I woke up in the very early hours of the morning and apparently I wasn't the only one. Half the town seemed to be in uproar and walked to even ran to the towns main entrance. Something big must've happened.
I saw Brundt scramble half dressed through the fresh snow, literally ploughing himself a path through the gathered crowd. Unfortunately, I am not among the tall or bulky of our tribe, so I could not see over, or get in front of the gathered masses.
I tried to listen carefully, but it was hard to pick anything up in this hustle and bustle. I swear I just heard a goat. And where have I heard the names Svidi and Hamal before?
A little later everything became clear as Brundt climbed on his shield and was lifted up to address his people. He has always been an impressive looking man, evident not only by the fact that it took four men to lift him, but as he rose above the people they went instantly silent.
"Fremenniks!" he started. "Our ... kinsmen from the mountains have to us for help." I noticed that he paused for second. "They've travelled for three days and nights to seek us out. They are our guests, treat them as such. That is all."
What could all of this be about? The lack of specifics worried me, and apparently Sigli too. He chased after Brundt who had rushed back to his house to get properly dressed. Everyone else seemed to want to go back to their warm beds. It was way too cold to stand around and deal with our new arrivals right now.
Just before I entered Brundt's house, I glanced quickly at our new guests, who had begun to unpack their things. Hamal, their chieftain, stood their directing his people to put up their tents, herd the oxen and goats into the proper places, and gave some instruction to a woman about my age.
Just after that, he came walking towards me and asked if Brundt was in there. "One moment," I replied, "I'll see if he is ready."
I went inside and immediately heard Sigli rant and rage at Brundt.
"How could you have let them in?!" Sigli was furious. "We barely have any food to spare ourselves, let alone feed a whole other village too!"
Brundt replied visibly annoyed, "They brought their own livestock and tents. With our combined resources, we can ALL make it through this winter."
"That live stock is the problem! Any pack of wolves will have smelled all those animals from miles away, and it's a good bet that they are out there right now drooling at the thought of having a goat for dinner. It would only take one of them to work up the courage to get in our town, and we'd soon be overrun. Just one!"
"Yes and we now have a lot more people available to stand guard and do the other things to help brace the town for the winter. Which ever way you look at it, they are still our kinsmen, and I will not turn them away."
Sigli shook his head, at which point he saw me standing in the doorway. He and Brundt have always minced words and argued ferociously. But they always remained friends and respected each other enough to never hold any grudges. As I will one day become the bard and story keeper of this town I was allowed to witness their exchange, and have often sat at council meetings. This bickering was no different.
Brundt kept eyeballing Sigli, even though he too had noticed me by now. "What!?" Clearly he was not done arguing with Sigli, and wanted me to keep it short.
"Hamal, the chieftain of the camp is here to see you." I said. I had barely finished my sentence before I was shoved aside by Hamal.
"Ah," Brundt started, "the cause of all this."
"Now wait a minute," Hamal shouted, "I haven't said a word to either of you, and you're already deciding whether or not to send us back on our way? Were you going to let us keep our livestock, or did you plan on taking that too?"
Sigli wanted to reply, "That's not fair, I haven't said anythi..."
"But you we're thinking it!"
Sigli's eyes could only find his feet. He sat down as if to withdraw himself out of the argument.
Brundt stepped between them and faced Hamal, "I would never leave a Fremennik to his fate, not even one I have my disagreements with. You are welcome to stay here as long as you need if you and your people help out around the town."
"But," he continued, "If you or your people treat one of mine this way again, I will feed you to the wolves. Remember that you came to us for help."
There was a moment of silent acceptance. And just as that silence became awkward, I noticed the dawn breaking, "Well, it looks like we're all getting an early start today, let's get these people settled in."
That day I spent with Sigmar showing the people around town so they could find everything for their immediate needs. I was surprised about how easy it was to get along with the people from the mountain. They did not seem to worry too much about the coming hardship. Whether this came from having lived through tough times themselves already, or just sheer confidence in their abilities to make the most of the situation, I'll never know.
As we we were showing the people around, we also got to know that young woman I had noticed before a bit better. Freyleif turned out to be a niece of Hamal, and the obvious successor to lead the camp, spiritually or otherwise.
As the three of us decided to conclude our tour by fetching a drink at the Great Hall, we ran into Armod and his accompanying foursome. They had been let back into the town for the winter, but ever since the stunt they pulled on the islands they had been shunned, mocked and even ridiculed openly wherever they went.
Sigmar was once a friend of Armod, but they had grown apart. Any feelings of friendship had disappeared since Armod suggested restarting the war between Miscellania and Etceteria. It was only out of respect for their years together during childhood that Sigmar did not tell on Armod.
We decided not to engage them in a conversation, even though Freyleif was curious about the chieftain's son.
We sat down and Freyleif explained to us why they had to abandon the camp in the mountains. Not only did the fog ruin their harvest of something called a 'white pearl fruit', but they too were expecting a fuel shortage, and would not be able to keep themselves warm all through the winter. Luckily, they brought what food they had and what wood they could.
That next morning I woke up to the sound of an alarming horn. Outside I heard people shouting and running, but I had no idea what was going on until I opened my door. Everyone was running towards the eastern side of town, which could only mean one thing.
Sigli's fears had came true. Sigmar was already at the cow pen following the tracks to where the Fenris had squeezed through the towns fences.
The sight was not pretty. A small gap was all that was needed for a starved wolf to get through. And after it had gorged itself on some chickens and goats, it must have decided to take one with it.
The bloody trail was easy to follow, and at the fence it must have tried to pull the dead goat through it. The head must have become stuck in the small gap, but that did not stop the beast from taking the rest of the goat with it.
Oh how I do not envy Hamal or the other mountain people now. The fury of the entire town would soon descend on them if we did not act quickly. Sigmar suggested we first find his father, for his was the loudest voice against our kinsmen staying here.
Sigli was sitting outside Hamal's tent. "Brundt's already in there." he mumbled. Sigli looked as if he wanted to smile for being right all along, but couldn't. He must have known it was best not to aggravate the situation any further. He looked up at his son, "Tag... You're it."
The conversation in the tent was loud enough for everyone to hear, but we stepped inside anyways. Brundt and Hamal were shouting and blaming back and forth, dragging up issues from long before I was even born into this fight. Sigmar stood besides me and was visibly frustrated at this bickering.
He got fed up after a few minutes of it. He walked back outside, only to return with a bucket of water, with which he doused both chieftains. They instantly froze and stopped talking.
"Now that I have your attention," Sigmar paused for a moment, expecting an attack from either of them, "I thought you might want to know what really happened."
The chieftains looked at each other for a moment, and sat down. "First of all, it can only have been one or two very hungry wolves that got through our fence last night. They killed about a dozen chickens and four goats. Not a huge impact on our resources, but it will definitely have startled the goats and chickens enough for them to stop laying eggs and give sour milk for a while."
"This is what will hurt us, and keeping in mind we already planned on stretching our resources, I do believe now that we will not have enough food for the winter." Everyone let the reality of the situation sink in for a bit. Even Brundt saw no point in arguing anymore.
Hamal finally broke the silence, "What can we do?"