Kukka – The Lady of Soomi

Scartho flag

 

Cempa Aston rode into the fortress at the head of a hundred warriors, he wasn’t expecting trouble but a show of strength would guarantee a peaceful outcome. The D’an soldiers glared at the riders as they trotted in, they had lost a lot of comrades to capture their prisoner and they didn’t much relish handing her over without recompense.

Aston halted his column at the entrance to the hall, the warriors dismounting to form into ranks facing the disgruntled occupants gathered on the open ground before it then he strode in with a tithe of ferdrinc for a bodyguard.

“Well where is this ferocious woman?” he demanded.

“The Flower you mean? She is safely out of harm’s reach, harm to any of us that is!” replied Thor Haldane, the D’an commander, pointing to the ceiling.

Aston followed his gesture to see a wooden cage suspended from a hook in the rafters in which was a woman, unclothed but for smeared war paint. “This lady is of high birth how do you dare to treat her like this?” he said in shock.

“The creature is responsible for the deaths of thousands of D’an and I lost many warriors just to take her in one piece!” Haldane snarled.

“And of course, the D’an have always treated the Soomilek people with nothing but kindness and courtesy?” retorted Aston sarcastically.

Vatkaa kaikki!” the curse echoed from above.

“See how she is still insolent? Hard to believe her name means flower in their cursed tongue!” said Haldane before shouting to her. “You are to be quiet, woman, or I will give you to my men!”

“Bors, let down the cage!” ordered Aston to a burly warrior.

“What…” cried Haldane “I am in charge here, the cage stays where it is.”

“You are only here because of the continuing support of your Cyning’s cousin the Thegn of Scartho whom we serve, you would be well advised to remember that D’an.”

The chief glared as the huge ferdrinc unfastened the rope holding the cage aloft and with one hand, lowered it easily.

“You there!” the Cempa gestured to a glowering woman stood nearby. “Fetch clothes.”

“That is my rightwife Scarthling do not think to order her about…” snarled the D’an chief.

Aston smiled insincerely and bowed his head “I apologise, my lady, will you please bring some clothing for the prisoner?” he requested politely while staring fixedly at Haldane who nodded his acquiescence. “Ebba cut that cage open and help her dress when she is released.” a young cempestre moved towards the cage where Kukka was watching the proceedings with interest.

“What… You are not going to release the she-wolf after all the trouble we went to?” cried the D’an chief.

“I am taking custody of her and she will be taken to our garrison at Purri.” replied the Cempa.

“I will not permit this!” he gestured to men stood about him and they moved forward.

Ten seaxes were drawn as one and the Scartho warriors took an aggressive stance, their shields raised. “Stand your men down Haldane, these are battle-hardened huscarls and this will go very bloodily else.”

Haldane mulled it over and not wanting to suffer Cyning Erik’s wrath for creating enmity with Scartho waved his men back as his wife returned with some garment which she thrust huffily at Ebba.

With Kukka’s dignity restored the Cempa ordered everyone out of earshot and addressed the Soomi chieftain. “Lady Kukka I am to escort you to Purri where you will await the Son of Scartho to discuss this sorry state of affairs.”

Kukka laughed. “So Leofric is coming to visit at last? That will be amusing.”

“He is bringing a treaty with terms and conditions that must be agreed to,” stated Aston looking at her admiringly, even after her mistreatment by the D’an she remained proud and dignified and in spite of Kukka’s dishevelled appearance the Cempa found her very attractive. Leofric, the son of the Thegn, after an initial infatuation with the Soomilek had found her fiery spirit impossible to live with and sought solace with the Brython girl Mim. The Scartho warriors returned to the garrison where Kukka was given better raiment and allowed to bathe then placed under the watchful eye of Ebba.

****

Leofric Da N’tan stood waiting impatiently in the main body of the hall, his former spouse delaying their meeting as an act of defiance “I may be his captive but while I have the slightest choice in this he will see me at my leisure” she related to Ebba, who nervously suggested they join the Son of Scartho below. Finally Kukka relented permitting the cempestre to escort her down the rough wooden steps to greet him “Terve my former husband.”

Wassael Kukka, you are well?” Leofric had forgotten how beautiful she was and felt a brief twinge of regret at their parting.

