Topic: Wulfbert the unfortunate sailor  (Read 8014 times)


Bert Preast

« on: October 28, 2021, 01:04:41 AM »
PART I - THE WRECK, AND THE ISLAND

Wulfbert - Bright Wolf - is a sailor from a foreign shore far to the west.  His ship was on the amber run, bringing metals to the Baltic to trade for amber, but their captain haggled too hard and so waited too long.  Thus the journey home started weeks later than planned, and they hit the first of the winter storms.  The storm came up from the south and they ran before it, but were driven onto uncharted islands to leeward.  Wulfbert was on his first voyage; and as the ship grounded and groaned on the rocks he panicked, throwing himself over the side despite not being a strong swimmer.  The waves carried him swiftly to shore and smashed him against the rocky coastline; breaking bones and bruising him badly, leaving him clinging to the top of a large rock where a particularly powerful wave had lifted him, whimpering with pain and cold.

He watched as his shipmates managed to abandon ship in a rather more orderly fashion, making a human chain to the least rocky part of the shoreline and collapsing there exhausted.  Wulfbert saw that they had managed to salvage some supplies and a glimmer of hope arose inside him as he began to think he may survive this.  His feelings were answered by a roar of pure hatred from the treeline above where his shipmates had landed, then a torrent of arrows falling upon them.  The crew struggled to escape, trying to hide behind one another on the shale as the arrows peppered them and they fell, one after another.  Wulfbert stayed low on his rock and watched with horrified eyes, vowing one day to return and take vengeance on these island looters and savages.

Wulfbert lay on his rock for a long time; long after the scavengers finished off any of his surviving shipmates, stripped them, and had left the beach.  Every movement was agony, but the sea was slowly getting calmer and he knew that he had to climb over the rocks to the shore.  He had thrown off most of his clothes while he struggled in the water, and had even lost his knife.  It took an hour to make it onto dry land, but he knew there was no time for rest.  He dragged his aching body into the forest, and began to head east, back towards the coast where they had taken on provisions a couple of months ago, and where the locals had been interested in their voyage and friendly as they traded.

He soon discovered that the island was indeed an island, and that he was trapped on it.  He climbed a hill and spotted two settlements, one to the north and one to the north west.  He watched the distant figures moving in the smoke of their camp fires, and swore that he would have his revenge on them.  He set off, crawling and limping through thick forests until he reached the easternmost point of the island, the farthest he could be from the settlements of the savages.  His every movement was a fearsome symphony of pain, but as night fell he managed to construct a rudimentary shelter in a spot well hidden by spruce trees.  He collapsed exhausted, and slept until the sun was high the next day.

Food.  Wulfbert was not accustomed to hunger, and he needed to eat.  He set out to hunt, but the birds chirruped their mirth at him as he tried and failed to bring them down with rocks and sticks.  His hands were bare and numb with cold, and when he spotted a hunter with his dog in the woods he knew he was going to have to take a risk.  Still crippled from his wounds, he closed on the hunter with his hands wide apart to show his intentions were peaceful.  The hunter's dog came to him, tail wagging, and Wulfbert grabbed his homemade javelin and speared the poor dog in the face.  It dropped immediately, dead before it hit the floor.  Wulfbert looked up at the hunter, and the hunter turned and fled.  Being in no condition to fight, Wulfbert scooped up the dead dog in his arm and lurched off as fast as his injuries would permit in the opposite direction, his back itching as if expecting a spear or arrow at any moment.

Wulfbert made it to his shelter, and hungry as he was the frostbites in his hands told him that the dog's fur was his first priority.  He cleaned and tanned the skin to make mittens and a hood, and roasted the meat for a hearty dinner at last.  He spent almost a week in his shelter, dining on the dog and cleaning his wounds as best he could.  He found a spot where fish could be seen, but his injured state and crude javelin meant he never managed to make a catch.  Still, each day meant less pain as his wounds healed, and when he was at last able to walk more or less normally, he set out to hunt again with hunger sharpening his senses.  The first animal he bumped into was a wolf, uncomfortably close to his shelter.  The wolf seemed alone, but Wulfbert was in no condition to take chances, and backed carefully away.

