The village is cold and the crops are harvested. Food is plentiful and the feast day has arrived. Johansen shivers and pulls his tattered cloak tight with freezing hands. His knuckles bleed, his nose is red, and he blows out clouds with every breath. Quickly, he moves from his home to the village lodge.
The village functions as one large family. The Earl is the father and the council its mother. The council recommends the decisions, but it’s the Earl who casts the deciding vote. The Earl is a kind man who goes along with what the council decides.
Today is the Winter Feast of the True God. Most have gathered in the main lodge. Around the lodge are fire pits to keep the outcasts warm. Only those in fellowship may enter the lodge, but the feast is for all.
A small man, just bigger than a child, crouches behind a wagon down the street. Once the feast begins, he takes off running out of the village and into the forest. He is met by an armed man with two horses, waiting just inside the tree line.
The small man says, “They’re all inside. The feast has begun.”
“Well done,” the armed man replies.
The pair trotted deeper into the forest. On the far side of a nearby hill, they meet up with eight armed men. The small man dismounts and a large armed man takes his place on the steed. He says to the small man, “Quick, nephew, put on your sword. Today you go into battle a boy and come out a man. You have your father’s sword. His spirit is with you today. Do not let him down.”
Johansen does a lap in the lodge and comes upon his friend. “Hello, James. Another fine feast of the True God.”
“Yes, Johansen, but the Rain God has been kind to us as well. We have a large surplus of grain this year and that is his due.”
“Nonsense, James. The True God gave us the rain. When will you forget about the old gods?”
“Yes, perhaps you are right. Either way, let’s feast!”
James walks away and Johansen looks into his cup of wine. He doesn’t understand how in this day in age, people can still believe in the old gods. The True God has been so kind to them and given them so much. But the people are so fickle.
The sound of galloping horses and screams are heard from the lodge. The mood turns tense. Everyone looking to and fro. The Earl rises up and moves quickly to the center of the room. The village’s four guards fall in behind him.
The Earl says, “Guards, with me.”
The five men leave the lodge and are stared down by ten armed men, two mounted. The Earl looks at the armed men and then up and down the street. He sees two bodies laying on red snow. He draws his weapon.
The Earl says, “What is the meaning of this?”
“Earl, do not get tense with me. We are here for the grain.”
One of the armed men walk up and throw down several large sacks near the Earl’s feet.
“Earl, have your men fill those sacks with grain. Do it quickly, and none of your villagers will be hurt. Don’t, and you will see my wrath.”
“Who are you?” The Earl exclaims. “What is the meaning of this? Who sent you?”
One of the armed men rush towards the outcasts, a group of seven, and cuts one down from his neck to his belly. The outcast screams and falls into the bloodstained snow. The other outcasts run away.
“Earl, do not question me. Do as your told and this will all be over. Instruct your men to put down their swords and take the bags.”
The Earl does as he is told.
Johansen grows angry that these heathens are threatening the safety of the True God’s village. He pulls out his dagger, and with courage from faith, he calls to the crowd, “The True God doesn’t take kindly to thieves and murderers. Follow me and we will deal with this mightily.”
Three men, each with daggers, follow Johansen outside.
Johansen screams, “In name of the True God, I forbid you to take our grain. Dismount, promise to do no harm, and you and your men are more than welcome to share in our feast. Feed your bellies. Enjoy our hospitality. But do not take by force that which you have not reaped nor sown.”
The armed men laugh.
“Who are you boy to speak to me that way? You have nerve I give you that.” The closer horseman turned his head to laugh with his compatriots.
Johansen seized that moment and ran up alongside of the horse and stabbed it three times in the groin. The horse bucked its rider off and danced around moaning in pain, trampling its rider. The man crawled from the horse’s path and Johansen slit his throat.
The leader on horseback screamed, “Not wise boy. Not wise at all.” He charged Johansen but the guards bent down and picked up their swords, slashing at the horse as it passed.
The horse didn’t fall but it did stop and buck. The guards rushed up and dragged the rider down stabbing him many times.
The other men charged the guards cutting down three of them and injuring the fourth. The remaining guard was able to stab and kill one of the armed men, leaving seven still surrounding the Earl. One of them slit the Earl from the left of his waist to the right. Cutting him nearly in half. His intestines spilled to the ground and the Earl’s body collapsed.
The remaining guard moved back towards Johansen and fell to the ground.
The seven armed men squared off with Johansen and his three men.
Johansen yelled, “In the name of the true God stop!”
The small man screamed and charged missing the men with his sword. Two of the men grabbed the small man and the third slit his throat.
The armed men looked at each other. Their number was down to six. They had no horses. Their leader dead. One yelled and ran. The others followed.
Johansen yelled, “You’re welcome. May the True God feed your bellies tonight with wild game, as you leave here without any grain.”