibratus.

Tencteri
– Germanic tribe from the Lippe River.

The Three Spinners
– norns, the Germanic deities, or spirits, sitting at the foot of the world tree, by the Well of Fate, weaving the past, the present, and the future of each living creature. Also called Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld.

Tiberius Claudius Nero – brother of Drusus, stepson of Augustus, and a fine general who recovered the Aquila lost by Lollius

Vaettir
– Germanic nature spirits.

Vago
- king of the Vangiones, foe to Marcomanni and the Quadi. Leader of I Vangiorum, a Roman Auxilia unit. Father of Shayla, Koun, Vannius, and Hunfrid.

Vangiones
– a Germani tribe serving Rome.

Vannius
– a Vangione noble, son of Vago, brother to Shayla, Koun, and Hunfrid.

Visurgis
River – Weser River.

Woden
– also known as Odin, the leader of the Aesir gods, one of the creators of men and the world.

Woden's Gift
– spawn of Draupnir, Woden's ring, the influential ancient ring of Hraban's family.

Wyrd
– fate in Germanic mythology.

Yggdrasill
– the world tree, where the nine worlds hang from. Source of all life.

 

 

 

 

“One sword from a Goth lord,

To kill a Roman bore.

 

Another from a beast,

To enslave the god of feast.

 

Three fates shall entwine,

Tears will fall on a grave of pine.”

 

 

 

BOOK 1: THE HANGED MAN

 

 

“Yes, we’ll come and fetch the sword. We’ll not burn you out, but eat you raw.”

Raganthar to Adalwulf

CHAPTER 1

NEAR HARD HILL  (CAPITAL OF THE MARCOMANNI, B.C. 16)

                                             

T
hief.

The stabbing shame was back.

It’s impossible to escape it
, I thought. I chased it away, but it returned like dog to its vomit. I tried to drown it with a smile, but it turned the smile sour. I pressed the sides of my head with both hands, and rapped my skull, trying to squeeze and beat the bothersome, stabbing knowledge of my crime out, but the brief pain didn’t help at all. I reasoned with the shame, hoping it might dissipate like a cloud on a hot day, but the irksome thought remained there, shaming and mocking my efforts.

And so, I let it win.

A thief. A damned, thieving bastard. That’s what you are,
I thought, and let go of my skull before anyone saw and thought me mad, and I sulked instead.

Not even the distance helped. While I rode far from my home that bright summer day, long miles and miles from the hills of my homeland, I would not escape the humbling thought of my crime. Awake or dreaming, the thieving crime was there, always there. I had escaped my homelands, hoping for new winds. While I loved the new sights, the odd lands I passed, embraced the possibility of a fresh start so far from the lands of the Chatti and Mattium, I felt the same. Occasionally, the shame grasped my heart, squeezed it brutally. I had never imagined shame might be so strong it could physically hurt one.

“Gods, let the distance heal me,” I whispered, but only the insufferably happy birds answered, their high, excited calls glorifying the summer as they flew low across a barley field. The crime took place in the lands of the Chatti. That oppidum, a mighty hill fort was far, it was true.

But not so the object of the crime.

The reason for my hardship was between my legs. Nay, there was no woman involved.

The horse.

I had stolen a horse, and rode it.
I had my thighs wrapped around my shame,
I thought. I chuckled at the irony, felt my belly rumble from hunger, and contemplated on eating Snake-Bite, the horse, not for the first time since I entered the lands of the Marcomanni. Would that erase the crime?

No.

The horse had little real worth, I kept telling myself. It was old, though a great beast of ancient bloodline, but I loved it because of
what
it was. It was an anchor, like the heavy stones men throw to the river, tied to the boat to keep it still in the currents. I would not part with it.

It had belonged to my father.

Yet, fathers die, no matter the age of their sons and daughters. He was gone one morning of winter, dead of snot and cough, and then everything he had owned belonged to my uncle, Germain.

No, do not think I hated Germain. I did not. Nor did I hate his wife, or my cousin, with whom I grew up. He was Ansgar, near my age. How could I hate a man who found me hugging my dead father, assured me I would be fine, that life would go on, and I’d meet father in the halls of the gods, one day? How could I hate the man for showing me how to be a man, how to hunt, how to fight? Wasn’t he the lord who gave me a shield and a spear before all his warriors?