Kukka bowed her head gracefully. “Well enough, I am being better treated as your prisoner than the D’an’s.”

“Yes, Cempa Aston told me how he found you, he showed great restraint for I would have killed Haldane for treating you like that,” said Leofric.

“Your warrior is a good man and has treated me with nothing but respect whilst I have been his guest” stated Kukka. “I hear that Wassa of the scar is dead?”

“I’m afraid it is true, bad news travels fast even to Soomi it seems.”

“That is indeed sad, I liked her and I understand you have betrothed your bicce?”

“Yes after you left I discovered where she had fled to and I realised how much I…”

“And you are a father too I hear? Kukka fortuitously interrupted. “The Brython bicce wasted no time proving her wamb to be more fruitful than mine,” she added caustically.

“Mim has provided Scartho with an heir that is true but that alone did not cause our marriage to fail.”

“Nej you are correct, Leif, her love for you that did that, I saw how she looked at you even when you brought me from Soomi, what chance did I stand against one so beautiful?”

“I can only apologise for my actions, Kukka you are beautiful too.”

“Not enough it would seem…” she sighed. “Well, what are you going to do, imprison me, put me in a cage like the D’an?”

“No, I am returning you to Upper Soomi, to your Eaglefort.” He replied.

“To Kotilainen-linna, you are not punishing me?” Kukka was surprised.

Leofric produced a pair of rolled parchments and handed one to her. “A new treaty, it’s written in Aenglish and Soomilek.”

She took the scroll and read it carefully. “You are giving me complete control of the land.” Her almond shaped eyes misted over “this more than I could have hoped for, how do you know I will not just start waging war against the D’an once more?”

“I trust you, just sign this treaty and Winchell will escort you to your home.”

“Winchell?”

“Cempa Aston.”

“I don’t like his forename… what of the D’an? They hate me and will surely attack again.”

“Scartho will maintain a garrison at Purri and will patrol a march between Upper and Lower Soomi to keep you and the D’an apart.”

She thought for a while then realisation hit her. “Sweorice backed Hama is to our north and west, the Kalla to our east and now Scartho is keeping us in at the south, this is a clever form of imprisonment for my homeland isn’t it?”

“You will be free to do as you please within Upper Soomi, given the circumstances you would be wise to accept this treaty.”

Kukka reluctantly signed both copies “I will set out tomorrow before the snow comes, can you spare Aston if he cannot return until the thaw?”

“You like him don’t you?” asked Da N’tan.

“He reminds me of a warrior I once knew called Tostig.”

Da N’tan smiled at this. “He is a good fighter and leader but I can spare him if necessary.”

“Thank you Leofric, I will try to keep to the treaty but if the bahstard D’an should break it…”

“Kukka!” snapped Da N’tan.

She smiled disarmingly “I will keep to the treaty.”

****

The next day Aston set out with Kukka and fifty riders, the plan was to follow the western coast road before moving inland upon reaching Hama territory.

“There is a Dragon ship coming to port at a fast pace,” observed Ebba as they rode along the headland. “Do you think it is bringing an urgent message for the Son of Scartho?”

“More than likely Ebba, but our task lies ahead of us regardless,” replied Aston.

“Should we not go back just in case?” she continued.

“Just like a woman to be nosey eh?” remarked Bors with a laugh, Kukka and Ebba both glared.

The column made good time, reaching the border with Hamamaa to set up camp before nightfall. Kukka emerged from her tent to sit before the fire with Aston and Ebba. “It will snow tomorrow,” she affirmed.

“It is cold certainly but snow?” asked the cempa.

“You aren’t from Soomi, we can tell when it will happen,” she stated bluntly.

“Thank you for your warning, Lady Kukka, I will make sure we are prepared,” said Ebba, leaving the pair of them alone.

“Leif told me your name is Winchell, I don’t like it.”

“It is the only name I have my Lady.” He replied.

“I will call you Wyn.” She smiled.

“I prefer Aston.”

“As you wish… so Aston, do you have a woman in Scartho?” asked Kukka.

“No, there is no-one special, my Lady. Do you have someone in Upper Soomi?”

“There is nej shortage of those who would like to be husband to the Lady of Soomi but there are none that take my fancy,” she feigned coyness “Aston you are quite handsome, you may call me Kukka.”

