“The Lord? He’s gone North to visit family. He’ll return soon.” Ardige Viduggla offered a warm smile as he said such to a passing guest amidst warm halls and a late Wintertide ball. The absence was dismissed and the party carried on.. The cool sea breeze sprayed in the face of Garth, who was found situated on the railing of the small vessel. It had been days of sailing so far, the ship moving across the long stretching coast of western Drixagh now situated in the waters of House Viduggla as it moved northeast. It was late January of 309 AC, and the crew hoped to land in the Vidugglan home province by the beginning of the coming month. Ardige was right on one thing: He had gone North to visit family. But he was wrong on another thing: He wouldn’t be back in the Capital soon. There wasn’t a single hint of sunshine on the day, a ray of sun nowhere to be seen. Clouds dominated the sky, taking on a darker color to signify coming rain: a bad omen to any sailor. “Seems like it's going to turn out to be a pisspoor night of sleep,” An idle passerby spoke out. Garth found the comment well believable, nodding to the loyal Viduggla crewmate and responding with a mere “I think you may just be right on that one, Halobi.” He eyed the clouds with a squint, a small sigh escaping from his lips. Garth turned over his right shoulder to make for the cabin of the ship, passing a wave up to the captain on his way. Seating himself on a cushioned bed, he opted to try and pass the time by sleeping through a few hours. His nap was cut short as the air filled with frantic yelling. Garth sat up in his bed, disoriented for a few seconds as he rubbed his face with bare hands. His gaze snapped to the door leading to the deck as he regained his focus, taking the time to get his boots on just right and pull some gloves under his hands. As he stepped out onto the deck, his attention was grabbed when an axe was pushed into his grip. With a quizzical look painted across his features, Garth glanced over to the previous owner of the axe, Halobi. “What’s this-” “Be ready! There’s a ship with no means of just passing by. Take a look.” Halobi pointed northeastward, towards an oncoming ship. It was a raggedy vessel, fit with patchwork sails and no signs of quality or performance. With a firm nod, the Lord marched up the steps to stand with the captain, Ardis. The crew, although experienced, were nowhere near fitted with enough manpower to properly work with the strategies and commands of the captain. She barked out orders, with high expectation out of her men to protect both her ship and their Lord. Expectations don't get a person far. Unlike the northern crew, the patchwork vessel opposing them worked like an oiled machine. A well-experienced crew, strong numbers, and a damn fine captain set their sea battle into motion. With a distinct lack of naval presence in the Viduggla waters, ships and crews like these were now more common to come across. Slicing through the water as if it were butter, the ragtag vessel both outmaneuvered and outperformed the Vidugglan vessel to the dismay of the northern captain Ardis. A few cannonballs ripped across the top deck of the Velheim ship, taking out a few unfortunate souls within the crew. In what felt like seconds to Garth, the battle between ships was clearly lost and he was thrown to the floor in response to the slam by the opposing ship. No longer was this between captains- It was between men. Boardwalks were quickly made by the misfit crew as if done hundreds of times before. Situated on the top deck, Garth slowly made it back up to his feet to the sounds of metal meeting both flesh and opposing steel. Gripping the axe gifted to him to the point his knuckles turned white underneath his gloves, the northern Lord pushed forwards with determination displayed across his features. The first to stand in his way stood a skinny, as if malnourished man looking to be just past his twentieth year. Garth’s shoulders lowered at the sight, his mouth opening as if to speak to the man only to be cut off by his blonde-haired opponent. The two clashed blades, sword to hand axe, leading to a sloppy fight among multiple on the uneasy Viduggla ship. Bodies collided, blades cut and men spat at one another. Garth managed to outperform his younger enemy in the early stages of their fight, the hook of his axe catching the blade to parry as his free hand took hold of the mangled blonde hair, slamming his teeth into the nearby railing. Garth finished it with a stomp to the head, turning to the bloodbath on the top deck. He pushed forwards, only moving forwards a few steps before encountering a Qadir fit with a cutlass. The two charged at one another, only for the northerner to be tackled from his left side. He collided with the wooden deck with a harsh thud, overtaken by a large Velheimer. He felt his hands wrap around his throat as his right arm frantically swept the deck for his weapon. Valuable seconds were lost in a helpless search, as the Viduggla resorted to pulling his knife and driving it into the ribs of the Bolven opponent. The counterattack was all for naught however, as figures loomed above the shoulders of the man on top of him, before his vision fell into darkness with a harsh strike to his head. The next thing Garth consciously felt was a rancid smell that filled his nostrils. The eyelids of the Viduggla fluttered open, a stony roof with cracks all through it taking up his vision. Sunlight filtered through those fractures wide enough to permit it, some of which cast right