And yet, I’m a thief.

Like any orphan living under someone else’s rich roof, there were moments I hated Ansgar. He always had that special position, the attention, and the smile from a proud father. I knew Ansgar would have more opportunities, and successes I would not be able to mimic, because he would be rich, and Germain was a famous warlord. And while Father had been rich enough, I knew it would not be easy to regain his former lands from Germain. Uncle had grown richer and mightier with the fields, woods, and halls of Father. With those riches, he had gained fame, and such fame was not easily halved, if one meant to pay his men in cows and recognition. Life was not fair, and that was all there was to it. I knew it, somewhere in the back of my mind.

I stroked the horse, and it whinnied, as if in agreement.

Death robs us of happiness. Woden kick Father in the balls for dying.

I frowned, and swatted at some stubborn flies, as if to chase away the guilt. Germain had treated me well, while not as a son, but well enough. Perhaps I was a selfish, stupid bastard, as well as a thief. If my extended family now had a feud against me, which they surely did, then I had deserved it.

“Thief,” the voice whispered to me, and I noticed I had uttered it aloud as Snake-Bite’s ears shot up.

Feuds would come back to haunt me. Men would hunt me. That was the other nagging thought which had bothered me down the lengths of the wooded hills of the Chatti lands, even after I left Mattium’s fortified top, the great oppidum’s gates.
A thief, and a failure,
I added in my head,
should be hunted down
. Uncle would hate me for my ill deed, for my disobedience, for shaming him. Why shouldn’t he, despite the low worth of the horse?

Pride would force him to find me.

He would send men, and forget the blood, because he would not let men see him as a weakling. That would mean some of those men would challenge him, steal from him, and threaten him and Ansgar.

I stroked the beast again, and it shuddered appreciatively under the touch, and seemed to nod its head as it navigated some large ferns. I stopped it to look around. I gazed at the sky, where perfectly white clouds travelled like peaceful thoughts, and I wished I were a hawk, so I could find the great river I was seeking.
I was committed
, I decided. It was too late to undo the deed, even if I had nearly turned back so many times, especially when I was still riding across our own land, the land of the Chatti.

I had still occasionally considered returning after I had left the lands of the last lord, exited the furthest of the border gaus, and arrived at the banks of the River we called Silver Scales, and the Romans called River Moenus. I had travelled the north bank of the river, headed west for the great River Rhenus as the Romans named it, hailing the Quadi Suebi tribes living on the northern shore, brave men who squatted in the middle of our hostile Chatti tribes, the savage horse-warriors of the Matticati of the northern hills, and the eastern menace of the mighty, merciless Hermanduri, and I visited their halls as a guest.

They asked few question, cared little for the reasons of a lonely Chatti riding their lands, shared food and shelter willingly, and stoically planned their raids, cattle rustling expeditions—some against my people—and dispensed justice while I looked on. A Quadi, a lord of a gau called Tallo, had spoken with me, and boasted how many horses he had stolen from my people. We had toasted each other, and he had made me feel better about my thievery. It was a matter of livelihood in Germania, to steal. He had seen my turmoil, smiling wistfully, and gave me useless advice.

He had clapped my back like a father. “Speak it all aloud. I stole my brother’s flock once, because he had hidden some of the herd from our raid for himself. I felt guilt, being young, so I kept reciting it to the birds, and that helped, boy!” he had said. “Forgot all about it in a few days. You do that as you travel. We all steal. How would we eat otherwise? I have a cow in my stable that has changed hands at least a dozen times, and some bastard will probably steal it this summer.”

I had liked Tallo and the Quadi.

I had tried his advice. I kicked the horse, and it moved off and tried it again, despite it having been unsuccessful previously, and spoke with as much confidence as I could muster. “Why shouldn’t I have left? And taken the horse? Was it not a matter of my livelihood? Hadn’t Germain taken his entire household for himself when Father died ten years ago? He had. Yea, he had raised me as his own, and I had loved him and his son, Ansgar, well enough. All true! But that wasn’t enough, having a roof over one’s head! A dog has that.”