“Thank you my Lady er Kukka” he glanced at her face, she had dark brown almond eyes, typical of the Soomi people, with pale skin and strawberry blonde hair, her lips were full and quite kissable, he broke his reverie. “There is honeyed ale warming by the fire, would you like a goblet?”

Kiitos Aston, we still have over two days ride ahead of us do we not?”

“We do indeed, lady.”

She took the proffered drink “The D’an will come for me when it snows you know?”

“They would not dare attack soldiers of Scartho it would mean war.”

“They will not do it directly Aston, they have Kalla mercenaries who can fight in the snow as well as we Soomi, even your mighty huscarls will be hard put to face them for you and your D’an cousins have little experience of winter warfare.”

“You are not much comfort Kukka I thought to talk of lighter things than this,” remarked Aston.

“There will be time for frivolous chatter later I hope.” She drained her cup, bade him a good night and retired to her tent leaving him to dwell on what the dawn might bring.

****

Kukka’s weather prediction proved to be true and as they rode inland following the border of Hamamaa the falling snow soon became deep. Occasionally one of the horses would lose its footing and stumble so Aston decided to dismount half of the column to lead their mounts allowing them some relief before changing over after a while.

“It must be past midday by now Cempa,” noted Bors. “We should find shelter before the sun sets.”

“I agree” replied Aston. “We are fortunate that the season of the long night is not yet upon us.”

“Remember my words, Wyn” called Kukka from her mount, her brown eyes peeping from under the fur hood she wore.

It was not long before her powers of prophecy were proved right for the second time when warriors dressed all in white and barely visible in the falling snow fell upon them. They shouted no war cry and moved in near silence up to the point of contact, the Scartho ferdrinc who were mounted charged taking a great number on their spear points but the dismounted soldiers had not time to form a shield wall and the fight turned into a bloody melee.

Cempa Aston could see his heavy troops were faring well against the lightly armed assailants but the Kalla were quicker on the red-stained snow and greater in number.

“Aston!” screamed Kukka, he turned to see her fighting off a white-furred attacker with her short dagger, he spurred his steed and speared the man as several more riding sturdy pale ponies approached.

He was joined by Bors who swung his great axe knocking aside one rider’s long spear to neatly sever his head with the return swing “I will hold them Cempa, attend to the Lady.” He shouted on seeing Kukka’s horse taking flight pursued by two of the Kalla mercenaries.

Aston rode as fast as he could, his long-legged horse making a good distance on the Kalla ponies despite the snow, driving his long spear into one warrior he withdrew it and made after the second. Kukka’s horse slipped pitching her onto the ground and the Kalla jumped down to strike her as Aston arrived with spear point low to impale the attacker but upon seeing this, the Kalla nimbly jumped aside to lay a mighty blow on the Cempa’s shield unhorsing him. Aston, getting to his feet tried to parry yet another blow from the man’s iron huge studded club, his shield took most of the force but the weapon glanced over the top and caught him on the helm. The Cempa fell back ears ringing, and through his blurred vision saw the warrior raising the cudgel for the final blow, only to fall back dead as Kukka drove Aston’s dropped spear into his chest.

“Aston, are you alright?” she cried pulling at his dented helm.

“How is it?” he asked as she examined his head.

“You’ll live, I’m glad to say!” and she held him briefly.

“How far did we come?” the snow was whipping round blizzard-like and he could see no distance whatsoever but worse still the horses had gone.

Kukka concentrated “I can’t tell in this squall but we should go this way” she gestured.

“But isn’t that the opposite direction to the horse’s tracks?” he protested.

“Do you have shaman where you come from?”

“Yes but…”

“Then trust me please?” she entreated and they walked on in the driving snow for some distance, the Soomilek could see that the warrior was walking unsteadily “Wyn how are you feeling?”

“Not so good everything’s blurry.” He felt nauseous.

“There is shelter up ahead, not far now.” Kukka took his arm and using his spear as support guided him along.

“How do you know?” he asked weakly.

“I’m a pathfinder, a shaman if you like. This is my land and I can feel things in it, come on rakas.” She pulled his arm and he staggered forward a few steps before falling to his knees and vomiting.

“Leave me Kukka, I’m fucked!” he grasped the hilt of his seax. “Thor, I’m coming to join you in Valhalla, do not stand in my way!” and with that collapsed to the ground.

