[SotE] Across the Scandian mountains

Here’s another short fiction piece I whipped up, since it thought the Schoolman deserves something less grim for a change. 

There had been snow in the passes, but the Schoolman had pressed on, happy to leave Hålogaland behind. He was, after all, a veteran of several wars in the North and the danger of the passes did not give him much pause, especially since he was well-provisioned after leaving the Jarl’s court. The Jarl had rewarded him and the rest with almost kingly gifts, most of which he had given away before leaving. 

He was sitting next to his fire and reading his mapbook. According to that, it would be less than a day before he’d leave Giantbreak Pass and arrive in Sweden. If he was reading it right, everything looked the same now that snow covered everything. As long as snow didn’t block the pass, he’d be fine. 

The kitten slept next him. A Karelian merchant in the Jarl’s court had given him the kitten. He appreciated the gesture. Karelians thought that a cat was a home’s soul. The Schoolman had no home of his own, so maybe the kitten would make life on the road more tolerable, he thought.

A rustle from the bushes nearby alerted the Schoolman, who pulled and cocked his pistol. Instead of a troll or owlbear, a confused-looking deer wandered out of the bushes. The Schoolman took aim and shot it. Fresh meat would not be a bad thing, even if dressing it would be dirty work. 

In the morning, the Schoolman took his time preparing food and coffee, because he did not intend to stop before he’d be out of the pass. The deer had made for a rough but tasty stew and the kitten had seemed happy with the Schoolman’s offerings. 

 For once, the Schoolman was in luck. The winds had swept the last leg of the pass clear of snow and there was only a light snowfall going on, so he made good time and could even ride his mule most of the way. The kitten was curled up inside his coat the entire time, only now and then peeking out to watch the view. Finally, the pass came to an end and the hill country of Swedish Bergslagen stretched out below the Schoolman. He realized that he had followed the wrong pass and was a bit further to the north than he had intended, but that didn’t matter. As long as he was out of the Scandians, he’d be happy. 

Somewhere in the distance he could see a trackway and something that might be a village. Since it was beginning to get dark already, he moved on, hoping to find room and board among the farmers. Of course, that’s not how things ever go down. 

He approached the village and saw that there was something strange going on. He could see torches burning in the night and hear someone yelling. Troubled, he moved closer and got off his mule. 

The villagers had tied a badly beaten man to a post and apparently were drinking while carrying bundles of sticks that they heaped around the post. The Schoolman cursed under his breath. He walked into the circle of light and the eyes of those around the man tied to the post turned to him. The kitten meowed inside his coat. 

“So, what are you doing that for?”, the Schoolman asked, knowing the answer.

“The man’s a sorcerer. He has cursed us with disease and he must die”, a woman answered from among the crowd. 

“I don’t think so.”

“You better move on, drifter.”, someone else said. 

“No, I don’t think so.”, the Schoolman said while removing his Schola badge from inside his coat. “I am an agent of the Winged Wizards of Gotland, and I tell you to cut that man free.”

“Just move on, this isn’t your problem. The Winged Wizards have got nothing to do with this.” the woman shouted. 

The Schoolman decided it was time to pull his pistol. It apparently gave some of the crowd who had inched closer to him a start. 

“Cut him down, or there’ll be a fight. And if I die here, Gotland will hold all of you responsible. They will not care what I died for. You’ll all die the same.”  

A few heartbeats passed, and then a burly farmhand cut down the man from the post. He and the Schoolman left together. 

Making camp later that night, the Schoolman questioned the man. His name was Ivar and he was a hedge wizard and the apprentice of a brewer. He had been sent to buy hops from the village but apparently he had arrived at the wrong time. The next day, the Schoolman gave the man ten thalers from his purse and sent him off. The villagers would probably not give chase, so Ivar might well make it back home. The kitten had liked Ivar, so the Schoolman wished him all the best. 

Going across the ice, the Schoolman passed a lake. Up on the ridge to the south he could see the lights of the Last Inn. Haladara and Sigrid were entertaining guests, apparently. They’d probably like the last of the Jarl’s gifts that the Schoolman was still carrying: a bag of black pepper, a bag of salt, an ebony statuette of a seal and some tomatoes. The kitten purred softly. For once, the Schoolman was feeling at peace. 

 

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