I sat on the horse, and brooded, stroking it gently.

What happened that last day had been too much.

Germain gave me a shield and a spear, made a man of me during the Drimilchi, not two months past, and I had had hopes I’d be accepted, revered, and elevated, allowed to share what had been Father’s, but that day, the hammer had struck, and it had been a heavy blow. I remember the terrible betrayal, and would forever. It felt like voiding yourself of all hope, and feeling utterly empty with nothing left to wish for in the world.

I had seen Ansgar, my cousin, come out of the hall, and he had stopped, looking troubled, his thick beard swinging as he shook his head and avoided my eyes, and he had walked away. That day I had asked him to ask his father when he would let me serve in his warband of a hundred Chatti. It was only natural to think he would, but for some reason, he had not suggested it.

By the look on Ansgar’s face, Germain would not have me in his warband at all. He naturally took Ansgar in, but not me.

I dodged some branches as Snake-Bite navigated a dry patch of grass, and smiled wistfully. While the day was warm, the memory was chilling, bitter as winter, or perhaps just like life. No god ever designed our journey to be an easy one, but full of piss and shit. Only those who resolutely tread in such a morass can one day look back and smile.

I hadn’t smiled when I had stalked to the hall to confront Germain. I had paid no heed to the people there, as I squinted my eyes and coughed, as the ever-present smoke invaded my lungs. It drew attention to me, and I had seen Germain’s wrinkled brow wrinkle even more, as he guessed what was coming. I doggedly tried Tallo’s advice, and spoke aloud on the horse, trying to catch my mood that day. “Am I not as worthy as he?” I had asked him. “Ansgar,” I had added needlessly, because he was not a fool.

He had sat on his seat, a bit drunk on his bitter, ash-colored ale, already greatly bothered by the many petitions from his servants, and his oaths-men. He had stroked his beard in a way I recognized as annoyed and short-tempered. I took his voice, and the horse raised its ears in shock, because I was not a half bad mimic.

“If you are asking me whether or not I think you can fight like he does, then, yes, I do think so. Neither has been tested, mind you, Adalwulf, not once in a shieldwall, but I think you’ll do very well. Your young beard is a man’s beard. Your speech is confident. You are strong and sturdy, and brave, no doubt, since we are related. You did well while we trained all these years, and Old Hand said you’d make a very good warrior.” He seemed to bite on a rock as he went on, his voice tight with determination to press out his words. “And I don’t need Old Hand to tell me this. I know you are stronger than Ansgar, and there is something about you that makes me think you will perform great deeds during your lifetime.”

“Then
why
?” I had demanded. The horse chortled, and I wondered if the answer would have been obvious to Snake-Bite, even if I had had no clue.

He spoke plainly. “I asked a vitka. He looked at you, and said there is a cloud of storm hovering around you. It’s a stench of a god breath. It lingers on your skin like the stink of death, like a promise of violence. I see my boy, and he is just like the rest of us, but when I, and many others, see
you,
we see shadows and dust, and rage and that makes you queer. I can’t put my finger on it, neither could the vitka, really, but I think you’ll be a rare warrior, your life will be glorious. No matter how short.” He had looked troubled, and people had sensed it and moved away.

His words put me back. I had stood there, shuffling my feet.
Stench of death?
Was that an insult? Or did it make me more valuable?
I had decided to find out. “And why, lord uncle, do you not let me serve under your standard? I would do you proud. You hint, but do not give an answer,” I had asked. “I saw Ansgar, and he didn’t look at me. It was no god’s breath that made him look away, but shame and sorrow. You said “no,” when he asked you for me.”

And he, reluctantly, had answered. My voice no longer sounded like his, because I was enraged, but still I mimicked him. “A warband, Adalwulf, is a tight knot of brotherhood. I decide what we do, as dictated by Oldaric, of course, or his family, and they respect me enough to obey me. They object little, and they do so because I feed them, take care of their families, praise them, and make them famed men who hear their names sung in the halls of their fathers, but the men are one, and learn to love those who are ablest. And one day, I will be gone, and who shall they turn to?”