Two days and nights passed, Wulfbert's only sustenance some berries.  He had found mushrooms, but being unfamiliar with the local flora he was afraid to eat them.  Finally he chanced upon an elk and her calf, and the chase was on.  Wulfbert went after the cub, feeling that a full grown elk would be a lot to take on considering his injuries and his starved body.  The chase continued for hours; the cub fleeing on sighting Wulfbert, but each time tiring a little sooner.  The sun was setting before he was finally closing on his quarry, then suddenly the mother appeared.  She put herself between her calf and the hunter.  Wulfbert muttered a hasty prayer as he threw his javelin and watched it strike the elk in the flank, blood pouring from the wound.  The elk jumped and kicked then was gone, but she left a trail of blood that was clear even in the fading light. 

The blood trail was thick and bright and Wulfbert knew there was no need to hurry.  He had grown up a poacher, and had only run away to sea after he had been caught and escaped.  The tracking was easy, and soon he was standing over the dying elk, her flanks heaving as she fought for breath.  Wulfbert whispered soothingly to her as he cut her throat with his stone knife, stroking her head as her life seeped away.  Retrieving his javelin, he dragged the elk to some trees where he curled up next to the body to sleep while the warmth still remained.

Morning found Wulfbert starving but in a good humour, humming cheerfully to himself in anticipation of good meat as he skinned and butchered the carcass.  His stone knife meant a lot of meat was left on the bones but he didn't much care, all he thought about was the forthcoming feast.  The freshly cooked meat was music to his tastebuds, and his stomach rumbled its approval.  He spent a couple of days lazing around his camp and filling his belly until he noticed that the ice around the shore had melted.  He had resigned himself to pass the winter on the island, but now escape seemed possible - if only he had an axe to make a paddle!  Wulfbert considered the matter and soon concluded there was only one way he could get hold of an axe.  He was going to have to hunt a man.

Wulfbert built his raft bit by bit, hunting in between working but it was three days before he chanced upon an Islander out hunting.  The man had an axe and a metal knife in his belt, just what Wulfbert so desperately needed.  Wulfbert blinked in surprise as he realised the man was wearing a dress, but then shrugged.  Each to their own, he supposed.  Wulfbert tried to sneak up, but the tranvestite hunter was wary.  Obviously word had got around that there was a crazy man in the woods after Wulfbert's earlier meeting with the hunter and his late dog.  Wulfbert closed the gap as the other man backed away, the point of his spear following Wulfbert's movements.  Wulfbert held three rough javelins, and threw two of them, both easily dodged by the crossdressing spearman.

Holding his last javelin before him, Wulfbert charged.  There followed a battle royale, each stabbing, dodging and blocking until Wulfbert broke through the defence, his javelin skewering his foe in the hip and sending him over backwards onto the ground.  Wulfbert was on him in an instant, his javelin going straight through the eye of the hunter, killing him instantly.  Wasting no time, Wulfbert stripped the other man and admired his loot.  The spear was still in excellent condition, and his heart leapt as he realised the man's knife was a broadknife, perfect for skinning and hidework.  There was also a woodsman's axe, not great for any delicate work but excellent for felling trees.  There was also the woollen dress and undershirt, and some nettle trousers.  Wulfbert put the dress on - when in Finland, do as the Finns do!

The fight had left Wulfbert tired and shaky with excitement, but he recovered as he made his way back to his shelter.  Tomorrow he would use his new axe to carve a paddle, then pile his meagre belongings onto the raft and with a prayer to the sea-giant Wade he would strike out for the mainland.  The journey was much longer than he had thought, and he camped overnight on a rocky islet where he felt sure he would not be disturbed.  He set off again at first light, the sea mercifully calm as he paddled.  As night was falling he realised he was in a cove, then what could be an estuary.  He paddled hard against the current, tasting the water at intervals and finding it less brackish each time.  It was a river!  He paddled further, the trees closing in on either side until he came upon some rapids.  This, Wulfbert decided, would be home for a while.

