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Hafen

Chapter Text

The ground is cold as ice.

 

To the touch, he would’ve thought it ice, but even his somewhat-blurry vision knows earth when he sees it.

 

Does he know it?

 

What does he know?

 

 

 

His fingers curl and his eyes shut tight, nails pulling up dirt and the world doesn’t seem to stop spinning around him.

Whether it’s been a few seconds or hours, he can’t tell. The man’s eyes are shut so tight he’s seeing spots, and he doesn’t dare open them until the world stops revolving and the tightness in his stomach fades.

A tentative peek reveals the same ground beneath him as before, and information slowly starts to pour into his head. Quiet insects chirping and buzzing, the slight rustle of the wind in the trees. His heart pounding in his chest. The back of his mind is yelling at him and his surroundings are completely unfamiliar.

Was that him? 

 

It must be.

It's not like it could be anybody else. 

 

He’s sitting in some sort of clearing, the sun just barely peeking over some large, grassy hills in the distance illuminates the mist-covered ground he’s seated upon. The first thing he notices is that he’s absolutely covered in ash. The second thing he notices is that the icy ground is a blessing on his warm skin. It’s soothing, like he’s nursing a burn that blankets his whole body, despite nothing visibly being wrong with it. What little he can see through the ash that coats it, anyway.

 

As much as his body is begging him not to, Leifur makes an attempt to stand. It fails miserably, and he’s back on the ground with a scraped knee with a quiet grunt. Something rustles and suddenly there’s a shadow casting itself over him.

 

Does he dare?

 

Leifur warily looks up towards the figure, whose face is mostly obstructed by a bizarre-looking headdress.

Foggy recollection tells him the animal is some sort of deer, with ornate antlers to match. What little they can see of said face is covered in tattoos, and wearing a warm smile.

The headdress is lowered, revealing itself to be the hood of a furry cape, and the individual grins. It’s a man, much to his surprise, and not some God wanting to end his very short-lived existance.

His hair is long and in thin braids that frame his face. He’s tall, Leifur can tell that much even from the ground, but there’s a pleasant feeling about his appearance that doesn’t suggest malicious intent. Familiarity buzzes in the back of his mind, but Leifur can’t place it.

 

There’s an outstretched hand being offered to him by the stranger in front of his face.

 

He takes it.

 

Chapter Text

Leifur and the rest of the entourage are being led by Aesfor, a rather loud, stubborn, and at times rude man. It’s not the one he would have picked, but Leifur didn’t have a say.

 

He didn’t have a say in a lot of things, really, despite being amongst the group’s first members.

 

That was fine by him, anyway. Having people constantly looking to you for answers and having to make decisions that affect a few dozen people isn’t a job Leifur would have ever considered having to begin with. His current job lies mostly in firewood-gathering and ‘staying out of the way’. Both of which usually take place outside of the camp. It’s a handful of meters away from any shoreline as a safety precaution against flooding, but that’s about it.

 

A mismatch of hand-made baskets and various piles of animal furs and soft tree boughs as beds. The majority of any odd person’s time was spent either doing chores or finding some other way to amuse oneself. For Leifur, he’s by the river, watching the fish and staring at his own reflection.

 

Aesfor is supposed to be leading them to a village he knows about. So far, it’s been a far too long, sluggish walk and all they managed to really accomplish was pick up a few stragglers. It’s pretty quiet, aside from the pleasant sounds of nature and idle chit-chat amongst the people by the fire.

 

The image gazing back at him in the water is young, with a round face and brown eyes. His hair is a dirty blond with loose curls that reach his shoulders. Most striking is a maroon mark that goes from his neck to his temple, marring his face with a stain he can’t wash out. It startled him, the first time he saw it. An angry blemish on tanned skin, covering half of his left cheek and just curving around his eye. It doesn’t feel like a scar when he touches it, but there’s a shame that burns when he sees it that feels like he’s been branded.

 

For some reason, though, he can’t seem to stop staring at it.

 

Leifur is joined by Trond, a tall, slightly-curvy man with tattoos and long hair. He’s sitting in the grass a few paces to the boy’s left, giving him space to do his nonsense in the water. Trond is sewing together a few lengthy strips of leather. Leifur sits back to watch the oddly-hypnotizing motion. The holes in the leather were made by the tip of a hand-made awl beforehand, and he’s threading through a boar’s hair with waxed thread through them. His movements are practiced and stop only so he can take a square of wax back to the thread.

 

How pleasant it must be, Leifur thought, to be able to drag the needle through the leather with such minimal effort. The cured hide of an animal isn’t so forgiving, but it seems so effortless for Trond to weave his way through the leather.