“Nej!” screamed Kukka as she knelt by him feeling for his pulse. He was freezing cold but still alive. She dragged him as far as she could before sitting down exhausted. “Ukko, you’ve never let me down before, why now?” she shouted to the god of sky and thunder.

Kukka felt something close by and saw a figure approaching through the snow, it was a wizened old man wrapped in fur and wearing snowshoes. He smiled widely and spoke. “Terve, Kukka Teijontytär,” he said. “You are most welcome to my hospitality.”

 

****

Aston came to feeling warm and comfortable under a large fur blanket then carefully touched his head to find a poultice where the Kalla’s club had struck him. He realised he was not alone either for Kukka was under the covers too, as naked as him with her limbs wrapped tightly around his body.

Aston could feel the smoothness of her skin against his “Kukka?” he started.

“Shh!” she whispered. “These good people are asleep, let us not wake them.” they were in a bed behind a blanket stretched across a corner of a large single roomed wooden house and from beyond could be heard snoring. “I told you I was a pathfinder, this is the home of the Takala family and Karl their elder is one also, and it was he who felt my approach. You were so cold when we brought you in that I felt the best thing to do was to share my body warmth with you.” She smiled coyly. “So how does your head feel now?”

“Better but still sore, did you make this poultice?” he said quietly.

“Nej, the old man is also a healer and you, my rakas, have a bad concussion, rest now and let me look after you.” Looking into his eyes she kissed him, then reaching under the covers took his pintel in her hand to feel it grow under her fingers. Aston, now fully awake and aroused, pushed Kukka onto her back to mount her as she brought her thighs up around his waist.

Morning arrived and the weather turned to a full blizzard which meant they were stuck here for the foreseeable future. The mother of the family brought them porridge flavoured with berries which they sat and ate quietly until Aston spoke somewhat sheepishly. “What happened last night, Kukka, I,”

“Did you not enjoy it?” she interrupted.

“You are the leader of the Upper Soomilek and Leofric’s former spouse, I should have shown restraint.”

“You polho, Wyn, do you think I would let you hump me if I did not want it?” she scolded him then smiled. “When we get to Kotilainen-linna I want you to stay there with me, we would benefit from your fighting ability and you could teach our warriors your skills.”

“Just to teach your soldiers?” he asked.

“You could make me your rightwife and hump me as often as you like, perhaps with you at the helm my wamb may yet bear fruit. Of course, I would still be chieftain,” she added.

With little to do but shelter from the driving snow the household fell into a simple routine, they would eat then the old man and his son, who was the father of the young family, would feed the animals in the outhouses where they kept a cow and two horses plus a herd of reindeer enclosed within a sturdy fence outside. Aston helped on occasion while Kukka assisted the mother with the household chores or told stories to their three children. He was delighted to find they had a Tafl board and played both the old man who turned out to be a master strategist and the son who was almost his equal, Aston supposed the Takala were quite a prosperous family, practising forestry and living off the land when the weather was more clement, he wondered if they realised how important their guest was.

The couple were lying together one night when Kukka asked him about the tattoo of Mjolnir on his right arm. “You have the mark of Thor a thunder god like Ukko, is it not unusual for a man of Scartho to have this mark?”

“Not all people of Scartho venerate Tiw of the Iron Hand, a number of us look to Thor for guidance, why do you have no mark to show allegiance to this Ukko?”

“We wear pendants and brooches with his sign upon them, the D’an stole everything I had when they took me prisoner but it is a hammer very much like the one you have on your arm.”

“So Thor and Ukko are the same?”

“Jaa it would seem so, do your women wear Thor’s mark upon their arm?”

“No, they have it here.” He kissed her on the right thigh.

She smiled. “If you come back with me to become my husband and your seed makes me bear fruit like the Brython bicce, I will wear the mark of Thor upon my right thigh.”

“Are you so very jealous of Mim O Dyffryn Gwyrdd and her son?” he asked.

“You are very perceptive for a mere man and an Aenglishman too!” she laughed bitterly. “Jaa I am jealous of her I suppose, after all, she has my former husband and his child, but it is far more important that there is a child to succeed me to continue our struggle for freedom.”

“There’s that dangerous talk again Kukka.”

