Chapter 1: Lands Uncharted We were on a raid on the borders south of our clan's newly conquered territory. Under King Hrothgar, the united Clan Armies had crossed the narrow sea and conquered the near coast, allowing the clans to raid further inland.
Eager for more gold and slaves, I took just under one hundred soldiers with me—warriors, blooded thralls, and some three-dozen shield-maidens. We moved slowly and cautiously through this uncharted territory.
Five days march into uncharted territory we started encountering scattered farms and homesteads. First one, then two, then three. Each location was scouted during the day then taken in the night when everyone was asleep. A barking dog spoiled our attack on one farm, but my men had the house surrounded and none escaped. We killed the elderly, diseased, and feeble, and took the rest as slaves. They were tied to the back of our wagon train as we marched further into enemy territory, for I did not want to commit any of my forces to escorting them back so soon in the raid.
Those that could not keep up were killed. We took a small village with three families on the sixth day. They had posted no watch and the only weapons we found were hunting bows.
Clearly, these people had known peace for far too long. I decided we would use this point as a resupply base. These lands were hot and my men needed rest and water. The slaves we had taken thus far were locked inside one of the houses, and we camped for the night.
One of the farmers told us of a town called Zavala some five days away. The man said it was a local trade hub, by far the largest town for many leagues. He knew that they kept a garrison of warriors, but was unsure of their numbers. The villagers were totally uneducated, and none could give me any more useful information.
I left a half dozen warriors to defend the outpost. I sent two riders back towards the coast to gather horses and carts so we could haul away any loot we found. The rest of my warriors broke camp early in the morning, and I drove them on through the night. At noon on the third day, Baldar, my best scout, reported back to the column that he had spotted a large fishing village on the banks of a river. We made camp that night a few hours march from the village.
After a short rest, I went to scout the town with Baldar and Inger and we arrived before first light. Creeping slowly through the wood line, Baldar pointed out a small rise on the side of town opposite the river from which we could overlook the town.
The forest thinned near the rise as trees gave way to tall grass and we were forced to crawl the rest of the way on our bellies. We spotted two solitary sentries on our way there. They were both in stationary in locations that were out in the open and had limited field of vision.
I stopped and took a good first look at our enemy's warriors. One sentry was a teenage boy, not yet fully mature. The other was also young—a girl with a ponytail and developing breasts. They were dressed in simple woven cloths, the boy wearing pants and a loose shirt, the girl wearing a skirt and bra. Both were armed with spears—an odd choice for a sentry. It seemed then that sentry duty was for the weak and inexperienced and was intended to ward off wild beasts, not trained killers.
It took two more hours to reach the top of the rise. By then, the sun was newly risen in the sky. The town sat a few hundred meters north of the banks of a massive, slow-moving river. The land sloped gently down on all sides towards the village and the riverbank. There were gardens on the three sides of the town facing land, tall rows of grain on the west and northwest sides. This place was significantly larger than I had bargained for.
Nearly a hundred wood and thatch buildings were grouped around a large central square. Nearly three-dozen small boats were lined up on the rocky beach, their owners just starting to make ready to cast off.
I could see at least two hundred people, but judging by the size of the buildings, there were probably closer to three hundred people living here total. A band of 25 warriors drilled in front of the barracks on the east side of the square. Men and women practiced thrusting and jabbing with a spear, while others fired bows and arrows at hay targets. There were also more sentries.
All but two (including the ones we saw earlier) were posted by the boats and near the shore. A small observation tower commanded a good view up and down the river. Clearly, this village had experienced threats from the river, probably pirates.
At least there wasn't a palisade. We stayed hidden and observed as the sun rose high. Children played on the beach and in the streets. Merchants sold wares from stalls in the market along the north side of the square.
Young trainees came to the barracks to train and wrestle, some abandoning their clothes in the sweltering heat. I didn't blame them; many of my own warriors had started going into battle without their leather and mail armor, believing that going into battle without the protection of armor was better than going into battle exhausted by the heat.
Teens and young people rotated in and out of training throughout the day. I frowned. A town full of trained warriors would be very problematic for us.
But as the day wore on, I saw no adults training besides those that came in and out of the barracks. It seemed that while all the townsfolk receive rudimentary weapons training as children, most didn't maintained those skills as adults. Responsibility for the Zavala's defense lay with the soldiers—maybe 30 or so—that lived in the barracks. By noon, I had seen enough. There was too much loot in this town to pass up this chance. Not slaves, those were a dime a dozen these days; it was the gold, trade goods, and salt that I wanted.
Despite our numerical disadvantage, I reckoned we could take the town. The enemy were expecting an attack from the water—they were totally unprepared for a land-based attack.
Although the enemy had many warriors, they were armed with inferior weapons and I had seen no armor. If all went well, my small party could achieve surprise and cripple any organized resistance.
Baldar, Inger, and I crept back down the rise and back into the forest as the sentries changed shifts. We arrived back at the camp in the late afternoon. I immediately summoned my lieutenants and began the briefing.