Trond is a man with a lot of talents and skills under his belt, having acquired them throughout his many, many years of life. If Leifur’s lucky, he’ll live to be as half as old as him. Maybe he’ll be able to pick up a thing or two along the way.

The edge of the river’s water glide through the clay and the dirt, dragging silt along with it. It’s clear enough to see a few feet into the water if you can squint through the sun’s hateful glare. A beautiful place to live.

For now, he reminds himself.

 

“Staring all day now, are we?”

 

Leifur looks up from the hands clutching wax to Trond himself. His eyebrows were raised and there was a slight bit of concern in his eyes. “I would’ve thought your eyes were stuck open. Something on your mind, boy?”

“Not really,” he murmured in return, shifting his weight. “..I was wondering about when we were supposed to be heading to the village. It’s been...what, two days? I thought we would have been there by now, I mean.”
There’s a pause as his eyes flick back to the river.

Trond lets out an exhale and rests his work in his lap, still holding the handmade needle and thread within his hand. “A fair estimate. I was asking the same thing myself, you know. But we have more people than what we started out with, and my guess is we’re going to inevitably pick up more along the way.”

His tone is sincere and while he’s trying to sound reassuring, Leifur is still somewhat disappointed. All the talk of stone houses and endless wheat fields filled his head. All they have right now is dirt and water. “If you want to ask the big man himself, be my guest,” the man suggests.

 

Leifur throws a small rock into the water, watching as ist plunges below the surface.

 

“Yeah, that’s just about the same thing I was thinking, too.”

 

~~~

Most of the men leave in the afternoon on little ‘hunting trips’, though some of the women tend to leave with them too. Whatever they do isn’t any of Leifur’s business, but it doesn’t take an idiot to guess what most of them are actually doing.

He doesn’t care. The less of them around, the more time he gets to spend without having people gawk and stare at his ‘disfigurement’.

The sun’s only been up for about three hours, and now there’s a hustle and bustle as the remaining people go about their day.

 

One of the women, Varryn, he thinks her name was, had a few hens she managed to bring along with her. All of them were a glossy cream in color. How she managed to get them to stay in camp was anyone’s guess, but they ate any insect that dared to stray in camp and regularly produced eggs, so nobody was complaining. Right now, Leifur wasn’t thinking of chickens.

He was trying on the new piece of clothing that was so painstakingly crafted for him.

It’s a leather vest, which drapes comfortably down to his hips. It hasn’t been stained or treated yet but it still has a nice tan color to it that Leifur enjoys. There’s a small wooden bead attached to a length of braided cord that keeps the front of it closed. The sides of the vest itself are pieced together with thinner strips of leather to allow for better movement.

Trond gives him an artist’s approval. Maybe when they reach the village they can get some buttons for it, but for now it makes a fine thing.

 

Once the fitting is complete, the two make their way towards the central fire.

It’s warm out, but not uncomfortably so. Fish being cooked over a few laid out stones is an enticing sight indeed, so the pair sit by and await to be served. In the meantime, just as the women and other stragglers started beforehand, it’s time for gossip.

 

“Did you know,” Leifur asks, slipping his fingers into his pockets. “That I heard that the reason we’re not going anywhere is that Aesfor is a criminal? And that there is no village?” This claim makes Trond’s brows raise slightly. “..And where did you hear such a thing?”

Leifur pauses, rolling his shoulder somewhat. “You know. Around.”

“Around.”

“Yeah. Around.”

There’s a heavy sigh from the older man, who shakes his head. “You can’t listen to such things, much less going around and telling the world about some gossip. Aesfor is...a difficult man, I agree. But he’s no murderer.”

Trond huffs. “Best keep your nose out of other people’s conversations, aye?”

 

Leifur makes a show of rolling his eyes, which earns him a smack upside the head.

Chapter Text

Several days pass, but it’s hard to tell just how many it’s been. Leifur doesn’t have the greatest concept of time, and all the memories of who did what on each day seem to blur together.

 

Eat, sleep, gather firewood, rinse and repeat.

He does know that every few nights, Aesfor has an argument with another person in the caravan, but nobody has actually left. Travelling alone was dangerous and difficult, and safety always outweighed comfort. For now, they’re just going to have to put up with him.

Aesfor does eventually, however, announce that they are all ‘officially a few hours’ from town’, only to make people wonder why they’ve stayed in one place for so long. Leifur didn’t care too much. He already heard rumors about Aesfor, about himself, about how the chicken with only two toes on one foot was plotting their demise.

At least now they can all leave the camp behind.

Laundry is gathered, materials are stockpiled and people are rounded up to move onwards. Right now, there is no more firewood to be gathered, since they were supposed to leave within the hour.

 

 

The fire eventually burned out, allowing for him to play with the cooling ash.

It clings to his fingers, painting them. The memory of a fire, of people, sticking to his hand as if to say no, don’t leave me.

Leifur wipes his hand off on his pants, leaving the fire and the camp to be forgotten.

 

