The Coming Storm
In the northern sea, a weeks sail from the northern coast of the Lysh highlands, spanned the Nordic Isles. Cold and unforgiving, much like the people that inhabited them.
Seven tribes ruled these isles, and the waters that surround them. Over the centuries the tribes had contested against one another, time and again, with sword and axe for lands and resources. These countless years of war and the harsh nature of the lands around them made the tribesmen and women of the isles strong and resilient. A people who value strength and honor above all else.
In the summer months, food would be grown and animals raised, to sustain them through the long and harsh winters. For generations this was the way of life, and while it was not easy, determination and grit saw them prosper and grow. fortresses and mighty halls where carved out of the very stone they lived upon. Cities where built and walls to protect them, they crafted beautifully detailed longboats to carry them into battle and beyond. Temples to the gods where raised atop the tallest mountains and while battle and war where a constant presence between the tribes, life marched on.
For a time life in the isles was simple.
But peace never lasts.
To the south, beyond the highlands and beyond the Kingdom of Lyse. South and east across the Shallow Sea, an empire was stirred by tales of dragons and gold. Of conquest beyond measure, to the north of Lyse, in the Nordic Isles.
The young Emperor of Mour was drawn to these tales, and the fantasy they held, and against his council he ordered his armies north, across the Shallow Sea. A legion of thirty thousand warriors, many young and untested, fell upon the isles. The warriors of the seven tribes where strong and tempered by generations of war, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of the invading force, that arrived at their doors unannounced. For a time the tribes held ground, winning battles at sea to save their homes on land, but between fighting each other and the invading legion, defenses where beginning to sway. At first it was small islands, lost to the victorious invaders, and then larger settlements and before too long the seat of a tribe was lost.
Never before had the Chieftains of the tribes fought such a foe, for the safety of their people and their way of life, a meeting was called. A Grand Thing, an assembly of the Chieftains and their councils, and at this first Grand Thing a pact was made, and sealed in blood. The armies of the allied tribes converged and with their unification the legion of Mour was crushed.
Thirty thousand souls sailed into those northern isles. Only a few hundred sailed home.
And in their wake retribution came.
The allied tribes pulled together every ship and every sword, every warrior that could swing a sword, and for the first time in a millennia tribesmen and women left the seclusion of their isles. The beating of drums carried them south, past the highlands and Kingdom of Lyse, across the Shallow Sea. And as their longboats ran ashore those sandy beaches, the horns of war sounded, and the empire of Mour paid in blood for their Emperors folly.
The fields where burned and salted, the towns and villages razed, cities fell and fortresses crumbled. The people of Mour where slaughtered like sheep, soft from years of complacency. The remaining legions of Mour met the Viking horde on fields of battle across the small empire. And although their numbers far outweighed the tribesmen of the isles, their prowess in battle was found lacking. A season of war ended with a young Emperor swinging by a rope from atop his palace balcony. His lifeless eyes looking out over a burning city as his corpse swayed in the wind.
With their bloodlust sated, the warriors of the allied tribes returned to their isles, and for the first time in their history knew peace.
But with peace comes complacency, and boredom. Centuries of fighting had created a culture centered on honor in combat, without strife between the tribes, a new outlet was found. Dragons.
The creatures had always been a presence in the isles, seen flying overhead or sometimes large groups inhabiting island without people. Rarely did they cause any trouble, but when they did where fearsome to behold. Instead of fighting one another, brave warriors would seek out and fight the mightiest dragons the isles had to offer. driving them from their nesting grounds. Overtime the dragons became more difficult to find, where once you could find them in abundance now there where none. The tribes celebrated the defeat of the beasts, reveling in their sport.
They would pay dearly for that bloodlust.
The dragons had been driven north from their ancestral homes in the isles, into the clutches of a greater evil. A monster like no other, mutated and wrong. An affront to the gods themselves.
They longed for war, and so it came, and brought with it fire and death.
At first the attacks where small, a dozen dragons, a few burned buildings and some missing sheep. But as the months and years rolled by, the attacks went from rare to common, in the summer months an attack at least twice a month at every large settlement and city in the isles. Their only reprieve the harsh winter months.
Prosperous times in the isles where over, every day a struggle to survive, every year a milestone, every night without fire and death a gift. But the tribesmen and women of the isles were resilient people, born of generations of war and conflict, the dragon war would wage on for hundreds of years. Until a coming storm would drown out the fire.
And so our hero's story begins.
A heavy fog, thick and cold, surrounded their ships and obscured the surrounding waters that lapped calmly at their hulls lending to the atmosphere an eerie quality that was only intensified by the deafening quiet that rang out around them. Five ships, two hundred and fifty seasoned warriors, a small army from the most well respected tribe in the isles. They radiated confidence in every word, every action, and yet a feeling of dread seemed to reach into every soul present. The feeling was often called the coming storm a sixth sense, a warning of ill fortune to come. And yet they sailed forward, the orders of a commander eager to make his name, throwing caution to the wind. And what a storm it would be.