into his eyes. He rose up into a seated position, realizing he was situated on a straw bed. On top of the rancid smell, another thing was off: The air was warm. Garth was not in the North. He peered at his surroundings, noting other members of the Viduggla ship in the very same room as him. Their arms were bound by rope, which Garth only now realized that so too was he. Drawn by his consciousness, the other northerners asked of his health, to which the man waved off almost immediately. “Don’t mind me.. Where are we?” Ardis spoke up, glancing at the rest. “Not an idea, my l.. /Gared/.” She emphasized the name heavily, staring at Garth for a lingering moment before glancing at the others, some of whom nodded subtly in response. "I believe somewhere South. The air is warm and smells of pigsh-” Ardis cut herself off with the sound of heavy footfall, and moments later members of the ragtag crew that they fought just days ago arrived. One man stood out among them, the large Bolven man who Garth recognized from the fight on the ship deck. A long moment of silence was exchanged among the group, before the gaze of the Bolven man fell on Garth. “Your name.” Garth eyed the man up and down with his question, moving to respond before Ardis’ voice instead filled the room. “Gared, we said it before-!” She was met with a heavy backhand by another ailor woman, who threatened her further with a brandished blade from his belt. “Quiet.” She spoke out to Ardis, before glancing back to the large Bolven man with a nod. He returned it, looking again back to Garth. “Your clothing. It was too fine to be a common man.. you? You’re either wealthy or you got some wealthy friends, Gared.” The Bolven man was met with silence, Garth opting to clamp his mouth shut and only eye him in return. “I want your full name. She isn’t defending you for nothing,” The large man spoke out as he stepped closer to the straw bed the Viduggla was situated on. And again, he was met with only silence. This had its repercussions, as the Bolven man placed his hand on Garth’s thigh. He proceeded to lean his weight into it, resulting in a wave of sharp pain radiating from his thigh. Unbeknownst to Garth, in the heat of battle he suffered a notable gash from the malnourished man’s blade. Jolting from the sudden arrival of pain, he again responded with nothing but a grunt of pain. With the edges of his vision blackening from the pain he felt, Garth only heard three words before he fell unconscious: “So be it.” From there on he only felt a bludgeoning strike to his cheek, falling onto his side blacked out. The days were long after that first encounter. Time spent in the humid, rancid smelling room was filled with silence or questions of the group's origin. Slowly, after hit by hit, threat by threat, details slipped. They came from Regalia. They were north-bound. They were a traveling crew. The ship was made with high quality. Bit by bit, pieces added up to show signs that this ship and this group of people were backed by funding befitting of noble status. Time was running out, and they all knew it. They could only figure out a few names. The only one of importance, however, was the Bolven man: Valdaar. A strong and fierce warrior, disowned by the Skagger Order for immoral actions. This led to his creation of the ragtag band of misfits on the sea, in search of glory and gold. He realized the possible success one could find up North in Vidugglan waters after the latest rebellion. “And so.. It has led us to this moment.“ Valdaar’s booming voice rang out in the room, letting his arms extend to his full wingspan as if he had finished reminiscing a great tale. He looked over the northern presence in the room, eyes meticulously scanning over each battle-bruised individual in the room. “I didn’t take you for a liar... Garth. Not Gared, is it?” His gaze settled on the northern Lord situated on the bed, mimicking the head tilt that Garth himself had found himself doing. “Mm. Thought so. You know, you’d make for a good ransom, with that family of yours.” Those were his words- short and to the point, said with the tone of a man who had just realized great opportunity. Valdaar offered nothing more in words, that simple sentence saying as much as a thousand. Instead, he exited the room, leaving the northern crew to themselves, and with little time- a way out had to be made, fast. By dawn, a plan had been scrapped together: One that relies on risk. When questioned on it, Garth’s response was true: “It’s sloppy, that’s for sure, but it will work. It has to.” And so, with the faint sounds of birds chirping to indicate the stir of creatures, it was set into motion. With morning comes breakfast. A bit of bread, fish and water. Poor quality, and even worse taste. Two people enter- The previously acquainted Qadir and his, one would guess, partner. Another Qadir, feminine in look, with a blade so sharp it looked like it could cut stone evenly. As the pair of footfalls approached, a sickly northerner- an infected cut, the group had come to a conclusion on- fell flat. The Vidugglan crew burst into a small-scale outcry, garnering enough attention for the Qadir man to approach to assess the situation. From thereon, it was time to play on risk. Seated closest to the door on the bed, Garth sprung up alongside Halobi, moving to charge the lovely Qadir woman like rabid bulls in an attempt to overwhelm her. Likewise, Ardis led her own few northerners against the Qadir man attending the sickly, the rope that bound the Captain’s wrists thrown over the