Bert Preast

« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2021, 01:06:12 AM »
PART II - WINTER, AND THE QUEST FOR SOCKS

Wulfbert flourished in his new home, taking a couple of elk in his first week there.  The ground was hard, but with some effort he managed to dig a cellar before the soil froze over.  He explored further upriver, and came across two villages at about a day's walk from his camp.  The people here were poor and unkempt, unlike those he remembered from the coastal settlements where his ship had stopped for supplies.  Wulfbert knew the meat from his elk would spoil even with the cellar, so he bought most of it to the villages to trade for some woollen clothes.  The winters were cold here; but now wearing his full elk fur suit and woolly undies, Wulfbert felt confident he could survive to the spring.  He spent a couple of days gathering spruce saplings to make withes, hoping to use them to dry the meat from his next kills.

Within a few hours walk from his camp Wulfbert discovered some fair sized open marshy areas, and he soon spotted a sounder of hogs there.  He took one with his javelins, then over the next few days he took three more, drying the meat and tanning the hides to leather.  He made traps for birds and fished as the meat dried; and also explored the coast to the south, discovering more villages only a day's walk for a lightly encumbered man from his camp.  Here he found the people clean and prosperous, accustomed to strangers and eager to trade.  These were the tribe his ship had traded supplies with on the voyage out across the Baltic.  Wulfbert put on his friendliest face, and returned when his mountain of pork was dried.  Carrying his pork and elk furs too, he made a shelter on the edge of the marshes to serve as a makeshift hunting cabin and a waypoint for the heavily laden man on the route to the coast.

He learned that these people called themselves the Driikilaiset, and as he traded with them he began to learn some of their words.  They treated most of the other tribes with contempt, referring to them as forest savages and being most sympathetic when with much mime he told them the sorry tale of the shipwreck.  A local woodsman even offered to accompany Wulfbert back to his camp, and show him how to build a cabin to survive the winter in.  Wulfbert was only too happy to accept, and from his new friend he learned much more of the local language and how to fell trees and carve or split logs and make a stone fireplace.  He also learned how to make skis and a ski pole, so he could hunt when the snows got thicker.  As he practised and practised, he found a natural aptitude for skiing and was soon able to keep pace with any of the local hunters.

As the snow thickened and the rivers froze, Wulfbert took advantage of the perfect conditions for tracking.  With the axes he had traded for he was able to make straight javelins that flew true, many elk and reindeer and even a couple of bears fell to him.  He learned to chase the animal down, his skis gliding over the snow that hindered his prey.  Wulfbert exulted in his new life, loving the hunt and the bounty.  Slowly the days became colder and colder though, and Wulfbert's hands and feet were numbed and painful.  Soon frostbites set in in both feet, leaving him confined to his cabin for a few weeks.  Back on his feet, he skiied back to the Driik villages for some socks and perhaps mittens.  As he travelled, he pondered why he was able to make shirts and coats and even some leather armour, yet for some reason in this land socks were completely beyond him.

Wulfbert searched the villages for days and days, checking every building to no avail.

Of course as it is now well known, Finns harbour a holy terror of socks.  In the ancient Kalewala it is (probably) written that socks are the works of the Perkele, and that Sampo will help no man who should wrap his tootsies in wools or linens.  Naturally Wulfbert knew nothing of this, and could not understand why when he mimed what he wanted, the terror and revulsion in the natives as they drew away.  Eventually he found a small hut at the far edge of an otherwise normal village, which contained a pair of woollen socks.  The villagers had obviously isolated the dangerous foot-warmers here, alone and as far from the rest of their goods as they could get.  Wulfbert spoke with their sage, offering to trade for the socks.  The sage cringed at the sight of them, mumbling pagan prayers as he made signs to ward off the evil eye.  Wulfbert shrugged and left them a couple of now rather dodgy looking cuts of pork, for which they seemed very grateful.  They just wanted the accursed footwraps gone, far from their village.