A slight breeze graced her face, causing a shutter to run through her body, she looked around her to the faces of the men and women she had fought with her whole life. Some older, some younger, but all as trustworthy and steadfast as the last. Her ship, her warriors, her pride and the opportunity for glory and battle. An opportunity to test her metal against a foe she had never faced before. And yet every fiber of her being screamed at her to turn back, to hell with Snotlout and his pride, this just didn't feel right. But honor stays her hand, she's a Hofferson, and her Chief gave his orders. She will follow through, or die trying, it's who she is. Who her people are.
The deck boards creak as someone approaches her from behind, the noise a stark contrast to the silence around them, pulling her from her thoughts.
"I feel it too, the coming storm, I can see it all around us. We're not the only ones feeling it, you should say something to Snot"
"I have Ruff, but he's confident that we'll be fine." She turns at the sound of the other woman sighing in a quiet frustration.
"He's going to get us all killed Astrid" Ruff says as she leans forward over the prow of the ship looking out into the fog.
"We've fought and killed far worse than raiders and bandits" Astrid says, crossing her arms and turning her back to the prow looking back at her warriors slowly pulling the oars through the still waters, moving them closer to their fates.
"Aye we've fought dragons our whole lives, but dragons aren't people, they don't plot and plan. They may be worse but that doesn't make them less dangerous." Ruff says as she turns her head to look upon Astrid with a troubled expression clear on her face.
"The Chief put him in command Ruff, and whether we like it or not, one day he'll be the Chief. If we don't follow him now, he won't trust us to follow him then. We have little choice."
"He should have deferred command to Erickson, he has more experience fighting actual people, more experience leading."
"You're right, it's what I would have done, but there isn't much point in dwelling on should haves and could haves now is there." Astrid replies, giving her friend a pointed look.
"You sound like my Mother" Ruff complains, sticking her tongue out, a harsh reminder of their fading youth.
"And a wise woman she is" Astrid comments, whilst pushing herself off the prow of the ship, clearly preparing to make her way back to the rear of the ship, only to be intercepted by the thunk of an arrow lodging itself into the wood where she was only a moment ago leaning, accompanied by the distinct but distant twang of a bowstring releasing.
Only a heartbeat passes before the storm breaks, and it rains iron tipped death upon the still waters and the five longboats gliding across them. A call for shields to be raised is heard among the dull thudding of arrows on wood, the distant twangs of dozens of bowstrings releasing, the eerie sound of arrows falling into still water like rain dripping into a full barrel, and the pained cries of those unfortunate warriors to be stuck by the unforeseen missiles.
"Shield the rowers, full ahead! We stop we die!" Astrid bellows out as she scrambles back to her feet, making her way to the rear of the ship and the safety of her shield. Another distant collection of twangs is heard, and she called out "SHIELDS" as she dives to the deck seeking shelter under a row of benches, another volley of arrows land around her, more thuds and less pained shouts giving her hope as she gets back on her feet and runs for the stern, watching with pride as her warriors form ranks holding their shields aloft to protect themselves and the rowers pulling their oars fiercely to the quick tattoo of a drum that started after the first call to shields.
As she makes it to the stern of the ship she dons her shield and helmet and draws her axe from her hip, only then risking a glance at the her sister ships, relieved to see that they're following suit behind her vessel. Drums can be heard from the other four ships and the commanding vessel seems to be picking up speed. Another twang is heard, muffled by the sounds of broken water and the quick tattoo of the drums that have synced between the ships, Astrid again gives the warning call "SHIELDS!" just as a she raises her own and crouches against the gunwale another volley lands around her, no shouts of pain this round. Her blood is pumping and her heart is beating in her ears, her grip tightens around the shaft of her axe whitening her knuckles. "COWARDS!" she screams out into the fog.
Minutes pass, and the only sound making its way through the fog is the splash of oars and the grunts of effort as the rowers keep in time with the quick beat of the drums driving them ever forward. Astrid begins to take stock of her charges. Finding a warrior flat on the deck, with an arrow sticking out of his neck, laying unnaturally in a growing pool of his own blood. Another warrior is on the deck unmoving with and arrow sunk into the eye of her helmet, blood is starting to pool around her corpse. Several warriors have arrows protruding from armor and shields, some bleeding lightly, but none of the living are seriously injured.
From the commanding ship she hears a voice call out across the fog, "LAND AHEAD!", whipping her head back to the prow of the ship she could see the outline of a beach through the fog. "Once we make land, form a shield wall on the beach, tight ranks!" she commands, calls of acknowledgment ring out around her as she checks the straps of her armor while she paces the deck, looking up she makes eye contact with her closest friend, and they share a look of anticipation. Battle is in their blood, whoever they meet on that beach better be ready, they're going to pay for the lives they've taken today.