“Wyn, we are hemmed in north and west by the faithful hounds of Sweorice, we have the barbaric Kalla to our east, the hateful D’an in Lower Soomi and now Aenglish soldiers in the lowlands too. This whole land once belonged to my people and it is my dream to drive out the invaders, one day the Soomilek will be great again and be their own masters, this is a promise I have made.”

“Sweorice is a powerful country and they will take some shifting, the Kalla I suppose could be held back by regular patrols but the D’an… they are our kinsmen and Scartho is obliged to support them.”

“I know this Wyn but I must have this hope, please join with me?”

He put his arms around her. “Kukka I will be your lover, I will train your men in our ways but you must swear you will never take up arms against Scartho.”

Kukka pulled away. “I cannot!” she turned her back to him and they did not make love that night.

The next day saw an end to the snowfall and Aston could now see that the small settlement was built on high ground before a tall forest and would make a good defensive position. Kukka was frosty for most of the day but come the night she lay with him again and they did not discuss her plans for the future.

The next morn they discussed returning to the Eaglefort “I have some silver, I can buy a horse from this family and you can ride while I walk beside you.” suggested Aston.

“Nej you polho, these people are Soomilek they will lend both horses if I ask it and I will return better to them after I arrive home.”

The choice was taken from them when the younger man dashed in exclaiming excitedly. “Kukka, hevoset ovat tulossa!”

Ratsumiehiä, kuinka monta?” she asked.

Viisi” he held up an open hand.

Aston’s command of Soomilek was not good “five… five what?”

“Five horsemen are coming” she replied with concern.” They could be D’an!”

Snatching up his axe and shield Aston ran outside followed by Kukka brandishing the long spear, the two Takala men had picked up their hunting spears to stand nervously behind them while the young wife produced a short bow and stood resolutely in the doorway determined to protect her children.

“Tell them to stay out of this Kukka.” He ordered “and I would rather you stood back too, five… could they stand up to that many? The riders were black silhouettes against the white landscape but as they drew nearer he could see blue painted shields with a black-bird, wings outstretched upon each, the Cormorant of Scartho!

Wassael Cempa,” said a familiar voice as the first rider pulled up her steed, it was Ebba. “We’ve been searching for you since the snow stopped yesterday I knew you couldn’t be far away when we found your horse.”

“Not far away, what do you mean Ebba?”

“You’re scarcely three miles from where we were ambushed, but in that blizzard, we had no idea where you had gone.”

“Are you all that is left?” he asked.

“No Cempa we defeated the Kalla at the cost of nearly half our number then took shelter in those woods yonder till the snow died down. When the snow stopped I determined to seek you out, whether you be alive or dead.”

“I am pleased to see you Ebba and thankfully both the Lady Kukka and I are very much alive.”

“This I am glad to hear but alas I have tidings of terrible portent, that ship I spotted carried an urgent message saying that both Anglia and Brythony have joined with Mercia to attack the Cyning in Wessex, our borders are now besieged by Mercia preventing Scartho from assisting him. If Kenta, Essex and the South Saxons throw in their lot with Cwene Aethelflaed the Cyning will have only Kernow to guard his back, the whole land is in chaos, Cempa, and even Caledonia is mustering troops along the Northumberland border.”

“What of Jorvik? They could sway the outcome one way or the other?” he asked.

“They sit behind their borders waiting to see who wins, sir.”

“We must return to Purri and thence to Scartho, every last man of us will be needed” he turned to Kukka “I’m sorry my love but I must fight for my land.”

“Sir it is worse yet, as soon as the Son of Scartho set sail a mighty force of D’an laid siege to Purri, as they were beginning to flee by sea, a messenger was sent to warn us, we cannot return, they would kill us all.”

“So it is to Kotilainen-linna then, Wyn, you are most welcome to my hospitality,” announced Kukka.

“How many have we Ebba?” asked Aston.

“Outlying patrols have joined us and with the remains of our column we have better than one hundred men many of whom still have their mounts.”

“Ebba we must gather all together and strike out for the Eaglefort as soon as we are able.” He turned once again to Kukka. “You have your wish, not only will you have me if that is still what you desire but a hundred good swords of Scartho will be yours to command, we will build your fortress stronger, train the Soomilek to be mighty warriors and fight alongside them.” he bent his knee to her “I pledge my service to you Kukka Teijontytär and will defend your land to the death.”

