(I'm trying to keep these sections to about 1000 words. We'll see how that works.)
Ælfwine Swiđhun watched with satisfaction as his men put the fields to torch. The serfs and coerls had all fled, unpursued. With luck, Ælfine would be ruling this land by years end, and he didn’t want to rule over a barren land because there was no one to work the fields.
He looked up at the castle high on the hill above. It wasn’t really a castle, just a rough attempt at making a proper fortress out of one of the old Anglish bughs. Even with his small force, he could probably overwhelm it. Probably.
But why chance it?
Your fields burn, lady. Soon you will have nothing to feed yourself or your people. Then we will see how stubborn you are.
The gate to the castle opened and warriors armed in the Anglish fashion poured through. Ælfwine blew his horn, summoning his men back. They had done what they came to do. Now it was time to leave, while they could still lose themselves in the surrounding forests.
Mildþryð Rúna tried to stare into the forest the invaders had hidden in. This wasn’t the first Nornish prig to attack her, but so far he was the cunningest. The others, drawn by the Norning kings withdrawal of protection until she was ‘properly’ wed, had assumed a ‘mere female’ wouldn’t be able to stand against even a token show of force.
All had crept home like whipped curs after learning that the daughter of Anglish lord and Dragma warmaid had forgotten none of the lessons of her ancestors.
“Still no sign of their camp?”
Her armsmaster, Wigmar, shook his head. “They’ve crossed over that rocky strip to the south. Don’t know how they didn’t lose a dozen horses to broken legs, but it’s been enough to break their trail. Woodsmen are trying to work their way around the strip and find where they come across it. But it’s a big strip around the slope of the mountain. And we can’t be sure they didn’t leave an ambush, so our people need to move slow. With dark falling, it will take a miracle from the Ancestors to find them.” He made the sign for the Ancestor’s ancient ships.
Mildþryð started pacing. “How likely are they to try this again?”
“If it works for them...”
“Aye.” She was silent for a moment. “Pull our people back, don’t wait for full dark. Let them think we’ve given up.”
He eye’d her speculatively.
“Tomorrow, before first light, get as many of our warriors as you can ready to ambush them as they cross the stone river.”
The old Anglish warrior grinned. “Your mother’s daughter, my lady. I’ll start planning.”
Ælfwine dismounted to lead his horse over the rocks. His favorite mount was already lame. If he wasn’t careful with this one, he’d have nothing left to ride. After a few minutes, his scouts signaled all was clear—there was no sign of the Anglish.
Which was exactly what he expected. But if they were to be ambushed, this would be the spot. Ælfwine wasn’t happy about that, but the alternative to crossing this hell patch, was to risk being tracked and ambushed in camp.
The ambush you knew to expect was always best.
Ælfwine frowned as he led his men out of the scrub and carefully over the rocks. True, the castle was held by a mere woman, but if he continued coming from the same direction she would start setting ambushes. His sister Eveline certainly would have, and by tomorrow at the latest! Though his mother, it would have taken another week or more, and then she would have no idea what else to try.
He hoped Lady Mildþryð wasn’t as foolish as his mother. He’d wed her regardless, but he wanted a wife he could hold a conversation with from time to time.
If she was anything like Eveline, she would soon have her people out on patrol or guarding the remaining farms. He’d need to be prepared for that.
He was deep in plans and halfway across the rocky terrain when dozens of lightly armored warriors on foot charged silently out of the surrounding scrub.
Mildþryð strode along the tower walk at the top of the keep, squinting into the glare of the rising sun. She snorted at her foolishness. As well try to fly as to see through the very mountain.
It had been a risk, setting up an ambush with her warriors on the rocks. But a calculated one. The Nornes were experts at siege and open field combat, but Mildþryð’s people had learned a faster, more brutal form of mountain warfare from the Dragma.
That harsh lessoning might, today, buy their survival for a time.
But after that...