And that was the reason.

I was more able, more promising than Ansgar.

Had he not asked a vitka about it?
The vitka had warned him. It was his warband, his to do with as he wanted, and when he died, he didn’t want to see his brother’s son take it over, no matter if he had grown richer by his brother’s estate.

“I see,” I had said, seething inside. He had seen I understood and hated the reason, and he had waved his hand weakly, half sorry, half determined to air it all, as I had called the bear out of its hole.

“There are thousands of men in Mattium, Adalwulf. Dozens of warlords, ring-givers, and I’m sure you will find one that pleases you. I can help you find one, indeed,” he had said, bothered. “You could be happier there.”

“I’ve lived with you and your men for—“

“With
my
men, indeed,” he had interrupted and scratched a dog, and I had felt insulted by the fact the mutt received attention and favor, when I was being robbed of all of it. “I’ll not have you lead them,” he said plainly.

A sprit had whispered to my ear, and it was called Malice. “And if I choose Sigimar?” I had asked him, unwisely.

That old lord was a deadly Chatti rival, and Germain and he had more feuds between them than Donor had with the Jotuns. Blood had been spilled for decades in the woods and hills, and while the Thing often settled such disputes between rivals, and Oldaric’s rulings carried a lot of weight and the spells of the vitka determined rights and wrongs, Germain would hate his rival forever. He had lost a flock of cows to the lord, once, years past, and I should have known better than to twist his tail in such a manner.

“Then,” he had eventually said thinly, and even the dogs in the hall slunk away, knowing well the tone of their master’s voice, “you will regret it. Find a lord, boy. Even
him
, if you will, but expect no quarter for our shared blood if one day you meet us in battle. Your father, my brother, will weep in Asgaard, but this is how it will be. You are grown up, and know what’s what, well enough, no? You choose, choose wisely, and I might one day forgive you.”

I had stood there, swallowing my anger, and did, finally. I had been left empty, shivering, and lost. I had reached out with a sudden, final thought. “And will you give me the horse and land my father held before? Even some of it? I could start with that.”

He had snorted and wiped his brow. He had considered it, but Germain was also a greedy man, and Father’s hall had been set amidst rich, fertile woods and fields. He spoke harshly, “And what would that teach you, Adalwulf? To start rich? No, you father would have wanted you to find your own way, to build a life that was your own. Expect nothing but toil and work. And the horse, Adalwulf, Snake-Bite? It stays with your cousin, because why should I make you so mighty, if you think about joining my enemy?”

And that was all there was to it. I shut my mouth as I rode, wondering if the Quadi’s advice about speaking all of that aloud would ever really help me accept the righteousness of my actions, because all it did was to make me confused.

I had stalked out of the hall, and had sat by a small steam all that evening. When the anger still hadn’t abated, I had gone up the hill, waited until the men were feasting, and took the horse for a ride.

And I was still riding.

A thief.
I should not feel sorry.

But I was sorry.

Gods cursed man with conscience, and they had none for themselves.

No, I’d not turn back. I’d carry the shame, and suffer it.

I let the horse move again, towards what I thought was west. I couldn’t be sure. I had never been that far from home. I had passed the Quadi lands, watching the northern hills of the Matticati with trepidation. Even if the tribe was a shoot-off of the Chatti, they were friends to few Germani, and often raided the lands of the Quadi and the lands I rode, where untamed men made a living. One night, I had seen burning hall far ahead, heard whoops of the Matticati. The next morning, I crossed the river to south, swimming by the horse, braving some strong current, and came to the lands of the Marcomanni, a Suebi tribe and allies of the Quadi, but far more powerful.

It took days, but I was sure I had nearly reached the river that kept Gauls and Germani apart, and also kept the Roman power at check, the Rhenus River. I was on my way to the banks of that river, where the Marcomanni lived, and for the northern gau that was ruled from a hill, the Hard Hill, the former home of the legendary Aristovistus, the hero once defeated by the famed Roman, Caesar God. There men with no homes often found one, with the Bordermen. I spat away my remorse, and hoped to find peace ahead, but it would not come easily.