sunkissed skin of the Qadir. The rope was held snug against the throat of the surprised Qadir man, gradually tightening until he began to lose his breath Meanwhile, the Qadir woman was quick on her feet, her sharp cutlass brandishing in a moment’s notice. She swiped at her oncoming attackers Garth and Halobi, catching the right shoulder of the latter. Her efforts were futile, however, as the duo pressed in close and managed to beat her with their bound hands and free legs. With their two opponents dispatched, a look was exchanged between the silent room. A collective agreement, although unspoken, had begun. Fit with two cutlasses among seven, they set out past the door to a place unknown. There was no turning back at this point, so they pushed forwards even harder. Cutting through a barren room aside from many bedrolls, Garth quickly assessed that they were outnumbered. It was not overwhelming, but by three at least. The room was swept quickly, rudimentary weapons like table legs and small knives were found in the wake of the search. Garth, fit with a table leg, spared a glance to the bleeding Halobi to check on him. Seeing that he was busied with wrapping a torn strip of bedroll over the wound, Garth and the others pressed through the door they figured went outside- After all, daylight was seen leaking underneath it. Their unnoticed escape did not fare for long. A moment after the wooden door creaked open to expose the battered crew, a shout escaped into the air. “They’re escaping!” A slow step turned into a sprint, as Garth moved his legs with all his might ahead of the others. Running was chosen over a fight, as their energy was collectively depleted. However, this crew does not get to pick their escape to go smoothly. In a linear fashion, their movement down the only visible path led them straight to who they feared encountering: The rest of the crew. Skittering to a stop, Garth took in the surroundings and made his best guess as to where they were. With the distinct smell of manure and the sounds of hooves, it would indicate they were at some manner of stalls. Catching her breath on his right, Ardis spoke up. “This is our way out,” She pointed out to the rest as the opposing group realized what they were seeing. “The horses-” “We don’t run,” Garth’s voice rose, finishing the sentence for her: “We need those horses.” The collective agreement prior now came to fruition. Both sides were clearly unprepared, as the most imposing weapon between the collection of folk were the two cutlasses found earlier. The rest were fit with fists, improvised wooden items, or knives. Blunt trauma, bruised skin and yells escaped into the warming air as a fight broke out between the collective eighteen bodies: seven of which were loyal to Viduggla, and eleven who were loyal to Valdaar. Garth pressed into the midst of battle, quickly dispatching one of the weaker men within the ranks of the scavenger crew with his hefty table leg, breaking the brittle wooden piece over the fellow ailor’s head to incapacitate him. His victim wasn’t the only casualty so early in battle, as bodies fell alongside him. Garth continued onwards, catching the eyes of the large Valdaar. With locked eyes, the two silently squared up to one another. There was little hesitation after such as both men charged their way towards the other. Their bodies slammed against one another, Valdaar’s frame pushing Garth back. A right hand was thrown by the Viduggla, landing squarely in the ribs of Valdaar, who in turn retaliated with a haymaker to the cheek. Poise and elegance were unseen in the battle as weariness grew heavy, as the exchanged blows were dealt with power as opposed to skill. Hit for it, strike for strike, the two Northmen vollied fists, elbows, knees and even heads at one another in an ugly and drawn out scrap. Weakened from his malnourished state, Garth steadily lost the upper hand in his fight, with Valdaar’s blows carrying more weight with every coming second. His defense was soon overtaken, and strike after strike landed on the skin of the Viduggla. He was pushed into the mud, only to be violently grabbed with both hands by Valdaar. Garth felt his body soar into the air for but a moment, only to come crashing down on the knee of his Bolven opponent. Gasping for breath, Garth writhed about on the ground as pain ran its course through his body. His back had been dealt brutal trauma, limiting his movement and hindering his ability to rise again to fight. He felt a hand grip his neck and fuzzied words enter his ear, though remained unable to make out the deep voice of Valdaar in his hazy state. His focus was on the rest of the fight, his eyes flicking from one scrap to another as Valdaar left him in the mud. In a state of helplessness, Garth tried to pull together his strength to move, only to gasp in pain and defeat. In the sky above him, a dark bird captured his attention. Enamored by its movements, the fallen combatant watched its flight across the blue sky as he lost touch with reality, fuzzied yells engulfing him. The fight wasn’t for naught, however, as he was ripped back into reality with a familiar face. The battered and bruised look of Halobi filled his vision, the fellow northerner shaking him vigorously to garner his attention. Words spilled from Halobi’s mouth, bouncing off the disoriented visage of Garth’s green eyes. Suddenly, it all came together: “My Lord, we have to get you out of here!” Hands gripped Garth’s body once more, only from a friend this time around. He was pulled to his feet with