Satisfied with his new socks, Wulfbert felt a new lease of life.  His hands were still numb, but he could warm them in his furs as he travelled and had learned to build a large fire next to his kills to avoid frostbite while he skinned and butchered.  The first signs of spring were showing when Wulfbert went out peeling bark from trees, and came across fresh bear tracks too close to his cabin for comfort.  Wulfbert followed the tracks and spotted the bear, which backed away from him each time.  He had left his spear and battleaxe at home and he wore only light clothes as he was not hunting, but he thanked his stars he had taken the precaution of bringing some javelins as well as his handaxe and broad knife.  The bear was too close to home and he did not want to risk losing it, so he followed until he was in range.  His first javelin merely scratched the bear, but did enough to enrage the creature and it charged.  Wulfbert's other two javelins hit the bear but still it came on, and he drew his handaxe and steadied himself.

Wulfbert leapt back as the great man of the forest tried to close with him, claws swinging past his face as he hit it with his axe wherever he could.  The bear was tiring and bleeding now, and Wulfbert could sense victory.  He got closer for the final blow, and the bear's paw smashed into his eye, blinding him with blood and knocking him back.  The bear roared in triumph, and Wulfbert in desperation drew and threw his knife, taking the bear in the throat.  The bear grunted and fell, and Wulfbert was on it with his axe, striking over and over at its skull until all the life was gone.  His head hurt like blazes and he was half blinded, but he was still on his feet.  He skinned and butchered the bear, cracking the teeth from the skull then hanging it reverently in a lone tall pine tree, as the Driik woodsman had taught him was proper.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2021, 01:08:37 AM by Bert Preast »

Bert Preast

« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2021, 01:07:26 AM »
PART III - SPRING, SLAUGHTER AND HOME IMPROVEMENTS

It was nearly a month before Wulfbert's sight fully returned and he was able to hunt again.  He made use of the time fencing and setting traps around his cabin, and going trading with the Driik people for a bull and eventually amassing ten dogs of varying shapes and sizes.  It was well into spring now, and the snow was gone and there were berries and plants pushing through the earth to the sunlight.  On a harvesting trip across the river, Wulfbert heard something large moving close by.  It was a man, well dressed and well armed, and shortly followed by four more men similarly equipped.  They did not speak the local tongue, but Wulfbert could understand many of the words from his own language as they called out to him, assuring him they were friendly and here to trade furs.  Wulfbert bade them wait, and he would return shortly with furs for trade.

As he paddled his punt back across the river, Wulfbert gave the situation some thought.  He could trade with the men, but what guarantee had he that they would pay?  They were obviously not local to the area, so nobody would miss them if something unfortunate befell them... perhaps something unfortunate like being attacked by a pack of 10 dogs?  But could 10 dogs take down five armed men, even with his help?  Wulfbert had spent the winter formulating a vague plan of vengeance on the Islanders, setting his dogs on their villages and eradicating the savages.  Maybe this would be a good opportunity to test his dogs in battle?  He nodded to himself and paddled on, his course set.

Wulfbert made a great show of loading his punt with furs for trade, sliding his battleaxe, spear and some javelins onto the craft as he did so.  He then leashed his dogs and paddled back to the foreigners, landing and holding up the fine furs for them to admire.  Just one of the traders had a bow, and Wulfbert made him the first target.  Greeting him with a hearty hello, he threw his spear into the man's hip and knocked him down.  Crying havoc, he unleashed the dogs of war and all hell broke loose.  Wulfbert threw all his javelins into the man on the ground, the savage sounds of his dogs and the swearing of the Vikings filling his ears.  He drew his battleaxe and set about them, finding them easy targets, distracted as they were by the dogs.  Soon it was over and Wulfbert stood, unharmed but breathing heavily.  Half of his dogs had been badly wounded and took some rounding up, but Wulfbert himself had come through without a scratch and now surveyed his new found riches.