~~~~

 

The sun is shining, but it’s difficult to feel its warmth.

It’s cold, and the air feels as though it’s biting at the tips of his fingers. Leifur doesn’t usually mind the cold, but it’s the /wet/ he has issues with. There was a sun shower for all of twenty minutes, and that’s all it took. His clothes are wet, his hair is wet, the grass is wet and gods damn even his socks feel damp.
It didn’t seem to bring anyone else down, however, so that leaves Leifur alone to silently complain.

Everyone is talking amongst themselves, the excited chatter of apparently being so close to the town enough to spur them on. Aesfor even seems to be in a good mood, though that could also be attributed to the woman around his arm.

Trond is walking with Leifur, carrying a large cloth bag over his shoulder that holds most of his possessions. A few of the other men drag their belongings in little sleds they made, tugging them over the hills with rope. Leifur gets away with carrying a basket under his arm.

Supposedly, the village that they’re heading for is only a few hours away now. Enticing enough to make them move, just far enough for Leifur to feel validated in his complaints.

“Wipe that look off your face, we’re almost there,” Trond encourages him, though he shoots the boy a pointed look.

Leifur continues silently pouting regardless.

 

The village was much, much larger than he expected.

The people all but cheer when they spot it, coming up over some sort of ridge overlooking a valley.

The village is clearly outlined by acres of farmland and dirt, with an odd-looking, short but curving wall that runs alongside the border of most of it. The ocean’s visible just past the settlement, and even from there Leifur can smell the salt in the air.

Aesfor all but drags the woman clinging to him down the ridge, kicking up damp dirt and dust. Even Varryn’s crazy chickens seem to be excited at the prospect of civilization, clucking noisily from their coop currently being dragged on a sled.

The village was organized surrounding the largest building, a great Hall made of large stones and logs that leaves Leifur wondering how anyone could have moved it. Woven fences surround the borders of each person’s property, and the dirt path leading up to the village itself had a pair of deep trenches that Leifur had a hard time walking over. The people carrying their belongings just walked beside the path, watching the boy stumble over the dirt and rocks.

Livestock and the chatter of the settlement’s people filled the air as Aesfor’s caravan finally made it to the approximate entrance to the town; a set of intimidating statues of figures with long hair and meticulously detailed outfits. If there was writing on the base of the statues, Leifur couldn’t read it.

There’s a sea of tired groans and sighs as the group is led to a large building to unburden themselves. It wasn’t the Hall, but an imposing place regardless. The house had clay tiling on the roof, and the walls were made out of carefully carved wooden planks. Inside there was a cast iron frame holding a shelf where coals burned and the slight glow illuminated the immediate area.

It was warmer than the outside, so Leifur wasn’t complaining.

He turned his head to look at Aesfor, the woman he was with, and who he was (assuming) to be the lord of the area. Would it be a chief? It wasn’t something he was well-versed in, but the person looked expensive and important, so he could only assume.

The lord was a broad-shouldered man with a thick beard and a heavily-embroidered cloak that was secured with a gold pin. He had black hair and dark eyes and an intensity about him that Leifur wasn’t sure he liked. At least now, Aesfor wasn’t alone in the ‘scary’ department. Whatever it was that the three were talking about, Leifur couldn’t hear.

Trond had sat himself by the burning coals, and Leifur was quick to join him.

“Are we living in this building now?” The younger asked, idly picking at his fingers. Trond let out a sigh, watching the glow of the coals. “For now? I suppose. We’re trying to strike up a deal for some land. That’ll be what Aesfor’s doing up there; if all will go our way, we can build ourselves our own homes and not worry about sleeping outside.”

Leifur chews on the end of his fingernail, impressed enough. Trond continues, prodding at the coals with a thin rod of iron. “The women are going to work in the village. Most of them, anyway. A handful of the men, you and I included here, Leifur, are being leased land to work. Half of a half is going to the village, and we are to work until we’ve paid it off in full.”

A few coals crumble open, golden flecks spiraling up out of the iron cage, and Leifur watches them disappear in the air.

“I don’t know how to farm, Trond,” he quietly replies, eyes flickering back over to the older man.

“Then open your mind and be ready to learn, because I’m not sleeping outside, and if I have to listen to Aesfor’s snoring much longer, I just might kill him,” Trond snorts, and sets the fire poker down.

Leifur’s socks still feel wet.