“Get up Wyn you are embarrassing me!” she chided…

****

The D’an host approached the fortress warily, they had been harried all the way here, the Soomilek had adopted new tactics since their last encounter, instead of screaming their war-cries announcing their presence to all and sundry, they attacked swiftly and silently on horseback before withdrawing quickly to leave the D’an counting casualties.

Alfarinn of Aros halted his army to study the fortification before him, the Eaglefort as it was known had grown considerably in the years since he had last visited, the outer wall now spanned across the landscape and there were many strange sturdy towers along its length, spiked posts had been driven into the ground a short distance away from the wall and were angled such that charging attackers could easily be impaled on them thus forcing a slow passage through to make them easy targets for the defenders.

“The bahstards have built their defences well,” remarked Thor Haldane unnecessarily.

“So I see” Alfarinn didn’t much like this man, he had captured the bicce Teijontytär and instead of killing her on the spot let the Scarthlings have her without a fight. In his opinion, Haldane was stupid or spineless or possibly both.

“They have the flag of Scartho flying alongside their own,” remarked Olav Snoresson who was the right hand of Alfarinn. Sure enough, the Black Cormorant was flapping in the breeze on a pole next to the yellow Upper Soomilek flag with the curious bird known as the Horse of the Woods upon it.

“Perhaps the bicce is still claiming the protection of her former husband?” ventured Haldane.

“More likely the rumours that some Scarthlings escaped Purri to come here are true,” said Olav sagely. He held a grudging respect for both Scartho and the Soomilek.

The D’an commander regarded the emblems with distaste. “It matters naught, we have more than enough men to take this burh with ease. Come, let us go and see if this can be ended without too much bloodshed.”

Kukka stood upon the gatehouse rampart dressed to impress, her face painted in striped war colours and wearing a modest green gown which could not hide her round belly proudly carrying Aston’s child. Grasping a spear in her right hand and with a circlet of gold upon her head she glared down haughtily at the small party of D’an holding their shields aloft as a sign of parley. She recognised Alfarinn who had informed her father she was to be given to Scartho as a prize and Thor Haldane who had displayed her naked in a cage, the other man with the large moustache she did not know, several retainers made up the rest of the party. “What do you want Alfarinn of Aros?” she shouted down in perfect Aenglish.

“To discuss surrender, Kukka Teijontytär, the Flower!” he answered.

“I am Kukka of Soomi now and you will address me as such.”

Alfarinn sighed inwardly, the bicce hadn’t changed. “Very well Kukka of Soomi, I come to discuss terms of surrender.”

“You want to surrender, but we haven’t been beaten you yet?” she replied as laughing broke out along the wall.

“Bicce, give yourself and your chieftains up to us and your people will be treated fairly.” Howls of derision echoed across the ramparts at this.

“You already know the answer to that, D’an pig!” she shouted.

“Then when this burh falls you will watch your people slaughtered before your eyes!” shouted the D’an commander angrily.

Aston stepped forward on the walkway so he could be seen from below. “Know that Soomi is not alone here, be careful who you threaten!”

“So you are hiding here Scarthling, did you put that pup in her belly?” shouted Haldane. “She has a fine dress and a crown of gold but she is nothing more than Leofric’s leavings, look at your woman, little better than a hore!”

“Scunung, I will come out there and kill you in single combat” Aston snarled.

“NO!” shouted Kukka above the din raging at Haldane’s insult. “Cempa, I need you here at the walls not chasing after this cowardly scum.”

“That’s right Aston listen to your woman, do as you are told like a good dog.”

“Haldane some caution I feel,” suggested Olav who did not enjoy such pettiness.

But Haldane was in full swing. “Soomilek bicce you will see your unborn whelp upon my spear this day,” he stopped in mid-sentence to stare in horror at the throwing-axe stuck in his chest before slumping forward and falling from his saddle.

“Forgive me, Lady,” said Bors who was known for his accuracy and distance. “I could not let that bahstard continue with his foul threats!” Kukka nodded in acceptance.

“You have broken the rules of parley!” shouted Alfarinn in fury. “There is no turning back now.”

“He deserved no better,” replied Kukka. “Now flee back to your men before we break more rules!” to Bors she said. “I forgive you, strong warrior, if I had an arm such as yours I would have done the same.”