The Marcomanni were rich, it was evident. I rode across fine, ripening fields, all swaying with rough barley, and saw many villages in the distance. Amidst woods and lakes, there were pastures full of cows, and some wheat fields. My horse whinnied and warned me of a possible danger, and I held my framea—a thin-tipped short spear ideal for melee and throwing both—steadily, turning to look around, and spotted a homestead I had missed.

Bearded men on horses herded some small cows lazily across a stream near it. I guided my horse expertly around some boulders, keeping distance to the Marcomanni guarding their flocks of cows. I cursed myself for a fool, and stuck the spear under my thigh and balanced the shield before me as I started to twist my hair into a knot. Most Suebi wore such a thing, often braided carefully, some decorated richly, and the more elaborate the knot, the higher the man. The Marcomanni would see my hair, long and wild, and uncut at forehead. The Chatti often cut it only after killing their first man. They would know I was not a Suebi, not from their lands, but a stranger. As I was tall and blonde, with wide shoulders and piercing blue eyes, they’d remember me. If the Chatti sent men to find me, I didn’t want to seem too conspicuous.

I managed to twist a loose knot in place, and saw some of the Marcomanni had guided their horses near a stream, staring at me. I grabbed my shield and the spear and hailed the men, who now held spears tightly. I knew I would have to be careful. The men were tense, and didn’t hail me back. Perhaps they had been raided recently. Cow theft was one of the ways to make a man rich in the lands of the Germani, and horse theft was probably as lucrative for a thief. I was no threat to the men, and they knew it. I might be a scout for the neighbors of these men, or even one for a large scale war party aiming to wreck terrible havoc in the land.

The men finally pulled their horses away and whistled for their dogs, which I only now noticed running ahead and behind me. While my hair was now twisted with the unfamiliar Suebi knot, I’d not easily fit in. The Chatti were not Suebi. Our gods were mostly the same, though spirits, ancestors, and many of our stories were our own. Their habits and speech were subtly different. Where Chatti lived amongst the mountains, stretching to the north where the Cherusci and the Sigambri lived in the flatter lands, the Marcomanni were living near savage enemies at the edge of the Black Forest. Here, the Marcomanni, the Bordermen, ruled with an iron fist, the only Suebi nations to live here, so far in the east, the scions of great Aristovistus. They lived in the junction of the rivers Rhenus and Moenus, and across the river, the Germani Vangiones, ruled by Rome, lived amidst Roman legionnaires, Mediomactri and Treveri Gauls.

I might not fit in, but as a stranger, I would be in a large company. Many men like me trekked there, they said, for the land of the opportunities, where war lords sought men to raid rich Gaul lands. And not only across the river, the Marcomanni warred in the Matticati hills, and raided far southern lands, where few lords ruled. The Black Forest ringed the land, the rich pastures littered it, and I stared hungrily at earthy halls, where smoke rose to the heights of the skies. My nose picked up scents of gruel, and I also made out the scent of some sort of wheat bread, lentils, and even roasted meat. Worst of all, I could smell the beguiling aroma of sweet mead. I was starving, having not eaten well since the Quadi lands, and cursed my crumbling belly.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and straightened in the saddle. Even Snake-Bite’s ears perked up, as if it had sense my excitement.

Because far in the distance, a hill could be seen.

It was hazy, partly wooded, and streams of smoke surged lazily from many points. Brown smudges around it hinted at halls and villages, and it was clear there was a major settlement in sight.

I stopped the horse by a small stream, where it bent its neck to drink, and noticed a man riding near. He stopped to look at me, and I nodded at him. “Hard Hill?” I asked as the Marcomanni guided his mount closer, two ugly hounds jogging next to his horse, and both eyed me with curiosity, their tails wagging.

He nodded, and I bowed to him in greeting, and he stopped to admire my horse, smacking his lips. Then he turned to look at me, and despite my disheveled condition, he nodded at me respectfully. “Now there is a man with a dangerous glint in his eyes, eh? Come to find work? You will.” The man, a Marcomanni of advanced years, cocked his head at me. “May Frigg smile on you, and, yes, that is Hard Hill.”

