Loki's Laugh [IC] - Zombies in 9th Century Denmark
*(Collaboration between various players)
Korsør is a corpse and we’re the vultures...
It was a bleak thought for a gray day where the billows of fog blanketed the lowlands of Sjealland and obscured the sight of those who wandered through it. The Draugr didn’t care about day or night, but these days, they all had a natural fear of the dark -- the Draugr didn’t care, but Men still did.
There were really two villages, one shrouded by the fog and the other above it, and the decision was made to stick to the upper village, with its sight lines -- Bjorn might have preferred another day, but the situation of supplies meant running the risks of less visibility rather than wait until a clearer day came, if it ever did.
They needed the fish, they needed the butter and they needed the other supplies they could find. They needed what would let them weather a winter, and that meant pillaging the ships, among other things. Wood, rope, nails, barrels, weapons...whatever they could grab quickly. A line of wagons waited, guarded by the strongest men, so that it would get back no matter what. The others, and Bjorn included himself in this, scouted carefully, silently, fearing that any corner might hold the Draugr. They had to spread out, they had to look into homes and barns and cellars for butter, cheese, rye oats, dry peas, salted pork...foodstuffs.
But Bjorn and Loker and a few of the other men, led by Ulf, a man of the village, were going for what he considered the real prize; a row of huts along the salt marshes, not even in the village proper. They were angular and small, wooden, but they held the supply that Bjorn wanted most. Others were looking for food and weapons, things of value, but Bjorn was relying on the knowledge of others, their wisdom on this. They were scouting the way for a wagon that would break off from the main column and come through and take the barrels on board.
But every step through this place was fearful -- some of the homes were burned out shells, a mute testament to the violence of the draugr onslaught and the terror it inspired. It wasn’t the draugr that burned these, because they were unable to think, but terrified people thinking that the infection spread like some sort of plague, by foul air. It was to be expected -- they were terrified and it wasn’t understood -- but it was also a waste. Even burned out, these homes might contain Draugr in their cellars, waiting in the dark to be released. They made as little noise as possible, lest they be heard, lest the Draugr begin the howling, and more came in response to the howls.
Others thought that the task he gave himself was a waste, but he was taking Freya’s counsel on this -- the woman lived many a winter and knew how to prepare a household to survive it. Salt to preserve, she’d said. And it made a certain sense -- Salt would preserve all the food they might eat. Without the salt, the food would go bad, but with the salt, they might live through the fall and winter, and store as much food as they could find if the Draugr came to besiege them. His father’s words rang in his ears keep them alive, my son as a counterpoint to the admonition of salt. He had so many mouths to feed, so many people on Trelleborg that were looking to him to do what he must. And some of them thought they would have his father’s hall -- the Jarl was gone, the son is green, and the strong must rule.
But his father ruled in strength and he still fell to the Draugr. The people that came to Trelleborg were a mixed bag. His mixed bag. Some were well armed and armored, others were not -- Loker had a mail shirt and an axe and shield, all well-kept, while Bjorn eschewed the shield in favor of a spear and sword, leaving his bow behind -- the fog blanketing the place said much for the fact that he wouldn’t see anything beyond a few yards anyway. The sword was his father’s, engraved and the hilt decorated with a few precious metals, though not so much to destroy the balance. It was good Ulfberth steel, his father’s own blade that came from his father, lovingly kept, supple and strong. But it was the spear he relied upon against the Draugr -- they were not fast, but a boar spear, it seemed to Bjorn, had the advantage of holding them back with the strong crossbar on the head, giving him a chance to shove whatever it held back. The draugr were hard to kill, it seemed, but they were slow and Bjorn did not think it wise to get too close. Like the housecarl, he was armored, but it was in a cuirass of lamellar scales, a foreign gift given to his father in one of the many different gift exchanges that went on in the man’s lifetime.
Arms and armor were not all that reassuring for Bjorn, but nonetheless the group picked their way through the burned out homes, the mud squishing underfoot, as they made their way toward the lapping water of the harbor down below them, all in the name of salt. They stopped, they paused, they looked, they listened to the wagon behind them, not too far, creaking and groaning as it made through the streets, tense as as a cat sensing a rock about to be thrown, knowing that if any sound drew the Draugr, this would be it.