“Scarthling, know this, your beloved land is fighting for its life while you hide behind the bicce’s skirts. Cyning Ailef has fled to Scartho and Aethelflaed is even now laying siege to the burh while the Jorvings, your fellows from across the sea, sit and watch doing while nothing to help!” yelled Alfarinn.

“I don’t believe a word of your lies, scunung! Run while you can.” Aston watched the party, now one less in number galloping to their lines. “We had better make ready, they will be back soon enough.”

Onagers were wheeled out from the D’an lines to begin hurling large rocks at the wooden stockade, the Soomi responded by using catapults hidden behind the walls to launch wooden bails soaked in flaming pitch to set them ablaze.

The D’an’s next move was to advance a massive battering ram towards the gate with a large body of men in tow and the purpose of the sturdy towers was now revealed as ballistae bolts were shot from them destroying the war machine and scattering the attackers.

Olaf and Alfarinn watched the remnants of the first wave limping back. “Rebuild what’s left of our war engines,” ordered the D’an commander angrily. “We will harry them throughout the night and then come dawn attack with our entire host. Let us see if the bicce’s fortress will stand up to that.”

“They are more prepared than we believed sir, should we not rethink our plans?” suggested Snoresson. “Perhaps we could starve them into submission?”

“And perhaps they will be well prepared for that too?” countered Alfarinn. “We break them by force or not at all!”

“As you wish sir, I will have woodworkers set to the task without delay.”

The night passed in great discomfort as Ebba, who had a thousand horsemen some distance from the Eaglefort, led a series of rapid hit and run attacks on the rear of the D’an ranks and the baggage train.

Nonetheless, as dawn came, the whole D’an army, carrying scaling ladders, charged upon the Eaglefort while their renewed war engines hurled stone after stone at the palisade, the tactic succeeded and enemy troops poured over the walls into a storm of arrows from the towers, once inside a group fought their way to the gates and after a bloody struggle succeeded in opening them. Alfarinn led his horsemen into a yard suspiciously empty of defenders.

A war horn was followed by the roar of many voices. “Kuolema hyökkääjille!” and warriors came from every door and every conceivable hiding place.

“They have penned us like cattle” shouted Olaf “we cannot bring all of our spears to bear.”

“Alfarinn of Aros!” Came the shout and he saw Aston riding through the throng, a spear pierced his side but hacking down its bearer he carried on. “I’m coming for you scunung!”

The battle for Upper Soomi was in full swing…

****

Olaf Snoresson rode up to the open gates of the Eaglefort to be allowed through without question, he dismounted his horse outside the hall giving the reins to a waiting soldier then strode proudly into the residence of the Soomilek leader.

Kukka was seated upon a throne with Aston sat on an identical one next to her holding his side “you desire to speak with Kukka of Soomi?”

“I do indeed Aston of Scartho.”

“What is it you wish Olaf Snoresson?” asked Kukka, gone was her fine green robe and circlet of gold and in their place, she wore a humble white dress with blue trim, her head was crowned only by her red-blonde hair and no shoes were upon her feet.

“I wish to talk terms of surrender Kukka Teijontytär, Kukka of Soomi.” He replied.

“I will give you my terms Olav Snoresson, the forces of Da N’mark will withdraw from Lower Soomi and we will keep everything you have built or torn from this country’s bowels, all the iron, all the silver.”

“These are lofty demands!” he snapped.

“Think yourselves lucky we did not slaughter every last one of you as you would have us, D’an.” Kukka retorted. “Go back to your Cyning and tell him that Kukka Teijontytär is now the Lady of Soomi.” She stood, the humble gown showing her pregnant shape. “This garb is all I need to prove that I am worthy of the title, tell Erik that I need no crown or fine clothes to lead a country, just the loyalty of the people. Oh, and take these gifts to him as a lesson in what happens to those who treat me ill.”

Olav looked at the dead eyes of Haldane and Alfarinn, their severed heads sitting grotesquely on a platter like a course at some obscene banquet and swallowed. “I will carry your message to Erik. In truth, I fear for the future as all the world seems now to be falling into conflict.”

“Go in peace now Olav Snoresson, but tell Da N’mark that Soomi is on the rise and that the time has come to beware.”

 

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