It took three trips to return all the loot and bodies to his camp, the bodies going to feed the dogs as Wulbert sorted through his loot.  This proved not to be easy in the cramped confines of his cabin; and as his cellar was brimming with dried meat Wulfbert decided it would be a good time to extend his cabin, making it twice the size.  The job took him right into summer, and while resting from the hard building work he bathed in the cool waters of the river and little by little taught himself to swim.  Six months after his unpleasant arrival in these lands, Wulfbert took stock.  He felt fitter than ever before, he had learned as much about the local flora and fauna as the average native, he had become a master tanner and tracker, and now he actually enjoyed eating his own cooking!  His cabin was sturdy and a comfortable size, and the stove worked well at heating the whole space.  It was piled with spare clothes, furs and skins for winter, and had all the equipment and arms he could want for hunting and trapping.  Outside he had penned a bull and ten brave dogs, and a cellar full of meat.  Wulfbert nodded to himself, contented with his new home.

Bert Preast

« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2021, 06:02:00 PM »
PART IV - SUMMER, AND A HOLIDAY

Wulfbert had heard from his Driik friends that his furs were not the finest, and that was because he was hunting in the south west.  They talked of a tribe of giants who lived many day's travel to the north east, who everybody agreed had the best hunting grounds and thus the best furs.  Wulfbert's pride was stung by this, and as he was at a bit of a loose end while he waited for his dogs to heal he decided that he deserved a summer holiday.  He would find these giants and he would hunt in their lands, and return with the finest fur that the Driik had ever laid eyes on!  The Driik rolled their eyes and grinned at each other, and showed Wulfbert which stars to follow and told him he must take a boat, as there would be many rivers and lakes to cross.  They also told him of the other tribes along the way, where he might spend the night indoors if he were polite to the peoples.

It took Wulfbert just over five days to reach the land of the giants, as he had elected to travel light.  The people here were indeed impressive, almost all of the men being taller than Wulfbert and some standing well over six feet and sporting chests like barrels.  They were friendly enough though, and Wulfbert made very sure he minded his manners.  He slept well enough in a shelter that the small village had set aside for travellers, and the next morning he went out to the forests to hunt.  Luck was with him and within an hour he almost tripped over a large lynx.  The cat hissed at him but backed away, and Wulfbert's hastily thrown javelin missed.  Wulfbert headed for the dead ground, moving quickly but quietly.  He raised his head for a look and the lynx was there, only twelve metres or so distant!  He flung his javelin and the cat saw him too late, the javelin taking it in the chest and killing it instantly.  Wulfbert returned to the village of the giants to tan the skin, roasting the meat for a feast for himself and the giants.  The free meat meant that they didn't even seem to mind that Wulfbert was tanning his fur in their drinking water!

Soon Wulfbert waved goodbye to the giants, and began the long walk home.  The Driik village held a party for him when he appeared, beaming in triumph and holding up his lynx fur, all agreeing that this was indeed the finest fur that any of them had ever seen.  Wulfbert was aware they were winking at one another behind his back, but he didn't mind.  He had proved his skill and courage, and his belly was full of meat and beer.  The talk turned to men from the east raiding the lands near the Reemi, how the villages there were cowed and fearful to hunt or farm.  Wulfbert learned that the eastern men usually wore red, and fought with bows and a dreadful curved sword that spilled blood even through the thickest armour.  He listened with interest.  If he could kill these men he would be counted among the greatest of warriors, and word would surely pass throughout the lands.  The Driik assured him that stealth and a good bow was the key, he should hide in the treeline and take out the easterners with arrows.

Wulfbert's problem was that all he had was a shortbow.  His friends told him to travel to the northern tribes, as they made the finest bows.  The voyage was long and meant his new abilities at swimming were put to the sternest tests, but finally he encountered a tribe of men dressed in seal-skins.  He mimed what he wanted and the men took Wulfbert to their village and showed him their best bow, a beautiful piece of work that Wulfbert was happy to pay a high price for.  He returned to his cabin swimming many rivers on the way, and spent a few days making arrows for his forthcoming expedition.

Bert Preast

« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2021, 02:44:03 AM »
PART V - FALL AND WARFARE

The main choice was whether to take his dogs or not.  Wulfbert felt that with his dogs he could win easily, but he would take casualties.  The Driik had said stealth was the way, so in the end he left his dogs and loaded up his bull with food and spare weaponry and armour.  The plan was to let the bull do the hard work of travelling through the marshes and forests, leaving Wulfbert fresh to do the killing.  It was a long way, and Wulfbert made a final stop in a forester village close to the enemy camp.  Here he rested and fed and watered, loading everything non-essential onto his bull and tying it to a tree halfway between the village and the enemy. 