“And you, old man,” I answered. “I’ve ridden a long time to find it”

He nodded, and inspected the braid in my hair. “I’ve seen better braids and knots, and yes, most of you restless men try to make one. I saw you were talking to your horse as well. You sane in the head? Just making sure.” He smiled at me disarmingly.

“I … was having an argument with myself,” I said sheepishly. “I’ve been riding alone for a while. I’m not dangerous, at least, I don’t think so.”

“Not dangerous? Good, good. Where do you hail from? Not nearby, unless you are riding in circles, talking to yourself?”

I shrugged. I waved my hand over to the north, then east. “Lands not that far, but far enough.”

“You are a Chatti,” he chortled. “You smell like a Chatti.”

I stiffened with indignation. “And
what
does a Chatti smell like?”

He roared with laughter, and his dogs started yapping excitedly. “Pride and blood.”

Mollified, I spoke to him with a grin.
Pride and blood, indeed.
He had an easy manner, and I had missed speaking to men who treated you with respect. Snake-Bite was a very silent companion. “I’m from Mattium,’ I told him, and he nodded in thanks for my openness.

“Herold of Highwater,” he answered, and waved his hand behind him, where Highwater apparently was nestled in the woods. “You really came to the right place, boy. Our lords are fully aware the savage reputation of the Chatti. Many are often granted access to a lord’s warband.”

“I’m seeking such a man.’

“And men seek you,” he stared at me and stroked his beard. “But what kind of warlord, I wonder. You look young,’ the Marcomanni noted. ‘Have you fought in a shieldwall yet?”

“I’ve—“ I said, and then swallowed. I shook my head, and the old man roared with friendly laughter and slapped my knee to reassure me.

“Your hair is uncut. Don’t the Chatti cut it when they kill a man? Your forehead should be clear if you are a killer, no?” he asked mirthfully.

“Well—“ I said, brushing the offending hair aside.

He smiled and waved down my discomfort. “Have not. Never mind, young lord. Perhaps one of the lesser Marcomanni lords will have you, if you are not quite ready for the tall ones yet. They are most all there for the feast and the Thing of Balderich. It’s the time of the year they all travel to the Hill.”

“Who are they? Whom should I approach? You say some coming man?”

The man shook his head to calm me down, and I slumped in my saddle as the man pondered the answer. I remembered the great Things of the Chatti, where all the free men would gather at the end of the feast months to hail the gods, celebrate the harvests, and to give oaths and settle feuds with wergilds, or spear. In Mattium, the grand oppidum, much like the settlements many Celts lived in, the hill-fort of the eastern mountains, it was also the time when men sought service. Few found a lord, if they had not served in war or raid before. A fameless man would be competing with others like him, and many lied about their deeds. Most, in fact.

Mayhap being a thief is enough, and I’ll not shame myself more
, I thought, as I had not been able to lie to the man about my ability and past. It was possible I just needed practice. A day more of hunger would do it, perhaps?

The old Marcomanni smiled at me, and shooed his dogs away. He fished a bit of meat from his saddle and handed it to me. I took it gratefully, despite the astonished looks of the departing dogs. He spoke on. “You should think about it, young man. Take your time. Stay. Or perhaps you should go home.”

“You know nothing of my home,” I told him stiffly. “I’d rather not think about that option. It’s not an option, in fact.”

He rubbed his neck, embarrassed. “Home is where people miss you, eh? No matter what you’ve done.”

I pushed the remorse away. They wouldn’t miss me there, not after I shamed them. “Are there, or are there not, lords here I might serve one day?” I pressed on, chewing the meat ponderously.

He shrugged. “As I said, you will find some lesser lord. A captain who leads men for the warlords. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t go for the higher men first. Try! There are the southern lords in the Thing, Isfried the Glum. Melheim, his brother, and one more brother I’ve never seen. Drinks too much, they say. Burlein! Now I remember. In the south, their family holds sway, and their gau is prosperous enough. And perhaps far from the Chatti as well, if that is what you desire, since you seem to think none will miss you in Mattium?”