Arn stopped hoeing the ground and looked at his brother coming back from the edge of the forest.
Garth’s hunt appeared successful. A fawn was on his shoulders. He's really a lucky bastard. No apologies to our dead parents, especially the old man who beat him black and blue every day. But Garth? The apple of the old man's eye. Passably handsome. Popular among women. Gets everything he desires. Except for that girl, Arm giggled to himself. I had fun with her before a large stone destroyed that pretty face.
A mere half-day and he comes back with food. He's going to stick it to our craw tonight, Arn irritably thought.
He glanced at Birke who was on the other side of the field, back turned to him. His other brother had not noticed the arrival of Garth yet. And Birke is going to congratulate him for it and then give a lecture on how I need to improve my hunting skills, Arn predicted as he swung the implement furiously against the hard and unyielding ground. Envy and frustration marked every blow.
And this soil! It's hard as stone. Why couldn’t we have selected a better plot? I heard the ones further out have rich, loamy earth.
Jotnar and dokkalfr. He remembered the answer of his brothers. The further out, the more dangerous it becomes, they said. Arn argued that the High King had sent soldiers with the settlers. There were detachments every few miles. Never mind that the king’s warriors hurriedly fortified their positions as if they expected an immediate attack by a yelling and bloodthirsty jotnar horde. They're warriors, trained to anticipate the worst.
Protests fell on deaf ears. They are his older brothers, so his voice accounted for nothing. It matters little before, and after that incident in their former village, it didn't count anymore. He hated not being listened to, he hated this rocky and barely arable land, and he hated being out here. He missed civilization such as in the villages past the heavily guarded frontier outpost to the south. But not the place where they came from. The people there will cut them all to pieces the moment they showed their faces. Another village, far from where they were born. A town with comely lasses. A place of new prey. He was careless with his last victim. The girl survived the long fall down the ravine to the river. Arn really thought he had strangled dead the maiden after having his way with her. Careless. Stupid. Of course, he denied it, but the village was not convinced. They had a living witness. With almost every bone in her body broken except that damned mouth, he cursed. Three unexplained murders of young girls. They needed a scapegoat. Him. But they got the right one. Of course, he denied it, and his brothers stood by him. Fortunately, a column of soldiers was passing through the village and rescued them.
But they had to leave everything. The king had offered settlers for a new land twenty silvers, a cow, three goats, necessary farming implements, initial provisions, and all the essential items for starting a farm. It was a munificent proposal. A lot of people from all over Skaney accepted the offer. The homeless, people running away from something, the adventurous, and the naïve. The three spears included in the supplies carried by wagon were a dire reminder of where they were going. The Barren Lands.
The Barrens, that's what people call it. Though after the first fifty or so miles, the blasted landscape, with its blackened soil and petrified trees, gave way to the familiar brown and green of healthy soil and growing vegetation. It was an unexplained physical feature of the land. A belt of dreary and dead terrain. People believed it accursed. It remained so in the minds of those who lived in Skaney even when efforts of the High Kings have eliminated the jotnar and bizarre beasts found in the border area. Even the normal lands beyond were included in that belief. But the circumstances and the offer made the decision of the brothers inevitable.
Never mind, thought Arn. Eventually, in a short time, the homesteads will form a village, a center will be built complete with a tavern and other establishments, and the soldiers will move further out with new settlers. He will get his opportunity to meet new prey.
But for now, the rocky ground awaited his attention. His secret pleasures will have to wait.