Salt to preserve. No one had touched these huts, by the look of it, but who, running, thought to get barrels of salt? He had every reason to trust old Freya’s counsel, but it wasn’t easy to explain to a bunch of warriors the necessity of taking an old woman’s advice. But he managed to convince Loker and a few others that followed him out of deference to the dead Jarl. That was enough. Inquiries led him to Ulf, who knew the village well; he knew where the salt was; the edge of the village, near salt marshes, sitting low. Bjorn didn’t know the secrets of salt, but he knew that old Freya was wise in the ways of keeping alive through a harsh winter. He knew that she knew how to keep food on a table, and he trusted that…
Faolan sat in the wagon, his handsome face grim and aged beyond his years. The Irish thrall ran a hand through his short dark hair and then tugged at the thick braided leather slave’s collar he wore. At least it was an improvement over the iron one he wore when he belonged to Jarl Haraldsson of Hraefenheim. Sigrid had removed it when he came to be at Ragnarsson household but the metal had left rub marks on his skin that likely would never fade. He did not care, they were hardly the worst scars his slight body bore.
He was here to run for salt, like the rest of them and had been entrusted with a spear but not much else. The air was cold, he wore a dull brown wool tunic that was too big, shoulders hung down and he had to roll up the sleeves but it was warm. His master was there, Ragnar would not miss a chance to fight the enemy.
When the wagon halted, Faolan jumped out with everyone else, clutching the spear he had carried since they fled the farm. He had killed draugr and bigger, better men than he had fallen to the demons. The Irishman stepped forward, his thin leather boots squelching in the mud. He looked at the empty huts and reluctantly crossed himself. He and God had not been on good terms for quite a while but in the presence of this new horror he found himself falling into that old habit ingrained in him since he was a child.
He did not wait for orders, the headstrong slave darted off into the reeds that lined the marshy land around the huts. Faolan trusted his own light feet to carry him swiftly and silently, unburdened by one of the noisier, heavier armored warriors. Spear in hand he slipped up to the first unburned hut. This would do, he would grab what ever he could find and high tail it back to the wagon.
Cautiously, he peeked inside. It was dark and empty but for several casks of sea salt. Slowly he crept inside, his spear held ready, but he heard nothing but the distant sound of the waves lapping at the shore. He could smell the brine and mud but none of the rotting, musky odor of the draugr. Faolan rocked one of the barrels, it was heavy, he could not lift it with one hand or even two. He would have to roll it and that meant putting down his spear. He sighed. He would need help. The thrall stuck his head outside of the hut and looked around to find the closest member of the scavenging band.
Vigi had never seen such a large group of men be so silent before in his life. Words were only spoken in the softest of voices and eyes would never rest upon one spot for too long.
Vigi was no different, as he walked along side one of the wagons his eyes constantly ran over the landscape in search of signs of the Draugr. He liked to believe that with his past experiences with trapping that he could tell which tracks were fresh and which weren’t.
The spear he was holding felt awkward in his hands, he rarely handled weapons larger than a knife but this was a necessity. He just hoped that there would be no need to use it.
When they were before their goal he felt a mixture of relief and anxiety. Relief that they had made it safely; anxiety because there could be Draugr lurking in the huts. The wagon had barely come to a stop before someone made a move toward the huts. It took him a moment to recognize the thrall that had been riding in the wagon until this point. He took a step forward in the soft ground and stood on the tips of his toes so he could better see what would happen as the slave went inside.
He waited for the sound of chilling howls or pain filled screams but neither happened. The others began to move upon the huts as well and Vigi followed, making his way to the hut the slave had gone into. He nodded his head to the slave when he emerged from the hut unharmed and brushed past him to step inside. The casks of sea salt were too large for him to lift alone and he looked to the thrall. Looking him up and down found his earlier suspicions had been correct. He was shorter but other than that he wasn’t that much larger than himself and he sighed through his nose.
“The two of us should be able to carry it.” He said, keeping his voice as low as possible. He felt awkward ordering another man’s slave so he tried to make it sound as though it wasn’t an order.
Faolan glanced up at the seidrmadr and eyed him suspiciously. He was far too pretty to be a man and it was disconcerting. The beads and rune carved bits of bone around his wrists and in his hair lent themselves to his strangeness. The slave had long accepted the Norse oddities, in the end they were not too different than his own people were before the coming of the Church. This one though, this Vigi, was peculiar even to his own people.
“Aye, let’s make this fast,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.