From here he readied his bow and his man killers, the broadhead arrows.  He didn't quite trust in his stealth, and wore all the armour he could while remaining mobile.  Wulfbert scouted the enemy camp, and found a hide to the south of it where he could maybe pick off any of the eastern men who wandered out of the camp in his direction.  He waited for hours and the sun was low when at last a redshirt came into his view.  He nocked an arrow and let fly, and immediately realised he was in trouble as he heard shouts and swearing from the camp.  The battle would not be with a single warrior, but with the whole camp.

Wulfbert loosed another arrow at the redshirt he could see and nodded in satisfaction as he saw it strike home, knocking the man down.  More of the easterners were coming into view now, and he could hear them entering the forest to try and flank him.  He turned and ran back to what he called the keep, a small space surrounded by spruce trees where there was only one avenue of attack.  From the sounds around him he knew there were many enemies, and he steeled himself to sell his life dearly.

A warrior appeared through the gap in the trees and he let fly, scoring another hit.  This was the cue for the branches around him to come alive as the redshirts shot their arrows into the trees that shielded him.  Wulfbert turned and crouched but he could not see the archers, their arrows could find him though.  He took one in the stomach, two high in the back and another in his left arm.  The fusilade continued, most of the arrows snapping in the branches as Wulfbert hid and tried to stay quiet despite the pain of his wounds.  At last the shooting stopped, and he heard them moving closer to finish him off.

Wulfbert pulled the arrows that had failed to penetrate from his furs and armour, and wielding his battleaxe he readied himself to spring. The first redshirt came into the gap in the trees and Wulfbert roared his anger and dropped him with a huge blow, grabbing the man's spear and hiding once more.  The easterners were more careful now, but Wulfbert spotted one close by and gave him his comrade's spear right in the guts.  The redshirts charged, but only one could fight Wulfbert through the trees at a time.  The battle raged for over an hour, the wounded foe retreating and Wulfbert using their own spears against them at every opportunity. 

At last the warriors still alive were crippled and trying to crawl away, and Wulfbert sallied forth with his axe and finished them one by one.  He had four arrows in him but he found the strength to lift his axe and howl his triumph.  A quick scout of the area showed nine bodies and that the enemy camp was his, and he collected his bull and collapsed in one of the buildings for a well deserved sleep.  Morning found him stripping the fallen foe and using their clothing to make bandages.  He patched himself up as best he could, loaded the loot onto the bull and headed out for a Reemi village where he had slept a night on his return from the land of the giants a few weeks earlier.

The Reemi clucked concern over his condition and gave him alcohol for the pain as they pulled the arrows from his back.  They understood immediately Wulfbert showed them his loot that he had destroyed the nearby camp of the eastern raiders, and the whole village wanted to meet him and give him some little gift of their best food and drink.  Wulfbert travelled slowly through the Reemi lands, trading his loot for dogs as his wounds healed enough to permit the journey home.  It was a week or so before he finally bade farewell to the Reemi; and so began the long and marshy slog back to his cabin, his new dogs learning that it's a bad idea to nip the bull's hindfoot along the way. 

Arriving at his cabin at last, Wulfbert noticed the temperature was dropping.  He had cut and placed logs during the summer ready to expand his cabin, and now with his injuries preventing hunting it seemed the ideal time to begin the work.  A fortnight passed as Wulfbert worked and tended his wounds, and the cabin was done.  Now there was room for his loot and a table for crafting.  He also repositioned the shutters to give a good view of the fence around the cabin, so he could check his traps without going out into the cold.  A glutton made some interruptions to his sleep for a couple of days, but the new cabin layout meant he was able to get eyes on and his arrows crippled the scavenger.  Wulfbert sallied out and took the creature, making use of his cooking pot for a fine thick stew with the few peas, beans and mushrooms he had managed to gather.  After months of meat, fish, and berries it was a very welcome change of diet to get some carbs down him.

 

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