February 2017 - Prologue
A PEACEFUL VILLAGE ON THE COAST OF THE DALE - WORLD PLOT
Jarl Gunther stood in the bow of his long ship, one hand resting the snarling wolf figurehead and the other raised into a fist. The salt spray misted his face every time the bow of the ship slammed against another cresting wave. He loved this feeling like life itself. His ship racing across the water, square sails billowing, rowers pulling at their oars, the beating drum like a throbbing pulse, and his heart filled with a lust for battle.
The sun rose behind him painting the sky the color of red. Surely this was a sign. Ahead of him, along the coast, was some sleepy little Dale town, hugging a small harbor, such a tempting target, a way to blood his fleet without any real risk or danger. Three long docks, a half dozen warehouses, an Inn or two in the center of town promised to provide some wealth. The score of small homes, twirling smoke from their chimneys would provide the entertaining sport.
Seven ships comprised his raiding force, over a hundred men and shield maidens, the largest gathering in more than two hundred years. Not since Guildhall had forced the King of Asgarn to sign the hated treaty that denied them their birthright. This raid would be the first of many and usher in a new Age for the people of Asgarn. For too long had his people suffered, scratching their rocky soil for food and living life in poverty and starvation. Now once again the nation of Asgarn would be rich with plunder. The larders would be filled with food and their children would grow strong with the nourishment.
Ahead, in the town, a church bell began to ring. There was a tone of desperation in its sonorous pitch. A lookout had seen his ships, and sounded the warning, but it was too late for them, the prow of his long ship was already sliding up onto the sandy beach. He lifted his shield and ax and leapt over the rail. Two dozen battle cries behind him let him know that he was not disembarking alone, then as the other ships landed on the beach, the cries of these additional voices rose to an indecipherable roar that did not even sound remotely human.
Up the beach they charged, armed with shields, axes, spears, and sword, a violent mob intent on murder and mayhem. A man in robes came toward them, his hands raised in supplication. “Please, please, let us pay you a ransom. There needs to be no killing. By the Five we’ll cooperate.”
Gunther’s axe cleaved the fool’s sternum in two. The robed man fell, gurgling blood and asking, “Why?” Gunther paused, narrowed his eyes, and whispered to dying man whose life’s blood was spreading in a pool around him. “We seek no more gifts or charity. Asgarns will no longer depend on handouts from rich nations like the Dale. What we take will be earned with blood, as it was done in the old days before Guildhall forced my ancestors to accept peace.”
His raiders swept past him, surging into the town, a flood of armored flesh and razor-honed steel. They broke through bolted doors with ease, chopping the wood to splinters with their axes. He listened to the screams and the begging pleas from within the quaint cottages. He smiled as his raiders came out of the houses with bloody weapons and heavy sacks filled with plunder. This was a good day.