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Return of the Bastard



It was near sunset when the rider was spotted cantering up the snaking path that lead to the outpost of Stangard. The green and white banners snapped in the evening breeze, golden light bathing the rough palisade walls. The guard at the gate raised his spear as the lathered horse approached.

“Westu hal!” the rider called out and the guard lowered his spear. “I bear messages."

“Westu hal, what news of the Mark do you bring?” the guard asked as the rider dismounted.

 

The messenger was Wigwulf, a young slightly built man, no more than seventeen summers. His unruly blonde hair was tied back in a single braid, pale against his sun darkened skin. “I bring messages from the Wold, Edoras, and Aldburg.”
 

Other guards started to gather, one of them taking the lad’s horse to walk him cool and the others lead him into the outpost. Stangard was one of the farthest reaches of the Eorlings, close to the dreaded Golden Wood and the witch within. The men that were tasked with patrolling the banks of the Great River and the hills and valleys around it were often sent as punishment for various infractions and crimes. As the lad glanced around, he saw hard faces, some men past their years of green and some younger than he.

He turned to the guard escorting him, “I have message for Maegisterwigend Garsig, I was told he was assigned here.”

“Aye, the Dunbane is here,” the guard grunted and gestured towards the center of the town. Men were gathered, round shields of various colors were resting against boards that made a corral of sorts. But it was not horses inside but two men, sparring. One was a blonde man, in a tunic and baggy trousers with a sword and shield and his opponent  had a shock of dark hair that hung down his bare back as he wielded a great axe.

“He’s the big one, Dunbane...or Maidensbane as he is also called.” the guard said, a hint of derision in his voice.

“Not often to his face,” replied another guard.

 

Wigwulf stared, his mouth slightly open. The man was huge, easily a head taller than his opponent with broad shoulders and chest, built like a bull. He was swinging the two handed axe around as if it was a broomstick, a sweeping cut towards the swordsman’s legs that sent him jumping backward with just enough time to raise his shield against the second swing. The big man’s axe came up quickly and wood splintered as it shattered the round shield.

Men hooted and cheered, “Dunbane! Dunbane!”

Other men growled and spat curses as coins changed hands, for it had been the third and final shield he had broken and his opponent was allowed no more. Armed only with a sword it was not long before the fair haired man was beaten. Garsig held his axe over head, roaring his victory as his men pounded their shields, clamoring for their Maegisterwigend.

 

One of them handed Garsig a horn of ale which he chugged down in deep draught. The guard led Wigwulf forward and called out, “Garsig. The lad here has a message.”


The big man turned, glowering at the guard with surprisingly pale green eyes under his heavy dark brows. His bare chest was criss crossed with scars and some fresh cuts from the sword as it had nicked him even in the friendly spar. Sweat and blood matted his chest hair and he crossed his heavy arms as he looked down at the slender messenger. “What news do you bring? Has Erkenbrand finally realized what a mistake wasting my men and I in this backwater?”

He grinned, his teeth white against his brown beard and he swaggered over to a bench and snatched up his tunic, wiping the perspiration from his face.

“No, sir,” Wigwulf replied then closed his eyes, recalling the message the dying man told him. “Your uncle Osgar has been slain, he was killed in combat by Tunbeorht son of Beorht. Osgar fought for the honor of his family, your family. He asked that his last wish would be for you to come and lend your strength to his grandson, your nephew, Adalred.”

Garsig dropped the tunic and took two large steps to Wigwulf, “Osgar is dead...by that Wusfrea spawn.”

His dark brows drew together and a stormy look grew over his hard features. He said nothing else except calling up a few of his men and making a beeline towards the meadhall.

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It was still and dark in the predawn hours as Garsig saddled his big grey charger. Two of his men he selected joined him, their horses already tacked for the long journey. The Thane allowed him to take his leave, he knew it would be more trouble to try to keep the hot headed bastard from avenging his family. Besides, it ridded the camp of some of the worst troublemakers and he was glad to see the three depart.

Garsig had at least been useful, unlike some the Thane had been forced to take on, like the handful of women that were assigned to Stangard. More trouble they were, in particular that redhaired wench he had been saddled with for awhile. She was long gone though and two other women had become pregnant and sent back to their villages.

The title of Maegisterwigend had been stripped in exchange for his release from duty. Garsig still burned with the sting of that sentence. One day he would return and force the Thane of Stangard to reappoint him, he swore to himself but today his focus was on vengeance for his uncle. Aldburg was nearly on the other side of the wide plains and hills of Rohan, near the mountains, past Edoras.

The men rode swiftly, hardened riders used to long days in the saddle. They wore armor and carried their weapons but no standard flew above the trio. Wigwulf the messenger accompanied them as far as Edoras where Garsig refused to step inside. They skirted the King’s tombs and arrived and left under the cover of dark.

Eofor and Bada rode along with him, the men had been under his command from the years of being a mere spearwigend. They had raided and killed together, drank and wenched and he trusted them with his life as they did him. They had been exiled for the crimes committed under Garsig’s command, they had no homes to return to and their loyalty did not lay with the King or with Rohan but with the big man who had lead them to victory among the savage Dunlendings.

Mountains rose along the horizon, Garsig kept them to the west as they cut through the sea of grass and rolling hills. It was late in the afternoon, the sun nearly touching the peaks when they arrived at the gates of Aldburg.