excruciating pain, leaning into Halobi’s body as the two made a mad dash for the stables. With Halobi leading the two, they busted into the stables and moved for the nearest horse. With Garth’s body growing limper by the second, Halobi decided to throw him over the horse without hesitation. This would prove detrimental for him: A moment later, the stable doors were kicked open by two of Valdaar’s men, forcing Halobi to make a split-second decision. He slapped the hindquarters of the horse, sending it into a frantic run out of the stable and through the two to-be assailants, though leaving Halobi behind. Garth could only make out his figure for a second in the fleeting environment, as he was carried away from the scene of battle seconds after. He remained conscious for a few quiet minutes, the steady gallop of the powerful horse slipping him into unconsciousness. The next moment Garth found himself awake, he wasn’t on the horse. He was on no path, no grass, nothing of that sort. He found himself in a warm bed- Not made of straw like before, but a soft material. A casual glance to his surroundings explained that he was in a small, yet comfy, residential room. Paintings lined the walls, and decorated covered the tables to infer the owner was decently wealthy. The steady sound of water in a bucket filled his ears, and by drifting his gaze he discovered a figure washing their hands in the furthermost corner. Attempting to rise to his feet, Garth immediately felt a sharp pain throughout his back as he made zero progress. His body sunk deeper into the bed, and a low groan escaped his lips to garner the attention of the figure. “You’re awake,” spoke the figure, making his way over. He wasn’t washing his hands, but washing a rag. Slowly approaching, he dragged a chair over to the Viduggla’s bedside. He was an older man, with greying hair and kind eyes. Laying the rag over his forehead, he made an idle comment, “We found you in one of our fields, all muddy. Figured you needed some help, so now you’re in my home. Spare room.” He dipped the rag back into the bucket, before taking it back to Garth’s forehead. “You’ve a broken back. Some bruises.. You got yourself into some trouble. It’ll take some time for you to be back on your feet, but you’re welcome here.” Garth, in turn, drifted his gaze all over the man. He studied him, before speaking up, “Garth Viduggla.” “Jurek,” The older man responded. The two exchanged a mutual glance, before Jurek stood up. “You should rest now. The sooner you get better, the sooner we can get you on a ship.” And with that, the old man exited the room, leaving Garth to his lonesome. Although in an unfamiliar place, he felt drowsy and succumbed to slumber. Over the next few weeks, Garth remained bedridden in the small town located in the Hellatia lands. He was visited only by the old man, Jurek. Quickly, Garth came to learn that Jurek, while solitary, held much wisdom. The two connected fast, with conversations drawing long throughout the day and into the night. Being Jurek’s only source of distraction aside from reading, the two broached many different kinds of subjects. Ranging from topics like morals to religion and worldview, the elder developed a new outlook on Garth. On the other hand, Jurek’s wisdom spoke to the healing lord, realizing how tunnel visioned and closed off he had been in the past few months. Not only his body healed during the weeks being bedridden, but his mind too. By the time he could get on his feet, Jurek returned news from Regalia. A loss in title, a loss in duchy. He was no Lord in the North, the man who had people die for him just weeks before. In turn, Garth put focus on fixing himself. He spent additional time in the town to physically train himself back to form. A return from a broken back had to be done correctly, as advised from the town clinic, and like the soldier he is, he followed their orders. A few weeks into his physical reconditioning, Garth was interrupted by news of a peculiar ship in the harbor. Awoken early in the morning by Jurek, he was led outside and through the center of town. Upon his approach to the harbor, he recognized the Viduggla colors bore on the flag of a finely made ship. On the dock stood a blonde-haired Northman bearing orange colors, his bright blue eyes meeting Garth’s green gaze. The two smiled at each other, closing the distance to have a friendly embrace. “Good seeing you, Garth.” “And you, Markus. What a sight for sore eyes.” Garth chuckled to himself, happiness welling inside him with the sight of the Haagenvig, his friend. “How did you-?” “Man named Jurek sent a messenger, caught word of it. Sailed as fast as I could.” Sparing a glance behind him, Garth gave a nod of gratitude Jurek’s way with a smile. Over the next hour, Garth said his goodbyes to those that aided him. Upon his walk to the docks, he was stopped by his healer. The two took their time with their farewells, exchanging heavy words. It was then that Jurek produced a cloth bag, with a heavy object within. Opening it up, Garth revealed the well-crafted wooden shield. “To protect,” Jurek commented. The shield bore metal accents, and finished off with a large owl fit with wide wings. “Thank you,” Garth responded to Jurek, giving the man a firm handshake and nod. The two then split, with Garth boarding the vessel and joining the Haagenvig crew on board. With a final wave, the ship sailed out of the harbor of the small town. The ship traveled back North, to wrap around the landmass and make way south-bound for Regalia.